Friday, May 18, 2018

Cover Reveal with Giveaway ~ Blood Oath (Blood Oath #2) by Amanda McCrina

   

Hello Readers! Welcome to the Cover Reveal for
Blood Oath by Amanda McCrina
presented by Month9Books!
Celebrate this reveal by entering the giveaway found at the end of the post!
   
 
The aftermath of what happened in the capital has shaken Torien to the core. Battling self-doubt and bitterness, he must find his resolve as he is sent back to Tasso to quell a violent uprising on the Road. But Torien will need more than resolve to navigate the deadly path before him. His troops are inexperienced and his new adjutant untrustworthy. A series of murder attempts leaves the whole camp on edge. As the threat of mutiny builds, the mission seems doomed before they even reach Tasso—and Torien is beginning to suspect it was meant that way. He and his men are being set up to fail. With his best friend in the hands of the rebels, his commanding officer refusing to negotiate a peace treaty, and his own men ready to turn on him at any moment, Torien must decide once and for all how much he’s willing to sacrifice for an empire he no longer believes in.
Blood Oath 
(Blood Oath #2) 
by Amanda McCrina 
Release Date: June 19, 2018 
Publisher: Month9Books

Available for Pre-order:
   
Amanda McCrina has studied in Italy, taught English in Japan, and currently tutors Latin in Atlanta, Georgia. She received her BA in History from the University of West Georgia, and is now pursuing her MA. She writes stories that incorporate her love of history, languages, and world travel. She drinks far too much coffee and dreams of one day having a winning fantasy-hockey season.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Release Day Celebration with Giveaway ~ Stanley & Hazel by Jo Schaffer

 
Welcome to the Release Day Celebration for
Stanley & Hazel by Jo Schaffer
presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
 
CONGRATULATIONS JO!
   
A great depression has gripped the city of St. Louis in 1934. Stanley, an orphaned newsy, lives in a poor part of town hit especially hard by the economic downturn. One night, Stanley runs into Hazel, a restless debutante in waiting who has begun to question her posh lifestyle in the midst of the suffering she sees. She’s out and about without an escort and against her father’s wishes. When they discover the body of a girl with her head bashed in by a baseball bat, the very different and separate realities of the two teens inform their decision. Together they will figure out what happened to her and bring those responsible to justice. But getting involved with each other and digging into the secrets behind this murder earns them some powerful enemies, including a secret group seeking to rid society of all they deem “undesirable.” They’ve put into motion “The Winnowing,” a plan seeking to take over the city and enforce their will. As Stanley and Hazel’s forbidden feelings for one another grow, their investigation turns deadly. Now, it is up to Stanley and his gang of street kids to stop Hazel from becoming the next victim.
Stanley and Hazel 
by Jo Schaffer 
Release Date: May 15, 2018 
Publisher: Month9Books

   
Jo Schaffer was born and raised in the California Bay Area in a huge, creative family. She is a YA novelist, speaker, writer at Patheos.com, works in film production and is a Taekwondo black belt.
She's a founding member of Writers Cubed and co-founder of the Teen Author Boot Camp, one of the largest conferences in the nation for youth ages 13-19. She and a crew of local and international bestselling authors present writing workshops to hundreds of attendees at the Utah-based conference as well as hundreds of others worldwide who view the conference online.
Jo loves being involved in anything that promotes literacy and family. She is passionate about community, travel, books, music, healthy eating, classic films and martial arts. Her brain is always spinning new ideas for books and sometimes she even gets around to blogging.
Jo is a mom of 3 strapping sons living in the beautiful mountains of Utah with a neurotic cat named Hero.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Book Review ~ One Naughty Night by Shelly Bell





ONE NAUGHTY NIGHT
by Shelly Bell
Contemporary Romance
Novella, stand-alone
Date of publication: May 17, 2018
Price: $.99 or free through KU
Print Available


She's his younger sister's best friend.
A cancer survivor.
A guest on his storm chasing tour.
Completely forbidden.
She's too innocent for a man like him.

