Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Wicked Gods, an all-new Reverse Harem Paranormal Bully Romance by Michelle Hercules releases August 8th!

Nowhere is safe when the gods are wicked.

Since the beginning of times, there has always been two sides: Norms and Idols.

But never have the scales been so unbalanced as they are today.

I’m a Norm, which means, I grew up in fear of the Idols and their godly powers.

And now, I’m going to be surrounded by them, day and night. I’ve been offered a place at the prestigious Gifted Academy, an opportunity very few Norms get.

To survive, I must become invisible. But my hope to get through the academy unscathed goes down the drain when the most powerful boys in school set their eyes on me.

They hate me simply because I’m a Norm. If they knew who I truly am, they’d tear me apart limb by limb. But I’m done cowering away from Idols. It’s time for the Norms to fight back, and it all starts with me.

*Wicked Gods is a mature paranormal high school bully 'why choose' romance.

Pre-Order your copy Today!

Add it to your TBR - http://bit.ly/2XvdXN4


“Excuse me, waitress,” he says loudly as I walk in front of their table. “We’re ready to order.”
I pause and throw a nervous glance at Poppy, who’s already coming to the rescue.
“I’ll take your orders, gentlemen,” he says politely.
“Why?” the boy with the air of boredom asks, leaning against the back of the booth.
“Well, Daisy’s shift is almost over and—”
“I don’t give a damn about Daisy’s fucking shift,” he spits back, raising his voice. “Isn’t our booth in her section?” His cerulean blue eyes become brighter, turning an electric blue, and dark veins appear on his stony face before they fade away.
My jaw slackens and my eyes widen of their own accord. My heart is pounding inside of my chest, wanting to break free, but I can’t let these bullies take their wrath out on Poppy or our customers, not on my account.
“It’s okay, Poppy. I can take care of their orders.” I smile tightly, and then, pushing the fear aside, I turn to the jackasses. “What can I get you?”
I grip the pen tighter to hide the shakes that are running through my body and stare at the dark-haired one. He seems to be the meanest of the bunch, but I can’t bring myself to make eye contact with the one facing him—Dad’s killer’s lookalike.
“How about a little smile for us, sugar?” The dark-haired one’s lips unfurl into a wicked grin, and my stomach coils tightly. I don’t like how he’s watching me like I’m prey.
“Sorry, that’s not on the menu,” I say before I can help myself.
Daisy, what the hell are you doing?
“Ouch. Burned in two seconds. That’s gotta be a record for you, Rufio,” one of them chuckles.
Blond with green eyes, he reminds me of an actor from a popular TV show. He definitely has the Hollywood package. Too bad he’s an Idol, and as such is bad to the bone.
“Shut your mouth, Phoenix.” Rufio levels his friend with a glare.
“What’s the pie of the day?” the white-haired boy asks.
I have no choice but to look at him. And fuck me, now I’m tongue-tied for entirely different reasons. His hair is completely white, but peering at him closely, I can see he definitely doesn’t possess any resemblance to my father’s murderer. There’s only one word I can use to describe him: flawless. His face looks like it was carved from marble, all perfect angles.
Big almond-shaped honey-colored eyes, framed by ridiculously long eyelashes, watch me intensely. He asked me a question, and here I am, staring at him like I’m a freaking moron.
“Blueberry,” I croak and then clear my throat. “Blueberry pie.”
“Is it any good?” He continues to stare at me.
“The best in town.”
“Why are you even asking if the pie is any good?” Rufio asks with a hint of annoyance. “You’re going to order it and eat the whole thing with gusto, even if it tastes like cardboard.”
I turn to the guy. “It doesn’t taste like cardboard. It’s fucking amazing.”
Okay, I must have a death wish. Why am I talking back to him? He’s a high-level Idol, for crying out loud.
His eyebrows arch, and he gives me a crooked grin. “Really? Would you bet your life on it?”
Danger. Abort. Abort. Too late. If I back down now, he’ll think I’m afraid of him—which I am. Terrified, actually. But he can’t know that.
I lift my chin. “Yes.”
Phoenix, the blond one, whistles and says, “It seems we’ve got a feisty little thing on our hands, boys. This evening is turning out more amusing than I anticipated.”
“You shouldn’t have done that,” the white-haired guy says bluntly.
He’s right, but oh well. My mother used to say that my big mouth would be my demise. Maybe the day has finally come.
“Trust me. I won’t lose,” I reply.

About Michelle Hercules

USA Today bestselling author Michelle Hercules always knew creative arts were her calling but not in a million years did she think she would write a novel. With a background in fashion design she thought she would follow that path. But one day, out of the blue, she had an idea for a book. One page turned into ten pages, ten pages turned into a hundred, and before she knew, her first book, The Prophecy of Arcadia, was born.

