Taylor Keating
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Game Over

Game OverBest of 2010Tor Paranormal Romance (November 2, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0765365472
ISBN-13: 978-0765365477

Order: Macmillan | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
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“A vibrant world of romance, action, and gaming adventure rolled into one darkly entertaining read! Taylor Keating shines in Game Over.” —Larissa Ione, New York Times bestselling author.

Video game designer River Weston is ready to sell her soul to smooth out the glitches in her latest project. When she unwittingly taps into a parallel dimension via cutting-edge technology, a Dark Lord is quick to take her up on her inadvertent offer. Trapped in the world she thought she’d created for her game, River finds herself in a very real alternate dimension that she must escape from before her soul can be used to unleash evil—upon this dimension and many others.

River’s only ally is the sexy and mysterious Chase Hawkins. A prisoner of the Dark Lord, Hawk is a man adrift—literally. His body safe at home under the watchful care of the Guardians’ scientists, his astral-traveling spirit has been enslaved by his people’s worst enemy, the Dark Lord. Clinging desperately to his sense of self, Hawk is determined to turn the tables on his captor before the connection to his body is lost. When the beautiful, achingly familiar River enters the picture, he vows he will do everything he can to save her from her bleak fate.

Drawn together with an inescapable force, Hawk and River must wrest her soul from the Dark Lord’s grasp before it’s too late.

READ AN EXCERPT

What the Critics Say

Golden Angel“GAME OVER is a fast-paced, roller coaster ride of a read that flies out of the station house, throwing readers back against the seat rest, taking them on a rip-roaring journey packed with danger and adventure, not letting go until the car slides back into the station, leaving the readers breathless and panting for more.”

“As paranormal romances go, they’re on every shelf. Vampires, werewolves, fairies. These authors, however, have added the unique concept of a video game prison, and using virtual reality to combat evil. The chemistry between River and Hawk was not only sexy, but symbiotic. These two worked well with each other as they fight not only the obstacles River’s programmed into the game but the glitches that are added in, unexpected. The ending of the story is satisfying, bringing enough closure to the story so the reader won’t feel that they’re left hanging, but in the same respect, there’s enough of a hanger that tells the reader another story is in the works. I’m not sure where the story will go from here, but I sure hope it’s a continuation of River and Hawk’s story. What great characters! To the writing team of Taylor Keating, kudos! I’m already a fan! Recommended Read.”
RECOMMENDED READ! Bella, Fallen Angels Reviews

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Night Owl Reviews Top Pick“Thrilling action and electrifying excitement fairly pulsed throughout GAME OVER, as River and Hawk fought to stay alive. I loved this book, it wasn’t just the nonstop adventure, but also the sexual tension, as River and Hawk fought to ignore their attraction, but inevitably they just couldn’t resist each other. I also loved that Ms. Keating kept me on the edge of my seat, I never would have guessed the outcome of the story.”

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“I canNOT wait until May, when I can visit River and Hawk again in MIND GAMES. This is a couple that I will be eagerly following through their next adventures!”
— TOP PICK! Night Owl Romance

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“Keating’s debut crosses over to the romance reader who still rolls a mean Dungeons & Dragons D20 die or escapes on her lunch break to the World of Warcraft, yet is easily accessible to anyone who dreams of a true adventure. The somewhat abrupt ending hints that the game and series have just begun, while this well-drawn, dark futuristic world with a dash of magic will appeal to those who like Linnea Sinclair.”
— Nina C. Davis, Booklist

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“GAME OVER was an exciting and action-packed story that was full of interesting and realistic details.The incredible amount of detail in the various levels of River’s game was wonderful and made the entire setting very easy to imagine. Hawk’s military background, along with his Guardian heritage, made him the perfect complement to River, and I appreciated how they learned to work together towards their common goal of defeating the Soul Man/Dark Lord. Although I am not a gamer, I enjoyed this fast-paced story very much.”
— Bitten By Books

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“Kudos to the author team that is Taylor Keating for imaging such an usual premise! GAME OVER truly bridges genres being part The Matrix with its sci-fi futuristic elements complete with aliens and advanced technology as well as part The Lord of the Rings with mythical monsters, lush fantasy worlds, and fae.”
— Bookinit

