Tuesday, June 30, 2015

COVER REVEAL: Love Always by Sonya Loveday & Candace Knoebel

LA Title
TITLE: Love Always,
Authors: Sonya Loveday & Candace Knoebel
COVER DESIGN: Najla Qamber Designs
GENRE: Contemporary Romance
RELEASE DATE: August 25th, 2015
I’ve met boys like him before. Rich. Bored. Always wearing a silver-spooned smile. But there is something different about him that piques my curiosity. The way he looks at me, like he is staring through the bars of a gilded cage he’s never left. Like he is one breath away from suffocating beneath a mound of responsibilities. He is different from the rest because he doesn’t wear his money… his money wears him. I just don’t think he knows it yet.
She’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. She’s everything I’ve never been able to be. Carefree. Whimsical. A dreamer. Her laugh is infectious. She is irresistible. I can’t help but be drawn to her with an intensity that steals my breath and muddles my senses. I want to know her, need to know her, but how can I allow myself that liberty when I don’t have the freedom to make my own choices? Phillip and Maggie think they have it all. Even though they come from opposite backgrounds, they each have bright futures paved out, with no distractions holding them back. Until the fateful day they meet each other. After a brief, adventurous time together in The Hamptons, Maggie and Phillip find themselves saying goodbye just as the spark of love flashes intensely between them. Can their budding connection be enough to survive the pulling tides of change, or will they drift apart before they even have a chance to explore what could have been?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00014]

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Friday, June 26, 2015


“Royal Partnerships”
Book 4 in ROAD TO HELL series
(series must be read in order)

It’s good to be the Queen…

Having ascended the throne of Hell, Madison Wescott is finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Though she has embraced her demonic nature, she has ensured the safety of everyone she loves. With both Micah and Nix at her side, she wields more power than she could have ever imagined.

But not even the throne is safe when you rule in Hell.

In the wake of a failed assassination attempt, Madison learns about a realm of the damned older than Hell itself. A fierce and powerful incubus vows to escape his imprisonment there — and his efforts are weakening the bonds that hold him and countless other monsters at bay. With no plan and nowhere else to turn, Madison contacts an unlikely source for help. But whose side is he really on? Will he help preserve her reign, or bring about Hell’s downfall?

Choose your partnerships carefully…

“Fancy meeting you all alone and out in the wide open.” Madison opened her eyes in time to catch the incubus emerge from the shadows, his gaze assessing the area like a CIA agent on a national security mission. “Is this a trap?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I said no.” She nodded at his chest. “I see you located some clothing.” The black shirt fit the tone of his dark intentions.
“The evidence of your handprints caused a stir among the Hakarians. They doubt my ability to manage you.”
She grinned at that information.
“Do not gloat, bride.” Aramayis snagged her ankles, lifted them, and sat on the end of her chair.
“I have big plans for our Hakarians.”
“They are mine, and I do not share what is mine.” He settled her feet in his lap.
“You’ve got something of mine.”
He glanced up from her foot with a question in his eyes.
“Petra,” she clarified. “I want her back.”
“Aramayis lesson number one… take better care of your property or someone else will snag it from you. Unattended pets have a way of going missing.”
The smug bastard had a few lessons of his own to learn. “Either return her, Aramayis, or I’ll 
take your Hakarians from you.”
“You are weak, not worthy of their loyalty yet.” Madison didn’t give two-shits about their loyalty, but she held her tongue and he went on. “I cannot decide if your feebleness disgusts me or offers me a beneficial opportunity.”
“I’m newly made.”
“Inconceivable possibility. You are Lynx.”
Of course he would assume just because of her genetics she’d be mature. “I’m thirty years old. I only accepted my demon—”
“What is a demon?”
“I accepted my Lynx only recently. In the last couple of months or so.”
Aramayis stared at her so long she grew antsy beneath his gaze. “You jest?”
Madison shook her head. A slight twinge of Zen’s magic tickled her skin. She hoped his obvious presence distracted the incubus enough he didn’t notice Nix’s company.
He removed her sandals and put his thumbs into her insoles. First one foot, and then the other. Not one to pass up a good foot massage, she permitted his forwardness for the time being. She rewarded his efforts with a soft groan of delight, and he smiled at her.
“Where’d you learn that, incubus?”
“Bride, everything I do is designed to elicit arousal.” He sent a bead of pheromones into the bottom of her foot, and she yanked her foot out of his grasp.
Sitting straight up, she pummeled him with a Hellish fireball, knocking him off the lawn chair to the ground. She rose to her feet, braced them apart to maintain firm footing, and loomed over him. His black eyes met hers, and for a scant moment she thought he was mystified, but then he covered it up with one of his sexual innuendos. “I look forward to discovering if your violent tendencies roll over into the bedroom.”
“Here’s a Madison life lesson for you, incubus. Kidnapping my stepdaughter is a poor way to start this relationship.” She motioned between them with a flick of her fingers. “If you want me, you gotta convince me you’re worth the trade-off. Convince me you’re a better catch than what I’ve already got, because right now all I’m seeing from you is tyranny.”
Aramayis pushed to his feet and slapped dirt off his leather pants. “With me 