Michelle Hercules resides in The Netherlands with her husband and daughter. She is currently working on the Legends of Gattica series. 

Connect with Michelle Hercules

Extra Innings Sales Blitz with Lynn Stevens.

Title: Extra Innings
Author: Lynn Stevens
Genre: YA Sports Romance
Cover Designer: Najla Qamber Designs
Publisher: Siren Press
Publication Date: September 18th, 2018
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
Blurb: Victoria Hudson is a seventeen-year-old with a passion for baseball. When her grandmother buys a new house in the city, Vic discovers a way to play the game for the first time since getting kicked out of little league. She just has to move in with her hippie grandmother and make sure her father, a U.S. Senator and prospective Presidential candidate, doesn’t find out what she’s up to over the summer break.
After proving her abilities on the field, she catches the attention of Daniel Cho, the team’s catcher. Everything seems to be falling apart, and yet falling into place. Vic settles into a life she’s always wanted, that of a normal teenage girl. But Victoria Hudson is anything but normal. Once the press learns that the potential First Daughter is crossing the gender line to play baseball, Vic is thrust back into the spotlight and making headlines. The life she tries so hard to get away from simply won’t leave her alone.
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Lynn Stevens flunked out of college writing her first novel. Yes, she still has it and no, you can't read it. Surprisingly, she graduated with honors at her third school. A former farm girl turned city slicker turned suburbanite, Lynn lives in the Midwest where she drinks coffee and sips tea when she's out of coffee. She’s the author of Full Count and Game On..
Author Links:
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Top of the 1st
Acid waved in my stomach, reaching for the peak of my throat.
Stop it. You can do this. Just go at it like you own the place. Stride up to the coach like Mom does when she’s on the donation hunt.
The fields sat at the southern end of Jackson Memorial Park: one for softball, one for baseball. I had parked on the baseball side by a beat-up orange truck. The boys were already there, tossing balls and joking loud enough that I heard them through the closed windows of my car. Thankfully, the softball field was empty. Taking a deep breath, I climbed out of the car, pulling my equipment from the backseat.
Maybe it was my BMW, or maybe it was me, but the only sound I heard as I stalked toward the field were birds chirping to one another. No doubt the guys recognized a girl when they saw one. Mother Nature blessed me a bit too much in the boob department for anybody to mistake me as a boy.
I strode onto the soft dirt of the field and straight toward the older man with the clipboard. Coach Bernie Strauss stared back at me. He was easily six-eight with tree trunk legs and arms that UFC fighters would die for. He looked more like a Marine Corps drill instructor than a summer league baseball coach. I totally wanted to test him by shouting “Semper Fi.”           
 I stopped in front of him, waiting for what I knew was coming.
“Softball practice ended about twenty minutes ago.” He sounded like he ate gravel for breakfast.
“I’m not here to play softball, Coach.” I straightened my back and channeled my mother’s unbending confidence. “I’m here to help you win the city championship this year.”
No one laughed like I expected. So I exhaled, relaxed. Big mistake.
“Get off my field. I ain’t got time for this,” he shouted loud enough that birds scattered from a nearby tree. Coach Strauss turned his back to me and continued to bark at the team. “If you don’t get back to practice, you’ll be running laps in three … two …” His slight Texan accent made the “you’s” sound like “ya’s”.
The boys started throwing and stretching again, but they didn’t stop watching us.
“Coach –” I began.
“I ain’t your coach.”
I lost my cool, just like my father. “This is bullcrap. Look at your registration sheet.” He didn’t, so I snatched the clipboard from him and pointed. “See the name Vic Hudson? Well, that’s me. I paid to play. And I fully intend to. It isn’t against the rules.”
Coach ripped the clipboard from my fingers and flipped to another page. I waited. He read. I tapped my foot. That’s not nearly as dramatic on a dirt infield. The boys stopped warming up again.
He looked me up and down. “Fine. I’ll give you a shot, Hudson. You suck and you’re gone.”
“I can deal with that.”
“Get out there.” He pointed at a tall, super skinny boy. “Delvin, warm her up.”
I tossed my bag into the dugout and jogged onto the field. It didn’t take me long to figure out why Coach Strauss told Delvin to warm up with me. He kicked his leg like a pitcher and tossed a pretty nasty fastball. If I had to guess, he could hit ninety from the mound on a good day. It would’ve been stupid if I said anything, even though every ball he threw at me stung my fingers like tiny pricks of a hundred safety pins. I didn’t even try to throw my hardest. I warmed up like it was any other day.
Then he began stepping back. One step here, then another.
I threw hard and high to make my point. Delvin had to reach to get it. He may throw harder, but I can throw farther.
“Alrigh’, get in here,” Coach yelled. He raised his eyes at Delvin, who shrugged. “I know most of you from last year. We only got two potential newbies. One’s a girl. Anyone got a problem with that?”
If they did, they sure as hell weren’t going to tell Coach Strauss.
“Good. I expect you to treat her like you’d treat anybody else.” He looked at me and softened his tone. “What position do you play, honey?”
“Third.” I glared at him. He smirked then turned back to the team. Before he could open his mouth, I said, “And I’m not your honey.”
His head snapped back like he’d taken a right hook to the cheek. “Excuse me?”
I pointed at Delvin. “Do you call him ‘honey’?”
Delvin’s cheeks glowed light pink with either rage or embarrassment. I didn’t know which and really didn’t care.
Coach didn’t answer me though. His chin grew beet red, which crept up his cheeks all the way to his pale yellow crew cut. Steam came out of every clogged pore on his face as he yelled, “Everybody at third. Jayden, get your ass to first.” He sneered at me and I expected to get kicked off the field. “We’re going to field some grounders and see who handles them best. I’ll hit you three then rotate. Hudson, ladies first.”
