Monday, April 27, 2015

Hunted by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki Blog Tour: Excerpt + Giveaway



“Pull over,” I say. Cole’s head flicks toward me, one eye swollen almost completely closed, the color purple settling in. “Just do it.”

He guides the car to a spot thickly overgrown with reeds and palm trees, and I quickly
shove my door open, groaning, as every muscle in my body stiffens.

“And what are we doing exactly?” he asks.

“Hurry, follow me.” I don’t bother closing the door behind me and stumble into the reeds.
My feet sink into the damp ground as water brims over into my shoes. He trails along, the
uneven sound of sloshing boots tracking my every step. Cole arrives next to me.

“Let’s make this quick.” I bend over, palming a handful of water and then splash my face
with it. A million knives could be stabbing me right now, and it’d still feel better than this. Water
slips down my hands, over my wrists, and washes away the rusty-smelling blood from my skin.
Cole stumbles left.

“Holy shit,” he says. His hands shoot out in an attempt to balance himself.
“Oh my God, Cole.” I straighten, trying not to hurt him when reaching for his arm. His
jaw tightens as he grabs hold of his side.

“It’s okay. Just probably bruised.” He winces again.

“Here, let me help you,” I insist.

“It’s nothing. I’m fine,” he says, almost breathless. He’s so proud, never wants to appear
like he might actually need my help with anything.

I carefully wash his face. His teeth grind together, and his hand grips my forearm, his
fingers leaving marks.

“Here, I have to take off your shirt,” I say, tugging at its hem.

“Lexi, I’m okay,” he says. But even as he tries to push me away, his face contorts into a
troubling grimace. Sweat trickles down his forehead.

“You’re a terrible liar,” I say. “I’ll be gentle, just try to hold still.” He exhales as I lift the
shredded, bloodied shirt over his head, revealing a torso full of bluish, purple bruises.
“Oh, not good. That has to be wrapped. If any of your ribs are broken, the pressure will

“They’re not broken.”

“It’ll only take a few seconds.” I put his shirt in the water, squeezing it out with all the
strength I have left to rinse away the blood and bits of glass embedded in it. Then I reach around
his waist. He groans and slowly raises his arms above his head. I tie the material as best I can,
my hands shaking by the end of the process.

“It will do for now.”

“Thank you,” he says, breathing heavily. “We’ve got to go.”

I rub my head, feeling woozy. He reaches for me as exhaustion, pain, and the weight of
what just happened overtakes me.

“I’m all right … ” I say, but the words trail off.

He blinks his good eye, the area around his other eye swelling by the minute. “We’ll do
this together,” he says.

I turn toward him, draping his arm over my shoulder and wrapping mine around his
waist. “Now, let’s hide the car and find that safe house. Maybe they’ll have ice there … or
something.” He snorts and then winces with the next step. “If we’re lucky, we’ll find extra
clothes and something decent to eat.”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” he says, the slightest smile on his face.

We drive the car into a ditch and do our best to hide it beneath reeds, sand, and whatever else we
can find. By the end, Cole’s leaning against the vehicle, barely able to stand up straight without

“Here, let me finish,” I say.

“Uh, I think not. You’re hurt too,” he says.

“I’m faster than you right now.”

He mashes his teeth together as he lowers himself to sit. A thick sheen of sweat covers
him, and I know he hates showing weakness.

“Almost done,” I say, checking to see if the car is adequately hidden.

A few minutes later, Cole grabs his temples, closes his eye, and grits his teeth. His
breathing is even more labored.

It feels like I’m moving in slow motion as I throw a few more handfuls of sand and grab
a couple more fronds to place on the vehicle. Then I rub my hands together, feeling the grit
exfoliate my palms, while examining our work.

“Well, it’s not exactly the best cover-up, but it’ll have to do.”

Cole drops his hands and shakes his head. “Why do I get the feeling our luck’s about to
run out? Those people were serious. They wanted to take us back to the Hole even if they had to
die trying.”

A flick of wetness lands on my face, and I glance upward. It looks like someone took a
brush and painted a fresco of rolling black and gray clouds.

“Yeah, luck hates us, royally.”