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“Keating has created a female version of the film Tron, but with more excitement and realism. The romance is a soul-touching, emotional ride. Both River and Hawk are more than capable of taking care of themselves, but when they come together, they really thrive.”
— 4 Stars, RomanticTimes BOOKreviews

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Best of 2010Joyfully RecommendedGAME OVER is a race for strength and truth to overcome the depraved and cruel. River just wants to finish her game without errors. Chase waits for the minute he can escape his prison and go home to his body. I could not believe just how fast I became lost in River and Chase’s race for survival. With each page, I found clues and red herrings trying to figure out who was good or bad and just what was going on between River and the Dark Lord and why. I really loved watching as Chase tried to resist River, knowing the entire time that they would become a couple that just might save a dying and destroyed Earth. Suspense was the background with a perfect trifecta of danger, magic and romance making Game Over a true page-turner and an instant favorite. Joyfully Recommending it is the least I can do while I wait for the next book and the next part of the journey for Chase and River.
— Joyfully Reviewed

Chapter One

Game initiated…

If not for the sword held high above her head or her ability to wield it like a Samurai warrior when the situation required, River Weston knew she could kiss her ass goodbye.

But it wasn’t just her ass she was worrying about. Without the necessary skills to fight off the packs of wild dogs hiding in the shadows—beasts fondly known by the team as the Hellhounds—they’d peel her skin from her body and indulge in a late night snack.

Of course she couldn’t forget about the demons hot on her trail either, or how delighted they’d be to separate her head from her body and wear it as a trophy.

Either way she’d lose her soul, and dammit, she wasn’t about to let that happen. Again.

River’s heart monitor gave a little blip of warning, and she took a few deep breaths to center herself. Then, with stealth and precision, she pressed her back against an abandoned concrete structure and eased forward through the shadows. Although the streets appeared deserted, she knew they were anything but. Between each and every vacant building, each and every alleyway, creatures modeled after the make-believe monsters of children’s bedtime stories watched her—waiting for an opportune moment to attack. These creatures were smart, organized and lethal, and if River wasn’t careful, she’d never make it to the Soul Man’s lair in one piece.

Sprays of light from overhead streetlamps fanned the blood-drenched sidewalk. A coppery, pungent stench clogged her nostrils, causing her stomach to churn. River lowered her sword and shifted it to one hand. So much blood, so much carnage, yet no bodies to be seen, although she knew all too well what these depraved monsters did to their victims.

Stifling a shiver she pressed herself deeper into the shadows and crab-walked forward, her eyes continually scanning and cataloguing her surroundings, searching for motion while seeking signs that her comrade, Sever, was nearby.

Beads of sweat trickled between her breasts, but she’d learned long ago to distance herself from the discomfort and concentrate only on the hunt.

Off in the distance a hound barked a warning cry, followed by a low growl swallowed by the night. The faint smell of smoke drifted in on a howling wind, dusting debris into her eyes. She gave a quick blink, not daring to take her trained gaze off the shifting shadows.

Her damp skin barely registered the increasing chill of the night. She drew another slow, steadying breath and noted the heavy clouds knitting together overhead, accompanied by a faint rumble of thunder. The rain would soon be here.

Night creatures hummed nearby, a few parading over her flesh. A bright firefly whipped past her head. With lightning speed River reached out, grabbed it with her free hand, and dropped it in the rucksack dangling from her shoulder. Even though a firefly brought only minimal amounts of energy, every bit of strength would be needed in her final battle against the Soul Man.

Making herself one with her surroundings she moved with a practiced agility, but despite her best efforts, she feared that each tread of her military-issue combat boots on the dangerously tranquil street might give away her coordinates.

River was partial to solitude. At any other time, on any other night, she would have longed for such peace and quiet. But this solitude was different. It was menacing, dark, dangerous. Her gaze skated over the rooftops. Hellhounds were out there watching, waiting. She felt them, sensed them, and tasted them with every fiber of her being.

God, what a rush.

She glanced at the silent com-link on her wrist and orchestrated her next move. If she could make it to the movie theater—the safe house—on the other side of the street, she could rest and gather strength while she signaled Sever. She couldn’t move on to the Soul Man’s lair without him.

Suddenly, her skin prickled in warning the way it always did when the demons pinpointed her location. She shifted her gaze. If she didn’t get to the safe house as soon as possible, the hunter was about to become the hunted.

