Wednesday, March 14, 2018

#PreOrder - Out of Nowhere by @DLGallieAuthor

Title: Out of Nowhere
Author: DL Gallie
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Cover Designer: Tash Drake, Outlined with Love Designs
Editor: Karen Hrdlicka, Barren Acres Editing
Publication Date: March 24th, 2018
Hosted by: Lady Amber's PR

Emerson James had it all. Great job. Wonderful fiancé. Amazing friends. Loving family. Life was perfect. Out of nowhere, her life fell apart. Rather than dealing with it all, she packs a bag and leaves New York behind. By a twist of fate, she ends up in Nels Cove, Colorado and decides to stay.

Moving to the country is just what she needed. The quaint town, the countryside, and the people are perfect, well most of the people. Chase Archibald is an arrogant ass who grates on her nerves but he also sets her ablaze.


Chase Archibald is Nels Cove royalty. Everyone loves him and his family, well everyone except one person: Emerson James. She is the first person to call him out and not fall at his feet. That pisses him off but at the same time she sparks something inside of him; he can’t stop thinking about her.

Eventually, Emerson lowers her guard and Chase wins her over. Just as she begins to feel like herself again, her past and present collide and she will finally have face what she ran from.


Out of nowhere, she makes a decision but does she make the right one?

DL Gallie is from Queensland, Australia, but she’s lived in many different places all over the world, including the UK and Canada. She currently resides in Central Queensland with her husband and two munchkins. She and her husband have been together since she was sixteen, and although they drive each other crazy at times, she couldn’t imagine her life without him.

Shortly after her son was born, DL began reading again. With encouragement from her husband, she picked up the pen and started writing, and now the voices in her head won’t shut up.

DL enjoys listening to music, drinking white wine in the summer, red wine in the winter, and beer all year round. She’s also never been known to turn down a cocktail, especially a margarita.

Author Links:
Google Play

Buy Links:
The door has just closed behind me when I see the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She’s walking down Main Street and I immediately notice her. How could you not? She is absolutely stunning. She’s wearing a yellow sundress. Her red hair is half up and half down and it’s blowing in the wind. Never have I seen someone so breathtaking. She went into Tiff’s and I decide to head there myself; after all Tiff makes the best muffins in three counties. It’s time for my afternoon coffee break and a guy has to eat, that’s what I tell myself as I walk across the street. In truth, I want to see this beauty up close and in person.

Walking in, my eyes immediately find her in the back corner booth…my back corner booth, I think to myself as I walk further inside. My eyes are steadfastly locked on her as I head toward the counter. I’m not looking and don’t see Jolene coming in my direction; her arms full of orders, we collide with each other. The plates she carries go flying and shatter on the floor with a loud crash.

“Chase, I’m so sorry,” she says as she drops to her knees to start cleaning up the mess. Tiff appears and begins to berate Jolene for being clumsy, again. Jolene isn’t cut out for waitressing, but Tiff is too kind to get rid of her. Before I have a chance to say anything, the hottie I’d come in to see is on her knees helping Jolene clean up. My mind immediately imagines her leaning forward, unzipping my slacks, and her pert, pouty lips wrapping around my cock. My deviant thoughts are thwarted when I hear her voice, laced with anger say, “It wasn’t her fault. This guy here wasn’t watching where he was going and bumped into her.” She pauses and looks up at me. “You can always help clean up the mess you made,” she sassily says, her eyes shooting daggers at me.

“Excuse me?” I growl, no one speaks to me like that.

“You heard me, grab the broom from the lady there and help us clean this up,” she responds as she picks up a broken plate and places it into the bin that magically appeared.

“Do you know who I am?” I ask, shocked that someone would speak to me like that.

“I don’t care if you are the president, you will help clean up the mess that you caused.”

Everyone around us gasps. No one has ever spoken to me like that before, and with this one conversation, this little spitfire has piqued my interest. Turning around, I grab the broom from Tiff and begin to help sweep up the mess. Within a few minutes, the debris is all cleaned up. Grabbing the broom from me, she hands it back to Tiff before she makes her way back ‘my’ booth. I watch her walk away, while everyone in the café has gone back to his or her business. Shaking my head, I continue to the counter and order my usual. While I wait, I stalk over to the woman who has garnered my attention. As I sit across from her, I stare at her. I don’t think I have ever been drawn to someone like I am to this woman. “Well, aren’t you a little spitfire?”

Her head pops up from the book she is reading and her cobalt blue eyes glare at me. “Excuse me?” she says.

“I didn’t stutter. I said you are a little spitfire.”

“Did you just quote Major Payne to me?”

Shaking my head, I laugh that she picked up on the movie reference, not my questioning. “Well, I guess I did.” Putting my hand out, I say, “Chase Archibald, nice to meet you.”

