Jessica Shirvington is the author of THE VIOLET EDEN CHAPTERS also known as THE EMBRACE SERIES. An entrepreneur, author, and mother living in Sydney, Australia, Jessica is also a 2011 finalist for Cosmopolitan’s annual Fun, Fearless Female Award. She’s also one of the lucky few who met the love of her life at age seventeen: Matt Shirvington, a former Olympian and current sports broadcaster for FOXTEL and Sky News. Married for almost eleven years with two beautiful daughters, Sienna and Winter, Jessica knows her early age romance and its longevity has definitely contributed to how she tackles relationships in her YA novels. Previously, she founded a coffee distribution company, Stella Imports, in London, and before that was involved in the management of restaurants Fuel Bistro and MG Garage in Sydney. Jessica is now a full-time novelist and living her dream.
I cannot praise this series enough. The Embrace series has easily become one of my favorite series. Each book is so gripping and so heart-pounding. They’re the type of books where you literally get lost in them and simply cannot put them down. Emblaze is no different, it’s fast-paced, thrilling, exciting, and all-around amazing set of characters, perfectly written, and well this one actually left my heart slightly intact at the end.
I ship Linc and Violet so hard that it hurts my heart. These two are not only soul mates, but they are so meant to be together that my heart wants to burst every time they’re together. It doesn’t matter if they’re ignoring each other, yelling at each other, staring into each other’s eyes, or saving one another… I can never get enough of them. My heart swells and breaks every time. If they don’t end up happily ever after, after all the crap they’ve been through… it just wouldn’t be right. Yet again the world never is fair… BUT THEY MUST end up together. They are one of the most perfect couples to me.
Other than my amazing ship pair, I absolutely love all these characters in this series. Spencer and Steph being two of my favorites. I love their ease in every conversation. The way they can make you laugh and always have your back. Then there is Griffin who is yet another character I desperately want a happily ever after for. He always has his head on right, and he’s such a good guy. With all these lovely, happy characters I must flip to the dark side and mention Phoenix. From book one I’ve understood Phoenix. The demons he keeps locked inside, the feeling to be loved and accepted. He’s one of those dark characters that no matter what he does I still end of loving him. Do I want him to have Violet? Heck no. But, do I hope he sees the light and becomes the exile I know he can be? Of course I do.
Breaking hearts, amping up the romance and heart ache, giving us laughs, thrills, and even some massive surprises… Emblaze definitely keeps the story going. Now, I’m just dying and panting and begging for book four. With all the reviews I’ve seen of Endless though… I’m quite nervous. I have a feeling it will rip my heart out and crush it. But, alas Emblaze was absolutely amazing and this still remains one of my favorite series. Bring on the angel torture of my heart.
– Claudia’s Short Story –
CLAUDIA – FAMILY TIES
My feet tangled beneath me and I stumbled forwards, almost taking a full-on nosedive.
I couldn’t believe it!
I found my balance, hitched my backpack up and powered on.
I was going to be late, again, and Giuseppe was going to kill me.
No, worse, he was going to fire me.
Last time was ‘the last time!’ he’d said, shaking his finger at me, blowing the greying curls that fall over his eyes.
But I needed that job. I needed all of my jobs. So I kept running, knowing that by the time I arrived at the Pizzeria I’d be disgusting and sweaty, and in-desperate-need-of-deodorant. Plus, I was still in my Hades wait-staff uniform, another thing that never went down well. Working a full cycle of shifts at Hades and the opposite at Giuseppe’s had me slogging from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week and constantly running from one side of the city to the other in the 30-minute-between-shifts gap.
I rounded the corner, almost there.
Giuseppe would forgive me. And if he started yelling, I’d just cry. That always worked. He was a tyrant, but the man couldn’t handle tears.
I pulled up short of the restaurant when I heard an all-too familiar whistle. Panting, I looked around until I spotted him. The second I saw my brother, Sean, my stomach churned. Something was wrong.
What morecould possibly go wrong?
As if our lives didn’t suck enough already.
He was hidden beneath the shadow of a sunken doorway across the street. I put my hands on my hips and waited. If he wanted to talk to me he could damn well cross the road.
I could just about feel one of his heavy sighs from over the street. He was only three years older than me, but he’d assumed the man-of-the-house role a while back and since then he acted as if he was twenty-two going on fifty.
