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The Wicked King by Holly Black

Monday, January 14, 2019


BOOK REVIEW: The Wicked King by Holly Black

Release Date: January 8th, 2019
Genre: Fantasy
336 pages
Published by Little Brown for Young Readers
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️My Goodreads rating


You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.

The first lesson is to make yourself strong.

After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.

When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.


Well, well, well.
The wait was finally over and I couldn't wait to get my hands on The Wicked King. 
I was not disappointed. This book surpasses The Cruel Prince (and I didn't think that was even possible).

Holly Black is a master story weaver. Nothing in this book is cookie cutter.  When you think you're into what's going on, she takes you out for a spin! There were times that I hated Jude, then I hated Cardan. Next chapter I loved both of them. I never felt a love/hate feeling so strongly towards the characters in a book such as this and without even going into everything else, I'm rating it 5 stars.

We go thru the stages of seeing Jude recognize the power of her current state in the High Court. Being the "King Maker". She enjoys it, even though it's supposed to last only 1 year and 1 day. There are more secrets now than before and Jude can trust no one.

Cardan, oh Cardan. What do I say about you? Who are you? You're up to your old tricks but did I sense something else behind those dark eyes? Do you even have a heart? Are you able to love? 

"Go against me, and I'll show you what this boy would do."

Faerie can't lie but they can twist their words in a special way that makes the reader's mind spin. There are enemies everywhere. The amount of political intrigue and attention to detail is phenomenal. It's clear that the first book was setting the stage for the twists, plotting and betrayals of this one. Oh, and the last pages, I didn't know what hit me. I had to re-read them to believe them. I can't go into details because everything is a spoiler here but since nothing is what it seems in the land of Elfhame, I'm pretty sure the biggest surprise/twist is yet to come.

THAT's how good this book was. 

My sixth sense tells me that the grand finale on the third book will end with a bang.
I have so many questions and I can't believe that now I have to wait another year :-(

One advice that comes to mind is:
I feel sorry for any enemy (mortal or immortal) of Holly Black!
Think about it. She is able to orchestrate the plots, twists and evil strategies behind this book...I don't want to think what she can do to an annoying neighbor...or critic...or fan.... 
Just saying :-)

“The three of you have one solution to every problem. Murder. No key fits every lock.” Cardan gives us all a stern look, holding up a long-fingered hand with my stolen ruby ring still on one finger. “Someone tries to betray the High King, murder.
Someone gives you a harsh look, murder.
Someone disrespects you, murder.
Someone ruins your laundry, murder.”
― Holly Black, The Wicked King
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10 Ways to Find Inspiration When You Feel Stuck

Sunday, January 13, 2019


 Katie Jenison

GUEST POST by Katie Jenison

Have you ever felt like you were on a roll with your side hustle, online business, or blog, only to have it come to a screeching halt? One minute, you’re totally rocking task after task and feeling like you’re on top of the world. The next thing you know, you’re hit with a creative block and no matter what you do, you feel stuck and unsure of how to overcome it.

When you stop feeling inspired, you may find yourself in a creative funk that can be hard to shake off. While it feels awful, the truth is everyone loses their inspiration at some point. The good news? Getting caught in a creative rut is only temporary. Here are ten ways to find inspiration when you’re feeling stuck.

Power Through It

There will be times when the fear of starting a new project can hold you back from starting at all. When that happens, it’s easy to confuse a lack of inspiration with procrastination. In order to truly identify whether the culprit is procrastination or a lack of inspiration, you need to make an attempt to work through it.

This is where the Pomodoro Technique comes in handy. Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on solely on the project you’ve been putting off until the 25 minutes is up. If the time seems to fly by, you probably just needed to make yourself sit down and really focus. On the other hand, if the time seemed to drag on without accomplishing anything, there’s a good chance you’re in a creative rut and need to explore other options for finding inspiration.

