Blog Tour and Giveaway: Toxic: Rachel Van Dyken

Toxic (Ruin#2)
Rachel Van Dyken
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Expected March 4, 2014

Everyone has a secret...

Gabe Hyde is on borrowed time. He's been hiding his identity for over four years-hidden from the world that used to adore him--obsess over him--driven to the edge of insanity by one poor choice. 

But that one choice, altered the course of his life forever. 
Pretending isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially when pretending means hiding your real self from the people that care about you the most. But if anyone ever discovered the truth it wouldn't just be his life at risk--but hers. 

Saylor doesn't hate men. 
Just Gabe. 
Only Gabe. 
He's a reckless, happy-go-lucky, silver spoon fed pain in her ass. Everything about him makes her more and more confused. Unfortunately they both donate time at the same Group Home. If she wasn't afraid of flunking, she'd be long gone. She hates that she's attracted to him almost as much as he hates that he's attracted to her--and she can tell, especially since their first encounter ended up making her knees so weak she couldn't form coherent sentences for weeks afterwards. But the closer she gets to him, the more confused she becomes. He isn't who he says he is, and he's hiding something big. 

What happen when two worlds collide? Two worlds that never should have met in the first place? Some secrets are too big to be hidden forever--the only question? Will his destroy everyone he loves? Or finally bring about the redemption he's been craving for the past four years?

Everyone has a secret...What's yours?

Life has two stages. Birth and death. That’s it. What you do in between the two? Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it? —Wes M


