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Lakeside I: Excerpt 2

The castle was dark but she knew every loose stone, every carpet and she carefully set one foot before the other, toes first and then—light as a feather—she let the rest of her foot follow. Everything was still; she checked every few steps, stopping and holding her breath. Not a sound anywhere.

The stairs were trickier, but she knew the ones that squeaked and how to squeeze herself against the wall and walk so close to where the boards where fixed in the stone that they had no place to bend and creak. Even Blaidyn had to sleep; they were alive, weren’t they? Every creature alive slept and all she had to do was creep quietly enough not to rouse him.

She clung to the wall, fingertips hooked into the narrow gaps between the stones, carefully setting one foot onto the landing. She wouldn’t make it past the portcullis but there were other ways, smaller, secret ways in and out of the castle and the wolf wasn’t likely to know any of them. She just had to reach the closest one, down by the kitchens. It wasn’t that far, just a little further and she would be able to breathe deeply, to run, to scream if she felt like it.

“My lady.” The voice suddenly came out of the darkness and Moira uttered an involuntary squeak. She slapped her hand over her mouth, then furtively looked into the direction it had come from. For a moment, she was sure she saw two eyes glowing eerily silver in the dark. She shrunk back against the wall, her heart hammering rapidly in her chest.

Then she heard the soft rasp of a match and a moment later, a tiny flame erupted at the end of a sliver of wood held in large hands, which brought it to a candle.

“There’s no need to be alarmed, milady,” the voice said again and now that he lifted the candle to his face, she recognized the Blaidyn. She should have known. She wanted to scold herself, scaring like a little girl; of course it was the wolf, her own personal prison guard.

“How long have you been standing there?” she demanded, trying to sound like his social superior ought to sound. Her voice was croaky and still shaking, though, and she wrapped her arms protectively around her torso. He didn’t look cruel, but the candlelight cast a strange glow on his features that wasn’t inspiring trust or safety, either.

“A few minutes, milady,” he answered truthfully. “Since you entered the corridor.”

Her mouth opened and then she closed it again. She wanted to be angry and indignant but in grasping for that emotion through the fog of fright, she came up with embarrassment, of all things. He had heard her slowly, carefully creeping down the long carpeted hallway, holding her breath almost the entire time, taking minutes for a distance usually crossed in less than one. And he had stood there, waiting, knowing exactly what she was up to. The very idea made her neck itch enough to press her hand against it as she tried to make out his features again from lowered lashes.

“Are you going to stop me?” she finally asked into the silence.

“That depends, milady.”

She looked at him again. He was too tall to easily remember her social status when he eyed her from so far above, but she composed herself and pushed up her chin in shy defiance. She turned around and then made to cross the hall. Each step, she pushed herself a little faster, fearing he’d grab her and pull her back and she didn’t know how she’d cope with another person touching her that day, least of all that stranger: Owain, the man with no family name, the man who wasn’t even human.

It didn’t come. No word, no hand out of the dark to yank back her shoulder. She didn’t try the large entry door. It was heavily bolted and there was little else behind it but the empty square where the guards trained, and around which their barracks and servant’s quarters were arranged. It led to the main gatehouse, the portcullis and the drawbridge and none of those places were any good for a fast escape.

The next corridor was even darker and she blinked heavily, slowing down as she paused to look around.

“Would you like my candle, milady?” The voice was suddenly next to her again and Moira jumped once more.

She didn’t reply and kept walking until she reached the door at the end, then she opened it and stepped into the circular garden. At the other end, there was a small door that led down into the kitchens and to that side, the earth yielded herbs and aromatic flowers, but most of the garden was filled with neatly trimmed and shaped bushes and flowerbeds, and a low gnarly tree built as the focal point, just off the center. It blossomed pink in spring but now, at the very end of summer, its leaves were beginning to yellow.

The moon, a slim crescent as it was, offered only just enough illumination to outline the bright stone path that wound through the flowerbeds. Moira followed it slowly, shivering and soaking up the air and the moonlight and the freshness of the plants around her: no stale curtains, no wood long cut and dead, no lifeless cotton long ripped from its stems.

Lakeside I: Excerpt 1

It was too late to hide. She could hear them coming: horns and shouts in the distance, the hard drumming of iron-clad hoofs tearing into the damp morning earth. A robin, perched on a piece of driftwood, interrupted its song and fluttered off towards the castle orchards. Fog rose from the lake, fresh and white, as it reached the shore. It wafted over the shiny gravel to the first tufts of grass and reed, where dew had turned spider webs into intricate gossamer jewelry.

