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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Careless by Michelle Horst


Available via Kindle Unlimited




Irony – when life f@cks you over.


She’s the one girl I can’t forget.
She’s as innocent as a saint, with the mouth of a sinner.
After taking her virginity, it’s taken me four years to get rid of the guilt.
I used her while she was at her lowest and she’s never forgiven me.
Watching my best friend die a little every day, and not being able to do anything about it, kills me.
I should’ve seen it coming. The second I hit rock bottom, she walks back into my life.
The f@cking irony?
She might be the only one who can save Marcus.
The life of the person who means the most to me lies in the palm of the girl I screwed.


Hate is a strong word, but it’s one I’ve really considered when it comes to Jaxson West. But I’ve settled for intensely disliking him. It’s similar to the way I feel about visiting the dentist.
Asking me to forgive Jaxson, is like asking me to willingly sit through a root canal.
He’s heartbreakingly gorgeous, emphasis on heartbreakingly.
He’s an amazing friend, just not to me.
He’s supportive, understanding, caring and loving, just not to me.
No, for me he reserves his dark scowls and low growls.
I’ll do everything I can to save Marcus, but I’m not doing it for Jaxson.

Jaxson West & Leigh Baxter ~ Book 3 in the Enemies To Lovers Series

This is a Stand Alone book in the Enemies To Lovers Series. Each book in the series is about a different couple. To get the full experience of their friendship I’d recommend that you start with Heartless.




Five years ago…
The bottle slips from my fingers, clinking as it lands on top of the small pile of empty beer bottles already gathering underneath the hammock I’m relaxing on.
“It’s your turn to get beers.”
Drowsily, Marcus closes his eyes. “I’ll go get some in a minute.”
I melt into my own hammock and sigh sleepily.
“This was the best idea you’ve ever had. I’m going to park my ass right here the entire weekend.”
During the week, Marcus came home with five hammocks. So far we’ve only put up two of them, which was an accomplishment in itself, if you ask me. The three leftover hammocks are still lying in the living room.
“Do you think you’ll be able to fuck while keeping your balance on this thing?” I ask, without opening my eyes.
Damn, this is the life. Me and Marcus, all the beer we want, and the sun all fucking day long.
“Don’t know. You can try it out sometime and let me know. It takes ten minutes just to get my ass settled in this thing,” Marcus murmurs.
Yeah, it’s only a matter of minutes before he’ll be fast asleep. Come to think of it, an afternoon nap isn’t such a bad idea. It will give me more energy for the party we’re having tonight.
I glance over at my best friend and grin. He’s lying with both legs hanging off on either side of the hammock.
“Dude, you look uncomfortable, lying like that,” I laugh.
He doesn’t answer at once, and I’m starting to think he’s asleep when he mumbles, “Free-Fucking-Balling. There’s a nice breeze on my balls.”
“Cool,” I grin, as I move slowly so I don’t tip the damn hammock. When I have my legs hanging off the sides, my grin grows. “Fuck, you’re right.”
Marcus laughs lazily. “The wind’s blowing us, dude.”
Everything is about sex when it comes to my best friend. Not like I’m one to talk. It’s as if our minds have a direct link to the gutter.
We’ve been friends since diapers. Our moms were best friends as well. At least, they were until Mr. Reed killed Mrs. Reed. That was one fucked-up day. Marcus was only ten and his sister, Summer, had just turned six the previous month. To this day, no one knows the reason Marcus’ dad lost his shit and shot his wife, daughter, and son, before turning the gun on himself.
Fortunately, the bullet missed Marcus’ heart by a ball hair. Summer and Mrs. Reed died instantly. It happened during our summer vacation so luckily, I could stay with him every day until he got released into Mom’s custody. He had no other family and besides, she was his godmother.
Logan might be my twin, but after the shooting, Marcus and I became inseparable. We might have been close before he lost his family, but during his stay in the hospital, it was as if I became everything in his life.
Those first few weeks he wouldn’t talk to anyone but me. Mom made him see a psychologist, but that didn’t help much either. He became detached from everyone and everything. I was the only one allowed to see behind the walls. I was the only one he didn’t pretend with. I comforted his broken heart suffering from the loss of his mom and sister. I held him as he cried because he didn’t understand what had happened. I took the blows when he was overcome with anger at his father. I took it all – the good, the bad, the broken – without fail. I took it all, so he didn’t have to carry the full weight of his fucked-up past alone.
After the shooting, Mom changed as well. The horror that took place in the Reed’s home rocked the whole community, but after a while, things slowly returned to normal, and people stopped talking about it. Where Marcus turned into himself, Mom seemed to be all over the place, as if she lost her balance in life. The friendship between her and Mrs. Reed reminded me a lot of what Marcus and I had. After Mrs. Reed died, Mom unraveled right before our eyes. She’d gone from mother-of-the-year to fucked-up mess at breakneck speed.
At first, it was little things. She’d spent entire nights sitting outside while finishing a bottle of wine or three. She grew impatient with us, her once loving demeanor being replaced by a snapping tone and cold glare.
It got worse after our thirteenth birthday. I was the first one to go through a growth spurt. Knowing I couldn’t go to Mom about the hair making its appearance on my face, I went to Mr. Hayes. He was the only father any of us had. Even though he worked his ass off, he always had time for us. Honestly, we spent more time at Carter’s house, than anywhere else.
Mr. Hayes was amazing. I mean, fucking amazing. He was never too busy for us. He’d go out of his way to show every single one of us how much he cared. He never missed any of our firsts. The first day of school, first games, first driving lessons—he was there for everything. He was the only solid in our constantly changing lives.
The memory of how he taught us to shave will always be one of my favorites.
It was early one morning after Mom had left for a well-deserved day at the spa after a night of heavy drinking. I was relieved to find that Mr. Hayes hadn’t left for the office yet. After I asked him if he could show me how to shave, he took off his tailored suit jacket and proceeded to roll up the sleeves of his expensive shirt. When he had the five of us standing in front of the mirror, he placed razors and shaving gel in front of us. He made sure to remove all the blades from the razors so we could practice first.
He started with Carter, spending time with each of us, making sure we knew what to do. I was last in line, for which I was grateful because it gave me time to watch as he showed the others. I still remember Mia sitting on the side of the tub, pulling her face as she watched us.
Rhett and Mia were the first to move in with Carter and Mr. Hayes after their parents died. That was a blow to us all. Rhett and Mia had the best parents, and their sudden death caused Marcus to have a setback as well. It was a reminder of what he had lost, opening up his scabbed over wounds.
Mom wasn’t close to Mr. and Mrs. Daniels. She didn’t have any sympathy for Rhett, who she always referred to as that friend.
I don’t like that friend of yours.
You’re spending too much time with that friend.
I don’t want that friend here. You’re all working on my last nerve.
That only led to Logan, Rhett, and Carter spending all their time at Carter’s place, and avoiding our house at all costs.
I was doing my best to help Marcus deal with the nightmares that had started again. He wasn’t confused and angry like he was at the age of ten. Hell no, he was bottling it all up, and I was scared what he’d do the day he exploded.
That’s when the verbal abuse started. I wasn’t sure why she targeted me. Maybe it was because I was the first one to show signs of becoming a man. I’m just thankful she hadn’t set her sights on Logan or Marcus. I never fought back out of fear that she would lay into them instead.
She walked in on me while I was shaving and the usual blank stare she gave me quickly turned to one of rage.
“You look just like him,” she whispered, her voice sounding as tight as a piece of string that was about to snap.
Logan and I weren’t identical twins. We had the same dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, but that was it. I was taller than him, and my features were harsher. Logan was the pretty one with the killer smile where I was abrasive and argumentative. Logan was the friendly, light-hearted brother, and I—I was the careless, cynical one.
That’s another reason why Marcus and I were such a great fit. Marcus was ruthless and at times downright derisive towards others. He was the oil to my fire.
“You’re the spitting image of your father.”
I’d gotten used to the cold and vacant look in her eyes, but I’ll never forget how her mouth pulled down that day. She looked at me with disgust.
“You think I don’t see it, but I do. You and Marcus are narcissists, just like your fathers. You’re poison. Your father killed me, and Robert killed Stella. It’s sickening to know there will be a day you will both do the same to some poor girl.”
The words didn’t hurt half as much as the gleam in her eyes. I’ve been on the receiving end of disappointed and angry looks, plenty of times in my life, but never the ‘I-wish-you-were-never-born’ glare. It felt like I stopped being her son that day.
After that, she took a swing at me every chance she got.
You’re pathetic.
You’re just as spineless as that good-for-nothing father of yours.
I should’ve gotten rid of you when he left. Now I’m stuck looking at your face every day as a reminder that he left. One day you will leave too.
It’s weird how things played out after that.
I should’ve seen it coming, but hell, I had just discovered the magical effect a pair of tits had on my dick.
Mr. Hayes wanted to take us all to New York for the summer break. He was taking over a business there. I’ll be the first to say I was worried about it. If he decided to move, it would pretty much leave me, Marcus, and Logan screwed. It would tear the group in half.
He invited Mom over for dinner so he could discuss the trip with her. After dinner, they walked to the study so they could talk privately, while we went outside to swim. It was hot out already, and it was only the start of summer.
After spending some time in the pool, I needed to use the restroom. Mr. Hayes wouldn’t be too happy with me if he caught me watering the garden, so I dried off and ran inside the house.
I should’ve stayed outside. You never hear anything good when you eavesdrop. As I walked past the study, Mom started yelling.
“How can you sit there, looking so calm as if it didn’t happen? Your wife and my husband ran away together, leaving us with the kids. I’ve spent the best years of my life raising those boys. I’m almost forty, and I have nothing to show for my life! I’m done sitting at home, watching as my life passes me by.”
I felt a weird mixture of shame and anger brewing in my chest. I was embarrassed that my mother was talking to Mr. Hayes like that, and I was pissed off that she was so selfish. Then the part of my father running off with Carter’s mother sunk in, making me feel sick.
I heard a chair scraping over the wooden floor, but no footsteps came towards the door, so I kept listening.
“Are you even listening to the words coming out of your mouth, Judy? You have two amazing sons. What about them?”
“I don’t care. Your wife ran off with my husband. If you had kept an eye on her, it wouldn’t have happened. I have my trust fund. You can keep your monthly allowance. I don’t need it. I’m done wasting away in this pathetic town.”
“You’re really going to abandon your sons? What about the promise you made to Stella that you’d always take care of Marcus?”
“She’s been dead for six years. I was a different person when I agreed to be his godmother. They’re sixteen, Christopher. You can either take them or they can take care of themselves. I’m done playing mother to those boys.”
I heard Mom’s high heels on the hardwood floor and ran for the restroom. Just as I slipped inside, the door to the study opened.
“I won’t stop you, Judy, but make it a clean cut. Walk away right now. I’ll keep the boys here tonight and take them home tomorrow to pack their stuff. I want you out of that house by the time I get there with them. I won’t make this harder for them than it already will be.”
“I’ll be gone first thing in the morning.” She didn’t storm off like I expected she would, but instead whispered, “You’re a good man, Christopher. They’ll be happy with you.”
I leaned my head back against the wall as I listened to her footsteps die away.
She left without saying goodbye.
The next day Mr. Hayes took us home to pack our stuff, after having told us that Mom was okay with us spending the summer with him.
I never told anyone about the things she said to me, not even Marcus. I wasn’t sad that she had chosen to leave us. Actually, it made it easier for me to hate her. It made it easier to pretend around Logan.
A few weeks later, Mr. Hayes sat us down and explained that our mother wouldn’t be coming home soon. She was taking some time to travel. He really did his best to break the news to us gently. Marcus and I got up and went to shoot some pool. To me, it was just another day.
Logan, on the other hand, took it hard. He looked like a zombie as he walked out of the office. Mia smiled when she saw him, took one look at his face and hugged him. I left Logan with Mia so she could comfort him.
It was during our senior year that I struggled to control my anger. I joined a gym so I could punch the shit out of a punching bag and lift weights until I was too tired to care.
That’s when Marcus started the Screw Crew list. He made it his mission to add as many names as he could to it.
So for the last few years, Marcus has been doing his best to fuck his demons away, while I’ve been trying to exercise mine away.


