Fragmented Loyalty Pre-Release Blitz

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Today we have the pre-release blitz for FRAGMENTED LOYALTY by Tonya Burrows! Check it out and be sure to pre-order your copy today!

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Title: Fragmented Loyalty

Author: Tonya Burrows

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Release Date: February 24th

About FRAGMENTED LOYALTY:

All I want is to leave my past of criminal hacking behind. Oh, and ditch the blackmailer who has been dogging my every move for the last three years.

The plan: Hack my way into being part of Class Alpha, a training program for a secretive organization that rescues hostages the government can’t or won’t go after. Save the world and make enough money to pay back my blackmailer—solves all my problems, right?

The complication: Sweet, nerdy, and unbearably sexy Eric “Harvard” Physick. Harvard is my ideal man, but he’s also my instructor. Seriously a no-go, except we can’t seem to keep our hands off each other.

My blackmailer isn’t willing to let me off the hook, though, and a series of freak accidents—deadly accidents—sends Class Alpha into a tailspin. And the more I get to know Harvard, I start to realize his past is just as troubled as mine.

Am I the cause of this chaos…or is he?

Pre-Order Your Copy Today:

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Exclusive Excerpt:

“It’s time to pay up,” the computerized voice said.

Oh, shit. No, no, no. I thought about my savings account, where I’d been tucking away every extra cent I made. Although HORNET paid me better than any job I’d ever had, I didn’t have enough money to buy my way out of the favor yet. I wasn’t ready. I clutched the phone tighter to my ear and watched my friends pile into Remy’s SUV.

I should’ve left the stupid phone behind for the night. I shouldn’t have answered.

But I had. And now I had to say something.

Unfortunately, my mind had gone blank.

“I can’t,” I said faintly and released the breath I’d been holding. “Not yet.”

“You took my money knowing I would call on you for a favor someday.”

Goddammit. I glanced around to make sure nobody was in hearing distance. “I’ll pay you back. I have— I can give you half of it now. Just give me more time and—”

“I don’t want your money. I want your skills. We had a deal.”

Why now? I had to bite down on my tongue to keep from screaming it at them.

Okay. They weren’t going to let me pay my way out of this. Maybe the favor wouldn’t be as bad as I imagined. I forced myself to breathe. “What do you need me to do?”

“It’s simple,” they said. “Child’s play for a hacker of your skill level. Open a backdoor into HORNET’s network.”

My heart thumped hard against my ribs. How did they know about HORNET? I hadn’t even uncovered anything about them before joining Class Alpha. “That will make them vulnerable.”

“That’s the point. It’s why I put you there.”

“What?” I asked on an exhale of disbelief. No, they were lying. I’d made it here by my own talent and skills.

They hadn’t manipulated Tucker Quentin into hiring me.

They couldn’t have.

But the seed of doubt had been planted. Already I felt it taking root and flowering.

Exactly what they’d wanted. I clutched the phone until the edges dug into my hand. “I won’t hurt HORNET.”

“They’re not your friends, Fragment.”

All the air left my lungs like my benefactor had punched me. I looked at Remy’s SUV. Music thumped from the speakers. Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Remy rolled down the window and leaned out to stab a fist into the air and scream the chorus at me.

They were my friends.

They were.

Nobody would convince me otherwise, and I refused to hurt them.

“I’ll do anything else, but I won’t hurt HORNET.” I hung up before they could say anything else, then stared down at the phone. It felt heavier than usual. Like a brick. I wanted to throw it. My heart thundered like a drum line, and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.

A car horn bleated several times, making me jolt.

“C’mon, Geek Girl,” Remy called from the driver’s seat. “The night’s wasting! We have beer to drink and skirts to chase.”

I slid the phone into my purse and drew a breath, then released it slowly to calm my nerves. It didn’t work. I’d waited three years for this anvil to drop, and now that it finally had, I needed to think. Plan.

Run?

I didn’t even know.

About the Author:

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Tonya Burrows wrote her first romance at age 13 and hasn’t put down her pen since. Originally from a small town in Western New York, she suffers from a bad case of wanderlust and usually ends up moving someplace new every few years. As of now, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with The Boyfriend, a diva schnoodle, a plucky pug-mix, and #writercat.

When she’s not writing about hunky military heroes, Tonya can usually be found kayaking, hiking, or road tripping across the country. She also enjoys painting and B grade disaster movies.

