Wednesday, June 30, 2021

#Review - Capture the Crown by Jennifer Estep #Fantasy

Series: Gargoyle Queen # 1
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
Release Date: July 6, 2021
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Epic

Bestselling author Jennifer Estep returns to her Crown of Shards world with an all-new trilogy and a bold new heroine who protects her kingdom from magic, murder, and mayhem by moonlighting as a spy.

Gemma Ripley has a reputation for being a pampered princess who is more interested in pretty gowns, sparkling jewelry, and other frivolous things than learning how to rule the kingdom of Andvari. But her carefully crafted persona is just an act to hide the fact that Gemma is a powerful mind magier—and a spy.

Gemma is undercover, trying to figure out who is stealing large amounts of tearstone from one of the Ripley royal mines when she encounters Prince Leonidas Morricone of Morta—her mortal enemy. Gemma tries to steer clear of the handsome prince, but when she finds herself behind enemy lines, she reluctantly joins forces with Leo. Also coming to Gemma’s aid is Grimley, her beloved gargoyle.

Despite the fact that Andvari and Morta are old, bitter enemies, a dangerous attraction sparks between Gemma and Leo. Further complicating matters is Leo’s murderous family, especially Queen Maeven Morricone, the mastermind behind the infamous Seven Spire massacre.

The closer Gemma gets to the stolen tearstone, the more deadly plots she uncovers. Everyone is trying to capture the crown, but only one queen can sit on the throne …

Capture the Crown is the first installment in author Jennifer Estep's Gargoyle Queen. This is a spinoff of Jennifer's original Crown of Shards trilogy, set 15 years later. It features many of the same characters, but focuses on a new badass princess who moonlights as a spy. More murder, magic and mayhem with a new heroine to root for. Crown Princess of Andvari Gemma aka "Glitzma" Ripley has a reputation for being a pampered princess who is more interested in pretty gowns, sparkling jewelry, and other frivolous things than learning how to rule the kingdom of Andvari. 

But her carefully crafted persona is just an act to hide the fact that Gemma is a powerful mind magier—and a spy. Gemma is undercover, trying to figure out who is stealing large amounts of tearstone from one of the Ripley royal mines when she encounters Prince Leonidas Morricone of Morta—her mortal enemy. The same Prince that betrayed her after she survived the Seven Spire massacre. After she saves him from his own brother, Gemma ends up in dire straits and Leo ends up taking her into the heart of the enemy; Morta to save her.

Gemma finds herself behind enemy lines and she reluctantly joins forces with Leo to expose what could possibly be a preclude to an all-out war between countries. Also coming to Gemma’s aid is Grimley, her beloved gargoyle. She also finds friendship with Leo's sister Delmira who like Leo, has been tortured by her own brother Milo. Despite the fact that Andvari and Morta are old, bitter enemies, a dangerous attraction sparks between Gemma and Leo. Further complicating matters is Leo’s murderous family, especially Queen Maeven Morricone, the mastermind behind the infamous Seven Spire massacre which Gemma survived thanks to Evie.

Although 16 have passed, Gemma still struggles with the trauma she experienced at the massacre. Back then, she hid under the table and was spirited away by friends of Evie. Now, she hides behind her pretty princess persona and the necklace that protects her from the strength of her own magic. One could say that she is terrified of her own magic and instead of using it to save herself, she ends up in a terrible situation where she must fight her way out. 

The most curious aspect of this story is Maeven. I have some interesting feelings about the final part of this story and her participation and what happens next. As predicted in Crush the King, Evie was correct in Maeven having to deal with issues like people who want her dead. I think it is fair to say that you should have some familiarity with the Crush the King series before jumping into this series.


#Review - The Gauntlet by Megan Shepherd #YA #SyFy

Series: The Cage # 3
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: May 23, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Science Fiction

The Maze Runner meets Scott Westerfeld in the final novel in the gripping and romantic Cage series, about teens abducted from Earth by an otherworldly race.

Cora and her friends have escaped the Kindred station and landed at Armstrong—a supposed safe haven on a small moon—where they plan to regroup and figure out how to win the Gauntlet, the challenging competition to prove humanity’s intelligence and set them free. But Armstrong is no paradise; ruled by a power-hungry sheriff, it’s a violent world where the teens are enslaved and put to work in mines. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds.

With the whole universe at stake, Cora will do whatever it takes, including pushing her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. Not knowing who to trust, Cora must rely on her own instincts to win the competition, which could change the world—though it might destroy her in the process.


 “The wolves are strong. But the rabbits are clever.”


The Gauntlet is the third and final installment in author Megan Shepherd's The Cage trilogy. In this final book in the Cage series, Cora must do whatever she can to run the Gauntlet, and prove humanity’s intelligence. Otherwise, it is likely that Cora will never see Earth again. The Gauntlet is full of dramatic twists and turns sure to shock readers and keep them on the edges of their seats until the action-packed final scenes. With the whole series now available with the publication of The Gauntlet, these are perfect books for a summer binge-read. 

The Gauntlet picks up just after the end of The Hunt, with Cora and Co. on Armstrong Preserve, a planet they've been led to believe will be their safe haven. Humans are sent here when they turn 19. What they find is a dangerous place ruled by a power-hungry sheriff named Ellis who wears a metal badge on her face. She decides who is a slave, and who will be one of her Deputy's. Slaves find themselves put to work in root mines. They quickly learn all is not as they've been promised, however, and the action begins again almost immediately. 

The original crew finds itself split into three different groups all working towards a common goal - save the humans and win their spot among intelligent species. In this universe, there are for intelligent species: Mosca oversea trade and business; Gatherers handle spirited matters; Kindred are the peacekeepers, police, army and judiciary; and Axion in charge of technology and are the original intelligent species. They also consume humans to give them power. Other species failed the Gauntlet and have all but disappeared.

Unfortunately for Cora, she only has 40 days to escape Armstrong and make her way to where the Gauntlet is being held. As Nok’s due date grows closer, and Mali and Leon journey across space to rescue Cassian, the former inhabitants of the cage are up against impossible odds when the planet is invaded by Axion's. Cora must push her body and mind to the breaking point, to escape Armstrong and run the Gauntlet. But it isn’t just a deranged sheriff she has to overcome: the other intelligent species—the Axion, Kindred, Gatherers, and Mosca—all have their own reasons to stop her. 