Steadily, the rain picks up until it’s pounding us with a fury. We watch hopelessly as
Mother Nature completely destroys our efforts to hide the car.

“Well,” Cole says, “there goes that.”

His black eyes still manage to render me speechless. On his face is every emotion of the
last few minutes—fear, anger, sadness, relief. I don’t know what to say.

When I was younger, there was a movie where the guy grabs the girl and kisses her in the
rain. I remember wishing back then that I was her. Yet, here I am, with the man of my dreams,
and while this could be a total romantic chick flick moment, killing two people and crashing our
car has kind of spoiled the mood. I’m shivering, injured, and nauseous. All I really want is an
electric blanket, some hot soup, and a safe place for Cole and me to cuddle up for the night.
He looks as if he’s about to say something profound. But when he opens his mouth, all he
says is, “We can’t waste any more time out here.”

“What about the car?”

“Forget the car.” He pushes himself up, links his fingers in mine, and guides me away
from the scene.

By now, the rain’s slowed to a gentle pitter-pattering around us. Unfortunately, it does
nothing to quell my ice-cold, wet toes or the water sloshing inside my boots. I hate walking in
slushy shoes, but this is the least of things I’ve had to endure the past few months.

While walking, I slip on something slick—a “Wanted” poster. Seems Wilson wants me
alive, and the reward for my capture is an extravagant one million dollars. Sutton, the leader of
the revolt, will see his captor get paid an outrageous sum of seven hundred and fifty thousand
dollars. But Cole’s reward is more than mine and Sutton’s combined. He not only broke rank and
escaped, but he helped me escape and executed the Commander. And, if he is captured—dead or
alive—Wilson will pay one lucky person two million dollars. My mind is blown.

“Our faces are everywhere. Can you believe Wilson wants us captured that badly?” My
wet fingers struggle to keep the dripping poster from tearing in two as I examine it. “I thought, at
least, down here, I wouldn’t see these … ”

A black and white photo of myself at seventeen years old looks back at me. That girl
looks so different. She’s clean, well-fed, dressed in the latest fashions of that time, and would not
be caught dead looking like the me I am now.

The photo was taken at school the year before I was accused, dragged off to the Hole, and
branded. I wipe water from my eyes. Still, I looked so unhappy, even then. I shrug and tear the
poster into pieces, stomping it into the sand before moving on. If I didn’t know myself, I’d turn
me in. That’s a lot of money. A person could start a completely new life somewhere else, where
no one knew them and no one cared what they had done in the past.

“Even with your face everywhere, have they found you?” Cole says. “No.”

“Maybe we won’t be so lucky next time,” I say.

He turns around and kisses the top of my head. “You don’t need luck. You have me.”

“I will always need you, Cole.”

“You already know, Lexi. As amazing as you are, and with all the new skills you’ve
gained, I’ll never truly be comfortable letting go. I know you can take care of yourself … that if
something happened to me, that … ” He pauses, a pained expression covering his face. Cole
takes a deep breath and grabs at his side again before continuing. “When those jackasses were
shooting at you, I was not okay with that.” Cole’s grip on my hand tightens almost painfully. “I
was not okay with that at all.” He turns away from me, averting his eyes.

“You think I enjoyed watching you being shot at, nearly run off the road, and choked?

When our car tipped over and I couldn’t find you, I thought I had lost everything.” I swallow
hard while wiping tears from my eyes. He turns back toward me, his lashes dripping with water,
and his lips pursed.

“No matter how good you become at all of this”—Cole gestures to the area around us—
“I’ll always protect you. I love you, Lexi, and I protect what I love.” I open my mouth, and then
close it. Sometimes, hearing him say things like that confound me. That he would put his own
life before mine still baffles me.

He doesn’t wait for my response, as if the matter is settled. He just takes my hand again
and leads me in the direction of the safe house, which I hope is close by. Because I’m unable to
move my toes at this point.

“I can’t go back there.”

“I won’t let that happen. As bad as it was, it’s even worse now. Sutton said Wilson
executed pretty much all of the revolt members who didn’t make it out and kept a few hundred
people around to make examples out of for anyone thinking about joining. He shut down hospital
access and medical care for everyone except his men.”

