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September 29, 2016

Now Available -- Divided by Bria Starr

Title: The Divided
Author: Bria Starr
Release Date: Sept 28, 2016
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Adjust. Adapt. Accept.
But never give up hope.
Falling…
                    Falling…
                                        Falling…
When eighteen-year-old cousins, Julie and Mary Anne Adler, are plummeted onto a grassy field surrounded by a post-apocalyptic world, they have no idea where they are, or how they got there. In this unfamiliar wasteland run by a group of refugees called the Sector, the girls search for answers.
But things get complicated when one of the men in the Sector finds himself enamored with Julie. Despite Julie’s own feelings toward him, she knows she and her cousin must return home. Now it’s up to them to find a way to escape this strange and isolating place…
Or die trying.

We stand and look around. We're on the edge of a plot of land about the size of a football field, and three-quarters of the edges are lined by a chain-link fence. A large stone wall surrounds the field beyond my view. No mountains. The road, only several feet in front of us, leads three different ways, yet something in my brain is pulling me back to the other end of the field. I turn, hoping to see a sign that will let me know where we should begin. In the distance stands the skeleton of a rusty old water tower flanked by the remnants of what I can only guess was once a typical town.
“Do you see my car?” Mary Anne asks.
I shake my head. Just as I move to take a step, a loud whistle sounds off, followed by sirens, and my body jumps in surprise. Two vehicles round the corner and charge straight for us.
Mary Anne stiffens when she sees them, her hands covering her ears from the deafening sound.
“Run!” I scream, reaching for her arm, but she refuses to move.
The sirens cease, but the engines rev louder as they pick up speed. I can’t leave her, and they’ll easily catch up to us before we even make it halfway across the field. Several men holding guns come into view.
One man’s raspy shout to, “Get down!” thunders out above the engine. “On your stomach!”
Mary Anne and I glance at each other, her wide eyes mirroring my own fear as we drop to our knees. With my forehead pressed against the cool ground, my aching body is the furthest thing from my mind. Tires are crunching on the street just ahead before they come to a stop, and I know they’ll be here soon.
We shouldn’t be here.
I hear more shouts and voices raised. Lifting my head slightly, the two modified vehicles looking straight out of a Mad Max movie stand before us, four men in each, all carrying firearms. All eight of them jump out and start walking toward us.
“Get back down!” one of them shouts from the road. I quietly resume my place with my head down.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” I hear a smile in this guy’s voice.
“Stand up,” a third man gruffly commands.
I hear movement from Mary Anne’s direction and realize she’s doing what she’s told, only now I’m too scared to stand. “Can you help us?” Mary Anne stammers. “We need to get back to our car.”
She’s asking them for help? My first instinct is that they are foes, not friends, but I hope she’s right, even though Mary Anne has never been great at reading people.
Footsteps approach. “Get up, girl,” the gruff voice demands again and nudges my leg roughly with his boot.
A small pain from my leg strikes up my body, and I try to ignore it as I slowly rise and observe the men several feet away on the pavement, ready to raise their weapons. I immediately notice they are all wearing matching dark shirts and dark pants tucked into combat boots. The uniforms giving away that they’re military of some sort, along with the guns, worries me that we might be in trouble for unknown reasons. Trespassing?
The gruff man who nudged my leg is standing directly in front of me on the grass, examining me as though I’m an alien. His salt and pepper hair frames his face perfectly, and his sullen eyes give me the impression he’s seen hard times. He appears to be older than my own grandfather, yet I’d have to place my bets on this guy if the two of them were to ever get into a fight. I’ve never seen an older man in such great shape.
I shift my sights back to the grass and concentrate on squishing my toes into the soaked bottoms of my sneakers.
“They’re just girls,” I hear the guy with the smile in his voice say from somewhere in the background. He steps out and stops when he sees me, blinking a few times before his gaze moves to Mary Anne and then back to me again. I feel like cattle on sale as all the men quietly examine us.
“You know as well as I do that girls can cause just as much damage as men,” Gruff responds as he moves to Mary Anne, his husky tone booming in the open air.
Bria Starr grew up in a small town in Minnesota and continues to live there with her husband and two kids. She’s a stay at home mom who is very close with her family, loves junk food, and is always cold. Her favorite things include reading books, writing, listening to music, and watching too many movies.
  


