Monday, April 15, 2019

Destroy Me is Live! #newrelease #excerpt #giveaway

Destroy Me is LIVE!

Two weeks.
No strings attached.
No messy emotions.

Those were the terms Mila Lawson offered Roman Gregory when they found themselves living together in Santa Cruz. Now that the ATF agent has his daughter's twenty-two year old best friend in his bed every night, he's finding it more and more difficult to deny what he's felt for her since the day they met.

With a drug cartel threatening to go to war and his daughter becoming increasingly suspicious, the last thing Roman should be thinking about is keeping Mila by his side. He's never wanted much, but he wants her…and he's willing to break more than a few of his own rules to convince the feisty little blonde to put her heart in his hands.

For Mila, falling for Roman might just be the most terrifying thing she's ever done. Trusting him with her body is one thing, but with her past still hanging over her, she knows all too well that the scary-hot man who drives her wild has the power to destroy her.

As their time in Santa Cruz draws to a close and the world beyond their little stretch of beach closes in on them, Roman and Mila will be forced to confront the truth about their relationship and make decisions neither could have imagined.

But who ever said falling in love would be easy?

Destroy Me is the second of three steamy novellas featuring Mila and Roman.

**Only 99 cents!!**


"You still haven't called Brady," Finn snaps as soon as I have the phone to my ear.

"Nope, I haven't."

"Goddammit, Roman," he curses. "Do you ever fucking follow orders?"

"You know I follow orders," I snap, grinding my teeth together. For ten years, I've followed Finn's orders. I've lived and breathed the rules, doing everything humanly possible to help close cases. I've given up a hell of a lot to do it, too. It pisses me off that he's questioning me now. I do my fucking job, and I don't complain.

But I'm not calling Brady. Because of him, I had to kill a man to keep his son safe, making myself a target for Jose Guerrero, el Demonio, and Pedro Francisco's cartel. I don't give a shit if they find me. But if they find Talia? Mila?

I will destroy Francisco's empire single-handedly if that ever happens.

Finn rattles off a string of curses.

"What the fuck is up with you?" I demand. He's on edge, more pissy than usual.

"We may have a situation," he says with another curse.

Shards of ice stab into me as soon as the words are out of his mouth. I push off from the counter, fear pounding through me. Mila is here, asleep in my bed. If Guerrero's found this place—if he finds her—fuck. Panic like I've never fucking felt before shudders through me.

"Tell me," I say, clenching the phone in my hand so hard, I'm worried I might snap it in half.

"Some of Francisco's people kidnapped a DEA agent in Seattle." Finn curses again. "They blew up a fucking club with him inside. He barely made it out alive."

Panic begins to recede, allowing me to pull in a breath. My grip on the phone loosens.

"They were able to round up most of those involved, but another agent was shot in the process. From what we know, at least one subject with connections directly to Francisco got away. He's on the run, with what could be millions worth of some new drug they concocted."

"Jesus Christ," I swear, stunned. I knew the DEA had people on Francisco, but this is all news to me. And it's not the good kind of news either. The last thing anyone needs is some new drug in Francisco's hands. With that kind of leverage, he could corner the market on the drug trade, not just in Mexico and the United States, but everywhere.

His rush to get his hands on the guns Brady cost us makes a whole hell of a lot more sense now.

He's preparing to expand his empire.

"How the fuck didn't we know this?" I growl into the phone, frustrated.

"They weren't aware of the connection to Francisco until recently."

"Fuck me. It's too early for this shit."

"Yeah, well, had you called Brady like I fucking told you to do, you would have known about this three days ago," Finn says, still pissy about it.

"Are you calling me in?" I ask instead of taking that bait. As far as I'm concerned, it's the only important question right now. A few days ago, I would have welcomed him telling me to get back to Los Angeles. A few days ago, I was looking for any excuse to get the fuck out of here, away from temptation. Now though? I'm not ready to go back to work. I'm not ready to leave Mila.

Finn hesitates for a long moment and then sighs. "No," he says, allowing me to pull in a deep breath. "We're going to sweep up as many of them as we can and pray like hell we slow them down. There's no reason for you to come back."

