Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine – Feature, Excerpt, Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: September 01, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

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

Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER (MIRA Trade; September 1, 2020; $17.99).

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

Chapter One

I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested. The sheriff and his deputies would roll up the drive, bouncing on the gravel, but coming fast, too fast to be stopped, too fast for Lobo to get away through the fields. Or maybe Lobo would be asleep, and they would surprise him, his eyes red, slit like taillights. My mama and I would weep with joy as they led him off. The deputies would wrap us in blankets, swept in their blue lights. We were innocent, weren’t we? Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time, involved with the wrong man—and we didn’t know, my mama didn’t know, the extent. 

But that wasn’t true, not even close. 

I sold the weed at a gas station called Crossroads to a boy who delivered meals for shut-ins. Brown paper bags filled the back of his station wagon, the tops rolled over like his mama made him lunch. I supposed he could keep the bags straight. That was the arrangement Lobo had made years ago, that was the arrangement I kept. I left things uncomplicated. I didn’t know where the drugs went after the boy with the station wagon, where the boy sold them or for how much. I took the money he gave me and buried most of it in the yard.

After his station wagon bumped back onto the rural route, I went inside the store. There was a counter in the back, a row of cracked plastic tables and chairs that smelled like ketchup: a full menu, breakfast through dinner. They sold a lot of egg sandwiches at Crossroads to frackers, men on their way out to work sites. It was a good place to meet; Lisbeth would come this far. I ordered three cheeseburgers and fries, and sat down.

She was on time. She wore gray sweatpants under her long denim skirt, and not just because of the cold. “You reek, Wil,” she said, sliding onto the chair across from me.

“Lobo says that’s the smell of money,” I said.

“My mama says money smells like dirty hands.”

            The food arrived, delivered by a waitress I didn’t know. Crinkling red and white paper in baskets. I slid two of the burgers over to Lisbeth. The Church forbade pants on women, and short hair, and alcohol. But meat was okay. Lisbeth hunched over a burger, eating with both hands, her braid slipping over her shoulder.

“Heard from them at all?” she asked.

“Not lately.”

“You think he would let her write you? Call?”

“She doesn’t have her own phone,” I said.

            Lisbeth licked ketchup off her thumb. The fries were already getting cold. How about somethin’ home made? read the chalkboard below the menu. I watched the waitress write the dinner specials in handwriting small and careful as my mama’s.

“Hot chocolate?” I read to Lisbeth. “It’s June.”

“It’s freezing,” she said. 

And it was, still. Steam webbed the windows. There was no sign of spring in the lung-colored fields, bordered by trees as spindly as men in a bread line. We were past forsythia time, past when the squirrels should have been rooting around in the trees for sap. 

“What time is it now?” Lisbeth asked.

I showed her my phone, and she swallowed the last of her burger.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Already?”

“Choir rehearsal.” She took a gulp of Coke. Caffeine was frowned upon by The Church, though not, I thought, exclusively forbidden. “I gave all the seniors solos, and they’re terrified. They need help. Don’t forget. Noon tomorrow.”

The Church was strange—strange enough to whisper about. But The Church had a great choir; she had learned so much. They had helped her get her job at the high school, directing the chorus, not easy for a woman without a degree. Also, her folks loved The Church. She couldn’t leave, she said.

“What’s at noon?” I asked.

           She paused long enough to tilt her head at me. “Wylodine, really? Graduation, remember? The kids are singing?”

“I don’t want to go back there.”

“You promised. Take a shower if you been working so my folks don’t lose their 

minds.”  

“If they haven’t figured it out by now, they’re never going to know,” I said, but Lisbeth 

was already shrugging on her coat. Then she was gone, through the jangling door, long braid and layers flapping. In the parking lot, a truck refused to start, balking in the cold.  

I ordered hot chocolate. I was careful to take small bills from my wallet when I went up to the counter. Most of the roll of cash from the paper bag boy was stuffed in a Pepsi can back on the floor of the truck. Lobo, who owned the truck, had never been neat, and drink cans, leaves, and empty Copenhagen tins littered the cab. Though the mud on the floor mats had hardened and caked like makeup, though Lobo and Mama had been gone a year now, I hadn’t bothered cleaning out the truck. Not yet.

The top of the Pepsi can was ripped partially off, and it was dry inside: plenty of room for a wad of cash. I had pushed down the top to hide the money, avoiding the razor-sharp edge. Lobo had taught me well.

I took the hot chocolate to go.