“Seriously! You do know what it means to take a break, right?” Willow watches me with her hands on her hips, her blonde hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun.
We could’ve been sisters, instead of best friends. We both have blonde hair and brown eyes. Willow is a head shorter than me and has a heart-shaped face which you can’t help but stop to admire. I’ve been told I’m pretty but being skinny and tall with an oval-shaped face, I’m not drop-dead gorgeous. Looks never bothered me, though, because I’ve always been a bookworm.
“I am taking a break,” I mumble while keeping my eyes on my laptop’s screen.
Saying I’m a bookworm might be scaling it down a bit. I’m addicted to the written word, although my passion lies with cardiac surgery. I inherited the obsession from my parents. Being the only child of two of the most admired cardiothoracic surgeons in the states, it was a given that I’d follow in their footsteps.
Willow plops down next to me and leans closer so she can see what I’m busy reading.
“You call this taking a break?” she asks, giving me a look that clearly says our definition of the term break is vastly different.
Willow’s the only person who’s been a constant in my life. I have an amazing relationship with my parents, but with their busy careers and my studying, we don’t get to spend a lot of time together. Willow keeps me grounded.
When I graduated school at thirteen, Willow was determined to stay friends with me even though I’m a year younger than her. During my first year at Boston, we kept contact by facetiming at least three times a week. What I love most about Willow is that she never treats me any different just because I have a high IQ. I still think if it weren’t for the fact that Willow and I were neighbors before I started at Boston, I never would’ve made a friend. Being privately tutored at home didn’t exactly give me many opportunities to interact with other kids, and there wasn’t any time to make friends once I started school. I did my best to try to break the record of becoming the youngest doctor in the US, but I missed it by two years. Now my heart is set on becoming the youngest cardiothoracic surgeon.
Dad and Mom forced me to take a six-month break before starting my six-year integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency program at USC. I’m only halfway through my forced vacation, and I’m already feeling antsy. The thought alone of starting my residency makes my heart race with excitement.
“I’m reading an article on postoperative physiotherapy. It’s interesting. It’s like when you read those fashion magazines you love so much.”
She slowly shakes her head, giving me a look that closely resembles pity.
“Only you would think boring medical articles can compete with the latest fashion trends. You, my friend, are in desperate need of fun.”
“But –” I glance from my laptop screen to her, then back to the really interesting article about a survey they did in Sweden rating the effectiveness of physiotherapy after cardiac surgery. “This is fun.”
She shakes her head again, and her facial expression clearly says my relaxation time is up.
“I’m afraid all the studying might have done permanent damage to the fun section of your brain.” She shakes her head, really getting into her role as the doctor. “You, Miss Baxter, are in dire need of a party. I prescribe a full forty-eight hours of drinking and dancing.”
I scrunch my nose, certainly not in the mood to go to parties the entire weekend. Before I can argue she holds up her pointer finger.
“No arguing. It’s of utmost importance that we immediately start with treatment, before the fun section of that genius brain of yours, shrivels and dies.”
I can’t help but grin at her. “You should’ve gone into medicine with me. You’d make a great doctor.”
She pulls a face, shaking her head.
“Hell no, I’d kill all my patients. Fashion is my passion. While we’re on the topic of fashion…”
Willow grabs the laptop and closes it before pulling me up along with her.
“Go shower and put on the dress I made you. Don’t you dare put up your hair in that god-awful bun. It makes you look like a nun who escaped from a convent.” She pulls a face as my eyes dart to the messy bun on top of her head. “I’ll curl it for tonight. You’re nineteen, not ninety.”
“You’re really going to make me go, aren’t you?”
She grins, a wicked gleam in her eyes which promises no sleep in my near future.
“I only have you for another three months before you start your residency. I get a feeling I won’t see you for the next six years. Hell, I’m taking full advantage of my time with you.”
Willow is right. I’ll be working my butt off over the next six years. I want to make a difference in this world, especially when it comes to heart transplants.
I go through the motions of showering and washing my hair. While I leave the conditioner in for a few minutes, I quickly shave. I can’t wear the gorgeous dress Willow made when my legs are so hairy. After rinsing the conditioner out, I grab a towel and pat my body dry before wrapping my hair in it. When I rub lotion all over my body, I inhale deeply. I’m addicted to the sweet, rich fragrance of jasmine.
Walking back into the bedroom I share with Willow, I’m not surprised to find her waiting.
“Let’s do your hair. I’ll shower while you’re putting on your makeup.”
There’s no use in arguing with her, so I take a seat at the vanity. Willow gets busy blow-drying layer by layer of my hair. As I sit and watch her hands move, I think about how lucky I am to have her as a friend.
She shares the apartment with two other girls. I’ve spent some time with Evie, whom I get along with. I can definitely see myself staying friends with Evie once I leave. I haven’t seen much of Della, but she seems nice.
When Willow is busy massaging styling wax into my hair so it won’t go frizzy, I ask, “You mentioned a party? Will Evie be going as well?”
Willow wipes her hands on the towel I had around my hair while admiring her handy work.
“Yeah, she’s already at Carter’s place. We’ll meet her there.”
“Carter? He’s friends with Rhett, right?” I’m still trying to remember names, never mind who fits in where in their social circle.
“Yep, you’ll meet all of Rhett’s friends tonight. Carter is an asshole, so just make sure you stay out of his way.”
My eyebrows almost dart into my hairline. The fact that Willow thinks the guy is an asshole says a lot. She’s the kindest person I know.
“Okay,” I agree, although I’m curious why she doesn’t like him.
“Come to think of it, just stick to my side tonight. I don’t want any of the Screw Crew getting their hands on you.”
“Why are we going then? If you don’t like any of them, we can do something else.”
Like, stay at home.
I can think of a couple of things I’d rather do than go to a party.
“We’re going because it will be fun. Besides, it’s not that I don’t like them. They’re just too wild and tactless for you. They’re fun to hang out with, but you seriously don’t want to end up in bed with one of them. Believe me when I say they will try. They have this thing going to see who can screw the most girls.”
Worry lines instantly cover my forehead.
“I really don’t think I should go. You know I have zero experience with guys. I wouldn’t know who’s being nice and who’s playing me even if my life depended on it.”
“You’ll be okay. We’ll stick together, and they won’t try anything with you as long as I’m by your side.”
Curious to find out more, I ask, “Have any of them tried to get you into bed?”
Willow scrunches her nose. “Only Marcus has tried. Ugh, he’s the worst of the group.”
I don’t miss the blush creeping up her neck as she quickly leaves to go shower. There’s definitely a story there.

We’ve been here twenty minutes, and I’m ready to go.
I can’t dance so I avoid the makeshift dance floor at all costs. The living room is packed with students, some drinking while others are already drunk, and most are in various stages of making out.
Suppressing a yawn, I decide to go outside for some fresh air. I avoid going near the pool which is surrounded by party-goers. The last thing I want is to be thrown in the pool. It would ruin the beautiful dress Willow made me. I smile as I look down at the pale green, silky fabric. She made me a shift dress which might be a little too short for my taste, but it fits perfectly otherwise.
I spot a table with drinks and make my way over to it. I’m surprised the table isn’t crowded with students. When we got here, we couldn’t even get into the kitchen where the drinks were.
When I notice only sodas on the table, I understand why it’s practically deserted. I pour coke in a red solo cup and watch as the tiny bubbles fizz to the top.
“You want ice?” a deep, gravelly voice says from behind me, which startles the hell out of me. I drop the cup, and it falls to the ground, causing soda to splash all over my legs and sandals.
“Damn it,” I groan as I step away from the mess at my feet. I bend to pick up the now empty cup, seeing as the contents are all over me when I hear the voice behind me again.
“And here I thought it would take some foreplay to get you wet.” From the laughter in his voice, it’s clear he thinks my accident is hilarious.
“You must be one of the assholes, thinking it’s funny that I messed all over myself,” I snap as I place the cup on the table and turn around, getting my first look at the guy.
I freeze like a deer in oncoming traffic as I take in the perfect specimen of everything that’s male, standing in front of me. Even though his smug smile makes my anger grow, I can’t help but drink in the sight of his dreamily carved, scruffy face. Don’t even get me started on his hair which is a few shades darker than mine, disheveled and sexy.
Ugh. Double shit.
“You must be one of those bitches, unable to take a joke,” he says as the smile around his full mouth curves into a wicked grin which only makes him hotter.
Damn it. Why does he have to be so incredibly attractive? It messes with my ability to think, which has never happened to me before.
“I can take a joke,” I say, clearing my throat.
“Could’ve fooled me.”
I watch as he pours soda into a cup. He holds it out to me, one eyebrow raised. Not even thinking, I take it from him and as our fingers touch briefly, a shiver races over my body.
To make matters worse, as I’m about to take a much-needed sip, he takes hold of the hem of his shirt and yanks it off his body in one smooth motion.
My mouth drops open as my eyes dart over his chest, wildly trying to drink in every inch of tanned skin and muscle. Damn, he might have a shitty attitude, but his body sure makes up for it.
He grabs a bottle of water which he pours out over my legs and feet. My brain is screaming at me to slap the smirk right off his gorgeous face, but my traitorous body won’t move a muscle.
“Sit,” he says. His voice a mixture of playful and raspy, making flutters erupt in my stomach.
Placing his hand on my shoulder, he pushes me lightly back, and my body, ever the traitor, goes where it’s being guided. The back of my knees hit the edge of a chair, and I sit down.
I want to say something clever that will put him in his place, but my mind has clearly taken a hiatus, leaving my hormones in control of this situation.
He reaches for my left leg, and slipping the sandal from my foot, he starts to dry my leg with his shirt.
I can’t stop myself from staring at his well-toned back and broad shoulders, fascinated by each muscle rippling when he moves. When he’s done with my left leg, he repeats his actions with my right leg. Only, this time his left hand slips up until it reaches the back of my knee while he keeps drying my already dry leg.
I clear my throat to get his attention. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get my voice back with all the tingles zapping upwards to my lady parts, from where he’s touching me.
“There you go, all dry,” he says as he stands up. He looks down at me as he throws the shirt over his shoulder. “Run along now, your mother must be worried.”
“Huh?” I grunt as if my IQ dropped to a miserable zero.
“Pretty little things like you shouldn’t hang out at parties. Isn’t it past your bedtime?”
Finally, a flicker of my intelligence returns along with my temper. I push myself up from the chair, not that it helps as I barely reach his shoulder.
He flashes me a confident grin, his eyes dropping to my feet before slowly making their way up my body. I don’t miss how they rest on my hips and breasts for a few seconds too long before they settle on my face.
I’ve never been so blatantly checked out in my life before, and it makes a dreaded blush creep over my cheeks.
“That’s right, my eyes are up here,” I say so he’ll know that I know he was ogling me. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m nineteen. I’ve practically been living on my own since I was thirteen. Also, I do not appreciate you calling me a pretty little thing. Women aren’t things.”
Feeling proud of my ability to string a few sentences together, I smile triumphantly.
“Jax, stop harassing my friend,” Evie suddenly says behind me, which makes me swing around from surprise. I recognize Rhett, but I haven’t met the other guy with them.
“Your friend?” Mr. Too-hot-to-have-a-personality asks. Thanks to Evie, I now know his name is Jax.
I feel him move behind me and I hate that my body is aware of him. His arm presses against my shoulder and my sandals appear in my line of vision.
I do my best to ignore the fact that I almost forgot them, and snatch them from his hand. I drop them to the floor and quickly slip them onto my feet.
“Yeah, my friend, which means she’s off limits.” Evie hooks her arm through mine and pulls me closer to where Rhett’s standing. “You’ve met Rhett, and this is Carter Hayes. They live here.”
Smiling, I reach out a hand to Carter. “Leigh Baxter. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
We shake hands as Willow joins us, followed by another guy who looks like he’s about to kill someone.
“Sorry, I leave you alone for ten minutes and the wolves descend.”
“Wolves?” Rhett asks with a playful smile on his face.
“Yeah, wolves. Leigh’s parents would kill me if any of you corrupted their daughter.”
“You’re carrying on as if the pretty little thing is fucking royalty?” Jax says from behind me, sounding a little offended. I also don’t miss how he accentuated ‘pretty little thing’ as if he’s already caught onto the fact that I hate it whenever he says it.
“You could say that,” Evie says. She looks to Carter. “Dr. Baxter, your dad’s heart specialist, is her father.”
Instantly, a cloud moves over Carter’s face as if Evie just spat at him instead of introducing me.
“In that case, she’s off limits,” Carter bites out. He grabs my hand and starts to pull me away from the growing crowd gathering around us. “I’ll take her back to the apartment. Willow, are you coming?” It doesn’t sound like a question but more like an order.
More common sense seems to return to my frazzled mind, and I yank my hand free from his grip.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I seethe as my anger quickly burns through my body now that my focus is no longer on Jax.
“You shouldn’t be here, Leigh. Your father will kill me. I’ve heard him talk about his little girl. I’m not pissing off the man who might have his hands inside my dad’s chest one of these days.”
I throw my hands in the air, actually dumbfounded by how quickly the night went downhill.
“You know what,” I say as I start to walk towards the side of the house, “I don’t want to be here. Why the hell I’m torturing myself like this is beyond me.”
I keep walking, not looking back to see if Willow is coming. I’d rather sit outside the apartment for the entire night than spend another second here.