Moira stood at the water’s edge and looked down at the waves lapping at her naked feet. Her hands trembled, but she turned them outward in an open, embracing gesture. Then she closed her eyes, pushed the approaching hoof-beats out of her mind and breathed the pre-dawn air deep into her lungs. Damp and crisp, it had left infinitesimal drops of water in her messy red hair and she could imagine herself soaking it up, drawing it inside of her—air, water, mist and the lake itself—as though she could store freedom, like others stored food or drink or knowledge.

She did not move, not a muscle, as the horses drew closer. Sounds were jarring in this early hour, invaders from the daylight world, too substantial for the ephemeral sense of morning silence. Moira listened to it shatter around her, like glass, like a thin sheet of ice over the lake. A shiver ran up her spine, pulsed uncomfortably in the back of her head.

The shouting ceased when the horses came to steep halt behind her; their hoofs flung flecks of dirt through the air. They formed a vague crescent shape, arranging themselves in formation.

Moira lifted her hand to her cheek to wipe the mud away. One last time, she looked out over the lake. At this end, far away from the harbor and the fishing boats, it was eerily still—a silence that possessed power and gravity, which had worked its pull on her for as long as she could remember.

Only when the last horse stilled, did she turn around. She focused on the captain of the guard as he swung himself off the saddle. Gravel crunched under his boots.

“Milady,” he uttered, and bowed as low as his stiff, aging back allowed. He took in the sight of her white nightgown, its hem stained with dirt and dew, her dirty pink toes peeking out from under the ruined fabric. There was a totemic presence about her that morning, a streak of mud on her face and the mist in her back, curling around her like a caress from a different world.

“I don’t remember inviting you to my morning walk, Sir Clifton.” Moira was calm, unsurprised, as she gestured the man to stand up straight.

She wrapped her white arms around her chest in an effort to establish a hint of decorum. The autumn chill cut through the air, now that it was laced with voices, the smell of horses, the sight of men in coats; even her feet finally felt cold. A night alone in the tame wilderness outside the castle had grounded her, but the crawling feeling under her skin, the desire to run reclaimed her body with every passing moment, every glance, every sound.

“Milady was not in her chambers when my Lord Rochmond noticed her absence,” the captain explained, his voice involuntarily rougher to fight the onset of embarrassment. She was hardly dressed for company, much less to be standing surrounded by six rough-and-tumble men of his guard.

“And he sent you to slap me in irons?” she asked, the corner of her mouth twitching slightly.

The captain could not hold her gaze. It would have been shockingly impertinent, especially in her state of undress. But more so, she had the dark innocence of a hurt child that shone through any bitter and condescending superiority she might throw between the strong man and her feeble woman’s body. It was disconcerting and in the rising mist, between bird-song and the murmuring waves, she held an eerie quality that wasn’t quite as noticeable when hair was braided and coiled, when she was dressed in heavy, embroidered fabrics, walking the warren of passages and hallways of her father’s castle.

If a woman was to talk back, the captain pictured haggling fishermen’s wives and shrieking old hags. The collected and quiet irony of the girl in front of him touched him like a cold hand in the back of his neck, with her witch’s hair and piercingly calm eyes that contrasted so strangely with her shaking hands. She tried to hide it, but Frederick Clifton had seen it many times. He was no stranger to her ways.

“His lordship was worried for milady’s safety,” he finally said. Stiffly, he tore open the fastenings of his coat, slipped it off and held it out to her. When she took it, it was more for the sake of his discomfort than her own and she swung it over her shoulder with a carefully trained careless gesture. It hung down over her knees; the grotesque image made her look even more like a child; a wrong child, somehow, before the backdrop of a lake littered with bones.

It was a game to her, he thought, a game in which she held no stake but that might leave him whipped or expelled from his Lord’s service. A child still, precious and indulged, proof of a theory long held by men: that a woman needed to be married young, for her own sake as much as anyone else’s.

“Lenner, ready your horse for Lady Rochmond.”

The youngest member of the guard led his brown stallion into the semicircle and unfastened his saddle. The men were pointedly not staring at the girl, who looked so little like their lady with the muddy green algae that squished out between her toes in the morning’s first light, the deep trench between their classes blurred uncomfortably. The horse, picking up on the tension, perked up its ears, trying to move until a second member of the guard closed a strong hand around its reins.

Sir Clifton cleared his throat, and the young woman looked up again. She didn’t fight them, nor did she deign them with another comment until the sidesaddle they had carried along was in place.

She uttered a careless “Thank you,” to the boy who offered her his interlocked palms as a mounting block. He would have to walk home along the lake shore and up the serpentine path of Bramble Hill.

She hoisted herself up onto the horse, leaving a dark smudge of mud on the boy’s hands and didn’t look at him again. Her eyes might have betrayed how much she longed to trade places with him, but she had been found. Walking back in peace was no longer an option, and it all felt too familiar, like a play staged too many times by the same troupe of actors, to relish being told what to do by an aging soldier when she resisted. She had endured enough humiliation for one morning.

