Books I’m Grateful I Read Hop: Sunshine

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Welcome to the Books I’m Grateful I Read Blog Hop, hosted by Stuck in Books.

I’ve been staring at this screen for quite a long time now, trying to decide which of the many, many, many books I love I should feature in this post. I could come up with a huge list of Books that Changed My Life–but there’s one in particular that set me on my path to becoming a published fiction writer–and when I discovered that it is coming out in ebook for the first time ever this month, I knew I had to feature it: Robin McKinley’s novel Sunshine.

Sunshine certainly wasn’t the first vampire novel I read. It wasn’t the first urban fantasy novel I read. But it was certainly among the best. And the narrator, Rae, had a voice that echoed in my mind the same way the stories I sometimes told myself did. Sunshine also came to me at an opportune moment–just as my friend Bill suggested that I try NaNoWriMo, a then-still-fairly-new online program that challenged people to write a novel in thirty days.

So I did. I wrote my first novel that November in New York. And I wrote it about a vampire, because I had just finished reading Sunshine, and thus vampires (and snarky heroines) were on my mind. That book became Legally Undead, my third published novel.

And I still read Sunshine about once a year; it’s still that good.

For this blog hop, I’m giving away an ebook copy of Sunshine. I’m also giving away e-copies of my own vampire novels, Sanguinary and Legally Undead, and an e-copy of Bathory Gate Press’s latest publication, the vampire novella Night Home, by Rose Titus.

Check them all out below, tell me about a book that inspired you, enter to win, then HOP to the rest of the participating blogs!

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http://www.amazon.com/Sunshine-Robin-McKinley-ebook/dp/B00OGWASCI/

In a world where darkness threatens, there is Sunshine . . .

Although it had been mostly deserted since the Voodoo Wars, there hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake for years. Rae Seddon, nicknamed Sunshine, head baker at her family’s busy and popular café in downtown New Arcadia, needed a place to get away from all the noise and confusion—of the clientele and her family. Just for a few hours. Just to be able to hear herself think.

She knew about the Others, of course. Everyone did. And several of her family’s best regular customers were from SOF—Special Other Forces—which had been created to deal with the threat and the danger of the Others.

She drove out to her family’s old lakeside cabin and sat on the porch, swinging her feet and enjoying the silence and the silver moonlight on the water.

She never heard them coming. Of course, you don’t when they’re vampires.
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http://www.amazon.com/Legally-Undead-Vampirarchy-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00KKV44BK/

A reluctant vampire hunter, stalking New York City as only a scorned bride can.

Elle Dupree has her life all figured out: first a wedding, then her Ph.D., then swank faculty parties where she’ll serve wine and cheese and introduce people to her husband the lawyer.

But those plans disintegrate when she walks in on a vampire sucking the blood from her fiancé, Greg. Horrified, she screams and runs—not away from the vampire, but toward it, brandishing a wooden letter opener.

As she slams the improvised stake into the vampire’s heart, a team of black-clad men bursts into the apartment. Turning to face them, Elle realizes Greg’s body is gone—and her perfect life falls apart.

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http://www.amazon.com/Night-Home-Rose-Titus-ebook/dp/B00P30AF52/

She’s inherited more than just an old house…she’s also inherited an old enemy.

When college student Muriel Aubrey inherits an old house in a small town, she imagines that moving into the rural community will be deathly dull. But the old house once belonged to her eccentric granduncle, a professor said to be researching something mysterious before his untimely death. Then Muriel finds the research notes that had been hidden away in the old Victorian, and she discovers what the professor was researching: vampires.

It isn’t long before Muriel meets residents of the small town who knew the professor almost a century ago, and learns that everything he wrote in the notes he kept is true…

And then she finds herself stalked by a vampire hunter…

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http://www.amazon.com/Sanguinary-Night-Margo-Bond-Collins-ebook/dp/B00MR5VGV8/

Only fifty years left before vampires rule the world.

When Dallas police detective Cami Davis joined the city’s vampire unit, she planned to use the job as a stepping-stone to a better position in the department.

But she didn’t know then what she knows now: there’s a silent war raging between humans and vampires, and the vampires are winning.

So with the help of a disaffected vampire and an ex-cop addict, Cami is going undercover, determined to solve a series of recent murders, discover a way to overthrow the local Sanguinary government, and, in the process, help win the war for the human race.

But can she maintain her own humanity in the process? Or will Cami find herself, along with the rest of the world, pulled under a darkness she cannot oppose?