Michelle Horst is a Bestselling Romance Author who likes her books hot, dirty, and with a touch of darkness. She loves an alpha hero who is not scared to fight for his woman.

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Confessions: Robbie, an all new tantalizing contemporary MMM
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Relationships are complex.

Love ever-changing.

And when it comes to rules of the heart,

they were made to be broken…

That’s what Robert Antonio Bianchi was telling himself, anyway.

Otherwise, he really had no excuse for what—or who—he’d done.

No excuse, except for his lonely heart, a pitcher of margaritas, four Bitter Bitches, and the apparent need to confess all his weaknesses to the two men he knew would bring him nothing but trouble.

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Just ask his crazy sisters or any of his friends, and they’d be the first to tell you:

If there was a bad decision to be made, Robbie always had a knack for making it.

And thus begins the story of the priest, the princess, and the prick.




If there’s a bad decision to make, I will make it.

DRUNK-DIALING IS never a smart move. But drunk-dialing a married man? That is a monumentally stupid move.

That was the thought rolling around Robbie’s muddled brain as he stood with his best friend Elliot at the bar of CRUSH and tossed back his fourth Bitter Bitch. The conversation he was having with himself wasn’t a new one—or a welcome one, he thought as he swayed on his feet and kind of stumbled into the stool beside him. But forgetting his lonely life with alcohol and men who were all wrong for him seemed like an increasingly good way to cope tonight.

The hum and throb of the bass beat was rattling through him, but instead of feeling the pull he usually did to head out to the dance floor and have fun, tonight it seemed to be having the opposite effect. It was making him think really stupid thoughts.

“You’re so wasted, Bianchi,” Elliot said as he grabbed Robbie’s arm and guided him to the barstool. “What’s that? Your third shot? And how many margaritas did you have at dinner?”

Robbie held up two, then three fingers, and shrugged. “Who cares? Everyone had their New Year’s on Sunday. Tonight’s mine, and I want to celebrate.”

“If you celebrate any more, you aren’t gonna remember your first night out of the New Year.”

“Don’t care,” Robbie said, as he waved his hand through the air with flourish and leaned a little too much into the action. Luckily, Elliot was there to prop him up. “I wanna have fun tonight. Do something I shouldn’t.”

Elliot leaned his elbows back on the bar so he was facing the dance floor and said, “Why don’t you get out there and let someone do you instead? You look gorgeous tonight, darling.”

He’s right, I do look cute, Robbie thought.

In his skinny jeans and purple V-neck tee that was practically a second skin, Robbie had gone all out with smoky eyes and a new pink shade of gloss he’d bought a couple of days ago that tasted like—mmm, strawberries. He could totally hit the dance floor, find a willing man, and let him do all kinds of things. But that seemed so boring tonight, so normal, and so not what he wanted.

He wanted wild. He wanted adventure. He wanted danger. And when the two men he knew were both those things entered his mind, Robbie quickly shook his head, trying to shake them free.

Stop thinking about them, he ordered himself, but that was easier said than done. One of them was one of the sexiest men he’d ever seen, and the other the most frustrating—and what was worse was that he couldn’t have either of them even if he wanted to. What was with everyone being fucking married all of a sudden? And to each other?

But oh the dreams he’d been having lately. The three of them, all sweaty and naked; they were enough to make him want to

No, no, no. That is the worst idea you could have, Robbie told himself. Drunk or sober.




Plus, you don’t even like one of them. So stop obsessing over it.

“Earth to Robbie…” Elliot said, waving a hand, and Robbie shrugged.

“I don’t know. I’m just not in the mood.”

You’re not in the mood to grind all over a naked man? Okay, where the hell is my best friend and what did you do with him?” Elliot asked as he swept his black bangs out of his eyes.

“I don’t know.” Robbie slumped forward on the bar, dramatic as ever, and looked up at Elliot from under his lashes. “I think I’m in a state of mourning, El, and I don’t know how to get out of it.”

Elliot frowned. “Is this about Logan? I thought you were happy for him and Tate?”

“I am, but— Ugh. They just got engaged, and now all of a sudden, he’s married. Married.”

“I know, babe. But you knew it was coming.”

“Doesn’t make it any easier. Knowing there are two more beautiful men off the market forever due to a ring and a piece of paper is just depressing.”

“Two more men?” Elliot said, regarding him with a suspicious eye. “Who else do you know who’s hitched?”

Julien, Robbie instantly thought, as an image of the famous chef came to mind.

Julien “the Prick” Thornton. And this time, as Julien’s name ran through Robbie’s head, he made a point to roll the Jul over his tongue the way Julien had when he’d introduced himself that night at the bar. That’s right…Julien “I’m gay, gorgeous, and, oh yeah, married to your worst enemy” Thornton. He was hitched.

“No one,” Robbie said, and pouted. Then he swiveled on the stool to look out at the men gyrating all over one another. “You go and play for the both of us. I’m going to sit here and—”


“Okay that word is too big for my brain right now,” Robbie said, and winced. “Go and feel up the muscles and men for me. Someone should get some enjoyment out of them.”

Elliot pursed his lips. “I don’t know…”

“I’m just gonna sit here. Not going anywhere,” Robbie promised, crossing a finger over his chest.

“Your heart is on the other side, genius.”

Robbie switched sides and did it again. “I’m just gonna drown my sorrows so my body hurts tomorrow and will take my mind off my broken heart.”

“Aww, cheer up, Buttercup. Your Prince Charming will come to you one day soon.”

“Well, until then”—Robbie gestured for the bartender—“I’m going to drink myself into a deep slumber in the hopes that maybe he’ll come on me, or, you know, at least kiss me back to life.”

Elliot placed a hand on Robbie’s arm. “Do not go anywhere. I’ll be back for you.”

“I can’t feel my legs to move, so… I’ll stay. Like a good little boy.”

“Don’t know how good you are, but…” Elliot chuckled, then before he headed out to the dance floor, said, “Where’s your phone?”

Robbie dug into his pants pocket and pulled it free.

Elliot opened the contacts and scrolled down to his name, and then set it on the bar in front of Robbie. “You need me, call. Do not leave this seat.”

Robbie touched his fingertips to his temple in a sloppy salute and then hiccupped. “Yes, sir.”

“Okay. Be back for you soon.” Elliot then turned to the bartender and said, “No more after this for him.”

When the bartender nodded, Robbie’s mouth fell open. “Hello, you’re not my mother.”

“Lucky for you. She’d be spanking your ass right now, not to mention your sisters, and I’m sure you’d much rather have that done by a man who would then pound it afterward. I’ll be back.”

Robbie dismissed Elliot with a wave of his hand, and then took great interest in scrolling up and down his list of contacts, searching for someone to occupy his time. It wasn’t until he saw Julien’s number that he realized how drunk he was, because that was the only excuse he could think of as to why he hit call.

Well that, and: If there’s a bad decision to make, I will make it.


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Ella Frank is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Temptation series, including Try, Take, and Trust and is the co-author of the fan-favorite contemporary romance, Sex Addict. Her Exquisite series has been praised as “scorching hot!” and “enticingly sexy!”

Some of her favorite authors include Tiffany Reisz, Kresley Cole, Riley Hart, J.R. Ward, Erika Wilde, Gena Showalter, and Carly Phillips.


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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Crux Untamed (Hades Hangmen) by Tillie Cole







A broken woman.
A damaged man.
A free spirit intent on saving them both.

Elysia ‘Sia’ Willis lives a solitary life. The only person in it is her big brother, Ky, vice-president of the infamous Hades Hangmen. She loves him, but she has absolutely no love for the outlaw MC he belongs to.
Raised in secret by her mother, Sia grew up separated from her brother and distant father. No one knew she even existed.

After the tragic murder of her mother, Sia spiraled into a rebellion against the rules of the Hangmen. A rebellion with dire consequences that now, years later, she still can’t escape.

As she lives once again in secret, happy on her own at her secluded ranch, a devil from her past comes calling. A devil who wants to possess her once again and take her from the simple life she never wants to lose.
And he will stop at nothing to collect what he believes is his: her.

Valan ‘Hush’ Durand and Aubin ‘Cowboy’ Breaux have finally found a home in the mother chapter of the Hangmen. The notoriously private Cajun twosome have, for now, put aside what chased them from their beloved Louisiana. But as threats toward the club build, Hush and Cowboy are given a task—protect Elysia Willis at all costs. Cowboy welcomes the job of watching over the blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty.
Hush fights against it.

Scarred by events from his past and a secret that plagues his everyday life, Hush refuses to let anyone else get close. Only Cowboy knows the real him. Until a certain sister of the club’s VP begins to slowly knock down his defenses, shattering the heavily built walls that guard his damaged soul . . . with his best friend leading the charge.

As lost and open hearts begin to meld, taking each other from indescribable pain to the never-before felt relief of peace, the newly-mended threesome must first endure one more rocky path.
Only then will they finally shake free of the shackles of their pasts.
Only then will they shed the bonds that have for too long held their happiness captive.
And there is only one way to survive that path . . . together.

Dark Contemporary MFM Romance. Contains scenes of violence and explicit sexual situations. Over 18’s only.


