Feb 27, 2015

M9B: Friday Reveal: Hunted (Sinners #2) by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki & GIVEAWAY

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing Chapter 2 of
Hunted (Sinners #2) by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki
presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
HUNTED is the electrifying sequel to the bestselling debut BRANDED, A Sinners Series, by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki.
It’s been three months since the revolt against the Commander’s fifty-year-old regime failed.
Under a new ruler, things were supposed to change. Get better.
But can anyone really be trusted?
Lexi and Cole soon find out, as life takes an unexpected turn for the worse.
In this ever-changing world, you must hunt or be hunted.
Lives will be lost.
Dreams will be crushed.
Fears will be realized.
Secrets will be exposed.
When Cole is once again faced with losing Lexi at the hands of a monster, one encounter will change everything.

Connect with BRANDED fans on Instagram at:
add to goodreads
Title: Hunted (Sinners #2)
Publication date: March 31, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki
Available for Pre-order:
You can read Chapter Two HERE!
Happy Reading and Enjoy!
Abi and Missy 2
Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumbler
Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!
The book will be sent upon the titles release.


Feb 26, 2015

Cover Reveal: The Infinite Expanse by B.C. Powell

The Infinite Expanse by B.C. Powell 
(The Journals of Krymzyn #2) 
Publication date: March 31st 2015
Genres: Fantasy, New Adult, Science Fiction

Evil lurks in the desolate Barrens of Krymzyn. For millions of Eras, predators with insatiable cravings have prowled the wasteland. When a traitor of the Delta enters their realm, the solitary beasts may finally have a leader to unite them.

As a new order emerges in the Barrens, Chase and Sash begin their lives together. While Chase fights to prove he belongs in Krymzyn, the power inside Sash flourishes in ways no one could have imagined. But a vengeance from the wasteland is soon unleashed upon them.

After Chase is trapped deep in the Barrens, his only escape is into the Infinite Expanse. Unaware of the deathly perils that take shape there, he may be lost forever. For Sash to return him from the endless wilderness, she’ll have to harness a mystical energy not seen since the beginning of time.

Purchase book 1http://www.amazon.com/Krymzyn-Journals-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00N3D7INS

BC Powell is a fantasy author from Los Angeles, CA. His debut science fiction fantasy novel "Krymzyn" was published in October, 2014. "The Infinite Expanse", the highly anticipated second book in "The Journals of Krymzyn" series, is scheduled for release on March 31, 2015.

Powell has a diverse background, having held several creative positions in the entertainment industry, including executive roles at ABC-TV and Technicolor. In recent years, he's authored several non-fiction works, primarily educational books and training programs for trading the financial markets. He dual majored in journalism and philosophy at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

Writing fiction has been his lifelong passion and goal. “The Journals of Krymzyn” represents, in his words, “finally finding the story I want to tell with characters that are able to bring that story to life.” He's an avid reader and lists Ernest Hemingway, Frank L. Herbert, Stephen King, Jane Austen, and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. as his favorite authors.

Brad, as he prefers to go by in personal communication, lives with his longtime girlfriend, three sons from a previous marriage, and their rescue dog and cat. He enjoys hiking, ocean kayaking, spending time at Southern California beaches, movies, and reading.

Author links:

Feb 25, 2015

Book Blitz: The Memory’s Wake Trilogy by Selina Fenech

The Memory’s Wake Trilogy by Selina Fenech
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Synopsis book 1 - Memory's Wake:
Lost in a world full of monstrous fairies, a troubled sixteen year old has to find out who she is and why her memories were stolen before she is found by those who want her dead.
She takes the name “Memory” and knows she has just one goal – to find her way home, wherever that is. But this land is strange. No technology to be seen, and iron is banned, thanks to a pact the humans have with the magical creatures who share their pre-industrial era world. In her t-shirt and torn jeans, Memory knows she’s different, even before she performs impossible magic.
Haunted by her past, chased by a dragon, wanted by the king and stalked by the strange, handsome savage that seems to know her, everyone is after Memory, and she suspects it’s not just for her eye-catching outfit. Her forgotten past holds dangerous secrets that will challenge everything she believes and risk the lives of everyone she loves.
Memory’s Wake contains over 45 illustrations by the author and artist.

Synopsis book 2 - Hope's Reign:
Everything is slipping away from Memory. The bond of friendship between her, Eloryn, Roen, and Will, that was formed while running for their lives is tearing. In a world that doesn’t feel like home, with a mind filled with nothing but questions, Memory struggles to be true to herself… whoever that is. When her past self starts haunting her, she knows her sanity could be the next thing she will lose.

