Friday, May 31, 2013

The Edge Of Darkness by Melissa Andrea

Title: The Edge of Darkness

Author: Melissa Andrea     

Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance

Release Day: May 31, 2013

Blitz Host: Lady Amber's Tours

After a tragic accident, Araya Noelle is left with a constant reminder that nothing is forever.

Instead of dwelling over her loss, she plays the hand she's been dealt without complaint. In a world as black as hers, there's no room for bitterness, no time for regret. Sheltered from the outside world, Araya has become suffocated by a life she has no control over. Until Ryland Dare comes crashing into her life.

You don’t know true darkness until you've felt the light…
Like a firecracker, showering her with colorful sparks of freedom, Ryland quickly sweeps Araya away from her dark existence. For the first time since the accident, living in darkness is no longer something Araya wants to do willingly. Unleashed by the shadows of her reminder, being with Ryland, Araya touches light. Together they will learn what it’s like to be alive for the first time.

At the edge of darkness, a ray of light, will dare them both to live.

Author Bio:
Melissa started reading in high school when she found her mom's romance book collection and has been hooked on books every since. She became a complete book-a-holic, starting her own collection and improving her reading skills. Most of the time she could finish a book walking around the store, while her mom shopped.

She wrote her first short story in high school for a competition in her writing class. It was a child's book called 'Arnold' - it was about an ant who believed he could do anything. Oh by the way, she won!

She has written many stories since then, but this will be her first YA paranormal/fantasy and the first book she will have published.

She lived in Mesa, Arizona with her husband of six years, and her 3 beautiful daughters. They are her biggest fans and they inspire her everyday. She enjoys spending time with her family, weekend dates with her mom & taking vacations. Hawaii anyone??



Blog/Web:  and




I brushed my lips across her neck again and watched as the world around us, spun. Her fingers twisted in my shirt and she pulled my  body closer. I didnt expect you Araya.  I rasped against her ear and my fingers tangled in her hair, bringing her lips up to mine. Her breath was warm and sweet against my lips and I wanted to taste her so bad it hurt.


The Edge of Darkness

After a tragic accident, Araya Noelle is left with a constant reminder that nothing is forever.

She is forced to give up her chance to be the youngest dancer accepted into Julliard & taking over their high society school by a graceful storm of determination is no longer an option. Instead of dwelling over her loss, she accepts the new future she’s been dealt. In a world as black as hers, there's no room for bitterness, no time for regret. Sheltered from the outside world, Araya has become suffocated by a life she has no control over. Until Ryland Dare comes crashing into her life.

You don’t know true darkness until you've felt light…

Like a firecracker, showering her with colorful sparks of freedom, Ryland quickly sweeps Araya away from her grey existence. For the first time since the accident, living in darkness is no longer something Araya wants to do willingly. Unleashed by the shadows of her reminder, being with Ryland, Araya touches light. Together they will learn what it’s like to feel alive for the first time.

At the edge of darkness, a ray of light, will dare them both to HOPE.

DARE them to LOVE

DARE them to LIVE

Cover Reveal ~ Trifecta by Kim Carmichael

Title: Trifecta

Author: Kim Carmichael

Genre: Romance, Erotic Romance, Erotica

Publisher: Hot Ink Press

Reveal Host: Lady Amber's Tours


Book Description:

Two men. One woman. It could ruin a friendship, or bring a satisfying twist to their lives. Artist, Jason Morgan, is used to making magic on the canvas. Now he hopes to do it in the bedroom.
After a failed gallery showing, Jason decides the best way to cure his creative block is to act on his own personal fantasy, and enter into a sexual relationship with his two best friends.
From the time they were in elementary school, Russell Sinclair has been a willing participant in Jason's adventures, but this one goes to a new level. He's intrigued by the idea of sharing one woman, but is challenged by how to fit this three-sided relationship into his traditional life.
Lauren Redmond is no stranger to fantasy. As the aesthetic sales rep to the top Beverly Hills dermatologists, she is responsible for the majority of puffed lips and filled wrinkles in the greater Los Angeles area. She detours from her steady, secure path when she is offered the opportunity to live the dream with the two men who have occupied her heart since college. The fantasy fast becomes a powerful reality, and Lauren must decide if she is willing to give up everything she has worked for to have a bit of temporary decadence.
Trifecta explores the boundaries of love, relationships and convention.