Cover Reveal from USA Today Best-selling Author Adriana Locke




Title: Written in the Scars
Author: Adriana Locke
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Design: Kari March Designs
Photographer: Lauren Perry, Perrywinkle Photography
Cover Model: Ghent Scott
Release Date: October 20, 2016




Falling in love is easy.

Falling out of love is the hardest thing in the world.

And Elin and Ty Whitt are terrible at it.

The first time the local basketball star smiled at Elin, she was a goner. It was just so damn easy to fall for the dark-haired hometown hero with his charming smile and strong, athletic build.

Thousands of sleepy smiles, aimless drives down country roads, and squeaks of the backdoor after a swing shift later, reality hits. And it hits hard. Falling in love was definitely the easy part. Watching it break apart was impossible.

Through the tears, the second-guesses, the memories of a life built together, the world keeps spinning. With each turn comes clarity and hope—sometimes in the form of a pair of muddy boots by the back door or from the words of a wise friend.

When Ty shows back up with a new found determination to put his family back together, Elin's torn between the fights of the past and the possibility of a new start. This is the man that holds her heart, the man she loves beyond anything else. But this is also the one person in the world that can cause her the most pain.

Life’s not always easy. Love’s not for the faint of heart. But with life comes lessons and Ty and Elin have the scars to prove it. But it's their love written in those scars that will hold them together … or break them apart.



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USA Today Bestselling author Adriana Locke lives and breathes books. After years of slightly obsessive relationships with the flawed bad boys created by other authors, Adriana has created her own.

She resides in the Midwest with her husband, sons, and two dogs. She spends a large amount of time playing with her kids, drinking coffee, and cooking. You can find her outside if the weather's nice and there's always a piece of candy in her pocket.

For sneak peeks, giveaways, and more, please join Adriana's Facebook Group, Books by Adriana Locke, or her Goodreads group, All Locked Up.



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September 26, 2016

Cover Reveal with Kandi Steiner




Title: A Love Letter to Whiskey
Author: Kandi Steiner
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Design: Quirky Bird
Photographer: Perrywinkle Photography
Release Date: October 13, 2016



It’s crazy how fast the buzz comes back after you’ve been sober for so long.

Whiskey stood there, on my doorstep, just like he had one year before. Except this time, there was no rain, no anger, no wedding invitation — it was just us.

It was just him — the old friend, the easy smile, the twisted solace wrapped in a glittering bottle.

It was just me — the alcoholic, pretending like I didn’t want to taste him, realizing too quickly that months of being clean didn’t make me crave him any less.

But we can’t start here.

No, to tell this story right, we need to go back.

Back to the beginning.

Back to the very first drop.


This is my love letter to Whiskey. I only hope he reads it.






(pre-final edits)

The first time I tasted Whiskey, I fell flat on my face.

Literally.

I was drunk from the very first sip, and I guess that should have been my sign to stay away.

Jenna and I were running the trail around the lake near her house, sweat dripping into our eyes from the intense South Florida heat. It was early September, but in South Florida, it might as well have been July. There was no “boots and scarves” season, unless you counted the approximately six weeks in January and February where the temperature dropped below eighty degrees.

As it was, we were battling ninety-plus degrees, me trying to be a show off and prove I could keep up with Jenna’s cheerleading training program. She had finally made the varsity squad, and with that privilege came ridiculous standards she had to uphold. I hated running — absolutely loathed it. I would much rather have been on my surf board that day. But fortunately for Jenna, she had a competitive best friend who never turned down a challenge. So when she asked me to train with her, I’d agreed eagerly, even knowing I’d have screaming ribs and calves by the end of the day.

I saw him first.

I was just a few steps ahead of Jenna, and I’d been staring down at my hot pink sneakers as they hit the concrete. When I looked up, he was about fifty feet away, and even from that distance I could tell I was in trouble. He seemed sort of average at first — brown hair, lean build, soaked white running shirt — but the closer he got, the more I realized just how edible he was. I noticed the shift in the muscles of his legs as he ran, the way his hair bounced slightly, how he pressed his lips together in concentration as he neared us.