Synopsis book 3 - Providence Unveiled:
A wicked plot dating back to the very beginning of Avall is coming to its end, and Memory is a vital part. In order to save her friends, Memory will break all the rules. With all worlds put at risk by her actions, she will have to step up and make the greatest sacrifice to repair Avall and make the world something better than before.

Born in 1981 to Australian and Maltese parents, Selina lives in Australia with her husband, her baby girl, an unnamed cat, and a lorikeet who's far too clever.

During her life Selina has found ancient Roman treasure, survived cancer, had knights joust at her wedding, been mugged for doughnuts, made a living as an artist, eaten every bizarre and wonderful food put in front of her, and now enjoys writing novels.

Author links:

Feb 24, 2015

Book Blitz: The Ghost of You by Amanda Burckhard & GIVEAWAY

The Ghost of You
Release Date: 02/24/15
Swoon Romance

Summary from Goodreads:
Emmy has everything she’s ever wanted: a hot boyfriend she adores, great friends, a promising future, and even a well-connected family. But one night rips it all away.

A car accident shatters her world, claiming the lives of her twin brother and her best friend. In the wake of the accident, her friends drift away, her family falls apart, and her boyfriend cheats.

The grief is more than she can handle, so she finds escape at the bottom of a bottle of painkillers. Taking the pills makes her brother alive again, if only in her head. Seeing and talking to her brother as if he were still alive is the only thing that keeps her going. Until Logan King moves to town.

Logan sees past the mask of pristine popularity she wears in public and he’s the only one who can tell she hasn’t moved on. His uncanny ability to read her forces her to open up and she starts to fall for him, no matter how unwilling she is to admit it. But Emmy isn’t the only one keeping secrets and when a close brush with death sparks events that bring everything to light, Emmy will have to decide what’s more important: learning how to forgive and move on, or holding onto the pills and the ghost of her past.

Buy Links:

Everything in my room reminded me of him somehow. The candle Mom got me he used to joke smelled like cinnamon on steroids. The lopsided dream catcher we made at a school carnival in middle school. The running shoes he got me last Christmas. I didn’t want to see any of it. I wanted him.
Then I was screaming, ripping, tearing, throwing anything I could get my hands on. My vision blurred. My head pounded in my ears. When my hand tightened around a smooth cylinder on my desk, I almost didn’t realize what it was in time to stop myself from shattering it against the wall. Derek had given me the green, plastic flashlight when we were ten as a way to ward off nightmares. It didn’t work anymore, even with new batteries, but I could never bring myself to get rid of it. I collapsed onto the floor, hugging the flashlight to my chest, crying and sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe or see or think.
 What was I going to do without him? We were the Grayson twins. We did everything together. I didn’t know who I was without him. He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t.
When I pulled myself off the floor, it was nearly dark out. I looked around the room that appeared as if a tornado went through it. The shelves from my dresser lay on the floor, their contents scattered. Papers and posters lay crumpled and torn into pieces. My bedding and clothes were strewn everywhere. Almost every visible inch of the floor was covered. I couldn’t remember doing most of the destruction. I didn’t even feel better after doing it.
Something on the ground caught my eye. Something orange and familiar. I reached for the small bottle of pills and read the label. Vicodin. They were from my tonsillectomy last year. They must’ve been stuck away in a drawer, forgotten and unused.
I remembered how they made me feel like I was floating on water, like my brain was fuzzy and nothing seemed like a big deal. That feeling would be a nice change to what I felt now.
Throwing two pills into my mouth, I grabbed a week-old bottle of Gatorade from my dresser and took a swig. I left my disaster of a room and went down the hall to Derek’s room. The room felt dull and lifeless without him. The posters of old rock bands plastering the walls and wrestling trophies displayed on every shelf didn’t fit without the boy who had put them there. 
I set the flashlight on his nightstand and crawled into his bed. His pillowcase smelled of peppermint. Jess and I had picked out that shampoo for him a few weeks ago. He swore he’d never use it, but I guess he changed his mind.
I stared at the flashlight until the pills made my eyelids droop and my mind slipped off into darkness. 
Derek’s voice reached out to me just as I was falling asleep. “It’ll be okay, Em. Sleep. I’m here.”

