Tag Archives: jennifer eaton

Free Preview of STARLIGHT!

It’s release day for STARLIGHT!

I’m very excited to be writing science fiction again. It is my true love and very close to my heart.

Reviews are great so far!  Thanks everyone for picking up a copy during early release week.

For those of you who haven’t heard of STARLIGHT yet, here’s a free preview of the first chapter!

The only thing standing between an uncharted planet and a murderous band of pirates is a long lost hero and the woman sent to rescue him.
New to her pilot’s stripes, Mia throttles her rescue team to the farthest reaches of the galaxy to save a hero missing in action. The problem is, Jason Starlight isn’t sure he wants to be saved.
For the past 5 years Jason has been the only thing standing between the people of his new planet and a vicious band of pirates. Now he’s faced with a choice, turn his back on the planet he now calls home, or drag Mia and her team into a fight that will probably get them all killed.
Jason knows the greatest heroes stand up for what’s right no matter the cost, but Mia knows it’s only the smartest heroes that live to tell about it.
Starlight is Guardians of the Galaxy meets Avatar.
Step on board and start your inter-galactic adventure today!

Chapter One

Mia

Mia squinted in the bright light, clutching her communication pad as she rushed through the space station hallway. The orders to get to her first star cruiser had just appeared in her private inbox, and the sooner she got to her new baby, the better. If she fueled up and took off by the time command realized they’d just assigned a deep-space search and rescue mission to a five-day-old academy graduate, it would be too late for them to call her back.

The mission brief said they were heading out into the black sector, past the line where most of space had been charted—with the directive to retrieve. Retrieve what, she didn’t know, but she wasn’t about to ask questions when she had just thirty minutes to make the departure schedule. She hadn’t even had time to pack a proper bag. She’d just grabbed her emergency essentials and run out the door.

She stopped to let a group of cadets running formations pass her in the hall. She’d been one of them not too long ago, and she’d been in front, outpacing the rest both physically and academically.

She straightened, adjusting her bag on her shoulder. This assignment wasn’t a mistake. She’d worked her ass off at the academy. She deserved to pilot her own ship.

She forced herself into a swift walk rather than a full-on sprint. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself. One wrong move could set off a chain reaction, resulting in her being slapped back into basic training. Best to keep calm and in control, even if her entire body felt like it might take off on its own.

She’d been ready for this since she’d first seen a ship high in the sky over Calla Station. She’d looked to the stars all her life. Now she’d know what it felt like to sit behind the controls of a beautiful piece of engineering, capable of speeds beyond a normal person’s comprehension.

She stopped at the edge of Bay Number 194 and took a deep breath. This was it.

The Alpha Cent was a Class Nine Reclaim and Rescue vessel, with long, high lines and sleek edging for added maneuverability in combat situations, and boy, was she a beauty.

Holding back her smile, she saluted the ground crew. A few narrowed their eyes at her, and she shifted her shoulder bag to reveal her pilot’s stripes. Those simple marks brought them to their feet. Not that she needed anyone fawning over her. After all, most of these people were twice her age. It was kind of fun, though, to be recognized for a position she’d earned.

Mia ducked onto the boarding ramp and walked up the steep slope. Her heart rattled in her chest. It almost seemed surreal, experiencing the cool steel beneath her boots rumbling as the engineers tested the instruments.

The resonance seemed slightly off, but the next rattle proved smoother.

Good. The engineers were taking good care of her baby.

But… Where was the captain and the first officer? Protocol dictated that they should be here to greet her.

“Ground test complete,” a man’s voice sounded over the intercom. “I want to lift off within twenty. Has the pilot checked in yet?”

Twenty? She looked down at her communication pad. She was right on time, reporting as called. They should be here waiting for her.

“Start the sequences, Bernard,” the voice said. “I am not missing this liftoff window.”

“Yes, sir,” another voice called.

Dang it! Mia dashed down the hall. Luckily, she’d done a short tour of duty on the same model ship and knew how to get to the pilot’s station on her own.

But what in goodness’ name was the rush? Not welcoming the pilot onboard… Well, it just wasn’t done. She should be shown around, briefed on the ship, the mission, and the flight plan.

Two crew members turned into the hallway, huddled in conversation. They both wore light gray maintenance uniforms. Mia slowed so she wouldn’t plow into them.

“Yeah, but her? What is she, like, twelve? She’s barely out of flight school,” one of them said.

The other shrugged. “She can’t be that bad if they’re letting her pilot.”

“Yeah, but where we’re going, I don’t want to be anyone’s guinea pig flight. I—” His gaze met Mia’s before lowering to the stripes on her shoulder. His eyes widened before he saluted. “Welcome aboard, ma’am.”

Mia gave him a curt nod, grinding her teeth. He didn’t look all that much older than her. How dare he criticize her for just completing her training? Swallowing her frustration, Mia managed a smile. “Thank you. I’m happy to be here.”

“We’re happy to have you here too,” the second crewman said, saluting her. “I’ve heard so many great things. Top of the class.”

At least someone knew of her accomplishments. “News travels fast. I won’t keep you two from your work. We’ve got to get going.”

“Yes, ma’am.” They both gave her another salute.

She trudged past them, gripping her shoulder bag tighter. She’d worked hard for this position, and she’d earned it as much as anyone, despite her age. Everyone on board should have been honored to serve with her. Cream of the crop was becoming harder and harder to find these days. Sure, there were plenty of more experienced pilots out there—pilots who had more important missions to run than a search and rescue.

But to Mia, nothing could be more important than saving those who put their lives at risk every day to make the galaxy a safer place.

Mia continued down the hall and stopped at the wide, polished door of the cockpit. This was it, the moment of truth. She pressed her hand to the door. If she truly was meant to pilot this mission, it would open without a problem, responding to her DNA and her fingerprints.

The door slid aside, allowing her entry. Her heart fluttered, and she closed her eyes for a moment, reveling in the confirmation that she truly belonged here.

She stood in the archway, taking in her new office. Yes, she’d been in the cockpit of a similar ship before when she’d toured with Pilot Reynolds, one of the more senior pilots left in the fleet. It was different, though, knowing she would soon sit in that coveted chair.

“Beautiful,” she whispered, taking in all the twinkling lights. Each blink represented a reading, a button, or a signal—all waiting on her.

“You barely made it,” a rough voice said from up ahead. The co-pilot chair spun revealing a young man close to her age with tightly cropped, wiry black curls. When his gaze caught sight of her he groaned loudly. “It is you. I thought they were messing with me.”

Mia folded her arms in front of her chest. “Excuse me?”

The guy rose from his chair and stormed over. He had a good foot and a half of height on her, though that didn’t take much. When he peered down at her, she made sure to hold her ground.

“I’m Bernard, and I don’t expect you to remember me since I graduated from the academy a year before you did, but I’ve heard of you. Pretty much everyone in the academy has.” He grabbed her helmet and connection tubes from off their storage rack. “It’s important we stay on schedule or we’ll miss the safest orbiting pattern.”

She took the helmet and put it on before snapping all of the tubes into place. “You’re only a year out of the academy and already a co-pilot?” Despite her early advancement, most people took years before getting anywhere near the controls of a ship this large.

“Not a co-pilot,” he grumbled. “My official title has been junior assistant since I left the academy.”

She glanced at him. “You’re sitting in the wrong chair then,” she stated. “Get my co-pilot here so we can go through the pre-flight checklist.” She eased into her seat and butterflies took flight in her stomach.

Bernard sat in the co-pilot’s chair and snapped on his own helmet. His voice popped into her earpiece nice and clear over the private communicator system. “You got this job because our previous pilot landed a snap promotion. When you were named his replacement, your co-pilot walked off. I got promoted an hour ago.”

Mia cringed, but she guessed she couldn’t blame the guy. If she were a co-pilot and her pilot got a promotion, she would have expected to get the pilot job, too.

She shifted in her seat. It was probably better this way, though. The last thing she needed on her first mission was a co-pilot with a bad case of sour grapes.

Bernard pointed to the comm panel. “Captain Stevenson is ready on the bridge. He said to get started as soon as you got here.”

Lights started flashing on the display panel.

This was it. She just had to hope Bernard had been paying attention while he’d sat at the assistant’s station. If not, though, she’d done enough simulators with a dead co-pilot that she could probably fly this thing alone with her eyes closed.

“Let’s go through the check-list so we can get going. I’d hate to miss the safest orbiting pattern the captain is shooting for.”

Safest orbiting pattern… These were not always the easiest words to digest. The pilot was supposed to be briefed on the mission. She should have spent time running specific simulations if headed into a danger zone. Hopefully, once they were in route she’d be able to get some answers.

“Engines,” Bernard said.

Mia observed the readings. “Good.”

“Ionized propulsion.”

“Two points above required parameters.” She flipped a switch. “Pressurizing for separation from the station.”

Bernard gazed at the meter. “Pressurized. Oxygen levels are good. Ready to request permission from the captain?”

Mia nodded. She hit the flashing button that read Bridge. “Sir, this is your pilot, Mia Walton. We’re ready for deployment.”

“Thank you for getting here so quickly,” Captain Stevenson said. “I thought we were going to miss our window.” The light flashed twice. “Sit tight. We’re almost there.” A few seconds later, his voice sounded over the intercom for the entire ship. “Crew of the Alpha Cent, we are ready for lift off. This is your last warning to strap in.”

“Medical bay, ready.”

“Engine room, ready.”

One by one, each department of the ship sounded off. Mia tingled all over, her fingers at the helm, eager to guide the Alpha Cent out into the vast reaches of space.

“Pilot, we are go for launch,” Captain Stevenson said.

Go for launch. Three words she’d dreamed of hearing since she’d been a little girl. A lot of pressure rested on her shoulders—pressure she relished, pressure that drove her to excellence. With the grace of a ballerina, she navigated the ship out of the docking bay.

Her eyes widened when they cleared the hangar, and stars stretched into infinity.

A simulation didn’t do the experience justice. The metal framework of the docking bay disappeared from view within minutes. Other ships navigating their way to the space station became fewer the farther away the Alpha Cent moved, and then only a black blanket speckled in shining diamonds surrounded her.

Away from the station, the galaxies were so much more defined, each creating a distinct outline of shimmering reds and golds. It was all so much to take in, and it left her breathless. It seemed hard to imagine that only twenty years ago this immense, peaceful place had been a battleground.

The United Galaxy Alliance had started out as the galactic police when space piracy had been rampant enough to hinder the supply flow to the outer rim colonies. When the Hiverian Pirate settlement on Caspian Four had finally been discovered and taken out by the UGA, the Alpha Cent, like other C9R&Rs had returned to their roots as deep-space reclaim-and-rescue ships.

Now here Mia was, just one step closer to Heaven.

Bernard cleared his throat. “This really is your first time out, huh?”

Her cheeks burned. “Like you didn’t do the same.” He was right, though. She needed to focus and do her job.

She checked the vitals to make sure they were in fact still good before taking off her helmet. Chin-length blonde hair whipped around her face as she shook her head to combat some of the stiffness in her neck.

Bernard also took off his helmet. “It’s an appreciation that won’t last, sorry.”

“Jaded much?”

He didn’t laugh. “Captain Stevenson asked to see you on the command deck as soon as we’d cleared the station limits.”

Mia nodded and tapped the bridge button. “This is the pilot. Transferring control to the navigators in five. Please confirm.”

“Confirm,” a woman’s voice said.

Mia held her finger over the button. “Five, four, three, two, one.” She pressed the button and the ship jolted as the bridge took control for the easier part of the flight.

Taking a deep breath, she stood. Under other circumstances, she’d have met the captain long before takeoff. The suddenness of their departure was a huge break in protocol. Now, maybe she’d find out why.

The Alpha Cent might not have been the largest star cruiser in the galaxy, but it was certainly big enough. From the cockpit, she had to climb a flight of stairs to reach the command deck.

Elevators were for the weak. Not to mention, she didn’t want to be sidetracked by another member of the crew who wanted to thank her for her service or remind her that she’d just graduated.

Upon reaching the command deck, she found the door locked. That was strange. The passage between the deck and cockpit should only be sealed if under attack. That was protocol.

Again with the protocol infractions. What was going on with this ship?

Mia knocked on the door firmly and waited to be allowed in. A good minute passed before the door slid open.

“Is the door broken?” She stepped inside.

The command deck itself had ten times the floor space of the cockpit. Navigators inputted routes into the system while a tall man in captain’s stripes spoke to a woman with hair pulled back into a tight bun wearing the first officer’s insignia. Everyone ignored Mia.

Since when was a new pilot something to brush aside, as if unimportant?

She cleared her throat. “Officer Mia Walton reporting, sir.”

Captain Stevenson gave her a glance, whispered something to the first officer, and then graced her with his full attention. “Officer Walton, thank you for joining me.”

“Is the door broken?” she asked again.

“Excuse me?”

“The door.” She pointed to where she’d entered from. “Is it broken? It didn’t open for me.”

Captain Stevenson pursed his lips. Tiny lines marred his face, drawing attention to the graying hair at his temples. “I’ll have someone inquire about the matter.”

The tone made the back of her neck itch, like he had no intention of inquiring about the matter. Still, she had to take the words at face value. It wasn’t like she could call her new captain a liar. “Thank you, sir.”

He pressed two buttons on a control panel. “Officer Walton, I’d also like to extend my thanks to you for taking on this mission on such short notice. As you know, our previous pilot was promoted, and all of the others at the station, frankly, had more important things to do with their time.” He looked up. “You were the top recommendation from the academy.”

Mia cringed. So she’d gotten the job because no one else had wanted it? Where could they possibly be going?

Captain Stevenson waved for her to follow him out of the command deck. “Now that we’re cruising, would you like something to drink?”

Mia shook her head. “No, thank you.” She took in the softer lighting on this part of the deck. The lower-level halls were mainly used for maintenance and quick access to the living quarters. These upper levels were frequented by the crew, and the softer light was supposed to simulate sunlight. Nothing was like the sun, but it was much better than the stark lighting downstairs.

She quickened her pace, realizing she’d fallen behind the captain. “Pardon me asking, sir, but what do you mean, the other pilots had better things to do?”

Captain Stevenson unlocked the door to his private office. He sat at his desk and pointed to a chair on the other side. She took a seat, though she’d have preferred to stand. Sitting implied they’d be speaking for a while, and she wanted to be back in the cockpit so she could keep familiarizing herself with her new station.

He leaned back. “Thirty-six hours ago, a relevant particle scan revealed a life signature in Sirius Alpha Nine.”

The Kraken Nebula. Her stomach clenched.

“It was only there for about three seconds, but it was long enough to confirm a carbon-based life form, and three beats of what may have been a class seven sequential homing beacon.”

She licked her lips. “Class seven would be a fighter plane.”

His face remained placid. “That’s what I’m hoping.” He stood and walked to a star map posted on his wall. He ran his hands alongside five pins forming a circle. “What do you know about Sirius Alpha Nine?”

Mia shifted in her seat. “Well, it’s a nebula, and we’ve lost a lot of ships there. One of my instructors called it space’s Bermuda Triangle. I’ve also heard it referred to as the Kraken—”

“It’s a death trap, that’s what it is.”

The weight in the room pressed in on all sides. “That’s why you couldn’t find another pilot? That’s why you took off before telling me where you were going?”

He held up his hands. “You certainly could have asked questions first. No one dragged you onto this ship.”