Listen to a Podcast

Podcasts have grown in popularity and for good reason. They’re easy to listen to while multitasking and they can be a source of inspiration when you’re feeling stuck. These days, there’s no shortage of podcasts for creative entrepreneurs, so finding one that resonates with you should be easy enough. Try looking for a podcast that features interviews with other creative entrepreneurs like Jenna Kutcher’s The Goal Digger Podcast or Rachel Hollis’, RISE podcast. Hearing inspirational stories from those who have grown a successful business can help to get your creative juices flowing again.

Chat with Someone

If you’re having more conversations with your cat than with real people, it might be time to take a break and interact with the outside world. Meet up with a friend for coffee, join a mastermind group, or connect with a coach or mentor. Regardless of who you chat with, taking the time to foster personal connections can do wonders with shaking off the loneliness that can accompany hustling 24/7. Talking with someone, especially someone outside of your business, can give you a brand-new perspective and inspire a project or idea you may not have thought of otherwise.


When you find inspiration lacking, reading can give you the motivation you need. Sit down with good, like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic or use Pinterest to find interesting blog posts to read. Whatever you choose to read, checking out other people’s work can give you the kick in the butt you need and can leave you feeling inspired.

Get a Change of Scenery

Spending most of your time holed up at home working can start to feel monotonous and have a negative impact on your creativity. When that happens, a change of scenery is in order. For some, this may mean taking a walk around the neighborhood and enjoying the fresh air, but others may prefer to pack up their laptop and work out of their favorite coffee shop for the day. Either way, mixing up your daily routine can give you a fresh perspective and help you find inspiration in your new surroundings.


Try boosting your creativity through journal writing. Carving out five minutes of your day to put pen to paper is a great way to find inspiration when you’re feeling stuck. You don’t need a plan going in, either. Just start writing and see where your thoughts lead you. Taking the time to sit by yourself and write whatever comes to mind can be helpful in identifying the blocks in your inspiration and help you overcome them.

Review Your Goals

Remembering what inspired you in the first place can help you get back on track, so take some time to review your goals. Ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you can do to bring yourself closer to accomplishing your goals.

Struggling to remember your why? Don’t let it stress you out. As time goes on and both you and your business grow, your why may shift. Over time, may find yourself out of alignment you’re your original goals, which might be why you feel uninspired. If that happens, revise your goals to reflect the new direction you see yourself and your business heading in.

Collaborate with Someone

Another great way to find inspiration when you’re feeling stuck is to collaborate with a fellow creative entrepreneur on a new project. Why? Creativity is contagious! Spending time brainstorming and bouncing ideas off another person can help bring back the excitement that’s gone missing. Whether working on a small project like starting a Facebook group or launching a Podcast, your creativity is sure to start flowing again.

Change Your Mindset

Your thoughts can either have a positive or negative impact on your life. As Jen Sincero says, “Our thoughts become our words, our words become our beliefs, our beliefs become our actions, our actions become our habits, and our habits become our realities.”

Identify the negative thoughts holding you back and work on shifting your focus. Dig deep and ask yourself why you feel the way you do and turn it around. For example, instead of telling yourself no one cares what you have to say, recognize if what you have to say connects with even one person, your story is worth telling. Changing your mindset can have a profound impact on not only your creativity but on how you live your life.


As hardworking creatives, we’re prone to burnout. If you’re feeling uninspired, unfocused, or stuck in a rut, you might just need to take a step back and let yourself rest. Take some time for yourself and do something you enjoy. Whether that’s taking a day to recoup by bumming around in your pajamas all day or just catching up on sleep, it’s important to practice self-care. No matter how you choose to unwind, remember to let yourself enjoy it without feeling guilty. Sometimes we just need a little R&R to come back feeling better than before.


Author Bio

Katie Jenison is a freelance writer and blogger from a small town in North Dakota. She started her freelance writing business in 2017 after graduating from North Dakota State University with a bachelor’s degree in English Studies and has since quit her job to freelance full-time. In 2018 she launched her blog, The Quiet Type, where she gives readers tips and advice on freelance writing, blogging, and creative entrepreneurship. Download her workbook, A Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Rates, here.