Author Bio:

Kim Carmichael began writing eight years ago when her need for graphic sex scenes and love of happy endings inspired her to create her own.  She has a weakness for bad boys and techno geeks, and married her own computer whiz after he proved he could keep her all her gadgets running.  When not writing, she can usually be found slathered in sunscreen trolling Los Angeles and helping top doctors build their practices.


Amazon Page

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cover Reveal ~ Empath Trilogy by HK Savage

Title: Empath (The Empath Trilogy)
Author: HK Savage
Genre: Mature YA
Publisher: Staccato Publishing
Reveal Host: Lady Amber's Tours

Empath is now FREE on Smashwords

All Staccato ebooks are now available for 3.99 or less!!!

Book Description from Empath:

All she wanted was to disappear…

Claire Martin is an empath. She’s lived her entire life as a slave to a constant barrage of emotions that weren't hers. Off to college she hopes simply to blend with the crowd where she can best hide her curse. Within her first few weeks at school Claire meets Stephen Andrews, a small, fragile looking boy who changes her life forever. 

Stephen, a boy with a secret of his own, instantly recognizes Claire for what she is. It is through Stephen's aid that Claire meets James, a vampire with a talent of his own. As soon as they touch, their abilities connect in a way that has not occurred in over three hundred years forming a bond that cannot be broken.

Follow the trilogy:

Be sure to check out the other books by HK Savage:
Life Blood
Blood Bound

Author Bio:

HK Savage has been a voracious reader of anything she could get her hands on going back to the second grade when she would set her alarm two hours early to read before school. Her passion for the written word has continued and flowed into writing going back nearly as far. Her books have fans in twenty countries on six continents with hopes of attracting attention on Antarctica if for no other reason than to check a box.

Currently, HK is a mother, wife and black belt in Karate as well as an avid dressage rider. Her three dogs: a Doberman she uses for therapy dog work and two ancient Doxies keep her busy when she is not writing or working or whatever else.

In addition to editing for the past ten years in advertising, HK has been an editor for several newsletters over the years; her favorite being for Heifer International where her ideas were put into effect and complimented by those on high. Currently her skills are being focused on clients in the writing world.

Paranormal is her favorite genre and science fiction because both address the possibilities we have not yet realized and the darker things we have. Her favorite premise: “what if?”








James stood and put his right hand into the air separating our bodies. I looked at it and snapped back up in alarm. “What do you want me to do with that?” My heart started to race. We couldn’t touch. What if he could sense how he affected me? He could do whatever he wanted then and he could just tell Troy and Stephen I’d gone willingly to the slaughter. It would be easy to get me to mirror his thirst.

“I will shield you myself and take it down a little at a time as you learn to pick it up your own. But I will need to know how your ability functions to better work with it. I sense people’s talents, but need to touch you in order to do so. Each person’s is different. I cannot help you to contain or manipulate yours if I don’t know the peculiarities of it.” He held his hand out palm up and wiggled his fingers playfully at me, a grin crept back into his eyes. “You will have to trust me.”

89I stood too, wiping my now sweating palms on my pants, glad I had picked the jeans. They hid the marks so much better than khakis. I raised my right hand and held it palm down a few inches from his. Our bodies were little over a foot apart and my heart started hammering in my chest. My stomach was fluttering and I felt the sweat beading on my back and under my arms. I thought I was having an anxiety attack.

His face was calmly watching mine like this was the most normal thing. “You must learn to settle yourself, we haven’t even tried our first experiment yet.”