Fair enough. She had been well within her rights to make inquiries, but the window of opportunity had been slim. Now that she was here, though, she needed to be the officer she’d been trained to be.

She sat back. “A carbon signature is not much, though. It could be anything, and the last time we lost a fighter in that nebula was—”

“Thirty years ago.”

Yes, thirty years ago. She remembered watching the news feeds. Of course, she hadn’t been born yet, but her father had been obsessed with Jason Griggs, the fighter pilot who’d vanished into that colorful abyss. She’d sat with her dad day after day as he’d recounted all Griggs’s accomplishments.

Her father had watched the footage of the mission where Griggs had disappeared over and over, hoping to find something that would tell them more about what had happened to the legendary pilot.

Even then, Mia’s heart had been in the stars, and she’d watched, frozen, as one of the greatest heroes Earth had ever known disappeared over and over again.

The captain returned to the map. “What do you know about the Crengine disaster?”

Too much. She’d taken up her father’s infatuation with Jason Griggs, the man known to the entire world by his callsign, Captain Starlight. Many thought her fascination with the incident, and the pilot who had died that night, was unhealthy.

Instead, she played it smooth, cocking her head. “You mean the Crengine Rescue?”

He shrugged. “Rescue, disaster—I guess it’s all relative.”

She preferred the word disaster too, if she were being honest, but the history books used the word rescue, and facts were all that were required at the moment.

She took a deep breath and imparted what she knew. “The Crengine was a luxury liner. It had been hit by an uncharted piece of debris that left it disabled and adrift headed toward Sirius Alpha Nine.”

She gripped the edges of her chair. The history books probably tamed down the horror, not wanting to discourage cadets, but she’d heard it called The Crengine Disaster before. Five fighter pilots had lost their lives trying to save that cruiser, the most notorious being Captain Starlight—the man whose photos had graced her bedroom walls since she’d been old enough to know what a hero was.

The captain turned to her. “I was a five-year veteran fighter pilot on a basic run on the outskirts of the nebula when that call came in.” He rubbed his chin. “We were trained for combat, not rescue, but there was no one else close enough, so we went in.”

Mia straightened. “You were in the 123rd? Did you know Jason Griggs?” The question slipped out before she could stop it. She gripped the arms of her chair, hoping to quell her excitement some.

Captain Stevenson shook his head. “Griggs…we all hated his guts.”

Mia’s jaw dropped. “Wh-What?”

“It was jealousy, really. That rat’s ass got away with everything. He had no sense of rules or regulations. He just did whatever the hell he wanted to do, and he got away with it.”

She stared at him for a minute. “B-But he was a hero—decorated twelve times before the age of twenty-five.”

He waved his hands. “You don’t have to tell me. He mentioned it. A lot. One thing that flyboy wasn’t short on was ego.”

A wave of nausea built in Mia’s throat. Jason Griggs had saved hundreds of lives single handedly. He’d discovered new worlds, albeit somewhat unconventionally at times. How could his team not have loved him?

The captain looked back at the map. “Two of us had finished our cable runs, pulling the cruiser from the danger zone, when a piece of the ship broke off and careened into us. There wasn’t a damn thing we could do. We were too close to the damaged ship to engage thrusters.

Mia shuddered. She remembered the cameras on those ships, and the frigid ice shooting into space as the air vented from the cabin cruiser.

“We were both disabled and careening straight for the nebula.” He grimaced. “Starlight’s ship came out of nowhere. He was singing some ridiculous song from the ancient radio era.” He rubbed his face. “He bumped my wingman’s jet twice, pushing him close enough to get grabbed by the cruiser’s technicians.”

Mia nodded. “I saw it on news reels. That was some amazing flying.”

He nodded. “It was. I was there, watching it, and I still can’t believe Griggs pulled it off.” He stared at the floor. “Meanwhile, I got caught in the nebula’s pull.”

Mia’s hands whitened on the armrests of her chair. No. It couldn’t be… “He-He went back for you.”

“I told him to back off, that I was lost.” Stevenson grimaced, closing his eyes. “He laughed and said not to worry. After all, Starlight was here.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “He spiraled around my ship at full throttle and bumped me so hard I landed in the infirmary with a concussion.” He closed his eyes again. “He got me out of there.”

Mia choked down the ball building in her throat. “And Starlight got sucked into the nebula.”

The captain held on to the edge of his desk. “I hated that little piece of shit, and he had to go and die saving my life.” His lower lip trembled. “I’ve been living with this for a long time.” He pointed out his window. “That beacon is his. There is no other explanation.”

Mia swallowed. “You can’t possibly expect him to be alive in there. That was thirty years ago.”

“If anyone can survive in an uninhabitable nebula, it would be that crazy son of a bitch.” He looked at the map again. “But even if he’s dead, we can find the ship and bring it back, give his family a chance to bury him.”

It would be a hero’s homecoming. Everyone loved him. Well, maybe everyone except the people on his team. Mia herself had a Starlight action figure and fashion doll. He was the stuff of legends and folklore.

Captain Stevenson chewed the inside of his cheek. This was more than a search and rescue to him, though. This was personal. He had a debt to repay, and he probably felt like a space worm for being jealous of the man who’d died saving his life.

Stevenson threw a folder on the desk. A few papers slipped out with her name on them. “You ran close to a thousand hours in simulators during your last two years of pilot training.”

Mia looked up from the folders. “Yeah. And?”

“Ninety-eight percent of the simulations dealt with high convolution omni-gravity piloting and hostile environment landings.”

She gripped the chair again. “Yeah. So?”

“There was a reason you were at the top of my list, Walton.”

Her lips parted. “I thought no one else wanted to go.”

“True. No one else the UGA approved wanted to go on this suicide mission. You were the next person on the list who was qualified to fly into that nebula.”

Holy shit. He’s serious.

She glanced at the map. The nebula was like space’s boogeyman. People had nightmares about it without even stepping foot on a spaceship. No one in their right mind would go within miles of that place, but he’d picked her in case they needed to actually go in. “Do you really think he could still be alive in there?”

“Honestly, no. But I need closure as much as his family does.”

Mia took a deep breath. Was this man seriously considering risking his ship and his crew on a mission to retrieve a body? Even the body of a decorated hero?

She shivered. The UGA’s motto was to never leave a man in space, but not at the risk of more bodies needing to be recovered.

Now the lack of protocol and possible maintenance issues were clear. This guy might not be all that right in the head.

She straightened. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Always.”

Okay, here it goes. “You know how dangerous this is. It’s fine for you to risk your own life, but what about the rest of the crew?”

He laughed. “Half of them are thrill-seekers, a quarter are anomaly freaks, and there are an easy twenty-five people who just want to be a part of history…and if we find that ship, we will be a part of history.” He laughed again. “Go ahead and ask around. Everyone onboard is here because they want to be. The rest left in a rush when they found out I was serious.”

Like the previous pilot? Maybe that sudden promotion had been a stroke of luck for him.

This was insane, but Stevenson was right. If they found that ship and brought Captain Starlight’s body home for a proper burial, every one of their names would be immortalized in the historical databases.

This was the insane type of mission that Captain Starlight never shied away from. That was what made him a hero. He had always stepped up when others were too afraid to try.

The captain held out a palm to shake. “What do you say, pilot? Are you ready to make history?”

She stared at his hand for a moment before she stood and shook it. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Good. The first run will be over the outskirts of the active zone. When the singularity eases back, we zip in, we take another reading, and we get out. The less time we spend that close, the better.”

She understood. “Take the reading, get out quick.”

“Exactly.”

“Not a problem.” She saluted. “Thank you for your time, sir.”

Captain Stevenson gave a slight nod, but his gaze was already on the map on his wall.

Mia took her leave and hurried to the cockpit. Everything about this was insane, but she picked up her pace. She was about to fly near the most dangerous nebula on record.

A smile burst across her face as she opened the door to the cockpit. She couldn’t wait to navigate a real intergalactic storm.

Bernard had refitted his helmet and pushed a number of buttons on the dashboard. “I guess you just got the bad news?”

“You mean the exciting news? This is exactly what I signed up for.”

His face paled. “You do realize that the pilot and the co-pilot, meaning you and me, are both a year or less out of the academy.”

She settled into her station. “So?”

He pointed out the window. “We’re headed for the star-blasted Kraken Nebula.”

Mia looked out the window and nodded. She probably should be scared, but instead, a tingling sensation rushed through her veins. This was it, the real thing, and she’d never been one to skirt a challenge.

She gave him a level gaze. “Should I tell the captain the co-pilot wants to be let off at the nearest supply station?” Not that there was one near, but she needed to make sure where Bernard’s balls hung. If he couldn’t handle it, she’d rather know now.

His lips twitched before he strapped himself in. “No, ma’am. I just really hope you are as much of a hot shot as everyone says you are.” He looked over at her. “Meant respectfully, of course.”

She smiled and hit a few buttons on her control panel. She was a hot shot, and then some. Like the captain had pointed out, while others had been partying, she’d been in a simulator. There was a reason she’d been top of the class by such a high margin, and now she got to prove why.

Bernard called up the viewscreen. “This part of the outer fringe is filled with a lot of debris.”

“I know. There used to be a large planet here that got blasted to pieces several thousand years ago.” Mia put her helmet back on and checked her screens. “We’re right over the point where the captain’s initial readings were recorded.” And only a few thousand miles from where Captain Starlight had disappeared with an entire world watching.

“Right, so we’re supposed to go in and—”

“Check for any signs of UGA equipment, or carbon signatures.” The tingling returned to her body. They were minutes from the spot where Griggs had given his final transmission. Even being here felt like absorbing history.

From a distance, the nebula swirled, a massive black-and-orange gas cloud with twisting fingers, earning it the name of the Kraken Nebula. UGA scientists believed the nebula had formed after a star explosion millions of years ago. Up close, the pockets of gas were full of planetary debris from a star system long dead. The Kraken Nebula didn’t only look wicked, it also was home to the majority of space disasters in the galaxy. Only fools came close, and only imbeciles entered.

“Okay, crew. Let’s get our reading and head to our next location,” Captain Stevenson instructed. “Air pilot Walton, bring us in closer.”

Mia complied.

“Call off when you can confirm there are no readings so we can get out of here,” Bernard said. “This thing creeps me out.”

Mia suppressed her smirk, wondering if he’d had the Kraken Nebula nightmares, too.

A red light started to flash on the dashboard. Mia drew out her tablet and pulled up the data to inspect. “Captain, are you seeing this?”

“Yes, we’re analyzing it now,” Captain Stevenson said.

She frowned. The readings were hazy, but her analysis was solid. “There’s life out there.”

“There’s also the possibility of a wormhole, or a black hole, or who knows what else,” the captain said.

“But there’s life out there,” she repeated. “Our mission is the retrieval of life. That is our priority—always.”

Captain Stevenson didn’t respond for a long, agonizing moment. “You’re right. Crew, prepare for exploration and possible retrieval.”

“Preparing crew,” came a woman’s reply.

“Yes!” Mia settled in, resetting her grip on the controls. She glanced over at Bernard. His hands gripped the armrests of his chair tightly. “You okay?”

“I can’t believe we found something,” he managed. “You can fly, right?”

“Of course I can fly.”

“I mean, really fly.” His gaze remained glued to the floating rocks before them. “It’s going to be hell in there.”

Just like the asteroid simulators. Mia rolled her shoulders. “I promise you’re in good hands.”

She grabbed the controls and led them deeper into the gas cloud. The Alpha Cent sailed smoothly. Mia glided between the debris, maneuvering the ship closer to the point of life on her navigation system.

The nebula swirled around her. Pink, puffy clouds sparkled, emanating their own light. It was hard to believe anything so beautiful could have been the cause of so many deaths.

She eased up and over a charred piece of metal, maybe a piece of a ship.

She shivered. The beauty of this place was a mask for the monster lying in wait. Too many had lost their lives here. The Kraken demanded respect, and it ate the unwary.

“You doing okay?” Bernard’s voice sounded shaky.

She nodded. Actually, she was. She’d expected this to be a lot harder.

A large asteroid spiraled into view, rotated, then whisked toward them.

She banked right, but the controls froze, locked in place.

“What are you doing?” Bernard made a grab for the steering mechanism as a smaller asteroid scraped across the bottom of the ship. “Newsflash: We’re not supposed to hit things.”

“I can’t move the controls,” she said. “Well, I can, but the ship isn’t reacting to my movements. The systems are just going—”

Dozens of lights flashed on her panel, and a red warning beep filled the cabin. A blue-green planet filled her viewscreen. “Where the snog did that come from?”

“We’re caught in some kind of gravitational pull.”

Yeah, great. Thanks for the info. Mia’s hands shook on the controls. She grit her teeth, gripping harder, trying to pull up. “Come on!”

Captain Stevenson’s voice came over the comm. “Pilots, see if you can get us out. We need to turn around.”

Mia wanted to get them out, but she couldn’t. The controls shook in her hands until deafening static filled her helmet. She grimaced, trying to tune it out, while Bernard yanked his helmet off.

“Get your gear back on,” she said between grunts.

Bernard dropped his helmet and pressed his palms against his ears. “What?”

“Your helmet.” She moved one hand off of the controls to point where it lay on the floor. “Get it back on.”

He shook his head. “Hurts.”

“Get your gear back on now.” Even if he couldn’t hear her, everyone could read the word now on someone’s lips.

Logic won over in the end. He placed the helmet back on and essentially became worthless, cowering in his chair with his head in his hands.

Mia would be on her own.

She tightened her grip on the rattling controls. Not that it did any good at this point.

“Walton!” the captain screamed over the speaker.

Did she tell him the controls were locked?

Did she say the obvious, that they were caught in the planet’s gravitational pull and there wasn’t a star-blasted thing she could do about it?

The ship started to shake. The controls shifted in her hands…

Wait. They’d shifted.

Mia pulled up, but the ship started to spiral instead.

The planet raced toward them.

“Walton!”

A thousand hours of simulators had brought her right here, and all she could do was accept the inevitable.

“Brace for impact!”

******************

Pick up STARLIGHT in paperback at your favorite retailer, or on Amazon here.

The only thing standing between an uncharted planet and a murderous band of pirates is a long lost hero and the woman sent to rescue him.
New to her pilot’s stripes, Mia throttles her rescue team to the farthest reaches of the galaxy to save a hero missing in action. The problem is, Jason Starlight isn’t sure he wants to be saved.
For the past 5 years Jason has been the only thing standing between the people of his new planet and a vicious band of pirates. Now he’s faced with a choice, turn his back on the planet he now calls home, or drag Mia and her team into a fight that will probably get them all killed.
Jason knows the greatest heroes stand up for what’s right no matter the cost, but Mia knows it’s only the smartest heroes that live to tell about it.
Starlight is Guardians of the Galaxy meets Avatar.
Step on board and start your inter-galactic adventure today!

 

 

 

It’s the cover reveal for How to Kill a Street Rat!

 

You guys!

I am soooooo excited that I finally get to reveal the cover for

How to Kill a Street Rat.

The cover was designed by rock star designer Christian Bentulan. I’m also premiering the book synopsis below.

So let’s do this!

___________

The princess of Jasmine is mine, she just doesn’t know it yet.

I’m the most powerful sorcerer in the world and nothing will stop me from conjuring my way into her life and convincing the Sutlan that his daughter—and the throne of Bisnegar, belong to me.

So what if the princess has no intention of marrying anyone? Sorcery will fix that. If my spells don’t work on her, I’ll win her heart the old fashioned way, if she doesn’t win mine first.