I looked over my shoulder, attempting to waggle my eyebrows at Jenna and give her the secret best friend code for “hot guy up ahead”, but she had stopped to tie her shoes. And when I turned back around, it was too late.

I smacked into him — hard — and fell to the pavement, rolling a bit to soften the fall. He cursed and I groaned, more from embarrassment than pain. I wish I could say I gracefully picked myself up, smiled radiantly, and asked him for his number, but the truth is I lost the ability to do anything the minute I looked up at him.

It was an unfamiliar, warm ache that spread through my chest as I used my hand to shield the sun streaming in behind his silhouette, just how you’d expect the first sip of whiskey to feel. He was bent over, hand outstretched, saying something that wasn’t registering because I had somehow managed to slip my hand into his and just that one touch had set my skin on fire.

Handsome wasn’t the right word to describe him, but it was all I kept thinking as I traced his features. His hair was a sort of mocha color, damp at the roots, falling onto his forehead just slightly. His eyes were wide — almost too round — and a mixture of gold, green, and the deepest brown. I didn’t coin the nickname Whiskey until much later, but it was that moment that I saw it for the first time — those were whiskey eyes. The kind of eyes you get lost in. The kind that drink you in. He had the longest lashes and a firm, square jaw. It was so hard, the edges so clean that I would have sworn he was angry with me if it weren’t for the smile on his face.He was still talking as my eyes fell over his broad chest before snapping back up to his sideways grin.

“Oh my God, are you fucking blind?!” Jenna’s voice snapped me from my haze as she shoved Whiskey out of the way and latched onto my hand, ripping me back to standing position. I’d barely caught my balance before she whipped around to continue her scolding. “How about you brush that long ass hair out of your eyes and watch where you’re going, huh champ?”

Oh no.

I didn’t even have time to call dibs, I couldn’t even think the word, let alone say it, before it was too late. I watched it, in slow motion, as Whiskey fell for my best friend before I even had the chance to say a single word to him.

Jenna was standing tall, arms crossed, one hip popped in her usual fashion as she waited for him to defend himself. This was her protocol — it was one of the reasons we got along. We were both what you’d call “spitfires”, but Jenna had the distinct advantage of being cripplingly gorgeous on top of having an attitude. She flipped her long, wavy blonde ponytail behind her and cocked a brow.

And then he did, too.

His smile grew wider as he met her eyes, and it was the same look I’d watched fall over guy after countless guy. Jenna was a unicorn, and men were enamored by her. As they should have been — she had platinum blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, legs for days and a personality to boot. Now, before you go thinking that I was the insecure best friend - I had it going on, too. I worked hard, I was talented - just not at the things traditional high school boys valued.

But we’ll get to that.

“Hi,” Whiskey finally said, extending his hand to Jenna this time. His eyes were warm, smile inviting — if I had to pick the right word for him, just one, I’d say charming. He just oozed charm. “I’m Jamie.”

“Well, Jamie, maybe you should make an appointment with the eye doctor before you run over another innocent jogger. And you owe Brecks an apology.” She nodded to me then and I cringed at my name, wondering why she felt the need to spill it at all. She always called me B — everyone did — so why did she choose the moment I was face to face with the first boy to ever make my heart accelerate to use my full name?

Jamie was still grinning, eying Jenna, trying to figure her out, but he turned to me after a moment with that same crooked smile. “I’m sorry, I should have been watching where I was going.” He said the words with conviction, but lifted his brows on that last line because he and I both knew who wasn’t paying attention to the trail, and he wasn’t the guilty party.

“It’s fine,” I murmured, because for some reason I was still having a difficult time finding my voice. Jamie tilted his head just a fraction, his eyes hard on me this time, and I felt naked beneath his gaze. I’d never had anyone look at me that way — completely zeroed in. It was unnerving and exhilarating, too.

But before I could latch onto the feeling, he turned back to Jenna, their eyes meeting as slow smiles spread on both of their faces. I’d seen it a million times, but this was the first time I felt sick watching it happen.

I saw him first, but it didn’t matter.

Because he saw her.





Kandi Steiner is a Creative Writing and Advertising/Public Relations graduate from the University of Central Florida living in Tampa with her husband. Kandi works full time as a social media specialist, but also works part time as a Zumba fitness instructor and blackjack dealer.