About the Author
Amanda Burckhard grew up exploring bat caves and hunting for dinosaur bones in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When she wasn’t crossing paths with mountain lions, she was making up stories and devouring books at the library. Although, she still does that.

Amanda loves to travel and cross out things on her adrenaline packed bucket list. Some of the things she's been able to cross out include see an active volcano erupt, ride a gondola in Venice, and pet a tiger.

She currently lives in North Sioux City, South Dakota and works as a microbiologist by day. Some of her obsessions include comic book movies, hot chocolate, sushi, sunshine, and Doctor Who.

Author Links:
 photo iconwebsite-32x32_zps1f477f69.png  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png  photo iconfacebook-32x32_zps64a79d4a.png

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Blitz Organized by:

Feb 23, 2015

Book Blitz: The Apollo Academy by Kimberly P. Chase & GIVEAWAY

The Apollo Academy by Kimberly P. Chase 
(The Apollo Academy #1) 
Published by: Harlequin
Publication date: February 22nd 2015
Genres: New Adult, Science Fiction


Take off with this dynamic, thrill-seeking, sexy New Adult Science Fiction series debut. Welcome to the exclusive Apollo Academy, where Aurora is about to discover that achieving her dream is only the first step towards her future.

As the heiress to Titon Technologies, eighteen-year-old Aurora Titon can have whatever she wants—clothes, expensive gadgets, anything money can buy. But all she really wants is to escape her pampered, paparazzi-infested life for the stars. Becoming the first female pilot to train as an astronaut for the exclusive Apollo Academy is exactly the chance for which she has been waiting.
Flying is everything she ever dreamed, her best friend also got into the Academy, and the paparazzi is banned from campus. Everything would be perfect, but for her unreciprocated crush on a fellow student, the sexy astronaut bent on making her life hell, and the fact that someone keeps trying to kill her.

The most important education doesn’t happen in the classroom…

Early Praise:
"I am obsessed with this book! Suspenseful, sexy, and just a great read!" - Cora Carmack, New York Times Bestselling author of LOSING IT.

“Exquisite worldbuilding, thrilling suspense, and a sexy flight instructor! Chase’s exciting debut novel is one you don’t want to miss.” - K.A.Tucker, Author of Ten Tiny Breaths and One Tiny Lie


Kimberly P. Chase holds a Bachelor's Degree in Aeronautical Science from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, which basically means she's kind of a geek and loves flying airplanes. Naturally, her books tend to include aviation, hot flight instructors, aviator glasses, and—let's not forget—kissing! When Kimberly's not writing or reading, she's hanging out with her husband, five-year-old son, and two dogs in Charleston, SC.

Author links:

Blitz-wide giveaway (INTL) 
$50 Amazon Gift Card

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Feb 22, 2015

Showcase Sunday #45 - February 2015

Inspired by Pop Culture Junkie and the Story Siren, the aim of Showcase Sunday is to highlight our newest books or book related swag and to see what everyone else received for review, borrowed from libraries, bought in bookshops and downloaded onto eReaders each week. For more information about how this feature works and how to join in, click here.
~Vicky @ Books Biscuits and Tea

Welcome to my second SS for this year. This month a lot of crazy (good crazy) things happened in my life. First, I had my first interview with a University about a PhD position, which I thought went terrible. Four days after that I had to present my Masters Thesis. Even though I am not usually very good at presentations, having blown the interview because I was nervous, I had no more anxiety. I though that nothing could be that bad as that interview, so I aced my presentation! Yes, I am finally finished with my Masters degree. A couple of days later, I had started packing up my things to move back to my hometown at the other end of Greece, I had given up on the PhD position and was already making plans for getting a temp job and sending more applications wherever I can find, when an email arrived. I was surprised to read: I GOT THE PHD POSITION. A crazy dance and  a lot of screaming followed. And here I am now, not even a week later, I still can't believe I got the position and the best part? It's in LONDON. I always wanted to live there. And I'll be there for at least the next three years. It seems so surreal. I can't wait for July to come so I can move there. I am also looking forward to meeting any UK bloggers. Finally people I can talk books with, in person.

Anyway, that was what happened to me this crazy month. I am moving back to my hometown in 10 days and then I'll spend there 4 months getting excited and ready for LONDON. But let's talk books now. This last month I got some pretty exciting new books.

