Playing with Fire
Forbidden Love Box Set
It doesn’t matter who you think you are… falling in love with the wrong person can have dire consequences.
They say love conquers all, but in the paranormal worlds of these twelve USA Today and international bestselling authors, falling in love means playing with fire…
Someone’s about to get burned.
Dig into hours of forbidden love, lust, and heat as these heroes and heroines long for their beloveds, break taboos, and fight for the ones they never should have chosen—but could never resist.
This boxed set is bursting at the seams with romance grounded in all things magical—from dragons and sexy shapeshifters to angels, warlocks, and uninhibited masters. We have something to strike everyone’s fancy.
Authors in the Playing with Fire set include:
Adrienne Woods – USA Today bestselling author
Carlyle Labuschagne – USA Today bestselling author
Kristin Ping – USA Today bestselling author
Ashlee Nicole Bye
Karen M. Bryson
The Poisoned Cup
In the end, they blamed Guinevere for the downfall of a kingdom and the death of a king. Wed to Arthur but Lancelot’s lover, she was demonized and reviled for the tragic consequences of her betrayal. The story played out as a narrative of forbidden love and she was cast as the villain. That narrative was good for ratings and for selling newspapers, but it wasn’t anything like the truth. And despite all the words wasted by the media, spilling across pages and screens like so much black blood, the true story never came to light.
PROLOGUE The Poised Cup
In the end, people blamed me for the fall of Camelot and the end of the British monarchy. As if one woman could do in a thousand days what a thousand years of war, murder. Family feuds, and anti-royalist sentiment could not. Those who blamed me conveniently forgot that when Arthur took the throne, he inherited a kingdom already in disarray. The Breixit mess had weakened the economy, fractured the United Kingdom, and left his subjects demoralized and unhappy. They needed a scapegoat, and they chose me for the role.
It wasn’t even personal.
Royals have traditionally been a focus for “civilian” discontent, and in many cases, understandably so. Royals were rich, after all, and therefore had no idea what it was like to live paycheck to paycheck or work more than one job just to be able to afford the basic necessities.
It grated on the public when a royal—usually some dotty dowager duchess—was praised for being “hard-working” when the work involved was mostly smiling pleasantly while listening to a boring speech about some issue of little practical concern to anyone outside the room. After all, no one wants to hear the extinction of the skylark when their own jobs are in danger of disappearing even sooner.
And it didn’t help that the royals were always so ubiquitously on display, with the press and the bloggers feverishly covering their every move, recording their every utterance, and memorializing their every fashion faux pas. And even then, in the face of nearly universal mockery, it took forever for the “fascinator” fad to die. I never could understand how a grown woman could wear something that looked like a toddler had made it out of pipe cleaners and keep a straight face. Or those silly flat hats that are tilted at such an acute angle that they looked like tiny alien spaceships had just landed on the royal coif.
As a fashion designer myself, I always had problems with the overall royal “style,” but I never dragged anyone for it because I knew the women were stuck with all sorts of silly protocol, and not just practical rules like carrying purses in your left hand to keep your right free for handshakes and waves.
My best friend Suze, who is simultaneously fascinated and horrified by all things royal, used to send me links to articles like, “36 Unexpected Fashion Rules the Royal Family Must Follow.” It was a lot more amusing to read them before I was an actual member of the royal family.
Or as my cynical friend Jimi used to say, “Fresh meat.”
Tired of the boring, well-done hamburger of the royals they were used to, everyone pounced on me like I was a rare filet mignon. I couldn’t really say I wasn’t warned. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was getting into. I’d been around celebrity culture long enough to know how these narratives go. And the “commoner marries the prince” is one of the most potent stories of all.
At first, people were charmed that a plucky American businesswoman had caught the eye of their favorite playboy prince. We were photographed everywhere we went—to the point where it began to seem like we were the twin leaders of some freakish cult. And that was the “honeymoon” phase. Soon enough, we all moved on to the second phase.
Like a jealous mother, the public had their notion of who a perfect mate for Arthur would be. And their standard was so exacting, there was no way a woman who could possibly live up to their expectations and be “good enough” for “their boy.”
About Kat Parrish:
Kat Parrish is a former reporter who prefers making things up. Born into a military family, she has lived in seven states and two European countries and would sign up to colonize Mars if she weren’t so fond of summer. She is the author of the Shadow Palace Trilogy, the Bruja Roja series, and the upcoming Brotherhood of Stone and Artifacts of Chaos series. She lives in the Pacific Northwest near a haunted cemetery and several waterfalls.