High Ranch, Austin, Texas
Present Day

“Steady . . . steady . . .”
Sandy’s ears flicked back and forth as she heard me soothe her from my place in the center of the ring. I kept my newest mare’s training rein loose as she trotted on the sand. Her coat was lathered with sweat; so was my forehead. The sun was burning a hole in my jean-clad ass.
“Okay, enough for today,” I announced, both to Sandy and myself.
I had just fed her with hay and water and locked her stall door when I heard the all too familiar sound of motorcycles roaring in the distance.
Frowning, I headed out of the barn. I walked to the front of my house and spotted two Harleys as they approached my door.
Styx and Ky, I realized, giving them a surprised wave.
They didn’t wave back.
I perched on the top step of my porch as they pulled to a stop and flicked out their kickstands. Ky smoothed back his long hair and strode toward me. I got to my feet. “What y’all doing here?”
I hugged Ky. He held on a little too long. It was weird. I pulled back, curious, only for him to look out to the distance, checking around my ranch. I was about to ask him what was up when Styx came toward me and gave me a brief one-armed hug.
“Hey, Styx. How’re Mae and Bump?” A flicker of a smile graced Styx’s lips.
“Good,” he signed, but my attention snapped back to Ky when my brother said, “Get inside, sis. We need to talk.”
He grabbed my elbow and guided me forcefully up the porch steps. “Hey!” I said. He pulled harder, not releasing my arm. “Hey! Dickhead!” I wrenched my arm back. I turned on my heel to meet my brother’s moody-ass face. “What the hell are you doing?”
“For once in your fucking life, will you just do as I say, Sia?” Ky said, exasperated. His face was red . . . in fact, so were his eyes.
I crossed my arms across my chest. “What’s wrong? Why are your eyes all bloodshot? Why do you look like shit?” I shook my head. “And more to the point, why are you handling me like a damn child?”
Ky sighed. His eyes closed, and he opened his mouth to speak. But then he didn’t . . .
Styx cleared his throat. “Been a stressful time lately.”
“Why?” I asked, immediately panicked. “Is Lilah okay? Grace?” I quickly checked my brother over for wounds, or . . . hell, I didn’t know what else. What the hell trouble bikers could get into. “Are you okay?”
My heart started pounding, some weird sense of dread seeping through my body like a poison. Ky opened his eyes and nodded. “Everyone’s fine.” But I could see through his pretense. I was just about to call bullshit when Ky blurted, “Garcia’s back.”
I was sure the warm wind was blowing, because I saw strands of my blond hair floating in front of my eyes, but I didn’t feel it. Ky’s mouth was working, saying something I was meant to hear, yet to my ears, he made no sound. I was lost to the memory of heavy footsteps on creaking floorboards as they approached my room. Memories of screams and barked orders scourged my mind . . . and his touch, his fingers running down my back, his lips nipping at my ear as he caressed my burned flesh. As—
“Sia!” Ky was holding my arms, shaking me from my stupor. I blinked, but a suffocating lump clogged my throat. I blinked fast to rid the flood of tears from my eyes. “Sia,” he repeated, softer this time. I stared at my brother, wordlessly. “Get inside.”
I let him lead me into my home and to the couch. A glass of whiskey appeared in my hand a second later, courtesy of Styx. I knocked it back in one, relishing the burning feeling that filled my chest. I shakily placed the glass on the coffee table and turned to look at Ky.
“You better?”
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s . . . he’s found me?” My voice was choked. I couldn’t have hidden my fear even if I’d wanted to.
“Not yet,” Ky assured me. He got to his feet and began to pace. “Some club shit went down a while ago, and Garcia was involved. Fucker saw me and Styx.” Ky met Styx’s eyes. Styx nodded. Ky removed an envelope from the pocket of his cut. He placed it before me. I stared at the obviously expensive stationery on the table. My hands shook as I slowly reached forward and opened it. A Polaroid picture peeped out. When I finally pulled the picture out and turned it to face me, every ounce of blood in my veins seemed to drain to my feet.
A single black rose.
A black rose, on a bed I recognized so well.
There was no note. No explanation. But I didn’t need one. This image spoke more than a thousand words ever could.
“Mi rosa negra,” the echo of his voice whispered in my mind. His heavy Mexican accent sliding around the words like a delicate silk scarf wrapped around a thorn-studded vine.
All of the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “Where . . .?” I cleared my throat. “Where was this sent to?”
“The club.” Ky slumped to sit beside me. “Don’t like the cryptic shit”—he pointed to the Polaroid—“but I know that it’s his brand or something, yeah? The one he forced on you? On the girls he traffics?” I instinctively ran my hand over the plaid shirt covering my shoulder, where the small black rose tattoo had once desecrated my skin. I could still feel the scar under my fingertips, out of sight but never gone. And if I ever dared show my bare skin to the sun, a white outline would form as the area around it tanned. Erased, yet forever seared into my very flesh.
Worse still, the longer I stared at that picture, the more someone else flickered to my mind, a face I reflexively recalled several times a day. Brief images of what might have happened to her. But only ever enough to taunt me; I didn’t know how to mentally unlock the rest. Where she was—
“Sia!” Ky called. I blinked into focus. My brother kneeled in front of me. “You’re coming home with me.”
I shook my head. “No.” My arms wrapped over my chest, a shield to fend off the thought of leaving. “I don’t want to.” I swept my eyes around my home. The only place I now ever felt safe in. “You know I can’t leave.” Ky went to speak, but I cut in before he could. “I know I went to y’all’s weddings. I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. But I can’t leave here for too long. I . . . I . . .” I searched for more of an explanation, to put into words the vapid stream of anxiety forming in my stomach like a black pit, stealing all of my courage, my reason, my sanity, my very being.
It was ironic: when I was a teen, I made a vow to leave Austin and stop all contact with the Hangmen.
Then, one escape . . .
That was all it took to make me wish I had never set foot outta Texas. Never cut all ties with the Hangmen.
And one man . . .
One man, named Garcia, to make me long for the lazy Texas days and the sound of horses’ hooves padding on the grass outside of my old bedroom window.
“I don’t give a shit if you wanna come or not, Sia. You’re coming, and that’s that.”
The lack of empathy in Ky’s outright order broke through the mental fog that shielded my inner thoughts. A fire ignited the kindling that lived within me. My chin tilted high and my eyes narrowed to stare at my brother. “Don’t you dare speak to me like that, Kyler Willis. Don’t mistake me for a club whore who’ll jump at your command.” Ky’s face reddened. But I wouldn’t be spoken to like this. Right now, my brother resembled the one man who’d treated me like an errant child. A man I blamed for all the shit in my life. “I love Lilah, I truly do. But I am not some meek and submissive woman who’ll accept your orders. I’m your sister, not your fucking lapdog.”
Ky slowly rose to his feet. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
“Does he know where I live?” I asked my brother. He didn’t answer. “I said, does Garcia know where I am?”
Ky’s eyes snapped open. “It’s only a matter of time.”
I got to my feet, ignoring the shaking of my legs. I boldly met Ky’s eyes. “Then I ain’t leaving my ranch. I’m hidden. I’ve been hidden for years. False identity. False deeds on this place. For Christ’s sake, I live in the fucking boondocks. No one around for miles. He ain’t making me leave my home. I won’t give him that satisfaction.”
“Think again.” Ky stood taller. “Get upstairs and pack a bag, and tell that young bitch we hired to help you that she’ll be taking care of things around here ’til you’re back. Tell her there’s a family emergency or some shit.”
My heart pumped faster. “I. Ain’t. Going. Clara can’t deal with everything herself. We have two mares in foal, two saddle broncs that need training. I’m needed here.”
We argued back and forth, back and forth, voices and tempers rising, until a loud whistle cut through our squabbling. I snapped my eyes to Styx, who was standing before the fireplace. His face was like thunder, and he looked like a fucking Titan, he was so huge. He raised his hands. “Sia, grab your shit. You’re coming with us.” I swallowed, defeat settling over me like an unwelcome rain shower on a sunny day. “Ky, calm the fuck down.” Ky turned and bust out of the front door of my ranch. I watched my brother go. I had an eerie feeling that this—the argument, his shitty mood—wasn’t all down to Garcia.
Styx cleared his throat. “You two are way too fucking similar. Both a pain in my ass.” He paused, then signed, “More going on at the club than you know. So how about you chill the fuck out with all the dramatics. I get enough on the daily with my fucknut brothers without adding you into the mix.” His lips tightened, and I knew I wasn’t gonna get my way. “You’re coming with us. I ain’t giving you an option. You’re Hangmen family. And that fucker is sniffing around. Pack your bag so we can get the fuck gone.”
Feeling like a sulking teen, I stormed past Styx toward my bedroom, shouldering him as I passed. He didn’t even move. “Sometimes I fucking hate the family I’ve been born into. Chauvinistic pricks. Y’all have fucking god complexes.”
Styx didn’t even flinch at my words. “As long as that complex belongs to the Dark Lord holding a noose and an Uzi, I’m fucking all right with owning that shit. It’s the way it is. Ain’t gonna change because you’re pitching a fit,” he signed. “You don’t have to like my orders, but you will obey them.” Then he added, “You’ve got ten minutes,” before he left to go after my brother.
Too angry to even give two shits about what was wrong with Ky—it was probably some “club business” I wouldn’t be allowed to know anyway—I stuffed clothes and toiletries into a bag and called Clara to ask her to watch the ranch while I was gone and get help from the vet if she needed it. He owed me a favor or a million for taking in sick horses when his practice was full.
Ten minutes later, my house was locked up and I was in my truck, following my brothers to the Hangmen compound. With each mile I drove away from the safe haven of my ranch, I felt less and less myself. I heard Garcia’s voice in my head, telling me he was coming for me. Threatening that he’d own me once and for all.
But like Kyler, I was good at covering what was bothering me.
So I’d pull up my big-girl panties and stay at the club for a while. As we passed through downtown Austin, lights from South Congress Avenue illuminating the cab of my truck, I let two images of Hades guide me: his smug face, and a noose, reminding why I ran away all those years ago.
This club was quicksand. A quicksand in which I was hell-bent on not getting stuck.


Tillie Cole hails from a small town in the North-East of England. She grew up on a farm with her English mother, Scottish father and older sister and a multitude of rescue animals. As soon as she could, Tillie left her rural roots for the bright lights of the big city.

After graduating from Newcastle University with a BA Hons in Religious Studies, Tillie followed her Professional Rugby player husband around the world for a decade, becoming a teacher in between and thoroughly enjoyed teaching High School students Social Studies before putting pen to paper, and finishing her first novel.

Tillie has now settled in Austin, Texas, where she is finally able to sit down and write, throwing herself into fantasy worlds and the fabulous minds of her characters.

Tillie is both an independent and traditionally published author, and writes many genres including: Contemporary Romance, Dark Romance, Young Adult and New Adult novels.

When she is not writing, Tillie enjoys nothing more than curling up on her couch watching movies, drinking far too much coffee, while convincing herself that she really doesn’t need that extra square of chocolate.

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Boyfrenemy by Sosie Frost





Julian’s the kind of sexy that demands a cigarette before sex.

He’s the whip and the cream on top of my chocolate sundae.
Hell, he’s the only man worth the fancy underwear in my panty drawer. But suddenly, the thong isn’t the only pain in my ass.
He’s rude. He’s arrogant. And he’s the single greatest threat to my job.
So, of course, I fell in love with my perfect enemy.
Accidentally getting pregnant was our first battle.
Now? It’s all-out-war.

Micah’s the sort of girl who breaks more balls than hearts.

No matter how perfect her ass, it’s not worth the pain in mine.
Her smile might tighten my pants, but the woman’s worse than the drought, pestilence, and ramble of weeds destroying my fields.
Too bad she’s the only one who can save my farm.
So, I made a deal with that devil.
…Then I knocked her up.


It was a bad day to fall in love.

Then again, every day was a bad day to fall in love.

I’d missed the warning signs—the alarm that never went off, the torrential downpour, the car that didn’t start.

Days like that day were perfect for hiding in the office and catching up on paperwork. There, the only risk was the occasional coffee ring on an important contract or an unfortunate paper cut. And while I was sure that the good, old-fashioned journey of self-destruction they called love might have been exhilarating for the first few irresponsible moments, that sort of complication had no place in my life plan.

Especially since Mr. Julian Payne was the wrong man to steal my heart.

If he could find it under the layers and layers of mud.

Mud made a bad day worse. Worse and soggy. Mud caked me head to toe, settling in a variety of places that would require a very intimate scrubbing. Unlike Spa Gemma—Ironfield’s hottest and most exclusive health resort—Butterpond’s famous mud offered no organic benefits to skincare or hydration. Instead, this particular land was supposedly exceedingly fertile. Not any concern of mine, considering the next five years of my life were specifically organized to focus on career growth and physical fitness.

Butterpond wasn’t a great launch pad for any future ambitions or social networking. After four months of employment in the municipal zoning office, my most productive assignment had been unwedging myself from a mud hole in the Payne’s driveway-turned-swamp. I’d kept my shoe but lost my dignity to the sticky pit.

First, my broken-down car.

Then, getting tsunami’d by a speeding pickup truck tearing through a pond-sized puddle on Bakers Run Road.

And now…


I’d fallen—wallowed—in six inches of uncompromising, unrelenting mud, crawling hand over fist until I reached the safety of the Payne’s county-styled farmhouse.

And, at the end of the quarter-mile trek up the filthy, water-logged, knee-deep mud driveway? I faced a man who might have stolen my breath if I hadn’t lost it all on the hike to his porch.

Julian Payne was a superior kind of sexy.

As hot as a flickering cigarette after hours of lovemaking.

As teasing as a wrinkle in the sheets twisted by bare toes.

As damning as a body prickling with sweat in the dark.

He was the type of man who’d make a woman giggle as she made the biggest mistake of her life.

I’d made a personal promise to never compromise my values for a little green, but eyes like his were worth dirtying a clean reputation in a new town.

My heart beat quicker—and it wasn’t the panic of leaving my Jimmy Choo’s sinking in a puddle of gloppy mud. This was either love at first sight…or an entirely inappropriate reaction as I stared at Julian, pacing the porch in broad, athletic strides.

Shame. Definitely shame.

I was supposed to be meeting this man on behalf of the Sawyer County Zoning Department. Instead, I drooled over a god so beautiful, so muscular, so utterly stunning that he’d be a perfect excuse to amend my current life plan of career advancement for a fairy tale dream of desire and lust.

Then…he opened his mouth.

“You know what’s wrong with this world?”

Julian spoke daggers—slicing words from lips that shouldn’t have tumbled anything but compliments and dirty words.

He wove his hand through thick, dark hair—wet from either the rain or a shower. His flannel shirt, only halfway buttoned, revealed a hard chest of solid muscle.

This was a man who had never feared a day of hard work in his life. Probably made hard work fear him.

Julian paced the porch, but he wouldn’t outrun his frustration. “I’m trying my goddamned hardest to get this farm up and running.”

This was a proud man. A confident man. A man unburdened by mud and dirty puddle water. And I stood, unnoticed, caked in the unthinkable.