“What’s left? Some of those people were just like me, falsely accused. They don’t
deserve to be there. Wilson sounds as bad as the Commander. Maybe even worse,” I say.
“And on top of that, he’s still branding sinners and sending them to the Hole. Nothing has

I suck in a breath and keep moving forward, feeling pity for those we didn’t free. I don’t
bother to mention how I really feel. Keegan died for nothing. My dad died for nothing. Every
time I see Sutton, I can tell he also carries the burden of those deaths.

Cole grips my hand tighter. “It can’t stay this way forever. There are too many people
fighting. I refuse to believe this is how we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.”

I cringe knowing I may never see my mom again, never be able to give Keegan a proper
burial. “What if it is? We never thought anyone could be as bad as the Commander, right? What
if things never get better?”

Cole stops abruptly. He stoops low to the ground and pulls me next to him. I look from
left to right and crouch beside him. I wipe my face and force myself to focus, even as my nerve
endings scream.

He motions to me with two fingers, pointing at his eyes and then forward. I follow his
fingers through the tall reeds to the faded pinks, whites, and yellows of the beach houses on
stilts. Wooden slats are missing in some places, and the windows are all boarded up. The only
potential sign of life is a food wrapper wafting in the breeze, caught on some reeds near a rusted
car that looks like it hasn’t been touched in years.

Slate-gray waves crash against the beach, capped in white foam, making the bay look
angry and forcing the water almost to the front steps of the houses. We need to get inside.
Just as I begin to stand, I see them, two figures in dark uniforms patrolling up the beach.
They comb the perimeter, looking for trouble. Looking for us.

I point at one of the guards. Cole nods, and we both slink back from the edge. I press
myself flat against the sand, pulling my gun out and struggling to hold it steady. Sand grinds
against my arms. I grit my teeth in pain. Particles of sand crunch in my mouth. If I could
somehow melt into the ground, I would.

The dark figures come closer as my shoulders tighten, and my breaths burst in and out.
The rain stops, and they begin walking toward the edge, where the beach meets the dunes. One
of them is short and stocky with tanned skin. The other, almost his polar opposite. I’m guessing
he’s just over six foot. The tall one’s mouth is caught in a sneer as he trudges, barely lifting his
feet from the beach. The closer they get, the more I resist the urge to run. Instead, I press my face
into the sand, willing myself to disappear.

“Man, talk about a waste of time,” the short one says. His voice comes out like a low
growl. “Today makes it, what? Three days since we found a sinner—I’m about to start shooting

“Shut the hell up, and stop your bitching. Four more checkpoints. Then we’ll head back,”
the tall one says, an M16 hanging over his shoulder. He looks up at the sky, which has grown
ever darker. “Let’s split up. I want out of here before this storm hits.” His feet stop at the edge
where the beach meets the reeds, and it becomes quiet.

“You really think we’ll find anything?” the short one asks.

“Doubtful, but I don’t want to be the one answering to Clayton when he asks,” the tall
one says with a snort. “That’s all you.”

“That guy’s a real dick sometimes,” the short one says. He shuffles from one foot to the
other. “And nothing exciting’s happened around here in fifty years … at least not since the last
war.” He kicks the sand with his boot.

“Oh right, like when they bombed the shit out of everything,” the tall one says with a
laugh. His partner chuckles, but then they both turn silent.

“All right, well, I’ll comb that end of the beach, and you can take this area.” Their feet
move in different directions. “Let’s get this over with.”

When I lock eyes with Cole, his jaw twitches. He mouths to me, “Don’t move.”

My body freezes in place. I swear the beating of my heart can be heard for miles. I close
my eyes and pull in cool, salty air as I wait for the guards to discover us. My finger tenses beside
the trigger of my handgun.

When I open my eyes, I notice they haven’t moved very far, and one is still dangerously
close. Cole aims his pistol at the one closest to us. His finger’s only a quick flick away from the
trigger. His face looks rigid. I move the other guard into my line of sight, shifting slightly away
from Cole.

Any second now, they’ll discover us, and once again, it’ll be a blood bath.

Two feet.

