S.A. McAuley

Guest Post and Exclusive Excerpt: The Borders War Series by S.A. McAuley

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Have you ever read a book and thought, Wow! This would be really great if only [insert MAJOR PLOT-SHIFTING idea here].

Well, that was me—except this time, it was my own book I wanted to change.

When I wrote the first edition of One Breath, One Bullet I knew exactly how and where Merq and Armise would eventually end up, but I didn’t officially have plans to turn it into a series. After a discussion with my editor and publisher, we collectively decided to pursue the full five book Border War series. But One Breath, One Bullet was already well on its way to being finalized. So we went ahead with publication of the first book. I wrote the second book—Dominant Predator—and it was published too. Then as I began to write the third book—Powerless—I realized exactly what I should’ve done different in the first book to make the entire series flow better.

Hindsight is a vindictive asshat.

Writing a series was a new endeavor for me at the time. I learned a lot in the year between the first book and the third. I started making lists of all the things I’d change if I ever got the chance. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to wait long. That opportunity came when Pride Publishing was created as a sister company to Totally Bound. Immediately we started talking about doing re-issues of The Borders War series.

I channeled my inner infomercial host, gleefully categorizing all the improvements I could make on these *Bigger! Better! And more efficient!* versions.

The edition of One Breath, One Bullet that releases on January 5, 2016 is a completely different book. It’s gone from 30,000 words to 50,000 words (*now with 60% more violence and enemies to lovers action!*), the flashbacks have been removed in favor of a continual timeline (*that’s right, no more mess and inconvenience!*), and you finally get to hear a bit of what Armise has to say (*warning: this product may have unintended consequences if used against manufacturer’s recommendations*).

If you haven’t read any of The Borders War books, now is a great time to start. As an author, I’m really happy with how the series overall has turned out. More importantly, as a fellow reader who goes way over budget on books, I’m ecstatic to share that Pride Publishing is offering One Breath, One Bullet for FREE and Dominant Predator for 99 cents from now until the end of January. (*Yes, that’s right! Order now and we’ll throw the first book in for free!*)

Even if you’ve already read the first book, read the new version of One Breath, One Bullet. It’s free, get it. Please. I can’t be any clearer on that without giving away major spoilers.

(*ahem*)

Anyway…

What hasn’t changed in the reissues of the first three books is Merq and Armise’s inescapable draw to each other despite being enemies. Or that the world around them is falling apart. Or that they’re going to have to fight through a whole hell of a lot to begin to get a glimpse of the HEA that may or may not be in their future.

The Borders War series is violent. It’s dark. It takes place in a brutal time—five hundred years in the future—that is inhabited by some coldhearted people.

But above all that desolation, there is the hope Merq and Armise carry for their lives to mean something. For each other.

Their story starts with the release of One Breath, One Bullet and Dominant Predator on January 5, continues in Powerless (out January 12) and will end when the last two books of the series—Falling, One by One and Strength of the Rising Sun—go live on January 19 and 26.

(*Don’t hesitate! Act now!*)

A massive thank you to all the readers who’ve stuck with me through the years it’s taken to get to this point.

I can’t wait to share the rest of their journey with you.

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onebreathonebullet_revamp_exlarge_PNG-180x288Blurb – One Breath, One Bullet (The Borders War #1)Face to face, and rifle to rifle. The time and location change, but never the circumstance. Merq Grayson and Armise Darcan are enemies. And neither will be considered successful until the other is dead.

It is the year 2558. A mere decade has passed since the signing of the treaty which ended the three hundred year long Borders War. In the midst of an uneasy peace, the world gathers for the first Olympic games since the war began.

The Rifle competition showcases the very soldiers who fought in the war, pitting former enemies against one another again. Continental States Peacemaker Merq Grayson will once again battle the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore, Armise Darcan, this time under the flag of their own uneasy truce. The relationship between Merq and Armise is one of violence, secrecy, and a growing intimacy that could have them both branded as traitors.

But there is more at stake than pride or medals in these games. And neither Merq nor Armise may be able to make it out alive before the fires of revolution are set ablaze again.

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of violence.

Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been released under the same title. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.

General Release Date: 5th January 2016

Reserve your free copy at Pride Publishing

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dominantpredatort_revamp_exlarge_PNG-180x288Blurb – Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2)A relationship is the least of Merq and Armise’s concerns…

With one bullet Merq Grayson set the wealthiest citizens of the world on a collision course with the poorest—with those fighting for their freedom. As the Borders War reignites, the Revolution faces heavy losses. They scramble to maintain their advantage, to strike at the Opposition and crumble their power structure before they are able to rally.

But Merq is in the midst of an internal battle that shakes him to the core. For the first time in his life Merq will have to reconcile the inherent tragedy of war and decide just how much vengeance can be justified by spilt blood. How much can he trust the men and women around him? The President, Neveed, his former soldiers, his parents…and Armise.

Merq and Armise find themselves off grid and on the hunt for Committee members. Merq is just as unsettled with Armise at his side as he was with Armise as an enemy, but they will have to learn how to fight together—or they may just die together.

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of violence.

Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been released under the same title. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.

General Release Date: 5th January 2016

Pre-order your copy at Pride Publishing

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powerless_revamp_exlarge_PNG-180x288Blurb – Powerless (The Borders War #3)He was built to be invincible.

Merq and Armise return to the States after their mission to assassinate the remaining Committee members only to find the leadership of the Revolution isn’t as stable as they had thought.

Outside forces come crashing down on a Revolution stronghold, leaving two of their soldiers gravely wounded. Merq’s history with his brothers in arms Simion and Neveed forces him into making decisions that will impact his future with the Revolution.

Merq has always identified as a soldier first. Always known who deserved his loyalty and who didn’t. But with the uncertainty surrounding the leadership of the Revolution, the mysterious disappearance of the jacquerie and increased activity with the PsychHAgs, Merq knows there are few people he can trust.

The only man Merq wants or needs at his side is Armise Darcan. But his reliance on his former enemy may be a miscalculation that will threaten everything Merq stands for.

Reader Advisory: This book contains reference to genetic experimentation on children.

Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been released under the same title. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Pride Publishing.

General Release Date: 12th January 2016

Pre-order your copy at Pride Publishing

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Falling, One by OneBlurb – Falling, One by One (The Borders War #4)Whether Armise lived or died was never supposed to matter to Merq.

As the fight for the kids of the jacquerie begins and the war between Opposition and Revolution heightens, Merq discovers that he may not have as much control over his actions as he thought he did. Further complicating their tangled relationship, Armise may be just as compromised.

Desperate to learn the truth, Merq and Armise put themselves directly in the path of a powerful enemy. They’ve spent fifteen years of their lives on the knife’s edge of trust and loyalty. What they learn about each other’s pasts—and what it means for their future—will bring them together or definitively tear them apart.

Merq’s life has always been at risk—one bullet away from death in sacrifice of his mission. As his focus begins to shift, Merq may be too late to understand what, and who, is most important in his life.

Reader Advisory: This book contains scenes of graphic violence, forced genetic modification, genetic experimentation, genetic experimentation on children and torture.

General Release Date: 19th January 2016

Pre-order your copy at Pride Publishing

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Strength of the Rising Sun (The Borders War #5)

Blurb coming soon!

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Excerpt – One Breath, One Bullet: “I don’t want your eyes to close. Not even to blink,” Jegs said over the comm.

“Yes, Major,” I replied, with Lark’s and Pax’s affirmative responses following mine.

I shifted my elbow off the rusted nail that was digging into my skin and kept my eye locked to the scope. I was stationed on a hill, my body covered in order to blend in to my surroundings, and not on the top level of a crumbling skyscraper in the American Federation, but otherwise, this setup was eerily similar to the first time I’d encountered Armise.