Behind me, Gabe ceased all motion. The only way I knew he was still there was from the heat that seeped into my back from where his body touched me. More warmth rolled off his hands where they seemed fused to mine. Any minute now, I expected him to pull away, to slip into mask number one or mask number two. Instead, he flipped my hands over, gripping them with his fingers and exhaled, long and slow. Seconds went by, but they may as well have been years. Each time he let out a breath, my heart skipped a beat of longing, needing more of his touch — more of something. My back tingled as the hard planes of his stomach pressed against me. I was in a Gabe cocoon.
And I loved it.
Until the music started.
With slight pressure, Gabe moved my hands to the piano, slowly, effortlessly placing them on each key.
He was playing through me, using my body as an instrument to convey the story of his life. Each time he pressed down on one of my fingertips or guided me to another area of the piano, I felt the sadness of the song clench deeper. The notes became floating tendrils of pain, each one of them slowly invading my body and taking hold until it hurt to breathe.
He moved faster and faster, my hands couldn’t keep up. I pulled back as he continued the song, in such a rush it was like he was yelling but doing it with music. Unable to convey it in any other way.
With a final burst of movement, he lifted his hands off the piano and smashed them against the keys, causing a chaos of notes to burst forth.
Gabe’s breathing was uneven, ragged as he leaned heavily against me, his chin resting on my head, and he whispered brokenly, “I can’t.”
“You were doing so good.”
“It’s like getting into a car with suicidal tendencies. You keep going faster and faster, needing the adrenaline to keep you alive until suddenly you turn the wheel and everything goes black. The notes, they go higher and higher, and right when I feel like I can change the outcome — I panic. Some things…” He sighed and pulled away. “Some things are better left in chaos.”
“Are you sure about that? Are you sure about perfection?” I folded my hands in my lap, but didn’t turn around.
“Sure.” He moved from behind me and sat on the bench. “If life was perfect, how in the hell would we ever learn to depend on someone other than ourselves? If anything, that’s what life’s taught me. The need to be perfect is stemmed in the very belief that it’s actually something we can achieve. Self-actualization — doesn’t exist.”
I licked my lips and looked down at the keys. “Does that mean we don’t try then?”
“No.” Gabe tickled a few of the ivory keys in front of him, the music note tattoos on his fingertips looking darker against the white of the piano. “It just means when you reach the end of your rope, you shouldn’t regret a damn thing, but applaud yourself for trying to do the impossible.”
I felt like he was using double meanings. The philosophical Gabe was a bit terrifying because he made me feel more insecure than the jackass Gabe. But the guy sitting next to me right now? I was beginning to understand, he wasn’t just one person. He was every person, everything, whatever he needed to be, he was.
Like a chameleon.
And suddenly the ending to the story made sense.
Ten different notes all clamoring at once.
Gabe was Chaos.
“So.” He sniffed and cleared his throat. “Now that I’ve totally ruined the moment by talking in my serious voice and scaring the shit out of you — why don’t we work on one of your performance pieces?”
“Okay.” I placed my hands on the piano again, careful to angle my wrists at the perfect degree and keep my eyes on the music ahead. Sometimes I wondered if my posture was better than my playing.
“What the hell are you doing?” he asked in calm voice.
I turned and gave him a firm nod[L1] . “I’m getting ready.”
“To go to battle?”
“What?” I relaxed my hands a bit. “No.” I straightened. “This is the right posture, it’s—”
“If you say perfect, I’m going to kill myself.”
“Someone should have majored in drama.”
He burst out laughing. “Oh, honey, you have no idea.”
“So?” I lifted my wrists again and looked ahead.
“Fine.” He smirked. “Play just like that.”
“Okay.” I started one of my harder pieces, Piano Sonata 14. It felt exactly the same. The movement wasn’t as fast as some of the others, but the timing for it had to be perfect.
“Close your eyes,” Gabe instructed.
He swatted my wrists. “No arguing with your piano master.”
“Say ‘yes, master’.”
I smiled tightly, my eyes focusing on the music in front of me. I started slowly playing. “Not in this lifetime.”
“Bet I could make you say it.” His voice had an arrogant lift to it, which made me all the more irritated. Master? Um, no.
“Eyes.” He growled again.
With a resigned sigh, I closed my eyes. “Better?”
“Immensely,” he said smoothly.
Darkness enveloped my world. All I had were the notes at my fingertips. All I had was the music — that and Gabe.
He wasn’t saying anything.
Which killed me.
It also made me want to open my eyes, but I knew he’d probably just tell me to close them again, so I kept playing.
And then, with a teasing touch, his fingers grazed my chin, slowly tilting it down toward the piano while his other hand went to my upper back then slowly moved down until it was in the middle, with a gentle push, he urged my body closer to the keys.
Eyes closed, posture completely off, I leaned over the piano. Everything felt wrong as I continued playing.
“Slower,” he said softly.
With a sigh, I started playing slower. His hands moved to my hips. And stayed there. Other than jumping a foot, I was still able to concentrate.
“The music,” he whispered, “It’s not just your story — it’s your lover.”
“Okay,” I squeaked. Heat washed over me as the word lover bounced around in my brain. I knew it, but I’d never experienced it. How was I supposed to use something I didn’t know how to use? And how embarrassing was it that I was stuck in that tiny room having never been… stuck in a tiny room with any guy? Lover. I’d take him. If I got a choice. It would be him. But people like Gabe, beautiful people who had music in their soul, who knew how to speak without words… they weren’t for girls like me.
“Each stroke…” His hands pressed against my hips making me gasp. “You need to feel it not just on your fingertips — but everywhere.”
Holy. Crap.
“Feel it here,” he squeezed and then ran his hands lightly up my sides, then resting right underneath my breasts, he pressed again. “And here.”
My breathing picked up speed, as did my music.
“Slow down,” he commanded in that same irritating patient tone. “Where is this story taking me? Where are you taking your lover?”
“Huh?” I breathed.
“Use your hands to tell me the story — use your body to propel the story forward, what happens next… Tell the story, Saylor. Make me feel it without even touching you.”
“But — that’s impossible.”
“You can feel a kiss without touching someone’s lips.”
“I’m confused.”
“Concentrate.” Gabe’s voice was firm. “I want to kiss you.”
“What?” He was lucky I didn’t actually collapse against the piano this time.
“In the story.” He chuckled. “I want to kiss you in this story, so kiss me.”
“You want me to get up and kiss you?” Mind you, I was still trying to play a difficult piece as he was asking me this, which basically meant I must have had talent, because my body was on fire.
“Without our mouths meeting.”
“Through the music.” I clarified in a doubtful voice.
I could hear the smile in his tone as he answered. “Yes, through the music, show me what the kiss would feel like. I want to taste it.”
“But how?”
He laughed softly. “I’m touching them.”
“My lips,” he countered. “They’re soft, open, wet…”
I squirmed on the piano bench, squeezing my eyes shut. “What else?”
“As I part my lips… I wonder what your tongue tastes like, what type of pressure you’d use as you pressed your velvety smooth mouth against mine. I imagine exploring your mouth not just because I want to — but because I can’t help it. I’m lost. And your kiss is my salvation… so, Saylor, will you save me?”
My fingers glided effortlessly over the piano as I imagined his mouth — the way he smiled, the way he took his lower lip hostage when he was deep in thought. The dark look he got in his eyes when there was something he wanted. Our kiss would be epic.
The music picked up speed as I leaned over the piano, pounding each note with the rhythm of my footsteps as I approached him.
His hands would reach for my hips as he pulled me closer. My hands hovered over the keys making my hesitation known.
And then I pressed softly against the ivory, leaning forward as if I was leaning into Gabe with my body pressed against his. My breasts brushed the keys. I moved closer to the piano and then slowed the music.
His eyes would close.
His lips would part.
And we’d meet in the middle — because both of us wanted the same thing. Both of us wanted to taste, to explore, to feel.
I slowed my left hand as my right hand moved quicker across the keys, to show the anticipation.
And then, our mouths would touch.
I pounded the keys with my left hand, making it the loudest part of the piece which wasn’t normally how it was done.
Our tongues would tangle.
I pounded the piano harder.
His fingers would dig into my arms as he lifted me into the air.
I pulled back from the piano, stopping the music, and then gently started the rhythmic cadence again.
Our kiss was the perfect joining of music.
He was the left hand, I was the right.
Separate they sounded like silly scales.
Together — they were beautiful.
When I stopped the piece, I was sweating.
“Open your eyes,” Gabe whispered.
He was breathing so heavily it looked like he’d just run a marathon. With a smile he tucked my fallen hair behind my ear and tilted my chin toward him.
“That…” He leaned in. “…is how you perform. Like every kiss is both your first and last — like you’re saying both hello and goodbye — like you’ve just been born… like you’ve just died.”

