Spotlight & Author Q&A: ✩Prisoner✩ by @Annika_Martin & @skye_warren

CoverHe seethes with raw power the first time I see him—pure tattooed menace and rippling muscles in shackles. He’s dangerous. He’s wild. He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I hide behind my prim glasses and my book like I always do, because I have secrets, too. Then he shows up in the prison writing class I volunteered to teach and he blows me away with his honesty. He tells me secrets in his stories, and it’s getting harder to hide mine. I shiver when he gets too close, with only the cuffs and the bars and the guards holding him back. At night, I can’t stop thinking about him in his cell.

But that’s the thing about an animal in a cage—you never know when he’ll bite. He might use you to escape. He might even pull you into a forest and hold a hand over your mouth, so you can’t call for the cops. He might make you come so hard, you can’t think.

And you might crave him more than your next breath.

“Sexy, dark and thrilling. I loved every second of it!”New York Times bestselling author Katie Reus
“Dark, sexy, and intense, Prisoner is an emotional ride that does not let go until the end. I loved it!”USA Today bestselling author Kristen Callihan


Heavy bars close behind me with a clang. I feel the
sound in my bones. A series of mechanical clicks hint at an elaborate security
mechanism beneath the black iron plating. I knew this would happen—had
anticipated and dreaded it—but my breathing quickens with the knowledge that I
am well and truly trapped.
“Can I help you?”
I whirl to face the administrative window where a
heavyset woman in a security guard uniform stares at her screen.
“Hi,” I say, pasting on a smile. “My name is
Abigail Winslow, and I’m here to—”
“Two forms of identification.”
“Oh, well, I already filled out the paperwork at
the front desk. And showed them my IDs.”
“This isn’t the front desk, Ms. Winslow. This is
the east-wing desk, and I need to see two forms of identification.”
“Right.” I dig through my bag for my driver’s
license and passport.
She accepts them without looking up, then hands me
a clipboard with a stack of papers just like the ones I’d already filled out.
I’ve been dreading this day for weeks, wishing I’d
been assigned any other project but this one. You’d think I was being sent here
for a crime. My professor—the one who’d forced me into this—warned me that
prisoners were not always receptive to outsiders. Apparently nobody here is.
I complete each form, arrange the pages neatly on
the clipboard, and bring them back up to the window. The guard accepts them and
gives back my IDs…still without looking at me.
My hands clench and unclench, clench and unclench
while the guard eyes my paperwork.
Seconds pass. Or are they minutes? The damp chill
of the place seeps in through my cardigan and leaves me shivering.
Leaning forward, I read the name tag of the guard.
“Ms. Breck. Do you know what the next steps are?”
“You can have a seat. I have work to do now, and
then I’ll escort you back.”
“Oh, okay.” I glance at the bars I just came
through, then the open hallway opposite. “Actually, if you just point me in the
direction of the library, I’m sure I can—”
Thunk. The woman’s hand hits the desk. I
jump. Her dark eyes are faintly accusing, and I wish we could go back to no eye
contact. How did I manage to make an enemy in two minutes?
“Ms. Winslow,” she says, her voice patronizing.
“You can call me Abby,” I whisper.
A slight smile. Not a nice one. “Ms. Winslow, what
do you think we do here?”
The question is clearly rhetorical. I press my
lips together to keep from making things worse.
“The Kingman Correctional Facility houses over
five thousand convicted criminals. My job is to keep it that way. Do we
understand each other?”
Heat floods my cheeks. The last thing I want to do
is make her job harder. “Right. Of course.” I shamble back, landing hard on the
metal folding chair. It wobbles a little before the rubber feet stop my slide.
I understand the woman’s point. She has to keep
the prisoners in and everyone else out, and keep people like me safe.
I reach down and pull a book from my bag. I never
leave home without one, even when I go to classes or run errands. Even when I
was young and my mother used to take me on her rounds.
Especially then.
I would hide in the backseat with my nose in the
book, pretending I didn’t see the shady people who came to her window when we
stopped.
A little green light above the barred doors
flashes on and there’s an ominous buzz. Somebody’s coming through, and I doubt
it will be a library volunteer. I slide down.  
Pretend to be invisible.
It’s no use. I peer over the top edge as a
prisoner saunters through the door, and my pulse slams in my throat double
time.
He’s flanked by two guards—escorted by them, I
guess you’d say. But they seem more like an entourage than anything. Power
vibrates around him like a threat.
Read, read, read. Don’t look.
The prisoner is half a foot taller than the
guards, but he seems to tower over them by more than that. Maybe it’s his broad
shoulders or just something about the way he stands, or his imperiously high cheekbones.
The dark stubble across his cheeks looks so rough and unforgiving I can feel it
against my palm; it contrasts wildly with the plushness of his lips. His short
brown hair is mussed. There’s one scar through his eyebrow that somehow adds to
his perfection.
The little group approaches the window. I can
barely breathe.
“ID number 85359,” one of the guards says, and I
understand that he’s referring to the prisoner. That’s who he is. Not John
Smith or William Brown or whatever his name is. He’s been reduced to a number.
The woman at the desk runs through a series of questions. It’s a procedure for
checking him out of solitary.
The prisoner faces sideways, spine straight, the
corner of his mouth tilted up as if he’s slightly amused. Then it clicks, what
else is so different about him: no visible tattoos. Tough guys like this,
they’re always inked up—it’s a kind of armor, a kind of fuck you. This
guy has none of it, though he’s far from pristine; white scars mar the rough
skin of his hands and especially his forearms, a latticework of pain and
violence, a flag proclaiming the kind of underworld he came from.
The feel of brutality that hangs about him is
compelling and…somehow beautiful.
I drink him in from behind my book—it’s my mask,
my protective shield. But then the strangest thing happens: he cocks his head.
It’s just a slight shift, but I feel his attention on me deep in my belly. I’ve
been discovered. Caught by searchlights. Exposed.
My heart beats frantically.
I want him to look away. He fills up too much
space. It’s as if he breathes enough oxygen for twelve men, leaving no air for
me at all. Maybe if we were in the library and he needed help finding a book or
looking something up, then I wouldn’t mind the weight of his gaze.
No. Not even there. He’s too much.
Two sets of bars on the gate. Handcuffs. Two
guards.
What do they think he would do if there were only
one set of bars, one guard?
My blood races as the guards draw him away from
the window and toward the inner door, toward where I sit. His heat pierces the
chill around me as he nears. His deep brown eyes never once meet mine, but I
have the sense of him looming over me as he passes, like a tree with a massive
canopy. He continues on, two hundred pounds of masculine danger wrapped in all
that beauty.
Even in chains, he seems vibrant, wild and free, a
force of nature—it makes me feel like I’m the one in prison. Safe. Small.
Carefully locked down.
How would it feel to be that free?
“Ms. Winslow. Ms. Winslow.
I jump, surprised to hear that the woman has been
calling my name. “I’m sorry,” I say as a strange sensation tickles the back of
my neck.
The woman stands and begins pulling on her jacket.
“I’ll take you to the library now.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
That shivery sensation gets stronger. Against my
better judgment, I look down the hallway where the guards and the prisoner are
walking off as one—a column of orange flanked by two thinner, shorter posts.
The prisoner glances over his shoulder. His
mocking brown gaze searches me out, pins me with a subtle threat. Though it
isn’t his eyes that scare me. It’s his lips—those beautiful, generous lips
forming words that make my blood race.
Ms. Winslow.
No sound comes out, but I feel as though he’s
whispered my name right into my ear. Then he turns and strolls off.