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Enter to Win

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HOP to the rest of the participating blogs

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Dystopian Giveaway Blog Hop: The Inevitable Zombie/Vampire Apocalypse

Dystopian Hop

Welcome to the Dystopian Giveaway Hop, sponsored by My Shelf Confessions and I Am a Reader, Not a Writer!

I love, love, love dystopian books. I could talk all day about the dystopian books I love, both YA and adult.

But it’s the zombie apocalypse that draws me in, every time. Mention zombies, and you’ve got my attention. I’m completely addicted to The Walking Dead–and I can’t wait to discuss the previous Sunday’s episode every week with the folks over at Contagious Reads. I’ve even stuck it out with SyFy’s Z-Nation, despite some (glaring, obvious, painful!) problems. And I’ve done some writing about zombies in my academic life, too–I have an article (co-authored with my husband) in this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Better-Off-Dead-Evolution-Post-Human/dp/0823234479/

And of course, anyone who reads this blog or my books knows about my fascination with vampires and vampire hunters.

So when I discovered that Melanie Karsak had written a vampire/zombie mash-up series, I suspected that I might have died and gone to heaven. (If you can call a dystopian horror novel “heaven.”)

So for this hop, I’m giving away copies of both books currently available in The Harvesting series. Check them out below, tell me about some of your favorite dystopian novels, enter to win, then HOP to the rest of the participating blogs!

http://www.amazon.com/Midway-Harvesting-Novella-1-5-ebook/dp/B00OX2KY7U/


Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for the beginning of the end.

Carnie. Ride jockey. Roustabout. White trash. Tilt girl. Gypsy. Cricket has been called a lot of things, but she never thought survivor of the zombie apocalypse would be one of them. One day she’s barking on the midway, and the next day, the world is eating itself alive.

Cricket, along with Vella, a tarot reader, and Puck, Cricket’s mangy mutt, find themselves running for their lives, but where can you hide when mankind has fallen? Cricket will need help if she hopes to survive.

Luckily for her, we were never really alone, and apparently, magical forces want to keep this tilt girl alive.

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http://www.amazon.com/Harvesting-Melanie-Karsak-ebook/dp/B009GI3YBY/

“The world, it seemed, had gone silent. It was something we knew but did not talk about. We were alone.”

While Layla Petrovich returns home to rural Hamletville after a desperate call from her psychic grandmother, she never could have anticipated the horror of what Grandma Petrovich has foreseen. The residents of Hamletville will need Layla’s cool head, fast blade and itchy trigger finger to survive the undead apocalypse that’s upon them. But even that may not be enough. With mankind silenced, it soon becomes apparent that we were never alone. As the beings living on the fringe seek power, Layla must find a way to protect the ones she loves or all humanity may be lost.

It’s all fun and games until someone ends up undead!

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Enter to Win The Harvesting and Midway by Melanie Karsak

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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HOP to the rest of the participating blogs!

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Why Vampires? by Margo Bond Collins, Author of Sanguinary

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Why Vampires?

Anyone who writes urban fantasy must eventually face the question: to vamp, or not to vamp? And everyone who reads urban fantasy has an opinion on vampires and whether or not they’re an interesting and useful part of urban fantasy. But no matter any one writer’s or reader’s opinion about vampires, the fact remains that these particular monsters keep rising from the dead.

There are piles of novels featuring vampires, and I’ve been asked several times why I would want to add to that pile. Part of the answer is simple: I wrote the earliest draft of Sanguinary almost ten years ago, after Buffy, but before the Twilight series came out—and before there was quite so much vampiric competition. But I decided to go ahead and submit it for publication because in my narrator Cami Davis’s world, most of the vampires are not sexy. They’re frightening and deadly—and they’re the kinds of vampires I want to read about

Not that I can’t be convinced by a sexy vampire—Damon Salvatore, Spike, Jean-Claude—and Cami’s vampire-partner Reese definitely draws on the sexy-vampire tradition.

But the terrifying vampires are the ones that fascinate me, and I love reading theories about why vampires have remained steadily popular at least since their first appearance in Europe during the eighteenth-century vampire scare of 1732. In part, I tend to buy the idea that vampires illustrate our anxieties about aging and death. But more than that, I think that, as Nina Auerbach claims, each generation creates the vampire it needs. So our urban fantasy vampires reflect a world in which sex and death are often intertwined—and where we find violence and horror sexy.

