Friday, December 14, 2018

Guest Blog -His Dark Magic by Pat Esden - Deck the Halls with Books Holiday Extravaganza

Chloe’s Five Winter Solstice Wishes

Chloe Winslow is the main character in HIS DARK MAGIC, Northern Circle Coven book 1. Though she grew up in an influential family of witches, she has recently struck out on her own and joined the infamous Northern Circle coven. This is the first Winter Solstice that she’ll be spending with them instead of her family. The holiday season always been one of her favorite times of the year. She loves the smell of Yule trees and hot mulled cider, and the music from all the different celebrations. Most of all she loves lighting the solstice bonfire and calling the sun back from the land of shadows. However, since this is her first time celebrating away from her family and their traditions, she has five special wishes that she hopes comes true. 

5. Chloe’s looking forward to celebrating Solstice Night in the company of the entire Northern Circle, but she’s hoping at some point during December to spend a  quiet evening sipping some of the coven’s wine and watching Love Actually. She absolutely loves the movie and the holidays wouldn’t be the same without see it at least once.

4. She’s also hoping that her new friends don’t mind if she plays Little Mix’s Love Me Like You (Christmas Mix) a bit obsessively. It’s not a traditional holiday song, but it makes her smile and feel like dancing. Besides, this year, she really feels like the luckiest girl as far as guys go.

3. Gift giving isn’t technically a part of the Winter Solstice tradition. However, her family always exchanged presents: homemade treats, cozy sweaters, special candles with herbs and flowers imbedded in the wax . . . She’s planning on getting Devlin a new shirt from L.L. Bean and a big snuggly toy for his Golden Retriever. She’s crossing her fingers that he’s been listening to her hints about how much she adores watermelon tourmaline and would love a new charm for her bracelet.

2. As far as holiday food goes, Chloe plans on making her family’s hot cider recipe and almond moon cookies. But there’s something else she’d like to enjoy on the morning after Solstice Night. The first night she spent with Devlin, she discovered that he makes an amazing cheesy bacon frittata. Not only did the frittata taste great, watching him cook it was pretty tasty as well. 

1. Top on her list—and this is actually a wish she knows will come true—she’s dying to check out all the local holiday events and see how other people in her new community celebrate the Winter Solstice.

You can see all Chloe’s wishes here, as well as Winter Solstice crafts and celebration ideas.

If you’d like to learn more about the Winter Solstice in general here’s an interesting VPR broadcast.

His Dark Magic
Northern Circle Coven
Book One
Pat Esden

Genre: Contemporary fantasy 

Publisher: Lyrical Press

Date of Publication: December 11, 2018

ISBN: 9781516106301
ASIN:  B0796C83RM

Number of pages: 325
Word Count: 90k

Cover Artist: Kensington Books

Tagline: Its power is legendary. It can fulfill every impossible magical desire. But for one young witch seeking redemption, the Northern Circle coven will challenge her skills—and her heart—beyond measure.

Book Description:

Its power is legendary. It can fulfill every impossible magical desire. But for one young witch seeking redemption, the Northern Circle coven will challenge her skills—and her heart—beyond measure.

One tragic impulsive mistake made Chloe Winslow an outcast to her influential magic family. As a medical student, she wants to combine science with sorcery to heal those she hurt and right her wrongs. But brilliant, charismatic Devlin Marsh re-routes her plans with a once-in-eternity offer: membership in the exclusive Northern Circle, a mysterious Vermont coven known for pushing the limits.

Enthralled by Devlin and their mesmerizing mutual attraction, Chloe makes a dangerous sacrifice to help the Circle’s high priestess awaken Merlin himself—and learn his timeless cures. But a foreshadowing soon causes Chloe to doubt the Circle's real motives, as well as Devlin’s . . .

Now Merlin's demonic shade is loose in the human world, while Chloe and Devlin's uneasy alliance will pit them against ancient enemies, malevolent illusions, and shattering betrayal. And with the fate of two realms in the balance, Chloe must risk her untried power against a force she can't defeat—and a passion that could destroy her. 