One of those who failed, Willa, is an intelligent primate who becomes an part of Cora's crew and offers some hints to how Cora can survive the Gauntlet. The Gauntlet is a series of 12 puzzles that must be solved to prove humanities intelligence or humanity will be written off.  Cora has discovered her powers—extrasensory telekinetic ability the Kindred don’t believe humans can achieve—and now she has to prove she knows how to use them. If Cora succeeds, an evolutionary jump will boost humans' natural abilities and help them overthrew the powerful species that is hunting them. 

If she fails, she'll die, and so will all of the other humans, and the Kindred too. It's do or die, and it all comes down to the Gauntlet. In terms of the romance, there are three solid romances. Rolf and Nok are a solid couple, and despite their current circumstances. Leon and Mali are adorable together - they're both combative, which is funny to watch. Cassian and Cora are a pair who have had their ups and downs, and ends up on a good point.  

There are some pretty plot twists in this book which really confused me. I shall not spoil it. I shall just say that be the end of this book, I was glad it was finished. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

#Review - The Eyes of Tamburah by Maria V. Snyder #YA #Fantasy

Series: Archives of the Invisible Sword # 1
Format: Kindle, 456 pages
Release Date: February 1st 2021
Publisher: Maria V. Snyder
Source: Amazon
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

He thinks you are the thief…

Shyla is a researcher who resides in the underground desert city of Zirdai, which is ruled by the wealthy Water Prince and brutal Heliacal Priestess. Even though Shyla is sun-kissed - an outcast, considered cursed by the Sun Goddess - she is still renowned for uncovering innumerable archaic facts, lost artifacts, ancient maps, and obscure historical documents. Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui, an archaeologist, enlists her services to find The Eyes of Tamburah: legendary gemstones that bestow great magic on their wielder. These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city.

But chaos erupts when The Eyes are stolen soon after they're found - and Shyla is blamed for the theft. Forced to flee, with the Prince's soldiers and the Priestess' deacons on her trail, Shyla must recover the jewels and clear her name. A quest that will unearth secrets even more valuable than The Eyes of Tamburah themselves...

The Eyes of Tamburah is the first installment in author Maria V. Snyder's Archives of the Invisible Sword series. Kohara is a desert kingdom separated into city states that funnel down to water. These city-states are ruled by two forces: the Water Prince and the Helical Priestess, who collect tithes and taxes and strive to win mastery over the other. Just outside of each city-state is a monastery where sun-kissed children are rescued and raised. 

Rescued because it is held that all blonde headed children belong to the Sun Goddess and should be returned to her; parents are encouraged to leave them in the desert at birth. For 18 years, Shayla was been trained by the Monks of Parzival to translate the texts on these documents. For the past 2 years, Shyla has worked as  researcher. Even though Shyla is sun-kissed - an outcast, considered cursed, she's still renowned for uncovering innumerable archaic facts, lost artifacts, ancient maps, and obscure historical documents.

Her quiet life is about to change when Banqui, an archaeologist and only real friend, enlists her services to find The Eyes of Tamburah. Now the Prince thinks that Shyla has the Eyes of Tamburah but hires her to find the real culprits. Despite not believing the Eyes to have any magical abilities, in order to save her only friend, Shyla agrees to find them under the supervision of the gruff guard, Rendor. The legendary gemstones are rumored to bestow great magic on their wielder and imbue their owner with magical abilities but cause madness in the process.  

These ancient objects can tip the balance of power and give whoever possesses them complete control of the city. Shyla must race against the clock to find out who really took the Eyes of Tamburah, clear her name, survive the Heliacal Priestess (who wants to sacrifice her to the Sun) and prevent herself from ending up in one of the Water Princes 'special rooms' (read torture chambers). While on her journey to recover the Eyes, Shyla’s journey is wrought with danger and betrayal, from Heliacal Priestess to secret organizations called the Invisible Sword to even the Water Prince, himself.  

Shyla, who has a target on her from all sides plus others, must recover the jewels and clear her name. A quest that will unearth secrets even more valuable than The Eyes of Tamburah themselves, and encounter a secretive group called the Invisible Sword. The story includes plenty of action and danger. Shyla is a strong-willed woman who can hold her own in a confrontation. She soon finds that she can trust no one as she is double crossed many times and her eyes are open to many things happening in the city she was unaware of. With this awareness comes an awakening of a new purpose to her life.

Overall, this book is pretty twisted. Shyla discovers things about herself that she never knew. She finds real friends, not those who will stab her in the back in a moments notice, and she gets a bit of a shock when it comes to knowing who her parents were and why the Monks tried to protect her and weren't happy that she didn't commit her life to the Monks. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

#Review - The Dawn and the Prince by Day Leitao #YA #Fantasy

Series: Kingdom of Curses and Shadows # 3
Format: E-Galley, 348 pages
Release Date: June 18, 2021
Publisher: Sparkly Wave
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Darkness has taken over her land, and Zora has to find a solution before her world and the Shadow Kingdom merge once and for all—and before Griffin is lost to her forever. 

Joined by unlikely allies and facing enemies at every turn, she journeys to a dangerous island where dark secrets are kept, and nobody gets out alive.

Griffin is in enemy territory and has to play a dangerous game if he wants to stay alive and save the people he loves, even if it might mean losing them forever.

The Dawn and the Prince is the action packed, emotional finale in the series Kingdom of Curses and Shadows. Get ready for more adventure, romance, and strange magic.

The Dawn and the Prince is the third and final installment in author Day Leitao's Kingdom of Curses and Shadows trilogy. This book picks up right where The Curse and the Prince ends. As a summary: this story focuses on four key characters: Griffin, Zora, Riadne, and Larzen. Since are now 4 main characters, the author alternate's between the characters. Griffin is separated from Zora, and he finds himself in the most dangerous position yet; in another realm. Zora, with the help of some unlikely allies, Riadne's and Larzen, searches for a way to help Griffin and the kingdom, and her quest proves just as life-threatening as Griffin’s.

Griffin and Larzen are brothers along with Kiran who is the current king. Zora is from the Dark Valley which readers will finally learn more about its origins as well as a better understanding of Riadne's people the Solana, including meeting Aelle, and Dada, who are part of a ancient race who knew magic and cursed Griffin's family. Zora spends a lot of time blaming herself for everything that's happening and that's just ridiculous because there's no way anyone in this universe is strong enough to be responsible for everything that has happened going back centuries.

