Tuesday, November 24, 2015

ARC Review: CONTROLLED BURN by Shannon Stacey

Heat Exchange
by Shannon Stacey
Boston Fire, Book 2

Rick Gullotti lives the good life. He fights fires, dates beautiful women—though none long enough so they cast wistful glances at jewelry stores—and has great friends. And thanks to helping out the elderly couple who own his building, his rent is low. But when concerns about their health lead him to contact their only son, his life starts getting away from him.

Jessica Broussard has no interest in leaving sunny San Diego or her cushy corner office for Boston, but her father—who happens to be her boss—dispatches her to deal with the grandparents she's never met. She's unprepared for the frigid winter, loving relatives who aren't the monsters she's been led to believe, and the hot, scruffy firefighter who lives upstairs.

At first, Jessica is determined to get back to her comfortable life as quickly as possible. All she has to do is talk her grandparents into selling their monstrosity of a house and moving to a retirement community. But she underestimates Rick's dedication—and his considerable charm. Nobody's taking advantage of his friends on his watch, even if that makes the tempting southern California girl with the long legs his adversary. Unfortunately for them both, the only thing more urgent than the matter at hand is their sizzling chemistry, and it's quickly becoming too strong to resist. 

Jessica Broussard 
Rick Gullotti 

Heat Exchange, the latest book in the Boston Fire series, is a nice contemporary romance featuring a Boston fire fighter and a smart, savvy business woman from California.  

Jessica Broussard did not know she had grandparents. Her father has been alienated from his parents for many years and has refused to speak of them. By accident, Jessica picks up a phone call and it changes her life. Rick Gullotti is a seasoned fire fighter and confirmed bachelor. Recently, he has been wondering why women keep telling him that he is not marriage material. Never having cared before, as a more mature man, he begins to question if he is content to be single for the rest of his life. 

The best part of the story are the characters. I like the maturity of Jessica and Rick. Both are established and successful in their fields. Neither are overly needy. The attraction is immediate, but it's not insta-love. The relationship develops as the couple gets to know each other within the context of her helping out her aging grandparents. It's becoming increasing difficult for Jessica's grandparents to maintain and live in the family home. Jessica is present to help offer options. Rick is a tenant and part-time handy man and full-time friend to the aging couple. Rick and Jessica both have her grandparent's best interest at heart, although they may not agree to the solution. There is mature dialogue and serious conversations. In fact, I would've like to have had a little more witty banter between the two, but that's just a personal preference. 

My biggest critique is that this story is suppose to be about firefighters.  Although it takes place around firefighters, but there is not enough fire fighting.  And because much of this story takes place away from the station, fire fighting becomes not even secondary, but tertiary to the the story.  I want to glean more insight into that profession. 

In A Nutshell: 

I did not experience anything earthshaking or eye-opening, but there is kindness and sweet in the story and that makes it a nice addition to the Boston Fire series. 

Thank you to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.  I was not paid for this review. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

ARC Review: WAKING HEARTS by Elizabeth Hunter

Waking Hearts
by Elizabeth Hunter
Book 3 in the Cambio Springs series

When everything you’ve longed for is standing right in front of you, would you find the courage to chase it when you’ve given up on dreams?

Fox shifter Alison Smith gave up on happy endings when her ex-husband walked out, but that didn’t mean she was allowed to give up on happiness. With four growing kids, Allie is determined to look on the bright side and carry on, even when life seems to keep kicking the girl who’s fallen down. 

Four kids, two jobs, and a pile of debt left over from her ex seem overwhelming most days. Luckily, Allie has the best friends a girl could ask for. Especially a certain quiet bear who’s always been her rock.

Patient. Oliver Campbell knows what it means to be patient. But twenty years of wanting one unavailable woman may have pushed him to the edge. With Allie working every night at his bar, their friendship has begun to fracture.

Then old ghosts offer one more kick to the little family that’s already down, and patience is a virtue Ollie can no longer afford. Allie’s ex-husband may be gone, but his actions are haunting his family. With danger licking the borders of Cambio Springs, the bear and the fox will have to work together. And twenty years of unspoken truths may finally come to light.