I thought the prince was supposed to wake sleeping beauty. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I wasn't the dragon or the prince. But the one in need of a rescue so epic--that my world shattered. The scary thing about waking up? You're reminded how much of your life was a nightmare--and again remember why you went to sleep in the first place.~Gabe

I fell for Gabe in Ruin. He is the cocky, tatted, sarcastic playboy friend of Wes and Kiersten and Lisa's cousin. But now we see into his head and realize under that easy-going facade is a broken man escaping his past. He is suffering loss, pain, and changed his entire existence and reinvented himself. But the past has a way of resurfacing and it is now all bearing down on Gabe.

I was at a crossroads all right. One path led to my future--the other to my past and utter destruction.
Saylor is trying to graduate to make a better life for her family She is smart, dedicated, and  does not think she should lose focus.Their first meeting is heated and electric...a shock to both of their systems. And they continue to spark, taunt, torture, and fight at every encounter. 

Gabe is struggling to come to terms with his past and his present as they collide. He has been living a facade for a long time and at times it is hard to maintain and keep all of the pieces of his personality and past compartmentalized.  He hides his vulnerability, pain and shame under sarcasm and and half-truths. He pushes people away, even the ones that he cares about in an attempt to protect them.  He is scared of opening up and letting anyone see who he was and what has happened to him. But while denying his feelings, he often lashes out at those around him. He has so many layers to him, so many walls, and so much that he keeps hidden. But once you dig down to his core, he is vulnerable, scared, and has a huge capacity for love. 

