Friday, March 22, 2019

Pre-order & Giveaway Blitz for Mr. Fantasy by Cambria Hebert




Title: Mr. Fantasy
Author: Cambria Hebert
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: April 2, 2019



Blurb

Better than your reality…

A Caribbean island.
A rich CEO.
A woman thrown overboard.
A delicious one-night stand.
Want to know what happens next?

Find all the answers and more between the pages
of this sizzling standalone romance—Mr. Fantasy.

Mr. Fantasy is a standalone contemporary romance novel and contains an HEA.







Pre-order Links

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
B&N / KOBO / APPLE BOOKS





CHAPTER 1 + 2 of MR. FANTASY

1
Nora
“I can’t believe the week is almost over.” Val groaned, then consoled herself with a large gulp of the fruity cocktail sitting in front of her.
I sighed sadly, silently agreeing with her. Spring break needed to be a lot longer than a week. Pretty soon, it would be back to work, back to classes… back to reality.
Reality sucked.
Especially when I gazed around this tropical resort and realized some people lived like this all the time.
“One week in paradise just isn’t enough,” I said out loud, playing with the pink umbrella perched in the coconut drink I held. Rotating the barstool, I spun to face the turquoise water of the ocean and pure-white sand beneath it.
Grass umbrellas dotted the beach, and under them, people lounged and played. Beyond the beach, people also played in the water, running around in skimpy bikinis and golden tans.
The breeze off the ocean blew through the tangled strands of my blond hair, and sand clung between my toes. Focusing past the shoreline, I gazed across the water, past the floating cabanas, and out to a small island filled with palm trees.
“I’d like to see the guy who owns that island just once while we’re here.” My voice was wistful as I plucked the cherry out of my drink and popped it into my mouth.
Sweet juice from the fruit burst over my tongue as I stared.
Val made a sound and slapped me on the shoulder. “Don’t even tell me that’s the reason you haven’t had a fling yet!” she practically yelled.
Swiftly, I swung in her direction. “Shh! God, Valerie, don’t announce our sex life to the entire resort.”
“At least I have a sex life,” she muttered, fitting her straw into her mouth. “That’s what spring break is for. Letting loose, having fun… no regrets.”
“Hey, I’ve done that, too.”
She made a rude sound. “You’ve turned down three guys since we got here.”
I shrugged and looked back at the ocean. “I’m picky.”
“You have to let him go, Nor,” Valerie said gently. Leaning in, she rested her cheek on my shoulder. “I know you loved him, but Alan wasn’t good enough. And he hurt you.”
Yeah. Yeah, he did.
I sucked on the straw until it made that annoying slurping sound because my alcohol had officially run out.
“Having a fling is the best way to get him out of your system. Let someone rock your world for a night, and forget about him completely.”
I smirked. “You think a one-night stand will erase a guy I dated for nearly a year?”
Val sat up and wagged her eyebrows at me. “The right guy will.”
I laughed, and she snagged the empty coconut out of my hand and held it over her head. “Bartender, another!”
“Now, about that.” My best friend pointed out toward the distant island. “Please tell me you haven’t been holding out to see if Mr. Island shows up to rock your world.”
I scoffed at her assumption.
“I knew it!” she yelled.
People around us turned to look at her.
I smiled at them, “Sorry. She’s a bit extra.”
“You’re still hung up on your cheating, scumbag ex, and now you’re hung up on some faceless guy who might not even exist?” Val dropped her forehead into her hand. “I’ve failed as a best friend.”
I slipped an arm around her shoulders. “You have not.”
A tap on my shoulder made me turn, my eyes colliding with a set of piercing green ones. “Oh,” I said, a little breathless.
“Your drink is ready,” the bartender said, leaning over the bar, holding out my refill.
“Oh!” I glanced down at the drink. “Thanks.”
“Anytime, gorgeous,” he quipped and winked.
I nearly spilled the drink in my lap right there. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, and he had the bronze tan of a local with an accent to match.
“You need anything else, just wave.”
I nodded, unable to reply.
“See!” Val said, putting her arm around me, bringing me back around. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. You’re gorgeous. You could have any guy here you wanted. Even the bartender. Yet you’re busy mooning over some guy who’s probably old enough to be your grandpa.”
“I am not mooning!” I insisted. Then I grimaced. “And ew… grandpa.”
“You really expect some young, hot single to own that island over there?”
I shook my head. “Not just the island… this entire resort.”
Valerie moaned. “That’s just a sexy rumor the staff here likes to tell women like us. It makes us even more excited about this place.”
“It could be true,” I murmured, staring out to sea. “He really could be some young, rich computer genius who sold off an app and bought this place.”
“Uh-huh. And he has a hot body and the stamina to make you forget all about Awful Alan.”
“Hey,” I accused, salty. “I didn’t judge you when your fantasy was to sleep with a yoga instructor to see if they really were more flexible than other guys.”