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One Day in December by Josie Silver

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: One Day in December by Josie Silver

Release Date: October 16, 2018
Genre: Romance, Fiction
10 1/2 hours
Published by Penguin Random Audio House Publishing Group
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️My Goodreads rating


A love story about what happens after you meet, or rather, don't meet the one.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.



This book was an incredible, addictive, romantic story. One that will make you laugh, cry and believe in love & friendship all over again.

I fell in love with the characters, the story, the relationships, and the voices...oh the narrators were really perfect here!  I'm not kidding, the audiobook was phenomenal!

Even though I don't usually read romances, this book felt so realistic, with the characters starting out their adult lives, trying to put a footprint on the earth.  Laurie was looking for her dream job and Jack showed up at a bus stop.  They looked at each other but Laurie's bus took off.  So did their lives.  Took off in different directions I mean, but there was always that feeling of "what if"...

Every new year Laurie writes down her resolutions and that's another very realistic fact.  One that we can all relate to.  The story spans over 10 years and we grow to love these characters as if they were our best friends!

This book grabbed my heart and I couldn't stop listening to the story, but when it ended, even though I had tears in my eyes, I wished it hadn't.

Beautiful. Compelling.  A Holiday book (or not).  Just the kind of book you should give to your best friend.

“You tread lightly through life, but you leave deep footprints that are hard for other people to fill.”
― Josie Silver, One Day in December

“I know how painful it can be letting someone you think you love go, but that I don’t believe there’s only one person in the world for each of us. It’s too fanciful, too limiting.”
― Josie Silver, One Day in December

Thank you Penguin Random Audio House Publishing Group - @prhaudio for the free copy in exchange for my honest review.

I loved this book SO much that I created a #playlist to listen and remember it 🎧

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Best Fiction Books of 2018 -

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

No comments

 Best genre fiction of 2018

2018 was really an incredible year! 

I read a total of 57 books, went to several Book Festivals (including BookCon), met some incredible authors AND was invited to be a contributing blogger for , which was such an honor to me!

I can't think of a better way to wrap-up 2018, other than having my list of best fiction books going LIVE on the last day of the year!!!⠀

Please check out my first article at titled The Best Genre Fiction of 2018 and let me know what was the favorite fiction book you read in 2018.

Happy New Year everyone!
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How to simplify the Holiday Card Madness and Help Local Charities

Tuesday, December 18, 2018



Yeah, I guess I can say I joined the movement and will no longer be sending Holiday Cards! 
You think that's rude?
Well, I tend to disagree with that, but before we start arguing and you call me Scrooge, let me tell you why I decided to take the road less traveled...

I enjoy the Holidays and Love Christmas, thank you very much, but the past several years I always found myself stressing out just thinking of the whole Holiday Cards project.  Planning the right family picture. Finding the best, cutest, possibly funny, politically correct template to have the cards printed on, which, as it turns out, is a lot of actual work.  And we have to get it all done, addressed, and mailed before a certain deadline, otherwise the cards might not arrive before Christmas (Ugh!).

Of course it's lovely to receive cards with pictures of our friend's newborn babies, the dogs, the cats and grandmas alike, but let's be honest, come the first week of January and all those cards end up in the trash!
What a waste of energy and money.

So how can we simplify this madness and still feel good about ourselves?  How about donating to a charity of your choice in lieu of buying overpriced holiday cards + postage?

Little did I know there's an entire movement in the UK about this already.  A whole study about the greeting card industry, where they claim a total of 2 billion cards are sold just in the UK every year! Check out the site and view their infographic on the environmental impact of sending each card.  The numbers blew my mind!

I know what you're going to say: that I'm a book blogger and own hundreds of books, so who am I to talk about the environment?  Yes, I love books. And yes, I buy more than a few (and I also get some free books from publishers), but I don't throw them in the trash.  I keep most of those books, and the ones I don't keep, I donate to the library, so chances are, they don't end up in a landfill. created a fantastic concept of making it easy for charities to receive donations in lieu of greeting cards.
It's the card that actually Gives Back!