Of course, none of this postulating fully answers the question of “why vampires?” I’m not sure there is one single answer to that question. In “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” Stephen King writes that the horror film “deliberately appeals to all that is worst in us. It is morbidity unchained, our most base instincts let free, our nastiest fantasies realized. . . .” I think he’s right—and I think that fictional vampires appeal to those instincts, too. They are our bloodthirsty, lustful, amoral (sometimes immoral) selves, set free on the page. Ultimately, both the best and the most frightening thing about vampires is the fact that they Keep. Coming. Back. No matter how many times we stake them, behead them, burn them to ashes, they are truly undead—as a symbol of all we fear and love, their continued existence is virtually guaranteed.

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sanguinary final

A Night Shift Novel

Only fifty years left before vampires rule the world.

When Dallas police detective Cami Davis joined the city’s vampire unit, she planned to use the job as a stepping-stone to a better position in the department.

But she didn’t know then what she knows now: there’s a silent war raging between humans and vampires, and the vampires are winning.

So with the help of a disaffected vampire and an ex-cop addict, Cami is going undercover, determined to solve a series of recent murders, discover a way to overthrow the local Sanguinary government, and, in the process, help win the war for the human race.

But can she maintain her own humanity in the process? Or will Cami find herself, along with the rest of the world, pulled under a darkness she cannot oppose?

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Buy Links

Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/Sanguinary-Night-Shift-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00MR5VGV8/

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MargoBondCollinsAbout the Author

Margo Bond Collins is the author of urban fantasy, contemporary romance, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Sanguinary, Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them—and sometimes fight them.
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Connect with Margo
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/margobondcollins
Email: MargoBondCollins@gmail.com
Website: http://www.MargoBondCollins.net
Blog: http://www.MargoBondCollins.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MargoBondCollin @MargoBondCollin
Google+: https://plus.google.com/116484555448104519902
Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/vampirarchy
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MargoBondCollins
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mbondcollins/

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Sign up to join the Sanguinary Blog Blitz:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1RLYDdWUKApxPKO5D8-hAQ8p4_EuXrqmSQJBw7OxWWfw/viewform?usp=send_form

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Spotlight On: Stalking the Demon, by Ciara Ballintyne

Title: Stalking the Demon
Author: Ciara Ballintyne
Series: The Seven Circles of Hell #2

Six months ago, the disgraced wizard, Alloran, sacrificed his hand to rescue the woman he loves from his traitorous friend, Ladanyon. Despite saving the city from a demon, his reputation remains tarnished, and the council of wizards has penalised him severely for the practise of banned magic.

Now he learns his desperate efforts to stop Ladanyon led more to damnation than salvation. Finding a solution compels him to breach his sanctions and venture into forbidden places at risk of his life and freedom.

Alloran must choose between saving himself and everything he holds dear.

