Into the Hollow: First Chapter!

CHAPTER 1

Free

 a + b = c

In Theory, Anyway

 

The last present Daddy gave me was a gun.

Not a minute after I unwrapped the used .22, he took me out back to shoot rusted targets lined on the woodpile. After missing the first shot, I hit every can. Even though misery clouded his eyes then, Daddy beamed and set up more so I could do it again. And I did, the cans falling to the snow-covered ground with every blast of the gun. Ain’t you a natural, Free?

That was my eleventh birthday, almost seven years ago, but the memory of my father’s words gave me confidence, especially now. They played in my mind as I peered into the scope, not moving. This shot had to count; we couldn’t spare the ammo for a second one. A natural, a natural, a natural…

“Shoot him, Sissy.”

“Quiet,” I whispered. We lay prone atop a bed of rotting vegetation, probably covered with ticks I’d have to pick off both of us at home.

Deep breath.

His neck stayed in my sights, the shotgun barrel propped on a fallen hickory branch, my cheek against the cold stock.

Steady.

Stop shaking, dammit!

I prayed for luck and pulled the trigger. Boom! Heavy wings flapped, kicking up dirt as gobbling echoed through the morning fog.

“You got him!” My brother ran to our kill, the rest of the flock escaping into the thicket.

I grinned when he tried to lift the gobbler by its legs, and looped the shotgun strap on my shoulder. “You doubting me, Little?”

“Never,” he said, the early chill turning his breath to smoke. He attempted to pick up the bird again, failing. It probably weighed more than he did.

“Good thing.” I stood and brushed off my jeans before collecting our supper from Little’s struggling hands. “C’mon. We’ll get Daddy to cook him up while we’re gone.”

“Can we shoot another one tomorrow?”

“Sorry, buddy. This here’s probably the last hunt. Not much ammo left.”

“Oh.” He hurried after me as I led us out of the woods. “Can we have potatoes, too?”

“None left.”

“Darn.”

I loved how he spoke. He didn’t have the sharp twang like Daddy and me. Little’s clean voice brought Needles, California, to Poplar Branch, West Virginia—America’s dirty secret. At least that’s how I saw our hiding spot in Middle of Nowhere, Appalachia.

I pointed to some rocks before he tripped over them. “Hey, remember the ginseng around here? That root we told you about?” At his nod, I continued, “Well, Daddy got himself a nice haul last night. If all goes the way I expect, food won’t be a concern for a while.”

His footfalls were loud, sounding more like a full-grown man than a skinny five-year-old boy. “Will we get our lights on, too?”

“No electric here. Already told you.”

A pause. “When are we going to stop camping, Sissy?”

“Soon.” I guided Little down the steep ravine toward the road.

Camping. What Daddy and I had told him four months ago when we arrived at the shack we lived in now. Every time he asked when we’d be going home, I’d tell him the same thing.

Soon.

The only lie that fell from my lips and hit his ears.

Once we made it to the narrow road, Little pulled out the blue calculator I bought him before we left California. As he typed, the burn scar running along his left palm by his thumb flashed, and I had to hide my wince behind a smile.

“Okay, what’s six thousand two hundred and twenty-seven times one hundred and forty-two?” he asked, concentrating on the calculator with his brow scrunched.

I thought for a minute as we shuffled along the road, moving aside when a line of fracking trucks rumbled past. “You make it too easy. Eight hundred eighty-four thousand, two hundred thirty-four.”

He squealed, skipping a few steps ahead. “That’s right! That’s right!”

“Of course it is.” I laughed as he tapped more numbers, giving another problem I answered just as fast. My passion had amounted to nothing except a fun trick to amuse Little, but I’d be a human calculator if it made him happy. I’d be anything.

“All right, enough for now.” I pulled his hood up when a gust of wind blew it down. “You know what? As soon as I get the sang cashed in, I’m taking you out for pizza.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Can we have soda, too?” he asked, stuffing his calculator back into his coat pocket.

Soda, not pop, and something we never wasted money on. But there were always exceptions. “Pizza wouldn’t taste good without it.”

A smile lit up his face.

I lived for his smile. I swear I’d die for it, too.

He clasped my hand. “You’re my favorite.”

“Right back at you.”

He said that instead of “I love you.” I had no idea why he said it, but I enjoyed being his favorite. He was mine too, after all.

“Now, we—” I glanced up as we neared our house, and the warmth his happiness gave disappeared when a newer pickup truck pulled into the driveway behind our beat-up Buick.

“What, Sissy? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” I crouched in front of Little when we reached the yard and tweaked his nose as the truck’s engine revved beside us. “Go on in and wash up with the pot of water on the stove. Careful not to get burned, you hear?”

His blue eyes finally left the shiny red truck and met mine. “Who are they?”

“Nobody you need to worry about.” I stood on legs begging to give. “Get to it. And save some water for me. I don’t feel like going to the well again this morning.”

“Should I get Dad?”

I shook my head. “Let me see what they want first.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay.” He eyed the truck once more and ran to the porch, jumping over piles of scrap metal and old toys.

I hated that he couldn’t lock himself inside. Dry rot had claimed this place probably before I was born, and a good kick had enough power to send the door—and the walls—flying into the living room.

After Little made it inside, I dropped the bird away from any garbage and shrugged the shotgun strap off my shoulder. Took a deep breath. Then went to the truck.

They won’t know it’s not loaded, Free. Don’t panic.

Tinted windows hid the occupant, but that wouldn’t intimidate me—on the outside. Inside, vomit begged to splatter the door panel. I tapped the window with the tip of my gun, and when it rolled down, I aimed at the bulbous nose of an older man. “Can I help you with something?”