For five torturous days, he's followed the rules and kept his hands to himself.
But now that he's read her naughty list, all bets are off.
He's going to fulfill every dirty fantasy on that list.

All except the one-night stand.
Because if he has his way, they'll last longer than one naughty night...



“I understand you’re afraid. You created a bucket list of risks. Chasing tornadoes. Sky diving. Mountain climbing. But those are physical. It’s much harder to risk your heart. To fall in love.”

One Naughty Night by the talented and very awesome Shelly Bell was everything I expected plus so much more.  From the very first page I was hooked and found myself furiously flipping the pages, desperate to know what happened between Drake and Allie.

Despite being a short story, this novella packed a punch and was deliciously naughty with scorching hot sexual chemistry.  I loved all the characters and truly hope that Ms. Bell continues their stories in future works.

Well written with an engaging plot, One Naughty Night is one book that I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who enjoys this genre.


4 stars

  



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Shelly Bell is the author of the popular Benediction and Forbidden Lovers series. Her book, Blue Blooded, received a Top Pick from Romantic Times Book Reviews and was nominated for an RT Award. At His Mercy, the first in her Forbidden Lovers series, was named a Top Pick from Romantic Times and received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

When she’s not working her day job, taking care of her family, or writing, you’ll find her reading the latest romance or thriller. Shelly is a member of Romance Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Release Day Celebration with Giveaway ~ Yellow Locust by Justin Joschko

 



Welcome to the Release Day Celebration for
Yellow Locust by Justin Joschko
presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
 
CONGRATULATIONS JUSTIN!
   
Selena Flood is a fighter of preternatural talent. But not even her quick fists and nimble feet could save her parents from the forces of New Canaan, the most ruthless and powerful of the despotic kingdoms populating America-that-was. Forced to flee the tyrannical state with her younger brother Simon in tow, Selena is now the last chance for peace in a continent on the verge of complete destruction. In her pocket is a data stick, the contents of which cost her parents their lives. Selena must now ensure it reaches the Republic of California—a lone beacon of liberty shining across a vast and barren wasteland—before it’s too late. Between New Canaan and California stretch the Middle Wastes: thousands of desolate miles home to murderers, thieves, and a virulent strain of grass called yellow locust that has made growing food all but impossible. So when Selena and Simon stagger into Fallowfield, an oasis of prosperity amidst the poisoned plains, everything seems too good to be true—including the warm welcome they receive from the town’s leader, a peculiar man known only as The Mayor. As Selena delves deeper into the sinister secrets of this seemingly harmless refuge, she soon learns there is a much darker side to Fallowfield and the man who runs it. Before long, she must call upon the skills she honed in the fighting pits of New Canaan to ensure not only her own survival, but that of her brother, in whom the Mayor has taken far too keen an interest. And she’d better act fast, for an all-out war inches ever closer, and New Canaan is never as far away as it seems.
Yellow Locust 
by Justin Joschko 
Release Date: May 8, 2018 Publisher: Month9Books

   
Justin Joschko is an author from Niagara Falls, Ontario. His writing has appeared in newspapers and literary journals across Canada. Yellow Locust is his first novel. He currently lives in Ottawa with his wife and two children.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Release Day Blitz ~ THE GOOD LUCK SISTER (A Wildstone Novella) by Jill Shalvis



The Good Luck Sister: A Wildstone Novella
By Jill Shalvis 


After a difficult few years, Tilly Adams is ready for life to start going right. Though she has a case of first-day nerves teaching art at the local community college, she knows it isn’t anything a few snuggles from her rescue puppy won’t cure. Until she sees Dylan Scott again, her one-time BFF and first love sitting in the front row. Dylan knows he should’ve left well enough alone, but when he sees Tilly living her dream, he can’t help but make contact. Ten years ago, he left Wildstone and everything in it behind, including Tilly. He had his reasons, but now he wants her back in his life, anyway he can get her. When Tilly agrees to design the logo for Dylan’s new helicopter touring company, it’s business only . . . until she finds herself falling into his arms once again. Can she possibly open her heart back up to the only man who’s ever broken it? But soon they’re both realizing the truth—love always deserves a second chance.