I’ve said before that Elizabeth Hunter is a master storyteller.  She knows how to roll out a story, how to connect the dots.  Here she is also a master weaver, interconnecting the relationships in Cambio Springs.  There is definitely a family flair.  Not surprising, considering that Cambio Springs is one of the few retreats where shifters can openly be themselves.  The town consists of clans of differing shifters keeping the town’s secret. Lives are laced together - like the story of Oliver Campbell and Alison Smith.  

Oliver and Allison have known each other since they were kids. He is a bear shifter and she is a fox.  He has admired her from afar but has been too shy to show his interest.  She has always considered him her best friend, but never really thought of him as anything more until recently.  After her marriage falls apart, and her husband abandons her with four children, Alison struggles to make it work.  Of course, Ollie is there for her, but this time he finally lets her know how he feels.  It’s such a lovely destined-to-be-together story.  It feels especially so because these are two genuinely nice characters.  There is still drama and lots and lots of heat (afterall, she is a fox and they need a lot of touch), but neither character needs redemption, has a personality flaw, or is broken.  They both are good, kind characters that deserve each other, and it works.  Best line: "Respect the lingerie, bear."

I also enjoyed the family dynamics.  Alison has four children that contribute another level of cuteness as well as family drama.  We run the gamut with a bit of teenage angst thrown in with youthful temper tantrums. With large clans, there is an extensive extended family, all of whom have opinions and advice for Ollie and Alison. However, they also provide love and support as needed. This is what community is all about. 

But this is not merely the story of family of shifters, there is a menace behind the scenes. Alison’s family is being targeted and it is somehow connected to her ex-husband.  There are more and more people with eyes on this community.  As the mystery unravels, it feeds into the greater concern about the economic growth of the town driven by the new incoming hotel and spa.  Will the clans be able to keep the secret of the shifters with the influx of outside visitors? Will their sanctuary be destroyed? Because it is so easy to care about these characters, their stress is my stress. 

I love the ease in which I can connect to the characters. I find this story emotionally satisfying.  I have already read it twice.  Enough said. 

Thank you to the author for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015


The Truth About Him
by M. O'Keefe
Everything I Left Unsaid, Book #2


We played our roles, told each other lies.
But now Dylan is no longer just a mysterious deep voice on the other end of the line. We’re face-to-face and our relationship is very, very real.
We still have secrets—but so much is crystal clear:
The thrilling danger.
The raw, naked desire.
The need to keep feeling the way he makes me feel. Forever.
Dylan is putting up walls, trying to keep me safe, but he can’t shut me out. He has seen my darkness and rescued me. Now it’s my turn, if only he will let me.

There is so much going on in this story, so many great insights, that I don’t know where to start.  So I’ll start with my thoughts at the end of the book – LOVE IS WORK and you HAVE TO WORK for YOUR HEA. 

Molly O’Keefe ends her first book, Everything I Left Unsaid, with a whopper cliffhanger. With an intention, she spends no time resolving that issue fairly quickly at the beginning of this book and then the story jumps right into building a relationship on the foundation of two polarities – lies and truth.  Annie pretends she is someone else for the better part of the first book and yet, when she is on the phone with Dylan, she shares her naked truth.  Because of his history and his family’s history, Dylan is guarded.  He hides behind a role and denying his feelings not only for Annie, but for his family as well.  Yet, when he interacts with Annie, he is unguarded, laid bare.  Where do you go from here? 

A curious thing happened while I was reading the first half of this book.  I couldn’t figure out why these characters, who were so alive and vibrant in the first book, felt so flat to me.  And then it hit me; the author’s writing is so brilliant.  The characters are flat because somewhere along the line they start acting inauthentic with each other:

[Earlier] we were really showing each other exactly who we are.  The parts of us we never showed anyone, or even … maybe forgot we had. We showed each other our bedrock truth, without even knowing it. . . .[S]ince we came back here, things have gotten more confusing.  They’ve gotten harder because we’re showing each other that truth anymore.  We’re back to telling ourselves lies about who we really are and what we really want like we used to. 