He smirked, showing off a nice set of dentures. “Well, I hope so. You know who I am?”

“Can’t say I do.” I inched the barrel closer until it almost touched the man’s face.

“Put your gun down, girl. I just want to talk to you.”

“I’ll keep it where it is if you don’t mind. What do you want?”

He turned away long enough to grab something from his passenger seat. “You recognize this?” He tossed a floppy gray hat out his window, the thing landing at my feet.

I refused to give it my attention. “No. Why?” Please leave, please leave, please leave…

The man’s watery eyes turned to stone. “You tell your daddy if he wants to steal from me, he better be ready to pay the price.” He shifted into reverse. “You make sure to give him the message, let him know you and I had a conversation.”

He backed out, his fancy truck not bothered by the ruts in the driveway. When he disappeared down the road, I sank to my knees.

Not good.

What the hell had he gone and done this time?

I stuffed the hat in my back pocket and stayed there, my eyes shut against the gray and fog and cold, wet filth seeping through my jeans.

My mind went to work:

Eight hundred ninety-two divided by sixty-eight…

Times twenty-five…

Minus two hundred point forty-three…

One hundred twenty-seven point fifty-one.

Keep. Calm.

I opened my eyes and stared at our shack—a home that wasn’t any kind of home. If Daddy had done something to jeopardize—

The ginseng. Goddamn ginseng.

The turkey went in one hand, shotgun in the other. Every step toward the porch ignited my anger, making it hard to see past it. But Little wouldn’t witness the rage. He’d been through enough without me losing it in front of him.

“Who was it?” The door hadn’t closed before Little tugged on my wrist. His face, naturally pale and full of freckles, whitened more, making his orange hair appear fluorescent. My little carrot. He had belonged to me since the day his mama gave birth to him.

“Someone Daddy knows.” I set the gun down on the way to my knees. “Don’t go outside for a while without Daddy or me, okay?”

“Why?” His eyes were older than they had a right to be.

“Just listen to me.” I cupped his cheek. “You know I’d do anything for you, right?”

“I’d do anything for you, too, even hurt bad guys.”

Don’t cry.

“I don’t need you to hurt bad guys. I need you to get ready.” I stood, clenching the turkey until its leg bones dug into my skin and added, “Remember, Little, wherever you go, I’m right behind you. No matter what.” My promise to him.

“And I’ll hold out my hand so you never get lost.” His promise to me.

“I’m counting on it. Now, you go on and get dressed. Check yourself for ticks. I’m letting Daddy know we’re leaving soon.”

“What should I wear?”

“Your black pants and my gray sweatshirt.”

“But those pants have holes in them.”

All three pairs of pants he owned had holes. “Only in the knee. Hurry, can’t be late.”

As soon as our bedroom door shut, I stormed through the living room, furnished with three old lawn chairs arranged near the wood stove and a couch with no discernible color, to the bedroom beyond it. No need to knock. He slept sounder than a corpse.

I stared at him, sprawled out on the stained mattress. His shaggy beard and filthy clothes made him look vulnerable. Even the grime caked under his fingernails, evidence of his digging, hit me in the heart. But dammit!

He knew better.

The turkey landed square on his chest, feathers and blood flying above him.

“Hey!” Daddy shot up, and the bird fell to the floor as he swiped at his chest. “What the hell you doing, baby?”

I pulled his hat from my back pocket and flung it at him, saying nothing.

I didn’t need to.

“Damn.” He reached for it and sat on the edge of the bed. “He come here?”

“Who is he?” I wouldn’t crack. I wouldn’t.

“Duffy Sloan. Owns a stretch of land up a piece.” Daddy met my scowl, his brown eyes, so much like mine, full of contrition. “Byron works for the guy on and off, told me about a few honey holes.”

“Why you listen to that jackass is beyond me.” I sat next to him, the squeaky springs protesting the extra weight. “And why the hell you leave your hat there?”

“Heard dogs and got spooked. The thing flew off on the way out the woods.”

I shook my head. “This Sloan guy probably has trail cams all over the place, and… Byron, Daddy? He’d turn in his own kid for ten dollars.”

“Byron let us stay here, didn’t he? And what choice do we got? Your check barely covers food.” He took my hand and squeezed. “If I could find a good hole, a patch that would give enough sang…”

He used to have a great job in the mines near Bluefield, an hour from here and where we used to live. But he gave it up to start over in California two weeks after my eleventh birthday. Exactly thirteen days after Mama died. He couldn’t risk it, though, going back to his old boss to gain real employment. Not now.

So, ginseng—Daddy’s answer for money.

“You can’t be stealing. If he goes to the cops…”

“He ain’t going to no cops. These boys handle their own up here.” He held our joined hands against his heart. “What should we do? Use them smarts God gave you and help me out.”

“Would he let you slide if you gave back the sang?”

He chuckled and said, “Not likely.”

“Can he prove it was you without the hat?”

“I didn’t see no trail cams, Free. I’m thinking all he’s got is Byron’s word.”

“Which isn’t worth a thing around here.”

“True.”

I took a minute to think, but the answer was obvious. Sometimes the line between right and wrong became so thin it disappeared.

“I’ll take it into Dillinger’s before work. Get rid of it,” I said, finding him grinning. “You think you dug a pound?”

“A tad under, maybe.”

That would give us a good amount of cash, and I’d risk this Duffy fellow’s threat for it. Once. “Don’t do it again.”

“I swear.”