Chapter 1

“I’ve finished my free trial of adulthood and am no longer interested, so please cancel my subscription.” From The Mixed Up Files of Tilly’s journal.


          Tilly Adams sat in the vet’s office staring at the doctor in shock. “Say that again?”
          Dr. Janet Lyons smiled. “I think Leo faked being sick. Probably so you’d stay home from work today.”
          Tilly looked down at Leo. “You do know he’s a dog, right?”
          All six pounds of him smiled up at her. About a month ago, she found him on a street corner hiding beneath a bus bench; wet, dirty, cold, hungry and matted. He’d been Dobby meets Gremlin meets neglected, abused Care Bear. Tilly had looked around for an adult, and then had to remind herself that at twenty-five years old, she was legal herself. So then she’d searched for an adultier adult, but she’d been the only one in sight.
          So she’d scooped the little guy up and had brought him to the SPCA, who’d said he was about five weeks old, a possible Maltipoo, which meant he came by his care bear look naturally. He was malnutritioned and suffering from mange. They’d said they’d do what they could, and Tilly had turned to go. That had been when she’d seen all the eyes on her from an endless row of cages … and she’d realized her care bear would soon be sitting in one too. Then she’d heard herself offer to foster him until they found him a forever home.
          They’d found him one too. Tilly had signed the adoption papers last weekend in spite of the fact that just that morning he’d escaped his crate, eaten her favorite sneakers, destroyed her favorite pillow, and then yakked up the stuffing from the pillow.
          He was a destructo of the highest magnitude, and something else too. He had no idea how small he was. He went after her sister Quinn’s twenty-plus pound cat and her neighbor’s hundred pound black lab with the same fierce, fearless gusto. Turned out, the little guy had a bad case of small-man syndrome, which was how he’d earned his name.
          Leo, short for Napoleon.
          And now on top of Leo’s impressive chewing skills, his escape artist skills, and his ability to get up on her bed and yet still not understand why stepping in his own poop was annoying, he had a new skill.
          He’d faked being sick.
          Proud of himself, Leo smiled up at her. Smiled. An hour ago he’d been coughing and limping and acting all sorts of odd. Now he just kept smiling up at her while sending her meaningful glances at the open dog biscuit bin between her and the doctor.
          Dr. Lyons laughed and gave him one.
          “Dogs can’t fake sick,” Tilly said while Leo inhaled the biscuit whole before licking the floor to make sure he got all the crumbs. “Can they?”
          Dr. Lyons scooped him up and gave him a kiss on his adorable snout. “Yours did.”
          Tilly sighed. It was too early for this. She’d had a crazy late night. Not hanging at Whiskey River, the local bar and grill. Not at a club with friends. Not working on her designs for he upcoming graphic art showing.
          Nope, she’d been on a serious stress bender -- a marathon of Game Of Thrones. She hadn’t fallen asleep until after two and her alarm had interrupted her in the middle of a really great dream starring Jon Snow.
          Dr. Lyons handed Leo over. He immediately snuggled into the crook of Tilly’s neck and dammit, her cold heart melted on the spot and she hugged him close. “You’re sure he’s okay? He was coughing. And then he limped funny. And then he wouldn’t eat.”
          “But he hasn’t coughed once that I’ve seen. And he’s not limping either. And you said all his food vanished while you took a quick shower.”
          “Yes,” Tilly said.
          Dr. Lyons waited for her to catch up.
          Tilly sighed. “He really did fake me out.”





New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis lives in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in her books is, um, mostly coincidental. Look for Jill’s bestselling, award-winning books wherever romances are sold and visit her website, www.jillshalvis.com, for a complete book list and daily blog detailing her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.







Cover Reveal with Giveaway ~ Cinderella’s Inferno by F.M. Boughan

   
Hello Readers! Welcome to the Cover Reveal for
Cinderella's Inferno by F.M. Boughan
presented by Month9Books!
Celebrate this reveal by entering the giveaway found at the end of the post!
   