Crap. Me and my big mouth. He’s going to either hit me a line drive at a hundred miles an hour or make me go so far out of range that I make an ass of myself.
I jogged to third and dug my cleats into the stubborn dirt. The rest of the guys lined up along the fence, amused grins matching Strauss’s own jack-o-lantern expression. Coach tossed the ball into the air.
I jumped spread eagle and dropped my glove between my legs, catching the line drive. I came down ready to throw to first, but Jayden wasn’t on the bag. He stood three steps off with his mouth open. Smiling, I rolled the ball back to home plate.
Coach didn’t give me time to get back into position when he hit a grounder to my left. In a game, the shortstop would’ve played it, but this was a different type of game. I dove and knocked it down. My throw to first was in the dirt, but I was on my butt when I whipped it across the infield. That shouldn’t be held against me. It was an almost impossible play.
The last ball went up the line. I hustled and would’ve had it clean until it hit the bag. It took a nasty bounce that was nearly out of reach. I jumped and brought it down barehanded, throwing to first off balance as I fell into foul territory.
I stood up without looking to see if Jayden caught it and walked to the fence to wait for my next turn. The guys gawked at me as I leaned against the fence, ignoring them. I’d made my point. I could field. My next time up, Coach hit some routine grounders.
After rotating through every infield position, it was time for batting practice.
 “You’re up,” Coach announced as he pointed his chunky finger my way. “Delvin, pitch to her.”
While Delvin threw some warm up tosses, I pulled my large batting gloves on, stretching them over my long fingers. The shin guard came loose as I walked to the plate, but I didn’t dare adjust it. Not yet anyway. I’m a switch hitter in softball but more natural from the right side. So that’s where I started when I stepped into the box. I wasn’t entirely certain I could hit a fastball from the left anyway.
Delvin dug at the rubber. I did the same at the plate. Kicked some rocks out from under my right foot. Buried my left foot in the front of the box. Right arm cocked at a ninety degree angle, my bat perched above my shoulder, I waited. A trickle of sweat ran down my cheek. This felt more like a playoff game than a practice.
My swing was graceful as I rocked the fastball over Jayden. He stretched, revealing his dark walnut skin. His long braids smacked his back as he dropped to the ground. Jayden could jump for a big guy.
“Nice,” Coach said.
The Asian boy behind the plate whistled low and said, “Sweet.”
Delvin tossed a few more pitches before Coach snapped at me to get to third. I didn’t hesitate, grabbing my glove and hustling onto the field.  
“Get in the dugout,” Coach commanded after everyone had hit.
I stood at the end of the bench, waiting for the axe to drop. I’d played well enough to warrant sticking around, but I was still lacking the mandatory testosterone. If Coach told me to go, I would. It was his team and I wasn’t about to make things worse by throwing an epic hissy.
“We got a tough schedule this year. Last year, the Rebels kicked our ass to take the district. Well, half those boys can’t play no more. Hell, we’re missing three of our own. It’s time we take our game to the next level. The Rebels need to rebuild more than we do. We can take ‘em. Now get outta here. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He glanced my way. “All of you.”
I grabbed my gear and practically bounced out of the dugout when Coach called me and Shane Anders back.
Shane was short, plump, and had a face pot-marked by zits and craters. Something told me that his dad made him play to get him out of the basement. Coach Strauss towered over him. Shane tremored a little.
“Alright. Vic, what’s your real name?”
He sighed, sending a poof of peppermint my way that didn’t conceal his bad breath. It smelled like he didn’t bother to brush his teeth in the morning. Ever. “Don’t bullshit me, girl.”
“I’m not, Coach. Vic’s short for Victoria.”
He stared at me and shook his head. “Fine. Here’s the drill. We practice every day at the same time, at the same place until the first game. Ain’t hard to remember. No excuses for tardiness or missin’ a game. Miss a practice, you don’t play the next game. Bring your own equipment. Forget your glove or your cleats, you don’t play.
“Games start next week. Your jersey will be clean. If it ain’t, you ain’t playin’. We play on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for six weeks. Team that wins their district plays in the city championship tourney. I don’t know nothin’ about either one of you, but there are a couple of boys here that could move on to college ball. Scouts look at summer programs, too, especially if they’re already interested in a player. Neither one of you is goin’ to play baseball at the next level. I just ask that you don’t screw it up for everyone else.
“Now get out of here. Today’s practice was a short one. Tomorrow’s not gonna be this easy.”
Shane took off in a hurry. It was obvious he was scared of Coach. We watched him run to a small pickup truck and scamper in.
“Can I ask you something, Vic?” Coach crossed his arms and glared at me.
“Yeah, sure.”
“Why’re you here?” He nodded toward the empty softball field. “You could be playin’ ball over there. Tell me the truth.”
I knew the question was coming, but I didn’t expect any sincerity behind it. “Softball isn’t baseball, Coach. It may seem similar, but it isn’t the same. I wanted to play ball one more time. That’s all.”
He nodded, then turned away from me and started gathering his bats.
“Am I really on the team?” I asked. I needed absolute confirmation.
“Yeah, got no choice.” He straightened up and smiled at me. “Looked at the regs. Doesn’t say this team is for boys sixteen to seventeen. Just says players. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”
I smiled. Of course I did. “See you tomorrow, Coach Strauss.”
He grunted and I took off to my car, trying not to skip like a ten-year-old.
I’m in. I’m going to play ball again.