I wondered if there would ever come a day when Gabe would finally be free enough to be himself--the person he was born to be, not mask number one or smile number two. I wondered if he even knew how lost he really was--or if he was happy making the maze his home, the mask his identity, his life a lie.

And somehow Saylor starts to get in and under his defenses. They share a love and passion for music. But where she is controlled and a perfectionist, his music is all tied into emotion. She understands pain, but he helps her bring out more intensity. She sees the many sides of Gabe and is both agitated and fascinated by them. She is tough, but vulnerable, spirited but sweet.  Their interactions had me laughing at times and wanting to smack him upside the head at others. But their connection was hard to deny. 

"I'm falling for you too. I haven't fallen. Falling. As in still falling, still in the air, still trying to get used to the idea that I've just nose dived off a cliff with every intention on making sure landing doesn't break my fall."

I loved that Wes, Kiersten, and Lisa were a big part of this story. I really enjoy Wes and Gabe's close friendship. They support him and deal with him no matter what persona he is sporting or how obnoxious he gets. And at times he really was negative and aggravating. But it was all part of his defense mechanism and trying to deny that his life really needed to change. 

And as everything comes crashing down and he is pulled in so many directions he will need his friends to help him through and not let him succumb to the darkness. Gabe really went through a lot through the course of the story. I would have never guessed his back story or the pain that was involved. It was messy, complicated, sad, emotional, tense, and heartbreaking. I loved the Gabe we first met and at times wanted to shake the one that emerged, but my heart also broke for him as his story slowly unfolded. And I could see the motivation for what he did and how he tried to deal with it all. And Saylor showed strength and maturity while trying to help this damaged man find his way again and heal. It became more intense and emotional as the story went on and I became even more emotionally invested.

One thing I adore about this series are the little quotes at the tops of each chapter. Some are funny but many are inspirational and come from various characters. We got a lot of Wes' sage advice in those sections as well as through his interactions with Gabe. I really love this series and the characters. The camraderie, the support, and the devotion these people have for each other making them a pseudo family is really heartfelt and special. Rachel Van Dyken's writing style flows easily in clearly marked points of view. She really makes you feel all of the uncertainty, fear, insecurity, unhappiness, pain, passion, and joy the characters feel. The plot lines are interesting, complicated, surprising, and engaging. I am looking forward to another novella for Wes and Kiersten titled Fearless on March 9, 2014 and am hoping Lisa gets her own book as well. She seems to also have an intriguing back story. 

Thanks to Rachel Van Dyken for providing me with an arc in exchange for an honest review. 

Awful. Beautiful. Tragic. Warm. Painful. Hopeful. Toxic was so full of emotion that I’m not quite sure where to start. Maybe with Gabe and Saylor themselves?

I didn’t like the Gabe from the beginning of the book. He was not the same Gabe we met in Ruin. No, this was a Gabe wearing a different mask than we had seen before, and I didn’t like him. I loved the Gabe from before, and I hoped he would come back without hiding and without his masks. And when his masks fell away? It was even better than I hoped. Pieces of Gabe’s secrets start coming out early in the book. In fact, we learn Gabe’s secrets very early in the book, though they are still secrets to Saylor. His secrets and realizing how he was coping with them were the turning point for me forgiving him his attitude and actions early on in the book.

Just because we aren’t crying on the outside doesn’t mean we aren’t completely wrecked on the inside.

I also did not like Saylor when we first met her. She was instantly judgemental, and not willing to give Gabe the time of day. I can see part of where she was coming from. That is the facade he had built up around him -- the bad-boy, hard-edged man. But because we had seen him as such a happy-go-lucky guy, I just hated that she was so hurtful to him. Somewhere along the way though, and I can’t pinpoint when it happened, she became exactly what he needed and decided he was worth a second chance. At that point, I loved her hard. 