Kandi started writing back in the 4th grade after reading the first Harry Potter installment. In 6th grade, she wrote and edited her own newspaper and distributed to her classmates. Eventually, the principal caught on and the newspaper was quickly halted, though Kandi tried fighting for her “freedom of press.” She took particular interest in writing romance after college, as she has always been a die hard hopeless romantic (like most girls brought up on Disney movies).

When Kandi isn’t working or writing, you can find her reading books of all kinds, talking with her extremely vocal cat, and spending time with her friends and family. She enjoys beach days, movie marathons, live music, craft beer and sweet wine – not necessarily in that order.

Connect with Kandi below

WEBSITE
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TWITTER





Exclusive look into the new Nicholas Sparks release!

I am pleased to share with you an exclusive look into the coming release of 
Two By Two by Nicholas Sparks scheduled for release on 
October 4th, 2016



#1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with an emotionally powerful story of unconditional love, its challenges, its risks and most of all, its rewards.
At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear...and no one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down. In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality. Throwing himself into the wilderness of single parenting, Russ embarks on a journey at once terrifying and rewarding-one that will test his abilities and his emotional resources beyond anything he ever imagined.









Two by Two

When London was three and half, the three of us went on a picnic near Lake Norman. It was something we only did once. Vivian packed a delicious lunch and on our way to Lake Norman, and because the day was breezy, we stopped at a hobby store on the way to buy a kite. I’d picked the kind of kite that had been popular when I was a kid; simple and inexpensive, nothing like the kind of kites that avid enthusiasts would dream of flying.
It ended up being the perfect kite for a child. I was able to launch it myself and once it rose high, it seemed as if it was practically stuck to the sky. It didn’t matter what I did; I could stand in place or walk around and when I handed London the kite reel and secured it to her wrist, it didn’t matter what she did either. She could pick flowers or run around chasing butterflies; a nice couple had a small cocker spaniel, and she was able to sit on the ground and let the puppy crawl over her while the kite stayed fixed in the air. When we finally got around to having lunch, I looped the string around a nearby bench, and the kite simply hovered above us.
Vivian was in a buoyant mood, and we stayed at the park for most of the afternoon. On the way home, I can remember thinking to myself that times like this were what life was really all about, and that no matter what, I’d never let my family down.
But here and now, I was doing exactly that. Or at least, right now, it felt that way. It felt to me as though I was letting everyone down, including myself.

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It was Wednesday, day three for Vivian at work, and I was on my own with London.
All day.
As I stood with London outside chiropractor number two’s office, I felt almost as though I were shipping my daughter off to a foreign country. The thought that she’d sit in the waiting room with strangers made me uneasy; the newspapers and evening broadcasts had led modern parents to believe that the bogeyman was always lurking, ready to pounce.
I wondered if my parents ever worried about Marge and me like that, but that thought lasted only a split second. Of course they didn’t. My dad used to have me sit on the bench outside an old tavern he occasionally frequented while he had a beer with friends. And that bench was on a corner of a busy street, near a bus stop.
“You understand that this is an important meeting for Daddy, right?”
“I know,” London said.
“And I want you to sit quietly.”
“And don’t get up and wander around and don’t talk to strangers. You already told me.”
Vivian and I must have been doing something right because London did exactly as she was told. The receptionist remarked on what a well-behaved young lady she’d been during the meeting, which soothed my anxiety about what I’d done.
Unfortunately, the client wasn’t interested in my services. I was Ofor-three at that point. At the restaurant the following day, I upped that to Ofor-four.
Forcing myself to remain optimistic, I had my best presentation to date on Friday afternoon. The owner of the spa—a blond, quick-talking woman in her fifties—was enthusiastic and though my sense was that they were already doing well, she knew who I was and was even familiar with some of my other campaigns. As I spoke with her, I felt relaxed and confident, and when I finished, I had the sense that I couldn’t have done any better. But despite all that, the stars weren’t aligning for me.
Not only did I fail to set up any meetings for the following week, I’d gone Ofor-five.