Of course I would meet the man of my dreams while living a waking nightmare. But maybe he’d like a woman who smelled like his farm.

God…I hoped it was just farm I smelled. What the hell was in that mud?

Across the old, rickety porch—covered with a roof that would never meet modern structural guidelines—Julian’s friend eyed me with shock…then pity. Probably the same look I’d receive once I returned to the township offices for my scheduled meeting with the mayor and city council.

So much for the raise.

The second man bounced a baby on his knee. He didn’t seem the type to cuddle a one-year-old, but the baby took glee in tugging the trimmed beard teasing his hardened jaw. He spat out the fingers the little girl jammed into his mouth and attempted to interrupt Julian to greet me.

Julian ignored his friend and proceeded to rant instead.

“How the hell am I supposed to work this farm? The taxes are killing me, the regulations are binding my hands, and now this zoning bullshit tells me where I can and can’t build on my own damn property?”

He was a rugged sort of cowboy, chock full of muscles and arrogance and something less pleasant.

I attempted to interject and announce my arrival, but Julian had no time in the world to listen to anyone by himself.

And I didn’t like what I heard.

“This is our land. It was my father’s land. His father’s land. And his father’s land.” He slapped a calloused hand against the clapboard siding of his house. His home didn’t deserve the solid spank, punishing the building for the inconvenience of the zoning laws that were my job to enforce. “My grandparents built this home from nothing. When my father took over the farm, he worked every day of the year. Sunup to sundown. Back then, no municipality ordered them around on their own private property.”

Why did the cute ones always advocate anarchy?

A man like Julian Payne should’ve stayed quiet and enjoyed the air of mystery. Tall, dark, handsome, and utterly silent. Gone was my fantasy of a rugged cowboy, riding us off into the sunset on his trusty horse, while obeying every zoning regulation set forth in the county’s Unified Development Ordinance.

This was not a man who wanted to play by the rules…or by the laws enacted via local ordinance by the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors and vested in me as Director of Building and Zoning.

“Now there’s some hotshot, wannabe politician telling me what to do?” Julian hadn’t yet noticed me. That was fine. I’d wait this performance out. “He’s probably some fat ass who never even set foot on a farm.”

My ass was not fat. And none of my previous admirers had ever complained about the bump. All…two of them.

Julian seethed, his boots thudding hard against the porch’s warping planks. “He’s probably never worked a day in his life, you know?”

His friend cleared his throat. “Uh…”

“Probably spent his life sitting behind some desk in a cushy office.”

My desk had three legs and a pile of books propping up the fourth. One florescent bulb had burned out a year ago and had yet to be replaced. And, when it rained, the window leaked and trickled water into the outlet.

Real cushy.

Julian smirked. “Probably gets off on the power. Jerks it every time he rejects a building permit application.”

If I took any more offense to his statement, I’d be stuffing my pockets with indignation.

So what if my job was in an office? What did it matter if I wasn’t riding a tractor in the sun all day? I had papers to file and applications to review and men like him to disappoint when they thought they could do as they liked without regard to the greater good of the community.

But Julian was right.

His was one building permit application that would be downright orgasmic to reject.

“Know it took me two weeks to even get an appointment with this asshole?” Julian said. “And now he’s too goddamned incompetent to show up on time.”


I’d just lost a five-hundred-dollar pair of shoes in the pit he called a driveway. This was after I’d rearranged my entire schedule to visit him in person, sacrificing my thirty-minute lunch and a growing stack of county fair plans in desperate need of review. I’d come to Triumph Farm as a favor to the one man everyone in Butterpond loved like their own damned child.

And now I was incompetent?

No matter how panty-melting handsome the son of a bitch was, he was going to be nothing but a pain in my ass.

“Julian!” The man holding the baby finally interrupted the rant, but Julian had already stuck his foot so far in his mouth he’d be shitting toes for a week. “I think he is here.”

Julian turned. My stomach flopped back into the mud.

This man took my breath away. Which was good. It’d put us on even ground once I punched him square in the gut. But that wouldn’t be very professional as a representative of Sawyer County.

I’d get him audited instead.

I extended a hand. A glop of mud dripped from my fingers. At least it made the java brown of my skin shine. Not that I wanted to exfoliate with the sticky, clumpy mess of debris that churned in Julian Payne’s backyard.

I sucked in a breath, tempered my anger, and attempted to introduce myself.


His riotous, exceedingly inappropriate laugh carried across his untended farmland—land that would stay empty if he insisted on misbehaving.

“What the hell…” He stared at me—eyes greener than any weed sprouting in his fields. “What happened to you?”

His was a question that would take an afternoon in a spa, a soak in a tub, and a dinner of pure carbs and an entire bottle of wine to answer.

It’d started when I’d busted the corrupt Chief of Police in Ironfield and ended around the time the city fired me for whistle blowing. Fast forward six months of unemployment, and suddenly I was changing the tire of the hand-me-down Sawyer County Crown Vic with three hundred thousand miles, no air conditioning, and an accelerator that tended to stick. Add to that an afternoon dip in a mud puddle and fifteen minutes of clawing through a swamp to get to his front porch, and I had quite the tale to tell Mr. Payne-In-My-Ass about my punctuality and sludgy appearance.

Of course, that was the moment my shock, rage, and absolute lust for this cowboy coalesced into a knot that bound my tongue, heart, and a place a bit lower that—frankly—could have used a good hogtie in the past six months.

“Someone…” My words sputtered out in a most unflattering, incoherent jumble. I stumbled forward, my bare toes sinking into yet another slimy, cold layer of gunk. “There’s…a…it was locked…”

The man with the baby offered me the little girl’s blanket to, presumably, un-mire myself. It wouldn’t help. I needed a damned hose to clear the mud from every nook and cranny on me—places I’d worked so hard to keep clean.

The job wasn’t supposed to be like this.

My life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I didn’t belong in the dead-end, rural, farming town of Butterpond.

And I sure as hell didn’t deserve to be treated like a inconvenience by Julian Payne when I’d been trying to help.

I swallowed the irritation and gestured down the quarter-mile of sludge that was the farm’s driveway.

“The gate was locked.”

Julian hadn’t stopped laughing.

“I had to get out of the car…open it…the mud was…everywhere.”

His cayenne smoky laugh gutted me. This was a bastard who’d rot in hell for watching my toes wiggle in the grass.

My words turned to a hiss. “You…are you Julian Payne?”

For half a second, I prayed I had the wrong man, wrong farm, wrong anything.

If he was the whip and cream on my chocolate sundae, he’d just melted my entire dessert.

“Yeah,” he said. “Who the hell are you?”

Unfortunate. He was the one man I’d hate to hate.

I straightened my dress as best I could and attempted to wipe some of the mud from my face. No good. It only smeared yet another line across my cheek.

“I’m your appointment,” I said. “And I would have been here sooner if someone hadn’t locked the driveway gate. I fell in the mud and had to claw my way here.”

I received no pity from him. Julian scowled. Damn the man for looking so good even while irritated.

“Look, swamp thing. Sorry you got a little dirty…that’s life on a farm. This is what happens when you’re working the land, not pushing papers.”

Like he had any idea how to do my job. I clenched my fists, wishing a layer of gunk hadn’t squished from between my fingers. My voice cracked with rage. Not the most intimidating.

“Well, I’m here now,” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Hell, no. I’ve got an appointment with Mr. Micah Robinson, not…”

He gestured over my curves. He couldn’t be that stupid. All brawn and no brains.

Julian shook his head. “I’m not meeting with his secretary.”

If I wasn’t so sure I’d lost my earrings somewhere by my flattened tire, I’d have ripped the hoops out and prepared to rumble.

Bad day to fall in love.

Bad day to have my heartbroken by a jackass.

Bad day to mess with me.

“You know, cowboy…” I used the term loosely. His farm had no crops and no animals, and it’d probably stay that way. “I intended to do you a favor.”

“What’s that?”

“I came out in person. I wanted to survey the farm. Meet this Julian Payne everyone keeps talking about.”

And they talked a lot.

The Paynes were the glue that held together a town comprised mostly of a grocery store that stocked nothing organic and a roughneck bar that didn’t serve Cosmopolitans or even understand the meaning of the word.

Small couldn’t begin to describe Butterpond—but financially insolvent got close. Maybe it was the family’s charity from years ago, or maybe it was the trouble caused these last thirty years by his five sons, but the Paynes dominated the town gossip. Tales of wild nights and fires, eligible bachelors and warring siblings added a bit of mystery to the usual stories of the town’s bingo cheaters, not-so-secret affairs, and warnings about the feral cats overrunning the county fairgrounds.

But Julian Payne?

This man could do no wrong.

Giving up a potentially lucrative career with the Ironfield Rivets just to come home and take care of the family farm, his grieving family, and the responsibility as head of household? Supposedly, the man was a rural messiah who still had enough connections to score the occasional Rivets’ ticket.

That would teach me to listen to idle gossip again.

Especially when it wasn’t about me or threats to my employment.

I raised my chin and pretended the mud was just another layer of Sephora foundation. “And here I thought you could use some help…and you’re gonna need it. You submitted an application to rebuild a barn that’s been demolished for five years.”

“Burned down,” Julian said. “Long story. It burned down.”

“Yes, well, you haven’t attempted to rebuild it within a permitted time frame which makes it exempt to any grandfathered building codes and requirements. Since the structure’s destruction, Sawyer County has passed a new set of zoning regulations which you must adhere to. Your application—which did not include the required set of architectural drawings or a survey of your property—”

“It’s just a barn.”

“—Was not only incomplete, but it lacked the relevant detail to even consider approval for the new construction of an accessory structure on this chosen location.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

It meant this would have felt a hell of a lot better if I wasn’t covered in mud for the reveal.

“It means…I can tell you right now what the decision will be regarding your barn.”

“Oh, yeah?”

I tasted the anger. It tasted a lot like mud. “It’s gonna get denied.”

“What?” Julian blinked. He held his arms out. “That’s it?”

“Don’t bother helping me with the gate. I can manage this time.”

“Don’t let it knock you on your ass on the way out.”

Maybe then he’d stop staring at it, curves barely covered by a designer skirt ruined by the mud and gunk. I hobbled across the driveway just as the skies opened and my luck torrentially poured on me. The saturated material clung to my curves—curves which might’ve been a grand accomplishment for any lady who was not attempting to maintain a level of professionalism within her newfound career. I hadn’t intended to literally storm to my car, but I crossed my fingers for a flash flood to whisk me away.

No amount of hand sanitizer would clean this mess. Especially not before my two o’clock meeting with the mayor and council. I couldn’t go back to the office looking like this. Then again, I doubted I could even make it back to my car.

The mud snowballed around my feet, mixing with the rain to become as heavy as cement. I’d have to cancel the meeting with the council meant to save my job. Too many complaints in government usually meant a municipal employee was doing something right. But in a town where everyone knew each other’s names, kids, properties, secrets, and vulnerable insecurities, one-too-many High Grass and Weed citations didn’t commend me for community outreach. It pissed off the wrong people.

I groaned.

This was his fault.

That sexist, arrogant jerk of a man.

I wouldn’t have gotten muddy if I hadn’t come to his stupid farm. Wouldn’t have popped the tire if I hadn’t volunteered to meet him. Wouldn’t have been late to the meeting to save my career if I hadn’t offered to help that egotistical son of a—

My foot plunked too deep into the mud. My ankle didn’t go with it. I twisted and collapsed to the ground.

“Not again…”

The rain made everything stickier. I wiped the hair out of my eyes with a stroke of my hand. Mistake. The mud smeared over my nose, in my eyes, over my lips.



Hair—embedded with twigs.

Foot—stuck in a hole.


I hobbled upright and kicked. Nada. The earth sucked me in but didn’t have the courtesy to bury me six feet under.

Screw it. I’d gnaw my damn ankle off if it meant getting the hell off this farm.

Another yank and I fell forward once again. My Louis Vuitton purse abandoned me, tumbling into a puddle. The vibrating cell phone rolled from the front pocket and splashed in murky water.

Great. I’d die in a backwoods mud pit.

I reached for the phone. My fingertips just grazed the vibrating case before a sun-warmed rumble of a voice piqued my blood pressure.

I’d either jump his bones or bury them in his own backyard.

I didn’t bother glancing at Julian Payne. I’d remember exactly what he looked like tonight in my dreams. It’d take more than a bottle of wine and evening with my showerhead to forget that face.