“Give me a moment.” I closed my eyes so that I couldn’t see him, then I concentrated on my breathing. With all of my issues I had spent a good amount of time practicing deep breathing and meditation. Taking this moment to “find my breath” as my books had instructed, I found my heart rate coming down and my body responding to my wishes. I reopened my eyes, my body firmly back under control.

James stood exactly as before with a pleased expression. “That was good, Claire. Are you ready to begin then?”

Too frightened to speak, I merely nodded and licked my suddenly dry lips.

Much like my earlier confession, I watched his hand moving toward my own except I felt like it was someone else’s. Mine was some stranger’s body and I was standing beside her, seeing this from the outside. When our palms were about an inch apart, I felt the hum begin, lower and quieter than I was used to. He was different than a human.

My eyes sought his. They quickly became my gyroscope, helping me balance here in this strangest of situations. He saw my surprised reaction to his feel.


“I will be easier to work with because I am not human. My emotions are much more fleeting and almost feel...” Here he became uncertain for the first time since I had met him. “I guess you would say that my body has been dead for so long that my human emotions have dulled. They are in my head, but do not affect my body as your kind’s do.”

Hmm, that was curious. I felt it building, the unstoppable urge to touch him. He’d said no harm would come and that he would help shield me, plus I had to put my hands on his. Again I felt that inexplicable pull toward him, but now it was total. The tug was in my head, in my stomach. I could feel it even in my very skin.

Dropping my resistance, I brought my hand down onto his, lightly then more firmly. I knew instantly that it was too much too soon. His feelings rushed up to me. They were so fast and fleeting that it was hard to focus on what I was getting as they flooded into me. With an incredible sense of relief I also found that with them shifting so quickly they were easy to block. It was like I had a box of his emotional “thoughts” and they were wrapped up with enough cotton that I could choose which one I wanted to grab and analyze once I got used to the pace.

I caught glimpses of faces and places from different times go flashing past me. Fascinating. Would I be able to do this when my training was complete?

Almost as rapidly as I had begun to read him, James pulled his hand back and put it in his pocket. He was breathing hard and his eyes were dark again.

“I don’t understand. That was great! I was able to separate each emotive thought you had and if I had more time, I could have read them.” It was hard to contain my exuberance. This was more than I had ever hoped I would be able to do. It was like mind reading, but more than words, I could feel flashes of what he felt about each person and place though


too complex to understand in the glimpses I’d been exposed to. Realization struck me then and I felt the guilt over what I’d done.

“James, I am sorry, that was intrusive, wasn’t it? I should have warned you. You said you’d shield and I figured I would just go for it. Like ripping off a band-aid.” I couldn’t meet his eyes out of embarrassment.

Just then, the teakettle whistled making both of us jump to our feet. Carefully, so that we didn’t touch again, James carefully stepped around me before turning to go to the kitchen. “Have a seat, I’ll be right back with your tea.”

“I’ll help.” I wanted something to do with myself to help dissipate the awkwardness.

“No,” he said too harshly and too quickly, holding up his hand to me.

The rejection and humiliation burned hot. He offered to help me and when I wasn’t offending him, I bowled him over like an overeager Labrador. I worried this time I’d pushed him too far and now he would take me home.

He seemed to understand how I was feeling. His voice was meant to soothe as he broke into my thoughts. “Claire, you have a stronger ability than I was ready for. It took me by surprise is all. I will be better able to help you if I eat before we continue.”

Instantly, I felt the color drain from my face. My heart leapt into my throat. He was going to eat? Me? No, Stephen said he didn’t do that.

“Relax,” he assured with a small grin. “My supply is in my refrigerator. If you would have a seat and give me just a few moments, I will take care of my needs and return with your tea.”


“Oh, okay. That’s, um, thoughtful.” Well, that was arguably the weirdest conversation I’d ever had. Feeling better about a lot of things, confused about others, I sat down on the couch and pulled my legs up underneath me to wait while James went about his business. Left to my own nosiness, I took the time to look around. What had seemed so clean and streamlined about the house initially I now saw as sterile.