Gracen is a hopeless daydreamer masquerading as a “normal” person in southern society. When not writing, she’s a full-time basketball/lacrosse/guitar mom for her two sons and a devoted wife to her real-life hero-husband of over twenty years. She has an unusual relationship with her muse, Dom, but credits all her creative success to his brilliant mind. She’s addicted to writing, paranormal romance novels and movies, Alabama football, and coffee...addictions are not necessarily in order of priority. She’s convinced coffee is nectar from the gods and when blending coffee and writing together it generates the perfect creative merger. Many of her creative worlds are spawned from coffee highs and Dom’s aggressive demands. Gracen writes is multiple genres—paranormal romance, paranormal erotic romance, and contemporary romance. To learn more about Gracen or to leave her a comment, visit her website at www.gracen-miller.com.

 An absolute *must read* for Road to Hell and Team Nixah fans. Who will love it most? Those crazy gals that can't get enough of King Eliel. We get a lot more of- and in depth with Elias. Still, he hasn't won me over. As is expected of a Gracen Miller book, this special installment is full of twists and surprises, plenty of heat, and the perfect hook to leave us wanting more. 

That pretty much sums it up. What I love about this story is that the passion is as strong as ever. Like we never left this amazing, disturbing world. Despite fears, doubts, and seemingly insurmountable struggles, Mads and crew never give up without a fight. Here, the problem is knowing who the enemies really are. And that is Gracen's brilliance. This woman can twist a plot and your mind. It's painfully wonderful.

Love them or hate them, each of  these characters bring passion into every word, every thought, touch, or action. And each is a master manipulator- even our now-not so little- Amos. So, now that Mads is Queen, the rules have changed again- and so have alliances. The list of beings that want Madison and Amos dead is growing and time is running out.

While the risks seem to grow tenfold, the struggles hit home as well, and  we find our original trio questioning their arrangement. There is no denying the love between them but can Micah continue to share his one true love and creation? Can Nix handle Madison's role in Hell? And what is going on with Elias? Will Micah ever forgive his twin for his torture of Madison?

So many questions. And many, many more. As always, Gracen pushes her characters to the limit and the results are shocking and amazing. No one is safe from exposure or their pasts. The world as they know it could very well end. Would any survive? Well, we get a great glimpse into more of our faves like Zen and Elias, and how their roles have changed through choices made and destinies shifting, and that gives us a wee peek into what the future could hold for them all. Gracen also throws in a couple of treats for her diehard fans. This book is for us, after all, and it leaves us with hope for another installment. Because honestly, we still can't get enough of these characters.

I'll be honest- my one critique... I felt Micah had lost a bit of his edge. I thought maybe he'd softened, he wasn't as frightening and threatening. It made me pause. Ya'll know I sold my heart and soul to Micah way back in Madison's Life Lessons. But, as I continued to read, I saw Gracen's vision. And though I had my own doubts, she never lead me astray.

