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Sneak Peek of Second Chance Christmas by Alison Packard

“The coast is clear,” he said, lowering his voice. “We can sneak in through the back entrance to the garden.”

Her eyes widened. “Isn’t that trespassing?”

“Not if we’re guests of the hotel or attending the dance.”

“We’re neither of those things.”

“No one will know we’re not attending the dance.” He nodded in the direction of the alley. “C’mon. You really should see it. We won’t stay long.”

After a few seconds, she nodded. “Okay. But if we get busted, you’re the one taking the fall. Not me.”

“Way to have my back,” he said, firing a sarcastic grin.

“Hey.” She lightly poked his upper arm. “I’m not built for prison. I’d be someone’s bitch two seconds after the cellblock door slammed behind me.”

He let out a snort of amusement and grabbed her hand. “You do have a flair for drama. Let’s go.”

After they rounded the corner, he walked beside her until they reached the alley behind the hotel. Once they were out of sight from the street, he guided her along the dimly lit alleyway past a large trash dumpster and what looked like an area for deliveries until they reached the white stucco wall that enclosed the terrace.

“You sure know how to show a girl a good time,” she whispered.

He chuckled under his breath as they approached the wrought iron door that would grant them entry. “Trust me. It’ll be worth it,” he said and reached for the handle on the door. “Damn it.” He let out a groan of frustration when the handle didn’t budge. “It’s locked.”

“A sure sign this is a bad idea.”

“No, it’s not.” Ben stepped back and surveyed the white stucco wall next to the gate. “We just need to be creative. Wait here.” He turned and jogged back to the dumpster.

“What are you doing?” she called after him in a loud whisper.

“Just wait there.” At the dumpster, he grabbed a wooden vegetable crate sitting next to it and hurried back to where Maddie stood, wearing a puzzled expression on her face. After a furtive glance over his shoulder, he set the crate at the base of the wall. “I’ll climb over and unlock the door.”

“Are you serious?” she said, keeping her voice low. “Why don’t we try to get inside the normal way?”

“Where’s the fun in that?” He stepped on the box, which gave him enough height to pull himself up, swing his leg over the wall, and easily straddle the top. He grinned at her as he balanced himself.

“Sergeant Ashford?”

He froze as one of the hotel’s security guards approached them. As the young man moved closer, Ben recognized him, and suddenly, his idea of harmless fun had turned into a colossal error in judgment. “Hey, Andre.” He looked down at Andre with a sheepish grin. Then he glanced at Maddie, who had covered her mouth with her hand. Probably to hide a gloating smile. “Long time, no see.”

Andre cocked his head and grinned. “It looks like the shoe’s on the other foot. When you were a patrol officer, you came upon me and my buddies trying to jump the fence over at the skate park.”

“Well, it was after hours. And the skate park was closed for the evening.”

“The garden door is locked for a reason,” Andre replied, using similar verbiage Ben used that night to Andre and his friends.

Under Andre’s amused gaze, a knot tightened in Ben’s stomach. He grimaced. Andre was enjoying this. And who could blame him?

“You’re right,” he acknowledged with an apologetic smile. “I shouldn’t be climbing the wall.”

“You don’t have to break in. I’d be happy to open the door for you.” Andre grinned. “You let me off with a warning at the skate park. So I guess I can return the favor and not call this in.”

“Thanks, Andre,” he said, exhaling in relief. He swung his leg back over the top of the wall and eased himself down onto the crate. “I appreciate that.”

“No problem.” Andre unhooked a key carabiner from his belt loop and unlocked the door with one of the keys. “But if I catch you doing this again, I’m not gonna go so easy on you.”

Ben cleared his throat and nodded. “I understand. It won’t happen again,” he said as Maddie stifled a laugh.

“Have a nice evening.” Andre opened the door and motioned for Ben and Maddie to proceed.

“You too, Andre.”

“Merry Christmas,” Maddie called out to Andre as they entered the garden. Then, as Ben closed the door behind them, she burst out laughing. “The look on your face when Andre showed up was priceless. You’re lucky it was him and not one of your officers.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll be hearing about this at the station. Andre is Carolyn’s nephew.”