She hesitantly looks at my hand before placing hers in mine. Her hand is soft and delicate, compared to mine. “Hi, I’m Emerson,” she replies, immediately withdrawing her hand as if touching me will cause her to catch some horrendous disease, or worse, man germs. She drops her hand back into her lap and goes back to reading, effectively dismissing me.

Never has a woman acted like this around me, usually they fall at my feet, begging me to give them the time of day. This girl intrigues me. “So, to what do we owe the pleasure of your company here in Nels Cove?"

“Well, I’m trying to read while I wait for my late lunch.” She pauses, looking over at me before sassily adding, “but some arrogant ass keeps interrupting me.” Lowering her gaze back to her book once again, she ignores me.

“If you want to see my ass, you just have to ask,” I smugly reply. Her head shoots up and once again she is casting daggers my way. Winking at her, I smile before adding, “So, apart from wanting to see my ass, I’ll ask again. To what do we owe the pleasure of your delightful company in our little town?”

Putting her book down, she stares at me and sighs. “You’re not going to go away until I answer your questions, are you?”

Shaking my head from side to side, I confirm, “Nope.” Flashing her a smile, I wink at her. Again, she rolls her eyes, but I’m sure I see a hint of interest flickering there. This woman in front of me intrigues me, even though she’s being blasé and kind of rude, I’m fascinated with her.

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m on a road trip,” she huffs. “I was just passing through, but it's so pretty here I’ve been here for a week now and I think I might stay a while longer.”

Her response puzzles me. How has she been here a week and I’m just meeting her now? A newbie like her would normally send the gossip mills blazing. I want to know more, but the phone in my pocket vibrates. I dig it out and see that it’s a reminder for a conference call in ten minutes. It’s a call that I had to reschedule and cannot miss. “Well, I guess you are saved by the bell. I hope to see you around, Emerson.”

“Lucky me,” she sarcastically says. She picks up her book and goes back to reading, once again rejecting my advances.

Standing up, I walk over to the counter, grab my waiting coffee and head out. As I walk across the street, I glance over my shoulder and see her staring out the window at me. Lifting my hand, I nod my head, tap my temple, and salute her. From across the road, I can sense her blushing and I think to myself, Game on, Spitfire, game on.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

#NewRelease - Faith in Sweetwater County by @Ciaratknight

Title: Faith in Sweetwater County
Author: Ciara Knight
Genre: Sweet Romance
Publication Date: Mar. 6th, 2018
Hosted by: Lady Amber's PR

Cline Grant, a man with a checkered past turned preacher has dedicated the last ten years of his life to making up for past sins. But when he is faced with removing a young girl from her abusive uncle he must face the calling he never expected. He escapes with the young girl to the safety of a small town until a beautiful and dedicated social worker asks too many questions, questions that put his faith to the ultimate test.

Kinley Stafford refuses to accept the new preacher’s credentials as a father because he claims to be a man of faith, not after she failed to protect a boy only months earlier from a dead-beat dad. And when the preacher’s little girl runs away, Kinley makes it her personal mission to expose whatever secrets Preacher Cline is hiding.

Ciara Knight writes with a ‘Little Edge and a Lot of Heart’ with her contemporary and paranormal romance books. Her most recent #1 Amazon bestselling series, Sweetwater County, has topped the charts and received acclaimed reviews. Her international best-seller, Pendulum scored 4 stars from RT Book Reviews, accolades from InD’Tale Magazine and Night Owl Top Pick. Her young adult paranormal series, Battle for Souls, received 5 stars from Paranormal Romance Guild and Night Owl’s Top Pick, among other praises.

Author Links:

Buy Links:

Cline glanced at the porcelain-skinned, model-thin vision before him and suddenly felt his old habits bubble to the surface. He bit back the pickup line sitting at the tip of his tongue and instead said mildly, “I wouldn’t want that. First names it is. Cathy, can you tell me what the emergency is, or will you continue embarrassing this lovely lady?”

Cathy elbowed Kinley in the side. “Did you hear that? He called you ‘lovely.’”

“Yes, and he just heard you,” Kinley said, her face turning red. Still, she smiled kindly at Cathy before facing Cline. “Listen, I’m sorry. I’m afraid you stepped into the middle of a man-tervention.”


She laughed, a delicate, sweet sound that filled the room. “My friends were accusing me of working too hard and not making time to date. Cathy means well, but doesn’t know when to take a breath and let people live their own lives.”

Judy stood and chimed in, saying, “She’s right, you know. I think we should all give Kinley a chance to meet men on her own.”

“What?” Cathy shrilled, but was stopped by a wide wink by Judy. “Oh. Right. We’ll leave you two alone to live your own lives.”

“Wait—what is it you needed me to come here for?” Cline asked Cathy before she could lead the other women out of the coffee shop.

“Oh, right. I needed to give you the keys to the buildings.” Cathy dug through her bag until she pulled out a large key ring, unsnapped the metal and slid off two keys. “The large one is for the church, and the other is for the cottage out back where you’ll be living.”