A Few Words:
I am so excited for many of those books. I am currently reading Jurassic Park and it is surprisingly good. I think I will watch all movies once I am done, then hopefully move on the the second book. 
Fire & Flood is the book that I am most excited for (having already read Seraphina like 3 years ago). I sounds so good. I'll probably pick it up soon. 
The rest books are two audiobooks, Nobody and The Squad, two freebies, Gravity and Bound by Prophecy, and a book I won, Perfect Ruin.
I am really looking forward to all of them especially the audiobooks because so far I loved anything I read by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Feb 21, 2015

Book Blitz: Gathering Frost by Kaitlyn Davis & GIVEAWAY

Gathering Frost 
(Once Upon A Curse #1)
Release Date: 02/17/15

Summary from Goodreads:
Will his kiss be enough to revive her frozen heart?

Once Upon A Time meets La Femme Nikita in GATHERING FROST, a dystopian romance from bestselling author Kaitlyn Davis that reimagines the classic fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty.

Jade was only a little girl when the earthquake struck. Before her eyes, half of New York City disappeared, replaced by a village that seemed torn out of a storybook. Horses and carriages. Cobblestone streets. A towering castle. And, above all, a queen with the magical ability to strip emotions away.

Ten years later and Jade has forgotten what it is to feel, to care...even to love. Working as a member of the queen's guard, she spends most of her time on the city wall staring at the crumbling skyscrapers of old New York. But everything changes when the queen's runaway son, Prince Asher, returns. Jade is tasked with an unusual mission--to let the Prince capture her, to make him trust her, and then to betray his secrets to the crown. In return, she'll earn her freedom. But life outside the queen's realm is more than Jade bargained for. Under Asher's relentless taunts, her blood begins to boil. Under his piercing gaze, her heart begins to flutter. And the more her icy soul begins to thaw, the more Jade comes to question everything she's ever known--and, more importantly, whose side she's really on. 

Buy Links:
**This is a KDP select novel. $2.99 to buy or free on Kindle Unlimited!**

This is the scene where Jade and Prince Asher meet for the first time! It's a little different than the Disney version :) 

There are no sounds outside of the fire, no moans of pain, and instantly I am on edge. The commander would say it was nothing—that part of a building slipped free and happened to fall on our mine. Nothing more.
But the back of my neck tingles.
Then it is cold.
Metal presses against my skin, the shape of a circle. I recognize the barrel of a gun when I feel one.
"Don't move," a voice whispers, close to my ear. A voice meant to menace, but the ugly tone sounds unnatural, unconvincing.
I should be afraid. I should feel my insides tighten. But they are cool, calm. So hard that I wonder if a bullet would even break my skin.
A second passes and he does nothing. No hand grabs for my shirt. The gun does not press deeper into my skin. I wait for pain, but his touch is gentle. Too gentle for this world.
I react swiftly, throwing my head to the side and reaching my arm back to catch his. I twist my elbow, bending his arm unnaturally until his fingers open and the gun clangs uselessly against the floor. Blindly, I reach down, feeling the tile as I flip myself over. My grip tightens on the handle.
One swing of my arm and we have changed places.
"Don't move," I say, unable to stop my smirk. The gun is aimed at his chest, but I doubt I will use it. Bullets are too precious to waste.
My eyes travel higher, up his neck, past his square jaw, until I meet his eyes. His face holds shock, a little awe. I've seen that look before, during training rounds with the guard. I'm much tougher than I look.
But there is something else.
Something familiar.
The fire behind me floods through the window, illuminating his features and I swear that I've seen them before.
"Are you going to shoot me?" His voice holds a musical quality. It captures me, makes me lose myself for a moment. And suddenly I remember. In a burst, recognition shocks my brain.
The ice-blond hair. The perfect pale skin. The only difference is his eyes, which seem dark as midnight in this light.
It's Queen Deirdre's son. Prince Asher.
"No," I say quickly.

About the Author
I've always been a writer. I grew up duct taping my novels together, started writing complete manuscripts in high school and studied creative writing at Johns Hopkins University. Upon graduating, I decided it was finally time to actually give my dream career a chance. So, of course, I started writing a young adult paranormal romance series -- and no, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon. I've been a true paranormal supporter for my entire life! I blame my obsession almost completely on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my all-time favorite television show. And, before you ask: Yes, I own every season... even the post WB ones! I especially challenge anyone to watch the first three seasons and not fall in love with Angel, securing a lifelong love of vampires! Other culprits of my paranormal obsession are some of my favorite authors: JK Rowling, Raymond Feist, Meg Cabot, Richelle Mead, Lynne Ewing and Tamora Pierce.