She chuckled. “Small towns. You gotta love ’em.”

Second Chance Christmas

by Alison Packard

Genre: Contemporary Holiday Romance

Struggling actress Maddie Hart is home for the holidays in her small town and comes face-to-face with the last man she wants to see—the one she abandoned four years ago when she ran off to chase her dreams.

Police Sergeant Ben Ashford had an engagement ring in his pocket the night Maddie blindsided him. He doesn’t expect the gut punch of seeing her again or that she’d reignite feelings he’d thought long buried.

Ben’s not about to get tangled up with a woman who’ll just run again, but Maddie has never stopped thinking about him. Can she trade the bright lights of Hollywood for the twinkling Christmas lights of her hometown and a second chance at love?

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Alison’s love of the romance genre goes all the way back to her high school years when she gobbled up every Harlequin novel she could get her hands on. Back then, she never dreamed of writing her own stories. But years later, her inner writer emerged and she’s now a multi-published author of contemporary romance.

When she’s not plotting her next book, she hangs out with her adorable rescue dog, Bailey, consumes more chocolate than she should, and spends time with her friends and family.

Visit her website at www.alisonpackard.com to subscribe to her newsletter, get information about previous books, and updates about upcoming releases.

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Sneak Peek of The Might of Gabriel by A. Winchester

There were exactly two things Nate Warren loathed: canceled movie times and Sam’s need to solve all problems by playing rock, paper, scissors. Both were a waste of his time.

Nevertheless, fist sitting in the palm of his hand, Sam West had a cocky grin on his face as he tried to incite a round of the game. Tall, lean, and muscular with the personality of a Labrador, Sam was a curious mix of both terrifying and jovial in a way that was almost unreal at times. He built his entire personality around trying to appear inviting and unintimidating. It worked most of the time. There were times the electric blues in his eyes were a little too steely to be considered friendly. Sometimes he let himself go from stress and frustration. The neatness in his golden chestnut hair turned disastrous and the state of his beard grew unruly. It was in those times the real Sam West came out, and the world needed to watch out. The real Sam West wasn’t the money-wasting, woman-chasing lawyer most people saw.

No, the real Sam West was a descendant of Gabriel imbued with extraordinary strength. He was faster, stronger, and spent his life punching his way through every obstacle in his path.

“Come on,” Sam said, drawing out the two words as his grin grew wider. “You know you want to.”

“No, I definitely don’t,” Nate replied as he shook his head. Just like canceled movie times, he knew he was stuck with playing rock, paper, scissors even if he didn’t want to. Some things were just inevitable. “It’s a banshee, Sam.”

“It’s a banshee, Sam!” he repeated, his voice transitioning with a mocking Irish accent. “It’s just a wee bit of trouble! No need for games!”

“I’m British, you idiot, not Irish.”

“How is it you’re adopted and raised in Arizona and you’re still stuffy like a Brit‌? Was four years over there really enough to develop the personality?”

“First off, stereotyping,” Nate snapped. “Second, it’s not being stuffy if I don’t want to play rock, paper, scissors before we kill a demon.”

“Fine, then you be bait.” Sam shrugged. “Problem solved.”

“No, no.” He shook his head quickly. “I don’t want to be bait.”

“I don’t want to be bait either for a screaming bitch, but how in the world are we going to solve this problem?” he asked, grinning once again. Nate sighed, shaking his head. There was little point in arguing with Sam. Sam West always got what Sam West wanted. That was a general fact of life. Reluctantly, he put a fist out, and a stupid grin overtook Sam’s face. “That’s my boy! One last time before we leave! For Arizona.”

Fist-over-hand, Sam mouthed one through three before they tossed out their choices.

Two rocks.

Sam made a face and nodded, counting again.

One rock, one paper.

“I win,” Nate said. “You get to be bait.”

“I’m far too pretty to be anyone’s bait,” Sam retorted. Reaching under the neckline of his shirt, he pulled out a golden cross and handed it to Nate. “Hold this, will you?”

It was a rhetorical question.