Valerie giggled. “They are. They totally are.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re incorrigible.”
“Hey, I’m young, single, and being safe. What’s wrong with a little fun?”
I drank some of my cocktail.
“Besides, at least my fantasy was attainable. Yours is practically from the pages of some cheesy romance novel.”
“Whatever.” I sighed. This conversation was bringing down my buzz. “Finish your drink so we can go lay on the beach.”
“Your time is running out.” She reminded me. “We’re going home tomorrow night. If you don’t have a fling soon, you’re never going to get over Alan.”
I’d had enough of this conversation, and if she said my ex-boyfriend’s name one more time, I was going to scream. I jumped down off the barstool and tripped on my flip-flop, stumbling.
“Whoa,” I stammered as I fumbled forward. Seconds later, I collided into the back of a chair, falling over the shoulder of whoever was sitting there and dumping my drink down their chest.
The shoulder under my waist stiffened, and I scrambled to leap back.
“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!” I exclaimed. Dumbly, I looked down at the drink in my hand. It was empty.
Horrified, I skittered around the chair as the person sitting in it stood, pushing it out from beneath him.
Our bodies collided and I tumbled back, but he caught my arm to keep me from falling. Another apology formed on my lips, but the second I looked up, it dissipated.
He was tall. So tall I had to crane my neck back to look up at him. His shoulders were wide, and his jaw was chiseled. His skin had the same deep bronzed look as all the locals, and his hair was the color of midnight.
I didn’t know if his mouth was just sexy as hell or if the way he pursed his lips as he regarded me made them look pouty, but the effect was still the same.
Everything inside me tightened and then went liquid, as though he’d melted me with just one glance.
My mouth moved, but no sounds came out. I was exceptionally aware of his large hand wrapped around my upper arm. Even though we were sitting in the shade, his hand felt warm like he’d been in the sun. Goose bumps erupted along my bare arms and legs, and my scalp prickled with awareness.
Glancing down to where he held me, I couldn’t help but notice how his hand was so big it wrapped around my arm completely. Involuntarily, I shivered as I thought about what else his hands would completely cover.
Embarrassed, I jerked away from his touch. His hand dropped beside him, and then I realized the entire front of his shirt was completely soaked with my drink.
Gasping, I tossed aside the empty coconut and let my hands hover near him. “This is all my fault,” I exclaimed. “Can I get some napkins over here?” I yelled. “Valerie!”
My best friend, who was standing there just as speechless as I was, burst into action and turned toward the bar.
“I’m so clumsy,” I told the guy. “I’m so sorry. I’ll buy you a new shirt,” I offered. “And whatever you’re drinking today.”
“No need,” he said. His voice was quiet but so commanding it didn’t need to be loud. “It’s just a shirt.”
Glancing down at the ruined garment, I groaned again. It was blue silk. Probably cost more than I made in an entire week. And because of the material and the fact that it was soaked, it was plastered to his chest as if he’d been caught in the rain.
He was thin… but imposing. Everything about him was.
Val shoved a towel in front of my face, and I snatched it quickly. Rushing forward, I didn’t even think twice about reaching out to try and dry the shirt.
The thin material was saturated, and it seemed no matter how much I patted and wiped, nothing helped.
Above me, a throat cleared. “Are you done?”
I froze, towel still pressed against his shirt, and looked up. His chin tilted down, and our eyes met, pure desire sliding through me.
I jolted back, flushing. “Sorry, I was trying to…” What was I trying to do?
He smiled, reached up, and unbuttoned the shirt to peel it off his body and drop it in the sand. “I’m pretty sure it’s not savable.”
My mouth ran dry. I couldn’t look up from his tan, smooth chest.
A second later, he snapped in front of my face, making me lift my eyes. “You might want to lay off the alcohol the rest of the day. I think you’ve had enough.”
Dumbly, I nodded and held out the towel for him to take.
He glanced between me and the offered towel, then smiled. “I’m good,” he replied, then turned around and walked away.
I stared after him long after he was gone, still holding out the towel like a moron.
Val jumped in front of me, eyes wide. “Oh my God!” she whispered. “That guy was hot!”
The towel fell out of my hands, landing beside his forgotten shirt.
“Hey!” Val yelled toward the bar. “Who was that guy?”
“Never seen him before,” one of the bartenders called back.
“Sucks,” she muttered, then grabbed my hand. “C’mon, let’s go get some vitamin sea.”
“Wait!” I exclaimed, pulling back before she could drag me away. Bending down, I picked up the wet, sandy shirt he’d just discarded from his body.
Val tsked and dragged me toward the beach. “First the island guy, and now this.” She sighed. “You’re completely hopeless, Nora. Hopeless.”
As I stared down at the shirt clutched in my hand, I couldn’t help thinking she might be right.