Anyway, the name of my blog is Trendy Simple Life, so I wouldn't be true to my personal "brand" if I couldn't come up with a reason to simplify my life (and who knows, maybe start a new TREND?).

Unfortunately, there's nothing similar in the US, which I'm still trying to figure out why the heck not, so until someone creates an eco-friendly company to provide this service (hint, hint),  I decided to improvise based on the idea.

 Here are the main 3 reasons why I am officially greeting card free:

My total cost of sending Holiday Cards is usually around $60 to $80 (printing cards + Domestic and International postage).  Sending cards might be the traditional thing, but I'd rather donate this cost to a local charity, who rely on the financial support from donors to keep their doors open. 

According to study, for every greeting card not sent, 140g of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) is saved. It may not sound like much individually, but imagine what we can accomplish together!

I actually felt really good about making this decision.  It made me think of the meaning of Christmas! About being grateful for what I have and helping others.  I chose to support a local charity called MEND (Meeting Essential Needs with Dignity), which is an interfaith network of 17 member food pantries located throughout Essex County, NJ.  They run the local food pantry where I often volunteer, so I know the impact that my donation made.

I developed my e-card on and even added the logo of the local charity I'm supporting.
Here's the final work:

True Meaning of Christmas

What do you think about this idea?  
Would you consider jumping on this train with me?  
Be a trailblazer and say NO to Holiday Cards

Happy Holidays Everyone!  

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The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Sunday, December 16, 2018


Book Review

BOOK REVIEW: The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Release Date: March 13th, 2018
Genre: Fiction
377 pages
Published by MIRA
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️My Goodreads rating


After a night of fun, Abby was responsible for the car crash that killed her beloved brother. It is a sin she can never forgive herself for, so she pushes away the man she loves most, knowing that he would eventually hate her for what she’s done, the same way she hates herself.

Twenty years later, Abby’s husband, Nate, is also living with a deep sense of guilt. He was the driver who first came upon the scene of Abby’s accident, the man who pulled her to safety before the car erupted in flames, the man who could not save her brother in time. It’s this guilt, this regret that binds them together. They understand each other. Or so Nate believes.

In a strange twist of fate, Liam (her old lover—possibly her true soulmate) moves in with his own family next door, releasing a flood of memories that Abby has been trying to keep buried all these years. Abby and Liam, in a complicit agreement, pretend never to have met, yet cannot resist the pull of the past—nor the repercussions of the dark secrets they’ve both been carrying…


This book was deliciously scandalous!!!

We all know secrets have a way of surfacing and marriages built on secrets are usually recipes for disaster, but these secrets are what made this book so addictive!

Told in the present with 1992 flashbacks, we learn different points of view: Abby, her husband Nate, their daughter Sarah, and the new neighbors, Liam, Nancy and Zac. All of the characters were well developed, each with their own set of secrets, told in a fast pace family suspense-drama, without making the reader confused.
And one of the things I loved the most about this book was the fact they were all lovable in their own way. I usually find the one character that I dislike and hope that they pay for their mistakes in the end, but that was not the case in this novel. And the twists in the end? Oh my oh my!

Like I said in the beginning...deliciously scandalous!