 
Purity cannot abide the darkness. It’s been two years since Ellison defeated her stepsisters and sent her evil stepmother back into the Abyss. Though she’s learning to control her dark magic and has spent time traveling with Prince William and bringing peace to the kingdom, one fact remains. She is a necromancer and he is a paladin of light. And so, the king refuses to give his blessing for them to marry. To appease his father, William has begun to avoid her. But when even her younger brother Edward grows distant, Ellison learns her mother’s spirit has been visiting Edward in secret, threatening to overwhelm him with her own loneliness and longing. When Ellison accidentally touches her mother’s spirit, her tainted touch condemns her mother’s spirit to eternal damnation. Ellison resolves to descend into hell to save her mother’s soul and bring her physical body back to the world of the living. William hopes this good deed will bring Ellison into favor and finally allow them to be wed. But the journey through hell is fraught with peril. Temptations abound and the demons Ellison sent back to the Abyss are thirsty for revenge. Evil cannot be defeated without sacrifice—but when that sacrifice means choosing between the ones Ellison loves and her very own life, how far is she willing to go to make her family whole again?
Cinderella's Inferno 
(Cinderella Necromancer #2)
 by F.M. Boughan 
Release Date: May 29, 2018 Publisher: Month9Books

Available for Pre-order:
   
F.M. Boughan is a bibliophile, a writer, and an unabashed parrot enthusiast. She can often be found writing in local coffee shops, namely because it’s hard to concentrate with a cat lying on the keyboard and a small, colorful parrot screaming into her ear. Her work is somewhat dark, somewhat violent, somewhat hopeful, and always contains a hint of magic.
 
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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Release Day Blitz ~ MY OXFORD YEAR by Julia Whelan



MY OXFORD YEAR
by Julia Whelan


American Ella Durran has had the same plan for her life since she was thirteen: Study at Oxford. At 24, she’s finally made it to England on a Rhodes Scholarship when she’s offered an unbelievable position in a rising political star’s presidential campaign. With the promise that she’ll work remotely and return to DC at the end of her Oxford year, she’s free to enjoy her Once in a Lifetime Experience. That is, until a smart-mouthed local who is too quick with his tongue and his car ruins her shirt and her first day. When Ella discovers that her English literature course will be taught by none other than that same local, Jamie Davenport, she thinks for the first time that Oxford might not be all she’s envisioned. But a late-night drink reveals a connection she wasn’t anticipating finding and what begins as a casual fling soon develops into something much more when Ella learns Jamie has a life-changing secret. Immediately, Ella is faced with a seemingly impossible decision: turn her back on the man she’s falling in love with to follow her political dreams or be there for him during a trial neither are truly prepared for. As the end of her year in Oxford rapidly approaches, Ella must decide if the dreams she’s always wanted are the same ones she’s now yearning for.


  

CHAPTER 1
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!