2
Carter
I sat there listening to quite an amusing conversation going on behind me.
One bad girl and one good… The bad trying to corrupt the good. I guess I could understand the appeal. The good ones were always the best at being bad.
I never got involved in guest affairs, even though all these scantily clad women were ripe for the picking. It was too easy. Too boring.
I liked a challenge.
Like being able to erase a man from the mind of a woman who couldn’t let go.
I wondered if the good girl behind me was as open to that kind of fling as she pretended to be or if she clung to the rumors about a man on an island because she knew he probably didn’t even exist.
Sometimes holding on was easier than letting go because at least the pain of holding on was familiar.
The second her drink spilled over my shoulder and across my chest, I wondered if it was my karma for listening to their conversation or if there was something else here at work.
The sparks between us were practically visible, and the way she shivered beneath my touch excited me. Still, I pulled away, because sometimes being a mystery was better than being real.
I felt her eyes against my back the entire time I walked away. I pondered if I would ever see her again, if I would be able to rise to her challenge.
The way my life had turned out so far was all because of fate. So I decided to leave this up to fate, too.






Author Bio


Cambria Hebert is an award-winning, bestselling novelist of more than forty books. She went to college for a bachelor’s degree, couldn’t pick a major, and ended up with a degree in cosmetology. So rest assured her characters will always have good hair.

Besides writing, Cambria loves a caramel latte, staying up late, sleeping in, and watching movies. She considers math human torture and has an irrational fear of birds (including chickens). You can often find her painting her toenails (because she bites her fingernails) or walking her Chihuahuas (the real rulers of the house).

Cambria has written within the young adult and new adult genres, penning many paranormal and contemporary titles. She has also written romantic suspense, science fiction, and male/male romance. Her favorite genre to read and write is contemporary romance. A few of her most recognized titles are: The Hashtag Series, GearShark Series, Text, Amnesia, and Butterfly.

Recent awards include: Author of the Year, Best Contemporary Series (The Hashtag Series), Best Contemporary Book of the Year, Best Book Trailer of the Year, Best Contemporary Lead, Best Contemporary Book Cover of the Year. In addition, her most recognized title, #Nerd, was listed at Buzzfeed.com as a top fifty summer romance read.

Cambria Hebert owns and operates Cambria Hebert Books, LLC.
You can find out more about Cambria and her titles by visiting her website: http://www.cambriahebert.com.
Please sign up for her newsletter to stay in the know about all her cover reveals, releases, and more: http://eepurl.com/bUL5_5.
Text ‘Cambria’ to 7606703130 to sign up for new release alerts


Author Links

Anabel Horton: Lost Witch of Salem by Olivia Hardy Ray Blitz & Giveaway



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Fantasy / Paranormal
Date Published: March 11, 2015
Publisher: Chattercreek

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From the Salem Witch trials through the Nineteenth Century and beyond, the devil’s disciple pursues young and innocent Annabel Horton.  During the Incident at Loudun in 1633 Urban Grandier’s soul was taken by the devil in a furious confrontation between good and evil.  The once pious priest becomes the demonic priest. His curse is on Annabel for forsaking him to Lucifer and he pursues her through time as she taunts his beliefs and he reviles hers. As Annabel flees the devil’s fire she must take the bodies of those that the devil favors to protect her family. She must uncover the motive behind the illusive Ursula/Louis Boussidan, the scandalous cross-dresser who is pursuing her beautiful granddaughter, and she must learn, being one of God’s most powerful witches, how to use her power. But will it be enough to save her husband from Urbain’s fiery inferno? Will it be enough to save her children from demons greater than themselves?



 About the Author

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The first novel I ever wrote, Dancing Backward In Paradise, won an Eric Hoffer Award for publishing excellence and an Indie Excellence Award for notable new fiction, 2007. The Story of Sassy Sweetwater and Dancing Backward in Paradise received a 5 Star ForeWord Clarion Review and The Story of Sassy Sweetwater has been named a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards. I have published in ESL Magazine, Christopher Street Magazine and I have also written early childhood curriculum for Weekly Reader and McGraw Hill.
The pen name for my fantasy and paranormal novels is Olivia Hardy Ray. There are two other books in the Annabel series, Annabel Horton and the Black Witch of Pau and Annabel Horton and the Demon of Loudun. Black Witch is book 2 in the series and should be published this year. Also penned by Olivia is my novel Pharaoh’s Star and my soon to be released, Pindar Corners.

Aside from Southern fiction and fantasy/paranormal fiction I write women’s fiction with two titles to be published in 2019 and my presently published Lies a River Deep.

As for pleasure I love wine, chocolate, dogs, cats and other creatures of the jungle. I also love to travel, read, write, watch films and go to theater. I value friendship, history, my enormously loving family and quiet times under a summer sun.