It is so easy to default back into old behaviors, give in to old insecurities, let the past cloud the future.  This is a story about overcoming those obstacles and demanding truth.  

Dylan and Annie have a lot of challenges to address.  Dylan’s family is dysfunctional and he has long since distance himself from his father and brother.  However, with Annie’s help, he learns to confront the truth of his relationship with Ben and Max.  It’s heartbreaking.  For every two steps forward, there is a step back.  It could’ve been frustrating, but it for me, it added to the layers of their journey together.  

It’s because of the struggles between the two, that the Epilogue is so sweet.  It’s beautiful and it’s right.  

In A Nutshell:
I loved this two-book wonder.  Perfect for those readers looking for a complex romance with the heat that is off the Scoville scale. 

Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions are my own and I was not paid for this review. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cover Reveal: THE BALLER by Vi Keeland

The Baller by Vi Keeland from Becca the Bibliophile on Vimeo

(A standalone novel)
A Contemporary Romance novel

New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author
Vi Keeland


Add THE BALLER to your TBR list on Goodreads!
Sign up for Vi’s mailing list HERE and be the first one notified of releases! 

About the Author

Vi Keeland is a native New Yorker with three children that occupy most of her free time, which she complains about often, but wouldn't change for the world. She is a bookworm and has been known to read her kindle at stop lights, while styling her hair, cleaning, walking, during sporting events, and frequently while pretending to work.  She is a boring attorney by day, and an exciting smut author by night!

Additional Books by Vi Keeland

Life on Stage series (2 standalone books)

Amazon UK:  http://amzn.to/1fczMX5

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1zk882K

MMA Fighter series (3 standalone books)
Worth the Fight (MMA Fighter Series, Book One)
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1alpVES
Smashwords - http://bit.ly/1is0zNX

Worth The Chance (MMA Fighter Series, Book Two)

Worth Forgiving (MMA Fighter Series, Book Three)

The Cole Series (2 book serial)

Belong to You (Cole Series, Book One)

Made for You (Cole Series, Book Two)

Standalone novels

Cocky Bastard (co-written with Penelope Ward)

Left Behind (A Young Adult Novel)

First Thing I See

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1JWFo21

Book Release and Excerpt: TETHERED BOND by Emma Hart

Tethered Bond
by Emma Hart
Book 3 in the Holly Wood Files series

Detective Drake Nash: hot, alpha, bossy, and… mine.
Now, if someone could tell his ex that... I don’t care if the summer fayre is coming to Holly Woods and she’s on the planning committee. What I do care about is sugar-filled food, bright lights, late nights… and danger. The type that won’t come in the form of Nonna’s new cantankerous British parrot, Gio. (Please see the damage done to Mom’s new curtains.)

Unfortunately, when the danger comes, it comes in the form of something Holly Woods has never seen. The town is rocked to its core, and once again, I’m in danger. Only this time, it isn’t because of my clients—this time, I’m in danger because of who I am… Because of my heritage. And despite the HWPD’s best efforts, the bodies keep on piling up.  Drake’s determined to protect me. I’m determined that I can do it myself.  Danger. Mystery. Darkness. Malice.
It’ll be a miracle if any of us make it out of this with guns unfired, cupcakes still frosted, and hearts intact…


By day, New York Times and USA Today bestselling New Adult author Emma Hart dons a cape and calls herself Super Mum to two beautiful little monsters. By night, she drops the cape, pours a glass of whatever she fancies - usually wine - and writes books.
Emma is working on Top Secret projects she will share with her followers and fans at every available opportunity. Naturally, all Top Secret projects involve a dashingly hot guy who likes to forget to wear a shirt, a sprinkling (or several) of hold-onto-your-panties hot scenes, and a whole lotta love.
She likes to be busy - unless busy involves doing the dishes, but that seems to be when all the ideas come to life.