Clicking her tongue, she fastened her hold on the reins, turned the horse and then rode ahead of the men back toward the castle. The hoofs were still much too noisy in the misty morning air and she could feel her chest aching again already.

Lakeside I

 

By the Light of the Moon

a Lakeside novel by Laila Blake.

Release Date: May 2014

Genre: Romantic Fantasy / Paranormal
Length: 95k words
Tags: medieval fantasy, forbidden love, shape-shifter, were-wolves, fae, fairies, mental health, prejudice, privilege

 

ALL400-600Blurb

Withdrawn and with a reputation for her strange, eccentric ways, young Lady Moira Rochmond is old to be unwed. Rumors say, she has been seen barefoot in the orchard, is awake all night in moon-struck rambles and sleeps all day. Some will even claim her ghostly pallor and aloof manner are signs of illness, of a curse or insanity.

The hopes of the peaceful succession to her father’s fief lie in an advantageous marriage. Moira, however, has a hard time attracting suitors. When one does show interest, her family pushes for a decision.
Almost resigned to the fact that she has no choice but to play the part she has been given in life, Moira is faced with Owain. A member of the mysterious Blaidyn creatures and a new guard in her father’s castle, specifically tasked to keep her safe. He is different from other people she knows and when one night under the full moon, she makes the acquaintance of the wolf who shares Owain’s soul, she starts to trust him and seek his presence. As he becomes one of the few individuals who doesn’t make her want to hide and retreat, she wants to learn more about him and they grow closer until they share a kiss one night under the moon.

Faced with feelings and desires that overthrow everything she thought she knew about herself, Moira knows non-the-less that they have to be kept utterly secret. However much they try, however, they continue to be drawn to each other until one night, Owain discovers something about Moira that shakes him to core.

lynnecutout

 

Excerpt

It was too late to hide. She could hear them coming: horns and shouts in the distance, the hard drumming of iron-clad hoofs tearing into the damp morning earth. A robin, perched on a piece of driftwood, interrupted its song and fluttered off towards the castle orchards. Fog was rising from the lake, fresh and white, and only just reaching the the shore. It wafted over the shiny gravel to the first tufts of grass and reed, where dew had turned spider webs into intricate gossamer jewelry.
Moira stood at the water’s edge and looked down at the waves lapping at her naked feet. Her palms shivered ever so slightly, but she turned them outward in an open, embracing gesture. Then she closed her eyes, pushed the approaching hoof-beats out of her mind and breathed the pre-dawn air deep into her lungs. Damp and crisp, it had left infinitesimal drops of water in her messy red hair and she could imagine herself soaking it up, drawing it inside of her – air, water, mist and the lake itself — as though she could store freedom, like others stored food or drink or knowledge.
She did not move, not a muscle as the horses drew closer. Sounds were jarring in this early hour, invaders from the daylight world, too substantial for the ephemeral sense of morning silence. Moira listened to it shatter around her, like glass, like a thin sheet of ice over the lake. A shiver ran up her spine, pulsed uncomfortably in the back of her head.
The shouting ceased when the horses came to steep halt behind of her; their hoofs flung flecks of dirt through the air. They formed a vague crescent shape, arranging themselves in formation, while she lifted her hand to her cheek to wipe the mud away. One last time, she looked out over the lake. At this end, far away from the harbor and the fishing boats, it was eerily still – a silence that possessed power and gravity, that had worked its pull on her for as long as she could remember.
Only when every horse had stilled, did she turn around. She focused on the captain of the guard as he swung himself off the saddle. Gravel crunched under his boots.
“Milady,” he uttered, bowed as low as his stiff, aging back allowed. He took in the sight of her white nightgown, its hem stained with dirt and dew, her dirty pink toes peeking out from under the ruined fabric. There was a totemic presence about her in that moment, a streak of mud on her face and the mist in her back, curling around her like a caress from a different world.
“I don’t remember inviting you to my morning walk, Sir Clifton.” Moira was calm, unsurprised as she gestured the man to stand up straight. Then she wrapped her white arms around her chest in an effort to establish a hint of decorum. The autumn crisp cut through the air, now that it was laced with voices, the smell of horses, the sight of men in coats; even her feet finally felt cold. A night alone, completely alone, in the tame wilderness outside the castle had grounded her, but the crawling feeling under her skin, the desire to run reclaimed her body with every passing moment, every glance, every sound.
“Milady was not in her chambers when my Lord Rochmond noticed her absence,” the captain explained, his voice involuntarily rougher to fight the onset of embarrassment. She was hardly dressed to receive a gentleman, much less to be standing surrounded by six rough-and-tumble men of his guard.
“And he sent you to slap me in irons?” she asked, the corner of her mouth twitching slightly.
The captain could not hold her gaze. It would have been shockingly impertinent, especially considering her state of undress. But more so, she had the dark innocence of a hurt child that shone through any bitter and condescending superiority she might throw between the strong man and her feeble woman’s body. It was disconcerting and in the rising mist, between bird-song and the murmuring waves, she held an eerie quality that wasn’t quite as noticeable when hair was braided and coiled, when she was dressed in heavy, embroidered fabrics, walking the warren of passages and hallways of her father’s castle.
If a woman was to talk back, the captain pictured haggling fishermen’s wives and shrieking old hags. The collected and quiet irony of the girl in front of him went through him like a knife, with her witch’s hair and piercingly calm eyes that contrasted so strangely with her shaking hands. She tried to hide it, but Frederick Clifton had seen it many times. He was no stranger to her ways.
“His lordship was worried for milady’s safety,” he finally brought out. Stiffly, he tore open the fastings of his coat, slipped it off and held it out to her. When she took it, it was more for the sake of his discomfort than her own and she swung it over her shoulder with a carefully trained careless gesture. It hung down over her knees; the grotesque image made her look even more like a child; a wrong child, somehow, before the backdrop of a lake littered with bones.
It was a game to her, he thought, a game in which she held no stake but that might leave him whipped or expelled from his Lord’s service. A child still, precious and indulged, proof of a theory long held by men: that a woman needed to be married young, for her own sake as much as anyone else’s.
“Lenner, ready your horse for Lady Rochmond.”
As if on cue, the youngest member of the guard led his brown stallion into the semicircle and unfastened his saddle. The men were pointedly not staring at the girl, who looked so little like their lady with the muddy green algae that squished out between her toes in the morning’s first light, that the deep trench between their classes blurred uncomfortably. The horse, picking up on the tension, perked up its ears, trying to move until a second member of the guard closed a strong hand around its reins.
Sir Clifton cleared his throat and the young woman looked up again. She didn’t fight them, nor did she deign them with another comment until the sidesaddle they had carried along was in place.
She uttered a careless “Thank you,” to the boy who offered her his interlocked palms as a mounting block and who would have to walk home along the lake shore and up the serpentine path of Bramble Hill. She hoisted herself up onto the horse, leaving a dark smudge of mud on the boy’s hands and didn’t look at him again. Her eyes might have betrayed how much she longed to trade places with him, but she had been found. Walking back in peace was no longer an option, and it all felt too familiar, like a play staged too many times by the same troupe of actors, to relish being told what to do by an aging soldier when she resisted. She had endured enough humiliation for one morning.
Clicking her tongue, she fastened her hold on the reins, turned the horse and then rode ahead of the men back toward the castle. The hoofs were still much too noisy in the misty morning air and she could feel her chest aching again already.