Riadne and Larzen are pretty much a twisted couple. She's got secrets, he tried to exploit Zora to do his bidding, she's got a powerful ability that she can control people not named Larzen. Riadne's cousin Lucas has fallen for Tris, the real Linaria princess, but another type of curse may cause the relationship to fail. Zora carries Griffin's blade after losing her own after finding the Cup said to be able to break Griffin's curse. Griffin is fighting the Shadow King who wants to unite Gravel and the Shadow World which he can then control.

It's a good thing Zora trained so hard to become an awesome fighter since the added protections to Griffin's blade will be needed once they reach Rock Island where nothing is as it seems. There is a welcome return of Mauro who is Zora's friend after he was eliminated from the games that she won. More truths are revealed throughout the novel. Trust is difficult to come by and to save the world, Zora, Griffin, Riadne, and Larzen must work together to overcome their differences. Their travels take them through dangerous territories, where they have to fight to survive and gather information, to which they need to figure out how to use it to save everyone.

Overall: A decent wrap-up to the trilogy. The banter between Riadne and Larzen in this book is hilarious and you never know which way they are going to end up. Zora and Griffin's love for each other has grown solid, and the ending does just enough for me to give this a decent rating. 

Friday, June 25, 2021

#Review - Of Mettle and Magic by L.R. Braden #Fantasy

Series: The Magicsmith # 5
Format: E-Galley, 340 pages
Release Date: May 14, 2021
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy

Part fae, part human, all magic. . .

Now it’s time to choose a side.

When the Unified Church in Rome is destroyed by rogue sorcerers, tensions explode. Alex Blackwood will do whatever it takes to prevent a war between the humans, fae, and Earth paranaturals--even turn herself over to the PTF. But when a man she thought long dead walks back into her life at the head of a sorcerer army, surrender is no longer an option.

With all the world watching, and half hoping she fails, Alex and her friends scramble to find a peace that won’t cost them everything.

Of Mettle and Magic is the Fifth installment in author L.R. Braden's The Magicsmith series. After saving a dozen human children from Shedraziel, including Emma's younger sister May, and erasing their memories of what happened to them, Alex Blackwood and her friends now have to figure out a way to save them since they are now addicted to goblin fruit. They were promised help from Alex's grandfather Bael, but that help is slow in coming. What's worse is that Alex's recorded confession about being a Fae halfer who can handle iron without any side affects, is now spreading across the country and the PTF, Paranatural Task Force, wants very much to speak to Alex. 
Across the world, lines are being drawn, sides chosen. Law-abiding members of the paranatural community, including practitioners and werewolves, are being hunted and sent to detention centers. Including Alex's very pregnant friend Maggie who is human.When Alex decides to turn herself in to Director Harris, unknown people attack the convoy she's in and she ends up in North Carolina. Those responsible are Alex's former best friend David who is a spy, and Uncle Sol who once worked for PTF before creating his own alliance of humans and paras. When a a man thought dead suddenly rises from the grave and attacks the Unified Church in Rome, Alex realizes this is larger than anything she can handle on her own. 
She also realizes that she has to return to her grandfather's realm and beg him to not declare war on humanity. She needs the Fae to help her find a way to deal with a dangerous sorcerer/necromancer who is demon ridden and wants to end the world as Alex and her friends know it. That man just happens to be her own father Darius. Bael, the Lord of Enchantment, is like 5 steps ahead of Alex at every turn. If he helps her, she has to swear fealty to him and stay in Fae and learn about her abilities which she has wanted for a long time. If he refuses and goes to war with humans IE PTF, Alex and her friends will need to put an alliance of the willing from vampires, werewolves, practitioners, and even humans together in order to survive the end of the world. 
Some good news is the return of some characters like Kai and Hortense who choose to join Alex and her friends as well as new characters who put their faith in Alex and join her alliance. The story also moves outside of Colorado for the first time to Missouri, North Carolina, as well as Arlington and Washington D.C. I highly doubt this is the final book in the series. The ending basically lays out the foundation for at minimum one more book since Alex has a new responsibility and war still hasn't been resolved with the Fae. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


Thursday, June 24, 2021

#Review - The Art of Deception by Leonard Goldberg #Mystery #Historical

Series: The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries (#4)
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Release Date:  June 16, 2020
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Library
Genre: Mystery & Detective / Historical

"Suspenseful and entertaining, with many twists and turns....This is one of the best Sherlock Holmes series since Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell books." —Historical Novel Society

In the west end of London, an apparently crazed individual is on the loose, breaking into art galleries and private homes to slash valuable paintings of women. Despite Scotland Yard’s best efforts, the criminal remains at large and continues on his destructive path.

When Joanna and the Watson's are called in to solve the mystery, they soon discover that although the canvases have been slashed, their backings remain pristine, with no cuts or scratches. The criminal, it seems, is no mere vandal—he's searching for something hidden behind the portraits.

Suspicion soon falls on two skilled art restorers who previously worked at the gallery where all the vandalized art was purchased. When Joanna finds the body of one in a bricked off fireplace at the gallery, the other is left as the prime suspect. But then he's discovered dead as well. Luckily, Joanna has a plan for ensnaring the criminal once and for all. But it must not fail, or more paintings—and lives—will be lost.

USA Today bestselling author Leonard Goldberg returns with another puzzling case for the daughter of Sherlock Holmes to unravel in this exciting mystery sure to be enjoyed by fans of Sherlock Holmes as well Laurie R. King and Charles Finch.

The Art of Deception is the Fourth installment in author Leonard Goldberg's The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries. The story begins 10 days before Christmas, December 1916 when Inspector Lestrade visits with the Watson's. He's got a mystery for them. Lestrade informs Joanna that someone is on a trail of destruction in art galleries and private homes. Portraits of women, in particular, have been slashed as if the crazed madman is in search of something. The portraits from the Italian Renaissance Period have all been left behind. The only clue is a tattered scarf left behind, likely unintentional.

