For our #samplesunday this week, we're looking at Michelle Irwin's Urban Fantasy Romance series: Daughter of Fire. Igniting the Spark, released 30 June, is the incredible finale to this amazing four-book series. Interested readers who don't like to begin series that are incomplete can now start the series with confidence, knowing it is finalised.
Bottom Drawer Publications
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Over the next weeks we will be featuring each of the books, starting with Through the Fire, Book 1, which is currently FREE!
Please enjoy this sample chapter from the book . . .
I WAS SITTING behind the counter at work, trying to stay awake. I’d endured an almost sleepless night, lost in the memory of Clay. In front of me, I had a newspaper to pass the time and was flicking idly through it when the bell over the door trilled, indicating the arrival of a customer. I stood to greet the shopper, but the words froze in my throat as I took in the sight of the person before me.
My first thoughts were of panic and escape. With him right in front of me, I felt foolish for ignoring my instincts when I’d spotted the flowers on my doorstep. A rush of heat prickled my skin as my body prepared to fight my way past him to safety.
How could I be so stupid!
Resisting the urge to cry out or take my chances and run, I stared wide-eyed at him in disbelief. What’s he doing here? Has he come to finish the job he failed to do back in high school?
The thought of that Clay—the innocent one who’d worked so hard to steal my heart—flooded into me and, despite the danger, I couldn’t help but assess the differences between the boy and the man who now stood in front of me.
He’d grown another inch or two, his arms and chest were slightly fuller, and a dusting of stubble darkened his jaw, but it was unmistakably him. It was almost as if the Clay I’d met on my first day at Grandview Heights High School in Ohio had manifested in front of me. His hair and eyes were as dark as ever, both so brown that they almost appeared to be black, lending him a mysterious, almost dangerous, air. The only thing missing between the man in front of me and the boy he’d been was the mischief in his eyes and the smile that broke the pout of his lips that had made him approachable back then.
For his part, no surprise registered on his features when his gaze fell on me. In fact, his face revealed very little in the way of emotion at all.
He raised an arm, and I took an instinctive step away from him. Instead of lifting a weapon, his empty hand continued upward until his palm was against the back of his neck. My mouth dried out, and I had to remind myself to breathe as I watched the familiar gesture—all through high school he’d made that same move. Even over the short time we’d spent together, I’d learned it was a move he made when he was nervous. Why would he be nervous?
As I blinked, my eyelids brushed across the contacts I wore, and I was reminded that I had my costume firmly in place and his impassive expression might simply be evidence of his failure to recognize me. Even though it felt like hours had passed since I’d looked up and seen him, it had actually been less than a minute, so I planted what I hoped came across as a look of casual disinterest on my face and smiled at him like he was just any other customer. There was no reason to let him know he was responsible for my shaking hands and ragged breath.
“How can I help you today?” I asked when my voice was steady enough.
He stepped closer to me and splayed his hands on the counter. “Did you get the flowers I left for you?”
I tried to take another step away from him, but l was stopped by the wall behind me. It doesn’t mean he recognizes you. It’s been two years since high school, and right now you don’t look like you. Maybe he just likes the new look.
If my hair were out, I would have had no doubts over whether he recognized me. I could still remember his words to me on my first day, “I like what you’ve done with your hair, by the way. Not many girls have the courage to dye it so many colors at once.” At the time, it had unnerved me that Clay had paid close enough attention to me to notice that my hair wasn’t strawberry blonde like most people had assumed when I was younger. It made me wonder how long it would be before he noticed my eyes were actually purple and not the blue they could pass for with a casual glance.
“Will you please answer me?” he asked in a graveled whisper.
I raised my gaze from the long fingers of his hands pressed against the counter in front of me and met his eyes. “I’m sorry, Sir,” I said, still clinging to the vestiges of hope that he didn’t really know who I was.
“Sir?” he sneered. “Evie, please?” The way his lips wrapped around my name and the quiet, pleading tone of his voice made me take a step closer to him as if he’d used an invisible cord to draw me toward him.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
He looked over his shoulder at the security camera trained onto the register. “Not here. Can you meet me later?”
I shook my head, I couldn’t risk it. I needed to get home, and then Dad and I needed to leave. Home isn’t safe—he knows where you live.
And yet, you’re still here. I frowned at the thought. Not that I was going to ask him to explain his reasons for not attacking sooner, but I couldn’t help wonder why was I still alive.
“Please?” One of his hands shot forward and grabbed my wrist. He didn’t even flinch at the warmth of my skin, but then he had to have expected it. After all, for whatever reason, he was the catalyst for it. “I just want to talk to you.”
“Please?” he pleaded.
His tone was desperate and it disarmed me.
Using his hold on my wrist, he pulled me closer to the counter until I was leaning forward and we were almost cheek-to-cheek. “I understand why,” he murmured against the shell of my ear. The feeling of his warm breath washing over my skin made my body quake almost as much as the fear of what he might do to me now that he’d found me again. “But I’m not going anywhere until you do.”