It’s better for my sanity if I get this conversation with Nonna over and done with.
Oh my fuck. I have to meet the parrot, too. Holy fuckballs. What if the colorful rat sides with her?
Oh, who am I kidding? Of course it’s gonna side with Nonna.
Shit. Clearly, I can be swayed by the desperation of my future sister-in-law. I’ve really gotta get a handle on that crap. This should be Devin having this conversation, not me.
That thought hits right as I pull up behind Mom’s car on the drive. I take a deep breath, apprehension coiling in my lower stomach, and get out of my car. This feeling always hits whenever I get to my parents’ place, but today, it’s particularly strong. I know that Nonna will play the innocent card and make everything a lot harder.
I walk across the front yard, and a loud squawk rings in my ears. My heart stops for a brief second, and I bite my tongue. That thing is loud. How are Mom and Dad coping with that?
I knock on the front door twice before I push it open.
“Ye cruel wench! Ye vile wench! Cazzo! Cazzo!”
Nice to meet you, too, Gio.
“Hello,” I call hesitantly, closing the door behind me.
“Aye! Ye bloody wench!”
“Oh, shut up, you little shit!” Mom yells.
I walk into the front room in time to see her cover the offending bird’s cage with a bedsheet.
“Wench! Wench!” Gio squawks from beneath the black sheet.
Mom smacks the cage. “I’ll wench your beak real soon!”
Oy vey. Things have sure gotten violent in the Bond family home.
Nonna shuffles into the front room and, upon seeing Gio covered, gasps. “Kellie, you-a let-a him go-a!”
Mom snorts. “Believe me, Liliana. If I could imprison the little shit, I would! My curtains are ruined!”
I glance at the window. There’s a giant rip in one of the drapes. The ones she bought two weeks ago.
Nonna gasps and rushes across the room, her cane nothing more than a steadying tool. “Gio!” she exhales, whipping the sheet off. “You-a okay?”
The concern on her face is comical. Oh, Nonna.
“Vile wench! Vile wench!” Gio shrills, violently flapping his bright-green wings. “Kellie, ye vile wench!”
I squint. Doesn’t seem like Gio’s conversational skills are up to much unless he’s going to hop on the Black Pearl.
“Hello?” I try again, stepping fully into the front room.
Nonna is leaning forward, cooing at the parrot, and ignores me. Mom turns, her nostrils flaring.
She’s mad.
“Nonna, do you know you can hear that thing halfway down the street?” I inquire.
“He is-a no thing,” Nonna murmurs. “He is-a Gio!”
Yeah, whatever.
Gio’s wings flap again, and Nonna stands. Two beady, black eyes focus on me, and it’s surprisingly uncomfortable. A high-pitched noise that sounds awfully like a whistle emits from the cage, and I blink harshly.
“Did he just—”
Gio interrupts me with a loud, unmistakable wolf whistle.
Holy shit. The parrot just wolf-whistled at me.

