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All the Way (Romancing Manhattan #1) by Kristen Proby

Saturday, August 25, 2018

In New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Kristen Proby’s brand new Romancing Manhattan series, three brothers get more than they bargain for as they practice law, balance life, and navigate love in and around New York City.

Finn Cavanaugh is known for being a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom. He owns a successful law firm with his brother and brother-in-law in Manhattan. On the rare occasion that he has down time, he spends it at his home in Martha’s Vineyard. But when Finn’s troubled niece goes to stay with him for the summer in Martha’s Vineyard, he’s reluctant to take time off from work. That is, until he meets his beautiful new neighbor, London.

London Watson is a Tony Award winning actress on Broadway. When tragedy strikes her family, leaving her alone and injured, she flees Manhattan for Martha’s Vineyard. Hoping she can figure out how to pick up the pieces of her life, London is convinced that she’ll never be able to return to the stage. But when she meets the charming young girl next door and her sexy uncle, they soon lure London out of her shell as she finally begins to heal from the wounds of her past.

But when London feels confident enough to return to the spotlight, she’s dealt another devastating blow. Will the newfound love between London and Finn be enough to conquer all? Or will it be over before it has a chance to grow…?
 

Goodreads Summary

I loved this book. School started for me and this book provided the perfect distraction. The author crafted a fun and flirty romance complete with a sexy heroine and a charismatic "hero." London suffered the loss of her parents and potentially the loss of her career. When she meets Finn she has no idea if her life will ever recover from her losses. Finn is the prototypical protective guy. I liked how invested he became in London and how badly he felt for her between her injury (her leg was damaged and prevented her from dancing) and for the deaths of her parents. I felt like these characters were very sincere and sweet towards each other. Kristin Proby created a loving, kind atmosphere.

I liked London's character. She came off as smart, a little quirky, and self-sufficient despite her troubles. I liked the transformation of her character from unhappy to getting a grip on her life and changing her attitude. The romance didn't feel fake or forced. Their relationship developed pretty organically. The author writes very succinctly and evenly. I could vividly picture the scenes and (how I think) the characters would look off the pages. Overall, this is a great beach or vacation read.

4 Stars

This product or book may have been distributed for review, this in no way affects my opinions or reviews. COPYRIGHT © 2018 LIVE TO READ

The Lying Woods by Ashley Elston

Monday, August 6, 2018
Owen Foster has never wanted for anything. Then his mother shows up at his elite New Orleans boarding school cradling a bombshell: his privileged life has been funded by stolen money. After using the family business, the single largest employer in his small Louisiana town, to embezzle millions and drain the employees' retirement accounts, Owen's father vanished without a trace, leaving Owen and his mother to deal with the fallout.

Owen returns to Lake Cane to finish his senior year, where people he can barely remember despise him for his father's crimes. It's bad enough dealing with muttered insults and glares, but when Owen and his mother receive increasingly frightening threats from someone out for revenge, he knows he must get to the bottom of what really happened at Louisiana Frac--and the cryptic note his father sent him at his boarding school days before disappearing.

Owen's only refuge is the sprawling, isolated pecan orchard he works at after school, owned by a man named Gus who has his own secrets--and in some ways seems to know Owen better than he knows himself. As Owen uncovers a terrible injustice that looms over the same Preacher Woods he's claimed as his own, he must face a shocking truth about his own past--and write a better future.

Goodreads Summary


I can't imagine what it would be like to find out that my parents' lives were a lie. It's made worse for the main character, Owen, who lives in a small town with many whispers.  His mom and he have to deal with his father's web of lies and a completely new lifestyle. The author captures the palpable tension and undercurrent of wariness perfectly. Owen is a well-written character who will instantly capture the readers' sympathies. I wish I knew an Owen in real life. He reminded me of the prototypical gentleman. His love for his mother and even for his father (despite his betrayal) was endearing. I liked his commitment to candor and dedication to family/friends. The other characters in the novel were intriguing, but I didn't find any as memorable as Owen. There haven't been many books in young adult fiction that focused on a young man's relationship with his mother and portrayed it so healthfully. 