Most people have pictures around their house showing hints of who they are. Pictures of their hobbies, people they know and love, places they’ve been. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but figured out in the lack of what I was seeking that I was hoping to learn more about my handsome tutor. He spoke formally at times, so I thought he was from at least the turn of the century when English got more mixed and slang became more acceptable. Or, maybe he wasn’t American initially and had learned it later. The foreign exchange students I had met in high school had learned what we called “British English” which was way more formal than our own American version. Of course I was also looking for evidence of a girlfriend. She would have to be pretty amazing to get this guy and, I assumed, she would have to be a vampire too, or it wouldn’t be fair because she would be too scared to break up with him.

I had put the cashmere throw on my lap while I was deep in thought about the hottie in the other room who was quickly becoming an incredibly fascinating person. Uh oh, double trouble. Great to look at, better to talk to.

Switching gears for my own safety, I looked around me. This was a comfortable house, I was tired and it was safe here. Relax, I thought as I closed my eyes for just a minute. I could return myself to a steadier place while I waited, thinking we could work that much better when he returned.

It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes that I had been asleep when I awoke to his voice in my ear. “Claire, I should bring you home.”


I sat up with a start, nearly smashing into his face in the process. He must have been right in my ear. Good thing he moved so fast or we’d both have serious goose eggs on our foreheads; well, I would anyway. “No, I’m alright. Please, I’ll be fine after I have some caffeine.”

He didn’t look convinced, but I wanted a chance to prove myself after the earlier debacle. We couldn’t end our session like this or it would be our last. “Are you certain? I warned you these practices can be draining. If you are already tired, I don’t want you to pass out on me.” He grinned teasingly and I felt my stomach flip. His color was closer to human, feeding must give him color as well as warmth, which explained the difference I saw in his pallor earlier as well.

“Let me have a cup of tea and I’ll be among the living again.” I froze and shot a look at him unable to read his reaction. Not sure if I had done damage or not, I concentrated on my tea.

After a few sips I put the cup down, pushed the blanket aside and stood up. “Okay, let’s try this again. I’m ready.”

He stood as well, so gracefully it was inconceivable, mesmerizing even. “Yes,” he agreed cautiously. “But this time, you hold still and I will come to you.”

We both put our palms out again but this time, obediently, I held perfectly still. When we touched, it was not like before. He was completely shielded and I had my first feeling of just someone’s hand. This was just touch. I felt the solidness of his palm, the coolness of his skin. I felt him. I was unprepared for what it would do to me. Before I realized it, I was weeping; uncontrollably weeping.

James instantly pulled his hand back and I heard the confusion in his voice. “I was shielded, you shouldn’t feel anything.”


That just made me cry harder. I couldn’t look at him. Through my sobs, I tried to speak. “I don’t. That’s it; I’ve never felt...nothing before.”

He understood that and closed the last step between us. As I saw his arms coming up, I jerked my face up to his and he saw my panic.

“Trust me. You’ll be safe.” James put his arms around me, letting his shields block out everything and give me peace. I finally felt what it was like to be comforted by an embrace. I wept for everything I’d never had, for the fear that made me cringe from a hug instead of lean into one. I felt him lift me up with one arm, sweeping my legs up with his other and without the slightest indication of exertion, he sat on the couch pulling me up into his lap. I tried to tell myself he’d seen it all before working with people like me and then cast that aside, preferring to think this first embrace was special for more than just me.




Friday, May 24, 2013

Big Birthday Bookie Bash

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It's a birthday celebration! Author Rachel A Olson is celebrating her 28th birthday by throwing a HUGE giveaway. With prizes available to participants worldwide, there's a little something for everyone. Jump over to ParaSuperNormalism - a book blog for every kind of story - and join in on the fun!