Home-Thoughts, from Abroad – Robert Browning, 1845

“Next!”
The customs agent beckons the person in front of me and I approach the big red line, absently toeing the curling tape, resting my hand on the gleaming pipe railing. No adjustable ropes at Heathrow, apparently; these lines must always be long if they require permanent demarcation.
My phone rings. I glance down. I don’t know the number.
“Hello?” I answer.
“Is this Eleanor Durran?”
“Yes?”
“This is Gavin Brookdale.”
My first thought is that this is a prank call. Gavin Brookdale just stepped down as White House Chief of Staff. He’s run every major political campaign of the last 20 years. He’s a legend. He’s my idol. He’s calling me?
“Hello?”
“Sorry, I-I’m here,” I stammer. “I’m just –
“Have you heard of Janet Wilkes?”
Have I heard of – Janet Wilkes is the junior senator from Florida and a dark horse candidate for President. She’s 45, lost her husband twelve years ago in Afghanistan, raised three kids on a teacher’s salary while somehow putting herself through law school, and then ran the most impressive grassroots senatorial campaign I’ve ever seen. She also has the hottest human-rights-attorney boyfriend I’ve ever seen, but that’s beside the point. She’s a Gold Star wife who’s a progressive firebrand on social issues. We’ve never seen anyone like her on the national stage before. The first debate isn’t for another two weeks, on October 13, but voters seem to love her: she’s polling third in a field of twelve. Candidate Number Two is not long for the race; a Case of the Jilted Mistress(es). Number One, however, happens to be the current Vice-President, George Hillerson, who Gavin Brookdale (if the Washington gossip mill is accurate) loathes. Still, even the notoriously mercurial Brookdale wouldn’t back a losing horse like Wilkes just to spite the presumptive nominee. If nothing else, Gavin Brookdale likes to win. “Of course I’ve heard of her.”
“She read your piece in The Atlantic. We both did. ‘The Art of Education and the Death of the Thinking American Electorate.’ We were impressed.”
“Thank you,” I gush. “It was something I felt was missing from the discourse –”
“What you wrote was a philosophy. It wasn’t a policy.”
This brings me up short. “I understand why you’d think that, but I –”
“Don’t worry, I know you have the policy chops. I know you won Ohio for Janey Bennett. The 138th for Carl Moseley. You’re a talented young lady, Eleanor.”
“Mr. Brookdale –”
“Call me Gavin.”
“Then call me Ella. No one calls me Eleanor.”
“Alright, Ella, would you like to be the education consultant for Wilkes’ campaign?”
Silence.
“Hello?”
“Yes!” I bleat. “Yes, of course! She’s incredible –”
“Great. Come down to my office today and we’ll read you in.”
All the breath leaves my body. I can’t seem to get it back. “So… here’s the thing. I-I’m in England.”
“Fine, when you get back.”
“… I get back in June.”
Silence.
“Are you consulting over there?”
“No, I have a… I got a Rhodes and I’m doing a –”
Gavin chortles. “I was a Rhodie.”
“I know, Sir.”
“Gavin.”
“Gavin.”
“What are you studying?”
“English Language and Literature 1830 to 1914.”
Beat. “Why?”
“Because I want to?” Why does it come out as a question?
“You don’t need it. Getting the Rhodes is what matters. Doing it is meaningless, especially in Literature from 1830 to 19-whatever. The only reason you wanted it was to help you get that life-changing political job, right? Well, I’m giving that to you. So come home and let’s get down to business.”
“Next!”
A customs agent – stone-faced, turbaned, impressive beard – waves me forward. I take one step over the line, but hold a finger up to him. He’s not even looking at me. “Gavin, can I call –”
“She’s going to be the nominee, Ella. It’s going to be the fight of my life and I need all hands – including yours – on deck, but we’re going to do it.”
He’s delusional. But, my God, what if he’s right? A shiver of excitement snakes through me. “Gavin –”
“Listen, I’ve always backed the winning candidate, but I have never backed someone who I personally, deeply, wanted to win.”
“Miss?” Now the customs agent looks at me.
Gavin chuckles at my silence. “I don’t want to have to convince you, if you don’t feel –”
 “I can work from here.” Before he can argue, I continue, “I will make myself available at all hours. I will make Wilkes my priority.” Behind me, a bloated, red-faced businessman reeking of gin, moves to squeeze around me. I head him off, grabbing the railing, saying into the phone, “I had two jobs in college while volunteering in field offices and coordinating multiple city council runs. I worked two winning congressional campaigns last year while helping to shape the education budget for Ohio. I can certainly consult for you while reading books and writing about them occasionally.”
“Miss!” the customs agent barks. “Hang up the phone or step aside.” I hold my finger up higher (as if visibility is the problem) and widen my stance over the line.
“What’s your date certain for coming home?” Gavin asks.
“June 11th. I already have a ticket. Seat 32A.”
“Miss!” The customs agent and the man bark at me.
I look down at the red line between my sprawled feet. “Gavin, I’m straddling the North Atlantic right now. I literally have one foot in England and one in America and if I don’t hang up they’ll –”
“I’ll call you back.”
He disconnects.
What does that mean? What do I do? Numbly, I hurry to the immigration window, coming face to face with the dour agent. I adopt my best beauty-pageant smile and speak in the chagrined, gee-whiz tone I know he expects. “I am so sorry, Sir, my sincerest apologies. My Mom’s –”
“Passport.” He’s back to not looking at me. I’m getting the passive-aggressive treatment now. I hand over my brand new passport with the crisp, un-stamped pages. “Purpose of visit?”
“Study.”
“For how long will you be in the country?”
I pause. I glance down at the dark, unhelpful screen of my phone. “I… I don’t know.”
Now he looks up at me.
“A year,” I say. Screw it. “An academic year.”
“Where?”
“Oxford.” Saying the word out loud cuts through everything else. My smile becomes genuine. He asks me more questions, and I suppose I answer, but all I can think is:
I’m here. This is actually happening. Everything has come together according to plan.
He stamps my passport, hands it back, lifts his hand to the line.
“Next!”