He doesn't say the word yet, but I hear it anyway. I know how this works. If that drug makes it to Guerrero and el Demonio in Los Angeles, it's going to be an all hands on deck situation. I won't have a choice but to go back because we can't afford for him to gain any ground, and he will do whatever it takes to get that drug safely across the border. Even if he has to start a war to do it.

I stopped praying a long fucking time ago, but the urge hits hard and fast, throwing me off-balance. Only, I don't pray to slow them down or stop that war. No. I fucking pray to God that I don't have to leave Mila sooner than planned. Because that? That's what I'm fucked up about. Leaving her.

My entire adult life, I've been focused on my job. I gave up everything for it. I've had Mila in my bed for a week, and suddenly…nothing else seems to matter.

She's ruining me. Completely obliterating me. And God help us both, but I don't want her to stop.

Devour Me
Her Best Friend's Father #1

**Only 99 cents!!**


Ayden K. Morgen is the Amazon Bestselling author of the Ragnarök Prophesies series. She lives in the heart of Arkansas with her childhood sweetheart/husband of fifteen years, and their furry minions. When not writing, she spends her time hiking, reading, volunteering, causing mischief, and building a Spork army.

She graduated summa cum laude with her Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice and Forensic Psychology in 2009 before going on to complete her graduate degree in CJ and Law. 

She puts her education to use as a 911 Dispatch Supervisor, where she's responsible for leading a team of dispatchers as they watch over police, EMS, and firefighters for her county. Her books feature law enforcement officers, the women who love them, and the difficult cases that drive them.

She writes New Adult Fantasy and Paranormal Romance as A.K. Morgen.


Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Devour Me: Free First Chapter #romancebooks #contemporary #erotic

Happy Thursday! I have a surprise for you today! If you haven't had a chance to read DEVOUR ME yet, I have the first chapter for you! You can dive into Mila and Roman's story below. :)

Don't get caught.
Never fall in love.
And steer clear of his daughter's friends.

The rules were easy enough for Roman Gregory...until Mila Lawson set out to break every single one of them.

When the twenty-two year old lands on the ATF agent's doorstep after a nasty breakup, he knows all too well that she's off-limits. At thirty-eight, he's almost twice her age, she's hurting, and the blonde bombshell is his daughter's best friend.

Mila knows all about wanting what she can't have. For four years, she's lusted after Talia McPherson's scary hot, terminally single father from afar. After walking away from her cheating ex and what she thought was her happily-ever-after, the last thing on her mind is jumping into a new relationship.

Until she find herself living with Roman in Santa Cruz...

Now all she can think about is making all those dirty fantasies come to life. With nothing left to lose, she makes him an offer he can't refuse: Two weeks of no-holds-barred sex. No strings. No commitments. No messy emotions.

Roman has no business agreeing to her insane proposition, but he does anyway.
He can't have her. He shouldn't even want her. But he's going to take her… and he has no intentions of stopping until she's his completely.
If there's one thing Roman knows for a fact, it's that he doesn't lose. Ever.