My pulse echoes in my ear, drowning out the sounds of the ocean. Just then, I hear the
static charge of a guard’s radio. My breath catches in my throat. He pulls it from his waist and
holds it up. The other guard, hearing the static from his position, meanders back toward us.

“Ten twenty-four, go ahead. I’m listening,” he says.

“All units: Code red. Code red. Lexi Hamilton sighted in the vicinity of Lexington Bay,
Key Largo. Four men down. Possibly escaped with a male. Units in the area, please respond.”

The voice cuts off.

Now, I really wish we could dig holes into the ground.

“Ten twenty-four, responding to your Code Red for Lexi Hamilton,” the guard says. “I’m
in the area.” His partner’s eyes enlarge.

“Sinner is armed and dangerous,” the voice on the radio says. Pause. “Thought to have
killed four men. Use extreme caution, and call for backup if discovered.”


The guard lowers his radio, and both men stare at each other in disbelief. “Well hot
damn. Looks like we’ve got ourselves some action for a change. Maybe she’s closer than we

“Once we catch that whore, I’m taking a vacation to Italy,” the growly voice says,
excitement ringing through his voice. He steps even closer as he jumps around. I could probably
touch the tip of his boot if I wanted to, but I don’t dare make a noise as he pivots.
“You still there, ten twenty-four?” The voice from the radio cuts through the static.
The guard raises the radio to his mouth and faces his partner. “Ten twenty-four, still

“Their getaway car has been found. I repeat: Their getaway car has been found.”

I knew it’d come back to haunt us. My blood feels like ice.

“Report back to quarters immediately,” the voice commands.

“Ten-four.” The guard clips his radio to his waist and shrugs while looking at his buddy.

“They’re going to mount a search I’m betting.”

“Oh, I feel it in my bones. We’ve got her this time,” the other says.

As they walk away, I can scarcely blink without fear of discovery. I can’t relax. They
know we’re here. They know where the car is. It won’t be long before they find us again. It’s
only a matter of time. Thunder crawls across the sky, vibrating the earth beneath me.
“Hey, breathe,” Cole says into my ear. “I’m right here.”

I turn my head, and his face is an inch away from mine. I relax a little, releasing the air
trapped in my lungs. His warm breath on my neck comforts me as thunder reverberates again,
followed by a beautiful display of lightning.

“The rain should’ve washed away our tracks, so let’s hope they’ll assume we’ve taken off
running.” He gives me a reassuring touch on the shoulder. “We’ll be all right as long as they
don’t have dogs.”

I chew on his words for a minute before deciding he’s probably right. Slowly, my grip
relaxes on my gun, and I swallow the lump in my throat.

“We have to stick to the plan. Get to the safe house, make contact with Sutton.”
“Okay then, which one is it?” I ask, motioning to the houses in front of us.

“The pink one on the end.” He wraps his hand around my forearm, and we take off across
the open expanse between the reeds and the houses, fighting pain and fatigue. The wind kicks up
spray in our faces. Any minute, it looks like the clouds are going to burst.

We reach the houses in silence. Cole quickly moves alongside them and beneath the
stilts, making sure it’s clear. Trash cans line the side of the house, half of them blown over by the
wind. The garage has no door, and inside it, spare auto parts litter the floor. They rattle just
enough to send prickles up my arms.

Then Cole rounds the front of the house, where the water butts up against a rickety
wooden staircase. Some safe house.

I know every move Cole’s going to make and cover him with my gun drawn, ready. He
runs up the steps, and I guard behind him with my gun cocked. He slowly twists the knob and
enters the house while scanning the inside.

“Clear,” he whispers as the musty smell hits my nose. I close the door and bolt it shut,
double-checking the locks before turning around. We take turns clearing each room. It’s a small
house, not much wider than a three-car garage, so it’s not long until we confirm it’s empty.
Satisfied, we holster our guns, and then ransack the place, looking for food and medical
supplies. Once that’s done, I look around the living room with its chipping baby-blue walls and
outdated wicker furniture. The ceilings are about eight feet high. Two chairs and a couch sit
across from each other, and a brass lamp stands by the door. From the living room, I make my
way to the open kitchen where the faded wallpaper, pine cabinets, and countertop remind me of
pea soup. My stomach growls.

