Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Set Me Free" by London Setterby

Set Me Free
by London Setterby

Set Me Free by London Setterby is currently on tour with Xpresso Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

Miranda Lewis is desperate to get away from her controlling ex – so desperate she leaves him in the middle of the night. She ends up on a remote island off the Maine coast, where she befriends a bubbly shopkeeper, Claire, and becomes fascinated with Claire’s son, big, brooding Owen Larsen, a woodworker who keeps to himself. Even the friendliest locals here are secretive – and Owen is at the center of their secrets.
Still, Miranda loves the salt air, the craggy coastline, and, most of all, the work of the island’s beloved local painter, Suzanna White. Miranda wants to stay – to claim a life of her own, to paint again. But the longer she stays, the more her fascination with Owen increases. Why is there a painting of his stern, handsome face in the art gallery by the beach? And why is everyone so afraid of him?

Chapter One
I left New Haven late last night with ninety-one dollars and a thrift store suitcase. The cash and everything in my suitcase came from months of hoarding: one dollar, one lipstick, one pair of tights at a time. Nothing that Rhys would notice, though he noticed almost everything. After all this time, I’d finally left him—in secret, at night, while he was out of town. Mission accomplished.
What now? I had no idea.
I’d driven all night with no destination and ended up crossing a bridge to an island off the Maine coast. I wanted to keep going—as if I could drive across the Atlantic Ocean to my dad’s flat in London. Instead, I found a coffee shop tucked back into the silvery pine forest and pulled into its gravel lot. Then I sat in my car, clutching the steering wheel, and wished I knew what the hell I was doing. I had reached the end of the line, and not just because I’d run out of land to drive across. Buying more gas would mean less money for food. The snacks I’d stolen from the house wouldn’t last much longer, no matter how carefully I rationed them. I needed to stop running and come up with a plan. A plan. I swept a hand across my forehead.
I’d never thought I’d actually need a Step Two. I had never truly believed I would leave him.
Coffee first, I told myself. If I were only a little less tired, I could think of something, I was sure of it.
I went into the coffee shop, which was all warmth and gold light, with a counter on the left and a quaint country store on the right. At a cluster of café tables, three women gossiped over steaming coffees, and an old man fed pieces of bagel to a scraggly dog.
One of the women looked up, her mouth pursing with disdain as she took in the sight of the tangled hair falling across the collar of my leather jacket and the mascara smudged under my eyes. I hesitated by the fudge case, my stomach aching, and wondered if I should leave.
A blonde woman in a flowery red apron straightened up from behind the counter with a delighted smile. “Good morning! What can I get you?”
I edged forwards, drawn to her friendliness despite the unfriendliness of the others. “Can I have a small coffee, please? To go.” My gaze strayed to the fat cinnamon buns in the pastry case, but they were two dollars each.
“It’s early in the season for us to have visitors,” the woman remarked, filling a paper cup at a shining coffee urn. “Are you here for the half-marathon?”
“Oh, no, I’m not a runner. Not for exercise, anyway.” I didn’t mean to say it, and it came out awkward and strained. She glanced curiously at me. She had an open, expressive face, with clear blue eyes behind red cat’s-eye glasses. Something about her made me want to ask for help, but I had no idea where to begin.
“It’s so nice to see a new face this time of year,” she said lightly. “We get tourists in the summer, but not a lot of people otherwise. Too cold for most folks, I suppose. I’m Claire Larsen, by the way.”
“Miranda Lewis.” It was a struggle to say my name aloud, as if Rhys could hear me. But he didn’t even know I had left. He was still at his competition in D.C. and wouldn’t be home for another two days.
“Such a pleasure to meet you, Miranda.” The way Claire said it, her voice full of warmth, I could almost believe her.
The front door jingled. A gust of wind blew cold air and a dusting of snow across the café floor. This time, all of the other customers fell silent, looking at the door. The air tightened with tension. I felt a sudden wrench of fear myself—still painful, no matter how irrational it was—and glanced at the door, my throat dry.
A man stood in the shadowed doorway. He was much too big to be Rhys: his head nearly touched the doorframe, and his shoulders were as broad as barn doors. A wolf pelt and ax would have suited him better than his flannel button-down and jeans.
He walked towards the counter, his heavy work boots thudding on the hardwood floor. Up close, his expression looked even more grim and pensive than it had from a distance, but he had full lips for a man, and his hair was mussed, as if he’d just woken up.
“Morning, sweetie!” Claire said.
I glanced from the man to Claire and something clicked: the blond hair, the full mouth. The Viking was not from Valhalla after all. He was the coffee shop owner’s son.
“Owen, this is Miranda Lewis.” Claire gestured at me. “She’s new in town. Isn’t that nice?”
He leaned against the fudge case and drummed his fingers on the glass. His dark eyes were difficult to read in the café’s low, gold light, but I thought he seemed wary. Suspicious. I shivered.
“By yourself this morning?” Claire asked Owen.
“Jenny has to work.”
A Viking with a girlfriend—a girlfriend named Jenny, not Brunhilde.
“Owen, bless his heart, helps me with my dogs on his days off,” Claire told me. “I don’t know what I’d do without him. I have six Great Danes, you know.”
“You have six dogs?”
“Yes,” Claire said, with an embarrassed chuckle, “six Danes, all named after the English Romantic poets.”
“You mean like Keats? And William Blake?” At her nod, I ticked off the names on my fingers. “Coleridge, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley…”
“And Wordsworth,” Claire said. “You must be a poetry buff!”
“Or an English major,” Owen interjected, taking the coffee Claire handed him. His voice was a low rumble.
“I’m not an English major,” I said.
A phone rang in the back of the shop. Claire dashed off to answer it, leaving me standing at the counter with the Viking. I told myself to leave, or at least step away from him, but I didn’t move.
“If you’re not an English major, what are you?” Owen asked, sipping his coffee, his dark eyes fixed on me.