15 Days With You Cover Reveal - Ara Grigorian

Seeds of Eden Freebie Book Blitz & Giveaway with A.P. Watson

Title: Seeds of Eden
Author: A.P. Watson
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Cover Designer: Regina Wamba
Model: Christine Klein
Editors: Tamara Beard and Beth Williams
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
Visions of decapitated corpses, pools of blood, and a masked executioner have haunted Evey’s dreams for as long as she can remember. Torn between life in the waking world and dreams of the dead, she discovers her normal existence is nothing more than an illusion. As time passes, she is led to question the confines of her own sanity. What sins could she possibly have committed to warrant such a curse?
The answers Evey has longed for surface with the sudden arrival of a familiar stranger. Conrad’s mystifying appearances in her nightmares only seems to draw her closer to him, and the attraction she feels for him is undeniable.
But when he confesses that their fates have been intertwined for centuries and the secrets of her past are revealed, Evey realizes that answers sometimes only lead to more complicated questions. Did one bite of forbidden fruit precipitate the Fall of Man? Or was a much more sinister force at work? Either way, the choices made in the Garden of Eden won’t go unpunished. If Evey and Conrad are to keep history from repeating itself, then the two of them must outrun a great darkness before it can claim their lives again.
A.P. Watson is a contemporary and paranormal romance author who discovered her love for reading at a very young age due to her rural upbringing. She enjoys a variety of genres and authors, from Jane Austen to Charlaine Harris. When she isn’t reading or writing, she loves to dance. A.P. has been an avid pole dancer for several years and thoroughly enjoys the challenging nature of the sport and the thrill of performing onstage. Professionally, she has worked as a registered nurse for several years, and she graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing in 2019. Her goal is to combine her love for aesthetics and skincare by utilizing her Family Nurse Practitioner certification in the field of dermatology. A.P. currently resides in Johnson City, Tennessee, with her adorable rescue pup, Elle. 
Author Links:
Chapter One: Awakening
“No! Please don’t,” I sobbed. Collapsing to my knees, I stole a glance at the man kneeling to my left. The sight of him, bound in chains, was agonizing, and my need to save him intensified with each passing moment. “I’m begging you to spare his life.” My heart felt as if it were being torn asunder. An enormous axe blocked the prisoner’s face from my view, its harsh blade stained with red.
“Who are you to beg anything from me?” A voice sneered at me from the shadows, mocking my very presence.The sound came from the direction of a grand throne looming in front of me, but his face was drenched in darkness.
“There was a time when you would do anything I asked of you,” I answered, my voice shaking.
A shrill laugh echoed off every surface of the great hall. I could see his hands clench  the arms of the throne as his nails gouged the gleaming wood. “Unfortunately for you, that time has come to an end.” He lifted his hand and beckoned the masked executioner to proceed.
“No!” I buckled forward, bracing myself with trembling hands. The stone was frigid, shocking. Breath caught in my throat—I was suffocating. The tips of my fingers clawed against the floor as I began scrambling toward the prisoner. If my pleas couldn't free him, my hands would.
“Hold her still!” the man from the shadows bellowed. Someone grabbed my arms from behind. I thrashed wildly, desperately trying to free myself, but the grip was too firm. “And pry her eyes open if you have to. I want her to see this.” His words oozed with triumph and satisfaction. Dread settled in the pit of my stomach, gnawing at my insides. The man kneeling next to me was about to die, his life snuffed out as easily as a candle, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. There was nothing I could do to save him.
“Please, no!” Panic coursed through every inch of me, causing my muscles to convulse violently with the need to act. I couldn’t help but focus on the axe. It lifted, and the man’s face became visible. Brown locks of hair offset the brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen. I wanted nothing more than to stare into those eyes until the end of time, but even as I had the thought, the axe sliced through the air with a whoosh, severing the man’s head from his neck. “No!” I screamed with all the power I could muster, but my plea rang hollow with the finality of the scene in front of me.