I couldn’t shake the unease that crawled down my spine as I peered at the building where Armise was supposedly holed up. This entire town, in the virtually unpopulated Western Territories, was long abandoned. Fighting between the States and the AmFed was heavy hundreds of miles away from where we were. But not here. Mostly because there was nothing here to defend. Nothing to protect. There were no other people besides Jegs, Lark and Pax, me and, reportedly, Armise. There was no way the coveted infochip was here. So there was no reason for a Dark Ops soldier to be here at all.

I frowned. “How much longer are we expected to keep this up, Major?”

“Until we kill him.”

“I have to see him to do that.”

She hesitated. “He’ll come out when he has reason to.”

I listened between her words, to what she wasn’t saying. “You know him?”

“I know enough.”

I scowled. “And you don’t think he’s here for the infochip.”

“I know he’s not.”

“Then why—”

Jegs cut me off. “Keep your eyes locked to that building, Grayson. You’ll only have one shot at him, maybe not even that.”

In my peripheral vision a wall of clouds gathered in the distance. Dark brown and rounded. A dust storm frothing on the horizon, gaining in strength as it whipped toward us.

Candlelight flickered in one of the upper rooms but I couldn’t see any other movement. The analysts had told us exactly where Armise would be and he hadn’t changed his location in days since we’d arrived, but none of us could site him in any of the places he should have been. Regardless, I was sure that he was here. Hiding. Watching. Assessing us and our actions for some ulterior motive we weren’t privy to.

I couldn’t see him but I could feel him watching. I didn’t have a name for the bristling of the hairs at the back of my neck. Or the flush of my skin that was like my blood rising to the surface where it felt like his gaze landed on me. Which was ridiculous because it was unlikely he even knew we were here.

But no matter what logically made sense, I couldn’t shake the unrest that crawled through me because of Armise.

I wanted to end this foreign sensation, needed to kill him in order to regain my equilibrium. From the little Jegs had shared with me though, Armise wasn’t the type to hand us that chance. From what I’d witnessed myself in the days we’d been watching him, I knew he wouldn’t be seen until he wanted to be. He was a ghost, setting the shredded curtains into movement but never revealing himself.

I spent hours with my eye glued to that scope, the dust storm barreling forward with each minute that passed. We would have an hour max before it hit us and there would be no chance of seeing my hand in front of my face, let alone keeping sites on the building. My patience threatened to break.

The outside edges of the dust storm kicked up around me, warning me that I had been wrong. We had half an hour, maybe less, before unpredictable air currents would hamper any shot from my rifle. I gritted my teeth. We weren’t accomplishing anything here.

Particles of dust tickled at my nose and eyes, but I held steady even as the wind picked up. I focused on the sway of the abandoned building as it tried to hold against the first onslaught of wind. It was as if the walls were breathing. Waiting and expectant. Just as much as I was.

The Borders War was swiftly approaching three centuries of active fighting, and we were still no closer to resolution than we’d been before it had started. I was set to be the impetus for change—the edges of a front, where warm air met cold and the sky swirled into chaos, emptying a rain onto the world that could wipe away the scars we’d left on this planet and ourselves. Allow us, as a global society, to start new. Rebuilding would take time, as would the reorganization of country borders, solidified down to only five in a mass consolidation of power. How that restructuring happened when the Borders War ended, at what pace, and who ended up in power wasn’t up to me. Strategy wasn’t my strength.

Killing men was.

I was tasked with a much larger end goal than killing one Dark Ops solider. But Armise was a threat. We couldn’t allow Singapore to gain the infochip. Every moment we sat here, waiting for Armise to take action, was another moment where we were being used as bait, or worse, a distraction. I closed my eyes and took in one long breath.

Although I’d been a Peacemaker for less than a year, and she was my senior in rank and age, it wasn’t Major Jegs I was beholden to. Not Brigadier Blanc. The dictatorial President Wensen Kersch of the Continental States couldn’t intimidate me either. I wouldn’t allow one Singaporean shit to tear away at my confidence by the act of doing nothing.

“He’s taunting us.” I sat up, pushing the camouflage off me and exposing my position.

Jegs’ voice went low and dangerous in my ear. “What the fuck are you doing, Captain?”

Before she could finish challenging me, both Lark and Pax had revealed their positions to my north and south.

Lark’s voice crackled over the comm receiver, gone staticky from the approaching storm. “Grayson’s got the right idea. We can’t try to wait him out anymore with that storm heading our way. He’s waiting for us to make a move, let’s do it.”

“I don’t give a shit if he is baiting us,” Pax added. “We have minutes until the dust hits and we’re out of commission for an unknown length of time. We can end this now.”

“Pax, cover Lark,” Jegs ordered. “Grayson, cover both of them.”

Lark slung his sonicrifle over his shoulder and took off running for the door while Pax covered him with shots aimed at that empty, but lit up, top floor window. Lark made it to the front door and I followed Lark’s trajectory through my sites, ready to take a shot if the opportunity came. The door swung open just as Lark went for it, and a man with his mouth, ears and nose covered with cloth, eyes masked by goggles, slammed the door into Lark’s face and sent him hurtling backward from the force. There was no way I could attempt a shot with the wind barreling down on us and the swiftness of Armise’s movements.

I took off at a dead sprint, bringing my sonicrifle up to attempt a shot while I ran. Armise was just as big as I remembered, just as powerful. I couldn’t run fast enough or get the right angle, Armise was already on the move, stomping his heel into Lark’s windpipe, crushing it with his boot and plunging a thick knife into his sternum. He spun, facing Pax, and popped off a shot from his rifle that had Pax slumping to the ground dead.

Jegs’ orders for me to stand down were background to the unceremonious decimation in front of me.

The cloth around Armise’s face had come lose in the whipping wind, and when he faced me there was a maliciousness to his sneer that spoke of certain victory. The satisfied swell of a man who had sent more than his share of souls into darkness but wouldn’t be truly satisfied until he had mine.

He lifted his sonicpistol, put finger to the trigger, and there was hesitation on his part— only half a heartbeat, barely perceptible, but there nonetheless—and the dust storm hit with a ferocity that sent me tumbling to the ground and filled the space between Armise and me with an impenetrable, stinging wall. I wrapped myself up in a ball, pulling my hood over my head and affixing my respirator.

“We ride this out,” Jegs said through my comm. “Try and make it into the building if you can. We’ll recover Lark’s and Pax’s bodies when it’s clear. Darcan is already gone.”

I hadn’t taken out Armise. He’d failed again to kill me and had taken out two of my fellow Peacemakers. I seethed, my pride stinging much more than the dust that abraded my skin. I didn’t care how long it took, I would be the one to end this, with me taking his life.

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S.A. McAuleyAbout S.A. McAuley: I sleep little, read a lot. Happiest in a foreign country. Twitchy when not mentally in motion. My name is Sam, not Sammy, definitely not Samantha. I’m a pretty dark/cynical/jaded person, but I hide that darkness well behind my obsession(s) for shiny objects. I’m the macabre wrapped in irresistible bubble wrap and a glittery pink bow, I suppose.

I have a never-ending-abyss-like secret love for poetry. Especially Rumi, Hafiz, and Neruda. You can predict (as well as change) my moods and my writing schedule by my playlists.

Insomnia is my greatest ally and my nemesis. I like cheese and bourbon—not necessarily in that order, I’m flexible.

If you’re in any fandom, then I’m probably already in love with you. I’m not joking.

I like my tv shows marathoned and I have to use internet blocking software to be productive. I have software called Producteev that I loaded onto my laptop and proceeded to fill out in detail and now I haven’t touched it in a year.

I enjoy normalized chaos.