Book Review

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Spotlight: Two Thousand Years by M. Dalto

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


I am so excited that TWO THOUSAND YEARS by M. Dalto is available now and that I get to share the news!
If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author M. Dalto, be sure to check out all the details below.
This blitz also includes a giveaway for a $15 Amazon Gift Card, International, courtesy of M., The Parliament House Press, and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

About the Book:

 Author: M. Dalto
 Pub. Date: December 11, 2018
 Publisher: Parliament House Publishing
 Formats: Paperback, eBook
 Pages: 310
 Find it: GoodreadsAmazonB&NiBooks

   Two thousand years ago, the Prophecy of Fire and  Light foretold the coming of the Queen Empress who would lead the Empire into a time of peace and tranquility. But instead of the coming of a prosperous world, a forbidden love for the Empress waged a war that ravaged the land, creating a chasm between the factions, raising the death toll of innocent lives until the final, bloody battle.
   Centuries later, Alexandra, a twenty-two-year-old barista living in Boston, is taken to an unfamiliar realm of mystery and magic where her life is threatened by Reylor, its banished Lord Steward.    She crosses paths with Treyan, the arrogant and seductive Crown Prince of the Empire, and together they discover how their lives, and their love, are so intricately intertwined by a Prophecy set in motion so many years ago.
Alex, now the predestined Queen Empress Alexstrayna, whose arrival was foretold by the Annals of the Empire, controls the fate of her new home as war rages between the Crown Prince and Lord Steward. Either choice could tear her world apart as she attempts to keep the Empire's torrid history from repeating itself. In a realm where betrayal and revenge will be as crucial to her survival as love and honor, Alex must discover whether it is her choice - or her fate - that determines how she survives the Empire's rising conflicts.


