The Black Swan of Paris by Karen Robards – Feature + Excerpt

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: June 30, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII

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For fans of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris comes a thrilling standalone by New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards about a celebrated singer in WWII occupied France who joins the Resistance to save her estranged family from being killed in a German prison.

In Occupied France, the Resistance trembles on the brink of destruction. Its operatives, its secrets, its plans, all will be revealed. One of its leaders, wealthy aristocrat Baron Paul de Rocheford, has been killed in a raid and the surviving members of his cell, including his wife the elegant Baronness Lillian de Rocheford, have been arrested and transported to Germany for interrogation and, inevitably, execution.

Captain Max Ryan, British SOE, is given the job of penetrating the impregnable German prison where the Baroness and the remnants of the cell are being held and tortured. If they can’t be rescued he must kill them before they can give up their secrets.

Max is in Paris, currently living under a cover identity as a show business impresario whose star attraction is Genevieve Dumont. Young, beautiful Genevieve is the toast of Europe, an icon of the glittering entertainment world that the Nazis celebrate so that the arts can be seen to be thriving in the occupied territories under their rule.

What no one knows about Genevieve is that she is Lillian and Paul de Rocheford’s younger daughter. Her feelings toward her family are bitter since they were estranged twelve years ago. But when she finds out from Max just what his new assignment entails, old, long-buried feelings are rekindled and she knows that no matter what she can’t allow her mother to be killed, not by the Nazis and not by Max. She secretly establishes contact with those in the Resistance who can help her. Through them she is able to contact her sister Emmy, and the sisters put aside their estrangement to work together to rescue their mother.

It all hinges on a command performance that Genevieve is to give for a Gestapo General in the Bavarian town where her mother and the others are imprisoned. While Genevieve sings and the show goes on, a daring rescue is underway that involves terrible danger, heartbreaking choices, and the realization that some ties, like the love between a mother and her daughters and between sisters, are forever.

THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌

CHAPTER‌ ‌ONE‌ 

‌May‌ ‌15,‌ ‌1944‌ 

When‌ ‌the‌ ‌worst‌ ‌thing‌ ‌that‌ ‌could‌ ‌ever‌ ‌happen‌ ‌to‌ ‌you‌ ‌had‌ ‌already‌ ‌happened,‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌that‌ ‌came‌ ‌after‌ ‌really‌ ‌mattered.‌ ‌The‌ ‌resultant‌ ‌state‌ ‌of‌ ‌apathy‌ ‌was‌ ‌‌almost‌ ‌‌pleasant,‌ ‌as‌ ‌long‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌allow‌ ‌herself‌ ‌to‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌it—any‌ ‌of‌ ‌it—too‌ ‌much.‌ ‌She‌ ‌‌was‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont,‌ ‌a‌ ‌singer,‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌star‌.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌latest‌ ‌sold-out‌ ‌performance‌ ‌at‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌Paris’s‌ ‌great‌ ‌theaters‌ ‌had‌ ‌ended‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌five-minute‌ ‌standing‌ ‌ovation‌ ‌less‌ ‌than‌ ‌an‌ ‌hour‌ ‌before.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌acclaimed,‌ ‌admired,‌ ‌celebrated‌ ‌wherever‌ ‌she‌ ‌went.‌ ‌The‌ ‌Nazis‌ ‌loved‌ ‌her.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌not‌ ‌quite‌ ‌twenty-five‌ ‌years‌ ‌old.‌ ‌Beautiful‌ ‌when,‌ ‌like‌ ‌now,‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌dolled‌ ‌up‌ ‌in‌ ‌all‌ ‌her‌ ‌after-show‌ ‌finery.‌ ‌Not‌ ‌in‌ ‌want,‌ ‌not‌ ‌unhappy.‌ ‌In‌ ‌this‌ ‌time‌ ‌of‌ ‌fear‌ ‌and‌ ‌mass‌ ‌starvation,‌ ‌of‌ ‌worldwide‌ ‌deaths‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌scale‌ ‌never‌ ‌seen‌ ‌before‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌whole‌ ‌course‌ ‌of‌ ‌human‌ ‌history,‌ ‌that‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌lucky.‌ ‌She‌ ‌knew‌ ‌it.‌ ‌ ‌Whom‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌before,‌ ‌what‌ ‌had‌ ‌almost‌ ‌destroyed‌ ‌her—that‌ ‌life‌ ‌belonged‌ ‌to‌ ‌someone‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Most‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌time,‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌even‌ ‌remember‌ ‌it‌ ‌herself.‌ ‌She‌ ‌refused‌ ‌to‌ ‌remember‌ ‌it.‌ ‌A‌ ‌siren‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌to‌ ‌life‌ ‌just‌ ‌meters‌ ‌behind‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌traveling‌ ‌in.‌ ‌Startled,‌ ‌she‌ ‌sat‌ ‌upright‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat,‌ ‌heart‌ ‌lurching‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌looked‌ ‌around.‌ ‌Do‌ ‌they‌ ‌know?‌ ‌Are‌ ‌they‌ ‌after‌ ‌us?‌ ‌A‌ ‌small‌ ‌knot‌ ‌of‌ ‌fans‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌outside‌ ‌the‌ ‌stage‌ ‌door‌ ‌as‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌left.‌ ‌One‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌had‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌a‌ ‌program‌ ‌at‌ ‌her,‌ ‌requesting‌ ‌an‌ ‌autograph‌ ‌for‌ ‌Francoise.‌ ‌She’d‌ ‌signed—‌May‌ ‌your‌ ‌heart‌ ‌always‌ ‌sing,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont‌—as‌ ‌previously‌ ‌instructed.‌ ‌What‌ ‌it‌ ‌meant‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌know.‌ ‌What‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌know‌ ‌was‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌meant‌ ‌‌something‌:‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌prearranged‌ ‌encounter,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌coded‌ ‌message‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌scribbled‌ ‌down‌ ‌was‌ ‌intended‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌Resistance.‌ ‌And‌ ‌now,‌ ‌mere‌ ‌minutes‌ ‌later,‌ ‌here‌ ‌were‌ ‌the‌ ‌Milice,‌ ‌the‌ ‌despised‌ ‌French‌ ‌police‌ ‌who‌ ‌had‌ ‌long‌ ‌since‌ ‌thrown‌ ‌in‌ ‌their‌ ‌lot‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nazis,‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌tail.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌as‌ ‌icy‌ ‌jets‌ ‌of‌ ‌fear‌ ‌spurted‌ ‌through‌ ‌her,‌ ‌a‌ ‌pair‌ ‌of‌ ‌police‌ ‌cars‌ ‌followed‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌military‌ ‌truck‌ ‌flew‌ ‌by.‌ ‌Running‌ ‌without‌ ‌lights,‌ ‌they‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌as‌ ‌no‌ ‌more‌ ‌than‌ ‌hulking‌ ‌black‌ ‌shapes‌ ‌whose‌ ‌passage‌ ‌rattled‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌that‌ ‌up‌ ‌until‌ ‌then‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌alone‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌road.‌ ‌A‌ ‌split‌ ‌second‌ ‌later,‌ ‌her‌ ‌driver—his‌ ‌name‌ ‌was‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌Cordier;‌ ‌he‌ ‌worked‌ ‌for‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌her‌ ‌manager—slammed‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌brakes.‌ ‌The‌ ‌car‌ ‌jerked‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌stop.‌ ‌“Sacre‌ ‌bleu!”‌ ‌‌Flying‌ ‌forward,‌ ‌she‌ ‌barely‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌herself‌ ‌from‌ ‌smacking‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌seat‌ ‌by‌ ‌throwing‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌her.‌ ‌“What’s‌ ‌happening?”‌ ‌“A‌ ‌raid,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think.”‌ ‌Peering‌ ‌out‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌windshield,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌clutched‌ ‌the‌ ‌steering‌ ‌wheel‌ ‌with‌ ‌both‌ ‌hands.‌ ‌He‌ ‌was‌ ‌an‌ ‌old‌ ‌man,‌ ‌short‌ ‌and‌ ‌wiry‌ ‌with‌ ‌white‌ ‌hair.‌ ‌She‌ ‌could‌ ‌read‌ ‌tension‌ ‌in‌ ‌every‌ ‌line‌ ‌of‌ ‌his‌ ‌body.‌ ‌In‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌washed‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌pale‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌that‌ ‌painted‌ ‌the‌ ‌scene‌ ‌in‌ ‌ghostly‌ ‌shades‌ ‌of‌ ‌gray,‌ ‌the‌ ‌cavalcade‌ ‌that‌ ‌had‌ ‌passed‌ ‌them‌ ‌was‌ ‌now‌ ‌blocking‌ ‌the‌ ‌road.‌ ‌A‌ ‌screech‌ ‌of‌ ‌brakes‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌throwing‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌shadow‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌nearest‌ ‌building‌ ‌had‌ ‌her‌ ‌casting‌ ‌a‌ ‌quick‌ ‌look‌ ‌over‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌Another‌ ‌military‌ ‌truck‌ ‌shuddered‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌halt,‌ ‌filling‌ ‌the‌ ‌road‌ ‌behind‌ ‌them,‌ ‌stopping‌ ‌it‌ ‌up‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌cork‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌bottle.‌ ‌Men—German‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌officers‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Milice—spilled‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌vehicles.‌ ‌The‌ ‌ones‌ ‌behind‌ ‌swarmed‌ ‌past‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën,‌ ‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌rushed‌ ‌toward‌ ‌what‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌tentatively‌ ‌identified‌ ‌as‌ ‌an‌ ‌apartment‌ ‌building.‌ ‌Six‌ ‌stories‌ ‌tall,‌ ‌it‌ ‌squatted,‌ ‌dark‌ ‌and‌ ‌silent,‌ ‌in‌ ‌its‌ ‌own‌ ‌walled‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌“Oh,‌ ‌no,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌fear‌ ‌for‌ ‌herself‌ ‌and‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌subsided,‌ ‌but‌ ‌sympathy‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌targets‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest‌ ‌feel‌ ‌tight.‌ ‌People‌ ‌who‌ ‌were‌ ‌taken‌ ‌away‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nazis‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌middle‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌seldom‌ ‌came‌ ‌back.‌ ‌The‌ ‌officers‌ ‌banged‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“Open‌ ‌up!‌ ‌Police!”‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌just‌ ‌after‌ ‌10:00‌ ‌p.m.‌ ‌Until‌ ‌the‌ ‌siren‌ ‌had‌ ‌ripped‌ ‌it‌ ‌apart,‌ ‌the‌ ‌silence‌ ‌blanketing‌ ‌the‌ ‌city‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌close‌ ‌to‌ ‌absolute.‌ ‌Thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌strictly‌ ‌enforced‌ ‌blackout,‌ ‌the‌ ‌streets‌ ‌were‌ ‌as‌ ‌dark‌ ‌and‌ ‌mysterious‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌nearby‌ ‌Seine.‌ ‌It‌ ‌had‌ ‌rained‌ ‌earlier‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌day,‌ ‌and‌ ‌before‌ ‌the‌ ‌siren‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌the‌ ‌noisiest‌ ‌thing‌ ‌around,‌ ‌splashing‌ ‌through‌ ‌puddles‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌headed‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Ritz,‌ ‌where‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌staying‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌duration‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌run.‌ ‌“If‌ ‌they‌ ‌keep‌ ‌arresting‌ ‌people,‌ ‌soon‌ ‌there‌ ‌will‌ ‌be‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌left.”‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌gaze‌ ‌locked‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌contingent‌ ‌of‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌spreading‌ ‌out‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌apparently‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌another‌ ‌way‌ ‌in—or‌ ‌for‌ ‌exits‌ ‌they‌ ‌could‌ ‌block.‌ ‌One‌ ‌rattled‌ ‌a‌ ‌gate‌ ‌of‌ ‌tall‌ ‌iron‌ ‌spikes‌ ‌that‌ ‌led‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌brick-walled‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌It‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌open,‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌moved‌ ‌on,‌ ‌disappearing‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌follow‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌movements‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌torches‌ ‌they‌ ‌carried.‌ ‌Fitted‌ ‌with‌ ‌slotted‌ ‌covers‌ ‌intended‌ ‌to‌ ‌direct‌ ‌their‌ ‌light‌ ‌downward‌ ‌so‌ ‌as‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌them‌ ‌invisible‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allied‌ ‌air-raid‌ ‌pilots‌ ‌whose‌ ‌increasingly‌ ‌frequent‌ ‌forays‌ ‌over‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌aroused‌ ‌both‌ ‌joy‌ ‌and‌ ‌dread‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌city’s‌ ‌war-weary‌ ‌citizens,‌ ‌the‌ ‌torches’‌ ‌bobbing‌ ‌looked‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌erratic‌ ‌flitting‌ ‌of‌ ‌fireflies‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌dark.‌ ‌“They’re‌ ‌afraid,‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌makes‌ ‌them‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌more‌ ‌dangerous.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌down‌ ‌his‌ ‌window‌ ‌a‌ ‌crack,‌ ‌the‌ ‌better‌ ‌to‌ ‌hear‌ ‌what‌ ‌was‌ ‌happening‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌followed‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌movements.‌ ‌The‌ ‌earthy‌ ‌scent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌rain‌ ‌mixed‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌faint‌ ‌smell‌ ‌of‌ ‌cigarette‌ ‌smoke,‌ ‌which,‌ ‌thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌Max’s‌ ‌never-ending‌ ‌Gauloises,‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌permanent‌ ‌feature‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌The‌ ‌yellow‌ ‌card‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌pass‌ ‌they‌ ‌needed‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌streets‌ ‌after‌ ‌curfew,‌ ‌prominently‌ ‌displayed‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌windshield,‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌her‌ ‌view‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌far‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌but‌ ‌she‌ ‌thought‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌were‌ ‌running‌ ‌that‌ ‌way,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌“They‌ ‌know‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allies‌ ‌are‌ ‌coming.‌ ‌The‌ ‌bombings‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Luftwaffe‌ ‌installations‌ ‌right‌ ‌here‌ ‌in‌ ‌France,‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allied‌ ‌victories‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌eastern‌ ‌front—they’re‌ ‌being‌ ‌backed‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner.‌ ‌They’ll‌ ‌do‌ ‌whatever‌ ‌they‌ ‌must‌ ‌to‌ ‌survive.”‌ ‌“Open‌ ‌the‌ ‌door,‌ ‌or‌ ‌we‌ ‌will‌ ‌break‌ ‌it‌ ‌down!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌policeman‌ ‌hammered‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌with‌ ‌his‌ ‌nightstick.‌ ‌The‌ ‌staccato‌ ‌beat‌ ‌echoed‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌night.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌shivered,‌ ‌imagining‌ ‌the‌ ‌terror‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌inside.‌ ‌Thin‌ ‌lines‌ ‌of‌ ‌light‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌around‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌thick‌ ‌curtains‌ ‌covering‌ ‌the‌ ‌windows‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌as,‌ ‌at‌ ‌a‌ ‌guess,‌ ‌tenants‌ ‌dared‌ ‌to‌ ‌peek‌ ‌out.‌ ‌A‌ ‌woman,‌ ‌old‌ ‌and‌ ‌stooped—there‌ ‌was‌ ‌enough‌ ‌light‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌hall‌ ‌behind‌ ‌her‌ ‌to‌ ‌allow‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌to‌ ‌see‌ ‌that‌ ‌much—opened‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“Out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌way!”‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌shoved‌ ‌roughly‌ ‌back‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌stormed‌ ‌in.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌frightened‌ ‌cry‌ ‌changed‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌shrill‌ ‌scream‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌quickly‌ ‌cut‌ ‌off.‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌went‌ ‌dry.‌ ‌She‌ ‌clasped‌ ‌her‌ ‌suddenly‌ ‌cold‌ ‌hands‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌lap.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌There’s‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌done.‌ ‌‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌mantra‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌life.‌ ‌“Can‌ ‌we‌ ‌drive‌ ‌on?”‌ ‌She‌ ‌had‌ ‌learned‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌hard‌ ‌school‌ ‌that‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌no‌ ‌point‌ ‌in‌ ‌agonizing‌ ‌over‌ ‌what‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌cured.‌ ‌To‌ ‌stay‌ ‌and‌ ‌watch‌ ‌what‌ ‌she‌ ‌knew‌ ‌was‌ ‌coming—the‌ ‌arrest‌ ‌of‌ ‌partisans,‌ ‌who‌ ‌would‌ ‌face‌ ‌immediate‌ ‌execution‌ ‌upon‌ ‌arrival‌ ‌at‌ ‌wherever‌ ‌they‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌taken,‌ ‌or,‌ ‌perhaps‌ ‌and‌ ‌arguably‌ ‌worse,‌ ‌civilians,‌ ‌in‌ ‌some‌ ‌combination‌ ‌of‌ ‌women,‌ ‌children,‌ ‌old‌ ‌people,‌ ‌clutching‌ ‌what‌ ‌few‌ ‌belongings‌ ‌they’d‌ ‌managed‌ ‌to‌ ‌grab,‌ ‌marched‌ ‌at‌ ‌gunpoint‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌and‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌trucks‌ ‌for‌ ‌deportation—would‌ ‌tear‌ ‌at‌ ‌her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌for‌ ‌days‌ ‌without‌ ‌helping‌ ‌them‌ ‌at‌ ‌all.‌ ‌“We’re‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌in.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌looked‌ ‌around‌ ‌at‌ ‌her.‌ ‌She‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌know‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌saw‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌face,‌ ‌but‌ ‌whatever‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌made‌ ‌him‌ ‌grimace‌ ‌and‌ ‌reach‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌handle.‌ ‌“I’ll‌ ‌go‌ ‌see‌ ‌if‌ ‌I‌ ‌can‌ ‌get‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌move.”‌ ‌When‌ ‌he‌ ‌exited‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌she‌ ‌let‌ ‌her‌ ‌head‌ ‌drop‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌rest‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌top‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën’s‌ ‌leather‌ ‌seat,‌ ‌stared‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌ceiling‌ ‌and‌ ‌tried‌ ‌not‌ ‌to‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌what‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌happening‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌Taking‌ ‌deep‌ ‌breaths,‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌her‌ ‌best‌ ‌to‌ ‌block‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌muffled‌ ‌shouts‌ ‌and‌ ‌thuds‌ ‌that‌ ‌reached‌ ‌her‌ ‌ears‌ ‌and‌ ‌focused‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌physical,‌ ‌which,‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌performer,‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌experience‌ ‌doing.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌tired‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌limp‌ ‌with‌ ‌it.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌temples‌ ‌throbbed.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌legs‌ ‌ached.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌feet‌ ‌hurt.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌throat—that‌ ‌golden‌ ‌throat‌ ‌that‌ ‌had‌ ‌allowed‌ ‌her‌ ‌to‌ ‌survive—felt‌ ‌tight.‌ ‌Deliberately‌ ‌she‌ ‌relaxed‌ ‌her‌ ‌muscles‌ ‌and‌ ‌tugged‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌tucked‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌neckline‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌coat‌ ‌higher‌ ‌to‌ ‌warm‌ ‌herself.‌ ‌A‌ ‌flash‌ ‌of‌ ‌light‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness‌ ‌caught‌ ‌her‌ ‌eye.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌head‌ ‌turned‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌sought‌ ‌the‌ ‌source.‌ ‌Looking‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌iron‌ ‌bars‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌she‌ ‌discovered‌ ‌a‌ ‌side‌ ‌door‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌slowly,‌ ‌stealthily‌ ‌opening.‌ ‌“Is‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌else‌ ‌in‌ ‌there?‌ ‌Come‌ ‌out‌ ‌or‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌shoot.”‌ ‌The‌ ‌volume‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌shouts‌ ‌increased‌ ‌exponentially‌ ‌with‌ ‌this‌ ‌new‌ ‌gap‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌walls.‌ ‌That‌ ‌guttural‌ ‌threat‌ ‌rang‌ ‌out‌ ‌above‌ ‌others‌ ‌less‌ ‌distinct,‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌gathered‌ ‌from‌ ‌what‌ ‌she‌ ‌heard‌ ‌that‌ ‌they‌ ‌were‌ ‌searching‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌The‌ ‌side‌ ‌door‌ ‌opened‌ ‌wider.‌ ‌Light‌ ‌from‌ ‌inside‌ ‌spilled‌ ‌past‌ ‌a‌ ‌figure‌ ‌slipping‌ ‌out:‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl,‌ ‌tall‌ ‌and‌ ‌thin‌ ‌with‌ ‌dark‌ ‌curly‌ ‌hair,‌ ‌wearing‌ ‌what‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌an‌ ‌unbuttoned‌ ‌coat‌ ‌thrown‌ ‌on‌ ‌over‌ ‌nightclothes.‌ ‌In‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms‌ ‌she‌ ‌carried‌ ‌a‌ ‌small‌ ‌child‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌dark,‌ ‌curly‌ ‌hair.‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌went‌ ‌out.‌ ‌The‌ ‌door‌ ‌had‌ ‌closed.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌discovered‌ ‌that‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌sitting‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌nose‌ ‌all‌ ‌but‌ ‌pressed‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌tried‌ ‌to‌ ‌find‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness.‌ ‌It‌ ‌took‌ ‌her‌ ‌a‌ ‌second,‌ ‌but‌ ‌then‌ ‌she‌ ‌spotted‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌figure‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ ‌fled‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌escape.‌ ‌They’ll‌ ‌shoot‌ ‌her‌ ‌if‌ ‌they‌ ‌catch‌ ‌her.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌The‌ ‌Germans‌ ‌had‌ ‌no‌ ‌mercy‌ ‌for‌ ‌those‌ ‌for‌ ‌whom‌ ‌they‌ ‌came.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌paused.‌ ‌A‌ ‌pale‌ ‌hand‌ ‌grabbed‌ ‌a‌ ‌bar.‌ ‌From‌ ‌the‌ ‌metallic‌ ‌rattle‌ ‌that‌ ‌reached‌ ‌her‌ ‌ears,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌thought‌ ‌she‌ ‌must‌ ‌be‌ ‌shoving‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌shaking‌ ‌it.‌ ‌She‌ ‌assumed‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌locked.‌ ‌In‌ ‌any‌ ‌event,‌ ‌it‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌open.‌ ‌Then‌ ‌that‌ ‌same‌ ‌hand‌ ‌reached‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars,‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌too-thin‌ ‌arm,‌ ‌stretching‌ ‌and‌ ‌straining.‌ ‌Toward‌ ‌what?‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌dark‌ ‌to‌ ‌tell.‌ ‌With‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌middle‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌narrow‌ ‌street‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌set‌ ‌back‌ ‌only‌ ‌a‌ ‌meter‌ ‌or‌ ‌so‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌facade‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌was‌ ‌close‌ ‌enough‌ ‌so‌ ‌that‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌could‌ ‌read‌ ‌the‌ ‌desperation‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌body‌ ‌language,‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌way‌ ‌she‌ ‌kept‌ ‌looking‌ ‌back‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌closed‌ ‌door.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child,‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌who‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌around‌ ‌ten‌ ‌months‌ ‌old,‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌asleep.‌ ‌The‌ ‌small‌ ‌curly‌ ‌head‌ ‌rested‌ ‌trustingly‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌It‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌a‌ ‌conscious‌ ‌decision‌ ‌to‌ ‌leave‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌just‌ ‌did‌ ‌it,‌ ‌then‌ ‌realized‌ ‌the‌ ‌risk‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌taking‌ ‌when‌ ‌her‌ ‌pumps‌ ‌clickety-clacked‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sound‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌to‌ ‌tear‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌and‌ ‌sent‌ ‌a‌ ‌lightning‌ ‌bolt‌ ‌of‌ ‌panic‌ ‌through‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Get‌ ‌back‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌‌Her‌ ‌sense‌ ‌of‌ ‌self-preservation‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌it‌ ‌at‌ ‌her,‌ ‌but‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t.‌ ‌Shivering‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌latent‌ ‌menace‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌military‌ ‌trucks‌ ‌looming‌ ‌so‌ ‌close‌ ‌on‌ ‌either‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën,‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌car‌ ‌parked‌ ‌askew‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌street,‌ ‌the‌ ‌light‌ ‌spilling‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌still‌ ‌open‌ ‌front‌ ‌door‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌sounds‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌she‌ ‌kept‌ ‌going,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌care‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌now‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌darted‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌trapped‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌You’re‌ ‌putting‌ ‌yourself‌ ‌in‌ ‌danger.‌ ‌You’re‌ ‌putting‌ ‌Otto,‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌in‌ ‌danger.‌ ‌The‌ ‌whole‌ ‌network—‌ ‌Heart‌ ‌thudding,‌ ‌she‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌locked‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌through‌ ‌it,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌jerked‌ ‌her‌ ‌arm‌ ‌back‌ ‌inside‌ ‌and‌ ‌drew‌ ‌herself‌ ‌up.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sweet‌ ‌scent‌ ‌of‌ ‌flowers‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌felt‌ ‌obscene‌ ‌in‌ ‌contrast‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌fear‌ ‌and‌ ‌despair‌ ‌she‌ ‌sensed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌all‌ ‌right.‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌here‌ ‌to‌ ‌help,”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌whispered.‌ ‌She‌ ‌grasped‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌pulling,‌ ‌pushing‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌spoke.‌ ‌The‌ ‌iron‌ ‌bars‌ ‌were‌ ‌solid‌ ‌and‌ ‌cold‌ ‌and‌ ‌slippery‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌moisture‌ ‌that‌ ‌still‌ ‌hung‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌air.‌ ‌The‌ ‌gate‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌budge‌ ‌for‌ ‌her,‌ ‌either.‌ ‌The‌ ‌clanking‌ ‌sound‌ ‌it‌ ‌made‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌joggled‌ ‌it‌ ‌against‌ ‌its‌ ‌moorings‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌break‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌cold‌ ‌sweat.‌ ‌Darkness‌ ‌enfolded‌ ‌her,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌leavened‌ ‌by‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌trust‌ ‌it‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌her‌ ‌safe.‌ ‌After‌ ‌all,‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌seen‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌All‌ ‌it‌ ‌would‌ ‌take‌ ‌was‌ ‌one‌ ‌sharp-eyed‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌one‌ ‌policeman‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌around‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner,‌ ‌or‌ ‌step‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌and‌ ‌look‌ ‌her‌ ‌way—and‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌be‌ ‌seen,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌Caught.‌ ‌Helping‌ ‌a‌ ‌fugitive‌ ‌escape.‌ ‌The‌ ‌consequences‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌dire.‌ ‌Imprisonment,‌ ‌deportation,‌ ‌even‌ ‌death.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌pulse‌ ‌raced.‌ ‌She‌ ‌thought‌ ‌of‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌would‌ ‌say.‌ ‌On‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌touched‌ ‌on‌ ‌wide‌ ‌dark‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌set‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌face‌ ‌so‌ ‌thin‌ ‌the‌ ‌bones‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌push‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌skin.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌about‌ ‌her‌ ‌own‌ ‌age,‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌thought‌ ‌she‌ ‌must‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌mother.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sleeping‌ ‌child—Genevieve‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌tell‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl‌ ‌or‌ ‌a‌ ‌boy—was‌ ‌wearing‌ ‌footed‌ ‌pajamas.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌turned‌ ‌over.‌ ‌“Oh,‌ ‌thank‌ ‌God.‌ ‌Thank‌ ‌you.”‌ ‌Whispering,‌ ‌too,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌reached‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars‌ ‌to‌ ‌touch‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌arm‌ ‌in‌ ‌gratitude.‌ ‌“There’s‌ ‌a‌ ‌key.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌mouth.‌ ‌It‌ ‌unlocks‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate.”‌ ‌She‌ ‌cast‌ ‌another‌ ‌of‌ ‌those‌ ‌lightning‌ ‌glances‌ ‌over‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌Shifting‌ ‌from‌ ‌foot‌ ‌to‌ ‌foot,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌hardly‌ ‌stand‌ ‌still‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌agitation.‌ ‌Fear‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌off‌ ‌her‌ ‌in‌ ‌waves.‌ ‌“Hurry.‌ ‌Please.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌looked‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌direction‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌reaching,‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌oval‌ ‌stone‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead‌ ‌set‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌brick‌ ‌near‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌carved‌ ‌lion’s‌ ‌head‌ ‌in‌ ‌its‌ ‌center‌ ‌with‌ ‌its‌ ‌open‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌from‌ ‌which,‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌presumably,‌ ‌water‌ ‌was‌ ‌meant‌ ‌to‌ ‌pour‌ ‌out.‌ ‌Reaching‌ ‌inside,‌ ‌she‌ ‌probed‌ ‌the‌ ‌cavity,‌ ‌ran‌ ‌her‌ ‌fingers‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌worn-smooth‌ ‌stone,‌ ‌then‌ ‌did‌ ‌it‌ ‌again.‌ ‌“There’s‌ ‌no‌ ‌key,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌not‌ ‌here.”‌ ‌“It‌ ‌has‌ ‌to‌ ‌be.‌ ‌It‌ ‌has‌ ‌to‌ ‌be!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌voice‌ ‌rose,‌ ‌trembled.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌head‌ ‌moved.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌made‌ ‌a‌ ‌soothing‌ ‌sound,‌ ‌rocked‌ ‌back‌ ‌and‌ ‌forth,‌ ‌patted‌ ‌the‌ ‌small‌ ‌back,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌settled‌ ‌down‌ ‌again‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌sigh.‌ ‌Watching,‌ ‌a‌ ‌pit‌ ‌yawned‌ ‌in‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌stomach.‌ ‌Glancing‌ ‌hastily‌ ‌down,‌ ‌she‌ ‌crouched‌ ‌to‌ ‌check‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground‌ ‌beneath‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead,‌ ‌in‌ ‌case‌ ‌the‌ ‌key‌ ‌might‌ ‌have‌ ‌fallen‌ ‌out.‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌dark;‌ ‌she‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌see.‌ ‌She‌ ‌ran‌ ‌her‌ ‌hand‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones.‌ ‌Nothing.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌not—”‌ ‌she‌ ‌began,‌ ‌standing‌ ‌up,‌ ‌only‌ ‌to‌ ‌break‌ ‌off‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌swiftly‌ ‌indrawn‌ ‌breath‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌through‌ ‌which‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌exited‌ ‌flew‌ ‌open.‌ ‌This‌ ‌time,‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌rectangle‌ ‌of‌ ‌light,‌ ‌a‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌stood.‌ ‌“My‌ ‌God.”‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌whisper‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌turned‌ ‌her‌ ‌head‌ ‌to‌ ‌look‌ ‌was‌ ‌scarcely‌ ‌louder‌ ‌than‌ ‌a‌ ‌breath,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌with‌ ‌terror‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌made‌ ‌the‌ ‌hair‌ ‌stand‌ ‌up‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌of‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌neck.‌ ‌“What‌ ‌do‌ ‌I‌ ‌do?”‌ ‌“Who‌ ‌is‌ ‌out‌ ‌there?”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌roared.‌ ‌Pistol‌ ‌ready‌ ‌in‌ ‌his‌ ‌hand,‌ ‌he‌ ‌pointed‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌played‌ ‌over‌ ‌a‌ ‌tattered‌ ‌cluster‌ ‌of‌ ‌pink‌ ‌peonies,‌ ‌over‌ ‌overgrown‌ ‌green‌ ‌shrubs,‌ ‌over‌ ‌red‌ ‌tulips‌ ‌thrusting‌ ‌their‌ ‌heads‌ ‌through‌ ‌weeds,‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ ‌came‌ ‌their‌ ‌way.‌ ‌“Don’t‌ ‌think‌ ‌to‌ ‌hide‌ ‌from‌ ‌me.”‌ ‌“Take‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby.‌ ‌Please.”‌ ‌Voice‌ ‌hoarse‌ ‌with‌ ‌dread,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌toward‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌a‌ ‌flutter‌ ‌of‌ ‌panic:‌ ‌if‌ ‌this‌ ‌girl‌ ‌only‌ ‌knew,‌ ‌she‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌person‌ ‌she‌ ‌would‌ ‌ever‌ ‌trust‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌child.‌ ‌But‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌else,‌ ‌and‌ ‌thus‌ ‌no‌ ‌choice‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌made.‌ ‌As‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌leg‌ ‌and‌ ‌arm‌ ‌came‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌reached‌ ‌out‌ ‌to‌ ‌help,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌part‌ ‌and‌ ‌then‌ ‌all‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby’s‌ ‌weight‌ ‌as‌ ‌between‌ ‌them‌ ‌she‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌maneuvered‌ ‌the‌ ‌little‌ ‌one‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars.‌ ‌As‌ ‌their‌ ‌hands‌ ‌touched,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌feel‌ ‌the‌ ‌cold‌ ‌clamminess‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌skin,‌ ‌feel‌ ‌her‌ ‌trembling.‌ ‌With‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌no‌ ‌longer‌ ‌clutched‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms,‌ ‌the‌ ‌dark‌ ‌shape‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌six-pointed‌ ‌yellow‌ ‌star‌ ‌on‌ ‌her‌ ‌coat‌ ‌became‌ ‌visible.‌ ‌The‌ ‌true‌ ‌horror‌ ‌of‌ ‌what‌ ‌was‌ ‌happening‌ ‌struck‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌blow.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌whispered,‌ ‌“Her‌ ‌name’s‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌Katz.‌ ‌Leave‌ ‌word‌ ‌of‌ ‌where‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌for‌ ‌her‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead—”‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌flashed‌ ‌toward‌ ‌them.‌ ‌“You‌ ‌there,‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌shouted.‌ ‌With‌ ‌a‌ ‌gasp,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌whirled‌ ‌away.‌ ‌“Halt!‌ ‌Stay‌ ‌where‌ ‌you‌ ‌are!”‌ ‌Heart‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌throat,‌ ‌blood‌ ‌turning‌ ‌to‌ ‌ice,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌whirled‌ ‌away,‌ ‌too,‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌opposite‌ ‌direction.‌ ‌Cloaked‌ ‌by‌ ‌night,‌ ‌she‌ ‌ran‌ ‌as‌ ‌lightly‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌careful‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌her‌ ‌heels‌ ‌from‌ ‌striking‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones,‌ ‌holding‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌close‌ ‌to‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest,‌ ‌one‌ ‌hand‌ ‌splayed‌ ‌against‌ ‌short,‌ ‌silky‌ ‌curls.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soft‌ ‌baby‌ ‌smell,‌ ‌the‌ ‌feel‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌firm‌ ‌little‌ ‌body‌ ‌against‌ ‌her,‌ ‌triggered‌ ‌such‌ ‌an‌ ‌explosion‌ ‌of‌ ‌emotion‌ ‌that‌ ‌she‌ ‌went‌ ‌briefly‌ ‌light-headed.‌ ‌The‌ ‌panicky‌ ‌flutter‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌stomach‌ ‌solidified‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌knot—and‌ ‌then‌ ‌the‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌wriggling‌ ‌and‌ ‌soft‌ ‌sounds‌ ‌of‌ ‌discontent‌ ‌brought‌ ‌the‌ ‌present‌ ‌sharply‌ ‌back‌ ‌into‌ ‌focus.‌ ‌If‌ ‌she‌ ‌cried…‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌Terror‌ ‌tasted‌ ‌sharp‌ ‌and‌ ‌bitter‌ ‌in‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌mouth.‌ ‌“Shh.‌ ‌Shh,‌ ‌Anna,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌crooned‌ ‌desperately.‌ ‌“Shh.”‌ ‌“I‌ ‌said‌ ‌‌halt‌!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier’s‌ ‌roar‌ ‌came‌ ‌as‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌grabbed‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌handle,‌ ‌wrenched‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌open—‌ ‌Bang.‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌bark‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌pistol.‌ ‌A‌ ‌woman’s‌ ‌piercing‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌‌piercing‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌No.‌ ‌‌Genevieve‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌it,‌ ‌but‌ ‌only‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌mind.‌ ‌The‌ ‌guilt‌ ‌of‌ ‌running‌ ‌away,‌ ‌of‌ ‌leaving‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌behind,‌ ‌crashed‌ ‌into‌ ‌her‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌speeding‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Blowing‌ ‌his‌ ‌whistle‌ ‌furiously,‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌ran‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌steps.‌ ‌More‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌burst‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌door,‌ ‌following‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌one‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌steps‌ ‌and‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌sight.‌ ‌Had‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌been‌ ‌shot?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌she‌ ‌dead?‌ ‌ ‌My‌ ‌God,‌ ‌my‌ ‌God.‌ ‌‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌heart‌ ‌slammed‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest.‌ ‌She‌ ‌threw‌ ‌herself‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat‌ ‌and—softly,‌ ‌carefully—closed‌ ‌the‌ ‌door.‌ ‌Because‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌dare‌ ‌do‌ ‌anything‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Coward.‌ ‌The‌ ‌baby‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌Staring‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌in‌ ‌petrified‌ ‌expectation‌ ‌of‌ ‌seeing‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌come‌ ‌charging‌ ‌after‌ ‌her‌ ‌at‌ ‌any‌ ‌second,‌ ‌she‌ ‌found‌ ‌herself‌ ‌panting‌ ‌with‌ ‌fear‌ ‌even‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌her‌ ‌best‌ ‌to‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌wailing‌ ‌child.‌ ‌Could‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌hear?‌ ‌Did‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌know‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌carrying‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby?‌ ‌If‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌caught‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌child…‌ ‌What‌ ‌else‌ ‌could‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌done?‌ ‌Max‌ ‌would‌ ‌say‌ ‌she‌ ‌should‌ ‌have‌ ‌stayed‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌it,‌ ‌stayed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌That‌ ‌the‌ ‌common‌ ‌good‌ ‌was‌ ‌more‌ ‌important‌ ‌than‌ ‌the‌ ‌plight‌ ‌of‌ ‌any‌ ‌single‌ ‌individual.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrified‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌all‌ ‌right,‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌got‌ ‌you‌ ‌safe.‌ ‌Shh.”‌ ‌Settling‌ ‌back‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌position‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌more‌ ‌comfortably‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms,‌ ‌she‌ ‌murmured‌ ‌and‌ ‌patted‌ ‌and‌ ‌rocked.‌ ‌Instinctive‌ ‌actions,‌ ‌long‌ ‌forgotten,‌ ‌reemerged‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌moment‌ ‌of‌ ‌crisis.‌ ‌Through‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌clustering‌ ‌around‌ ‌something‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl,‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌little‌ ‌doubt,‌ ‌although‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden’s‌ ‌riotous‌ ‌blooms‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌her‌ ‌view.‌ ‌With‌ ‌Anna,‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌now,‌ ‌sprawled‌ ‌against‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest,‌ ‌a‌ ‌delayed‌ ‌reaction‌ ‌set‌ ‌in‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌shake.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌got‌ ‌back‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌“They’re‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌moving‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌as‌ ‌soon‌ ‌as‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌up.”‌ ‌His‌ ‌voice‌ ‌was‌ ‌gritty‌ ‌with‌ ‌emotion.‌ ‌Anger?‌ ‌Bitterness?‌ ‌“Someone‌ ‌tipped‌ ‌them‌ ‌off‌ ‌that‌ ‌Jews‌ ‌were‌ ‌hiding‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌and‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌arresting‌ ‌everybody.‌ ‌Once‌ ‌they’re—”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌broke‌ ‌off‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌made‌ ‌a‌ ‌sound.‌ ‌“Shh.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌patted,‌ ‌rocked.‌ ‌“Shh,‌ ‌shh.”‌ ‌ ‌His‌ ‌face‌ ‌a‌ ‌study‌ ‌in‌ ‌incredulity,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌leaned‌ ‌around‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌look.‌ ‌“Holy‌ ‌hell,‌ ‌is‌ ‌that‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌baby‌?”‌ ‌“Her‌ ‌mother‌ ‌was‌ ‌trapped‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌She‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌out.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌shot‌ ‌an‌ ‌alarmed‌ ‌look‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌where‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌now‌ ‌marched‌ ‌a‌ ‌line‌ ‌of‌ ‌people,‌ ‌young‌ ‌and‌ ‌old,‌ ‌including‌ ‌a‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌small‌ ‌children‌ ‌clutching‌ ‌adults’‌ ‌hands,‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“My‌ ‌God,”‌ ‌he‌ ‌said,‌ ‌sounding‌ ‌appalled.‌ ‌“We’ve‌ ‌got‌ ‌to‌ ‌get—”‌ ‌Appearing‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌seemingly‌ ‌nowhere,‌ ‌a‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌rapped‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌driver’s‌ ‌window.‌ ‌With‌ ‌his‌ ‌knuckles,‌ ‌hard.‌ ‌Oh,‌ ‌no.‌ ‌Please‌ ‌no.‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌heart‌ ‌pounded.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌stomach‌ ‌dropped‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌rock‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌stared‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌figure‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌glass.‌ ‌We’re‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌arrested.‌ ‌Or‌ ‌shot.‌ ‌Whipping‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌neckline,‌ ‌she‌ ‌draped‌ ‌the‌ ‌brightly‌ ‌printed‌ ‌square‌ ‌across‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder‌ ‌and‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌child.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌cranked‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌down.‌ ‌“Papers,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌barked.‌ ‌Fear‌ ‌formed‌ ‌a‌ ‌hard‌ ‌knot‌ ‌under‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌breastbone.‌ ‌Despite‌ ‌the‌ ‌night’s‌ ‌chilly‌ ‌temperature,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌feel‌ ‌sweat‌ ‌popping‌ ‌out‌ ‌on‌ ‌her‌ ‌forehead‌ ‌and‌ ‌upper‌ ‌lip.‌ ‌On‌ ‌penalty‌ ‌of‌ ‌arrest,‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌in‌ ‌Occupied‌ ‌France,‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌oldest‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌youngest,‌ ‌was‌ ‌required‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌identity‌ ‌documents‌ ‌readily‌ ‌available‌ ‌at‌ ‌all‌ ‌times.‌ ‌Hers‌ ‌were‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag,‌ ‌beside‌ ‌her‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat.‌ ‌But‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌had‌ ‌none.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌passed‌ ‌his‌ ‌cards‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌who‌ ‌turned‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch‌ ‌on‌ ‌them.‌ ‌As‌ ‌she‌ ‌picked‌ ‌up‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌stir.‌ ‌Please,‌ ‌God,‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌let‌ ‌her‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌“Here.”‌ ‌Quickly‌ ‌she‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌top‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌Otto.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌was‌ ‌squirming‌ ‌now.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌grab‌ ‌and‌ ‌secure‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌from‌ ‌underneath‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌sure‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby’s‌ ‌movements‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌knock‌ ‌it‌ ‌askew.‌ ‌If‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌saw‌ ‌her…‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌whimpered.‌ ‌Muffled‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf,‌ ‌the‌ ‌sound‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌loud,‌ ‌but‌ ‌its‌ ‌effect‌ ‌on‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌was‌ ‌electric.‌ ‌She‌ ‌caught‌ ‌her‌ ‌breath‌ ‌as‌ ‌her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌shot‌ ‌into‌ ‌her‌ ‌throat—and‌ ‌reacted‌ ‌instinctively,‌ ‌as,‌ ‌once‌ ‌upon‌ ‌a‌ ‌time,‌ ‌it‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌second‌ ‌nature‌ ‌to‌ ‌do.‌ ‌She‌ ‌slid‌ ‌the‌ ‌tip‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌little‌ ‌finger‌ ‌between‌ ‌Anna’s‌ ‌lips.‌ ‌The‌ ‌baby‌ ‌responded‌ ‌as‌ ‌babies‌ ‌typically‌ ‌did:‌ ‌she‌ ‌latched‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌sucked.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌slide‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌focus.‌ ‌The‌ ‌familiarity‌ ‌of‌ ‌it,‌ ‌the‌ ‌bittersweet‌ ‌memories‌ ‌it‌ ‌evoked,‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌dizzy.‌ ‌She‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌force‌ ‌herself‌ ‌to‌ ‌stay‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌present,‌ ‌to‌ ‌concentrate‌ ‌on‌ ‌‌this‌ ‌‌child‌ ‌and‌ ‌this‌ ‌‌moment‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌exclusion‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌had‌ ‌handed‌ ‌her‌ ‌identity‌ ‌cards‌ ‌over.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌examined‌ ‌them‌ ‌with‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch,‌ ‌then‌ ‌bent‌ ‌closer‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌and‌ ‌looked‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat‌.‌ ‌She‌ ‌almost‌ ‌expired‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌spot.‌ ‌“Mademoiselle‌ ‌Dumont.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure.‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌enjoyed‌ ‌your‌ ‌singing‌ ‌very‌ ‌much.”‌ ‌Anna’s‌ ‌hungry‌ ‌little‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌tugged‌ ‌vigorously‌ ‌at‌ ‌her‌ ‌finger.‌ ‌“Thank‌ ‌you,”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌said,‌ ‌and‌ ‌smiled.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌smiled‌ ‌back.‌ ‌Then‌ ‌he‌ ‌straightened,‌ ‌handed‌ ‌the‌ ‌papers‌ ‌back‌ ‌and,‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌thump‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌roof,‌ ‌stepped‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌cranked‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌up.‌ ‌The‌ ‌tension‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌thick‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌almost‌ ‌physically‌ ‌feel‌ ‌the‌ ‌weight‌ ‌of‌ ‌it.‌ ‌“Let‌ ‌them‌ ‌through,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌called‌ ‌to‌ ‌someone‌ ‌near‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌truck.‌ ‌Now‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌unfortunate‌ ‌new‌ ‌prisoners,‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌just‌ ‌starting‌ ‌to‌ ‌pull‌ ‌out.‌ ‌With‌ ‌a‌ ‌wave‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌followed,‌ ‌although‌ ‌far‌ ‌too‌ ‌slowly‌ ‌for‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌peace‌ ‌of‌ ‌mind.‌ ‌As‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌crawled‌ ‌after‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck,‌ ‌she‌ ‌cast‌ ‌a‌ ‌last,‌ ‌quick‌ ‌glance‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden:‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌nothing,‌ ‌not‌ ‌even‌ ‌soldiers.‌ ‌Was‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl—Anna’s‌ ‌mother—still‌ ‌there‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground?‌ ‌Or‌ ‌had‌ ‌she‌ ‌already‌ ‌been‌ ‌taken‌ ‌away?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌she‌ ‌dead?‌ ‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌sick‌ ‌to‌ ‌her‌ ‌stomach.‌ ‌But‌ ‌once‌ ‌again,‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌done.‌ ‌Acutely‌ ‌aware‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck’s‌ ‌large‌ ‌side‌ ‌and‌ ‌rear‌ ‌mirrors‌ ‌and‌ ‌what‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌seen‌ ‌through‌ ‌them,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌managed‌ ‌to‌ ‌stay‌ ‌upright‌ ‌and‌ ‌keep‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby‌ ‌hidden‌ ‌until‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌turned‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner‌ ‌and‌ ‌went‌ ‌its‌ ‌own‌ ‌way.‌ ‌Then,‌ ‌feeling‌ ‌as‌ ‌though‌ ‌her‌ ‌bones‌ ‌had‌ ‌turned‌ ‌to‌ ‌jelly,‌ ‌she‌ ‌slumped‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌door.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌gave‌ ‌up‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌finger‌ ‌and‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌cry,‌ ‌shrill,‌ ‌distressed‌ ‌wails‌ ‌that‌ ‌filled‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌With‌ ‌what‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌bit‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌strength,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌pushed‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌away‌ ‌and‌ ‌gathered‌ ‌her‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌rocked‌ ‌and‌ ‌patted‌ ‌and‌ ‌crooned‌ ‌to‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Just‌ ‌like‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌long‌ ‌ago‌ ‌done‌ ‌with—‌ ‌Do‌ ‌not‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌it.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌“Shh,‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌Shh.”‌ ‌“That‌ ‌was‌ ‌almost‌ ‌a‌ ‌disaster.”‌ ‌Otto’s‌ ‌voice,‌ ‌tight‌ ‌with‌ ‌reaction,‌ ‌was‌ ‌nonetheless‌ ‌soft‌ ‌for‌ ‌fear‌ ‌of‌ ‌disturbing‌ ‌the‌ ‌quieting‌ ‌child.‌ ‌“What‌ ‌do‌ ‌we‌ ‌do‌ ‌now?‌ ‌You‌ ‌can’t‌ ‌take‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌hotel.‌ ‌Think‌ ‌questions‌ ‌won’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌asked?‌ ‌What‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌bet‌ ‌that‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌won’t‌ ‌talk‌ ‌about‌ ‌having‌ ‌met‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont?‌ ‌All‌ ‌it‌ ‌takes‌ ‌is‌ ‌one‌ ‌person‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌the‌ ‌connection‌ ‌between‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌and‌ ‌you‌ ‌showing‌ ‌up‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌will‌ ‌ruin‌ ‌us‌ ‌all.‌ ‌It‌ ‌will‌ ‌ruin‌ ‌everything.”‌ ‌“I‌ ‌know.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌was‌ ‌limp.‌ ‌“Find‌ ‌Max.‌ ‌He’ll‌ ‌know‌ ‌what‌ ‌to‌ ‌do.”‌ ‌ ‌