Hit me up! I love to hear from readers. xx

-Sam

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2.5 Stars, LoveLight Press, Paranormal Romance, Pop Cherry, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Borderline by Pop Cherry

Title: Borderline

Author: Pop Cherry

Publisher: LoveLight Press

Pages/Word Count: 85 Pages

At a Glance: Loose threads and sketchy plot development overshadow this author’s obvious gift for writing a descriptive and vivid narrative.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: When a rogue wolf is dropped to the tiles of Saren Lash’s hall, the alpha Enforcer has no idea how quickly the shifter he intends to break and remold will turn the tables. Can the unyielding Enforcer resist the increasing press of the defiant rogue’s fire and beauty, or will he wind up remaking himself as he attempts to subdue the wild runner?

Nor has no intention of becoming a toy for Tek’s pack, no matter how glacial the Enforcer Lash may be. He’s always lived his life his own way and doesn’t intend to change that now. Can he withstand the Enforcer’s impact on his mind during the remaking process? And if he finds himself growing fond of the Enforcer, can he be sure the idea is actually his own?

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Review: There are a couple of things I learned about new-to-me-author Pop Cherry while I was reading Borderline:

    1.) The author knows how to turn a phrase, and
    2.) The author knows how to create an atmospheric and sensual dystopia.

The feel of this –verse is post-apocalyptic with a dash of supernatural thrown in for good measure. There are shifters, mages, and a variety of magicks woven into the provocative intrigues of the Dark Moon Pack: a rogue wolf on a mission, an Enforcer whose own mission it is to break the captured runner and bring him to heel, and this same Enforcer’s duty to his title. That is, until things become further complicated by a growing sexual bond between Lash and Nor. (As a side note, there are very few named characters in this novella, but learning enough about them to see how their names fit was a nice touch to the reading.)

While the author’s talent for setting the tone of the story and painting a visual of place is never in question, where things went sideways for me while reading Borderline is in the dissemination of clues and cues in the plot. There are things mentioned alongside the core storyline of Lash and Nor’s conflicted emotions that made me feel as if I’d missed out on some key details and elements that I should have already known, which then, after some investigating on my part, made sense as I believe this world has been built within another set of books by this author, though this book isn’t listed as part of that series. Borderline is written as if the reader should already know certain facts and –verse elements, which is not a statement against the author’s ability to tell a story but was, without question, an overall detriment to my connecting in any sort of meaningful way with the world building within this particular novella, the beings that inhabit it, and its politics and hierarchies.

What I do believe is a developmental weakness in the story structure are certain details thrown in in a rather offhanded way, especially with the ring Nor seeks and the faceless Doctor Deveaux, who, it is eventually revealed, is the mastermind behind Nor’s mission and seems to play an overall larger role in the alt. universe—though it’s not yet been revealed how—as well as the faceless Tek, who seems to be the Alpha King of the Dark Moon Pack, though I’m not sure that’s the correct term since his role is hinted at but never specified. These elements, I’m assuming, will be more fully fleshed out as the series moves along.

Because of the loose threads that were never quite tied together in a meaningful way, what we’re left with in this novella is the growing connection between Lash and Nor, which is achieved through their immediate lust for each other and the desire to own and be owned. While it’s all sensual to the extreme, it doesn’t leave much to sink one’s proverbial teeth into, so if you’re looking for erotica written by an author who uses descriptive language and the metaphor to its best advantage in setting scenes, then Borderline may work better for you than it did me.

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You can buy Borderline here:

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3.5 Stars, Dreamspinner Press, Grace R. Duncan, Reviewed by Taz, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy

Review: Healing by Grace R. Duncan

Title: Healing (Pandemus Chronicles: Book Two)

Author: Grace R. Duncan

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Pages/Word Count: 75 Pages

At a Glance: An enjoyable read that I’d recommend if you’re sitting by the pool watching the kids or killing some time.

Reviewed By: Taz

Blurb: When Duncan stumbles into a pharmacy in search of something to fix his broken leg, he’s surprised to find someone else there. Like the rest of the post-pandemic world, it appeared empty. Instead, he discovers Mark, a former nurse who walked away from his profession after losing too many patients to the virus. Despite swearing he’d never practice medicine again, Mark patches Duncan up over Duncan’s protests. He even finds an abandoned house in the tiny town, and they settle in until Duncan heals enough to look out for himself. Much to the chagrin of both, they find themselves caring for each other.

Duncan welcomes it, thrilled at finding someone he can trust. However, he’s well aware of the shadows in Mark’s eyes and understands Mark’s reticence as he learns the story. But as he’s starting to do things for himself again, Duncan realizes he doesn’t want Mark to leave. He’s not sure if can get Mark to let go of his fears so they can stay together and love. But Duncan’s damned sure going to try.

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Review: I’m a pretty big fan of pandemic, post-apocalyptic, rebuilding life type stories. There’s something so powerful and heroic about the main characters who, despite the odds, managed to survive. Like they’re super human or something. So when I read the blurb for this book, I was pretty excited to see how the author would handle the genre.

Grace R. Duncan handled the story well. The characters had distinct personalities which complemented one another. Through description of the setting, the world became clear and added an element of isolation to the story. The way each man harbored their feelings, fearing that allowing them out would push the other away, helped to keep the tension high. And the fears were believable. In a world where most of the human race has perished, trusting that you won’t continue to lose the people you love is a very believable fear.

While the book was enjoyable, something I was able to read quickly without putting it aside and then coming back to it, there were elements to the story which left me wanting for more. This is the risk of writing shorter stories. There’s never enough space to fully develop the emotions and relationships when the word count is lower.

In this case, there were two key points where the length of the story impacted my response to it: One was when the two men met and had a discussion about why one helped the other in a world where suspicion runs high and people are out for themselves. The other was the pacing of the connection…a bit too fast for my taste.

All in all, an enjoyable read that I’d recommend if you’re sitting by the pool watching the kids or killing some time.

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You can buy Healing here:

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LoveLight Press, Pop Cherry

Guest Post and Excerpt: The LoveLight Press Launch Tour With Pop Cherry

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Lost in the Borderlands

A Traveler’s Guide (From the forthcoming DMP Guidebook ©Pop Cherry2015)

If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what happened after you sat down in that swivel chair at your local tat shop as a happily buzzing drill delivered the first line of ink to your skin. I’m willing to bet you thought the shiny new tribal design your tattooist talked you into was just a configuration of swanky lines that don’t mean anything at all in the grand scheme of things.

You probably figured the ink he used wasn’t at all enchanted in any way, and wouldn’t alter your electromagnetic vibrational matrix then deliver you to a chasm in the planet that you’d have to fight like hell to get out of? It’s not like Magick exists, right? Shifters and necromancers and genetic-altered hybrids like Noxics are just a product of some overworked writer’s imagination. It’s not like there’s a real way to get stuck in the acid-torn world they’re all a part of, is there?

If I might ask, did you by any chance read the last line on the waiver your not-so-trusty tattooist made you sign?

I’m betting you didn’t.

You should have.

Magick does exist, and that overworked writer who penned the tales of the Borderlands? She works for a secret branch of interdimensionalists tracking the wily Dr. Deveaux. Look, don’t be alarmed. We can get you out of this bind, but we’re going to need you to do a few things for us while you’re there. Yes we. We’ll get to all the “who we are” and why we’re helping you once you make it to the Night Train.

Here’s what you’ll need to stick into your memory slots while you navigate your way to said Night Train. You’ll hear some things about that particular rail, but there’s a hidden room in there that will get you out of the acid-torn borderlands if you know where to look (see the attached map if it hasn’t been confiscated, destroyed, or stolen by the wrong sorts…).

Before you get there, get the following through your disoriented head (the confusion of the trip will wear off in an hour or so, hold tight):

Beware the Nymphs 

Nymphs sound like cute, fuzzy waifs, scantily clad and nice to look at. Maybe even glittering with sparkling glitter and waving a magical wand, yeah? Not in the Borderlands, okay? Remember that. They’re an infusing species. That means, like Noxics (we’ll get to that), they can and will make you into one of them. And while sex and rock ‘n’ roll are fun for the first few thousand years, we’re willing to bet it gets old after awhile. Steer clear.