A cold shiver raced along my spine at his meaning, and I nodded robotically. The meeting was confirmation of what I’d dreaded ever since I’d seen the flowers on my stoop.
He’d found me.
Is that camera the only reason I’m still alive?
“You will have to listen to me eventually,” he murmured, and then, almost as soon as the words had left his mouth, he was at the door. He cast one last furtive look over his shoulder before sweeping out of the store. I leaned heavily against the counter, finally feeling like I could breathe freely again, at least until his final words settled over me. He’d said something similar once before, and, with the dreams I’d had of him still fresh in my memory, I could easily recall it.
“SO YOU still won’t go out with me?” Clay asked, looking at me with his best impression of puppy-dog eyes. He’d taken to driving me to the top of my street each afternoon so that we had a few spare moments to talk. Each and every day, he’d taken the opportunity to pester me for a date.
I shook my head, and he pouted.
“You know why I can’t.”
He playfully bumped my shoulder with his. “I know, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
I smiled at him. “You ask a lot.”
“I live in hope that one day you’ll finally get sick of me badgering you and you’ll say yes.”
Sighing heavily, I shook my head. “I wouldn’t count on it.”
Regardless of what I’d said, his continued persistence did begin to wear me down. Well, his persistence and his sister’s ever-present nature at school. It was almost as if she was intent on crashing every conversation we had. She sat uninvited at our lunch table and joked about me relentlessly. Any topic could be the subject of her scorn: my clothes, my schoolwork, even my continued resistance to Clay’s advances. Clay had defended me each time, but her constant nearness was grating on my nerves. I began to daydream about spending time with Clay away from school.
“It’s just a shame you can’t go out later,” he said over lunch a few weeks later. “I’d love to hang out with you away from all these mooks.”
“I can’t imagine why you’d actually want to spend more time with her.” Louise’s nasally voice broke into our private conversation. “She’s just trailer trash, Clay, obviously not worth any of your time.”
Clay turned his attention to his sister, chewing her out once again for her attitude, all while scribbling down a note. He asked Louise about something on the other side of the room and surreptitiously slid me the piece of paper while her head was turned.
Please say yes, if only to get me away from her for an afternoon.
I smirked to myself and tuned out the rest of their conversation. The more I thought about it, the more the idea of spending some time completely alone with Clay sounded not at all terrible.
After almost two months of his constant requests—week after week spent together in class almost every day—I was beyond the point of resistance. I’d already started dreaming up plausible excuses to give my father to convince him to let me free for a few hours, all involving study groups or private tuition. Something that would play on his desire for me to have the best education I could despite it being so fractured. Once Clay and I were in our next class together—safely away from Louise’s eavesdropping and judgmental attitude—I raised the subject with him in quiet whispers while the teacher’s back was turned.
“Let’s say I can figure out a way to get a few hours to myself, what would an evening with you entail anyway?” I asked.
He raised his eyebrow at me as a sly smile crept onto his face. I think he knew then that I’d relent before too long.
“There’s this park that I go to whenever I want to be alone. I think you’d like it.”
His voice had dropped to an almost breathless whisper on the word “alone,” which made my heart skip a beat. A pleasant sensation washed over my body as I thought of being alone with him and what exactly it might involve.
CLAY HAD always been able to make my heart stop for tiny moments of time; only now it was for completely different reasons. For the rest of my shift, every noise caused my heart to leap and stutter in staccato bursts. Whenever the door opened, I had to double-check that it wasn’t him coming back to finish the task that he’d failed to do twice already.
One thing was clear to me. If Clay didn’t kill me before I reached home, there was no valid excuse to stay in Charlotte for a moment longer. I would have closed the shop to leave earlier, but I wasn’t ready for a confrontation with Clay. It was an unrealistic thought, but part of me hoped he would disappear if he had to wait long enough.
I scoffed at my own naivety. He’s waited two years, what’s another couple of hours?
At least four times over the course of the afternoon, I’d gone to door to survey the area in front of the shop, and even though I couldn’t see him, I could feel his gaze on me. Every minute that passed in that tortured state deepened my resolve to leave the instant I arrived home.
Through the Fire is available in e-book and paperback from all major sellers.
Bottom Drawer Publications
Also available at:
If you're ready for Igniting the Spark, the final book in the series, check out our website for all available booksellers
Michelle Irwin has been many things in her life: a hobbit taking a precious item to a fiery mountain; a young child stepping through the back of a wardrobe into another land; the last human stranded not-quite-alone in space three million years in the future; a young girl willing to fight for the love of a vampire; and a time-travelling madman in a box. She achieved all of these feats and many more through her voracious reading habit. Eventually, so much reading had to have an effect and the cast of characters inside her mind took over and spilled out onto the page.
Michelle lives in sunny Queensland in the land down under with her surprisingly patient husband and ever-intriguing daughter, carving out precious moments of writing and reading time around her accounts-based day job. A lover of love and overcoming the odds, she primarily writes paranormal and fantasy romance.
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