Q&A WITH THE AUTHORS

Where do you find your inspiration?

Annika: You know those juicy, thrilling scenes in books or movies that you just love to pieces? And you think about them long after? Those sorts of scenes, and the huge emotions around them really inspire me. I love to feel that high-point thrill, and to create books around those moments. A lot of times I start with imagining an exciting scene I want to write and the book goes somewhere else completely, but the kernel, the inspiration still remains buried deep down.

How did you come up with the idea for this story?

Skye: Prisoner was my first collaboration with author Annika Martin. She and I first met because I’d read her books (love them!) and she read mine. We were both in a boxed set together, MAKE ME. We were chatting over email and came up with the idea to write a book together. We knew it would be edgy, and dark, and also fun! And so, Prisoner was born.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Annika: A lot of writers hate revising and love first drafts, but I’m the opposite – I am crazy about revising–I like to mold and change things in big ways once the words are there. But I write a sloooooow and grueling first draft, and I daydream a lot and change my mind a lot. It’s a total challenge! That was one really nice thing about writing in a team—knowing Skye was at the other end, expecting me to come up with something new and exciting every day was kind of nice. But getting those first words down is hard and slow for me.

What is for you the perfect book hero?

Skye: I like them intimidating. Competent. Vaguely sinister and smug. Possessive. Harsh. Cold. Hot. I like them everything that is mean and cruel, even with the heroine. And then… when he stops, when sex and intimacy and love force him to stop, the clouds part. The sun rises on grass still sticky with dew. It paints the world in orange light and long shadows, hinting at what is to come. And that’s the end of the book. Not a wedding. Not a happily ever after. The ending is hope.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Annika: There are themes that writers return to over and over. One of my themes I return to, even when I’m not trying, is two super messed-up people finding love with each other, and being messed up together, and loving each other for their flaws (and not getting rid of them, because to me, flaws are what make people who they are!) So I guess my message is, even if you feel like you’re really screwed up, being really and truly yourself is beautiful and you deserve love.

Tell us about your first book. What would readers find different about the first one and your most recent published work?

Skye: My first dark book was Keep Me Safe… and god, I hope readers see that I’ve grown as a writer. But at the same time, I hope I’ve kept the core of what people liked about Keep Me Safe, the dark atmospheric setting and deep character exploration. Both of those are hopes—but I’d love to hear from the readers who have kept with me and hear what they think!

Does music play any type of role in your writing?

Annika: Definitely. I write now and then at coffee shops and if there are people talking around me, I need to put in earbuds and crank the music. I have specific songs I just loop over and over, usually dark and melodic. Also, I love to run after a hard day at the writing desk, and I crank the tunes and just zone out to the music and that’s when I get my best ideas.

What books have influenced your life most?

Skye: The books that influence me the most have a super strong voice—and perspective. Broken by Megan Hart, Comfort Food by Kitty Thomas, and anything by my cowriter Annika Martin, who also writes as Carolyn Crane.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Annika: And even though he’s broad and heavy, especially because of that, it feels like a caress. His whole body embraces me, his mouth on mine, his hands on mine, his legs straddling my thighs. I’m wrapped in a cocoon made only of Grayson, where it smells like musk and tastes like man and wipes away every thought I should have. Like getting away. Like fighting him.

Or longer pasted at end….

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you!!!

About Annika Martin

Annika Martin is a New York Times bestselling author who loves writing stories about criminals – some of her tales are dirty and fun (kinky bank robbers!) others are dark and intense (Prisoner collaboration). She also writes gritty, sexy romantic suspense and urban fantasy as RITA-award winning author Carolyn Crane
.

Website • Twitter • Facebook • Goodreads

About Skye Warren

Skye Warren is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of dark romantic fiction. Her books are raw, sexual and perversely romantic.

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