Sometimes The Necromancers Are Your Friends 

Necs catch a very bad rap, but there’s not a lot to be done about that while the ruling magicians need a scapegoat, so… don’t get caught being “too” friendly with them, or their enemies will probably become your enemies. As you might guess, their enemies are some of the worst. Incidentally, necromancers are usually all-around good people with a healthy does of reverence for the ancestors and those who’ve passed on.

The Noxics Are Always Recruiting

They’re fast, there’s no official cure or immunization for the infection, or any developed, magical death blow, yet. Pack potions. Study your magic guide. If you see them, run. But if you can hide, make it a good spot so you aren’t forced to join their gangly, menacing crew.

The Magicians In The Tower Probably Won’t Help You 

These jokers will give you the run around, unless you come from a prestigious magical family or have some sort of genius-level skill they can exploit. Simply put: They’re not your friends. Don’t let them get in your head. DO raid the conference rooms if you wind up visiting the tower. Lots of goodies in there, and they don’t keep inventory on that sector.

Collect As Many Magically Charged Items As You Can 

Magic is hard on the Border, so most magicians store it in trinkets. The one who collects the most items, may not “win,” but he or she will have a leg to stand on in the trading boothes, and needed protections if troubles comes sniffing around – and no one robs them of their goods.

Read Dr.Deveaux’s Contracts Carefully

And then, don’t sign them. You might not realize it, but he’s part of the reason you’re in this bind in the first place (more on that later)..

For further guidance, take it from a rogue wolf and an Enforcer who have tons of experience in the Borders (their account’s been “fictionalized” to protect the innocent in ‘BorderLine’, but all the juicy bits and cautionary notes await): http://DarkMoonPack.tumblr.com/

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DMP-Borderline-LgTxtBlurb: In an acid-torn world, the plight of one rogue wolf surviving on the resources he gathers on runs across perilous, rover-infested borders is to live another day and find the ring the deranged Dr. Deveaux has promised a life-altering payment for. Getting caught by the Enforcer’s cronies does not fall into the plans, nor does the betrayal of his own heart as he finds himself pining for the severe Alpha, when he’s put through the remaking process all rogues who’ve left their packs are subjected to.

Now made to identify as the Enforcer’s “Little Wolf,” can Nor finish the job while he’s locked in the compound? Does he even want to? And how does he contend with the feelings Saren Lash stirs in him, when he’s not even sure the region’s commander feels them, too?

An intensely steamy, paranormal, bdsm m/m romance set in the borders of a post-apocalyptic world struggling for hope.

Buy Links: LoveLight Press | Amazon US

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Even love can undo a breaker of men.

When a rogue wolf is dropped to the tiles of Saren Lash’s hall, the alpha Enforcer has no idea how quickly the shifter he intends to break and remold will turn the tables. Can the unyielding Enforcer resist the increasing press of the defiant rogue’s fire and beauty, or will he wind up remaking himself as he attempts to subdue the wild runner?

Nor has no intention of becoming a toy for Tek’s pack, no matter how glacial the Enforcer Lash may be. He’s always lived his life his own way and refuses to change that now. Can he withstand the Enforcer’s impact on his mind during the remaking process? And if he finds himself growing fond of the Enforcer, can he be sure the idea is actually his own?

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Excerpt: This would be the first breaking that I secretly feared might break me, as well. I’d never wanted to keep any of the others like I wanted to possess him. If Tek sent part of the pack to come collect him, I knew in my heart that I would stall and do everything in my power to distract from the request.

Such was a forbidden drive for an enforcer.

Completely off of protocol.

Maybe even… unjust. I knew the laws and the purposes for them better than most. Haunted as I was by this sweet rogue’s beauty, I could send him to another hall, another enforcer. Someone who could be trusted to break him properly, so he could be remade and reincorporated into his pack.

Yet, my gaze poured over him like one who’d already been drawn into the binds of a lover.

I found him elegant in his discomfort. Supple and prone. A beautiful nymph of a man.

It spurned me on to make full use of him.

My cock grew uncomfortably tight beneath my robes as I observed him.

“Lower his ties.”

My voice held the steel it was meant to. That was the way of all Enforcers, delegating what was to be done from a firm, seemingly unmovable seat. But, oh, how this man moved me, despite what I was ordered to do to him in obeisance with the law.

The attendants lowered the binds and reaffixed them, quickly stepping away from us, their eyes avoiding me like they clearly read my intentions. I would not waste time wondering whether or not they approved.

I never did.

They had no vote in the matter.

“On your knees, Little Wolf.”

My command was sudden, but Nor obeyed, his gait near-faltering as his knees touched to the hard surface of the exhibition room tiles. He lifted his eyes to me then, and I was instantly lost in them, my balls swollen with desire.

Could he see how he affected me?

I hoped not. I did not know if I would ever be ready for that. Drawing myself up, I recalled the old dictum: Mastery over discomfort.

Especially by the hand who doles it out so consistently.

I realized the ridiculousness of it, the irony of being reduced to this feeling of uncertainty by a mere rogue, a young, foolish wolf, at that.

“Take your prize, Little Wolf.”

I watched his eyes darken hearing my command, understanding my meaning in the instant. His prize, indeed. Leaning in to gently part my robes with an almost instinctual reverence, Nor parted his lush lips in obeisance and flicked my cock with his tongue, wet and soft as it grazed my length, searching at first until finally offering full supplication.

I bit back a hiss when his fevered lips surrounded the crown of my shaft, the sweet heaven of his tongue inching over my length in slow measurement until his mouth closed around me with a masterful draw that I swore made the world disappear from around us.

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Author BioAbout the Author: Pop Cherry is a lover of paranormal adventures, magical heroes, and unusual creatures. The ‘Dark Moon Pack: Borderline’ series releasing through LoveLight press slow simmers these elements and draws you into a world of intrigue, apocalyptic power plays, and very special, lost ties that completely redefine its heroes in deeply challenging ways.

Pop Cherry’s unisex (m/m, m/m/f, m/f/m, and m/f) erotic romance books contain very steamy, and sometimes heavily erotic romance content woven into adrenalin-spiking plotlines that focus on adventure, danger, and the triumph that carries its heroes and heroines through it all to the heart-throbbing HEA at each story’s end.

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Giveaways, Keira Andrews, Self-Published

Guest Post and Giveaway: The Kick at the Darkness Blog Tour With Keira Andrews

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The Novel Approach welcomes author Keira Andrews today on her Kick at the Darkness blog tour. Enjoy her guest post, then be sure to click on the Rafflecopter widget below for the chance to win an e-copy of a book from her backlist.

Good luck!

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I’ve always been a huge fan of “hate to love,” the trope wherein the main characters in a romance start off as enemies, or at least not on the best of terms. There are few things more satisfying to me than seeing two people who initially don’t like each other ending up madly in love.

Of course my favorite hate-to-love relationship has to be Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. It makes me swoon every single time — especially when Colin Firth is involved! The movie version of Bridget Jones’s Diary is also high on my list for obvious reasons.

I recently read Harper Fox’s Brothers of the Wild North Sea, which was such a satisfying tale of hate to love. What’s your favorite? I’d love some suggestions!

In my new book, Kick at the Darkness, a terrifying virus is unleashed on humanity, turning normal people into killers. While not technically undead, they are zombies in spirit. My heroes, college student Parker, and the TA he can’t stand, Adam, are thrust together when life as they know it goes to hell in a handbasket…

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Blurb: To live through the zombie apocalypse they have to survive each other first.

College freshman Parker Osborne is having the worst day ever. He humiliated himself trying to pick up a cute guy, he hasn’t made any friends at school, and his stupidly hot jerk of a TA gave him a crappy grade on his paper. He’s going to drop Adam Hawkins’ film class and start fresh tomorrow after he’s had a good sulk.