When a handsome prince shows up with dancers, a monkey, and a blasted elephant, things become complicated. This prince isn’t a prince at all, but a street rat in disguise. How dare he weasel his way into the palace hoping to charm his way into the heart of my princess!

An ancient evil hovers over the kingdom, maybe one even more powerful than my own. As everything Aladdin touches falls into ruin, the truth becomes clear. To save the princess and the kingdom, I will have to fight Aladdin and his genie. This is a battle only one of us will walk away from.

For the first time, there is something in my life worth dying for, and oddly enough, it isn’t a crown.

Pick up How to Kill a Street Rat and battle the genie today!

PRE-ORDER HERE

___________

Yay! I hope you have ten tons of fun reading this one.

Amazon and KU release day is May 23, and pre-sale starts today!

Click on buy it now

and How to Kill a Street Rat will auto deliver to your e-reader on or before May 23.

___________

Wide eBook release (Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, etc) will be on or around July 23.

Paperbacks will be available shortly after the May 23 eBook release at all your favorite bookish places.

Kindle Unlimited fans: We’ll be in Kindle Unlimited for three months. After that the book will go wide to all other distributors. As long as you order the book before that three month period, you will be able to finish at your leisure.

Yay!!!!!!!

I hope you love the cover!

See ya soon!

–Jennifer


Here’s a fun anthology with a cover I couldn’t resist for all you anthology fans.


While you’re waiting, here are some super great discount and free eBook promotions to keep your e-readers rocking.  Enjoy!

 

 


That’s it for now. Enjoy!

 

Big Fat Hugs!
Jennifer M. Eaton
USA Today Best Selling Author

Check out what people are saying about Jennifer’s books on Goodreads

You can find the Fire in the Woods series at all these awesome bookish places!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Kobo | Chapters Indigo! | iBooks | IndiBound | Google Play


 

Catch up with me on social media!

Picture Picture Picture Picture Picture
Picture Picture Picture Picture Picture

March Madness Title Reveal!

Hey guys! I’m super excited to tell you about my next project. I’ve been sharing little snippets if the cover, but now I’m ready to reveal some more…

My super secret new project is a retelling of Aladdin, but this won’t be any old retelling. We’re going to experience the story from the bad guy’s point of view, and my job is to make you root for Jaffar!

And the title is…

How to Kill a Street Rat!

I’m super excited about this one. I hope you all love it. I’m hoping to get a cover reveal together really soon, and my goal is still an early May release.


While you’re waiting, here are some super great free book promotions to keep your e-readers rocking.  Enjoy!

Spring into Light – Books about “creatures of light” (No picture for this one, sorry!)

(Starts March 29th)


That’s it for now. Enjoy!

 

Big Fat Hugs!
Jennifer M. Eaton
USA Today Best Selling Author

Check out what people are saying about Jennifer’s books on Goodreads

You can find the Fire in the Woods series at all these awesome bookish places!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Kobo | Chapters Indigo! | iBooks | IndiBound | Google Play


 

Catch up with me on social media!

Picture Picture Picture Picture Picture
Picture Picture Picture Picture Picture

I have a confession to make, and I’m sorry

Sorry, I have a confession to make. I told you guys I had lofty release goals this year. And I did. I still do. But I’ve hit a snag.

I can’t publish books that fast. Well, that’s not true. I COULD. But I choose not to.

If I rush these books to press, they will not be the quality that you guys expect from me, and I’d much rather remain an author whose books you love, than someone who can spit out 12 books in a year.

*******************

I have a few giveaways below to say “Thanks” for being patient. I hope you are on board with waiting a few more months so I can make sure you are happy with the books I send out into the world.

*******************

So, here is an update:

Young Adult (YA)

Epic Fantasy Series

Goal:

Book 1 April/May release

Book 2 June

Book 3 July

WHISPERS OF SORCERY book 1 and 2 are done. Book one is in editing. My goal is still to get all three books done for rapid release later in the year (Rather than in the first few months as planned)

 

Dragon Shifter Romance

Goal: Oct/Nov Release

Dragon Heights – One chapter left to write.  Whispers is my priority, but there is a good chance you will see this in 2019
Upper YA Retelling

Goal: May Release

First draft is done! I am super excited for this one. I am still shooting for a May release date.

YA Urban Fantasy

(One book for now)

Goal: August/Sept release

 

DEATH WITCH – I think I can get this one out this year. I need to get it through editing.

 

 


YA Indiana Jones

Meets Time Travel

(Three Book Series)

 

Time Pirates – Book one is plotted. This one is super tricky because of the time travel element. I NEED to have all three books clearly plotted before I begin writing. There is a CHANCE book 1 will release this year, but again… only if I think it is ready.

 

So, there you have it. This is still ambitious, and it may change. I just hope I can keep you excited for what’s to come.

—————————–

Freebies and Giveaways!

—————————–

I am in several free book promotions this month.

There are close to a hundred free books for you to choose from.

Check it out!

 

Daring Damsels and Warriors

https://books.bookfunnel.com/daringdamsels/116r6jevnv

 

Portal to Fantasy:

https://books.bookfunnel.com/epic_fantasy_romance/b5jny4ygtf

 

Speculative Fiction books

https://books.bookfunnel.com/speculativefictionshowcase/qncr49zwaq

Sexy Scifi and Fantasy

https://books.bookfunnel.com/sexyscifiandfantasy/wfd82pe86a

Novella Jamboree

https://books.bookfunnel.com/novellajamboree/3q0nqi2y02

Winter Romance Reads

https://books.bookfunnel.com/winterreads/o99nbwb9wt

It’s Release Day for INVADED!

Happy book birthday to INVADED!

This is my very first adult aimed book, and it is a contemporary thriller with paranormal elements that takes place in a small town in NJ being stalked by a serial killer.

I hope you enjoy my little walk on the wild side!

I really think INVADED is by far my best book to date. It is tough, gritty, and not for the easily disturbed. I really hope you love my venture into the world of supernatural thrillers.

And for those of you who are cringing…

Fear not! More dragons are coming soon.


Buy links for INVADED:

Amazon

AbeBooks

Alibris

Barnes and Noble

Book Depository

Chapters Indigo

IndieBound

BAM (Books A Million)

Goodreads

And everywhere great books are sold.


About Invaded:

Four people. Two bodies. One nightmare.

The day Tracy Seavers dies, Detective John Peters arrives on the scene of the car accident to find she has miraculously walked away. An impossible conclusion, had the same thing not happened to him five years before. John suspects Tracy is now host to an alien entity with incredible healing power, and sometimes sinister needs.

John wants Tracy almost as much as the entity inside him yearns for the new alien hiding within the beautiful brunette. The last time John got involved with another host, though, it ended in disaster. So Tracy is off-limits, no matter how much he and his entity want to wrap themselves around her. Instead, he throws himself into the ultimate distraction: finding the serial killer stalking their town.


When both John and Tracy start having blackouts, and new evidence points to an entity as the killer, John has to admit that now even he is a suspect; and the only other alien in town lives inside Tracy. Unless he can find another.
The South Jersey Slasher strikes again tonight. The clock is ticking—and Tracy is missing. Again.

If you love the emotional connection of Jennifer L. Armentrout, the alien possession in THE HOST, and the dark intrigue of Criminal Minds, you’ll die for INVADED.

TRIGGER WARNING: Intense scenes. Disturbing Images. Adult Content.


Jennifer M. Eaton, USA Today Best Selling Author.

Find out what people are saying about Jennifer’s books on GoodReads

To Infinity and Beyond! A Review of Infinity by Jus Accardo

I read my first Jus Accardo book a few years ago, and she instantly landed on my auto-buy list. Accardo writes with a sense of urgency and a pacing that doesn’t let up. 28220742Infinity is not an exception to this rule.

Infinity deals with parallel dimensions, and a killer hopping from dimension to dimension, killing the same people in every dimension to wipe them out of existence.

Why, you ask?  Because he’s stinking nuts! Well, sort of, anyway.

The bad guy is a great tortured soul, and you have to feel a little sorry for him, but not too sorry, since he is jumping around and killing people for no reason.

33509081Our heroes in this story are two guys from the same dimension as the bad guy, trying to track him down and stop him.

Our female lead is his next target, and our heroes do their best to try to protect her (but they kinda don’t do a good job, because things get worse before they get better.)

I wanted to get Infinity when it was first released, and now I’m kinda glad I waited, because book three just came out. And not to spoil anything, but Infinity ends on a big cliffhanger. It’s not one of those “I wanna throw my book at eh wall” cliffhangers.36314053 I did feel satisfied with the story as-is, but you don’t get closure here, or any sense of a happily ever after.

If you want to know what happens, you will have to keep reading. But that’s okay, because the entire series is now available. Now I can plow through the next few books without waiting.

(Well, I might wait for my book club to catch up, because we’re probably going to want to read the series together.) I might not be able to wait though.

 

 

It’s release day for DRAGON MOUNT!

Woohoo! It’s finally here!


I’m so excited to get Dragon Mount out into the world. This is a fun romp across New Zealand while the smallest dragon in the mountain dares to stand up against their ruthless dictator. And of course there’s a little bit of romance just to make it more fun.

In case you hadn’t heard, THIS HAPPENED a few weeks ago during the cover reveal. Thanks so much to everyone who pre-ordered and made Dragon Mount a #1 New Release on Amazon.com.

Scroll down for a sneak peek at the first chapter!

____

You can find Dragon Mount at all these great bookish places:

Amazon USA   |  Amazon UK  |  Goodreads | BookBub Reviews | Barnes and Noble  |  Books-a-Million  |  Book Depository  |  Amazon USA  |  Amazon Canada  |  Amazon Australia  |  Amazon DE

________________________

Things can’t get any worse than being snatched by a dragon, until Anna is dropped into a bloodthirsty battle for the Draconic crown.

On what’s supposed to be a fun trip to New Zealand to recover from a painful breakup, Anna is kidnapped and flown away by a mythical beast bent on making her his queen. Anna’s rare blood type makes her the only viable mate in the islands, and with scores of dragons looking for her, escape isn’t likely.

Joe is the youngest and smallest dragon in the competition to become king. Now that he’s found Anna, all he needs to overthrow their tyrannical monarch is to bring her back to Dragon Mount before anyone can challenge his claim. But Joe is injured and unable to fly, and each passing second increases the risk of discovery.

Challenging the king means certain death, but Anna is Joe’s to lose. If the king finds her, he will bathe Dragon Mount in her blood, condemning Joe’s people to seventeen more years of brutal subjugation. The fate of the Draconi rests in the talons of their smallest dragon, and the clock is ticking.

If you love the feels you get from Jennifer L. Armentrout and the paranormal shape-shifting of Talon, you’ll roar for Dragon Mount.

____

You can find Dragon Mount at all these great bookish places:

Amazon USA   |  Amazon UK  |  Goodreads | BookBub Reviews | Barnes and Noble  |  Books-a-Million  |  Book Depository  |  Amazon USA  |  Amazon Canada  |  Amazon Australia  |  Amazon DE

_______

Chapter 1

Anna didn’t need a man. What she needed was a dragon—a big, hulking, nasty dragon fully capable of biting the head off of any jerk who even thought of hurting her. As she breathed in the essence of moonflowers drifting on the breeze, she knew this would be the place to find what she was looking for.

Well, she might not exactly find a dragon in New Zealand, but maybe enough magic to help her forget and start over.

A woman on the street corner spun a rack of postcards displaying pictures of the country’s pristine landscape. Anna’s stomach soured as she tucked back the dark hair that blew into her eyes. She and Andrew had dreamed of sitting in a little café, filling out postcards just like those, writing Wish you were here, suckers! over and over again. A hint of a smile touched her lips, before it fell away.

When they first started planning this vacation it was a pipe dream—the mutual coup de gras of their bucket lists. It was supposed to be their honeymoon.

Until a honeymoon was no longer needed.

“Stop thinking about him.” Her sister didn’t even look up from her fistful of pamphlets. “I can smell you brooding from here.”

The sun slipped toward the peaks in the distance, ending a day filled with terminals, planes, and busses. Anna shielded her eyes as the sky exploded with an orange and pink glow.

“It says here that those mountains you’re staring at are called Aoraki.” Sybil pointed to the text. “The original settlers believed that the sons of the sky god got their canoe stuck on a reef. They froze to death and became the mountains.” She smiled. “That’s kind of creepy. Right up your alley.”

Anna took a step toward the postcard vendor and stopped herself. Postcards were meaningless, but fun. They’d always been a favorite part of every vacation. But maybe not anymore.

She closed her eyes. How many things would she have to give up because they reminded her of him?

“Right now these Maori people are celebrating some sort of ancient fertility festival called the Seventeen Year.” Sybil snorted. “Fertility, huh? Sounds like my kind of party.”

Of course it was. Anything her sister could relate to sex was a good time. How could she be so flippant about things like that when guys…

Sybil lowered the pamphlets. “Stop. Thinking. About. Him.”

Anna sighed. How could she stop? She was standing on a street in New Zealand, where they’d dreamed of going since forever.

A fistful of brochures slapped Anna’s cheek. She stood stunned, gaping.

“You are going to enjoy this vacation if it kills me.” Sybil pointed the pamphlets at her like a sword.

Leave it to her sister to drag them both back to elementary school tactics.

A laugh popped out of Anna’s mouth as she splayed her hands. “I’m sorry. This is just harder than I thought it would be.” That was the hugest of understatements. “But I’m okay.” She nodded to herself. “I need this.”

More like she needed to do this. New Zealand wasn’t only her and Andrew’s dream. It was her dream. That didn’t change because he was out of the picture.

“What you need is a nice, stiff drink.”

Anna smiled. It probably couldn’t hurt. “I think I need some time for all this to soak in.”

“Then let’s call this a good start.” Sybil raised her hand into the air. “Taxi!”

“Wait. Where are we going?”

Her sister glanced back at her. “Like I said, to get a drink.”

“Is there something wrong with the hotel bar?”

Sybil waved at one of the approaching yellow cars. “Yes, it’s packed with tourists. I want to meet some New Zealanders.”

Her sister, the quintessential party girl. “We haven’t even unpacked and you already want to go bar hopping?”

“Oh, come on.” Sybil was inside the cab before Anna could argue. “Believe me, once this vacation is over, you’ll be a new person.”

Was there something wrong with her old person? Anna didn’t think so.

Well, not her old-old person. Growing up, she’d been ready for anything. She and Andrew were going to take on the world together.

Until she caught him in bed with someone else.

Mom had always called Anna a miniature explosion, ready to take on the world. The firecracker inside Anna had extinguished that night, and she hadn’t found a way to rekindle the spark.

She closed her eyes and swallowed the painful ball building in her throat. She was here to forget—to erase the bad and come home as a clean slate, ready to start over. This started by proving to herself that life no longer revolved around one guy.

In the distance, a large black bird soared toward the mountains. It circled as if it flew for the pure pleasure of feeling the wind in its feathers. That’s what she needed, the confidence to spread her wings and glide toward the horizon.

Sybil glared at her. “Don’t make me drag you into this car.”

Anna sucked in a deep breath before she slipped onto the worn, black seat beside her sister. “One drink. Promise.”

Her sister made a spectacle of rolling her eyes.

“Where to?” The driver’s accent made it sound like Wayer-tou.

Sybil leaned up and handed a brochure to him. She pointed to a handwritten note on the top of the page. “Do you know where this is?”