“That old dump?” Kinley exclaimed. “It’s not fit for even a bachelor.” She bit her bottom lip in an adorable way, and gave Cline a rueful glance. “I’m sorry. I’d assumed you weren’t married.”

“I’m not. And Mrs. West saw to it that the cottage was readied ahead of my arrival. It’s small, but it’ll do.” He tilted his head and angled his body toward the door. He didn’t like leaving Chrissy in the truck alone for this long. “I’m so sorry, but I’d better get going,” he said, not wanting to answer any more questions at the moment. He needed to keep his and Chrissy’s secret. He’d told people that Chrissy was his niece, and for now, the town needed to believe that lie. “It was nice to meet all of you. I hope to see you at our first service in a few weeks, once the renovations to the church are complete.”

“We do have a few churches in town,” Sue said. “What kind will yours be?”

“Sweetwater Church will be non-denominational. All faiths are welcome.”

“I think that’s lovely,” Judy said. “You can count on my husband James and I being there at your first service.”

“You mean even Catholics are welcome?” Cathy asked.

Judy huffed. “Watch it, girl. At least Catholics spend their time in church praying instead of planning the next picnic.”

Sue snagged a cup from the table and set it on the counter while the women continued to argue over religious denominations and their traditions. “Don’t mind them. They’ve been frenemies since birth.”

“It seems I’ll need to take a class on small town politics before I open up my mouth in front of my congregation.” Cline smiled, but then felt his chest tighten. When was the last time he’d smiled? It didn’t matter. Life was no longer about having fun. He’d left the partying and the women behind when he’d dedicated his life to helping others. And now, he had to help Chrissy. When he’d promised to do God’s work on Earth, he never knew how much God would ask of him.

He never would’ve guessed that he’d be asked to become a kidnapper.

#NewRelease - Song of Dragonfire Series by @MeganLinski

Title: Song of Dragonfire Series
Author: Megan Linski
Genre: YA Fantasy, Reverse Harem
Cover Designer: Catnip Designs
Publisher: Gryfyn Publishing
Publication Date: Mar. 6th, 2018
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR

"Smoke. Fire. Air.
All three are required to make me whole.
I need the love that burns within them all.
I need my dragons."

Fliss thought war ended when she saved Krakow, yet war has yet to begin. Her dragon Smok has vowed to protect her, but not even he can stop the threat that looms over Poland.

Then Fliss discovers a shocking secret— Smok’s brothers are still alive, and she's loved all of them before in her past lives.

A journey across fae kingdoms and siren realms reveals the truth of her dark heritage. With three dragons at her side, Fliss must reassemble the events of history and solve the mystery of who has been hunting her across centuries.

Yet Fliss has roused the wrath of gods... and there will be no mercy.

Will her dragons be able to save Fliss from death once again? Or do the gods have other plans?

“Please... don't let me lose my dragons.”

Wounded. Crippled. Unable to harness her magic. After suffering a painful defeat and barely escaping with her life, Fliss and her three dragons are on the run from Natska, the dark fae queen who is also Chernobog, the goddess of death... and Fliss’ sister.

They can no longer fight Natska on their own. Fliss must seek out the city of sirens and search for a master who can teach her the strength of her song, but few are willing to aid her on their quest. A war of gods and men has broken out across the realm, and the magical community is in shambles.

If Fliss doesn’t gain control of her powers, she’ll plunge the world into an eternal darkness from which it will never recover.

The goddess of song will rise to battle the goddess of chaos-- and the victor will change Poland forever.

Megan Linski is the owner of Gryfyn Publishing. She is best known for her popular series The Shifter Prophecy, The Kingdom Saga, and The Rhodi Saga, as well as recognized for her work on the Creatures of the Lands series. In 2014, Linski published the Creatures of the Lands series in Lison's honor.

Linski is a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, and is an active fighter against common variable immune deficiency disorder.

Author Links:

Buy Link:
Song of Smoke & Fire:
Change of Wind & Storms:
World of Gods & Men:

#NewRelease - Outliers by @kmary0622

Title: Outliers
Author: Kate L Mary
Genre: Adult Dystopian
Publisher: Twisted Press
Publication Date: Mar. 6th, 2018
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR

In the dusty ruins of the world, three groups exist: the Sovereign, the Fortis, and the Outliers. Within their walled city, exclusive access to the only remaining technology gives the Sovereign an advantage that seems impossible to beat. In exchange for meager scraps and free reign outside the walls, they use the brawn of the Fortis to their advantage while the Outliers struggle to survive. Living on land that has not healed from the poison of the past, and surrounded by dangers too numerous to count, the Outliers have adapted - but to the Sovereign and the Fortis, they are nothing.