But Parker’s about to find out what a bad day really looks like—if he can survive the night.

A virus is unleashed, transforming infected people into zombie-like killers. After these quick and deadly creepers swarm campus, Parker only escapes thanks to Adam swooping him onto the back of his trusty motorcycle. Now they’re on the run—and stuck with each other.

When they’re not bickering, they’re fighting off the infected in a bloody battle for survival. Their only hope is to head east to Parker’s family, but orphaned Adam has a secret he’s not sure Parker will accept: he’s a werewolf. Can they trust each other enough to find some light in these dark days?

Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance eBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | Scribd | Smashwords

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Excerpt:  It all started falling apart in Film Noir from Bogart to Mulholland Drive.

C-minus?” Parker blinked at the grade, stark and circled in red pen on the front of his paper. His stomach churned. This had to be some kind of mistake. Another student nudged him with her elbow, giving him a look until he backed away from the professor’s desk so the others could find their assignments in the pile. Scrolling through her phone, the middle-aged professor stood by the blackboard, which stretched across the front of the lecture hall. Squaring his shoulders, Parker approached.

“Um, excuse me?”

Professor Grindle glanced up. “Yes? Did you have a question?”

Parker thrust the paper toward her, the red cursive on it a damning indictment. He lowered his voice. “I got a C-minus.”

She skimmed over the three pages. “Did you read the comments from the TA? I think there are some excellent points you can keep in mind next time. More analysis and less plot summary, for a start. There’s another assignment this month. Don’t worry—you’ll get the hang of it…” She glanced at the paper. “Parker.”

Even though he knew there was no way she could remember all the names of new students, humiliation flashed through him. He’d almost been valedictorian at Westley Prep, but at Stanford he was no one.

She went on. “I’m sure Adam will be happy to help. Do you have his office hours? They’re on the front of the syllabus. He should be there this afternoon.”

“Look, I don’t…I’m a straight-A student. There must be some kind of mistake.”

The rest of the class was gone, and she scooped up the few remaining papers from the desk. “Why don’t you talk to Adam, and if you’re still unhappy, I’ll look it over for you. I’m sorry. I have to get to my next lecture.” Her shoes tap-tap-tapped as she strode out.

Parker shoved the offending assignment into his messenger bag, wishing he could burn it. Outside, he blinked at the sun and plopped down on the steps of the building, pulling out his phone. He quickly tapped out a message to Jason, his best friend at Westley.

Got a C-minus in a stupid movie class that was supposed to be easy. This is going to screw my GPA! I’m freaking out.

Jiggling his foot, he waited for Jason to reply, watching for the three little dots to appear. And waited.

And waited.

Then he sent the same message to Jessica, who’d lived three doors down from him in Cambridge their whole lives. He waited again. He was tempted to call Eric in London, but his brother would be way too busy to talk to him about a stupid little college paper, and it was probably dinner time anyway. Although Eric would likely still be at work, trading stocks with the American markets.

Parker stared at his phone as if he could will a text from one of his friends to appear. It was ridiculous. He was being ridiculous. But the wave of loneliness was undeniable, and his breath stuttered. He’d been so excited to come to Stanford and strike out on his own, but it hadn’t been at all what he’d expected.

He watched groups of people laughing and talking on the lawn. Other students rushed by him on the steps, and Parker wondered if they’d made friends. He sat there with his C-minus, and felt utterly, pathetically alone. Jesus Christ. Don’t start crying, you loser.

Jason and Jessica were busy at Penn State and NYU. Before college they’d often spent hours texting each other, and it had rarely taken more than a minute for a response. But in the month since school had started, he’d barely heard from them. Jason was rushing a frat, and Jessica seemed to have a non-stop schedule of classes and partying.

After what felt like an eternity, his phone buzzed, and Parker’s heart leapt.

Dude, you need to unclench. You’ll be fine. It’s not a big deal. School just started.

Parker sighed. Jason had never cared much for academics, much to his parents’ chagrin. He would never understand how big a deal it was that Parker had a C-minus. In a movie class he’d only taken for the allegedly easy grade.

Jason texted again:

Go get laid. There have got to be plenty of hot guys at Stanford. Later, dude.

There was no word from Jessica, and Parker tapped out a text to Jason:

Yeah, you’re right. Thx. Later.

Jason was right—he needed to get laid. Parker admittedly hadn’t really tried, but he was already overwhelmed with homework. He had no idea how his friends were going out so much when he needed to spend every spare hour studying to keep up. School had always come easily to him, but college felt like being tossed out of the wading pool and into the deep end.

Still though, he should make an effort to meet someone. Maybe he needed to check out Grindr or one of those gay hookup apps and put up his picture. Yes, that would be more productive than feeling sorry for himself. He tapped his camera to face him and ran a hand through his short hair.

It was dirty blond, not the golden color his brother had been blessed with. Parker had bleached it once at Jessica’s insistence, but he’d felt incredibly stupid, like he was trying to be in a boy band, or was a big Draco Malfoy fanboy. Either way, it wasn’t a good look. So he didn’t mind his hair, but wished his eyes were something other than ordinary brown. Jess had suggested blue contacts, but he’d put his foot down.

Parker took a selfie, forcing a smile. His wide mouth was decent—his lips could have been a little thicker, but they were nice and red without looking like he wore lipstick. A good cocksucking mouth if he did say so himself. His teeth were white and straight thanks to a small fortune in orthodontics when he was a kid, and his nose was small and inoffensive. He took a few more pics, but hesitated when he went to download Grindr in the app store.

What if no one wants to date me? Or even fuck me?

He thought he was cute enough, but what if no one else did? There were a ton of hot guys at Stanford. What if he put up his picture and there were only crickets in return? It hadn’t even happened yet, and already the promise of humiliation churned his stomach. He slipped his phone away. He’d download the app later.

Parker sighed. Ugh, he had to go deal with this bullshit grade. His throat was scratchy, and he guzzled a bottle of water on his way to the building nearby where the TA for the movie class had his office. With every step, the failure seemed to seep into him another inch, and with it mortification and a growing resentment. It wasn’t fair. He had math and statistics pre-reqs for his economics major to worry about—this dumb elective wasn’t supposed to be actual work.

I suck. I should have worked harder. What will Dad say if he finds out?

He climbed up to the office level at the top of the four-story building and scanned the nameplates beside each door. His sneakers squeaked on the floor, and it felt preternaturally quiet. At the end of the hall, Parker found the name he was looking for, written on a piece of folded paper and fitted into the nameplate slot.

Adam Hawkins: Film and Media Studies

Parker scoffed to himself. Film and Media Studies. It wasn’t like it was a real academic discipline. This Adam Hawkins was likely a pretentious douchebag who wore black turtlenecks and horn-rimmed glasses. He probably drank tea and had a minor in existential philosophy. He—

The door opened. “Oh, hello. Can I help you?”

His throat gone completely dry, Parker could only croak. “Uh…”

Adam Hawkins did not wear horn-rimmed glasses.

The jury was still out on whether he had turtlenecks in his wardrobe, but at the moment he was wearing a black leather jacket over a light blue button-up and jeans. He was a few inches taller than Parker’s own five-nine, and the leather stretched over broad shoulders. His thick black hair was short and lustrous—it freaking gleamed—and his facial hair was artfully scruffy, just the right length to make Parker wonder what it would feel like against his skin.

He watched Parker with hazel eyes that were strangely golden. “Did you need some help?”

“I’m…” Parker tried to ignore the lust humming in his veins and get it together. “C-minus.”

“You’re C-minus?”

Cheeks hot, Parker grabbed the paper from his bag and held it up, refocusing on his anger. “That’s what you gave me on my assignment, and it’s not fair.” God, he was whining, and he should leave. Cut his losses. Man up.