The streets were quiet for a Friday night in the city. Alexandra Ross clenched her collar tighter around her neck as the wind began to pick up, unseasonably cool for so early in Boston’s September. Her heels clicked along the damp cobblestones of the old sidewalks as she headed towards her apartment. She had to take extra care while walking in her four-inch heels.
Especially when she knew she was being followed.
The city had been her home for three years now, so the late-night trek home remained familiar, almost a comfort. In the now twenty-two years of her life, maintaining her independence was as much of a priority as the switchblade in her jacket pocket was a security. There was a part of her that truly enjoyed the peaceful solitude these walks could bring, but she wasn’t stupid enough to do it without protection.
She was aware he remained a short distance behind her ever since she left Faneuil Hall.
This evening was no different, except that she was celebrating her twenty-second birthday, which also may have involved too much alcohol. Perhaps it was the intoxicated appreciation of her city within the quiet of the early morning hours that distracted her from her surroundings.
Even the reflections in the familiar storefront windows she passed by reminded her of the fact she that wasn’t alone.
Either way, her attention was focused anywhere but where it belonged. It wasn’t until her heel caught in the sidewalk, and a hand grabbed her arm to keep her upright, that she realized she tripped and started to fall.
And that the one she believed to be a stalker turned out to actually be a rescuer.
His grip remained firm as his other arm wrapped around her waist to steady her on her feet. As she composed herself, trying to clear her head, her hand went towards the knife in her pocket while she glanced towards the individual who just saved her from needing a nose job.
The stranger’s hair was dark under the streetlights, side swept and held loosely in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. He was dressed casually: wearing a dark, button-down shirt over clean denim jeans and sensible dress shoes as if he, too, had just emerged from the bustling social atmosphere that brought so many to Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
His features were thin with chiseled cheekbones beneath skin too tanned to be local, but then she looked into his eyes. They were the most piercing blue she had ever seen—almost too blue, especially without the sunlight’s shining assistance. They radiated with their own luminescence; which was odd at first, but the color was as though they were refractions off of the ocean’s waves. As she continued to stare, the more familiar they seemed. Looking up and into his eyes felt as if she had stared into those eyes before—been lost within them too many times to count.
The feeling was almost nostalgic, though she was certain she’d never met him before. She would have remembered those eyes, regardless of how many cosmopolitans she may have drank.
By the time she realized she was staring, he had already released her from his grasp.
“I—” She blinked, struggling for words as her grip tightened around her knife.
“A simple ‘thank you’ would suffice.” His words purred with a foreign accent—familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Irish? Scottish? Perhaps Welsh, she thought to herself, though she wasn’t even certain if it was European at all.
“Oh,” she spoke, clearing her throat. “Thank you.” She moved to smooth out the short, black dress she wore, awkwardly running her hands over her legs, her ass—anything she could do to avoid his gaze. “I didn’t even hear you behind me.”
“I know.” He smirked. Again, that sense of nostalgia clenched at her chest, her stomach, lower. Before she could inquire further, or at least find out where he came from, he had already moved past her, continuing on his way down the street.
“Happy birthday, Alex.” He waved back to her without another glance.
How did he know?
“Hey, wait!” she called after him, her voice laced with panic, but he disappeared out of sight as quickly as he arrived.
Deciding she had had enough excitement for one birthday, Alex slowly, and far more cautiously, finished her walk home. Occasionally, she would chance a glance behind her to ensure she wasn’t followed again. He was just some creep who must have been too close for comfort while they were drinking the bar, she convinced herself as she turned the corner onto the street that led to her apartment. Or merely a lonely someone who overheard her saying her goodbyes to her friends on the way out and thought he’d get lucky.
She came to the gate that barred the walkway leading to her apartment, the skin on her neck prickled and the hairs on her arms stood on end. Something was off. The familiarity of home felt wrong, like a lost memory, just within reach moments ago, now nowhere to be found. Her hand had been stuffed into her jacket pocket ever since her encounter with the dark-haired stranger, and she continued to grip the knife tightly as she opened the gate and she headed down the final stretch.
Her apartment was situated in one of the older colonial row houses within Boston’s North End that later converted into apartments and condominiums as the years went on and the economy grew. She rented out the bottom floor of the building, with her ground-level entrance beneath the building’s main stairway barred behind a wrought-iron gate. Taking another look around her surroundings, she approached her door as her other hand managed to find her keys, but nearly dropped them as she stopped to survey the scene before her.
The light from a nearby street lamp shone on the damage that had been done. The gate was bent in a fashion that looked as though a gorilla took a bar in each hand and spread them apart. Through the warped iron, she could see the lock to her apartment had been destroyed, the surrounding door blown apart with it, shattered beyond easy repair.
