Category Archives: book spotlight

Spotlight – Linked

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About the Author

Judy Serrano

Judy Serrano holds a Master of Arts in English from Texas A&M University, Commerce. She is the owner of Make Cents Editing Service, and was an adjunct professor at a local college. Currently she teaches high school English and is a freelance writer for certain on-line publications. Judy also writes romantic suspense and paranormal romance novels. She is the author of The Easter’s Lilly Series,The Linked Seriesand Ivy Vines, Visions.

Although originally from New York, Judy resides in Texas with her husband, four boys, four dogs and now two cats. She sings and plays guitar when she has time and enjoys singing with her very musical family in church when she is able.

Her latest book is the paranormal romance, LINKED.

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About the Book

Title: LINKED
Author: Judy Serrano
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 265
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Linked

BOOK BLURB:

Daphne Foster is a substitute teacher stuck in an English class, waiting for that dreaded parent-teacher conference. With much preparation and anxiety, she encounters the unforgettable Charlie Cross. His charm and good looks, win her over but rumors of his involvement with organized crime make his continued disappearances disturbing. In walks Heathcliff Vanderpool, creating a love triangle of unusual sorts. Unknown to Daphne, Heathcliff and Charlie are old friends: Older than she could have imagined. With Charlie away on business, Daphne and Heathcliff discover a passion between them lying beneath the surface. As their souls link, pulling away from Charlie becomes next to impossible. Will his involvement in organized crime consume them both before she’s able to get free? When you become “linked,” the choice may not be your own.

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Book Excerpt

The blood was pulsating through my veins and when I looked down, my hands were shaking. All that schooling and relentless training still did not prepare me for what was coming next. What would I say, and how would they react? All the uncertainty was driving me mad. Sometimes I doubted my very own motives. I took this job out of necessity, not out of a passion for my craft, and with every passing day, I grew just a little more disheartened.

I am a substitute teacher and this is my very first parent-teacher conference. Sometimes the meager pay that I bring home for this incredulous journey hardly seems worth it. I earned my degree, got my certification, and couldn’t find a job as a teacher. So, the principal promised me a teaching position if I would just do this one last thing… be a long-term sub for a high school English class. This has not been my finest hour. The teacher I replaced had already made a mess of things and the students were failing left and right. One of the moms called and demanded to know why her little Michael was failing. Maybe if he did his homework… is of course what I wanted to say, but now I have to face her and tell her why little Michael is my least favorite student in the class.

I got all my papers together and sat back down at my desk when Michael walked through my door. “Michael,” I started. “What are you doing here?”

Just then a very handsome man walked in behind him. He was about 5ft. 10, blond and blue-eyed, wearing faded jeans and a button-down, powder blue sports shirt. When he smiled, my knees went weak and I’m sure my face flushed. “I’m Charles Cross,” he said, putting out his hand to shake mine. “My friends call me Charlie.” He smiled. “You look surprised. We do have an appointment today, don’t we? I hope I didn’t get the date wrong.”

“I’m sorry, I was expecting Michael’s mother,” I told him. “And yes, we have an appointment. I’m Daphne Foster.”

“She was unavailable,” he continued. “So now I guess you’re stuck with me.” He pushed Michael ahead of him so that he would move farther into the room. I’m sure my face was still red.

“I don’t mind,” I told him. Little did he know that my insides were doing somersaults. “Please, sit down.” I motioned to the two chairs that I had strategically positioned in front of my desk.

“I understand that you’re not even really a teacher,” was his icebreaker.

“I’m certified,” I replied, trying not to sound too defensive. “I have just been unable to find a full-time position. But I assure you, Mr. Cross, I am more than qualified to teach your son’s class.”

“Good to know,” he answered, sitting back and starting to relax. “Michael is generally a good student,” he continued. “But he appears to be carrying a 60 in your class. Tell me what you think the problem is so that I can help him fix it.”

Michael was staring down at the floor with his baseball cap on backwards. I’m sure if he was standing up, we’d both be able to see his boxer shorts, peeking out beneath his sagging pants. “For starters,” I bravely began, “he can lose the baseball cap.” Michael sneered at me. “He’s not allowed to have it on during school hours, yet he always walks through the door with it on his head. This is a continuous waste of my valuable time, since we seem to need to argue about its importance, daily.” Charlie laughed, which frustrated me a bit. “He hasn’t turned in one homework assignment since I’ve been here, and he is very disruptive during class.”

“Well, Miss Foster,” he responded in a condescending tone, “sounds to me like you have a problem with my son.”

“Mr. Cross,” I replied, trying to conceal the agitation in my voice, “you are the one with the problem.” He sat up, giving me his full attention. I must admit that I began to feel my blood pressure rise. “I suggest that you get a handle on this boy before I fail him and do not underestimate me, because I will do it.”

“Miss Foster, do you know who I am?” he asked. Michael smiled at this point and looked me square in the eyes.

“I don’t care if you’re Obama’s long lost son. He doesn’t do his work, he fails… pretty simple, really.”

He stood up and motioned for his son to stand. “I suspect that you will change your mind.”

I stood up at that point and put out my hand. “Thank you for coming in to see me, Mr. Cross… Michael.”

“Daphne.” My name glided off his tongue like music. “Such a beautiful name.” He shook my hand. “The pleasure was all mine.”

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Pre-Publication Blitz – Strayed

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About the Author

KristaLyn

KristaLyn A. Vetovich is the internationally published author of seven books and one short story, including the upcoming Prelude of the Reyn Gayst series releasing in 2018 from Glass House Press. She graduated in 2011 from Susquehanna University with a degree in English Literature and began traditionally publishing her novels the next year. KristaLyn is also a certified health and life coach and enjoys infusing her stories with motivational themes and characters from all walks of life.

KristaLyn lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and their corgi, Jack.

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About the Book:

woman dancing

Title: STRAYED
Author: KristaLyn Vetovich
Publisher: Glass House Press
Pages: 72
Genre: YA/NA Fantasy

BOOK BLURB:

In the struggle between good and evil, humans don’t stand a chance—not on their own.

Which is why, for every living soul, there is a Firn: a spirit assigned to guide and defend humans from demonic spirits like the Aropfain. But earning a place in the fight is a process that requires several lifetimes—of service, experience, and sacrifice.

Having just returned from her most recent life as an Ancient Roman martyr, Anaya is only one step away from achieving that goal. And if she succeeds, she might become the Firn with the most important mission: guiding the human that will either save—or end—the world.

But when she’s paired with the notoriously difficult Jordin, her chances of success suddenly start to slip. Because Jordin isn’t like other souls. He’s strong, volatile—and a prime target for the Aropfain. And he almost immediately falls for an Aropfain ploy that could not only jeopardize his chances of becoming a Firn, but also endanger the entire world.

As his partner, Anaya is the only one who can save him. But will she succeed? Or will she fail—and take the world down with her?

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Book Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Well, it happened again. I died.

The bloodied sand of the colosseum shivers out of focus as my soul shakes off its physical limitations in favor of a higher vibration. Instead of centurions and weeping family, I’m now surrounded by snowy white noise and quiet.

They came for me at dawn. I can still hear my mother’s sobs. I was only twelve.

I blink the memories away just as a man bends and pulls into view before me, then straightens with a blithe sort of smile. “Welcome back,” he says in an excessively soothing tone. He wears glasses I know he doesn’t need, and behind them, his unearthly blue eyes trace my face, looking for signs of stress.

And it comes back to me like the snap of fingers. An Advokat. Here to help me adjust to the trauma of crossing over from life to death.

Suddenly I wonder how he sees me. Do I have blue eyes now? In life, they were brown, but here in death I’ve always imagined others see me with crystal blue. I guess it would depend on how much they like me. Appearance is entirely based on impression here. We see what we feel. Feelings are real, vision an illusion.

And this Advokat must be new, I realize a moment later. If he’d been here for any length of time, he wouldn’t be using the sappy voice they put on for the newer souls. The ones who don’t understand how it works. He’d know that I’m something of a regular in the transition between life and death—that I’ve lost count of how many of these interviews I’ve had to sit through. I’m sure I know the process better than he does.

Because I’ve had his job before, mastered it long ago.

I skim him, searching the endless trove of memories trying to break through the fog of earthly business still clouding my mind. I don’t remember him. And I can see that he doesn’t know me.

Definitely new. Which means he’ll play the interview by the book. I groan.