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Chapter 1
Earth. Air. Fire. Water.
—Inscribed into a white candle

Chloe padded barefoot across her apartment to the altar on her windowsill. She struck a match and lit a candle. Its light shimmered over a row of crystals and washed into the darkness beyond the open window.
“Spirits of air,” she intoned, holding out her hands. “Guardians of thought and intent, grant me your presence today. Spirits of fire, guardians of will and passion...”
A gust of wind sent autumn leaves whirling through the darkness and rustling against the window’s screen. She stopped chanting and cupped her hands around the candle, shielding it from the breeze. She shivered. There was a sense of foreboding in the air, a whisper and a chill that a witch like her could not ignore. Someone else with powers was close by. And they were thinking about her—at least that’s what her intuition murmured.
She glanced out the window. There was no one in the tiny parking lot, one story below. The windows in the house next door stood dark and silent. She caught a whiff of bacon and hash browns, but the smell was faint and not unexpected. It was almost five-thirty, breakfast time for the couple upstairs.
Quiet as could be, she tiptoed past her bed and a stack of textbooks to the studio apartment’s front door. She opened it a crack and glanced out. The hall light was on, its brightness fanning across the hallway between her and the main staircase. But the doors to the other two apartments on her floor were shut, everything dead silent.
Remembering her candle, Chloe swiveled back. “Out,” she whispered, flicking her fingers to send a burst of energy at its flame.
The flame obeyed, only a thread of its rosemary-scented smoke trailing behind her as she opened the door all the way and crept down the hallway, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling.
When she reached the top of the staircase, everything was still quiet. But after a moment, a faint thump-thump echoed up from the foyer below.
 Thump-bang. Bang. Chloe froze, her breath knotting in the back of her throat. It was as if someone had leaned into the front door, hard shouldering it to see if it would give way.