Contact Links



Purchase Links


RABT Book Tours & PR

Thursday, March 21, 2019

This Scot of Mine by Sophie Jordan


A daring deception…

Desperate to escape her vile fiancĂ©, Lady Clara devises a bold lie—that she’s pregnant with another man’s child. With her reputation in tatters, Clara flees to Scotland to live out her days in disgrace, resigned to her fate as a spinster…until she claps eyes on the powerful and wickedly handsome Laird Hunt MacLarin.
She’s the answer to his curse…
Laird of an ancient clan, Hunt needs an heir, but he comes from a long line of men cursed to die before the birth of their firstborn. When the Duke of Autenberry approaches him with a proposition—marry my ruined sister—it seems the perfect solution. Even better, the defiant lass stirs him to his very soul.
No escaping the truth...
Except marriage cannot set them free. No matter how much Hunt desires her. No matter how much Clara burns for him. Soon she is falling for her husband, but is love enough to end the curse? Or is the tragic history of the MacLarin Clan doomed to repeat itself?




About the Book


This Scot of Mine 
by Sophie Jordan


Series 
The Rogue Files


Genre 
Adult 
Historical Romance


Publisher 
Avon Books


Publication Date 
March 12, 2019


Purchase Your Copy Today
Amazon  |  Avon Romance  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Google Play  |  iBooks



Excerpt

Clara could not have made the invitation any clearer.
She didn’t know where such boldness came from within her. She had never forayed into intimacy like this. She didn’t know she had it in her. She supposed it had something to do with the way he made her feel . . . something to do with the fire in her blood.
He said her name again. “Clara.” In that husky brogue of his she felt herself melting, sliding deeper into a puddle of desire.
They hadn’t even kissed. Not a true romantic kiss. She did not count the chaste peck the morning of her wedding.
And heavens, she wanted him to kiss her.
She wanted his mouth on hers. She wanted to taste him with an ache that went bone-deep. Despite his gruffness, his mouth looked beautiful. There was a tenderness in the well-carved shape that she wanted to explore.


About Sophie Jordan

SOPHIE JORDAN grew up in the Texas hill country where she wove fantasies of dragons, warriors, and princesses. A former high school English teacher, she’s the New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author of more than twenty novels. She now lives in Houston with her family. When she’s not writing, she spends her time overloading on caffeine (lattes preferred), talking plotlines with anyone who will listen (including her kids), and cramming her DVR with anything that has a happily ever after.
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Instagram  |  Goodreads  |  Amazon







Tuesday, March 19, 2019

King of Flames by Kathryn Ann Kingsley Blitz



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Dark Fantasy, Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
The Masks of Under, Book 1
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Release Date: March 5, 2019

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Everything about my life has been pretty normal working as a forensic autopsy technician. Until the day I woke up with a mysterious symbol tattooed on my arm.

Suddenly normal no longer existed. The barrier between Earth and a world called Under, dissolved...

Now I’m trapped with dozens of other people. Held prisoner by the creators of myths and legends, where the realm is ruled by two masked kings who want to turn us into creatures like them.

But even though I didn’t choose to be here, this new world manages to pull me deeper, affecting me differently than other humans. Unfortunately King Edu, also known as the King of Flames, notices this and I’m now considered a threat.

If I want to survive King Edu and the dangers of Under, I need to escape. The only problem is, there’s another masked king who seems to have an interest in me. Aon, the King of Shadows, wants me here in this world, and he wants me alive.

I just need to figure out why.




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Excerpt

Chapter One

What do you do when you wake up with a tattoo you didn’t have the night before?

Huh. Well, that’s odd, was the first thing that ran through Lydia’s mind as she looked down at the mark on her forearm.

It looked like any old tattoo. It was small, about the size of a nickel, and done as if in a single pass with black ink from a needle. It was just a single symbol—archaic, strange, and nothing she recognized. After attacking it with rubbing alcohol and bleach, all she succeeded in doing was making her skin red. Slowly and reluctantly, Lydia concluded the ink really was under her skin.

Or, at least, it looked like ink.

She was pretty damn sure it wasn’t a spontaneously appearing black, thin-lined birthmark. One that looked like a backward N with a spiral cut through the middle. It really looked like tattoo ink.

The problem was, it hadn’t been there last night. Lydia hadn’t been out drinking and hadn’t blacked out. Sleepwalking? No. She had gone to bed at about two in the morning after being up late playing video games—no tattoo parlor in the city would’ve been open. She didn’t know any tattoo artists with a sick sense of humor. Lydia had gone to bed, woken up, and—poof. Nickel-sized tattoo. Right there on her forearm, no missing it, no mistaking it.

It was incredible how the human mind processed the seemingly impossible. After attempting to remove the thing for an hour, Lydia’s mind simply decided that it simply could not process the issue. The mystery was upended by the simple and much more approachable problem of being late to work. That one she could wrap her head around. That one she could solve.