Book #1
Chapter 1
Collapse
Alloran rushed through
the citadel halls heedless of the rich carpets crushed beneath his heavy boots.
Gisayne hung limply in his arms, and her black hair trailed over his elbow. A
few people watched him pass, but none offered assistance. Over the past six
months, Gisayne collapsed often enough to blunt the urgency and the panic. The
faces turning in his direction bore only mild curiosity, oblivious to the fact
that this time was different.
Her chest barely rose and
fell beneath the thin cream silk of her night gown and robe, and blue tinged
the edges of her bee-stung lips. Seven hells, was she dying? As he raced
onwards, he clutched her against him and her cold skin pressed against his.
With no left hand, he had no way to check for a pulse. A choked-back scream of
desperate frustration tightened his chest until it squeezed the breath out of
his lungs.
While juggling Gisayne,
he fumbled with the latch on the door to the citadel’s hospice. Damn his
missing hand to the first hell. When the door finally gave, he shouldered it
open and backed into a long room lined with starkly made beds. The few occupied
by sick or injured had curtains drawn for privacy. Breidmar, dressed in the
red-trimmed white robes of a citadel doctor, bustled over at their entrance.
Orange brows pinched with
concern over her violet eyes. ‘Again?’
‘She’s…’ The lump in his
throat choked him. He swallowed hard. ‘She’s hardly breathing.’
‘This way.’ Pointing to
an empty bed, Breidmar called out and strode to a door at the far end. Before
she crossed halfway back, an unfamiliar girl in acolyte’s white appeared in the
doorway.
Alloran placed Gisayne on
the bed with gentle care. Her slack body slid from his arms, her skin pale.
When he let her go, her eyelids fluttered but did not open. Nausea knotted his
gut. The last time she’d fainted, the recovery was quick. Now, she looked as if
death hovered over her, waiting for the moment to snip the thread of her life.
As Breidmar began
checking Gisayne’s vitals, she waved Alloran off. He hesitated. What would he
do except wait, patient, and idle while Breidmar tried again to determine what
illness affected her? She would try and fail, most likely.
‘Are you sure this is not
the falling sickness? It’s supposed to get worse with each successive bout.’
‘She’s not got the right
symptoms. No seizures,’ Breidmar responded in precise, clipped tones.
Alloran frowned. He
wasn’t an idiot. ‘Then what? These collapses are getting more frequent and more
severe! Seven hells take you, tell me. Whatever the illness, it can’t be
too complicated for me to understand.’
With her severe lips
curving down, she sniffed. ‘No amount of genius can assist you to comprehend a
malady I cannot explain. While you’ve made any number of miraculous discoveries,
you have no particular expertise in medical matters. Leave this to me.’
‘The title of doctor is
reserved only for those who have studied in the citadel, and yet you say
you don’t know? After all this time, you must have some notion.’ Wisps
of his black hair hung about his face, torn free of their bindings in his
haste. He pushed them back with a rough motion. When they slid back into
disarray, he tore the leather thong free and began tying his hair back with
short, sharp motions.
The doctor scowled at him.
At her nod, the acolyte whipped the curtain around the bed in a rattle of
rings. The cloth brushed Alloran’s nose; he jerked his head away.
A heartfelt sigh escaped
his lips before he retreated to a waiting area that comprised a group of
chairs. No, sitting still would be intolerable. He changed direction and paced
the length of the room, passing the rows of identical empty beds. His boots
echoed in the open space. Sterile and odourless air filled his nostrils.
Apparently, Breidmar
shared the sentiments of many people in the citadel. Some blamed him solely for
the demons that plagued the city of Ehsan six months earlier, and others
accused him of working with the renegade wizard, Ladanyon. Although Alloran
wasn’t subjected to a disciplinary hearing, the council’s public announcement
that they were banning him from all forms of magic involving the hells only
reinforced the blame.
Seven hells, the
councillors banned him because some
of them felt the same as the other citizens. Those residents who lost loved ones
in the battle against Ladanyon’s first-circle demon were the most damning.
Councillor Valgon’s wife died, and he made no bones about believing Alloran to
be a public menace. I just can’t prove it, was what he said.

Ciara Ballintyne was born in 1981 in Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, one masochistic cat, and one cat with a god complex. She holds degrees in law and accounting, and has been a practising financial services lawyer since 2004. She is both an idealist and a cynic.

She started reading epic fantasy at the age of nine, when she kidnapped Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings from her father. Another two years passed before she began her first attempts at the craft of writing. Confronting the Demon is her debut book.

She enjoys horse-riding, and speculation about taking over the world. If she could choose to be anything it would be a dragon, but instead she shares more in common with Dr. Gregory House of House. M.D.

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HOWLoween Blog Hop: Paranormal Couples ~ #HopswithHeart

tribal man

Welcome to the HOWLoween Blog Hop Giveaway, hosted by Hops with Heart ~

Featuring a $50 giftcard grand prize, and an additional giveaway at every stop!

For this giveaway, I’m talking about some the couples of paranormal romance–in particular, the couples I love to love! Then I’m giving away a new release from Entangled Publishing’s Covet line (paranormal romance FTW!). So be sure to check out my post, tell me who your favorite paranormal couple is (it’s on the Rafflecopter!), enter to win my giveaway, enter to win the Grand Prize Giveaway, and HOP!

Paranormal Couples

I love urban fantasy and paranormal romance–they’re by far my favorite books, and I always have a hard time narrowing down my favorite couples! So instead of ranking them, I’m simply going to share them:

 

Kate and Curran

A bad-ass, sword-wielding, magic user and her shapeshifting lion lover in a magic-ravaged Atlanta? Yes, please!

http://www.amazon.com/Magic-Bites-Kate-Daniels-Book-ebook/dp/B000SEH16E/

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Jessie and Lukas

He’s hot as sin–literally, as he’s the embodiment of one of the Seven Deadlies–and she’s a snarky teenager. Fun!

http://www.amazon.com/Darker-Days-Agency-Dark-Book-ebook/dp/B00D6KEIJ0/

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Deuce and Fade

She’s a Hunter from an underground society; he’s an outcast from aboveground–together, they fight to save all of humankind. *happy sigh*

http://www.amazon.com/Enclave-Razorland-Book-Ann-Aguirre-ebook/dp/B004H1TC9S/

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Cami and Reese

A hot cowboy vampire and an undercover Dallas detective. Mmmm. . . . 🙂

http://www.amazon.com/Sanguinary-Night-Margo-Bond-Collins-ebook/dp/B00MR5VGV8/

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Blog Giveaway
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Grand Prize Giveaway
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Grand Prize Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/3ad276f821/

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HOP to the participating blogs: 

http://www.hopswithheart.blogspot.com/2014/10/howloween-hop.html

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Hop Hosted by: http://www.hopswithheart.blogspot.com/

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Spotlight On: Midway, by Melanie Karsak + Giveaway ~ #zombies

 

http://www.amazon.com/Midway-Harvesting-Novella-1-5-ebook/dp/B00OX2KY7U/

 

***Midway is a tie-in novella that complements The Harvesting, Book I in The Harvesting Series.***

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, for the beginning of the end.