She waited, listening for the noise to happen again. One long second passed, then another. She gritted her teeth and took a cautious step downward.
Her ear caught the swish and clink of something being slid through the mail slot, followed by a hum of magic.
Not daring to breathe, Chloe snuck down the stairs far enough that she could see the foyer and the front entrance. A narrow envelope lay just inside the door, as white as moonlight against the worn floorboards.
She glanced at the window set into the front door. No one was looking in or lurking in the shadows on the porch, so she sprinted down the rest of the stairs and snatched the envelope. Even before she read who it was for, her intuition screamed that it was addressed to her:
Chloe Winslow
The ink was black. The handwriting neat and controlled. Perfectly centered. But it wasn’t an envelope. It was handmade, paper folded and held shut by a disk of gold sealing wax stamped with an N surrounded by a circle.
She nudged the seal with her index finger. Energy crackled off of it, snaking up her arm. She gasped. Powerful magic. She was certain of it, though if any of the other tenants had found the letter and touched the seal, they wouldn’t have felt a thing.
Adrenaline pumped into her veins. A month ago, she’d moved out of her parents’ house in Connecticut to take prerequisite courses at the University of Vermont before applying for medical school. In all those weeks, she hadn’t encountered any other true witches or magic. No way in hell was she going to let someone drop off a thing like this and then escape before she could meet them.
She shoved the letter into the waistband of her yoga pants, unlocked the front door, and charged out onto the porch. Her gaze flashed to the left. Parked cars lined the dark street. But no one was getting into or out of any of them.
The swish of someone striding through fallen leaves came from the opposite direction. She wheeled and caught a glimpse of him. Definitely a guy, striding down the sidewalk through a glimmer of streetlight. Broad shoulders filled out his dark quilted jacket. Khaki chinos. Lean. Athletic. Confident.
Chloe’s long legs took the porch stairs in a single leap. She sprinted down the sidewalk after him, leaves scattering beneath her bare feet.
The guy jogged between two parked cars and crossed the street.
“Wait!” she shouted.
He slowed and glanced back. That was all the time Chloe needed. She willed her legs to go faster and in a dozen strides caught up to him and snagged his sleeve.
His eyes met hers. He looked to be maybe twenty-four or -five. His dark- brown hair curled at the nape of his neck. Deep, brown eyes. Muscular. Classy. Gorgeous. His magic purred in the air around him.
She gulped a breath and toughened her voice. “You owe me an explanation.”
His gaze traveled over her slowly, from her bobbed honey-blond hair, past her makeup-free face and stretched out T-shirt, down to her stormy- blue painted toenails, then back up to her eyes. Dimples formed as his lips twitched into a roguish smirk.
“Not afraid of confrontation, are you?” he said.
His voice was warm and deep, liquid danger spiked with an undercurrent of confident innuendo. It sent an excited shiver up her arms. Still she glared at him. “First of all, I suspect you dropped off that letter at this time of morning because you knew I’d be awake and sense you. That means you’ve been spying on me.”
“Is that so?” He shifted closer, his magic sweeping her skin.
Her legs weakened. Desire thrummed low in her belly. Dear Goddess, this hadn’t been one of her brighter moves. Maybe she could snuff out a candle with a flick of her fingers, but with seemingly no effort his magic had aroused every inch of her. Clearly, he was extraordinarily gifted—and not just with working spells.
She let go of his sleeve, retreated a step, and found herself trapped against a cedar hedge.
He cocked his head. “Why don’t you open the letter if you’re so curious?”
Her fingers obeyed, sliding it from her waistband—
She stopped. What the heck was she doing? She’d felt the magic crackle off the seal. If she broke it, there was no telling what kind of spell might be activated.
Chloe pulled herself up to her full height and looked him square in the eyes, which wasn’t that hard to do. He was probably five-foot-ten, but she was only a couple of inches shorter even in bare feet. “I’ve got a better idea. How about if you tell me what it says?”
He frowned as if the idea didn’t appeal to him, then surprisingly he stepped back and shrugged. “All right, if you insist. It’s an invitation from the Northern Circle coven. Have you heard of us?”
“Umm—no.” Her pulse quickened, renewed wariness pumping into her blood. Her parents had mentioned a few older hereditary witches who lived in this area, but never this group.
“It’s to a party. A meet and greet. A chance to see if you might be interested in joining us and if we think you’re a good fit.” He rubbed a hand down the sleeve of his jacket as if deciding whether he should say more. Finally, he went on, “We’re dedicated to finding ways to access ancient knowledge. Through out-of-body travel, retrocognition...” He studied her face carefully, as if watching for her reaction.
She pressed her lips together, refusing to give him one—though what he’d said totally enticed her.
Amusement twinkled in his eyes for a second, then he continued. “We believe there are cures to modern diseases and conditions that have been lost to time. The wisdom and magic of Imhotep, Hippocrates, even Merlin.” He smiled, slyly. “You are interested in medicine, right?”
Her wariness evaporated and that thrum jumped to life again deep inside her. But this time it had nothing to do with sex. Magic. Medicine. Secrets lost to time. None of the classes she was taking or anything she’d come across at the university were even remotely as exciting as this.
She folded her arms across her chest. “Of course you’d know I’m interested in that. You’ve been keeping tabs on me.”
“I—we haven’t been spying on you. You don’t always use protection spells. We picked up on your energy. That’s one of the ways we find new potential members.” He stopped, his jaw tensing as if he were holding something back.
She pinned him with a steady look. “And?”
He grimaced. “All right, we have contacts in administration. We may have checked your college records as well: graduated from a community college, taking additional prerequisites before applying for medical school. Top-ten test scores. Not a great apartment. But somehow you scored it last minute.”
Now he sounded like her father, using his connections to screen potential employees. She thrust the letter out. “If this is all so innocent, then why don’t you open it? Or does the seal bother you?”
He laughed, tugged the letter from her fingers, and broke the sealing wax. The welcoming scent of sage and lavender perfumed the air, and a trail of green firefly-like sparks twinkled upward, swirling around before vanishing off toward the brightening eastern horizon.
“Better now?” he said, handing the open letter back to her.
She skimmed it, nibbling her bottom lip. Even in the dim street-light, she could see he’d told the truth. It was an engraved invitation signed: Athena Marsh, high priestess, Northern Circle.
“You can take a city bus—or text Athena if you want a ride. She’ll probably ask me to pick you up, but she’s the one doing the organizing. This is her pet project,” he continued. “You won’t be the only newbie. No one will force you into anything.”
His voice settled sugar-sweet in her ear. Medicine. Magic. A chance to gain the knowledge from ancient physicians, scholars, and sorcerers. Perhaps even pick the wizard Merlin’s brain. How could she say no?

About the Author:

PAT ESDEN is an antique-dealing florist by trade. She’s also a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and the League of Vermont Writers. Her short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, the Mythopoeic Society’s Mythic Circle literary magazine, and George H. Scither’s anthology Cat Tales.

Her new adult paranormal novel, A HOLD ON ME (book #1 in the Dark Heart series) is available from Kensington Books. BEYOND YOUR TOUCH (book #2 Dark Heart series) will be released August 30th.