Excerpted‌ ‌from‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Swan‌ ‌of‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌‌by‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards,‌ ‌Copyright‌ ‌©‌ ‌2020‌ ‌by‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards.‌ ‌Published‌ ‌by‌ ‌MIRA‌ ‌Books.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Karen Robards is the New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than fifty novels and one novella. She is the winner of six Silver Pen awards and numerous other awards.

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Author Website: http://karenrobards.com/

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Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman – Feature & Excerpt

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: June 09, 2020

Genre: Fiction, Historical, World War II

Buy Links:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop.org | Amazon | AppleBooks | Books-A-Million | Kobo

I am so excited to be on the blog tour for Red Sky Over Hawaii! I am trying to get my hands on aaalll the Hawaiian books since I am Hawaiian! Thank you so much to MIRA Books for having me on the tour! I can’t wait to dig into this one!

For fans of Chanel Cleeton and Beatriz Williams, RED SKY OVER HAWAII is historical women’s fiction set in the islands during WWII. It’s the story of a woman who has to put her safety and her heart on the line when she becomes the unexpected guardian of a misfit group and decides to hide with them in a secret home in the forest on Kilauea Volcano.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, all she can do is untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property in the forest on Kilauea Volcano. America has been drawn into WWII, and amid rumors of impending invasion, the army places the islands under martial law. When they start taking away neighbors as possible sympathizers, Lana finds herself suddenly guardian to two girls, as well as accomplice to an old family friend who is Japanese, along with his son. In a heartbeat, she makes the decision to go into hiding with them all.

The hideaway house is not what Lana expected, revealing its secrets slowly, and things become even more complicated by the interest of Major Grant Bailey, a soldier from the nearby internment camp. Lana is drawn to him, too, but needs to protect her little group. With a little help from the magic on the volcano, Lana finds she can open her bruised heart to the children–and maybe to Grant.

A lush and evocative novel about doing what is right against the odds, following your heart, and what makes a family.

THE ROAD

December 8, 1941

WITH EVERY MILE CLOSER TO VOLCANO, THE FOG thickened, until they were driving through a forest of white gauze with the occasional branch showing through. Lana considered turning the truck around no less than forty-six times. Going back to Hilo would have been the prudent thing to do, but this was not a time for prudence. Of that she was sure. She slowed the Chevy to a crawl and checked the rearview mirror. The cage with the geese was now invisible, and she could barely make out the dog’s big black spots.

Maybe the fog would be to their advantage.

“I don’t like it here at all,” said Coco, who was smashed up next to Lana, scrawny arms folded in protest. The child had to almost yell to be heard above the chug of the motor.

Lana grabbed a blanket from the floor. “Put this over you. It should help.”

Coco shook her head. “I’m not cold. I want to go home. Can you please take us back?”

Goose bumps had formed up and down her limbs, but she was so stubborn that she had refused to put on a jacket. True, Hilo was insufferably hot, but where they were headed—four thousand feet up the mountain—the air was cold and damp and flimsy.

It had been over ten years since Lana had set foot at Kı¯lauea. Never would she have guessed to be returning under these circumstances.

Marie chimed in. “We can’t go back now, sis. And anyway, there’s no one to go back to at the moment.”

Poor Coco trembled. Lana wished she could hug the girl and tell her everything was going to be okay. But that would be a lie. Things were liable to get a whole lot worse before they got any better.

“Sorry, honey. I wish things were different, but right now you two are my priority. Once we get to the house, we can make a plan,” Lana said.

“But you don’t even know where it is,” Coco whined.

“I have a good idea.”

More like a vague notion.

“What if we don’t find it by dark? Are they going to shoot us?” Coco said.

Marie put her arm around Coco and pulled her in. “Turn off that little overactive imagination of yours. No one is going to shoot us,” she said, but threw a questioning glance Lana’s way.

“We’ll be fine,” Lana said, wishing she believed that.

The girls were not the real problem here. Of greater concern was what they had hidden in the back of the truck. Curfew was six o’clock, but people had been ordered to stay off the roads unless their travel was essential to the war. Lana hadn’t told the girls that. Driving up here was a huge risk, but she had invented a story she hoped and prayed would let them get through if anyone stopped them. The thought of a checkpoint caused her palms to break out in sweat, despite the icy air blowing in through the cracks in the floorboard.

On a good day, the road from Hilo to Volcano would take about an hour and a half. Today was not a good day. Every so often they hit a rut the size of a whiskey barrel that bounced her head straight into the roof. The continuous drizzle of the rain forest had undermined all attempts at smooth roads here. At times the ride was reminiscent of the plane ride from Honolulu. Exactly two days ago, but felt more like a lifetime.

Lana’s main worry was what they would encounter once in the vicinity of the national park entrance. With the Kı¯lauea military camp nearby, there were bound to be soldiers and roadblocks in the area. She had so many questions for her father and felt a mixed ache of sadness and resentment that he was not here to answer them. How were you so sure the Japanese were coming? Why the volcano, of all places? How are we going to survive up here? Why didn’t you call me sooner?

Coco seemed to settle down, leaning her nut-brown ringlets against her sister’s shoulder and closing her eyes. There was something comforting in the roar of the engine and the jostle of the truck. With the whiteout it was hard to tell where they were, but by all estimates they should be arriving soon.

Lana was dreaming of a cup of hot coffee when Coco sat upright and said, “I have to go tinkle.”

“Tinkle?” Lana asked.

Marie said, “She means she has to go to the bathroom.”

They drove until they found a grassy shoulder, and Lana pulled the truck aside, though they could have stopped in the middle of the road. They had met only one other vehicle the whole way, a police car that fortunately had passed by.

The rain had let up, and they all climbed out. It was like walking through a cloud, and the air smelled metallic and faintly lemony from the eucalyptus that lined the road. Lana went to check on Sailor. The dog stood up and whined, yanking on the rope around her neck, straining to be pet. Poor thing was drenched and shaking. Lana had wanted to leave her behind with a neighbor, but Coco had put up such a fuss, throwing herself onto her bed and wailing and punching the pillow, that Lana relented. Caring for the girls would be hard enough, but a hundred-and-twenty-pound dog?

“Just a bathroom stop. Is everyone okay back here?” she asked in a hushed voice. Two low grunts came from under the tarp. “We should be there soon. Remember, be still and don’t make a sound if we stop again.”

As if on cue, one of the hidden passengers started a coughing fit, shaking the whole tarp. She wondered how wise it was to subject him to this long and chilly ride, and if it might be the death of him. But the alternative was worse.

“Deep breaths…you can do it,” Lana said.

Coco showed up and hopped onto the back tire. “I think we should put Sailor inside with us. She looks miserable.”

“Whose lap do you propose she sits on?” Lana said.

Sailor was as tall as a small horse, but half as wide.

“I can sit in the back of the truck and she can come up here, then,” Coco said in all seriousness.

“Not in those clothes you won’t. We don’t need you catching pneumonia on us.”

They started off again, and ten seconds down the road, Sailor started howling at the top of her lungs. Lana felt herself on the verge of unraveling. The last thing they needed was one extra ounce of attention. The whole idea of coming up here was preposterous when she thought about it. At the time it had seemed like a good idea, but now she wondered at her sanity.

“What is wrong with that dog?” Lana said, annoyed.

Coco turned around, and Lana felt her hot breath against her arm. In the smallest of voices, she said, “Sailor is scared.”

Lana felt her heart crack. “Oh, honey, we’re all a bit scared.

It’s perfectly normal under the circumstances. But I promise you this—I will do everything in my power to keep you out of harm’s way.”

“But you hardly know us,” Coco said.

“My father knew you, and you knew him, right?” Lana said. “And remember, if anyone asks, we tell them our story.”

They had rehearsed it many times already, but with kids one could never be sure. Not that Lana had much experience with kids. With none of her own and no nieces or nephews in the islands, she felt the lack palpably, smack in the center of her chest. There had been a time when she saw children in her future, but that dream had come and gone and left her sitting on the curb with a jarful of tears.

Her mind immediately went to Buck. Strange how your future with a person could veer so far off course from how you’d originally pictured it. How the one person you swore you would have and hold could end up wreaking havoc on your heart instead. She blinked the thought away.