Gunfire rang out behind her and she picked up her pace, putting more distance between herself and the approaching demons until she could better position herself for an all out attack.

A low growl cut through the silence and a movement in the shadows caught her eyes.

Shit.

She bolted, darting across the cracked and pitted street at a speed normally not attributable to humans.
Before she could make it to the safe house a pack of Hellhounds rushed at her, a frothy mixture of saliva and fresh blood dripping from their fangs.

Both hands tightened around the hilt of her sword, and using slow movements intended to distract and intimidate, River twisted, counting the Hellhound circling her. Even she was impressed by their numbers, and felt a small twinge of pride that she warranted so many.

There was little time for self-congratulation. Violence erupted around her as one hound raced forward, hitting her with such force it would have driven a lesser woman to her knees. Dark lips peeled back to reveal razor-sharp fangs and River’s thigh ached in response. She certainly wasn’t oblivious to the damage those fangs could inflict.

Survival instincts kicking in, River cut her sword through the air, driving the blade deep across the belly of the beast. A pained expression ripped across its muzzle as it collapsed onto the ground. Its sharp yelp, combined with the spray of fresh blood, fueled the other hounds into action.

One beast latched onto River’s thigh, zeroing in on her weakness, its fangs slicing through her flesh like a hot knife through butter. Wincing, her sword slipped from her hand and she dropped like a snared gazelle. Her heart monitor blared and the com-link on her wrist flashed a red light of warning.

Trying to see through the blinding pain, River groped for her sword. The second her hand connected with it a round of shots scattered through the air. The rapid-fire rain of bullets took down a few hellhounds while the others scurried back to the shadows. River knew the bullets would only temporarily stun the hounds and wouldn’t keep them down for long. The only way to kill one of those fuckers was with the cold blade of a sword.

River glanced up to see Sever approaching. Intense gray eyes locked on hers.

She ripped the torn sleeve from her cammy jacket and tied it around her bloodied thigh. Her heart monitor fell silent and the red light on her com-link blinked out.

“About time you showed,” she said.

He leaned against the ridiculously oversized Uzi Nick had insisted on designing for him. “Been busy.”

River grinned, never happier to see him. “That’s a smart mouth you’ve got there.” She made a mental note to adjust his attitude when this was all over.

She took in his blood-soaked clothes and felt his power, his strength, his courage. Her gaze panned over him, taking pleasure in a well-muscled man in face paint and battle fatigues. Sever was the epitome of perfection. The ideal man, straight out of her fantasies—or rather, her imagination.

“You hurt?” she asked.

His answering grin was a mixture of sweet honey and poison ivy. He holstered his gun. Weapon or no weapon, this man was a trained warrior. A hunter. A predator. And was never, ever to be underestimated.

“I’ve been better.”

Sever held his hand out to her. As she reached for it, a spray of bullets fell like driven rain, ricocheting off the towering buildings above their heads. Grenade fire followed. A horrendous explosion erupted inside an old warehouse. What she could only assume was C4 tore one building from its roots. Shards of glass sprayed through the air and fires broke out all around.

It seemed the demons had found them.

Sever grabbed her hand, maneuvering his body to protect hers, and hauled her to her feet. “Let’s go.”
Protecting her back was Sever’s job, although River was of two minds about that. Strategy, however, was all hers.

The Wizard or the Soul Man’s lair?

Thunder crackled in the air overhead, accompanying the first flashes of lightning. A few fat drops of rain splattered her cheeks and bared arm.

She had to get to the safe house first. Then she needed a few more moments to think.

The safe house was only two doors down in an abandoned movie theater sporting boarded windows and a crazy, tilted neon sign that flashed an ad for Spaceballs. Under cover of Sever’s return fire they made it inside without further injury to themselves, although River thought she heard three demons fall in behind them.

Three wouldn’t be enough.

River jammed the blade of her sword into a panel on the side of the building and the door to the safe house swung open. They darted inside, the door hissed shut behind them and silence fell.

River spun in a circle, examining the room carefully in the unnatural, filtered light. She knew the room by heart although its contents were never quite the same. What she’d find inside depended on what she’d collected in the outside world.