“Fuck,” she whispered, taking a step back to as she glanced to see if there was anyone around, but not a soul was in sight. With a shaking hand, she reached for her phone. Did she call the police on the off-chance her father’s colleagues would report back to him and have to hear another lecture from her about the horrors of living in the city? Or hell, ensure the potential of seeing any of them the next morning while she was at work, having them remind her of her over-exaggerations while she served them their overpriced coffee?
No. No, she did not. So, she rang her best friend instead.
“Hello?” Crystal answered on the third ring.
“Crystal!” Alex whispered harshly into her phone. “Someone’s broken into my apartment!”
“So, call the police,” Crystal reminded her lazily, her tone muddled by the evening’s inebriation.
“You know I can’t do that,” she snapped. “Besides, what if they’re already gone? It would be a waste of time and effort.”
“And your pride?”
“That too.”
“What if they’re not?” Crystal queried. “Your father will be pissed, and your mother—”
“You are no help; do you know that?”
“You’re the one calling me, thinking someone broke into her house!”
Before Alex could continue to interrogate her friend, the slightest sound of movement from the other side of the door caught her attention, and her knife was out of her pocket and at the ready, her heart pounding.
“Crystal, I’ve got to go,” she murmured into the phone.
“What? Wait—” Alex hung up before Crystal could finish her sentence.
Reaching the warped gate, she slowly pushed open the ruined door that led into her apartment. She listened again, waiting for a repeat of movement, and quietly stepped through and into the mudroom once she decided it was safe to do so. Everything was dark and quiet, just as she left it, which gave her even more cause for concern. Whoever was there, whether they remained or not, they weren’t there with robbery as their intention…not that she had much to steal, anyway, beyond an expansive collection of epic fantasy books and Harlequin romance novels.
Liquid courage—that was stupidity. At least that’s what she convinced herself as she tiptoed through the kitchen, her ears still perked when she heard a subtle creak of a floorboard and she tightened her grip on the knife. Peeking around the corner, she noticed a dull light emitted from her living room, appearing as though a flame flickered in the darkness.
Except Alex’s fireplace was only decoration and never once actually contained a fire.
Despite the nauseating curiosity that gripped her and tightened her stomach into knots, she approached the living room, lingering just outside the entryway. The flickering light made it difficult to adjust her eyes to the darkness, but she was certain she could hear bits and pieces of a conversation within an unknown language between two individuals whose voices she didn’t recognize.
Holding her breath, Alex glanced into the living room. Crouched before the fireplace was a figure in black with its back turned to her. Male in appearance, he was too focused on an orb floating before him to notice her. The swirling red flames neither burned nor emanated heat as they hovered over the ground, and her attention was caught upon their pulsating beat as it communicated with her apartment’s intruder, like the blood flowing through her veins.
And the foreign language, unfamiliar to her in every possible manner, resounded through her like a jolt—as though a part of her memory had been previously locked away, and hearing it again was the key. No different to her mind than English, she could understand every word they were saying as if it was her native tongue.
“You are certain you’ve secured the perimeter?”
“Yes, my Lord,” the figure spoke into the flame-less conflagration. “There’s been no sign of the Empress. She will be none the wiser that the Key is in place.”
“You best hope so, for where she will be, the Prince will follow. The Empress must be in my possession before he can make his next move.”
“Of course, my Lord, but what shall I do in the meantime?”
“Be patient. Be vigilant. And so help me, when the Empress returns, do not allow her to leave that apartment.”
“And the Key?”
“You will wait until it activates within the next moon cycle. Until then, remember that she will be your only way home. Do you understand me?”
The figure bowed his head. “Understood, my Lord. And should the Prince interfere?”
Alex could almost feel the simmer through whatever allowed such a floating object to exist, and a shiver trickled down her spin as she watched the dark figure finally stand and turn in her direction.
Red eyes glowed in the darkness, like dying embers fighting to remain lit. Being distracted by the earlier conversation, she hadn’t noticed how far she stepped into the room. Whatever courage she may have had before entering her apartment dissipated as those red eyed focused on her. She tried to take a step back, but hit the wall, jarring her elbow in the process and hissing of pain at the impact.
“Well, it appears my job just became a hell of a lot easier,” he slurred in English, though drawling with an accent both foreign and familiar.
Not unlike her would-be stalker-savior’s.
“Sorry to interrupt,” she announced as she pushed off from her spot against the wall, remembering the knife in her hand and willing her fingers to steady themselves as she pointed it at the head of the intruder. “But I think it’s time you removed yourself from my apartment.”
“The Empress?” The voice from the flames sounded pleased, and the orb’s size and power intensified as it emitted an almost demonic chuckle.
At the words of whatever master presided on the other side of that communication device, the intruder rose to his full height as he turned around to face her fully. The amplified light from the orb finally displayed his features. Other than his eyes, there was nothing extraordinary about him. Pale in the pulsating red light, with a shock of black hair and thin lips. He wore unremarkable clothing—a black shirt over black pants that could have come from anywhere—but still it was his eyes that held her attention, creating an otherworldly presence about him.