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Participating Authors:

Dannika Dark, Mary Ann Bernal, Kitten K. Jackson, G.D. Steel, Sandee Woolf, Elena Gray, Yezall Strongheart, Natalie Hancock, N. Kuhn, Cindy Hardwell, Saranna DeWylde, Paula Shene, Audrey Harte, Kelli McCracken, Kimberly Knight, Alexis Alexander, D.N. Simmons, Rachel A Olson, Mark Barry, Brandy Nacole, Alex Shippe, Robynn Gabel, Crystal Schall, Jessica Humphrey, Christin Berger, Susan Jean Ricci, Gena D. Lutz, Carolyn Jewel, J C S, Kerry Brackett, Michelle Turner, Lisa Logue, Wendy Knight, Cyma Rizwaan Khan, Jessica Chase, Nike Campbell-Fatoki, and others!

Participating Blogs:

Free Ebooks and Those Responsible For Them, Paul and Paula's Place, Lip Smackin' Good Books, Le' Book Squirrel, Fiona's Book Review, Indie Author Network, The Book Rack, Danielle's Book Reviews, Room With Books, Les Lectures, The Cult of Me, The Girl With the Red Cape, Book-Marks the Spot, Schmoeker-Welt, Book Boyfriend Reviews, MomOf2BookReviews, Froggarita's Bookcase, Mira's Great Books, Mama's Reading Break, Everything Books and Authors, Zee Books, and MORE!


Big Birthday Bookie Bash

Cover Reveal ~ Forged by Magic by Angela Orlowski-Peart

Title: Forged By Magic (Forged Series .5)

Author: Angela Orlowski-Peart     

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Expected Release Date: May 31st 2013

Reveal Host: Lady Amber's Tours


Forged by Magic. Origins is a collection of short stories, featuring the characters from the Forged series. This is the first out of two prequels to the series. Each story is told from a different character point-of-view.

Find out the details about how the Amulet and the Dasht-e Kavir have been created, and how the powers of the Universe opened the gates to other dimensions, letting some terrifying supernatural creatures into the Human World. 


Angela Orlowski-Peart was born and raised in Poland. She describes herself as European born, American by choice. She was just seven-years-old when she decided to learn English and translate her favorite Polish fairytales.

Angela is the author of the Young Adult and New Adult fiction novels, including YA paranormal/urban fantasy series, The Forged. First book in series, Forged by Greed, was published on September 20, 2012. There are two anthologies of short stories, serving as the prequels to the series. First of them, Forged by Magic. Origins is scheduled for publishing on May 31st, 2013. The second anthology (still untitled) will be out at the end of June 2013. Next three full size novels, including Forged by Coalescence, will be released in 2013 and 2014.

Angela writes in multiple genres, including paranormal, fantasy, urban fiction, sci-fi, and short stories. She loves reading good books almost as much as writing them. She speaks with Polish accent, but loves listening to the Southern drawl.

She is passionate about watercolor painting, fashion—especially stilettos, rock climbing, environment, and organic food and gardening. She lives in the Seattle area with her family and a chronically curious cat. 

Author Links:



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Twitter handle @Angela_Peart


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Trailer Reveal ~ Branded by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki

Title: Branded
Author: Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki
Release Date: June 28, 2013
Genre: Mature Young Adult, Dystopian

Reveal Host: Lady Amber's Tours
Book Description:
Twenty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best.
Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and now the Hole is my new home.

Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.