Author Links:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Blitz Organized by:

Feb 20, 2015

M9B: Friday Reveal: Nobody's Goddess (The Never Veil #1) by Amy McNulty & GIVEAWAY

Welcome to this week's M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we will be unveiling the prologue for
Nobody's Goddess (The Never Veil #1) by Amy McNulty
presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
Nobody's Goddess
In a village of masked men, each loves only one woman and must follow the commands of his “goddess” without question. A woman may reject the only man who will love her if she pleases, but she will be alone forever. And a man must stay masked until his goddess returns his love—and if she can’t or won’t, he remains masked forever.
Where the rest of her village celebrates this mystery that binds men and women together, seventeen year old Noll is just done with it. She’s lost all her childhood friends as they’ve paired off, but the worst blow was when her closest companion, Jurij, finds his goddess in Noll’s own sister. Desperate to find a way to break this ancient spell, Noll instead discovers why no man has ever loved her: she is in fact the goddess of the mysterious lord of the village, a Byronic man who refuses to let Noll have her right as a woman to spurn him and who has the power to fight the curse. Thus begins a dangerous game between the two: the choice of woman versus the magic of man. And the stakes are no less than freedom and happiness, life and death—and neither Noll nor the veiled man is willing to lose.
add to goodreads
Title: Nobody's Goddess (The Never Veil #1)
Publication date: April 21, 2015
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Amy McNulty

