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Please welcome Janine Ashbless to the blog!

Today, I’ve got the fantabulous Janine Ashbless on the blog, and I’m questioning her mercilessly interviewing her about her life in general, and her brand new release.

IBotE cover (1)

 

Broad at the shoulders and lean at the hips, six foot-and-then-something of ropey muscle, he looks like a Spartan god who got lost in a thrift store. He moves like ink through water. And his eyes, when you get a good look at them, are silver. Not gray. Silver. You might take their inhuman shine for fancy contact lenses. You’d be wrong.

Before we get to more of this amazing-sounding book, we’re going to find out a little more about Janine Ashbless – thanks to my nosy intrepid questions. But first off, Janine–in her own words.

 

Bio:

Janine Ashbless is a writer of fantasy erotica and steamy romantic adventure. She likes to write about magic and myth and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human.

Janine has been seeing her books in print ever since 2000. She’s also had numerous short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora’s Cave among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology ‘Geek Love’.

Born in Wales, Janine now lives in the North of England with her husband and two rescued greyhounds. She has worked as a cleaner, library assistant, computer programmer, local government tree officer, and – for five years of muddy feet and shouting – as a full-time costumed Viking. Janine loves goatee beards, ancient ruins, minotaurs, trees, mummies, having her cake and eating it, and holidaying in countries with really bad public sewerage.

Her work has been described as:

“Hardcore and literate” (Madeline Moore) and “Vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love.” (Portia Da Costa

Janine-Ashbless-profile2

Janine Ashbless website * Janine Ashbless blog * Janine Ashbless on Facebook

Sinful Press website

What’s a typical day like for you?

A losing battle with my laziness.

Do you have any collections?

Cthulhu Mythos books. Ghost story books. Children’s books. Just books, tbh!

Do you have any hobbies?

I own a small wood, so I like to work in that with my chainsaw. I play Dungeons and Dragons. I LARP – dress up like a fantasy warrior and run around hitting orcs with rubber swords.

Do you have any bad habits?

See LARPing above. My parents are still waiting for me to grow out of it!

Are there any skills you’d like to learn?

I wish I’d been taught Latin. It would be so cool, in old churches and museums, to be able to read the stones.

What’s your favorite curse word?

“Fucktard.”

What sound do you love?

Evening birdsong.

What sound do you hate?

Sniffing.

Dog or cat person?

Dog – I always have at least two.

City or country?

Country

Get things done early or procrastinate?

Pro …. crastinate

Introvert or extravert?

Introvert

What do you like best about writing?

Falling in love/lust with my heroes and having wild fictional affairs!

What do you like least?

Promo, lol!

What was your favorite childhood book?

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. I wanted to be an Old One.

(*Bron wiggles and interrupts* Yes! I loved this series!)

Questions about the book.

In Bonds of the Earth is the second story in the Book of the Watchers series and sequel to Cover Him with Darkness. In Bonds of the Earth continues Milja and Azazel’s story. Were there any significant differences in your approach to the two books and your experience writing them?

They were both lovely, exciting books to write, but there were slight differences in my approach. I wrote the first book with an emphasis on a logical (if twisty-turny) plot that would be (if necessary) fairly self-contained. Milja triggers the action with her decision and then is mostly swept along in it.

The second book was about digging down into the motivations, conscious and unconscious, of the various individual protagonists and antagonists who are trying to do each other over. Milja gets a lot more agency; people are listening to her now. And it finishes on a cliff-hanger because by this point I’ve committed to the full trilogy.

What do you like best about Milja?

She evolves from a simple rather geeky girl with all the right intentions into someone who recognizes her own darkness and strength and is much less afraid to harness it. And she turns out to be really kinky…

What do you like best about Azazel?

He’s so confused and confounded by human emotion – he really doesn’t get people. He has the dangerous innocence of a bull in a china shop.

Is there anything you hope readers take away from In the Bonds of the Earth?

Don’t put your faith in any dogma or any set of rules, or any one person no matter how wonderful they may seem. Think for yourselves!

If you were to cast your book as a movie, who would you choose to play your characters? (feel free to include pictures)

Azazel would be played by Aidan Turner:

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Milja would be played by model Emina Cunmulaj:

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Egan would be played by Tom Wlaschiha:

Tom Wlaschiha

What’s up next for you—care to share a bit?

I’m finishing off the third in the trilogy – The Prison of the Angels – right now! I have an Apocalypse to stop!

Thanks for having me over, Bronwyn!

Thank you for being here! 

And now, let’s have some more about the book!

Blurb:

“I will free them all.”

When Milja Petak released the fallen angel Azazel from five thousand years of imprisonment, she did it out of love and pity. She found herself in a passionate sexual relationship beyond her imagining and control – the beloved plaything of a dark and furious demon who takes what he wants, when he wants, and submits to no restraint. But what she hasn’t bargained on is being drawn into his plan to free all his incarcerated brothers and wage a war against the Powers of Heaven.

As Azazel drags Milja across the globe in search of his fellow rebel angels, Milja fights to hold her own in a situation where every decision has dire consequences. Pursued by the loyal Archangels, she is forced to make alliances with those she cannot trust: the mysterious Roshana Veisi, who has designs of her own upon Azazel; and Egan Kansky, special forces agent of the Vatican – the man who once saved then betrayed her, who loves her, and who will do anything he can to imprison Azazel for all eternity.

Torn every way by love, by conflicting loyalties and by her own passions, Milja finds that she too is changing – and that she must do things she could not previously have dreamt of in order to save those who matter to her.

In Bonds of the Earth is the second in the Book of the Watchers trilogy and the sequel to Cover Him With Darkness.

Excerpt:

I was giving my long-dreaded presentation on the anniversary footbridge to Misters Ellis, Singh, Constanzo and Mackenzie…when Azazel walked in.

Oh hell.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I said loudly, lurching around from behind my desk, grabbing Azazel’s arm and spinning him back to face the door. “Not here, come on, please,” I implored through clenched teeth.

If there was one thing I’d learned by then, it was to not ignore warning dreams. If I’d paid them more attention from the start, things between me and Egan might have gone very differently back in Montenegro…

No, better not to think of Egan, not when Azazel was around. One guy at a time was quite enough to wrap my head around. Especially this guy.

He humored me though, this time, letting me pull him out of the meeting room and through the open plan office without resistance. We attracted a lot of stares, but there was nothing I could do about that except hold my head high.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Out. Anywhere.”

“You’re so impetuous.”

I didn’t need to glance up at his wicked smirk. I could feel it burning its way into my breast.

Bryce, the beardy guy in my new team who’d shown me the ropes of the job and seemed just a tiny bit too eager to talk every morning, stood up from his cubicle to intercept us. “Milja, is everything okay?”

“It’s just fine,” I rasped, towing Azazel faster.

“She’s insatiable,” my demon lover confided with a helpless shrug to my colleague as we swept past.

Bryce stared, mouth open.

“Goddamnit,” I muttered, and Azazel chuckled.

Sometimes it was hard to remember that he’d risked everything to save me.

We reached the doors at the end of the room and I pushed through, past the lobby with the elevators and into the concrete stairwell of the emergency stairs beyond. The only people who came here were smokers on their way to the roof, and it looked empty for now. My panicky momentum fizzled away and I swung to face him.

“What are you doing here?”

“What do you think?” he countered, taking my face in his hands.

“Azazel—” But he cut off my protests with his hungry kiss; a kiss that lanced through me all the way to my core. I gave up resisting, and speaking, and almost breathing, as his lust rolled over me in a hot wet wave. I slid my hands around his neck and tangled my fingers in his messy hair, pulling myself into his embrace. His body was hard as rock, his hands heavy on my waist and hips. The yearning for his touch that smoldered in my flesh day and night woke to a roaring heat.

I’d missed him. His skin, his smile, the peppery scent and salt taste of him. The sweetness of his lips and the harsh rasp of his stubbled chin. I’d missed him so much—like an addict missing her hit.


Ebook Buy Links:

Amazon UK * Amazon US * Apple * Barnes and NobleGoogle Play * Kobo

Paperback Buy Links:

Buy direct from Sinful Press * Barnes and Noble * Waterstones * Amazon UK * Amazon US

It’s Finally Here!

So, awhile ago, like probably two years ago, (which is a long time in internet time) I met Victoria. She had commented on my blog and we chatted back and forth a bit. When I procrastinate have time, I like to check out the blogs of the people who stop by and talk to me.

To this day, Victoria’s blog, The Opposite of Popular remains one of my favorites. It’s in my top five, along with Jenny Trout and The Bloggess. First off, Victoria’s hilarious. She’s also smart and has an appealing sort of half conversational – half confessional tone to her writing. The first time I was there, I must have read fifteen posts in a row. I was delighted to learn that she was writing a novel. Not only was she writing a novel, she was writing a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a side of Casanova.

Well, it’s time, people. That Beauty and the Beast retelling with a side of Casanova is available TODAY! It’s called The Rose and the Mask , and it’s fantastic. (Full Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to get to read an ARC, and it’s so much fun. I really, really loved it.)

 

It’s true that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, but often, they fall flat. That doesn’t happen in The Rose and the Mask.  I’m also a sucker for good dialogue, and Victoria is a dialogue genius. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this book. Just do yourself a favor, and go get it!

But first, I’ve got a little interview with Victoria, so you guys can get to know her a bit, too.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I work part-time in an office so some of my days are pretty much the same as they were before I started taking writing seriously: work, home, dinner, TV, bed. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, I’ll be so absorbed by my current writing project that I’ll spend my lunch break scribbling in a notebook and dash straight to my computer when I get home. As for writing days… well, there’s really no such thing as a typical one. What they have in common is that they all contain writing, procrastination, snacks and crushing self-doubt, in varying proportions. I’m working on enlarging the “writing” slice of that particular pie!

Do you have any collections?

Oh, yes. To name a few: Lego Minifigures, My Little Ponies, those beautiful hardback editions of classic books that have been A Thing recently. And that’s before we even start on my Disney stuff. Let’s just say that I have nine Disney Beauty and the Beast mugs, and they’re the tip of the iceberg…

Introvert or extrovert?

I’m definitely an introvert. Other people are awesome and I love many of them dearly, it’s just that I need a lot of time to myself. Although I will admit that it’s sometimes hard to draw a line between “I need some time to myself” and “I just want some quality time with my pajamas”.

What do you like best about writing?

I think, because of the introvert thing, I find it a lot easier and more satisfying to connect with people through the written word than face-to-face. A lot of my friendships are online for that reason. I think I come across a lot better when I’ve had a chance to edit myself!

I also love playing with language. I get a lot of fun out of arranging words, and I like the fact that I can often somehow sense whether a sentence is right or not. I’ve no idea if I’m correct because I’ve no idea whether I’m actually any good as a writer (how do you know?) but, when that happens, I feel like I am.

