Blog Tour: Alien Minds by Christina Bauer [EXCERPT + GIVEAWAY]

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Book Title: Alien Minds
Author: Christina Bauer
Series: Dimension Drift #1
Published by: Monster House Books
Publication Date: April 23rd 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

DIVERGENT meets OCEAN’S EIGHT in this urban fantasy heist!

On my seventeenth birthday, I wake up in the hospital to find I just survived a sketchy but terrible accident. My parents stand by my bedside—both are beautiful, wealthy, and super-nice. They tell me that once I leave the hospital, I’ll attend the prestigious ECHO Academy, where I’ll churn out equations for the government along with my mega-smart peers.

So, I’m living the perfect life.

Then why does everything feel all wrong?

My parents, my house and even ECHO Academy…none of it fits. Plus, what’s up with Thorne, my brooding yet yummy classmate who keeps telling me I need to remember my true past, which seems to have included a lot of us kissing? That’s one thing I’d really like to remember, except for the fact that I’m pretty sure Thorne is hiding a ton of nasty secrets of his own, including the fact that he may not be from this world. But considering how my own past seems alien to me, it’s not like I can judge. Plus, Thorne has dimples. That’s a problem.

And worst of all, why does it feel so yucky to work on these calculations for the government? It’s all supposed to be part of ECHO, but my heart tells me that I’m helping something truly terrible come to pass. Thorne seems to think that kissing him again will release my real memories.

Maybe it’s time to pucker up.

“Appealing and engaging. Love the strong female character!” – Arlene’s Book Reviews

This new series is perfect for: fans of urban fantasy, action & adventure, cool science, evil corporations, forbidden romance and hot new classmates who may or may not be aliens.


EXCERPT

Excerpt – Opening Chapter
Meimi

In this moment, I know four things.

One, I just woke up in a hospital bed.

Two, I don’t remember anything about my life before today. Hello, amnesia!

Three, I want out of here now because …

Four, there’s a creepy couple in my room—Luci and Josiah—who claim they’re my sponsor parents. According to them, I’m a seventeen-year-old science prodigy called Wisteria Roberts.

Huh. That name rings zero bells.

Plus, these two make my skin crawl.

“We sponsor you financially,” explains Josiah. “Then in the fall, we’ll fund your senior year of high school at ECHO Academy.” Josiah’s a lanky guy with slicked-back hair, a frayed suit, and an overly large Adam’s apple.

“Afterward, you’ll pay us back with interest,” adds Luci. “Forty percent. Compounded annually.”

Luci is tall and willowy with white-blonde tresses. By contrast, I’m a curvy girl with brown hair and green eyes. I’m also wrapped up mummy-style with bandages. According to Luci and Josiah, I took a spill on Newbury Street and lost my memory. So sketchy.

Some small voice in my head cries that I should be terrified right now. Instead, I just feel numb. Must be a happy side effect of having no memory. Like an amnesia bonus.

“You’ll love living in our dorm,” says Josiah. “In fact, think of me more as your sponsor friend than your sponsor parent.”

At this point, that small part of me screams how Josiah is a disgusting pig. But more of me is still happily numb, so the warnings go nowhere.

Screech, screech, screech!

A chorus of alarm bells sound. Red lights flash in the outer hallway. An overly calm female voice drones through hidden speakers. “Cleansing search commencing … cleansing search commencing. All hail the Authority … All hail the Authority.”

With that, the inner cogs of my brain connect and whir. Feelings return. My blood chills over with fear. I may not recall my personal history, but I do remember how our evil government—what we call the Authority—conducts cleansing searches. They find the sick or poor, label them as undesirable, and slate them for cleansing. It’s a fancy word for murder.

The alarms wail louder. My heart rate skyrockets. If there’s a cleansing search, I’m a slam dunk to be undesirable. Yipes.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AB Christina Bauer pic.jpgChristina Bauer thinks that fantasy books are like bacon: they just make life better. All of which is why she writes romance novels that feature demons, dragons, wizards, witches, elves, elementals, and a bunch of random stuff that she brainstorms while riding the Boston T. Oh, and she includes lots of humor and kick-ass chicks, too.

Christina graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School with BA’s in English along with Television, Radio, and Film Production. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband, son, and semi-insane golden retriever, Ruby.