At first it appears to be simple vandalism, but soon it becomes apparent that the vandal has a purpose beyond destruction. What drew the vandal to target these paintings specifically? It is up to the trio to determine that purpose and thereby catch the criminal. Of course, there's a bit of a twist which I won't spoil as well as a pretty good guess as to who the alleged vandals are. Meanwhile, Joanna's son Johnny has his own troubles to deal with when Cholera visits his Eton school and he is forced to return home until he is given the all clear. 

Dr. Watson is in charge of his grandson's case and it's highly interesting what was known medically at the time. It will give you pause as to what limited prevention's were in place and the number of deaths caused by simple lack of hygiene. *There have been many a reviewer who compared Cholera to Covid and that couldn't be any more ridiculous. Cholera is the result of food and water contamination which leads to runny diarrhea and dehydration. Covid seems to be a man made virus made in a lab which affects the lungs and heart in some cases. Cholera is still likely in underdeveloped countries thanks to lack of clean water.

Joanna is the result of a one time assignation between Sherlock Holmes and the only woman to ever outwit the famous detective; Irene Adler. Joanna inherited her parents deductive genius and displays aspects of Holmes's intellect as well as observation powers. Not unlike the Sherlock Holmes tales which were told by Dr. Watson, this series too is told by another Watson. Dr. Watson's son John who is now married to Joanna Blalock Watson, daughter of Sherlock Holmes.

Joanna’s keen mind and incredible insight have lead her to become a sought after investigator. Her forensic knowledge is on par to that of the younger Dr. Watson who is also a physician of pathology which comes in handy when a dead body needs to be examined or exhumed. As the clues come to light, all of the defaced paintings were retouched by an art restorer. If you know nothing at all about the world of paintings, the author brings so called experts to differentiate between the artists and why the villains are so eager to find what they are searching for. It will also show you how intelligent criminals can be when trying to rip off highly valued and expensive items.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

#Review - The Untamed Moon by Jenn Stark #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Wilde Justice # 7
Format: E-Galley
Release Date:  June 23rd 2021
Publisher: Elewyn Publishing
Source: Publisher
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Romance

“Swear not by the Moon, the inconstant Moon…”

Night is falling on the world of the Arcana Council, and the darkest corners of the psychic community are stirring, eager for war no matter the cost.

In a last-ditch effort to maintain the balance of magic, Justice Sara Wilde launches an all-out search for the Moon, one of the Council’s most powerful missing members. With a team that includes the darkly formidable Magician, the tech-savant Fool and the incomparable Nikki Dawes…Sara likes her odds for finding her quarry in time.

Unfortunately, she’s not alone in the hunt.

A cry for help from the depths of South America triggers Sara’s oldest enemies, the cutthroat artifact hunters of the arcane black market. In a race to find the deeply secretive, elusive Moon, the winner is promised power beyond their wildest imagination. Are these claims pure lies and moonlit fantasy? Or a sign that when the Moon is in play, nothing is ever as it seems?

The truth is deadlier than anyone expects.

Even your shadow will betray you when you hunt The Untamed Moon.

The Untamed Moon is the Seventh installment in author Jenn Stark's Wilde Justice series. Summary: Sara Wilde who once was a tarot card wielding treasure hunter, is now Justice of the Arcana Council. The Arcana Council is a group of sorcerers, some actual demigods, who are supposed to keep the magic balanced. Sara, in her position that she took over at the beginning of this spin-off series, is supposed to right wrongs perpetrated against connecteds by other connecteds. Spoiler alert: there's a whole lot of wrongs to deal with.

At the end of The Night Witch, Sariah Pelter has become Sara's right hand doing things Sara won't do. Which is where we begin the story. Sara and Sariah find themselves in Pennsauken, New Jersey which is said to be a gateway to Hell. Since Sariah and Sara both know a thing or two about Hell, both spent time there, they also know that what is happening here might be a key to what happens later in the story. Joining them there is Krieos, the Devil of the Arcana Council and its leader. It's interesting that Sariah has an ability that comes in handy more times than not. 

Sara once again proves that we, as readers, need to know what abilities her parents have since she appears to get stronger, and stronger every single time out. I am not bloviating here. She is able to do things that no other member of the Council is able to do. Especially when it comes to her connection with Armaeus, the Magician of the Arcana Council. Now, Sara and her immediate allies like Nikki Dawes, Simon the Fool, Armaeus, and yes, even Krieos have enemies at every turn. They have the Shadow Council which has been itching for a war. 

They have others who may be closer than they think whose loyalties to the Council may be more questionable than not. The story's main focus is on finding the missing Moon and the Star before their enemies do. When a ring sent by a long time artifact hunter arrives on Sara's door, she's positively sure that trouble awaits. The search for Roland Franklin begins with Sara, Simon, Nikki, and Nigel Friedman, a Brit artifact hunter and once adversary of Sara's, traveling to Peru where other groups of artifact hunters have been drawn to. Where ever Sara goes, trouble isn't that far behind. 

With the Moon not being seen for a thousand years, and enemies biting at their heels, time may be running out. Sara and her allies will fight demons, get a visit from the Syx who have become series regulars, and get introduced to a new Council member, while wondering if any of them will survive the war that is closing in on them.  I'm going to stop here as what happens in this story will rock your block off if you've read this series from the beginning. There is a shocking revelation, although it really will make sense once you've read about it.  

Alas, the author gives readers welcome news about when the next installment, The Shattered Dawn, is going to be released. Thus, we don't have to wait that long before the 8th installment is released and it should be a doozy!

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

#Review - These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong #YA #Fantasy #Historical

Series: These Violent Delights # 1
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date: November 17, 2020
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Historical

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Serpent & Dove, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.  