“I’m…” Before Rhys, I was a bartender and a painter. But since then? “I’m nothing.” Absolutely nothing.
The golden eyebrows creased together. This was obviously as close as he got to having an expression. “Nothing?”
“I used to work in a coffee shop. Though it wasn’t nice, like this.”
Annette would be there by now, slamming muffins out of their trays onto the scratched steel counter and shouting at Steph and Lizzie to open up the registers. Soon, she’d be wondering where I was.
“And I’m not going back there,” I added, although I had no idea why I was telling him this.
“What was wrong with it?” he asked quietly.
Whenever the other girls thought I wasn’t listening, they talked about Rhys. Wasn’t he so hot, and wasn’t it too bad he was with me, though they had heard some things…
“It wasn’t the shop, really. There was…other stuff.”
Owen ducked his head in a nod that I found strangely reassuring, as if he understood.
Suddenly, he straightened up from the counter. At his full height, he loomed over me, and I took an involuntary step backwards, my heart thudding. Why was I confiding in a stranger—a man who could break me in half?
He stared over the top of my head at the customers behind me. Two of the women at the café table squirmed nervously in their seats, but the woman in the middle—the one who had made a face at me—screwed on a smile and gave him a tiny wave. “Good morning, Owen!” she chirped. “I hope you haven’t had any problems so far this spring?”
“Nothing worth mentioning.”
Though she kept smiling, her eyes narrowed as if she didn’t believe him, or didn’t want to. I’d seen this same expression on Steph and Lizzie, too, every time they’d looked at me. This woman wanted Owen to have problems, the better to gossip about them.
The fine hairs on the back of my neck prickled, and when I glanced back over my shoulder, I realized I must have scowled at her and Owen must have seen me do it. His lips had curved into a very small smile.
The sight made me hot and cold at the same time. I couldn’t be around him. He was too big, too scary, too striking.
I tore my gaze away from him just as Claire walked back behind the counter, humming to herself.
“I should be going,” I told her. “I’ve got to meet with my, um, new landlord.”
At 7:30 on a Sunday morning. Good one, Miranda.
“Well, that’s nice!” Claire said, her smile puzzled. “Hope to see you back here soon.”
I edged around Owen, painfully aware of his presence, and slipped outside into the cold morning. All I wanted was the comfortable familiarity of my car and the beloved books and art supplies I’d packed carefully in my trunk.
“Wait. Miranda.”
Owen stood on the café’s front porch. He let the door swing shut behind him, cutting off the warm gold light. In the silver mist, we could have been the only two people in the world.
He came towards me in a few long strides. My hands were shaking. To distract myself, I set my coffee on the hood of my car and rummaged in my handbag for my cigarettes. I had one left. It would be my last, because I didn’t have enough money for another pack. I lit it and took a trembling drag, waiting for Owen to ask me who my landlord was, or where I was staying.
“You haven’t been here before, have you?” he asked.
I shook my head, trying to mask my relief.
“You look sort of familiar,” Owen said.
I knew we’d never seen each other before—I would have remembered seeing a Viking wandering around New Haven. Maybe it was just my exhaustion, but something about his deep voice and his reserved, economical gestures felt familiar, too, as if we’d known each other too long ago to remember.
“I must just have one of those faces,” I told him, taking another drag. My nerves started to steady.
“No. You don’t.” His dark eyes lingered on my lips, the curl of my hair around my neck, my unzipped jacket. He cleared his throat. “Why are you here? I mean—what brings you to the island?”
The truth was I had no idea. I’d passed plenty of quaint New England towns on my long drive to Maine. I could have chosen any of them. The only advantage this place had was that it was as far away as I could get. And it was pretty, in a stark, eerie way, with mist enfolding the trees and the taste of salt in the air.
“I had to leave where I was,” I said. “But this island seems nice…”
He gave a short, mirthless laugh, and I flushed.
“You don’t like it here?”
“Me? No. Well,” he amended, “the woods are all right.” He nodded at the towering pine trees surrounding the small parking lot. “What are you going to do now that you’re here? Another café job?”
“I’d rather go back to working in a pub. I used to bartend.”
“My friend Andy said something about his place looking for wait staff. It’s called the Widow’s Walk. He’s the assistant manager. It’s not bartending, but…” He shrugged, while the breeze ruffled his hair and brought me the sweet vanilla scent of his coffee.
“Oh. Okay. Thank you.” I could have hugged him for giving me a tip on a job, even if it would have been like hugging one of the pine trees. “Why is it called the Widow’s Walk?”
“Bill—the bar’s owner—has a strange sense of humor.”
“All right,” I said, with a tired smile. “I’m okay with strange.”
“Then you’ll like it here.” But even as he said it, his expression shaded back into severe, and his eyes grew even harder to read. “I’d better go.”
He didn’t wait for me to say good-bye. He crossed the lot, his footsteps crunching on frosted gravel. When he reached the pine trees alongside the café, he slipped between their dark boughs without a sound.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Romance, mystery, angst: London Setterby gets the balance just right in this gothic contemporary about a woman on the run from her dangerous, controlling ex. [...] This is an enjoyable, fast read, well written, with shades of Daphne DuMaurier’s classic Rebecca. And it even has a pack of gentle Great Danes named after the British Romantic poets!" ~ Polyphemus
"Wonderful read!!" ~ Hazel G.
"Wow. I read this a while back and I am now coming to write a review. The character development in this book was so intensely amazing I almost didn't recognize them by the end. This book was a quick read but that doesn't mean it wasn't full of substance. This book touched on some things I haven't ever read about and I felt like they were done in an accurate style. I want to read more from this author in the future!" ~ Molly
"When you need a quick mystery and suspense romance for the beach, why not give this one a try. I loved the small town feel where everyone grew up knowing each other. It was really different from the books I normally read." ~ The Smutbrarians