When I had real friends, I was the long-lost queen of the elves.
A warrior queen who hitched up her skirt and wielded a blade. Who held her retainers in thrall. Until they left me for their goddesses.
Love. A curse that snatches friends away.
One day, when only two of my retainers remained, the old crone who lived on the northern outskirts of the village was our prey. It was twenty points if you spotted her. Fifty points if you got her to look at you. A hundred points if she started screaming at you.
You won for life if you got close enough to touch her.
“Noll, please don’t do this,” whispered Jurij from behind the wooden kitten mask covering his face. Really, his mother still put him in kitten masks, even though eleven was too old for a boy to be wearing kittens and bunnies. Especially ones that looked likely to get eaten for breakfast by as much as a weasel.
“Shut up, I want to see this!” cried Darwyn. Never a kitten, Darwyn always wore a wolf mask. Yet behind the nasty tooth-bearing wolf grin—one of my father’s better masks—he was very much a fraidycat.
Darwyn shoved Jurij aside so he could crouch behind the bush that was our threadbare cover. Jurij nearly toppled over, but I caught him and set him gently upright. Sometimes I didn’t know if Jurij realized who was supposed to be serving whom. Queens shouldn’t have to keep retainers from falling.
“Quiet, both of you.” I scanned the horizon. Nothing. All was still against the northern mountains save for the old crone’s musty shack with its weakly smoking chimney. The edges of my skirt had grazed the dusty road behind us, and I hitched it up some more so my mother wouldn’t notice later. If she didn’t want me to get the blasted thing dirty, she should have let me wear Jurij’s trousers, like I had been that morning. That got me a rap on the back of the head with a wooden spoon, a common occurrence when I was queen. It made me look too much like a boy, she scolded, and that would cause a panic.
“Are you going or not?” Darwyn was not one for patience.
“If you’re so eager, why don’t you go?” I snapped back.
Darwyn shook his wolf-head. “Oh, no, not me.”
I grinned. “That’s because you’re scared.”
Darwyn’s muffled voice grew louder. He stood beside me and puffed out his chest. “I am not! I’ve been in the commune.”
I poked toward his chest with Elgar, my trusty elf-blade. “Liar! You have not.”
Darwyn jumped back, evading my blow. “I have too! My uncle lives there!” He swatted his hand at Elgar. “Get that stick away from me.”
“It’s not a stick!” Darwyn never believed me when I said that Elgar was the blade of a warrior. It just happened to resemble a tree branch.
Jurij’s quiet voice entered the fray. “Your uncle lives there? That’s awful.” I was afraid he might cry and the tears would get caught up in the black material that covered his eyes. I didn’t want him to drown behind the wooden kitty face. He’d vanish into thin air like everyone else did when they died, and then we’d be staring down at Jurij’s clothes and the little kitten mask on the ground, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from giggling. Some death for a warrior.
Darwyn shrugged and ran a hand over his elbow. “He moved in there before I was born. I think a weaver lady was his goddess. It’s not so strange. Didn’t your aunt send her man there, Jurij?”
Jurij was sniffling. Sniffling. He tried to rub at his nose, but every time he moved the back of his hand up to his face, it just clunked against the button that represented the kitten’s nose.
I sighed and patted Jurij on the back. “A queen’s retainer must never cry, Jurij.”
Darwyn laughed. “Are you still playing that? You’re no queen, Noll!”
I stopped patting Jurij and balled my hands into fists. “Be quiet, Darwyn! You used to play it, too!”
Darwyn put two fingers over his wolf-mask mouth, a gesture we had long ago decided would stand for the boys sticking out their tongues. Although Darwyn was the only one who ever did it as of late. “Like I’d want to do what some girl tells me! Girls aren’t even blessed by love!”
“Of course they are!” It was my turn to put the two fingers over my mouth. I had a tongue, but a traitorous retainer like Darwyn wasn’t worthy of the effort it took to stick it out. “Just wait until you find your goddess, and then we’ll see! If she turns out to be me, I’ll make sure you rot away in the commune with the rest of the unloved men.”
Darwyn lunged forward and tackled me. My head dragged against the bush before it hit the ground, but it still hurt; I could feel the swelling underneath the tangled knots in my hair. Elgar snapped as I tried to get a grip on my attacker. I kicked and shoved him, and for a moment, I won the upper hand and rolled on top of him, almost punching him in the face. Remembering the mask, I settled for giving him a good smack in the side, but then he kicked upward and caught me in the chest, sending me backward.
“Stop!” pleaded Jurij. He was standing between us now, the little timid kitten watching first one friend and then the other, like we were a dangling string in motion.
“Stay out of this!” Darwyn jumped to his feet and pointed at me. “She thinks she’s so high and mighty, and she’s not even someone’s goddess yet!”
“I’m only twelve, idiot! How many goddesses are younger than thirteen?” A few, but not many. I scrambled to my feet and sent my tongue out at him. It felt good knowing he couldn’t do the same to me, after all. My head ached. I didn’t want him to see the tears forming in my eyes, though, so I ground my teeth once I drew my tongue inward.
“Yeah, well, it’ll be horrible for whoever finds the goddess in you!” Darwyn made to lunge at me again, but this time Jurij shoved both his hands at Darwyn’s chest to stop him.
“Just stop,” commanded Jurij. Finally. That was a good retainer.
My eyes wandered to the old crone’s cottage. No sign of her. How could she fail to hear the epic struggle outside her door? Maybe she wasn’t real. Maybe just seeing her was worth twenty points after all.
“Get out of my way, you baby!” shouted Darwyn. “So what happens if I pull off your mask when your queen is looking, huh? Will you die?”