These Violent Delights is the first installment in author Chloe Gong's These Violent Delights duology. This story focuses on two main characters: Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov. Once upon a time, the two were thick as thieves. But after a deep betrayal, Juliette was sent off to the States and has just returned after 4 years of being Stateside. Juliette is the heiress of the Scarlett Gang. She can speak Mandarin, Russian, French, English, Dutch, and probably others. During the time that she's been away, her cousin, Tyler, has tried to prove himself worthy to be the heir of the Scarlet Gang.
Roma Montagov is the heir of The White Flowers, a rival Russian gang, and Juliette’s first love and betrayal. Roma is the type of guy that seems tough on the outside but on the inside, he’s a softie. He has family issues; Roma’s father isn’t entirely trusting of him and someone wants to take his spot as heir. With Red Communists spreading their message among the lower classes, when people of Shanghai begin ripping out their own throats as a result of a mysterious contagious disease, talk runs around that a monster in the Huangpu river may be the source of all the catastrophes. Roma and Juliette have to work together regardless of family history to solve this mystery and save their people.
Juliette is by far the most interesting and layered character. She struggles to affirm her place as the heir of the Scarlet Gang and reconcile her western life and leanings with being back in Shanghai. Without her flapper clothes and finger waves, nobody recognizes her. The gang has no respect for her. She feels like an outsider. She has to prove herself more than Roma because of those like Tyler who are itching to punch their own tickets to the top of the food chain. And, even though there is feelings between her and Roma, she can't allow those feelings to strengthen or she'll lose all respect. 
Roma is nothing like the Romeo in Shakespeare. Although he is the heir of the White Flowers, Roma does not have the same ruthlessness as Juliette and actually tries to avoid killing others. He tries to avoid bloodshed when possible and even pushes Juliette's heart strings every chance he gets. The ending of this book is a soul crusher, and no, I am not going to spoil what happens. As a side note, Juliette’s cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind, and Roma’s two right hand men, Benedikt and Marshall, get a few of their own POV chapters as well as surprising strengths I didn't see coming. 
Since this is marketed as a Romeo and Juliette retelling, I think people’s expectations might be different from what this actually is. You can have a retelling without sticking page by page to the original script. You can create a very unusual and original story and still keep your readers attention if you have a interesting main characters as well as secondary characters. One of the parts that really are historical in nature, was the backdrop of political scheming, the influence of the Nationalists and the Communists and how the gangs are dealing with that. This war is still going on with the CCP of China and the Nationalists of Taiwan who refuse to bow and surrender.
*History Lesson: In 1920s Shanghai, the city had many foreign occupiers from the British, to the French, to Americans, to Russians, etc thanks to the French Concession and other so called treaties. French Concession was built on April 6 in 1849 after China’s loss in the Opium Wars in 1842. Shanghai, among other cities, was forced to open themselves as an international “ports of call.” In 1849, the government of Shanghai conceded a large of segment of land to the French consulate which they kept until Vichy France gave it to the Chinese. Within the concession area, it had its own laws and enforcement. Entrance by local Chinese was strictly limited. 
During that period, many Chinese artists and intellectuals took the French concession as their home. American and British settlers also flooded into this area in 1920’s. In the wake of the Russian Revolution, a number of Russian’s also moved into this area. In such land allotment, opium and gambling were main businesses in 1930’s. In 1937, the Japanese army invaded Shanghai and many residents left the city. During World War II, many remaining Shanghai residents were forced to stay at camps built by the Japanese. After 1946, the Japanese army was forced out of Shanghai and most foreign concessions were officially closed. One could legitimately say that Communism was the result of Colonialism and watch historians squirm. 

Chapter OneOne

In the heart of Scarlet Gang territory, a burlesque club was the place to be.

The calendar was rolling closer and closer to the end of the season, the pages of each date ripping free and blowing away quicker than the browning tree leaves. Time was both hurried and unhurried at once, the days becoming scarce yet dragging on for far too long. Workers were always hurrying somewhere, never mind whether they truly had a destination to pursue. There was always a whistle blowing in the background; there was always the constant chugging noise of trams dragging themselves along the worn tracks grooved into the streets; there was always the stench of resentment stinking up the neighborhoods and burrowing deep into the laundry that waved with the wind, like shop banners outside cramped apartment windows.

Today was an exception.

The clock had paused on the Mid-Autumn Festival—the twenty-second of the month, according to Western methods of day-keeping this year. Once, it was customary to light lanterns and whisper tales of tragedy, to worship what the ancestors revered with moonlight cupped in their palms. Now it was a new age—one that thought itself above its ancestors. Regardless of which territory they stood upon, the people of Shanghai had been bustling about with the spirit of modern celebration since sunrise, and at present, with the bells ringing nine times for the hour, the festivities were only getting started.

Juliette Cai was surveying the club, her eyes searching for the first signs of trouble. It was dimly lit despite the abundance of twinkling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, the atmosphere dark and murky and wet. There was also a strange, sodden smell wafting under Juliette’s nose in waves, but the poor renovations seemed not to bother the mood of those seated at various round tables scattered throughout the club. The people here would hardly take notice of a small leak in the corner when constant activity consumed their attention instead. Couples were whispering over decks of tarot cards, men were shaking one another with vigor, women were inclining their heads to gasp and shriek in recollection of whatever story was being told over the flickering gaslight.

“You look rather woeful.”

Juliette didn’t immediately turn in haste to identify the voice. She didn’t have to. There were very few people who would approach her speaking English to begin with, never mind English with the flat tones of a Chinese mother tongue and the accent of a French upbringing.

“I am. I am perpetually filled with woe.” Only then did she crane her head, her lips curling up and her eyes narrowing at her cousin. “Aren’t you supposed to be onstage next?”

Rosalind Lang shrugged and crossed her arms, the jade bangles on her slender brown wrists clinking together.

“They cannot begin the show without me,” Rosalind scoffed, “so I am not worried.”

Juliette scanned the crowd again, this time with a target in mind. She found Kathleen, Rosalind’s fraternal twin, near a table at the back of the club. Her other cousin was patiently balancing a tray full of plates, staring at a British merchant while he tried to order a drink with exaggerated gesticulations. Rosalind was under contract here to dance; Kathleen showed up to wait tables when she got bored, and took a measly wage for the fun of it.

Sighing, Juliette dug out a lighter to keep her hands occupied, releasing the flame, then quenching it to the rhythm of the music gliding around the room. She waved the small silver rectangle under her cousin’s nose. “Want?”

Rosalind responded by pulling out a cigarette tucked within the folds of her clothing.

“You don’t even smoke,” she said as Juliette angled the lighter down. “Why do you carry that thing around?”

Straight-faced, Juliette replied, “You know me. Running around. Living life. Committing arson.”

Rosalind inhaled her first puff of smoke, then rolled her eyes. “Right.”