What do you like least?

The lack of… supervision, I guess. This is actually one of the best things about writing, particularly if you’re self-publishing—you get to write what you want, when you want, how you want. But it’s also incredibly difficult in a way I didn’t see coming until I started trying to treat writing like a job. I mean, in a regular job—at least the low-level kind I’ve had—you have a manager who is expecting you to do your work within a certain timeframe and to a certain standard, and who’ll correct you if you mess up. They’re also there to train you and to give you feedback, even if that’s just to confirm that you’re on the right track.

With writing, particularly with your first book, and particularly when you’re self-published, there’s none of that. Nobody cares whether you finish it or not. No one’s going to confirm that you’re doing well or nudge you back on course if you’re not. No one’s going to identify any gaps in your knowledge and suggest further training. All of that has to come from you. Learning to do all of that is at least as hard as learning how to actually write, and just as important if you want to make a career out of writing.

The Rose and the Mask is your first book – HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!! It’s a fantastic Beauty and the Beast retelling with a side of Casanova. Can you tell us what drew you to those two tales?

Oh, gosh. I could go on for days about my love of Beauty and the Beast—and frequently have to be prevented from doing so. But I suppose what it boils down to is that it’s a story about people who are different, and isolated by that difference, but find a meaningful, literally-magical connection with one another. When I rediscovered the story as a weird, socially-awkward teenager, that aspect of it seized me right in the core of my being and I guess I’ve never quite shaken it off.

Of course, Beauty and the Beast has a lot of troubling implications—well, not even implications. The harmful message that love can transform a cruel “beast” of a man into a gentle “prince” is right at the heart of the story, at least as we’re most familiar with it. I was very mindful of that while writing The Rose and the Mask, and a lot of the challenges I faced were to do with reworking that message while still retaining what I loved about the original. But I think that’s the value of retellings: passing on much-loved stories, but allowing them to adapt and grow when they need to.

As for Casanova… well, he’s just a fascinating character! He’s remembered as this great romancer, of course, but that’s actually one of the less interesting things about him. He was a musician, a professional gambler, a spy, a criminal—in fact, he famously escaped an allegedly inescapable prison, using a scheme that involved a spike hidden in a Bible hidden under some pasta. How do you read about that and not want to write about him? But what really fascinated me is that he was able to convince a lot of people that he had magical powers, often to his own great benefit. That ended up being a major component in how I portrayed him in the book and sent a lot of things in a lot of interesting directions! (She says, mysteriously. You’ll have to read the book!)

What do you like best about Faustina?

She copes well under pressure. I love to read (and write!) about women who can take things in their stride, because I’d like to be better at that myself. There’s plenty about her that’s, shall we say, less-than-admirable—like the career in burglary and art forgery—but I’d be happy to learn to channel her in a crisis. I also think she’s pretty funny, although there’s a chance I could be biased.

What do you like best about Benedetto?

He’s funny too, although, again, this is coming from the person who wrote his jokes. He’s also quite comfortable with who he is—as much as he can be, given certain curse-related complications. He’s a thoughtful introvert and he’s self-aware in a way that Faustina isn’t, so much. Having said all that, though, I think we’d drive each other up the wall if he were a real person. He’s much too tidy and careful to cope with me!

Is there anything you hope readers take away from The Rose and the Mask?

I guess I just want them to have fun. Life is hard and scary and often much, much too serious—and there should be literature that reflects that. But I’m not the person to write it. I’m not good at that. What I’m good at—at least, what I hope I’m good at—is fun, creating a place to escape to. If someone finds even a tiny bit of happiness in my work, then I’ve done something worthwhile.

Of course, if they could also take away from it a sense that I’m awesome and they’ll buy all my future books, that would be nice too.

What’s up next for you—care to share a bit?

I’m working on a Cinderella retelling, set in the same universe as The Rose and the Mask and bringing some background characters to the fore. I’m having a lot of fun with it: creating a new couple who are very different to Faustina and Benedetto, and finding new ways to twist the story. It’s been hard to focus on it while preparing for the launch for The Rose and the Mask, but I’m excited to get back to work on it soon!

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Blurb:

Faustina is a beauty and a thief, not necessarily in that order. She doesn’t believe in magic, just luck, and hers has run out. The last thing she needs is to get roped into a ridiculous revenge plot by her brother—especially when that brother is Giacomo Casanova, Venice’s most notorious libertine.

Benedetto Bellini has never been particularly lucky. The fact that he’s under a beastly curse proves that. Now he’s got a second problem, one that’s washed up on his island in its undergarments and attempted to steal his silverware. He finds Faustina intriguing and infuriating in equal measure. And, thanks to the curse, he’s stuck with her.

Faustina doesn’t know what to make of the sweet, shy and deeply irritating man holding her captive. Does he have something sinister in mind, or is he just trying to keep her safe? And why won’t he take off his mask?

Click here for an excerpt. (Do it. No, really, doooooooooooooooo it.)

Buy Links: Amazon *** Amazon.uk

Bio:

Victoria Leybourne is an author, blogger and tea-drinker who was born in England but grew up on the internet. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her vigorously making excuses for not writing while watching animated movies, belting out showtunes and/or attempting to pet every cat within a three-mile radius.

Victoria is on Twitter and Facebook and has a website. She is also the proud owner of The Opposite of Popular, a well-named but otherwise poorly-thought-out blog.

Fancy winning Scarlett Parrish’s new book? (Your line is: Yes, of course! What do I need to do?)

Please welcome Scarlett Parrish to the blog today. Scarlett is one of the great gifts I’ve received from Twitter. (Seriously, I meet the best people there!) Anyway, she’s got a new book out and has (mostly) cheerfully agreed to answer my nosy interview questions, and she’s also agreed to give away a copy of her brand new story to a lucky commenter! Why? Because she’s awesome.

So, let’s get to know Scarlett a little better and check out Deep Screw. 

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What’s a typical day like for you?

Because I’m trying to make a go of being a writer full-time my time is pretty much my own. It calls for a lot of self-discipline, not having a boss to answer to. Pyjamas feature heavily, of course. As does caffeine.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Recovering from a nervous breakdown and writing again. It took a long time for me to feel creative.

Do you have any collections?

Do books count, or is that too obvious? Apart from those, no, as I’m a minimalist. In fact, friends have said my home looks bare, empty, or even sterile. I have the bare minimum of everything I need, apart from books. You can never have too many books.

Do you have any hobbies?

Don’t laugh. Colouring in.

Do you have any bad habits?

Staying up late when I’m trying to regulate my sleep pattern.

Do you have any pet peeves?

People who make a noise in public places, like swearing loudly on a bus. Or having their music turned up so loud everyone can hear it. Just generally existing anywhere near me. Or people who see me reading alone and take pity on me, trying to strike up a conversation.

Are there any skills you’d like to learn?

Playing a musical instrument is probably an obvious answer, but apart from the piano or violin, I’d say I’d like to learn Gaelic. It’s a dying language and I feel it’s my duty as a Scot to master it.

What’s your favorite word?

Eckythump.

(What does it mean?)

What’s your least favorite word?

Moist.

What’s your favorite curse word?

Spunktrumpet. No, shitweasel. Cuntpuffin, maybe? Wait, jizzflute!

Funny you should ask this, though, as chapter 9 of Deep Screw – actually the chapters are titled ‘frames’ to honour the game of snooker – contains an insult created by my Twitter buddy, @MetalOllie, he of ‘cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon’ fame. I’m honoured to have him contribute in such a creative way to my first book in years! But you’ll have to read it to find out exactly how creative he can be.

(I’m utterly delighted and inspired.)

What sound do you love?

There’s an ASMR artist on YouTube called Maria Gentlewhispering; I listen to her every night in bed. Whispering, paper-folding, page-turning sounds are very relaxing.

What sound do you hate?

Loud music coming through to my flat from the neighbours. I could cheerfully bean them in the face with a brick in a sock.

Dog or cat person?

I don’t have any pets but if I had to choose…cats. There’s a saying, “Dogs look up to you and cats look down on you.” I respect that. They just want a place to sleep and someone to feed them.

City or country?

Country, as long as I had shedloads of books and caffeine and chocolate. Glencoe would be ideal for me.

Coffee or tea?

Tea. I hate the taste of coffee, although I love its aroma.

Morning or night person?

I’m naturally an owl, but trying to get in synch with normal daylight hours and larkifying myself. It’s definitely a challenge. If I want writing to be my job I have to treat it like one, though.

Get things done early or procrastinate?

I have a household chores routine for each day of the week (no, really) but when it comes to paperwork, letters, editing…I tend to procrastinate. I’m super-productive the week before a deadline.

Introvert or extravert?

Introvert, I’d say. I don’t hate people; I’m not scared of them. I just prefer peace and quiet, and solitude. Or being in small groups.

What do you like best about writing?

Having no-one to answer to.

What do you like least?

Having no-one to answer to.

Do you have a day job in addition to writing?

I did, but now I don’t, hence my desire to really make a go of things with fiction. However, I’m open to taking another secular job. As well as being good financially, seeing a bit more of other people gives you a wider perspective and, providing I’m not dog-tired when I get home, should add life to my writing.

If you were a book, which book would you be and why?

A puzzle book – they take a lot of working out and are usually full of cross words.

What was your favorite childhood book?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, although I’m also fond of Charlotte’s Web by EB White and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. And just about anything by Roald Dahl.

Questions about the book. 

Deep Screw is your first book in quite some time. First off, I’d like to say, we’re so glad you’re publishing again! Has your perspective changed at all between now and then?

Well, I’ve changed my mind on self-publishing. I used to swear against it, but given how many epubs have gone under in recent years and how much work authors are expected to do as regards promo even when working with a publisher, I’ve obviously come round to the idea. When I set out, I was going to set the world on fire and be rich enough to eat diamonds. Now I’m just looking to make enough to support myself and keep a roof over my head.  I’m less idealistic these days. I’ve also realised that a strict (though flexible, in times of illness) routine is essential for me if I want to finish anything!

What do you like best about Cameron?

He’s got a fine line in double entendres, which is totally not like me at all. Honest.

He sees the humour in every situation. Also, he’s Scottish.

What do you like best about Ryan?

As the book’s written in first person from Cameron’s point of view, Ryan obviously doesn’t feature as much as the main character but he finds it difficult to stay away from Cam, which is just as well. I wouldn’t have a book otherwise!

Is there anything you hope readers take away from Deep Screw?

Blue balls. There are lots of blue balls in this book.

If you were to cast your book as a movie, who would you choose to play your characters? 

Do you know, this question helped me realise Deep Screw is the first book I’ve written without casting the main characters in my head first. I believe the only references made to looks are that Cam has dirty blond hair, and Ryan is darker and an inch or two shorter. So it’s pretty much open to interpretation.