I like a good mystery and the author was very good at creating one. The novel's title truly fit the plot of the book. Although it may sound trite and like the character Dr. House from a sitcom, everybody lies. I liked the cadence of the writing style and the quick pace of the plot. The author is very descriptive with the setting and characters to the point where I could picture many scenes from the book. I think the ending will stick with me for a while.

4 Stars


This product or book may have been distributed for review, this in no way affects my opinions or reviews. COPYRIGHT © 2014 LIVE TO READ

Left: A Love Story by Mary Hogan

Friday, August 3, 2018

In this beautifully crafted novel from the author of the critically-acclaimed Two Sisters, comes the story of a woman who retreats into a fantasy world on New York City’s Upper West Side as she slowly loses her once whip-smart husband to dementia—perfect for fans of Still Alice.

When life falls apart, a little fantasy goes a long way… 

It started as a dream vacation in Spain, with Fay and Paul Agarra enjoying all the delights of a European holiday. A respected New York City judge, Paul has always been the man Fay can rely on, no matter what. When he inexplicably disappears from a Barcelona street corner, Fay knows something is terribly wrong. Once reunited, Paul shrugs off the episode as a simple misunderstanding—but Fay suspects her almost perfect life has taken a dark and sudden turn.

Soon there are more signs that Paul is beginning to change. Bouts of forgetfulness lead to mistakes in the courtroom. Simple tasks cause unexplainable outbursts of anger. Fay’s worst suspicions are realized when she learns her husband—her rock, her love, her everything—is succumbing to the ravages of dementia. 

As her husband transforms before her very eyes, Fay copes with her fears by retreating into a fantasy life filled with promise instead of pain. In Fay’s invented world, she imagines herself living a glamorous life free from heartache, with a handsome neighbor she barely knows rescuing her from a future she can’t accept. 

Poignant and beautifully crafted, Left is an unforgettable tale about life’s aching uncertainties—and a woman who discovers that somewhere between hope and reality, an unexpected future will find its way forward.

Goodreads Summary

As someone who often works with men and women afflicted with neurological disorders I found this book particularly interesting. The author executed the progress and horrible demands of dementia well. I could tell that she had done her research or, possibly, experienced this disorder with someone within her own life. The book was well-written and filled with emotion. It isn't easy to lose a loved one and stand by helplessly while he/she leaves behind a shell of his/her former self. With diseases like dementia, is it particularly hard as often there isn't too much initial physical decay. 

Fay's life changes drastically over the course of this book. It causes her to increase her commitment, think over her life with her husband, and realize the importance of living in the "now." Fay's family and friends try to assist her, but ultimately cause interference more than anything. It is hard to truly grasp how difficult it is to be a caregiver until one is put in that position. This is not usually a quick decline. With an increasing elderly population there are more and more cases of dementia/Alzheimer's/etc... This novel would be a good book to read if one is currently going through (or expects to potentially experience) this crisis. 

4 Stars





This product or book may have been distributed for review, this in no way affects my opinions or reviews. COPYRIGHT © 2014 LIVE TO READ

The Forest Queen (Mechanica 0.5) by Betsy Cornwell

When sixteen-year-old Sylvie’s brother takes over management of their family’s vast estates, Sylvie feels powerless to stop his abuse of the local commoners. Her dearest friend asks her to run away to the woods with him, and soon a host of other villagers join them. Together, they form their own community and fight to right the wrongs perpetrated by the king and his noblemen.



Goodreads Summary

This was a nice retelling of Robin Hood featuring Sylvie as "Robin." I liked the twist on the popular tale and the insertion of a strong female character. Sylvie rebels against her brother's cruel decisions and forceful nature. The book consisted of roughly four main characters who all had unique personalities and quirky natures. I personally only preferred Sylvie and Bird. I wished I could have connected better with John and Little Jane. Sometimes, I even confused the characters' names/roles in the story since there seemed to be such an influx of them towards the middle of the story. 