When the cross was off, his eyes shimmered, filling with a brilliant golden light. It fractured and traveled along his skin, disappearing under his clothes and warming up the tanned tones in his skin. His muscles bolstered while the surrounding air bristled. Unlike most hunters, Sam had never truly learned to control his power. It made him a liability in every other aspect of his life. One intense moment of emotion—anything from anger to passion—and Sam could kill a person without trying. The cross was fitted to contain his power and hold it at bay.

The power flux made him smirk.

Nate watched with silent envy as his best friend tested his power, tendrils of golden light moving along his arms. Unlike Sam, Nate had no power. Adopted at four, his father had found him in an orphanage for hunters hidden in the British countryside. There was no information about his parents other than they were hunters. No one even knew of what lineage. While other hunters gained their power during puberty, Nate never did. He possessed the latent attributes all hunters had to help with healing and stamina in battle, but that was it.

He was as ordinary as he could be, and he hated it.

There was no use for an ordinary person in a world full of demons, magic, and special powers.

“I can’t hit a banshee, can I?” Sam asked, drawing Nate back into the moment.

“I mean, you could,” Nate said as he made a face. They stood outside an old house with broken windows and gutted insides. He glanced through a broken window, surveying the situation. Floating from room to room, the banshee paced back and forth. Rags hung off its thin body, and its skin sunken and ashy. Bloodshot eyes scanned the room while a pitiful wail passed through its lips on repeat. For something so pathetic in appearance, he knew it was truly dangerous if it wanted to be. He whispered, “I really don’t think that’ll end well for you.”

Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out a box of earplugs and handed one to Sam.

“Hey, Nate,” Sam began with a stupid grin. Nate resisted rolling his eyes, recognizing the expression immediately. “Did you hear the story about the banshee at sea?”

“Do I even want to hear this?”

“Probably not.”

“Fine.” Nate sighed heavily. “No, Sam, I didn’t hear about the banshee at sea.”

“Really? Because it’s a wail of a tale,” he replied, chuckling at his own joke while Nate groaned. “Oh, come on! That was a good one.”

“No, that was awful.” He removed his gun from his holster, checking it once more. The last thing he wanted was to be unprepared. A jammed gun was a dead hunter. “How do you plan on baiting it?”

“I’m going to give her what every angry woman needs: a little bit of Sam West,” Sam said as he backed through an open doorway.

“That’s the last thing any angry woman wants,” Nate replied.

“Can’t hear you,” Sam told him, pointing to his ears as he shoved the earplugs in. Whirling on the balls of his feet, he walked right into the heart of the house. “Hey! Gorgeous! Let me see you smile!”

“Oh, son of a bitch,” he muttered and quickly plugged his ears.

The world plunged into complete silence just in time for him to see the banshee swoop down on Sam. The air visibly moved with its scream, and it sent Sam flying through a wall with no hope of fighting it.

Nate lost sight of him.

The Might of Gabriel

HunterVerse Book 1

by A. Winchester

Genre: Urban Fantasy

A NEW CITY… A FRESH START…

Bringing together brains and brawn, Nate Warren and Sam West are the perfect demon hunting combination. Their missions may be overrun with snarky commentary and a lack of attention to collateral damage, but they’re still alive. When the two are given the chance to move across the country, it seems like a great opportunity until they get more than they bargained for. Chicago is overrun with demons, their new territory has been claimed, and keeping their secret identities separate from their civilian lives is becoming nearly impossible.

A PARTNERSHIP WTIH A TIGHT LEASH…

An unusual combination of meticulous and unhinged, Isabella Grant and Andrea Carlisle hardly qualify as friends. But, despite their extreme differences, they’re united in their goals: survive night demon hunts, and try not to kill each other in the process. With a dynamic built entirely on routine, strict rules, and never deviating from either, the two are faced with their hardest challenge yet when their territory is invaded by an unidentifiable source.

CROSSING PATHS IS ONE THING…

When their paths cross, can the two teams overcome their strong personalities and conflicting hunting styles in order to defend the city? Or is Chicago doomed to fall to the demons?