Connect with Tonya:

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Ruthless Sentinel PreOrder Blitz

Title: Ruthless Sentinel
Series: Vicious Vipers 2
Author: Lynn Burke
Genre: MC Romance
Release Date: February 20, 2020
Cover Design: Designs by L~
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Working security for my MC brother, I’m tasked with protecting a crooked judge who targets his willful daughter with emotional abuse.
She’s beautiful. She’s confident and has a backbone of steel, but I recognize the pain in her eyes.

She distracts me from my job, and echoes of Pop’s taunts of my being a failure fester in my head.

But I will prove him wrong.

I will withstand our connection, the relentless pull between us.

I will protect her family—her—from the unknown enemy, even if it costs me my soul.

*This is the second book in the Vicious Vipers MC series and may be unsuitable for someone under 18 years of age. HEA guaranteed, however, secondary characters make appearances in other’s stories. Reading in order is recommended.

A blast of cold air hit my face, but my breath caught for an entirely different reason as subtle lilac and vanilla scents swirled around me.
Giada Burtonelli stood on the granite stoop, coat gaping open to reveal a jade-colored dress that wrapped around her body, cradling the type of tits I wanted to fuck. Tiny, tucked waist, perfect for the span of my hands. The skirt’s center split to display the top of her thighs, inches from the apex of where I bet heaven lay in wait—much too fucking short. Toned legs, tanned and smooth, led to spiked heels porn stars wore while getting their asses fucked.
My dick jolted, and I clenched my jaw against the combustion of lust that roared to life in my balls. Lifting my focus off her hot as fuck body to her face didn’t help matters. Eyes, green as spring grass, sharp as a damn Samurai sword, pierced through me with the type of instantaneous connection that robbed a man of his identity. Her full lips parted on a quick intake of air as her focus moved upward over my body to meet my gaze.
I’d seen pictures. Knew she’d be beautiful, but I didn’t expect my breath to be ripped from my lungs or the hairs on my body to stand at attention because of the energy crackling between us.
“You’re late!” Burtonelli barked from behind me.
Giada’s eyes hardened as she lifted her pointed chin, her ruby red lips thinning into a line.
I moved back, fucking tongue-tied.
“Hello to you, too, Father.” Low and husky, her voice thickened my dick even more.
“Could you make an effort to be on time just once, Giada?” Burtonelli moved toward her, his scowl raking down over her. “What the hell are you wearing?”
“Oscar,” she snipped her reply, her eyes flashing.
“You look like a whore. Fitting, I suppose, since you can’t seem to keep your legs closed to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who shows interest in you.”
I blinked, but her façade didn’t crack. Not the first time she’d heard such a thing, I expected as my fists clenched, but not my monkey…
Her father stalked past her. “I specifically said to be on time,” he continued. “You know how important this night is.” Stomping down the granite stairs toward the waiting limo in the circular drive, he muttered about people contributing to his campaign and what they might think of his daughter’s inappropriate attire—and the fact it was too late for her to change.
“You look lovely, dear,” Giada’s mother said, stepping forward, hands outstretched.
Kiss, kiss—fake as hell, before Mrs. Burtonelli hurried after her husband as though he tugged her along with a leash.
Marisa came next to greet her sister, her face pained as though empathetic toward Giada being her father’s verbal punching bag, but it was Cristian’s infectious grin and grabby hands to hug her that brought a smile to Giada’s face.
And Christ, what a smile. Dimple, flashing white teeth, eyes alight with enough joy to slam an uppercut into my gut, stealing my breath again.
I stared as they hugged, jealousy slithering in like a damn snake to wrap coils around my stomach and squeeze. Possessiveness wasn’t something I’d felt before, but fuck if I didn’t recognize its gut-twisting presence—even if it was her brother putting his hands on her.
Stretching my neck side to side, I tore my attention off the two siblings whispering to one another and glanced at Greed who watched me with a smirk on his face.
I scowled and spun to follow Marisa outside. I should have been the first into the night even though Burtonelli’s personal guards already awaited us in the circular drive out front, but everything about Giada distracted me.
My scowl deepened. Focus.
The plan had been for Greed to ride in the limo with the family while I took shotgun in the lead car, but I decided on a change while scanning their gated property in the darkening sky.
Three Burtonelli guards, including their driver and head of security who’d been placed beneath my command for the duration of the contract, stayed positioned where I’d commanded along the drive. All of us were connected by top of the line ear pieces provided by Tellier Security.
The driver stood by the car’s back door as Mrs. Burtonelli slid inside, the other two packing with heads swiveling where they waited by the cars boxing the limo in.
Hairs on my neck stirred, but without any sense of impending danger.
Giada.
I could feel her focus on my back like a soft caress, a whisper of fingertips along my spine, but I didn’t turn, even after the mansion’s front door slammed shut.
Fighting off shivers and my body’s distraction from my job, I strode toward the limo, waving the driver away. Cristian moved into my periphery as I pulled up by the opened door, and he slid in behind his oldest sister.
I feigned disinterest as Giada neared in a cloud of sweet, subtle lilac laced with vanilla.
My hand moved on its own, offering her assistance even though I continued to scan the property, senses beyond alert, my body strung fucking tight as hell.
Her smooth fingers danced across mine, and I gripped tight in sudden need to yank her close. Soothe the hurt her father had inflicted that she’d tried to hide behind a mask of who-gives-a-shit stubbornness.
I turned my focus on her face—she stared up at me, her eyes wide and lips parted. Currents raced through our clasped fingers, straight to my dick.
“Giada!” Her father’s annoyed call from inside the limo jerked her attention off me, and I grit my teeth while she bent down to get into the limo and join her family.
I released my hold on her hand and fought the need to watch her ass as she climbed into the limo. Greed approached, his inquisitive stare on my face.
“I’m riding with them,” I told him, my tone not welcoming argument or question.