The Advokat reaches out as if to comfort me, like my groan was one of anxiety and not disdain. “Try not to panic.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes and flatten my gaze at him instead. I understand it’s his job to help me recover from the shock of death, but honestly, I’m fine. So I died—so what? There are many things worse than death, and one of them, if anyone ever bothered to ask me, is living. I’m actually thrilled to be back here—and I don’t need an Advokat to counsel me through the transition.

Also, I’m in a bit of a hurry. I have important business to attend to, even higher vibrations to achieve. I’m so close now, and he’s the only thing standing in my way.

I tap my foot and glance around for someone—anyone who might recognize me and give me an opportunity to walk away from this unnecessary formality.

“Everything will make sense soon.” The Advokat’s voice echoes through the white expanse around us. Clearly, all other souls are keeping their distance to allow me to transition without any added shock. Or—I narrow my eyes at the Advokat—he’s followed protocol by requesting they give us space.

And do we ever have it. As far as the eye can see, there’s nothing but static white. But I smile, and my shoulders relax—because this is my true home.

Just the way I remember it.

The Advokat leans into my line of sight. “Do you know your name?”

My smile drops.

In life, my name was Agnes. In this life, anyway.

There have been so many lives, so many names, but between them all, just one feels like home.

When it comes, my voice sounds like a lost, cherished memory. “Anaya.” My first word after death. The truest word I know.

The Advokat smiles and nods. He doesn’t take any notes or write anything down, and I know about that, too. The answers are in his mind, ready when he needs them, downloaded into his head from the source of all truth on the highest plane of vibration there is: El Olam, our master and creator. He sits so high none of us can reach him, above laws and structure. The world is as he makes it, and we are simply stewards of his creation, here to serve.

And today I’ll go one step further in the process of becoming a defender of creation. I’ll become a Firn.

The Advocat, who is becoming more annoying by the moment, interrupts my thoughts with yet another question. “Good. And do you know where you are?”

Where I am? Well it’s a much better place than where I was…

I was in Rome, in the fourth century. I rejected a boy, and he sold me out as a Christian. It took them forever to kill me—first with shame, then with flames. But all I gave them was a blank stare through the numbness. They couldn’t shame me. I wouldn’t burn when they strung me to the stake and lit the fire—even the flames knew not to touch me. But the Roman officer’s sword through my throat did the trick in the end. I was gone before I felt anything. So I guess the joke’s on them. There was darkness, then a burst of light—

And now I’m home, where none of that matters anymore. I’m free here. Because no one can shame or kill the dead. I’ll be safe as long as I stay.

“This is Lemayle,” I say quietly. “The afterlife. The real world.” And I have no intention of ever living again.

He rocks back and grins. “Wonderful!” Then his face stiffens. He swallows and his eyes shake as he looks me over for a second time, now scanning for any truths beneath the surface, anything I’m hiding from him. If souls could sweat, he’d be a mess as he prepares for the most important question of the interview.

I used to have his job, so I know what comes next. My answers from here on out will decide my final destination.

“All right.” He clears his throat. He doesn’t have to. It’s the nerves. I will be his enemy if I answer poorly, but he has to remain objective. He’s a professional, after all, and he doesn’t know whose side I’m on yet—what changes this most recent lifetime might have made in me.

I was martyred, and not all martyrs come back home the way they should. Martyrs go into life as warriors for El Olam’s cause … but don’t always return feeling their suffering was justified. Some turn against him and defect to the one who seeks to depose him.

And me? How do I feel about the suffering I was put through? Have I changed my mind about who to serve? And how dangerous does that make me to the fragile balance of the world? That’s what the Advokat needs to find out.

“Do the names El Olam and Narn mean anything to you?”

Good and evil. That’s what they mean. Free will and slavery. But which is which? Is El Olam good … or is he evil? Are Narn’s plans for less service to living souls and more dominion over them more appealing? Are they justified? No soul chooses evil.

They simply choose what they believe is right.

I hide my laugh with a cough at the tension in the Advokat’s hunched shoulders. If he’s new—and he wants to stay—he’ll need a stiffer a spine than he’s got now. I might as well be the one to give it to him.

I level my gaze at him, eyes wide open to appear just a little less threatening. “Yes. I know them.”

He nods, more rigidly this time, and rubs the back of his neck as he braces for my response to his final question.

“And … your allegiance?”

I stare at him for a long moment, watching the anxiety build behind his bright blue eyes. He doesn’t want any trouble, but his other hand twitches at his side, ready to summon the support of a slightly higher power—just in case I came back tainted.

Just in case I’ve decided I hate the way the world works … and want to serve the one trying to turn it upside down.

“Oh calm down,” I finally chide him. This has gone on long enough to bore me. I have business to attend to, and honestly, after fifty lifetimes, a soul should be able to just skip this process. “I chose El Olam lifetimes ago. I’m bound to be a Firn. This was my last run.”

His whole body wilts as the tension releases. Had I said Narn, the Advokat and I would have had a few issues. Because it would have meant I was a soul with eyes toward flipping the script, turning the world upside down—force living souls to do as we say, and ruling over them as gods.

He’d have had to immediately summon one of Lemayle’s second-highest authorities—a Malekh, El Olam’s archangels—to deal with me. And it wouldn’t have been pleasant. The Malekh don’t like jokes. Most of them, anyway.

“Well that is a relief.” The Advokat’s hand slides from the back of his neck to clutch his chest, steadying the phantom sensation of a palpitating heart.

And I grin, even though I shouldn’t. But what’s the fun in seniority if you can’t mess with the rookies?

“We need as many Firns as we can get,” he admits, “events accelerating as they are.” I perk up at that. Accelerating events is much more my speed—though it gives me less time to meet the final criteria for joining the Firns’ ranks. “The living souls need all the protection we can give them,” he finishes.

I couldn’t agree more. And that’s where I come in—where all the Firns stand and serve El Olam. Without Firns to guide living souls and protect them from temptation and harm, Narn would flip the script. And humans would walk right into their own slavery.

But El Olam won’t allow it.

So neither will I. I’m so close now. Just one step left, and if I impress the Malekh and El Olam enough in my next job as a soul collector, then I’ll become a Firn, and one day I’ll be even more than that. If I perform well enough, I’ll be chosen as the Firn who oversees El Olam’s plan to defeat Narn once and for all. It has to be one of us, so it might as well be me. And I won’t stop until I see it happen.

Meanwhile, the Advokat extends his hand to me. “Best of luck to you. I hope you make the cut.”

I glance at his hand and back up to him. So he really hasn’t heard of me, then. I may not be a Firn yet, but I have made a name for myself as the one to watch for earning the coveted position in El Olam’s plan.

Well, if he hasn’t heard of me yet, he will soon enough.

“Thanks.” With a smirk, I grip his hand and shake it firmly enough to knock him off balance. “But I really don’t need luck.”

GIVEAWAY!

KristaLyn A. Vetovich is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

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  • Winner has 48 hours to reply

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Spotlight – Snickety Dickety Doo

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About the Author

Danica-Lea Larcombe 2

Danica-Lea Larcombe has a B.Sc (Environmental Health), a Grad.Dip in Education and has taken courses in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Photography. She is currently undertaking a thesis in Biodiversity and Human Health, and lives with her Japanese Spitz Bella.

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About the Book

Snickety Dickety Doo

Title: SNICKETY DICKETY DOO
Author: Danica-Lea Larcombe
Publisher: Blurb
Pages: 90
Genre: Children’s Fiction

BOOK BLURB:

George, Fiona and Marni find a tin of bubbles, not just any ordinary bubbles but planets. The planets shrink the children and take them to faraway lands. The children have many exciting adventures and try not to let their secret be discovered.  They learn about different cultures, currencies and languages, and are inspired at school.

In Series Two, George, Marni and Fiona continue their adventures around the world in the planet bubbles. They narrowly escape being killed by some monks in Turkey, find a little companion in Paris and visit royalty in Monaco.

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Book Excerpt:

It wasn’t just a small piece of tin.  Curiosity got the better of her and Marni decided she better keep digging around.  She could see the edges now and it looked like it was a tin box of some sort. Marni suddenly forgot about her wish and dug frantically to get the box out.  It was quite a light box of about medium size. It was not painted and there was no writing on it.

“What on earth could be in it?” Marni wondered.

It had a small padlock but this was rusted and broke off easily.  She opened the lid carefully to find nine individually wrapped balls, or so she thought.  She unwrapped one of the balls to find it was not a ball. In her hand it shone like a bubble, and was soft and tender to touch.  It had little feet and hands and was the colour of the sun.

“Oh my”, Marni whispered, “It has got a face!”  