Instead of sinking into the panic of debating what the thing was on her arm, she just…went about her day. Lydia scrambled to get ready, threw on some eyeliner, and brushed her hair before rushing to the T. She didn’t know why she bothered. It wasn’t like her “coworkers” would notice. They weren’t the most sociable, chatty, and observant people. Nothing against them—they couldn’t help it.

They were dead, after all.

Lydia was a forensic autopsy technician. With every person she ever met, she had to explain why her job was not like that thing they saw on CSI that one time. It was hardly that interesting. Her job was only to collect the data. Record the numbers. There were more important, better-paid, smarter people who sat at a desk and actually solved the crimes. She just stuck plastic sticks in dead people, cut bits and pieces out of them for various reasons, and took a whole lot of gross photos.

Now, that wasn’t to say Lydia didn’t have real coworkers. It was just funnier to think about the people on the slab that way, to put them in a slightly humorous, if sardonic light. Otherwise, she’d have to take her job seriously, and that was no way to live. Her real coworkers were friendly, ordinary people with details in their lives about which she had no clue. They were all okay with it that way.

Contrary to popular belief, nobody worked the night shift at a morgue, even if horror movies told you otherwise. She had a normal, nine-to-five, humdrum life, just like most people. Even if hers had to do with dead people. Well, hey, somebody had to do it. It did sometimes leave her with the scent of chemicals, though. She had to use mint shampoo because if she used anything floral, she just came off smelling like a funeral parlor.

Leaning against the side of the train car, she looked down at her phone and flicked her thumb over whatever soup-du-jour game she had downloaded that week. The green line was late getting into South Station. Again.

It was funny that in the city of Boston, you could hit the start of your workday by fifteen minutes in either direction, and honestly, nobody cared. Boston’s T was America’s oldest subway station, and it showed. At this point, she suspected if a pigeon shit on the rails, the train would have to wait twenty minutes for it to dry.

She didn’t even want to think about what happened when it snowed.

Lydia had come to enjoy Boston, if admittedly against her will. She’d moved out here from the New Hampshire countryside to go to college, got an internship, got hired, and got stuck. Now she had a typical life for a late-twenties single professional. Some houseplants, a job, some friends, some hobbies, and—a mark of personal progress in the city of Boston—a one-bedroom apartment to herself.

Lydia’s pattern was, like most people, wake up, work, go home, fill some time, sleep, wake up, work, day after day. Every few days, she’d hang out with friends or catch a beer with her breathing coworkers. Smatter in a date or two, and life was good.

That was a successful life, right?

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Each day wasn’t too different from the last. That also was most people’s opinion of a successful life. Just slowly wandering into the sunset, doing the same thing—predictable and routine.

To be fair, today was just a little different than usual, though.

Lydia kept scratching her arm over her sleeve. The heavy chemicals she used on her surprise tattoo were itching like mad. Maybe she shouldn’t have attacked it with a Brillo pad and bleach, but she had been frantic. Rolling up her sleeve, she tried to surreptitiously glance at it to see if it had magically disappeared. Maybe the bleach had done its trick. But no. There, surrounded by a red rash of her own doing, was the mark.

It didn’t even hurt like she had expected a new tattoo probably should. It hadn’t felt like anything until she attacked it trying to get it off. It was like it had been there for years.

She knew how tattoo ink on human skin should look. She knew how it got that slightly grayish, fuzzy edge to it, no matter how good of a job had been done by the artist. She didn’t have any ink of her own, but more of the bodies that ended up on her table had them than not.

The thing on her arm wasn’t possible. It had no business being there. She should be rushing to the hospital, but what the hell would they say? Tell her not to do drugs, and maybe she wouldn’t wake up with a tattoo she didn’t remember? They wouldn’t believe her when she said she had a Diet Coke, played some PlayStation, and went to bed. They’d assume she either got drunk and didn’t remember it or got roofied at a bar.

Either way, the cops would be called in, she’d fill out a report, and absolutely nothing would be done about it. Nobody was hurt, nobody had been killed, nothing had been stolen, and there was nowhere to start looking. Best case, they’d come to check out her apartment for signs of breaking and entering. She’d already looked; there weren’t any. The cops would be left to simply shrug at the situation and go.

So, what on earth was she going to do? Call out of work? Sit on her floor and sob uncontrollably? Call an exorcist?

Lydia wasn’t the type to cry and panic. She considered herself a rational, reasonable, logical human being. In college and med school, she had worked as an entry-level EMT. She had learned the “act first, panic later” mantra from a few of the older, far more beautifully jaded and saltier Boston paramedics.

They were a particular bunch.

The method was clear—solve the problem, then have a breakdown if you had to. More than once Lydia had shown up to an accident where the person who had the original issue was just fine and the person who had made the call needed help because of a panic attack.

Act first, panic later. Lydia kept repeating it to herself in her head to try and stave off the rising tide. She had a tattoo on her arm she didn’t remember getting, one that was impossible. But nothing was impossible, just momentarily unexplainable. Like stage magic, once you knew the secret, it was all a joke. Once she learned the trick, it’d seem obvious.