Chapter One

I glance up from the pile of used tissues on my lap and squint, trying to see through the tears blurring my vision. My eyes are gritty and swollen, but Talia McPherson's face swims into focus in the dimly lit room.
Her dark hair is in a messy pile on top of her head, her hazel eyes clouded with concern as she surveys my suitcases piled inside the living room. Her things are packed, too. Unlike me, though, she's off to bigger and better things.
I packed my stuff in a hurry, shoving items into my suitcases without rhyme or reason. I didn't want to be home when my asshole of an ex got back. If I never see Damien Wentworth again, it'll be too soon.
"Hey," I whisper, dashing away the tears pooling in my eyes. My voice quivers, and I hate that I'm crying over him.
"What did he do?" Talia asks, dropping her purse beside the door and hurrying across the living room toward me. She drops down onto the couch beside me and puts an arm around my shoulders.
I rest my head against hers and sigh. "I came home early and found him fucking Lizette in our bed."
"Lizette? You mean your boss, Lizette?"
"You're kidding me."
"Nope." I squeeze my eyes closed, trying to force out the image of my boyfriend's bare ass as he thrusted into Lizette Hicks, our gray sheets twisted around them. I snort my disgust. "I guess they've been sleeping together for a few months now."
Ever since I introduced them to one another at a cheesy Valentine's Day party. I thought they'd like each other. It never crossed my mind that they'd jump into bed together.
"I'm going to kill him," Talia seethes, practically growling the words as she squeezes me tighter. "I'll rip his fucking balls off and feed them to him."
A choked laugh erupts from my lips at her threat. Talia's not exactly intimidating. At five foot three and a hundred and ten pounds, with long brunette hair and the face of an angel, she's not even remotely close to scary. But if anyone would rip Damien's balls off for me, she would. She's my best friend. She has been since we roomed together our freshman year at Berkeley.
He's not even worth the effort, though. He's not worth the two years I wasted on him either.
"He's been calling me all day," I mumble when my cell begins to vibrate across the top of the coffee table. I haven't answered. Everything that needs to be said between us has been. I feel like an idiot though. How did I not know he was fucking my boss? How did I miss something so big?
Talia reaches out and snatches my phone from the table before glancing at the screen and swiping to answer. She puts it on speaker so I can hear.
"What do you want?" she snaps.
I cringe when Damien's voice sounds on the other end. He sounds like a petulant, whiny child.
"I just want to talk to her, Talia."
"Is she okay?"
"What do you think?" she growls at him.
His heavy sigh echoes down the line.
"Are you fucking kidding me, Damien? You ask her to move in with you, and a week later you're fucking her boss in your bed? What in the hell is wrong with you?"
"I screwed up," he says.
"You think?" Talia rolls her eyes, her full lips set in a grim line.
"I don't know what I was thinking. You know I love her, Talia."
"Can I please come over and talk to her?"
"Hell no."
"She doesn't want to talk to you."
"Ever again," I mutter.
"Ever again," she repeats to him before wrapping her arm around me again.
"She can't avoid me forever."
"Watch her," Talia snaps and then hangs up on him. She huffs, dropping my phone onto the couch beside her. "What an asshole."
"Yeah." I sigh, mentally and emotionally drained.
"And Lizette can go straight to hell, too. I cannot believe the two of them!"
Yeah, me neither. And I really can't believe she fired me on the spot. My job wasn't glamorous by any means, and Lizette could be a total nightmare, but working as her personal assistant was a foot in the door to the publishing industry. She's one of the best acquisition editors in the business. Now I have to start from the bottom all over again.
I shake my head, not sure if I'm in shock or if I'm just too tired to function any longer.
"Can I crash in my old room?" I ask.
"Like you even have to ask," Talia says.