I liked the plot; I did think it could have been infused with a little more action and drama. Sylvie was a bit of a waffler instead of being purposeful. I liked how Sylvie's character was dynamic and developed over the course of the novel. She became more compassionate and self-aware instead of the "wealthy daughter" she previously was. Her brother was made into a true villain; I was a little surprised by how far the author went to make the reader hate his character. There were some tougher subjects touched upon in this book and I kind of wanted more material and more of an explanation to some of them. Overall, I enjoyed this book and consider it a light rainy day read.

 3 1/2 Stars





This product or book may have been distributed for review, this in no way affects my opinions or reviews. COPYRIGHT © 2018 LIVE TO READ

ISAN by Mary Ting: Promo and Giveaway!

Monday, July 30, 2018
ISAN - International Sensory Assassin Network by Mary Ting 2018 WINNER INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS IN SCIENCE FICTION THE WORLD HAS CHANGED. SCIENTISTS WARNED IT WOULD HAPPEN. Meteors devastated the Earth. World Governments developed plans to help surviving citizens. The United States disbanded and salvageable land was divided into four quadrants—North, South, East, and West—governed by The Remnant Council. Struggling to survive, seventeen-year-old Ava ends up in juvenile detention, until she is selected for a new life—with a catch. She must be injected with an experimental serum. The results will be life changing. The serum will make her better. To receive the serum, Ava agrees to join a program controlled by ISAN, the International Sensory Assassin Network. While on a mission, she is abducted by a rebel group led by Rhett and told that not only does she have a history with him, but her entire past is a lie perpetuated by ISAN to ensure her compliance. Unsure of who to trust, Ava must decide if her strangely familiar and handsome captor is her enemy or her savior—and time is running out. Praise for ISAN: "Captivating from the very beginning … this thrilling dystopian drama has a splash of romance and tons of action." ~ School Library Journal "Addictive and impossible to put it down!" ~Addison Moore, NYT Bestselling Author   EXCERPT - Please choose 1 excerpt & delete the other one prior to posting. 1. “With Helix, your senses become heightened. You’ll experience an increase in ability—especially the five senses. Images will be sharper, colors brighter, and you’ll see farther. You’ll be stronger. Your reflexes will be faster, and you’ll be able to hear from longer distances. However, your senses will tame a speaking voice not to boom in your ear. The reason why it doesn’t sound like I’m yelling at you.” “Incredible.” The word barely left my mouth. “Some lucky ones have more. We call that extrasensory perception. Based on the blood test, I think you might be one of the lucky ones.” Something flashed. I caught it with my right hand, then another projectile with my left. Again, my reflexes had taken over and when I looked down, I’d caught two golf balls. I gawked, trembling. The hair on my arms rose. “Like I said, fast reflexes.” His lips spread in satisfaction. I clenched my jaw and stiffened. “You could’ve hurt me.” “No, Ava. Helix doesn’t wear off quickly. I’d never hurt you. I bet you feel pretty powerful right now. Pretty special. What if you can do something good with that? What do you say?” “Are there side effects?” I rolled the golf balls over my fingertips. I imagined the balls colliding with my face. The thrill of what I had done—there was no denying it made me feel amazing. Russ slowly curled his lips to a grin. “I like the way you think. It’s been thoroughly tested and we’ve seen no side effects in all the years of the program. We give you just enough to do a job, and then it’s out of your system.” I nodded. “So … Will you be joining ISAN today?” I shivered, not just from the cool draft from the vent, but the thought of being an assassin, even if my