He snorted. “Kinda off the beaten path for a couple of Sheilas.”

Sybil flopped back in her seat. “Sounds perfect.”

Off the beaten path? Was she out of her mind?

Anna leaned closer as the cab pulled from the sidewalk. “This is crazy. We are in a foreign country with—”

“Not a care in the world.” She tapped Anna’s knee. “Relax. Trust me. We’re going to see where real New Zealanders hang out.”

Great. Just great.

Anna stared out the window as they left civilization behind. The approaching dusk cast a deepening haze over the hillside as clean, undisturbed green stretched out as far as the eye could see. The tension eased from Anna’s shoulders as she lost herself in undefiled nature.

She hated to admit it, but those rolling fields reached inside and mended part of the hole torn in her heart. She couldn’t imagine living somewhere with so much incredibly beautiful nothing.

“I have a surprise for you.” Sybil nudged her shoulder. “We’re not taking the movie site tour tomorrow.”

Anna spun toward her. “We’re not?”

“Nope. I changed our date to Monday.”

“Why?”

“Because tomorrow morning, you and your favorite sister are taking the plunge off Kawarau Bridge.”

Anna nearly choked. “What?”

“Yup. It’s all set up. They’re picking us up at our hotel at 8:30.”

“Are you out of your mind? I am not bungee jumping!”

“Yes, you are. It’s already bought and paid for. No refunds, no excuses.”

No excuses? Anna had a great big gaping excuse. Even back home in the US she erred on the cautious side. She really didn’t have a choice.

Eight years ago, she woke up after a car accident and found out she had a rare blood type. The hospital had to have plasma flown in from another state, and the delay almost killed her. Ever since, she’d been warned to take it easy and cautioned against foreign travel, but here she was, vacationing in New Zealand with a nutty sister who wanted them to plummet to their deaths tied to the ends of rubber bands.

“There is no way I’m jumping off a bridge.”

Sybil snickered as the cab pulled to a stop. “We’ll see.”

Her sister paid the cabbie as Anna stepped onto worn, colorful cobblestones. The black sconces encircling the weathered rock buildings and the matching streetlamps flared to life simultaneously. Anna jumped as one of them blew out.

“Surprise!” Sybil said.

Anna looked up and down the deserted street. “Surprise what?”

“Don’t you recognize it? This is the street they modeled Bree after.”

Anna looked again. “It is?”

“Yup. I found it on Wikipedia under little-known Lord of the Rings sites.” She narrowed her eyes. “One of these places is supposed to look just like the Prancing Pony inside.”

Anna took in the gnarled, wooden signs. She could barely read the names on some of them. At the far end of the road, four men in long coats entered a bar with a carved rooster hanging above the door. It seemed warm for coats that long. Must be a Kiwi thing.

Sybil grabbed Anna’s wrist and tugged her along the bumpy, colorful walkway toward a worn, timber door with wide, black hinges. “This place looks as good as any to start.”

Anna pulled out of her grip. “To start? I agreed to one drink.”

Sybil held her chest, feigning hurt. “Of course we’ll only have one drink.” She pulled Anna through the door. “Per bar.”

Anna sighed. With Sybil, there was always a loophole.

Inside, the tavern looked nothing like the Prancing Pony. It looked more like the bar in that old show Cheers that her father watched on Netflix. A circular bar dominated the center of the room. Its white-tiled surface clashed with the dark paneling. Flickering candles on cherrywood tables nestled against the wall cast a yellowish glow throughout the room. Inside the serving-circle, a dark-skinned man placed a glass into a huge wooden fixture hanging precariously over the bar.

“Welcome, ladies. Please, have a seat.” He gestured across the nearly empty bar and the mostly open tables. So much for meeting the locals.

Anna had to admit the tavern had its charm, though. The hotel bar had all the appeal of a meat market, while this place oozed culture.

An old man wearing a multi-colored, patchwork shirt sat alone at the table closest to the door. His tunic matched the vibrant weavings hanging from the walls like he was a part of the decor.

Combine him with the dead animal heads mounted above the entrance, and Anna felt as if she’d stepped back in time. If she could convince them to trash the plasma television screen, this place would be the perfect retreat.

She and Sybil settled on stools at the bar and ordered drinks. From the opposite side of the serving circle, a very light-skinned platinum-blond guy flashed a smile. His eyes mirrored the overhead lighting, making everything about him seem paler, as if he were dusted in white powder. Anna quickly looked away. She settled her eyes on the Malibu Bay Breeze the barkeep handed her, forcing her gaze to remain there so she didn’t stare.

“Is it always so quiet here?” Sybil asked the bartender.

“You missed the happy hour crowd. People have been staying in after dusk the past few days.”

Sybil frowned. “I guess we’ll have to come back earlier tomorrow.”

Or not.

Sybil had to notice that this wasn’t the Prancing Pony. Absorbing culture was fine and all, but Anna had her first taste of New Zealand on the car ride over here. She wanted to see more, not spend her time drinking.

The bartender walked to the other side of the counter and spoke to the blond guy. After a moment, they both turned toward Anna. She nearly choked on her drink before she looked away.

Her cheeks heated. The blond must have mentioned that she’d been staring at him. With skin that pale, he must have people stare at him all the time, and here she was, the gawking American, jumping on the bandwagon.

Anna concentrated on the ice cubes in her glass, trying to not look like she was aware the two men were still chatting.

About her? No, of course not.

But what if they were?

If she and Sybil had stayed at the hotel bar, like she’d wanted, she could’ve just caught the next elevator to her room and hid from all this awkwardness.

She leaned toward her sister. “This obviously isn’t the right place. Maybe we should go.”

“Come on, Sis. There’s more to sightseeing than movie locations. There’s a lot about the local culture I’d like to sample, too.” She spun her stool toward a table of three guys near the wall and sipped her drink through the thin, red stirring straw. Her lips turned up in a wry grin.

Anna’s eyes widened. “You came all the way to New Zealand to get laid?”

“Well, not only to get laid. But it’s on my to-do list.”

“What’s wrong with the guys in New Jersey?”

Sybil shrugged. “I might run into them again. I hate that. This will be more fun. No strings attached.” She smacked Anna playfully. “Not to mention New Zealand accents. Yum.”

Anna shook her head. “You’re crazy.”

“Me? And it’s not crazy to sit home every Saturday night?”

Hanging out at home was a perfectly respectable thing to do on the weekend. She and Andrew…

Anna cringed, closed her eyes, and refocused. There was no more she and Andrew. Not since she left for college. Not since she came home to surprise him on his birthday.

College had become her life after that night. Classes and studying. Nothing more.

Nothing more than lying awake at night, crying.

She gritted her teeth. She was not that girl anymore. She didn’t need a guy, and she didn’t need to go out on the weekend to look for another shitfaced, lying bastard. Anna worked her tail off studying all week. She needed to decompress and relax on her days off. Alone.

Anna cringed, then straightened. She didn’t want to be alone. Not really. But she wasn’t ready to get out there and date again. Andrew had been her world since middle school. She didn’t know how to be with anyone else.

Sybil would never understand that. Her sister’s plan was to play the field and be married to her cushy corner executive office for the rest of her life. There was nothing wrong with that, for her. Anna wanted the best of both worlds—a family and a job. She wasn’t going to find that hooking up with a guy she’d never see again.

“I don’t understand how you can even think of sleeping with a guy you’ve just met.” Anna sipped her drink and set it back on the bar.

“Believe me. It’s a heck of a lot easier than getting tied down in a relationship. Guys get crazy when they hang around too long. They get all protective and…” The word cheat hung on the edge of her lips before she copped out by sipping her drink.

Anna crumpled her napkin and threw in on the bar. “I don’t know, I think I still want what Mom and Dad had—the love of my life, job, and two point five kids?”

“Point five?”

“Yeah, my dog.” Anna watched the condensation drip down her glass. “Is it so wrong to want a guy that will do almost anything for me?”

“You’re dreaming, little sister. He doesn’t exist. I gave up looking for him years ago.”

But Dad existed. Could it be true that their generation hadn’t spawned any great guys?

The bartender adjusted the volume on the television.

A news reporter brushed back a lock of her dark hair and brought a microphone to her lips. “So there you have it. This small village, the third in as many nights, now lays in shock after this morning’s gruesome discovery. The identities of the women have not been made public yet, but NZN News has learned that two of the victims lived here in Wellington, and the third was a Norwegian tourist. Neighboring towns have called for a seven o’clock curfew tonight, as all of New Zealand prays for an end to this senseless killing spree.”

“They were disemboweled, just like the last two,” one of the guys at the table said. “I saw it on the internet. This bloke is a sadist or something.”

Last two? Holy crap! Were they anywhere near Wellington?

The bartender changed the channel. “I hope they catch him soon.”

“There be no one to catch,” the old guy in the colorful garb mumbled. “They look for a man. They need to turn their eyes to the sky. They seek what they are not prepared to find.”

A shiver ran down Anna’s spine. The tavern was oddly reminiscent of an old horror flick, and this weathered, creepy guy was the trope old codger that knew the truth, but no one believed him until they were running for their lives. If he was about to say that all of New Zealand was haunted by ancient bloodthirsty spirits, she was so out of here.

The guy at the other table turned in his seat. “What are you talking about, pop, some Maori legend?”

The old man’s eyes darkened. “Is no legend. We in a Seventeen Year. They should not be looking for a man.”

The table of guys laughed. “So what are they looking for, a dragon? I think you’ve had a few too many.”

“Every seventeen years the dragons fly. They search New Zealand for mates.” He pointed to the television. “This be the work of a gray dragon, the worst of them all.”

“Yeah, and Aoraki and his brothers got stranded on a reef and became the mountains.” One of the guys laughed into his beer.

Anna took in the old man’s colorful attire, remembering the brochure Sybil read to her. It seemed crazy that people still believed that kind of folklore.

The elder remained stoic. “How do you know they did not become the mountains, if you were not there?”

Anna bit back her smile. The ominous cloud in the room lifted as the table of guys snickered. It was sad they made fun of the old man, though. He couldn’t help what he’d been brought up to believe, no matter how ridiculous.

The bartender leaned across the counter toward her. “The bloke on the flipside would like to buy you a drink.”

Anna cringed. The guy she’d been staring at? She glanced around the barkeep. Blondie smiled at her.

“Umm, no thanks. Tell him no offense, I’m just passing through. I’m not going to be here that long.”

Sybil elbowed her. “What’s wrong with you?”

“He’s not my type.”

“What, he doesn’t have a pulse?”

“Shut up.”

Someone settled beside her, and Anna tensed. She turned her head slowly until her gaze met eerie, light blue eyes and even lighter skin.

Blondie smiled. “Hello, I’m sorry. I heard you turn down my drink. You’re not from around here, I suppose?” The New Zealand accent dripped from his pale lips. The package didn’t seem to fit together.

“Um, no. We’re from New Jersey.”

He tilted his head. “In England?”

“No. New Jersey as in the United States.”

His eyes widened. “Oh, that makes sense. You didn’t look or sound English. Anyway, in these parts, it’s customary for a man to buy a woman a drink to say hello. I was only being courteous. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Sybil left her chair and sat on the other side of Blondie. She scribbled something on a napkin.

Anna shifted her weight. “In America, a guy buys a girl a drink if he’s trying to pick her up.”

“Pick her up?”

“As in a date.”

His eyes widened, showing more of the creepy glass-like pupils, which maybe, now that she looked closer, were eerily beautiful.

“That would be a bit presumptuous of me, wouldn’t it?” he asked. “I don’t even know your name.”

Sybil held up the napkin she’d been toiling over. It read:

Platinum blond babies are beautiful

Anna laughed. Well, no, it came out more like an embarrassing snort, but Blondie didn’t seem to notice, thank goodness.

She offered him her hand. “My name is Anna.”

Instead of shaking, he flipped her palm down and kissed her knuckles. Who in God’s name was this guy?

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Anna of the great continent of America. My name is Joesephutus.”

She shuffled her feet, trying to ward off the odd tingle in her toes. “Wow, that’s quite a name. Do you mind if I just call you Joe?”

His smiled seeped into her. “Only if you allow me to buy you that drink.”

Sybil gave a thumbs up over his head, and then returned to her place beside Anna.

Yeah, little sister Anna getting picked up in a bar would make Sybil’s day. Anna would never hear the end of it.

As she gazed into Joe’s haunting, crystal eyes, though, she couldn’t help but want to know more about this interesting man. She’d gone from being completely freaked out about his appearance, to enthralled.

Too bad 11,000 miles was too far for a long distance relationship. She needed to nip this in the bud before it went any further. “I’m sorry, but I’m really not interested.” An ache welled in her belly. She bit her lower lip to keep from retracting her words as Joe lowered his eyes.

His lips thinned. “No problem. Enjoy your time in New Zealand.” He bowed his head and returned to his seat.

Anna nearly stepped off her chair to stop him. After all, it was only a drink, and he seemed nice. Shoot, why couldn’t she be more like Sybil and okay with things like this?

An elbow in the back returned her attention to her sister. “What’s wrong with you?” Sybil said. “He was cute.”

“I don’t know.” And she didn’t. Anna’s stomach continued to whirl. Her skin ached, as if tugging her toward the other side of the bar, nudging her back to where Joe slipped into his seat and cradled his drink between his palms.

He’d been sweet and didn’t come on too strong like the asses in bars back home. The poor guy was probably just shy, and she’d totally turned him down.

Sybil was right, what was wrong with her?

A cool breeze whipped in when someone opened the door. Anna was glad for the touch of chill as she turned toward her sister.

“Holy hell,” Sybil whispered, her gaze fused to the entrance.

A man walked, no—slid through the entrance, but not in a slimy, snake-like way. It was more like gliding across the surface of a pond. He towered over everyone, well over six feet. Stopping in the center of the room, he placed his hand on his chest and bowed to the old man, who straightened, beaming.

The newcomer turned back to the bar, and Anna’s heart triple beat as his gaze brushed over her. His long, dark hair shifted slightly as he walked, coming close to falling over one eye, but not quite covering it. Anna had seen this man before, on the cover of hundreds of romance novels. He seemed painted; perfect, as if molded by an artist. She quivered, warming in all the most embarrassing places.

He smiled at Anna, before turning his attention to Sybil. As soon as his gaze left hers, a sweep of relief flooded Anna, as if she’d been held by something, but then let go.

Sybil blanched, her eyes wide as the stranger slipped his fingers over hers.

“Please forgive my forwardness.” He kissed the back of her hand, just like Joe had. “But you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” He leaned up, still holding her fingers. “You must allow me the honor of your company.”

His gaze darted over the bar, where Joe leaned back on his stool with a dumbfounded look on his face. The hot guy smiled before returning his attention to Anna’s sister.

Sybil blinked as if waking from a stupor. “Of course, please, sit.”

The man eased onto the seat beside them, his gaze never leaving Sybil’s. How was it that no matter where they were in the world, her sister managed to be a beacon for beefcake? It wasn’t fair. Well, not like Anna wanted to be eaten alive by a guy’s eyes, but damn, did her sister wear come and take me perfume or something?

“I’m Sybil. This is my sister, Anna.”

He lowered his head. “Miss Anna, a flower equally as lovely.”

Sure, but you went for the one that looked and dressed like a runway model. Hot guys never went for the plain ones. Not that she wanted him to leech onto her, but, you know.

“My name is Quenor.” He kissed Sybil’s knuckles again, this time hesitating as his lips touched her skin.