I spoke through gritted teeth. “You expected someone different?”

“Yeah.” Julian circled me, the mud practically hardening under his boots. Jesus walked on water, Julian could traverse through mud. Less of a god and more a pig. “I thought I was meeting a guy—the zoning officer.”

“Do you even know what a zoning officer is?”

“Yeah. He’s the asshole who won’t let me build a barn.”

And that was why I wouldn’t waste my breath explaining how the municipal code forbid the construction of a new structure so close to the property lines or why a barn of that size would be denied based on the township’s maximum permissible square footage calculation.

Hell, even breaking the regulations down wouldn’t work. A thick head like his wouldn’t understand no build here, too big.

I ignored him and attempted to dislodge my foot from a property that was one blue heron away from a wetlands designation. Then he’d really be pissed when he couldn’t build anything.

“Need help?” Julian asked.

Was he joking? “No.”

“You sure?”

I squirmed. Wiggled. Juked.

And sunk deeper into the mud.

I gritted my teeth. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Cause…to me?” Julian snickered. “Looks like you’re about to become part of the foundation for my new barn.”

Now I did glare at him. And I regretted every single pelting raindrop that splattered his shirt and stuck the material to his thick muscles.

“What barn?” I huffed. “After today, you’ll be lucky if you can plant a damn tomato without a permit.”

“Not sure who made you princess of the county…” Julian enjoyed my plight a little too much. “But lemme help you.”

“I don’t need help.”

“You’ve never spent a day outside your office, have you?”

Not that he needed to know. I warded him away with a swing of a very muddy hand. “I’m fine.”

“Not from around here, are you?” He smirked. God, it was a great smirk. “Most of the locals don’t try to swim through the mud.”

“I wouldn’t have needed to swim if someone had remembered to open the gate.”

“Might’ve opened the gate if someone were on time for her scheduled appointment.”

“Would have made it on time if you had opened the gate.”

“Would have had the gate open if you’d called to tell me you were here.”

Julian didn’t ask permission before sliding his arm around my waist. With a graceful shrug, he lifted me out of the mud and freed me from the hole.

With any other man, in any other time, in any other moment when I wasn’t coated head to toe with muck, I might have offered myself for his ravishment.

It wasn’t the classiest or most realistic of expectations, but it had been a long time since a man had grabbed these hips, and sometimes a girl needed an excuse to get dirty.

But not with him.

Not with a man that arrogant, that aggravating…

That attractive.

“You sure you’re old enough to be a zoning officer?” He hadn’t released me, smirking as I swung my legs above the ground. “I should just keep you in my pocket. Might get the build done faster—”

I kicked. My foot connected a little too hard with the part of him that fed his ego. With a groan, he dropped me. We both clattered to the ground. Me, smooshed into the mud.


Julian landed over me—all two hundred pounds of pure muscle and small-town mischief.

The skies drenched us in buckets of warm, summer rain. The mud had cushioned our fall. I laid beneath him, pinned, staring into eyes as green as the ominous clouds overhead. Probably a sign to find better cover than under the body of the town’s most frustratingly handsome farmer.

Embarrassment choked me. Or maybe that was lust. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t unburrow from the muck and mire to ensure my dress hadn’t hiked too far up my thighs

The bastard still held me in his arms. I squirmed, clenching my jaw and my legs tightly shut. Didn’t help. A new heat sizzled the raindrops against my skin. Julian stared at me, bright eyes under thick brows, a stoic nose slightly bent from years of abuse, a hardened jaw teased with a scruffy, five o’clock shadow.

A face worthy of cuddling against a pillow or burrowing between my thighs. I hated the thoughts and banished the flutter of warmth aching inside me.

He caught his breath and adjusted the injured part of him. “Are you—”

He’d rubbed his face, leaving a trail of mud along his cheek.

A wriggling, dark little spec remained.

A nightmare of nightmares.

I screamed and punched him square in the nose.


Julian fell backwards with a grunt. I scrambled to safety.

“Oh, God.” I’d hyperventilate before I could climb a tree or escape into my car to flee from the leeches. “Ew, ew, ew.”

I whipped my hands over any exposed skin, but it wouldn’t do any good.

I’d lain in that oozing, sticky mud.

A million of those creepy crawly disgusting creatures might have latched onto me. The panic set in. So did the lightheadedness. I clutched my clothes and struggled to check all over me before the leeches gorged themselves on every last drop of my blood.

But where could I run? Hide? Fight? I lamented my bare feet and scrunched up tight, sacrificing my right foot to the mud. Hopefully, they wouldn’t strip it to the bone in mere minutes.

Or maybe that was piranhas?

Oh, God, I didn’t want to find out.

“What the hell is your problem?” Julian touched his nose. No blood, but he winced anyway.

He didn’t have to thank me. I’d never stop retching. “You had a leech on your face!”

“No, I didn’t, you maniac.” Julian held out his hand, exposing the little black wiggler. “It’s a fucking blade of grass.”

I still didn’t let it touch me. I nearly collapsed, my breath heaving in uneven gasps. Julian watched, eyebrow rising.

“Have you ever been outside before?” he asked.

Forget the glass of wine. Tonight I’d take the whole damn bottle into the tub. “I don’t often make farm calls. Usually the applicants properly fill out their applications.”

“Never thought I’d have to sweet talk a dirty girl for my barn.”

Hardly appropriate. “Don’t you dare sweet talk me, Mr. Payne.”

“Oh, I forgot. You’re county royalty, princess.” He waggled his eyebrows—the bastard. “I’ll take you out to dinner instead.”

“How could that possibly help?”

“Better than propositioning you in the mud.”

He had to be joking. “You aren’t propositioning anything.”


I shoved past him. “I’d need to be drunk to accept that offer.”


“Your application has been denied.”

Julian didn’t quit. A smile tugged at his lips. “Dancing.”

I ignored him and trudged away. To my displeasure, he followed.

“Come on, princess.” He loved this. “Those hips were made for more than mud wrestling.”

No one had ever talked to me like that before. I sure as hell didn’t approve of it.

But I wasn’t sure I hated that good ol’, small-town charm.

“Look, cowboy…” I spun and poked him in the chest. “I don’t take bribes.”

“And I don’t sleep with charity cases, but I’ll do whatever it takes for this barn.”

The insolent, conceited asshole! “You’re a real bastard, you know that?”

“Are my tax dollars paying for that mouth of yours?” He grinned. “Wish I could put it to better use.”

“How many times do I have to reject you today?” The insults burned through me. So did the desire, though I couldn’t possibly loathe this man more. “Keep trying, cowboy. Disappointing you is starting to feel nice.”

“I can make you feel better than nice.”

“Not interested.”


“I have morals,” I said.

“You work in government.”

“And men like are you are the reason I avoid the public sector.”

Julian hollered as I stomped away. “How am I supposed to get my barn, princess?”

“You could start by using my real name.” I should have kept walking. “Then you could build the damn thing where it’s authorized in the right dimensions and not insult the only person who can grant you the permissions.”

“Didn’t know government came with a safe word.”

He was going to need one soon. “Don’t test me.”

“What other permissions can you grant?”

“None. But I can cite you for being a public nuisance.”

Julian sighed. “You haven’t even given me a chance.”

“I gave you enough of a chance, Julian Payne. You blew it.”

He laughed, a hearty, country-born, home-grown rumble. “Don’t make this into a challenge, princess. You won’t win.”

“This isn’t about winning,” I said. “It’s about the law.”

“I’m not giving up.” Julian winked. “You’re going to see a lot of me, Miss Robinson.”

“First an insult, now a threat?”

He shrugged. “You could just grant approval now—save us the time and the inevitable foreplay.”

“You couldn’t handle me, cowboy.”

“Won’t know until we try…see if you’re as dirty as you seem.”

I sauntered close, my words a low growl. “Oh, I can play very dirty.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Then he’d love this. “Your application is not only denied, now I will take all forty-five business days to review any appeal you may submit.” I met his gaze. “Before this gets any worse for you, Mr. Payne, I recommend you submit.”

“Always did like a feisty girl.”

Loathsome man. “I think you’ve met your match.”

“Oh, princess, believe me. I’m gonna do you to code.”

“That so?”

“Inspect you head to toe, make sure you adhere to my master plan.”

“I bet you will.”

Julian’s words were filthier than the mud. “Wonder what I could do if I bound you up in your own red tape.”

“Never gonna find out.” I offered him a sweet, professional smile and continued to my car. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Julian Payne. I can’t wait until the next time I get to reject you.”


Sosie Frost is no stranger to quirky, embarrassing, and wild situations, and she’s channeling all that new adult angst into fun romances.

From marching at the high school homecoming game without her trumpet (a punishment for forgetting the instrument on the band bus), to regretfully tucking her prom dress into the back of her tights before pictures, and even accidentally starting a chemical fire in the college chem lab, Sosie has the market cornered on crazy stories.

But hey, writing is a better outlet than therapy right? 😉

If you want funny, charming, and steamy romances, you’ve found the right author!

Sosie lives in Pittsburgh with her hubby, her two cats, and thrives on a near constant stream of gummy bears.



CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Whispers in the Dark by LeTeisha Newton




I was captured…That’s just the beginning of my tale. I’ve survived Purgatory, abuse, and near death. In that abandoned farmhouse I nearly lost everything, but Jacob saved me. We were trapped in this hell together, giving each other the strength to hold on. I fell into darkness with my captor’s son.Until I left him behind.She was perfect, my Alana. Brilliant and full of pain. She understood my darkness and fueled the fire. When she left, I waited patiently to find her, and in her honor, I killed men who took away from innocents. Then I found her…She’s deadly now, a killer too, and perfectly mine. It was beautiful to behold, but she belongs in a cage. My cage. She’ll love me again, or I’ll expose her dirty secrets for the world to see while going down in flames with her. In darkness, it’s most definitely till death do us part.
Warning: This book is full of triggers. It’s wicked dark, with created evil falling in love. People die. They are hurt horribly. The bad guys get away, and there is no apology for it. Hardcore trigger within these pages.




What’s past, is prologue.
-William Shakespeare

I raided the cupboards for something quick and easy to make and grabbed a package of blueberry Pop-Tarts to throw in the toaster. As I waited for them to finish, I figured I’d broach the topic of the father-daughter dance with Dad. Every year, Northside Prep held its annual dance to raise money for the after-school programs. The dance was the talk of the town as the girls ran out to buy their dresses and make appointments for hair and makeup. Me? I got to wait for the dad who never came. This year, I wanted to be the same as the rest of the girls; I wanted him to choose me.
“Hey, Dad, the dance is this weekend. Can you get away from work for a few hours and go with me?”
He looked up from his laptop, eyebrows drawn and a faraway glaze to his eyes. Aaron and I had dubbed this Dad’s “deep thought” expression. Usually, it ended up with one of us in trouble or disappointed, unfortunately.
“What day is it, Lani Girl?” Dad was the only one to call me Lani Girl. I loathed nicknames, especially the horrendous “Al” Aaron kept insisting on calling me. For Dad, I was always his Lani Girl, no matter how much he loved my name Alana Rose.
“Saturday night. The dance starts at eight o’clock,” I replied, hopeful. Always hopeful.
“I’m sure I can get away, sweetheart. Let’s go.”
“Oh, Daddy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Running around the counter, I gave my dad the biggest hug I could.
“How about I take you to dinner before the dance too. Just the two of us?”
I squeezed him harder. “I’d love that. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too. I’m sorry I’ve missed so much lately. Saturday night is all yours. Dinner, the dance, anything you want.”
As he planted a kiss on the top of my head, I thanked him once more before grabbing my Pop-Tarts and heading upstairs to get ready.
I turned my iPod on and danced to Fergie’s “London Bridge” as I made my way to my closet to pick out an outfit. I chewed on the last bite of my Pop-Tart as I sorted through my pants until I landed on a pair of dark-blue American Eagle jeans. I completed the outfit with my tan Ralph Lauren boots I’d received a few weeks earlier for my birthday and a burgundy tank top. Styling my hair in a messy bun, I grabbed my book bag and took one last look around my room to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I had a habit of leaving behind my homework almost every time I left my room.
With one more stop in the kitchen, I threw my arms around my dad and kissed his scruffy cheek as I thanked him again for agreeing to go to the dance. Moving on to my mother, I gave her a kiss on the apple of her cheek. Saying goodbye, I popped my earbuds in my ears and let James Blunt serenade me with “You’re Beautiful” as I headed into the direction of Northside Prep. I had to pick up the pace so I wouldn’t miss the first bell. Lost in my own world, I jumped when a heavy hand came down on my shoulder. I turned around to see who it was, thinking it could be Ryan. Instead, a tall man stood in front of me. My five-foot figure was small next to his; he had to be over six feet tall. With wire-framed glasses and dress pants, the man looked harmless enough despite his basketball-player height. He reminded me a lot of our eccentric neighbor, Mr. Edwards. His dark hair blotted out the sun, and his nose, crooked as if had been broken before, caught my attention between steel eyes. He could be hot, but something about him was wrong. Buzzing nerves crept down my arms. Get away from him, Alana. Run.
“Do you have the time?” His gruff voice shocked me to the core. The roughness to it was almost biting.
I offered him the time and backed away. Adrenaline raced through my blood and kicked my heart into a gallop as a cold chill raced down my spine. Continuing my walk to school, I refused to turn and look back, even though I knew his eyes were boring into me. Within a few steps, his hand landed heavily once more on my shoulder, but before I could scream, his other hand came around and covered my face. As the world blurred, I noticed the rag in his hand. The slightly sweet smell filled my nostrils and I swayed, only to be caught before I fell. I was weightless, floating in the air, and then I crashed to the ground and darkness claimed me.