All the way to work, she scratched absentmindedly at the spot on her arm. Now it was seriously burning. Like a mosquito bite, rubbing at it only made it worse. But like a mosquito bite, she couldn’t help it.

Passing the front desk, she threw her bag onto the track of the x-ray machine. Government building, government security. It was the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, after all, and it wasn’t exactly in the nicest part of town. Even if it was attached to the Boston Medical Center, it was a few blocks from the corrections center and in that no man’s land between the South End and I-93 where it came back out of the Big Dig.

All sorts of people tried to wander in, some high, some nuts, most somewhere in between.

“Hey, Nick,” she said to the security guard. He was younger than most of the other guards. He had initially been a Boston University intern with her almost six years ago. Nick had a penchant for not trying very hard unless he was really interested. Very little interested him, and so security was the perfect spot for him.

“Hey, Lyd,” Nick said with a grin and looked up from his iPad. “Beer? Tonight?” The guy had an endearing, lopsided grin and scruffy brown hair. She figured he spent as little time as possible combing it without looking like a complete hobo. He was the kind of guy who always wore a t-shirt, over which he always wore either a hoodie or his uniform. That was pretty much all she’d ever seen him wear.

Lydia and Nick had hit it off as good friends years ago, and they were still close. He was crass, and most people found him to be more than a little bit of an asshole. The issue was that Nick didn’t know how to communicate, even on the scale of people who dealt with the dead every day. He couldn’t help himself and not say what he thought at every possible moment. Lydia found the humor in it, and he put up with her weirdness, so here they were.

“Sure,” Lydia agreed to after-work beers without really thinking about it. “Why not?” Screw it. She could use a drink. Maybe she could show Nick the mark on her arm and he might—might—not think she was crazy.

“Cool,” he said and went back to his iPad, dismissing her from the conversation. Oh, Nick and his stellar lack of people skills.

Lydia picked up her bag from the other side of the x-ray machine. Nick hadn’t even bothered to look at the screen; he never did. Lydia shouldered her pack and walked to the lab she shared with two other people. But as it was the week before Thanksgiving, most people had taken an extended vacation. Shannon and Dan, her real officemates, were both out for the rest of the weekend.

Today should be a dull day. But surprise tattoo chorused in Lydia’s mind. Fine, a slow workday. She sat down at her desk, flicked on her computer, and checked her email. She had a few cases to button up, boxes to click, photos to upload, and so on.

Lydia scratched the mark on her arm and sighed. It was like a fly, buzzing around her head. Hey! Hey! It was making it very hard to focus now that she wasn’t moving. Idiot, you have a thing on your arm. You should panic. Hey! Hey, idiot!

As she was in the room by herself, Lydia rolled up her sleeve and glared down at the mark. Sure enough, it was still there, under the skin that had now turned a pinkish-red with all her incessant scratching and previous chemical abuse.

Lydia leaned back in the chair and held it up to look at in the light. It’d take a tattoo artist all of five minutes, if that, to put down. So, some goon broke into her apartment and set up all his equipment and tattooed her. And the noise and the pain hadn’t woken her up somehow. They must have drugged her first, then.

That seemed laughably like the most logical option. Lydia went to the bathroom and started searching herself for injection marks. She was good at finding them—that was her job, after all. Half an hour in the bathroom, using her phone on selfie mode, and no dice. Nothing to show for it except confirmation that looking at herself up the nose was never attractive, ever, and didn’t do anything for her self-esteem.

She even checked for the classic serial killer trick and looked between her toes and under her nails. Lydia let out a low breath, took her long blonde hair out of her ponytail, and combed both her hands through the loose waves and tried to think. She scratched her scalp with her fingernails as she desperately tried to get her brain to work faster. It was required to keep your hair under a shower cap while working on a corpse, so Lydia always kept it tied up. But honestly, she preferred it down.

No injection marks. Maybe it was somewhere really well-hidden, and Lydia was missing it. Well, she couldn’t just sit in the bathroom all day and look. Somebody was going to notice she wasn’t at her station eventually.

Flopping down at her desk, Lydia realized there was a body on her metal table. It was still in its bag, likely having just been dropped off. Lydia blinked. There wasn’t one scheduled for today. A folder on her desk had a sticky note on it, saying in fine-point Sharpie scrawl, “You’re the lucky winner. Jim.”

Jim was her boss. He was funny, they had a friendly and casual working relationship, and he trusted her to get her job done. Even better, he didn’t over-manage her, and in exchange, she didn’t ask him for a damn thing except for time off. Lydia was as self-reliant as employees came and managed her own time without an issue. It was a pleasant, peaceful coexistence.

But it also meant when he needed to get something done and done fast, it was her job.