#

When I was thirteen I read an article in Seventeen Magazine called, “My Once in a Lifetime Experience,” and it was a personal account of an American girl’s year abroad at Oxford. The classes, the students, the parks, the pubs, even the chip shop (“pictured, bottom left”) seemed like another world. Like slipping through a wormhole into a universe where things were ordered and people were dignified and the buildings were older than my entire country. I suppose thirteen is an important age in every girl’s life, but for me, growing up in the middle of nowhere, with a family that had fallen apart? I needed something to hold onto. I needed inspiration. I needed hope. The girl who wrote the article had been transformed. Oxford had unlocked her life and I was convinced that it would be the key to mine.
So I made a plan: get to Oxford.
After going through more customs checkpoints, I follow signs for The Central Bus Terminal and find an automatic ticket kiosk. The “£” sign before the amount looks so much better, more civilized, more historical than the American dollar sign, which always seems overly suggestive to me. Like it should be flashing in sequential neon lights above a strip club. $ - $ - $. Girls! Girls! Girls!
The kiosk’s screen asks me if I want a discounted return ticket (I assume that means round trip), and I pause. My flight back to Washington is on June 11th, barely sixteen hours after the official end of Trinity term. I have no plans to return to the states before then, instead staying here over the two long vacations (in December and March) and traveling. In fact, I already have my December itinerary all planned. I purchase the return ticket, then cross to a bench to wait for the next bus.
My phone dings and I look down. An email from The Rhodes Foundation reminding me about the orientation tomorrow morning.
For whatever reason, out of all the academic scholarships in the world, most people seem to have heard of The Rhodes. It’s not the only prestigious scholarship to be had, but it’s the one that I wanted. Every year, America sends 32 of its most overachieving, uber-competitive, social-climbing, do-gooder nerds to Oxford. It’s mostly associated with geniuses, power-players, global leaders. Let me demystify this: to get a Rhodes, you have to be slightly unhinged. You have to have a stellar GPA, excel in multiple courses of study, be socially entrepreneurial, charity-minded, and athletically proficient (though the last time I did anything remotely athletic I knocked out Jimmy Brighton’s front tooth with a foul ball, so take that tenet with a grain of salt). I could have gone after other scholarships. There’s the Marshal, the Fulbright, the Watson, but the Rhodies are my people. They’re the planners.
The other finalist selected from my district (a Math/Econ/Classics triple-major and Olympic archer who had discovered that applying Game Theory to negotiations with known terrorists makes the intel 147% more reliable) told me, “I’ve been working toward getting a Rhodes since Freshman year.” To which I replied, “Me, too.” He clarified, “Of high school.” To which I replied, “Me, too.”
While, yes, the Rhodes is a golden ticket to Oxford, it’s also a built-in network and the means to my political future. It ensures that people who would have otherwise discounted me – this unconnected girl from the soybean fields of Ohio – will take a second, serious look. People like Gavin Brookdale.
Going after things the way I do, being who I am, has alienated my entire hometown and most of my extended family. My mom hadn’t gone to college and my dad had dropped out after two years because he’d thought it was more important to change the world than learn about it, and there I was, this achievement machine making everyone around it vaguely uncomfortable. She thinks she’s better than everyone else.
Honestly, I don’t. But I do think I’m better than what everyone, besides my dad, told me I was. 