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10 Holiday Gifts for Your Supernatural Friends

10 Holiday Gifts for Your Supernatural Friends

Christmas shopping can be challenging at the best of times, but the non-humans on the list can present special problems. Need ideas for what to get the vampire with centuries of clutter in his garage or the mermaid who needs everything waterproofed? Here are some suggestions from our retail experts:

1. Get that vampire a month’s rental on a storage locker big enough to house his spare coffin collection!

2. For the shifters we suggest many, many lint rollers or a rechargeable hand vacuum!

3. For the fussy feline shifters, how about modern art that doubles as a scratching post?

4. As a stocking stuffer, nothing beats fake human teeth for the vampires!

5. A definite must have: non-toxic chew toys for the werepuppies.

6. Environmentally friendly dry cleaning options for the mummies on your list.

7. Steaks

8. Stakes

9. A personal crossroad for that special demon. Top seller: something on Route 666.

10. High-strength spray adhesive is a thoughtful present for those zombies who just can’t keep it together.

Just remember, whatever you choose, it’s the thought that counts—or possibly the deliciously fresh brains that just manufactured that thought …

Gifted: The Dark Forgotten
Dark Forgotten Series
Book Five
Sharon Ashwood

Genre: Paranormal romance/urban fantasy

Publisher: Rowan and Ash Artistry

Date of Publication:  November 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-7750279-3-5

Number of pages: 124
Word Count: 35,000

Cover Artist: Wicked by Design

Tagline: Who says the holiday season is just for humans?

Book Description:

For all the holly-jolly times, family gatherings are complex no matter who—or what—you are. When you’re hunting for the latest “it” toy to stuff a stocking, it doesn’t matter if you’re alive or Undead, fanged or furry—you’re just as desperate to be the cool dad. And then there are the family grumps who never send cards, the ones who eat all the good candy, and those who drool and dig up the neighbor’s yard.

No, the Yuletide Season isn’t for the faint of heart—and sometimes it’s downright demonic—but holiday miracles make it all worthwhile. Chance encounters and unexpected forgiveness remind us that joy doesn’t come in a gift-wrapped box.

This novella from the Dark Forgotten world catches up with favorite characters for a fresh take on the holidays. Those visiting the world for the first time will understand why Chicago Tribune called it “simply superb.”

Grab this book and return to the world of the Dark Forgotten. Santa Claws is waiting!

“Don’t you want to go see Santa Claws?”  Errata Jones asked in her husky, teasing voice.
“Meh,” Perry Baker replied, still grumpy at the prospect of crowds and gift-giving decisions. Plus, it was cold, gray, and rainy—a typical December day in the Pacific Northwest.
“Where’s your boundless holiday spirit?” She turned into the parking lot outside the Fairview Sports and Recreation Center. It was the final day of the Yuletide Holiday Market, an arts and crafts event by and for the local supernatural community. “Counting today, there’s only three shopping days till Christmas.”
“I really hope you’re not going to make me sit on Santa’s knee.”
“I don’t think so, darling. That would be weird, even for us.”
Errata swung her Jaguar coupe into the last parking space, beating out a massive pickup by a whisker. The truck made a sound like a startled dinosaur as it lurched to a stop on the frosty pavement. Turning off the Jaguar’s ignition, Errata smoothed her chin-length, jet-black hair, then glanced in the rear-view mirror, looking pleased with herself. Perry twisted in his seat to see the pickup driver turn a Christmassy scarlet and lurch off. 
Perry willed his heart to resume its normal rhythm.  Errata was a werecougar, and there were reasons cats shouldn’t drive. Werewolves like him were another matter. Wolves appreciated order, including stop signs. Cats did things because they could—like pester him into going to this stupid craft fair. 
That’s what he got for befriending a feline. He cast her a sidelong look, taking in her high cheekbones and smooth, golden skin. It was all he could do not to reach over and stroke her hair, but that would be crossing a boundary. She’d made it clear from the start that cats walked alone.
Errata finished preening and gave him an arch look. “Shouldn’t you be shopping for your human, what’s-her-name?”
Perry released his seatbelt. “Her name is Tiffani. With an i.”
“Tiffani. Of course it is.” Errata patted his cheek with a pitying look. “Come on. First fifty guests get a goodie bag.”
“She’s fun,” Perry said, sounding defensive even to himself.
“Humans generally are,” she said agreeably. “You should buy her something really nice.”
“Men don’t shop before December 23rd,” he protested as he got out of the car.
“Friends don’t let friends give their sweethearts, even ones named Tiffani with an i, gift cards.”
“But gift cards make sense.”
Errata flung the end of her scarf over her shoulder with a flick of one gloved hand. “Be grateful you have me to watch over you.” She clicked the locks and swept toward the entrance of the building, leaving Perry to catch up.
“Cats,” he grumbled. “What do you want for Yule?”
“Not a gift card.”

About the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Sharon Ashwood is a novelist, desk jockey and enthusiast for the weird and spooky. She has an English literature degree but works as a finance geek. Interests include growing her to-be-read pile and playing with the toy graveyard on her desk. As a vegetarian, she freely admits the whole vampire/werewolf lifestyle would never work out, so she writes her adventures instead.