Be the first to know about new releases from Christina by signing up for her newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/CBupdates

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GIVEAWAY

Win a copy of Alien Minds (print or ebook) and more!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Blog Tour: Smoke and Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg [REVIEW, FAVORITE QUOTES + GIVEAWAY!]

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SMOKE AND SUMMONS COVER (1).jpgBook Title: Smoke and Summons
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Series: Numina Trilogy #1
Publisher: 47North
Publication Date: February 1st 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository / Barnes & Noble

A captivating world of monsters and magic from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician Series.

As a human vessel for an ancient spirit, Sandis lives no ordinary life. At the command of her master, she can be transformed against her will into his weapon—a raging monster summoned to do his bidding. Unlike other vessels, Sandis can host extremely powerful spirits, but hosting such creatures can be fatal. To stay alive, she must run. And in a city fueled by smoke and corruption, she finds a surprising ally.

A cunning thief for hire, Rone owns a rare device that grants him immortality for one minute every day—a unique advantage that will come in handy in Sandis’s fight for freedom. But Sandis’s master knows how powerful she is. He’s determined to get her back, and he has the manpower to find her, wherever she runs.

Now, to outwit her pursuers, Sandis must put all her trust in Rone and his immortal device. For her master has summoned more than mere men to hunt her down…


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour hosted by Fantastic Flying Book Club.

MY THOUGHTS

I’m so excited to finally be able to share my thoughts about this book. This is the first I’ve read of the author’s works and I must say that I am impressed! The writing is spectacular and it kept me reading, more and more.

Smoke & Summons was unlike anything I’ve read before. It has a unique plot, with our main character starting out as a vessel for summoning unearthly beings to do unspeakable acts at the command of her owner.

Also, this book involves a rich background and history of both the main characters and the fantasy world itself. It is evident that this has been well-thought of and has been executed perfectly. Aside from that, I want to let you know that I’ve read this faster than I anticipated, despite my hectic school schedule. That’s how hooked I was. There definitely wasn’t a dull moment in this book, and it always kept me wanting more!

If that isn’t enough, Sandis and Rone were very likable main characters. Sandis, having lived most of her life growing up isolated and underground, is still pretty shell-shocked about the life above ground. I love her so much, that precious human. She has gone through so much but she has been nothing but nice still. I sympathized with her throughout the whole book. On the other hand, Rone definitely knows his way around. He is strong, hard-willed and adaptable to different situations. This makes them such a great duo since their personalities clash. They make great teamwork and it’s funny seeing Rone crack a sarcastic remark to just go over Sandis’s head! 😂

Overall, Smoke & Summons was truly a fantastic read. For someone getting into YA fantasy (and even those who mainly read books in that genre), this is an amazing book, jam-packed with action and excitement that will surely get you going! I’m very much looking forward to read the next in the series and the author’s other works.


FAVORITE QUOTES

She’d always loved the sun. No matter how hard things got, the sun was a bright constant against the city’s smoke and fear.

“You talk like you’re a thing.”
“To him, I am.” Her touch crept up to his neck. “I’m glad you don’t think so.”

Sandis hugged herself, trying to hold the sensation in. She balled her body around it, protecting that last semblance of love.

She could protect them, even when no one had protected her.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

author.jpgBorn in Salt Lake City, Charlie N. Holmberg was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters who also have boy names. She is a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and finally adopted a dog. Her fantasy Paper Magician series, which includes The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, and The Master Magician, has been optioned by the Walt Disney Company. Her stand-alone novel, Followed by Frost, was nominated for a 2016 RITA Award for Best Young Adult Romance, and her novel The Fifth Doll won the 2018 Whitney for Speculative Fiction. She is a board member for Deep Magic Ezine and currently lives with her family in Utah. Visit her at http://www.charlienholmberg.com.

Website / Goodreads / Twitter / Facebook / Instagram


GIVEAWAY

Win a finished copy of Smoke and Summons by Charlie N. Holmberg (US Only)

Start Date: 10th February 2019
End Date: 5th March 2019

Wrapping It Up: JANUARY 2019

HI FRIENDSSSS! If it isn’t clear enough from the title, I’m doing an much overdue wrap-up. Man, I haven’t done this kind of post in ages, I’m pretty sure I forgot how to write this. But anyhoo, what’s important is that I’m trying. wink wink. So here it is!!