Adam Hawkins opened the door wider and stepped aside. He simply said, “Okay.” He sat behind his desk and glanced at the round clock on the wall. “My office hours are over, but…” There was a buzzing from his pocket, and he held up a hand to Parker as he answered his cell. “Hi, Tina. Yeah. I’ll be there soon. Okay.” He smiled. “Yeah. You too.” He hung up.

“Look, if you have to go meet your girlfriend or whatever, it’s fine,” Parker muttered.

“She’s running late, so I can stay for a few minutes. You’re obviously upset and—”

“I’m not upset!” Parker perched on the guest chair, his foot tapping restlessly. “I just think there’s been a mistake. I don’t get C-minuses. Ever.”

“You’re a freshman?” Adam reached for the paper and looked it over.

He nodded. “Economics major, but I’m pre-law.”

Adam continued reading through the assignment before handing it back. “A lot of people think film studies will be an easy elective. You’re clearly intelligent, but this paper reads as though you wrote it in fifteen minutes the morning it was due and didn’t even watch Laura.”

“I watched it!” Okay, so he watched clips on YouTube and read the Wiki synopsis. That totally counted. He got the gist. Like he was supposed to spend his time watching old movies instead of actually studying? He was already up to his eyeballs in readings. “I’m sure the professor will see that I at least deserve a B.”

Adam’s eyebrow arched. “Will she? You seem sure of yourself.”

“Well, I told you. I don’t get C-minuses. I won the state spelling bee when I was nine. I presented for our model UN at prep school and met the Secretary of State! I don’t…I’m better than this.”

“I’m sure you are. For the next assignment, do the work and put some thought into it, and your grade will reflect that.”

Parker knew he was right, but all he could see was the C- on the paper, taunting him. Third week of classes, and he was already coming up short. It felt like all his failures were symbolized by this one grade. He could just imagine what his father would say. “This is what happens when you don’t concentrate. Eric never—”

“I’m not changing it.” Adam’s declaration jolted Parker from his thought.

Pulse racing, Parker tried to keep the desperation from his voice. “My GPA has always been perfect. Except one time. But that can’t happen again. I can’t get a C-minus. You have to change it.”

“Do I?” Adam laughed. He actually laughed.

Parker felt hot all over, and knew this was all spinning out of control. He needed to cut his losses and leave with a scrap of dignity, but he couldn’t stop indignation from slamming through him. “Don’t laugh at me! Who do you think you are? This isn’t even a real academic subject.”

Adam only regarded him with a raised eyebrow. “I think I’m the TA who’s not changing your grade, no matter how much entitled crap you throw at him. So suck it up and learn something from it.”

Parker wanted to leap up and run away, but he was frozen on his chair, flushed and ashamed in the silence that followed.

Adam sighed, and his tone softened. “I bet you were valedictorian, right? Smartest kid at your school? But Stanford isn’t high school. It can be a tough transition.”

His cheeks flushed again. No, he wasn’t valedictorian. He was salutatorian—a.k.a. second place, a.k.a. loser—thanks to Greg Mason’s record-breaking perfect fucking score on the calculus final. Like always, Parker came up short, and now he had a C-minus, and he didn’t have any friends out here, and he hated himself more than he ever had. He should be able to let this go.

“You’re going to have to work hard in every class. Even if you think it’s a Mickey Mouse course. I know it can be a real shock when things don’t come easily for the first time in your life.”

Parker lashed out. “I’ve always worked hard. I am working hard! All I do is study. The important stuff, anyway. I’m going to be a lawyer. What are you going to be?”

Adam’s face was impassive. “I’m getting my MFA in documentary filmmaking.”

“You’ll probably end up working for some crappy reality show,” Parker muttered. He was being a dick, but at the moment he didn’t care enough to bite his tongue.

Pushing back his chair, Adam stood. “If that’s all, I have things to do besides get attitude from a lazy freshman who expects everything handed to him on a silver platter.”

Parker jumped to his feet. “You don’t know me.”

“I know your type. I’ve met a thousand—” he picked up the paper and read the name on the front, “Parker Osbornes in my life.”

Snatching the paper back, Parker tried to think of something to say. He blurted, “I’m dropping this stupid class.”

Adam eyed him evenly. “Okay.” Then he started scrolling through his phone. After a few moments he glanced up. “Was there something else?”

Teeth gritted, Parker spun on his heel. Mortification warred with anger as he tore the paper in half and stuffed it in a garbage can on his way out of the building. He pulled out his phone to check the time and skipped into a jog with a muttered curse. His stats lecture started in two minutes and he was never going to make it on time. It wasn’t even noon, and he was so ready to go to bed and be done with this craptacular day.

Copyright © Keira Andrews

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Keira AndrewsAbout the Author: After writing for years yet never really finding the right inspiration, Keira discovered her voice in gay romance, which has become a passion. She writes contemporary, historical, paranormal and fantasy fiction, and—although she loves delicious angst along the way—Keira firmly believes in happy endings. For as Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

Where You Can Find Keira: Website | Newsletter | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page

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THE GIVEAWAY:

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4.5 Stars, Keira Andrews, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Kick at the Darkness by Keira Andrews

Title: Kick at the Darkness

Author: Keira Andrews

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 225 Pages

At a Glance: Keira Andrews embraces the contradiction of a romance set against a backdrop of death and horror in Kick at the Darkness.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: To live through the zombie apocalypse they have to survive each other first.

College freshman Parker Osborne is having the worst day ever. He humiliated himself trying to pick up a cute guy, he hasn’t made any friends at school, and his stupidly hot jerk of a TA gave him a crappy grade on his paper. He’s going to drop Adam Hawkins’ film class and start fresh tomorrow after he’s had a good sulk.

But Parker’s about to find out what a bad day really looks like—if he can survive the night.

A virus is unleashed, transforming infected people into zombie-like killers. After these quick and deadly creepers swarm campus, Parker only escapes thanks to Adam swooping him onto the back of his trusty motorcycle. Now they’re on the run—and stuck with each other.

When they’re not bickering, they’re fighting off the infected in a bloody battle for survival. Their only hope is to head east to Parker’s family, but orphaned Adam has a secret he’s not sure Parker will accept: he’s a werewolf. Can they trust each other enough to find some light in these dark days?

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Review: The Stand, I Am Legend, World War Z—I am a huge lover of almost anything post-apocalyptic. What better way to explore the nature of humanity, after all, than to create the near complete destruction of it? And what better way to illuminate the courage and strength to survive than to juxtapose that devastation with a love story?

Keira Andrews’ Kick at the Darkness is a lesson in religious zealotry and biological warfare, in which man’s inhumanity to man gives way to the dystopian landscape where Parker Osborne and Adam Hawkins eventually find themselves in this enemies-to-lovers story. In a state of emergency as the world as they know it collapses around them, Parker and Adam are thrown together in a fight to escape the creatures that’ve swarmed the Stanford University campus and, as we eventually come to discover, all corners of the country, if not the planet.

The imagery in this novel is vivid, the action punctuated by a palpable terror which is then thrown into stark contrast by moments of peace, those moments a direct effect of the growing bond between Parker and Adam as their individual desire to survive becomes the dire need for each to make sure the other remains safe. Those quiet respites don’t last long, however, as it seems there is no safe place to land that doesn’t leave them vulnerable to the predators that kill on instinct and prey on them relentlessly.

And sometimes the predators are those who are humans disguised as allies.

The secondary supernatural aspect of this story comes at the expense of Adam’s inability to be honest about who he is, that he’s a werewolf who was orphaned before he was able to learn exactly how to be one. Not to mention he’s not sure how many others there are out there like him. His insecurity in revealing his hybrid nature to Parker resolves itself not by choice but by necessity, and adds another dimension to their relationship in the trust that builds between them, and then in the blow to their tenuous bond as the uncertainty of the rabid infection they’re facing begins to take its toll.