Sighing, Lydia picked up the folder and opened it. The body would have been in the fridge, except Jim had pulled it specifically. Upcoming holiday weekend and schedule be damned.

Death was hard to plan, after all. Especially the kinds of death they handled. The gentle term they used on the website for this kind of death was “unexpected.” Lydia, with her off-color sense of humor, had long since dubbed it “murdery.”

There were a few different kinds of people who worked in the dead-people business. There were those who had simply turned that part of them off and handled everything they saw and did like a bank clerk. No big deal, nothing to see here, move right along. There were those who internalized it to the point they became dead inside themselves. And then there were ones like her, who handled it with humor. It was a crass and morbid way of dealing with the world, but at least it was good for a laugh.

Better that than winding up like that guy from Phantasm. What was his name again? The Tall Man. Right. It’d been a while since she’d seen that one, and if she could recall right, he’d been some weird brain-sucking alien or something. She didn’t remember, except that he had those bizarre floating silver orbs.

Lydia loved horror movies. She adored them. They were a pastime and a hobby. From the age of eight and on, her dad would take her to the local Blockbuster every Friday, where she could rent two VHS tapes. So she did, and every week, they were always from the horror section. Lydia had spent her childhood working alphabetically through from 13 Ghosts all the way down to Wolfman.

None of it ever scared her. As a kid, all she’d ever wonder about the movies was whether Michael Myers ever got lonely, or how Pinhead slept at night with all those things in his face. Did he have to straighten them all back out in the morning with the back of a hammer?

It was part of her love of horror that led her to do what she did for a living. It was easier to handle, in some weird way, if you just pretended it was all movie magic. These weren’t real squishy people—they were just props.

The folder contained the police report. The guy had been found the night prior in an alley between some buildings in Boylston. All that was scribbled down was that the man had died from an apparent shotgun wound to the chest. No other descriptions, no other boxes checked. Even the little box that indicated if a weapon was found nearby was left blank. Freaking cops. They never wrote down anything that mattered. More than once, she had wound up doing a cast of a blade only to be told another department had the knife the whole time.

With a sigh, Lydia stood and walked up to the body. Putting on a sterile hair cap, she suited up and threw on a pair of gloves from the table next to it and unzipped the bag. She pulled it all the way down past the toes before opening it up.

“Well, hey there, buddy,” Lydia greeted the dead body incredulously and tilted her head to the side. That was something you didn’t see every day. The man was dressed in what looked like Victorian clothes. Shirt, vest, and coat, all extremely dated and all in shades of white and cream. Even his shoes were white and polished. Was this guy on the way to a wedding? Or a costume ball, maybe?

Blood had oozed from his forehead and ran straight down his face, revealing it had been there while the man was standing. It covered the right side of his face, obscuring what would have been otherwise reasonably handsome features. He had short black hair, the only thing about him that wasn’t white, cream, or in the case of his skin, the familiar lifeless pale blue of a corpse.

“Signs of an altercation before death,” Lydia mumbled to herself as she wrote it down on her notebook. That would be the only reason he had blood streaking down his face toward his chin. What had killed the man was pretty clear—a broad swath of small holes in his chest, each circled and ringed in dried blood. A shotgun blast to the chest, and it looked like it was done from close range and been packed with buckshot. Great. That would make for some serious fun all afternoon as she picked each individual ball out of his chest. Lydia sighed. So much for a short day.

The man had no identification on him at the scene. In fact, his pockets had been entirely emptied. That wasn’t uncommon, even if most people didn’t generally get mugged with a shotgun on the way to a costume ball. Lydia had to admit at least that part made it interesting.

First step, photos, then strip a layer of bizarre Victorian clothing, and more snaps with her camera. The clothes weren’t cheap and didn’t seem like they were costumes. Once the body was naked, she took more pictures, bagged and tagged the clothes, and put them in a little plastic bin on the bottom shelf for the more traditional forensic teams to examine.

The lab would want a blood sample. They always did, no matter how obvious the cause of death might be. Lydia took a red washable pen, circled a mark on his femoral artery on this thigh, and inserted a syringe. He’d only been dead twelve to fourteen hours, as far as she could tell, so it’d be easy to get a blood test. When she pulled back the plunger, it was dry. Just air.

What…?

She threw the needle into the hazmat bin by her feet and picked up another one, and this time, circled a different spot on the femoral artery. Lydia drew back the plunger and…nope. Nothing. No blood.

The hell?

Okay, the subclavian, then. No blood. All right. Screw it. Screw this guy. Going to a stack of drawers, she rummaged through a bin and found a cardiac stick. Go for the gold. She unwrapped it, went to the body, and fed it into his heart.

Nothing.

Okay! Okay, fine. He had no blood in his body. Completely exsanguinated. Sure, why the hell not. She took off her gloves and started to write notes on one of her forms, detailing what she’d found, or, in this case, not found.