Indra is an Outlier. Each day she braves the wastelands, making the dangerous journey from the wilds where she lives to the City so she can serve the Sovereign in order to give her family a better life. Inside the walls, she has no rights and no freedom. Not only is she powerless to resist the Sovereign’s harsh rule, but she is also unable to do anything to save her people from the brutality of the Fortis. For centuries they have made their abuse of Outliers a sport, but when Asa comes to Indra’s rescue, she sees something different in him. Something that marks him as so much more than just a Fortis guard.

But as Indra’s world begins to unravel, even the quiet alliance she has formed with Asa cannot save her from the wrath of the Sovereign. In one life-altering moment, everything Indra has ever known is ripped away, forcing her to face a world even more harsh and unforgiving. Broken and scarred, Indra finds herself on a journey that will challenge everything she’s ever been taught, learning along the way that she’s stronger than she ever imagined. Maybe even strong enough to free her people forever.  

Kate L. Mary is an award-winning author of New Adult and Young Adult fiction, ranging from Post-apocalyptic tales of the undead, to Speculative Fiction and Contemporary Romance. Her YA book, When We Were Human, was the 2015 Children's Moonbeam Book Awards Silver Medal Winner for Young Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi Fiction, and the 2016 Readers' Favorite Gold Medal Winner for Young Adult Science Fiction.

Author Links:

Buy Links:
“He is in love with you,” Mira finally said.
The statement warmed my cheeks even though I had already come to this conclusion. “I know.”
“And you?” She glanced my way, not turning her head completely when she did it, as if she thought it would make me more likely to answer her honestly. As if she thought I was hiding something from her. “Do you love him?”
“I know nothing about him, but the answer would be no either way. I love Bodhi. I would not have married him otherwise. Plus, no matter what Asa does to help me, an Outlier cannot be with a Fortis. It is impossible.”
“Why?” Mira asked.
I turned my body to face her, walking sideways so that my back was to the Lygan Cliffs even though I had been taught to never lose my focus in this way. “Because we are not the same.”
“Now you sound like one of the Sovereign.” Mira’s blue eyes rolled in their sockets, but her lips pulled up into a smile that helped to ease some of the sting her words had brought to me. “We are the same, Indra. We are all people. We have just been trained to believe that we are different.”
I opened my mouth to argue with her, but no words came out. She was right. Sovereign, Outlier, Fortis, we were all just people. The only thing that kept us apart were the walls that had been constructed years ago, both the physical ones and the ones that existed only in our minds. Those were built on oppression and prejudices so old that no one alive today had a clue why they even existed.
A click echoed off the rocks at my back, followed closely by a few more. In front of me, my friend’s body went rigid. I spun to face the cliffs, the knife in my hand up and ready as more clicking rang through the air. But there was nothing in sight. Not yet, anyway.
“Where is it?” Mira hissed.
At my side, she too had her knife up. This was a position we had been in before, and as long as there was only one of the creatures, we knew what to do to defend ourselves. The problem would come if they were hunting in a pack. One lygan was dangerous enough, but four or five? We would not be able to beat that many.
We remained still. The clicks grew closer together and louder, but with the way the sounds echoed off the rocks, it was impossible to tell how many there were until the creature—or creatures—decided to show themselves.
“Be ready,” I said for my benefit as much as for hers.
The hiss came first. It was a sound that was low and seemed to come from the deepest part of the animal’s belly, and it was followed only a beat later by the appearance of the lygan itself. The creature was bigger than average, its tail as long as my arm and its body only a little shorter. Its claws clicked across the rocks as it scurried forward, seeming to move at an impossibly fast speed considering its stunted legs. The red and purple scales shone even in the limited light of the evening as the lygan twisted between the sharp rocks that made up the cliffs. Now that it was closer, the click of its claws seemed twice as loud, and when it hissed a second time, the sharp points of its teeth were visible.
Readying myself for a fight, I planted my feet. I knew from experience that the creature would pounce without warning, that was how Mira had been injured before, and I was ready when it finally flew through the air, headed right for me.
I slashed my knife up and the blade hit home on the lygan’s stomach. It screeched just before its body slammed into mine, and when I flew back a cry retched from my body on impact. We went down together, my back slamming into the dry ground and the lygan landing on top of me. It was injured and my knife was still in its belly, but it had not given up yet. The animal wiggled and snapped its jaw, and his teeth came close enough to my nose that I felt its moist breath against my face. His yellow eyes were focused on me, the black pupils dilated to slits. The scales were smooth against my hand when I grabbed its neck in an attempt to hold him back, and his claws scratched at my body as he tried to get the advantage.
Mira’s voice seemed far away, but I knew she was nearby and ready to help. Just as I had been with her the day she was attacked. Her face appeared above me. The setting sun shone down on her blond hair, making it glow, and in the brilliant light her passage markings seemed twice as dark against her pale skin.
The sun reflected off the metal when she raised her knife and I had to turn my head away. My hand was still on the lygan’s neck, holding the thing back as it snapped its teeth, but even before Mira had stabbed it I could feel its strength waning. Then she did, and when the knife entered the lygan’s body, the creature let out a shriek that left a ringing behind in my ears. The lygan jerked and its claws clamped down on my stomach, puncturing my dress and forcing a scream out of me. Mira pulled her knife from the creature and brought it down again, and this time the animal let out a drained wail that was preceded by its entire body going slack.
When that happened, its claws relaxed as well, freeing me from the piercing hold it had on my body. I shoved the animal off and it rolled to the ground at my side. Mira was panting, as was I, and for a beat neither one of us moved. She stayed frozen, standing over me while I remained on my back, staring up at her.