BOOKS

Before anything else, I would just like to give huge thanks to Kaleena @ Reader Voracious Blog for a wonderful spreadsheet tracker that proved SOOOO useful for me. The chart graphics that I will be including here are from the results of that spreadsheet as well! If you’re anything like me, who wants to keep track of everything in life because being forgetful sucks, I highly recommend using the 2019 Book Blogger Spreadsheet Template.

For the month of January, I’ve read a total of 7 books which is a lot in my perspective. I’m usually a very slow reader due to a hectic academic schedule so I’m very satisfied with my progress for this month.

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Disclaimer: By clicking on the book covers above, you will be redirected to my Amazon affiliate link for the corresponding book. Purchase from that link and you’ll be able to help me and my blog out tremendously at no additional cost for you!

My favorite book for January 2019 would have to be The Silver Queen because I just adore that series. I’m so stoked to read the third book but in the meantime, you can check my review of The Silver Queen here.

PROGRESS GRAPHS

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I’ve been meaning to cut down on my backlist TBR for a while now and I’m so glad that I’m making progress since half of the books I’ve read in January were backlist titles. There’s still a lot of ARCs I need to get to but I like mixing up my reading with backlist ones.

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This one’s exciting as well! I have always loved Fantasy but I found myself not reading as many books as I would like from that genre. I mostly turn to Mystery and Contemporary as they are my favorite, so one of my resolutions for the year is to widen my horizons when it comes to genres! Well, so far so good for my progress in reading Fantasy, in my opinion!

BLOG

For the month of January, my blog statistics have been much more than what I’ve expected when I came back from my hiatus and I can’t thank you all enough for that!! The feedback I’ve received from all of you guys at my blog posts are so mindblowing and very heartwarming. Mindblowing because, frankly, I did not expect that anyone would care enough to read my blog posts, much less like and comment on them! So that really inspired me to write and post blog posts more than I have before for the next months to come!!

Here are all the blog posts I’ve published in January 2019:

I’ve realized that I really do love making book reviews and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon LOL. And I’m trying to participate in more events like blog tours, cover reveals and book blitzes. But the most exciting (and my favorite blog post in January) is my first discussion post in a looooong whileLuxe’s Thoughts: UK vs US Book Covers and YOU GUYS ARE SO SWEET AND AMAZING with your responses!

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PERSONAL LIFE

Last January, I went back to school from our holiday break and so far, everything’s miraculously alright. I’m actually so proud of myself for doing quite well academic-wise, having no emotional breakdowns so far. My anxiety hasn’t been too bad lately and it is actually quite manageable most of the time!

On other news, I’ve acquired a bunch of lovely blogger friends—which are all Filipinos as well, might I add! This just means so much to me because they’re the first actual blogger friends who I constantly talk to. I JUST LOVE THEM, OKAY??

PSA: You should definitely follow their blogs because, as I’ve said and will say again and again, they’re fantastic, kind, gentle hoomans that deserve all the love in the world!


I now have a positive feeling for both my blog and personal life! I feel like I’m truly heading in the right direction and I can’t wait for what the future (for both my personal life and blogging) awaits for me.

For February, I didn’t set a particular TBR since I have a bold one for my Year of the Asian Reading Challenge sign-up and I think that it may be too much pressure for me if I had another TBR for February.

So, I guess that’s it for this wrap-up. I haven’t achieved much in retrospect but I’m pretty happy with myself nevertheless. How about you? How was your January? What other things do you put on wrap-ups? (Please help I am CLUELESS!) Let’s chat!

Blog Tour: That’s Not What I Heard by Stephanie Kate Strohm [BOOK REVIEW + MOODBOARD]

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Book Title: That’s Not What I Heard
Author: Stephanie Kate Strohm
Series: N/A (Standalone)
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: January 29th 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo

What did you hear?

Kimberly Landis-Lilley and Teddy Lin are over. Yes, the Kim and Teddy broke up.

At least that’s what Phil Spooner thinks he overheard and then told Jess Howard, Kim’s best friend. Something about Teddy not liking Kim’s Instas? Or was it that Teddy is moving to Italy and didn’t want to do long distance? Or that Kim slid into someone else’s DMs?