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Miranda Lewis leaves her abusive partner Rhys and travels from New Haven, Connecticut to Fall Island, Maine. She stops there for the night and decides to stay and start a new life. She gets a job at the Widow's Walk pub, makes friends, and rekindles her passion for painting through her new-found muse, the dead Suzanna White. Miranda even discovers passion of a different kind with blond "Viking god" Owen Larsen. All the while, she lives in constant fear of Rhys showing up on her doorstep; even though she's left him, she still isn't free. Owen, too, is under the spell of someone from his past. Will he ever be free to move on with Miranda?
Miranda's story is interesting, but the development of her relationship with Owen is unrealistic. She's a victim of abuse, running from a violent man straight into the arms of a stranger who is feared by everyone in his own home town. And Owen is supposedly still obsessed with his previous lover, yet he finds Miranda irresistible. It's also hard to reconcile Miranda's behavior (her outgoing dress style, her penchant for sexy lingerie, and her initiating sexual activity) with someone just coming out of an abusive relationship.
Warnings: explicit sex scenes, coarse language, violence.

About the Author
London Setterby is a writer, lawyer, and life-long New Englander who says "wicked" to mean "very" with a total lack of irony. She is apparently trying to write as many different kinds of romance novels as possible. She also writes across the gender and sexuality spectrums. When not writing, she enjoys taking long rambling walks through various forests with her husband.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of two signed copies of Set Me Free by London Setterby (US/Canada only).