We sit in silence for a long moment. I close my eyes and rest my head on her shoulder again. The last week of my life has been a whirlwind. After graduating, moving in and then moving back out of Damien's, exhaustion runs deep, all the way to my bones, I think.
"You know he's going to show up here," she warns me.
"I know."
"Are you going to talk to him?"
"Nope. I have nothing else to say to him."
"What are you going to do?"
What am I going to do? Moving in with Damien was supposed to be the start of my post-college life. He was going to continue at the law firm while I worked my way up at Dalton Books. We had all of these plans.
Now, I'm unemployed and single. As if that weren't bad enough, with Talia moving to Sacramento with her boyfriend in a matter of days, our shared apartment has already been rented to someone else. I can't move back in here permanently, so  I'm officially homeless now, too.
"You can come with me to Sacramento," Talia offers.
"No, I can't." I shake my head in denial. "I love you for offering, but you and Trent don't need me underfoot."
"You know he won't mind. He adores you."
"I know, but still." Trent Bianco, Talia's boyfriend, just signed with the Sacramento Kings. They're moving in together for the first time. As much as I love her for offering, they deserve time to themselves.
Besides which, finding a publisher in Sacramento willing to take me on would be next to impossible. There simply aren't that many of them there. There aren't many in Berkeley either. More than likely, I'll be moving to Los Angeles.
"Maybe I'll grab a hotel room until I find something," I tell her.
Luckily, I'm not going to wind up living on the streets. I'm not rich, but my mom's parents were close to it. When I turned twenty-one, I received a hefty inheritance from their estate. I've barely touched the money in the year since.
"My best friend is not living in a hotel," Talia says, narrowing her eyes to glare at me.
"It'll be fine," I say with a shrug. Living in a hotel for a few weeks can't be much worse than living in a tiny dorm on campus for two years, right?
"Hell no." Talia hops up from the couch and strides toward the front door before bending down and grabbing her purse from the floor. She digs around for a minute before walking back to me. "Here," she says, dropping something in my lap.
"What's this for?" I ask, holding up a silver key on a plain keychain.
"My dad's condo in Santa Cruz. You can stay there until you decide what you want to do."
"You can't just give me the key to your dad's condo," I protest. I've spent quite a bit of time around Roman Gregory over the years I've known his daughter, and I don't think he'd appreciate having me take over his condo. He tends to avoid me, though I'm not sure if he just doesn't like me, or if he knows I've always had a thing for him. I've never quite figured him out.
He's sexy as hell, with messy black hair, piercing blue eyes, the same gorgeous olive skin as his daughter, and a body that should be illegal. He's massive, towering over just about everyone else. Talia definitely didn't get her diminutive size from him. He's honestly a little intimidating. Not just in size, though that's impressive enough, but in the way he looks at me like he can see every dirty thought I've ever had, and hasn't decided what he wants to do about them.
The way he watches me…I think maybe he hasn't decided. Or maybe that's just the cop in him.
Either way, he's scary-hot and kind of formidable. He intrigues me even though he probably shouldn't.
"Why not?" Talia asks. "He's working a big case in Los Angeles, so he won't be getting away anytime soon. The condo is just sitting there. Use it until you find something. He won't care."
I hesitate, torn.
I don't want to just take over Mr. Gregory's condo, but she's right. He works for the ATF and rarely ever gets away from Los Angeles. Except for when he comes to visit her, the place is vacant the rest of the year. And Damien will never think to look for me there. I don't think he even knows about Mr. Gregory's condo. Plus, it's on the beach. I can clear my head, get my shit together, and figure out a new plan for the rest of my life. One that doesn't involve a cheater like Damien.
Determination fills me, wiping away a little of the weariness clinging to my soul.
"I'll stay there," I agree. "But only until I find something else."