I woke up clutching my hand to my chest, fingernails dug into my skin, dotting the area over my heart with tiny crescent moons. Sweat trickled down my arms and neck. “A dream,” I said to myself. “It was just a dream.” I glanced at the clock next to my bed. The bright red numbers glared at me. 6:07 a.m. It was almost time to get ready for school. I collapsed on my pillow in defeat. My dreams had gotten steadily worse over the summer. Every night, they became more detailed. Colors sharpened, smells grew more potent, and the nightmares began to feel more like reality than fantasy. An unrelenting sense of terror riddled my body. I couldn't shake it, couldn't explain it. What was happening to me? I was a normal girl. I should be picking out prom dresses and visiting colleges, not holding myself accountable for the imaginary execution of a mystery man.
Electric blue monarch butterflies fluttered in circles above my head. I exhaled deeply, causing the mobile to pick up speed. As it spun, it morphed into a blurry halo. The jarring sound of my phone’s ringtone cut through the silence of my room. I jumped, answering it quickly and pressed the phone to my ear.
“Hey Caroline,” I whispered.
“Morning! Did I wake you up? You sound out of breath.”
            “No,” I answered with a yawn. “I woke up like a minute or two before you called.” I wanted to talk to Caroline about my dream, but I couldn’t let these nightmares dictate my entire existence. At the end of last school year, I let them get the better of me. I started hanging out with my other friends less and less. Caroline stuck with me; she was the only one who knew about the things I saw when I closed my eyes at night. While I knew she was cool with just the two of us hanging out after work every night, I couldn’t make her forgo every social event. Senior year would be different, and I was going to make sure of it. Caroline was going to have enough exciting and amazing pictures to fill up her Instagram account for five years by the time we graduated. “The ridiculous ringtone you programmed into my phone for your contact disrupted the serenity of my room. It nearly gave me a heart attack.”
            “Disrupted the serenity of your room?” she asked with a laugh. “I love how you always sound like an SAT prep book when you talk. Seriously, Dr. Sawyer cried when she announced your perfect score on the state writing exam last year.”
            “I almost forgot about that!”
            “She was so proud,” she replied. “And she practically hugged me when I confessed to her that I’d added a thesaurus app on my phone just so I could look up some of the words you use. It’s like she knew you were a good influence on me.”
            “I guess I’m just weird.”
            “I like it! Remember the note you wrote me in third grade asking if I wanted to be your friend? In that note, you told me you appreciated my sassy disposition. We were nine then! You have a better vocabulary than most of the English teachers we’ve had. It’s just who you are.”
            “That was a killer note,” I agreed. Caroline and I had been best friends since my fateful note in the third grade. From then on, we'd been pretty much joined at the hip. Being an only child could get lonely at times, and she was the closest thing I had to a sister.“So, I’m guessing you called because you want to know what I’m going to wear to school today, huh?”
“It’s the first day of our senior year of high school. Honestly, would you expect anything less from me?”
“Not really, especially since you’ve called me every morning for the last four years to discuss clothes.”
“Wardrobe can make you or break you in high school, Evey!”
“But we don't care what people think,” I countered. I heaved myself out of bed and headed to the opposite side of my room. I needed to stare at my dream board for a minute. Looking at it always made me feel better, especially after having a nightmare. It was covered with pictures of Caroline and me among print-outs of famous monuments. Caroline and I dreamed of traveling the world. One day, we’d see the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the Colosseum. I added a picture of the famous Las Vegas sign to the collage. This small town wouldn’t be able to hold us for much longer.
“Of course we don’t.”
“So the point is to look fabulous while not caring?”
“My thoughts exactly,” she replied. “And what can I say? I’m a creature of habit.”
I shook my head and laughed. I walked away from my desk to stand in front of my closet. Any day now, it was sure to bust and spit out a mountain of clothes. Why was it that I could never bring myself to throw anything away? “I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t noticed. I think I’m going to wear some jeans and that new loose-fitting tank top I got at the mall last week with a pink cardigan.”
“Oh, that sounds cute! I’m going to wear jeans, too, but I think my green button-up shirt will look good with some sandals . . .  I'm so excited! I’ve been waiting for senior year for so long,” she said.
“Me too!”