#NewRelease & #Giveaway - Outrageous by Jennifer Ann

Title:  Outrageous
Author: Jennifer Ann
Genre: Dark Romantic Suspense
Cover Designer: Amy Q of Q Design
Model: Miles Logan
Publication Date: Mar. 6th, 2018
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR

The South Side is like an incurable cancer, destroying the lives of everyone it touches.

For Brooke, the nightmare is over, and she uses her experience of survival to help those still living it.

Those like Liam.

He’s the smartest high schooler she’s ever met, and gets under her skin in the most delicious way.

She’s the bravest woman he knows, and he’s amazed she cares about his future and the fate of his band.

Their attraction is undeniable, but it’s also forbidden. She took an oath not to sleep with those she’s promised to protect.

But when the King of South Side tangles with Liam and his bandmates, she’s forced to make a choice.

One that could cost her everything.

Jennifer Ann is an award-winning and bestselling author of contemporary romance with darkly complex plots. Much like her characters, she's in love with the city of New York, trips on airplanes or the back of her husband's Harley, and everything rock and roll.

Author Links:

Buy Links:




The chaos of the South Side is in full swing as I make my way to the band’s usual Sunday night jam session, bass in hand. Only two of us could make it out tonight, but it doesn’t matter. I would’ve gone alone because I need an escape. Music is the only therapy I can afford.

Despite being no more than 30 degrees out, homeless of all ages litter the busted up sidewalks, some propped up against piles of garbage bags, begging for another fix or a hot meal. Tents and cardboard homes line the alleys, their campfires creating an ominous glow against the tall buildings. Every few blocks there’s a car by the curb that’s been abandoned for months, long-since stripped down to the frame like skeletons. A few dealers lurk in the shadows, hoods drawn as they wait for a signal from an interested buyer.

Often there’ll be a horde of drunk college students curious about this part of the city who don’t have the street smarts to stay the hell away. As I cross the bar scene on Fifth Avenue, they’re nowhere to be seen. Instead it’s the usual mix of liars and thieves who are too poor to start over somewhere else, doing whatever it takes to survive.

Too many of the women openly attempting to hook up with guys outside the bars are inappropriately dressed for the weather. On closer inspection, there’s a fine line between junkies and hookers. Some are so high they left home in little more than their underwear, and some looking to get paid for sex couldn't string an intelligible sentence together if they tried.

Once you add grime and the smell of literal shit to the list of the South Side’s attributes, it’s understandable why it was once labeled by some pretentious magazine as the least desirable neighborhood in the nation. It’s too dangerous even for the likes of Minneapolis to claim us, and too poor for St. Paul to give two fucks that we exist. The governor and the rich assholes that support him with their high-end department stores and fancy universities would physically have us removed from their precious state if they could find a way.

Every last native to this area comes from a broken home. They thrive on crime and mayhem, not having experienced any other way of life. Drugs and violent crimes have touched the lives of every single kid who grew up on these streets, my story being no exception. We don’t know the security of a traditional family, or what it’s like to come home to find dinner on the table. We’re accustomed to a rough hand and cruel tongue. It’s rare as fuck if your parents are actually married.

The only saving grace is that the neighborhood is run by Marshall “King Marty” Blackwood, my best friend’s uncle, making my crew untouchable by proxy. But even his protection has its pitfalls.

Before I’m able to sneak past the two prostitutes that have become a permanent fixture on the corner outside the abandoned building where we jam, the one who goes by “Candy” calls out to me. Tilting my face back to the dark sky, I flick my half-used cigarette to the sidewalk and start for her, smoke streaming from my nostrils. Any other day, I’d smoke ‘em right down to the filter. Since I came across the spot where my old man hides his cartons, however, I’ve been living large.

Aside from her rank smell, Candy’s mostly harmless so long as she isn’t so wasted she’s babbling about bed bugs or the government spying on us through technology. She’s not attractive by any means, but that’s an industry standard when you’re working the corners on the South Side. Most times she’s more akin to a motherly figure, asking if I’m getting enough to eat, or why I’m out on the streets alone. Chunks rise in my throat when she adjusts her ill-fitting bra, revealing a dark tit. In moments like this, I’m convinced she’s hoping to entice me to fuck her. As many years as she’s been working the streets, letting every dirtbag on the South Side stick it to her, I wouldn’t touch her with someone else’s dick.

