Hello everyone! We’re thrilled to welcome Taylor Brooke, author of Fortitude Smashed, on From Top to Bottom Reviews today! There is a guest post, an excerpt and a giveaway waiting for you!
After scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.
But loving someone isn’t.
When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.
When I was growing up my family made sure to constantly reinforce that tattoos were supposed to mean something. They wanted to make sure that when I decided to get a tattoo (literally the day I turned 18) I would get something meaningful and inspiring, something that I wouldn’t regret when I was older. I listened to them. I got the tattoo that meant the absolute most to 18-year-old me. I can’t wait to get it covered. Anyway, tattoos can be significant! They can mean something to someone, they can hold space on a person’s body and be a constant reminder to be something, do something, remember something. They can also be cute and simple, and be just that. Tattoos are for you, no one else. That leads me to Aiden, who has a giant phoenix tattooed on his side, and why I chose the phoenix to represent him.
Aiden rolled away, untangling their legs and arms. He watched Shannon’s fingers walk up his rib cage, outlining the black ink. “Have you ever felt like you were dying?”
Shannon locked onto Aiden’s face. He narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “No,” he said, “I haven’t.” Those were strong words—words that weren’t thrown around often—not by people like Aiden, not by people with nothing to prove.
“I have. I figured if I felt like I was dying, I’d probably die, but I never did. So, I got this. The tattoo artist said the ribs hurt the most, so that’s where I had him put it.” Aiden looked at his tattoo and then back up at Shannon.
Simplicity wrapped around every word. He said I felt like I was dying the same way someone said I had a good day today, and that made Shannon’s stomach turn.
“Phoenixes rise from their ashes. I figured if I was going to die, I might as well be a phoenix, you know? Rise out of all the bullshit after,” Aiden said.
As someone who has struggled with their mental health since I was a teenager, I know what it’s like to rise from my own ashes. I wanted to explore how it feels to have chronic depression from the lens of someone who understands their cycles, swings and moods, but maybe not much else. For me, rising from my ashes happens in stages, much like it does for Aiden. I recognize the shift, I can feel it coming, and I know that it’ll take me down, but I also know that I’ll come out of it alive and burning.
The idea of a phoenix, a mythical, powerful bird made of fire validated a lot for me growing up. I always said I’d get one tattooed on me, believe it or not. I guess that’s how Aiden ended up with one. I looked at it as a representation of my own life, how I managed it and lived it, because for me, sometimes living is a constant rebirth – enduring your own fire, letting it burn you, turning to ashes and rising from them after.
There’s no harm in admitting that you go through stages like this. That death lingers in the back of your mind, that sometimes you think it might win and when it doesn’t, you come back stronger, fiery, better. It’s okay if you burn out a little bit. Writing the phoenix into Aiden’s character gave me room to show that ashes aren’t an ending to someone’s story.
P.S. I may or may not have a phoenix tattooed on me, and there may or may not be more significant tattoos in the sequel. But a fun fact I will share – I have Godzilla and Mothra tattooed on my arm. They don’t mean anything, but they look SICK.
Shannon’s first instinct was to call for backup. It’s what he should’ve done.
Instead, he slid his hand around the door and pulled it open; his other hand rested on his holstered gun.
The scent of oil paint and clay wafted strong in the stillness. The room was too open, a wide space with nowhere to hide. Shannon took a step, another, and glanced at the desk, where abstract patterns swirled on the screen of a hibernating computer next to a dimmed, decorative lamp.
Movement. Footsteps, heel to toe, slow and quiet, behind him.
Shannon swung around. Someone—the thief—gasped. He grabbed the fabric of a shirt and shoved whoever was wearing it against the wall.
“You’re under arrest,” he growled. The body, a man, squirmed and cursed. The one time he didn’t play it safe and call for backup was the time he might need it. Shannon forced the thief’s hands against the wall. “Spread your fingers.”
The thief complied. “Of fucking course.” Shannon heard him rolling his eyes.
“Breaking and entering is a crime, you understand that? So is taking things that aren’t yours.”
“I didn’t take anything. I didn’t get the chance to.” Whoever he was, he was unapologetically bored with the situation. Shannon spotted a bold tattoo on his side where his shirt was bunched up from their abrupt collision. The man sighed. “Can I have my hands back now?”
“No, you can’t, because—”
Shannon’s entire being screeched to a stop. His spine straightened; his knees locked. He couldn’t breathe. Beneath his glove, warmth spread from his right thumb into his wrist. The Camellia Clock vibrated, gentle but convincing, a purr that alerted him to the 00:00 that now read in glowing numbers under his thumbnail. Saliva pooled in his mouth. Heat coursed through him. Blood rushed—high speed traffic in his veins. His heartbeat, steady and then not, pounded in his ears.
He stared at the hand spread out on the wall. On the thief’s right thumbnail, the same numbers glowed 00:00. Shannon squeezed the man’s wrist a little tighter.
A shaky breath quivered from the chest in front of him. Apparently, Shannon wasn’t the only one surprised.
He swallowed, and his grip tightened again before he let go and ripped his hands away. Eyeing Shannon carefully, the burglar spun. He had a straight nose and a sharp jaw; he was all angles and edges and pale skin. His skittishness reminded Shannon of a deer—maybe not a deer. The stranger’s lips twitched into a straight-toothed grin under hooded dark eyes. Yeah, maybe not a deer. Maybe a wolf.
A breathless chuckle trickled past a clever smile. The thief gave a slow shake of his head, disbelief and curiosity stitching a genuine expression across his face that Shannon hated. “Aiden Maar,” he said, too confidently to be taken lightly.
Shannon’s jaw was set so tight it ached to open his mouth. “Detective Wurther.”
“Pleasure’s all mine, Detective.” The rasp in his voice made Shannon’s stomach jump.
Before Shannon could yell, or grab, or get another word in, the thief—Aiden—was gone, darting past him and out the door. His head swam. Still reeling, he couldn’t have caught Aiden if his life depended on it. But he was going to have to, because, according to the Camellia Clock, Aiden Maar was his future.
According to Shannon Wurther, the Camellia Clock was wrong.
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(Grand Prize $25 IP Gift Card + Multi-format eBook of Fortitude Smashed // Five winners receive a multi-format eBook)
Other Tour stops to check out:
After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup professional, Taylor turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she can be found haunting the local bookstore with a cup of tea, planning her next adventure, and fawning over baby animals.
Blog Tour Genre: Contemporary Genre: Sci-Fi Orientation: Bisexual Orientation: Pansexual Pairing: M/M Publisher: Interlude Press Tag: Friends to Lovers Tag: Guest Post Tag: Illness / Injury Tag: Own-Voices Tag: Part of a series Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault Camellia Clock Cycle Fortitude Smashed Taylor Brooke