Sybil cleared her throat. “Quay-noor? You mean, like, Connor?”

His eyes bored into her like he hadn’t eaten in a month and she was a hot fudge sundae. “Connor sounds lovely with your accent.”

Wow, his own accent sang from his lips. Anna could listen to his voice forever. She had to tear her eyes away from him. Taking a deep breath, she placed her chilled glass to her temple to try to cool herself down. She definitely needed to get a grip.

“Can I get you something to drink?” the bartender asked Connor.

“Whatever the lovely Sybil is having is fine for me.”

Their gazes remained locked. Sybil seemed tongue-tied.

Icy fingers itched up Anna’s back. Something wasn’t quite right about this guy. There was hot, and then there was too hot. And then there was Connor. The attraction Anna felt when he looked at her, the attraction she still felt, even when he’d obviously chosen Sybil, bordered on hypnotic.

The bartender reached up and grasped a wineglass from the fixture hanging over the bar. As he pulled the cup down, the contraption tilted. Several of the glasses slipped from their housing and fell, shattering on the bar top.

Sybil cried out, and Anna gasped as a strong shove sent her stumbling off her seat. The bartender stood, gaping at the mess, while Blondie’s right knee angled up on the bar, and his other foot balanced on the stool that Anna had occupied. His left hand still held her from harm’s way, while his right held the fixture from falling at the same time. How had he gotten across the bar so quickly?

“I have this end.” Connor reached up, his long arms easily grabbing the other side of the fixture.

“Thanks,” the bartender said, helping them ease the wooden frame safely to the floor. His face contorted and reddened with the effort, while Joe and Connor lowered the fixture to the floor without difficulty.

Sybil held her hand to her chest, but her eyes remained glued to her new date.

Don’t worry, sis, no glasses hit me. No reason to check and make sure I’m all right or anything.

The barkeep grabbed a dustpan and saluted Joe and Connor with the sweeper brush. “Your drinks are on the house, mates.”

“Thank you, but that’s not necessary.” Joe turned to Anna, and his eyes widened. “You’re bleeding.”

She blinked in surprise. “What?”

He grabbed her hand, raising her red, glistening fingertip. “You’ve been cut.”

“It’s not that bad.”

His gaze centered on her fingertip. His brow furrowed as a red bead dripped down to her palm.

She trembled. “Umm, you can let go of me, now.”

His gaze flicked to hers and held. He leaned closer. Her pulse throbbed in her ears like she was underwater. The room spun, but dizziness didn’t overcome her. The beat of her heart seemed to slow while every inch of her yearned to lean closer and breathe this beautiful stranger in.

Breathe him in? What in God’s name had gotten into her, and why was this guy still holding her wrist?

She tried to push him away, but slipped, smearing blood across his cheek. He hardened his grip, as another red droplet beaded on her fingertip.

Her gaze drew back to his light blue, crystalline eyes. She needed to scream, to slap him in the face, to run. She couldn’t move, though. Her breaths came shallow and raspy. Part of her longed to kiss away the crimson stain that tainted the edge of his pale lip.

Wait. What?

The brightness of the blood against his milky skin caused flashes of Edward Cullen to run through her mind. The idea was ridiculous, of course. No one believed in vampires. That was almost as stupid as believing in fairies.

But he was fairy-like, now that she thought about it, with those icy blue eyes and white hair. He actually pulled off his albinism with an air of sex appeal. Well, not the dripping screw-me sexy like Connor, but there was definitely something about this guy who was still… fixating on her bloody cut like a deranged lunatic.

He released her.

She nearly stumbled, but grabbed the edge of her stool instead. “What is wrong with you?”

He blinked as if clearing his eyesight. “I-I don’t know.” He stared at her finger like it might bite him.

Okay, so, yes—this guy was cute, but he obviously had some serious issues.

She grabbed a napkin and wrapped her wound. “In case you were wondering, that is not the way to get an American girl’s attention.”

“I know, I-I’m sorry.” He rubbed his temples. “I-I didn’t mean to offend.”

Connor left Sybil’s side and grabbed Joe’s shoulder. “Joesephutus, are you all right?”

He wiped the blood from Joe’s face with his bare hand and then stared at his fingers.

“Wait, you two know each other?” Anna asked.

The taller man whipped his face in her direction. His gaze focused on her with an intensity that made her want to cower in the corner. Connor leaned closer and drew in a deep breath. Was he… smelling her?

Joe became pale. Well, pale-er if that was even possible. He took a stilted breath before elbowing Connor’s considerably larger bulk out of the way and taking Anna’s uninjured hand. “Anna, I would really, really like to buy you that drink.”

His grip tightened. Not painful, but strange. Possessive. Every part of her screamed to tug her hand from his, but all she could do was stare into those glassy, light eyes.

Connor laughed, tapping Joe on the back. “I can’t believe it. You are one lucky little…”

The door to the bar flung open and slammed against the wall as if it had been kicked.

The cool breeze thickened the air.

Connor nudged Joe.

“I feel it,” Joe said.

Holding Sybil’s shoulder, Connor glanced at Anna, then Joe. “We need to get your little lass out of here.”

“I’m aware of that.” Joe turned to the barkeep. “Do you have a back exit?”

“Too late,” Connor whispered.

Joe grumbled under his breath, tightening his grip on Anna’s arm. He leaned close to her ear. “If you get the opportunity, run like your life depends on it.” He glanced at the door. “Because it does.”

[End of sneak peek]

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Catch you later!

Jennifer M. Eaton

USA Today Best Selling Author of Dragon Mount and the Fire in the Woods Series

See what people are saying about Jennifer’s books on Goodreads

It’s Release Day for Dragon Mount!

It’s release day for Dragon Mount!

I’m super excited to set my New Zealand dragons loose on the world.

I came up with this concept a few years ago and went as far as to write the first chapter, which ended up being chapter 4 in the final version. But there it sat for two years until I revisited my notes and really dug my talons in.

Originally this was going to be a Cyrano retelling, but I ended up going in a completely different direction once I got going. The story certainly took on a life of its own. I’m thrilled with Anna and Joe’s little adventure, and I hope you will love it, too.

Here’s all the dragonly details, and scroll down for a peak at the first chapter. Enjoy!

 

You can find Dragon Mount at all these great bookish places:

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Things can’t get any worse than being snatched by a dragon, until Anna is dropped into a bloodthirsty battle for the Draconic crown.

On what’s supposed to be a fun trip to New Zealand to recover from a  painful breakup, Anna is kidnapped and flown away by a mythical beast bent on making her his queen. Anna’s rare blood type makes her the only viable mate in the islands, and with scores of dragons looking for her, escape isn’t likely.

Joe is the youngest and smallest dragon in the competition to become king. Now that he’s found Anna, all he needs to overthrow their tyrannical monarch is to bring her back to Dragon Mount before anyone can challenge his claim. But Joe is injured and unable to fly, and each passing second increases the risk of discovery.

Challenging the king means certain death, but Anna is Joe’s to lose. If the king finds her, he will bathe Dragon Mount in her blood, condemning Joe’s people to seventeen more years of brutal subjugation. The fate of all Draconia rests in the talons of their smallest dragon, and the clock is ticking.

If you love the feels you get from Jennifer L. Armentrout and the paranormal shape-shifting of Talon, you’ll roar for Dragon Mount.

You can find Dragon Mount at all these great bookish places:

Amazon USA   |  Amazon UK  |  Goodreads | BookBub Reviews | Barnes and Noble  |  Books-a-Million  |  Book Depository  |  Amazon USA  |  Amazon Canada  |  Amazon DE

Jennifer M. Eaton

USA Today Best Selling Author of Dragon Mount and the Fire in the Woods Series

See what people are saying about Jennifer’s books on Goodreads

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_____________________

Dragon Mount

Chapter 1

 

Anna didn’t need a man. What she needed was a dragon—a big, hulking, nasty dragon fully capable of biting the head off of any jerk who even thought of hurting her. As she breathed in the essence of moonflowers drifting on the breeze, she knew this would be the place to find what she was looking for.

Well, she might not exactly find a dragon in New Zealand, but maybe enough magic to help her forget and start over.

A woman on the street corner spun a rack of postcards displaying pictures of the country’s pristine landscape. Anna’s stomach soured as she tucked back the dark hair that blew into her eyes. She and Andrew had dreamed of sitting in a little café, filling out postcards just like those, writing Wish you were here, suckers! over and over again. A hint of a smile touched her lips, before it fell away.

When they first started planning this vacation it was a pipe dream—the mutual coup de gras of their bucket lists. It was supposed to be their honeymoon.

Until a honeymoon was no longer needed.

“Stop thinking about him.” Her sister didn’t even look up from her fistful of pamphlets. “I can smell you brooding from here.”

The sun slipped toward the peaks in the distance, ending a day filled with terminals, planes, and busses. Anna shielded her eyes as the sky exploded with an orange and pink glow.

“It says here that those mountains you’re staring at are called Aoraki.” Sybil pointed to the text. “The original settlers believed that the sons of the sky god got their canoe stuck on a reef. They froze to death and became the mountains.” She smiled. “That’s kind of creepy. Right up your alley.”

Anna took a step toward the postcard vendor and stopped herself. Postcards were meaningless, but fun. They’d always been a favorite part of every vacation. But maybe not anymore.

She closed her eyes. How many things would she have to give up because they reminded her of him?

“Right now these Maori people are celebrating some sort of ancient fertility festival called the Seventeen Year.” Sybil snorted. “Fertility, huh? Sounds like my kind of party.”

Of course it was. Anything her sister could relate to sex was a good time. How could she be so flippant about things like that when guys…

Sybil lowered the pamphlets. “Stop. Thinking. About. Him.”

Anna sighed. How could she stop? She was standing on a street in New Zealand, where they’d dreamed of going since forever.

A fistful of brochures slapped Anna’s cheek. She stood stunned, gaping.

“You are going to enjoy this vacation if it kills me.” Sybil pointed the pamphlets at her like a sword.

Leave it to her sister to drag them both back to elementary school tactics.

A laugh popped out of Anna’s mouth as she splayed her hands. “I’m sorry. This is just harder than I thought it would be.” That was the hugest of understatements. “But I’m okay.” She nodded to herself. “I need this.”

More like she needed to do this. New Zealand wasn’t only her and Andrew’s dream. It was her dream. That didn’t change because he was out of the picture.

“What you need is a nice, stiff drink.”

Anna smiled. It probably couldn’t hurt. “I think I need some time for all this to soak in.”

“Then let’s call this a good start.” Sybil raised her hand into the air. “Taxi!”

“Wait. Where are we going?”

Her sister glanced back at her. “Like I said, to get a drink.”

“Is there something wrong with the hotel bar?”

Sybil waved at one of the approaching yellow cars. “Yes, it’s packed with tourists. I want to meet some New Zealanders.”

Her sister, the quintessential party girl. “We haven’t even unpacked and you already want to go bar hopping?”

“Oh, come on.” Sybil was inside the cab before Anna could argue. “Believe me, once this vacation is over, you’ll be a new person.”

Was there something wrong with her old person? Anna didn’t think so.

Well, not her old-old person. Growing up, she’d been ready for anything. She and Andrew were going to take on the world together.

Until she caught him in bed with someone else.

Mom had always called Anna a miniature explosion, ready to take on the world. The firecracker inside Anna had extinguished that night, and she hadn’t found a way to rekindle the spark.

She closed her eyes and swallowed the painful ball building in her throat. She was here to forget—to erase the bad and come home as a clean slate, ready to start over. This started by proving to herself that life no longer revolved around one guy.

In the distance, a large black bird soared toward the mountains. It circled as if it flew for the pure pleasure of feeling the wind in its feathers. That’s what she needed, the confidence to spread her wings and glide toward the horizon.

Sybil glared at her. “Don’t make me drag you into this car.”

Anna sucked in a deep breath before she slipped onto the worn, black seat beside her sister. “One drink. Promise.”

Her sister made a spectacle of rolling her eyes.

“Where to?” The driver’s accent made it sound like Wayer-tou.

Sybil leaned up and handed a brochure to him. She pointed to a handwritten note on the top of the page. “Do you know where this is?”

He snorted. “Kinda off the beaten path for a couple of Sheilas.”

Sybil flopped back in her seat. “Sounds perfect.”

Off the beaten path? Was she out of her mind?

Anna leaned closer as the cab pulled from the sidewalk. “This is crazy. We are in a foreign country with—”

“Not a care in the world.” She tapped Anna’s knee. “Relax. Trust me. We’re going to see where real New Zealanders hang out.”

Great. Just great.

Anna stared out the window as they left civilization behind. The approaching dusk cast a deepening haze over the hillside as clean, undisturbed green stretched out as far as the eye could see. The tension eased from Anna’s shoulders as she lost herself in undefiled nature.

She hated to admit it, but those rolling fields reached inside and mended part of the hole torn in her heart. She couldn’t imagine living somewhere with so much incredibly beautiful nothing.

“I have a surprise for you.” Sybil nudged her shoulder. “We’re not taking the movie site tour tomorrow.”

Anna spun toward her. “We’re not?”

“Nope. I changed our date to Monday.”

“Why?”

“Because tomorrow morning, you and your favorite sister are taking the plunge off Kawarau Bridge.”

Anna nearly choked. “What?”

“Yup. It’s all set up. They’re picking us up at our hotel at 8:30.”

“Are you out of your mind? I am not bungee jumping!”

“Yes, you are. It’s already bought and paid for. No refunds, no excuses.”

No excuses? Anna had a great big gaping excuse. Even back home in the US she erred on the cautious side. She really didn’t have a choice.

Eight years ago, she woke up after a car accident and found out she had a rare blood type. The hospital had to have plasma flown in from another state, and the delay almost killed her. Ever since, she’d been warned to take it easy and cautioned against foreign travel, but here she was, vacationing in New Zealand with a nutty sister who wanted them to plummet to their deaths tied to the ends of rubber bands.

“There is no way I’m jumping off a bridge.”

Sybil snickered as the cab pulled to a stop. “We’ll see.”

Her sister paid the cabbie as Anna stepped onto worn, colorful cobblestones. The black sconces encircling the weathered rock buildings and the matching streetlamps flared to life simultaneously. Anna jumped as one of them blew out.

“Surprise!” Sybil said.

Anna looked up and down the deserted street. “Surprise what?”

“Don’t you recognize it? This is the street they modeled Bree after.”

Anna looked again. “It is?”

“Yup. I found it on Wikipedia under little-known Lord of the Rings sites.” She narrowed her eyes. “One of these places is supposed to look just like the Prancing Pony inside.”

Anna took in the gnarled, wooden signs. She could barely read the names on some of them. At the far end of the road, four men in long coats entered a bar with a carved rooster hanging above the door. It seemed warm for coats that long. Must be a Kiwi thing.

Sybil grabbed Anna’s wrist and tugged her along the bumpy, colorful walkway toward a worn, timber door with wide, black hinges. “This place looks as good as any to start.”

Anna pulled out of her grip. “To start? I agreed to one drink.”

Sybil held her chest, feigning hurt. “Of course we’ll only have one drink.” She pulled Anna through the door. “Per bar.”

Anna sighed. With Sybil, there was always a loophole.