Her obnoxiously long, bubble gum pink fingernails wave through the night sky. “Rook, baby, get over here! I wanna get a good look at you!”

“You just wanna cop a feel of my ass,” I tell her with a half-hearted chuckle.

She hums like she’s envisioning doing it. “Can’t say I’d mind.” Her smooth, chocolaty eyes darken on mine, filled with humor and mischief. They’re the only part of her that’s not repulsive. “When you gonna play me some of that guitar in private, sugar?”

Bile rips through my throat with her suggestion. “Sorry, sugar. I don’t play for just anyone.”

“Well I’m not just anyone.” Her voice seems to skip an octave when she wiggles her eyebrows. “I’m somebody around these parts now. King Marty’s men have been comin’ around the past couple a days, probably hopin’ to get up in my business. Matter of fact, you just missed them.”

Candy’s friend hums, setting her hand on her hip. “Girl, this ain’t no Pretty Woman. Seems to me like they’re decidin’ on the next place to bury a bullet.”

She’s not wrong. It can’t be a coincidence that King Marty’s men would be loitering outside the building where his nephew headlines a band.

“Did they ask any questions about me an’ the guys?” I ask.

“Don’t you worry, baby.” Her eyes narrow with a message that’s as crystal clear as the meth she smokes. “I ain’t no rat. I ain’t givin’ him any dirt on you boys for nothin’.”

I glance over both shoulders for any sign of King Marty’s thugs, grunting to myself. No one in the South Side does something out of the kindness of their heart, especially a strung-out hooker who can’t afford a new pair of fishnet stockings.

Resting the headstock of my bass against my legs, I fish my wallet out from my back pocket and find a single $20 bill. Not the most enlightening discovery when I won’t get another check until I’ve finished writing a ten-page paper for a senior in Burnsville, but stealing to stay fed is nothing new.

I press the bill into Candy’s outstretched palm. “There’ll be more coming if you keep me updated on any of their future visits.”

Her lips spread with a thin smile, exposing her rotten teeth and bright red gums. She’s a living, breathing epitome of why I’ll never touch hardcore drugs. “Sure thing, baby.”

Leaving the women behind, I head toward the building I consider to be more of a home than the rat-infested apartment my old man leased for the second year in a row. After ensuring no one’s paying attention, I slip the fake boarded door to the side and slip inside. Wouldn’t want a bunch of squatters discovering the shithole’s open. And apparently there’s more of a reason to be paranoid about who’s keeping an eye on us.

I always get bad vibes whenever Marshall Blackwood’s involved. Even though he’s supposed to be on “our” side, he’s involved in a lot of bad shit, and has a helluva temper. Who the fuck knows what could’ve set him off enough to send his crew.

As I climb the rackety stairwell to the second floor, the stench of dust and weed that clings to the building fills my lungs with a harsh burn. I make my way past band posters faded with age, hanging over ratty couches that arguably house more crabs than every seafood joint in the Midwest combined. A few months back, the band’s name was spray-painted on the wall behind them in blood-red letters by some chick that tagged along. When we first decided to go by “In Disarray” our freshman year, no one had any objections. Sometimes it's more our way of life than a label.

The brass sound of the drum kit banging along to a Nirvana tune becomes louder with each step. Trask must be letting his sister go at it again as part of her lesson on rhythm, and how to correctly wield the sticks. The little shit is showing improvement, and can maintain a pretty solid beat. We’re always razzing Trask that it won’t be long before we’ll be kicking his ass to the curb so Sasha can fill his place.

I find the brother-sister duo around the corner. Sasha sits behind the drums in the only area big enough to hold our equipment, dark hair flying around her head as her arms twist and bend through the air. Fourteen and feisty as hell, she shares zero physical characteristics of her lanky punk-ass brother. Since she recently grew curves and her baby-face smoothed down, guys started coming around, asking her on dates and shit. If I were Trask, I’d collect their balls in a jar.

Despite having shaggy hair the color of a regurgitated carrot and Owen Wilson’s fucked-up nose from one fight too many, Trask Green is an all-around decent bastard. For what he lacks in looks, although he still manages to bang any chick he wants, he makes up in heart. The guy gave me the benefit of the doubt from day one when we were kids, and I came in as a transplant from Texas. The others were initially cynical of any outsiders who weren’t raised in this cesspool.

Trask taught me crucial ways to survive the South Side, including how not to get my ass kicked by the locals unless I’m jonesing for a fight, where to use fake IDs to score booze, who sells the best pot, and which chicks at South Valley to steer clear of at all costs (one of many reasons I generally only sleep with girls that aren’t from the area). He’s the one who took me to the ER and told the doc I was pushed down a flight of subway steps the time my old man busted my arm in two places. He’s the one who suggested I start charging kids to do their school work, and even hand-picked the richest ones to start a solid client base. He stole me my first mountain bike, and beat the shit out of a kid that tried to jack it a week later.