As they neared Volcano, the fog remained like a curtain, but the air around them brightened. Lana knew from all her time up here as a young girl that the trees got smaller as the elevation rose, and the terrain changed from towering eucalyptus and fields of yellow-and-white ginger to a more cindery terrain covered with red-blossomed ‘ohi‘a trees, and prehistoriclooking ha¯pu’u ferns and the crawling uluhe. At one time in her life, this had been one of her happiest places. Coco reached for the letter on the dashboard and began reading it for the fourth time. “Coco Hitchcock. It sounds funny.” The paper was already getting worn.

Marie swiped it out of her hands. “You’re going to ruin that. Give it to me.”

Where Coco was whip thin and dark and spirited—a nice way of putting it—Marie was blonde and full-bodied and sweet as coconut taffy. But Lana could tell even Marie’s patience was wearing thin.

“Mrs. Hitchcock said we need to memorize our new names or we’ll be shot.”

Lana said as calmly as she could, “I never said anything of the sort. And, Coco, you have to get used to calling me Aunt Lana for now. Both of you do.”

“And stop talking about getting shot,” Marie added, rolling her eyes.

If they could all just hold it together a little bit longer.

There was sweat pooling between her breasts and behind her kneecaps. Lying was not her strong suit, and she was hoping that, by some strange miracle, they could sail on through without anyone stopping them. She rolled her window down a couple of inches for a burst of fresh air. “We’re just about here. So if we get stopped, let me do the talking. Speak only if someone asks you a direct question, okay?”

Neither girl said anything; they both just nodded. Lana could almost see the fear condensing on the windshield. And pretty soon little Coco started sniffling. Lana would have said something to comfort her, but her mind was void of words. Next the sniffles turned into heaving sobs big enough to break the poor girl in half. Marie rubbed her hand up and down Coco’s back in a warm, smooth circle.

“You can cry when we get there, but no tears now,” she said.

Tears and snot were smeared across Coco’s face in one big shiny layer. “But they might kill Mama and Papa.” Her face was pinched and twisted into such anguish that Lana had to fight back a sob of her own.
Excerpted from Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman, Copyright © 2020 by Sara Sckerman. Published by MIRA Books.

Sara Ackerman is the USA Today bestselling author of The Lieutenant’s Nurse and Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at http://www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.

Author Website | Facebook: @ackermanbooks | Twitter: @AckermanBooks | Instagram: @saraackermanbooks | Pinterest

The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti – Feature, Author Q&A, Excerpt

Publisher: Graydon House Books

Publication Date: May 12, 2020

Genre: Fiction

Buy Links: Harlequin  | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Books-A-Million| Powell’s

I am so excited to feature this gorgeous book on my blog today! It seems like the perfect read for Summer, especially if you were/ are in drama!

With a setting inspired by the real-life Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires where stars like Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lauren Graham, and Chris Pine have performed, THE SUMMER SET (Graydon House Books; May 12; $17.99) is a salacious rom-com, beach read perfect for Broadway nerds and Hollywood gossips alike.

Charlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, she’s pushing forty, exiled from the film world back at the summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires that launched her career—and where her first love, Nick, is the artistic director.

It’s not exactly her first choice. But as parts are cast and rehearsals begin, Charlie is surprised to find herself thriving: bonding with celebrity actors, forging unexpected new friendships, and even reigniting her spark with Nick despite their complicated history.

Until Charlie’s old rival, Hollywood’s current “It Girl,” is brought on set, threatening to undo everything she’s been working towards. As the drama amps up both on the stage and behind the curtains, Charlie must put on one heck of a show to fight for the second chance she deserves in her career and in love.

2

I MISSED YOU TOO

Charlie studied herself in her bathroom mirror. In just a week her bruised eye had faded to the dull gray of rancid meat, now easily disguised by concealer. She flat-ironed her raven hair, securing it in a sleek, low ponytail, then rummaged the closet for her most professional-looking getup: that slim black suit, pale pink silk blouse with the bow at the neck and the stilettos she only wore when she felt compelled to impress. Her wardrobe from that perfume ad a decade earlier but timeless nonetheless, just like the moniker that had been etched in script on the curved bottle of the fragrance.

Outside, Boston did its best impersonation of her supposed hometown, London. (Though she had lived away from there enough during childhood to have eluded the accent.) The dreary May rain made her think of her mom: the estimable Dame Sarah Rose Kingsbury. News of Charlie’s incident had warranted mentions in a few celebrity weeklies and, unfortunately, made the hop across the pond. Her mother had called, texted and finally, after no response, emailed: Charlie, Did you receive my voice mail and text? I trust you’re alright. Another of your stunts? Please respond. Love, Mum. Her mom’s correspondence always scanned like a telegram, full of stops and full stops—much like their relationship itself. Charlie, reveling in being briefly unreachable and not in the mood to answer questions, hadn’t yet bothered to replace her phone and had indeed missed the call but wrote back assuring her mom that she was fine, though the accident had not, in fact, been performance art.

By the time Charlie reached the foreboding Suffolk County Courthouse, her lawyer/friend Sam—who had shepherded her through the theater purchase (while questioning her sanity)—was already there pacing, barking into her phone.

“This should be easy,” Sam told her, hanging up, hugging her while scrolling her inbox. Sam wore suits and radiated responsibility, two things Charlie found comforting in a lawyer. “Be contrite and it should be open-and-shut for community service.”

The sterile courtroom’s pin-drop silence made Charlie shiver. Next to her, Sam tucked her phone in her bag and rose to her feet, gesturing for Charlie to stand as the judge materialized at the bench. Charlie found it oddly reassuring that the judge was the kind of woman who wore pearls and a frilly collar outside her robe.

“You were okay with my email, right?” Sam whispered, as they sat again.

“What email?” she whispered back.

“My email. An hour ago? You have got to get a new phone,” Sam scolded.

“I know, I know—”

“There was this arrangement, last minute, I hope you’ll be amenable to but—”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Charlie pleaded.

The judge had begun speaking, so Sam hushed her. Too late.

“Ms. Savoy, this is the part where I get to talk.” The judge looked up from the paper she had been reading aloud. “Maybe it was different in your episodes of Law & Order?”

“No, ma’am, I mean, Your Honor, sir, ma’am, no,” Charlie stumbled. She had been wrong about the judge. The woman continued on about the damage Charlie caused and the significant hours of service required like Charlie was the honoree at one of those Comedy Central roasts, albeit one that could end with her in a jail cell.

Until finally, the judge cut to the chase: “…an assignment has presented itself,” she said slowly. “Which will make fine use of Ms. Savoy’s expertise…” Charlie caught Sam’s side-eye. “So Charlotte Savoy shall be required to complete sixty days with the Chamberlain Summer Theater in—”

“NO!” Charlie expelled the word, an anaphylactic response. The judge scowled as though jail might still be an option. “Sorry, Your Honor, I just mean—can I object?” Sam shot her a lethal glare. “It’s just that, well—” Charlie tried again as a door at the back of the courtroom creaked open, footsteps echoing. She turned to discover the equivalent of a ghost.

Nick Blunt—director, ex, first love, disappointment, invertebrate—heading her way.

“Mr. Blunt, thank you for joining us,” the judge said, unimpressed.

Charlie’s posture straightened, heartbeat ticking faster than seemed medically sound. She felt betrayed by her own being, muscles, nerves, ashamed of this reaction.

“Sorry, Your Honor,” he said in that deep rasp.

Charlie wished she hated that voice. And it seemed an abomination that he could still be attractive—physically at least.

Rugged with an athletic build, he wore black jeans, a blazer and aviator sunglasses, which he pulled off as he walked (pure affectation since, to her knowledge, it was still raining outside), tucking them into the V of his slim sweater.

He took his place beside Charlie, flashing that smile he deployed when he aimed to be his most charming.

“Hi there,” he said, as though surprised to be meeting this way.

“Shouldn’t you be wearing a cape?” Charlie rolled her eyes, focused on the judge reading again, and returned her body to its proper slouch, recalibrating her expression between boredom and disgust.

“I missed you too, Charlie,” he whispered back.

From the corner of her eye, Charlie spotted the sharp beak of that tattoo—the meadowlark—curving around from the back of his neck. It was still there, which gave her a pang of affection, a flare-up she forced herself to snuff out. She imagined how they might look to those few people sitting in the rows behind them. Nick and her with these identical birds inked onto the backs of their necks, midflight and gazing at each other anytime he stood on her right side, as he did now. Mirror images, bookends, the birds’ once-vibrant golden hue as faded as the memory of the hot, sticky night she and Nick had stolen away from campus to get them together.

Over the years, she had considered having hers removed or morphed into some other design, but why should she? She liked it. At face value. Charlie sighed again, more loudly than intended, as her mind sped to how this summer would now be.

“Ms. Savoy, is there a problem?” the judge asked, irked.

“Your Honor, I just wondered—is there a littered park or something? Instead?”

“We’re fine, Your Honor.” Sam patted Charlie’s arm in warning.

“Ms. Savoy will report to service June 1.” The judge slammed the gavel, which, to Charlie, sounded like a nail being hammered into a coffin.

“I had a client last week who’s cleaning restrooms at South Station this summer,” Sam said apologetically as they walked out.

Charlie just charged ahead down the hall, an urgent need to escape, her mind struggling to process it all.

“So, craziest thing happened,” Nick launched in, catching up to them at the elevator. “I was reading the news and saw about your little mishap—” He sounded truly concerned for a moment.

“Don’t pretend like you don’t have a Google alert on me,” Charlie cut him off, stabbing the down button too many times.

“You always were a terrible driver—”

“That river came outta nowhere—”

“But a stellar swimmer—”

She nodded once. She couldn’t argue with that.

He went on, “So I made a few calls and—”

“Don’t be fooled by…that.” She waved her hand back toward the courtroom. “You need me more than I need you.”

The elevator opened.

“We’ll see about that.” He let them on first. Charlie hit the button again-again-again to close the doors, but he made it in. “How long has it been, anyway?”

“You know how long it’s been,” she said as the doors closed so she was now looking at their reflection. It had been six years, three months, two weeks and two days since they last saw each other. At the long-awaited premiere for Midnight Daydream—which should’ve been a thrilling night since a series of snags had pushed the film’s release date back two years after filming. But instead of celebratory toasts, it had ended with a glass of the party’s signature cocktail—a messy blackberry-infused bourbon concoction the shade of the night sky—being thrown. In retrospect, she thought, there’d been so many signs the movie was cursed.

“You’re just mad your self-imposed exile is over.” He smirked.

“Always with the probing psychoanalysis.” She watched the floor numbers descend, doors finally opening.

Sam scurried out ahead of them. “My work here is done. I’m sure you two have a lot of catching up to do.” She gave Charlie an air-kiss before striding off.

“Wait, no, I just need to—” Charlie tried to stop her, but Sam had already hopped in a cab.

“So, I have an office not too far, off Newbury Street, off-season headquarters for Chamberlain—” Nick started.

“Luckily you’re usually phoning it in, so I haven’t had the privilege of running into you around town.” She walked ahead in the cool, pelting rain.

He stayed where he was. “I’d invite you out for a drink—”

“It’s, like, 10 a.m. That’s too early. Even for you—” She glanced back.

“Summer is gorgeous in the Berkshires, as you may recall,” he shouted, sunglasses back on, absurdly, and that smile again. “Welcome back to Chamberlain, Charlie.

Excerpted from The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti, Copyright © 2020 by Aimee Agresti. 

Published by Graydon House Books.

Q&A with Aimee Agresti

Q: Please give your elevator pitch for The Summer Set.

A: Gladly! THE SUMMER SET is a romp about a former Hollywood It Girl—Charlie Savoy—who flamed out, left the film world and now is almost 40 and back at the summer Shakespeare theater where she got her start as a teen….and where her ex is the artistic director. Drama and hijinks ensue! But it’s really a universal story about old flames, old friends, old rivals and second acts: having the courage to shake up your life!

Q: Which came first: the characters or plot line?

A: They sort of arrived together! This idea has been with me for a long time: I always had Charlie, my main character, and this sense of wanting her to be embarking on a “second act.” I wanted to tell the story of a bold, wild child kind of star who flamed out early and had to start over and figure out what she truly wanted. I always knew this character would be the type who seemed confident to anyone watching but was actually much more vulnerable deep down. Someone who’s acting as much offstage as onstage!

Q: Why do you love Charlie and why should readers root for her?

A: I really loved writing this character: she’s impulsive and aggressive and tough and uncontrollable. But all of her bravado is covering up how out of place she feels, how nervous she is to be back in the theater world after feeling like she failed in her film career. Anyone who has ever tried to act like they had it all together while actually being unsure on the inside (which I think is all of us, right?!) will understand Charlie and feel she’s a kindred spirit.

Q: We can see from your bio that you have written extensively about entertainment topics. Have you ever been involved in theatre yourself? If so, in which capacities? If not, what fascinates you about the theatre world?

A: As anyone who saw me as Miss Jones in Sherwood High School’s 1994 production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying would know: I am that drama geek who loves theater as much as humanly possible while having no actual talent. 😉  I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town with a fantastic theater—the Olney Theatre in Olney, MD—and I volunteered there (offstage!) all through high school. It was an amazing place because the actors were incredible, they were New York-based, and they would come and actually live together at a residence on the theater property. I’ve always had an overactive imagination so I remember wondering what went on there: which ones were friends, which ones weren’t, was anyone hooking up?! I was fascinated. That experience hanging around there definitely sowed the very early seeds of this novel!

Q: Obviously you’ve interacted with many celebrities. Who were the most fascinating to talk to? 

A: Oooh, there were so many fun ones: George Clooney is my all-time favorite (he’s EVERYONE’S favorite!) because he’s just a supernice guy and is that type who seems to always be having a great time. Some more of my favorites who also had that same warm spirit and were so much fun to chat with: Sarah Jessica Parker, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Grant, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the list goes on!

 Q: If you could star in a movie or Broadway show, which one would you choose and why?

A: HA! OMG, I love this question! Since THE SUMMER SET is set at a summer theater, I’ll choose Broadway! Wow, there are just. So. Many! I would love to be Angelica in Hamilton and Mimi in Rent and Roxie in Chicago! I assure you I would be absolutely TERRIBLE in all of these roles but it would be tons of fun!

Q: What was your last 5 star read?

A: I just re-read a favorite–THE LOST VINTAGE by the wonderful Ann Mah! It’s an absolute gem of a novel about love, secrets and drama in French wine country. Beautiful writing, fantastic storytelling and it also satisfies the wanderlust we’re all feeling these days.

Q: What is one thing about publishing you wish someone would have told you?

A: Oh wow, I feel like even five books in, I’m still learning! But I think one thing I never would’ve expected before I published my first novel is that every time a book comes out you feel that HUGE excitement but also that little rush of nerves, like: “OMG this thing that, for years, only lived in my head and on my laptop is now out there!!! Aaaah!” Or maybe that’s just me? 😉

Q: What inspired you to become a writer?

A: A love of reading! My mom is a librarian so I grew up reading everything in sight and I’ve just always loved escaping into books. I went to journalism school and worked in magazines, which I absolutely adored, but I always dreamed of writing novels, so I feel incredibly lucky to get to do this!

Q: What was your journey to get your first book published?

A: Great question! My first novel was ILLUMINATE, the first of my YA Gilded Wings Trilogy. I tend to write the book I most want to read at any given time and I got lucky that when I was in the mood for YA, so were a lot of other people, so that worked out! But I actually wrote another book BEFORE that one—it was a totally different vibe and not YA–that just didn’t hit things right, for whatever reason. I always say that publishing–the fiction world especially–is like falling in love and you need the right person to read the right manuscript on the right day and have the right connection to it in order to get published. I feel very lucky every time a book gets published!

Q: Let’s talk about your writing, what is your writing process like? Do you follow an outline or do you just see where the story leads you? 

A: I’m a major outliner! I need to have everything mapped out. I need to know this journey has a destination. I admire writers who can let things unfold as they go—how freeing that must be!—but I’m a planner, it gives me comfort. Although, there are plenty of twists that only present themselves when you’re in the middle of writing so I do always let myself deviate from my outline too, great stuff comes out of that!

Q: Do you share your work along the way or wait until it is complete to have others read?

A: My sister is my beta reader and she is amazing! Sometimes I’ll give her the book as I’m writing it, as I did with THE SUMMER SET, and other times I’ll wait until it’s all finished (like with my previous novel, CAMPAIGN WIDOWS), it mostly depends on how tight the deadline is! She’s incredible and I’m so grateful for her close eye and the time she spends doing this for me. Since she enjoys the same books/films/stories/genres as I do, I know that if there’s something in my novel that isn’t working for her then it’s not going to work for any reader! She’s the best! If you’re reading this: Hi, sis!

Q: What inspired you to write The Summer Set

A: I’ve always loved the film/TV/theater/music universe. I started out writing for entertainment magazines—Us Weekly, Premiere—and those jobs were incredible and offered me this amazing glimpse into that celebrity world with all of its ups and downs and drama and excitement. I’m an arts girl so I think there’s something magical about the way a great show, whether on stage or screen, can transport you or connect with you or seem to understand you. And I think the people who are able to bring those stories to life are fascinating!

Q: What projects are you currently working on?

A: I’m (slooooowly) at work on the next novel! It’s in those early stages but it’s an idea I’ve had for a long time so I’m excited! Wish me luck!!

Q: What’s your favorite genre? 

A: Oooh, that’s tough! I actually will read anything and everything! For me, it just depends on the story. I’m always on board for great writing and the kind of storytelling that keeps me hooked and turning pages!

Q: Who is your favorite author? 

A: I could never choose just one! I grew up on the classics (Austen, the Brontes, Hemingway, Salinger, on and on!) and I adore them so much and revisit them often like checking in on old friends! As for contemporary authors, I love Tom Perrotta, Nick Hornby, Emma Straub, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert, to name a few! There are so many that I love and admire!

Q: What are your top 3 favorite books of all time

A: Oh man, this is REALLY tough because there are just soooo many. But I’ll go with these:  

–Pride and Prejudice: I could read this every day! I’m completely Jane Austen-obsessed so I actually feel that way about all of her books. Even now, I’m thinking: should I choose Emma?! Or Persuasion?! How do you choose?!

–The Catcher in the Rye: I love everything Salinger. But Holden Caulfield was my first literary crush!

–A Moveable Feast: I also love everything Hemingway but I’ll go with this one because I’m pretty sure I belong in Paris in the ‘20s. (Aside from my very bad French.)

Q: How do you decide what kind of journey you want your characters to go on?

A: That’s a fantastic, huge question! Those first flashes I always have of a novel are of the main character in some sort of inner turmoil. So I tend to know the reason I’m going to be telling their story in the first place, but figuring out how to show it all and get from point A to B to C, takes a lot of mapping out!

Q: Would you ever write YA fantasy novels again?

A: I love this question! Absolutely, if the right story sparked! I had so much fun writing the Gilded Wings Trilogy, I miss those characters and still think of them and what adventures they might still be having! And I do miss writing magic and superpowers, it was always exciting to get to dream up those elements. So, you never know, I might just have to get back to that! 😉

Aimee Agresti is the author of Campaign Widows and The Gilded Wings trilogy for young adults. A former staff writer for Us Weekly, she penned the magazine’s coffee table book Inside Hollywood. Aimee’s work has also appeared in People, Premiere, DC magazine, Capitol File, the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer, and she has made countless TV and radio appearances, dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and HLN. Aimee graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC, area.