“Just think, one more year and we'll be in college! Co-ed dorms, here we come!”
“Somehow I don't see my dad moving me into a co-ed dorm. The thought of us living ten feet away from college boys will probably make him have an aneurysm,” I said with a laugh. “When will you be here to pick me up?”
“Seven thirty. I want to get to school a little early since it’s the first day, and we'll have the dreaded opening assembly.”
“Ugh,” I groaned. “Don’t remind me!”
“I know. Every time Principal Louden goes into his ‘Aim for the Stars’ speech, I have to fight the urge to hurl.”
“Tell me about it,” I replied. “Last year, I thought about performing a makeshift lobotomy on myself with a pen.”
“Let’s not rule that out this year. If the speech goes from awful to agonizing, it might be our only option,” Caroline added, her tone the epitome of seriousness.
“I’ll have my pens at the ready.”
“Okay, I’ll see you soon!”
I trudged from my closet to the bathroom, dragging my hand along the lavender-colored walls. Once I was by the shower, I turned the knob to hot and waited to step in until steam started to rise over the curtain. Warm drops pelted my neck, easing the tension away. As I soaked my hair, I replayed the execution again in my mind. The overwhelming sense of despair permeated my soul and tainted my every thought. I wanted to know the prisoner, wanted to know why he was being killed. His blood was on my hands. The king wanted me to suffer, and the man’s death was my punishment. No matter how many times I had this dream, there was always one thing that stood out in my mind: how utterly real it felt.
But it wasn’t real, I reminded myself. Maybe I had an overactive imagination, or maybe I was mentally insane. Regardless, there had to be a logical explanation for my nightmares. I wanted answers, wanted to know why I saw such things. But at the same time, the unknown held a certain advantage. How could I ever recover if I found out I was crazy? I pushed the thought to the back of my mind. Making it through my last year of high school was more important. I needed to focus on that before I could even start thinking about anything else. Except I did need to put some energy into dating. Caroline was always nagging me to give some of the guys at school a chance. I was definitely overdue for some kind of distraction.
Once my hair was dry and curled to perfection, I started on my makeup. As I finished getting ready, I began to feel more relaxed. Today was the first day of my senior year, and I couldn't let one nightmare ruin it. I was determined to stay optimistic. Throwing on my clothes, I ran my fingers through my tousled curls and headed down the hall for a quick bite to eat.
My feet made their regular route past the living room, curving around the corner into the kitchen. I walked over to mom and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Morning.”
“Good morning! How does it feel to officially be a senior?” She turned from the kitchen counter to pull me into a quick hug.
“Same as last year.” I shrugged. I stuck my head into the dining room and saw my dad sitting at the antique mahogany table reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in his hand. “Morning, Daddy,” I said, sitting in the chair beside him. His dark brown eyes looked at me over the square rims of his reading glasses. His black hair and beard were peppered with gray, while soft lines fanned out from the corners of his eyes. Just as I finished pouring myself a bowl of cereal, my mom handed me a piping cup of coffee.
“Good morning,” he said and smiled.
“What’s going on in the news today?” Dad read our town’s newspaper religiously, though Estill Springs didn’t register as more than a speck on a map of Tennessee. Even the dictionary made for a more fascinating read than the Springs Sentinel.
“A couple of kids spray-painted some stuff at the city park, but that’s about it,” he said with a shrug.
“Why do you even bother reading that? It's not like anything ever happens here.” Grabbing the sugar, I poured a teaspoon into my coffee mug. 
“And I like it that way,” he replied, smiling over his drink.
“Oh, Guy, can you believe it? After this year, she’ll be graduating and then she'll be leaving us to go to college.” My mother had her light brown hair pinned on the top of her head, and I could see her gold locket hanging around her neck. It had been a gift from my father when they first started dating. I knew it was her favorite piece of jewelry because she never took it off.   Her light green eyes sparkled, and I could just make out the faint lingering of tears in them.
“It seems like just yesterday I was carrying you around on my shoulders.”
“Both of you act as if I just grew up overnight,” I said, shaking my head at them.
“Well, for us, it feels that way,” she answered.
“The schools I'm looking at are still within driving distance. It's not like I'll be moving across the country after I graduate.”