“I want old memories gone...bad ones. So I can create new oes. Onces so powerful that the old ones don’t even stand a chance.”

I know, this sounds opposite of a normal 5 star review. But that’s how great this book was. It took 2 characters with secrets and flaws, and who were hard to like, and made me want nothing more than for them to be happy together. We see bits and pieces of Kiersten and Lisa, and a lot of Wes as they stand beside their friend and make a new one in Saylor. The thoughts preceding each chapter, some from Gabe and Saylor, some from Wes, were great ways to open the chapter. Having some of them penned by Wes made it all that much more appropriate, since he had already had his big moment and everyone is always teasing him about being such a wise man.

“If you remember nothing else for the rest of your life, if you fall and hit your head and can’t remember my name, if you get so sick you’re unrecognizable, if you hate me, if you’re on your deathbed and can’t manage to even lift a finger -- remember this. I. Love. You. Always. Forever. Eternally.”

Rachel Van Dyken gives us a few hints about Lisa’s past as well, when Gabe’s comes to light. I am intrigued by the bits that have been hinted at (and reading the blurb for her book, Shame) and can’t wait to hear her tale. 

Toxic was one of those books I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue, when the characters weren’t doing what I wanted them too. But when I sat back, continued reading, and let them tell their story in thier own way? It was an amazing read. I guess in that respect, I was a lot like that part of Saylor I didn’t like in the beginning. Once I gave it a second chance, I loved it like I would have if I let go in the beginning.

Thanks to Rachel Van Dyken for providing me with an arc in exchange for an honest review. 

Ruin (Ruin#1)
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I'm not your typical girl. I've been running away from the memories that haunt me for so long that depression has become my only comfort. I was content in the darkness...until Wes Michals offered to be my light.

I didn't know that time wasn't my ally -- that every second that ticked past was one step closer to the end of something that was beginning to mean the end of myself. He tried to warn me. He promised me all he was able to offer--each moment as it came--but it would never be enough.
Sometimes when you think it's the end, it's only the beginning. Wes thought he could save me, but in giving me everything, he ruined me. Because after one kiss, one touch, I couldn't--I wouldn't ever be the same.

And from that moment on, his heartbeat became my own


Fearless (Ruin 2.5)
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Expected March 9, 2014

When I met Kiersten, time stood still. It was as if every cell in my body screamed HER. I couldn't look away, I couldn't walk away, I couldn't even move. My other half, my soul mate, was staring right at me. I had to have her. I had to make her mine. But I felt selfish doing that--knowing that I may not have endless amounts of time to give her...and even now that every things' over with and I've been given that time back. 
Nothing is ever certain in this life. 

Which is why I'm about to do something crazy, impulsive, daring. 

After all, what type of person would I be if I didn't take my own advice? 

I'm jumping off the cliff, I'm living fearlessly. 

This is the continuation of Wes and Kierstens story.

Shame (Ruin #3)
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Expected June 2014

Tristan Blake doesn't drink, smoke, stay out past midnight or do anything that guys his age typically do. He's been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders for too many years--and his number's finally up. His only goal is to find the girl who's life his brother ruined--and make things right.
The only problem? She's the most beautiful woman he's ever laid eyes on... And she just walked into his Sophomore Literature class--the one he's teaching.
Lines become blurred as Tristan tries to fix damage done by lying about who he is. His plan was supposed to be easy, move to Seattle, say you're sorry, and get the hell out of dodge.
The plan never included falling in love with the girl your brother almost killed.
What happens when the roles are switched? Bad girl meets good guy who has the look of a seducer--but the heart of an innocent?
Rachel Van Dyken Blog/Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of regency and contemporary romances. When she's not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor. She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband and their snoring Boxer, Sir Winston Churchill. She loves to hear from readers! You can follow her writing journey at http://rachelvandykenauthor.com

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