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

Chapter One

I’m buried six feet under, and no one hears my screams.
The rope chafes as I loop it around my neck. I pull down on it, making sure the knot is secure. It seems sturdy enough.
My legs shake. My heart beats heavy in my throat. Sweat pours down my back.
Death and I glare at each other through my tears.
I take one last look at the crystal chandelier, the foyer outlined with mirrors, and the flawless decorations. No photographs adorn the walls. No happy memories here.
I’m ready to go. On the count of three.
I inhale, preparing myself for the finality of it all. Dropping my hands, a glimmer catches my eye. It’s my ring, the last precious gift my father gave me. I twist it around to read the inscription. Picturing his face forces me to reconsider my choice. He’d be heartbroken if he could see me now.
A door slams in the hallway, almost causing me to lose my balance. My thoughts already muddled, I stand, waiting with the rope around my neck. Voices I don’t recognize creep through the walls.
Curiosity overshadows my current thoughts. It’s late at night, and this is a secure building in High Society. No one disturbs the peace here—ever. I tug on the noose and pull it back over my head.
Peering through the eyehole in our doorway, I see a large group of armed guards banging on my neighbors’ door. A heated conversation ensues, and my neighbors point toward my family’s home.
It hits me. I’ve been accused and they’re here to arrest me.
My father would want me to run, and in that split second, I decide to listen to his voice within me. Flinging myself forward in fear, I scramble up the marble staircase and into my brother’s old bedroom. The door is partially covered, but it exists. Pushing his dresser aside, my fingers claw at the opening. Breathing hard, I lodge myself against it. Nothing. I step back and kick it with all my strength. The wood splinters open, and my foot gets caught. I wrench it backward, scraping my calf, but adrenaline pushes me forward. The voices at the front door shout my name.
 On hands and knees, I squeeze through the jagged opening. My brother left through this passage, and now it’s my escape too. Cobwebs entangle my face, hands, and hair. At the end, I feel for the knob, twisting it clockwise. It swings open, creaking from disuse. I sprint into the hallway and smash through the large fire escape doors at the end. A burst of cool air strikes me in the face as I jump down the ladder.
Reaching the fifth floor, I knock on a friend’s window. The lights flicker on, and I see the curtains move, but no one answers. I bang on the window harder.
“Let me in! Please!” I say, but the lights darken. They know I’ve been accused and refuse to help me. Fear and adrenaline rush through my veins as I keep running, knocking on more windows along the way. No one has mercy. They all know what happens to sinners.
Another flight of stairs passes in a blur when I hear the guards’ heavy footfalls from above. I can’t hide, but I don’t want to go without trying.
Help me, Daddy. I need your strength now.
My previous desolation evolves into a will to survive. I have to keep running, but I tremble and gasp for air. I steel my nerves and force my body to keep moving. In a matter of minutes, my legs cramp and my chest burns. I plunge to the ground, scraping my knee and elbow. A moan escapes from my chest.
Gotta keep going.
“Stop!” Their voices bounce off the buildings. “Lexi Hamilton, surrender yourself,” they command. They’re gaining on me.
I resist the urge to glance back, running into what I assume is an alley. I’m far from our high-rise in High Society as I plunge into a poorer section of the city where the streets all look the same and the darkness prevents me from recognizing anything. I’m lost.
     My first instinct is to leap into a dumpster, but I retain enough sense to stay still. I crouch and peek around it, watching them dash by. The abhorrent smell soon leaves me vomiting until nothing remains in my stomach. Desperation overtakes me, as I know my retching was anything but silent. My last few seconds tick away before they find me. Everyone knows about their special means of tracking sinners.
I push myself to my feet and look left, right, and left again. Their batons click against their black, leather belts, and their boots stomp the cement on both sides of me. I shrink into myself. Their heavy steps mock my fear, growing closer and closer until I know I’m trapped.
Never did I imagine they’d come for me. Never did I imagine all those nights I heard them dragging someone else away that I’d join them.
“You’re a sinner,” they say. “Time to leave our society.”
I stand defiant. I refuse to bend or break before them even as I shiver with fear.
“There’s no reason to make this difficult. The more you cooperate, the smoother this will be for everyone,” a guard says.