A few scraggly weeds crept through the cracks in the stone foundation of the safe house and twisted up the walls. Disappointment dampened her initial thrill at making it to the safe house alive. There weren’t enough plants to give her the weapon power she’d need to successfully complete the final level. She tapped the weeds with the dull edge of her sword, drawing as much power from them as she could, as she tried to make up her mind what to do next. Her sword’s blade strengthened, but only slightly.

“Hurry it up,” came Nick’s impatient, tinny voice through her com-link. “You’re over by about five minutes and I want you out of there.”

Sever stood by impassively, his weapon slung over his shoulder and his arms folded across his broad chest, waiting for her to make up her mind.

Door number one summoned the Wizard. Door number two led straight to the Soul Man’s lair.

River glanced at her com-link, considered the amount of time Nick would likely allow her, and decided what the hell, she might as well live life on the edge. She hitched her rucksack higher on her shoulder.
Door number two it was. “Come on.”

Sever followed close on her heels as she stepped through the door.

The Soul Man’s lair never failed to astonish her. It resembled a long medieval hall, its low ceiling supported by a tunnel of carefully pillared archways crafted from chiseled stone and crumbling mortar. Deep, smoke-blackened fireplaces, large enough for several big men to stand upright within, lined the walls to the left and the right.

Their footsteps echoed eerily against the polished slab granite floor as they moved forward into an unnatural stillness. The damp coolness inside the lair wrapped around her and chilled her bones. River fought to steady her breathing and keep her heart rate down to an acceptable level.

Sever, of course, looked as if he were out for nothing more than a casual stroll. Most of the time she enjoyed his calm steadiness. At other times, like now, it annoyed the hell out of her. She tossed her rucksack into one of the empty fireplaces out of harm’s way, but close enough for her to retrieve if necessary. Its contents were sparse but every little thing she’d collected had a purpose, however minor.
A low whine rent the air and she ducked as the first fireball shot past her left ear. It caught Sever on the shoulder, but he shrugged it off.

River lifted her sword, its slightly curved steel blade glinting blue in the flashes of light from the unleashed fireballs, and deflected the next three.

The Soul Man stepped from behind a round pillar, robes billowing around his long legs as he hefted more fireballs in thin, bony white hands, letting River know he was toying with her. A cowl covered his head and hid his face.

River’s heart monitor let out a sharp beep.

“Careful River,” Nick warned, still on the other end of her com-link and paying close attention to her vitals.
That wasn’t good. When Nick started fussing about vitals, it meant he was serious. He was going to pull her out.

“Relax,” River said, reluctantly making a decision that might buy her more time. Disappointment curled in the pit of her stomach. “I’m going to let Sever handle this one. I’m just going to observe.”

As the Soul Man lifted his hands to release his next round, Sever stepped in front of River. He grunted as another fireball glanced off his chest, a direct hit.

Each time one of those fireballs hit him, it was going to do him greater harm and River knew Sever wasn’t going to make it. She had to put the little time he bought her to good use.

She pulled her gaze away from Sever and the Soul Man, needing to find out more about his lair and the dark, deadly secrets it held.

A slight smell of sulfur and hot plastic stung her nostrils, and the faint ring of thunder through the thick stone walls told her the storm outside must be almost directly overhead.

Without warning, a lightning bolt shot from one of the fireplace chimneys and scorched the floor at her feet, knocking her flat on her ass. She skidded a few feet across the stones, the aftershocks of electricity lifting the hair on her head and her arms. She fell backward, hitting her head on the floor and stunning her for a few seconds.

“What the hell?” she heard Nick yell.

Sever, too, was caught off-guard. He half-turned to see what was happening, and as he did, a well-aimed fireball nailed him square in the back of the head. He dropped to his knees and pitched forward, collapsing like a folding house of cards.

The Soul Man never faltered.

River, trying desperately to gather her wits, reached for the sword that lay on the floor a few inches beyond her scrabbling fingers.

“You’re mine, River Weston,” the Soul Man said, his voice crackling like brittle bones. Full-blown panic clawed at River’s frozen chest like a dozen frenzied rats. She hated rats. Her heart monitor screeched and she heard Nick swearing a blue streak in response.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

Her fingers wrapped around the hilt of her sword and she swung it upward, aiming at the Soul Man’s knees. The blade swept through him and he laughed, a terrible, soul-chilling sound that sent a rush of adrenaline to her brain that screamed out Flight!

River dropped the sword and grabbed her helmet.