Dramatic, highly erotic, and twists at every turn... it's exactly what we wish for in a Gracen Miller novel. Buckle in, kids, you're in for another terrifying, sexy ride on the Road to Hell.

Boy can I say it was fabulous to be back in the Road to Hell series world.  Being back with Madison. Nix, Micah and of course Zen just felt like home.  I sure had missed them.
If you have followed this series so far, then Royal Partnerships will be an exciting installment for you.
It was so awesome to see how much Madison has changed.  How she has come in to her own...
Boy is she a true bada$$!!
But of course all that she does is followed up by the team of family that she has with her.
This is a review that revolves around book 4 in this series, so I can't give too much for those who haven't experienced this series.
But, I will say this...Royal Partnerships is a great addition to the Road to Hell series.  An action packed tale that has you on roller coaster of excitement.  A hot steamy read that keeps you on the edge of your seat with what will happen next.
If you haven't started this series yet, get started now....


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Thursday, June 25, 2015

RELEASE DAY BLAST: The Forgotten Mountain by Heather Lyons

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 We are so excited to bring you the Release Day Launch for Heather Lyons' THE FORGOTTEN MOUNTAIN! THE FORGOTTEN MOUNTAIN is an Adult Romantic Fairy Tale, full of adventure and fantasy and the third book in Heather’s The Collectors’ Society Series! Grab your copy today!

The Forgotten Mountain - cover
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After years spent in Wonderland, Alice Reeve learned the impossible was quite possible after all. She thought she left such fantastical realities behind when she finally returned to England. 

Now Alice has become a member of the clandestine Collectors’ Society, and the impossible has found her again in the form of an elusive villain set on erasing entire worlds. As she and the rest of the Society race to bring this mysterious murderer to justice, the fight becomes painfully personal. 

Lives are being lost. Loved ones are shattered or irrevocably altered. Each step closer Alice gets to the shadowy man she hunts, the more secrets she unravels, only to reveal chilling truths. If she wants to win this war and save millions of lives, Alice must once more embrace the impossible and make the unimaginable, imaginable. 

Sometimes, the rabbit hole leads to terrifying places.   

The van door behind us slides shut. A click signals Marianne’s adherence to my wishes, and then we three descend upon the front door, the crunch of dead leaves and twigs beneath our feet cutting through the uneasy silence the gloom sunrise has brought. In a surprising show of gentlemanly manners, the A.D. moves to open the door. When the handle does not depress, a half smile curves his lips. “It’s locked. But no worries. I can have it picked open in no time.”

“There is no need.”
Darkish-blonde brows scrunch together. “But—”
“Stand to the side, please.”
When he fails to move at my thinly veiled order, Mary not so gently yanks our companion away.
The door before us is thick. The handle is ornate. It is a beautiful door, no doubt chosen specifically to adorn a building as fine as Bücherei. It takes me three strong, measured swings of my war hammer against the handle and its surrounding area to break it apart and permanently scar its beauty. Picking a lock is kind, respectful even. A picked lock can be relocked. I do not wish this door to close behind me. I do not wish to be respectful of Bücherei.
The time for genteel manners is gone.
The A.D. is in danger of catching flies with his mouth as he ogles the door’s remnants. For someone who professes to be so clever, he certainly underestimates ladies far too often.
Stale darkness, oppressive and opaque all at once, looms before us. I am unafraid, though. I am not even taken aback. I believe in the impossible, after all. I have seen, lived the impossible.
I step past the wreckage into the house.

  The Forgotten Mountain - Off With Their Heads

Don’t miss the first two books in this series…

    The Collectors' Society front cover


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The Forgotten Mountain - Available Now

Author PhotoHeather Lyons writes epic, heartfelt love stories and has always had a thing for words. In addition to writing, she’s also been an archaeologist and a teacher. She and her husband and children live in sunny Southern California and are currently working their way through every cupcakery she can find.          

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I love how I am on this amazing roller coaster... That I keep looking toward that amazing finish yet there are so many fantastic thrills to keep us entertained..Each book in The Collector's Society has thrilled me so much and I keep thinking I will get an idea of how this will end...yet..even though I get some answers, I am still at a loss at how all this will wrap up...and that leaves me so excited...