“Wouldn't you rather go to Murfreesboro?” she asked.
“Yeah,” my father added. “You can stay here and go to school.”
“If I didn't know any better, I'd think the two of you were plotting against me.” I laughed. I loved my parents. They'd always been there for me and always would be. I knew a lot of people at school who either hated or barely talked to their parents, but that wasn't the way it was in my family. That thought made me ponder Caroline's suggestion from a few weeks ago. Lately, she’d been encouraging me to talk to my parents about my dreams. At first, I didn’t want to involve them in my drama-filled nightmares. But Caroline and I were at a loss for what was happening to me, and they may have more insight as to why I thought of such horrible things. Besides, didn’t they deserve to know if something was wrong with me?
            I could feel my confession forming with each breath I took, but as soon as the courage to tell them surfaced, I stopped myself. What if they blamed themselves for my condition? I could handle nightmares of executions and people being tortured, but I couldn’t bear the thought of causing my parents pain. “We wouldn't dream of it,” he replied with a wink. “Are you working after school today?”
“Yeah, Caroline and I have our regular school shift at Pat's. I should be back by ten though.”
            “Is Caroline going to join us for breakfast this morning?” 
“Not today,” I replied, answering mom’s question. “We have an assembly this morning so she wants to get there early.”
“Well, you wouldn’t want to miss that.”
I smiled at her, unable to rid myself of the thought that missing the assembly would be a blessing. “Not at all.” Breakfasts like this were what I needed. A few minutes ago, I’d been so close to confessing everything to my parents, I’d almost forgotten the promise I’d made to myself. I was determined to have a carefree senior year, and if ignoring my dreams would help me attain my goal, then that’s exactly what I’d do.
            Before we could continue our conversation, two honks sounded from the driveway. That was my signal that Caroline was ready to go. I headed for the kitchen to gather my things.
“Here you go, Evey.” Mom's arm was extended, holding my leather messenger bag. The brown exterior was faded from years of use. It had been my mom's, and like most of my other possessions, it was an antique. “Do you need money for lunch?”
“No, I have some. Love you!” I called to both of them over my shoulder and rushed out the door.
I waved to Caroline as I approached her car. A Chanel compact was perfectly poised in her hand as she applied a layer of lip gloss. Flashing me a grin, she flung the car door open. She drove a beat-up Nissan Sentra, but you couldn’t tell her that. She was one of those people who felt an emotional connection to her car, even if the majority of the white paint was peeling from the hood. Her motto was the car chooses the driver, though she'd inherited this pile of junk when her cousin got a new one for college. I plopped down in the seat, wedging my messenger bag in between my feet.
“Hey, you look so cute!” I told her.
“Thanks, you do too!”
“Can you believe this is our last year at Tulson? I've been freaking out all morning.”
“I couldn't be more excited! We're going to have so much fun in college.”
“I know! I can't wait!”
“This is such a good song. Let’s turn it up!” I reached forward and turned the volume dial on her radio as she backed her car out of my driveway.
            “Senior year, here we come!” she shouted. We continued singing along to the radio throughout the drive and, ten minutes later, found ourselves pulling into an empty space in the parking lot. When we got out, there was already a multitude of cars around us. It seemed that, like us, everyone else was ready to start the new school year.
 Walking through the side entrance, we filed in line with a mass of other students. Posters decorated the brick walls, advertising afternoon meetings for the French and Spanish clubs. Weaving through the sea of bodies, we headed to the assembly. 
A crowd of nervous freshmen hovered at the entrance to the gymnasium, and we squeezed through to find two open seats. The room was buzzing with conversation. Everyone was running around, saying hellos and giving out hugs to all the people they hadn’t seen during the summer. Kristen stood as we approached the bleachers, waving her arms at us. Caroline and I returned her wave, scanning for two empty seats, but every empty slot around her was filled.
“Find us after the assembly!” I shouted to her.
“Okay! I will!” she called out.
We made our way up to the only empty space, which was at the top of the bleachers, and sat with our backs against the gym wall.
            As Principal Louden walked to the center of the gym, Caroline and I pulled out our schedules to see which classes we had together. English IV, Economics, World History, and then Physics.