Social Links:

Author Website

Twitter: @AimeeAgresti

Instagram: @aimeeagresti

Facebook: @AimeeAgrestiAuthor

Goodreads

The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill – Feature & Excerpt

Publisher: Mira Books

Publication Date: April 28, 2020

Genre: Fiction

BUY LINKS:

Harlequin | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Target | Walmart| Google | Kobo

When a little white lie becomes the story of your life, what if the truth comes out?

For three woman, it’s a life-changing trip: one finds the man of her dreams, another discovers inspiration amidst Italian food and culture, while a chance encounter with a handsome local ushers in the ultimate life change for the third. But most importantly, it’s the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship between all three.

Now years later, Kim Weston – entrepreneur and owner of internationally successful Italian food and lifestyle business, The Sweet Life – has bought and restored the tumble-down villa to its former glory — and plans to reopen Villa Dolce Vita as a wellness/cultural retreat – a fitting honor to the root of her business inspiration.

To celebrate the villa’s grand opening, she and her Italian business partners are throwing a huge three-day party; flying a group of family, business and media contacts to the Amalfi Coast to join in the celebrations. And most importantly, the (still) close friends who started the journey with her: Annie and husband Nate, whose love story began at the villa, and single mum Eva, whose son was the result of an ill-advised Italian fling.

But in the run up to the planned weekend in Italy, it becomes clear that not everyone is happy about the party, nor are they on board with such ambitious plans for the location. And, as Villa Dolce Vita’s grand relaunch draws closer, old memories and past secrets come to light, and the three old friends are forced to question if anything that happened on that first fateful trip to the villa is at all what it seemed.

I am so excited to feature this beautiful book today on my blog! It definitley makes me want to go to a villa in Italy! Check out an excerpt below! Thank you so much to Mira Books for having me on the blog tour!

Prologue

It was just a little white lie. A way to kick-start her freedom.

And Kim Weston was now officially a runaway.

She couldn’t help but laugh at the idea as she stared out the window of the airplane into the abyss around her. Thirty years old—an adult—and here she was, running away from home.

She’d boarded a flight from JFK earlier and watched as the sky turned from pale blue to black. They were already six hours into a nine-hour journey and she was tired but couldn’t sleep.

There wasn’t a star to be seen, no way to discriminate the ocean below from the sky above. Nothing but emptiness.

Ironic because it was exactly how Kim felt inside. She had no reason to, or so everyone told her.

She had everything—the luxurious Manhattan apartment,a personal driver to take her wherever she wanted to go, generous expense accounts at all the best Fifth Avenue stores, and a black Amex to service every last one of her spending needs.

She and her friends were the crème de la crème of New York’s Upper East Side society set and partied with celebrities and VIPs alike. By all accounts she had the quintessential dream life.

So why was she running away?

She could still hear her parents’ voices in her head and her own guilt in her heart as she sat quietly nursing a vodka and orange juice.

Most of the cabin’s passengers were asleep, and the crew was moving around less frequently, but Kim’s mind simply wouldn’t quit.

For once, she wasn’t playing the role she’d been allotted. If she was expected to assume her part in the Weston family script for the rest of her life, then she needed a chance to play the rebel, even if only briefly.

Everything was planned to ensure that her parents wouldn’t find her—at least not for a little while.

Her destination (and certainly choice of accommodation) wasn’t somewhere Peter or Gloria would ever think to look for her, since it was so far removed from the kind of places the Westons usually frequented.

No five-star luxury hotel suite awaiting Kim when she arrived. Instead she was staying at a tumbledown villa she’d found on the internet, where she’d be sharing living space and possibly even a room with other guests. She shuddered involuntarily.

Kim was roughing it, in as much as someone like her could. The house had no on-site staff, apparently there was someone who’d come by daily to tidy and meet and greet, but that was it. No concierge, butler, in-house chef—nothing.

For once, she was going to have to cater for herself—in more ways than one.

That gave her some sense of unease; she wasn’t exactly Martha Stewart, which was why she also planned to maybe enlist herself in an Italian cooking class, as suggested by the booking site she’d used. Failing that, she’d just survive on pizza and pasta. It was Italy after all.

And she could afford that much, for a little while at least.

It was early afternoon when the flight landed at Naples airport and the transfer service she’d arranged (her final luxury—she wasn’t going to rough it entirely after a transatlantic economy flight) picked her up outside the terminal.

“Signorina Weston?” the driver holding the sign with her name on it queried as she approached.

“That’s me.”

“Buongiorno. Right this way,” the young Italian man instructed as he directed Kim to a waiting black Mercedes.

She stepped outside of the terminal, her long slender legs clad in white jeans, which complemented her hot pink poncho. Sunglasses protected her eyes from the bright sun but she still held a hand to her forehead to shield them as she stared up at an almost cloudless Italian blue sky.

“I am Alfeo,” the driver introduced himself as they walked, taking her luggage along with him. “How was your flight?”

“Long,” she answered. She was bone-tired, a little cranky and not particularly in the mood for small talk.

Alfeo nodded and opened the car door for her. “The journey will take just over an hour and a half depending on traffic. But we can stop along the way if you need anything.”

“That’s fine,” Kim replied as she slid into the back seat and tipped her head against the leather headrest. She closed her eyes, suddenly spent and exhausted from worrying now that she was here.

She was really doing this…

It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed when she was woken by Alfeo’s voice announcing arrival at their destination.

Kim blinked several times as she tried to gather her bearings, then lowered the window to look out at her surroundings. They were parked down some kind of laneway, and up ahead she could make out a grubby wall of peach-colored plaster, and a paint-chipped wooden door—the only interruption on an otherwise blank facade.

Unimpressed, she regarded the weather-worn door and its tarnished brass ring, and hid a frown as she dragged manicured nails through her tousled blonde mane, pulling her hair partially over her shoulder.

Her heart fell. This place looked like a complete dump. She sincerely hoped the inside was a helluva lot better.

“This is Villa Dolce Vita, right?” she asked, casting a fatigued gaze at Alfeo as she stepped out onto the dusty gravel pathway.

“Sì. Villa Dolce Vita.”

“I’ll need your number,” she stated as she walked toward him with her phone in hand. “Just in case.”

Alfeo complied, assuring her that he’d be available whenever she needed, the suggestive grin on his face indicating he meant for more than just transportation. Were Italian men really such unabashed flirts?

“Can you maybe just help get my cases inside before you go?”

“Of course.” He duly took her suitcases out of the boot, while Kim wandered further along the perimeter wall to where a break in the trees gave way to a view of the sea.

Realizing that they were on an elevated site, high above the glittering Gulf of Naples, she glanced to her left to see a group of impossibly beautiful pastel-colored buildings and terra-cotta roofs, clinging and huddled together.

The setup immediately put her in mind of a huge piñata cake: the center of the green and gray mountain cut open to release a tumbling selection of irresistible pastel-colored candy.

Now this is more like it…

Further along down the coast, rock promontories jutted out above diverging bays, beaches and terraces, all presiding over cerulean waters. Hills dotted with lush vineyards, olive trees and citrus groves looked down over the colorful shops, cafés, hotels and historic buildings scattered below.

Sailboats dotted the clear blue waters and, looking down from where she stood, Kim could see snaking wooden steps leading all the way to the rocky shore below.

The whole thing was dizzying in every sense of the word.

By the time she returned to the villa entrance, Alfeo was gone, but the old wooden door had been left ajar.

Kim slipped through into the courtyard area to discover a hidden garden of sorts.

The dark pea gravel of outside gave way to a lighter-colored, more decorative kind, and she noticed heavy stone planters dotted throughout the small courtyard area, housing rows of mature lemon and olive trees.

Coupled with vibrant magenta bougainvillea tumbling down the edge of an old stone building—evidently the villa itself—the garden was a riot of color and, against the azure sky and glittering water on the bay, made for a picture-perfect entrance.

Citrus scent from the lemon trees followed as Kim walked to the front of the property, her senses now well and truly awakened.

The villa was of the same blotchy peach plaster as the out. The side wall, a pretty two-story house with a terra-cotta roof and rustic windows trimmed with dull cast-iron railings that had long since seen better days.

Turning to check out the view from the front of the house, Kim noticed a terraced area beneath the gardens, accessible by four or five stone steps leading down to a small pool bordering the edge of the entire site overlooking the panoramic bay.

Without the ornate bougainvillea-laden perimeter railings holding everything together, it was as if the entire site could easily slip right off the edge and plummet down to the rocky shore below.

OK, so this place was old, but surprisingly charming, and while Kim didn’t have high hopes for the quality of accommodation, given the crumbling exteriors, she already felt a weird sense of calm at just being here.

It was as if Villa Dolce Vita had already cast a spell on her.

A chipped wooden front door with a ringed black-painted knocker at its center stood wide open, and Kim hesitated momentarily as she listened for noise from inside.

She wasn’t sure if there were other guests staying there already or if anyone was even expecting her, but there was no going back now.

She took a deep breath. She was really here. Doing her own thing, finding her own path.

Time to take the plunge.

Here goes nothing…

Excerpted from The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill, Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Hill. Published by MIRA Books.

MELISSA HILL lives in south Dublin with her husband and daughter. A USA TODAY and international #1 bestseller, she is the author of 13 novels, including The Gift of a Charm and A Gift From Tiffany’s. The Gift of a Charm was a USA TODAY bestseller. Hailed “the queen of the big plot twist,” she combines all the warmth and humor of contemporary women’s fiction with plots that keep readers guessing from page to page. Melissa also cowrites forensic thrillers with her husband, Kevin, under the pseudonym Casey Hill, featuring crime scene investigator Reilly Steel. For more information, visit www.caseyhillbooks.com.

SOCIAL:

Author Website: http://www.melissahill.ie/

TWITTER: @melissahillbks

FB: @melissahillbooks

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/334579.Melissa_Hill

Beautiful Melody by K. E. Drake – Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: Independent

Publication Date: December 15, 2019

Genre: Fairytale, Fantasy

Goodreads | Amazon

“An evil king, an enchanted wolf, and a plot that could bring the whole kingdom crashing down around her.

After the sudden and tragic loss of both of her parents, once a merchant’s daughter, Melody Prescott now works as a maid at the palace. Melody is taken in and adopted by the queen of the kingdom.

At the palace, she lives a quiet life until one day she discovers a plot that threatens to put the kingdom and her very life in danger.

From the scheming king, to the enchanted wolf that saved her life, to the masked man she met at the ball, Melody’s heart and her life are at risk as her quiet world becomes filled with danger and mystery.

Will Melody survive, or will the looming darkness conquer the kingdom?”

Excerpt:

“Can I ask why you asked me to dance with you? Or is that information confidential?” His pale eyes sparkled as they searched her face.
“Why, because I haven’t noticed you participating in any of the dances this evening,” was Melody’s excuse.
She tried to keep from looking into his face, so she gazed beyond the ballroom to the gardens outside. The sun cast rays of warm light in through the windows, bathing the ballroom in orange light.
“You are a terrible liar, my lady.” He drew her attention back to him. He twirled her in a circle then brought her back to himself. “What is the real reason?”
Melody bit her lip as if pained. She looked back over her shoulder and found the prince standing alone near the edge of the dance floor.
“Ah. Avoiding the prince, are we?”
Her gaze snapped back to the stranger. “Sir, that is not the reason-” she started.
“You don’t have to make excuses with me, Princess. I saw you talking to him right before you asked me to dance.”
Melody watched her partner with eyes narrowed as they moved in beat with the slow song. “Were you watching me?”
He considered her a moment before answering. “Only a little,” he admitted with a smile. “You’re quite intriguing. First you run away from a prince. Then I find you hiding out in the gardens, and you run away from me. Sometime later, to avoid dancing with the prince, you ask a perfect stranger to dance with you.” He quietly chuckled, and Melody’s cheeks heated as she stared at the buttons of his black shirt.
“What is your name, then?” she asked to cover up her embarrassment.
He only looked at her, and she tried again, “You said I asked a perfect stranger to dance. What, then, is your name, sir?”

I love happily ever after. Really, really love happily ever after. My passion is writing and creating stories that bring a smile to the face of the person reading it. If my book makes you smile at least once during the story, I consider it a success.

I live in a small town in Missouri USA. If I’m not sitting at my computer, putting off doing any sort of real work, you can find me in my kitchen baking cookies, spending time with my family, or binge-watching a newly discovered television series.

I publish books both on Wattpad and on Amazon Kindle. Check me out on both sites for different collections of fun stories that I hope bring a smile to your day.

Night of the Dragon (Shadow of the Fox, #3) by Julie Kagawa – Spoiler Free Review, Q&A, Excerpt

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Publication Date: March 31, 2020

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |IndieBound | Books-A-Million | AppleBooks | Google Play

“Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has given up the final piece of the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers in order to save everyone she loves from imminent death. Now she and her ragtag band of companions must journey to the wild sea cliffs of Iwagoto in a desperate last-chance effort to stop the Master of Demons from calling upon the Great Kami dragon and making the wish that will plunge the empire into destruction and darkness.

Shadow clan assassin Kage Tatsumi has regained control of his body and agreed to a true deal with the devil — the demon inside him, Hakaimono. They will share his body and work with Yumeko and their companions to stop a madman and separate Hakaimono from Tatsumi and the cursed sword that had trapped the demon for nearly a millennium.

But even with their combined skills and powers, this most unlikely team of heroes knows the forces of evil may be impossible to overcome. And there is another player in the battle for the scroll, a player who has been watching, waiting for the right moment to pull strings that no one even realized existed… until now.

Master storyteller Julie Kagawa concludes the enthralling journey into the heart of the fantastical Empire of Iwagoto in the third book of the Shadow of the Fox trilogy. As darkness rises and chaos reigns, a fierce kitsune and her shadowy protector will face down the greatest evil of all. A captivating fantasy for fans of Sabaa Tahir, Sarah J. Maas and Marie Lu.

*Thank you so much to Netgalley and Inkyardpress for the e-arc and for having me on the tour!*

Did you notice the dead flowers in my photo? Yes? Because that’s how my heart is after reading the end of this book. Dead. It hurt and then it died. What. An. Ending. Kagawa. Wow. This was my reaction to the ending of this series:

Anyways, moving on from the shocking ending, I loved this book! It held the same magic that book one did so I am one happy reader. This was my first Kagawa series, so I will DEFINITELY be reading everything by her. This series reads like an anime.

Yumeko becomes soooooo freaking cool, y’all. She really grows into her own leader. She faces some TOUGH decisions. She also finally finds out answers to many mysteries of her life. And they are some big answers! I do not envy her. She goes through some stuff, man.

I LOVED Tatsumi/ Hakaimono. Their mashup still makes me chuckle sometimes. They do well together. Their evolution is probably my favorite to read about. It was super interesting to see how they share a body and feelings and memories.

The other side characters were great to read about too. How they all functioned as a unit was fun to see. They all worked well together.

The premise of the book was EPIC. It went from like, a cute, fun story in the first book to this huge climax in the last book. It was crazy! And of course, I loved the adventure going on.

I thought this was a perfect end to an amazing series! I literally tell everyone to go read this. Especially if you love anime. It just gives me those vibes!

Excerpted from Night of the Dragon by Julie Kagawa. © 2020 by Julie Kagawa, used with permission by Inkyard Press.

One thousand years ago

In the long years of his existence, the number of times he had been summoned from Jigoku could be counted on one claw.

Other demon lords had been summoned before. Yaburama. Akumu. The oni lords were too powerful not to have some en-terprising blood mage attempt a contract with them, though such rituals often ended badly for the arrogant human who thought they could enslave an oni lord. The four of them were, admit-tedly, a proud bunch, and did not take kindly to an insignificant mortal attempting to bend them to their will. They humored the blood mage long enough to hear what the human was offering, and if it did not interest them, or if the mage foolishly tried to assert dominance, they would rip him apart and do what they pleased in the mortal realm until they were sent back to Jigoku.
It had always amused Hakaimono when a mortal tried to summon him. Especially that moment when they gazed upon him for the first time and fully realized what they had done.

Narrowing his eyes, he gazed around, peering through smoke and ignoring the brief feeling of vertigo that always accompanied being dragged from Jigoku into the mortal realm. A growl of murderous annoyance rumbled in his throat. Already, he was not in the best of moods. Akumu had been scheming again, trying to weaken Hakaimono’s forces behind his back, and he had been on his way to deal with the devious Third General when black fire had erupted over his skin, words of blood magic echoing in his head as he abruptly found himself in the mortal realm. Now he stood in the center of a ruin, broken walls and shattered pillars surrounding him, the scent of death thick on the air, and contemplated squeezing the head of the mage responsible until it popped like an egg in his claws.

The stones under his feet were sticky and had a sweet, coppery smell he recognized instantly. Lines of blood had been painted over the ground in a familiar circle, with words and sigils of power woven in a complex pattern. A summoning circle, and a powerful one at that. Whomever the blood mage was, they had done their research. Though it wouldn’t save them in the end.

“Hakaimono.”

The First Oni looked down. A woman stood at the edge of the blood circle, black robes and long hair seeming to blend into the shadows. She clutched a knife in slender fingers, her pale arm covered in red to the elbow.

A chuckle escaped him. “Well, don’t I feel important,” he said, crouching down to better see the woman. She gazed coolly back. “Summoned by the immortal shadow herself. I am curious, however.” He raised a talon, watching the human over curved black claws the length of her arm. “If you rip off an immortal’s head, do you think it will die?”

“You will not kill me, First Oni.” The woman’s voice was neither amused nor afraid, though the certainty in it made him smirk. “I am not so foolish as to attempt a binding, nor will I ask much of you. I have but a single request, and after that, you are free to do what you like.”

“Oh?” Hakaimono chuckled, but admittedly, he was curi-ous. Only the very desperate, foolish or powerful called on one of the four oni generals, and only for the most ambitious of re-quests. Like destroying a castle, or wiping out an entire gen-eration. The risk was too great for anything less. “Let’s hear it then, human,” he prompted. “What is this one task you would have me undertake?”

“I need you to bring me the Dragon scroll.”

Hakaimono sighed. Of course. He had forgotten it was that time again in the mortal world. When the great scaly one him-self would rise to grant a wish to an insignificant, short-lived human. “You disappoint me, mortal,” he growled. “I am not a hound that fetches upon command. You could have gotten the amanjaku to retrieve the scroll for you, or one of your own human warrior pets. I have been called on to slaughter armies and tear strongholds to dust. Fetching the Dragon’s Prayer is not worth my time.”

“This is different.” The woman’s voice was as unruffled as ever. If she knew she was in danger of being ripped apart and devoured by an annoyed First Oni, she did not show it. “I have already sent my strongest champion to retrieve the scroll, but I fear he has betrayed me. He wants the power of the Dragon scroll for himself, and I cannot let the Wish slip away now. You must find him and take back the scroll.”

“One human?” Hakaimono curled a lip. “Not much of a challenge.”