A better mystery would have been where Juliette even kept the lighter. Most girls in the burlesque club—dancer or patron alike—were dressed as Rosalind was: in the fashionable qipao sweeping through Shanghai like a wildfire. With the outrageous slit down the side revealing ankle to thigh and the high collar acting like a choke hold, the design was a blend of Western flamboyance with Eastern roots, and in a city of divided worlds, the women were walking metaphors. But Juliette—Juliette had been transformed through and through, the little beads of her pocketless flapper dress swishing with every movement. She stood out here, that much was certain. She was a bright, burning star, a symbolic figurehead for the vitality of the Scarlet Gang.

Juliette and Rosalind both quietly turned their attention to the stage, where a woman was crooning a song in a language that neither were familiar with. The singer’s voice was lovely, her dress shimmering against dark skin, but this was not the sort of show that this sort of cabaret was known for, and so no one save the two girls at the back was listening.

“You didn’t tell me you would be here tonight,” Rosalind said after a while, smoke escaping her mouth in a quick stream. There was betrayal in her voice, like the omission of information was out of character. The Juliette who had returned last week was not the same Juliette that her cousins had waved goodbye to four years ago, but the changes were mutual. Upon Juliette’s return, before she had even set foot back into the house, she had heard talk of Rosalind’s honey-coated tongue and effortless class. After four years away, Juliette’s memories of the people she had left behind no longer aligned with who they had become. Nothing of her memory had withstood the test of time. This city had reshaped itself and everyone in it had continued moving forward without her, especially Rosalind.

“It was very last minute.” Over at the back of the club, the British merchant had started pantomiming to Kathleen. Juliette gestured toward the scene with her chin. “B├ába is getting tired of some merchant called Walter Dexter pushing for a meeting, so I’m to hear what he wants.”

“Sounds boring,” Rosalind intoned. Her cousin always had a bite to her words, even when speaking with the driest intonation. A small smile perked at Juliette’s lips. At the very least, even if Rosalind felt like a stranger—albeit a familiar one—she would always sound the same. Juliette could close her eyes and pretend they were children again, sniping at each other about the most offensive topics.

She sniffed haughtily, feigning offense. “We can’t all be Parisian-trained dancers.”

“Tell you what, you take over my routine and I’ll be the heir to this city’s underground empire.”

A laugh burst from Juliette, short and loud in her amusement. Her cousin was different. Everything was different. But Juliette was a fast learner.

With a soft sigh, she pushed away from the wall she was leaning upon. “All right,” she said, her gaze latched on Kathleen. “Duty calls. I’ll see you at home.”

Rosalind let her leave with a wave, dropping the cigarette to the ground and crushing it under her high-heeled shoe. Juliette really ought to have admonished her for doing so, but the floor couldn’t have gotten any dirtier than its current state, so what was the point? From the moment she stepped into this place, five different sorts of opium had probably smeared into her soles. All she could do was push through the club as gingerly as possible, hoping the maids wouldn’t damage the leather of her shoes when they scrubbed them clean later tonight.

“I’ll take it from here.”

Kathleen’s chin jerked up in surprise, the jade pendant at her throat gleaming under the light. Rosalind used to tell her that someone was going to snatch such a precious stone if she wore it so obviously, but Kathleen liked it there. If people were to stare her throat, she always said she would rather it be because of the pendant than the bump of her Adam’s apple underneath.

Her startled expression quickly smoothed into a smile, realizing it was Juliette sliding into the seat opposite the British merchant.

“Let me know if I can get anything for you,” Kathleen said sweetly, in perfect, French-accented English.

As she walked away, Walter Dexter’s jaw dropped slack. “She could understand me this whole time?”

“You’ll learn, Mr. Dexter,” Juliette began, swiping the candle from the center of the table and taking a sniff of the scented wax, “that when you assume someone cannot speak English right off the bat, they tend to make fun of you.”

Walter blinked at her, then cocked his head. He took in her dress, her American accent, and her knowledge of his name.

“Juliette Cai,” he concluded. “I was expecting your father.”

The Scarlet Gang called itself a family business, but it did not stop there. The Cais were the pulsing heart, but the gang itself was a network of gangsters and smugglers and merchants and middlemen of all sorts, each and every single one of them answering to Lord Cai. Less-enthused foreigners would call the Scarlets a secret society.

“My father has no time for merchants with no credible history,” Juliette replied. “If it’s important, I will pass along the message.”

Unfortunately, it appeared that Walter Dexter was far more interested in small talk than actual business.

“Last I heard, you had moved to become a New Yorker.”

Juliette dropped the candle back onto the table. The flame flickered, casting eerie shadows over the middle-aged merchant. The lighting only deepened the wrinkles in his perpetually scrunched forehead.

“I was only sent to the West for education, regrettably,” Juliette said, leaning back into the curved couch seat. “Now I’m old enough to start contributing to the family business and whatnot, so they dragged me back kicking and screaming.”

The merchant didn’t laugh along to her joke, as Juliette had intended. Instead, he tapped his temple, ruffling his silver-patched hair.

“Hadn’t you also returned for a brief period of time a few years ago?”

Juliette stiffened, her grin faltering. Behind her, a table of patrons erupted with uproarious laughter, collapsing in mirth over some comment made among themselves. The sound prickled at her neck, sweeping a hot sweat over her skin. She waited for the noise to die down, using the interruption to think fast and scramble hard.

“Just once,” Juliette replied carefully. “New York City wasn’t too safe during the Great War. My family was worried.”

The merchant still didn’t drop the subject. He made a noise of consideration. “The war ended eight years ago. You were here a mere four previous.”

Juliette’s smile dropped entirely. She pushed her bobbed hair back.

“Mr. Dexter, are we here to discuss your extensive knowledge of my personal life, or did this meeting actually have a purpose?”

Walter blanched. “I apologize, Miss Cai. My son, he’s your age, so I happened to know—”

He cut himself off upon noting Juliette’s glare. He cleared his throat.

“I requested to meet with your father regarding a new product.”

Immediately, despite the vague word choice, it was quite clear what Walter Dexter was referring to. The Scarlet Gang was, first and foremost, a network of gangsters, and there was seldom a time when gangsters weren’t heavily involved with the black market. If the Scarlets dominated Shanghai, it was hardly surprising that they dominated the black market, too—decided the comings and goings, decided the men who were allowed to thrive and the men who needed to drop dead. In the parts of the city that still belonged to the Chinese, the Scarlet Gang was not simply above the law; they were the law. Without the gangsters, the merchants were unprotected. Without the merchants, the gangsters would have little purpose or work. It was an ideal partnership—and one being threatened continually by the growing power of the White Flowers, the one other gang in Shanghai that actually had a chance at defeating the Scarlets in black market monopoly. After all, they had been working at it for generations.