victims were criminals. Could I really do it? Trained or no. My mother’s last words echoed in my mind. When life shoves you down, you get right back up. Be strong. Be brave, Ava. Be someone important. Oh, Mom, what do I do? I feel so alone and I’m so scared. My chest caved in. I wanted to burst into a sob, but I slammed it back down. As tears pooled, thoughts of my mother twisted the dagger in my heart. My heart leaked, bleeding from the mountainous pain of missing her, needing her guidance. I wouldn’t be in juvie, desperate to get out and resort to being an assassin if she were alive. Having no choice, I succumbed to the reality of my life and the cards I had been dealt. I pushed back my shoulders and held up my chin. Boring my eyes into his, I gave him an answer that would change my life forever. I will be brave, Mother. I will become someone important.   2. “Would you like my assistance? Or you can just stand there so I can stare at you a bit longer.” Startled, I whirled toward the sound of a familiar, seductive voice. Sniper stood by the walk-in closet in a cool, relaxed manner with his hand braced on the door. His hair was slicked back, looking polished and debonair. My heart pummeled, but not in fear. Was I crazy to be attracted to him? Mesmerized by the black tuxedo forming to his perfect body, I stared at him and wondered if I’d dreamed him up. His presence confirmed I hadn’t imagined him above the stairs earlier. Then I wondered if he’d come alone. “How’d you know I was here?” Unnerved, I gritted my teeth. He hadn’t heeded my warning to stay away. I should scream or plan an escape out of the bathroom, but I couldn’t move or think. His presence stirred my curiosity and I wanted answers, especially when the lunatic thought he knew me. “It doesn’t concern you,” he said. His nonchalant tone caused me to raise my voice. “The hell it doesn’t.” “I’ll explain later.” I scoffed. “Are you here to try to kidnap me again?” I might not have Helix, but I had my heels and months of training backing me up. If there was one thing I was good at, it was bringing a person to their knees. Courage grew inside me and I dropped my dress. Sniper snapped out of his stupor and his amber eyes grew darker. “Where are my manners? I admire the dress, but I like what you’re wearing now so much more.” He waggled his eyebrows. “You look absolutely beautiful tonight.” No. Don’t say that. I became breathless when he closed the gap between us. Why was I letting him? When Sniper raised his hand, I flinched. My heart galloped faster when he cupped my face and ran his thumb ever so tenderly along my cheek. “I wish I could’ve been your date tonight. We could’ve danced together. Dancing with me always made you happy.” I closed my eyes for several seconds, hypnotized by his voice, by his touch. I pictured us slow dancing, not because it had happened, but because I desperately wanted the happiness he described. Then I came to my senses. Leaning into his caress, I pretended to enjoy it, which wasn’t hard. Moving slowly, I raised my knee …   Author Mary Ting International Bestselling/Award Winning Author Mary Ting/M. Clarke resides in Southern California with her husband and two children. She enjoys oil painting and making jewelry. Writing her first novel, Crossroads Saga, happened by chance. It was a way to grieve the death of her beloved grandmother, and inspired by a dream she once had as a young girl. When she started reading new adult novels, she fell in love with the genre. It was the reason she had to write one-Something Great. She also toured with Magic Johnson Foundation to promote literacy and her children's chapter book-No Bullies Allowed.  
$50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash Giveaway Ends 8/12/18 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. The giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. a Rafflecopter giveaway This product or book may have been distributed for review, this in no way affects my opinions or reviews. COPYRIGHT © 2014 LIVE TO READ