“Real discreet, Claudia,” he said harshly, pulling me by the arm to the side of the pavement. He was wearing his street clothes, which meant he hadn’t been working one of his legit jobs today. I tried not to notice.
“Sean, whatever it is, I don’t have time. I’m late for work again. Giuseppe will give my job to one of his five million cousins if I don’t hurry up.”
His expression softened. I wasn’t the only one who worked constantly. There was a time when all Sean did was chase his med degree and chase girls. He was so different back then, but those days were well and truly gone. Everyone thought he’d have this amazing future, become some kind of medical savior. I guess in a way he had – just not the way he’d thought he would, and not the way that guaranteed any kind of bright future either. Sean was our family’s savior. After what Dad did … Sean kept us all going, kept us together and safe. He looked over his shoulder. He was scared.
More than usual.
I grabbed hold of his clammy hand. “What is it?”
He shook his head, more to himself than me. “We have to go, Claude’s. We have to pack up and leave.”
“But, but … we need more time! We don’t have the money yet!”
“Shh,” he snapped, his eyes urgent as he looked up and down the street. “I have it. I pulled in a favor. Claudia, we have to finish this. We’ll give them the money after your shift tonight and then we’re out of here. All of us.”
“Why? I mean, if you have the money, wasn’t that the whole point? If we give it to them won’t they leave us alone? This is supposed to be the final payment.” We’d worked so hard for the last year. It had all been leading to this. Every single cent we’d made had gone to them.
“They’ll never leave us alone, Claudia. I … I don’t know what they are but they know things … and they can do things that normal people can’t. I … I saw one of them this afternoon …” he paled and grabbed me by the shoulders as if to steady himself. “I can’t even tell you, it was so horrible. I just know we have to go. We have to get Taylor and Mum away from this place.”
I knew he was right. Deep down, I’d always known the men who Dad had been mixed up with before he died were not normal. I don’t know how, instinct I guess. Sean had always known too, even if we hadn’t wanted to admit it to one another. It was why we’d being working so hard to pay off Dad’s debt. Whatever gambling mess he’d gotten himself into, it had ended up costing a lot more than simple interest. I knew I wasn’t the only one in my family who suspected his death wasn’t just a simple car accident. Sean and I had never told Mum about what his body looked like when we’d gone to identify him. We never would.
“I can ask for my pay tonight. Here,” I fumbled in my bag, pulling out my wallet. “I have my pay from Hades, too.”
Sean sighed with relief as he took the money. My contribution was important, but Sean was the one who brought in the big bucks. He’d given up everything and I knew he couldn’t be doing anything good to bring in the kind of money he was. I wished I could hate my father for it. But he was a victim too.
“I’m going to get us away from all this, Claudia. We’ll go somewhere else and start fresh. We’ll get Taylor into a good school. You’ll be able to go back to art school. Everything will be better.”
I looked toward the pizza restaurant. I could hear Giuseppe’s booming voice. “I better go.” I threw my arms around my brother and he hugged me back briefly.
“I have to go organize a few things. Stay in the restaurant until I get back. Then we’ll go give them the money and we’re gone.”
I bit my lip nervously, but nodded. “Be careful, Sean.”
He mustered a small smile. “Don’t tell anyone, okay. We have to just disappear.”
He was looking around again, pulling his hoodie over his head. Whatever he’d seen had more than frightened him.
“I know. I won’t.”
* * *
I watched the clock on the wall. Giuseppe yelled at me for twelve minutes, which was a long time even for him. I tried to turn on the waterworks but they didn’t come. I don’t know if it was because I was too petrified something might go wrong with Sean’s plan or if I was too excited about the prospect of finally being free of Dad’s unfortunate legacy.
Sean had known about Dad’s gambling when he was alive. Apparently a few weeks before the accident Dad had broken down and told him he was in trouble – that the people he owed money to were dangerous and would come after him. Sean had dropped out of university and started his first shift at a bar that night. I remember yelling at him the next day – not knowing why he’d done it – calling him a deadbeat loser.
I went through the motions. Collecting dirty plates, loading them up on my already tired arms. At least working here, the customers didn’t get too drunk or handsy. Some nights after a shift at Hades my overly pinched ass was the sorest part of all. Here, I just had to put up with being yelled at by Giuseppe and Mario and Antonio and, well, there were a lot of them, for six hours. At least this would be my last six hours of that.