The bubble’s eyes were closed and the mouth still.  On the other side it had the shape of a door, but there was no door handle.  How odd.

Marni looked at her watch quickly. It was six o’clock which was tea time and her parents would be calling her any minute.  She hastily re-wrapped the ball and closed the tin. She put her secret wish down the hole and filled it up with the dark brown coloured soil.  

Somehow Marni made it back inside the house and into her bedroom without anyone seeing the box.  She could not wait to show it to George and Fiona but it would have to wait until after tea. Her hands and knees were filthy dirty now, and her father questioned her.  

“What have you been doing? You look like a gypsy”.  

“Oh, just helping Fiona in the garden” Marni lied.  

Dinner was always a silent occasion in the Dimond household, and you got your knuckles rapped if you spoke.  Which Fiona did quite often.

Marni wished tea time would hurry up and finish but she had to wait for the compulsory pudding first.  It would either be apple crumble or apple strudel with ice-cream. Her mother baked wonderfully, but never seemed to want to try new recipes.  Now they were all allowed to leave the table because everyone had finished but the dishes still had to be dried and put away after her mother had washed them.  It was the height of the summer and daylight savings time meant that sunset would not be until about 8.30pm.

“George, Fiona, come into my room.  I have something to show you” Marni said.  “Quickly then” grumbled George. “I want to finish my hut”.  

“Ooh what is it?” asked Fiona.  

Spotlight – Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

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About the Author

Evy Journey

Evy Journey, SPR (Self Publishing Review) Independent Woman Author awardee, is a writer, a wannabe artist, and a flâneuse who, wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. Armed with a Ph.D., she used to research and help develop mental health programs.

She’s a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.

Her latest book is Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies.

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About the Book

Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

Title: SUGAR AND SPICE AND ALL THOSE LIES
Author: Evy Journey
Publisher: Sojourney Books
Pages: 200
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Crime

BOOK BLURB:

Cooking a wonderful meal is an art. An act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of the meal; it also feeds the soul of the creator. These are lessons Gina learns from her mother, daughter of an unfortunate French chef.

Gina is a young woman born to poor parents, a nobody keen to taste life outside the world she was born into. A world that exposes her to fascinating people gripped by dark motives. Her passion for cooking is all she has to help her navigate it.

She gets lucky when she’s chosen to cook at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area where customers belong to a privileged class with money to spare for a dinner of inventive dishes costing hundreds of dollars. In this heady, scintillating atmosphere, she meets new friends and new challenges—pastry chef Marcia, filthy rich client Leon, and Brent, a brooding homicide detective. This new world, it turns out, is also one of unexpected danger.

Can the lessons Gina learned from her mother about cooking and life help her survive and thrive in this other world of privilege, pleasure, and menace?

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Praise:

By Lee Broom on December 24, 2017

Format: Kindle Edition

Powerful book! I feel like this story was one that I will have on my mind for a while. Gina is a gourmet chef, and her life is centered around her food and her dreams of owning her own restaurant. She recently got out of a relationship, not wanting to commit because of her passion for her job. Then a charming rich playboy notices her and won’t stop sending her roses. It’s an interesting story that has some crazy twists when jealous women come out of the woodwork. Gina doesn’t want to have a relationship so she ignores Leon’s attentions. Then she meets an intense homicide detective named Brent who catches her heart, but numerous events keep them apart. It’s a compelling story with quite a few ups and downs and sometimes I wanted to say to these people, “What is wrong with you people? Can’t you just admit you love each other and live your life happy already?!” I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to read more by this author.

 

Book Excerpt:

Prologue

I’m alive. I’m dead. I’m in-between. In that limbo where my vital signs hover just above death. I rise above my body and look down on it, lying on a gurney. Hospital staff are rushing me along the brightly-lit hallway to the operating room. One of them holds an oxygen mask on my face. Another, a bag of intravenous fluid connected to my veins by a tube.

I’m not ready to die yet. These good people anxious to rescue me don’t know that my resolve is the only thing that is keeping me alive. No, I’m not ready to die—I’ve only just begun to live. I have yet to prove to myself, to the world, that I have what it takes to prevail.

My family—now on their way to the hospital—doesn’t know yet exactly what happened to me. And except for one detective, neither do the police. I see him now by the foot of the gurney, keeping pace with the nurses. He’s scowling, his lips pressed into a grim line.

A tall, taut, and solitary man, he has deep-set gray eyes clouded by too many images of violent death and a lower lip that hangs perpetually open in disgust or despair. So much darkness he has already seen in his thirty odd years in this world. He needs to piece together the facts that constitute the attempt on my life, events that may have led to it, and various fragments of my past to understand what brought me to this point.

The first time I met him, I fell in love with him. There was something primal about him, some paternal, animalistic instinct to save hurt or fallen victims. Like me, maybe. It gave him power and it made him irresistible to me.

But fate is fickle. It teases. It entices. One day, something quite ordinary happens to you. Yet, you sense that that ordinary something can change your life. Not necessarily for something better, but for something new. Fate is dangling before you the promise of a world that, before then, was totally out of your reach. How can you not seize it?

Now, of course, I see the end of that promise. And it’s not where I want to be.

It’s tragic, don’t you think, that the end of that promise should be right here on a gurney, with me fighting for my life? It certainly is not what I hoped for.

How could it end this way? I embraced life, took chances, but half-dead on this gurney, I wonder: Am I paying with my life? But, like I said. I’m not ready to die yet.

 

Spotlight – Love Hack

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About the Author

Kimberly Dean

When taking the Myers-Briggs personality test in high school, Kimberly Dean was rated as an INFJ (Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging). This result sent her into a panic, because there were no career paths recommended for the personality type. Fortunately, it turned out to be well suited to a writing career. Since receiving that dismal outlook, Kimberly has become an award-winning author of romance and erotica. She enjoys the freedom and creativity allowed in writing romance, especially with all the interesting cross-genres that have been exploding on the scene.  When not writing, she enjoys movies, sports, traveling, music, and sunshine.

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About the Book

Love Hack

Title: LOVE HACK
Author: Kimberly Dean
Publisher: Independent
Pages: 180
Genre: Romantic Suspense

BOOK BLURB:

Security analyst Spencer Weiler is excited when he lands a job at Afire Industries. The responsibility is daunting, but nowhere near as exhilarating as working with Josie Johnson, the pretty program manager in charge. Spencer lusts after her, but knows that she only sees him as a work friend. He needs to make himself over if he’s going to have a shot with her.

Josie is all too aware of the cute computer geek watching over her. He was tempting before, but with his newfound muscles and sexy haircut, he’s suddenly an irresistible stud. She makes the first move and is stunned to learn that her hot IT guy is just as studious in the sack. Their affair turns hot and heavy, but Josie has broken her rule about dating coworkers once before. It didn’t end well. When her ex returns and posts scandalous pictures of her on the Internet, it’s not Spencer’s muscles that she needs. She needs a hacker.

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Book Excerpt:

Chapter One

As far as work settings went, Spencer supposed the place would do. Yeah, understatement of the year. He looked around the open bay of Afire Industries and tried not to drool. It was a developer’s dream: pods of desks for teams, comfy seating areas for private thinking, top-notch equipment, and cool technology on which to work. The downtown location in Seattle was prime, within walking distance of restaurants, bars, the waterfront, and even the Space Needle. Not that he was geeking out about the opportunity or anything…

Okay, he was geeking out, but it was only natural. He was a software geek. Hell, he was the King of Software Geeks.

“We’re glad to have you onboard,” his new boss, Luke McAllister, said. “Your background in software security is just what we need.”

No kidding. Afire was recovering from a major hack. It had been all over the news. From what Spencer knew about the situation, it hadn’t been a sophisticated attack. The hackers had come through the Internet of Things, which had been left unsecured. A total oversight and totally preventable. “I think I can help you guys out.”

A company this big and this advanced in the tech field? Heads had rolled as a result of the breach, but it had also opened up an opportunity for him to do what he did best. Security was Spencer’s game. What had impressed him most about the situation had been Afire’s response. Contrary to prevailing advice from government and law enforcement officials, Afire had not only closed the hole, they’d gone after their attackers—and they’d taken them down.

This was the kind of place where he wanted to work.

“We’re not ‘you guys’ anymore,” Luke said. “You’re one of us now, ‘a fireman.’ Come on. Let me show you around the place.”