Sharon is a winner of the RITA® Award for Paranormal Romance. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is owned by the Demon Lord of Kitty Badness.



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Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Christmas Countdown by Ani Gonzalez

The Christmas Countdown
Holiday Lake
Book One
Ani Gonzalez

Genre: Romance, Romantic Comedy

Publisher: FAC Publishing LLC

Date of Publication: 12/1/2018

Number of pages: 175
Word Count: 35k

Cover Artist: Ani Gonzalez

Tagline: A perfect Christmas in twenty-four hours? What could possibly go wrong…or unexpectedly go right?

Book Description:

For the residents of Holiday Lake, Minnesota, there is no such thing as too much Christmas cheer. The tiny town prides itself on celebrating the holiday every day of the year and their halls are decked with boughs of holly all year round.

Yet this December twenty-third, professional holiday decorator Nat Quinn, known as "The Christmas Queen”, has had enough. After a hectic year helping clients set up the absolutely-perfect-to-the-last-detail backdrops for the festive season, she is ready to relax. That’s when divorced billionaire and workaholic Cyrus Blackstone makes a proposal she can’t turn down: Provide the perfect holiday for his children in exchange for the beach vacation of her dreams.

A perfect Christmas in twenty-four hours? That’s a tall order, even for the Queen of Christmas and her team in Holiday Lake. As Nat races to fulfill her assignment, she realizes that the real challenge isn't the tinsel and pudding... it’s not falling in love.