Reviewer’s Package: After Life Lessons

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Before anything else, let me take the opportunity to thank you once more for your interest in After Life Lessons. It means the world to us and we couldn’t be more excited about this release and your participation!
We are trying to make this process as simple as possible, hopefully sparing you trying to gather all the information you might need.

1. We uploaded the different formats onto our server. Please choose your preferred format below. We would also like to make it clear again that this is an advanced review copy. It should be pretty clean, but is still undergoing a final round of external copy-edits. Thank you so much!

[After Life Lessons ARC MOBI][After Life Lessons ARC EPUB][After Life Lessons ARC PDF]

 

2. Please head on over to the tour schedule and pick a date. Anything in April is open, or even some of the free ones in late March. We will book at least 2 reviews per day (and more around the release date) so feel free to sign up for one that’s already taken. Pick a date either by commenting on the post or by sending an email to info@liltliterary.com.

 

3. While it would be great for the review to appear on your blog at the date you picked (it isn’t imparative, really, we’re just hoping for a nice, relatively even spread), feel free to post it on Goodreads whenever you want to.
We are also hoping to quote 2-5 reviews in the actual copy we will upload to retailers – if you liked the book and are interested in being featured there, please email us your review (or just a quote) before the beginning of April.

 

4. Please find all kinds of graphics and all links in our media kit. The retail links will be added once we have them.
The giveaway will run until the end of April. We’d love to see it featured along-side the review.

 

5. We are compiling a list of your blogs to go up on our website as Blogs we Love. We will also, of course, promote our reviews as they come in. If we can do anything else for you – vote places or like anything etc. please let us know. We’d love to support you in any way we can because we honestly believe you are doing a tremendous service to our community.

We also thought it might be nice if you could maybe link to the next and previous days’ posts and in that way promote each other. This is of course voluntary, but we thought it might be a fun idea.