He paused his approach, however, when he saw the knife, cocking his head to the side as though in silent challenge. Instinctively, she sliced it through the air in his general direction, and the unexpected action seemed to surprise him as much as it had her. Taking a reflexive step back, his legs hit a side table next to her couch, knocking a lamp to the floor.
The orb ceased its laugher at the commotion.
“It’s a pleasure, Empress Alexstrayna," the voice said while the intruder continued his retreat, falling into the fireplace as if the orb would give him protection or a quick escape out of the room.
Alex rolled her eyes at the intruder’s pathetic attempts to escape through a brick wall, though her attention was caught at the greeting from the orb. It wasn’t her name, but it was close, and she didn’t want to know how or why. Before she could inquire, the voice behind the floating ball of flame seemed to realize he was losing his local support, and the fire erupted once again. “Where the hell do you think you’re going? The Prince is following her. Find him before he finds you first! Do not let the Empress out of your sight!”
The flaming orb allowed his threat to linger as its flames continued to rant and rave, all while the intruder composed himself and again began to approach her. The orb’s light now reflected off of claw-like talons extending from each finger on both hands of the intruder, and his teeth grew into a predator’s fangs. Every bit of his deadly intention was focused solely on her.
Alex felt the sweat form on her brow as her heart beat with a terrified fury. Even as she held the knife up to defend herself, it shook between her fingers. The intruder merely gave her a knowing smirk before he reared back on his legs and leaped into the air with feline grace, lunging across the room with his claws extended, aiming directly for her over-exposed chest.
Frozen in the spot where she stood, Alex’s eyes were wide as she watched death approach. She remained where she was even as a sudden bolt of cold, blue flame shot over her shoulder, knocking the attacker hard against the wall next to the fireplace. The plaster splintered on impact, causing the intruder to crumple to the floor, unmoving once he hit the ground.
Alex thought her heart was going to pound through her ribcage; she made herself take one deep breath, and then another before she looked over her shoulder toward the direction of the flash. In the lingering blue glow stood the stranger who helped her in the street. Those same cold flames appeared to grow from his right hand as he was poised in a battle-ready position, preparing for another strike as his attention focused deeper within the room.
Following his glance, she saw that the intruder remained still and motionless, remnants of the blast that sent him there the only movement coming from his body. She wanted to say something—perhaps she should thank him? Too many questions began to cross her mind as she shifted towards him, needing to know more, that same pull of nostalgia almost drawing her in. No sooner had she opened her mouth than did the red orb cease its ranting to greet the new arrival.
“I was wondering when you were going to show your face, Treyan. Unfortunately, you’re too late. My Key is in place, and come the next moon cycle, the Empress will rightfully be mine.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Reylor, but my Key has been in place for years.” Treyan walked forward, outstretched his right hand where again blue flames sprung from it, this time engulfing the red orb. Not a moment later, it was extinguished. Without delay, he turned towards her and began to approach her. “I am sorry about all of this, Alex—”
“You!” She raised her knife between them, the point hitting his chest before he could move another inch. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Sighing, he brought his hand to the blade, his blue flames warming the metal to the point of nearly burning Alex’s hand, forcing her to drop the knife. She moved to run, but he grabbed hold of her forearm and he pulled her face to him.
Alex caught herself getting lost in his blue eyes again and he watched her with an enthusiasm that was unwarranted given their sudden meeting. It was a feeling of intense warmth throughout her body, akin to the comfort of a lover’s embrace. A feeling she had met him before but knew their paths had never crossed before in her life. And yet, some part of her knew him, or knew of him, and that terrified her.
Who are you?
Unfortunately, the question never left her. Before she could break his intense stare and begin to protest further, he brought a hand to her face, gently cupping her cheek, and after a few murmured words, Alex’s world fell to darkness.

About M.:

M. Dalto is a Young Adult / New Adult fiction writer of adventurous romantic fantasy stories, and her debut, TWO THOUSAND YEARS, won one of’s coveted Watty Awards in 2016. She continues to volunteer her time as a Wattpad Ambassador, where she engages and hopes to inspire new writers, and also mentors authors through the #WriteMentor program.

As a mentor, MB is on the lookout for YA and NA novels heavy in plot with the ability to make her fall in love with its characters. Her favorite tropes include love triangles of all kinds, enemies to lovers, dream sequences, and prophecies. She always wants villains you can’t help but be attracted to, redemption arcs or otherwise. She loves novels with deep character development, a setting where she can get lost, and plot twists that make her want to throw the book across the room. Give her main characters you love to hate, but can’t help but hate to love.

She spends her days as a full-time residential real estate paralegal, using her evenings to hone her craft. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading fantasy novels, playing video games, and drinking coffee. She currently lives in Massachusetts with her husband, their daughter, and their corgi named Loki.

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