Little ran into the room, his smile on full volume. “Guess what, Dad? Sissy’s taking me to eat pizza and soda!”

“That’s great, little man.” Daddy released my hand and caught Little in his arms, kissing the top of his head. “What would we do without our Freedom?” He sighed and said to me, “We gotta stay here for a while longer.”

I nodded, rubbing Little’s back. “Wish we could go back to Needles.”

Silence. Then: “You know we can’t.”

***

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***

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Into The Hollow Cover Reveal!

Coming November 6, 2018!

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The hollow was the perfect place to hide.

Or so Free’s dad thought. His plan: flee California with Free’s five-year-old brother illegally in tow, hide out in the mountains of West Virginia, make fast cash during ginseng season, then escape to a nicer place where the law can’t find them. Free isn’t thrilled about living in a holler alongside drug dealers and thieves, but she’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep her family safe. Unfortunately, with their father disappearing into the woods with increasing frequency, Free and her brother exist largely alone. Until their neighbor Cole appears with lots of questions.

Cole’s spent his entire life in the holler—and his entire life working out a way to leave his druggie mother and incarcerated brother. As the editor of the school newspaper, he’s an expert at getting to the bottom of a story, and he’s determined to crack Free—who seems un-crack-able.

When the family she was desperate to protect is ripped apart, Free turns to Cole for help, the only person willing. But while her plan escalates, Free can’t deny the pull she feels toward the boy with too many questions—and who holds just as many secrets. As they become closer, she finds that Cole might need her help as much as she needs his.

 

Excerpt!

The last present Daddy gave me was a gun.

Not a minute after I unwrapped the used .22, he took me out back to shoot rusted targets lined on the woodpile. After missing the first shot, I hit every can. Even though misery clouded his eyes then, Daddy beamed and set up more so I could do it again. And I did, the cans falling to the snow-covered ground with every blast of the gun. Ain’t you a natural, Free?

That was my eleventh birthday, almost seven years ago, but the memory of my father’s words gave me confidence, especially now. They played in my mind as I peered into the scope, not moving. This shot had to count; we couldn’t spare the ammo for a second one. A natural, a natural, a natural…

“Shoot him, Sissy.”

“Quiet,” I whispered. We lay prone atop a bed of rotting vegetation, probably covered with ticks I’d have to pick off both of us at home.

Deep breath.

His neck stayed in my sights, the shotgun barrel propped on a fallen hickory branch, my cheek against the cold stock.

Steady.

Stop shaking, dammit!

I prayed for luck and pulled the trigger.

 

Twin Savage by Sunniva Dee

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WHAT KIND OF TWISTED REALITY IS THIS?

TWIN SAVAGE COVER

Title: Twin Savage
Author: Sunniva Dee
Release Date: October 16, 2017

BLURB

Grief comes in many forms.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve… Right?
Except, what if you douse that grief with sex
in ways so culturally unacceptable
you leave it to a veritable male harem
led by the porn-star brother of your fiancé
to decide if you’ll emerge
from the jungle intact?

Twin Savage is standalone book #2 in the Porn Star Boyfriend series.

✨✨✨✨✨

It wasn’t a problem to be the only girl in a house full of guys.
Until my fiancé died and his identical twin took over the roost.

Sweet, easygoing Julian passed, while loathsome, bossy Luka, who pays his way through med school by getting his dick wet on film, is still alive.

What kind of twisted reality is this?

Now, Luka’s on a mission to fix both of our grief.
Like I’d ever accept anything from him.
He doesn’t understand that gorgeous and sexy mean nothing if you’re a promiscuous jerk.

If only the nights didn’t destroy me.
They’re painful and long and empty,
until, on a Monday night, my insomnia attracts Diego.
That Tuesday, it attracts Lenny.
Next, it’s Marlon, James, Nathaniel,
and on Saturday, it’s Connor.

By Sunday night, I get the picture.
This is Luka doing what Luka does: solve problems with sex.
His remote-controlled comfort leaves me in our roommates’ arms six of seven nights.
On Sunday, there’s only one man left in the house.

There’s no way in hell I’m opening my door—or my heart—to a porn star.

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EXCERPT

BED TALK

“I wish he didn’t do that,” I tell Lenny as I relax, cheek on his chest, drawing small circles around his nipple. “Luka thinks he’s the king of this place, in charge of everything that goes on here.”

“He kind of is.” Lenny’s voice is lazy. By now, I know he slides into a euphoric coma after he ejaculates. It’s adorable and a tad hot.

“No, he isn’t. Only about the rent and the utilities.”

“And about you.”

I lift my head and squint at him. “Luka is not in charge of me.”

Lenny narrows his eyes too, an easy feat. I ignore how beautiful he is beneath me. “No, but he’s who came up with our solution.”

“What are you talking about?”

He studies me, eyes widening more than usual after against-the-wall sex. “Hmm, you look like you’re working yourself up.”

“What does it matter? Just give me the lowdown.”

“Well, if you’re gonna go witch-nutty on me, I don’t know if I should.”

I lower my voice. “Witch-nutty? What does that even mean?”

“You know. All…” He lifts his hands in the air and waves them lazily while half-rolling his eyes. Not impressive.

“What solution, Lenny, or your sex life has to fend for itself from now on.”

“As if it doesn’t six days out of the week.”

“What did Luka come up with?”

“We had a house meeting.”

“Without me?”

“It was about you, so yeah. We saw how you were struggling to keep it together after Julian passed away, and Luka came up with what we’re doing now.”

“As in invading my bedroom every night? Taking turns with me?”

“I guess?” He looks at me as if he just realizes how bad it sounds.