"So, what do you think of the condo?" Talia asks four days later.
"It's great, Talia. Truly." I tip my head back and take a deep breath, my cellphone against my ear. The fresh, salty scent of sea water assuages my senses, relaxing knots in my neck and shoulders that I thought had taken up permanent residence there over the last several days. Closing my eyes, I let my head loll, and listen to the sound of waves breaking on the shore a few yards away. My toes sink into the warm sand beneath my feet, relaxing me even further.
I stand in prolonged silence, reveling in the peaceful feeling that settles over me before I turn away from the beach and look up at the condo. The entire back of the house is sleek glass, overlooking a massive patio and the small, private stretch of beach I'm currently standing on. I haven't seen a single person on the beach since I've been here. It's so much nicer than the crowded, public beaches I grew up around.
"Mila? You still there?"
"Your dad's place is amazing," I say softly into the phone, letting her know I'm still with her.
"I'm really glad you like it," she says, unable to hide the worry in her voice. "I know it's a little rustic, being a bachelor pad and all."
"Are you kidding me? I love it." I've only been here for a day and a half, and I already never want to leave. The place isn't massive, and not anywhere near as fancy as half of the homes I passed on my way here, but Mr. Gregory has phenomenal taste. The condo is modern, with tons of natural light and soft colors. The place is secluded, quite…exactly what I need to get over Damien. At the thought of him, a sliver of anger pulses through me.
Sometime on the drive here from Berkeley, the shock of finding him in bed with Lizette wore off. I'm pissed. Furious with both of them. The feeling is oddly comforting. So is the fact that I ghosted both of them, effectively cutting off all possible contact. I changed my phone number and my email address and deactivated my Facebook and Instagram accounts before I threw my bags into my new Dodge Charger and drove away, leaving Berkeley, Damien Wentworth, and Lizette Hicks in the rearview mirror.
"Do you need anything?" Talia asks.
"No, I'm good." I bend and scoop my wine glass up from the sand before making my way up the steps onto the back deck and then through the sliding glass door and into the condo. Once inside, I stop and take a look around, taking it all in again. I don't know how I've never been here before, but it's beautiful.
The floors are all gleaming hardwood. Soft, comfortable furniture rests on top of gorgeous white rugs. In the living room, a massive television dominates the entertainment center, with various game consoles arrayed beneath.
The kitchen is even more modern, with stainless steel appliances and a huge marble-topped island. The glass kitchen table sits in front of the wall of windows, overlooking the beach below. The place is elegant but somehow simple at the same time. Uncomplicated, unlike its owner. Despite being vacant for weeks now, the entire house is spotless.
"Are you sure?" Talia asks, recalling my attention. "Trent and I are only a couple hours away. If you need company, he wouldn't mind if I–"
"Talia, I'm fine, really." I laugh softly, and make my way into the kitchen to refill my glass. Sacramento is more than just a couple hours away. "You still need to unpack and get settled in. I'll be okay. I may have had my heart broken, but I'm not going to fall to pieces. Damien isn't worth it."
"No, he isn't," she agrees, iron in her voice.
"How could I have been so stupid, Tal?" I ask, grabbing the bottle of wine and popping the cork. My hand trembles as another sliver of anger works its way through me. "I wasted two years of my life on him, only for him to move me in and promptly fall into bed with my boss." A bitter laugh cracks from my lips. "I was an idiot."
"You were in love," Talia whispers.
"I was naïve. I was so focused on the perfect future I'd envisioned, that I didn't even notice what was going on right in front of me," I mutter before setting the bottle of wine on the counter and taking a gulp from my glass. Truthfully, I'm not sure if I was in love with him. I loved him, but that isn't the same thing. I certainly don't miss him. Even before he cheated on me, I never really missed him when we weren't together. I don't think that's normal.
"Don't do that."
"Do what?"
"Blame yourself. He cheated on you, Mila. You didn't do anything to deserve it. You didn't ask for it. You aren't to blame. He is. And so is Lizette for being a monumental bitch," Talia practically growls into the line. "You were good to him, and he was an idiot."
She's right. I know she is. So why am I blaming myself? Because I'm an idiot too. That's why.
"You're right," I groan, leaning back against the island. "This is completely on them, and I'm not going to be the girl who blames herself and weeps and wails and asks why. I'm young, I'm intelligent, and I'm moderately attractive."
"You're fucking hot," Talia immediately interjects.
I smile for the first time in days at her words. I'm thick and curvy, with wavy blonde hair and green eyes. I try hard to stay in shape, but I also can't say no to chocolate, and it shows. That doesn't really bother me. I'm comfortable in my own skin.
I take another sip of my wine before continuing, "I'm not going to mope over him. I don't know what I'm going to do, but definitely not that."
I've never been the girl who wallows in self-pity. Even after my mom died and my dad turned to alcohol, I didn't let myself wallow. I couldn't, and I'm not going to do it now either. I'm stronger than that, and I've worked too hard to just give up on my dreams. Maybe my future looks a little different now that Damien is out of the picture, but I still have dreams. I just need to regroup and figure out how to reach them without Damien and Lizette.
"I have an interview with the Triton Agency at the end of the month," I tell Talia.
"In Los Angeles?"
So far, they're the only literary agency that's shown any interest in me. They're not at the top of my list since they represent mostly fantasy and I'm more a romance kind of girl, but they're a foot in the door since Lizette didn't pan out. I'm not going to let her and Damien win. Screw both of them.
"I'm proud of you," Talia says, dragging my attention back to my phone. "You're going to nail that interview, and Lizette and Damien can kiss your ass." She pauses. "You really do deserve better than him anyway, Mila. You were way too good for him. And sooner or later, you're going to find an amazing guy who will love you like you deserve."
As far as I'm concerned, I'm done with men for the foreseeable future. Between finding an apartment and a job, I have enough to keep me occupied for a little while anyway. And truthfully, Damien was my first real relationship. If more of that is what I have to look forward to by dating, I'm staying single, thank you very much.
"Don't give up on finding love," Talia responds when I tell her that. Naturally. She's head over heels for Trent. She wants everyone to be as happy as she has been since he swept her off her feet. "Maybe you'll find someone while you're in Santa Cruz. You don't have to fall in love, but definitely have a wild fling before you rush off to take L.A. by storm."
I tip my head back and laugh at the thought. I've never had a fling in my life.
"Think about it. Hot rebound sex," she says with a dreamy sigh.
"The only one you're having sex with is me, babe," Trent grumbles in the background, causing Talia to laugh. He says something else, his voice muffled, and then his deep voice rumbles down the line. "She's gonna have to call you back, Mila."
Talia moans, making it clear she said that just to piss him off. He's possessive, and she loves every minute of it. They can barely keep their hands off of one another.
"Have fun," I say with a smile.
When the line disconnects, I set my phone on the island and stand there for a moment, twisting my wine glass back and forth in my hands. Talia may have been joking about rebound sex to rile up Trent, but maybe that's exactly what I need to put Damien in the past. No-strings-attached, dirty-hot sex.
"Yeah right," I mumble with a shake of my head. "Like that'll ever happen."