I took a deep breath while making my way to the next table, topping up their wine. Everything was about to change. If Sean and I could just pull this off, if we could get Mom and Taylor packed up tonight, by tomorrow … by tomorrow we could be starting our new life. I could get another job and actually use the money for something I wanted. I knew the first thing I’d buy – after a haircut. Paint.
“Pizza, Claudia!” Mario yelled at me, from behind the wood-fired oven.
I collected the three scorching hot pizzas, which meant one was, resting against my wrist, but I was used to it. I’d been working there for over a year, my arms had burn scars that I was sure would never go away. I delivered the pizzas and noticed new customers seated in the dinky corner. We were obviously full – it was always the last table to go.
I headed over, recognizing one of the diners. Violet Eden and I had gone to the same school, but I’d been ahead of her and apart from the one community art course, we rarely crossed paths. But now this was twice in a few weeks. Weird how that can happen – as if someone is suddenly supposed to be in your life for some reason.
She was looking at me, panic drawn all over her face. Last time I saw her she was at Hades with some hottie, getting drunk on the sly. Nothing I hadn’t done a couple of years back – half her luck. Anyway, she’d forgotten my name. It’s so easy to tell when people do that – maybe because it happened to me all the time, all they see is my bright red hair. Taking those last few steps. I twisted a little so my name badge would be in her line of sight and as I stopped in front of her table I flicked my hair back giving her full view. I could tell the moment her eyes latched on to the golden nametag by the relief flooding her features.
“Hey, Violet,” I said.
“Hey, Claudia. So this is the other place you work at,” Violet said, recalling our last conversation. At least she’d remembered that.
“Yeah, unfortunately.” I smiled but something about her was off. She was tense, sitting high in her chair, holding the menu with an almost desperate grip. I thought she looked a little frightened. I leaned towards her, about to ask if she was okay, before stopping myself. I barely knew her, and I was about to know her a whole lot less once this city was in our rearview mirror. So instead, I decided on something more neutral. “Shitty tips and crap boss, but it works,” I said with a shrug, using the movement to step back a little.
Violet smiled awkwardly, looking between her dinner partner and me. I looked at him for the first time and almost fainted right there.
“Claudia, this is Phoenix,” she said, kind of leaving things there, up in the air. I wasn’t much help. I was speechless. He was beautiful. I mean, not hottie like – he was utterly, earth-shatteringly and painfully beautiful.
Did people like this actually exist?
He had this presence around him, some kind of humming vibration coming off him and I … Oh. My. God. I just wanted to dive in, lose myself in it.
He didn’t even look at me but it didn’t matter. I felt as if he knew exactly what I was thinking. I stared. I wasn’t usually brazen with guys and especially not ones who looked like that … but I couldn’t look away, couldn’t bear to take my eyes from him, even if all he was doing was staring at his menu, completely disinterested in me.
“Pleasure,” he said, now looking over his menu to Violet.
But when he spoke something happened; a feeling foreign but not, came over me as if it wasn’t mine but had being molded from me somehow. A sureness … that Sean had been right. We needed to leave this city, get as far away from here as possible. Strangest of all, I knew the light-bulb moment had something to do with the guy sitting at the table, Phoenix.
I swayed, overwhelmed, and had to brace a hand on their table.
Violet was watching me strangely. Fair enough, I was macking on her dinner date. How did she suddenly have all these adorable guys around her?
“Hi,” I said, trying to recover, looking at Phoenix. “Can I take your order?”
Violet cleared her throat. “I’ll have the Diavola pizza, thanks.”
I saw Phoenix smirk. He was looking at her so intently. She had her eyes cast down, avoiding his. I almost reached out and slapped her. It wasn’t just that I’d been unlucky in love with a string of guys that fit into the live-and-learn category of life, it was that with everything my life had – or rather had not – turned into, to have one person look at me the way he was looking at her just for one moment. I couldn’t imagine a more heavenly thing.
Phoenix glanced my way briefly. “The same, and a glass of the Cabernet,” he said dismissively.
I nodded, writing it down, trying to process the overpowering influx of emotion I was experiencing. Yet again, I was so sure all of a sudden that I had to leave – hadto get away.