“That’s some crazy shit. Only a pervert like Luka could’ve come up with it.”

Lenny’s brows tick in a furrow. “Well, I figured it was too obvious to work on you, but Luka insisted, we gave it a try, and hey, you went along with it. You seem better too.”

My stomach churns. “Who does he think he is? He has no right to set up some get-’er-done plan for me. I’m in charge of my own life, my own future, and…” I sigh. “Luka’s a pig.”

I mean it. Even though I’m disgruntled, I twist my arms around Lenny’s middle needing his nearness. I’m not exactly backing myself up, here, but Lenny doesn’t hold it against me. Instead he wraps me closer and nuzzles against my hair. Murmurs, “Shh, you’re okay, babe.”

“What about the days? Did he assign them too?”

Lenny nods, rocking us with his chin. “Yeah, which made sense.”

“Why, because you didn’t want to deal with me more than once a week?”

He chuckles. “It was more so that we’d all have our turns consoling you.”

Sleeping with me, you mean,” I say, feeling slutty and berating myself for it in the same thought.

“I’m not gonna lie and say it’s not a pleasure to comfort you.”

I arch an eyebrow. “So I shouldn’t feel bad for you guys?”

“You should.”

I let out a huh?

“Did you see Marlon earlier?”

I bite my lip. “Yes?”

“That’s how most of us feel the rest of the week. Tuesdays are the shit.”

“Even when I go all witch-nutty on you?”

His grin gleams white. “Have you heard me complain? Sparks are the shit too.”

Twin Savage 1 1016

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THE TRUTH ABOUT PORN STAR BOYFRIENDS

#1 THE TRUTH ABOUT PORN STAR BOYFRIENDS

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AUTHOR BIO

Sunniva Dee is a reader, a lover of everything beautifully written no matter the genre. As an author, she pens flawed characters and seeks the flip side where the soul hides. Once there, she wants to be pulled out of her comfort zone by stories taking on a life of their own.

Sunniva has written paranormal and young adult. She’s committed contemporary romance verging on erotica, and she’s dabbled in supernatural mystery. But her heart
is rooted in new adult of the true kind: young adult all grown up, with conflicts and passions that are familiar to college-aged readers and readers who remember those days like they happened last night.

AUTHOR LINKS

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS | PINTEREST | INSTAGRAM | TSU.CO

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Organic (The Kepler Chronicles, Book II)

Organic (The Kepler Chronicles, Book II)

by

Jadah McCoy

Publisher: Curiosity Quills

Publication Date: June 13, 2017

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Jadah McCoy’s ORGANIC, pitched as Bladerunner meets Pitch Black, in which 18-year-old Syl has barely survived the genetic splicing that plagued her human body. After discovering the androids’ plot to wipe out human and Cull alike, Syl must return to Elite to warn the other survivors. However, with the realization that her group of survivors isn’t the only one, also comes the realization that some humans are just as bad as androids. Bastion and Syl grow closer, however, their relationship suffers under the weight of her past ghosts and a growing threat that endangers human and android alike.
Excerpt:

 

CHAPTER ONE

Syl

Breathing is a habit. The oxygen filters into my system, fizzles through my circuits then dissipates to nothingness. This new body is alien; it feels like my own, but I know it’s not. My eyes fall on the hole in front of me―the giant chunk of concrete ripped from the ground where the entrance to the Sanctuary used to be.

The music in my ear stutters to a stop, and the gun in my hand hangs limp.

We’re too late.

Bastion kneels beside me, leaning against his weapon as he studies the torn roots and claw marks that score the earth. His coattails catch in the dry dirt beneath him. He looks up, blue eyes lit with mechanical brightness. “I take it this isn’t the work of the Cull you’re used to?”

I step closer, peering into the hole. It’s probably fifteen feet in diameter. Gashes scar the walls all the way down until the tunnel opens up at the sewers. No sound comes from within―no sign that anyone inside might still be alive.

A frown pulls my lips down. “No.”

“Syl.” Bastion stands, prepared to stop me.

Ignoring him, I step off the uneven ledge. My body falls through the air, landing with a small splash in the sewers below. A fall at that height would have broken my human body’s legs, but the metal frame absorbs the impact and then some. I take off, running full speed in the direction of the Sanctuary. These muscles, they never grow weak, or tired, or burn with exhaustion. Bastion catches up quickly, his footsteps shadowing mine. Darkness isn’t an obstacle for us; we can see through it as if it were daylight.

The metal bars, the same ones I slipped through so long ago to escape this place, are bent open. I step over one that now lies placidly in the mildewed water. The others look like an old man’s teeth―jagged, uneven, broken.

But beyond the destroyed entrance…

I freeze, my body refusing to move any farther. Chicken feathers litter the area, dingy and bloodstained. Beneath them lie the bodies of people I grew up with. People I know. People I care about. Static fills my ears like a thick layer of cotton.

Symbols hover over a corpse, simulated by my brain―cortex―whatever it is. They shimmer and flicker before translating into letters: deceased. The word populates again and again, a dozen times, once for each body, and I choke.

 

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Jadah McCoy currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee where she works as a paralegal. In her spare time she can be found traveling the world, reading, or (surprise, surprise) writing. The last book in the Kepler Chronicles trilogy is due for publication in 2018.

 

Path of Thieves by Sunniva Dee: Cover Reveal

Path of Thieves
Sunniva Dee
Publication date: June 27th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Football hero by day and thief by night, Charles “Cugs” McConnely leads a double life in the small town of Newbark, Florida. At sundown, the seventeen-year-old turns burglar, forced into the business by the man who should be teaching him the difference between right and wrong: his father.