Mila and Roman's story is available on AMAZON for .99c through 4/5! Free on Kindle Unlimited!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Steamy Spring Romance Giveaway! #romance #novels #giveaway

Happy Monday, lovelies!

I'm here to make the start of your week a little bit less painful for you. Promise. :) 

Today is the first day of the Steamy Spring Romance Giveaway! You can steam up your week with fifty full-length romance novels from authors like me! The giveaway only runs through 4/5, so don't forget to snag your books before then!

Titles included are:

Charmed by Rina Kent
Sweet Temptress by Crimson Syn
Big Gun by Dani Stowe
Offensive by Alyna Amorosi
Wicked Temptation by Mikayla St. James
Single Dad Boss by J.C Allen and Timothy S. Allen
Beauty and the Lumberjacks by Lee Savino
Yours Forever by Katy Kaylee
All Over You by Ayden K. Morgen
Rendezvous with Fate by Taige Crenshaw
Hard Bounty by Jillian Riley
Back to You by Jennifer Hartley
The Billionare Bachelor by Sloane Peterson
Sweet Temptations by L.M. Mountford
+ Many More!


ALL OVER YOU is included!

Rules were meant to be broken…

For kindergarten teacher Ivy Kendall, learning her identity has been stolen is just the beginning of her waking nightmare. Now she's the prime suspect in a college student's disappearance…and the cocky stranger who caught her eye at a bar is none other than the detective tasked with finding out the truth.

Forced to dive headfirst into the mystery to clear her name, the last thing Ivy should be thinking about is hopping into bed with the bossy detective. But Cameron Lewis is relentless, and the dirty things he says to her drive her wild.

Lucky for her, he's also willing to break more than a few rules to help her uncover the truth. All he wants in return is her heart.

As the evidence against her piles up and the intense attraction between her and Cameron deepens, Ivy wants nothing more than to lean on the tattooed detective. She already trusts him with her body. Now she has to find the courage to trust him with her heart.

But how can she when doing so might ruin his life?

Friday, March 22, 2019

New Release: Castle of Blue Stones by Jordan Elizabeth #newadult #fantasy #99cents

A New Young Adult Fantasy from Jordan Elizabeth

Volcanic ash has ruined the world and only remote outposts remain. At the castle in the mountains, covered by snow, everyone only sees shades of blue. 

Except for Jaisy. 

By day she explores farther down the mountain. By night, she’s plagued with dreams of a panther and ghosts calling her name.

When Jaisy’s job sends her into the dungeon, she discovers a hidden room filled with dangerous information. There are secrets within the damp, stone walls that those in control don’t want anyone to know. 