I cringe into the blackness along the wall. I’m innocent, but they won’t believe me or care.
The next instant, my face slams into the pavement as one guard plants a knee in my back and another handcuffs me. A warm liquid trails into my mouth. Blood. Their fingers grip my arms like steel traps as they peel me off the cement. The tops of my shoes scrape along the ground as I’m dragged behind them until they discard me into the back of a black vehicle. The doors slam in unison with one guard stationed on each side of me, my shoulders digging into their arms. The handcuffs dig into my wrists, so I clasp them together hard behind me and press my back into the seat, unwilling to admit how much it hurts. My dignity is all I have left.
Swallowing hard, I stare ahead to avoid their eyes.
Did they need so many guards to capture me?
 I’m not carrying any weapons, nor do I own any. I don’t even know self-defense. High Society frowns on activities like that.
The driver jerks the vehicle around and I try to keep my bearings, but it’s dark and the scenery changes too fast. Hours pass and the air grows warmer, more humid, the farther we drive. The landscape mutates from city to rolling hills. They don’t bother blindfolding me because they escort all the sinners to the same place—the Hole. Twenty-foot cement walls encase the chaos within. There’s no way out and no way in unless they transport you. They say the Hole is a prison with no rules. We learned about it last year in twelfth grade.
To the outside, I’m filth now. I’ll never be allowed to return to the life I knew. No one ever does.
“All sinners go through a transformation,” one of the guards says to me. His smirk infuriates me. “I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of stories.” I don’t respond. I don’t want to think about the things I’ve been told.
“You won’t last too long, though. Young girls like you get eaten alive.” He pulls a strand of my hair up to his face.
 Get your hands off me, you pig. I want to lash out, but resist. The punishment for disobeying authority is severe, and I’m not positioned to defy him.
     They’re the Guards of the Commander. They’re chosen from a young age and trained in combat. They keep the order of society by using violent methods of intimidation. No one befriends a guard. Relationships with them are forbidden inside the Hole.
Few have seen the commander. His identity stays under lock and key. His own paranoia and desire to stay pure drove him to live this way. He controls our depraved society and believes sinners make the human race unforgivable. His power is a crushing fist, rendering all beneath him helpless. So much so, even family members turn on each other when an accusation surfaces. Just an accusation. No trial, no evidence, nothing but an accusation.
I lose myself in thoughts of my father.
“Never show fear, Lexi,” my father said to me before he was taken. “They’ll use it against you.” His compassionate eyes filled with warning as he commanded me to be strong. That was many years ago, but I remember it clearly. My father. My rock. The one person in my life who provided unconditional love.
The vehicle stops, and I’m jerked back to reality. “Get out,” the guard orders while pulling me to my feet. The doors slide open and the two guards lift me up and out into the night. A windowless cement building looms in front of us, looking barren in the darkness.
The coolness of the air sends a shiver up my spine. This is really happening. I’ve been labeled a sinner. My lip starts to quiver, but I bite it before anyone sees. They shove me in line and I realize I’m not alone. Women and men stand with faces frozen white in fear. A guard grabs my finger, pricks it, and dabs my blood on a tiny microchip.
 I follow the man in front of me into the next room where we’re lined up facing the wall. Glancing right, I see one of the men crying.
“Spread your legs,” one of the guards says.
They remove my outer layers and their hands roam up and down my body.
What do they think I could possibly be hiding? I press my head into the wall, trying to block out what they’re doing to me.
“MOVE!” a guard commands. So I shuffle across the room, trying to cover up.
Five of us sit in the holding room. One by one, they pull people into the next room, forcing the rest of us to wonder what torture we’ll endure. An agonizing amount of time passes. I lean my head back and try to imagine a place far away. The door opens.
“Lexi Hamilton.”
A guard escorts me out of the room, and I don’t have time to look back. As soon as the door closes, they pick me up and place me on a table. It’s cold and my skin sticks to it slightly, like wet fingers on an ice cube. Then, they exit in procession, and I lie on the table with a doctor standing over me. His hands are busy as he speaks.
“Don’t move. This will only take a few minutes. It’s time for you to be branded.”