© Lynn Burke 2020
Lynn Burke is a full time mother, voracious gardener, and scribbler of spicy romance stories. A country bumpkin turned Bay Stater, she enjoys her chowdah and Dunkin Donuts when not trying to escape the reality of city life.
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Unholy Release Blitz

RELEASE BLITZ

Book Title: Unholy (Witchbane #5)

Author: Morgan Brice

Cover Artist: Lou Harper

Release Date: February 8, 2020

Genre/s: Urban fantasy MM paranormal romance

Trope/s: monster hunting, paranormal, supernatural, magic, ghosts, curses, cursed lovers, hurt/comfort, established couple

Themes: loyalty, brotherhood, found family, keeping promises, trust, commitment

Heat Rating: 4 flames

Length: 66 000 words/ 224 pages

It can be read as a standalone, but is book #5 of the Witchbane series.

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Buy Links

Amazon US | Amazon UK

 

 

A deadly curse on Seth and Evan means time is running out.

Can they find a way to turn the tables, or is Charleston their final destination?

 

Blurb

A cycle of ritual murders. A coven of dark warlocks, drawing their immortality from the magic of their dead master. Two men sworn to stop the deaths, destroy the warlocks and avenge the victims. Except this time, the killer is hunting the hunters.

Seth Tanner swore vengeance on the dark witches who killed his brother, Jesse. He rescued Evan Malone from one of the witches, and they’ve fallen in love despite the danger and chaos, going on the road to complete the quest and bring an end to the ritual murders. Their relationship is still new, tested at every turn by danger and magic.

Seth and Evan head to Charleston to stop the next warlock and save his intended victim. But this time, they’re too late. The warlock has already powered up, and he’s determined to destroy the two hunters one way or another. A deadly curse on Seth and Evan means time is running out. Can they find a way to turn the tables, or is Charleston their final destination?

Unholy is an urban fantasy MM paranormal romance with plenty of supernatural suspense, hurt/comfort, hot sex, found family, dark magic and paranormal thrills. It is part of a series but can be read as a standalone and features an evolving, established romantic relationship with all the feels. Intended for readers 18 years of age and older.

 
 
Excerpt

From Chapter 1

“I’m kind of surprised that the witch-disciple’s gotten away with things as long as he has, if Simon’s right about his cousin being some kind of badass supernatural vigilante,” Seth mused after they had driven several miles. “I would have thought she and her friends would have cleaned house.”

“Like you said, Charleston’s a haunted hotspot,” Evan replied. “That might take a while to clear out all the bad actors.”

“I hope we’re right about being ahead of the curve this time,” Seth said. “We know the witch-disciple is calling himself Michael Longstreet. We know he’s going after Blake Miller. And if Simon’s right about Cassidy and her friends, maybe we can take Longstreet down without nearly getting killed ourselves.”

“Working with Travis and Brent in Pittsburgh certainly helped,” Evan replied. “And I’m not sure what we would have done without Milo and Toby in Boone. Which makes it all the more amazing that you took out the first one all by yourself.”

“Both of us almost died.”