 

6. If — and only if — you like the book, could we ask you for one more favor? It would really help us if you could take a minute or two, and vote for After Life Lessons on Goodreads listopia – for example on these lists. Or, if you are part of a group, to nominate it as a group read or similar. We’d be eternally grateful! 😀

Excerpt #2

Grasping the edge of the crumbling desk with her good hand, Emily hauled herself to her feet. The room wavered again, and a crackling noise filled her head, like the white noise on a stuck channel of an old television. It grew in volume, and it was only when she shook her head once, twice, that she realized it wasn’t the rattling of her own brain, but tires crunching over ice and gravel instead.

Forgetting about her arm, she flung herself to the ground next to Song. Something large parked right outside: she could see it through the crack in the door, out over the ruined shop floor and through the gaping glass that faced out on the driveway.

The chair was still shoved in place against the door, but it offered little comfort. Chin pressed uncomfortably to the cement floor, her fingers crept in the direction of her deflated backpack, seeking out the slickness of the zipper pull. Gritting her teeth, she tugged at it, inching it open just enough to push her hand in, and locate the gun.

The chamber was empty: it had been for weeks, her last bullet wasted on a shadow that turned out to be nothing more than a rotted tree stump. Still, there was comfort in the cold metal, the heft of the thing, that she wouldn’t have believed in her life before.

The crunch of footsteps traveled around the side of the building, drifted away, came back into sudden and amplified sound. They were careful, she noted, checking the vicinity, something she’d not had the wherewithal to do when she found the place. The sound moved closer, and she pulled up her shoulders, sank down along the wall and held her breath. There was the sound of a door creaking, then the crunch of boots on broken glass. For a heartbeat, then another, she allowed herself to hope they would go unnoticed, that whoever it was would see the ransacked place and move on. But then the handle moved, and the door shook under the impact of force.

“Don’t come in here!” Her voice was raw, high-pitched, nasal, but her clipped British accent and the sheer lack of anything to lose gave her a more threatening quality than she could have hoped for. “I’m armed.”

A second ticked by in silence, then another.

She actually jumped when a voice called out: “I’m sure you are.”

The gun shook in her hand. Swallowing the bile creeping up her throat again, she leaned closer to the door to look out the crack, at the dark patch the person made on the other side.

“I am too,” the voice announced; it was male, and there was some accent she couldn’t place, though her brain spun up and then clung to it, stupidly obsessive, trying to place it.

“I don’t want to shoot anyone,” he went on, inexplicably. “I’m guessing you don’t want to, either. I’m not here to hurt you.”

He tried the handle again, the chair held and Emily wheezed a sigh of relief, until a movement caught her eye. It was tilting further, slipped out from under the handle and then landed with a clatter on the concrete floor. Song stirred beside her; she clutched the gun harder, tried to hold it steady, but her eyes were blurring.

“Drop your gun.” She sounded silly, like a girl dressed in period clothes auditioning for a cop show, and, truly, the words were something she remembered from a movie, sometime, somewhere. “Or I’ll shoot.”

The door didn’t open, and she heard something click against the floor outside; she didn’t dare inch closer to the door again to look.

“Hands up,” she said, then, unblinking, eyes burning. She felt wild and delirious, suddenly powerful. “Say you have your hands up.”

She could hear a cough, but then he replied: “I got my hands up.”

Shifting onto her knees, she scuttled close to the door and reached for the knob. There was that sense again, the one that said they were about to die, but this one felt much more comfortable, more acceptable, than freezing to death. Was this really the person she’d become?

“Step away from the door, away from the gun.”

She heard the sound of boots again, heavy and slow, then closed her eyes, sent a silent thought back to Song, to Sullivan and pushed the door open.

Excerpt #1

Something was dying in the flurries of snow. The wind had piled it into drifts, threw it into icy funnels that danced between the trees.

Emily couldn’t see five feet of road in front of them, but the desperate howl pierced the wind.  A dog maybe, or something altogether wilder. One hand firmly wrapped around Song’s wrist, she dragged the boy along. He grew heavier, slower with each step. Piece by piece, they had let go of their possessions, offered them like sacrifices to the cold, to earth’s gravity and fatigue. Song had long stopped complaining; he’d even stopped coughing, just hung on to her, placing a shaking foot in front of the other.

The dog howled again, and Emily forced her legs to quicken the pace. Song whined, and then his hand slipped out of hers, and he sunk onto a pile of snow. She was aware they were going to die; that was as clear as the icicles that hung from the hard guitar-case she still carried strapped to her backpack. She could barely walk on her own skinny legs and they wouldn’t get far, but she pulled him up anyway, hefted him onto her hip. His frozen cheek came to rest against hers. He coughed, tried to lock his ankles around her waist, but his boots were too slippery, and he soon lost the strength to try again.

Emily was not far behind. With each step along the icy road, her knees shook, and even in the split second in which she slipped, she found herself utterly unsurprised, almost unmoved.