CYRUS ENDED the call, satisfied. That was one action item taken care of.
He headed for a built-in mahogany cabinet that served as the study's bar and grabbed a bottle of scotch and a glass. A perfect Christmas with his kids. This was worth celebrating.
He sat on his desk chair and poured the amber liquid into the glass. The cut-glass pattern made everything sparkle, which was rather festive. Now all he had to do was get the kids on the plane. Everything else would be taken care of.
Happy as Cyrus was about giving his children the perfect Christmas, there was more to his feeling of jubilation. He smiled as he realized that the quirky holiday decorator had improved his mood. She seemed almost entirely too Christmassy to be real, but she also appeared to be someone you could count on, a quality that was lacking in this world.
He sipped his drink, feeling the fiery liquid slide down this throat. That had been a good negotiation.
And he was looking forward to the next one. As Nat had said, everyone wanted the perfect Christmas and it wasn't all that easy. An eleventh-hour version would, he was certain, encounter a few challenges, and he had a feeling he would enjoy maneuvering through them with Ms. Quinn. He felt a lot more confident after talking with her, like a weight had fallen off his back.
Leah walked into the studio, all well-tailored slacks and glossy hair. She definitely wasn't the slouchy sweater and Ugg boots type.
"The kids are packing," she said, a tinge of worry in her voice. "They sound really excited. Is she going to do it?"
"Of course," Cyrus replied. "Did you have any doubts?"
"Some," Leah exclaimed with a happy smile. "She was dead set against it. How did you convince her?"
"Money, flattery, and bottomless margaritas," he replied.
But that wasn't quite accurate. Ms. Quinn had given in when he'd mentioned his kids. That had been her weak spot. It made sense that a holiday specialist would be a sucker for kids. They were the point of her job, after all.
"How much do you know about this Nat Quinn, Leah?" He asked.
"She's fantastic," Leah answered, eyes shining. "You know Christmas is not my thing, so it takes quite a lot to wow me."
Cyrus nodded. Leah was Jewish, and she'd worked for some of the wealthiest families in Manhattan and London. She was notoriously hard to impress.
"But the Hagens hired me one week before Christmas and I was blown away. We drove up to the lodge and it looked amazing with a ten-foot-tall tree, garlands everywhere, and Mrs. Hagen's favorite vintage German decorations. Ms. Quinn even found the large old-fashioned bulbs that Mrs. Hagen wanted. She had an intact set and everything."
Cyrus suppressed a smile. At least he wasn't demanding rare Christmas lights and antique ornaments. Ms. Quinn was likely relieved about that.
"Christmas dinner was divine," Leah continued. "The main restaurant has an all-year-round holiday buffet with a citrus cranberry chutney that is out of this world. You can use it as a sandwich spread for the leftovers too."
His nanny's eyes grew dreamy as she described the food.
"And the pastry shop makes this amazing Black Forest cake with cherry Kirsch." Leah gave a deep sigh of longing. "It has so much alcohol you can't drive after you eat it, but it is delicious. Absolutely worth being housebound afterwards."
"So you want to go back for the food?" Cyrus asked, swirling the amber liquid in his glass.          
His question was greeted by an awkward silence.
Leah avoided his gaze. "Er, not exactly. The town is lovely and the people are, um, quite pleasant." She paused. "Particularly Ms. Quinn. She even gave us some Chinese food for Christmas Eve dinner, which was very thoughtful." Her eyes grew dreamy again. "The kung pao chicken was delicious. I hear the place closed though, which is a pity."
Cyrus smiled. "Let's hope Ms. Quinn can whip us something similar despite the time constraints. Given what we've given her to work with, we'll be lucky if she can find a Christmas tree."
"Oh, but I'm sure Noah's dad—"
Leah raised her hand to her mouth, eyes wide.
"Oh?" Cyrus raised a brow. "Who's Noah?"
A tinge of pink spread across her cheeks. "No one. I'll, er, go check on the kids now."
And she hurried out of the room.
Cyrus sipped his drink. Leah had been working for him for almost two years now, and she'd become part of the family. Yet he'd never seen her blush, not once.
Holiday Lake was going to be a lot more interesting than he'd expected.
He turned on his computer. A picture of his kids popped up on the screen. It was from the last time he'd taken Jack to the FDNY open house. His son stood in front of a fire truck grinning widely while his sister made bunny ears behind his head.
It was Cyrus’s favorite picture, partly because he'd made it to the field trip for a change, but mostly because Jack was wearing a t-shirt that read "Firefighters Like It Hot", seemingly oblivious to the double entendre.
Cyrus clicked on the Internet browser icon and waited for the program to load. An e-mail came as he waited. The sender was Nat Queen at TheChristmasQueen-dot-com and the subject line read "Contract for Immediate Signature." The words were punctuated with a dozen exclamation marks.
Ms. Quinn, it appeared, was quite efficient, a woman after his own heart.
When his browser window opened, he typed in "Nat Quinn Holiday Lake Minnesota." A surprisingly large number of sites popped up, most of them featuring the Christmas Queen motto and a mistletoe crown logo.
Ms. Quinn, it turned out, was a busy gal. She'd appeared on various morning shows, giving holiday decorating tips. She wrote a column on how to plan the perfect holiday. She had authored numerous magazine articles on virtually every challenge one could encounter during the holidays, and at least three of the articles dealt with gravy consistency. She had done sets for holiday movies.
No wonder she longed for a beach holiday. The poor woman must be exhausted. She even had a sponsorship agreement with a candle company. The ads boasted that her Citrus Cranberry Christmas Delight Candle was their all-time best-seller.
Well, there were worst things one could be remembered for.
He clicked on her website,, and was immediately assaulted by loud music, The Carol of the Bells, if he was not mistaken.
It seemed the otherwise admirable Ms. Quinn had one serious character flaw: She was one of those people who had pop-up music on her website.
He muted the sound and scrolled down. There was another mistletoe crown logo, a recipe section, and several pictures of lavishly decorated houses.
Leah had not exaggerated. Ms. Quinn could put on a show. She'd even done a party with a real sleigh and live reindeer. He peered at the computer screen, jaw dropping in disbelief as he counted the animals. Eight reindeer, all suitably labeled. She'd done a holiday party with eight reindeer.
Maybe she could do Christmas in a day.
He kept browsing through her site. She had social media accounts with current pictures of the town. It had snowed recently and Holiday Lake could rightfully claim that it would be a white Christmas. The bakery that Leah loved was shaped like a Swiss chalet with twinkling lights and a giant Black Forest cake replica in front.
The Chinese restaurant, it turned out, was re-opening. Leah would no doubt be overjoyed. The Bavarian Brathaus sounded intriguing and the Holiday Lake Inn would be sponsoring a Christmas carol concert tomorrow night. The kids would enjoy that.
Holiday Lake seemed to have a fetish for measuring things. All their statistics were carefully noted on the various websites. They'd received sixteen inches of snow last week. The Holiday Lake Inn's all-you-can-eat turkey buffet had served seventeen gallons of citrus-cranberry chutney on December 26 of last year. Year-to-date, the tree farm had sold eight hundred and twenty-two trees.
He scrolled through the social media accounts and checked all the friends lists, but try as he might he could not find what he was looking for.
There were no clues as to Leah's mysterious Noah.
And there were no pictures of Nat Quinn. The Christmas Queen seemed surprisingly shy. No pictures of herself on her website. No selfies on her social media. Nothing.
But then he checked the images search tab and found that the local Christmas tree vendors had a picture of her. The image was blurry, so all he could make out was a slender woman standing next to an enormous Christmas tree, but clicking on the picture took him to the tree seller's website.
And there she was. Nat Quinn had filmed a television segment with Northstar Tree Farm, which had aired on the Minneapolis public television station. The tree farm had the video on its website.
He clicked play and sat back to watch.
Nat Quinn was a tall woman with bright red hair, green eyes, and a loud cheerful laugh. She knew more than any human being should about decorative conifers, and she could make a Christmas wreath in five minutes flat. She liked Balsam firs because they looked shaggy and natural, but she admired the Fraser fir's longevity. She wielded a chainsaw like a pro and she did not like artificial trees. As far as she was concerned, they were an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. She owned thirty-seven ugly Christmas sweaters and her favorite featured an unhappy-looking antlered Chihuahua. And she was single.
Cyrus found himself smiling. Nat Quinn was adorable.
She was also dead serious about Christmas.
She was the perfect choice for this job. Even the single part. Not that he cared, of course, not personally. It just left her free to concentrate on the job.
That was the important consideration here, the job.
But there was something. He scrolled up. He could swear he'd seen—
He laughed as he reached the top of the website. There it was in all its glory—The Northstar Tree Farm's Christmas tree counter.
And it read "zero."
There were no trees left. Zero balsams. Zero Frasers.
He was still laughing as he pulled up Nat's email, opened the contract, and affixed his electronic signature.
He couldn't wait to see what the Christmas Queen would do.