“Dinner’s cold,” I mumble against him.
“Don’t care.” The smile is gone, and there’s nothing but his kiss.
It consumes me. It always does. It’s like a hurricane and a tornado swirling inside me, washing through me like a tsunami. All sugar obsessions aside, I’ve never been truly addicted to anything.
If I had to pick one thing to be addicted to for the rest of my life, it’d be his kiss.
He grabs my thighs and hoists me onto the counter. I scream at the suddenness of the movement, and my hand hits my glass. It goes flying off the counter and lands on the floor with a smash, water and glass shards spreading across the floor.
Drake stills, stares at me for a second, then looks at the mess. His erection is pressing into my thigh, and I can see he’s weighing his options.
Clean or sex?
He wraps his arms around my waist and hauls me onto his shoulder.
Fuck. Holy fuck.
Instead of screaming, I laugh. I have no idea what else I’m supposed to do, really.
“And the mess?” I ask.
“You can clean it up later,” he answers, carrying me upstairs.
“That’s the first time you’ve ever left a mess anywhere.”
Unlike me. He’s the sponge to my dirt.
“What can I say?” He drops me onto his bed and leans over me, his eyes glinting devilishly in the lower light of his bedroom. “I’m stressed the fuck out, and if it’s between cleaning a smashed glass or being inside you, I know which one I’d rather pick.”
Heat coils in my lower stomach, settling into a throbbing ache I feel right through my pussy. I curl my fingers around the collar of his shirt and pull his face down to mine.
“Fine.” I pull his face down to mine. “But if you’re stressed, then we do it my way.”
He can’t say a word as I wrap my legs around his waist and use all of my strength to drag him over onto the bed. He laughs as I land on top of him, grinning, and straddle him.
“All right,” he agrees, sliding his hands up my legs. One stops on my butt, but the other trails all the way up my spine until his fingers are buried deep in my hair. He eases my face down to his and our lips come together easily, finding each other’s without as much as a second thought.
“Right,” I say, sitting up. “Roll over. Massage time.”
Drake stops. His cock is pushing right against my wet pussy through my panties, and I’m certain I’m flushed, but I do my best to keep a straight face. He yanks my dress up and his palm connects with my ass. I half gasp, half scream as he throws me off him, onto my back, and covers my body with his.
His eyes burn hotly, sending desire flooding through my body at lightning speed. His hands find mine, our fingers linking together, and he pins them above my head. I smile coyly, dragging my bottom lip between my teeth.
He says only three words.
“Fuck the massage.”
And fuck the massage he does.
His assault on my mouth is greedy. Every kiss is deeper and harder than the last, and I revel in each one. I didn’t know how much I needed him, how much he needed me, until right this second when the promise of each other is within touching distance.
The way he undresses us both is hurried, every item of clothing being thrown to a heap on the floor. Each touch we share is a blazing inferno that sets sparks flying across my skin, and the desperate way he plays my naked body until he teases my wet pussy with the head of his hard cock is almost cruel yet exciting.
When it gets to be too much, when I can’t take any more, I tilt my hips up.
He pushes inside me in one thrust, every single one of my nerves tingling in delight.
And he shows me exactly what he thinks of my fucking massage.

Twisted Bond (Holly Woods Files, #2):
I’m an Italian-Texan woman in a family full of cops. I’m passionate and shoot before I think. You only f*ck with me if you’re stupid.

Photograph cheating spouses. Hand over the evidence. Cash my check.
That was my plan when I returned home to Holly Woods, Texas, and became a private investigator.
Finding the dead body in my dumpster? Yeah… Given the choice, I think I would have opted out of that little discovery, especially since all three of my brothers are cops. And my Italian grandmother is sure the reason I’m single is because of my job.
Of course, my connection to the victim is entirely coincidental. Until I’m hired by her husband to investigate her murder and shoved bang-smack into the path of Detective Drake Nash.
My nemesis, a persistent pain in my ass, and one hell of a sexy son of a bitch.
Shame he still holds a grudge from that time I shot him in the foot twelve years ago, or we could have something. In another life.
So now all I have to do is avoid my nonna’s blind dates, try not to blackmail my brothers into giving me confidential police files, and absolutely do not point my gun at Drake Nash. Or kiss him. Or jump his bones.
All while I hunt down the killer.
Sounds totally simple—until a second body proves that sometimes things that start as coincidences don’t always end up that way…

(Twisted Bond is book one of the Holly Woods Files series and while it does not end in a cliffhanger, it is not a standalone.)


TANGLED BOND (Holly Woods Files, #2)

One date with the sexier-than-sin Detective Drake Nash. Simple.
Until you take into account that my brother finally proposed to his girlfriend, so Nonna is on a warpath—and the crazy old bat has Cupid by the balls.
The upcoming mayoral elections has everyone running on full speed, and while I couldn’t give any less craps about the corrupt Holly Woods mayor’s office, a dead body in the middle of a campaign speech has me thrown right into the middle of it. The victim is close to the mayor, but all he cares about is minimizing the damage to his campaign, so he hires me to work alongside Drake to close the case as quickly as possible.
Bad news for our tentative relationship.
We disagree far more than we agree, but being at loggerheads won’t get this murder solved… Or deal with the arrival of someone from his past.
The mysteries behind the murder aren’t the only things unraveling, and despite being knee-deep in lies and corruption and bonds so tangled they’re almost indecipherable, I have to figure out if I’m willing to fight for Drake the way I do justice…
Or if he’ll be my one who gets away.