They were going to die.

Blinding pain blasted through her wrist, up along her arm when she landed—hard on her left side, protecting Song from the brunt of it—and, still, she was left impassive. The pain drove tears to her eyes, and the wind froze them on her cheek, but she hardly noticed. She struggled back to her feet, sucked in stinging breath after stinging breath, and pressed forward.

There had to be something out there, something other than the snow, the trees that formed an aisle on either side of them. Hope felt foolish—but this was logic. They were not out in the wilderness; there had to be something.

“Song please, please…” she begged, when he slipped down her thigh again, clinging to her neck like a monkey. She hefted him back up, swallowed the pain that shot through her arm, and tried to squint through the snow. Another howl filled the stillness, closer this time.

In her head, in her legs, it felt like she was running. The truth came closer to padding along on heavy feet, but it was the idea that mattered, the breath that burned in her lungs. She envisioned herself bursting through the trees to some large, well-appointed house, with food and a bathtub big enough to float in, to make it all worth it.

What she found—in the end—was a decrepit gas station, but she reminded herself, sing-song voice in her head and all, beggars can’t be choosers.

They made an inelegant entrance, crashing through the door that hung on its hinges, into a convenience store that had been ransacked long before, the toppled shelves mostly emptied, covered in dust and a fine layer of ice. Emily hauled the both of them through the tangle of wood and wire, past the cash register that lay, gaping open like a wound, on the floor by the counter. The wind whistled through the broken windows, and had it not been for the storeroom just behind the cigarette display, there would have been no point to the gas station at all, not for them.

The storeroom had only one small window and a rotting desk—no food in sight. It was cold, still, but temperature was relative—they were out of the snow, out of the wind, and she could finally set her boy on the floor, and collapse herself.

Every motion sent pain crashing up her arm, and somewhere in the back of her mind that scared her almost as much as Song’s cough and the way his cheeks were burning up the moment he was out of the wind. Biting down, she pilfered through her pack, throwing onto him whatever they had left: a few clothes, a blanket. Where was the towel she’d always used to rub him dry?

“I’m getting some snow to melt, okay? Don’t move.”

Song didn’t answer; Emily grabbed the empty bottle and struggled to her feet. She thought of fires, of tea and food as she stumbled through the store-room, cradling her arm and ducking her chin into her scarf to protect her from the wind. Kicking the door open again with her boot, she squatted down, and pushed snow into the bottle until her gloves were caked in the stuff. She was back on her feet, shivering, when something broke through her pain-addled senses.

The dog barked, once, then again—vicious, aggressive and scared. A shadow hushed through the snow somewhere far ahead. Emily stood, frozen on the spot until, in the distance, hulking shadows emerged—a soft grey against the chaotic white of the blizzard.

Excerpt #5

“I dream of him dying over and over. Over and over they jump him and he disappears under their bodies for so long…” Emily opened her eyes, but stared ahead, wide eyed and holding her breath. “And I hate… I hate that he was alone at the end. I should have been there, but I… I left him alone. He was all alone.”

Aaron was quiet, and so she continued: “Song used to think he’d come later, you know, find us. I never had the heart to… to really say the word. I dunno. I guess I was jealous Song still had that hope. And every time I dream it, I want to be faster but… I’m never faster.”

“You’re not gonna be, Em.” He’d not picked up that he’d shortened her name, but it came out that way all the same. “It’s happened, and it’s horrible. And I can’t tell you the nightmares get better, but you can’t blame yourself, you know. That is never gonna help.”

“He really likes you,” she whispered then, unable to continue without feeling like her chest was torn apart. “Song, I mean.”

“I like him, too.” He smiled again, catching some of her tears with his thumb and wiping them down her cheek. “He’s a good kid. You got lucky, huh?”

“Oh yeah,” she smiled, wet and tired, but she leaned into his touch. “He must have come out like this, all beautiful and smart and perfect.”

“He’s lucky to have you, too, you know.”

She couldn’t agree with him, and wanted to wave away the compliment, but this time there was just a hint of a smile. “It’s good to have someone…” she whispered and without meaning to at first, her lips brushed over his wrist.

His hand froze in place, but just for a beat.

“Yeah, I think so.” He breathed out, the exhalation warm on her face, close again, and the kiss that followed it was less of a surprise to them both, than the one just a couple nights before. It was wet and sticky with her tears, if less so than before, and they eased into each other faster, harder. Emily cradled his large face in her small hands; they had always been calloused and rough from her work with hard materials, and now they were cracked and dry. They could be tender though, girl’s hands still.

It was likely the wrong time to be kissing, but there seemed no right time for anything, not anymore—and both of them were lonely and aching, and whatever small amount of connection a kiss afforded seemed like enough, in the cold clear of the night, hidden off the road.