What’s up next for you—care to share a bit?

I have a BDSM-lite novel called Family Jewels nearly finished. It’s M/F, so different from Deep Screw in that respect. I believe erotic romance readers are open-minded enough to cross over from M/M and back again. I read across the board and don’t think I’m alone in that. Family Jewels is actually the book I’m proudest of. It’s not hardcore whips-and-chains, but concentrates on mind-fuckery and the ‘rules’ of a relationship. I like to think it has its funny moments too. I think you always know a Scarlett Parrish book from the sarcasm and humour. It’s the book that reminded me yes, writing’s work, but it can also be fun too.

Deep Screw – Blurb:

Cameron Carmichael used to be on top of the world—literally—as a World Snooker Champion and World Number One. These days, his mood is sinking faster than his ranking. Only thirty-one and barely holding on to his top-16 placement, his automatic pass into all the big tournaments, Cameron’s considering retirement.

It might be time to hang up his snooker cue; the only thing keeping him on the circuit is a taste for the finer things in life and snooker does pay very well. And there’s something else he has to deal with—an unavoidable attraction to Ryan Miller, a cocky young challenger with an eye for the trophies that used to be Cameron’s.

Deep ScrewExcerpt:

            Then I become aware of someone slightly off to one side, hovering in the background. The dark brown of a jacket nearing, then jerking back as if shocked. It’s as if the wearer wanted a drink too, then saw something – someone – at the bar which, or who, surprised them.

        So I look up. Ryan. Of course. Who else? And I catch his eye. He looks around, nervously, probably wondering if he can make a sharp exit without making it obvious to other people in the bar he’s exiting because of me.

        “It’s all right,” I tell him, turning away. “I don’t bite.”

        He clears his throat, still hesitant, still lurking near the bar stool at my side like it’s going to hurt him. Maybe sitting down anywhere near me would be an admission of something he doesn’t want to face up to. And to be honest, if I make him so uncomfortable, I’d rather he go drink somewhere else. I don’t want to be reminded of what happened between us any more than he does. Well, not if he’s going to persist in thinking it’s shameful, anyway. Something dirty, to be hidden.

        Mind, in the world we occupy, it would have to remain hidden. Secretive. If it got out…our private lives would become more interesting than our respective careers.

        I shake my head. Not that there’s anything to remain discreet about. It was a one-night thing. A stoned, drunk one-night thing that he crept away from, telling me all I need to know about his feelings.

        “I just didn’t…I don’t know…”

        “What to drink?” I wave a ten-pound note at the barman and ask for a random bottled beer, not caring what he brings me. My thirst increased tenfold when I realised it was Ryan beside me. Glancing to one side, I acknowledge his surprise, if the raised eyebrow and nervous look at the barman are anything to go by. He was probably expecting me to offer to buy him a drink. After I’ve pocketed my change and taken my first swig, I say without looking up, “You can buy your own.”

        “Oh, I wasn’t…I wasn’t…”

        “I hope you’re more articulate on the snooker table than you are in conversation.”

        Again, Ryan coughs, and finally, finally, takes the bloody barstool beside me. Not that I was particularly desperate for him to – in fact, I’d feel an awful lot more comfortable if he went to another bar – but for some reason it irritates me, his uncertainty. Shit or get off the pot, as the saying goes. Added to which, his uncertainty, his jitters, they’re annoying. An insult to me. It’s like he thinks I’m going to announce to everyone in this crowded room what we did. I’m not so stupid. I don’t want to damage what remains of my career, and I’m not about to dump a bucket of tabloid gossip all over his, either. I have more honour than he seems to think. I just wish he understood that.

        He orders his drink, nothing I pay much attention to. But then, it’s hard to pay attention to the words coming out of his mouth when, now that he’s sitting beside me, I’m increasingly aware of the thereness of him.

Deep Screw – Buy links:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Bio

Scarlett Parrish writes stuff, drinks a lot of tea and is currently working on mastering the art of teleportation. She can be contacted through her blog or by email or on Twitter.

To enter the contest to win an ebook copy of Deep Screw, please leave a comment, and a winner will be chosen at random next Saturday.

Elena Johansen has a new book out today! YAY!

I’ve got awesome news to share! My girl, Elena, has a new book out – the next one in her What We Need dystopian series. I loved the first one and definitely recommend it. I’m really excited to make time in my schedule to read this one, too!

ebook-cover

Before we get to the blurb and excerpts for this, I asked Elena a few questions.

Did you notice any big differences in the writing process between WWNtS and WWNtD? 

Major, major differences. First, I wrote WWNtS over multiple partial drafts over the better part of a year, trying out different perspectives and structures until I found the one I was happiest with—only then did I actually finish a full story draft. WWNtD, I briefly outlined before NaNoWriMo last year, then planted my butt in the chair and wrote in one draft over roughly six weeks during NaNo and the early part of December. It was a brutal experience, but it was absolutely what I needed to get into a productive mindset, rather than dithering about until inspiration struck. Inspiration strikes all the time, more than I want it to, in fact, but the important part is doing the work.

(Agreed!)

Now that you have the first two completed, will there be any changes in the way you approach the third book?

I’m still refining my overall process, but the most important thing so far has been quadruple-checking everything. I’m already into revisions on book three, and because of the changes I made during the rewriting stages on book two, I’m coming across continuity issues I didn’t anticipate, on top of the changes I already knew I had to make. It’s tedious, but necessary.

I think that no matter the genre, most authors tend to learn things about themselves as they create their stories. Would you say that’s been the case for you? And if so, and if you’re comfortable sharing, what would you say you’ve learned? 

While I hope I’ve managed to move away from the self-insert characters of my youth, I’ve learned that my best characters are going to be like me in at least some ways, because the shortest route to writing someone real is to write from experience. I gave Paul what I consider one of my best strengths, open-heartedness. I make friends quickly, always have, and while he may be a bit more stubborn about it than I am (I would have backed off from someone as hostile as Nina was in the early days) it’s still a piece of me. Nina, on the other hand, got my tendency toward anxiety, and her sense of humor is definitely modeled after mine.

So the challenge is investing enough of myself into them to bring them to life, while not making them clones of myself, or of each other—that’s where inspiration comes in, and other people I know, and any number of character-development exercises and lists of traits and flaws and motivations.

(This is a fantastic answer. I love these insights!)

If you found yourself in the midst of a dystopian world, what are the top five objects you’d want to have on your person at all times?

A flashlight. A water bottle or canteen. Some kind of blunt-force-type weapon; I have no formal weapons training, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a gun, and knives are just as dangerous to an untrained attacker as they are to the attackee, but I think I could manage a baseball bat or a length of sturdy pipe. Dental floss, both for the obvious reasons, and because it’d be handy to have something string-like packaged with its own cutter. And, because I’m me, I’d still want a book or two.

(I’m so pathetic, the first thing I thought of was lip balm. You’d survive a lot longer than I would!)

 

Would you want to find a place where you could hole up try to defend it, or would you keep moving to see what was out there? 

Aha! You’ve found a clever way to ask me if I’m more like Paul or Nina. I’m honestly more in the middle—to me, it would depend on who I was with, and what conditions were like wherever we were. I’d bow to reason, or failing that, go with the group decision. But on my own, I think my natural inclination would be to hole up and nest, to make someplace comfortable to live and reasonably defensible.

(That’s me. Sneaky and tricksy.) 

What’s coming up next for you?

I’m still working on book three, and I hope to have this draft done by November, so that…

(You got this.)

Do you have plans for what you’ll be writing once this series is done? 

…I can participate in NaNoWriMo again to kickstart my next project. I’ve been faithfully jotting down all my plot bunnies while I’ve been working on the What We Need series, and I’m hoping to read through all my notes and decide which one comes next. Though in all honesty, there is one leading the pack. Is it too soon to write about more musicians? Because I’ve also got librarians, nature witches, artists, or gamers on standby. Or a new idea could hit me before then, we’ll see.

(I don’t think it’s ever too soon to write about musicians. However, I’d be totally on board with librarians, nature witches, artists, and gamers.)

Here’s a little more about the awesomeness that is Elena:

Elena Johansen pursued a lot of interests in her life before she decided she really should have been a writer all along.

Now she is one. That whole rock-star thing probably wouldn’t have worked out, anyway.

She lives in Michigan with her husband.

Want to know more? Visit her at elenajohansen.com.

And be sure to check out her social media! Tumblr * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads

Here’s the blurb:

Planning a future is a tricky thing, more difficult than picking the best route off a map–especially when the world lies in ruins.

 Paul doesn’t have any doubts about Nina. She chose to follow him, and to love him, more every day. Life on the road will never be easy, but with her by his side, he can do anything.

 Nina never hoped for much, before the plague, or after. Having Paul to love, and to love her, was more than she’d expected. No matter what else is wrong, being with him feels right, and she sets aside her armor to let him in.

 But when Nina reveals her deepest secrets, Paul realizes the life he hopes to have some day might be out of his reach.

 And when Paul shows her his darkest side, the piece of himself he can’t accept, Nina wonders if she’ll lose the man she loves to his own demons.

 Will Paul and Nina allow the struggles of their pasts to define their future?

 What We Need to Decide continues their story, begun in What We Need to Survive, following them as they face the dangers of a world that isn’t as empty as it seems, and the challenges of forging a strong bond under the worst conditions.

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Chapter One – Destination

October 12th, 6:35 pm – OH-93, south of Oak Hill

Nina sat beside Paul in front of the fire and waited for him to tell her what was on his mind.

She sensed something weighing on him. His distant expression was more than the unfocused gaze of someone staring into the leaping flames. He peered through it, past it, as if trying to see into the future. The slight furrow of his brow meant he didn’t care for whatever chain of events he conjured up.

He’d been quiet all afternoon while they’d foraged for food in Oak Hill. With a solid set of wheels underneath them, they didn’t need to stop in every town to hunt for supplies. But when they’d found a small grocery next to the highway with no obvious signs of damage, Paul had pulled into the parking lot and suggested they investigate.

They’d found a case of energy bars and more honey-roasted peanuts than they could eat in a week. Not that Nina wouldn’t try.

They hadn’t talked much as they scanned the aisles by the beam of Paul’s flashlight. Without the hum of the air conditioners, the electric whine of the fluorescent lights overhead, or the bland pop music playing on the radio, their voices had echoed through the cavernous building.

Though no one would hear them, Paul had whispered, and so had she.

He wasn’t whispering anymore. He was silent, almost brooding.

Nina had needed time to get used to his easy, talkative nature at first—his effortless charm inviting her in, and how he kept trying to be her friend when she couldn’t admit she wanted one. Since they’d gone beyond friendship, she was having equal trouble getting used to his silences. He’d admitted to worrying he talked too much sometimes, or he’d bore her, so he overcompensated by shutting up for hours. And sometimes, he was just tired.