Cugs is a pro at both games, but only one can secure him a college scholarship. It should be an easy decision, a no-brainer—if Newbark hadn’t proffered the only life he knows.

After run-ins with Nadine Paganelli, his accidental victim and the sole person to have caught him in the act, Cugs starts to realize that hearts can be stolen too.
When his long-lost sister makes contact, lies are uncovered and truths revealed. Suddenly, Cugs finds himself questioning both plans and loyalties. Because sometimes the only way to move forward is by pulling the bottom out of the past.

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EXCERPT:

“Seriously, man. Freddie’s parents are gone the entire weekend, and we’re partying it up. You’ve got to come.” Bear rocks in the passenger seat, trying to get comfortable. We both know the wreck and he are an uneven match.

“I’ll try.”

“Right, your father.” He huffs a frustrated breath. “Never, I swear. Like, ever. I’ve seen you drink freaking twice.”

Florida rain hammers on the roof of the car and hauls ass over my windshield. We’re outside Grocery-Pete’s, waiting for the floodgates to shut so we can get inside.

“Hey, I drink sometimes. With my father.” Dad celebrates good heists with a drink or five. If it’s hard liquor, he’ll loosen tight lips and talk about Mom.

“Come on, Cugs.” Bear tries to arch his back for a better position, but his head hits the ceiling. “Tell me you see how lame that is. ‘I can’t party with y’all, ’cause Imma drink with my daddy.’”

I snort out a laugh. “Whatever, fool.”

My eyes are drawn to Grocery-Pete’s gutter. It’s overflowing. The water takes the fast route over the edge, omitting the drain. I’ve stood under gutters like that, or more like penguin-danced under them in Rigita. Paislee dressed me in thick sweaters and rubber boots and topped it off with full raingear. Then we snuck out the backdoor and ran down the street before we got caught.

“Fascinated, much?” Bear grins.


Author Bio:

Between studies, teaching, and advising, Sunniva has spent her entire adult life in a college environment. Most of her novels are new adult romance geared toward smart, passionate readers with a love for eclectic language and engaging their brain as well as their heart while reading.

Born in the Land of the Midnight Sun, the author spent her early twenties making the world her playground. Southern Europe: Spain, Italy, Greece–Argentina: Buenos Aires, in particular. The United States finally kept her interest, and after half a decade in Los Angeles, she now lounges in the beautiful city of Savannah.

Sometimes, Sunniva writes with a paranormal twist (Shattering Halos, Stargazer, and Cat Love). At other times, it’s contemporary (Pandora Wild Child, Leon’s Way, Adrenaline Crush, Walking Heartbreak, and Dodging Trains, coming in late March 2016).

This author is the happiest when her characters let their emotions run off with them, shaping her stories in ways she never foresaw. She loves bad-boys and good-boys run amok, and like in real life, her goal is to keep the reader on her toes until the end of each story.

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Energy Reborn Release!

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Untold Press is proud to release Energy Reborn, the fourth and FINAL book of Lynn Vroman’s Energy Series. To learn more about Untold Press and our books, visit us at http://www.untoldpress.com

A Young Adult, Science Fiction, Fantasy Series

Energy Reborn


The Energy Series, book 4
By

Lynn Vroman

Energy Reborn

Final book of The Energy Series

After the trauma from their final battle with Exemplar, Tarek is certain Lena is better off without him. She deserves a life without the baggage he carries. She deserves someone…real. As he fights alongside Oren in Exemplar, one thought keeps him sane: He didn’t let Lena go. He gave her an out.

Lena has spent the last eight months trying to move forward. She can’t think about Tarek; she has to raise fifteen-year-old Peter, who suffers from the same ghosts as her love. All she wants is to make Peter happy. But then Peter runs away to fight in Exemplar—again. This time is different. This time, Peter doesn’t come back.

Desperate, Lena reaches out to the one person able to help her, the person who needs saved, too.

Tarek.

For Lena, the only answer to saving those she loves is to finish what they started—end the Synod’s reign over Exemplar for good. She’ll not let Tarek or Peter hide behind a war anymore, even if it kills her.

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About The Author

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Lynn Vroman
Born in Pennsylvania, Lynn spent most of her childhood, especially during math class, daydreaming. The main result that came from honing her imagination skills was brilliantly failing algebra. Today, she still spends an obscene amount of time in her head, only now she writes down all the cool stuff.

With a degree in English Literature, Lynn used college as an excuse to read for four years straight. She lives in the Pocono Mountains with her husband, raising the four most incredible human beings on the planet. She writes young adult novels, both fantasy and contemporary.

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Energy Reborn Excerpt

Crying didn’t bother him anymore.

Muffled sobs used to feel like weevils burrowing into his brain. He had wanted the cries to disappear, find a way to silence them so he’d have peace while killing. He hated it, yet understood where the despair came from. He didn’t take the truth that well either.

This world, his world, was full of people who weren’t real people.

That revelation caused a collective shock to infiltrate every home, every secret corner. Memories of families were manufactured lies. Parents had never existed for most. Childhood thoughts were a farce before the age of six, the median age for bodies the Creation Lab produced before implanting energy pilfered from other worlds. Most would never be able to have children. They were all biobots, synthetic carriers for strong souls.

Tarek learned how to tune out the grief a while ago, and the truth. Issues he only dwelled on when alone–when killing didn’t save him from his mind.

He adjusted his scope.

Yes, he could ignore the crying now. A perfect shot had that power.