I staggered away from the table, desperately needing to get away from them, but half wanting to grab a hold of Phoenix and beg him to take me away. But with each step my mind seemed to clear. I had no idea what was going on, but the feelings that had started to stir when I’d been near that guy stayed. The weirdest thing of all was that, I felt as if Phoenix had been trying to help me. I shook my head at myself. Crazy. He didn’t even know me.
I went to the bathroom to pull myself together. Whatever had just happened, it didn’t matter. We were leaving. Everything would be okay. I splashed water on my face and reloaded the toilet-paper holders before heading back out to the busy restaurant, grabbing empty glasses from tables as I passed. That was Giuseppe’s rule, ‘never waste a walk anywhere; you go to the kitchen, bring something with you! You leave the kitchen, you take something out!’
“Pizza! Claudia!” Mario yelled. I grabbed the pizzas and got back to my tables, avoiding Violet and her friend. When I spotted Giuseppe I even got up the gall to ask him for my pay at the end of the shift.
He spat out a string of words in Italian and marched off. I smiled. For Giuseppe, that meant yes. I actually felt bad that I would have to leave without saying goodbye. Maybe Sean would let me write Giuseppe a letter once we were settled.
“Pizza! Claudia!” Mario yelled, again from behind the wood-fired oven. I made my way over to the two waiting Diavola’s. Violet’s order.
I dropped the dishes on their table quickly, trying not to look at Phoenix. Now that I’d managed to get my head straight, I didn’t want to risk it all muddling up again – and I didn’t want to do something stupid like throw myself at him right in front of Violet. For some reason I couldn’t trust myself around that guy so I concentrated on my other tables, hoping that I might be able to make some extra tips.
When the peak-time slam settled down, I offered to go out back and start on clean up. It was usually the job everyone avoided, but I wanted to do something nice for Giuseppe and it meant I could daydream about where Sean and I would take the family.
Taylor would be so excited. She hated her school. We’d had to move her into a public school six months ago because we couldn’t cover the private tuition fees. She didn’t complain but the new school didn’t have a music department and I’d heard her crying every night for the first few weeks. Taylor had an amazing voice – I’d never heard an eight-year-old like her. And she loved choir. There was something about her – she was good. Sean and I both knew it – of all of us Taylor was the best. She would do something amazing with her life. Make a difference. And Sean and I would do anything to protect her so she could.
I started wiping down the prep benches and putting away ingredients in the cool room. I wouldn’t care if I never ate a pizza again in my whole life. Pizza and the occasional pick up from the kitchen at Hades had been the basis of all our family meals for the past year. There is only so much pepperoni one person can take.
I hummed to myself as I worked. This was it. Everything would be better once we were gone. We’d done the best we could, paid off Dad’s debt and now it was time to get on with our lives. Maybe Sean would go back to med school. Maybe Mum would be happy again and let go of some of her guilt. I think she knew what Sean and I had to do to keep us safe – she just couldn’t bear to talk to us about it. Mum was an Irish woman and her pride had been stripped away, but with this new start …
I tied the rubbish bags and used my back to push open the alley door that led out to the bins. Caught up in the disgustingness of my shoes sticking to the dirty ground, I didn’t even look behind me and backed right into what felt like a brick wall. A very human-shaped brick wall, that is.
I dropped the rubbish and tried to spin around, but I barely made any progress before an arm closed around my neck and started dragging me into the darkness of the alley while I gasped, watching the kitchen door slam shut.
Beyond the sounds of my scuffling feet and strangled whimpers I could hear the noises of the world around me – the traffic, the hustle, the buzz of distant voices in the air. But they were so far away. Already I feared I would never again be a part of those noises coming from the end of the alley – the sounds of life.
I screamed, struggling to get away from the person dragging me into the darkness. But he was so strong, it barely seemed an effort for him to counter my attempts until, all of a sudden, he dropped his hold on me so fast I fell to the ground. Too sacred to look around and face my captor, I scrambled on hands and knees, my sights fixed on the kitchen door. If I could just get inside …
But he grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled so hard the fabric ripped apart.
I heard a growl. I froze. Whatever feral noise that was, it was not anything human. Did he have an animal with him? Before I could stop myself I spun around in a crouch to see him and terror I’d never believed existed encased me.
He was incredibly tall and eerily thin, except for his shoulders which seemed to be twice the width of him. He sneered at me wickedly, as if enjoying my fear and ran an eager hand through his bright white hair that stood out like a beacon on his otherwise black outfit.