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Still, it was date night.
            When there’s nothing to celebrate, celebrate anyway, right?
            That wasn’t quite true, though. While I hadn’t had any work success, Vivian certainly seemed to be lighting things on fire at her new job. She’d even been able to line up a musical act, a band from the eighties with   name I recognized. How she’d pulled that off, I had not the slightest idea. I’d also spent more oneonone time with London, and that was definitely a great development.
            Except . . . that it didn’t feel all that great. With the constant running around from one thing to the next, it almost felt as though I was working for London instead of enjoying time with London.
            Was I alone in feeling that way? Did other parents feel like that?
            I have no idea, but date night was date night, and while London was in dance class, I swung by the store and picked up salmon, steak, and a nice bottle of Chardonnay. Vivian’s SUV was in the driveway when I got home, and London jumped out of the car, calling for her mom. I followed with the plastic bag holding the goodies for dinner, only to see London zipping back down the steps. Vivian was nowhere in sight, but I heard her calling out from the bedroom.
            London raced that way and I heard Vivian say, “There you are, sweetheart! How was your day?” I followed the sounds and spotted Vivian and London near the bed, upon which lay an open suitcase, already packed, along with two more empty department store bags.
            Errands.
            “Getting ready for tomorrow, I see.”
            “Actually, I have to leave tonight.”
            “You’re leaving?” London burst out before I could.
I watched as Vivian put her hand on London’s shoulder. “I don’t want to, but I have to. I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
            “But I don’t want you to go,” London said.
            “I know, sweetie. But when I get home on Sunday, I’ll make it up to you. We’ll do something fun, just you and me.”
            “Like what?” London asked.
            “It’s up to you.”
            “Maybe . . .” I watched as London’s mind sorted through the problem. “We can go to the blueberry farm? The one you took me to before? And pick blueberries and pet the animals?”
            “That’s a great idea!” Vivian said. “Let’s do it.”
            “And we also need to clean the hamster cage.”
            “Your daddy will do that for you when I’m gone. But for now, let’s get you something to eat, okay? I think we have some leftover chicken and rice I can heat up. Can you wait for Mommy in the kitchen while I talk to Daddy for a minute?”
            “Okay,” London answered.
            “So,” I said, after London had left us alone, “you’re off tonight.”
            “I have to head out in half an hour. Walter wants me and a couple of the other executives to do a walk- through with the manager of the Ritz-Carlton, to make sure it’s getting set up the way Walter expects.”
            “The Ritz-Carlton?” I nodded. “Is that where you’re staying?”
            She nodded. “I know you’re probably upset. Just so you know, I wasn’t thrilled with knowing I’d be gone two nights either. I’m just trying to make the best of it.”
            “That’s all you can do,” I said, forcing a smile.
            “Let me go spend a little time with London, okay? I think she’s upset.”
            “Yeah,” I said, “okay.”
            She stared at me. “You’re angry with me.”
            “No, it’s not that. I just wish you didn’t have to go. I mean, I get it, but I was looking forward to spending some time with you tonight.”
            “I know,” she said, “me, too.” She leaned in for a quick kiss. “We’ll make up for it next Friday, okay?”
            “Okay.”
            “Can you zip my bag for me? I don’t want to wreck my nails. I just got them done.” She held up her hands for me. “Is the color okay?”
            “It’s great,” I assured her. I secured the suitcase and pulled it from the bed. “You said you have a walk-through tonight at the hotel?”
            “The whole thing has turned into a really big deal.”
            “Atlanta’s four hours away.”
            “I’m not driving. I’m flying.”
            “What time’s your flight?”
            “Six thirty.”
            “Shouldn’t you already be on your way to the airport? Or at the airport right now?”
            “We’re flying on Walter’s private jet.”
            Walter. I was beginning to hate the sound of his name, almost as much as I hated the word errands.
            “Wow,” I said. “You’re moving up in the world.”
“It’s not my jet,” she said, smiling, “it’s his.”