The Forgotten Mountain gives us some pretty big shocks and surprises. You slowly keep putting the puzzle pieces together totally being astounded by all that is happening.  Eeeeepppp!!!

And Alice.. She is truly becoming my all time favorite female character.. And this says so much...
Heather Lyons has created such a complex character in her. I love her honesty, loyalty, strength.. Yet all the while her vulnerability, skepticism, and bossiness... Truly...I love her!!!!

And I gotta say...My curiosity of the Librarian probably rivals that of Alice's.. Lol

I loved how AD has gotten more time in this book and that we got to know him better...His personality is all over the place and he adds so much dimension to the story.  

But don't forget the dynamic duo of Alice and Finn...just like Alice has become one of my all time favorite characters, these two together are one of the top couples.  
Together they are invincible.  At least I thought...
So much happens in this book that as I came upon the ending, I am now dying to get to the next installment. We are left with such a cliffhanger that OMG...Seriously...what is going to happen next??
I am literally shaking in fear at what will come for these characters.

The Forgotten Mountain is another epic episode in The Collector's Society.  It grabs you from the very beginning and holds you...keeping you on the edge of your seat as each chapter goes by...until you literally fall off the cliff.. LOL..
This is a phenomenal series..The Forgotten Mountain just adds to how awesome it is...
If you haven't started it yet...what are you waiting for??
Jump in now and experience all this fabulousness with me!!  

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RELEASE DAY BLAST: The Fall and Rise and Kade Hart by A.M. Hargrove

Amazon Canada:  http://amzn.to/1B3efKf
Smashwords:  http://bit.ly/1cMbQrB

 The Fall and Rise of Kade Hart (A STAND ALONE Hart Brothers Novel)

*Contains strong language and sex so is not suitable for younger readers.

If you think this is just another Romantic Suspense—think again. Get ready for your paradigm to shift and be prepared to step into another world.

"Hello, my name is Kade Hart and I’m a drug addict." Isn't that what recovering addicts are supposed to say? Hell if I know. I’m not sure about anything anymore. Not since I met her. Juliette. She's my game-changer.

I’ve lived on the streets, been in places no one ever wants to see, survived pure hell with the bastard who raised me. I thought I'd finally managed to put all that behind me, come to terms with who and what I am. Until she walked into my life. She’s running from the people who slaughtered her family, people who want her dead, too, and she makes me want to be the kind of man who can protect her, who can save her. But I'm not sure I’m that guy. I'm no one's hero.

Or am I?

One day, on her way home from work as a sales manager, A. M. Hargrove, realized her life was on fast forward and if she didn't do something soon, it would quickly be too late to write that work of fiction she had been dreaming of her whole life. So, she rolled down the passenger window of her fabulous (not) company car and tossed out her leather briefcase. Luckily, the pedestrian in the direct line of fire was a dodge ball pro and had über quick reflexes enabling him to avoid getting bashed in the head. Feeling a tad guilty about the near miss, A. M. made a speedy turn down a deserted side street before tossing her crummy, outdated piece-of-you-know-what laptop out the window. She breathed a liberating sigh of relief, picked up her cell phone, called her boss, and quit her job. Grinning, she made another call to her hubs and told him of her new adventure (after making sure his heart was beating properly again).

So began A. M. Hargrove's career as a Naughty and Nice Romance Author. Her books include the following: Edge of Disaster, Shattered Edge and Kissing Fire (The Edge Series); The Guardians of Vesturon Series (Survival, Resurrection, Determinant, reEmergent, and Beginnings); Dark Waltz, Death Waltz, Tragically Flawed (Tragic 1), Tragic Desires (Tragic 2), Exquisite Betrayal, Dirty Nights; and lastly Freeing Her, Freeing Him, and Kestrel—all part of the Hart Brothers Series.

Other than being in love with writing about love, she loves chocolate, ice cream, and coffee and is positive they should be added as part of the USDA food groups.