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A. Winchester is a Chicago native with a love for books and epic adventures. Looking to combine a love for demon hunters, superheroes, and long running sagas, Winchester’s debut series the HunterVerse explores deep character development, heavy emotional growth, and a plot to bring about the end of the world. When not writing, Winchester spends time binging TV shows, reading, and taking long walks.

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Sneak Peek of The Ridders by Lisa Towles

Look closely. You can see them. Ants scuttling through brush and debris in their oscillating dance of obscurity and emergence, death and resurrection, intending not to deceive but to exploit the natural patterns of nature.

Look closer and they are not ants. And it’s not so random what they’re doing. They’re not just foraging for the most obtainable food supply. They watch. Monitor. Calculate. Track. They can sense heat, and their antennae can smell smoke. They look for forest fires to lay eggs in burning trees, their three-hundred- million-year-old DNA designed to survive uninhabitable climes.

Now reach in and peel back another layer. The stench makes your eyes water, a heat that liquefies skin and bone and, before that, an insidious cold that prowls the shadows, numbly setting the stage for the inevitable next – rebirth.

PROLOGUE

I clean my gun the same way an art collector cares for an original Picasso—with white gloves, tweezers, soft brushes, syringes. An owner of an antique sword might use fine-grade steel wool to remove superficial rust, abrasive paste to clean the brass, and lemon juice to dislodge hardened residue. Distraction, for me, meant taking apart my precious Browning .9mm semi-automatic—a gift from our dead partner Archie Dax the night he died—scrubbing out the bore, wiping down the frame and barrel, regardless of whether it had been shot or not. Like people, guns age when they’re ignored. But tonight I couldn’t concentrate on anything but that envelope, and the clock was ticking to find out what was inside without actually opening it. Fifty-five hours, to be precise, within which I had to deliver something to a hotel lobby lest I got myself garroted, shot by a long-range sniper rifle, or otherwise permanently rubbed out of existence, such as it is.

Ray, my degenerate roommate, slipped past me in his swift, lopsided gait heading to the bathroom in the same dirty shorts he’d had on all week. He shook his head when he caught me polishing the polymer grips at the kitchen table.

“Keep it up, BJ,” he warned. “You’ll never hit your target.” “Is that so?” I said, feigning interest.

“It’ll slip out of your goddamn hand.”

“Ray, you’re a landscaper. What do you know about guns?”

He poked his head around the corner. “Dude, everything in life is about grip.”

Speaking of grip, I heard him peeing with the door open. I hate that. Two more months of this and his lease was up. Counting the days.

I got up and snagged the last beer from the fridge, knowing he was probably planning to do the same on the way back to his smelly lair at the end of the hall. I’d already found a company to do a “deep clean” the day after he moved out. If he leaves. Fuck Ray and his landscaping gig and stupid grips. I honestly had bigger problems than a slippery gun.

“I know you snagged the last beer,” he bellowed.

I took a long, ceremonial sip. “Flush the damned toilet.” Asshole.

The Ridders

by Lisa Towles

Genre: Political Action Thriller

Brock “BJ” Janoff and his older brother Jonas run a private investigation firm in Venice, CA. BJ is randomly approached by a stranger on the street with a proposition he can’t refuse – one million dollars to deliver a single envelope to a hotel lobby. They pay him up front, which sounds good on the surface, but now BJ’s life is in danger if he doesn’t deliver the envelope in time. Obsessed with the envelope’s contents and the “why me”, BJ follows clues to investigate the players behind what he believes is an organized crime scam. When an act of brilliance changes the balance of power, the safety of everyone he loves is in jeopardy. And the more he digs, the closer he gets to truths he can’t bear to face – about the elusive Bilderberg Group, his missing father, and about the fate of everyone he loves.