Keira Andrews embraces the contradiction of a romance set against a backdrop of death and horror in Kick at the Darkness. The tension starts in chapter one, with Parker and Adam and their dislike of each other, and steadily escalates as the hope for survival begins to look less likely as they make their way from California to Cape Cod in search of Parker’s parents. This novel is a mix of bitter and sweet; a story of heartbreak and hope, sprinkled with moments of humor in the darkness; and the triumph of two men who fall in love in spite of, or perhaps because of, the odds against them. Their happiness comes at a terrifying cost—one of life’s greatest ironies—and the author delivers it with no shortage of passion for her characters or their story.

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You can buy Kick at the Darkness here:

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Cover Reveal, Giveaways, Keira Andrews, Self-Published

Cover Reveal and Giveaway: Kick at the Darkness by Keira Andrews

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Title: Kick at the Darkness
Author: Keira Andrews
Cover Artist: Dar Albert
Release Date: May 28, 2015

Blurb: To live through the zombie apocalypse they have to survive each other first.

College freshman Parker Osborne is having the worst day ever. He humiliated himself trying to pick up a cute guy, he hasn’t made any friends at school, and his stupidly hot jerk of a TA gave him a crappy grade on his paper. He’s going to drop Adam Hawkins’ film class and start fresh tomorrow after he’s had a good sulk.

But Parker’s about to find out what a bad day really looks like—if he can survive the night.

A virus is unleashed, transforming infected people into zombie-like killers. After these quick and deadly creepers swarm campus, Parker only escapes thanks to Adam swooping him onto the back of his trusty motorcycle. Now they’re on the run—and stuck with each other.

When they’re not bickering, they’re fighting off the infected in a bloody battle for survival. Their only hope is to head east to Parker’s family, but orphaned Adam has a secret he’s not sure Parker will accept: he’s a werewolf. Can they trust each other enough to find some light in these dark days?

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Excerpt: He really should have gone to bed.

Instead, Parker was in an empty classroom sitting in a circle with a bunch of people who looked as if they should be smoking up and playing Hacky Sack at the Oval. He squirmed in his wooden chair, wondering if he could just get up and walk out in the middle of the lesbian’s story about her struggle to add vegan items to the cafeteria menu. He had nothing against lesbians or vegans (or lesbian vegans), but he clearly didn’t fit in with the LGBT student group. Activism wasn’t really his thing.

He’d spotted the flyer for the group meeting after his lecture, and had decided it was high time to stop feeling sorry for himself, and to try making friends. Or take Jason’s advice and maybe pick up a hot guy.

Of course the only guy he could think about was Adam Hawkins. All day, Parker had replayed their encounter in his mind, devising witty comebacks and scathing putdowns. Not that he’d ever see Adam again, thank God. First thing tomorrow, he was dropping that class. He’d pick up another elective next semester, or in the summer if he had to.

“What do you think, Parker? It’s Parker, right?” The blonde girl who’d been speaking smiled encouragingly.

Shit. “Um, I think it’s great. Sounds like a plan.”

A murmur buzzed around the circle, and a short Asian guy with a pierced eyebrow spoke up. “You think we should stage a sit-in until the school bans all meat and dairy products? Don’t you think that’s a bit extreme?”

He felt the heat of a dozen pairs of eyes on him. “Uh…it would get their attention, though. Then maybe they’d compromise?”

The blonde exclaimed, “Exactly!”

As everyone debated the merits of food-based activism, Parker eyed the cute guy sitting next to him. Reddish hair and green eyes, and a tight little body. The guy hadn’t said much of anything so far. Maybe he wasn’t digging it either? It was hard to tell. But he could be cool. He was definitely hot, at least. I won’t meet anyone if I don’t try.

Screwing up his courage, Parker leaned over and whispered, “Meat, I get, but no dairy? And no chocolate? Life isn’t worth living.”

The redhead glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “Chocolate is overrated.”

“Uh, yeah, of course.” Parker waved his hand. “I was just kidding.”

The guy smiled. Hmm. Wait, had he been kidding too? Everyone liked chocolate, right? Heart thumping, Parker whispered, “Want to grab a coffee after this? We could live dangerously and have a latte with real milk.”

Please say yes. Please say yes.

The redhead’s gaze swept up and down Parker, like a searchlight coming up empty. Parker wanted to puke as the guy pasted on a smile.

“That’s so sweet. But I’ve got a lot of studying to do after the meeting.” Then he decisively turned back to the group. “Marjorie? Can we discuss that stunt Kappa Sigma pulled on the weekend at our cruelty-free bake sale? I think we should petition the administration…”

As they discussed something involving an unholy alliance of snickerdoodles and condoms, Parker wished the scuffed tile floor would open up and swallow him whole. Sadly, the floor was apparently vegan, because Parker remained right where he was, his face burning, sure that everyone knew he’d just been shot down.

He cursed himself for thinking it was a good idea to attend this meeting in the first place. Why did he need to officially meet other gay people? Maybe he should just pledge a frat and put his cocksucking skills to good use like he had in prep school. He didn’t need a boyfriend anyway.

But I want one.

Remembered shame flooded Parker, joining the fresh humiliation of being rejected by the redhead beside him. He’d only tried to kiss Greg Mason once, and he could still feel the hard tile floor of the shower, cold and wet as he’d landed on his ass, Greg staring down at him with a curled lip. “Don’t be a little faggot.”

The fact that he was eighteen and still had never properly kissed someone was so pathetic he could barely stand it. Sitting there in the circle of LGBT students who’d probably all kissed a dozen people, he felt like he had a neon sign blinking over his head.

Loser! Loser! Loser!

But what was the point of finding a boyfriend anyway? It’s not like he could ever really bring someone home. His parents tried their best—they really did—but the whole gay thing made them so awkward and uncomfortable. Not to mention he knew their rich pals at the country club would surely not approve. Parker wondered what his father would say if he dated an anti-establishment hippie type. The mere thought made him bark out a laugh.

Heads swiveled. “Is there something you wanted to share?” The blonde asked, her smile a little strained.

Before Parker could answer, a white guy with dreads interrupted, frowning at his smartphone. “Whoa. Did you guys see this? There are some crazy riots or something in New York.”

“What are they protesting?”

“Probably not meat and dairy, Abrah.”

“Is it Occupy Wall Street? I hope so. I heard they’re trying to make a comeback.”

“Dunno. Oh wait, it’s in DC too. Probably something about police brutality?”

As the group talked over each other, checking their phones, Parker slung his messenger bag over his head and made a beeline for the door. He escaped back to the quad and grabbed a sandwich (turkey and Havarti, thank you very much) on the way to his dorm. The common room was crowded with people watching CNN, but Parker didn’t care about whatever protest or riot or whatever-the-fuck was happening. He probably should, but he had way too much reading to do, especially after wasting time at that meeting.

Embarrassment flooded him again as he thought of the dismissive way the redhead had examined him. Then a voice echoed in his head—Adam Hawkins calling him a lazy freshman. “I work hard at what matters. Ugh, he’s such an asshole,” Parker muttered as he kicked the door closed behind him.

“Who’s an asshole?”

“Jesus!” Parker’s heart skipped a beat. “Don’t do that.”

Grinning, Chris pulled a T-shirt over his shorn head. “Sorry, bro. Just came back to do some laundry.” He smelled his arm pit. “Febreze is the best invention ever.”

“I’ve barely seen you since NSO.” New student orientation had been a week of mandatory activities designed to help frosh settle in and make friends. Parker had learned his way around, but totally failed to meet anyone he connected with. Chris was nice enough, but another pang of missing JJ swelled in Parker. He cleared his throat. “How’s Michelle?”