His greedy fingers reached toward Jurij’s wooden animal face. Even from behind, I could see the mask tip dangerously to one side, the strap holding it tightly against Jurij’s dark curls shifting. The strap broke free, flying up over his head.
My mouth opened to scream. My hands reached up to cover my eyes. My eyelids strained to close, but it felt as if the moment had slowed and I could never save him in time. Such simple things. Close your eyes. Cover your eyes. Scream.
A dark, dirty shawl went flying onto the bush that we had ruined during our fight.
I came back to life. My head and Darwyn’s wolf mask spun toward the source of the sound. As my head turned, I saw—even though I knew better than to look—Jurij crumple to the ground, clinging both arms across his face desperately because his life depended on it.
“Your eyes better be closed, girl!” The old crone bellowed. Her own eyes were squeezed together.
I jumped and shut my eyes tightly.
“Hold that shawl tightly over your face, boy, until you can wear your mask properly!” screamed the old crone. “Off with you both, boys! Now! Off with you!”
I heard Jurij and Darwyn scrambling, the rustle of the bush and the stomps of their boots as they fled, panting. I thought I heard a scream—not from Jurij, but from Darwyn. He was the real fraidycat. An old crone was no match for the elf queen’s retainers. But the queen herself was far braver. So I told myself over and over in my head.
When the last of their footsteps faded away, and I was sure that Jurij was safe from my stare, I looked.
Eyes. Huge, bulbous, dark brown eyes. Staring directly into mine.
The crone’s face was so close I could smell the shriveled decay from her mouth. She grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me. “What were you thinking? You held that boy’s life in your hands! Yet you stood there like a fool, just starin’ as his mask came off.”
My heart beat faster, and I gasped for more air, but I wanted to avoid inhaling her stench. “I’m sorry, Ingrith,” I mumbled. I thought if I used her real name, if I let her lecture me like all the other adults, it would help me break free from her grasp. I twisted and pulled, but I couldn’t bring myself to touch her. I had this notion that if I touched her, my fingers would decay.
“Sorry is just a word. Sorry changes nothing.”
“Let me go.” I could still feel her dirty nails on my skin.
“You watch yourself, girl.”
“Let me go!”
The crone’s lips grew tight and puckered. Her fingers relaxed ever so slightly. “You children don’t realize. The lord is watching. Always watching—”
I knew what she was going to say, the words so familiar to me that I knew them as well as if they were my own. “And he will not abide villagers who forget the first goddess’s teachings.” The sentence seemed to loosen the crone’s fingers. She opened her mouth to speak, but I broke free and ran.
My eyes fell to the grass below my feet as I cut across the fields to get away from the monster. On the borders of the eastern woods was a lone cottage, home of Gideon the woodcarver, a warm and comfortable place so much fuller of life than the shack I left behind me. When I was near the woods, I could look up freely since the trees blocked the eastern mountains from view. But until I got closer …
“Noll! Wait up!”
My eyes snapped upward on instinct. I saw the upper boughs of the trees and almost screamed, my gaze falling back to the grass beneath my feet. I stopped running and let the gentle rustlings of footsteps behind me catch up.
“Jurij, please.” I sighed and turned around to face him, my eyes still on the grass and the pair of small dark boots that covered his feet. Somehow he managed to step delicately through the grass, not disturbing a single one of the lilies that covered the hilltops. “Don’t scare me like that. I almost looked at the castle.”
The toe of Jurij’s boot dug a little into the dirt. “Oh. Sorry.”
“Is your mask on?”
The boot stopped moving, and the tip of a black shawl dropped into my view. “Oh. Yeah.”
I shook my head and raised my eyes. There was no need to fear looking up to the west. In the distance, the mountains that encircled our village soared far beyond the western fields of crops. I liked the mountains. From the north, the south, and the west, they embraced our village with their jagged peaks. In the south, they watched over our fields of livestock. In the north, they towered above a quarry for copper and stone. And in the east, they led home and to the woods. But no girl or woman could ever look up when facing the east. Like the faces of men and boys before their Returnings, just a glance at the castle that lay beyond the woods against the eastern mountains spelled doom. The earth would shake and threaten to consume whoever broke the commandment not to look.
It made walking home a bit of a pain, to say the least.
“Tell me something important like that before you sneak up on me.”
Jurij’s kitten mask was once again tight against his face, if askew. The strap was a bit tangled in his dark curls and the pointed tip of one of his ears. “Right. Sorry.”
He held out the broken pieces of Elgar wrapped in the dirty black shawl. He seemed very retainer-like. I liked that. “I went to give this back to the—the lady. She wasn’t there, but you left Elgar.”
I snatched the pieces from Jurij’s hands. “You went back to the shack? What were you going to say? ‘Sorry we were spying on you pretending you were a monster, thanks for the dirty old rag?’”
“No.” Jurij crumpled up the shawl and tucked it under his belt. A long trail of black cloth tumbled out immediately, making Jurij look like he had on half a skirt.
I laughed. “Where’s Darwyn?”
Of course. I found out later that Darwyn had whined straight to his mother that “nasty old Noll” almost knocked his mask off. It was a great way to get noticed when you had countless brothers and a smitten mother and father standing between you and any form of attention. But it didn’t have the intended effect on me. I was used to lectures, and besides, there was something more important bothering me by then.
I picked up my feet to carry me back home.