About the Author:

Ani Gonzalez is a USA Today bestselling author of holiday-themed romantic comedy and cozy mystery stories set in Banshee Creek, Virginia (The Most Haunted Town in the USA!) and Holiday Lake, Minnesota (Where Every Day is Christmas!). Her books feature feisty, irrepressible heroines dealing with holiday mayhem, paranormal critters (ghosts, cryptids, pagan gods...the sky's the limit) and mysteries. They find love and laughter (and sometimes corpses) along the way, and readers get to follow them every step.

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Sin City Salvation: Holidays Are Hell by Karen Greco

Sin City Salvation

Holidays Are Hell

A Hell’s Belle Prequel Novella

Karen Greco

Genre: Urban Fantasy     

Publisher: 56West, LLC

Date of Publication: 11/27/18

Number of pages: 136
Word Count: 38,000

Cover design by Robin Ludwig Design Inc.

Tagline: What Happens In Vegas Needs to Stay In Vegas

Book Description:

There are thousands of bodies buried in the Las Vegas desert. Nina Martinez does not want to be one of them.

Blood Ops agents Nina and Frankie came to Las Vegas for a little R&R. But their holiday takes a detour when there is a mass suicide on the Vegas strip. With the sigil of Satan burning on the bodies, what looks like a human problem quickly turns supernatural. Satan is in Sin City, and he’s been reinvented as the self-help guru behind the multi-billion-dollar organization BestLife Ministries.

With an offer to attend the BestLife’s Yule Ball, Nina accepts her invitation to dance with the devil. But what happens in Vegas needs to stay in Vegas. For all of humanity’s sake…

This action-packed prequel novella to the acclaimed Hell’s Belle series gives fans of series a glimpse at Nina’s origin story while new readers can sample the unique Hell’s Belle world.