Spencer hopped to his feet, automatically swiping up the MacBook he’d been assigned. He liked this guy, Luke. He wasn’t a normal software guy. In fact, he was pretty up-front about the fact that he was just learning the basics of coding. What McAllister did know, inside and out, was security in general: defensive measures, weakness analysis, perpetrator psychology… Rumor was that he’d worked for the Secret Service before turning to the private sector. What Spencer liked most, though, was that his new boss seemed to let people play to their strengths.

And he was cool as hell: tough, muscled, and badass.

“These three pods are where the security group is located.” Luke nodded, and the developers who weren’t heads-down coding nodded back.

Spencer recognized a few people from his interview and gave a wave.

“We have flexible hours, and you’re free to work from home when you feel the need. If things get hot, though, I’d prefer everyone be onsite so we can ‘war room’ the situation.”

“Not a problem,” Spencer said. That was pretty normal in the industry. He’d be working onsite until he got up to speed on everything.

He followed Luke when he turned down a hallway. The layout of the converted fish cannery was open and airy, but the security team was somewhat secluded around a corner. He was okay with that. Managers thought open-bay setups encouraged collaboration, but to Spencer, they just got loud. He preferred to work on his own when possible. As he’d often been told, he was a “deep thinker.”

“The restrooms are down there on the left. Here’s the grab ’n go area. Take whatever you want to eat or drink. The Green Team just prefers you use the recyclable bowl you were given. It should be on your desk.”

Recycled bowls for snacking, a T-shirt with the company fire emblem, plus a baseball hat, a mousepad, and a backpack to match. Afire didn’t skimp on the swag—although Spencer knew it was free advertising to have the company’s employees going around Seattle dressed like walking Afire billboards.

But shoot, they could dress him up and send him down the runway if this was what he got in return.

He tried not to smile too broadly as they continued their tour. He’d come from a company that specialized in security, but he felt like he’d just made it to the big leagues. It wasn’t just the perks. He was excited to get out on the front lines. The security firm’s customers had been other software companies. Here, he’d be protecting consumers directly. It was a challenge he looked forward to, because, honestly, he needed some new challenges. Things had been getting too easy for him at his old job. Easy and boring.

“Our customer success team is over there. They work with clients directly, helping them through any problems they might encounter. If you need someone who knows our applications inside and out, talk to them.” Luke kept moving until they were at the back of the building. “Down here is the gym.”

Spencer gave it a cursory glance. The assortment of workout machines looked shiny and top of the line, but what did he know? It wasn’t a perk he was likely to use.

“Towel service is provided. I can show you how to use the programmable locks on the lockers, if you’d like.”

“I think I can figure that out,” Spencer said dryly.

Luke sent him a sidelong look and laughed. “Yeah, I suppose you can.”

Clapping a heavy hand on his shoulder, Spencer’s boss turned him back in the direction they’d come. “The cafeteria is open for breakfast and lunch. The team is planning to eat as a group today to welcome you.”

“Cool,” Spencer said. He liked Christopher Chen, the guy who sat at the desk next to him, but he hadn’t gotten to spend much time with anyone else.

Not that he was a social butterfly, but those were his people. Luke was a bit intimidating. He was the kind of guy who probably knew all about working out in gyms, fishing, football, and women. Spencer suspected he’d have more things to talk about with Christopher and the other developers.

“Okay, this is really where I want to take you,” Luke said as he opened a door to a covered walkway leading out of the main Afire building. “This is the way to our small business accelerator. It’s managed by Afire, but space is rented by entrepreneurs trying to get new tech companies off the ground.”

“Sounds interesting.”

Spencer followed his boss to the smaller building next door, but stopped when Luke turned with his hand on the door’s push-bar.

“It’s also where the hack came in.”

Okay, now Spencer’s interest was piqued. “One of the entrepreneurs let them in?”

“No, we let them in. We own and manage the facilities and shared equipment. The small companies here just rent space. The hack came in through the Internet of Things, which we should have secured for everyone. The hacker was then able to breach the firewall between Start ’er Up and Afire’s networks. That’s top-secret info that nobody outside of our team needs to know.”

Spencer nodded. That little tidbit hadn’t been in any of the news reports. It also made it more understandable how such an infiltration had occurred.

Luke pushed open the glass door at the end of the walkway, and the hydraulic closer let out a whoosh. Soft chatter filtered through the air.

“Welcome to Start ’er Up,” Luke said.

Spencer looked around the place with interest. The tech world and startups went hand in hand, although he’d always worked in established businesses. Along with being a deep thinker, he was an old soul. The idea of going out on his own was tempting, but he knew the risks involved with that. Perks were one thing, but he wasn’t blinded by them. Company stability, health insurance, and a 401(k) match were more important to him.

Although this could be a cool way to keep tabs on cutting-edge stuff…

“I’m assigning this place to you,” Luke said.

What? Spencer stood a little straighter. Wow. Talk about a shot in the arm. “Okay.”

“I had a consultant go through everything. She assures me that everything is secure now, but I’d like a second opinion. I’d also like to bring the responsibility in house.”

“Yes, sir. I can do that.” Spencer nodded with confidence as he looked around the space. He spotted printers, routers, and even an old fax machine… all potential infiltration points if somebody wanted to get in via the Internet of Things, much less the Wi-Fi that all these companies no doubt shared.

His brain began churning. Damn, he was getting more and more excited about this job, but he didn’t want to come off like a goober.

Luke turned into one of the few offices in the smaller building. “First things first, I’d like to introduce you to Josie. She manages Start ’er Up. You two will be working closely.”

Spencer took one step in the room, and his brain jammed. Crumpled-paper-in-the-bowels-of-a-printer kind of jam. One moment his brain was firing on all cylinders, excited about the new assignment, and the next, it froze and his body went a little haywire. Girl. Beautiful girl. Strawberry blonde. Green eyes. Pretty smile. Pink lips… And a tight body. Oh, hell. Don’t look there.

“Josie, this is Spencer Weiler, our new security hire. He’s the one who’s going to take point on Start ’er Up’s security situation from here on out.”

The girl… woman… gorgeous woman looked at him and blinked those big green eyes. “Oh! Hi there. It’s nice to meet you.”

She looked at him expectantly, but that paper jam was in there good, gunking up any thought processes Spencer might have once had. “Hi-lo,” he said.

Oh, crap. That wasn’t right.

“Hell. I mean hell-o.” One of her eyebrows rose, and he thought he saw a dimple in her cheek deepen. Damn, this should not be that difficult. “Hi,” he said on a rough exhale.

“Hi, Spencer.” Okay, she was smiling at him. Laughing, really. No, not laughing. There was empathy there. “First days are tough, aren’t they?”

He nodded, his tongue feeling twice its size inside his mouth. Yeah, first day. They’d go with that. She did not need to know about the boner that he was suddenly sporting. She didn’t need to know that was why no blood or oxygen was making it to the head atop his neck.

She held out a hand. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Not as glad as he was. Not even close.

He took her hand and shifted the Mac he was still carrying so it hid the front of his jeans. Her skin felt like silk. Warm, smooth silk.

He couldn’t stop staring at her. Honest to God, she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen.

“I still feel so bad about the hack,” she said. “I didn’t even know you could hack equipment like that.”

“Josie,” Luke said. “We’ve talked about this.”

“I know,” she said, sighing heavily, “but I’m responsible for this place. I should have done something to stop it from happening.”

Spencer frowned. “You know how to change the password on a R-4200 router?”

“Uh… no,” she said with a blush. Her gaze went quickly to her desk, where he’d seen the piece of equipment. “But I should know that’s something that needs to be done.”

“It’s not even in the owner’s manual.” He shrugged, hoping the gesture showed reassurance.

Was it hot in here? He stuck his hand in his front jeans pocket to keep from fanning himself like a ninny, but winced. Tight. Jeans too tight. He pulled his hand back out quickly and wrapped his fingers around the shield of his Mac.

“Really?” The lines on the angel’s face smoothed. “Oh, that makes me feel better. I’m the program manager around here. There’s a lot to keep track of.”

“The rock star manager of all managers,” another female inserted.

Spencer glanced to the door. Okay, smoking-hot brunette at nine o’clock. Was there something in the water over here? His glance bounced off her right back to Josie.

“This the newb?” the visitor asked.

Luke nodded. “Spencer, this is Kylie Grant. Kylie, this is Spencer Weiler.”

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

The brunette looked at Luke. “I got this place locked down, you know.”

He sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. The guy’s forearms bulged like Popeye’s, and the woman took notice. Spencer caught the reaction and quickly let his gaze skim over Josie. She wasn’t eyeing his manly boss, so much as fighting a smile watching the other two people in the room squabble.