Inside, the tavern looked nothing like the Prancing Pony. It looked more like the bar in that old show Cheers that her father watched on Netflix. A circular bar dominated the center of the room. Its white-tiled surface clashed with the dark paneling. Flickering candles on cherrywood tables nestled against the wall cast a yellowish glow throughout the room. Inside the serving-circle, a dark-skinned man placed a glass into a huge wooden fixture hanging precariously over the bar.

“Welcome, ladies. Please, have a seat.” He gestured across the nearly empty bar and the mostly open tables. So much for meeting the locals.

Anna had to admit the tavern had its charm, though. The hotel bar had all the appeal of a meat market, while this place oozed culture.

An old man wearing a multi-colored, patchwork shirt sat alone at the table closest to the door. His tunic matched the vibrant weavings hanging from the walls like he was a part of the decor.

Combine him with the dead animal heads mounted above the entrance, and Anna felt as if she’d stepped back in time. If she could convince them to trash the plasma television screen, this place would be the perfect retreat.

She and Sybil settled on stools at the bar and ordered drinks. From the opposite side of the serving circle, a very light-skinned platinum-blond guy flashed a smile. His eyes mirrored the overhead lighting, making everything about him seem paler, as if he were dusted in white powder. Anna quickly looked away. She settled her eyes on the Malibu Bay Breeze the barkeep handed her, forcing her gaze to remain there so she didn’t stare.

“Is it always so quiet here?” Sybil asked the bartender.

“You missed the happy hour crowd. People have been staying in after dusk the past few days.”

Sybil frowned. “I guess we’ll have to come back earlier tomorrow.”

Or not.

Sybil had to notice that this wasn’t the Prancing Pony. Absorbing culture was fine and all, but Anna had her first taste of New Zealand on the car ride over here. She wanted to see more, not spend her time drinking.

The bartender walked to the other side of the counter and spoke to the blond guy. After a moment, they both turned toward Anna. She nearly choked on her drink before she looked away.

Her cheeks heated. The blond must have mentioned that she’d been staring at him. With skin that pale, he must have people stare at him all the time, and here she was, the gawking American, jumping on the bandwagon.

Anna concentrated on the ice cubes in her glass, trying to not look like she was aware the two men were still chatting.

About her? No, of course not.

But what if they were?

If she and Sybil had stayed at the hotel bar, like she’d wanted, she could’ve just caught the next elevator to her room and hid from all this awkwardness.

She leaned toward her sister. “This obviously isn’t the right place. Maybe we should go.”

“Come on, Sis. There’s more to sightseeing than movie locations. There’s a lot about the local culture I’d like to sample, too.” She spun her stool toward a table of three guys near the wall and sipped her drink through the thin, red stirring straw. Her lips turned up in a wry grin.

Anna’s eyes widened. “You came all the way to New Zealand to get laid?”

“Well, not only to get laid. But it’s on my to-do list.”

“What’s wrong with the guys in New Jersey?”

Sybil shrugged. “I might run into them again. I hate that. This will be more fun. No strings attached.” She smacked Anna playfully. “Not to mention New Zealand accents. Yum.”

Anna shook her head. “You’re crazy.”

“Me? And it’s not crazy to sit home every Saturday night?”

Hanging out at home was a perfectly respectable thing to do on the weekend. She and Andrew…

Anna cringed, closed her eyes, and refocused. There was no more she and Andrew. Not since she left for college. Not since she came home to surprise him on his birthday.

College had become her life after that night. Classes and studying. Nothing more.

Nothing more than lying awake at night, crying.

She gritted her teeth. She was not that girl anymore. She didn’t need a guy, and she didn’t need to go out on the weekend to look for another shitfaced, lying bastard. Anna worked her tail off studying all week. She needed to decompress and relax on her days off. Alone.

Anna cringed, then straightened. She didn’t want to be alone. Not really. But she wasn’t ready to get out there and date again. Andrew had been her world since middle school. She didn’t know how to be with anyone else.

Sybil would never understand that. Her sister’s plan was to play the field and be married to her cushy corner executive office for the rest of her life. There was nothing wrong with that, for her. Anna wanted the best of both worlds—a family and a job. She wasn’t going to find that hooking up with a guy she’d never see again.

“I don’t understand how you can even think of sleeping with a guy you’ve just met.” Anna sipped her drink and set it back on the bar.

“Believe me. It’s a heck of a lot easier than getting tied down in a relationship. Guys get crazy when they hang around too long. They get all protective and…” The word cheat hung on the edge of her lips before she copped out by sipping her drink.

Anna crumpled her napkin and threw in on the bar. “I don’t know, I think I still want what Mom and Dad had—the love of my life, job, and two point five kids?”

“Point five?”

“Yeah, my dog.” Anna watched the condensation drip down her glass. “Is it so wrong to want a guy that will do almost anything for me?”

“You’re dreaming, little sister. He doesn’t exist. I gave up looking for him years ago.”

But Dad existed. Could it be true that their generation hadn’t spawned any great guys?

The bartender adjusted the volume on the television.

A news reporter brushed back a lock of her dark hair and brought a microphone to her lips. “So there you have it. This small village, the third in as many nights, now lays in shock after this morning’s gruesome discovery. The identities of the women have not been made public yet, but NZN News has learned that two of the victims lived here in Wellington, and the third was a Norwegian tourist. Neighboring towns have called for a seven o’clock curfew tonight, as all of New Zealand prays for an end to this senseless killing spree.”

“They were disemboweled, just like the last two,” one of the guys at the table said. “I saw it on the internet. This bloke is a sadist or something.”

Last two? Holy crap! Were they anywhere near Wellington?

The bartender changed the channel. “I hope they catch him soon.”

“There be no one to catch,” the old guy in the colorful garb mumbled. “They look for a man. They need to turn their eyes to the sky. They seek what they are not prepared to find.”

A shiver ran down Anna’s spine. The tavern was oddly reminiscent of an old horror flick, and this weathered, creepy guy was the trope old codger that knew the truth, but no one believed him until they were running for their lives. If he was about to say that all of New Zealand was haunted by ancient bloodthirsty spirits, she was so out of here.

The guy at the other table turned in his seat. “What are you talking about, pop, some Maori legend?”

The old man’s eyes darkened. “Is no legend. We in a Seventeen Year. They should not be looking for a man.”

The table of guys laughed. “So what are they looking for, a dragon? I think you’ve had a few too many.”

“Every seventeen years the dragons fly. They search New Zealand for mates.” He pointed to the television. “This be the work of a gray dragon, the worst of them all.”

“Yeah, and Aoraki and his brothers got stranded on a reef and became the mountains.” One of the guys laughed into his beer.

Anna took in the old man’s colorful attire, remembering the brochure Sybil read to her. It seemed crazy that people still believed that kind of folklore.

The elder remained stoic. “How do you know they did not become the mountains, if you were not there?”

Anna bit back her smile. The ominous cloud in the room lifted as the table of guys snickered. It was sad they made fun of the old man, though. He couldn’t help what he’d been brought up to believe, no matter how ridiculous.

The bartender leaned across the counter toward her. “The bloke on the flipside would like to buy you a drink.”

Anna cringed. The guy she’d been staring at? She glanced around the barkeep. Blondie smiled at her.

“Umm, no thanks. Tell him no offense, I’m just passing through. I’m not going to be here that long.”

Sybil elbowed her. “What’s wrong with you?”

“He’s not my type.”

“What, he doesn’t have a pulse?”

“Shut up.”

Someone settled beside her, and Anna tensed. She turned her head slowly until her gaze met eerie, light blue eyes and even lighter skin.

Blondie smiled. “Hello, I’m sorry. I heard you turn down my drink. You’re not from around here, I suppose?” The New Zealand accent dripped from his pale lips. The package didn’t seem to fit together.

“Um, no. We’re from New Jersey.”

He tilted his head. “In England?”

“No. New Jersey as in the United States.”

His eyes widened. “Oh, that makes sense. You didn’t look or sound English. Anyway, in these parts, it’s customary for a man to buy a woman a drink to say hello. I was only being courteous. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Sybil left her chair and sat on the other side of Blondie. She scribbled something on a napkin.

Anna shifted her weight. “In America, a guy buys a girl a drink if he’s trying to pick her up.”

“Pick her up?”

“As in a date.”

His eyes widened, showing more of the creepy glass-like pupils, which maybe, now that she looked closer, were eerily beautiful.

“That would be a bit presumptuous of me, wouldn’t it?” he asked. “I don’t even know your name.”

Sybil held up the napkin she’d been toiling over. It read:

Platinum blond babies are beautiful

Anna laughed. Well, no, it came out more like an embarrassing snort, but Blondie didn’t seem to notice, thank goodness.

She offered him her hand. “My name is Anna.”

Instead of shaking, he flipped her palm down and kissed her knuckles. Who in God’s name was this guy?

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Anna of the great continent of America. My name is Joesephutus.”

She shuffled her feet, trying to ward off the odd tingle in her toes. “Wow, that’s quite a name. Do you mind if I just call you Joe?”

His smiled seeped into her. “Only if you allow me to buy you that drink.”

Sybil gave a thumbs up over his head, and then returned to her place beside Anna.

Yeah, little sister Anna getting picked up in a bar would make Sybil’s day. Anna would never hear the end of it.

As she gazed into Joe’s haunting, crystal eyes, though, she couldn’t help but want to know more about this interesting man. She’d gone from being completely freaked out about his appearance, to enthralled.

Too bad 11,000 miles was too far for a long distance relationship. She needed to nip this in the bud before it went any further. “I’m sorry, but I’m really not interested.” An ache welled in her belly. She bit her lower lip to keep from retracting her words as Joe lowered his eyes.

His lips thinned. “No problem. Enjoy your time in New Zealand.” He bowed his head and returned to his seat.

Anna nearly stepped off her chair to stop him. After all, it was only a drink, and he seemed nice. Shoot, why couldn’t she be more like Sybil and okay with things like this?

An elbow in the back returned her attention to her sister. “What’s wrong with you?” Sybil said. “He was cute.”

“I don’t know.” And she didn’t. Anna’s stomach continued to whirl. Her skin ached, as if tugging her toward the other side of the bar, nudging her back to where Joe slipped into his seat and cradled his drink between his palms.

He’d been sweet and didn’t come on too strong like the asses in bars back home. The poor guy was probably just shy, and she’d totally turned him down.

Sybil was right, what was wrong with her?

A cool breeze whipped in when someone opened the door. Anna was glad for the touch of chill as she turned toward her sister.

“Holy hell,” Sybil whispered, her gaze fused to the entrance.

A man walked, no—slid through the entrance, but not in a slimy, snake-like way. It was more like gliding across the surface of a pond. He towered over everyone, well over six feet. Stopping in the center of the room, he placed his hand on his chest and bowed to the old man, who straightened, beaming.

The newcomer turned back to the bar, and Anna’s heart triple beat as his gaze brushed over her. His long, dark hair shifted slightly as he walked, coming close to falling over one eye, but not quite covering it. Anna had seen this man before, on the cover of hundreds of romance novels. He seemed painted; perfect, as if molded by an artist. She quivered, warming in all the most embarrassing places.

He smiled at Anna, before turning his attention to Sybil. As soon as his gaze left hers, a sweep of relief flooded Anna, as if she’d been held by something, but then let go.

Sybil blanched, her eyes wide as the stranger slipped his fingers over hers.

“Please forgive my forwardness.” He kissed the back of her hand, just like Joe had. “But you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” He leaned up, still holding her fingers. “You must allow me the honor of your company.”

His gaze darted over the bar, where Joe leaned back on his stool with a dumbfounded look on his face. The hot guy smiled before returning his attention to Anna’s sister.

Sybil blinked as if waking from a stupor. “Of course, please, sit.”

The man eased onto the seat beside them, his gaze never leaving Sybil’s. How was it that no matter where they were in the world, her sister managed to be a beacon for beefcake? It wasn’t fair. Well, not like Anna wanted to be eaten alive by a guy’s eyes, but damn, did her sister wear come and take me perfume or something?

“I’m Sybil. This is my sister, Anna.”

He lowered his head. “Miss Anna, a flower equally as lovely.”

Sure, but you went for the one that looked and dressed like a runway model. Hot guys never went for the plain ones. Not that she wanted him to leech onto her, but, you know.

“My name is Quenor.” He kissed Sybil’s knuckles again, this time hesitating as his lips touched her skin.

Sybil cleared her throat. “Quay-noor? You mean, like, Connor?”

His eyes bored into her like he hadn’t eaten in a month and she was a hot fudge sundae. “Connor sounds lovely with your accent.”

Wow, his own accent sang from his lips. Anna could listen to his voice forever. She had to tear her eyes away from him. Taking a deep breath, she placed her chilled glass to her temple to try to cool herself down. She definitely needed to get a grip.

“Can I get you something to drink?” the bartender asked Connor.

“Whatever the lovely Sybil is having is fine for me.”

Their gazes remained locked. Sybil seemed tongue-tied.

Icy fingers itched up Anna’s back. Something wasn’t quite right about this guy. There was hot, and then there was too hot. And then there was Connor. The attraction Anna felt when he looked at her, the attraction she still felt, even when he’d obviously chosen Sybil, bordered on hypnotic.

The bartender reached up and grasped a wineglass from the fixture hanging over the bar. As he pulled the cup down, the contraption tilted. Several of the glasses slipped from their housing and fell, shattering on the bar top.

Sybil cried out, and Anna gasped as a strong shove sent her stumbling off her seat. The bartender stood, gaping at the mess, while Blondie’s right knee angled up on the bar, and his other foot balanced on the stool that Anna had occupied. His left hand still held her from harm’s way, while his right held the fixture from falling at the same time. How had he gotten across the bar so quickly?

“I have this end.” Connor reached up, his long arms easily grabbing the other side of the fixture.

“Thanks,” the bartender said, helping them ease the wooden frame safely to the floor. His face contorted and reddened with the effort, while Joe and Connor lowered the fixture to the floor without difficulty.

Sybil held her hand to her chest, but her eyes remained glued to her new date.

Don’t worry, sis, no glasses hit me. No reason to check and make sure I’m all right or anything.

The barkeep grabbed a dustpan and saluted Joe and Connor with the sweeper brush. “Your drinks are on the house, mates.”

“Thank you, but that’s not necessary.” Joe turned to Anna, and his eyes widened. “You’re bleeding.”

She blinked in surprise. “What?”

He grabbed her hand, raising her red, glistening fingertip. “You’ve been cut.”

“It’s not that bad.”

His gaze centered on her fingertip. His brow furrowed as a red bead dripped down to her palm.

She trembled. “Umm, you can let go of me, now.”

His gaze flicked to hers and held. He leaned closer. Her pulse throbbed in her ears like she was underwater. The room spun, but dizziness didn’t overcome her. The beat of her heart seemed to slow while every inch of her yearned to lean closer and breathe this beautiful stranger in.

Breathe him in? What in God’s name had gotten into her, and why was this guy still holding her wrist?

She tried to push him away, but slipped, smearing blood across his cheek. He hardened his grip, as another red droplet beaded on her fingertip.

Her gaze drew back to his light blue, crystalline eyes. She needed to scream, to slap him in the face, to run. She couldn’t move, though. Her breaths came shallow and raspy. Part of her longed to kiss away the crimson stain that tainted the edge of his pale lip.

Wait. What?

The brightness of the blood against his milky skin caused flashes of Edward Cullen to run through her mind. The idea was ridiculous, of course. No one believed in vampires. That was almost as stupid as believing in fairies.