“But we didn’t.” Although Evan had to admit, silently, that it had been a near thing.

“We still don’t know where Longstreet’s anchor is, or what he uses for an amulet,” Seth pointed out.

“We’ll find them,” Evan replied confidently.

Evan’s phone rang, and a glance told him it was Simon Kincaide. “Hey, Simon. What’s up?”

“Where are you? Is Seth with you?” Simon’s voice had an urgent edge to it. That sobered Evan immediately.

“We’re in the truck, driving to Charleston. Is there a problem?”

“I had a vision. A warning.” Simon’s abilities as a psychic medium were the real deal. “You and Seth are both in danger.”

“Not to be a smartass, but we kinda knew that,” Seth replied. “Seeing as how we’re going after another witch.”

“I think it’s more immediate. I saw broken glass and blood…a flash of something pink…and something about a UFO.”

Evan and Seth exchanged a look. “A…UFO?” Evan echoed.

“Alien hitmen?” Seth sounded incredulous.

“I know how it sounds. I wish visions were more complete. But this was strong enough that it almost knocked me off my feet. That usually means whatever I saw is going to happen soon.”

Evan opened his mouth to say something, just as Seth gripped the wheel with both hands, and the truck swerved. A pink delivery van careened across the median strip, heading straight for them.

“Hold on!” Seth yelled. Evan braced himself.

“What’s going on?” Simon shouted over the phone.

Hitched to the RV, the truck couldn’t maneuver. The van crashed into the driver’s front corner, twisting metal and shattering glass, drowning out Seth’s cursing and Evan’s cry of alarm as the airbags deployed with a bang like a gunshot.

“Guys? Seth, Evan—” Simon called through the phone.

Evan’s world went black.

 
 

 

About the Author

Morgan Brice is the romance pen name of bestselling author Gail Z. Martin. Morgan writes urban fantasy male/male paranormal romance, with plenty of action, adventure and supernatural thrills to go with the happily ever after. Gail writes epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and together with co-author hubby Larry N. Martin, steampunk and comedic horror, all of which have less romance, more explosions. Characters from her Gail books make frequent appearances in secondary roles in her Morgan books, and vice versa.

On the rare occasions Morgan isn’t writing, she’s either reading, cooking, or spoiling two very pampered dogs.

Series include Witchbane, Badlands, and Treasure Trail. Watch for more in these series, plus new series coming soon!

 

Author Links

Facebook Group| Pinterest (for Morgan and Gail)| Twitter: @MorganBriceBook

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Read a copy of my Badlands short story Restless Nights here for free

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Giveaway

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win

one of three ebook copies of any book in the Witchbane series

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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Follow the tour and check out the other blog posts here

Creeping Beautiful Book Blitz

Creeping Beautiful
J.A. Huss
Publication date: February 19th 2020
Genres: Adult, Romance, Suspense

McKAY
I wasn’t the one who broke her but I played my part.
She came to us when she was ten. I raised her. I loved her.
I taught her how to survive in a world of evil men.
But it wasn’t enough.

ADAM
I wasn’t the one who saved her but I did my best.
She needed me as much as I needed her.
Bought and paid for on the auction block.
But not for the reasons you think.
She was my weapon.

DONOVAN
I wasn’t the one who lied to her but I hid her truth.
She was broken before I got there.
Wild and angry. Defiant and bratty.
But she trusted me most.
She loved me best.
So I set her free.

Indie Anna Accorsi is a woman lost in her past.
A pretty little nightmare.
A gorgeous piece of misery.
A mess of lovely darkness.
She is creeping beautiful.
And now we want her back.

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EXCERPT:

ADAM

By the time that job was over I realized something.

I loved her.

I guess that’s what happens when you get used to something and then someone tries to take it away from you.

Because our trip home from Pensacola was two days later than planned and Indie Anna didn’t smile a single second of that ride.

She didn’t cry, either. But I could tell she wanted to.

And I did exactly what McKay told me to do if things went sideways. I did not yell. Not once. I just said, “It’s fine, Indie. It’s gonna be fine,” in the most soothing voice I could manage as I watched the Company doctor restrain her to the bed and fix her up.

And the game we played on the drive home was a new one called Let’s Pretend That Didn’t Happen.

Knowing what I do now, I probably wouldn’t have played that game with her.

I probably would’ve done a lot of things differently if I had known how good she’d get at pretending shit didn’t happen.

But hindsight can kiss my ass. You can’t change the past.