“Security over here is Afire’s responsibility,” Luke said.

“Uh huh.” Kylie pushed her hair over her shoulder and cocked her head.

“Now,” Luke said in resignation. “We’re watching it more closely now, and Spencer is in charge of that.”

Spencer felt the brunette’s gaze rake over him. Her brow furrowed when she noticed the way he was clutching his Mac. He forced his fingers to relax, but he didn’t move it. No way, no how.

“Where did you work before this?” she asked.

“Samson Security.”

“Nice.” She drummed her fingers against her thigh. “What do you think of facial-recognition authentication?”

“Not dependable enough.”

“Pattern recognition?”

He shook his head. “Better than alphanumeric, but still a pain. Fingerprints are the way to go for top-level security and ease of use.”

“Hm,” she muttered. She swung her hand out, gesturing like Vanna White. “What do you think of the place? From a developer’s point of view?”

“Good space, a little loud.” He squinted at the sunlight bouncing off Elliott Bay through the front windows. That was something to mark on the calendar. The sun was out in Seattle, and he’d met the most beautiful girl in the world. Whom he’d like to get back to… if he could communicate with her… Hell, why was his brain connecting to his mouth with this brunette bombshell but not the redhead?

“It’s nice, although a bit bright,” he said.

Kylie straightened as if he’d jabbed her with a stick. “He’ll do.”

“Nice to have your approval,” Luke said dryly.

She lifted an eyebrow. “You know you want it.”

Josie cleared her throat. “They date,” she said.

Good. That meant one less guy Spencer had to be concerned about. A scary thought hit him, and his gaze snapped to her desk. He was relieved when he didn’t see photographs of a husband or boyfriend.

“Are we still going to Ivar’s for dinner tonight?” Kylie asked.

“Yeah,” Luke said. “How late are you going to be?”

“I can go anytime. Just pick me up when you’re ready.”

Was that a gleam in his boss’s steely gaze? Spencer watched for hints, pointers even. The guy obviously had game, and he could use some help in that area. Like, pronto.

Spencer shot another glance at Josie. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t help it. That paper jam in his head just wasn’t letting loose. Did he even have a shot? She seemed so normal—no, so outstanding—and he was a computer geek. His kind didn’t have the best track records with women. What was his next step? Was he going to make a play? How did one do that?

He didn’t even know what a play was, not with someone like her.

“Anyway,” Luke said. “Now that we have approval from the boss, I’d like you two to work together to map out a plan. Spencer, you know the security piece. Josie, you know how Start ’er Up works. We can’t lock it down too tightly, because we have a lot of small businesses and entrepreneurs using this place. We’re here to help them, not shut them out.”

Spencer nodded. “Got it.”

“Josie can introduce you around and get you situated.”

Spencer nodded again. It was the one form of communication he had that seemed to be working. His brain was now stuck on the fact that he’d be spending a lot of time with her. It thrilled him and terrified him all at once.

“Any questions?” Luke said.

So, so many. Spencer shook his head.

Josie walked to her desk and opened a day planner the size of War and Peace. “When would you like to start, Spencer?”

Oh, God. He was even turned on by the way she said his name.

“Nuuhhhh.” He cleared his throat. “Now?”

She blinked. “Uh, okay.”

She moved some papers aside on her desk, but Luke stepped forward. “Whoa, boy. Slow ’er down.”

Josie giggled, and Spencer nearly died.

“I thought we were supposed to Start ’er Up,” she teased.

Spencer snorted. Literally, the most ungraceful sound in the world came out of his mouth, and Josie laughed harder.

Luke looked back and forth between the two of them. “Geek humor. Great.”

He tilted his head toward the door. “We’re not finished with his onboarding,” he said. “Put something on his calendar for tomorrow or later. Whatever works for you.”

“Okay.” Josie trailed her finger down the open page. “If you don’t need me now, I guess I’ll head down to the gym.”

Heat washed through Spencer when she turned toward him and laced her fingers together. “See you tomorrow.”

He nodded roughly. “Tmrro.”

Damn it.

“All right. Sounds like a plan.” Luke started out the door. “Let’s go back to my office.”

Spencer somehow managed to put one foot in front of the other to follow him. Looking over his shoulder, he caught Josie’s green gaze one last time. “Buh.”

Oh, hell and tarnation.

“Bye,” she said with a little wave that made his erection nearly burst right through the zipper of his jeans.

Spencer hoped to God he wasn’t walking funny as he followed Luke back through the walkway into Afire. Once the door closed behind them, some of his brain function returned. It was a proximity affliction, apparently.

This was a problem.

The woman put his brain on the fritz. He liked her. One step inside that door, and he’d wanted her. At the very least, he had to work with her, but she wasn’t a typical tech female. Luke’s girlfriend, Kylie, wasn’t either, but he could talk to her. But Josie?

Spencer narrowed his eyes on Luke as he sank down into the chair behind his desk. Wait a minute. Luke had somehow made the crossover from normal guy to geek girl—although Kylie was unlike any geek girl Spencer had ever met. Surely, he could take hints from their relationship and reverse-engineer it.

His brain started to whir; he was onto something here. He could hack this.

“So… that’s the gist of the job. Now, for your development plan.” Luke swiveled in his chair toward his laptop. “Everybody hates coming up with these, but Afire likes to keep its employees learning. You don’t have to come up with a full-blown plan now, but start thinking about an area where you’d like to develop more skills.”

“You mean in security?”

Luke shrugged, his heavy shoulders bunching. “Not necessarily. It can be pretty much anything. Rafi is taking some public-speaking courses to help with his presentations. Christopher is shadowing our customer success people to learn how our customers approach things. So think about it. What’s something you’re interested in learning more about?”

That was easy—the redhead next door.

Although when Luke said “anything,” Spencer doubted she was included.

He tapped his fingers against the arm of his chair. There was more than one way to hack a password.

“Stress can be a problem for me,” he said. It was the truth. “Sometimes I can get too deep in a problem and forget to take care of myself.”

Honesty there.

“Okay,” Luke said.

“And not to brag or anything, but I could teach most of the courses on security.”

Luke’s chair squeaked when he sat back. An evaluating look had settled onto his face. It was all jagged corners and tough-guy handsome. Spencer tried not to squirm as Luke looked him over. He could afford to put on some muscle like McAllister.

“The gym,” he said. It came to him like the flash of a light bulb. “I’d like to get more comfortable there, maybe establish a workout routine. You know, to get out of my head.”

Luke’s eyes narrowed, and Spencer rushed to make sense of the request before Luke made it to the truth. Although with the way his mouth started to tug at the corners, it might already be too late.

“Would you be open to training me?” Spencer asked.

Luke’s chin snapped up a fraction of an inch. Okay, he hadn’t been expecting that.

“Well, I am down there usually once a day,” Luke said, “and I wouldn’t mind a training partner. What’s your normal workout routine now?”

Routine? “I play a lot of disc golf in the summer. Does that count?”

The frown he got in return didn’t help.

“What’s that?” Luke asked.

Spencer ran a hand through his hair. “Frisbee golf.”

Damn, that didn’t sound tough at all.

But Luke nodded in approval. “There’s cardio with that.”

“Yeah, and I can run.” Spencer flexed. “I just need to… you know… beef up.”

Women were into that, from what he’d heard.

He flinched when Luke leaned forward and braced his elbows against the desk. “Let me get this straight. One of my security guys wants to enter… the gym.”

Spencer swallowed hard. He might as well have said the Twilight Zone. Did he want to become a gym rat? No. But did he want a shot with Josie? “Yes.”

He fought to hold his ground as Luke watched him. The guy could read the truth. He had eyes like lasers and a brain that was nearly as sharp.

“Okay, strength training it is.” Luke turned to his computer and filled out the development form. “We’ll start tomorrow morning before you go over to help Josie with Start ’er Up.”

“Tomorrow,” Spencer agreed. Before his brain went wonky again.

Man, he hoped this worked.

* * *

“So what did you think of him?”

Josie glanced up from her gym bag to the door. Shoot, Kylie was back. Josie returned her attention to her bag and zipped the compartment shut. She should have just run to the locker room and checked to see if she’d remembered to bring shampoo. “Who? Spencer?”

“No, Luke,” her friend said dryly.

Josie sighed. “I don’t know. He’ll be fine, I’m sure.”

“That’s a ringing endorsement.”