“You do not know Kage Hirotaka,” the woman said quietly. “He is the greatest warrior the Empire of Iwagoto has seen in a thousand years. He is kami-touched, but also trained in the way of the samurai. His talents with both blade and magic are so great, the emperor himself praised his achievements. He has killed men, yokai and demons in waves, and will be perhaps the single greatest opponent you have ever faced, Hakaimono.” “I very seriously doubt that.” The First Oni felt a smirk cross his face as he breathed in the blood-scented air. “But now, I’m intrigued. Let’s see if this champion of shadow is as good as you say. Where can I find this demonslaying human?” “Hirotaka’s estate lies outside a village called Koyama, ten miles from the eastern border of Kage territory,” the woman re-plied. “It’s not hard to find, but it is rather isolated. Aside from Hirotaka’s men and servants, you won’t be opposed. Find Hi-rotaka, kill him and bring the scroll to me. Oh, and one more thing.” She raised the knife, observing the bloody, glittering edge. “I cannot have anyone suspecting me of blood magic. Not now, when the night of the Wish is so close.” Her black eyes rose to his, narrowing sharply. “There can be no witnesses, Hakaimono. No survivors. Kill everyone there.”

“I can do that.” A slow grin spread across the oni’s face, and his eyes gleamed red with bloodlust. “This will be fun.”

He would come to regret those words more than any other in his existence.”
Q&A with Julie Kagawa
Q: What were your biggest influences when creating this world in story, whether they be legends, folklore, anime, manga or other novels?
A:  Anime, Manga and video games have been my biggest influences when writing the world of Shadow of the Fox, but also the works of Akira Kurosawa like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon.   

Q: Would you ever consider using this world and/or some of the characters in future stories that you write?
A:  I love Japanese legends and folklore, so I might very well return to this world someday.  Maybe not through the eyes of a kitsune, but there is always the possibility of future books set in the land of Iwagoto.  

Q: Did Night of the Dragon have a certain soundtrack you listened to while writing?
A: I listen to a lot of movie and anime soundtracks while writing, but nothing specific.  
 
Q: What was the hardest scene to write? What was the easiest?
A:  The hardest scene was the last battle with the Final Boss at the end.  Without giving away spoilers, there was a lot of kitsune magic, illusion and misdirection, and trying to show everything that was going on without making it too confusing was a challenge.  I don’t remember an easy scene to write, but I did enjoy writing one of the final chapters (where I hope everyone cries).  
Q: Did you hide any secrets in your book? (names of friends, little jokes, references to things only some people will get)
A: There are a few references that only those very familiar with Japanese folklore would get.  For example, the names of the Reika’s two dogs, Chu and Ko, come from a Japanese novel called The Eight Dog Chronicles, which has been adapted into manga, anime, and even video games.  In Soul of the Sword, Yumeko and her friends are on their way to the home of the tengu, when they encounter a pair of magical stone guardians called Yoshitsune and Benkei, two real life historical figures that inspired countless legends and stories.  In folklore, Minamoto no Yoshitsune was a near mythical swordsman who had been trained by the king of the tengu, and Benki was a warrior monk who was his stalwart companion. 
 
Q: What do you hope people remember about Night of the Dragon?
A: I hope people come away with a new appreciation of Japanese myth and folklore, particularly all the wonderfully bizarre yokai, yurei and bakemono that populate these stories.  From kitsune and tanuki to oni and kirin, I hope it inspires readers to learn more about the world of Japanese myth and legend. And I hope people remember how much they cried at the end of the story. 
 
Q: What is your dream cast for Night of the Dragon?
A:  I am so bad at this question.  I really can’t answer it because one: I am terrible at keeping up with current actors/actresses.  And two: I see everyone in Shadow of the Fox as anime characters.



Q: Is there a character that you found challenging to write? Why?

A:  Taiyo Daisuke was probably the most challenging, because it was a balancing act of making him a noble and making him likable.  Nobles in fantasy stories tend to be arrogant, snooty, mocking, and manipulatieve. More often than not they are the villains, or at least an unpleasant obstacle the heroes must get around.  Daisuke was very clearly an aristocrat, so I made very certain to give him qualities atypical of a noble. Kindness, humility, and viewing everyone, even the ronin, as an equal was certainly not the mindset of a typical samurai, but it was necessary to make Daisuke a well loved member of the team and not a person the reader, and the other characters, hated.   


Q: How does a typical writing day look like for you?

A: I work from home, so times vary, but I try to head into my office and start writing around 9am everyday.  I have a quota of 1,000 words a day, except when I’m close to deadline, then the word count jumps by a few hundred words.  Sometimes I reach my quota in a few hours, sometimes it takes me all day, but I try not to stop writing until my word quota is reached.



Q: What is your current read?

A: At the moment, the words on my computer screen, lol.  Its deadline crunch time, so my current WIP is the only thing I have time for now. Hopefully I can get back to pleasure reading when I’m finished.


Q: What part of the Shadow of the Fox series was the most fun to write?


A: I really enjoyed writing the parts with Yumeko’s kitsune illusion magic.  One of my favorite scenes was when Yumeko and the others attended a formal tea ceremony with a snooty noble of the Shadow Clan.  I won’t give away spoilers, but what Yumeko does at the tea ceremony still makes me smile, and remains one of my favorite parts of the series.


Q: Was there a scene or backstory about a favorite character that didn’t make it into the final version of NIGHT OF THE DRAGON that you can share with us?

A: There was an earlier draft where Taka, Lord Seigetsu’s servant, was a human boy instead of a small, one-eyed yokai who could see the future.  But it seemed more interesting to have him be a yokai instead. Also in an earlier draft, Yumeko was not a half kitsune but a full fox who lived in a den with her grandmother fox and two brothers.  That also, got cut, as a half-human Yumeko was more sympathetic and relatable than one who was full kitsune.



Q: The Iron Fey series was your first large published success. How did you feel as a writer when you reflect upon those books? How did/do you feel as a reader when you read or re-read those books?

A: The Iron Fey series holds a very special place in my heart as my first published series. I know I’ve grown since then, and when I re-read the Iron Fey I know I’ve come a long way as an author. But I also know that I wrote the best books I could at the time, so even though I wouldn’t write them the same way now, I’m happy with them.


Q: What is it about fantasy that draws you to it?

A: Is everything a good answer? I love myths and legends, other worlds, magic, swords, wizards, dragons, evil gods, epic quests, and the battle between good and evil.  I read to escape, but also to travel to far away places and encounter creatures and beings I would never meet in real life. Who hasn’t daydreamed about flying on the back of a dragon?  I read fantasy for the same reason.  


Q: How much research goes into your books and at what point do you stop using research and build off it?

A: It depends on how much I already know about certain aspects of the book.  For example, from the amount of anime and manga I’d consumed over the years, I knew a lot about kitsune, oni, tanuki, and various other Japanese monsters.  I still did a fair amount of research, though it was more about the samurai and the Sengoku Jidai, the era I was basing the book off of. I never really stop researching, though most of it goes into book one, which is where much of the world building takes place.




Q: Would you ever write adult fantasy? If so, what would it look like?

A: I certainly have considered it, though it would look a lot like my YA books, just with older protagonists.   When I write, I don’t think “This is for teens,” I just write how I would always write. Really, the only thing that differentiates YA from adult is the age of the heroes and the lack of graphic sex in YA.  And even that is changing.


Q: Finally, out of all the books you have written, which has your favorite world and why?

A:  Probably the Iron Fey series, though Shadow of the Fox is a close second.  I love fantasy and all the fantastic creatures that populate it, so the Nevernever is my favorite world for that alone.  Even though I wouldn’t last a day there without getting eaten by an ogre, a redcap or a kelpie. Maybe if I could find a big gray cat…    

Julie Kagawa, the New York Times bestselling author of the Iron Fey, Blood of Eden, Talon, and Shadow of the Fox series was born in Sacramento, California. But nothing exciting really happened to her there. So, at the age of nine she and her family moved to Hawaii, which she soon discovered was inhabited by large carnivorous insects, colonies of house geckos, and frequent hurricanes. She spent much of her time in the ocean, when she wasn’t getting chased out of it by reef sharks, jellyfish, and the odd eel.

When not swimming for her life, Julie immersed herself in books, often to the chagrin of her schoolteachers, who would find she hid novels behind her Math textbooks during class. Her love of reading led her to pen some very dark and gruesome stories, complete with colored illustrations, to shock her hapless teachers. The gory tales faded with time, but the passion for writing remained, long after she graduated and was supposed to get a real job.

To pay the rent, Julie worked in different bookstores over the years, but discovered the managers frowned upon her reading the books she was supposed to be shelving. So she turned to her other passion: training animals. She worked as a professional dogtrainer for several years, dodging Chihuahua bites and overly enthusiastic Labradors, until her first book sold and she stopped training to write full time.

Julie now lives in North Carolina with her husband, two obnoxious cats, and a pair of Australian Shepherds that have more Instagram followers than she does.

Social Links:

Author website | Facebook | Twitter: @jkagawa | Instagram: @juliekagawaauthor | Goodreads

The Sea Glass Cottage by RaeAnne Thayne – Feature, Excerpt, Q&A

Publisher: HQN Books

Publication Date: March 17, 2020

Genre: Romance, Fiction

Buy Links: 

Harlequin | Indiebound| Amazon | Barnes & Noble  | Books-A-Million | Target | Walmart | Google | iBooks | Kobo

I am so excited to be featuring this lovely book on my blog today! Plus there is an excerpt AND an author Q&A! Thank you so much to Harlequin for having me on the tour!

From the New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne comes a brand-new novel for fans of Debbie Macomber and Susan Wiggs. RaeAnne Thayne tells the story of an emotional homecoming that brings hope and healing to three generations of women.

The life Olivia Harper always dreamed of isn’t so dreamy these days. The 16-hour work days are unfulfilling and so are things with her on-again, off-again boyfriend. But when she hears that her estranged mother, Juliet, has been seriously injured in a car accident, Liv has no choice but to pack up her life and head home to beautiful Cape Sanctuary on the Northern California coast.

It’s just for a few months—that’s what Liv keeps telling herself. But the closer she gets to Cape Sanctuary, the painful memories start flooding back: Natalie, her vibrant, passionate older sister who downward-spiraled into addiction. The fights with her mother who enabled her sister at every turn. The overdose that took Natalie, leaving her now-teenaged daughter, Caitlin, an orphan.

As Liv tries to balance her own needs with those of her injured mother and an obstinate, resentful fifteen-year-old, it becomes clear that all three Harper women have been keeping heartbreaking secrets from one another. And as those secrets are revealed, Liv, Juliet, and Caitlin will see that it’s never too late—or too early—to heal family wounds and find forgiveness.”

1

Olivia

Olivia shoved her hands into her pockets against the damp Seattle afternoon. Nothing would take the chill from her bones, though. She knew that. Even five days of sick leave, huddling in her bed and mindlessly bingeing on cooking shows hadn’t done anything but make her crave cake.

She couldn’t hide away in her apartment forever. Eventually she was going to have to reenter life and go back to work, which was why she stood outside this coffee shop in a typical spring drizzle with her heart pounding and her stomach in knots.

This was stupid. The odds of anything like that happening to her again were ridiculously small. She couldn’t let one man battling mental illness and drug abuse control the rest of her life.

She could do this.

She reached out to pull the door open, but before she could make contact with the metal handle, her cell phone chimed from her pocket.

She knew instantly from the ringtone it was her best friend from high school, who still lived in Cape Sanctuary with her three children.

Talking to Melody was more important than testing her resolve by going into the Kozy Kitchen right now, she told herself. She answered the call, already heading back across the street to her own apartment.

“Mel,” she answered, her voice slightly breathless from the adrenaline still pumping through her and from the stairs she was racing up two at a time. “I’m so glad you called.”

Glad didn’t come close to covering the extent of her relief. She really hadn’t wanted to go into that coffee shop. Not yet. Why should she make herself? She had coffee at home and could have groceries delivered when she needed them. 

“You know why I’m calling, then?” Melody asked, a strange note in her voice.

“I know it’s amazing to hear from you. You’ve been on my mind.”

She was not only a coward but a lousy friend. She hadn’t checked in with Melody in a few weeks, despite knowing her friend was going through a life upheaval far worse than witnessing an attack on someone else.

As she unlocked her apartment, the cutest rescue dog in the world, a tiny, fluffy cross between a Chihuahua and a miniature poodle, gyrated with joy at the sight of her.

Yet another reason she didn’t have to leave. If she needed love and attention, she only had to call her dog and Otis would come running.

She scooped him up and let him lick her face, already feeling some of her anxiety calm.

“I was thinking how great it would be if you and the boys could come up and stay with me for a few days when school gets out for the summer,” she said now to Melody. “We could take the boys to the Space Needle, maybe hop the ferry up to the San Juans and go whale watching. They would love it. What do you think?”

The words seemed to be spilling out of her, too fast. She was babbling, a weird combination of relief that she hadn’t had to face that coffee shop and guilt that she had been wrapped up so tightly with her own life that she hadn’t reached out to a friend in need.

“My apartment isn’t very big,” she went on without waiting for an answer. “But I have an extra bedroom and can pick up some air beds for the boys. They’ve got some really comfortable ones these days. I’ve got a friend who says she stayed on one at her sister’s house in Tacoma and slept better than she does on her regular mattress. I’ve still got my car, though I hardly drive it in the city, and the boys would love to meet Otis. Maybe we could even drive to Olympic National Park, if you wanted.”

“Liv. Stop.” Melody cut her off. “Though that all sounds amazing and I’m sure the boys would love it, we can talk about that later. You have no idea why I called, do you?”

“I… Why did you call?”

Melody was silent for a few seconds. “I’m afraid there’s been an accident,” she finally said.

The breath ran out of Olivia like somebody had popped one of those air mattresses with a bread knife.

“Oh no. Is it one of your boys?” Oh please, she prayed. Don’t let it be one of the boys.

Melody had been through enough over the past three months, since her jerkhole husband ran off with one of his high school students.

“No, honey. It’s not my family. It’s yours.”

Her words seemed to come from far away and it took a long time for them to pierce through.

No. Impossible.

Fear rushed back in, swamping her like a fast-moving tide. She sank blindly onto the sofa.

“Is it Caitlin?”

“It’s not your niece. Stop throwing out guesses and just let me tell you. It’s your mom. Before you freak out, let me just say, first of all, she’s okay, from what I understand. I don’t have all the details but I do know she’s in the hospital, but she’s okay. It could have been much worse.”

Her mom. Olivia tried to picture Juliet lying in a hospital bed and couldn’t quite do it. Juliet Harper didn’t have time to be in a hospital bed. She was always hurrying somewhere, either next door to Sea Glass Cottage to the garden center the Harper family had run in Cape Sanctuary for generations or down the hill to town to help a friend or to one of Caitlin’s school events.

“What happened?” 

“She had a bad fall and suffered a concussion and I think some broken bones.”

Olivia’s stomach twisted. A concussion. Broken bones. Oh man. “Fell where? Off one of the cliffs near the garden center?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know all the details yet. This just happened this morning and it’s still early for the gossip to make all the rounds around town. I assumed you already knew. That Caitlin or someone would have called you. I was only checking in to see how I can help.”

This morning. She glanced at her watch. Her mother had been in an accident hours earlier and Olivia was just finding out about it now, in late afternoon.

Someone should have told her—if not Juliet herself, then, as Melody said, at least Caitlin.

Given their recent history, it wasn’t particularly surprising that her niece, raised by Olivia’s mother since she was a baby, hadn’t bothered to call. Olivia wasn’t Caitlin’s favorite person right now. These days, during Olivia’s regular video chats with her mother, Caitlin never popped in to say hi anymore. At fifteen, Caitlin was abrasive and moody and didn’t seem to like Olivia much, for reasons she didn’t quite understand.

“I’m sure someone tried to reach me but my phone has been having trouble,” she lied. Her phone never had trouble. She made sure it was always in working order, since so much of her freelance business depended on her clients being able to reach her and on her being able to Tweet or post something on the fly.

“I’m glad I checked in, then.”

“Same here. Thank you.”

Several bones broken and a long recovery. Oh dear. That would be tough on Juliet, especially this time of year when the garden center always saw peak business.

“Thank you for telling me. Is she in the hospital there in Cape Sanctuary or was she taken to one of the bigger cities?”

“I’m not sure. I can call around for you, if you want.”

“I’ll find out. You have enough to worry about.”

“Keep me posted. I’m worried about her. She’s a pretty great lady, that mom of yours.”

Olivia shifted, uncomfortable as she always was when others spoke about her mother to her. Everyone loved her, with good reason. Juliet was warm, gracious, kind to just about everyone in their beachside community of Cape Sanctuary.

Which made Olivia’s own awkward, tangled relationship with her mother even harder to comprehend.

“Will you be able to come home for a few days?”

Home. How could she go home when she couldn’t even walk into the coffee shop across the street?

“I don’t know. I’ll have to see what’s going on there.”

How could she possibly travel all the way to Northern California? A complicated mix of emotions seemed to lodge like a tangled ball of yarn in her chest whenever she thought about her hometown, which she loved and hated in equal measures.

The town held so much guilt and pain and sorrow. Her father was buried there and so was her sister. Each room in Sea Glass Cottage stirred like the swirl of dust motes with memories of happier times.

Olivia hadn’t been back in more than a year. She kept meaning to make a trip but something else always seemed to come up. She usually went for the holidays at least, but the previous year she’d backed out of even that after work obligations kept her in Seattle until Christmas Eve and a storm had made last-minute travel difficult. She had spent the holiday with friends instead of with her mother and Caitlin and had felt guilty that she had enjoyed it much more than the previous few when she had gone home.

She couldn’t avoid it now, though. A trip back to Cape Sanctuary was long overdue, especially if her mother needed her.

  1. What made you write this story? (The “story behind the story”)

That’s a very long “story behind the story”! My husband of 34 years was adopted at birth to a wonderful loving famiy and never knew anything about his birth parents. He was never really interested, though I always wondered. He took a DNA test a few years ago before going in for a major surgery, just out of curiosity so our kids could know something about his ethnic heritage, and was astonished a few months later when results from Ancestry.com came in linking him to several close relatives on his maternal side. He wasn’t going to do anything about it but through a very strange sequence of events, he eventually connected with three half-brothers, an aunt and several uncles (including one who has been our neighbor and friend for more than twenty years without either us knowing the connection!). Unfortunately, my husband’s birth mother died several years ago so he never had the chance to meet her but my husband now has a wonderful relationship with his brothers, who have embraced and welcomed him. I have heard of these kind of stories before and after living through the amazing results from a simple DNA test, I wanted to write about someone trying to trace her father. That’s one of the underlying subplots to THE SEA GLASS COTTAGE.

  1. Which character do you most relate to in the story and why?

I love all of them but probably am most drawn to Juliet, who yearns for those she loves to be happy. That’s a universal mom need, I think.  Also, she hesitates to lean on others even when she really needs the help because she doesn’t want to be a burden and feels as if her role is to caretake those she loves instead of the other way around. I can definitely relate to this one!

  1. Do you have a place you go to in order to clear your head like Olivia did?

I don’t live by the ocean, unfortunately, but I do live in the mountains of Utah. Ten minutes from my home, I can be in a gorgeous wilderness area where I can walk and think and meditate. We are heading into the most beautiful time of year here, where the mountains turn green with new growth and wildflowers begin to pop out. I can’t wait! 