“Wakey, wakey, little girl.”
Hot breath hit my face with the whispered words. Disoriented and sick to my stomach, I couldn’t wake up fast enough or bring the world into focus. The loss of my bearings made my stomach pitch.
Where am I?
“Wake up. Wake the fuck up. Open your goddamn eyes!”
I shook my head, attempting to clear the fog, as a smack blazed across my face. A cold trickle of fear rushed up my spine. I recognized the voice. The man in glasses who’d stopped me on my way to school. Afraid to open my eyes, I turned my head away from his voice, but surprise filtered through me with a sharp pain spreading over my cheek as his meaty fist connected again. One tear escaped as I bit my lip and opened my eyes before another hit could come my way. He held my arms viciously, digging his fingers into my biceps, and my breasts were smashed into his chest. I could barely touch the floor on my tip-toes.
“Ah, there she is. Hello, sweet girl.”
His voice was beyond creepy. Refusing to respond or look him in the eye, tears choked me, and my cheek burned from his strike.
“Aren’t you a stubborn little one? But oh, so precious. Look at you, sweet cheeks. You’re sure going to be fun to break in. Those stunning looks of yours must’ve driven the boys crazy, but don’t worry, you’ll never have to worry about them again. You’re mine. All mine.”
Terror shook me to my core, and I whimpered. My heart throbbed, pounding so loudly I knew he must have heard it. Mouth dry, and tongue thick in my mouth, I stared at him. This man was a monster, and Lord knew what he planned to do with me. Against my best judgment, I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out of my mouth.
“I want to go home. Please, please, please let me go home. I won’t tell. I promise I won’t tell. Let me go. Please.” My voice cracked over the last word. I wanted my mom back. My dad. Even my brother. Anyone. I didn’t want to be here.
“Isn’t it the cutest thing? You think you have power here. Well, you don’t. You’re nothing but a slave.”
There was recently an abduction case on the news. The newscaster shared tips from law enforcement on how to deal with being taken. Didn’t the police say to make yourself real to your captor? To get them to feel something? Humanize yourself.
“My name is Alana Masters. I’m only seventeen. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m a normal teenage girl. Please don’t hurt me. Please. Please.”
A change came over him; those must have been the wrong words. Where he looked like a normal man before, his eyes darkened with evil and his face filled with rage.
“Of course you’ve done something wrong, little girl. You’re like the rest of those bitches. Flaunting your ass in front of me. Teasing me but never giving me the time of day. You’re a manipulative little whore. You begged for this. You begged me to take you and make you mine, you fucking bitch. Don’t worry, whore, you’ll learn your place before I’m done with you. I’m going to fuck you up and make you scream. Make you regret turning up your little prim and proper nose at me, cunt.”
His eyes glazed over, lost in his own world. He no longer looked at me. His gaze went through me, and I wondered who he was thinking of. Who did he remember? Frightened more than ever, I wanted to go home. But somehow, I knew the nightmare had only begun. Grabbing my face, the monster brought my face to his. Looking me right in the eyes, he spoke, and every word cut me to the bone.
“You are mine. Your body. Your pussy. All mine. I am going to train you, mold you, and break you. And if you ever, ever dream of escaping me, remember this: You are Alana Masters. Your parents are Alan and Barbara Masters. You live at 3412 West Monroe Street, and you have a younger brother. If you step one foot out of line, little girl, I will kill them all. Their blood will be on your hands.”
When he pushed me away, I landed on the harsh, cold cement. I was in a large cage, maybe about six-by-six, with a mattress full of stains— the smell of urine wafting from it—lying on the floor in one corner and a bucket in another. A loud clang made me spin. He locked me in here. Sweat trickled down my back, and my clammy hands wouldn’t allow me to be fooled into believing this wasn’t real. I had been taken. I’m going to die here. How’d this happen to me? What had I done wrong? I wanted out now. Back with my family, my dad, my mom. But the grit on the ground and the soiled mattress were all I could see through the watery film in my eyes.
“From now on, you will call me Master.” He turned and headed up the darkened staircase, leaving me behind as the tears flowed freely down my face.
“Don’t worry, you’ll eventually have cried so much you won’t be able to cry anymore,” a voice said from the darkness.
“Who’s there?”
“My name is Celia. And I’m you, months from now. Welcome to Purgatory.”

Writing professionally since 2008, LeTeisha Newton’s love of romance novels began long before it should have. After spending years sneaking reads from her grandmother’s stash, she finally decided to pen her own tales. As many will do during their youth, she bounced from fantasy, urban literature, mainstream, interracial, paranormal, heterosexual, and LGBT works until she finally rested in contemporary romance.
LeTeisha is all about deep angst and angry heroes who take a bit more loving to smooth their rough edges. Love comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors, as well as with—or without—absolute beauty and fairy tale sweetness. She writes the darker tales because life is hard … but love is harder.




BLOG TOUR ~ Collision Course (Brute Force #1) by Lora Leigh


From #1 bestselling author Lora Leigh comes Collision Point, part of the thrilling Brute Force series—packed with powerful men, steely women, and explosive passion.



Riordan Malone is more than a bodyguard. As an Elite Ops agent, he’s ripped, raged, and ready to rumble—a true warrior, inside and out. But no war zone can compare to the battle in Rory’s heart when he lays eyes on the only woman he’s ever loved—and thought he had lost forever. . .


As the daughter of a crime lord, Amara Resnova has endured the cruelty of her father’s enemies—and has tried to escape that world ever since. Now, she must reach out to the one man who saved her life, even if she’s never forgiven him for breaking her heart. But Amara is tougher today than she was then. She’s also more desirable to Rory—and dangerous to love. Can he protect her from her father’s enemies without surrendering to his own passions…or will love seal their fate for good?

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Chapter one

Six months later

She’d been told that West Texas in the spring wasn’t much different from West Texas in the fall, but as Amara Resnova pulled in the driveway of the small house outside Alpin, she felt she had to disagree with that summation.

Stretched out in front of the house with its wraparound porch was a lush green valley fed by a lazily running stream winding through it. Sunlight speared from the cloudless blue sky, bright and warm, spreading its heat in a comforting embrace.

And the charming little house sat just beneath the warming sunlight. Spreading out in front of it was the picturesque valley; behind it, the normal West Texas part-grass, part-scrub, potential-desert landscape that never failed to amaze her.

On a rising knoll stood a lone tree, thickly branched and heavily leafed, shading what appeared to be a small cemetery. Rather than looking desolate and lonely, that little plot of land with its surrounding black iron fence, appeared instead to keep watch over the land below it. As though those buried there kept a gentle eye on those who came after them.

As isolated as the property was, it should have appeared stark. Instead, an air of contentment and peace lay over it. As though the land, the house, the vibrant green of the valley, and the cemetery that overlooked it all, knew all there was about life and love and had locked all those secrets within it to sustain it.

Drawing in a deep breath to steady herself against the fears she hadn’t been able to push behind her even in such a lovely setting, Amara turned off the engine, forced her hands not to shake, and opened the door before stepping into the warmth that filled the valley.

It wasn’t a blazing heat, but rather a gentle wave that filled the air and wafted around her. And in it there was a strange sense of familiarity. A “been there before” feeling that had her heart racing, her mouth drying as she stared around and drew in the sights and whispered sounds of a land as yet untouched by civilized life.

Here, a person could see the stars at night rather than the city lights. The sound of the lonely coyote rather than the rush of traffic. Peace rather than a hectic race.

Here, perhaps, she could find some answers. And maybe there was a chance to find everything she’d lost.

Tugging the hem of her tank, she straightened it over the band of her jeans beneath the light denim jacket she wore as she walked slowly from the car to the stone path that led to the porch. The thick carpet of grass stretched from the valley to surround the house, but she’d noticed as she parked that it became sparser at the back. As though that carpet of green with its lazy stream could only struggle so far to embrace the weathered home.

The dark blue pickup parked at the side of the house attested that someone lived there. And she knew the vehicle belonged to the man those in town called Grandpops Malone.

Riordan Malone Sr. was grandfather to Riordan Malone the younger, she’d been told, when she stopped at the gas station and auto repair garage outside town that bore the name MALONE AND BLAKE—SERVICE AND REPAIR. There, she’d learned Riordan the younger was part owner but currently out at his “grandpops’” place.


That name haunted her dreams, her fantasies. Though the man in those dreams wasn’t an old man. The one who came to her in those nightly images was tall, strong, impossibly sexy.

As Amara forced herself to walk to the porch, she looked around, searching for the face, listening for the voice of a man she knew only in those dreams. The man she’d escaped her father’s protection to go search for.

Was he friend or foe?

Even she couldn’t answer that question, not fully. But for some reason, she couldn’t seem to help the need to learn which he would be.

As her foot lifted to the first step, the front door creaked, causing her to pause, to wait with bated breath as it slowly opened to reveal an aged, gray-haired gentleman she suspected was Riordan Sr., Grandpops.

In his worn loose jeans, well-washed white shirt with sleeves folded neatly back below his elbows, scuffed leather boots, and with that serene expression, the man looked as old and wise as the mountains themselves. And there was no doubt he was just as damn stubborn.

“Well, hello there.” The smile that lifted the corners of his mouth was reflected in his dark blue eyes. “Can I help ya, young lady?”

There was a whisper of a lyrical accent. Irish. Just a whisper though, not the full, male lilt she sometimes heard in memories that never fully revealed themselves.

“I’m looking…” She swallowed nervously. “I’m looking for Riordan Malone.”

His head tilted to the side, his thick graying hair neatly trimmed but giving a hint of the rogue he must have been in his youth.

“I’d say you’re looking for my grandson rather than myself,” he said gently. “He should be along in a bit. His da just called to say he’s done stole that wild pony again and headed this way.” A chuckle filled the air. “Come along up to the porch and sit with me till he arrives. That wild beast always gives a show when he comes barreling through the valley.”

Moving gingerly up the steps to the porch, she followed him to the comfortable-looking cushioned rockers that faced the valley.

“Does he steal ponies often?” She frowned as she sat down, feeling more off balance than she’d felt in her life—which was saying something considering the past six months.

“Just that wild-assed black son of a satan that took a liking to him.” He grinned back at her, his gnarled hands gripping the arms of the rocker loosely. “His da threatens to kill the beast every time Riordan takes it out. He swears it’s gonna kill the boy.”


That didn’t sound like the man she was searching for. But, everything she learned assured her this was the one place she was certain to find him.

“Ahh, here he comes now.” Fondness filled the old man’s tone as he motioned to the valley.

He appeared at first as no more than a storm of dust rising beyond the verdant green of the valley.

Amara watched, her heart racing as that trail of dust grew steadily closer.

It was an imposing sight, she had to admit.

A sensual, exhilarating sight.

The horse, black as midnight, neck extended, flying across the deserted landscape, was enough to hold the eye. But the sight of the man, bent low to the horse’s neck, black hair flying back from his face, riding without a saddle, was a bit more than simply imposing.

It was exhilarating.

Imposing and savage and wildly erotic.

Amara could feel her body responding to the sight, weakening, filling with a sensual lassitude she couldn’t combat.