#

I wake up in a moment of panic when the bus I’d boarded back at Heathrow jerks to a stop, sending the book on my lap to the floor. Hastily retrieving it, I force my sleepy eyes to take in the view from the floor-to-ceiling window in front of me. I chose the seat on the upper level at the very front, wanting to devour every bit of English countryside on the way to Oxford. Then I slept through it.
Pushing through the fog in my head, I peer outside. A dingy bus stop in front of a generic cell phone store. I look for a street sign, trying to get my bearings. My info packet from the college said to get off at the Queens Lane stop on High Street. This can’t be it. I glance behind me and no one on the bus is moving to get off, so I settle back into my seat.
The bus starts up again, and I breathe deeply, trying to wake up. I jam the book into my backpack. I’d wanted to finish it before my first class tomorrow, but I can’t focus. I was too excited to eat or sleep on the plane. My empty stomach and all-nighter is catching up to me. The time difference is catching up to me. The last twelve years spent striving for this moment is catching up to me.
Inside my jacket pocket, my phone vibrates. I pull it out and see the same number from earlier. I take a deep breath and preemptively answer, “Gavin, listen, I was thinking, let’s do a trial period of, say, a month, and if you feel that I need to be there –”
“Not necessary."
My throat tightens. “Please, just give me thirty days to prove that –”
“It’s fine. I made it work. Just remember who comes first.”
Elation breaks through the fog. My fist clenches in victory and my smile reaches all the way to my temples. “Absolutely,” I say in my most professional voice. “Thank you so much for this opportunity. You won’t be disappointed.”
“I know that. That’s why I hired you. What’s your fee? FYI: there’s no money.”
There’s never any money. I tell him my fee anyway and we settle on something that I can live with. The Rhodes is paying my tuition and lodging and I get a small stipend for living expenses on top of that. I decide right then that what Gavin’s going to pay me will go directly into my travel budget. 
“Now, go,” he says, “Have fun. You’ve clearly earned it. There’s a pub you should visit in the center of town. The Turf. See where one of your fellow Rhodes Scholars – a young William Jefferson Clinton – ‘didn’t’ inhale.”
“Ha, got it. Will do.”
“Just take your phone with you. Your phone is an appendage, not an accessory. Okay?”
I nod even though he can’t see me. “Okay. It’s a plan.” Just as I say this, the bus rounds a bend and there she is:
Oxford.
Beyond a picturesque bridge, the narrow two-lane road continues into a bustling main street, lined on each side by buildings with a hodge-podge of architectural styles, no room to breathe between them. Like the crowd at the finish line of a marathon, these buildings cheer me on, welcoming me to their city. Some are topped with sloped, slate roofs, others with battlements. Some of the larger buildings have huge wooden gates that look as if they were carved in place, a fusion of timeless wood and stone that steals my breath. Maybe those doors lead to some of the 38 individual Oxford colleges? Imagining it, dreaming of it all these years, doesn’t do it justice.
I look skyward. Punctuating the horizon are the tips of other ancient buildings, high-points of stone bordering the city like beacons.
“The City of Dreaming Spires,” I murmur to myself.
“Indeed it is,” Gavin says in my ear. I’d forgotten he was still on the line.
That’s what they call Oxford. A title well deserved. Because that means, before it was my dream or Seventeen Magazine girl’s dream, it was someone else’s dream as well. 


Julia Whelan is a screenwriter, lifelong actor, and award-winning audiobook narrator. She graduated with a degree in English and creative writing from Middlebury College and Oxford University. While she was in England, her flirtation with tea blossomed into a full-blown love affair, culminating in her eventual certification as a tea master.