The leaders will kill to protect those secrets – even executing one of their own. 

Jaisy will not go quietly into the blue night, no matter how hard the leaders attempt to silence her.

Get your book today from Amazon for 99 cents!

Chapter 1

            They tell me the world shouldn’t be blue, but that’s all I see.  Everything has a twinge of blue, from the mist that sometimes rises in the morning to the snow that never wants to leave.  The Guardians tell me the snow should be white, that which stretches everywhere across the mountains.  I know what it looks like, white, when I close my eyes, a stark absence of color, but I shouldn’t, for all I remember is blue in all different shades. 
            The cold dampness bites at my toes.  The extra two pairs of woolen socks, all I can fit into the old boots, aren’t working.  I glance over my shoulder, up the hills to the castle of dark blue stone – they say it’s such a dark grey it looks black – where the windows haunt my dreams.  That glass that reflects the sunlight screams at me to ignore the worn-out leather boots and the threat of frostbite on my cheeks, to keep trudging and never dare go back.
            Except, I will.  What lies beyond all the snow and rocks?  They tell me nothing, that I should be thankful to have survived the volcano that killed ninety-percent of the population with ash, which brought about what they call an ice age.  Out there, I will freeze and starve.  Death will claim me. 
            I tug off one of my wool mittens to study my fingers, still pliable enough that frostbite hasn’t begun.  I’ve gone what might be an extra half-mile from my last trek.  I mark each time I stop to go back by painting on a rock.  I choose a rock tall enough to protrude from the snow. 
            My breath puffs in front of my lips.  I’ve gone a mile, by my reckoning.  I always push myself for that one extra mile.  They’re used to it, back at the castle.  My boss won’t expect me back until morning when we file for breakfast, and judging by the sun lowering in the sky, I have a few hours before twilight. 
            I pull my glove back on and continue.  The snow drifted, so in most places, it reaches my shins, but sometimes it comes up to my knees, or my waist, but never deeper.  I’ve laced the ankle boots as tight as they go, with extra woolen legwarmers, to keep the snow from falling inside. 
            Someday, I will find what calls to me.  Whatever it is, it is mine.  It wants me there. 
            The wind tears through the leather coat.  I’ll need to sew extra material into the lining.  The dress underneath is thick, with a collar that buttons to my chin.  I won’t freeze.  The ice would be the winner then, not I. 
            I stiffen.  No one would follow me.  They don’t go outside except for the balconies, for fresh air when the sun is warm. 
            The voices have begun again.  “Who are you?”  My own voice is higher-pitched, shrill, desperate.  It bounces off the boulders rising jagged; it rattles through the mountains into the cloudless sky. 
            The voices only reach me when I leave the castle, when I am far enough away that it is only a speck of blue. 
            Flakes of snow spiral into the image of a young woman.  Her hair is copper, with a tiara on her head, set with pearls.  A sheer veil drapes around her bare shoulders.  Her red dress is sleeveless, with a gold sash across the front. 
            She is not blue. 
            Shayna…”  It is her voice, deeper than mine, which answers my question.  The flakes fall back to the ground, banishing her.  She’s appeared before, always leaving without more than a few words.  Last time, she swore she loved me.
            I sit in the snow and adjust my hat.  My heartbeat races, my palms itch as though a thousand spiders bit them. 
            A dream approaches.  “Take me.” 