Jess told her boyfriend, Elvis, that he needs to be on Kim’s side. Especially if he wants to keep her as his girlfriend. But Elvis is also Teddy’s best friend.

Now, Kim’s run out of school for the day. Jess is furious. Elvis is confused. And half the lunch period won’t talk to Teddy. Even the teachers have taken sides.

William Henry Harrison High will never be the same again!


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour hosted by Fantastic Flying Book Club.

MY THOUGHTS

That’s Not What I Heard has been on my radar recently since I saw it from a fellow blogger’s post/tweet. I thought the premise quite interesting and fun, but I didn’t expect the book to be this entertaining!

The book started off by introducing the most important thing (apparently) in William Henry Harrison High, Kim and Teddy. Their relationship, albeit only been briefly explored, was enough to make me wish for my own. I’ve always been such a hopeless romantic so a bit of romance impacts me a ton! Then the story continues on to the breakup of the said couple. A random student, who happened to be just buying chips from the vending machine, overheard the breakup and told someone who told someone who told someone… You get the idea. From then on, the rumors started getting more and more ludicrous that it ultimately led to their school’s chaos.

That’s Not What I Heard is told in the multiple perspectives of the characters. It was so interesting to read about since each of their thoughts were so different from one another, and the gravity of the situation can really be felt through this.

The story was really entertaining, I enjoyed every single page of this. Its flair for the dramatic got me laughing so damn hard at times! The different characters were fairly likeable and I love that each of them has their own quirks and personalities.

Also, I’m not sure if it’s just my deep, dramatic side that wants to take a lesson out of everything, but the message of the book was pretty good! Rumors are like wildfire; once lit, they destroy everything in their way, causing social structures and order to come tumbling down.

Overall, That’s Not What I Heard was absolutely worth the read. If you’re looking for a quirky and obnoxiously fun read, I really think think that this one’s for you!


✨ MOODBOARD BY YOURS TRULY ✨

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie Kate Strohm is the author of The Taming of the DrewPilgrims Don’t Wear PinkConfederates Don’t Wear CoutureIt’s Not Me, It’s You and Prince in Disguise. She grew up in Connecticut and attended Middlebury College in Vermont, where she was voted Winter Carnival Queen. Currently she lives in Chicago with her fiance and a little white dog named Lorelei Lee.

Website / Goodreads / Twitter / Facebook

 

Book Blitz: Dream Keeper by Amber R. Duell [EXCERPT + GIVEAWAY]

You will not believe how excited I am to be sharing the news that Dream Keeper by Amber R. Duell is finally out! This book is simply a spectacular read. You can know more about why I LOVED this book here.

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book yet (HOW?!), be sure to
check out all the details below. This blitz also includes an international giveaway for a $10 Amazon Gift Card, courtesy of The Parliament House and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

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Book Title: Dream Keeper
Author: Amber R. Duell
Published by: The Parliament House
Publication date: January 29th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Pages: 288

Goodreads / Amazon / B&N / Kobo

The Sandman is seventeen-year-old Nora’s closest friend and best-kept secret. He has to be, if she doesn’t want a one-way ticket back to the psychiatrist. It took her too long to learn not to mention the hooded figure in her dreams to her mother, who still watches Nora as if she’ll crack. So when Nora’s friends start mysteriously dying gruesome deaths in their sleep, she isn’t altogether surprised when the police direct their suspicion at her. The Sandman is the only one she can turn to for answers. But the truth might be more than she bargained for…

For the last five years, the Sandman has spent every night protecting Nora. When he hid the secret to the Nightmare Lord’s escape inside her dreams, he never expected to fall in love with her. Neither did he think his nemesis would find her so quickly, but there’s no mistaking his cruel handiwork. The Nightmare Lord is tired of playing by the rules and will do anything to release his deadly nightmares into the world, even if that means tormenting Nora until she breaks.

When the Nightmare Lord kidnaps Nora’s sister, Nora must enter enemy territory to save her. The Sandman is determined to help, but if Nora isn’t careful, she could lose even more than her family to the darkness.


BOOK TRAILER


EXCERPT

2
NORA

Shadows danced in the soft warmth of the white mini-lights strung around my bedroom. I hopped around my bed, fumbling with the buckle on my sandals,  and tossed my purse in the corner. Something hard—probably my phone—thwacked against the light blue wall.