Okay, that hadn’t been fair. The new guy was better than fine—and maybe he had the security chops, too. “If you and Luke feel he’s the right guy, I’m sure he is.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

Giving up, Josie dropped the strap of the bag and slumped down into her chair. “I just can’t help feeling like it’s punishment for screwing up, like he’s being assigned to watch over my shoulder.”

“Screwing up?” Kylie closed the door behind her and walked over to settle her hip against the desk. “What did you do wrong?”

Oh, just about everything. Josie had gone over the whole cycle of events in her head so many times, it was like it was on constant replay. “I should have noticed the change in the lighting. I missed that completely. Even when you told me, I didn’t dig into it.”

Kylie frowned. “But you let me. And how would you have known that was evidence of a hack? I didn’t until I started poking around in the smart building control system, which you gave me access to, following proper protocol. Have I thanked you for that, by the way? If you hadn’t added me as an administrator, Luke never would have listened to me. I’d probably still be talking with lawyers today.”

“Yes, but that was a security violation, in and of itself. You weren’t officially associated with Afire. I should have been fired for that alone.”

“Hey, I’m a consultant. I’ve even got a badge to show it.”

Josie hit her friend with a look. “After the fact.”

“You just beat Luke to the paperwork.”

Josie fiddled with the pen holder on her desk. Afire liked to promote itself as a paperless company, but there was just something about pen and paper that made her feel more organized. She had pens in every color under the sun, and her day planner was jammed with Post-it notes to expand on the rainbow. That was her strength—organization and communication. She kept this place running as its program manager. She helped people network and find collaborators. She put together training sessions for new businesses on how to keep their books, market their products, and find venture capital. She kept metrics on their member companies’ progress, she reviewed startup applications for membership, and she even made the coffee.

But with all that she did, she knew that the Start ’er Up program was not key to Afire’s success. It didn’t make money. Every once in a while, a technology company might have something her bosses would be interested in licensing or even outright purchasing, but Start ’er Up’s mission was to support the entrepreneurship culture in Seattle. It was a community service.

Yet that community service had nearly brought Afire down.

She banged her pen holder against her desk, and two pens jumped out. “Why did that hack have to come through this place?”

Kylie frowned. “Did you ever stop to think how lucky we were that it did?”

“Excuse me?” Another pen, a purple one, fell out when Josie tried to shove the other two back in. She rarely got angry. She was an upbeat person, but she didn’t need coddling.

“Do you think something like that ever would have been noticed or investigated over in Afire? A lighting glitch? Especially with Steven Ayers at the security helm?”

Josie winced. She hadn’t realized how self-centered she was being. Steven Ayers had been the top security guy on Luke’s team. Smug, misogynistic, and highly overrated, he’d been fired for not detecting the hack of Afire’s network—and he’d come after Kylie for revenge.

Reaching past her growing pile of spilled pens, Josie caught her friend’s hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t even think of that.”

“Those hackers could have done a lot more damage if we hadn’t caught them when we did. Luke isn’t assigning Spencer to Start ’er Up because he doesn’t trust you. He’s giving you the support you’ve always needed.” Kylie pushed her hair back and gave a little sniff. “Even if I had it handled.”

Josie rolled her eyes. Okay, they both had some personal hang-ups with the new situation. “You’ve got enough on your plate with your web design company and… whatever else it is that you do.”

Her friend clammed up real quick at that.

Kylie leaned forward and changed the subject. “So, give me the truth. What did you think of Mr. Chatty Cat?”

Talk about turning the tables. The direct look in her friend’s eyes made Josie blush, but she pretended not to know what Kylie was talking about. “The two of you communicated just fine.”

“Yes, but I’m one of his kind. You aren’t.”

Josie busied herself with straightening up her pens. “I understood what he was trying to say.”

Kylie’s grin turned into a smile. “I bet you did.”

“We’ll know better tomorrow if we can work together.”

“Josie, the words he managed to get out around you weren’t even English.”

“So he’s a little shy.” Shy, observant, tall, and sexy, in an awkward sort of way. Those dark puppy-dog eyes had made Josie melt when she’d first locked gazes with him. She pointed a pen at the brunette interrogating her. Enough of this. “What did you think?”

Kylie shrugged. “He’s kinda cute, if you go for that type of thing.”

“I meant for the security job!”

She laughed. “He’s solid. Technically, he’s really good. I checked him out before Luke made the offer.”

Josie’s jaw dropped. “Then why are you asking me?”

“Because it’s what you think that matters. He can be a security genius, but if you don’t like working with him, just say the word.”

“Oh, come on. Give him a chance.”

“So you like him?”

Josie began fiddling with her gym bag again. Kylie just wasn’t going to let up on this. “He is kind of cute, I guess, with that shaggy hair and dark eyes.”

“Too wiry for my taste.”

“Lanky,” Josie said. In a Ramones T-shirt, he’d been like all the other tech guys walking around, but his backside had been rather nice as she’d watched him walk out the door. He was tall, too. She’d had to tilt her head back a little to talk to him. She’d kind of liked that. And he had shoulders to match, even if he didn’t fill out the T-shirt as well as the jeans.

“I guess he is at the opposite side of the spectrum from Nolan,” Kylie said. “That’s a plus.”

Nolan. At the mention of her ex-boyfriend, Josie’s stomach went from buoyant to a ball of lead. Okay, it was her turn to clam up. She looped the long strap of her gym bag over her shoulder and stood. “I just agreed that Spencer is cute. That doesn’t mean I’m going to date him.”

She wasn’t ready to get back into that scene yet.

The humor left Kylie’s eyes. “Is Nolan still giving you problems?”

“No. Just a late-night text here and there.” Josie rounded her desk. She really did need to get to the gym if she was going to get a workout in.

Kylie put her arm over the doorway. “What does he want?”

Josie ducked underneath the barrier and scooted through. “To get back together.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

Kylie followed her down the hallway. “You’re not—”

“No.” Absolutely not.

“Good.” Kylie’s fists relaxed at her sides. “Cute and lanky might be a good thing after all.”

“Spencer’s just for work.” They were in the covered walkway now, leading over to Afire. Josie swiped her badge through the reader at the door to the main building. Kylie didn’t have her consultant’s badge on her, so this was where Josie could make her great escape. When the reader’s light turned green, she put her shoulder into the door and pushed it open. “I’m too busy for another boyfriend right now.”

Busy trying to make sure Afire was still invested in Start ’er Up and her job was secure.

The door clanked shut behind her, ending the conversation and making the lead ball inside Josie’s stomach heavier. Maybe Spencer could help her understand security better, but anything beyond that was out of the question. She needed to concentrate on her career while she still had it.

 

Spotlight – Bagels & Salsa

Bagels & Salsa banner

About the Author

Lara Reznik 2

Lara Reznik is a native New Yorker who studied at the University of New Mexico and the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. Bagels & Salsa is her third novel.

Writing books since she was six years old, Reznik retired from an executive position in information technology after the success of her first novel, The Girl From Long Guyland, published in 2012. In 2015, Reznik published her second book, The M&M Boys.

Reznik currently lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two miniature Aussies.

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About the Book:

Title: BAGELS & SALSA
Author: Lara REznik
Publisher: Enchanted Indie Press
Pages: 296
Genre: Suspense/Romance/Humor

Bagels & Salsa

BOOK BLURB:

Author Lara Reznik blends suspense, romance, and humor in her latest novel, BAGELS & SALSA (http://www.larareznik.com/bagels-and-salsa). Loosely based on Reznik’s life, the story of Laila and Eduardo highlights the turmoil that surfaces when a Jewish sociologist from New York and a Hispanic doctor from rural New Mexico fall hard and fast for each other. Their blossoming relationship develops against the backdrop of terror the Son of Sam created in New York City during the summer of 1977.

Early reviews of BAGELS & SALSA praise the story’s dynamic plot and colorful characters:

The author tells a simple love story, but she structures the novel to provide a panoramic view of her characters” (Kirkus Reviews).

Another lovely read from Lara Reznik! . . . As with all her novels there are also plenty of fun subplot twists and turns. I wanted more.” (Barbara Gaines, Former Executive Producer of The Late Show with David Letterman).

BAGELS & SALSA opens at a high school assembly hall in a rough part of the Bronx where Laila Levin is giving her first postdoctorate presentation on the US teen pregnancy epidemic. Her fear of public speaking and a chance encounter with the Son of Sam unravel her as several loud bangs crack through the air. Laila falls on the stage and injures her right shoulder. Fortunately, Dr. Eduardo Quintana jumps into action.