Indie Anna Accorsi is a beautiful little mess. She is a lovely little bundle of blonde hair and blue-eyed darkness. And even though I should have all kinds of regrets about how she came to be mine and how we came to be hers, I would absolutely do it all again.

Knowing her now, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Because if all those terrible things hadn’t happened, she would belong to him right now. She would be living in that little brick house with Nathan St. James.

She would be whole, and normal, and maybe even happier.

And my heart would be shattered into tiny shards. Millions of bitty pieces.

So yeah.

I’m a selfish piece of shit.

But I want what I want.

That’s the only way I can explain it.

Maybe she didn’t become mine the day of the auction, but the day that asshole triggered her without my permission, she did.

She is.

Author Bio:

JA Huss is the New York Times Bestselling author of 321 and has been on the USA Today Bestseller’s list 21 times in the past five years. She writes characters with heart, plots with twists, and perfect endings.

Her new sexy sci-fi romance and paranormal romance pen name is KC Cross and she writes novels and teleplays collaboratively with actor and screenwriter, Johnathan McClain.

Her books have sold millions of copies all over the world, the audio version of her semi-autobiographical book, Eighteen, was nominated for a Voice Arts Award and an Audie Award in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Her audiobook, Mr. Perfect, was nominated for a Voice Arts Award in 2017. Her audiobook, Taking Turns, was nominated for an Audie Award in 2018. Five of her book were optioned for a TV series by MGM television in 2018. And her book, Total Exposure, was nominated for a RITA Award in 2019.

She lives on a ranch in Central Colorado with her family.

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Rising from the Ashes PreOrder Blitz

Rising From the Ashes: A Charity Anthology for Australia

Get Your Copy Here!
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Love will always rise.
Rising From the Ashes is a Charity Anthology and a labor of love.

All proceeds will go directly to Australia’s State Emergency Relief Fund and WIRES, an Australian Wildlife Information, Rescue, and Education Service.

We’ve assembled a delectable collection of amazing romance and fantasy by New York Times, USA Today, and other bestselling authors. We hail from many countries, and we’ve joined together to help Australia recover from its devastating fires. Everything from stories to cover art to formatting has been donated.

This limited-edition omnibus includes fantasy and romances of all genres, with hot men and strong women. Every single book proves love and perseverance and grit really do conquer all.

Thanking you in advance for your kindness and generosity supporting Rising From the Ashes. You’ll find some new-to-you authors that will make your day.


Featuring books from:
Angie Fox, Ann Gimpel, Brandy Wilson, Candice Gilmer, Dawn Montgomery, J.K. Harper, Jessica Marting, Kate Richards, Lauren Dawes, Lisa B. Kamps, Liza Street, Marie Long, Melissa Snark, Michele Bardsley, Renee George, RJ Blain, Russell Nohelty, Skye MacKinnon, Tasha Black, Traci Hilton, Victoria Pinder
Cover art donated by Fiona Jayde Media

Hosted by Book Nook Nuts

Dark Hearts Cover Reveal

Title – Dark Hearts: A Dark and Twisted Romance Anthology
Authors – Anna Edwards, Brooke Summers, Claire Marta, Tina Maurine, Leah Negron, Mila Cole, Savannah Stewart
Genre – Dark & Twisted Short Stories
Release Date – April 16, 2020
Cover Design – Lauren Dawes at Sky Fox Designs
Love comes in all shapes and sizes, all walks of life.
Even the most wicked and depraved deserve to find love…right?
Transport yourself into the worlds created by our talented authors, each bringing you their own dark tales of twisted love and tainted hearts.

Anna Edwards, Brooke Summers, Claire Marta, Tina Maurine, Leah Negron, Mila Cole, Savannah Stewart

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The Weight of Living New Release Blitz

Title: The Weight of Living

Series: Cherrywood Grove, Book Three

Author: M.A. Hinkle

Publisher:NineStar Press

Release Date: February 17, 2020

Heat Level: 1 – No Sex

Pairing: Female/Female

Length: 79500

Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, lesbian, trans, artists, caterer/chef, photographer/wedding photographer, teenagers, family drama, crazy weddings, Sailor Moon nerdiness, millennial angst, interracial/intercultural

Add to Goodreads

Synopsis

When she arrives in Cherrywood Grove for a working vacation, shy photographer Trisha Ivy expects to kick back and relax, enjoying her last summer of freedom before turning into a real adult with a mortgage and a nine-to-five. After all, her real life is back in Chicago with her best friend Bella, not a sleepy small town. But Trisha keeps running into beautiful, confident Gabi Gonzalez, a caterer working all the same weddings…and she’s the daughter of Trisha’s favorite local TV star. Trisha can’t resist getting to know her. After all, she’s only in town for the summer, and Gabi is straight. What harm could it do?