But he was fairy-like, now that she thought about it, with those icy blue eyes and white hair. He actually pulled off his albinism with an air of sex appeal. Well, not the dripping screw-me sexy like Connor, but there was definitely something about this guy who was still… fixating on her bloody cut like a deranged lunatic.

He released her.

She nearly stumbled, but grabbed the edge of her stool instead. “What is wrong with you?”

He blinked as if clearing his eyesight. “I-I don’t know.” He stared at her finger like it might bite him.

Okay, so, yes—this guy was cute, but he obviously had some serious issues.

She grabbed a napkin and wrapped her wound. “In case you were wondering, that is not the way to get an American girl’s attention.”

“I know, I-I’m sorry.” He rubbed his temples. “I-I didn’t mean to offend.”

Connor left Sybil’s side and grabbed Joe’s shoulder. “Joesephutus, are you all right?”

He wiped the blood from Joe’s face with his bare hand and then stared at his fingers.

“Wait, you two know each other?” Anna asked.

The taller man whipped his face in her direction. His gaze focused on her with an intensity that made her want to cower in the corner. Connor leaned closer and drew in a deep breath. Was he… smelling her?

Joe became pale. Well, pale-er if that was even possible. He took a stilted breath before elbowing Connor’s considerably larger bulk out of the way and taking Anna’s uninjured hand. “Anna, I would really, really like to buy you that drink.”

His grip tightened. Not painful, but strange. Possessive. Every part of her screamed to tug her hand from his, but all she could do was stare into those glassy, light eyes.

Connor laughed, tapping Joe on the back. “I can’t believe it. You are one lucky little…”

The door to the bar flung open and slammed against the wall as if it had been kicked.

The cool breeze thickened the air.

Connor nudged Joe.

“I feel it,” Joe said.

Holding Sybil’s shoulder, Connor glanced at Anna, then Joe. “We need to get your little lass out of here.”

“I’m aware of that.” Joe turned to the barkeep. “Do you have a back exit?”

“Too late,” Connor whispered.

Joe grumbled under his breath, tightening his grip on Anna’s arm. He leaned close to her ear. “If you get the opportunity, run like your life depends on it.” He glanced at the door. “Because it does.”


You can find Dragon Mount at all these great bookish places:

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Jennifer M. Eaton

USA Today Best Selling Author of Dragon Mount and the Fire in the Woods Series

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It’s the Cover Reveal for Dragon Mount!

We’re only 6 weeks away from the release of Dragon Mount and here’s the prettiness!

Things can’t get any worse than being snatched by a dragon, until Anna is dropped into a bloodthirsty battle for the Draconic crown.

On what’s supposed to be a fun trip to New Zealand to recover from a painful breakup, Anna is kidnapped and flown away by a mythical beast bent on making her his queen. Anna’s rare blood type makes her the only viable mate in the islands, and with scores of dragons looking for her, escape isn’t likely.

Joe is the youngest and smallest dragon in the competition to become king. Now that he’s found Anna, all he needs to overthrow their tyrannical monarch is to bring her back to Dragon Mount before anyone can challenge his claim. But Joe is injured and unable to fly, and each passing second increases the risk of discovery.

Challenging the king means certain death, but Anna is Joe’s to lose. If the king finds her, he will bathe Dragon Mount in her blood, condemning Joe’s people to seventeen more years of brutal subjugation. The fate of the Draconi rests in the talons of their smallest dragon, and the clock is ticking.

If you love the feels you get from Jennifer L. Armentrout and the paranormal shape-shifting of Talon, you’ll roar for Dragon Mount.

___________

Dragon Mount is available for preorder now and you can read all the dragonly goodness in eBook, paperback, and deluxe hardcover. The deluxe hard cover version will have color images at the beginning of each chapter.

Amazon.com | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Book Depository | Goodreads

Here is a sneak peak at the cover spread for the deluxe version.

Yay! I’m so excited!

The colored dragons in the chapter headers will only be available on the eBook version for a short time. Soon after release, the eBook will change to the no-picture version to reduce the file size. (Yeah, it’s a bummer, but it’s an Amazon thing. If you want the pretties, please be sure to preorder.)

AND

Because I love you guys… here’s the first chapter to get you going while you wait. Enjoy!

_____

 

Chapter 1

 

Anna didn’t need a man. What she needed was a dragon—a big, hulking, nasty dragon fully capable of biting the head off of any jerk who even thought of hurting her. As she breathed in the essence of moonflowers drifting on the breeze, she knew this would be the place to find what she was looking for.

Well, she might not exactly find a dragon in New Zealand, but maybe enough magic to help her forget and start over.

A woman on the street corner spun a rack of postcards displaying pictures of the country’s pristine landscape. Anna’s stomach soured as she tucked back the dark hair that blew into her eyes. She and Andrew had dreamed of sitting in a little café, filling out postcards just like those, writing Wish you were here, suckers! over and over again. A hint of a smile touched her lips, before it fell away.

When they first started planning this vacation it was a pipe dream—the mutual coup de gras of their bucket lists. It was supposed to be their honeymoon.

Until a honeymoon was no longer needed.

“Stop thinking about him.” Her sister didn’t even look up from her fistful of pamphlets. “I can smell you brooding from here.”

The sun slipped toward the peaks in the distance, ending a day filled with terminals, planes, and busses. Anna shielded her eyes as the sky exploded with an orange and pink glow.

“It says here that those mountains you’re staring at are called Aoraki.” Sybil pointed to the text. “The original settlers believed that the sons of the sky god got their canoe stuck on a reef. They froze to death and became the mountains.” She smiled. “That’s kind of creepy. Right up your alley.”

Anna took a step toward the postcard vendor and stopped herself. Postcards were meaningless, but fun. They’d always been a favorite part of every vacation. But maybe not anymore.

She closed her eyes. How many things would she have to give up because they reminded her of him?

“Right now these Maori people are celebrating some sort of ancient fertility festival called the Seventeen Year.” Sybil snorted. “Fertility, huh? Sounds like my kind of party.”

Of course it was. Anything her sister could relate to sex was a good time. How could she be so flippant about things like that when guys…

Sybil lowered the pamphlets. “Stop. Thinking. About. Him.”

Anna sighed. How could she stop? She was standing on a street in New Zealand, where they’d dreamed of going since forever.

A fistful of brochures slapped Anna’s cheek. She stood stunned, gaping.

“You are going to enjoy this vacation if it kills me.” Sybil pointed the pamphlets at her like a sword.

Leave it to her sister to drag them both back to elementary school tactics.

A laugh popped out of Anna’s mouth as she splayed her hands. “I’m sorry. This is just harder than I thought it would be.” That was the hugest of understatements. “But I’m okay.” She nodded to herself. “I need this.”

More like she needed to do this. New Zealand wasn’t only her and Andrew’s dream. It was her dream. That didn’t change because he was out of the picture.

“What you need is a nice, stiff drink.”

Anna smiled. It probably couldn’t hurt. “I think I need some time for all this to soak in.”

“Then let’s call this a good start.” Sybil raised her hand into the air. “Taxi!”

“Wait. Where are we going?”

Her sister glanced back at her. “Like I said, to get a drink.”

“Is there something wrong with the hotel bar?”

Sybil waved at one of the approaching yellow cars. “Yes, it’s packed with tourists. I want to meet some New Zealanders.”

Her sister, the quintessential party girl. “We haven’t even unpacked and you already want to go bar hopping?”

“Oh, come on.” Sybil was inside the cab before Anna could argue. “Believe me, once this vacation is over, you’ll be a new person.”

Was there something wrong with her old person? Anna didn’t think so.

Well, not her old-old person. Growing up, she’d been ready for anything. She and Andrew were going to take on the world together.

Until she caught him in bed with someone else.

Mom had always called Anna a miniature explosion, ready to take on the world. The firecracker inside Anna had extinguished that night, and she hadn’t found a way to rekindle the spark.

She closed her eyes and swallowed the painful ball building in her throat. She was here to forget—to erase the bad and come home as a clean slate, ready to start over. This started by proving to herself that life no longer revolved around one guy.

In the distance, a large black bird soared toward the mountains. It circled as if it flew for the pure pleasure of feeling the wind in its feathers. That’s what she needed, the confidence to spread her wings and glide toward the horizon.

Sybil glared at her. “Don’t make me drag you into this car.”

Anna sucked in a deep breath before she slipped onto the worn, black seat beside her sister. “One drink. Promise.”

Her sister made a spectacle of rolling her eyes.

“Where to?” The driver’s accent made it sound like Wayer-tou.

Sybil leaned up and handed a brochure to him. She pointed to a handwritten note on the top of the page. “Do you know where this is?”

He snorted. “Kinda off the beaten path for a couple of Sheilas.”

Sybil flopped back in her seat. “Sounds perfect.”

Off the beaten path? Was she out of her mind?

Anna leaned closer as the cab pulled from the sidewalk. “This is crazy. We are in a foreign country with—”

“Not a care in the world.” She tapped Anna’s knee. “Relax. Trust me. We’re going to see where real New Zealanders hang out.”

Great. Just great.

Anna stared out the window as they left civilization behind. The approaching dusk cast a deepening haze over the hillside as clean, undisturbed green stretched out as far as the eye could see. The tension eased from Anna’s shoulders as she lost herself in undefiled nature.

She hated to admit it, but those rolling fields reached inside and mended part of the hole torn in her heart. She couldn’t imagine living somewhere with so much incredibly beautiful nothing.

“I have a surprise for you.” Sybil nudged her shoulder. “We’re not taking the movie site tour tomorrow.”

Anna spun toward her. “We’re not?”

“Nope. I changed our date to Monday.”

“Why?”

“Because tomorrow morning, you and your favorite sister are taking the plunge off Kawarau Bridge.”

Anna nearly choked. “What?”

“Yup. It’s all set up. They’re picking us up at our hotel at 8:30.”

“Are you out of your mind? I am not bungee jumping!”

“Yes, you are. It’s already bought and paid for. No refunds, no excuses.”

No excuses? Anna had a great big gaping excuse. Even back home in the US she erred on the cautious side. She really didn’t have a choice.

Eight years ago, she woke up after a car accident and found out she had a rare blood type. The hospital had to have plasma flown in from another state, and the delay almost killed her. Ever since, she’d been warned to take it easy and cautioned against foreign travel, but here she was, vacationing in New Zealand with a nutty sister who wanted them to plummet to their deaths tied to the ends of rubber bands.

“There is no way I’m jumping off a bridge.”

Sybil snickered as the cab pulled to a stop. “We’ll see.”

Her sister paid the cabbie as Anna stepped onto worn, colorful cobblestones. The black sconces encircling the weathered rock buildings and the matching streetlamps flared to life simultaneously. Anna jumped as one of them blew out.

“Surprise!” Sybil said.

Anna looked up and down the deserted street. “Surprise what?”

“Don’t you recognize it? This is the street they modeled Bree after.”

Anna looked again. “It is?”

“Yup. I found it on Wikipedia under little-known Lord of the Rings sites.” She narrowed her eyes. “One of these places is supposed to look just like the Prancing Pony inside.”

Anna took in the gnarled, wooden signs. She could barely read the names on some of them. At the far end of the road, four men in long coats entered a bar with a carved rooster hanging above the door. It seemed warm for coats that long. Must be a Kiwi thing.

Sybil grabbed Anna’s wrist and tugged her along the bumpy, colorful walkway toward a worn, timber door with wide, black hinges. “This place looks as good as any to start.”

Anna pulled out of her grip. “To start? I agreed to one drink.”

Sybil held her chest, feigning hurt. “Of course we’ll only have one drink.” She pulled Anna through the door. “Per bar.”

Anna sighed. With Sybil, there was always a loophole.

Inside, the tavern looked nothing like the Prancing Pony. It looked more like the bar in that old show Cheers that her father watched on Netflix. A circular bar dominated the center of the room. Its white-tiled surface clashed with the dark paneling. Flickering candles on cherrywood tables nestled against the wall cast a yellowish glow throughout the room. Inside the serving-circle, a dark-skinned man placed a glass into a huge wooden fixture hanging precariously over the bar.

“Welcome, ladies. Please, have a seat.” He gestured across the nearly empty bar and the mostly open tables. So much for meeting the locals.

Anna had to admit the tavern had its charm, though. The hotel bar had all the appeal of a meat market, while this place oozed culture.

An old man wearing a multi-colored, patchwork shirt sat alone at the table closest to the door. His tunic matched the vibrant weavings hanging from the walls like he was a part of the decor.

Combine him with the dead animal heads mounted above the entrance, and Anna felt as if she’d stepped back in time. If she could convince them to trash the plasma television screen, this place would be the perfect retreat.

She and Sybil settled on stools at the bar and ordered drinks. From the opposite side of the serving circle, a very light-skinned platinum-blond guy flashed a smile. His eyes mirrored the overhead lighting, making everything about him seem paler, as if he were dusted in white powder. Anna quickly looked away. She settled her eyes on the Malibu Bay Breeze the barkeep handed her, forcing her gaze to remain there so she didn’t stare.

“Is it always so quiet here?” Sybil asked the bartender.

“You missed the happy hour crowd. People have been staying in after dusk the past few days.”

Sybil frowned. “I guess we’ll have to come back earlier tomorrow.”

Or not.

Sybil had to notice that this wasn’t the Prancing Pony. Absorbing culture was fine and all, but Anna had her first taste of New Zealand on the car ride over here. She wanted to see more, not spend her time drinking.

The bartender walked to the other side of the counter and spoke to the blond guy. After a moment, they both turned toward Anna. She nearly choked on her drink before she looked away.

Her cheeks heated. The blond must have mentioned that she’d been staring at him. With skin that pale, he must have people stare at him all the time, and here she was, the gawking American, jumping on the bandwagon.

Anna concentrated on the ice cubes in her glass, trying to not look like she was aware the two men were still chatting.

About her? No, of course not.

But what if they were?

If she and Sybil had stayed at the hotel bar, like she’d wanted, she could’ve just caught the next elevator to her room and hid from all this awkwardness.

She leaned toward her sister. “This obviously isn’t the right place. Maybe we should go.”

“Come on, Sis. There’s more to sightseeing than movie locations. There’s a lot about the local culture I’d like to sample, too.” She spun her stool toward a table of three guys near the wall and sipped her drink through the thin, red stirring straw. Her lips turned up in a wry grin.

Anna’s eyes widened. “You came all the way to New Zealand to get laid?”

“Well, not only to get laid. But it’s on my to-do list.”

“What’s wrong with the guys in New Jersey?”

Sybil shrugged. “I might run into them again. I hate that. This will be more fun. No strings attached.” She smacked Anna playfully. “Not to mention New Zealand accents. Yum.”

Anna shook her head. “You’re crazy.”

“Me? And it’s not crazy to sit home every Saturday night?”

Hanging out at home was a perfectly respectable thing to do on the weekend. She and Andrew…

Anna cringed, closed her eyes, and refocused. There was no more she and Andrew. Not since she left for college. Not since she came home to surprise him on his birthday.

College had become her life after that night. Classes and studying. Nothing more.

Nothing more than lying awake at night, crying.

She gritted her teeth. She was not that girl anymore. She didn’t need a guy, and she didn’t need to go out on the weekend to look for another shitfaced, lying bastard. Anna worked her tail off studying all week. She needed to decompress and relax on her days off. Alone.

Anna cringed, then straightened. She didn’t want to be alone. Not really. But she wasn’t ready to get out there and date again. Andrew had been her world since middle school. She didn’t know how to be with anyone else.