  1. Is this based on a real place?

Cape Sanctuary is kind of an amalgamation of some of my favorite spots along the Pacific coast, a mix of Carmel, California and Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s loosely based near Trinidad, California. I only wish it really existed!

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I started out in journalism in high school and discovered I loved telling stories. After graduating in journalism, I spent ten years at a daily newspaper as a reporter and editor but dreamed of writing a romance novel some day. When I was on maternity leave with our oldest (who is now 30!), I started my first book. It took me about 5 years of tinkering with it, dealing with rejections, rewriting and starting something new before I sold my first two books to Bantam Loveswept in 1995. I’ve been writing full time since 1997 when our second child was born. The Sea Glass Cottage is my 63rd book. I get a little overwhelmed when I think about all those words!

  1. What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Like all my books, the core story is that we’re all here to learn how to take care of each other. All my books have the underlying theme that our lives become better and more fulfilling when we reach out to help and lift someone else. The world can sometimes feel ugly and angry. I feel like there’s an increasing need for us all to focus on trying a little harder to be kind. Life is filled with pain and trials but it can also be beautiful and joyful at the same time.

  1. What drew you into this particular genre?

I still consider all my books romance novels at heart because that is the genre I have adored since I was eleven years old. My books will always have some kind of love story in them! But my hardcovers also have provided a wonderful chance to explore deeper relationship issues: Healing a rift between a mother and a daughter, finding peace when a relationship with a sister ended in tragedy, finding common ground between an aunt and a niece. 

  1. If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?

I would probably ask Juliet why she kept so many secrets from those who might have been able to help her deal better with the challenges she faces.

  1. What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

Right new I think it’s a close tie between Facebook and Instagram, probably weighted a little more to Facebook. I don’t use Twitter much.

  1. What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

Focus on the emotions you want your readers to feel in your stories. Readers love finding authors who can carry them away with their storytelling, making them feel what the characters feel. They want that emotional ride! Find the kind of stories you love to tell, focus on your strengths and constantly keep stretching yourself in new directions. 

  1. What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

Yes! Always ☺ The last book in my Haven Point series, SUMMER AT LAKE HAVEN, comes out June 23. This is Samantha Fremont’s book, for those who have read others in the series. It also includes a surprise novella. Next up will be a standalone Christmas book in an all-new community, Silver Bells, Colorado. CHRISTMAS AT HOLIDAY HOUSE will be out in late September. And I recently spent three days at a California beach house with writer friends plotting my next hardcover and can’t wait to start writing it! THE PATH TO SUNSHINE COVE (tentative title!) will also be set in Cape Sanctuary and will be out April 2021.

  1. Where is your favorite place to write?

I am the luckiest of writers because I have my own office. Several years ago, we made the impulsive decision to buy the house adjacent to ours. It was rundown and unsightly and kind of blighted the view from our backyard. Our plan was to fix it up to increase our own property value and then rent it out but after the renovation, I loved it too much to rent it out so I took it over. I have loved it! With a special needs son who has multiple disabilities and requires total care, life at my house is at times chaotic and messy but I always have such a sense of peace and calm when I go to my office. And I love that I can walk through the backyard in my jammies to go to work.

  1. What do you like best about your new book?

I love the peace and healing that came to the characters from being honest with their loved ones and opening their hearts to second chances.

  1. Do you have a favorite character in The Sea Glass Cottage?

This is a hard question because all my characters become cherished friends when I’m writing a book and I love them all but I really adore Henry. He is just an amazing hero for Juliet ☺

  1. What inspired you to become a writer?

I have been a voracious reader all my life and have loved romance novels since I used to steal them out of my mom’s room when I was still a preadolescent! I always used to tell stories to my friends, usually involving our latest celebrity crushes. I didn’t know I was destined to become a writer at the time but when I look back, I see all the things that set me on the path. I actually wanted to be an actress and was very involved in drama in high school, including performing in a repertory theater company, but my mom persuaded me to take a journalism class my junior year and I fell in love with telling stories. Even as I went into journalism through college and my subsequent career as a reporter and editor, I dreamed of writing a romance novel. I never imagined some day I could say I’ve written sixty-something of them!

New York Times bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her books have won numerous honors, including six RITA Award nominations from Romance Writers of America and Career Achievement and Romance Pioneer awards from RT Book Reviews. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.

Social Links:

Author Website| Twitter: @RaeAnneThayne | Facebook: AuthorRaeAnneThayne | Instagram: @RaeAnneThayne | Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/116118.RaeAnne_Thayne

Probiatis by Alyssa Ann – Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: Independently Published

Publication Date: September 21, 2019

Genre: Fantasy, Super Powers

Goodreads | Amazon

I am so excited to feature and give y’all an excerpt of this gorgeous book! It sounds so good! I love books about secret societies and super powers! How cool! Plus it is written by two indie authors! I love supporting indie authors!

“When an underground society of gifted individuals is handed the keys to defeating their enemy, a war for the ages ensues. While many dream of having superpowers, this group finds that their exceptional abilities may prove too great a burden to bear. With the help of her younger sister and childhood best friend, Emerald Stark struggles to accept her place at the center of a war she’s not sure she can win.”

A strange smile slowly comes across his sallow face, like he’s glad Emeral chose to not go with him or run, yet sorry for her at the same time.

“I didn’t say my name, but that’s not really the name you’re looking for, now is it? Think about it deep down, you already know. Probably your biggest feat coming to life. I am an operative for an organization known as the Arcane. They specialize in extracting people with your skill set from society. We have a special type of appreciation for your ability, as you probably know by now.”

The feat Emerald pushed aside for a moment find its place, and her confidence is melting away. The Arcane. They know, and they’ve come for me, she thinks. Somewhere in a corner of her mind, she reminds herself that she has prepared for this. She always knew somewhere inside her that this was a possibility, and that’s why she started the defensive fighting classes. This is what she was preparing for. She can do this.

While working on this novel, Alyssa graduated with a bachelor’s in Psychology and went on to get a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. She currently lives in New Mexico with her husband, Jared, and their newest addition, daughter, Zoey.

Alongside a career in nutrition and fitness, Ann spends her days chasing three little girls around a cattle ranch in Northeastern New Mexico with her husband, Casey. What started as a fun project for sisters-in-law turned into a co-author match mad in heaven! Ann and Alyssa are thrilled to present their first novel to you, the readers.

This book sounds so good, y’all! I can’t wait to read it! Let’s spread the love, what are some of your favorite Indie books?

Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara – Excerpt and Q&A

Publisher: Mira Books

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Buy Links:

Harlequin | Indiebound | Amazon| Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Target | Walmart | Google | iBooks | Kobo

I am very excited to feature Cast in Wisdom by Michelle Sagara! I am a little behind on the series but I’ve read some of them and LOVE these books. They’re so cool! They would make a great TV show. Check out the Excerpt and Author Q&A below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!

“In the aftermath of the events in the High Halls, there are loose ends. One of those loose ends is the fieflord, Candallar. In an attempt to understand his involvement—with the Barrani, with the High Court, and with the much hated Arcanum—Kaylin has been sent to the fiefs.

She has mixed feelings about this. There’s nothing mixed about her feelings when she discovers a very unusual building in the border zone between two fiefs, and far more questions are raised than are answered. Her attempt to get answers leads her back to the Imperial Palace and its resident Dragon librarian, the Arkon.

Things that were lost in the dim past were not, perhaps, destroyed or obliterated—and what remains appears to be in the hands of a fieflord and his allies—allies who would like to destroy Kaylin’s friends, the Emperor, and possibly the Barrani High Court itself. This is bad.

What’s worse: The librarian who hates to leave his library has a very strong interest in the things that might, just might, have been preserved, and—he is leaving his library to do in person research, no matter what Kaylin, the Hawks, or the Emperor think.

He is not the only one. Other people are gathering in the border zone; people who believe knowledge is power. But power is also power, and it might be too late for the Empire’s most dedicated Historian—and Kaylin and her friends, who’ve been tasked with his safety.”

Q&A with Michelle Sagara

Q: Your Chronicles of Elantra series is 15 books deep. How do you keep up with the characters and the plot? What do your notes look like?

A: I have a wiki that is not online, and I attempt to keep it updated as I write. This is not always as easy or tidy as it sounds. The wiki (I use VoodooPad) is easily searchable, but I have to remember to search it, and sometimes I don’t.

I am not a visual person, at all. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but I had known my husband for years, and it wasn’t until someone in the store asked what color his eyes were that I realized I didn’t know. Since he’s blond (Finnish on his mother’s side), I assumed that they were blue, and after some thought said, “probably blue”, which caused mild confusion. Had I not known my husband for years? I went home and this time looked and paid attention to what I was seeing: they were blue.

Because eye color had not–obviously–been of great import to me, eye color was the start of my note-keeping. I needed to try to track eye color of characters because I knew I’d forget. And… I still got it wrong between books. T_T.

But… the internals of the characters–what they want, where they’ve come from, the experiences that produced them, I viscerally know. Height? No, not really. Shape? Well, I remember which ones are human, Barrani, Dragon, Tha’alani, etc. Hates? Likes? Yes. Goals as well, if they have them. I remember their place in the hierarchies they occupy, because in some ways, that’s part of their interior makeup.

But sometimes, when in the flow of the words, I… don’t remember to go and check the wiki for the details that, in the moment of writing, aren’t important to me.

My notes, however, and all cross-linked to each other, because of the wiki format.

Q: What kind of research do you do for your books? Is it mandatory (for you) for all your books?

A: It’s very much on a book-by-book basis. At this point in the writing, most of the research is… all the previous books. 

I have had books which are more research intensive, but in general I read history in bits and pieces, and file away what I’ve read. It becomes part of the mental soil from which books grow. 

So, there are specific books in which I realized, as I was writing, that I didn’t know something that I needed to know, and that stopped the writing dead as I then attempted to find answers to the questions that arose from my own ignorance. I think, as I get older, I realize far more easily when I don’t know something and need to know it.

But I’m what’s generally called a pantser. I don’t have a plan when I start; I usually only have the ending. To know exactly what I don’t know and need to know is therefore not entirely predictable. 

…and I admit that once I’ve started building bits and pieces of world, I become increasingly impatient because I just want to dive in and start writing. So sometimes I start, write, and then stop because something a specific character would know, I don’t know. And then I set the book aside and start to look at things.

I think it’s important to know what my characters know, or at least what my viewpoint characters know.

Q: What is it about fantasy that makes you love it above any other genre?

A: This is a harder question to answer, because it’s so specific; it’s entirely Michelle-context. Does that context overlap with other readers? Yes. But not all of it, and not simultaneously.

I’m a product of my culture, my reading culture, and my linguistic limitations; I speak only English, and can only read French with a fifty percent chance of understanding it.

So: books I read and loved when young had fantasy elements, were fantasy. I read a lot of fairy tales. Anything I could get my hands on. Portal fantasy like the Narnia books. Fantasy like McKillip’s Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Fantasy like The Hobbit, and eventually, Lord of the Rings. 

I also read a lot of mythology books–at first for kids, and later, translations of plays and sagas that hadn’t been written with children in mind.

I read other books, books without fantasy elements, growing up–but the things that spoke to me most strongly were those. They were the books of my developing reader heart. As I traversed the divide between childhood and not-childhood (does anyone truly ever feel adult on the inside of their own head? I always feel like I’ve gotten better at performing adulthood, but I can’t quite feel it as my base state), I found other fantasy. I also found books like The Left Hand of Darkness

And all of the reading overlapped with life experiences; everything on the inside of my head, like the soil out of which story grows and evolves.

I loved fantasy as a reader. I loved reading as a reader. When I made the choice to start writing, I wrote what I loved. 

Q: If you didn’t write, what would you be doing?

A: I cannot actually answer that question, because I have always written. From about six years of age, on. I didn’t write for other people, and I hid all my writing because I didn’t want to open it up to judgement and criticism. 

If you mean, what would I do to make money, I’m not sure. Work, yes–but I’m not sure doing what. I didn’t expect, growing up, that my work would be my life; a job was a necessity, because having a roof over one’s head and food on the table was a necessity. I didn’t therefore pursue a career about which I could be passionate until I started to write for submission.

If I worked for someone else for a living, I would still write, because I always did. Would I write as often or as consistently? Probably not. There were gap months in university in which I didn’t write at all. But I always came back to it because writing words was an act of communication.

How, if I didn’t share them?

Good question. It was an act of communication with myself. It was a way of seeing, more clearly, things I believed or things that moved me, that I had not fully processed or pragmatically understood.

It was also like an exorcism: I put these words down so that they didn’t envelop and overwhelm the rest of my thoughts.

Q: What is the most difficult thing about your writing process?

A: The answer will depend entirely on when the question is asked, sadly.

If, for instance, I’m starting a new book, the answer will be: beginnings. I start a book several times, trying to find the right tone, the right voice. The longest not right attempt at a beginning was thirty-two pages. Most peter out at between four and six. 

At the moment, I’m revising, so the answer is: Revision.

Writing, once I have a beginning, is about flow. The story is like a river; I can follow it. I can swim in it. I can drown in it if I don’t remember to come up for air. But the entirety of the book flows from beginning to end. I don’t write out of order. I don’t write to an outline. Part of writing, or the joy of it, is in the discovery. I have an idea of where things are going and how they’ll get there, but the act of writing the book produces a lot – sometimes a LOT – of surprises.

What I know is the end. I understand the world. I don’t know how the characters will reach the end from the beginning, because even when I do know, I’m often wrong.

So, I now have a finished book. I revise it for submission–but I’m aware that I’m too close to it, and that my editor is going to be reading it and pointing out the parts that didn’t work for her. 

Here’s the trick to editing: editors read as readers. Their editorial experience gives them the abililty to explain why they had the reader reaction they did. I’m not going to argue about the editor’s reaction to the book. Even if I disagree with it, what am I going to say? No you didn’t react that way? Clearly, they did.

What I can do is examine why the scene didn’t work for the editor. Why it wasn’t compelling enough or believeable enough. If I want to keep that scene in this book, I have work to do.

But. Revision requires–for me–an entirely different frame of mind. It’s more objective; objectivity is required for me to assess structure and structural changes. Subjectivity is required for me – and let me take this moment to stress that all writers have different processes and I’m talking about only mine – to write.

And I can get caught up between the two states, until I can’t tell what’s objective and what’s subjective.

The corollary to that is that the book is a metaphoric river, and it is very difficult to restructure a river. I can’t just cut out one part and move it to another part if the terrain and the riverbed are not substantially the same for the two parts.

Which means I frequently end up having to take a chapter which mostly works and throw the entire thing out and start it again because I can see the seams in the revision if I don’t. 

Q: Finally, what do you want readers to leave with after finishing your books?

A: I write books because reading books moved me. A lot. I could get lost in a book, sink into it, follow it, think about it, daydream about it. 

Parts of that were intellectual, but the drive to be intellectual about a book I’d read came from a strong emotional response to it. What I want readers to leave with is the emotional response to the story and characters I had, and built, while writing it. I want to open a window into what the book made me feel as the writer.

Writing story is, in some ways, building a vessel that is solid enough to carry the emotional weight of the ending.

“You are such a coward,” Bellusdeo said when they’d reached the relative safety of the street. The roads in and around Helen were sparsely populated at the busiest of times, which this wasn’t. They would soon join roads that were crowded at the slowest of times, but Kaylin was dressed for the office. The Hawk emblazoned on her tabard encouraged people to make space. 

Had Bellusdeo hit the streets in her Draconic form, she’d have cleared far more of it—but some of that space would be created by panic, and panic could cause both accidents and the type of traffic congestion that caused the Swords to investigate. Also, it was illegal. 

“It’s not cowardice,” Kaylin replied, scanning the windows of the buildings above ground level. 

“What would you call it?” 

“Wisdom.” 

“Oh, please.”

“There’s no point in arguing with them now. Sedarias thinks it’ll be months before this ridiculous command performance occurs. We have months to attempt to talk her out of—” 

“Out of expressing any appreciation or gratitude?” 

Ugh. “You know they’re grateful. This isn’t about gratitude. It’s about rubbing that gratitude in the faces of the Barrani who attempted to brand you a—an army. An attacking army.” 

“I believe the term you want is Flight.” Bellusdeo’s eyes were orange. 

Hope squawked at the Dragon. Kaylin didn’t understand what he was saying. Bellusdeo did, but her eyes didn’t get any lighter. 

“You know as well as I do,” Kaylin said, emboldened by Hope’s entry into the discussion, “that this is not the time to visit the High Halls. I’m not sure the Emperor has ever been a guest there.” 

“We visited the Halls—more or less—when they came under attack, and the Barrani needed our help.” 

“From the outside. No one invited the Dragon Court in.” 

The chorus of Barrani voices that sometimes offered entirely unasked for opinions on the inside of her head maintained their silence for half a beat. The first person to break that silence was the fieflord. His words were tinged with amusement. 

You cannot expect that the cohort would suddenly cease to cause any difficulty, surely? 

I’m almost certain that the cohort understands why inviting a Dragon—any Dragon—to attend the High Halls would be a disaster. 

For the Dragons? 

For everyone. 

I believe some of the more conservative High Lords might be surprisingly supportive of such an invitation. 

Of course they would. It would be their best shot at killing Bellusdeo. If Bellusdeo died, there would be no new Dragons. No hatchlings. 

There’s no way the Emperor would give her permission to attend. 

Nightshade concurred. In his position, I would not. But I would be prepared, should I refuse to grant that permission, for all-out war. My brother has grown inordinately fond of her; living with you has made him reckless. 

He’s not— 

He has known Bellusdeo for even less time than you. He is willing to trust her in a fashion no one older would. And do not cite the Consort, please. 

Kaylin hadn’t intended to. The Consort seems to like her. 

Kaylin, the Consort “likes” me. But she does not trust me. 

She does. 

“Stop making that face, or it will freeze that way.” Kaylin reddened. 

I understand that you are attempting to avoid the Emperor’s ire. I consider this wise on your part. It is not, however, the ire of the Emperor that will be your most significant problem; he will do nothing to harm Bellusdeo. 

I know that. 

It is the ire of the High Lords. Sedarias is, I believe, genuinely grateful for Bellusdeo’s intervention. She does wish to honor her. But gratitude can be expressed privately—and in most cases, it is. Only rulers feel obliged to make that expression public because the public expression elevates those to whom one feels gratitude. It makes clear to witnesses that the aid tendered—in whatever fashion—is important and significant. The Emperor has codified such significance in public ceremonies and public titles, has he not? 

Kaylin shrugged. 

For Sedarias, however, genuine gratitude is not an impediment to political displays. She can be genuinely grateful and simultaneously, extremely political. She wishes to highlight Bellusdeo’s aid and import to Mellarionne. Why do you think this is? 

Kaylin thought about this. After a long pause, she said, She wants to thumb her nose at the rest of the High Lords, many of whom weren’t helpful at all? 

Nightshade’s silence was one of encouragement. 

Bellusdeo’s a Dragon. So…her presence means that even Dragons—with whom you’ve had a war or two— 

Three. 

Fine, a war or three, were more helpful, or at least more of a genuine ally, than any of the Barrani. 

Yes. I believe that is some part of Sedarias’s intent. That’s not going to help Mellarionne any. 

Perhaps, perhaps not. She will do so as An’Mellarionne. It would be considered a very bold move—but there are those who would assume that Sedarias is confident in her own power, and they would hesitate to challenge her. 