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“I knew you could pull it off all by your lonesome,” Marge said. “You should be proud.”
            “I’m not proud. I’m exhausted.”
            We were at my parents’ place by eleven on Saturday, and the day was already sweltering. Marge and Liz sat across from me on the back porch while I recounted the week I just spent in all its hectic detail. London was helping my mom make sandwiches; Dad was, as usual, in the garage.
            “So? You told me yourself you finally felt like you were hitting your stride on that last presentation.”
            “A lot of good it did. And I’ve got nothing lined up for next week.”
            “On the bright side,” Marge said, “that should make it a lot easier to get London to all her activities, and you’ll have more time to cook and clean.”
            When I glared at her, Marge laughed. “Oh, lighten up. With Vivian starting work, you knew it was going to be a crazy week anyway. And you know that whole it’s always darkest before the dawn thing? I have the feeling that dawn is right around the corner.”
            “I don’t know,” I said. “I was thinking as I drove over here this morning that I should have been a plumber like Dad. Plumbers always have work.”
            “True,” Marge said, “but then again, there’s a lot of crap involved with it.”
            Despite my mood, I laughed under my breath. “That’s funny.”
            “What can I say? I bring joy and mirth to everyone around me. Even whiny little brothers.”
            “I haven’t been whining.”
            “Yes you have. You’ve been whining since you sat down.”
            “Liz?”
She absently picked at the armrest before answering. “Maybe a little.”

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After lunch, and with the day only getting hotter, I decided to bring London to the movies, one of those animated ones. Marge and Liz came with us and seemed to enjoy it as much as London did. As for me, I wanted to enjoy it, but my thoughts kept drifting to the previous week, which made me wonder what on earth might be coming next.
            After the movie, I didn’t want to go home. Marge and Liz seemed content to hang out at my parents’ place as well, and Mom ended up making tuna casserole, something London regarded as a treat, what with all the white flour in the pasta. She had a larger than normal portion and began to doze in the car on our way back home; I figured I’d get her in the bath, read a few stories, and spend the rest of the night zoning out in front of the television.
            But it was not to be. As soon as she got in the house, she trotted to see the hamsters and I heard her voice calling to me from upstairs.
            “Daddy! Come quick! I think something is wrong with Mrs. Sprinkles!”
            I went to her room and peered into the cage, staring at a hamster that seemed to be making an attempt to push through the glass. Her room smelled like a barn. “She seems fine to me,” I said.
            “That’s Mr. Sprinkles. Mrs. Sprinkles isn’t moving.”
            I squinted. “I think she’s sleeping, honey.”
            “But what if she’s sick?”
            I had no idea what to do in that case and opening the lid, I scooped
Mrs. Sprinkles into my hand. She was warm, always a good sign, and I
could feel her begin to move.
            “Is she okay?”
            “She seems fine to me,” I said. “Do you want to hold her?”
            She nodded and cupped her hands; I put the hamster in them. I watched as she brought the little critter closer to her face.
            “I think I’ll just hold her for a little while to make sure.”
            “All right,” I said, kissing the top of her head. “But not too long, all right? It’s already almost bedtime.”
            I kissed her on top of the head and headed toward the door.
            “Daddy?” she asked.
            “Yes?”
            “You need to clean their cage.”
            “I’ll do it tomorrow, okay? I’m kind of tired.”
            “Mommy said you’d clean it.”
            “I will. I just said I’d clean it tomorrow.”
            “But what if it’s making Mrs. Sprinkles sick? I want you to clean it now.” Not only was she not listening, her pitch was beginning to rise, and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with it.
            “I’ll be back in a little while to get you ready for bed. Put your dirty clothes in the hamper, okay?”
            For the next half hour, I flipped through the channels, finding nothing whatsoever to watch. More than a hundred channels and zippo, but then again, I was cranky on top of being tired. Tomorrow, I’d be scooping poop from a hamster cage, my client list was hovering at zero, and unless there was some sort of miracle, it would remain that way another week. Meanwhile, my wife was flying on private jets and staying at the Ritz-Carlton.
            In time, I rose from my spot on the couch and went back to London’s           room. By then, her hamsters were back in the cage and she was playing with her Barbies.
            “Hey sweetheart,” I said. “Are you about ready for your bath?”
            She answered without turning toward me. “I don’t want to take a bath tonight.”
            “But you got all sweaty with Nana today.”
            “No.”
            I blinked. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
            “I’m mad at you.”
            “Why are you mad at me?”