“We have every class together.” I nudged her shoulder.
“I can’t believe it! Which guidance aide did you sweet talk into doing that?” she asked me, looking both pleased and incredulous.
“Who me?” I asked as innocently as possible.
“Yes, now spill.”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” I replied with a smile.
“I love it when you’re diabolical!”
“Good morning, students!” Principal Louden bellowed from behind a small podium in the center of the basketball court. “How are all of you this morning?” He cupped his hand around his ear, gesturing his eagerness to hear our replies. His shining cheeks mirrored the majority of his head, which was almost entirely bald. “I'm so excited for the start of another school year here at Tulson High! I know we have the best students in the world, and all of you have the potential to do something great with your lives,” Principal Louden continued. “But you have to learn in order to earn that potential. You have to search for success within yourselves!”
“It's like watching a wreck; it's so terrible and yet I can't look away,” Caroline said.
“I guess we can count out getting nominated for ‘most school spirited’ in the senior superlatives,” I replied. When Principal Louden entered the fifth minute of his speech, I couldn’t take any more. “Can I talk to you about something?”
“What’s up?” Caroline asked, leaning in so we could whisper.
“I just wanted to say thanks for sticking with me after all the craziness last year. I know all my drama caused you to kinda stop hanging with our old group and I feel bad about it.”
“You don’t have to apologize for that! We’re besties, it’s what we do for each other.”
“Regardless, I wanted to say thanks and make you a promise that this year will be different. We’re gonna have an awesome senior year!”
“Really?” she asked. I nodded in answer to her question. “A year filled with hot boys and maybe an appearance or two at one of my cousin’s college parties?”
“Whatever you want, I’m down!”
She squealed with delight, wrapping her arms around my neck. “This is gonna be the best year ever, Evey!”
“Only if we can get the hell out of this assembly.”
            When Principal Louden finally dismissed the student body to go to their first period classes, everyone jumped out of their seats, rushing toward the gym doors in a mass exodus. “I guess this means we're free to go to English. Thank God!” Caroline shouted.
“Come on, let's go before Louden starts preaching again,” I added, laughing.
“Hey, Evey! Hey, Caroline!”
I turned in the direction of the voice. Kristen stood on the gymnasium floor, waving wildly. “Hey!” I called to her. “Wait for us!” We jumped down the remaining bleachers, catching up with her quickly.
“Did y’all have a good summer?” she asked.
“It was pretty good. We had a few interesting customers in the diner,” I answered. “We missed you!”
“I missed y’all too!”
“What about you?” Caroline asked.
“I know summer was only a couple months, but I felt like I spent an eternity in Maine. My grandmother insisted I spend my entire vacation with her,” Kristen groaned.
“That sucks,” I said.
“Tell me about it! Do either of you have Advanced French first period?”
“Nope, we’ve both got English,” Caroline replied.
“Boo.” Kristen pouted.
“We’ll walk with you to class though!” Caroline added.
As Kristen moved to loop her arm through mine, she hit the strap of my messenger bag, jerking it from my shoulder. The bag crashed against the floor, spitting out my belongings in every direction. Lip gloss, paper clips, hairpins, and a pack of mints scattered around me. “Y’all go on without me. I’ll catch up in a minute,” I said, dropping to my knees.
“You sure? I can stay and help,” Caroline replied.
“Nah, you go on. I’ll see you in a minute. Besides, aren’t you always telling me I carry around too much crap?”
“True.” She grabbed Kristen’s arm. “See you in a bit.”
I scrambled, frantically trying to gather my stuff as quickly as possible. Scooping up a final bobby pin, I was suddenly struck with the strange feeling that I was being watched. By now, I had to be the only soul left in the gym, but when I looked up, there was a stranger leaning against the far wall. His arms were crossed over his chest nonchalantly. My gaze slid upward, halting as his stare met mine. He had the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. Blood coursed through my veins, causing my heart to pound. The prisoner from my nightmares stood before me, mere feet separating us. He seemed too real to be a wild hallucination. My hands grabbed my bag, swinging it over my shoulder so forcefully that I lost my balance. Turning around, I quickly regained a stable footing, but when I glanced back to where he’d been standing, he had disappeared. Sprinting into the hallway, I searched in both directions, but the man from my dreams wasn’t there. He was gone.

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