“Whoops,” I muttered, then growled at the metal hook locking my footwear in place. There were places to go, people to see. Or, rather, one person, and it was already hours past our usual meeting time. I jerked at the stiff strap. “Get off.”

Finally, it popped, and I kicked it triumphantly into the corner with my bag. The other came off without any trouble, and my stomach fluttered in anticipation. I tugged off my jean shorts and stepped into a pair of plaid pajama bottoms, leaving on the ribbed tank top I wore out tonight. Who cared that a glob of nacho cheese stained the front? The Sandman certainly wouldn’t.

Climbing beneath the cool sheets, I dragged in a long breath and released it slowly. A small grin played on my lips as I stared at the lights hanging overhead. Then I shut my eyes and waited. Waited for sleep to claim me. To deliver me. But my body was too tense, and my mind still flipped through the day’s events as ridiculously boring as they were. When the highlight of your day was painting your nails a new color, what was there to mull over?

After a handful of long minutes, I opened my eyes again and bit my lip. I could ask. It had been… Actually, I couldn’t remember the last time I asked him for anything. Even this. But I had to be up early for work tomorrow and we’d already missed out on hours together. A grin crept across my face.

“Sandman,” I whispered, and closed my eyes again in preparation. “Help me sleep.”

It came swiftly then, sweeping me gently from my world to another as easily as the breeze carries a feather. I curled my toes, feeling the powder-like sand of the Sandman’s beach beneath my bare feet, and opened my eyes. The endless blanket of bright stars, the luminescent waves, the Sandman… This place, this dream, was like coming home.

“Sorry I’m late,” I called with a smile in my voice. The light aroma of lilacs filled my lungs and I sighed, content. “Natalie and Emery dragged me to a party to  celebrate our final first day of summer vacation.” By this time next year, we would all be high school graduates and legal adults—neither of which I was ready to think about. I stretched my arms over my head and fought a yawn. “Sandman?” There was no reply. I dropped my arms and spun, searching for a glimpse of the familiar black-clad figure. This was our spot—the place directly below the brightest star. My brows lowered in confusion. So why wasn’t he here? He was always here. “Where are you?”

The only sound was the soft hush of waves lapping the shore. I turned again, squinting down the beach, but there was no hooded figure in sight. My heart skipped a beat. The dream seemed to yawn open, the emptiness pressing in on me from all sides. He had to be here somewhere. A pit formed in my stomach, and I staggered back, unsteady. He had to.

The beach was an addiction I didn’t know how to cure myself of—didn’t want to cure myself of. For every time I had to pretend this place didn’t exist, the Sandman was there to absolve me of the lies. There to make me feel like I was good and sane and normal. It didn’t matter that he was also the reason I didn’t feel any of those things were true when I was awake. The Sandman was my anchor, holding me firm when life tried to wash me out to sea. Without him… I swallowed hard. Without him, I would be a ship without sails.

“Sandman!” I jogged down the water’s edge, my pulse drumming in my ears. “I’m here.”

But he wasn’t.

 

THREE THIRTY-TWO.

The clock on my nightstand glowed green, the colon blinking in a slow, torturous rhythm. I tapped my fingers on my stomach. The Sandman had never been a no-show before. And if he wasn’t there, maybe that meant they were right, and he wasn’t real.

No.

I refused to believe that. My mother meant well, but I couldn’t face a lifetime of pill-pushing psychiatrists. One white-haired doctor tossing around words like personality disorder and delusional was enough. By the time the final doctor deemed the Sandman a simple outlet for me to process my parents’ divorce, the damage was done.

Don’t worry about it, he said. It will pass, he said.

That was five years ago.

The divorce was a distant memory. My father moved across the country and my mother remarried, but the Sandman became a permanent fixture. One I’d learned to never, ever talk about.

What’s going on? I pushed the thought toward the Sandman even though I knew he couldn’t hear me. There was only one call that reached from this side of the Dream World to his, only one cry capable of bringing him here, but it never stopped me from trying.