Newsletter signup: http://kattomic-energy.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html
Love is a Merciless God
WHEN AN ANGEL FALLS, IT TYPICALLY ISN'T IN LOVE.
When Guardian Angel, Evangeline, fell in love with her human charge, Liam, she never expected it to come with such a high price. She was perfectly fine watching his life from a distance, but when Liam prays for guidance and he can suddenly hear her, Evangeline can’t help but confess her love.
However, there are laws in place—laws strictly separating the affections of humans and angels—and Evangeline knows it. If the Guild found out about her love, she could be sent to Purgatory—or worse.
Unfortunately for them both, Liam’s prayer opened him up to more than just hearing Evangeline. All the demons in the known universe come calling to answer his prayer and one of them overheard Evangeline’s confession. Unless she can stop the demon from turning them into the Guild, it will mean the end of everything.
This title is Carissa Andrews' submission into the epic forbidden love anthology: Playing with Fire!
Read an excerpt: https://my.w.tt/hXQVOGzi0Z
About Carissa Andrews:
Carissa Andrews is an internationally bestselling author from central Minnesota who writes a combination of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopia. As an expert in independent publishing and audiobook production, Carissa continually writes and publishes books readers of all ages enjoy. Her plans for 2020 include hitting the NYT Bestseller list with her upcoming urban fantasy series, The Windhaven Academy, due out September 2020.
You can learn more about Carissa and her upcoming books by visiting her website:
A Fated Exception
Cass is just a brilliant programmer to the outside world, a super geek paid millions to fix unfixable computers. What no one knows is she's really a technomage—she has the ability to communicate with any program or machine through touch.
The world Cass lives in is one that fears her kind. She is one of a dwindling number of “enhanced,” people whose DNA was optimized at birth. Hunted by OCEI, an organization that will stop at nothing to eliminate the enhanced, Cass and other enhanced hide their abilities to survive. Relationships are forbidden—the chemical reaction of fluids exchanged with super-charged DNA can be deadly.
When Cass is called in to troubleshoot an unresponsive android, she makes an alarming discovery: humanity is on the verge of extinction. Her only clue is a sexy shapeshifter, Tyler, who sparks a desire within her she can't control. No matter how much she tries to ignore him, she can’t deny the intense attraction she feels.
But that attraction is dangerous, for both of them.
Can Cass discover the plan to wipe out humanity before it’s too late? And can she resist Tyler, or will her desire for him be her undoing?
Excerpt A Fated Exception:
The problem android was strangely sitting upright with his eyes closed on a long desk in the middle of what appeared to be a lab. A mirrored glass took up an entire wall behind him. The first thing that struck me about him was his how lifelike he appeared. The only clothing he wore was a pair of white cotton pants with a drawstring, so I could see his entire upper body. I was amazed by all the little details—from the thousands of tiny little hairs on his arms to the beauty mark on his shoulder, and even his toned muscles—he was indistinguishable from any other human male. Apart from the low technological hum I could sense with my power, I wouldn’t have known he was a machine. It appeared as if he was in some kind of stasis, or suspended mode.
To say I was fascinated would be a gross understatement. His skin was so realistic, his complexion a neutral kind of tan that would have made it impossible to speculate his ethnicity, had he’d been human. His hair was also a style and texture that could’ve belonged to any number of ethnic groups, or perhaps it was designed as a composite from several. It made him seem more universal somehow, friendlier and accessible. I was certain that was intentional, and I wondered what his purpose was.
“He was created here?” I asked Lisa. “What do the scientists who worked on him say?”
“They’re stumped. That’s why we called you. Even if it is a long shot, you’re our last hope.” She handed me a small binder with a cover sheet entitled, Victor. “This is the important stuff about this model.”
And with that simple statement, she left me to my own devices. That’s it? No real background of the problem, no explanation at all? It was a nice departure from what usually happened—drinking from the firehouse of an IT guy, being bombarded with a lot of useless information. But whether I’d liked it or not, I’d come to expect it, and this was feeling more and more like a setup.
I took a deep breath and exhaled. To my surprise, I felt instantly relaxed, which didn’t make sense given I was presented with a problem I didn’t know how to solve and likely under surveillance. The sensation was similar to the one I felt in the lobby, when…
I glanced around, but Tyler wasn’t there. Weird. I couldn’t shake the feeling I wasn’t alone, but I wrote it off to most likely being observed. By whom, I wasn’t sure, but there were too many odd things about this job to not be a little paranoid.