Aaron didn’t push further, but, at the natural break, didn’t pull away, top lip resting on her bottom one, eyelashes clotted with the moisture from her cheeks. Her fingertips brushed over his jaw, found the stubble of this beard. Her hands were shaking and she held on tighter.

“I like you, too…” she whispered finally.

Excerpt #4

“What was he like?”

Emily looked up, surprised; Aaron had asked it quietly as though unsure whether he was allowed to or not. She lifted her hands, still under the blanket, admiring the way they formed hills and valleys when she moved them.

“Charming,” she said with a wan little smile. “He came up to me, said I owed him a beer. I asked why and he said it was because he’d seen my pretty eyes from across the room in the very beginning of the set, and then played it all for me.”

She chuckled sadly and shook her head. “It was such a stupid pick-up line, but he had that way about him, you know, some people do—you just look at them and you know they’re special, like they can do anything, say anything.”

Pausing for a long moment, Emily drew a few sharp breaths, then leaned her cheek against Aaron’s shoulder once more. Her eyes swam with moisture but she didn’t let it take over.

“We got drunk together, compared tattoos and stories, as you do. I didn’t really have a place back then, I just squatted with some people, moved from place to place. Neither did he—he just toured all the time. It was winter then too, snow falling everywhere, cold and romantic. He took me with him in the bus for a while—it was never supposed to last, but… we needed each other. And time without him was like… being under water without an oxygen tank. I’d never felt that way before, and so we made it work. And then just a few months later, his ex showed up with that beautiful little toddler and we got a proper place and paid taxes and stuff…”

She shrugged; Aaron nudged his shoulder gently against her cheek.

“That sounds good.” He did sound as though he believed that, even as his spine curled a little and he sunk even further under the blankets so that their faces were almost level, so he was almost lying on the floor.

“That you got that,” he added, after a beat. Emily nodded silently. His motion had disturbed the blankets around her shoulder and her hand started to feel awkward on his arm. She smiled a little sheepishly, and reached across him in an effort to pull the covers back up. Grasping the corner, her fingers brushed over his jeans, and a hardness, a warmth.

Her mouth opened once and then she quickly pulled the blanket back up.

It was reaction to heat, he’d argue in his head, and Aaron very quickly bit back any response, tipping his head back as though checking to make sure the boxes weren’t about to teeter and fall on top of them. He didn’t look at her, the awkwardness of the situation plenty without him acting like an idiot while waiting for his confused body to get its shit back together.

“It’s okay,” she whispered.

“Sorry,” he breathed, anyway. He remembered being young, younger than he was now, the old advice to think of baseball scores and math equations, your old aunt in a bathing suit, and maybe that worked when you were trying to stop thinking of someone, of touch, of sex, but it was less about thought and something about proximity, loneliness, and very much fear that brought it on, so even batting averages weren’t working.

“I told you, you don’t have to apologize.” She shook her head and leaned forward just a little, trying to catch his eye.

“I could… help you with that.” She did blush a little and there was an aching in her voice, loneliness and mourning. “I mean, you know, I could.”

Excerpt #3

Emily stared first at him, then at the side-view mirror.

“They are fast…” she exhaled.

Rolling down the highway, Aaron was trying to avoid broken down cars and fallen trees, snow-choked drifts and holes in the road. They were slow, too slow; and the creatures had little trouble keeping up. There was no question of stopping, of course, but he couldn’t accelerate, either.

“It’s like they’re hunting…” he muttered, focus completely on the road. They were nowhere near an established town, not really, so there shouldn’t have been as many as there were. He’d counted five, now, in the last mile, and that meant, logically, there were more he wasn’t seeing. There were always more, always unpredictable. Underestimate them once and you were dead meat.

Emily clenched her hand around her thigh and glanced at Song still sleeping on the backseat. He looked as peaceful, as oblivious as she had been mere minutes ago.

“Maybe it’s because we’re moving or… or making sounds,” she whispered. Aaron couldn’t tell if she was worried about waking her boy, or whether the soft hush was her way of keeping her voice from cracking with fear, but he shook his head, distractedly.

He had to come up with a strategy, some way out of this, but it was high stakes situations like these when his army training broke through and he felt paralyzed, waiting for an order, for someone else to take over and tell him what to do. There was a sense of shame in that, and one he wasn’t eager for her to notice.

“Oh—fuck, no.” Aaron jumped and stepped on the brake pedal. Around a bend, they’d come to a downed tree, large and crushed down by the snow, and the van rolled to a stop in front of it. It had to have fallen sometime during the last storm, as the roots were still caked in soil and snow had frozen in a thick sheet of ice over the trunk.

A dizzying sensation of panic sunk through Emily’s body; she took a rattling breath.

“There’s no way we can move that,” she said still in that small voice, thin but steely.