In the morning, I rose early and alone, got the stove going, pulled on my boots to hike up the hill to the big house. I swept the basement room. I checked the supplies. I checked the cistern for clogs. The creek rode up the sides of the driveway. Ice floated in the water, brown as tea. 

No green leaves had appeared on the trees. No buds. My breath hung in the air, a web I walked through. My boots didn’t sink in the mud back to my own house in the lower field; my footprints were still frozen from a year ago. Last year’s walking had made ridges as stiff as craters on the moon. At the door to my tiny house, I knocked the frost from my boots, and yanked them off, but kept my warm coveralls on. I lit the small stove, listening to the whoosh of the flame. The water for coffee ticked in the pot.

I checked the time on the clock above the sink, a freebie from Radiator Palace. 

“Fuck,” I said aloud to no one.

Excerpted from Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine, Copyright © 2020 by Alison Stine. 

Published by MIRA Books

1.       If Wil had a favorite song, what would it be?

I feel like she would have grown up listening to country, and to the music her mama liked, as I did, like Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gale. I think she would really like Kacey Musgraves, and would have snuck a copy her albums to her friend who was raised very strict. But I think Wil’s favorite song would be Burning House by Cam. It was on the radio when I was writing. I used to sing it to my son. The lyrics speak a lot to Wil’s situation: “stay here with you/til this dream is gone.” It would have been on the radio when she was driving home from seeing the person who could never love her the way she wanted, driving through the place that could never love her back.

2.       Which character in ROAD OUT OF WINTER do you most relate to?

Wil. We were a few months into the pandemic when I realized I actually am Wil. Writing her made me realize I’m stronger than I know. I can get my family cross-country safely. I can make it work. All of her plant knowledge is my own, which I gained from living in rural Appalachia for so long, and from my friends and neighbors. I cry more than she does, though.

3.       What was your favorite scene to write? No spoilers!

Everything involving the skaters, though it scared me too. My son is a skater and my partner is (and I used to be, before getting hurt!). Friends of ours have a homemade skate ramp out in the country. Several of my friends basically have their own compounds which, I’m not gonna lie, is a dream. Anytime I can convey the wildness, strangeness, and the abandon of rural Appalachian Ohio is a good writing day. It can be scary but it can also be really fun, living in the middle of nowhere. You can do what you want, to both good and bad results.

4.       Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Jamey. In my real life, in part because of my disability, I’m quiet, especially in new situations. I hold back. Jamey says the things I wish I could. She’s also, as my smart friend and early reader Ellee pointed out, a survivor: she can be sarcastic and harsh sometimes because of what she had to endure. Her defense mechanism is pretending not to care. But she does care, deeply.  

5.       Why was it important to you to have a queer character in your story?

I didn’t consciously set out to make Wil queer and I don’t know that she would call herself that exactly, if she has that language or community yet. She loves who she loves, but her experience of romantic love in a small town has been things just not working out. Nobody really seeing her. That was also my experience for a long time. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself bisexual in the past few years, despite having had long-term relationships with both men and women. That was how I grew up, in a small conservative town. Wil wants love, and the woman she loves wants something else, a bigger life, that Wil always hoped she could make somehow right here where she grew up. My experience is that sometimes you have to make that life elsewhere. Sometimes rural spaces are not the friendliest, home is not the easiest. But I am very proud and glad to have a bi woman in a rural space in my book. I guess I wrote the book I needed when I was young and couldn’t find. It’s still hard to find bi characters, especially in adult literary and commercial fiction. It’s even harder to find them celebrated. We seemed to be skipped over quite a lot. Often I feel invisible, like my life and experiences and struggles don’t matter. Being bi is just who she is, it’s not a plot device. Just a fact, as it is in life. 

6.       Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I like to surprise myself so I am mostly just plunging into writing. The best stories come from dreams, in my opinion. Then once you have the dream, you need to wait a little while until characters and the main events take shape. I usually know the three main acts before I start to write a book, but that’s it. I start to know the end by about the middle. With ROAD OUT OF WINTER, I knew nothing, because the book originally did not go where I wanted it to and so I stopped writing. I thought they were going to go clear across the country and so I stopped. When I came back to the manuscript a few months later, I realized, no, they were never supposed to get out of Appalachia. And I finished the book.

7.       Where is your favorite place to write?

I can work anywhere, and have had to, being a single mother for most of my child’s life. But a lot of ROAD OUT OF WINTER, and my next book, were written and revised at The Westend Ciderhouse, a cidery and bar in my town. I would go in the afternoon—they opened early on Fridays—and had my favorite table. Nobody bothered me. Several of the bartenders were my friends but they knew I was working. It was very quiet, and kinda dark and cool, and I would just write—and drink one cider, until it was time for my son to come home from school. I write better in bars than in coffeeshops. I guess I’m just that type.