Sybil would never understand that. Her sister’s plan was to play the field and be married to her cushy corner executive office for the rest of her life. There was nothing wrong with that, for her. Anna wanted the best of both worlds—a family and a job. She wasn’t going to find that hooking up with a guy she’d never see again.

“I don’t understand how you can even think of sleeping with a guy you’ve just met.” Anna sipped her drink and set it back on the bar.

“Believe me. It’s a heck of a lot easier than getting tied down in a relationship. Guys get crazy when they hang around too long. They get all protective and…” The word cheat hung on the edge of her lips before she copped out by sipping her drink.

Anna crumpled her napkin and threw in on the bar. “I don’t know, I think I still want what Mom and Dad had—the love of my life, job, and two point five kids?”

“Point five?”

“Yeah, my dog.” Anna watched the condensation drip down her glass. “Is it so wrong to want a guy that will do almost anything for me?”

“You’re dreaming, little sister. He doesn’t exist. I gave up looking for him years ago.”

But Dad existed. Could it be true that their generation hadn’t spawned any great guys?

The bartender adjusted the volume on the television.

A news reporter brushed back a lock of her dark hair and brought a microphone to her lips. “So there you have it. This small village, the third in as many nights, now lays in shock after this morning’s gruesome discovery. The identities of the women have not been made public yet, but NZN News has learned that two of the victims lived here in Wellington, and the third was a Norwegian tourist. Neighboring towns have called for a seven o’clock curfew tonight, as all of New Zealand prays for an end to this senseless killing spree.”

“They were disemboweled, just like the last two,” one of the guys at the table said. “I saw it on the internet. This bloke is a sadist or something.”

Last two? Holy crap! Were they anywhere near Wellington?

The bartender changed the channel. “I hope they catch him soon.”

“There be no one to catch,” the old guy in the colorful garb mumbled. “They look for a man. They need to turn their eyes to the sky. They seek what they are not prepared to find.”

A shiver ran down Anna’s spine. The tavern was oddly reminiscent of an old horror flick, and this weathered, creepy guy was the trope old codger that knew the truth, but no one believed him until they were running for their lives. If he was about to say that all of New Zealand was haunted by ancient bloodthirsty spirits, she was so out of here.

The guy at the other table turned in his seat. “What are you talking about, pop, some Maori legend?”

The old man’s eyes darkened. “Is no legend. We in a Seventeen Year. They should not be looking for a man.”

The table of guys laughed. “So what are they looking for, a dragon? I think you’ve had a few too many.”

“Every seventeen years the dragons fly. They search New Zealand for mates.” He pointed to the television. “This be the work of a gray dragon, the worst of them all.”

“Yeah, and Aoraki and his brothers got stranded on a reef and became the mountains.” One of the guys laughed into his beer.

Anna took in the old man’s colorful attire, remembering the brochure Sybil read to her. It seemed crazy that people still believed that kind of folklore.

The elder remained stoic. “How do you know they did not become the mountains, if you were not there?”

Anna bit back her smile. The ominous cloud in the room lifted as the table of guys snickered. It was sad they made fun of the old man, though. He couldn’t help what he’d been brought up to believe, no matter how ridiculous.

The bartender leaned across the counter toward her. “The bloke on the flipside would like to buy you a drink.”

Anna cringed. The guy she’d been staring at? She glanced around the barkeep. Blondie smiled at her.

“Umm, no thanks. Tell him no offense, I’m just passing through. I’m not going to be here that long.”

Sybil elbowed her. “What’s wrong with you?”

“He’s not my type.”

“What, he doesn’t have a pulse?”

“Shut up.”

Someone settled beside her, and Anna tensed. She turned her head slowly until her gaze met eerie, light blue eyes and even lighter skin.

Blondie smiled. “Hello, I’m sorry. I heard you turn down my drink. You’re not from around here, I suppose?” The New Zealand accent dripped from his pale lips. The package didn’t seem to fit together.

“Um, no. We’re from New Jersey.”

He tilted his head. “In England?”

“No. New Jersey as in the United States.”

His eyes widened. “Oh, that makes sense. You didn’t look or sound English. Anyway, in these parts, it’s customary for a man to buy a woman a drink to say hello. I was only being courteous. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Sybil left her chair and sat on the other side of Blondie. She scribbled something on a napkin.

Anna shifted her weight. “In America, a guy buys a girl a drink if he’s trying to pick her up.”

“Pick her up?”

“As in a date.”

His eyes widened, showing more of the creepy glass-like pupils, which maybe, now that she looked closer, were eerily beautiful.

“That would be a bit presumptuous of me, wouldn’t it?” he asked. “I don’t even know your name.”

Sybil held up the napkin she’d been toiling over. It read:

Platinum blond babies are beautiful

Anna laughed. Well, no, it came out more like an embarrassing snort, but Blondie didn’t seem to notice, thank goodness.

She offered him her hand. “My name is Anna.”

Instead of shaking, he flipped her palm down and kissed her knuckles. Who in God’s name was this guy?

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Anna of the great continent of America. My name is Joesephutus.”

She shuffled her feet, trying to ward off the odd tingle in her toes. “Wow, that’s quite a name. Do you mind if I just call you Joe?”

His smiled seeped into her. “Only if you allow me to buy you that drink.”

Sybil gave a thumbs up over his head, and then returned to her place beside Anna.

Yeah, little sister Anna getting picked up in a bar would make Sybil’s day. Anna would never hear the end of it.

As she gazed into Joe’s haunting, crystal eyes, though, she couldn’t help but want to know more about this interesting man. She’d gone from being completely freaked out about his appearance, to enthralled.

Too bad 11,000 miles was too far for a long distance relationship. She needed to nip this in the bud before it went any further. “I’m sorry, but I’m really not interested.” An ache welled in her belly. She bit her lower lip to keep from retracting her words as Joe lowered his eyes.

His lips thinned. “No problem. Enjoy your time in New Zealand.” He bowed his head and returned to his seat.

Anna nearly stepped off her chair to stop him. After all, it was only a drink, and he seemed nice. Shoot, why couldn’t she be more like Sybil and okay with things like this?

An elbow in the back returned her attention to her sister. “What’s wrong with you?” Sybil said. “He was cute.”

“I don’t know.” And she didn’t. Anna’s stomach continued to whirl. Her skin ached, as if tugging her toward the other side of the bar, nudging her back to where Joe slipped into his seat and cradled his drink between his palms.

He’d been sweet and didn’t come on too strong like the asses in bars back home. The poor guy was probably just shy, and she’d totally turned him down.

Sybil was right, what was wrong with her?

A cool breeze whipped in when someone opened the door. Anna was glad for the touch of chill as she turned toward her sister.

“Holy hell,” Sybil whispered, her gaze fused to the entrance.

A man walked, no—slid through the entrance, but not in a slimy, snake-like way. It was more like gliding across the surface of a pond. He towered over everyone, well over six feet. Stopping in the center of the room, he placed his hand on his chest and bowed to the old man, who straightened, beaming.

The newcomer turned back to the bar, and Anna’s heart triple beat as his gaze brushed over her. His long, dark hair shifted slightly as he walked, coming close to falling over one eye, but not quite covering it. Anna had seen this man before, on the cover of hundreds of romance novels. He seemed painted; perfect, as if molded by an artist. She quivered, warming in all the most embarrassing places.

He smiled at Anna, before turning his attention to Sybil. As soon as his gaze left hers, a sweep of relief flooded Anna, as if she’d been held by something, but then let go.

Sybil blanched, her eyes wide as the stranger slipped his fingers over hers.

“Please forgive my forwardness.” He kissed the back of her hand, just like Joe had. “But you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” He leaned up, still holding her fingers. “You must allow me the honor of your company.”

His gaze darted over the bar, where Joe leaned back on his stool with a dumbfounded look on his face. The hot guy smiled before returning his attention to Anna’s sister.

Sybil blinked as if waking from a stupor. “Of course, please, sit.”

The man eased onto the seat beside them, his gaze never leaving Sybil’s. How was it that no matter where they were in the world, her sister managed to be a beacon for beefcake? It wasn’t fair. Well, not like Anna wanted to be eaten alive by a guy’s eyes, but damn, did her sister wear come and take me perfume or something?

“I’m Sybil. This is my sister, Anna.”

He lowered his head. “Miss Anna, a flower equally as lovely.”

Sure, but you went for the one that looked and dressed like a runway model. Hot guys never went for the plain ones. Not that she wanted him to leech onto her, but, you know.

“My name is Quenor.” He kissed Sybil’s knuckles again, this time hesitating as his lips touched her skin.

Sybil cleared her throat. “Quay-noor? You mean, like, Connor?”

His eyes bored into her like he hadn’t eaten in a month and she was a hot fudge sundae. “Connor sounds lovely with your accent.”

Wow, his own accent sang from his lips. Anna could listen to his voice forever. She had to tear her eyes away from him. Taking a deep breath, she placed her chilled glass to her temple to try to cool herself down. She definitely needed to get a grip.

“Can I get you something to drink?” the bartender asked Connor.

“Whatever the lovely Sybil is having is fine for me.”

Their gazes remained locked. Sybil seemed tongue-tied.

Icy fingers itched up Anna’s back. Something wasn’t quite right about this guy. There was hot, and then there was too hot. And then there was Connor. The attraction Anna felt when he looked at her, the attraction she still felt, even when he’d obviously chosen Sybil, bordered on hypnotic.

The bartender reached up and grasped a wineglass from the fixture hanging over the bar. As he pulled the cup down, the contraption tilted. Several of the glasses slipped from their housing and fell, shattering on the bar top.

Sybil cried out, and Anna gasped as a strong shove sent her stumbling off her seat. The bartender stood, gaping at the mess, while Blondie’s right knee angled up on the bar, and his other foot balanced on the stool that Anna had occupied. His left hand still held her from harm’s way, while his right held the fixture from falling at the same time. How had he gotten across the bar so quickly?

“I have this end.” Connor reached up, his long arms easily grabbing the other side of the fixture.

“Thanks,” the bartender said, helping them ease the wooden frame safely to the floor. His face contorted and reddened with the effort, while Joe and Connor lowered the fixture to the floor without difficulty.

Sybil held her hand to her chest, but her eyes remained glued to her new date.

Don’t worry, sis, no glasses hit me. No reason to check and make sure I’m all right or anything.

The barkeep grabbed a dustpan and saluted Joe and Connor with the sweeper brush. “Your drinks are on the house, mates.”

“Thank you, but that’s not necessary.” Joe turned to Anna, and his eyes widened. “You’re bleeding.”

She blinked in surprise. “What?”

He grabbed her hand, raising her red, glistening fingertip. “You’ve been cut.”

“It’s not that bad.”

His gaze centered on her fingertip. His brow furrowed as a red bead dripped down to her palm.

She trembled. “Umm, you can let go of me, now.”

His gaze flicked to hers and held. He leaned closer. Her pulse throbbed in her ears like she was underwater. The room spun, but dizziness didn’t overcome her. The beat of her heart seemed to slow while every inch of her yearned to lean closer and breathe this beautiful stranger in.

Breathe him in? What in God’s name had gotten into her, and why was this guy still holding her wrist?

She tried to push him away, but slipped, smearing blood across his cheek. He hardened his grip, as another red droplet beaded on her fingertip.

Her gaze drew back to his light blue, crystalline eyes. She needed to scream, to slap him in the face, to run. She couldn’t move, though. Her breaths came shallow and raspy. Part of her longed to kiss away the crimson stain that tainted the edge of his pale lip.

Wait. What?

The brightness of the blood against his milky skin caused flashes of Edward Cullen to run through her mind. The idea was ridiculous, of course. No one believed in vampires. That was almost as stupid as believing in fairies.

But he was fairy-like, now that she thought about it, with those icy blue eyes and white hair. He actually pulled off his albinism with an air of sex appeal. Well, not the dripping screw-me sexy like Connor, but there was definitely something about this guy who was still… fixating on her bloody cut like a deranged lunatic.

He released her.

She nearly stumbled, but grabbed the edge of her stool instead. “What is wrong with you?”

He blinked as if clearing his eyesight. “I-I don’t know.” He stared at her finger like it might bite him.

Okay, so, yes—this guy was cute, but he obviously had some serious issues.

She grabbed a napkin and wrapped her wound. “In case you were wondering, that is not the way to get an American girl’s attention.”

“I know, I-I’m sorry.” He rubbed his temples. “I-I didn’t mean to offend.”

Connor left Sybil’s side and grabbed Joe’s shoulder. “Joesephutus, are you all right?”

He wiped the blood from Joe’s face with his bare hand and then stared at his fingers.

“Wait, you two know each other?” Anna asked.

The taller man whipped his face in her direction. His gaze focused on her with an intensity that made her want to cower in the corner. Connor leaned closer and drew in a deep breath. Was he… smelling her?

Joe became pale. Well, pale-er if that was even possible. He took a stilted breath before elbowing Connor’s considerably larger bulk out of the way and taking Anna’s uninjured hand. “Anna, I would really, really like to buy you that drink.”

His grip tightened. Not painful, but strange. Possessive. Every part of her screamed to tug her hand from his, but all she could do was stare into those glassy, light eyes.

Connor laughed, tapping Joe on the back. “I can’t believe it. You are one lucky little…”

The door to the bar flung open and slammed against the wall as if it had been kicked.

The cool breeze thickened the air.

Connor nudged Joe.

“I feel it,” Joe said.

Holding Sybil’s shoulder, Connor glanced at Anna, then Joe. “We need to get your little lass out of here.”

“I’m aware of that.” Joe turned to the barkeep. “Do you have a back exit?”

“Too late,” Connor whispered.

Joe grumbled under his breath, tightening his grip on Anna’s arm. He leaned close to her ear. “If you get the opportunity, run like your life depends on it.” He glanced at the door. “Because it does.”

[End of sneak peek]

_____

 

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Catch you later!

Jennifer M. Eaton

USA Today Best Selling Author of Dragon Mount and the Fire in the Woods Series

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Why in goodness name would you dump the rich guy that loves you to pieces? Exes – A review

Exes by (Ebook) I enjoyed reading the first half of this book. It was light and fun. Two people start a relationship anonymously over texting. What they don’t know is that the woman’s sister set her up, and the guy is actually the heroine’s ex-husband who everyone loves but her. Neither the guy or the girl involved in the texting relationship knows that they are “exes”.

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Where the book started to lose me was when they met. The guy sees her and realizes who she is. He is still madly in love with her, so he blindfolds her before they ummm… re-consummate their marriage, and he disappears by morning. My problem is this… We are probably at the half way mark in this book. She doesn’t recognize his voice? His kiss? The feel of his body? I was able to suspend disbelief with the texting, but not once they spoke on the phone, and definitely not when they met up in person—blindfold or not. It got better for a bit when she found out who he was, but then the ending started to drag for me. I think the problem is that in “real life” the two of them end up business partners at the beginning of the book, and they are looking for this lost, million dollar stained glass window. I really have no interest in stained glass windows, and since I never really connected with the female lead, I really didn’t care if she found the darn thing (which is a large porting of the last section of this book). Overall, the writing is good. I DID love the ex-husband, but I think he could do seriously better than his idiot ex-wife. So, yeah, you need to suspend your disbelief a little too much for a contemporary novel with this one. If you are interested in stained glass and antiques, the secondary plot line may hold your interest more than it did for me. Writing is good, though. I just couldn’t get into it.


 

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