Juliette Emilie
Two Years Ago

My car was loaded with all my belongings. It was sad to leave my friends but wasn’t that a part of graduating from college? Commencement had taken place two weeks before and we’d all decided to hang around for an extra week. That expanded into two. My parents finally put their feet firmly down and said it was time to head home and start job hunting. Then we made a pact. We swore we’d text or call each other every single day and post the worst pictures possible of ourselves on Facebook. After our laughs turned into tears, we cried. I mean ugly cried. If that hadn’t been bad enough, I was teary-eyed all the way home, too.

As part of my graduation gift, my parents promised to take the family on a vacation. We were supposed to leave the following week for a trip to the Caribbean. We’d been once before when I was a kid, but my little sister didn’t remember. She and I were both excited because it had been ages since we’d hung out together. We were three years apart and I adored her, so this would be a special trip for us.

When I pulled in the driveway, I honked the horn. They knew when to expect me because I texted them when I left my apartment. I thought it was weird that no one came to the door. Some kind of homecoming, after all that begging to get me back here. Instead of lugging my stuff inside, I decided to enlist their help.

Barging in the front door, all smiles, I came to a screeching halt. Furiously, I blinked to clear my vision. The scene that greeted me could in no way be real. It wasn’t possible to process what I was seeing. Was this some kind of a cruel joke? Was this a staged scene to make me regret staying so long at school?

I squeezed my eyes shut, praying when I opened them again it would all be gone, because I knew none of the above could be actual … concrete. It had to be fictional. It was the scent of blood that clued me in … that brought me out of my frozen state. I never knew what a distinct and pungent odor blood had. And why would I? I had never been around such an enormous quantity of it before. There were rivers and ponds of it, forming into pools as it still trickled from the bodies of my mom, dad, and sister.

“Oh, God. Oh, God, oh, God.” I swallowed and then tried to scream, but only a weird squeak emerged from my mouth. It was only when I tasted my own blood that I realized my hand was clamped over my face so hard, my teeth had gouged into my lips. My baby sister, Sylvie, was stripped naked and lay slumped on her side, one arm bent across her stomach, the other stretched out, palm open. My mom, my beloved mother, was facing my sister, both arms reaching out to her as if she tried to get to Sylvie before she died. And next to my mom was my dad, flat on his back, vacant eyes staring at the ceiling.

“Noooo!” I finally screeched. There was so much blood everywhere. I wanted to hug all of them, hold them in my arms, but all I could do was stare at the gruesome scene in front of me. The thought never occurred to me that whoever did this could still be in the house. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I should call 911, but the shock of seeing it all took every bit of rationality away from me. My head involuntarily jerked between the three of them, eventually settling on my dad. My shaky legs carried me as far as the sofa until my hip slumped against it, and my butt slid to the floor.

I sat and stared at their faces for I don’t know how long. They say right before you die, your life flashes through your mind. I don’t know if that’s true, but as I sat there staring at my murdered family, memories zoomed through my head—almost like a slide show on fast-forward of photos from family events. It began when I was a young girl and ended at my college graduation just a couple of weeks ago. My whole being vibrated with agony, knowing those were the final memories I would have of them.

My entire family lay dead. Not just dead, but slaughtered, each one dying their own heinous death. My dad’s neck was ripped apart, jagged pieces of his flesh lying open. One arm was extended toward my mother, and the index and middle fingers of that hand were missing. My mom’s neck was sliced wide open from one side to the other, not jagged like my dad’s, but cleanly slit, almost to the point of decapitation. Both of them had their legs split open from their groins to their knees. The blood was still seeping through their clothing, the mangled threads edged with their bloody tissue. But Sylvie was the one that got to me the most. Her neck was bruised and slashed, just like Mom’s. Only there were puncture wounds all over her body. Some were about an inch wide where others were cylindrical shaped. Blood seeped from each of them, running into lines creating zigzags of red all over her pale skin. I couldn’t even allow myself to imagine what had made them. Worse yet, there was no sight of her clothing anywhere. What kind of cruel people would have done such a terrible thing to them? Was this a mob killing? Or some kind of gangland initiation?