Every monumental memory I’ve made since moving to the South Side involves Trask in one way or another. Hell, he was even in the next room when I lost my virginity. He’s one of few I’ll ever truly consider to be legitimate family. He’s my brother by choice, just like our other two bandmates. I’d bleed out for any one of the motherfuckers, although I’m hoping they’ll never take me up on it.

“What up, Rook-man?” Trask shouts, throwing me a goofy-assed grin.

Setting my bass on the stage, I lean in while giving him a fist-bump. “Just livin’ the dream, brother.”

He claps me on the back and chuckles in a low, gritty sound. “Aren’t we all.”

I pass by the drum set and ruffle Sasha’s long dark hair. It’s wild from intense drumming, some of it sticking to her slick forehead. “What up, Sasha Fierce?”

Dark eyes snap up to meet mine, glowering with intensity. The mahogany orbs blend into her pupils, giving her a demonic-like charm. She snarls back at me like a cat, curling her upper lip. “Fuck off, Rook.”

With a grunting chuckle under my breath, I reach for my bass, strumming along as she pounds out the last two verses of Heart Shaped Box. We become one entity, the low octaves of my base matching up with her kick drum, the high octaves hitting the snare on the backbeats.

I allow myself to get lost in the melody, closing my eyes and letting the low chords flow through me. The dark notes become a living thing, erasing all the complexities that make up my shit life. If there was a way to stay here forever, playing until my fingertips bled rather than dealing with what’s outside these walls, I would’ve found it by now. This place is my sanctuary—a haven. It’s another reason why I’m unnerved by King Marty’s thugs getting too close.

By the final chorus, Trask and I are wailing out the lyrics in voices unfit for the shower. Sometimes when we’re together, we’re nothing more than a couple of dipshits that even I wouldn’t want to hang with.

After Sasha hits the final beat, she screams through clenched teeth and stands, shoving the worn sticks at her brother. “You guys are assholes.” Bending at the waist, she flicks me off with both hands and sticks her tongue out before heading for the makeshift kitchen.

Unlit cigarette dangling from my lips, I glance in Trask’s direction. “What’s with her? She start her period or something?”

He lifts both shoulders while lighting a joint. “Who the fuck knows.” Settling on the chair behind the drum kit, he smirks my way. “I was at the bodega by my place earlier—saw the rich chick that dates that prick you’re writing a paper for. You end up tapping that ass last night or what?”

“Nah…she had a birthday party or some shit.”

He puffs on the joint, its moldy grass stench filling the air. “Hard to believe she wouldn’t cancel her plans for you. Even the prissiest snobs usually give in with the promise of a Rook-special orgasm.” Eyes the color of the premium weed he deals popping wide, he releases a howling laugh. “Shit, man! Could you be losing your touch?”

I grunt, refusing to humor him with an answer. My usual game involves sleeping with the girlfriends of the jocks that pay me to keep them from flunking out. They’re blissfully unaware that in reality, they’re paying me to ruin their girls. It’s yet another form of cheap entertainment.

Trask twirls a stick through the air, catching it like a pro. “Child services stopped by the house yesterday, asked to talk with my mom.”

“Oh yeah? What’d you tell ‘em?”

“Said she’d left for work. I omitted the fact that she left several months ago.”

When their mom disappeared around Christmas break, pretty much everyone figured she stumbled across a bad scene while trying to score. “They were good with that answer?”

“For now. They’ll be back. And sooner or later, they’ll find out I’m only seventeen.” Scratching his head, he stares off at nothing. “If things don’t turn around, I’ll have to let them take Sasha anyway. Sending her to foster care would be better than watching her starve.”

“Bullshit,” I snap. “You’d never let that happen. You’ve been busting your ass to make ends meet ever since your mom took off. You’ve always been a resourceful bastard. You’ll figure something out.” Lighting the smoke, I inhale deeply, grateful for the sharp burn filling my lungs. These days, feeling anything other than empty is a real treat. “Forgot to tell you—I had an interesting conversation with Candy the Hooker before I came up here.” I glance thoughtfully in his direction while he’s taking another hit. “Sounds like King Marty’s goons have been sniffin’ around her and her girls.”

Trask’s back stiffens. At the same time, a tick passes through his dilated eyes. “What'd they want?”

“Dunno, but I highly doubt it has anything to do with that rank pussy.” Exhaling, I continue to eye him. For someone with a joint in hand, he’s unusually tense. “Why? You know somethin’?”

“Nah.” His gaze darts to the other side of the room. Guilt flickers across his face like cherries on a cop car, as plain as the fucked-up nose on his face. “But whenever King Marty sends them out for something, it can’t be good.”