“A product, hmm?” Juliette repeated. Her eyes swiveled up absently. The performers had switched, the spotlight dimming as the first opening notes from a saxophone played. Adorned in a brilliant new costume, Rosalind sashayed into view. “Remember what happened the last time the British wanted to introduce a new product into Shanghai?”

Walter frowned. “Are you referring to the Opium Wars?”

Juliette examined her fingernails. “Am I?”

“You cannot possibly blame me for something that was the fault of my country.”

“Oh, that’s not how it works?”

It was Walter’s turn to look unimpressed. He folded his hands together as skirts swished and skin flashed on the stage behind him.

“Nevertheless, I require the help of the Scarlet Gang. I have bulk amounts of lernicrom to be rid of, and it is certain to be the next most desired opiate on the market.” Walter cleared his throat. “I believe you are seeking an upper hand right now.”

Juliette leaned forward. In that sudden motion, the beads on her dress clinked together frantically, clashing with the jazz in the background. “And do you really think you can give us an upper hand?”

The constant grappling between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers wasn’t a secret. Far from it, in fact, because the blood feud was not something that raged only between those with Cai and Montagov to their name. It was a cause that ordinary members loyal to either faction took on personally, with a fervor that could almost be supernatural. Foreigners arriving in Shanghai to do business for the first time received one warning before learning of anything else: pick a side and pick it fast. If they traded once with the Scarlet Gang, they were a Scarlet through and through. They would be embraced in Scarlet territory and killed if they wandered into the areas where the White Flowers reigned.

“I think,” Walter said softly, “that the Scarlet Gang is losing control of its own city.”

Juliette sat back. Underneath the table, her fists tightened until the skin over her knuckles became bloodless. Four years ago, she had looked at Shanghai with glitter in her eyes, blinking at the Scarlet Gang with hope. She hadn’t understood that Shanghai was a foreign city in its own country. Now she did. The British ruled a chunk. The French ruled a chunk. The Russian White Flowers were taking over the only parts that technically remained under Chinese governance. This loss of control was a long time coming—but Juliette would rather bite off her own tongue than admit it freely to a merchant who understood nothing.

“We will get back to you regarding your product, Mr. Dexter,” she said after a long moment, flashing an easy smile. She let out her exhale imperceptibly, releasing the tension that had tightened her stomach to the point of pain. “Now, if you’ll excuse me—”

The entire club fell into a hush, and suddenly Juliette was speaking too loudly. Walter’s eyes bugged, latching on to a sight over Juliette’s shoulder.

“I’ll be,” he remarked. “If it isn’t one of the Bolshies.”

At the merchant’s words, Juliette felt herself go ice-cold. Slowly, ever so slowly, she turned around to seek Walter Dexter’s line of sight, searching through the smoke and shadows dancing at the entranceway of the burlesque club.

Please, don’t let it be, she pleaded. Anyone but—

Her vision turned hazy. For a terrifying second, the world was tilting on its axis and Juliette was barely clinging to its edge, moments away from taking a tumble. Then the floor righted itself and Juliette could breathe again. She stood and cleared her throat, concentrating all her might on sounding as bored as possible when she stated, “The Montagovs emigrated far before the Bolshevik Revolution, Mr. Dexter.”

Before anybody could take note of her, Juliette slinked into the shadows, where the dark walls dimmed the sparkling of her dress and the soggy floorboards muffled the clicking of her heels. Her precautions were unnecessary. Everyone’s gaze was firmly latched on Roma Montagov as he wound his way through the club. For once Rosalind was carrying out a performance that not a soul was paying attention to.

At first glance it could have seemed like the shock emanating from the round tables was because a foreigner had walked in. But this club had many foreigners scattered throughout the crowd, and Roma, with his dark hair, dark eyes, and pale skin could have blended in among the Chinese as naturally as a white rose painted red amid poppies. It wasn’t because Roma Montagov was a foreigner. It was because the heir of the White Flowers was wholly recognizable as an enemy on Scarlet Gang territory. From the corner of her eye, Juliette was already catching sight of movement: guns pulled from pockets and knives pointed outward, bodies stirring with animosity.

Juliette stepped out of the shadows and lifted a hand to the closest table. The motion was simple: wait.

The gangsters stilled, each group watching those nearby in example. They waited, pretending to go on with their conversations while Roma Montagov passed table after table, his eyes narrowed in concentration.

Juliette started to creep closer. She pressed a hand to her throat and forced the lump there down, forced her breath to become even until she wasn’t on the verge of panic, until she could wipe on a dazzling smile. Once, Roma would have been able to see right through her. But four years had gone by now. He had changed. So had she.

Juliette reached out and touched the back of his suit jacket. “Hello, stranger.”

Roma turned around. For a moment it seemed as if he hadn’t registered the sight before him. He stared, his gaze as blank as clear glass, utterly uncomprehending.

Then the sight of the Scarlet heiress washed over him like a bucket of ice. Roma’s lips parted with a small puff of air.

The last time he’d seen her, they had been fifteen.

“Juliette,” he exclaimed automatically, but they were no longer familiar enough to use each other’s first names. They hadn’t been for a long while.

Roma cleared his throat. “Miss Cai. When did you return to Shanghai?”

I never left, Juliette wanted to say, but that wasn’t true. Her mind had remained here—her thoughts had constantly revolved around the chaos and the injustice and the burning fury that broiled in these streets—but her physical body had been shipped across the ocean a second time for safekeeping. She had hated it, hated being away so intensely that she felt the force of it burn into a fever each night when she left the parties and speakeasies. The weight of Shanghai was a steel crown nailed to her head. In another world, if she had been given a choice, perhaps she would have walked away, rejected herself as the heir to an empire of mobsters and merchants. But she never had a choice. This was her life, this was her city, these were her people, and because she loved them, she had sworn to herself a long time ago that she would do a damn good job of being who she was because she could be no one else.

It’s all your fault, she wanted to say. You’re the reason I was forced away from my city. My people. My blood.

“I returned a while ago,” Juliette lied easily, checking her hip against the vacant table to her left. “Mr. Montagov, you’ll have to forgive me for asking, but what are you doing here?”