Monday, November 16, 2015

ARC Review: Wicked Edge by Rebecca Zanetti

Wicked Edge 
by Rebecca Zanetti
Book 2 in the Realm Enforcers series

About the Book: 
Daire Dunne is more than ready to take a quick break from his duties as a Coven Nine Enforcer. When he spots a sexy blonde across a Titan’s of Fire party, it’s not long before she’s on the back of his Harley on the fast track to his apartment. Unfortunately, one overheated kiss in, the woman drugs Daire and steals valuable files that can’t fall into enemy hands. The second he comes to, the hunt is on...

Now that Cee Cee has the information to take down an enemy that destroyed her family, she can implement her perfect plan for revenge. Nothing will stop her, not even a shockingly sexy enforcer barging into her life. Not even the spectacular, fire-branding sex engulfing them. But if Daire ever figures out who her family really is, all bets are off...

One of my favorite storylines is when an attractive, petite woman is underestimated and shocks the people around her with her smarts and kick-ass skills.  Yea, I get a lot of satisfaction in that.  

Cee Cee has tricked Enforcer Daire Dunn out of information.  With her delicate, feminine looks, she catches his attention and drugs him for the data.  She wants to find the people who are mining planekite, the mineral from which lethal weapons are being made.  Daire catches up with her and manages to insinuate himself into her plans.  Also, he proves that the spark between them originally is not manipulated but real. 

I really like Daire Dunn’s character.  He is a bit of a curmudgeon that needs to be coaxed into love. I enjoy his reluctance and ultimately, his surrender.    I also like that Cee Cee is an enigma throughout the book.  First, she is a spy seducing Daire out of information, then another layer comes off when she reveals what she is. Finally, there is another little revelation when she discloses who she is. 

This book is filled with action and adventure including a visit to the northern tundra and a gruesome attack from polar bears.  It is a race to get information and stop the planekite exportation. If the planekite continues to be mined the paranormal creatures with be in peril.  The villain has a personal vendetta against Cee Cee that gives him extra motivation to bring her to heel. There are a lot of details and cross over information from the Dark Protectors story.  Having not read that series, there are times where the story gets a little confusing without that connection.  I’d still say this is a standalone book, but I think it would be measurably more satisfying if I had read the previous series. 

This particular book has even less to do with the MC world than the previous one.  It’s not so much an MC book as it is a PNR with characters riding motorcycles.  But still, it is a adventurous read. 

Book Excerpt Tour: IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES By Paige Tyler

In the Company of Wolves 
by Paige Tyler                             
Book #3, SWAT series
December 1st, 2015
ISBN: 9781492608530

He opened his mouth to order her to drop the MP5 she had aimed at him, but nothing would come out. It was like she’d robbed him of the ability to speak. Shooting her wasn’t an option, though. And the idea of arresting her didn’t make him feel any better.

There's a new gang of criminals in town who are organized and ruthless in the extreme. When Eric Becker, along with the rest of the Dallas SWAT team, ends up in the middle of a shootout, he immediately senses werewolves-a lot of them. Turns out, the new bad guys are a pack of wolf shifters.

In a spray of gunfire, Becker comes face-to-face with the most gorgeous woman he's ever seen. Becker does the logical thing. He hides her and leaves the scene with the rest of his team.

Jayna Winston has no idea why that SWAT guy helped her, but she's glad he did. Ever since she and her pack mates got mixed up with those Eastern European mobsters, everything had pretty much fallen apart.

So what's a street-savvy thief like Jayna going to do with a hot alpha-male wolf who's a police officer?

This December, Paige Tyler releases the third in her action-packed SWAT series, IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. To celebrate, we have the first 5 chapters of IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES to share with you! Just click here to download the first 5 chapters for FREE!

To get you started, we’ve included the first few pages below. Can’t get enough of SWAT? Sign up for Paige Tyler’s newsletter to receive an exclusive bonus scene on November 23rd.

Happy Reading!


East Side Detroit, September, 2010

Jayna Winston flinched at the sound of the door slamming against the cheap plaster wall of the apartment’s tiny entryway. Crap. Her stepdad was drunk again. No surprise there. These days, Darren came home drunk almost every night. He was supposed to be looking for work, but unless there was a job hiding under a bar stool down at Hoolie’s, he wasn’t likely to find one anytime soon.