“Yeah.”

After Life Lessons Tour Schedule

http://www.liltliterary.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Blogtourbanner_large.jpg

After Life Lessons Blog Tour

[Pre-release Promo Tour and Post-release Review Tour]

 

Feb 10 — The Book Wranglers (Cover Reveal)

Feb 11 — Mummy’s Naughty Corner (Excerpt)

Feb 12 — Booklover’s Attic (Spotlight)

Feb 13 — Spare Reads (Excerpt)

Feb 14 — Pink Fluffy Hearts (Excerpt)

Feb 15 — Bex ‘n’ Books (Guest Post)

Feb 16 — SUNDAY

Feb 17 — Sabina’s Adventures in Reading (Spotlight)

Feb 18 — Literary Meanderings (Interview)

Feb 19 — Bite Club (Excerpt)

Feb 20 — Red Reader Review (Interview)

Feb 21 — Jany’s Book Blog (Spotlight)

Feb 22 — Friday Night Romance (Interview)

Feb 23 — Tome Tender (Excerpt)
———-Jeanz Books ReadNReview (Interview)

Feb 24 — Riverina Romantics (Excerpt)

Feb 25 — Swept Away by Romance (Promo Post)

Feb 26 — The Not-So-Literary Heiresses (Excerpt)

Feb 27 — What Danielle Did Next (Excerpt)

Feb 28 — Nocturnal Predators (Excerpt)

Mar 01 — Bookish Things and More (Promo)

Mar 02 — SUNDAY

Mar 03 — Annamaria’s Book Blog (Interview)

Mar 04 — Sporadic Reads (Excerpt)

Mar 05 — The Fiction Enthusiast (Excerpt)
———-KT Book Reviews (Promo)

Mar 06 — Contagious Reads (Interview)

Mar 07 — My Serynity (Interview)

Mar 08 — Once Upon a Dream Books (Character Interview)

Mar 09 — SUNDAY

Mar 10 — Love Reading Romance (Excerpt)
———-Salacious Reads (Excerpt)

Mar 11 — The Indigo Shelf (Excerpt)

Mar 12 — Read Between the Lines (Spotlight)

Mar 13 — Total Book Geek (Guestpost)

Mar 14 — Accepted Wisdom (Character Interview)

Mar 15 — SATURDAY

Mar 16 — Offbeat Vagabond (Interview)

Mar 17 — Mad Hatter Reads (Interview)

Mar 18 — Smart Girls love Sci-Fi (Interview)

Mar 19 — What’s Hot? (Excerpt)

Mar 20 — Darlene’s Book Reviews (Interview)
———-Romance Schmomance (Review)

Mar 21 — Once Upon a YA Book (Guest Post)

Mar 22 — SATURDAY

Mar 23 — Rosie Reads (Interview)

Mar 24 — Katie Babbles (Guest Post)

Mar 25 — Dear Postscript (Review)

Mar 26 — Loaded Shelves (Spotlight)

Mar 27 — Bookworm Lisa (Excerpt)

Mar 28 — A Bookish Escape (Interview)

Mar 29 — SATURDAY

Mar 30 — SUNDAY

Mar 31 — HEAs are Us (Excerpt)

Apr 01 — 2 Bibliophiles (Cover/Excerpt)

Apr 02 — Manic Readers (Character Interview)

Apr 03 — Paulette’s Papers (Promo)

Apr 04 — A Writer’s Dark Corner (Spotlight)
———Salacious Reads (Review)

Apr 05 Paranormal Book Club (Excerpt)

Apr 06 — SUNDAY

Apr 07 — My Serynity (Review)
———-Bitten by Romance (Review)

Apr 08 — Accepted Wisdom (Review)

Apr 09 — Rabid Readers (Review)

Apr 10 — Total Book Geek (Review)
———-— Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews (Review)

Apr 11 — Sporadic Reads (Review)

Apr 12 — The Indigo Shelf (Review)

— Tangled in Pages (Review)

Apr 13 — Read More, Sleep Less (Review)

Apr 14 — Red Reader Review  (Review)
———Black ‘n Write (Review)

Apr 15

Apr 16

Apr 17

Apr 18 — Friday Night Romance (Review)

Apr 19

Apr 20 — Jany’s Book Blog (Review)

Apr 21 — Contageous Reads (Review)

Apr 22

Apr 23 — A Writer’s Dark Corner (Review)

Apr 24

Apr 25

Apr 26

Apr 27 — Choco-Lit-Chick (Review)

Apr 28 — Brooke Blogs (Review)

Apr 29 — The Avid Reader (Review)

Apr 30 — Book Lover’s Attic (Review)

May 02 — Romance and Beyond (Guest Post)

 

If you need a date in May, please let us know, and we’ll add it to the list! 🙂