There’s no dining table, just a bar with two black stools separating the kitchen from the
living room. I make my way down a narrow hallway that leads to two bedrooms and a bathroom.
I turn into the first bedroom and collapse on the mattress, letting out a sigh of complete
exhaustion. Just then, I hear lightning crack outside as rain assaults the rooftop. It’s enough to
lull me to sleep.

Cole lowers himself to the bed and leans over me as my heavy eyelids slam shut. “Oh no
you don’t. You, my girl, need a hot shower.”

I open my eyes, ready to protest, but stop when I see his lips half-parted an inch from my
face. I feel the fight go out of me. All I want is for him to melt into me, but he’s right. I’m
freezing, and I stink.

He hesitates before kissing my forehead, then my lips, and when he lowers himself onto
me to kiss my neck, my breath quickens. Part of me still cannot believe he’s mine. After getting
our start in the Hole, he as my guard and me as his prisoner, who would have ever believed we
could end up together? My lips quiver beneath his, and warmth begins surging through me.
Somehow, I find the strength to push his face back and hold it with both hands. His eyes search
mine, eager and vulnerable.

“Didn’t you promise you’d never leave my side?” I say.

“Yeah, why?”

“Then I guess you’re showering with me?” I give him a sly smile.
He grabs my hand, a smile playing at the edge of his lips as he leads me across the

Once inside the bathroom, he closes the door behind us and gently sets me down on the
edge of the bathtub. He kneels in front of me and removes my boots and socks, tossing them
aside. He looks up at me and runs his hand over his head.

“There’s something I need to say.”

“Okay,” I say, pulling on my belt. “I’m all ears.”

I notice his lower lip shake, and when he realizes it, he presses his lips together before

“The last thing I ever want to do … is hurt you.” He scratches his neck and looks at the
wall behind me, seemingly unsure of exactly where to look.

“Hurt me? How could you possibly hurt me?” I run my fingers down the side of his face,
tracing his jawline. My fingers tingle at the touch of his skin.

“Well, if you left me … that would kill me.” He reaches up and takes my hands in his. It
feels as if something heavy is weighing on him. Something more than nearly getting killed
before. Something he hasn’t been able to say. Something that has hung in the air between us ever
since our first kiss.

“Cole, I could never leave you.”

He releases my hands.

“What’s wrong? Tell me.”

“It’s everything. It’s how we met. Where we ended up. Where we are now. What kind of
life is this? What kind of future can we have?” I feel my legs starting to shake so I press my feet
harder to the ground. How did we go from almost taking a shower together to not even being
able to look at one another in the span of one minute?

“Will you please look at me?” I say, placing my hand under his chin. I tilt his face up to
mine. “For the first time in my life, I’m proud of who I am. There’s no more shame, guilt, or
disgust. I’m satisfied with the person I am today, and you’re a huge part of that. I had to leave
my normal life and be sent to the Hole to find out who I really am. You did that for me. And as
crappy as life in the Hole was, I wouldn’t change anything that happened because it led me to

Cole’s face relaxes, and he blinks a few times before he reaches up and wraps his fingers
around mine. When he tilts his head to the right and gives me his dimpled smile, I can’t help but
need him.

“Come here,” he says.

I stand while looking into his eyes. Holding my gaze, he slowly tugs at the edge of my
shirt and slides his hands up my back. As if a train runs up my spine, my body shakes

“I think it’s time we get warmed up.”

“Sounds like heaven to me.”

He turns the shower on. It doesn’t take long before steam fills the room. The warmth just
adds to the moment, heating up my already burning flesh.

“Mind if I help you with your shirt?”

I manage to nod as I raise my arms toward the ceiling. Cole lifts my shirt over my head,
and I watch it fall to the floor. His eyes, still locked on mine, burn through me as he steps
forward, closing the few inches left between us, and unhooks my bra in one quick motion. The
straps slide off my shoulders, and it joins my shirt on the tile floor.

“You’re so beautiful,” he says, soaking me up with eager eyes. His cheeks flush, and his
dimples are so cute I want to kiss each of them.