Gabi Gonzalez has spent most of her life trying to escape Cherrywood Grove and find something bigger and better. During an internship in Milwaukee, she thought she’d finally found it. But after her father’s sudden death, she returns home and tries to squeeze back into the same childhood roles: kid sister, cool aunt, tireless worker. She’s just resigned herself to going through the motions when she meets Trisha, someone who finally sees Gabi for her own self instead of putting her in a box. Can Gabi open up to Trisha about what she really wants before Trisha leaves town for good?

Excerpt

The Weight of Living
M.A. Hinkle © 2020
All Rights Reserved

June
2015, Three Months Before: The Time Gabi Was a Grumpy Tomatillo

Gabi had expected Soledad to laugh when she came in the room, and she was not disappointed. “What is your outfit?” Soledad asked, putting her hands on her hips. “I didn’t even know you owned a dress.”

Gabi busied herself rolling up the sleeves of her cardigan. She had short-sleeved ones, but none of them had been washed recently, so they smelled musty like the closet at her parents’ house. When she left for her internship, she’d only brought blazers. “I own several, as it happens. You remember how I used to dress. This is for business.”

Soledad glanced at her own outfit—a bright, short-sleeved button-down and her favorite gold chain. Gabi would have called it a self-conscious look if she didn’t know Soledad so well. “Well, sorry, I thought this was a TV show, not a board meeting.”

The twist to her voice was surprisingly nervous, and Gabi glanced at her again. “You don’t have to change. You look great.”

The idea of Soledad looking anything but great—except maybe elbow deep in week-old fryer grease—was unfathomable. Soledad’s hair was always sleek and freshly gelled; her shirts were always bright as jewels against her brown skin.

But she still didn’t relax; she was twisting the gold chain between her fingers, a gesture usually reserved for long talks on the phone with her latest girlfriend.

“You look fine,” Gabi repeated. “I have to dress this way to make my parents happy. You saw how my mom reacted when she noticed my short hair.” She affected a high-pitched voice, which sounded nothing like her mother but made the point. “‘Ay, mija, tu pelo! What did you do to yourself?’”

Soledad winced. “I thought I wasn’t supposed to remember.”

“She didn’t mean it.” Though Gabi’s mother certainly had. Gabi’s hair hadn’t been shorter than shoulder-length since a classmate rubbed gum in it in kindergarten. “Anyway, it’s too late to change, so they can’t say anything even if they want to.”

Gabi’s parents wouldn’t say a word. From the moment they laid eyes on Soledad, they had adored her. They’d spent the whole weekend hanging on her every word and laughing hysterically at her jokes.

Gabi clapped Soledad on the back. Touching her so casually seemed strange, but no stranger than Soledad’s nerves. She hadn’t even blinked when one of the guys in their internship group nearly cut off a finger slicing ham. “Come on, chill. This really isn’t a big deal.”

“Easy for you to say.” Soledad let Gabi nudge her toward the kitchen anyway. Today, they were filming in the big industrial kitchen on campus, which Gabi had hoped would put Soledad at ease, but no dice. “You’ve been on TV since you were, like, five.”

“Six.”

Soledad shot her a look, but before she could tell Gabi off, Gabi’s father Carlos swept into the room. As usual, several members of the crew trailed him trying to get his attention, but Carlos ignored them, making a beeline for Gabi’s side. He gave her a loud smacking kiss on the cheek, and Gabi dutifully rolled her eyes. She’d missed it since she’d been away for almost a year now, but her dad would get a big head if she let him know.

“There’s my girl. Or one of them, anyway.” He turned to Soledad. “I’m outnumbered, and it only keeps getting worse. I prayed and prayed Soledad would have a boy, but alas. Oh well. There’s always you, Gabi.”

“Not planning on kids, Dad,” said Gabi.

He draped an arm around her shoulders. “You haven’t met the right man yet, mija. I thought I would be a bachelor forever too, but here I am.”

Soledad snorted, and Gabi’s father wagged a finger at her. “Your opinion does not count, Señorita Rivera! Although when Sarah’s old enough, I will appreciate your help vetting her choice of woman.”