Lydia could start doing a cut-down and pull open the guy’s ribcage to see if he was utterly devoid of blood, but that was a hell of a lot of work to do without being explicitly told to do it. The corpse hadn’t started decomp yet, so he hadn’t been dead long enough that the blood would have pooled into the tissue. The man didn’t have bullet wounds large enough to have bled him out. Where did all the blood go?

Whatever. Let someone further up the food chain solve the mystery.

Lydia took a few more photos of the shotgun wounds on his chest before taking a swab and beginning to clean each one. It seemed that the only blood this guy had was the dry stuff on the outside of his body. Oh, well.

Picking up a small pile of little red sticks, she began to feed each one into the bullet wounds. It always reminded her of playing KerPlunk. Taking a photo, she wrote that the weapon was likely operated by someone standing between three to five feet away and at chest level. Pulling all the red sticks back out and dropping them into the hazmat bin, it was time to stop avoiding the inevitable.

Picking up a pair of thin, needle-nose tweezers, she began plucking out the little balls of lead, one by one.

Tink.

A little lead ball went into the tray. At least the wounds weren’t too deep. A few inches at most. Enough to kill and wind up in the lungs and the heart, but not enough that she had to really go digging.

Tink.

So much for a peaceful last day before Thanksgiving break.

Tink.

She was going to be at this for way too long. It had already been forty-five minutes, and Lydia was barely halfway through.

Tink.

Each time she pulled out a ball, she marked the wound with a tiny red dot of her washable pen. That way, she wouldn’t have to play the guessing game of which ones she had already done. That was the worst.

Tink.

The mindless, repetitive task let her mind wander. Of course, naturally, it strayed right back to dwelling about the mark on her arm. What the hell was it? How the hell did it get there? What kind of sick joke was this?

Tink.

How could she get the stupid mark off her forearm?

Tink.

At least she was almost done with the buckshot. Just a few more little pieces of lead to go. That last one had been deeper than the others.

Tink.

Lydia nearly jumped a foot in the air as her desk phone rang. With a sigh, she put down the tweezers, pulled off her goggles and gloves, and went to answer it. “Yeah?”

“Hey, Lydia,” answered her boss, Jim. “Wondering if you could take a mugshot of our dapper John Doe. Upstairs wants to circulate a description before they leave for the day.”

“It’s not even two in the afternoon.”

“Holiday.”

Lydia shook her head. Must be nice. “Yeah, sure, I’m on it.”

“You’re the best. Oh, and don’t forget a dental impression for I.D.,” Jim replied, and she heard the click as he hung up. Lydia hung up the phone and put on yet another pair of clean gloves. “All right, Dapper John,” Lydia said, having to give Jim some credit for the fitting nickname. “Time to smile for the camera.”

Taking a few more shots of his face with the blood smear, she then set to work cleaning the dry, congealed substance from his features to get a clean shot for the folks who had offices upstairs. It was when she went to get some of the blood off his temple that she paused. It looked like something else was there, under the blood.

What the hell was this? This guy was just full of surprises.

Tossing the bloody swab into the hazmat, she picked up another to scrub at that spot further. It looked like there was…white ink on his skin. Two marks looked as though they were tattooed on him. White tattoos were rare, especially on the face. A gang member, maybe? Once she had cleaned the rest of the blood off, she turned his head to the side, stiff but still flexible, to get a better look at the marks.

Lydia pulled back, her eyes wide.

It matched the symbol on her arm. Her “surprise tattoo.” His marks weren’t exactly the same—no backward N with a spiral—but the style was unmistakable. Like different characters from the same alphabet. Esoteric and strange, looking like a something out of Hellraiser or some other occult movie.

Wide-eyed and dumbfounded, Lydia froze. How was this possible? How was any of this possible? Lydia’s heart was pounding in her ears as she tried to make sense of what she was seeing. All at once she was thinking too quickly and not fast enough, her thoughts a jumbled mess as they tried to vie for supremacy.

Nothing had a chance to win the fight and rise to the surface.

A hand snapped around her wrist. Cold, deathly, and wrong. The face of the corpse turned to look at her of its own accord. Eyes, dilated and ringed in red, met hers.

Lydia screamed.


About the Author

 photo King Of Flames Author Kathryn Ann Kingsley_zpsyxjw8hoj.jpg

Kat (Kathryn Ann Kingsley) has always been a storyteller.

With ten years in script-writing for performances on both the stage and for tourism, she has always been writing in one form or another. When she isn’t penning down fiction, she works as Creative Director for a company that designs and builds large-scale interactive adventure games. There, she is the lead concept designer, handling everything from game and set design, to audio and lighting, to illustration and script writing. Also on her list of skills are artistic direction, scenic painting and props, special effects, and electronics. A graduate of Boston University with a BFA in Theatre Design, she has a passion for unique, creative, and unconventional experiences. In her spare time, she builds animatronics and takes trapeze classes.

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