“You should not have tried to leave. You belong to us.”
Oh God, help me!
I desperately looked down the end of the alley.
“No, no,” I stammered. “We … we have your money. My brother will be here any second. We have all of your money!”
He watched me with hungry eyes that had me trying to shuffle back.
“Your brother needs to be taught a lesson. You’re it.”
He was going to kill me. Sean would come to get me in an hour and he’d find me dead. I didn’t want to die.
“Please!” I panted between fear-filled gulps. “Please, we’ll do anything. We’ll get you more money.”
“Should’ve thought of that before.” He shrugged. “But they don’t send me to negotiate,” he growled.
I backed up until I hit the wall, sobbing and let out a final scream.
The man moved fast, inhumanly fast, grabbing me by the hair, pulling me to my feet.
All I could think about was Taylor. I prayed that she would at least go on. That Sean would find a way to keep her safe – I knew he would.
The tall blond winked as his hand moved back. He was going to beat me to death and by the look in his eyes – he was planning to take his time.
But just before his hand should have collided with my face, he stopped, his arm dropping and his attention drawn to the end of the alley.
I strained under his tight grip to see what he was looking at. Someone was walking towards us.
I started to scream again, a high-pitched desperate holler for life.
The man yanked me savagely, twisting me so my back was to him and his arm, once again, was around my neck.
When the person coming down the alley was only meters away I saw who it was.
But he looked different. Stone faced his cold eyes were fixed on the man holding me. Suddenly, I didn’t know if things had just improved for me or not.
‘This is not your business,” the man holding me said menacingly.
Phoenix shrugged like he didn’t have a care in the world. He didn’t look frightened at all. “Just made it mine, Cherub,” he said the last word with venom.
“She’s our property,” the man snarled.
Phoenix didn’t respond. I wondered if he was considering just walking away. If he did, I was dead.
Footsteps pounded down the ally and another figure came into view.
“Violet!” I screamed before I could think. “VIOLET! HELP ME!”
The man yanked my head back, his grasp on my neck tightening while his other hand clamped down over my mouth.
I kept my desperate eyes on Violet.
Oh God. I’d just brought her into all of this. What had I done? She couldn’t help me, how could she? She was just a girl, younger than me. She was watching on, petrified. If I had another chance I’d yell at her to run.
Phoenix whispered something harshly at her but then he turned back to us, a different type of resolve now on his face as he positioned himself between Violet and us.
“Release her,” he said, his voice quietly rebounding off the alley walls threateningly.
I felt the man back up half a step and he did something to me. It felt as if thick syrup was poured over my body, inside and out, covering all of me and then hardening, like glass. Impenetrable glass. And I was locked within.
He threw me down, my head smacking into the concrete and looked at me with absolute hatred as he commanded, “Kneel before me.”
I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to kneel for him even though deep down I was still there, was still petrified, he owned me. I had to do as he commanded.
I crawled to his feet, blood dripping from my head onto my hands and I knelt.
“Beg me to take your life,” he spat at me.
My mind fought feebly. Sean was supposed to come for me. Was this the price I would pay for dreaming? Would this be the price Sean would pay, too? My heart pounded with fear as the tall man’s image morphed into something terrifyingly creature-like. I considered I might already be dead and in some kind of hell. Either way, I was in absolutely no doubt, I must do as I was told.
“Kill me. P-p-please,” I stuttered, tears streaming down my face.
“No! Let her go!” I heard Violet scream. But it was all too far away now. “Claudia! Claudia, run!” She may as well have suggested I fly. Did she not see the terrible things surrounding me?
The man pulled me up, spinning me to face Violet and Phoenix and put a hand flat on either side of my face, holding me still.
“If you want her, come and get her,” he challenged, adding another word at the end I did not know; “Grigori.”
He lifted me into the air, holding me out toward them.
Pain registered distantly. People were not supposed to be held mid air by their heads, but I just dangled, completely disconnected, locked away in my glass prison.
I knew what he was going to do. As if he had somehow whispered it tauntingly in my ear.
Violet launched herself toward me, panic-stricken but brave, eyes on mine, arms outstretched. She knew too.
And then, I saw Phoenix. As if he’d somehow forced me to look in his direction and instantly … everything, all the pain, the fear, even the feelings of entrapment vanished. I was me and I was not afraid.
I was at peace.
– Giveaway –