“I look like a lion with a wild mane.”

But he just shakes his head at me. He brushes my hair away from my face and tucks it
behind my ears. Then he kisses my neck slowly and gently, running his soft lips up and down the
right side of my neck.

I moan.

He chuckles, and it vibrates against my skin. “You have a huge scrape here. Am I hurting
you?” He traces around the tender part of my neck that was injured during the car’s tumble down
the embankment.


“Are you sure? Because you have bruising on both sides of your neck.”

“It’s okay. They don’t hurt.”

I allow my eyes to fall closed and tilt my head back as his hands make their way to the
button on my pants, fiddling to get it undone. Once he succeeds, he pulls them toward the floor.
One foot at a time, I step out of them. I can’t take it any longer. I reach down and take his head in
my hands, urging him back up to me.

“What?” he says, desire coating his voice.

“Your wrap, mind if I help you? I’ll do my best not to hurt you.”

“Don’t worry, not gonna happen. When I’m with you like this, all I can feel is you.”

“Is that so?” I say in a flirtatious tone.

My hands shake as I loosen the cloth binding his ribs, and my eyes settle on the road rash
and bruises that cover his skin. Without hesitation, my lips lightly touch his wounds. Inch by
inch, I brush my kisses over each spot. He runs his hands run through my hair as his breathing
quickens with each kiss.

I smile at him, and then he presses his lips to mine with such urgency and desperation my
head spins. His lips are so warm and so soft, and I can taste the sweetness of his breath. Our lips
part, and our tongues meet, and we kiss in unison like our mouths were meant for one another.
He cups my face as I wrap my arms around his waist and press my fingers into his back. Our
breaths quicken as our kisses become deeper. For a moment, everything is as it should be. I am
lost in him.

We continue to kiss. I feel a drip of what I think is sweat down my back—or maybe it’s
the steam. Whatever it is, my flesh burns with desire.

Smoothing my hair away from my face again, Cole drops his lips to mine, and our
breathing goes haywire. I open my mouth slightly, inviting his tongue to graze mine, and as soon
as our tongues touch, I shiver. He groans. It’s a connection I can’t explain, but instantly, it sends
electricity through my veins and burns me to the core. His kisses become eager and harder. I
wrap my arms around his neck as he pushes me up against the wall, overpowering me, which
only sends my craving for him into overdrive.

“Cole,” I say, almost breathless. “We should take this into the shower.”
“Good idea.” He removes the rest of his clothing in a matter of seconds.

We both get into the shower, and a few seconds pass before he wraps his arms around me
and leans in, trapping me between him and the wall, again.

I know I should be enjoying myself, relaxing and allowing myself to feel every single
touch, every amazing kiss. But in the warmth of the shower and Cole’s body, I’m worried I
might faint. Why am I so nervous?

“You feel incredible,” he says between kisses.

His lips leave mine, and he kisses my cheek, my chin, and down the trail of my neck,
across my collarbone, and back up my neck. It’s nearly impossible to steady my breathing. Next,
he sucks my bottom lip into his mouth, caressing it with his tongue, and I let him. Of course I let
him. I crave him.

We’ve been deprived of closeness for so long. I run my fingers down his back, and he
presses me harder against the wall. He licks away the water from my mouth and kisses my lips
with urgency. Suddenly, I can’t remember where I am. I can’t recall my name.

I can hardly hold myself upright any longer, and I start to slip.

“Easy, girl, I got you.”

Cole holds me up and hands me a bar of soap that smells like roses and an orange
washrag that looks like it’s been through the shredder. And in that moment, I have everything I

“We better hurry,” he says. “The water’s already getting cooler.”

I respond with a shiver and rush to clean the grimy layers off my skin, hardly able to
focus with Cole standing so close. We switch places, and I wash his back, putting the soap in its
small dish on the shower tiles.

As he reaches up, a tiny, wiggling object drops in front of my face, its eight legs
unmistakably searching for a landing spot.

A scream escapes my lips, and my hands search for a shower handle as my feet slide out
from beneath me. Darkness clouds my vision, and then nothing.!sinners-series/czoy

Abi and Missy 2!sinners-series/czoy


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