This quiet between them as they sat together at the fire seemed thoughtful.

Emulating Paul’s endless patience with her was a challenge, but Nina wanted to try. She sat beside him without fidgeting or filling the silence with small talk. She was terrible at small talk anyway—if she dove into it, Paul would suspect he was making her anxious.

Instead of demanding he spill his secrets, which tempted her, Nina made herself do something practical, something useful. Diverting her circling thoughts with activity wasn’t new—she’d done it plenty to calm her mind before she and Paul had gotten together.

But she still thought of him as the practical one, the one ready for any eventuality. She had to play catch-up, learning to be as self-reliant and self-assured as he was.

Their spare gear was stored in the back of the pickup truck. They’d already built the fire and eaten dinner, but they hadn’t pitched the tent yet. By the way the western sky was blazing orange and pink, sunset was no more than half an hour away. Nina wasn’t practiced enough at camping to be comfortable setting up the tent by firelight. She lifted it out of the truck bed and scanned the site for the best spot.

When Paul noticed what she was doing, he jumped to his feet to help. Together they cleared a space and put up the tent, a two-person dome barely long enough for Paul to stretch out in. They had one sleeping bag between them, which got unrolled, unzipped, and laid flat to serve as a mattress. Their blankets went on top, though they had no pillows. Nina supposed they could have taken theirs from the house when they left, but neither of them had thought to, and they hadn’t found new ones.

After they finished, Paul plunked himself back down at the fire. Not sure what else to do, Nina joined him. He draped his arm over her shoulders, and she leaned her head against his chest, grateful for the contact. But he was still silent, and she still didn’t know how to ask what was making him so somber.

Before long, she was dozing off.

“You should go to bed,” Paul told her after the third time she jerked her head up to keep from falling completely asleep.

A good idea, but it could be a better one. “Come with?” Nina asked, her voice small and sleepy.

He shook his head, trailing the backs of his fingers over her cheek. “I’ll be in soon.”

Nina’s skin heated from the caress more than from the warmth of the fire. After a few days together on the road, Paul’s casual affection finally felt natural to her. Building that part of their relationship was easier when they were alone together, with no one watching and driving Nina crazy with nerves.

But she sighed when she settled into their thin, inadequate bed, alone and not nearly warm enough without Paul beside her. Summer was giving way to fall, and already the nights were far colder than she thought they’d be. She curled herself tightly, pulled her blanket up to her chin, and tried not to worry. The sudden feeling of distance between her and Paul kept her too tense to sleep. She wanted the warmth of his body and the solid comfort of his presence.

He was only a few feet away, but it felt much farther.

Nina told herself she was overreacting, but it was still new to her, this intimacy of hearts, not just of bodies. Uncertainty ran rampant inside her head—she knew she should find out what was bothering him, but she didn’t know how, not without potentially making the problem worse.

Sometime later she woke, fuzzy-headed and night-blind, without realizing she had fallen asleep. Paul was in the tent. He’d put the fire out, so no light shone through the thin nylon walls, and in the dark, he’d bumped her getting into bed.

She made a complaining noise, and he kissed her hair as he gathered her in his arms. “Sorry, sweetheart. Go back to sleep.”

His heat thawed her chilled joints, and she melted closer to him. When she began to kiss her way up his neck, though, he pulled away.

“Not tonight, okay? It’s late, I think we both need the sleep instead.”

Nina laid her head on his shoulder, determined not to let him know by any sound or change in her breathing how even his gentle rejection stung. Not much, not unbearably, but she hadn’t expected the first time to be so soon. They’d made love in one form or another every night since they’d left, and more than once on a break from traveling during the day.

They were still new to each other, and both of them had been starved for real affection. Nina had a gnawing hunger in her, a craving for him she couldn’t seem to satisfy.

Until tonight, she hadn’t doubted Paul felt the same hunger. For those precious few days they’d had together at the house, it hadn’t mattered whose idea it had been to get naked. But on the road, Paul had been letting Nina make the first move. Either because it was his nature—which Nina didn’t believe, he was too passionate to sit back and wait for her every time—or because he was trying to be sensitive to her past. She remembered the horror in his expression when she’d told him about her time on the road with Darren, before they’d met.

She’d refused to go with Paul, at first, because of it.

Obviously, he remembered too, which made him hesitant.

Nina wiggled closer. Paul’s arms settled more snugly around her. His heart thumped beneath her cheek, steady and strong, a drum keeping time for the soft drone of the crickets outside.

He didn’t pull away.

Her anger and hurt eased with every reassuring thump in his chest. She could choose to hang onto them, or to let them go. Paul was trying to make her life easier by being undemanding. He was trying to keep her fears contained and quiet her anxieties.

And if he erred on the side of caution, wasn’t it another sign he cared?

With a deep sigh, she let it go, like dropping stones into a pond and watching until they sank out of sight. “Paul?” she whispered. “Are you still awake?”

“Hm?” he murmured, nuzzling her hair with his lips.

“I know you’re too tired to talk now, but something’s bothering you. Will you tell me soon? Because I’m worried about you.”

After a long pause, she wondered if he’d fallen asleep right when she’d finally figured out how to safely phrase her concerns. Then he said, “Not sure I’m ready to talk about it yet, sweetheart. Might be a bad idea.”

She pawed her hands up his body until she found his face, then drew him down to her for a kiss. A soft one, which she hoped he knew wasn’t asking for more. “Then think about it. Because I want to help.”

“All right, sweetheart.” He interrupted himself with a wide yawn. “I can do that.”

If he said anything else, Nina didn’t remember when she woke up in the morning. Early sunlight painted the far side of the tent a brighter shade of green. She rolled over to joke with Paul for letting her sleep past sunrise, but she was alone. Not even a memory of warmth came from his side of the bed.

Nina’s winter coat was draped over her, though, on top of her blanket. Paul must have done it when he woke up, and his care of her made her heart flutter, even if she wanted to be the one taking care of him.

When she emerged from the tent, shoving her hands down the arms of her coat, she found Paul sitting in the cab of the truck with the door still open, his feet on the step. His notebook was spread across his knee as he wrote. He wore his usual layers, shirt and sweater, plus his own winter coat, a rugged denim jacket, surprisingly warm and sturdy. Nina knew because she’d found it for him, delighted at the quilted lining and how it was big enough she’d drown in it. Which meant, she’d hoped, it might actually fit him.

It did, which made her happier than she’d expected to be.

Their coats had been stuffed in the back of the truck with their extra supplies, but the chill in the morning air must have prompted Paul to retrieve them. She hadn’t seen him wearing his yet, but the deep blue color, a few shades darker than his jeans, turned his hair a brighter gold. For a moment, she just stood in front of the tent and marveled at him, her long-legged songwriter with his shaggy hair and beautiful hands and quiet, considerate heart.

She’d had no idea love could feel this way. Maybe she should have tried it sooner.

But it wouldn’t have been with him, so it might have been all wrong.

When Paul lifted his bent head to smile at her, she couldn’t help returning his grin. Faint, dark circles shadowed his eyes, which made Nina wonder how long he’d lain awake the night before wrestling with whatever demons troubled him. But he kept smiling as he set his notebook on the dashboard and stretched out his arms, inviting her to step into them, holding her when she did.

“’Morning,” she said, muffled by his coat.

“Looks like you slept better than I did.” He kissed the top of her head.

She faced him, not sure what to say, and tried to keep the worry out of her expression. She didn’t want to ask again, because he might think she didn’t trust him to tell her when he was ready.

Despite her best efforts, some fraction of her inner turmoil must have lurked in her eyes, enough to crack the edges of his uncertainty. He squeezed her tighter for a moment, tight enough for her ribs to protest, then kissed her forehead before speaking. “I know we planned to avoid big cities,” he began. “And I still think we should. Except . . .”

“Except?” Nina prompted when he broke off, glancing away.

He closed his eyes for a heartbeat before meeting her gaze again. “I want to go home.”

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Rising Blood is Out!

Hey Everyone!

Just a little book news to start out the year. Rising Blood which was part of the Dark Pursuit anthology is now out as a single!

Check out the gorgeous new cover Kris Norris made for me!

Rising Blood (1)

Blurb:

Vampire hunter, Harper Yovanoff, is not happy. Ever since her former partner vanished, she’d been content to work alone. Unfortunately, her boss doesn’t feel the same way. Harper’s been assigned a new partner—a new partner who’s an utter pain in her ass. Elliot Zielin is panty-meltingly gorgeous, but he’s also reckless, not to mention, insufferably arrogant. If he’s not careful, the vampires will be the least of his worries.

Elliot knows he should play nice with his new partner, but he can’t resist poking the bear—the tiny, angry bear who’s so freaking beautiful, she makes him ache for things he shouldn’t want. Despite the fact that Harper has a stake with his name on it, he keeps pushing.

When a powerful vampire begins actively stalking and turning hunters, Harper and Elliot are forced to work more closely together than ever in an effort to save their own. With tempers and adrenaline high, letting off a little steam goes way too far, and they both end up in a place they never expected. The threat against them increases and fighting their growing feelings for one another becomes impossible. But if they can’t stop the sire hell-bent on their destruction, all the love in the world won’t save them from becoming the very thing they hunt.

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Excerpt:

Harper was already waiting in the middle of the far sparring mat that had been set up in one of the out buildings on the property. She’d pulled her hair back into a braided ponytail and had traded her jeans and t-shirt for black yoga pants and tank top. The stretchy fabric clung to her body, and the color contrast practically made her ridiculously pale skin glow. If it wasn’t for the flush that stained her flesh every time she was furious with him, he might have been concerned that a vamp had worked its way into the organization.

Christ, she was beautiful. With her delicate features and flowing black hair, she made him think of a maiden in a tower in need of saving—a princess. He almost laughed. Saving was the last thing Harper needed. She had the rescue part covered.

As if she felt his gaze on her, she whirled to stare at him, hands on her hips. She was small and solid. She couldn’t be more than five-two or five-three, but she was strong. His chest still ached a bit where she’d slammed herself into him.

Though he tried not to, it was nearly impossible not to let his gaze drop to the soft curves of her breasts and hips. But, he managed it, keeping his focus on her glittering blue-green eyes.

“You ready to get this over with?” she asked.

He tossed his towel on a stool next to the mat. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

Lifting her hands, she beckoned him forward. “Bring it.”

The second his foot hit the mat, he charged her, but she neatly sidestepped him as he’d expected. Pivoting behind her, he slipped an arm around her waist in an attempt to lock her to him, but she slammed her elbow into his gut and brought her head back toward his face. He shifted, and she ended up smacking her skull on his collarbone, instead.

Wrapping his free arm around her chest, he yanked her flush to him and tried to ignore the press of her ass against his groin. Before he had a chance to worry too much about it, she grabbed onto his arms and heaved her body forward, lifting him in the process and flipping him over her shoulder.