Kissing Games by Tara Eglington: Excerpt!

Monday, June 11, 2018

 Excerpt:

For a girl who shares her name with a princess (Aurora from Sleep- ing Beauty), my present circumstances were fathoms away from a fairy tale. My kissing skills had left both parties maimed—one case worthy of the emergency room.
Our first kiss as a couple, and my first-ever kiss, had been a melding of everything I’d heard kisses could be, all the glorious cli- ch├ęs in actionweak knees, my heart a field of fluttering butter- flies, life in Technicolor. Worth the wait.
With a start like that, I’d expected the second kiss to be as good.
Or at least not to end in calamity.
Four hours ago I’d had no idea I’d be spending half of my Thurs- day night in the local hospital’s emergency department, watching the on-call physician stitching Hayden Pariss formerly perfect lower lip.


four hours earlier . . .

I stood at my bathroom mirror, staring at my lips. I’d just applied red lipstick, taking a good five minutes to make sure that the edges were perfect. Now I was having second thoughts.



Normally I wasn’t one to spend lengthy amounts of time pout- ing at my own reflection, but in the fifteen minutes before Hayden was due to arrive I was fixated on my own mouth.
It had started with the intention of making sure I had fresh breath. Three brushings and a lengthy flossing session later, I’d pinched the superstrong dental clinic–issued mouthwash used by my dad (otherwise known as the NADNew Age dad), on the ba- sis that it would work better than my Listerine. Figuring that if I used any more mouthwash I’d give myself acid reflux, I’d finally stashed a mini breath spray in the pocket of my skirt so I could do a last quick spritz after Hayden and I had finished dinner. Literally sharing breath with someone was nerve-racking.
I was now in a conundrum over lipstick. I’d automatically reached for the red, as numerous studies have proved that red lips are considered the most sensual, due to the way that lipstick mim- ics the way our lips flush when attracted to another person. But just as I’d finished applying the lipstick, I started worrying that it wasn’t the best choice. It would inevitably kiss off, wouldn’t it? What if I pulled away from the (hopefully) amazing kiss and Hayden was left smeared with red lipstick? Gloss wasn’t an option, either—I’d over- heard way too many guys complaining about how they hated goopy lips.
I blotted the lipstick, hoping to achieve a nice, subtle stain, like I’d been sitting in a field eating raspberries or something. Revlon had had that famous Cherries in the Snow ad campaign in 1953, so bring on Raspberries in a Field. I was obviously getting jittery if I was planning 1950s-esque cosmetic campaigns.
I hadn’t talked about my anxiety with my best friends, Cassie, Jelena, Lindsay, and Sara. They were looking to me to be their dating guruand hopefully the whole of Jefferson High would be, too, once I implemented my Find a Prince/Princess program. This is a program I designed to help guys and girls navigate the minefield that is the high school dating scene. As well as using the program to help Cassie find love with Scott (aka the ubercute new guy) and



to help Lindsay win her ex-boyfriend Tyler back, I had also been using the program to weigh my own romantic prospects, with the aim of identifying my “prince.
A prince:
   has Principles. He stands up for what he knows to be right, instead of going along with the crowd.
   Recognizes your worth. He understands how special you are and treats you with respect and kindness.
   possesses Integrity. He’s genuine with his feelings and won’t mislead you for underhanded or selfish purposes.
   Never doubts you’re the only one for him.
   is Constant. He stands by you through the sunshine and the shadows, the good and the bad.
   possesses Endurance. He is willing to overcome considerable obstacles to win your affection.
I know the “prince thing sounds cringeworthy, like it’s some- thing from another century. But the program isn’t about glass slip- pers or lying around until a prince shows up. It’s about valuing yourself and saying no to guys with dishonest intentions or luke- warm feelings. Guys who lie or are self-involved or only looking for an ego boost. Guys who play around with our feelings like it’s a form of sport.
What the program is really about is knowing what you are wor- thy of and accepting nothing less.


I get that some people might see this as idealistic. But if I listened to everyone else’s cynicism, I’d never have stuck with the Find a Prince/Princess program for the past three years. I’d have given up and settled for a substandard guy. Instead, following my heart had landed me Hayden Paris, Prince Extraordinaire. After years of misunderstandings and miscommunication, Hayden and I had finally come together as a couple three days ago, after he’d revealed himself to be my secret admirer. I’d realized that he was not the



bane of my life but actually the boy of my dreams. And after six- teen years and six months of not settling, I’d finally had that magi- cal first kiss I’d been waiting for.
I’d once read that the term “French kiss was derived from “soul kiss,” because of an ancient belief that the sharing of breath was, in essence, the sharing of souls. It was a romantic notion, yet I had to admit, when I’d let Hayden touch his lips to mine the other night, I’d felt as if parts of me, tiny molecules at a time, had come close to dissolving in the intense closeness.
So when it came to tonight, I wanted the follow-up kiss to be just as legendary. I wanted utter elation, a moment of tenderness in which my heart would tremble inside my chest at how exquisitely beautiful it was to be so close to Hayden.
I shivered at the thought, and the tiny hairs on my arms stood up. Catching sight of my watch, I realized there was only about five minutes until Hayden was due to arrive. I had to turn my mind to practicalities.