She glanced at her partially opened bedroom window that exited out onto the fire escape. Maybe she should bail and see if she could crash at a friend’s for the night. She didn’t like the idea of walking the streets of Detroit’s East Side this late, but she really wasn’t in the mood to listen to Darren and her mom get in another fight over money and his drinking habits. Darren was a mean drunk, and when her mom started screaming at him about wasting what little money they had, things usually got ugly fast.

Not that her mom was any kind of saint when it came to saving money. The reason she got so pissed about Darren blowing through all the cash was because it hardly left her any to spend on her own vices—lottery tickets with a little crystal meth on the side.

Jayna scrambled off the bed and started for the window but then hesitated. Darren got pissed when she used the fire escape to leave their third-floor apartment. He said it made her look like a dirty hoodlum, sliding down the ladder like that. Not that she cared what people around here thought, but the last time he’d caught her slipping out the window, he’d thrashed her with his belt right out on the street while the neighbors watched.

She was still weighing the odds when she heard Darren swear, immediately followed by her mom’s voice, roughened by a lifetime of smoking unfiltered cigarettes, cussing right back at him.

“Don’t turn your face away from me, you stupid bitch!” Darren’s deep voice was so heavily slurred, it would have been impossible to understand if she didn’t have so much experience at interpreting his drunken rants. “You think you’re too good for me or something? You’re nothing but a meth whore. Get over here!”

“Double crap,” Jayna muttered as she headed for the window.

She was getting the hell out of there. Darren wasn’t only violent when he was drunk; sometimes he was horny too, and now seemed like one of those times. Her stepdad never had a problem smacking her around whenever he felt she deserved it—which was frequently—but he’d never tried anything else. Since she’d turned seventeen a couple weeks ago, he’d started looking at her in a way that made her feel really queasy. Jayna knew that sooner or later, he was going to come sniffing around her. She wasn’t going to hang around and give him a chance to do it tonight.

She was yanking on the window, which got stuck more often than not, when a loud thud resonated from the living room, immediately followed by a sharp cry of pain. She hesitated, but not for long. She’d tried to come to her mom’s defense a few months ago, putting herself in front of Darren and rocking his head back with a slap across his face, only to end up getting hit on the head with a heavy glass ashtray by her mom, who then shouted at Jayna for touching “her man.”

Jayna didn’t think of herself as all that smart—she was barely making it in school—but there were some lessons she only had to learn once. That night had been the last time she ever tried to get between her mom and Darren. Her mom wanted him; she could keep him.

Ignoring the sobbing outside her bedroom door, Jayna tugged on the window again. It broke loose without a sound, and she already had one leg halfway over the sill before she remembered her cell phone.


She pulled her leg back in and darted for her dresser, where her old, battered Nokia was charging. She hated wasting time getting the thing. It had crappy service most of the time anyway. But if she was going to find a place to crash tonight, she’d need her cell. It wasn’t like she’d find a working pay phone around this part of town.

Jayna was shoving the phone in her jeans back pocket when her bedroom door flew open so violently the knob smashed a hole in the wall and sent a cloud of white dust flying. She took one look at Darren’s pissed-off expression and ran for the window as fast as she could. Angry might have been his default expression, but this was different. This time, he looked…hungry.

She didn’t make it far before a heavy hand caught her shoulder. Darren spun her around and gave her a shove, bouncing her off the cheap mirror attached to the wall beside the window. Her right elbow and forearm absorbed most of the impact, hitting the mirror hard enough to shatter it. Something shattered in her arm too, and the stab of pain that shot through it was enough to make tears spring to her eyes.

But she didn’t cry. She’d found out a while ago that crying only made it worse. Darren liked to hear women cry.

Gritting her teeth against the pain, Jayna glared at the piece of crap her mom had brought into their lives. “What do you want?”

Darren eyed her from under heavy lids. “I want you to start pulling your weight around here, girl, that’s what I want.”

Her heart pounded as he moved closer, and she knew this had nothing to do with her cleaning the toilet or taking out the trash. Darren had wanted something else from her for a while, and tonight, he was apparently drunk enough to try to take it. That was never going to happen. She’d die first.