Carnie. Ride jockey. Roustabout. White trash. Tilt girl. Gypsy.

Cricket has been called a lot of things, but she never thought survivor of the zombie apocalypse would be one of them. One day she’s barking on the midway, and the next day, the world is eating itself alive. Cricket, along with Vella, a tarot reader, and Puck, Cricket’s mangy mutt, find themselves running for their lives, but where can you hide when mankind has fallen? Cricket will need help if she hopes to survive.

Luckily for her, we were never really alone, and apparently, magical forces want to keep this tilt girl alive.

Enter to Win:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Author Bio:

Melanie Karsak is the author of the Amazon best-selling steampunk series The Airship Racing Chronicles (Chasing the Star Garden and Chasing the Green Fairy) and the award-winning horror/dark fantasy Harvesting Series. She grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania and earned a Master’s degree in English from Gannon University. A steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and zombie whisperer, the author currently lives in Florida with her husband and two children. She is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.

Connect with me online:

For free short stories, VIP sneak peeks, giveaways, release information, and more, join my newsletter: http://eepurl.com/OSPDH Blog: http://melaniekarsak.blogspot.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorMelanieKarsak Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/melaniekarsak/

Midway

Chapter 1

 

“Tilt-a-whirl, tilt-a-whirl, tilt-a-whirl! Come on ride my tilt-a-whirl! I’ll whirl you round the world,” I barked to the mostly empty aisles at the Allegheny Fairgrounds.

I looked up and down the aisles. The place was like a ghost town. While bags of pink and blue cotton candy hung in the food joints, cherry red candy apples glistened in the sunlight, and over-grown stuffed purple monkeys hung at the game booths, ripe for winning, no one was around to stuff themselves with carnie delights. The smell of kettle corn still perfumed the air, but for a carnival that was usually packed with excited townies, I swore I wouldn’t be surprised if a tumbleweed blew down the row.

After a bit, two young boys came up to my line. They were the only kids around. The older looked to be about twelve. The younger, a good two inches under my height bar, had pulled himself up to full height and tried not to meet my eyes.

“Tickets,” I said to them.

Confidently, the older boy handed me his ticket and passed through. The younger boy hesitated. Guessing he’d be all right, I let him through. The older boy slapped him a high five when they thought they were out of earshot.

I turned the key and started the ride. The boys smiled at me. I waved to them.

“Hey Cricket,” Harv, the balloon-pop agent across the aisle, called to me. “Where is everyone? Allegheny Fairgrounds is usually packed. I’m gonna go hungry.”

I leaned over the gate and twirled my blonde braid, checking out the split ends. “I heard someone say it’s the flu keepin’ people home. You know they closed LAX? I hear it’s gettin’ real serious. You get a flu shot?”

“Naa. Damned thing always gives me the flu. You know, Bud’s got it. He’s been laid up in his RV all day.”

“Anyone been by to see him?”

Harv shrugged. “He’s grouchy when he feels good. I don’t imagine he’d be a barrel of laughs when he’s sick.”

“No man is. Even the common cold has you all actin’ like a bunch of babies.”

“This coming from a blonde,” Harv replied with a laugh.

“You better watch yourself. I’ll come pop your balloons.”

“Baby, a grenade couldn’t pop those balloons,” he said with a laugh.

I turned back to the boys. They were all smiles; round and round they spun. Since no one else was around, I let it run until they signaled they’d had enough.

Around nine o’clock that night, the owner, Mr. Marx, came by. I had not seen a soul on the fairway since the boys left. “Sorry, Cricket. We’re going to teardown to get ready for the jump to Cincinnati. We’re just burning juice and not making a dime. This place is dead; not a soul here.”

“All right then,” I replied, and Mr. Marx wandered off. I realized he hadn’t said a word about when he would pay us for Allegheny Fairgrounds, dead or not.