“Spectacular. Seriously, her tits are just…” Chris raised his fingers to his mouth to kiss them. “Bellissimo. I’ve found the woman of my dreams.” He shrugged. “At least for now. Hey, her roommate’s pretty hot too. Wanna come back with me? I got some dope weed. We can hang out and play Call of Duty. I bet she’ll blow you by the end of the night.”

Parker chuckled. He could undoubtedly give Michelle’s roommate some pointers. “Nah. I’ve got a lot of reading to do. Econ test tomorrow already.” Maybe he should go hang with them, but he hadn’t had a chance to come out to Chris, and he had zero interest in weed. Sometimes Parker felt like he was eighteen going on forty-five. Partying and getting high had never really been fun for him.

“Cool. If you change your mind give me a buzz.” Chris raised his hand as he headed to the door.

Parker slapped Chris’s palm and flopped down on his bed. “Later.”

In the silence that followed, Parker found himself actually missing the near-constant thump-thump of the house music favored by the girl next door. Maybe she was watching TV in the lounge. The news channels always made such a big deal out of everything these days, and Parker didn’t see the point in getting worked up.

He stared at Chris’s empty bed. Jason had been his roommate all through high school at Westley, so it should have been nice to virtually have his own room at school for a change. It should have been freaking awesome.

But it wasn’t.

Parker pulled out his phone. No message from Jessica. He hit her number and waited while it rang, sighing as her voicemail clicked on.

“This is Jessica. Quick—leave a message before phones become completely obsolete.”

For a moment, Parker was frozen with indecision. Then he tapped the screen and ended the call. What would he say that didn’t sound ninety-nine percent pathetic?

“Okay, enough.” His voice was loud in the stillness of the room. “Time to get to work.”

After wolfing down his sandwich, he opened his textbooks. The dorm was quieter than usual, and he put his phone on airplane mode and lost himself in free trade theory. By eight o’clock his eyes drooped, and he stretched out for a power nap. He was drifting off when a girl’s piercing voice echoed in the hall.

“It’s happening in San Francisco!”

With a roll of his eyes, Parker put in his earplugs and curled toward the wall. He’d check the news later when there was actual information to report instead of just fear-mongering speculation. Let them protest corporate America or the police or whatever they were doing. He had his GPA to worry about.

§§§§

It was ten-thirty by the time Parker dragged himself out of bed. He still wore his jeans and a T-shirt, and he zipped on a dark green hoodie before stuffing his feet into his sneakers. The fifteen-minute walk across campus to the coffee shop would wake him up, and sweet caffeine would keep him going all night. He needed to do better. He needed ace this test. He would ace this test.

He popped in his earbuds and skirted around the people jammed into the dorm’s common room.

“Yo, Parker. Are you seeing this shit?” Mike from two rooms down—nice enough guy, but obsessed with sports—called out as Parker hurried by.

“Later, man. Need coffee.” Parker gave him a wave and turned on his music. They were probably watching the baseball game since the Oakland A’s were one win away from the playoffs, but he couldn’t let himself be distracted.

He’d mapped out this shortcut the first week of school after the RA had confiscated his Italian coffee maker. The night air was crisp, and Parker shoved his hands in his hoodie pockets as he navigated the nooks and crannies between buildings. He caught glimpses of the main quad, where a large number of people milled about. Probably some frat thing; all the better that he avoided it so he could get back to his books ASAP.

But he wondered what the riots or whatever had been about, and he thumbed off the airplane mode on his phone so he could Google it. As the phone reconnected, it vibrated in his palm and the screen filled with notifications. Nothing from JJ, and Parker wished he didn’t feel the stab of disappointment and hurt. It wasn’t their fault they were fitting in and making friends at college. He couldn’t expect them to have the time for him that they used to. But it still stung.

He shook it off and focused on the screen. “Seven missed calls from Mom?” he muttered to himself with a smile. “Classic.” When she got something into her head, she was a dog with a bone. As he walked, he listened to the voicemail message she’d left.

“Honey.” The recording was staticy and garbled, with some kind of background noise. Parker stopped to listen harder. He couldn’t make out the next few words. Then, “Cape house. We love you.” The message ended.

Huh. That was weird.

Why would she be calling about the Cape house? His parents went down to Chatham most weekends in September, but it was Tuesday. Parker deleted the message and started walking again. He’d call her when he got back to the dorm, or maybe wait until morning. It was after midnight on the east coast.

As he cut behind one of the science buildings, he stopped in his tracks. By a palm tree, there stood Adam Hawkins and his ludicrous cheekbones. Of course—he’d never seen the guy before today, and now he was likely doomed to run into him daily.

Adam had a motorcycle helmet in one hand, and had changed his loafers for black work boots. Wearing earbuds, he peered at the bright screen of his phone with a frown creasing his forehead.

Ugh.

Adam’s gaze shot up, his eyes hard as he removed his earbuds. “Excuse me?”

Parker realized he might have said that out loud. He paused his playlist and cleared his throat, trying to remember one of the witty comebacks he’d had a million of that afternoon. “Um, nothing.” Of course he’d think of ten more the minute he left Adam behind. Which couldn’t be too soon. In his black leather jacket and stubble, he looked ridiculous. Ridiculously hot, which wasn’t really fair since he was a film geek. A documentarian, even! Not to mention a condescending know-it-all. Parker kept walking.

“You didn’t have to complain to the dean,” Adam called after him.

Parker stopped and faced him. “Huh?”

“Are you seriously going to pretend it wasn’t you? I have to meet with Professor Grindle and the head of the department at the end of the week because a student with rich alumni parents put up a stink. She wouldn’t say who, but she didn’t need to.”

“It wasn’t me.” When Adam snorted and started walking away, Parker couldn’t stop himself from following. “Hey! It wasn’t me, asshole.”

I’m the asshole?” Adam turned, gripping his helmet. His nostrils flared. “Every year I get kids like you taking my courses. Kids who don’t care about the arts, and just want an easy grade. And now you’re messing with my future. This job is everything to me. My degree is everything.”

“First off, who says I don’t care about the arts? I like the arts just fine, thank you very much. I played viola in my school orchestra, I’ll have you know. And like I said, it wasn’t me. Whatever, dude. You’re not worth it. I have important things to do like study for my econ test.”

“Uh-huh.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“That eighteen-year-olds think they know it all.” Adam shrugged, his flash of passion concealed again behind a flat expression. “If you say it wasn’t you, I guess it wasn’t.”

Jesus, this guy was annoying. “And what are you, twenty-two? So wise.”

“Twenty-three, actually.”

“Oh, that changes everything. Whatever. I don’t have to talk to you.”

“Okay.” He shrugged again, now completely calm.

“Econ is a hell of a lot more important than watching movies.”

Adam watched him with an inscrutable gaze. Just like with the cute redhead, it felt as though he was being evaluated and found hopelessly lacking. “Okay.”

“Stop saying that! Oh my god, why am I even having his conversation?” Parker brushed by him and pressed play even though now he was going the wrong way for the coffee shop. He’d loop around, since he couldn’t turn back. “Have a nice life,” he called in his wake. If Adam replied, Parker didn’t hear it over the music in his ears.

He could not drop that class soon enough. He should have known—

A scream pierced the night, so loud he heard it over the new Macklemore song. Parker ripped out the earbuds and glanced around. He and Adam stared at each other. “Do you hear—”

“Yes,” Adam replied, his entire body tensed.

In the distance, the screaming swelled as other voices joined in. Parker’s heart thumped. “That’s a hell of a hazing ritual.”

The din increased, and more shrieks raised the hair on Parker’s arms. A girl and guy raced around the building. “What’s happening?” Parker shouted.

“They’re killing everyone!” The girl yelled, her eyes wild as she shoved past him.

More students streamed behind the buildings, and Parker watched them as his brain struggled to process what was happening. Then he was being yanked so hard he thought his shoulder might pop free of its socket. Adam propelled him forward, and yes, run. Run!

Copyright © Keira Andrews

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