            A woman shoved my arms into the sleeves of an oversized brown coat and jerked at the fastenings.  “You do not look back.  You keep going.” 
            “Grandma, Lana isn’t here.  They’re going to hurt her.”  My voice wobbled and tears blurred my vision.  I wiped the burn away on my sleeve as she fastened the final brass button.  “Grandma.”  She needed to listen – Lana had to be saved.  “Our lives are linked.  If she dies, I die.”  It was more than that.  Lana had become everything to me since I turned thirteen, two years ago. 
            “That’s not how it works.  If you die, she dies, but if she dies, another will take her place.”  My grandmother cried as I did, her blue eyes shining and the kohl around her lashes running.  Her brown coat was as hideous as mine, shapeless, a peasant man’s; I had to be short, so mine dragged along the marble floor. 
            Antorge bolted into the library and slammed the door shut.  “They’re here.” 
            “The spirits save us.”  My grandmother drew a heart over her chest to call on their good graces.  How could they help us when we were abandoning our pets to fight for us?  Lana, my panther, should be at my side, not snarling at the palace gate. 
            Antorge pulled me into his arms to lay his lips against mine.  “I love you, Jaisy.”  Gone were his regal clothes; in their place, he wore a baggy, woolen tunic and black slacks tucked into boots.  He could’ve been a servant rather than my betrothed. 
            My grandmother fiddled with the lever beneath the ship painting; the secret panel in the wall swung outward.  “Come, hurry.” 
            My heart thudded against my chest and I tightened my fingers around his.  “We’ll hide in the wall.”
            “We’ll keep going.”  My grandmother scowled as she vanished into the shadows of the passageway. 
            Antorge and I had played hide-and-seek in that dank area when we were children.  Father had told us it’d been used for refugees in the wars one-hundred years ago.  It would be used again for that.
            As I stepped inside, Antorge pulled me back around to press his lips to mine.  “I love you.”  He nudged me inside, one hand on the panel.
            “She said to hurry…”  A roaring started in my ears.  The candles around the library had grown too bright.  “You’re not coming.”
            Now he cried; so many tears amongst us.  “I’ll lead them away.  It’s you they want.”
            “They want all of us.”  Grandmother grabbed my sleeve from the darkness, jerking me back.  The panel closed, sealing a wall between Antoge and me.
            “He’ll be fine,” Grandmother whispered.  “He’ll find us if we don’t find him.” 
            The tunnel led us up and down.  The tears refused to stop and a sob choked my throat.  Our ancestors had done this before, they would pity us.  My brunette bangs fell over my eyes, long curls catching on my lips.  In the dark, my hair could have been sable. 
            The passage opened beneath the bridge in the city.  Snow fell in thick flakes from the sky.  It had never snowed so much; it had begun when the evil ones first entered the country. 
            “The temple will protect us,” my grandmother said.  She believed so heartedly in the ancestors.  We needed Lana and the other soul pets, not long-dead ghosts.
            The ice in the pond cracks and a hand jutted out, skinny enough to accentuate every bone.  Yellow fingernails, an inch long, curled around the fingertips.
            “What is that?”  I screamed. 
            I would waken in Antorge’s bed with sunlight painting us in colors from the stained-glass window.  We would giggle, he’d kiss me, and I’d tiptoe back to my bedroom, biting my knuckles to stifle my laughter. 
            This couldn’t be real.  A nightmare terrifying enough to send a child scurrying to its parent.
            The hand seized the dragging coat.  I reached for my grandmother, catching sight of her green eyes and silver hair, before frigid water closed over me.


            I open my eyes to realize I’ve fallen backwards.  It has begun to snow, flakes settling over me.  When I blink, I feel frozen tears. 
            I’ve had that dream before, and each time the loss of the young man stabs me so hard I want to scream. 
            “Grandmother?”  No answer besides the wind. 
            I walk to the nearest rock and pull the paint stick from my pocket.  They say the paint is red, but it appears murky blue.  I color in a square as large as my head and tuck the paint stick away, buttoning the pocket.  If I head back to the castle, I’ll stop crying.  The grandmother and Antorge will fade away, back into the daydream, and everyday activities will take over.  I won’t be lost to my own mind. 
            Antorge and my grandmother will never be real.  I’ve made them up, even though the dreams have color and I can feel them touch me. 
            They tell me I never had a grandmother, so she can’t be factual. 
            “You’re lucky to be alive,” the Guardians say.  The volcano killed my family when I was two years old.  I’ve lived at the castle ever since. 

About the Author

Jordan Elizabeth writes down her nightmares in order to live her dreams. When she's not creating art or searching for lost history in the woods, she's updating her blog. Jordan roams Central New York, but she loves to travel.