Moments after he left, the first of the evening fireworks shot across the sky. The dark sky was illuminated with gold and pink. I waited for a moment, expecting to hear the excited oohs and ahhs that usually followed what was a pretty measly fireworks display, but there was nothing, just the pop and crackle of the fireworks, followed by silence. Eerie.

I whistled for Puck, my mangy mixed breed and the only male I swore I would ever truly love. After a few minutes, the hound-shepherd mix with honey-colored eyes appeared looking dirty and happy. I found him about a year ago. Well, actually, he’d found me. We were getting ready to leave Crawford County Fairgrounds when he showed up at the tilt begging for scraps. I made the mistake of feeding him a leftover funnel cake, and after that, I couldn’t shake him. He was a mischievous little devil, and Vella, the tarot reader, gave me the idea for his name: Puck. She said it was the name of a rascally faerie creature. It fit him. From that moment on, Puck and I were always together. More than once, a growl and flash of teeth from Puck had gotten me out of a jam. I loved that mangy mutt.

“Up to no good, were ya?” I asked, scratching him on the head. He licked my hand and wagged his tail. I closed up my till and headed to the bunk house to look for some extra muscle to help with the teardown. As I passed through the midway I saw most of the other joints and booths were already closed. Mama Rosie was just closing up the snake show when I came by.

“Marx closed down everyone up here already?” I asked her.

“They’re all sick, Sug,” she replied as she dropped one of her small snakes into her bra. I shivered. Everyone loved Mama Rosie, but no one understood her relationship with her babies. She always had one hanging out of her bra, hanging around her neck, or stuffed in her clothes. Mama was a big woman who liked to wear baggy, loud-colored gowns. I hated sitting next to her at dinner. You never knew when one of the babies might suddenly slither out of her hibiscus-print dress.

I set my box down and helped her push the trailer door closed. “How about you, Mama? You feelin’ all right?”

“I think I ate something bad at lunch, but I’ll be fine. You headed back to the bunks?”

“I guess. I was hopin’ Beau and the boys would come give me a hand.”

“Sug, Beau would give you a hand, arm, leg, or toe if you asked. Why don’t you give that boy a chance?”

“Oh, Mama Rosie, I don’t feel nothin’ like that for him.”

“But you run off with townies often enough.”

“Well, we all have needs.”

Mama Rosie laughed loud. “You got that right. I thought maybe you were hoping someone would marry you out of the life.”

“And give up all this?”

Mama Rosie hooted again, her boisterous laughter filling the empty aisles.

While the smell of Chinese food, funnel cakes, and fried sausage still filled the air, there was no one around. Power was still on, so the midway sparkled in a rainbow of light, but the place was like a ghost town. I had never seen it like that, and since I’d practically grown up in the carnival, that was saying something. Several game booth agents had even left their plush hanging—now that was odd.

As Mama and I passed by Iago’s Traveling Torture show, Mr. Iago came out. I winced. After three years of traveling with Great Explorations carnival, I had yet to warm up to Mr. Iago. His show was creepy. I’d once had a look inside. The place was hung with all kinds of pictures of people being tortured, and he had old torture devices like the rack, an iron maiden, a wheel of fortune, and other small harmful contraptions. Mr. Iago was as creepy as his show. On the outside he looked normal enough, just a funny-looking little bald man with too-big-ears and a pointed nose, but it was what I felt coming from inside him that set me on edge. I never looked him in the eye.

“Mama Rosie, Cricket,” he called politely.

“You headed back too, Mr. Iago?” Mama called cheerfully.

“Yes, ma’am, I am,” he replied softly.

“You make any scratch today?” Mama asked him.

“Well, I don’t like to discuss finances,” he told her in his quiet manner.

“He don’t like to discuss finances,” Mama said mockingly to me. “All right, Mr. Iago. You just go on with yourself then.”

“No offense, Mama Rosie,” he replied quietly.

“Of course not,” she said and rolled her eyes at me.

When we got back to the bunk houses there were half a dozen people sitting outside at a picnic table listening to the radio. I spotted Mr. and Mrs. Chapman. They owned three of the grab joints; Mrs. Chapman waved to us. She was a biblical woman whose savory corndog breading had won top prize at a competition last year. If you didn’t mind hearing her recite verse all day, she was fine to be around. Red and Neil, two ride jockeys, were there as well. Red ran Big Eli; Neil ran the swings. The resident lot lizard, Cici, was snuggled up to Red. I was surprised to see Vella there as well. Vella, the tarot reader, was a Romanian immigrant who called herself the only authentic Roma, which she said meant gypsy, in America. Even though she was just a little older than me, Vella scared me. She’d never done anything to me and was really nice, but she scared me all the same. The others said she was dead-on accurate with her readings and often had bad news to give. I didn’t want to be around anything like that.