My heart pounding, I ran downstairs to do a last-minute check of the living room. Thankfully, Dad had headed out to an event at the local meditation center, so I’d had some time this evening to prep the room for maximum ambience. Beyond emotional connection, romance was a sensory experience, so I’d aimed for soft light and scent. I placed oversize, velvety cushions on either side of the cof- fee table to encourage a more relaxed feel than the two of us perched at a distance from each other on my long couch, and then I set three large scented candles atop the coffee table.
After lighting the candles, I dimmed the light, just enough to heighten the mood but not so dramatically that I’d have difficulty making out Hayden’s features.
Then I turned them up again a fraction of an inch. Yes, I was trying to create a sense of intimacy, but what if Hayden thought I was being overly forward? It was only our first date, and here I was getting out the candles!



Oh god, could I even pull this off? Yes, I’d readied the room, but was I ready? Could I take this second kiss to the dizzying heights required?
What if our heart-stopping first kiss had set a precedent in Hayden’s mind that I couldn’t equal the second time around? What if I instigated a kiss and it fell flat? What if Hayden was disappointed? My basic plan was to move in close at some point during the night, ensuring that my intimate intentions were obvious to Hayden. But I had major timing trepidation. How would I know the oppor-
tune moment to get up close and personal?
For example, what if I moved in and he was tired or cranky or lip-fatigued from an afternoon arguing in the debate team? I pictured myself getting shot down midmove in the candlelight. Hmm . . . was rejection better or worse in low lighting? The lack of light would hide my extreme embarrassment, but I’d also be sitting there in a highly sensuous atmosphere. Hopefully not too sensuous. My hand went to the dimmer switch again.
Right. I was calling Cassie.
She picked up right away. “Hey, aren’t you on your date?” “About to be. As in, Hayden’s probably heading toward my door
right now and I’m doubting I have the courage to open it, let alone make a lunge for his lips later. Cass, what if I get the timing wrong and I’m left cast off in the candlelight?”
“Aurora, you know hes crazy about you. I’m sure hes planning to kiss you tonight. But if you want to be the one to make the first move, just look for the cues.”
Cues?
Kissing green lights. Physical indications telling you to go straight ahead.
I’m a total newbie on the dating highway, Cass. Unless Hayden actually turns green, I’m going to be playing the yes/no game for the next few hours.”
Cassie laughed. I’m talking things like prolonged eye contact and sitting really close to you, not Hayden turning into a chame- leon.”



“Oh god, why can’t he be a chameleon? You know the male ac- tually changes color when hes in the mood? Just thinkif Hayden’s lips burst into stripes of blue and green, I wouldn’t have any hesita- tion!” My voice rose a half octave with nervous tension.
“Aurora, I can hear you getting breathless. You have to breathe. If you don’t breathe while kissing, you’ll pass out. It happened to my cousin!”
What? I shrieked. “No one warned me about this!” The doorbell rang.
“Argh! Hayden and his nonchameleon lips have arrived!” Focus on the feelings and you’ll ace it, Cassie said. I promise.
I caught sight of my face in the hallway mirror as I set the phone down and headed for the door. I looked like a rabbit staring up in terror at a farmer with a pitchfork. Fantastic.
I took a deep breath and opened the door. Hayden’s smiling face greeted me. My whole body instantly relaxed.
“Good evening, Princess. He gave me a hug. “Any chance a wannabe knight bearing wood-fired pizza could cross the thresh- old?”
I smiled as I stepped aside to let him in. “Was it an epic quest?” It involved much gallantry,” Hayden replied as we headed down the hall. The guy at the pizza place was actually kind of a fire-breathing dragon. He had serious issues about half-and-half
pizzas.”
Hayden started turning right to go into the kitchen.
“Oh!” I touched his shoulder. I thought we might eat in the liv- ing room. It’s cozier.
My plan of action was to get Hayden comfortable. Get him com- fortable and then pounce.
Sure. He turned left then stopped at the entrance to the liv- ing room. “We might need a little more light.”
Oh my godthe living room now resembled a dimly lit saloon where busty women of the Wild West were likely to slink by in skimpy corsets or recline languorously on velvet cushions. I must