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"You hear that?" Frankie asked.
"Do I have vampy hearing?" I countered with my own question. Of course I didn't hear it.
"That's right. Sorry," he said with a teasing smile.  "There's a lot of chatter in the wind, a lot of bobbies, EMS, that sort."
Frankie was a posh Brit. Sometimes his terms needed translations.
"By bobbies, you mean cops, right?"
"Right, police. They keep calling code 10-56. Any idea?"
"No, but Google will."
I stopped walking and pulled out my phone. I fired up my browser and punched in the police code while Frankie crossed his arms and sent his eyes skyward. His hatred of Google was irrational, considering the vamp never used a computer.
"Suicide," I said, reading off my phone.
"That many at once?" he asked. His eyes narrowed but his lanky body went electric, like he was listening to the wind again. "That's a terrible number of 10-56s being called."
"Maybe they're repeating?"
"Different voices. Dispatch is sending bobbies out to different locations."
"Where?" I asked, my own body tensing with adrenaline.
"All different hotels. All on the Strip."
"No," I said, launching myself forward, our ridiculous hotel less than a mile away. Get in, get to the room, close the drapes, pretend this wasn't happening.
"What?" Frankie asked, matching my steps. "Aren't you curious?"
"Human problem," I said. "Suicide is a human problem."
"Nina—" he started in that voice.
That. Voice. I knew that voice. That was the voice that said we should wade in.
I pressed forward. "Are they talking about puncture wounds in the neck? Are the bodies gutted, half eaten entrails left behind? Anyone speaking in tongues?"
He slowed his gate, so his answer came from behind me. "But this sounds like a mass suicide."
I pushed my pace even faster. If he wanted to explore whatever the hell the idiot humans were up to, he was welcome to it. I, however, wanted to wash off the stink of failure and then crash in the hotel's promised "Angelic Cloud" bed.
Frankie, of course, caught up. He wasn't even breathing heavy. Of course, he was dead so he didn't technically breathe.
"You ever hear of those Heaven's Gate nuts? That was human," I pushed out, getting a little winded, not by my speed walking but from the spike of my stress level. We were supposed to be on vacation. Hunting monsters 24/7 over the past nine months had me fatigued. I needed a time out. "Jim Jones? Not supernatural. Human."
"That was murder," he pointed out.
"Whatever. You get the idea," I said. "Suicides, even mass ones, happen for human reasons, Frankie. I promise you. This has nothing to do with us."
That was when Frankie football tackled me, shoving us off the sidewalk into the street. We slammed against the door of one of the stopped cars, then bounced forward a little before both of us landed on our asses in the gutter.
A body landed on the sidewalk in exactly the spot were were just standing. It made a loud thud on impact. Then a pink spray covered our bodies while fragments of bone pelted us, pinging off the metal of the cars still backed up on the street.
"What in bloody hell was that?" Frankie asked as we both scrambled back up to our feet, ignoring the shrieks of the woman driving the car we hit.
My own eyes tracked up the length of the high-rise casino beside us, where three heads poked out an open window, arms flailing and pointing down.
"Jumper," I said, looking at what was left of the body.
The torso was intact. Two arms and one leg had separated from the body. The one remaining attached leg was akimbo. His head was pulp.
In my job, I've seen human bodies ripped apart by werewolves and drained of blood by vampires. But this? This was a gruesome way to go.
I ignored the gore that covered my bomber jacket, now destined for the garbage bin. No amount of cleaning would wipe away the mess on this coat.
"Let's get out of here," I said to Frankie, who was wiping his leather down with a handkerchief. "Frankie, you're gonna need more than a little hankie to get that shit out."
"Don't you think we should stay for the police?" he asked.
"Human problem," I repeated.
"Nina." There was a warning in Frankie's tone, and I pulled my eyes away from the body and to a man huddled by the revolving door of the casino. If he had been mere seconds earlier, he would have been pancaked under the jumper.
The man's eyes were wide. His skin, sheened with sweat, took on a grey pallor. He couldn't have been much older than thirty, but what he just witnessed seemed to age him one hundred years.
"You okay, sir?" Frankie called out to him.
The man shifted his eyes towards Frankie. Fear and confusion danced behind his violet irises. I watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed, trying to find his voice. The pulse of the artery in his neck throbbed.
"I . . . I'm . . . what the—"
That was all the man could manage to get out before his eyes tracked back to the body and his face melted from shock to horror.
"Human problem, eh?" Frankie snarked with a nod to the remains.
I closed my eyes as my stomach roiled. Deep down, I knew. A string of suicides on the Vegas Strip the night before Christmas Eve? By jumping out high-rise windows? I didn't want to see, didn't want to know, didn't want to admit: this was no human problem.
"Nina—" Frankie prodded. "You gotta look."
With a determined sigh, I opened my eyes and saw a blue flame dance on top of the dead man's torso. Frankie and I inched towards the body until we hovered over it, watching the flame ignite into a shape from groin to chest.
"Do you see that?" the frightened man whispered from behind us. "You both see that, right?"
There was no way I could unsee any of it, especially the sigil formed from the flames.
This wasn't just any old sigil.
This was the mark of Lucifer.
The devil was in town.
And Frankie and I were likely the ones who had to run him out of Vegas.

About the Author:

Karen Greco’s entire career has revolved around writing. She studied playwriting in college (and won an award or two). After not writing plays for a long time, a life-long obsession with exorcists and Dracula drew her to urban fantasy, where she decapitates characters with impunity. Titles in her Hell’s Belle series include: Hell’s Belle, Tainted Blood, and Steele City Blues. Sin City Salvation is a prequel novella to the series. She wrote contemporary romance for a small press under the pen-name Jillian Sterling. She is currently re-writing and expanding those books for re-release. She is a freelance entertainment publicist and feature writer. She is a regular contributor to Providence Media’s various regional titles.

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