What begins as a playful flirtation while Laila recovers in the hospital propels into a more serious relationship with the handsome doctor. Their mutual passion is so intense that it stuns them both. The unlikely pair share strong family values and an interest in teen pregnancy prevention. After a brief courtship, Eduardo persuades Laila to accompany him to his family’s ranch near Española, New Mexico, where he plans to open a family practice. The rural town has one of the highest pregnancy rates in North America: the perfect place for Laila’s research.

Once in New Mexico, Laila is blatantly rejected by Sylvia, Eduardo’s controlling mother. Sylvia wants Eduardo to marry Violet, his high school sweetheart, who has recently returned to New Mexico after a failed flight attendant career and a walk on the dark side of Hollywood. Violet’s mother and Sylvia cook up a plan to send Laila packing and reunite their children. The Quintanas hold a large pig roast and invite a menagerie of tattooed cousins, rodeo stars, and mariachis. And the drop-dead gorgeous Violet makes a grand entrance.

In the midst of the pandemonium that results, a shocking family secret is revealed, and Laila and Eduardo’s love for each other is severely tested. Can their relationship survive the fierce clash of cultures, the murderous intentions of a Son of Sam copycat who has stalked Laila from New York City, and their own uncertainties about the upheavals that their union will cause in their lives?

Reznik’s first goal in writing BAGELS & SALSA is to entertain readers. However, she says, “On a more thematic level, I’d like readers to think about the importance of embracing religious, ethnic, and cultural differences, which have been at the core of so much conflict in the world.”

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Book Excerpt:

On the morning of July 29, 1977, as New York’s blistering heat wave persisted, every woman in Manhattan was in a state of panic. The Daily News published a handwritten letter from a man claiming to be the serial murderer of forty-four victims. That specific day had been singled out in the letter as the date he planned to strike again. Some of my friends refused to leave their apartments. Others escaped to Fire Island or the Catskills, or retreated to their parents’ homes in the suburbs.

I tried not to let the panic pervading New York City that stifling summer morning dictate my life despite the fact that July 29th was also the two-year anniversary of my disastrous nuptials to Julian Goldblatt or Jules Gold, the nom de plume he used on his hip late night radio show. Any reminder of my wedding day still made me cringe with rage and humiliation.

Admittedly, my anxiety was at an all time high as I parked my canary-yellow Chevrolet Bel Air, and fed coins into the meter at the curb. Fearful of the new threats from the Son of Sam, I opened my purse and eyeballed the .38 caliber pistol my father had slipped under the table last night at Ratners on Delancey Street, a kosher dairy restaurant, and the perfect choice for a vegetarian like me.

Guest Post:

First person novels often beg the question–did the author actually live through that?

By Lara Reznik

Numerous readers are convinced that my new multicultural suspense novel, Bagels & Salsa, as well as my earlier psychological suspense book, The Girl From Long Guyland, are autobiographical. I take it as a compliment that I was able to successfully create a fictive world with a plot and cast of characters that are composites of people I’ve known throughout my lifetime.

Bagels & Salsa, is about Laila Levin, a Jewish sociologist from Manhattan, who takes a romantic gamble and follows Eduardo Quintana, a dashing Latino doctor to rural New Mexico. Their love is tested by his controlling mother who rejects Laila from the get-go, a drop-dead-gorgeous ex-girlfriend, a deranged ex-student of Laila’s who stalks her cross the country, and major cultural differences.

The story is set in the summer of 1977 as the Son of Sam is terrorizing NYC.

Okay, I admit, I’m a Jewish girl from Long Island who married a Hispanic man from rural New Mexico. The setting takes place in New York and New Mexico, two places I’ve lived. Like most authors, I write about what I know.

But I still haven’t answered the question. How much of the story is autobiographical?  Read on.

First of all, there are memoirs and then there are novels. Celebrities write memoirs because people are fascinated by the details of their lives. If you had a very unusual or dysfunctional childhood it makes for great reading like in the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Frankly, my real life is not all that interesting so I’ve chosen to write fiction.

Like many literary authors, I often start with an event or circumstance from my life that I believe is unique and then say, “what if.” In the case of Bagels & Salsa, I asked the question, “What if a Son of Sam copycat had stalked me across the country?” And, “What if my future mother-in-law had cooked up a plan to send me packing and reunite her son with his high school sweetheart?” While neither of these things happened, they certainly made for a more fun read than the details of my real life.

Bottom line, the characters are based on real people but they’ve been fictionalized to make them more dramatic and interesting. The setting is real and hopefully the plot takes on a life of its own.

Spotlight – Imagine That

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About the Author

Tamara Dorris 2

Tamara Lee Dorris, MA, is the author of 19 books, a long-time coach, consultant, and adjunct college professor. She’s spent the past few decades studying and sharing ways that people can live more fulfilling, fun, and effective lives. She’s also an avid yogi, podcaster, and wine-lover, committed to inspiring as many people as she can. Tamara holds degrees in psychology and communications, is a certified hypnotherapist and EFT practitioner, too.  

Website & Social Links

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

 

About the Book

Imagine That

Title: IMAGINE THAT: PLAYING WITH THE POWER OF IMAGINATION
Author: Tamara Dorris
Publisher: Createspace
Pages: 190
Genre: Self-Help/Spiritual

BOOK BLURB:

From rock-solid science to centuries-old scripture, we’ve been told our thoughts and emotions matter, and may even be indicators of our future. In this book, Tamara Dorris shows you that the real key to navigating your way to a new reality rests in your almost-dormant imagination. She points out that we’re all using our imaginations anyway, but most of us are using them to conjure up the worst instead of designing the best.

With wit, humor, and sass Tamara shares how anyone can learn to use their imagination in a more productive, profitable, and effective way.

The second half of the book is a 33-Day Challenge, including daily lessons and journaling exercises to help solidify and apply the age-old, as well as scientifically new ideas presented in the first section of the book. Be prepared to have your mind a little bit blown, your “mean monkey” a little bit riled up, and start intentionally creating your life with excitement and intention!

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Book Excerpt:

INTRODUCTION

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.”

                                                             Carl Sagan

Let’s imagine a house. There it is, sitting on the street just being a house. Got it? Okay, now imagine you took the roof off. Is it still a house? What about if you took the walls down? I’m not asking you if it has “house potential,” I’m asking you if it’s still a house. Now what about if you took all the sticks and stucco down, and bulldozed the whole mess away. No house, right?

Then let’s go back to square one since that’s the whole idea here. A person had an idea of a house. Next, he hired an architect to draw out the house (with me so far?), and then after all the permits and politics, the ground is finally broken. Then with time and red tape, the foundation is poured, then the sticks and stucco and eventually, the “For Sale” sign goes in the yard (my favorite part). The question really is this: when did it become a house? Wasn’t the idea/image in the builder’s mind already a house? Didn’t he simply convey that image to the guy who drew it? And weren’t the tractor operators and construction workers just carrying out that original image?

You see, in “reality” our reality is but a reflection of what has already been “real” in another realm; or our imagination. Now if that’s too farfetched for you, don’t worry; I do not and will not rattle on about bending reality in weird ways, but it may interest you to know that quantum physics is the basis for that statement. And not coincidentally, even spiritual teachings like the Bible have my back. But let’s be clear. I can’t just imagine a house in my head and then have it pop up out of nowhere and appear on my street tomorrow (but what a fun way to freak out the neighbors, right?). We have to do things to make things happen. My point is merely to make you aware that anything and everything you are seeing in the material world right now first started as a thought. The thought alone starts the wheels of creation even though we may see no sign of it in the “real” world.

It’s no secret or surprise that most (winning) athletes and Olympians mentally rehearse their victory before it really happens. They imagine the jump, the bell, the whatever-their-sport is until it’s so real they can actually hear the roar of the crowd and the sound of the popping champagne bottle (I’m not positive about that last part, but if I ever get a gold medal you can bet there’ll be some bubbly).

Likewise surgeons, musicians, and other performers mentally rehearse their successes. Many military programs now use virtual reality to help soldiers imagine with their five senses what a specific experience would be like. Same with astronauts and pilots that use simulation experiences. The people in the make-shift shuttle are actually being spun around ridiculously fast. The Navy divers are really being dropped into below freezing-your-ass-off water and deprived of oxygen. While none of the latter sounds like a day in the park to me, the point to glean from these painful parties is that some situations require such attentive imagination, that we’ve got to throw in some physical components to make it even more real so when it is real, fewer people will freak out and not know what to do when shit hits the fan.