have accidentally hit the dimmer switch in my scramble to get to the front door.
Sorry, I was, ah, setting the scene. Had that actually come out? The scene?” Hayden turned, eyebrows raised, his hand paused
on the switch. His eyes were undeniably nervous. He probably thought he was about to be thrown down on the coffee table.
Great. I aim for ambience and wind up scaring my date. Setting the scene—for history!” I cried. “You know, the Middle
Ages, living by candlelight? I was hoping it would help with my es- say. I, um, was working on it while waiting for you.
My voice was increasingly resembling a chipmunks—high- pitched, fast-paced, and bordering on panicky.
Much as I love your imagination, I think the take-out pizza might destroy the illusion.” Hayden laughed as he turned the dim- mer switch up. Lets skip ahead a few centuries so you don’t drip sauce on that gorgeous dress.”
I tried not to feel seriously insulted. Here I was, preparing to ex- ecute a major move, and my date didn’t want to know about it. I flopped down onto one of the velvet cushions, trying not to let out a sigh as Hayden set out the pizza and filled our glasses with Coke. Why was this so easy in movies? I thought of Cleopatra and Eliza- beth Taylor tumbling out of the rolled-up carpet. Caesar had been putty in her hands. I’d tried to set up a scene of seduction and in- stead I’d wound up eating pizza underneath blazing lights.
I looked across at Hayden, whod picked up a piece of pizza but seemed to be waiting for me. I studied the pizza on the table in front of me. The second I took a bite, my painstakingly applied lipstick would be messed up. Then, as the smell wafted up toward me, I real- ized I had bigger worries—there was garlic on the margherita! No way was breath spray going to cover up that potent passion killer.
I looked up from the pizza and saw that Hayden was watching me with an amused expression.
“Here, my lady, let me choose the perfect piece for thee. He picked up a slice and put it on the plate in front of me.



His hazel eyes were so warm they were almost golden in the glow of the candles on the coffee table. Eye contact! That was one of Casss green lights. Okay, time to up the ante.
My heart had accelerated within mere seconds. I had to push the rest of me to catch up with it before the opportune moment slipped by. I gave Hayden a long gaze and raised an eyebrow in what I hoped was a Cleopatra-esque expression.
He let out a nervous laugh. “Have I got sauce on my face?”
I started in surprise. What? Obviously my attempt at Cleopa- tra was more scornful than seductive. “No!”
My hands, still trembling from the extended eye contact, shook harder, and I dropped my pizza slice into my lap.
“You see! This is why we needed the light!” Hayden leaned for- ward, shaking his head in amusement, grabbed the pizza slice, and put it back on the plate with a smile.
He reached over and pressed a napkin into my hand, giving it a squeeze. Houston, we had contact. If I didn’t do this now, I never would.
Hayden went to move his hand away, but I grabbed on to it. Be- fore my fear could kick in, I leaned across the coffee table, meet- ing Hayden halfway.
Sorry, blotting the stain will probably make it worse—he began.
I placed my index finger over his lips, stopping his sentence short. His eyes widened.
Okay, replace finger with lips. With hopefully minty-fresh lips. I leaned farther toward Hayden, closing the distance between  us. The caramel aroma of the candles was intoxicating. I took a steady breath, trying to concentrate on my senses. I could feel my cheeks were flushed, although I couldn’t tell whether that was from the warmth of the candles or the dizzying pulse of blood through my body. The room was in complete silence except for our breath- ing and the pounding of my heart, which thumped in my ears like the crash of the ocean on the sand when you lay your head down
on your towel at the beach.