Even though they were the victims, I felt like my guts had been sawed out right along with their souls. My belly heaved and I forced the bile back down. The piercing pain that slashed my heart to shreds radiated through me ceaselessly. I hugged myself in a stupid attempt to ease the pain, but I should have known better. That would’ve been like putting a Band-Aid on an amputation. And that’s exactly how I felt. Like someone had cut off my arms and legs. For some reason I was unable to wrest my eyes away from the horror movie I was seeing. It was hideous. Too final. Who could’ve done such a thing, I kept asking myself. And why? My mind raced. Suddenly, my heart gave a massive lurch and a surge of adrenaline coursed through me. Body tingling, a jolt of panic instantly flooded my veins and I found it impossible to expand my lungs. I crashed sideways to the floor and it was then I saw it. Next to my dad’s hand, scrawled in his blood, he’d written two words.

JE hide

JE. Those were my initials. Juliette Emilie. Why would he write my initials in his blood and the word “hide” right after them? The “e” on the end of hide was barely formed, as if it took all of his effort to complete it. Oh, Jesus. Oh, God. He must’ve known something. He was telling me to hide. Hide from what? What did he know? Did he know who did this to them? And if so, were they looking for me now? Oh, shit. If so, I needed to get out of here. But where would I go?

Sometimes a sense of intuition seeps into you and you have no idea where it came from. At that very moment, something settled over me and I crawled toward my dad, reached for his arm, and using his sleeve, I dragged it through the blood to smear the words he’d written. Scrambling to my feet, making sure I avoided any of the congealing blood, and nearly crashing back to the floor several times, I staggered out the door to my car. My hands shook so violently I couldn’t put the key in the ignition. It took several stabs until I was successful, but I roared out of the driveway, tires squealing. It was a battle to stay conscious as I fought hyperventilation, but I did. My brain was scrambled eggs. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Shit! My family had been mutilated and my dad left me a message in his own blood that told me to hide! That meant I couldn’t call my friends. That meant I was alone. I slammed my hands against the steering wheel. What the fuck was I going to do?

I couldn’t think straight. Images of my butchered family kept speeding through my head. My hand clenched my hair, grasping a handful of it. I wanted to rip every damn strand of it out. I screamed as loud as I could as I drove. Then it hit me. I needed money. Dad always said he kept an emergency stash of cash in his safe. That’s where I needed to go.

My dad didn’t believe in keeping his valuables at home. Dad was a gemologist and owned a jewelry store. He always said that keeping his safe at an obscure location was a much smarter place for it than storing it at home. My next stop was a storage facility where dad kept the safe. He’d chosen a facility that wasn’t under surveillance—one that didn’t attract attention. If you ask me, it looked sketchy, but he said that was the idea. No one would ever think he’d be foolish enough to keep a safe there.

I drove to the location and it was dark and creepy. Under usual circumstances I would’ve been fine, but I was so freaked out and panic-driven, I wasn’t sure I could make myself get out of the car. I knew I needed cash to go on, so I had no choice. The more I thought about it, using my credit cards wouldn’t be an option. If Dad told me to hide, then whoever did this would probably know when and if I used them. Then a new surge of fear almost did me in. What if they followed me? What if they were watching the house? I craned my neck to see if there was anyone about, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary, so I opened the storage unit door and went inside. I ran to Dad’s unit, unlocked the combination lock, and lifted the door. It was noisy and made me even more jittery. After I pulled the string that turned on the overhead light, I noticed the only thing in the unit was the safe. He used to keep odds and ends in here, but they had all been removed. I didn’t spend time thinking about it, but went directly to the safe, unlocked it, and dumped the contents of it in an empty duffle bag I had in my car. Not even sparing a second to see what was inside, I closed everything back up and was back behind the wheel in minutes.

With my heart still clanging my chest, I headed toward the interstate, to an unknown destination. Then a thought hit me. GPS! My cell phone. It had GPS. Could I be tracked? I couldn’t remember. I would dump it anyway, just to be on the safe side. But I had to delete everything on it, as in my contacts or they could find me through my friends. Shit, shit, shit!