8.       What’s the worst writing advice you ever received?

That you need the approval of a teacher or professor or workshop or a degree to write. Writing is being a collector and interpreter of experiences. You don’t have to study writing formally or major in it, and looking back, I kinda wish I had explored more of my other interests in music and theatre and art. All that would have helped my writing too. Don’t let go of the other stuff that makes you happy. Everything you do helps fill your well as a writer—other art, sports, travel, friendships. Books are your best teachers. The best thing you can do to be a better writer is to read, to experience, to write, and to live.

9.       What is the best book you’ve read this year?

The best book I read this year so far was Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I read and loved all the books in the trilogy. They were some of the first books I could get through in the early days of the pandemic, when my mind and heart were all over the place. They helped center me, in part because they made me feel seen. The trilogy focuses on women, queer folks, bi folks, and how we might survive in a world that doesn’t really see or even want us—and that matters to me.

10.   What are you working on next?

My second novel TRASHLANDS is coming out from MIRA in the fall of 2021. It’s about a single mom at a strip club at the end of the world. She has to choose between being an artist, being a parent, or being in love, which isn’t much of a choice at all but the kind that women throughout time have been forced to make. And I’m starting to write my next novel, about a reporter who is hard of hearing (like me!) and is called back home to investigate something really bad.

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Where Dreams Descend (Kingdom of Cards, #1) by Janella Angeles – Blog Tour Spoiler Free Review, Excerpt

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Adventure Rating: 4.5 Stars

Goodreads | Macmillan | Bookshop

*Bookshop is a new affiliate I am trying out because the proceeds go to your local bookstores!*

In a city covered in ice and ruin, a group of magicians face off in a daring game of magical feats to find the next headliner of the Conquering Circus, only to find themselves under the threat of an unseen danger striking behind the scenes.

As each act becomes more and more risky and the number of missing magicians piles up, three are forced to reckon with their secrets before the darkness comes for them next.

The Star: Kallia, a powerful showgirl out to prove she’s the best no matter the cost

The Master: Jack, the enigmatic keeper of the club, and more than one lie told

The Magician: Demarco, the brooding judge with a dark past he can no longer hide

Where Dreams Descend is the startling and romantic first book in Janella Angeles’ debut Kingdom of Cards fantasy duology where magic is both celebrated and feared, and no heart is left unscathed.

*Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me an e-arc via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, and for having me on the blog tour!*

Y’all, it has been a hot minute since a YA book has gripped me. This one was actually really hard to put down! It has danger, slow-burn romance, love triangle (it’s actually done well! Trust me!), mysteries, and plenty of magic! Plus a it is a retelling of Phantom of the Opera mixed with a magic competition!!

I really enjoyed the characters. Everything including the characters is so mysterious! Kallia, our main MC, is feisty and speaks her mind. And listen, I don’t like ANY MCs that are jerks when they are written like that. Male or Female. But Kallia somehow isn’t! I really enjoyed her fierce personality. I think because she was still generous and wants to help people, like her assistant Aaros!

Let’s talk loooooove. Jack. This is the Phantom and the Opera part. Jack is the phantom. He is very dark and mysterious. And he is fiercely protective over Kallia. But he definitely smothers her. But Demarco has his own dangerous secrets too. He is just a bit of the gentler sort. A few times he got angry and I was just like, yeeeess Demarco, let it out.

I LOVED the world. Fantastic world building. Glorian is really the only place we see, so I would love to get more of the outside world! And the magic! It was so amazing to read about the unique and creative magic that Kallia could do! I could almost experience the 5 senses just from Angeles’s writing! She really wrote a magical book!

THAT ENDING. WHERE IS BOOK 2?! MUST HAVE IT!

Never come to Hellfire House without wearing a mask.

It was one of the rare rules in a joint without any. The only rule the master of the club did not mind following. He blended in with the sea of suits and white masks that arrived every other night, switching appearances from crowd to crowd. A bartender one moment, a dealer at the card tables the next.

Only his face remained the same, half-masked and haunting. Like a prince who relished the bloody crown on his head, and the ghosts that came with it. A face almost hardened by beauty, though glints of youth ran deep beneath soft black eyes. It always shocked new guests, to see him. The master of the House was rumored to be a dragon of a man. A monster. A magician who had no mercy for fools.

Only those who dared slur the word boy in his face understood how true those rumors were.