I cracked open the binder and read through its contents. It outlined the things I’d already asked about or Lisa had mentioned: his off button, where his batteries were stored, and brief overview of his programming and functionality. I had a trickle of hope when I encountered a chapter called, How to run a diagnostic, but that fizzled out quick when I realized it required the android to be online.
For sanity’s sake (and because clients often lie) I went through the steps Lisa had said they’d already taken—to reboot the android. The low hum I felt remained unchanged.
Though I was apprehensive about using my power there, I had reached an impasse with the android. I covertly touched one of his hands.
“What’s your story, Victor?” I said aloud. “Are they overworking you here?”
I didn’t expect a response of any kind, I mean, I didn’t do anything. He was still in suspended mode, so it’s not like there was anything to interface with. But that low hum grew louder and more complex. I could sense his systems come online, as the POST occurred. His code base was a language called Dalia that I’d never heard of.
His eyes opened, but they were all white—no irises or pupils, only the sclera. Which was just a little totally terrifying.
Then light began to shine through his eyes, projecting an image on the wall in front of him. I turned around to see none other than Tyler in a video playing from his eyes. The timestamp was two weeks into the future.
Tyler’s veins were bulged out and darkened, and his breaths were labored. “This isn’t just about eliminating enhanced, don’t you see that?” he said. “The strain has evolved. It’s killing regular humans now.”
“We can fix that. We’ll develop an antidote.” The voice was garbled and I couldn’t see its speaker in the video.
“Before…it…kills you?” Tyler spoke in uneven gasps, appearing to be on the verge of death. The illness seemed to be spreading. It was as if some kind of black substance had taken hold of his circulatory system and was now coursing through him, sucking his life force away.
“If it wipes out enhanced, it was worth it.”
I watched as Tyler collapsed. Then the video skipped to a different scene. The timestamp was later, about two months into the future. This one was much quieter. The video panned the streets of New York City. Bodies strewn about silently decomposed.
“No survivors,” Victor said, his voice so close I guessed he was the one filming it. “They’re all gone. Everywhere.” He turned the camera towards himself. “You have to stop this. For the sake of humanity, don’t let them release that serum, it—”
And then the video cut out.
What the hell was that? Victor appeared to continue booting and his eyes became normal, complete with irises and pupils. They were a strange color—more of a brownish hue, with hints of green and blue.
It was so real…the voices, the disease, the bodies. I doubt he could’ve fabricated something like that. But watching the future? That’s not possible.
About Kat Stiles:
Originally a Jersey girl, sunny Texas is where Kat now calls home, in a town way up north in the panhandle called Wellington. Along with the man of her dreams, she has two children: a rambunctious nine year-old girl and a sweet but vocal five year-old boy. Four cats, three dogs and an inordinate amount of pet hair complete her household. Kat writes super-powered urban fantasy that’s sexy, fun and dark. For fun she likes to read urban fantasy, horror, and existentialist fiction, as well as watch cartoons, movies, and sometimes even cartoon movies. She tries not to take anything in life too seriously and she tends to smile often.
Newsletter signup: https://katstiles.com/nl-ft/
The Wolf of Ashford Manor
The animal within him was never far from the surface, but with her, the wolf was untameable.
Patrick Blakesley, born to a bloodline of werewolves, falls in love with the mysteriously shy, yet ravishingly beautiful daughter of his new employer – the Lord of Ashford Manor.
When the town of Ashford is besieged by a sudden spate of murders, suspicions fall on Patrick, for he has been discovered for the beast that he is.
Although forced to go into hiding, it does not stop Patrick from pursuing his love for Angelica. Shacked up in an old boat shed, they discover pleasures such as only forbidden fruits can yield.
As Patrick discovers all that Angelica has to offer, the brutal murders continue.
Are they strong enough together to discover the true beast and tame it, before all of humanity perishes before its wrath?
Excerpt The Wolf of Ashford Manor:
Patrick stood at the precipice of the white cliffs, and looked out over the ocean, staring at the distant continent across the water - the ship he had stepped off earlier already out of sight.
Too long had he been away from home, and he now turned his back on those distant shores, burying deep within him the memories of the last three years.
He strode out strong, his long legs steeled from the years in the war. He had miles to go to Ashford, and would not reach it for several days. He knew there would be some inns along the road, and hoped to find accommodations there for the nights.
After a good day’s march, Patrick re-adjusted his heavy satchel, and stepped of the rutted road to let a wagon pass. The two heavy draught horses snorted uneasily as they passed him. He looked up into the sky, and realised night would be upon him soon.