He landed hard on his back, but the fact that she was so much shorter than him slowed his momentum, and he didn’t have as far to fall. But, the landing still jarred him a bit. Snaking out a hand, he grabbed her ankle and jerked up, tugging her legs out from under her. He thought he heard her mutter “fucker” as she hit the floor.

She attempted to roll away from him, but he kept hold of her ankle. She kicked him in the hip with her free foot, and the impact was enough to loosen his grip, and she lurched free, leaping to her feet before diving for him again. He twisted to the side before she could tackle him. Clearly realizing in mid-move that he wasn’t where she’d hoped he’d be, she tucked her head and somersaulted to her feet and spun around to face him then lunged again.

He lost track of how long they’d gone at it. All he knew was he was winded and sweaty, and so was she. She watched him through narrowed eyes, and he could tell she was searching for anything she could use as an exploitable weakness.

Distantly aware some of the other hunters had gathered around the outer edges of the mat, he heard them discussing his and Harper’s odds, and he was pretty sure money had changed hands a few times. So focused on kicking his ass, he was equally sure Harper had no idea they were there.

Ignoring everything but the woman slowly circling him, it was impossible not to feel the anger that rolled off her in waves. Her rage and frustration were clear on her face. Her expression hid nothing. Despite her temper, her physical responses were carefully controlled and deliberate.

What would it take to get her to make a mistake? How far could he push her before that unyielding restraint faltered? He grinned at her. “Getting tired, princess?”

Her eyes narrowed further. “Go fuck yourself.”

Holding her gaze, he deliberately let his gaze slide up and down her body as his hand drifted down across the front of his sweatpants. “Oh yeah. I’ll definitely be doing that—just as soon as we’re done. You can stick around and watch if you want.”

Elliot recognized the exact moment her rigidly held restraint snapped. Something that sounded like a growl escaped her throat, and she launched herself at him, tucking herself into a ball at nearly the last minute and plowing into his shins and taking him to the floor. The fall knocked the air from his lungs. Wasting no time, she straddled him, tightening her thighs around his waist and chest, squeezing mercilessly. Drawing her arm up, she paused briefly before she mimed driving a stake into his heart.

Before she could make imaginary contact, he grabbed her wrist in one hand then wrapped the other around her upper arm on the opposite side. Throwing her to her back on the mat and following her over, he straddled her, his ass resting lightly against her groin. Keeping hold of one wrist, he quickly snagged the other one and transferred it to the first hand, pinning her arms above her head.

The noise that escaped her was nothing short of a snarl, and he couldn’t deny he was more than a little turned on. That desperate sound didn’t help matters. Grunting, she slammed her hips upward, trying to dislodge him. That didn’t fucking help, either. She did it again, harder this time.

Leaning forward, he braced his free arm on the mat next to her head and hooked his feet between her thighs, yanking them apart, taking away the small amount of leverage she had. He lifted his hand from the floor and gently wrapped his fingers around the soft skin of her throat.

Her eyes widened, and her pupils suddenly dilated, the black nearly swallowing the pale aquamarine color. Her pulse pounded erratically against his fingers. If anything, it seemed to increase the longer he kept his hand there.

“It’s over,” he murmured quietly—too quietly for the other hunters to hear.

She arched impotently against him, struggling against his greater weight and reach.

“If I were a vamp,” he whispered. “Your blood would already be filling my mouth.”

She stilled beneath him, and he couldn’t look away from her face. His gaze dropped to her slightly parted lips more times than he wanted to admit.

“And mine would be filling yours. There’s no way you’d just be a happy meal.”

Introducing the Awesome Elena Johansen and Her Fantastic Debut Book!

Hey, Everyone!

I’d like you to all meet Elena. We met on tumblr, and frankly, she’s pretty freaking awesome. Actually, that’s an understatement. She’s great – you should totally follow her on tumbr and her other social media, too. (Side note: I love the internet. So many of my friends live here.)

Anyway, she released her first book yesterday, and I’m super excited about it. So, I invited her over to do a bit of an interview and share bit about her first story released into the wild.

Kindle

So let’s get to know a little bit more about Elena.

What’s a typical day like for you?  Wake up, breakfast, go to the day job.  If I’m in the right frame of mind, I write through my lunch break, but that doesn’t always happen.  Come home, write until I meet my word count goal for the day (or revise X number of chapters or whatever other writing-related goal I set myself.)  At some point in there, I also fix dinner—I love to cook.  And whatever time I have leftover goes to goofing off—reading, social media, video games, TV.  On my days off the day job I try to set myself bigger writing goals, and I usually meet them, but I also have much more free time so it can be a bit of a free-for-all as to what actually gets done. Every night before bed, I start a new entry in my bullet journal for the next day, and list all my obligations and everything else I hope to get done.

Do you have any collections? I have more scarves than one person could reasonably need, even in the frigid winters of Michigan.  And yet, I keep buying, and making, more.  My newest is made from a ’90s-era blue flannel shirt, and I managed to keep the pocket from the front, so now I have a scarf with a pocket.  Which I think is neat, even if it’s not entirely practical.

Do you have any hobbies?  More than I have time for!  Knitting, crochet, embroidery, beading, refashioning clothes, bookbinding, drawing, painting, and that’s just the crafts.  Video games, I’m a huge geek.  Reading, definitely tons of reading.

Do you have any bad habits? I used to be a terrible procrastinator, but I’m working on that.  Keeping the bullet journal helps, not that I won’t put stuff off still, but crossing things off a list is so satisfying, sometimes that alone gets me motivated to do something I’d leave for later, otherwise.

Are there any skills you’d like to learn? There are plenty of crafts out there still to tackle, but if I could wave a magic wand that would get me the materials and studio space for free, I’d love to learn stone- or wood-carving.  Those just have a somewhat steeper barrier of entry than most of the things I already know how to do.  Maybe I should make a character do it at some point, so I can live vicariously.

What’s your favorite word? Intransigent.  Really, I’m fond of any ten-dollar word I can drop into conversation from time to time, but I got to bust this one out on someone recently, and I was thrilled.  I’m not just a book geek, I’m a word geek too.

What’s your least favorite word? Thistle.  I had to take speech therapy classes in elementary school for the s/th lisp, and that’s the word I had the most trouble with, which means it’s the one I had to practice most.  I don’t have reason to say it often, but when I do, I still have to think hard about the sounds before I make them.

What’s your favorite curse word? Fuck.  It’s versatile, and flat-out fun to say.  Or shout.  Or mutter under my breath when I stub my toe.

What sound do you love?  Thunder.  Thank you, Mom, for teaching me as a small child not to be scared of thunderstorms.  If only that had worked with spiders, too…

What sound do you hate? People chewing their food too loud—and I mean, I can hear you two tables away, loud.

Dog or cat person?  They’re both cute, but I had fish growing up.  Not as cuddly, I know.

Coffee or tea? Tea.  I have some with breakfast every morning, and usually a mug of herbal tea while I write.

Morning or night person? Morning.  I’ve been informed I’m almost offensively cheerful in the morning, when everyone else is groaning and wanting to go back to bed.

What do you like best about writing? I have always, always, always made up stories in my head.  When I was little, those were usually stories about me, and when I told them to my friends, and my friends told their parents, then their parents told my parents…that’s when I learned that telling stories meant lying.  So I stopped making them up about myself (mostly) and started writing them down instead of telling my friends.  Writing is the best outlet for my creativity because it’s where I have the most freedom—I’m not limited by the materials I’m working with, like in crafts, because anything I can think of, I can write.

What do you like least? The days when the words just won’t come.  I’m a proponent of powering through the rough spots, but it’s disheartening to know you’re typing out drivel for the sake of getting something down to revise later.  I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist, but I guess I’m enough of one that the word-vomit rough draft stage can wear me down.

What was your favorite childhood book? Don’t make me pick just one!  Island of the Blue Dolphins. How to Eat Fried Worms. A Wrinkle in Time. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. Anne of Green Gables.  The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Let’s talk about your book!

What We Need to Survive is set in a dystopian future, are you a big fan of post apocalyptic novels? How did the idea come to you?  First of all, reading The Stand as a teenager was a revelation.  Post-apocalyptic settings were a new concept to me then—I’d read some sci-fi, but it was mostly Star Trek novels at that point, and nothing about Star Trek in the Next-Gen era seemed as grim.  So the idea that life would go on, somehow, after the world was ruined…I couldn’t read fast enough.

More recently, I’ve been influenced by the massive wave of zombie media out there.  28 Days Later is still one of my favorite movies, and still one of the most terrifying I’ve seen.

But if you want the honest truth, the seed of this story, the very first partial draft I wrote, then abandoned, then started over and reworked endlessly…it was basically The Walking Dead video game fan fiction.  (I haven’t watched the show, I couldn’t make it through the first episode—too gory for me.  I’m all for psychological horror, but I can’t stand gore.)  I loved the constant tension and the dynamics of interconnected relationships in a small group of survivors, how alliances formed and shifted and were betrayed.  In the game, there was a brief moment when you got a glimpse of a love story that might have been, if only things had been different—and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  So I started writing one.  And then I never got around to adding the zombies.  After all, the scariest thing is never the zombies—it’s the other people you have to watch out for.

What do you like best about Paul? His optimism.  Whatever the world throws at him, he may not like it, but he’ll do his best to deal with it, and hope things get easier tomorrow.  It takes a lot to break him down, and even at his worst, he still defaults to kindness instead of bitterness.

What do you like best about Nina? Her sense of humor.  You may have to wait until she’s comfortable enough with you to joke around at all, but when she does, she’s sharp, and she’ll make you laugh.

What other characters in your story are you especially fond of? Why? Owen.  I gave him a whopper of a backstory, but since he’s introduced relatively late, there’s a lot less time available to explore his character.  But I have an idea to write a prequel novella from his POV, set during the plague days.  One of the most frequent questions I got from my beta readers in the early stages was “Do you plan to define the plague and how it spread, and what actually happened when the world fell apart?” I don’t feel like the actual mechanics of the plague are critical to the story I’m telling now, because I deliberately set it months later, instead of immediately after—I was much more interested in showing the world as it became, not how it got there.

But they had a good point.  So, I thought, how would I do that? How would I tell the story of the plague?  And I realized I had the perfect character ready, because we know exactly where he was when it happened, and he’s ideally poised to witness the downfall from beginning to end.

Now we’ll just have to see if I actually write it!

What’s up next for you? I participated in NaNoWriMo last month, which I used as a spur to work on the first draft of the next book in the series.  In the weeks leading up to NaNo I plotted out the story arcs of that, and the third book, which I’m itching to write now that I’ve mostly got #2 under control.  My goal is to release the next one in 2016, though I’m not far enough along in the writing process to pinpoint when.  I started What We Need to Survive just shy of a year and a half ago, though the bulk of the work began in January as my New Year’s resolution, so I’m hopeful I can get another one out in less than a year, now that I’m more comfortable with my own process.