She watched Roma move his hand ever so slightly and guessed that he was checking for the presence of his hidden weapons. She watched him take her in, slow to form words. Juliette had had time to brace herself—seven days and seven nights to enter this city and scrub her mind free of everything that had happened here between them. But whatever Roma had expected to find in this club when he walked in tonight, it certainly hadn’t been Juliette.

“I need to speak to Lord Cai,” Roma finally said, placing his hands behind his back. “It’s important.”

Juliette took a step closer. Her fingers had happened upon the lighter from within the folds of her dress again, thumbing the spark wheel while she hummed in thought. Roma said Cai like a foreign merchant, his mouth pulled wide. The Chinese and the Russians shared the same sound for Cai: tsai, like the sound of a match being struck. His butchering was intentional, an observation of the situation. She was fluent in Russian, he was fluent in Shanghai’s unique dialect, and yet here they were, both speaking English with different accents like a couple of casual merchants. Switching to either of their native tongues would have been like taking a side, so they settled for a middle ground.

“I imagine it must be important, if you’ve come all the way here.” Juliette shrugged, letting go of the lighter. “Speak to me instead, and I’ll pass along the message. One heir to another, Mr. Montagov. You can trust me, can’t you?”

It was a laughable question. Her words said one thing, but her cold, flat stare said another—One misstep while you’re in my territory, and I’ll kill you with my bare hands. She was the last person he would trust, and the same went the other way.

But whatever it was that Roma needed, it must have been serious. He didn’t argue.

“Can we…?”

He gestured to the side, into the shadows and the dim corners, where there would be less of an audience turned toward them like a second show, waiting for the moment Juliette walked away so they could pounce. Thinning her lips, Juliette pivoted and waved him along to the back of the club instead. He was fast to follow, his measured steps coming closely enough that the beads of Juliette’s dress clinked angrily in disturbance. She didn’t know why she was bothering. She should have thrown him to the Scarlets, let them deal with him.

No, she decided. He is mine to deal with. He is mine to destroy.

Juliette stopped. Now it was just her and Roma Montagov in the shadows, other sounds muffled and other sights dimmed. She rubbed her wrist, demanding her pulse slow down, as if that were within her control.

“Jump to it, then,” she said.

Roma looked around. He ducked his head before speaking, lowering his voice until Juliette had to strain to hear him. And indeed she strained—she refused to lean any closer to him than she had to.

“Last night, five White Flowers died at the ports. Their throats had been torn out.”

Juliette blinked at him.


She didn’t mean to be callous, but members of both their gangs killed each other on the weekly. Juliette herself had already added to the death toll. If he was going to put the blame on her Scarlets, then he was wasting his time.

And,” Roma said tightly, clearly biting back if you would let me finish, “one of yours. As well as a municipal police officer. British.”

Now Juliette frowned a little, trying to recall if she had overheard anyone in the household last night muttering about a Scarlet death. It was strange for both gangs to have victims on scene, given that larger killings usually happened in ambushes, and stranger still for a police officer to have been pulled down too, but she wouldn’t go so far as to say it was bizarre. She only raised an eyebrow at Roma, disinterested.

Until, continuing onward, he said, “All their wounds were self-inflicted. This wasn’t a territory dispute.”

Juliette shook her head repeatedly to one side, making sure she hadn’t misheard him. When she was certain there was nothing jammed in her ear, she exclaimed, “Seven dead bodies with self-inflicted wounds?”

Roma nodded. He placed another look over his shoulder, as if merely keeping an eye on the gangsters around the tables would prevent them from attacking him. Or perhaps he didn’t care to keep an eye on them at all. Perhaps he was trying to avoid looking straight ahead at Juliette.

“I’m here to find an explanation. Does your father know anything of this?”

Juliette scoffed, the noise deep and resentful. Did he mean to tell her that five White Flowers, one Scarlet, and a police officer had met up at the ports, then torn out their own throats? It sounded like the setup of a terrible joke without a punch line.

“We cannot help you,” Juliette stated.

“Any information could be crucial to discovering what happened, Miss Cai,” Roma persisted. A little notch between his eyebrows always appeared like a crescent moon whenever he was irritated. It was present now. There was more to these deaths than he was letting on; he wouldn’t get this worked up for an ordinary ambush. “One of the dead was yours—”

“We’re not going to cooperate with the White Flowers,” Juliette cut in. Any false humor on her face had long disappeared. “Let me make that clear before you proceed. Regardless of whether my father knows anything about last night’s deaths, we will not be sharing it with you and we will not be furthering any contact that could endanger our own business endeavors. Now, good day, sir.”

Roma had clearly been dismissed, and yet he remained where he stood, glaring at Juliette like there was a sour taste in his mouth. She had already turned on her heel, preparing to make her exit, when she heard Roma whisper viciously, “What happened to you?”

She could have said anything in response. She could have chosen her words with the deathly venom she had acquired in her years away and spat it all out. She could have reminded him of what he did four years ago, pushed the blade of guilt in until he was bleeding. But before she could open her mouth, a scream was piercing through the club, interrupting every other noise as if it operated on another frequency.

The dancers onstage froze; the music was brought to a halt.

“What’s going on?” Juliette muttered. Just as she moved to investigate, Roma hissed out sharply and caught her elbow.

“Juliette, don’t.”

His touch seared through her skin like a painful burn. Juliette jerked her arm away faster than if she had truly been set alight, her eyes blazing. He didn’t have the right. He had lost the right to pretend he had ever wanted to protect her.

Juliette marched toward the other end of the club, ignoring Roma as he followed after her. Rumbles of panic grew louder and louder, though she couldn’t comprehend what was inciting such a reaction until she nudged aside the gathering crowd with an assertive push.

Then she saw the man thrashing on the ground, his own fingers clawing at his thick neck.

“What is he doing?” Juliette shrieked, lunging forward. “Somebody stop him!”

But most of his nails were already buried deep into muscle. The man was digging with an animal-like intensity—as if there was something there, something no one else could see crawling under his skin. Deeper, deeper, deeper, until his fingers were wholly buried and he was pulling free tendons and veins and arteries.

In the next second, the club had fallen silent completely. Nothing was audible save the labored breathing of the short and stout man who had collapsed on the floor, his throat torn into pieces and his hands dripping with blood.