“Good sir,” he called out to the driver, “Would there be an inn close by?”
“Not for another twenty miles, ‘m ‘fraid.”
The horse nearest to him snorted uneasily, and the driver turned his attention away from Patrick. Stepping back from the road, he cast another look above. Wispy clouds sailed across an orange tinged sky as the sun began to set in the west. Soon, the moon would rise.
Leaving the driver of the wagon to calm his horses, Patrick turned away from the road, and headed towards the forest not far off. A vein in his neck throbbed at the thought of spending the night within the confines of the dark trees before him.
He walked deep into the woods, well out of sight of the road. At a pebbly creek, he hung his satchel upon a high branch of a tree before slaking his thirst with the cool water.
As the light faded, Patrick gathered firewood and made a fire pit with rocks from the river bed. He put dry moss and kindling in the center, and then stacked some logs around it, but he did not light it.
Instead, Patrick removed his clothing, folding it neatly and stacked it next to the fire pit. His clothes were worn and faded, but clean.
Although muscular, his tall body was made of clean lines, long legs, and a broad chest. Years of war had made him lean, and tough.
Naked, he cast an approving glance over his sparse camp, then walked away from it. Over the years that he had been away, he had learned to control himself. It had not always been easy, and until even a year ago there were occasions where he could not trust himself.
Today, however, he was in control. Away from his camp, with the moon rising over the forest, his naked body distorted, changing shape with agonising contortions.
Breathing heavily, the werewolf’s fur bristled in the cool evening air and he raised his snout to taste the scents on the wind. Tonight, he would hunt.
With blood dripping from his muzzle, the dark werewolf lay down beneath some brambles to rest. He licked his paw, content, his belly full with the flesh of a roe deer.
As morning dawned, the wolf rose, silently padding towards the neat camp prepared the night before. After ensuring that the camp had not been disturbed, Patrick changed into his human form, reversing the contortions from the night before.
He stood for a moment, shivering and sore, before he willed himself to light the fire. He washed the blood off his body in the shallow creek, donned his clothes, and then warmed himself by his fire while the memory of the wolf slowly retreated from his body.
Coming back into his human form was always unpleasant. There had been times where he considered taking the wolf form permanently. Once, he had remained a werewolf for several months, and it had almost cost him his humanity.
Once the shivering ceased, Patrick drank from the river, then extinguished his fire. He cleared his camp to make it look as if he had never been there. Soon, he was on the road again, striding out strong towards his home.
He looked forward to coming home. Patrick was the only son and heir of Edward Blakesley, and they have always had a close bond. From the moment he was born, his father had spent every available moment with him.
When the time came that Patrick could walk and talk and understand, Lord Blakesley had undertaken the task of educating Patrick in the history of their bloodline.
It had frightened Patrick at first. Although his father never transformed in front of him until he was much older, Patrick often dreamed of beasts during the dark nights. When his mother came to comfort him, he would shy away from her, and only settle down when his father came into his room.
For the most important, and unbreakable, rule his father taught him, was to never hurt his mother. It was one of Patrick’s biggest fears as he grew up. The werewolf rage could be a hard thing to control even for a grown man, for a teenager learning the skill, it could almost be impossible.
Often, his father would take him away on hunting trips. Patrick felt more at ease during those times, away from his beloved mother, as well as the town folk.
During the years between eleven and seventeen, Patrick learned everything he needed to know about being a werewolf, but the biggest test was yet to come. During those early years, the transformation was only partial, becoming fuller with every passing year.
Patrick’s father called him a late bloomer, for Lord Blakesley had fully matured by the age of eighteen. When Patrick turned seventeen, his transformation still lacked its full intensity.
Shortly after his eighteenth birthday, however, Patrick’s demeanour changed. He became agitated, expressed anger for no apparent reason, and often fought with his parents.
He could not control these feelings and on days when he was calm, he regretted the way he had spoken to his parents. One day, his parents called him into the parlour.
“It is time, my son.”
At first, Patrick did not understand.
“I have written to your uncle in Villadiego. There is civil unrest in that country, bordering on war, but he will be glad to receive you. Your term to reach full maturity has begun. For the next two to three years your body will undergo the most radical changes in your development. Are you ready to take this journey?”
They had discussed this so many times, Patrick knew what to expect, yet the sudden thought of leaving had sent him into a fit of rage.
With his father in full werewolf form, and his mother levelling her rifle at him, he had eventually calmed down enough to answer.