I flung the sheets back with a huff and grabbed an oversized Lund Valley Community College sweater from the end of my bed. Natalie hoped we would go there together next year but… I wrinkled my nose and glanced at the dresser drawer where my sketchbook was carefully tucked between scarves. If I went to college at all, it would be for art, but that was a big if. No one in my family knew I drew, and if my mother was going to let me major in something “impractical,” she would want to at least see my work. Unfortunately, each page featured a majestic beach and a man hidden beneath a hood. Both things I was supposed to have forgotten long ago.

Tugging the sweater over my head, I made my way through the dark hallway toward the stairs. My mother and step-father were both working the night shift at the hospital and my sister could sleep through anything, yet I found myself tip-toeing down the hall.

I paused outside Katie’s door and listened to the steady, heavy breathing on the other side. Part of me wanted to wake my sister up to talk about what happened, but the other part of me—the part that remembered the piercing fluorescent lights of a therapist’s office—knew better. Katie had teased me about the Sandman when we were younger, but she never treated me differently. However, now we were older. Barging into her room to complain that my imaginary friend hadn’t shown up that night might alienate the last blood relative I could rely on.

Although Katie annoyed me like no one else, I loved her more than I was irritated with her. I needed my big sister on my side—even if it meant hiding a huge part of my life. So, I stepped away from her door and crept silently downstairs to the kitchen.

Maybe because I was about to steal someone’s box of frozen Thin Mints.

Sorry, not sorry.

Mist curled out of the open freezer, and I reached behind the chicken before a shrill, heart-wrenching scream tore through the house, squeezing the air from my lungs. It was made of nails and teeth and death. Of danger and fear. My eardrums rattled. Each nerve stood at attention, electricity buzzing over my body.

“Katie?” I yelled, frantically abandoning my pursuit of the cookies.

Confusion laced the edges of my shaky voice, but I was already racing across the
kitchen. Instinct twisted my gut, telling me to turn and run, to save myself, but I couldn’t. Not if my sister was in trouble. Not if someone had broken in when no one was home to help. Not if Katie was hurt and scared. I propelled myself up the stairs to the second floor, my skin itching me to go faster, faster, faster. Katie’s door was still shut at the front of the hallway. My breath shuddered, and I reached for the handle, pausing with apprehension. The metal was cold in my palm.

“Katie?” Her name came out as a crackling whisper and I forced myself to inhale. Then exhale. Inhale again. My hand shook as I twisted the knob.

I eased the door inward. Without a barrier between us, the sound cut through me like a knife. I slapped a palm against the wall, hitting the light switch, and flinched at the sudden brightness. At what it might reveal.

Katie lay flat on her back, her eyes shut tight, with the sheets snarled in a ball at the end of the bed. Sweat poured down her face, plastering her pink hair to her skin. The wild scream continued, unrelenting, her jaw stretched wide, her neck muscles protruding. But everything else was in its rightful place. Nothing was broken. The lock on the window hugged its latch.

I stepped into the room and spun, bumping into the dresser. My pulse thrashed; it mimicked Katie’s scream in pendulum beats. Loud then muffled then loud again. “Katie?” My voice felt tight. I knelt on the mattress and shook my sister’s broad shoulders. “Wake up.”

The scream cracked. Katie sucked in air as if she were drowning and began again, just as terrified. I used the back of my wrist to wipe the moisture from my forehead. My nails dug into her shoulders, and I shook her rigid body with every ounce of strength I had. The more I yelled her name, the more desperate, more savage, my voice became. Black spots danced in my vision. Nightmares were one thing, but this was something else. Something beyond that. I shook the dizzying fear away and darted into the bathroom across the hall.

I returned with a Dixie cup of cold water and leapt onto the bed. The water hit Katie’s face with a splash. “Come on,” I shouted to no avail.

I fumbled for Katie’s cell phone on the nightstand. If our mother didn’t know what to do, she could send someone who did. My thumb hovered over the direct number to my mother’s unit when a quick, metallic burst of air whooshed in from the hallway. A shiver ravaged my spine, and Katie’s pitch reached new heights. I slipped from the bed, my hip smashing into the floor. The phone fell from my hand, seemingly in slow motion. I lunged for the door, and slammed it shut, leaning my back against the wood.

I couldn’t think.

Couldn’t… I couldn’t…

The walls seemed to shrink, boxing me in. Trapping me.