“What’s the news?” Mama Rosie asked.

“Lord, help us! This flu is something else. They have quarantined almost every city on the west coast: LA, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco. . .you name it. They got the national guard on the highways keeping people out,” Mrs. Chapman said.

She was quiet then. We listened: “And inside Portland Central Hospital, military personnel have opened fire on seemingly-rabid patients,” a female reporter was saying. “Reports from the scene indicate that a riot broke out at the hospital when patients, suffering from side-effects of what now seems to be a pandemic flu, began attacking other hospital patients and employees. CDC officials have confirmed that increased violence appears to be associated with the afflicted and continue to advise everyone to avoid direct physical contact with those with the illness. Martial law has been instituted in all major west coast cities and cities across the south. Cities across the northeast and central US have issued a curfew. There have been reports of runs on banks, grocery stores, and fueling stations.”

“What are they sayin’ on TV?” I asked.

Red shook his head. “We can’t get a signal in. No one’s dishes are working.”

“President was on the radio. Told everyone to be calm,” Cici said.

“Easy for him to say. They probably got him stashed in a bunker somewhere,” Mr. Chapman replied.

“Highways are gonna be backed up. And nobody’s gonna be interested in a fair, not at Allegheny and not in Cincinnati. But I bet if we don’t jump, Marx is gonna stiff us,” I told the others.

They nodded.

“Well, if y’all will give me a hand, I’ll pay back the favor,” I told Red and Neil.

“No problem, Cricket. You see Beau around?”

I shook my head. “I just came lookin’ for him.”

“He’s sick,” Vella said. She rarely spoke, so when she did, we all turned to her. “Leave him be,” she added, her voice still thick with her Romanian accent.

Vella had been shuffling her cards the whole time we’d been listening to the radio. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

“What do the cards say about this flu, Vella? Should we hit the road? Stay put?” Mama Rosie asked.

“Devil’s work,” Mrs. Chapman whispered under her breath.

“They say the same thing over and over again: the Tower.” She laid out a card for us to see.

When Mr. Iago leaned in to look, I moved away. My skin crawled having him so close. I took a step toward the other end of the table and put my hand on Mrs. Chapman’s shoulder. She patted my fingers. On the card Vella had laid out was the image of a tower on fire, two naked people falling from it to the ground.

“What does it mean?” Mama Rosie asked.

“The end of a way of life. Chaos will pave the way in a new world for those who can survive the destruction.”

“That’s cheerful,” Red said.

Vella picked the card back up. She looked up at me. “Can you let me know when you’re going to head out? I’d like to caravan.”

I smiled and nodded. I wasn’t really interested in her gloom and doom, but I sure didn’t want to be on the road alone in a time like this.

Red, Neil, and I headed back to the rides and started the breakdown process. It wasn’t easy with just the three of us, but Neil was good with the lift, and I had the breakdown down-pat. We had the tilt loaded onto the flatbed in no time.

“I’ve never seen a girl as good with a wrench as you are, Cricket,” Red told me as we headed over to the swings.

“Don’t hurt none that my daddy put one in my hand about a minute after I was born,” I replied with a laugh.

“I met your daddy back in the 80s. We worked Maverick Carnival together for about a year.”

“For real? I didn’t know that.”

“Boy, your daddy, there wasn’t a mark he couldn’t clean out or a townie whose eye he couldn’t catch. I think your daddy was born for the carnie life.”

“He loved it. That’s the truth,” I replied. I loved talking about my daddy. Since he’d died three years ago, I felt so lonely for him. Anytime someone had a story to share about him I was all ears.

Daddy had just finally saved and borrowed enough to buy a used tilt-a-whirl when he started looking a little red in the cheeks from time to time. My daddy had always been a ride jockey, but now he would be a ride owner, and a “tilt man,” a title that made him proud. He liked the idea of tweaking the ride, playing with the gears and brakes. It was a dream for him. Not a month after getting the ride, however, I found him lying dead of a heart attack. He’d been working on one of the cars. Doctor said a life full of eating nothing but carnival food will do that to you. I’d thought about leaving the carnival, but after my daddy had worked so hard, I couldn’t. I became a tilt girl. The ride was like his living memorial. Every time a child smiled or laughed on that ride, I knew my daddy was smiling in heaven.

“I never did meet your mama,” Red told me then turned to Neil. “You ever meet her?”

Neil shook his head. “Someone said you look like her, Crick.”