Gabi caught Soledad’s eye, both of them startled. Sarah was only seventeen, and their internship was nearly over. They hadn’t discussed the future, but it probably didn’t involve either of them hanging out in Cherrywood Grove.

Before Gabi had to figure out how to drop any bombshells on her father, Sarah popped up at his elbow. “Abuelo, I’ve already had three girlfriends.”

“Si, si, mijita, I know, but high school does not count.”

Sarah puffed up, a sure sign she was going to lecture all of them on exactly how serious she could be. And also, probably ageism or something. Gabi would have to step in. She loved watching Sarah unleash herself, and so did Carlos, but they were on a tight schedule today.

“Sarah, you said yourself you broke up with them because they weren’t mature enough for you.”

Sarah’s shoulders relaxed. “It’s true, I suppose. But Abuelo’s right about your boyfriends, Gabi. They were all garbage.”

Soledad did nothing to hide her smirk. Gabi pretended not to notice.

Carlos let go of Gabi, but only so he could pull Sarah to his side instead. “Now, have you got notes for me, hmm?”

“Yep.” Sarah held up her binder, labeled Talk of the Town in her impeccable handwriting. “Although I still couldn’t decide on one part. I know you said you didn’t like this line—” She flipped through the pages until she found one highlighted in blue. “—but I couldn’t think of a better substitute. Yours doesn’t roll off the tongue.”

“Ah! Lucky for us, our resident tiebreaker is here!” He reached out for Gabi again, holding one girl in each arm.

Soledad caught Gabi’s eye, her hand covering her mouth to hide a laugh.

Gabi made a face at her to indicate, I will deal with you later. To her father, she said, “Okay, okay, let me see.”

Her father passed her the binder. The line in question was a scientific explanation about egg proteins. Sarah’s version involved the actual names; Carlos’s was more simplistic. He never liked to go into too much detail in case it lost people’s attention. But his was patronizingly vague.

“Sarah’s is better,” Gabi declared. “But ditch the scientific terms. Call them proteins. We can put a graphic up with their proper names in a post if it’ll bother you so much.”

“It will,” said Sarah, though not as sharply as usual since she’d won the argument. “Don’t go anywhere, Abuelo. I have more notes.”

Gabi took the chance to duck out from under her father’s arm. Soledad was clearly still ill at ease, which would make for a stiff and uninteresting performance. And Gabi was the resident problem-solver, after all.

“Good, good, let’s talk.” Carlos touched Gabi’s elbow before she managed to slip away completely. “Oh, Gabriela, your sister was looking for you.”

Gabi waited until Carlos walked away, an arm still around Sarah’s shoulders, before letting out a disgusted sigh. “Of course she is.”

“Rosa’s pretty cool.” Soledad was only trying to tweak Gabi’s nose, but Gabi could never resist the bait.

“And beautiful and talented and blah blah blah.” Gabi adjusted the sleeves of her cardigan again, already sliding down. She’d forgotten how fussy feminine clothes were. “You only like her because you think she’s hot.”

“And you’re only cranky because she’s older than you and can challenge your authority.”

“Don’t you start rubbing in the age difference. My parents are bad enough. I can only handle being called their little surprise so many times in one week. And you wonder why I needed a break.”

Gabi shooed Soledad out the door over to the prep area, where Gabi’s sister, Rosa, was bent over a row of papier-mâché tomatillos painted with faces. Despite the barely dry paint, she was wearing a far fancier dress than Gabi’s, tied with a sash at her waist emphasizing her curves. If Gabi wore a similar dress, she’d look flat as a board. Or like Frankenstein’s monster.

Soledad tilted her head. “Are these supposed to be your family?” she asked, picking up one with Carlos’s distinctive broad nose.

“Oh, of course! And there’s you over here.” Rosa picked up one tucked behind the others with Soledad’s dimple in her left cheek. “You can take it home after the shoot if you’d like. A little memento. Otherwise, it’ll end up lost in Papá’s house somewhere. He’s less organized than I am.”

Gabi found her own. “Why am I frowning?”

“You’re unripe, obviously. Papá wanted some models to demonstrate how to shop for fresh tomatillos. See, he’s bruised, and Mamá is overripe.”

“You have way too much fun with this stuff.”

“Are you kidding me? She’s living the dream.” Soledad gently replaced her tomatillo next to Gabi’s. “Hell yeah I’m taking my mini-me home.”