            “Because you don’t care about Mr. and Mrs. Sprinkles.”
“Of course I care about them.” In the cage, both of them were moving about, no different than any other night. “And you know you need a bath.”
            “I want Mommy to do it.”
            “I know you do. But Mommy’s not here.”
            “Then I’m not going to take a bath.”
            “Will you look at me?”
            “No.”
            She sounded almost like Vivian as she said it and I was at a loss. London continued to send Barbie rampaging around the Barbie townhouse; the doll seemed on the verge of kicking over the furniture.
            “How about I get the water going, okay? Then we can talk about it. I’ll put extra bubbles in there.”
            As promised, I added extra bubbles to the water and when it was ready, I turned off the faucet. London hadn’t moved; Barbie was still raging through the playhouse with Ken by her side.
            “I can’t make breakfast,I heard her make Barbie say to Ken, “because I have to go to work.”
            “But daddies are supposed to work, Ken said.
            “Maybe you should have thought about that before you quit.”
            I felt my stomach tighten, certain that London was mimicking Vivian and me.
            “Your bath is ready,” I said.
            “I told you I’m not taking a bath!”
            “Just come on . . .”
            “NO!!!” she screamed. “I’m not taking a bath and you can’t make me! You made Mommy get a job!”
            “I didn’t make Mommy get a job . . .”
            “YES YOU DID!” she shouted, and when she turned, I saw tears streaming down her cheeks. “She told me that she had to get a job because you’re not working!”
            Another father probably would have been less defensive, but I was exhausted and her words stung, if only because I felt bad enough about myself already.
            “I am working!” I said, my voice rising. “And taking care of you and cleaning the house!”
            “I want Mommy!” she cried, and for the first time, I realized that Vivian hadn’t called today. Nor could I call her; the event was probably in full swing right about now.
            I took a deep breath. “She’ll be here tomorrow and the two of you are going to the blueberry farm, remember? You want to be all clean for her, don’t you?”
            “NO!” she shouted. “I hate you!”
            The next thing I knew, I was marching across the room and seized London by the arm. She began to struggle and scream and I dragged her to the bathroom, like a bad-parent video on YouTube.
            “Either you get yourself undressed and into the bath, or I’ll undress you. I’m not kidding.”
            “GO AWAY!” she screamed and after putting her pajamas on the countertop, I closed the door. For the next few minutes, I heard her alternately crying and talking to herself while I waited outside the door.
            “Get in the bath, London,” I warned through the door. “If you don’t, I’ll make you clean the hamster cage all by yourself.”
            I heard her scream again; a minute later, though, I heard her climbing into the tub. I continued to wait. After a little while, I heard her playing with her tub toys without the anger I’d heard earlier. Finally, the door opened; London was in her pajamas, her hair wet.
            “Can we dry my hair tonight instead of leaving it wet?”
            I gritted my teeth. “Of course we can, sweetheart.”
            “I miss Mommy.”
            I squatted down and took her in my arms, breathing in the sweet-clean scent of her soap and shampoo. “I know you do,” I said, and held her close, wondering how a father as messed up as I could have managed to help make something so wonderful, even as my little girl began to cry.

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I read her the story of Noah and the ark as we lay in the bed together. Her favorite part, the part I had to read a second time, was when the ark was finished and the animals started to arrive.
            “Two by two,” I read aloud, “they came in pairs, from all over the
world. Lions and horses and dogs and elephants, zebras and giraffes . . .”
            “And hamsters,” London added.
            “And hamsters,” I agreed, “and two by two, they boarded the ark. How will they all fit, the people wondered. But God had a plan for that, too. They made their way onto the ark and there was plenty of room, and all the animals were happy. And two by two, they stayed in the ark while the rain began to fall.”
            As I was finishing the story, London was fading. I turned out the light and kissed her cheek.
            “I love you, London,” I whispered.
            “Love you, too, Daddy,” she mumbled, and I crept quietly from the room.
            Two by two, I thought to myself as I made my way down the stairs. London and me, father and daughter, both of us doing the best we could.
            Even then, I felt like I was failing her, failing at everything.

With over 100 million copies of his books sold, Nicholas Sparks is one of the world's most beloved storytellers. His novels include 12 #1 New York Times bestsellers. All his books have been New York Times and international
bestsellers, and were translated into more than 50 languages. Ten Sparks novels have been adapted into major motion pictures, with The Choice coming in February 2016.

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