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Lisa Towles is an award-winning crime novelist and a passionate speaker on the topics of fiction writing, creativity, and Strategic Self Care. Lisa has eight crime novels in print, including Hot House, Ninety-Five, The Unseen, Choke, and under the name Lisa Polisar Escape, The Ghost of Mary Prairie, Blackwater Tango, and Knee Deep. Her next title, Salt Island, is the second book in her E&A thriller series and will be forthcoming in late 2022. Her thriller, Ninety-Five, was released in November 2021 and won a Literary Titan Award for Fiction. Her 2019 thriller, The Unseen, was the Winner of the 2020 NYC Big Book Award in Crime Fiction, and a Finalist in the Thriller category of the Best Book Awards by American Book Fest. Her 2017 thriller, Choke, won a 2017 IPA Award and a 2018 NYC Big Book Award for Thriller. Lisa is an active member and frequent panelist/speaker of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She has an MBA in IT Management and works fulltime in the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Sneak Peek of Spidersight by Tirzah M.M. Hawkins

Fred’s tiny feet tickle me as he moves down from my shoulder onto the arm of the chair. I briskly rub my arm to get rid of the itchy feeling. Fred often crawls a little ways from me when he knows I’m not going anywhere for a while. I think he likes to explore. Everything must look so giant to him.

Fred’s been with me for as long as I can remember, but no one else can see him. He’s big. I have to use both my hands to hold him, and he often sits on my shoulder. I make sure to walk carefully so he doesn’t fall off. His body and every one of his eight legs is covered in fine hairs that are soft to stroke.

I named him Fred after Fred on the Lucy show that I watch with Mommy and Daddy. I imagine that if Fred were a human, he would be a big bumbling lovable person like Fred Mertz.

Fred is the reason we are here. Well, he and the other spiders. No one else can see Fred and the other spiders. No one believes they exist.

But I’m not making them up. They follow me wherever I go. There are so many I can’t count them all. Right now, they are spread out over the walls and ceiling of the room. I can sense they feel a little cramped in the tight quarters.

I wonder if Dr. Wilson will be able to see them; he is an eye doctor after all. Maybe he has some special glasses that he can wear to see them. If he does, I’ll ask him to give them to Mommy so she can see my spiders and know that I’m not making them up.

Fred pauses at the end of the armrest, and I imagine he is thinking about leaping to the floor.

I remember Daddy reading to me in my spider book that certain spiders like Fred are delicate and can shatter like glass.

“Be careful, Fred,” I whisper to him forgetting in my worry that he and I are not alone. Realizing what I’ve done, I look at my mom, my heartbeat quickening. She doesn’t like it when I talk to Fred.

“What did you say, Missy?” She glances up from her magazine.

“Nothing, Mommy.” My fingers pick at the edges of my book.

“You said something. What was it, pumpkin?”

I look down at my hands. “I was talking to Fred,” I say meekly.

My mom stiffens before returning to her magazine with a sigh.

I turn my gaze back to Fred who has unwittingly been a trouble maker. It’s not his fault. He doesn’t know any better.

Fred is much more interesting than the other spiders. They don’t do much except follow me. When I go somewhere they all follow me, and when I stay somewhere for any length of time, they spread out in the room. I often feel as if they are watching me, waiting for me to do something.

Spidersight

by Tirzah M.M. Hawkins

Genre: Horror

Have you met Fred? He’s the imaginary friend of 5-year-old Missy. Missy insists to everyone that Fred is real. No one believes her until Fred starts doing horrible things.
Missy seems like any other 5-year-old except that she believes that she sees spiders that no one else can. Her parents are only mildly worried because every 5-year-old has a big imagination. But bad things start happening wherever Missy goes. People start dying.
Come along for this paranormal, creature horror, and you just might end up more afraid of spiders after you finish reading.

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Tirzah M.M. Hawkins is an author of all things dark including horror, fantasy, and snippets of sci-fi. She began writing stories when she was ten years old. Some of her favorites at that age were The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia.

After watching too many horror movies at a young age, she has only recently been able to start sleeping with her feet uncovered at night.

She lives with her husband and their many fur (and feathered) babies including at any given time dogs, cats, horses, goats, pigs (that have happy lives until they are eaten), and chickens (who are only around for eggs).

Her favorite hobbies are reading, writing, researching, school (she currently is board certified as a holistic health practitioner and is enrolled in a doctorate of natural medicine program), singing, and listening to music.

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