“Yeah, I suppose so. I probably wouldn’t know her anymore. Last time I talked to her she said she’d dyed her hair red,” I replied. My mom and dad had split when I was young. She had married and started a new life. We rarely talked. She was like a stranger to me. I didn’t think on her much.

We worked on the swings. They were an easy break down, and we were done and packed in less than two hours. The Big Eli, as we called the Ferris Wheel, was another story altogether, and it was already after one in the morning.

“Let’s get it first thing tomorrow,” Red said. “I’m feeling my bones.”

Relieved, I nodded. I didn’t want the boys to know, but every muscle in my body was aching, and Puck had started whining for his dinner an hour before. I wasn’t going to argue. “Just knock in the mornin’,” I called to Red. “I’m over by the creek at the edge of the west parking lot. Wasn’t room left in the back when I got here,” I added.

“Well, that will teach you not to play around in town next jump,” Red replied with a laugh, and we went our separate ways, Neil and Red chatting as they went the other direction.

Back in the parking lot, I crawled into the cab of my truck, my home away from home. When I was a game agent, I used to drive a small RV, but I needed a semi to haul the tilt so I gave up my RV, managed to get a CDL license, and now lived in the cab of my truck. It wasn’t too bad, and if it started to feel real tight, I would stay in the bunk house.

I dug around until I found a can of food for Puck. I placed a small bowl on the ground and sat beside him, petting him while he ate, looking at the view. My spot by the creek wasn’t bad. I could hear the sound of the rushing water. Besides, the parking lot was dead. There wouldn’t be any noise.

After Puck had gobbled down his meal, he jumped in the cab, and we snuggled together on the small cot behind the seat. I pulled the curtain closed, and we called it a night.

Book Hooks: Taming the Country Star by Margo Bond Collins ~ #MFRWhooks

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Taming the Country Star by Margo Bond Collins

http://www.amazon.com/Taming-Country-Star-Hometown-Entangled-ebook/dp/B00KK4DORC/

Country star Cole Grayson is in town, and Kylie Andrews is less than thrilled. As if months of changing the radio station and tearing down his posters weren’t bad enough, now she has to deal with a town of fans swarming toward the man who deceived her the year before. But when Kylie’s eyes meet Cole’s again, she can’t deny the electric chemistry that drew her to him the first time around.

Cole Grayson is on a mission. Ever since Kylie left him, he hasn’t been able to forget her sweet country smile. After writing a song just for her, he sets off for her hometown to prove he’s not the player she thinks he is. But as much as Cole can’t forget her, Kylie wonders if she can forgive him…

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Excerpt

“Bastard,” she whispered to herself, and ripped the poster off the wall.

At least, she tried to. It was thicker than she had expected, attached more firmly, and it resisted her pull.

Chewing on her lip, she took another look around, dropped her bag to the ground, and reached up to grasp the edge with both fists, jerking at it in opposite directions. A tiny tear opened up along the side, and she yanked harder. Finally, the poster ripped—right across Cole Grayson’s lying eyes.

She tugged at the image some more, glancing around surreptitiously every few moments and dropping ragged pieces of paper on the ground at her feet, until there was nothing left on the wall but a few fluttering strips.

Gathering the mutilated shreds together, she opened her bag and shoved them inside until they overflowed, bright ribbons of color in the morning light.

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Buy Links

Kindle US: http://www.amazon.com/Taming-Country-Star-Hometown-Entangled-ebook/dp/B00KK4DORC/

Nook US: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/taming-the-country-star-margo-bond-collins/1119610297?ean=9781622661664

Kindle Worldwide: http://bookShow.me/B00KK4DORC

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About the Author

Margo Bond Collins is the author of contemporary romance, urban fantasy, and paranormal mysteries. She has published a number of novels, including Taming the Country Star, Legally Undead, Waking Up Dead, and Fairy, Texas. She lives in Texas with her husband, their daughter, and several spoiled pets. Although writing fiction is her first love, she also teaches college-level English courses online. She enjoys reading romance and paranormal fiction of any genre and spends most of her free time daydreaming about heroes, monsters, cowboys, and villains, and the strong women who love them (and sometimes fight them). She currently writes for Entangled’s Red-Hot Bliss line.

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Connect with Margo

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/margobondcollins
Email: MargoBondCollins@gmail.com
Website: http://www.MargoBondCollins.net
Blog: http://www.MargoBondCollins.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MargoBondCollin @MargoBondCollin
Google+: https://plus.google.com/116484555448104519902
Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/vampirarchy
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/MargoBondCollins
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/mbondcollins/

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