To the rest, he played the devil on all shoulders, leading patrons to his bar and game tables, guiding them toward his enchanted smoke lounge to drown in curated memories. The warmth of first love, the heady rush of triumph, the immense joy of dreams come true. The master kept a selection of sensations, and one hit of the pipes delivered magic the people came crawling to his house to taste.

They had no idea the show that was in store for them.

The master of the House sipped his short glass of scarlet whiskey in peace, tapping along the wide black strip over his brass knuckles. He’d long since manipulated his attire, sitting casually at a card table and savoring the mayhem. Raucous cheers erupted from the next table as dice rolled out across the surface. Smiling Hellfire girls in black blazers and masks of lace denied patrons begging for a dance. Loudest of all, the dealer’s crisp shuffling of the black cards with teeth-white numbers before she doled out hands to players at the table.

“No, no more,” one moaned. “I can’t.”

“Sure you can, chap.” A young man in a white thorn-edged mask cheerfully pressed him back in his seat. “We can’t leave. Haven’t even finished your drink, yet.”

His drunken friend’s mouth puckered under another gulp. “Think it’s true, the drink? Magician’s Blood, the menu said.”

“Think you have power, now?” Thorn Mask laughed, leaning back to appraise the club. “Here, you take your magic where you can get it. You wear a mask. You flip a card, smoke a memory. Or you look up . . . at her.”

The master’s fingers tightened around his glass, just as the lights dimmed. Dancers cleared the floor under the hush of music, shifting from smooth, steady beats to a racing rhythm loud as thunderous applause.

Right on cue.

The band’s worth of instruments he’d charmed for the night started up a wild entry tune of drums, the thick trill of trumpets. Chatter ceased and backs straightened as a beam of light speared toward the ceiling. A panel slid open over the dance floor.

And the chandelier descended.

Strings of crystals dangled along tiered rims of rose gold, cutting sharply into a jewel-set swing where a masked showgirl sat. A throne of glittering jewels, casting luminous lace across the walls and the ground and the audience taking her in. Her brown skin glowed against her corset, red as her gem-studded mask. Arms stretched out, she crossed and extended her legs in smooth lines all the way down, until her heels touched the lacquered black dancefloor. With the hint of a smile, she rose from her throne and stalked forward, thrusting a hand up with a snap.

Darkness engulfed the room.

Hoots and hollers rang at the drop of the beat, before a glimmer of her form reappeared in the shadows. The room pulsed at her command, matching the spike of heartbeats the master sensed throughout the club.

The smirk on his lips matched the girl’s as she arched her back to the raw stretch of the melody. She thrived under the attention, like a wildflower under the sun. A star finding the night.

His star.

“I’ll be damned.” The drunk at the card table breathed in awe, as the girl’s palms began brightening with a molten glow. “Nothing like an academy girl.”

“Worth the trip, right?” His friend clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“I didn’t know they could be magicians like . . . this.

The master smothered a dark scoff under a sip of whiskey. The girl showed off good tricks—improvised and bettered from his basic crowd-pleasers. Treating the ceiling like a sky and showering comets from it, casting an elaborate shadow show of dancing shades over the floor, shifting every candlelight in the room to different colors to the beat of the music.

But always the performer, she preferred to be front and center. Teasing her power just enough to make the audience want more of her magic, more of her.

He wet his lips as flames shot from her hands, arcing over her head and around her body. The fire’s melody bent to her every movement, and she gave everything to it. If she wasn’t careful, she’d overexert herself like she did most nights, never knowing when to stop. How to pull back.

Careful never was her strongest suit.

Sparks fell before her, sizzling on the ground. Unafraid, she sauntered down her stage of flames with slow swaying hips and a firelit smile.

“Magicians like this are best kept a secret,” Thorn Mask went on. “And besides, the work is far too scandalous for a lady. Only clubs will take them.”

“What a shame. Imagine going up against the likes of her at the competition.”

The master paused, drawing his gaze back to his glass.

“Not this again. That flyer was nothing but a joke.” Thorn Mask slapped the table with a groaning laugh. “A prank.”

The drunk sloppily patted around his coat, pulling from his breast pocket a dirty, scrunched ball of paper. “It’s real. They’re all over the academies, in Deque and New Crown and—”

“A prank,” repeated Thorn Mask, unfolding the flyer anyway. “It has to be. No one’s been to that city in ages, it would never open itself to such games.”

“That makes it all the more interesting, don’t you think?” As another roar of cheers erupted around them, the friend sipped his drink smugly. “Imagine if she entered, the city might implode.”

“Right. As if that would ever happen.” Thorn Mask leered. “Competition would eat a creature like her alive.”