After this series, who knows?  I’m jotting down all my random ideas and saving them against the day I say goodbye to this strange world I’ve created.  I’ll just have to wait and see what sticks.

Here’s a bit more about Elena as well as all her social media links. 

Elena Johansen pursued a lot of interests in her life before she decided she really should have been a writer all along.

Now she is one. That whole rock-star thing probably wouldn’t have worked out, anyway.

She lives in Michigan with her husband.

Here’s the blurb for What We Need to Survive:

After the plague, the world became a web of silent roads stretching between empty towns.

Paul discovered he had a knack for living on the move, finding supplies and trading them with other survivors, never staying long in one place, or with one person.  But he wanted to.  Life would be easier with someone to watch his back.

Nina found her own way to survive in the ruined world, but the choices she made left her guarded and mistrustful.  Not a woman likely to care for a handsome stranger who falls in with her group of survivors.

Attraction can be ignored, and trust has to be earned.  But the days spent searching for food and shelter, and the nights spent keeping watch, don’t satisfy their truest need…

Each other.

When danger is never far away, is love a luxury they can’t afford?  What We Need to Survive captures the tension, fear, and hope of two people struggling to build a new way of life from the leftovers of the old, deciding what to hold on to, and what to leave behind.

And here’s the excerpt: 

Chapter One – Cigarette Lighters

August 23rd, 4:23 pm – Somewhere along US-36, Central Ohio

Paul kicked a rock out of his path, watching it bounce and skitter down the highway.

He saw no point in wasting breath on cursing the weather. One squall of rain caught him earlier in the day, forcing him into the cramped shelter of one of the abandoned cars dotting the road. But the boom of thunder in the distance worried him. He’d spent plenty of nights out in the open. Sleeping in the rain was miserable enough, but he imagined sleeping through a storm would be next to impossible.

He looked up, but thick forest on both sides of the highway hid all but the narrowest strip of sky. Blank, unbroken gray hovered above him. There was no way to judge how close the storm was, except for the unreliable system of counting Mississippis.

The closest building he remembered passing was at least half an hour behind him, maybe an hour. The closest town he’d left behind yesterday afternoon. Turning back might get him to shelter before the storm struck, if he hurried.

Or it might not. The road ahead curved away from him, and the trees could hide anything.

Paul kept moving forward, faster under the threat of rain.

Ten minutes later, he spied a gas station and picked up his pace even more.

As he got closer, the station didn’t seem promising. Most of the windows gaped empty, broken down to their frames, and the front door hung askew on a broken hinge. The first fallen leaves of the season littered the parking lot. Shards of glass from the broken windows and random bits of trash lay scattered among them.

The rain started as Paul reached the edge of the parking lot. He sprinted for the cover of the roof protecting the pumps.

Hard-won caution kept him from dashing the rest of the way inside. Instead he approached the building with slow, deliberate steps, holding up his empty hands. “Hello in there!” he called. “Anybody home?”

There was no answer, but Paul remained wary. When he was a few yards from the open door, he stopped and called again. “Is anyone there? I ain’t lookin’ for trouble, just a place to get out of the rain.”

A shuffling sound came from his right, and a movement that flickered in the corner of his eye. He turned toward it and saw a gun pointed in his direction. The gunman himself hid in the shadow of the empty window frame.

“Stay where you are!” the man shouted. His voice was deep and authoritative, the kind of voice that focused the attention of anyone who heard it. Paul didn’t doubt it belonged to a man willing to shoot him, if necessary.

“No trouble,” Paul repeated. “I was hopin’ this place was empty, ’cause I’d rather be inside than out with a storm overhead. But if I ain’t welcome, I’ll move on.”

“Stay right there, and give me a minute!”

Paul did as the man ordered, watching the gun in the window, which didn’t move. He guessed the man was talking to someone inside, but he couldn’t hear anything. While he waited, the rain grew heavier, pinging on the corrugated metal of the roofing like the highest notes played on a huge steel drum.

“You got any weapons?” the deep-voiced man called out.

“Just the knife on my belt,” Paul answered. “No guns.”

“You can wait out the storm with us in here, then be on your way. Sound reasonable?”

Paul lowered his hands. “Yeah, that’s good.” The gun disappeared from the window, and the knot of tension in Paul’s chest loosened. He hadn’t believed he was going to get shot, but he was relieved to be right.

Unless they were going to rob him the minute he walked in the door. But it was too late to run now. If they meant to take his supplies, then the man with the gun could shoot him in the back when he fled.

Best to play along.

A man with dark brown skin and chin-length dreadlocks appeared in the doorway. He was shorter than Paul, but that didn’t mean he could be dismissed as a threat, since he was much more heavily muscled. His straight-backed posture and firm gaze shouted military to Paul. Or maybe cop. And he sported a holster on his belt. The man with the gun.

Unless there’s more than one of ‘em.

When Paul didn’t move, he flashed a grin, wide and startlingly white. “Come on in,” he said, beckoning with one hand. He stood aside to let Paul through.

The inside of the station wasn’t in any better shape than the outside. The metal shelving units were empty, all the chocolate bars and potato chips gone. Glass-fronted refrigerators lined the back wall, but those were empty, too. At the counter, the cash register lay on its side, the drawer popped loose. Paul guessed that had happened in the first few days, when looters thought money still meant something. It hadn’t taken long before that wasn’t true anymore. Dark patches stained the white linoleum floor. Paul hoped they weren’t blood. Though they probably were.

“I’m John,” the man said. His voice sounded almost friendly, and Paul lifted his hand in automatic reaction to meet John’s for a shake. He dropped it when he saw there was no hand offered.

“Paul.” He settled for giving John a nod instead.

John turned and headed for an open space beyond the counter. Paul meant to follow, but he stopped short at the sight of a girl crouched under the window. She was small, her thin limbs folded in on themselves to take up as little space as possible. Her black hair was oddly uneven in length, not quite reaching her shoulders. Paul guessed it was growing out from whatever shorter style she’d had, before. Her wide eyes watched him with silent tension, like a fawn ready to bolt to safety.

Paul hadn’t met many kids on the road, but most of them looked a lot like her. Frail and frightened, not ready to face what the world had become since the plague had ruined everything.

Before Paul could decide what to say to her—or even if he should say anything at all—she shot to her feet and followed John across the room. Her ill-fitting clothes didn’t completely hide the curves of her body, and the swing of her hips was shocking and compelling at the same time. She wasn’t a young girl at all. Her head wouldn’t even reach Paul’s shoulder, but she was a grown woman, right down to the angry toss of her hair.

But still frightened.

Paul let her have her distance from him. With any luck, the storm would pass before nightfall, leaving him time to move on and make camp somewhere else for the night. He’d shared makeshift shelter with strangers before, talked, and traded, but he never slept well. And it was no great leap to guess the woman didn’t want him there.

Though she had let him in, at least. That was why she’d been at the window, Paul guessed—John had checked with her before giving Paul permission.

Lightning flashed outside. Paul counted four-Mississippi before the thunder rolled over the building. After the next strike, he counted three.

If the light were better, he could pass the time scribbling in his notebook. A half-formed song had haunted his thoughts for days, and he’d welcome a chance to jot down the lyrics. But it would be a waste of ink and paper trying to write by lightning flashes.

If the company were better, he could talk and see about some trading. He was running lower than he liked on food, though he had enough to see him through the next day or two. The towns on this stretch of the highway all seemed to be one or two days apart, so he expected to hit another one tomorrow. He could spend a day searching houses for supplies.

Glancing around the interior of the station, he wondered if there was a rack of local road maps. So far, he’d been navigating by the ones posted on the walls at rest stations. But it was too dark to see much of anything, except a weak glow from the far corner. Someone had lit a candle. He heard low voices talking. John’s, he recognized. Another one, lighter and higher-pitched, he assumed was the woman’s. But there was a third, too, higher still and squeaky.

Another flash of lightning drew Paul’s attention back to the window. No need to introduce himself to the others if they were only company while the storm lasted. With nothing else to do, he cleared a space on the counter, sat on it, and watched the storm.

There was a light patter of footsteps. Paul turned just as someone reached out to touch his arm. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Paul replied.

The boy looked about nine or ten. His skin was almost the same deep brown shade as John’s. The glow of the candlelight behind him traced the edges of his short corkscrew curls, giving them a faint golden sheen.

“Do you want to trade with us before we eat dinner?” he asked, half-polite and half-shy. “Maybe we have something different, if you’re tired of what you got.”

“Sure.” Paul slid off the counter top and followed the boy over to the others.

John sat cross-legged with his back to one wall. “Aaron, I told you not to bother him.”

Aaron shrugged as he settled beside John. “I just wanted to see if he had any different food we could trade for. I’m tired of peanut butter crackers.”

In the corner, the woman sat with her knees drawn up before her. She flicked a glance at Paul but said nothing as he pulled off his pack and sat down several feet away.

“You might be in luck, then, Aaron,” Paul said. “I’ve got some granola bars. The s’mores kind, I think.”

Aaron gave him a big smile that was nearly identical to John’s. Paul didn’t want to leap to any conclusions based on the fact that they were both black, but they looked enough alike to be father and son. So far, they were acting like it.

Paul stole another glance at the woman as she stared into the candle flame, ignoring everything else. Her skin was a lighter golden brown, under the smudges of dirt. And despite the realization that she wasn’t a child, she didn’t look anywhere near old enough to be Aaron’s mother. So who was she, and how did she end up with them?

The sound of a zipper snapped his thoughts back into focus—Aaron had a battered red backpack on the floor in front of him. He reached in and pulled out two packets of crackers.

Paul rifled through his own supplies and turned up two granola bars in exchange. He was about to ask what else they might want, open-ended, to see if he could draw the woman out at all. Before he could, he heard wet, squelching footsteps from the front of the building. He leaped to his feet, whirling to face the newcomers. Three of them, two women and a man, all middle-aged, all splattered with rain.

“Easy, Paul.” John’s voice was firm. “They’re with us.”

“If we’d known the rain would start so soon,” the man said, “we could’ve just set these outside and let the storm fill them up.” He had a large metal water bottle in each hand. One he passed to John, the other he set on the floor beside him as he sat down. “So you made a new friend while we were gone?”

A soft snort came from the corner, but John answered them without acknowledging it. “Just sharing the roof until the storm passes.”

The man pulled off his baseball cap, ran a tanned hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, and smiled. “I don’t blame you for not wanting to get rained on.” He stuck out his other hand, which Paul shook briefly. “Mark.”

“Paul.”

“And this is my wife, Sarah,” he went on as one of the women sat down on his other side. The rain plastered her short blond hair to her forehead, but she smiled too and passed the extra bottle she carried to Aaron.