Above the screech, a deep chuckle rumbled in the hall. My heart rose to my throat, and I dove for the phone where it had landed on the rug. I managed to dial nine before Katie’s scream cut off. Palpable silence penetrated the room. My rapid breathing mixed with my sister’s, and I edged up onto shaking knees. Katie rolled onto her side with a twitch.

“Katie?” My voice came out as a squeak.

She snuggled into the pillow, and her breathing returned to normal. Okay. She was okay. I turned my attention to the space at the bottom of the door. There was probably no one out there anyway. My sister’s screams threw me off after a confusing night, that’s all. I was merely tired and scared and was likely imagining the whole thing.

But before I called anyone, I had to be sure.

With the phone clutched in my hand, I crawled across the room to where the bright yellow handle of Katie’s tennis racket leaned against the wall. I gripped the hard foam and held it to my shoulder. I didn’t want to leave Katie alone but what choice did I have? I couldn’t call for help if no one was out there. My mother would have a field day.

Clenching my jaw shut to keep my teeth from chattering, I dialed two one’s before opening the door. If anyone was on the other side, it would only take a single touch to call for help.

I eased out, holding the racket in front of me, and flicked on the hallway light. The stillness slammed into me like a brick wall. “Okay, okay, okay,” I chanted under my breath. This was stupid. And yet… at five-foot-three and a hundred and ten pounds, an intruder wouldn’t necessarily need to be armed to overpower me.

My nerves exploded with a burst of adrenaline, and I leapt from room to room until each light bulb on the second floor glowed. I checked every closet, under every bed. The racket shook in my hand. There was nothing. No one. An irrational spike of anger zipped through me at the possibility of my brain’s betrayal.

My body moved on its own accord, taking me downstairs one tentative step at a time. One million potential fates I might encounter, if there was someone lying in wait, coursed through my thoughts. The joints in my fingers locked around the phone with my thumb still over the green call button. My tongue was sandpaper against the roof of my mouth, and I crept through the living room.

The freezer was still open, rattling in an attempt to keep the internal temperature down. I chomped down on my lip and inched my way forward to shut it. The rarely-used alarm system beside the back door taunted me—if only I remembered the code.

It seemed like it took ages to finish searching the house. I looked everywhere from the coat closet to beneath the bathroom sink, but it had only been eleven minutes since I had woken up. No time at all, really. I gripped the back of a dining room chair to stay on my feet.

There was no intruder. Katie had a nightmare, and my mind deceived me.

Again.

Always.

Only this time, it wasn’t part of my subconscious. I wasn’t asleep. Katie had screamed. There was a blast of air. Someone had laughed.

I swallowed the fear rising in my chest.

No one believed they were crazy. I wasn’t sure what it meant if I thought I was unhinged but constantly persuaded myself to believe I wasn’t. Was I? Wasn’t I? Not even the doctors could agree on an answer. My sanity was a double-edged sword, and I was fighting to maintain balance on the tip.

I dashed back to Katie and climbed in bed beside her, nestling close. I tucked the
wrinkled sheet around us both and tried to ignore the nausea curdling in my stomach. Katie was older than me, bolder and more confident, but in that moment, she felt as fragile as blown glass. I wrapped an arm around her waist and squeezed my eyes shut. My ears strained to hear the slightest sound that could signal danger, but no one else was in the house.

No one had laughed.

The Sandman wasn’t real.

I balled the back of Katie’s T-shirt in my fist. He was real enough to me, and I needed him. Please, Sandman, I called in a silent plea for the second time tonight—the one only he could hear. Help me sleep.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Amber R. Duell was born and raised in a small town in Central New York. While it will always be home, she’s constantly moving with her husband and two sons as a military wife. Before becoming published, she had a wide range of occupations including banking, bartending (though she’s never tried alcohol), and phlebotomy (though she faints with needles). She also volunteered as a re-enactor at the local Revolutionary War fort and worked near shelter cats which led to her previous crazy cat lady status.

She does her best writing in the middle of the night, surviving the daylight hours with massive amounts of caffeine. Her favorite stories are dark with a touch of romance and a villain you either love to hate or hate to love.

When not reading or writing, she enjoys snowboarding, embroidering, snuggling with her cat, and staying up way too late to research genealogy. She loves to travel and has visited more countries than states. Kissing the Blarney Stone and hand-feeding monkeys in the mountains of France will be hard to beat, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to find the next real-life adventure.

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