Tarek lay on his stomach. Rooftop debris–broken syringes and jagged edges of crushed alcohol containers–dug through his sweatshirt. Sweat dribbled off his forehead to sting his eyes.

He ignored his discomfort as easily as the crying and flipped off the safety. Lights, never-ending strobes, bounced off buildings. Staring too long at the changing colors coming from billboard holograms and storefronts threatened a headache, but he managed to keep the jackasses in his sights.

Synod authority harassed a group of men on the street, demanding signed pardons most wouldn’t have. The elders considered everyone a traitor.

They were right.

People in this sector were guilty of blowing up the capital building and crashing the satellite feeds. Heterodox citizens fought when Oren asked eight months ago, with a promise of truth. Truth, most had come to realize, wasn’t such a great prize. Ignorance really was a gift.

Tarek had warned Oren not to tell them, not to reveal the true nature of how most citizens came to be. No Exemplian he had ever met wanted to find out their whole existence was a lie. But Oren believed differently. The man’s belief cost them an army. Stupid to tell a mass of people who already dreaded life–beaten down by having too many lives–that what they struggled with wasn’t even real.

Get it together.

None of that mattered. What mattered was getting a clear shot between the eyes. His finger hovered over the trigger, the sniper rifle firm in his grip. Zander’s rifle. His aim wasn’t as precise as Zander’s, but he did all right. Tarek had adopted the gun seven months ago when the Guide decided to go back to Earth.

No, don’t go there.

He couldn’t handle that part of his life–the part who went to Earth with Zander.

Lena.

No.

He peered into the scope.

The second an authority Protector pulled out his gallium cuffs, about to cinch them around the wrists of a man begging on his knees, Tarek shot. Before the other Protector could pull out his weapon, Tarek took him out too.

The deaths didn’t create a frenzy, not even when two energy orbs released from the Protectors’ bodies and sailed to the sky, ultimately finding their way into the apartment building where Tarek hid. The would-be victims dragged the useless bodies into the shadows, to the garbage incinerators hidden there. Exemplians in this sector had their turmoil to deal with, and what was left of the Synod against them. They weren’t cowards, though.

They refused to fight outright since the initial attack on the Creation Lab. But no one had ever complained when a mysterious bullet punctured the skull of an authority Protector. His shots seemed to wake up some of the citizens from a stupor, bringing them to action for a few minutes to get rid of the bodies. Tarek would take that; it’d be enough.

He refused to move from his spot. Where there were two, there were ten more. He searched the crowd through his scope, sweat turning his hoodie to soggy cotton against his back. There, right below the blank screens, were three more Protectors picking through the crowd to inspect the source of the commotion.

They plowed through braver citizens willing to stand in their path, tasing them. People dropped to the dirty pavement, their bodies spasming from the high voltages.

Tarek remained steady.

Three…

Two…

One…

Pop! Pop! Pop!

The crowd swallowed up the bodies as the Protectors’ energies raced into the building. For once, the noise quieted. All that echoed up to his spot was the distant hum of the incinerators, gobbling up bone and blood and flesh. Tarek squinted into his scope, his even breathing rhythmic, relaxing. No other authority assholes rushed the crowd.

A minute passed by.

Fifteen more followed.

No more targets were willing to meet his bullets.

Shame.

Five dead authority Protectors wasn’t even a dent in the grand scheme of things.

Plus side, those he’d killed wouldn’t be coming back for another go at life.

Their little army made sure of it eight months ago.

Tarek gave one more cursory search of the crowd in case any Protectors stepped from the shadows to scout the rooftops.
Nothing.
As he lowered his gun, a familiar dark blond mop coming toward this building caught his eye. He looked through his scope one more time.

Sonofabitch.

Not again.

Groaning, so he wouldn’t give in and shoot the boy in the leg for being a pain in the ass, Tarek pushed to his feet and stalked to the rusted metal door. Eight flights of stairs separated him from the boy who refused to keep his scrawny butt on Earth, where it was safe.

Peter. Dumb boy.

Dumb, brave, anger-filled boy.

EnergyRebornTeaser

The Pairing-Chapter 10: Interference

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Chapter 10: Interference

The ride to Shalen remained quiet. Not because neither of them wanted to continue the conversation he started in Lena’s dorm, which he didn’t at that moment, but authority even rigged the shuttles with listening devices. Only personal dorms were free from prying ears, the one law elders gave in favor of Synod members.

Privilege…

Tarek landed close to Nan’s tree, killing the engine. Here they were, ready to take the biggest risk in their history together. As her Protector, he was failing. Lena deserved someone stronger—someone who didn’t love her as thoroughly as he did.

An issue he couldn’t solve. Loving her was as natural and necessary to him as his heart beating.

Without a word, he got out and headed toward Nan’s tree, Lena right behind him. Once they sat, he again broke their no-touching rule and brushed her cheek with a fingertip, memorizing her as he always memorized her, taking mental snapshots of each moment. “Are you sure about this?”

She turned into his hand before he could pull away, surprising him. “No.”

“Then why do it? We can wait, try to get an assignment there, talk to Teenesee without any fear of repercussions.”

Tears slipped down her cheeks and wet his palm, killing him. “I’m so tired, Tarek. Tired of being this thing who steals life. Thinking about the lives that I’m going to live here, working for them as a monster, it makes me sick. I just… I don’t want to lose me.” Her hand came up to cover her heart. “But I’ll do it, live here life after life, as long as you do because…I don’t ever want to live without you, even at the danger of losing myself.”

His heart stopped. She had never… Not since that night, so many years ago. He knew they both felt the same, an unspoken pledge to each other. But she had never said it.