“Because she’s . . . ?”

With an impish lift of his brow, the man in the thorny mask flicked the flyer off the table and returned to his forgotten spread of cards. “Let’s get on with the game, shall we?”

Before he could gesture at the dealer, the master suddenly appeared at their table, snatching the young man’s wrist in a biting grip. The man yelped as the force knocked over his drink, and sent a stream of hidden cards spilling out from his sleeves.

“What’s this?” The master bent toward the ground and picked up a couple, entirely too calm. “Cheating in my house?”

The man froze, recognition dawning at the brass knuckles alone. “Where did you—I-I mean,” he sputtered, patting frantically at his sleeve. “That’s impossible. Those aren’t mine, I swear.”

“Then where did they come from?”

Sweat dripped from his temple, his face paler than the white of his mask. “I emptied my pockets at the door. Honest.”

Honest. That was the best he could do? The master almost laughed.

“You want to know the price cheaters pay in my joint?” His question offered no mercy. Only deliverance, served on ice. “Memories.”

“No, please!” The man’s lip trembled. “I didn’t, I-I’ll do whatever you want!”

“This is what I want.” The master rose from the table with the jerk of his wrist. The cheat flew to the ground in a gasp as he gripped at the invisible chain-like weight around his neck. Sharp, staccato breaths followed the master as he dragged his prisoner toward the smoke dens.

The man screamed, but no one heard him. No one saw, no one cared. All eyes fell on the star of the show as she searched for a dance partner to join her. The drunken friend, noticing nothing amiss, raised his half-full glass of Magician’s Blood to his lips before waving his hand high like the others. The man thrashed harder, only to feel his cries smothered and deeper in his throat. His form, invisible at the sweep of the master’s hand.

With a disdainful glance, the master chuckled. “You’re only making this more difficult for yourself. One memory won’t kill you.”

At once, he paused. The lights blinked around them, the air grown still. Dim and hazy, as though locked in a dream.

He thought nothing of it until he caught the movements of the patrons—their arms raised and waving slowly, increment by increment. Their cheers dulled and stretched into low, gravelly roars, as if the sound were wading through heavier air. Against time itself.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

The sound of her voice slithered around him, stopping the master in his tracks. The man quieted. Sweat soaked his pale face, his chest heaving. The showgirl stood in their path, every stare in the room still locked on the spotlit floor where she’d been. As though she’d never left.

Impressive.

Her red corset glinted as she cocked her hip and pointed at the man on the floor. “I choose him.”

She could never let things be easy.

“Kallia,” he growled, warning.

She smiled. “Jack.”

“Pick another. He’s a cheater.”

Her lips pursed into a dubious line. “Then let me teach him a lesson. He’ll no doubt prefer it more.” She swung a leg over the man’s prone form so she stood directly above him. Invitation dripped from the crook of her fingers. “The music calls, darling. Let’s have ourselves a grand time.”

The man’s terror turned swiftly into awe, and he looked at her as if ready to kiss the ground she walked on. As soon as he took her beckoning hand, the room resumed its lively rhythm—a song snapped back in full swing. The cheers and hollers returned to their normal speed, exploding in delight as patrons found their lovely entertainer in their midst, her chosen dance partner in tow.

She bypassed the master, pressing a casual hand on his chest to move him. It lingered, he noticed. Unafraid, unlike most. Their gazes locked for a moment, their masked faces inches apart.

No one ever dared to get this close. To him, to her.

Only each other.

At the next round of cheers and whistles, she pushed him away, smug as a cat. Tugging the man close behind her, she sent fires onto the ground that illuminated her path and warded others from trying to follow them to the stage. Never once looking back at the master, even as he watched on after her.

His fist tightened, full of the cards from his earlier trick. They disappeared into mist, having served their purpose. Along with the flyer he managed to grab.

He didn’t even bother giving it a read. It died in the fire caged by his palm. Tendrils of smoke rose between his brass knuckles, and when he opened his fingers, nothing but ash fell to the ground.

JANELLA ANGELES is a Filipino-American author who got her start in writing through consuming glorious amounts of fanfiction at a young age—which eventually led to penning a few of her own, and later on, creating original stories from her imagination. A lifelong lover of books, she’s lucky enough to be working in the business of publishing them on top of writing them. She currently resides in Massachusetts, where she’s most likely to be found listening to musicals on repeat and daydreaming too much for her own good. Where Dreams Descend is her first book.

Social LinksTwitter: @Janella_Angeles // Instagram: @Janella_Angeles

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

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: June 30, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII

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

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?