Fortunately, most of us aren’t heading off to Mars or deep sea diving for missiles anytime soon. We are going to use our beautiful brains in ways that bring us what we want—but honestly, if you have to use your imagination to solve a not-so-fun circumstance, the practice I teach you in this book will come in handy too. So let’s first ask ourselves what imagination is.

The occipital lobe is located in the back of your brain (visual cortex) and your parietal lobe lies above that. Obviously the visual cortex is what allows you to “see” inside your mind (as well as outside in your world) and the parietal lobe is responsible for the sensory parts of your experiences. In a recent study it was suggested that when you are looking at something, the image of it goes to your occipital lobe, up to your parietal lobe. But the study indicated that when people visualize, the image starts in the partial lobe and flows down to the occipital. While the researchers aren’t certain what that means, I suspect it’s the brain’s simple way of telling itself whether something has hit our physical reality yet, or if it’s still in the planning stages of our mental rehearsal, but interestingly, it’s all happening in the same region of the brain.

In other words, your memory recall and future imaginings use the exact same parts of the brain. Think about that for a minute. When you’re remembering the birthday cake your Aunt Betsy made you when you were five, you’re activating the same mechanism in your head as when you are imagining yourself getting new hardwood floors. This has powerful implications that we’ll continue to touch on, but for now just recognize that your brain treats an imagined event very much as if it were a real memory.

An important point to remember is the difference between visualization and imagination. Note that we all possess a tiny gland in our brain called the pineal. Ancient teachings have always called it the third eye. When you simply visualize an image in your brain, you’re likely just seeing a quick picture without emotion. However, when you close your eyes and really feel a moving picture, in your imagination, you may be activating this little guy in ways that science still doesn’t fully understand…but when used properly, it’s in a good way.

The pineal gland is shaped like a baby pinecone and lets us know when it’s time to wake up or go night-night. It does this by releasing serotonin (the daytime neurotransmitter) when it detects daylight, and by releasing melatonin (the nighttime chemical) when it’s dark. Some scientists—and virtually all spiritual teachers and sages—say that this little pinecone in our heads is our “God gland.” In other words, it’s how we connect to infinite intelligence. The trouble is that most of us have our third-eye closed (wake-up, little guy!). The more relaxed we can become when we’re envisioning our future self, the more our imaginations kicks quantum ass.

So just how powerful is your imagination? Ever hear of the Placebo effect? While we can attribute a safe moon landing or an Olympic gold medal to persistence, practice, and training, when it comes to indisputable placebo studies, we got no excuses. What I mean by that is you can’t have cancer one day that every single “fact” proves is incurable and then heal it with a sugar pill, right?  If this was a now and then kind of thing, I may be skeptical too, but the number of documented cases, in spite of modern medicine not being a big fan of it, far outweigh any hocus pocus or wishful thinking. So let’s look at how this works. A patient with a problem—and it could be anything—is given a pill that contains no healing properties whatsoever. The good doctor in the study who usually doesn’t know which pill is the real deal and which is nothing—so he can’t taint the results (more on that later)—tells the patient this new miracle cure (or whatever) has been having phenomenal success. The patient takes the pill and quite often heals (to at least some extent).

Those who heal didn’t do anything differently than the one who didn’t heal, with one small exception: the self-healers believed the doctor was telling the truth so their subconscious minds “imagined” they would be well, and they were. So what happened to the others? Let’s face it, sometimes people feel like they have nothing to live for or maybe they didn’t like or trust the doctor, or importantly, they genuinely didn’t believe healing was possible. I will add that when people are in immense pain, it can be exceedingly difficult to even begin to imagine themselves well, and in some sad cases, I’m sure the poor patients have already been using their imagination in the reverse way—mentally planning their failure to heal, often with the powerful emotion of fear. Emotions are the octane that fuels our imaginations.

In other placebo studies, patients who “needed” knee replacement surgery were taken to the operating room, sedated, and sliced and stitched at the knee cap. Clearly in these cases the doctors knew who was who. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pissed if someone performed pretend surgery on me. Anyway, in most of those cases, the non-knee replacement folks were up playing shuffle board with all the real knee replacement people in no time. Okay, I really don’t know if there was any shuffle board involved in these studies, but you get the point: the placebo effect works because our brains are (usually always) perfectly capable of curing our bodies when given the proper direction and permission, backed by belief.

So if most people can cure or heal themselves, why don’t they? Well, remember that the placebo effect includes a doctor (authority) telling you that you will heal. So like a good trooper, you follow orders—or I should say, your subconscious mind does—and you get busy getting better. This is not to say a person cannot do this without a doctor, as I know firsthand.

When I was very ill with a debilitating disease, it was hard to imagine being healthy. In and out of ICU a few times over the years, and once in a hospital bed for six weeks, the doctors had no faith in my recovery. They told me I couldn’t heal unless I left some pretty important body parts behind; parts that people can’t really do without. Clearly it was not within my capacity to focus on anything but pain, weakness, and fear. But I knew that’s exactly what I had to do. Against medical warning (and some family member’s wishes) I left the hospital to heal at home. Now I’m not going to lie. It was very tough to fully embrace my imagination when my emaciated body was practically down to skin and bones and I could barely get out of bed without help. Yet every day I would lay there and see myself being healthy and happy…running around with the kids, laughing, and having fun. When you are that sick, even something as simple as driving a car seems impossible, but I would see myself driving the kids through Taco Bell (I know, but I was literally starving so work with me here).

It was a long healing process, but my body didn’t get in that condition overnight, so it took a little while to fix it. Of course I supplemented my imagining health with other holistic measures, but only through my mental fortitude did I even discover those. The point is, there was no sugar pill outside of my own determined, persistent imagination. I convinced my brain that I was happy and healthy until it believed me and started whatever miraculous process it did to have me sitting here today, telling you how freaking amazing your own imagination is.    

The issue for many of us is that we often feel like we’re at the mercy of the medical industry and we’ve long but given up self-healing efforts. Plus, people get scared when they are very ill, not to mention how hard it is to imagine yourself happy and healthy with tubes sticking out of your arms and pain wracking your body. And while the premise of this book is not focused on healing anything beyond hangovers(drink water), I  will enthusiastically point you to the book by Dr. Joe Dispenza called, You Are the Placebo. This will help your skeptical brain understand way more of the science behind all this so you can start to heal yourself…and then apply all of the information in this book to get busy getting better too. But let’s get back to the positive aspects of your brain and how you can use it to imagine whatever your heart desires.

Neuroscience tells us (and this has to do with our occipital lobe and visual cortex) that what we see in our external world is but an interpretation (reflection) based on our very own belief patterns that are firmly fixed in our cute little cortex. In other words, your outer world is mirroring your internal one. This is why the once kind of hokey statement “You create your own reality,” is not a hippie dippy new age adage, but rather, a pretty valid fact. Just sit with this a minute: your imagination is the cause and your condition, the effect. The reticular activator system of the brain “shows us” evidence of our most frequent thoughts—even the unconscious ones that we don’t know we’re thinking because its main job in life is to filter our external environment so that it matches our expectation of it. Pretty scary, right?

What’s ironically sad is that we all spend so much time and sweat equity trying to change things in our external world, feeling like we’re banging our head against a brick wall…and guess what? We are! Now I’m certainly not saying you don’t have to take actions and precautions in life, so don’t go down that rabbit hole. What I am saying though, is that it’s like looking at your reflection in the mirror, not liking how long your bangs are and trying to trim the mirror (careful, you’ll cut yourself!).

Let me give you another analogy. Consider you’re at the theater to see a good love story, but when the lights go down and those dreaded phone carrier commercials are over, the film is actually a scary clown one (because all the clown ones are scary). Do you shoot the screen? No? Why not? Could it be because the scary clown is not coming from the screen but merely being projected from the little tiny window in the back of the theater you always wonder about? You’d either change out the reel or go to another theater, but you wouldn’t blame it on the screen. It isn’t the screen’s fault. That screen is your life and your own imagination is the film.

Our eyes are projectors showing us what our brains have been programmed to focus on, and yet, we fail to recognize that we’ve got to change the movie (your brain’s projections), not shoot holes in the screen (your external experiences). The proverbial plot thickens when we realize that the majority of our thoughts aren’t even in our conscious control, until we intentionally utilize our imaginations to take the reins.

The goal of this book is to help you put on a different reel—one that you fall in love with over and over again. And the really great part is that YOU get to write it, produce it, and play in it. Move over Quentin, there’s a new kid in town.

Are you ready?

Book Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EML7lEDAA-E

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