Now, more than ever, he wanted take her from this world. Hide her. But he couldn’t, an impossibility due to their Exemplian “privilege.” So he gave her the only promise he could keep, a promise not even Exemplar could steal from them. “Wherever you are is where I’ll be. In this world or another, I’ll always find you.”

Tears shimmered brighter in her eyes, and she snuggled to his side. “You know you can’t.”

He wrapped his arms around her, wishing his faith could absorb into her skin. “I can, and I will, Lena. You will never have to be without me. I won’t let them take that.”

Silence filled the air, except for her quiet sobs. What to say? How to make her believe? Maybe he needed to stop this now, stop the emotion before they couldn’t go back to their normal, to the secrets Exemplar forced them to keep.

But then she gave him everything.

“I love you, Tarek. I wish I had told you that every day. I wish so many other things.” Her confession was a whisper, but powerful enough break his heart and mend it at the same time.

Why did this moment have to be the first time she said those words? Yet, he’d take what she gave and lock her words away, refuse to give them back.

He leaned over and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. “And with every breath in my body, I love you. I will always love you, no matter how many lives we live.” He told her with his lips touching her skin, as he always wanted to tell her.

Her body quivered under his touch. “So, what do we do now? How do we…?” She pulled back and met his gaze. “How, Tarek?”

Hope sprouted in his chest. “We just do it, love.” This, exactly this, was all he had ever needed from her. He wanted to yell toward the star-lit sky, thank whatever it was that made her change her mind.

But then he looked at her, really looked at her.

Her smile fell, as if reality barged into her mind. “Wait. I…Wait. I don’t thi—”

“No, Lena. No. Trust me.” He covered her balled fists, massaging her fingers until they relaxed.

“I do trust you.”

“Then don’t say what you were going to say.”

Worry still stained her face, but she nodded.

He said nothing else for a moment, afraid to break the connection. Afraid to give her a reason that would change her mind. But he had to make one thing clear.

He pushed to his feet, lifting her with him. “Let’s go.” He hesitated. “But this will be the only time, Lena. I won’t put you in danger again to clear your conscience. I want to love you, without any threat outside of keeping it from the elders.”

She tilted her head to meet his gaze. “I want that, too. I…need it.”

Tarek smiled. “Good.”

Her hand came up to his cheek, drawing small, fiery circles on his skin. “Your dimples… I dream about them. I dream about you.”

Love. The word was too small, not colorful enough. He pressed a lingering kiss against her lips, a chaste touch, reverent. If he had it his way, they’d spend the night under different circumstances. But her morals wouldn’t allow either of them to forget.

“Starting tomorrow, I’m going to build you that cottage,” he said. “With a fireplace made of your stones, right here, away from everyone.”

She scrunched her brow. “But, how can we do that? Live together? Not to mention buy this land?”

“I have three hundred years of funds I’ve never spent.” He shrugged, his mind made up. “And Protectors live with their Guides all the time.”

“Not up here, they don’t.”

“Well, we’ll just have to change the status quo, won’t we?” He smoothed a thumb across her cheek, her velvet skin causing his to spark. “Ready?”

She inhaled, and exhaled slowly. “Wherever you are, right?”

“Right.”

Yes, they’d have to be careful, and yes, they were about to blow the cap off some shady Exemplian activity. In reality, they’d always have to look over their shoulders now—a small price to pay to be able to love her. Finally.

Finally.

He should’ve known better.

“What’s wrong?” Lena looked up at his outreached hand.

He didn’t answer, sweat now pouring from his skin. Even as he tried to force the tear open, he knew the struggle was futile. Someone blocked him. Someone a hell of a lot stronger than he was.

“Tarek?” Lena’s fingers curled into his shirt, the hum of his suit underneath adding to his panic.

He lowered his hand, shoved her behind his back, and pulled his taser from his holster. “Someone’s blocking me.” As the words left his mouth, an authority shuttle hovered close to the ground before landing silently beside his.

“Oh, no.” Lena clutched his sides, her fingers digging into his skin. “Oh, no, oh, no.

Tarek held his taser, waiting. He couldn’t reassure her, tell her everything would be fine. No one had ever bothered them up here. Not once.

Somehow, some way, authority knew everything. And now they’d pay for it.

The shuttle door opened, and he almost lifted Lena over his shoulder and took off running. It would’ve been pointless, though.

No one got away from Winston.

“What’s going on here, big man?” Winston sauntered over, calm and completely deadly. “You planning a trip?”

Tarek backed up, one arm behind him grasping Lena, whose shaking body vibrated against his back. “Obviously you know, don’t you, sir?”

The tattoos peeking from the collar of Winston’s suit stood out on his dark skin, evidence he’d spent some time in Heterodox. He nodded, crossing his arms, no weapon in his hands. He didn’t need one. “You got to be careful where you talk about things.”

What? They were careful. The only place he and Lena discussed anything was in Shalen and in their dorms—Oh, no. “They tapped our rooms.”

Cassondra tapped your rooms. She has a knack for that covert shit. Believe me.” Winston tilted his head and looked behind Tarek. “Come on out, Lena. I ain’t going to hurt you.”

When Lena moved, Tarek stopped her. No. He didn’t trust anyone, especially the authority captain.

Winston smirked. “Cute. But you holding her behind your back wouldn’t do anything if I were in a different mood.”

Still, she stayed behind him as he said, “If you have no plans to arrest us, then why are you here?”

“Because I like you. And you’re lucky Cassondra likes me. Woman confides in me more than I care to admit.”