“You got that right,” I agree, continuing to study him closely. There’s no stopping the skepticism creeping into my thoughts. The whole lot of us aren’t too trustworthy, but we make it a general rule not to lie to each other. We’re all aware Trask sells weed for King Marty, so if it was somehow related to that, he’d come clean. He’s hiding something bigger. “Can’t hurt to watch our backs a little closer,” I add, hoping he’ll take the hint. If he’s worried about something that involves Marshall Blackwood, he can’t be too careful.

The conversation ends there. We break into an abbreviated jam session, cranking out an old B-side tune from one of Bowie’s older albums that we’ve been trying to master. It’s not the same without the other two filling in the melody. More than anything, I get the feeling Trask is still shook up about King Marty’s men the way he repeatedly fucks up on the tempo. As if to prove my suspicion, he splits before we’ve finished the song, claiming he has to help Sasha with homework.

Although he smokes strong enough weed to justify a healthy dose of paranoia, he pulls his sister along like the devil’s on his tail. As they disappear into the stairwell, I can’t stop wondering what the hell he’s gotten himself into.

Before I’m fully awake to comprehend what the fuck’s happening, a fist connects with my face, jarring my eye back into its socket. The lick of pain that follows is a familiar, welcoming feeling.

Too bad for my old man, he’s conditioned me to enjoy this shit. To feed off the sharp sting of torment as a reminder of all I’ve survived, and that I’m still here. I just wish it could happen after I’ve had a full night’s sleep. My uninjured eye tries to compensate for the temporary veil of darkness.

“Stupid ass punk!” he roars, his outline a mere blob in the darkness. The usual stench of booze clings to his skin the way pot clings to Trask. “You think I wouldn’t notice you’ve been stealin’ from me? It’s time I teach you a thing or two about respect!”

If I weren’t nursing a bruised kidney from last time I had the balls to goad him, I’d be tempted to shout out a “hooah.” Until you’ve been reamed by a former Army drill sergeant who was forced into early retirement because of a bum knee and hates the entire fucking world, you haven’t experienced a real ass-chewing.

My stomach twists as words continue to blast from his mouth with the precision of an automatic rifle, the consistency of pure shit. “Get on your pansy-ass feet, son! We’re gonna have us a little talk about where you get the money for all those new tattoos and those ugly as fuck earrings you wear like you’ve grown a vagina! If you have that kind of cash flowing from your dick, you should be helping pay the bills around here, not stealing goddamned smokes from your old man!”

Sweet. He’s loaded out of his mind again. Looks like I’m in for another night of whack-a-mole.

Still in a stupor from the unceremonious wakeup call, I throw my blanket off my legs and sit on the edge of the bed, rubbing my hands over my face. “What time is it? Can’t this shit wait until the sun’s up?”

The next blow to my jaw comes so hard and fast that stars flash before my eyes, blinding in the darkness. My head flings backwards, bouncing against something hard under my pillow.

The pistol my best friend gave me for my seventeenth birthday.

Less than three weeks after we moved in, I was robbed at gunpoint. What kind of stupid fuck would think a twelve-year-old would be carrying something of value? At least I learned a valuable lesson.

The old man’s at it again, pacing the room and shouting a bunch of nonsense as my fingers curl around the cool handle. If nothing else, with any luck I can make him piss himself like he’s done to thousands of soldiers.

“On your feet, you piece of shit!”

Grunting, I shove the pistol into the back of my boxer briefs and rise up to meet him, arms held out at my sides. “Do your worst, Staff Sergeant.”

A wheeze is wrenched from my gut with the following uppercut to my ribs. His shouted insults become white static as he throws punches, not seeming to give a shit where they land. Pain ripples through me with the force of a blazing fire, too wild and bright to be contained.

I try to relax as best I can, and let it happen. Putting up a respectable fight would only warrant another punishment. It’s easier to absorb his pain than to worry about the consequences. It's not like I’m in any fuckin’ sports, and the teachers assume whenever I come to school battered that I voluntarily started a fight.

Before long, the tang of copper and bile fills my mouth. His fist connects with my ribs again, and I momentarily blackout from the pain. From the feel of it, he’s dislocated a handful of them this time. Fuck I hate my life.

Holding a hand out, I stop to spit blood on the floor and twist my spine. Immense pain burns through my chest with every movement. “Fuckin’ hell. Can I call a time out? I think you might’ve punctured a lung.”

The moonlight shifts outside, exposing the monster standing in front of me. Mouth twisted, eyes dark as coal, fists suspended at his sides, it’s like getting a glimpse of the devil himself.

Fuck it. He always tells me I’m not too bright anyway, my favorite quote being,“If brains were made of cotton, you wouldn’t have enough to make a tampon for a flea!” May as well prove it to the has-been son of a bitch.

Pistol aimed directly at his face, I release the safety. “On second thought, keep your hands to yourself.”

His sinister laugh that follows would’ve made Jeffrey Dahmer cringe in fear. “You don’t possess the kind of balls it takes to shoot me, you little stupid ass—”

I squeeze the trigger.