There were two inches left between our faces. I removed my fin- ger from Hayden’s lips and our foreheads touched. The gentleness of the gesture caused a pulling feeling in my chest.
Last step. Last tiny little step and the plan would be complete.
Focus on the feelings. Casss advice floated back to me.
I touched his cheek with the fingers of my right hand. This was Hayden, my Potential Prince, my childhood friend, bane of my life turned boy of my dreams. I felt my lips relax into a smile, a smile that sank down through my skin and seemed to hover over my heart. I was so lucky. This thought tipped me over into the cour- age zone and, almost in a trance, I closed the minute distance left between us.
I pressed my lips to Hayden’s, so lightly that the touch of skin to skin was almost imperceptible. Even the second time around, the sensation was so exquisitely unfamiliar that it was all-encompassing. I was lost to feelingthe exact pressure of Hayden’s lips, his hair brushing against my fingers where they rested on his neck, the smell of his skina mix of soap and cologne with green-apple notes.
Hayden put his hand on my waist, pulling me closer and taking the kiss deeper. His breath was hot against mine. My pulse, already at high tempo, hit critical level. I now knew why Casss cousin had passed out. The feeling in my chest as we kissed was so intense I almost couldn’t bear it, yet I desperately sought more. I was like the candles, set alight with sensation, all thoughts dissolving in the heat of the moment. The feeling was so realistic that I could almost smell smoke.
I took another deep breath, hoping to dispel the phantom smell by inhaling more of Hayden’s green-apple scent.
Wait a minute. Something was burning. The smell was unmis- takable now, almost sulfuric. What on earth . . . ?
There were about five seconds of illogical agony, in which I won- dered whether the mouthwash had failed me and the smell was coming from my own breath, before I realized what I was actually smelling. My hair was on fire!



The thought screamed through my brain, shocking me out of my kissing reverie completely. Forget the notion of “the heat of the moment”—I was literally going up in flames!
My eyes flew open, but I couldn’t look down to see how much of my hair was on fire because Hayden and I were still in lip-lock. All I knew was that I didn’t want the flames to reach my face. The hair spray I’d so liberally applied earlier was probably acting as an ac- celerant—I might only have seconds to spare!
I threw up my arm, trying to push Hayden away, and instead felt my hand make contact with one of the heavy candles positioned be- tween us. I heard the clunk of the glass holder hitting the table at the same second that I felt boiling-hot wax spill onto my arm.
My whole body jolted from the searing pain. My teeth slammed together in an instinctual reaction and I bit down on Hayden’s lips, which were still intertwined with mine. Hayden let out a muffled shout.
I ripped away from him and stared in horror at the gash in his bottom lip. But there was no time to apologize yet. I snatched the burning ends of my hair from the candle jar, then threw my glass of Coke over them, thankfully extinguishing the flames before they got any closer to my head.
My wrist was prickling with pain from the blisteringly hot wax. I needed ice. I needed liquid of any description. I snatched up Hayden’s Coke and poured it on my arm. As my pain level dropped from all-consuming smart to a bearable throbbing, my attention snapped back to Hayden. He had leaped to his feet and was clutch- ing his mouth. Blood was trickling between his fingers.
Blood. My kiss had actually drawn blood. And not in a sexy, Twi- light way. I wanted to be sick.
“Hayden!” I leaped up from my cushion, too.
I have to get to the bathroom before I get blood everywhere.”
He pushed past me, his words muffled by his hand, and took off down the hall to the downstairs bathroom.
I ran to the kitchen for the first aid kit. I wanted to cry, from both



the extreme embarrassment of having sunk my teeth into my Po- tential Prince and the throbbing pain of my wrist. I swiped at my eyes with the back of my hand, pushing away tears as I dashed toward the bathroom. I had to stay calm. I would have plenty of time to reflect upon my disastrous attempt at acting the siren once Hayden’s lips weren’t streaming blood. Right now I had to focus on helping him.
Hayden turned as I entered. He had one of our hand towels pressed to his lips. I gasped when I saw that the towel was no lon- ger white but almost completely red, soaked with blood in the few minutes he’d been in the bathroom.

It won’t stop bleeding, he said. I think I have to go to the hospital.”


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