She edged closer to the window. “Stay the hell away from me, you pig!”

If she could get a lead on him, she could get out the window and onto the fire escape. He’d never catch her once she got outside. She was too fast, and he was too clumsy.

But he closed the distance between them faster than she’d ever seen him move, making her wonder just how drunk he really was. Before she could even take a breath to scream, he had his big hand around her throat and was shoving her against the wall. The back of her head bounced off the edge of the mirror frame, and she felt shards of loose glass dig into her back at the same time stars exploded in her vision.

Jayna was still fighting off a creeping wave of blackness when his lips came down on hers and he forced his tongue into her mouth. He tasted of cheap beer and cigarettes, and she bit down hard, jerking away. He bellowed like an angry bear and backhanded her. She fell over the broken remains of her mirror in a heap, pieces of the razor-sharp glass stabbing into her in a dozen different places.

She cried out, kicking at him with her tennis shoes as Darren roughly flipped her over on her back. He ignored her feeble kicks the same way he ignored her wild punches. She screamed then, as loud as she could—not because she thought someone might come to help, but simply because she wasn’t going to let this happen without a fight.

Jayna fought with everything she had, but he was so much stronger than she was. On top of that, her right arm throbbed like hell. It was all she could do to lift it. Worse, the more weight Darren piled on top of her, the deeper the shards of glass from the broken mirror dug into her back.

Crap. Why hadn’t she thought of it before?

Ignoring the pain in her injured arm, she searched blindly on the floor for a piece of mirror she could use as a weapon. Her fingers closed around one, and she cried out as the sharp glass sliced into her hand. But the feel of her belt coming undone drove the sting away, and she swung her hand up, stabbing at anything she could reach.

Darren was so drunk and enraged, he didn’t realize what was happening until she’d slashed his face so hard, the glass crunched under her hand. Blood poured down his face and he bellowed like a wounded animal. But instead of throwing himself off her like she’d hoped, he brought back his fist to punch her.

Knowing a blow like that would end her fight, Jayna tightened her fingers around the piece of mirror and swung at the most vulnerable area she could reach—his neck. The long, jagged piece of glass only stopped when the part she’d been holding broke off in her grasp. The rest was buried in the right side of Darren’s fat neck four inches deep.

He let her go and reached for his neck. Jayna twisted sideways, kicking him in the chest, then crawled out from under him and scrambled to her feet. She staggered toward the window, stumbling when she heard Darren behind her. Oh God, he was still coming!

She grabbed the porcelain Wonder Woman lamp that had been sitting on her nightstand since her real dad had given it to her fifth birthday, spun around, and smashed Darren over the head. The lamp shattered, and Darren slumped to the floor with the pieces.

Jayna looked around. There was a lot of blood on the floor, both hers and Darren’s. But she was still standing, and he wasn’t.

A sound from the doorway startled her out of her daze, and she lifted her head to see her mom standing staring at her in horror.

“What did you do?” her mother demanded, running to Darren’s side and kneeling down beside him.

Jayna didn’t try to explain. Her mom wouldn’t listen or care. Darren was still breathing, but Jayna had no idea if he was going to stay that way. The cops might believe she’d been defending herself, or they might not. She’d never had much faith in cops. They weren’t interested in helping people like her.

This wasn’t something she could get out of by spending the night at a friend’s house either. She had to get away from there.

Jayna stepped around her mom, who was still blubbering and fussing over the unconscious Darren, and grabbed the charger for her phone. Then she scooped up the small amount of money she had in her sock drawer and headed for the window. Her mom didn’t even say anything to her as she climbed out.

Jayna stood on the fire escape, afraid she’d take a header down the steps if she didn’t. But she felt surprisingly steady considering what had just happened. Her hand was barely bleeding and her arm didn’t hurt nearly as bad as before.

Maybe it was shock, she mused as she climbed down the fire escape. Or maybe she was simply a whole hell of lot tougher than she ever thought she could be.

“Damn right you’re tough,” she muttered, almost believing it as the pain in her arm and hand receded a little more with each step. “You don’t need anyone to make it on your own.”