A wet cloth that smells like rubbing alcohol is used to clean my skin. Then he places a metal collar around my neck.
Click. Click. Click.
The collar locks into place, and I struggle to breathe. The doctor loosens it some as I focus on the painted black words above me.
 The Seven Deadly Sins:
Lust ¾ Blue
Gluttony ¾ Orange
Greed ¾ Yellow
Sloth ¾ Light Blue
Wrath ¾ Red
Envy ¾ Green
Pride ¾ Purple
 “Memorize it. Might keep you alive longer if you know who to stay away from.” He opens my mouth, placing a bit inside. “Bite this.”
Within seconds, the collar heats from hot to scorching. The smell of flesh sizzling makes my head spin. I bite down so hard a tooth cracks.
“GRRRRRRRRR,” escapes from deep within my chest. Just when I’m about to pass out, the temperature drops, and the doctor loosens the collar.
He removes it and sits me up. Excruciating pain rips through me and I’m on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown. Focus. Don’t pass out.
Stainless steel counters and boring white walls press in on me. A guard laughs at me from an observation room above and yells, “Blue. It’s a great color for a pretty young thing like yourself.” His eyes dance with suggestion. The others meander around like it’s business as usual.
I finally find my voice and turn to the doctor.
“Are you going to give me clothes?” A burning pain spreads like fire from my neck to my jaw, making me wince.
He points to a set of folded grey scrubs on a chair. I cover myself as much as I can and scurry sideways. Grabbing my new clothes, I pull the shirt over my head and try to avoid the raw meat around my throat. I quickly knot the cord of my pants around my waist and slide my feet into the hospital-issue slippers as the doctor observes. He hands me a bag labeled with my name.
“Nothing is allowed through the door but what we’ve given you,” he says.
I hide my right hand behind me, hoping no one notices. A guard scans my body and opens his hand.
“Give it to me,” he says. “Don’t make me rip off your finger.” He crouches down and I turn to stone. I don’t know what to do, so I beg.
 “My father gave this to me. Please, let me keep it.” I smash my eyes shut and think of the moment my father handed the golden ring to me.
“It was my mother’s ring,” he’d said. “She’s the strongest woman I ever knew.” With tears in his eyes, he reached for my hand. “Lexi, you’re exactly like her. She’d want you to wear this. No matter how this world changes, you can survive.” I turned the gold band over in my palm and read the engraving.
You can overcome anything… short of death.
 “You’re going to take the one thing that matters the most to me?” I say, glaring into the guard’s emotionless eyes. “Isn’t it enough taking my life, dignity, and respect?”
A hard blow falls upon my back. As I fall, my hands shoot out to stop me from smashing into the wall in front of me. The guard bends down and grabs my chin with his meaty fist.
“Look at me,” he commands. I look up and he smiles with arrogance.
“What the hell?” He staggers a step backward. “What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Nothing,” I respond, confused.
“What color are they?”
“Turquoise.” I glower at him.
“Interesting,” he says, regaining his composure. “Now those’ll get you in trouble.”
Reality slaps me across the face. I have my father’s eyes. They can't take them from me. I twist the ring off my finger and drop it in his hand.
“Take the damn ring,” I say. I walk to the door. He swipes a card and the massive door slides open to the outside.
“You have to wear your hair back at all times, so everyone knows what you are.” He hands me a tie, so I pull my frizzy hair away from my face and secure it into a ponytail. My neck burns and itches as my hand traces the scabs that have already begun to form. Squinting ahead into the darkness, I almost run into a guard standing on the sidewalk.
 “Watch where you’re going,” he says, shoving me backward. His stiff figure stands tall and I cringe at the sharpness of his voice.
“Cole, this is your new assignment, Lexi Hamilton. See to it she feels welcome in her new home.” The guard departs with a salute.
“Let’s move,” Cole says.
I take two steps and collapse, my knees giving out. The unforgiving pavement reopens the scrapes from earlier and I struggle to stand. A powerful arm snatches me up, and I see his face for the first time.

Author Bios:

Abi Ketner Is a registered nurse with a passion for novels, the beaches of St. John, and her Philadelphia Phillies. A talented singer, Abi loves to go running and spend lots of time with her family. She currently resides in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her husband, triplet daughters and two very spoiled dogs.

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

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

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