Jurij skipped forward to join me. One of his boots stumbled as we left the grasses behind and hit the dirt path. “What happened with you and the crone?”
I gripped the pieces of Elgar tighter in my fist. “Nothing.” I stopped, relieved that we’d finally gotten close enough to the woods that I could face forward. I put an arm on Jurij’s shoulder to stop him. “But I touched her.” Or she touched me. “That means I win forever.”
The kitten face cocked a little sideways. “You always win.”
“Of course. I’m the queen.” I tucked the broken pieces of Elgar into my apron sash. Elgar was more of a title, bestowed on an endless number of worthy sticks, but in those days I wouldn’t have admitted that to Jurij. “Come on. I’ll give you a head start. Race you to the cavern!”
“The cavern? But it’s—”
“Too late! Your head start’s over!” I kicked my feet up and ran as if that was all my legs knew how to do. The cool breeze slapping across my face felt lovely as it flew inside my nostrils and mouth. I rushed past my home, not bothering to look inside the open door.
“Stop! Stop! Noll, you stop this instant!”
The words were something that could easily come out of a mother’s mouth, but Mother had a little more patience than that. And her voice didn’t sound like a fragile little bird chirping at the sun’s rising. “Noll!”
I was just an arm’s length from the start of the trees, but I stopped, clutching the sharp pain that kicked me in the side.
“Oh dear!” Elfriede walked out of our house, the needle and thread she was no doubt using to embroider some useless pattern on one of the aprons still pinched between two fingers. My sister was a little less than a year older than me, but to my parents’ delight (and disappointment with me), she was a hundred times more responsible.
“Boy, your mask!” Elfriede never did learn any of my friends’ names. Not that I could tell her Roslyn from her Marden, either. One giggling, delicate bird was much like another.
She walked up to Jurij, who had just caught up behind me. She covered her eyes with her needle-less hand, but I could see her peeking between her fingers. I didn’t think that would actually protect him if the situation were as dire as she seemed to think.
“It’s crooked.” Elfriede’s voice was hoarse, almost trembling. I rolled my eyes.
Jurij patted his head with both hands until he found the bit of the strap stuck on one of his ears. He pulled it down and twisted the mask until it lined up evenly.
I could hear Elfriede’s sigh of relief from where I was standing. She let her fingers fall from her face. “Thank the goddess.” She considered Jurij for a moment. “There’s a little tear in your strap.”
Without asking, she closed the distance between them and began sewing the small tear even as the mask sat on his head. From how tall she stood above him, she might have been ten years older instead of only two.
I walked back toward them, letting my hands fall. “Don’t you think that’s a little stupid? What if the mask slips while you’re doing that?”
Elfriede’s cheeks darkened and she yanked the needle up, pulling her instrument free of the thread and tucking the extra bit into the mask strap. She stood back and glared at me. “Don’t you talk to me about being stupid, Noll. All that running isn’t safe when you’re with boys. Look how his mask was moving.”
His mask had moved for even more dangerous reasons than a little run, but I knew better than to tell tattletale Elfriede that. “How would you know what’s safe when you’re with boys? You’re already thirteen, and no one has found the goddess in you!” Darwyn’s taunt was worth reusing, especially since I knew my sister would be more upset about it than I ever was.
Elfriede bit her lip. “Go ahead and kill your friends, then, for all I care!” The bird wasn’t so beautiful and fragile where I was concerned.
She retreated into the house and slammed the door behind her. I wrapped my hand around Jurij’s arm, pulling him eastward. “Come on. Let’s go. There’re bound to be more monsters in the cavern.”
Jurij didn’t give beneath my pull. He wouldn’t move.
I knew right then, somewhere in my mind, what had happened. But I was twelve. And Jurij was my last real friend. I knew he’d leave me one day like the others, but on some level, I didn’t really believe it yet.
Jurij stood stock still, even as I wrenched my arm harder and harder to get him to move.
“Oh for—Jurij!” I yelled, dropping my hands from his arm in frustration. “Ugh. I wish I was your goddess just so I could get you to obey me. Even if that means I’d have to put up with all that—yuck—smooching.” I shivered at the thought.
At last Jurij moved, if only to lift his other arm, to run his fingers across the strap that Elfriede had mended. She was gone from my sight, but Jurij would never see another.
It struck them all. Sometime around Jurij’s age, the boys’ voices cracked, shifting from high to deep and back again in a matter of a few words. They went from little wooden-faced animals always shorter than you to young men on their way to towering over you. And one day, at one moment, at some age, earlier for some and later for others, they looked at a girl they’d probably seen thousands of times before and simply ceased to be. At least, they weren’t who I knew them to be ever again.
And as with so many of my friends before Jurij, in that moment all other girls ceased to matter. I was nothing to him now, an afterthought, a shadow, a memory.
Not him.
My dearest, my most special friend of all, now doomed to live or die by the choice of the fragile little bird who’d stopped to mend his strap.

Amy McNulty
Amy McNulty is a freelance writer and editor from Wisconsin with an honors degree in English. She was first published in a national scholarly journal (The Concord Review) while in high school and currently spends her days alternatively writing on business and marketing topics and primarily crafting stories with dastardly villains and antiheroes set in fantastical medieval settings.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
Complete the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win!
The book will be sent upon the titles release.