“Nice to meet you, Paul,” she said.

The final newcomer was still standing, looking down at Paul with a curious intensity. “Hello there.” Handsome, Paul mentally tacked on, because that was the exact tone she used. Since she was staring, he did too.

She was tall, or maybe she only seemed tall because she was lean and angular. Her hair was a riot of messy red curls in dire need of a wash, but she was pretty, in a faded, tired sort of way. Before the plague hit, she must have been beautiful. Before her eyes grew ringed with dark circles and her cheeks hollowed out from lack of food. “I’m Alison.”

Paul nodded. Alison tilted her head to the side for a moment, clearly waiting for more. When she didn’t get it, she strode past him. Behind him, which made his shoulder blades itch before he realized she was going to the small woman’s side.

Who still hadn’t given her name. Someone would, though. Paul could be patient.

Alison leaned against the wall and tapped it twice with the extra bottle in her hand. The sound reminded Paul of a food dish being set on the floor for a pet. Without looking, the woman reached her hand up, palm flat, and Alison set the bottle on it. Neither of them said a word.

When Alison sat down between her and Paul, closer to him than he would have liked, he had to resist the urge to pull away. No sense in being rude if he was only here until the storm let up.

“So, Paul,” Mark said with forced cheerfulness, “which way you headed?”

“East.”

Mark’s lips twisted behind his dark scruff of a beard, which hadn’t gone as white as his hair yet. “Damn, us too. I was hoping you were coming from there, so we could get an idea what the road ahead was like.”

Shaking his head, Paul said, “Sorry I can’t be more help.”

“Maybe you can,” Sarah said. “Do you have anything to trade?”

With an easy smile, Paul asked, “What d’you need?”

Sarah pursed her lips as she thought, and the cuteness of the expression took years off her face. “Extra socks?” she asked, hopeful enough that Paul knew she needed them, but resigned enough that she didn’t expect to get them.

Paul shook his head and turned to Mark.

“Smokes.” Which earned him a light slap on the shoulder from his wife. “What, it’s been weeks now!” But Paul’s answer was another shake of his head.

John had Aaron seated in his lap and was finger-combing the boy’s hair. “I’m not holding my breath that you’ve got any natural-hair care products. I’m more likely to get struck by lightning. Inside.”

The dry, deadpan tone startled a laugh out of Paul. “I ain’t even got anything for myself right now,” he said, scratching at his dark blond hair. “I’m way overdue for a wash, and dunkin’ my head in a river ain’t the same. I’d shave it all off if electric razors were still a thing.”

Mark gestured at him. “You’ve got a knife.”

“I’d cut myself to ribbons. I think I’ll keep bein’ shaggy for now.”

Aaron, sensing his turn, piped up. “Any books? I’ve read the one I have about a dozen times by now.”

“Not much of a reader,” Paul answered. “What book you got?”

Treasure Island,” Aaron said. “I like adventure stories.”

Alison snorted. “You’re living in one.”

John gave her a narrow-eyed look over Aaron’s head, but he didn’t say anything.

“Pain killers.”

The sharp and sudden request focused Paul’s attention on its source, the unnamed woman. Gone was the frightened doe of a girl—now her eyes were hard and flat. “Half a bottle of aspirin,” he offered. “What’ll you give me for it?”

“All I’ve got to spare is food. Cheese crackers, chocolate bars, take your pick. Or a can of Red Bull, if you’re afraid to sleep in here with us tonight and want to stay awake instead.”

“Nina . . .” John said with more than a hint of warning in his voice.

So she’s got a name after all.

“It’s thunderstorm season,” she said. “We’ve been lucky so far they haven’t been worse, but this one’s not going to pass over in an hour like you hope. We’re going to be here overnight.”

Alison hunched forward, elbows on her knees. “How do you know?”

“The weather here isn’t much different from where I grew up,” she answered with a slight shrug. “I lived with this every summer as a kid.” She turned back to Paul. “Anyway, does that work for you?”

Medicine of any kind was valuable, even the common stuff like aspirin. Food was never a bad trade, but he doubted she had enough to spare. “You hurt?” he asked, stalling.

“Cramps,” she answered shortly, and Paul suppressed a grin.

Any urge he’d felt to smile, though, disappeared when Alison spoke. “I’d think you’d be glad you’re having them.”

Paul found the bottle in his pack and rolled it across the floor toward Nina. It stopped at the toe of her boot, and she stared at it without speaking.

“Don’t need any food,” Paul said, though it wasn’t strictly true. “I’ve got enough for myself for now. But since y’all were here first, I figure anything left in this place is yours, and I saw some lighters in the display on the counter. I’d be happy with a few of those. Seems like a good thing to have, and they might come in handy for trades down the line.”

Off to his other side, John and Mark traded a stunned look—Paul guessed they hadn’t noticed the lighters. Mark got up to retrieve them. “Let’s see . . .” he said, counting. “If we each keep one for ourselves, that leaves six for you. Sound good?”

“Sure,” Paul said. Mark brought them over to him, and out of the corner of his eye Paul watched Nina. She didn’t reach out to take the aspirin until the lighters were in his hands. Mark distributed the rest of them while Nina swallowed a few pills with a swig from her water bottle. She noticed Paul watching and nodded at him.

He figured that was the closest she would come to thanking him, so he gave her a smile. Not the huge, dazzling grin that his mother had once told him would break hearts someday. Instead it was the small curve at the corners that his girlfriends, over the years, had all told him was sweet. He used the first one on women he wanted to impress—the second was usually reserved for the ones he was already close to. But the last thing he wanted to do was make Nina think he was attracted to her.

Even though he was. Illuminated by the candlelight, Paul could see she had beautiful eyes, big, vividly blue, and fringed with thick lashes. He had a pronounced weakness for women with gorgeous eyes.

But Paul could see Nina wasn’t like some of the other women he’d met on the road in the aftermath of the plague. The ones just as lonely as he was, who were willing to trust him for the length of one night before they parted ways in the morning. He never looked back, and neither did they. There hadn’t been many, and it had been weeks since the last time, so it was only natural he’d find himself falling in lust with someone.

Even if prying words out of that someone was a challenge.

Before the silence between them stretched on too long, Paul forced himself to look away. “Alison, you want anything?”

Amazon

Dark Pursuit is available now!

Yay! It’s finally here! Dark Pursuit is a collection of erotic romance stories about hunters and their prey and features stories by Jessica Jarman, Kris Norris, Paige Prince, and me. Even better? It’s available for a limited time for .99!

dark pursuit

You can find Dark Pursuit at:   Amazon  *  B&N  *  iBooks  *  Kobo  *  ARe

My story is called Rising Blood and it features a couple of vampire hunters whose partnership involves a lot of…animosity. And a fair amount of tension. Really, they’d just as soon strangle each other than work together.

The heroine, Harper Yovanoff, really does not have time for anyone’s shit. Especially not her partner’s. And Elliot Zielin? Well…he’s not sure who’s pissing him off more. Harper or the vampires that are targeting their colleagues.

In my head, this is what they look like.

Bronwyn - Harper

Katie McGrath

Bronwyn - Elliot

Eoin Macken

If I had to pick a favorite character in this story, it would have to be Elliot. Yes, he’s arrogant. Yeah, he can be reckless. And yes, he’s kind of an asshat. But there’s a kindness there that he doesn’t let many people see. And a vulnerability that he’d prefer no one saw. And when he falls, he falls hard—it’s hard not to love that.

Be sure to check out Jessica, Kris, and Paige’s posts.

Blurb for Rising Blood

Vampire hunter, Harper Yovanoff, is not happy. Ever since her former partner vanished, she’d been content to work alone. Unfortunately, her boss doesn’t feel the same way. Harper’s been assigned a new partner—a new partner who’s an utter pain in her ass. Elliot Zielin is panty-meltingly gorgeous, but he’s also reckless, not to mention, insufferably arrogant. If he’s not careful, the vampires will be the least of his worries.

Elliot knows he should play nice with his new partner, but he can’t resist poking the bear—the tiny, angry bear who’s so freaking beautiful, she makes him ache for things he shouldn’t want. Despite the fact that Harper has a stake with his name on it, he keeps pushing.

When a powerful vampire begins actively stalking and turning hunters, Harper and Elliot are forced to work more closely together than ever in an effort to save their own. With tempers and adrenaline high, letting off a little steam goes way too far, and they both end up in a place they never expected. The threat against them increases and fighting their growing feelings for one another becomes impossible. But if they can’t stop the sire hell-bent on their destruction, all the love in the world won’t save them from becoming the very thing they hunt.

Excerpt for Rising Blood

Harper was already waiting in the middle of the far sparring mat that had been set up in one of the out buildings on the property. She’d pulled her hair back into a braided ponytail and had traded her jeans and t-shirt for black yoga pants and tank top. The stretchy fabric clung to her body, and the color contrast practically made her ridiculously pale skin glow. If it wasn’t for the flush that stained her flesh every time she was furious with him, he might have been concerned that a vamp had worked its way into the organization.

Christ, she was beautiful. With her delicate features and flowing black hair, she made him think of a maiden in a tower in need of saving—a princess. He almost laughed. That was the last thing Harper needed. She had the rescue part covered.

As if she felt his gaze on her, she whirled to stare at him, hands on her hips. She was small and solid. She couldn’t be more than five-two or five-three, but she was strong. His chest still ached a bit where she’d slammed herself into him.

Though he tried not to, it was nearly impossible not to let his gaze drop to the soft curves of her breasts and hips. But, he managed it, keeping his focus on her glittering blue-green eyes.

“You ready to get this over with?” she asked.

He tossed his towel on a stool next to the mat. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

Lifting her hands, she beckoned him forward. “Bring it.”

The second his foot hit the mat, he charged her, but she neatly sidestepped him as he’d expected. Pivoting behind her, he slipped an arm around her waist in an attempt to lock her to him, but she slammed her elbow into his gut and brought her head back toward his face. He shifted, and she ended up smacking her skull on his collarbone, instead.

Wrapping his free arm around her chest, he yanked her flush to him and tried to ignore the press of her ass against his groin. Before he had a chance to worry too much about it, she grabbed onto his arms and heaved her body forward, lifting him in the process and flipping him over her head.

He landed hard on his back, but the fact that she was so much shorter than him slowed his momentum, and he didn’t have as far to fall. But, the landing still jarred him a bit. Snaking out a hand, he grabbed her ankle and jerked up, tugging her legs out from under her. He thought he heard her mutter “fucker” as she hit the floor.

She attempted to roll away from him, but he kept hold of her ankle. She kicked him in the hip with her free foot, and the impact was enough to loosen his grip, and she lurched free, leaping to her feet before diving for him again. He twisted to the side before she could tackle him. Clearly realizing in mid-move that he wasn’t where she’d hoped he’d be, she tucked her head and somersaulted to her feet and spun around to face him then lunged again.