Tarek spared a quick glance behind him at Lena, knowing what Winston’s revelation would mean to her. Excitement lit her eyes. Yes, exactly. Of course he knew her. The authority captain just made it onto Lena’s list of people for future interrogation. He faced Winston again, grateful that for whatever reason in the past, he made a decent impression on the guy. “Thank you, sir.” What else could he say?

Winston unfurled his arms and gestured to the sky. “Don’t thank me yet. After I unblock you, and you still decide to take off for Empyrean?” He waved his hand, and instantly Tarek felt the lines open up to him again. “When I come after you there, I won’t be so friendly.”

The wind was still and the birds quiet, as if understanding the severity of the situation. Apples and lilacs that usually comforted him turned his stomach inside out, the odor too sweet, to innocent.

Damn.

This was it, then. Nothing else they could do.

Lena pushed on Tarek’s back until he let her by his side. “It’s illegal to tap our rooms.”

Winston laughed. “So is snooping around in the archives rooms. What’s good for you, gotta be good for her.”

Lena stood closer to Tarek’s side, her body a delicate flower in a windstorm. “I didn’t—”

“You did, and she knows. And the only reason she hasn’t had authority snatch you up is because her curiosity led to illegal activity of her own. Last thing she wants is to go to the elders with info she got from personal chambers.”

“Well, I’m willing to deal with them.” Lena stood taller, moving away from Tarek, making his nerves jump. Winston might be an impossible foe, but he could be the front line if the captain decided to get pissed, giving Lena a slim chance to get away. “My infraction is mild compared to hers. No Exemplian willing to sacrifice their life to the cause shou—”

“Save it, Guide.” Winston raised a brow. “Whatever you found, she don’t like it. Don’t care what you know, either, but it bought you her personal attention, and that ain’t good.”

Lena’s face paled, and she said nothing. She only shared her secrets with Tarek.

Winston leaned back on his heels, his tone carrying nothing but calm truth. “So again, since I like your Protector, I decided to cut you a break, warn you to knock your shit off.”

“Why?” Lena stepped forward. “It can’t only be because Tarek’s a good guy. You risked a lot coming here for a simple ‘like.'”

Winston was silent for a moment, staring holes into Lena’s unflinching face. When she dug for information, she forgot everything else, including potential danger. Then he said, “You ain’t the only one who knows the truth about things. And you ain’t the only one who hates it.”

Yes, the man definitely made her list.

But now he also piqued Tarek’s interest. Kendal’s depressed visage slid into his mind—and so did her new habit of spending time with Winston. “People like who?”

“Don’t worry about it.” Winston’s eyes hardened. “I’m telling you this as a favor.” He pointed at Tarek, some of his calm evaporating. “Don’t. Go. If you do, I’m coming for you.”

“But, but we were invited,” Lena said, her voice airy. “Teenesee asked me to come to her.”

“That won’t go over well with anyone; the treaty has no bend in it.” Winston turned, heading back to his shuttle. “She knows what you’re planning, and she’s already got my platoon waiting for that moment you punch through Empyrean’s line. Satellites are pointed and ready, shooting every angle of Teenesee’s keep. Don’t go.”

Lena ran after Winston, her desperation causing her to stumble in the tall grass. “Wait, please! What truth do you know? What? You can’t just leave!”

But he did, without even a backward glance.

She spun to him as Winston’s shuttle jetted into the night. “What now? What do we do?”

Tarek holstered his taser with an unsteady hand. “Nothing. We do nothing. It’s over.” All of it was over. This fucking place would never let them live. Ever. Cassondra heard everything. Everything.

“No, it can’t be over. There has to be another way.” She hurried to him, bunching his shirt in her fists. “We can’t let her win.”

“It’s not about winning,” he whispered, untwining her fingers from his shirt. “All it’s ever been about is surviving. Something we forgot.” He dragged his body to their shuttle, trying to keep the fury inside, keep it from exploding.

“I won’t accept it. I won’t.”

He lifted the doors then turned to her. “Get in, Lena.”

She glared at him, her face so white it reflected the moon. “There are other people, more information to know. Winston said so. Maybe we can find out who, and—”

He held up his hand, done with this. Done with all of it. Her death flashed in his mind, a waking nightmare—and the fuel he needed to ensure it didn’t happen. She wouldn’t persuade him of anything, not anymore. The only worry he had now was protecting Lena from Cassondra’s wrath. “Whoever he’s talking about is as chained to this place as we are. Don’t you see that?”

She shook her head. “Maybe not.”

Yes. Done.

He lunged for her, sweeping her up and carrying her to the shuttle, dumping her into the passenger seat.

“Hey!” Lena pounded on her door to no avail. He had it locked and secured.

When he jumped in, he said, “You want to know who he’s talking about? Kendal. Trust me. And that woman hasn’t been okay since her rebirth.” He smacked the steering lever with a yell. “We’re finished! No more. This has to stop now.”

She swallowed, her throat bobbing as fat tears dripped from her eyes. Defeat drained her face even more. She understood. Kendal didn’t have enough sanity left to help anyone. “Are you certain it’s her?”

He lifted the shuttle into the sky. “No, but that’s one thing we can find out.” Tarek steered toward home. “Stop talking. Her ears are everywhere.”

Hours later, he paced his dorm, Lena mute on his bed, afraid to go to her own room, afraid to speak in his. In the silence, his comp system dinged. “You’ve a new message, Protector Tarek Montigue, from Dimension Development.”

Tarek stopped in front of his machine, glanced at Lena, and then read the screen.

Assignment Update: Collect weak energy from Andor. Distribute to Arcus. Leave at dawn.