“Yes, Father. I am sorry, Mother. I shall pack my things immediately.”
And so, his journey had begun three years ago. He had taken a sailing vessel across the channel to the mainland and then begged to accompany a tradesman on his trip to the Iberian peninsula.
The tradesman carried weapons, for by now, the Carlists had declared war. Patrick knew nothing of Carlists, or even much about Spain, so he listened carefully when the tradesman spoke of what awaited them.
By the time he reached his uncle, Angus Blakesley, two months after his departure from his homestead in Ashford, Spain was in turmoil. Lord Blakesley’s modest villa, set deep within the farmlands and away from the town of Villadiego, lay unscathed, unlike some of the towns Patrick had come through along his way.
“My boy, it is good to see you,” his uncle welcomed him. “I last saw you when you were but five years old.”
“Thank you, for having me, Uncle.”
“It is my pleasure. Come, freshen up and then you can talk to me of home.”
They soon formed a close bond, his uncle continuing the teachings of his father. Although a likable man and pleasant company, Patrick’s uncle was a strict and unforgiving teacher.
This was good, for never before had Patrick felt such rage. At times, Angus locked Patrick within the cellar of the villa for days while his blood boiled within him, and his body screamed in pain as it changed.
Other times, however, Patrick’s rage simmered deep beneath the surface, calmed by the gentle hands of the nubile bodies of his uncles maids.
When he was nineteen, the war had spread, foreign legions joining the fighting. With the villa; and the town of Villadiego; under threat, Patrick joined the Spanish military. In desperate need of soldiers, no-one questioned his lineage.
With his uncle by his side, he learned everything there was to learn about war, and more. Angus made him fight with rapier and lance until his body was lean and strong.
Only once Patrick had proven himself in battle as a man; and proven he could control his temper; did Angus allow him on the battlefield as a wolf.
During those times, their combined power was that of twenty men and they would always win the battle on those days. No-one ever believed those who said they saw an abnormally large wolf, and most dismissed the reports as wolves scavenging the countryside for corpses.
It was then that Patrick tasted human flesh for the first time. It disgusted and excited him at the same time. The werewolf within him had never tasted anything as deliriously delicious as human flesh before, but the human within him rebelled against the thought of feasting on another human being.
“It is was sets us apart from the ferals, Patrick.”
“Feral werewolves. Not bred of our noble line, but humans that were bitten. They are unable to show restraint and so choose to remain in their wolf form. It makes them forget their human lives. I know of no beast more vicious or dangerous.”
“That is abhorrent.”
“Indeed, my boy. Those creatures are truly terrifying, and are the werewolves the legends are based on.”
After serving for nearly two years, Patrick returned to the villa. Angus now concentrated on continuing Patrick’s academic education, teaching him astronomy, mathematics, Latin, and the fine art of Spanish cuisine.
Another thing he learned while residing at his uncle’s villa, was the delectable taste of the Spanish maidens. With his dark hair, pale skin, and sultry looks, he was never in short supply of admiring ladies.
The servants at the villa soon spread the word of the handsome nephew and the young women who tended the orchards and vineyards around the estate would often make the detour past the villa on their way home.
Patrick’s uncle neither encouraged, nor forbid it, but rather left him to find his own way in the matters of the heart and sexual fantasies. They never spoke about it, except during a lesson about reproducing and the woman bearing a son. Patrick took heed and, using his exceptional senses, would only lie with a woman if it was safe to do so.
Patrick took all his uncle’s lessons to heart and, as he grew older, he matured. The war taught him humility, honour, valour, and, above all else, to value life.
His final act on the mainland was to help his uncle hunt, and kill, a pack of ferals that had terrorised the town of Villadiego. A lesson Patrick would never forget.
About Toni Cox:
Born in Germany in 1976, Toni Cox moved to South Africa in 1991. Although she has spent much of her working career in the timber wholesale business, she is also an accomplished horse rider, has a diploma in project management, photography, and nutrition, and has a passion for books and all things fantasy.
From a young age, her dream had always been to put her imagination into words - give the stories life. When she was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis in 2013, she decided life is too short not to follow her dream. So, with the support of her husband and three children, she began writing book 1 of the Elemental Trilogy in January 2015.
Toni Cox writes Epic Fantasy, Young Adult Fantasy, Sci-Fi Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Dystopian Fantasy, and Dark Fantasy. She is a firm believer in dragons.
FB Group: www.facebook.com/groups/toniselementals
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