“If you are speaking about me,” Bellusdeo said, her voice almost a whisper of sound, “I must insist that you include me.” 

Hope squawked. 

“Well, yes, that could cause some difficulty,” the Dragon replied. “But I dislike Kaylin’s worry. She is mortal.” Squawk. “The marks of the Chosen don’t matter. She’s mortal. I may be a displaced person in these lands; I may no longer have a home or lands of my own. But I am a Dragon.” 

“I’m not exactly worried about you,” Kaylin said. When one golden brow rose in response, she added, “Not about you specifically. But—there’s no way for Dragon and High Halls to combine that isn’t political. Explosively political. On your own, you can survive more than any of the rest of the cohort—or me. But you won’t be on your own. The cohort won’t abandon you.” 

It was the Dragon’s turn to snort. 

Kaylin reconsidered her words and chose better ones. “Most of the cohort wouldn’t abandon you. Annarion wouldn’t. Mandoran wouldn’t. I don’t believe Allaron would either, from what I’ve seen. And you know what the cohort is like. The minute one of them enters combat to save you, they’re all going to rush in. It doesn’t matter if they’re there for your sake or their friends’; they’ll be there. But this is political, and anything political is far above my pay grade.” 

“You don’t seem to find this insulting.” 

“I consider it one of the biggest advantages of my rank. Which is the lowest rank I could be given and still be called a Hawk.” 

“One of? What’s another one?” 

“I’m not in command. I don’t need to make decisions that might cost the lives of other Hawks. No matter what happens in an action, large or small, I won’t have their deaths on my hands.” 

“But you don’t like being a private.” 

“Well, I could be a corporal, and it would still be mostly true. And the pay is higher.” 

“It’s not much higher,” a familiar voice said. It was Mandoran’s. Of course it was. Kaylin didn’t miss a step. 

“I don’t suggest you try to enter the Halls of Law looking like that.” 

“Like what?” 

“Like thin air.” 

“Oh. That.” Mandoran caused other people some consternation as he materialized to the side of Kaylin that Bellusdeo wasn’t occupying. To be fair, most of the street didn’t notice; people always had their own problems and their own schedules. “I was going to follow Teela into the office, but Teela’s not heading there directly.” 

“So you followed us?” 

“Not most of the way, no. I decided to head straight here to wait, but I caught up because you’re doing the Hawk-walk.” He glanced at Bellusdeo. “For what it’s worth, I think insisting on your presence on the inside of the High Halls is suicidal.” 

“Oh?” The Dragon’s voice was cool. “For who?” 

Mandoran grinned. “Mostly Kaylin.” 

Kaylin watched as flecks of gold appeared in Bellusdeo’s eyes. Mandoran had, once again, managed to set Bellusdeo at ease. Kaylin wondered if that was why he’d chosen to speak when he had. He never treated the Dragon with respect; had the Emperor been present for most of their spats, she wasn’t certain Mandoran wouldn’t be a pile of bleeding ash. Well, ash, because ash didn’t bleed, but still. 

“You left the rest of the cohort behind?” Kaylin asked. 

“We had a vote, and Helen decided it was safest to send me.” 

“She was the tie-breaker?” 

“Ah, no. She didn’t consider the first choice viable. But— we can all see what I see anyway, so unless there’s an attack, having more than one person here is superfluous. If Teela had been coming directly to the office, someone would have followed Teela.” 

“Not you?” Bellusdeo asked. 

“I had to live with Tain for a few years. Compressed into a few weeks, I might add. He’s stuffy and remarkably straightforward. Also, he hates fun.” 

“He hates mess,” Kaylin said, as they approached the stairs that led into the Halls of Law. 

“Define mess. No, wait, don’t. The problem with Tain—at least for me—is that Teela might actually kill us if we’re indirectly responsible for his death. He’s not like the rest of us; we can’t speak to him without shouting, and even if we can, he doesn’t listen half the time. So…it’s a lot less safe to tail Tain.” 

“I imagine it’s safer to tail Tain than it is to tail Kaylin if you’re worried about Teela’s reaction,” Bellusdeo said, frowning slightly. 

“You need a better imagination.”

Excerpted from Cast In Wisdom by Michelle Sagara, Copyright © 2020 by Michelle Sagara. Published by MIRA Books.

Michelle Sagara is an author, bookseller, and lover of literature based in Toronto. She writes fantasy novels and lives with her husband and her two children, and to her regret has no dogs. Reading is one of her life-long passions, and she is sometimes paid for her opinions about what she’s read by the venerable Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. No matter how many bookshelves she buys, there is Never Enough Shelf space. Ever.

A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison – Blog Tour – Spoiler Free Review – Excerpt

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Publication Date: January 07, 2020

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

Adventure Rating: 4 Stars

Buy Links: Harlequin |Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indie Bound|Kobo|Books-a-Million|Google Play

When they’re stuck under one roof, the house may not be big enough for their hate…or their love.

When Tyson Trice finds himself tossed into the wealthy coastal community of Pacific Hills, he’s ready for the questions, the stares and the feeling of not belonging. Not that he cares. After recovering from being shot and surviving the rough streets of Lindenwood, he doesn’t care about anyone or anything, much less how the rest of his life will play out.

Golden girl Nandy Smith has spent most of her life building the pristine image that it takes to fit in when it comes to her hometown Pacific Hills where image is everything. After learning that her parents are taking in a troubled teen boy, Nandy fears her summer plans, as well as her reputation, will go up in flames.

Now with Trice living under the same roof, the wall between their bedrooms feels as thin as the line between love and hate. Beneath the angst, their growing attraction won’t be denied. Through time, Trice brings Nandy out of her shell, and Nandy attempts to melt the ice that’s taken Trice’s heart and being. Only, with the ever-present pull back to the Lindenwood streets, it’ll be a wonder if Trice makes it through this summer at all.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley for the e-arc and to Inkyard Press for having me on the tour!

This book surprised me with how much I loved it. I honestly thought it was going to be a cute, fun read, which it was BUT there was a lot more depth than I was expecting. And some really good quotes! I have a lot to say about this book so hang on to your horses.

Grandison covered a lot of issues. Race, feminism, community, stereotypes to name a few. I actually thought she did a really good job of it. The way she didn’t go super into each topic but enough to get young readers interested in the seriousness of what is going on.

Tyson, that sweet boy, is amazing. He comes from a neighborhood and home life that wasn’t good. He made the choice to not become a product of his environment. It’s a HARD choice. My husband comes from a similar home life as Tyson (minus the good mom and minus the shooting), so I know it is hard to leave everything you know and were raised to be, to be a better person. The courage Trice had to walk a better path is something to be commended.

Another issue Grandison brought up was how boys are not taught emotions growing up, resulting in them acting out in inappropriate ways. And them thinking they don’t need help/ therapy. This is a HUGE problem with our society.

Nandy was a bit stand offish in the beginning but I liked her character development. She judged Trice (Tyson) to be someone bad, just because where he came from. And she quickly found out she was wrong about him. She then turned quite likable and a great character to read about. I loved how she saw the good in everyone.

And lastly, the lerrrrve. Okay, it was cute. They met and were friends as kids then reconnected as teens. It sort of reminded me of Sweet Home Alabama in that sense. Absolutely adorable. And they went from friends, to enemies, to lovers. It’s my favorite trope.

I honestly could write a lot more about this book but I don’t want to give away spoilers and what the characters have to go through! And I don’t want this to take a million years to read.

1 | TRICE

Getting shot isn’t the worst part. It’s the aftermath that really fucks you up.

Six months ago, on a dark December night, I was lying in a pool of my own blood on the living room floor. Six months later, I was sitting in a car on the way to a new town to start fresh. In some ways, yeah, the wound had healed. In others, it never would. I didn’t care, though. The last thing I’d cared about got me where I was.

“You’ll like it there, Tyson. The Smiths have prepared a new home for you,” Misty from social services was saying as she drove the long stretch of highway toward Pacific Hills. It was only an hour away from where I used to live in Lindenwood, California.

I didn’t respond. Home was a meaningless word to me now.

Misty peeked at me. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“I can leave as soon as I turn eighteen, right?” That was all that mattered. Fuck the rest. Five months, aka one hundred and sixty days, to go. On November twelfth, I’d be free.

Misty sighed. “Look, I know what you’re going through—”

“Word? You’ve been shot too and all’at?” I glanced her way. This lady was going home to a million-thread-count sheet-and-pillowcase set, resting easy once I was off her hands.

Fuck outta here.

“Well, no, but—”

“Then shut up.” I faced the road ahead, done talking. 

Misty let out a breath, her light tan skin no doubt holding a blush upon her cheeks. “Do you kiss your—” She caught herself, as if realizing where she was about to go. “I—I’m sorry. You just shouldn’t speak that way.”

I felt an ache in my chest, but I let it go.

I didn’t care.

Half a beat later Misty was rambling on about food. “Do you wanna stop and get something to eat, you must be starving.”

“I told you I wasn’t hungry.”

“Oh, well, are you nervous?”

I hadn’t thought about being nervous or the fact that I would never return home again and lead a normal life. Not like I’d ever led one to begin with.

“No.”

“Well, good. Think of it as going to a sleepover at an old friend’s house.”

One thing was true, the Smiths were old friends, but this setup was for the next five months.

“It’s been ten years since I last saw them,” I spoke up. “This ain’t no damn sleepover, and it’s not about to be all kumbaya, neither.”

At least they were black. Moving into the uppity setting of Pacific Hills was sure to be hell, but at least I would be with a black family. Even if I wouldn’t exactly fit in.

I didn’t look the same. I didn’t act the same. I wasn’t the same. And I didn’t care.

“Tyson—”

“It’s Trice.” I had asked her to call me that from jump street. No one called me Tyson.

I didn’t want to think about that. I didn’t want to think about anything. I didn’t care.

“Trice, please, try? I know it’s been rough these past few months, but you have a chance at something fresh. The Smiths are good people, and Pacific Hills is a lovely town. I’m sure soon you’ll be close to your old self.”

Misty had no clue what she was talking about. My old self? She obviously hadn’t paid attention to my file, or she would’ve been smart enough to leave it at fresh and not bring up my past.

Tyson Trice was dead.

He died on the f loor in the living room that day, and he was never coming back.

When I didn’t respond, Misty let up, probably getting that I didn’t give a shit either way.

I didn’t care.

2 | Nandy

I told myself I didn’t care about the juvenile delinquent my parents were moving into our home. I told myself it was no big deal an ex-con would be sleeping right next door to me. I told myself that my parents hadn’t made the worst decision in everdom.

It was just an everyday occurrence in the Smith household.

Still, it wasn’t fair.

As I paced around the pool in my backyard and complained to my best friend, Erica Yee, over the phone, I expected her to be on my side and console me.

“This was supposed to be a great summer and they pull this?” I whined.

“You can still have a good summer,” Erica responded. “This doesn’t have to be the end.”

But it was the end. My parents hadn’t gone into detail about the boy’s situation, just that he was in a “rough spot” and would be living with us for now. And that he was from Lindenwood, otherwise known as the ghetto.

I’d never gone there, but I’d heard enough stories to know to be cautious. When my parents watched the news, there was always a segment on some tragedy that had happened in Lindenwood. Some high-speed chase, or little kids killed during a drive-by, or a robbery gone wrong among the usual clutter of crime that kept the LPD busy. Lindenwood was notorious for its drugs, thefts, assaults, and murders.

I shivered.

It probably hadn’t been the best idea to stay up lurking on the local news feeds right before the delinquent moved in.

Everything would be ruined.

“It is the end,” I insisted. “I mean, they spent all this time whispering and having these hushed conversations behind closed doors, and they barely revealed last night that he’s from Lindenwood!”

Maybe I was acting childishly, but I felt like a kid with the way my parents had shut me out on the biggest detail of all when it came to the boy coming to stay with us out of nowhere. For two weeks, they’d been scarce on the topic and evaded any and all questions. Now it felt like they’d dropped a bomb on me.

For all I knew, this kid was a total ex-gangbanger and my parents were intent on opening our home to wayward souls.

Dramatic? Sure.

Precautions? I was definitely taking them.

“Right now, you’re probably pacing around your pool in a Gucci bikini while your happily-in-love parents are inside preparing dinner together. God, Nan, your life is incredibly boring. You could use this delinquent to spice things up.”

Well, it was a Sunday evening, and the sun was beginning to set. My parents always made dinner together on Sundays, because they were both off work and able to do so.

I stopped pacing and glanced down at my white Gucci bikini. “Yee, you try new hobbies to spice things up, not invite ex-cons to move in with you. Look, whatever, let’s just get away for a few hours. The longer I put a halt on this, the better.”

“When is he supposed to show up?”

“Sometime today. I just wanna blow it off. Maybe you, me, and Chad could grab a bite at the club or something.”

My boyfriend’s family had a reserved table at the local country club. Anything would be better than dinner with the delinquent. I wasn’t 100 percent sure he was a criminal, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When it came to Lindenwood, you couldn’t be too sure.

“You in?” I asked.

“If we must.” Erica pretended to sound exasperated. “Call me with the details in twenty, okay?”

“Deal.” I hung up and sighed, tilting my head back toward the darkening sky and questioning what I had done to deserve this.

It was the first week of June, and school had ended last week. I intended to spend this summer before senior year going to beach bonfires and parties with my friends, lounging around, preparing for cotillion, and just staying as far away from home as possible.

With a plan in motion, I went around my pool and stepped into our family room through the patio doors.

“Shit!” I jumped back, dropping my phone and barely registering the sound of its rough slap against the hardwood floor.

My parents were standing in the room with an Asian woman who was dressed in a violet-red pantsuit. But it was the boy beside her that startled me. He towered over my father, with broad shoulders and a wide chest, and arms that let me know he worked out, even though he seemed drenched in black with his long-sleeved shirt and matching pants. He had deep, dark brown skin with a clean complexion. But what really stood out was his hair. The boy had cornrows braided to the back of his head—well-aged cornrows.

Ugh, he looked so unpolished.

Suddenly I remembered my fallen phone and looked down to discover the screen was cracked. Because things aren’t messed up enough already.

“And you remember our daughter, Nandy.” My mother played it cool, gesturing toward where I’d frozen near the patio doors.

Everyone faced me, looking just as uncomfortable as I felt.

Great, I was making my first impression completely inappropriate in a bikini.

Awkwardly, I waved and forced a smile onto my face, showing off the result of two years of braces.

“Nandy, this may be a little bit of a surprise, but you remember Tyson Trice, don’t you?” my father asked, looking between the two of us. 

At first, the name vaguely rang a bell, but then it hit me. Tyson, the boy I’d played with when I was younger. He used to come by in the summers when his grandfather would do lawn work around our subdivision. There’d been a few times during the school year when he’d come by too, but it was mostly a summer thing. Until he stopped coming altogether.

The revelation brought a sense of relief followed quickly by a foreign anger that I couldn’t explain.

That was then; this is now.

Now Tyson Trice had hit a mega growth spurt and stood before me nearly a man, appearing not at all like the seventeen years young that we both were.

“Right.” I nodded my head. “Tyson, hey.”

Tyson didn’t shift focus to my body. He stared straight into my eyes and bore no friendly expression or a tell of what he was thinking. He was far across the room, but I didn’t need to be right up on him to know that he had the angriest eyes I’d ever seen. Dark, soulless abysses stared at me, making me shiver.

Right on, Dad. Thanks for inviting a possible murderer into our home.

“And this is our son, Jordy.” My mother didn’t miss a beat as she went on, downplaying how awkward everything was.

Jordy, my eleven-year-old little brother, was sitting against the ottoman, playing a video game on his handheld.

Tyson glanced at Jordy, and I felt protective, seeing curiosity briefly cross his face as he laid eyes on my Thai brother.

Jordy looked up from his game. “Hey.”

Tyson lifted a brow and turned to face my parents in that familiar way most outsiders looked at my family once they realized a black family was raising a Thai son.

Jordy smirked, shaking his head. “They wish they could’ve spawned a kid as good-looking as me.”

My father chuckled. “We spoke about adopting for years after having Nandy, and right around the time she was eight, we got approved and Jordy came into our lives.”

“He was just two years old,” my mother gushed. “He was so adorable, we fell in love with him instantly.”

I came more into the room, wanting to shield my brother from Tyson. Someone had to think of the kids.

“Nandy, why don’t you go put some clothes on.” It wasn’t a question. My mother was ordering me to cover up and look more presentable for our guests.

“I was actually on my way out to meet up with Erica, we’ve got this—”

“Right now?” she asked. “We’ve got company.”

I glanced at Tyson, hating him again for spoiling my summer. I’d seen him, and I’d spoken to him. What more did she want?

“Yeah, but Erica and I had plans to go to the country club and talk about cotillion.”

My mother pursed her lips. “Nandy—”

“You know what,” my father stepped in, “that’s a great idea. Nandy could take Tyson and the two could get reacquainted, and that’ll give us time to talk to Ms. Tran here.”

My eyes practically shot out of their sockets. There was no way in hell I’d share a car with Tyson.

After thinking it over, my mother seemed to agree. “That is a great idea. We can all sit down together later.”

My jaw hit the ground.

I shook my head. “You know, never mind, suddenly I’m not as hungry as I thought. In fact, I feel sick to my stomach. I think I’ll go lie down.”

By the way my mother narrowed her eyes, I knew she’d be giving me hell later about my behavior. I didn’t care. It wasn’t fair to me to force some scary-looking guy into my hands to be babysat.

With one final look at the newest arrival to the Smith household, I picked up my phone from the floor and made my way up to my room.

Long after Ms. Tran had left and my mother had scolded me in our family office, I sat in my room, maneuvering with a broken phone as I texted my boyfriend. Going on a hunger strike didn’t last long for me. After having refused to go down for dinner, I was starving.

My cell phone chirped as Chad texted me back.

Chad: Outside

Me: Thank God

My parents were probably still up, no doubt discussing either my punishment or how we were going to work Tyson into the family.

With their bedroom being in a different wing of our house, sneaking out was always an easy feat. Still, I made sure to keep extra quiet as I crept out of my room and slipped down the staircase.

Chad was waiting for me out front. He’d been pacing back and forth in front of our walk as he waited, and as I stepped outside I was elated to see him.

“I’m thinking sushi, you in?” I asked as I walked past him, heading for his car.

“Yeah, sure. What’s going on?” Chad asked as he caught up to me and fell into step.

I peered up into his blue eyes. “You don’t want to know.”

Chad ran a hand through his auburn hair, appearing confused but conceding. “O-kay, let’s go get some sushi.”

At the feeling of being watched, I glanced back at my house. On the second floor, through one of the large bay windows, I caught sight of a silhouetted figure.

It was him.

Creep.

I turned back to Chad and reached out and caught his hand. “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

This was my summer, and no one was getting in the way of that.

Excerpted from A Love Hate Thing by Whitney D. Grandison. Copyright © 2020 by Whitney Grandison. Published by Inkyard Press. 

Whitney D. Grandison was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, where she currently resides. A lover of stories since she first picked up a book, it’s no surprise she’s taken to writing her own. Some of her works can be found on Wattpad, one of the largest online story sharing platforms, where she has acquired over 30,000 followers and an audience of over fifteen million dedicated readers.