“We’ll have to find a safe spot so your roommates don’t trash her.” Gabi poked Rosa’s arm. “Now what did you want me for?”

“What did I want you for?” Rosa tapped her cheek and then brightened. “Ah. Yes. Carry this, please? I’d ask one of the tech guys to help, but something always ends up broken.” She pointed at a box of miscellaneous props. “Also, it’s your turn to hide the armadillo. Several times over, but we’ll let it slide.”

“Can I do it?” Soledad asked, picking through the box. “It’s my favorite part.” She found it near the bottom and held it up, grinning. It was one of Rosa’s first props for the show and thus a little worse for wear, but it still worked.

“You have to be sneaky. Dad keeps his eyes peeled better than you’d think.” Gabi started to pick up the prop box, but her sleeves had slipped down again. She growled and shrugged off her cardigan.

“Bare arms? The scandal!” Soledad winked at her.

“I’m simply glad she’s wearing real clothes again,” said Rosa absently, picking up a tiny paintbrush to touch up a detail on Carlos’s tomatillo. “I have no idea where you got the outfit you arrived in, mi amor, but it should have been burned.”

Gabi caught Soledad’s eye and mouthed, I told you so. She grabbed the box. “Stop messing with those. We’ll need them sooner than you think.”

“All right, all right.” Rosa stepped back. “I’ll be there in a moment.”

“If you aren’t on set in five, I’m sending one of the tech guys here.”

Rosa flapped a hand at her, already inspecting another tomatillo to doubtless make a minuscule change no one else would notice, even in HD.

Rolling her eyes, Gabi nodded at the doorway, and Soledad headed out first, though she lingered in the hallway instead of walking right back into the kitchen.

“Getting cold feet after all?” Gabi asked, though she could never imagine Soledad intimidated. Then again, she’d never imagined her nervous either. “Say the word and you can leave. It’s not going to mess anything up.”

“Don’t be silly. This is awesome. It’s—” Soledad traced the swirling patterns painted on the armadillo, her expression thoughtful. When she spoke, her voice had softened. “You’re lucky, you know? I wasn’t sure what to think when you invited me to visit, but your family’s as good as it looks from the outside. It’s pretty cool. You’re so much less awkward here.”

Gabi adjusted her grip on the box, unsure what to say. She and Soledad rarely discussed personal topics. She wasn’t even sure why she’d invited Soledad to come visit during their break. Soledad was the only one without family to visit over the holidays, yes, but she’d been excited for the break from her roommates. Her own parents were nothing to write home about.

“I guess,” Gabi said, when the silence threatened to turn strange between them. It happened sometimes, both of them holding their breath for no reason Gabi could make sense of. “I’ve never thought about it.”

Soledad’s expression didn’t change. “I’m not surprised. It makes you even luckier.” As fast as it came, her mood passed, and she lifted her head, flashing Gabi one of her signature cocky grins. “It’s your job to distract your papá while I hide this.”

Gabi grinned back. “I see how it is. I’m always stuck playing the sidekick.”

“Damn straight you are.”

When they got back to the main filming area, Carlos had apparently decided on the finalized version of the script and settled on a good area to film the intro. Sarah waved them over to the corner, out of frame.

“Are we interrupting something?” Soledad whispered. She’d gone tense again, and now it was too late to do anything to loosen her up. Oh well. Most of the guests were bad on camera too.

“He’s not started yet. Trust me, you’ll know when.” Gabi sat in a folding chair beside Sarah; Soledad turned hers around and propped her arms on the back, as was her way.

“They’re only testing the acoustics in this room right now,” Sarah said, making notes in a different, rainbow-colored binder. “It’ll be a while before anything interesting happens.”

Still, they all quieted when someone called for silence, and the cameraman counted down like they were truly filming. Soledad leaned forward in her chair, mouthing the words along with Carlos: “¡Hola! I’m Carlos Gonzalez, and you’re not, coming to you live from the greatest kitchen in the world.”

They had recently tweaked the intro for this episode, and Gabi ought to have paid attention. Yet she found herself watching Soledad, her eyes bright with excitement, and when Carlos forgot a line and the whole crew broke up in laughter, Gabi realized she hadn’t heard a word he said.

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Meet the Author

M.A. Hinkle swears a lot and makes jokes at inappropriate times, so she writes about characters who do the same thing. She’s also worked as an editor and proofreader for the last eight years, critiquing everything from graduate school applications to romance novels.

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