He lost track of how long they’d gone at it. All he knew was he was winded and sweaty, and so was she. She watched him through narrowed eyes, and he could tell she was searching for anything she could use as an exploitable weakness.

Distantly aware some of the other hunters had gathered around the outer edges of the mat, he heard them discussing his and Harper’s odds, and he was pretty sure money had changed hands a few times. So focused on kicking his ass, he was equally sure Harper had no idea they were there.

Ignoring everything but the woman slowly circling him, it was impossible not to feel the anger that rolled off her in waves. Her rage and frustration were clear on her face. Her expression hid nothing. Despite her temper, her physical responses were carefully controlled and deliberate.

What would it take to get her to make a mistake? How far could he push her before that unyielding restraint faltered? He grinned at her. “Getting tired, princess?”

Her eyes narrowed further. “Go fuck yourself.”

Holding her gaze, he deliberately let his gaze slide up and down her body as his hand drifted down across the front of his sweatpants. “Oh yeah. I’ll definitely be doing that—just as soon as we’re done. You can stick around and watch if you want.”

Elliot recognized the exact moment her rigidly held restraint snapped. Something that sounded like a growl escaped her throat, and she launched herself at him, tucking herself into a ball at nearly the last minute and plowing into his shins and taking him to the floor. The fall knocked the air from his lungs. Wasting no time, she straddled him, tightening her thighs around his waist and chest, squeezing mercilessly. Drawing her arm up, she paused briefly before she mimed driving a stake into his heart.

Before she could make imaginary contact, he grabbed her wrist in one hand then wrapped the other around her upper arm on the opposite side. Throwing her to her back on the mat and following her over, he straddled her, his ass resting lightly against her groin. Keeping hold of one wrist, he quickly snagged the other one and transferred it to the first hand, pinning her arms above her head.

The noise that escaped her was nothing short of a snarl, and he couldn’t deny he was more than a little turned on. That desperate sound didn’t help matters. Grunting, she slammed her hips upward, trying to dislodge him. That didn’t fucking help, either. She did it again, harder this time.

Leaning forward, he braced his free arm on the mat next to her head and hooked his feet between her thighs, yanking them apart, taking away the small amount of leverage she had. He lifted his hand from the floor and gently wrapped his fingers around the soft skin of her throat.

Her eyes widened, and her pupils suddenly dilated, the black nearly swallowing the pale aquamarine color. Her pulse pounded erratically against his fingers. If anything, it seemed to increase the longer he kept his hand there.

“It’s over,” he murmured quietly—too quietly for the other hunters to hear.

She arched impotently against him, struggling against his greater weight and reach.

“If I were a vamp,” he whispered. “Your blood would already be filling my mouth.”

She stilled beneath him, and he couldn’t look away from her face. His gaze dropped to her slightly parted lips more times than he wanted to admit.

“And mine would be filling yours. There’s no way you’d just be a happy meal.”

Victoria Blisse Has a New Release – Check it Out Here!

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Good Manors is the latest offering from the Queen of Smut, Victoria Blisse. Part of the ‘What’s Her Secret Series’ of books from Totally Bound, this is a novel with twists, turns, secrets and steaming hot erotic encounters.

Set in an English country Manor, Victoria’s novel has a uniquely British feel and gives a glimpse behind the scenes of the aristocracy including its seedier side. Told from the point of view of both of the main characters, you see through the eyes of both the secret keeper and the one kept in the dark.

 

Blurb:

Mallard Hall plays host to games of submission and Dominance for one unique couple, but do the secrets of the past threaten the new bonds being forged?

India Grace, a respected journalist, is assigned to the estate for a behind the scenes look at how it runs. It is the last place in the world she wants to be. Back when she was young and naïve she took a photo of old Lord Mallard, which led to her success and his downfall. She carries the guilt with her to the location and it’s constantly in the back of her mind when she meets the hall’s latest owner, Xander Patrick.

Xander’s father died when he was only thirteen, and he doesn’t hold many good memories of him. He helped his mum build Mallard Hall back up, and since her death struggles to keep it going single-handedly. The last thing he needs is a meddling journalist poking into estate business, especially when the meagre profits are mysteriously disappearing.

The two try to keep their distance but find themselves drawn together in many unexpected ways. A meal leads to an investigation of secret passageways and from that India and Xander explore their attraction, using different rooms of the hall for their kinky games.

In the end India’s secret will have to come out, but will it bring the couple closer together or tear them apart?

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of light BDSM and voyeurism.

General Release Date: 15th September 2015

Buy Links:

Totally Bound

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

All Romance Ebooks

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

 

Reviews:

“Pure Blisse!” Karen Shenton

“The sex scenes are off-the-charts kind of HAWT…” The TBR Pile

“Full of sexy encounters and a gut wrenching confession Good Manors is a great page turner.” Alison Grieg

“I loved the writing on this book, it was engaging and sexy, with a hint of intrigue.” Momof3infl

 

Bio:

Victoria Blisse is a mother, wife, Christian, Manchester United fan and award winning erotica author. She is also the editor of several Bigger Briefs collections, and the co-editor of the fabulous Smut Alfresco, Smut in the City and Smut by the Sea Anthologies.

Victoria is also one of the brains behind the fabulous Smut events, days and nights dedicated to erotica, fun and prizes. Check out http://ilovesmut.uk  for more details.

She is equally at home behind a laptop or a cooker and she loves to create stories, poems, cakes and biscuits that make people happy. She was born near Manchester, England and her northern English quirkiness shows through in all of her stories.

Passion, love and laughter fill her works, just as they fill her busy life.

You can find often find Victoria procrastinating on Facebook http://facebook.com/victoriablisse , Twitter http://twitter.com/victoriablisse  and Pinterest http://pinterest.com/victoriablisse

To find out more check out http://victoriablisse.co.uk

And here’s an excerpt:

“What did I say about interrupting?” I sighed tetchily.

“Sorry, Sir.” She dipped her head. “But you knew about the passages, right? Why didn’t you use those?”

I shook my head and loosened my tie.

“If you’d shut up I’d tell you. But no, you keep gabbling on. I think you’re doing it on purpose, naughty girl.”

“No,” she insisted. “No, Sir, I’m not.”

“Well, you won’t do it anymore.” I unlooped my tie and pressed it against her cheek. “I’m going to gag you so I can finish my story. If at any point you get uncomfortable with what’s happening raise your hand and I’ll untie you. Okay?”

“Yes, Sir.” She nodded.

I gave her a couple of moments more, just in case she wanted to use her safe word, but when she stayed silent, I wrapped my royal blue tie around her mouth and knotted it at the back securely. I ran a finger down the back to check it wasn’t too tight then cupped her face in my hands and dropped a kiss delicately in the middle of her forehead.

“Right, maybe now I can actually finish my story in peace.” I kissed her cheek right above the line of the tie.

“So, as I was about to say, I didn’t want to reveal the passageways to her because she might pass that information on, to Mum, to outsiders. I didn’t want that at all. So I searched the house and believe me, that’s no small feat. Finally, I found the attic, with the same warning sign that hangs on the stairs now.

“I cautiously ignored it, pushed on and discovered this. It was the perfect place to bring Ariana. It was here I discovered she had kinks. I mean, I was a naïve virgin…”

She snapped her head round to look at me.

“Yes, virgin. Anyway, I was just eager to fuck to be truthful and she was incredibly patient with me. I set up dozens of candles in here that first night. I thought it was romantic and you know, it looked spectacular. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but she did. After we fucked—I’m not afraid to say it was a short and fairly straightforward experience—she asked me to pour hot candle wax over her breasts. I didn’t know much, I thought it was weird, but if the lady who’d just happily taken my virginity wanted me to drip hot wax all over her then I was going to do it.”

India made a noise, muffled by the tie, which I’m sure was an indication of arousal.

“She went crazy, bucking under the stream. I was fascinated how it went from liquid to solid on her skin. She had me pick the cooled wax from her skin as I fucked her—that was an interesting balancing act. I loved the red marks that lingered, my marks left on her, physical evidence of what we’d done. I realized then—the very first time I had sex—that it was better with a bit of kink. I also found out that Ariana was submissive. She taught me all I know.

“So I like to come up here and remember. Remember all the good times. Mum sacked her when she found out we were—well, I can’t say dating, we never went on a date—fucking. I never saw her again.” I looked away from  India at that moment, I knew there’d be sympathy in her eyes.  I looked back to check on her once I was convinced I wouldn’t see it.

“So I keep some souvenirs of the old days up here.” I reached over behind the pile of pillows and pulled out a coiled-up length of rope, a candle and a flogger and placed them on the blanket before India. “Would you like to play?”

India nodded.

“Good.” I reached back again and after a little rummaging pulled out a box of matches and lit the chunky cream candle before me. “If at any point you’re not happy with what’s happening shake your head. I will stop the moment I see that sign. That will be your non-vocal safe word. If you understand and you’re happy with that, nod now.”

India nodded eagerly.

“Wonderful. Okay, stand up.”

India stood, and I helped her kick off her shoes, then undid her top and pulled it away from her. I let her keep her skirt for the time being. I stroked over her shoulders and down her arms. I looked her in the eye and I saw a world of desire painted in her gaze.

“Come with me.” I held her hand and walked her toward my favorite beam. It was the kind of beam developers hate. A little above waist height, it made walking through the middle of the room a pain. But I loved its old, weathered wood and the height was perfect for what I wanted to do.

I escorted India over to the beam and lay her arm flat along it.

“Keep it there,” I said and walked round her to smooth the other arm flat. I stood back and flipped up her skirt. It was a beautiful sight—India bent forward, arse presented to me. “Don’t move.”

Hurrying across the floorboards, I picked up the rope and flogger in one hand and the candle in the other. I settled the candle just beyond her reach at the left hand side of the beam, then unwrapped the bundle of rope until I had enough to encompass her wrist. She twisted her head to watch as I tied then coiled the rope once, twice, three times around her wrist and the beam.

“Now, I could loop this over your neck and hold that down too but since you’re gagged I won’t do that.” I just ran the rope underneath her and to the other arm.

She shifted and looked at me again as I wound the other wrist to the beam.

“Is that okay?” I asked, very much aware of how vulnerable she was and both turned on and grateful for her submission.

India nodded, narrowly avoiding hitting the beam with her chin.

“Good, if it gets too much just shake your head, don’t stop shaking it. If I see that I will stop immediately, understand?”

She nodded, and I stroked down from the top of her head, through her long luscious hair onto her back and over her buttocks. The subdued moan she made intensified a moment later when I rubbed down between her buttocks and cupped her pussy in my hand.

“Wet already.” I tutted. “I’ve barely touched you yet.”

 

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