“Calm down! Think, think, think, Jules.”

I wasn’t cut out for this. I was twenty-two years old and had just graduated from college with a degree in computer science for crying out loud. Coming up with a safe house wasn’t in my repertoire. So I did the only thing I could think of. I drove to the most obvious place—the police station. I even thought about walking inside and reporting what I’d found, but a voice in the back of my brain advised me against it. Again, call it intuition. As I sat in the parking lot, I quickly did a mass delete on all my contacts, and texts. Then I drove to a dumpster, where I ran over my phone several times, effectively crushing it, before tossing it inside.

Not much later I was on I-10 headed west to an unknown destination. In less than an hour, my life had taken a one hundred and eighty degree turn. I had just driven this way as I came home from LSU, in tears because I was leaving my friends behind. Now I was in tears for a much more compelling reason. My family had been slaughtered in our own home and the carnage left behind would haunt my waking and sleeping hours until the day I died. Forcing back the tears that threatened to overcome me, I drove on. I needed to push it all aside and figure out a plan. If I didn’t, I feared I would be in the same situation as they were. I had to pull off the road a few times when my sobs and tears made it impossible to see or drive. But later, my vision blurred for a different reason—exhaustion. It was right before midnight when I checked into a Days Inn outside of Houston, Texas. I paid for the room in cash and took the duffle bag I filled in the storage unit, along with my overnight bag in the room. I was thirsty and should’ve been hungry, but the contortions in my guts were so damned awful, I knew I’d never be able to swallow a bite.

Once settled, I dug out the contents of the duffle bag. As expected, there was a lot of cash. I counted over fifty thousand. That was good and bad. Good, because I would need the money to survive on for who knew how long. Bad, because I would have to be very careful. Carrying that much cash was dangerous. There was also a metal box that contained loose diamonds. What I would do with those, I had no clue. I would hide them somewhere and figure that out at a later time. Then I found an unusual necklace. It was a black metal chain and some kind of odd-looking gemstone—one I had never seen before. With it was a folded up note in a strange script. I couldn’t read it, but there were also notes in my father’s handwriting. His notes read:

Necklace brought in by customer and left with me. Unknown substance. Never before seen. Checked all data entries to date and could not identify. Customer also gave me the untranslatable note. Took to linguistics professor at Tulane and he was unfamiliar with the language. Predates anything he’d ever seen. My best guess—some ancient tribal torque. Stone seems to pick up unusual traits when exposed to heat, cold, darkness and light.

And that was it. There was also a Bible with it and a few passages marked. That wasn’t surprising since my dad was a very spiritual man.
But then as I was putting everything away, a small slip of thick paper fell out of the Bible. All it said was:

To the keeper: wear at all times. Let not it fall into false hands lest ye face universal destruction.

The handwriting was odd and not my father’s. What did this mean? Why was it so important to wear this all the time? And if it were so important to be worn, what was it doing in my father’s safe, obviously not being worn by anyone? What did it mean by false hands? And where did Dad get this? And why wasn’t he able to identify the stone? He was a gemologist, for crying out loud. He should’ve been able to identify any kind of stone. So many damn unanswered questions. I looked at the paper again. It was yellowed and thick, like old parchment. The letters were drawn and looked more like symbols, now that I inspected it more closely. What did this mean? As my fingers brushed across the surface of the paper, I found that it wasn’t really paper at all, but a type of stiff cloth. I lifted it up to the light, not quite sure what I was searching for. As I stared at it, something seemed to go in and out of focus. I blamed it on my sleep-deprived state. I’d been up late the night before, partying with my friends. And now dealing with this, my brain was not functioning properly. I knew I needed to crash, but I doubted I could actually sleep. I decided to turn on the TV and see if a movie might lull me into a calm enough state.

I drifted off and woke up about five-thirty. As I lay there, I thought I heard someone sneaking around in my room. I quickly turned the light on and didn’t breathe easy until I made sure I was safe. Since I was awake, I grabbed my computer and got on the hotel’s internet. I immediately checked the New Orleans news and saw there were no murders reported. Since it was still early, no one had probably realized my family had even been killed. The idea that they were gone brought another round of body-racking sobs, but I forced them back. I couldn’t let myself grieve for them, as much as I wanted to. I couldn’t let myself curl up in that tiny ball and wither away, even though that’s what I wanted. They wouldn’t want that. They would want me to push on and survive. So that’s what I did. I came up a plan. I would drive to Oklahoma City. It seemed like an obscure enough of a town, and no one I knew would ever think to look for me there because I didn’t know a soul in Oklahoma. I stopped in Dallas for a couple of hours and made it to Oklahoma City by mid afternoon, where I got a room at a Hampton Inn.

After I checked in, I took a badly needed shower. Luckily enough, I had organized and packed my bags for vacation, so all my stuff was in one suitcase. After my shower, I got on the hotel internet again to check the New Orleans news. I was shocked to see there were no reports of my family’s murder. What was going on? Why wouldn’t someone have called it in? My dad owned a jewelry store and my mom worked there with him. Surely someone had noticed they hadn’t opened in the last day. What was going on? I came up with all sorts of weird explanations, but none of them were solid. And then there were my sister’s friends. Why hadn’t they come around and reported it? None of this added up. Maybe I was wrong to have run the way I did. Maybe I should’ve stayed and called the police. But Dad’s note was clearly meant for me. He wouldn’t have written it in his own blood as he died, if he didn’t think I was in danger.

I needed a reality check. Was my mind lucid? I went back and ticked through the facts as I remembered them. Left school and all was fine. Talked to my mom that morning and texted her in the afternoon as I was leaving. Got home to a macabre scene. Found Dad’s note next to his body, telling me to hide. Left home and went to the storage unit to retrieve the contents of his safe. Then I hit the road. How could I not be lucid? I was as sane as ever.

Then something nagged at me. I grabbed my computer and Googled Dad’s jewelry store. Nothing came up. That was odd. He’d had a website forever. I revamped it two years ago and would help him whenever he had issues with it. I just did maintenance on the thing a month ago. His business should’ve come up in a Google search. Next I entered his website’s address, which was only his business’ name. That directed me to a search page, as if the website didn’t exist. I knew the website existed, damn it. What the hell was going on here? So I tried it again and the same thing happened. I entered “Bressan’s Gems” into Google again. Nothing showed up. It was as if the store had never existed. I went to Yellow Pages to look them up. There was no listing. Okay, this was really weirding me out. How could that be? How could all this be wiped out in a matter of a couple of days? A business can’t just disappear. That’s not possible.

Or is it? Whoever killed my parents must have ties to the government or someone really powerful to be able to do something like that. You can’t erase stuff from the internet like that. Not unless you know people. Powerful people. Shit. I’m in deep ass trouble. What the hell did my dad do? Who was he mixed up with? Was he involved in diamond smuggling or something? I couldn’t believe my dad would do anything like that. Dad was as honest as the day is long. He and Mom emphasized that no matter what, never ever lie. No, Dad wouldn’t do anything illegal. This was something else. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.

I slammed my computer shut, packed up my stuff, and left. I needed to get the hell out of there. If they were tracking anyone Googling the store, they could track the IP address where I Googled it from. I had no time to spare.

Nine hours later, I pulled into Albuquerque, New Mexico. There would be no hotel for me this time. Instead, I headed to an outdoor and camping store and purchased a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. I also bought a bunch of other equipment, such as a lantern, cooler, and items one would need for camping. Dad used to take us camping when we were young, so I was familiar with the basics of it. Then I asked the sales clerk where a good campground was. He gave me several options and off I went. That tent became my temporary home. During the evening, I also devised a new a plan. I didn’t know if I could pull it off, but if I knew if I didn’t, I would most likely die because I had no doubt the people who killed my family would find and kill me too. It was a huge risk, and I would have to be as convincing as I’d ever been, but if it worked, it would be the key to saving my life.