“Be watching this now. That horse loves ta take him on a wild ride he does,” Grandpops said softly.

The horse flew over a gully as though he had wings, before jumping the stream, neck and legs extended as it went airborne for precious seconds. The animal then took a series of fences as though they were nothing, and as she stared, she felt she knew how those women felt from centuries past as they watched a conquering warrior bearing down on them.

When the horse flew over the fence that enclosed the house yard, Amara was certain there was no way it could pull up before slamming headfirst into the porch itself.

With no more than a few yards to spare, the beast came up on his hind legs, a triumphant equine scream filling the air before landing again and prancing about with pure high-spirited joy before finally settling.

And Riordan sat firm on the animal’s back the whole time, holding onto the horse’s mane rather than a bridle, thighs gripping the animal’s heaving sides as he stared at her with blazing, furious blue eyes before turning them on his grandfather.

The younger Riordan dismounted smoothly, the soles of his moccasined feet hitting the ground as he slapped the beast on the rump. It came up on its hind legs once more in another display of savage beauty as it reared up, pawed the air, then shot off back the way it came the second it landed.

Flying like the wind, strong legs launching it over the fence, the gully, then the stream before a trail of dust followed it around the bend of the mountain.

So much beauty, she thought. A display of savage male temper and strength, and no less showed in Riordan’s expression as he propped his hands on his lean waist and glared up at her where she sat next to his grandfather on the porch.

Well-worn denim encased his hips and legs, and the moccasins that covered his feet weren’t fringed or fancy, just well made. A black T-shirt stretched across a broad chest, emphasizing his muscular abs and making her fingers itch to remove it.

Yes, this was him. The savage who invaded her dreams, the fury who slashed at her nightmares. Vivid sapphire eyes, daunting features, proud, imposing. A man who knew his own demons as well as those that inhabited other men. Or women.

She rose slowly to her feet, aware of Riordan’s “grandpops” as he sat comfortably in his rocker, watching in interest.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” the words that passed from his lips caused her to flinch; their icy tone caused her heart to sink.

The tender tone, the edge of lust and hunger she’d dreamed of, was nowhere in sight.

His gaze raked over her and there was none of the sensual promise she’s seen in his eyes when he’d invaded her dreams, none of the dominant sensualist who tormented her with his touch in her fantasies.

She hadn’t expected this. This wild fury and enraged demand. He didn’t seem the least bit glad to see her, she had to admit. What made her think he would be? she wondered.

Was she wrong? Did she not know him?

She was certain she had to have known him, certain that somehow, someway, they must have meant something to each other. Could she have been so wrong?

“Riordan!” Grandpops’ surprised tone had a grimace contorting Riordan’s face.

Evidently the grandfather thought little of the grandson’s language.

“Grandpops, perhaps you should go back to Grant’s.” He turned to his grandfather, his voice firm. “Noah, Sabella, and the babies will be there in a bit.”

Grandpops continued to glower at him.

“I’m certain I can handle whatever language he wants to use, Mr. Malone,” she assured the older man. “I’m not exactly a stranger to it these days.”

Her father cursed more often, brooded more often, and Amara knew the situation she’d found herself in was weighing on him. If she didn’t do something, didn’t fix things, then she was terrified of what may happen. Of what her father would do to fix things himself.

“But can his grandmother?” The old man sounded disappointed rather than angry. “Remember whose home your using that language in, boy.”

Rising from his chair, Grandpops moved to the steps stiffly and made his way down, casting his grandson yet another warning glare.

“Drive carefully, Grandpops. No more racing with those Brickford boys,” Riordan stated as his grandfather passed by.

And Amara could have sworn she saw a gleeful grin tease at the older man’s lips. But he merely grunted as he passed.

A few moments later the truck started, and they watched Grandpops ease around the circular drive and onto the road that led to the small valley.

The silence that stretched between them was heavy—with his anger and her uncertainty.

As the truck took the curve around the rising hill, she turned back to Riordan and tucked her hands into the pockets of her light jacket, her fingers curling into fists.

She’d faked the last six months with friends and most of her family. Taking cues from her father and his assistant Nikolai, she’d smiled and faked her way through every damn meeting and gathering she’d been forced to attend until she slipped silently from her father’s estate the week before and, in essence, ran away from home.

Not that he was letting her run without giving chase. He and his men weren’t far behind her and she knew it. They’d almost caught up with her the night before, outside Houston. If she didn’t do something, if she didn’t find a way to eliminate the threat shadowing her, then her poppa could do something she may not be able to live with. And it was that decision that sent her running to Alpine and the man who shadowed her dreams.

She was here now. She’d found the man she’d gone searching for, and she knew the days of lying and pretending to be who she’d been six months before were over.

She lifted her head, straightened her shoulders, and stared up at him in determination.

“Whatever I did to you, I’m sorry,” she told him, miserably aware that if she’d offended him in the past, angered him, then there was the possibility it couldn’t be fixed with an apology. She hadn’t been the nicest person she could have been in the past.

His eyes narrowed on her before once again moving to sweep over the landscape. There was a tension that surrounded him, a steady watchfulness she’d noticed her father and Ilya always carried as well. That prepared and ready-for-action thing strong men always seemed to carry with them.

“Go home, Amara,” he told her when those brilliant eyes turned back to her. “Go back to daddy. This is no place for you.”

He knew her. He was angry, but for a second, she swore she saw something more in that flash of heat in his expression.

“No. Riordan, please.” He couldn’t make her leave. Not yet, not until he knew what was coming, because what was coming didn’t affect just her. She could sense it, her dreams assured her of it.

Turning, Riordan dismissed her just that easily and strode up the steps to the porch, leaving her to stand alone as the storm door slammed behind his retreating back.


Strange, but this feeling of “alone” didn’t seem nearly as unfamiliar as it should have.

Inhaling deeply, she followed him rather than doing as ordered. Not that she often did as she was ordered. That was probably how she found herself where she was now. Opening the door quietly, she stepped into the house, her gaze taking in the homey atmosphere of the large living area.

A comfortable leather couch, recliner, and matching chairs were grouped around a cold fireplace. The mantle held a variety of family pictures that she would have loved to have time to check out. The wood floor was smooth, aged with a sheen of time and caring.

There were more family pictures in frames on the wall, many appeared old and passed down through the years, the frames lovingly polished, the photos a bit faded from time.

As she stepped into the room, Riordan watched her silently, leaning against the wide doorframe into the kitchen, his arms crossed over his broad chest as he simply stared at her, his expression still and remote.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked, that rumble of his deep voice sending a stroke of sensation up her spine.

What was she doing here?

Trying to survive, to live.

“I need your help.” She had to force herself to say the words, and still they came out as barely more than a whisper. “Please, Riordan. I need your help.”

* * *

Six months.

For six bloody months this damn woman had tormented his dreams while asleep and his thoughts while awake. He’d given his life for her on a dark, blood-filled night, then again on an operating table, only to be told she never wanted to see him again when he’d been released. And now, two months after he’d returned to Texas, here she was.

Son of a bitch. Just when he thought he could get through a night without being tormented by her, she just showed up out of the blue. And it was all he could do not to touch her, to jerk her to him and show her exactly what she was dealing with in coming to him.

But, she’d been his weakness from the moment he’d met her, hadn’t she? From the second his gaze touched hers, she’d been the one woman he couldn’t get out his head. And God knew he’d fought it.

Tiny and delicate, she made a man want to wrap her in cotton and hide her away from the world. Resilient, stubborn, and independent, she made a man realize fast that she wouldn’t allow him to do so.

Her once-long, straight silky black hair was shorter now, courtesy of her abductors. At first jagged and close to her scalp, it had grown a good six inches or so and feathered around her delicate face becomingly. Piercing gray-blue eyes stared back at him, somberly.


Riordan straightened from the doorframe, his eyes narrowing on her. That was fear in her eyes, along with the uncertainty and the heat he always saw there.

“You need my help?” he couldn’t help the mockery that tinged his voice simply because it flooded every corner of his mind. “Strange, two months ago you never wanted to see my damn lying ass again. What changed?”

What had changed? For a moment, that question had her pausing.

God, if only she could tell him. She was damned if she knew herself what had changed. All she knew was that now, six months after she’d awakened, she was unable to remember what had happened or who had abducted her or what they had wanted. The nightmares had grown worse, the sense of imminent danger and panic that fueled them had become overwhelming. In each one, this man stood with his hand outstretched, his voice whispering to her, urging her to find him. To come to him.

She swallowed tightly, uncertain what to say, how to explain. She didn’t trust him, not by any means. But she didn’t trust anyone now. She didn’t know who to trust.

“I’m sorry.” But she was damned if she could remember telling him he wasn’t wanted.

No doubt she’d had a good reason. Savagely hewn, rough and sexy, and a cowboy to boot. No doubt he had a wandering eye and hands that had no idea how to be faithful. The one type of man she despised. But personal fidelity and the ability to protect weren’t always intimately acquainted, she’d since learned. The man who cheated on his wife and walked away from his children could also be the very man willing to give his life for that same woman, or those children.

Men had never made sense to her, even from an early age. But she didn’t need him to make sense to her, she needed him to fulfill the promise he made in her dreams and help her figure out who was determined to see her dead and why she was so certain it was someone she knew and loved.

“You’re sorry?” he snorted, flashing her a look filled with disgust. “Fine, go home and be sorry there. I don’t have time for it here.”

The panic was beginning to build inside her chest. It thundered through her veins and raced to her heart. If he made her leave, if he threw her out and forced her to run again, she was going to die, and she knew it.

“You promised you’d help me,” she snapped, her tone more demanding than she would like despite her uncertainty and the fact that the words tore from her almost involuntarily. “You swore it. You can’t renege now.”

Had he really promised, or had she just dreamed it? Was the memory of that dark little hole and the pain that filled her just another nightmare? Had he really been there, swearing he’d always save her, or had she just imagined it?

“Did I now?” Softly voiced, the question held that bit of Irish sexy, lyrical sound that she often heard in those fantasy dreams filled with pleasure rather than pain. “And when did that happen?”

She shook her head. Memory or nightmare?

“You swore you’d always be there if I needed you.” She fought to believe it was memory. “All I had to do was reach out to you. Well, dammit, I’m reaching out. Do you want me to beg too?”

She could see his hand outstretched, his expression somber, demanding. He wouldn’t come to her, she had to go to him.

Riordan felt as though his world had narrowed, that nothing existed but this moment, this woman, and the dreams that had haunted him. Dreams of her cries, her pleas that he come to her. And no matter how desperately he tried to reach her, she was always but a touch away. No matter how often he’d urged her to take his hand, to come to him, just reach out to him, she never did.

The dreams had become so insistent over the months, he’d actually contacted his former security team members who still worked for her father to check up on her.

All was well, he’d been told. Princess Resnova was still the princess, and the czar still protected her like the cherished daughter she would always be. And still, he dreamed, reached out to her, and urged her to take his hand.

I’ll always be here for you. Just reach out to me.

He hadn’t told her that, he’d whispered those words in a dream.

And son of a bitch if that wasn’t enough to make a man force himself not to shake in his boots.

“Why?” he demanded. “Why the hell do you need me when your father has over fifty protection agents, and every damn one of them is on call in case they’re needed to protect you? What the fuck do you need with me?”

Damn her. She’d waited six months to come to him. She’d let him lie in a hospital out of the country, half alive for weeks, and hadn’t once called or reached out him. Why the hell was she short circuiting his brain now?

“I need you to help me,” she whispered again. “I need someone I can trust with my life, Riordan, before I die because I don’t know anymore who’s a friend and who’s the enemy. But you might know. I need someone I can trust to watch my back while I figure out who the hell is trying to kill me and why.”

Kill her?

According to every source he had in her father’s organization, she was safe. The men at the farmhouse where they’d found her were all killed. The bodyguard they’d identified as being behind the abduction and her beating was dead as well.

“Your father’s men can protect you.” God help him. If he even tried, he’d get them both killed—because he wouldn’t be able to stay out of her bed.

She was shaking her head even as he spoke. “I don’t trust them. I don’t trust anyone.” Desperation filled her expression now. “You don’t understand, Riordan. All I have are these crazy dreams of you. Every nightmare I have you’re at my back, protecting me. That’s all I have because I don’t remember what happened before my abduction or the abduction itself. I’ve lost a year of my life and I don’t know why and I damn sure can’t force those memories back,” she cried out, fury filling her tone. “All I have are the nightmares and dreams, and the only person I can see, the only person I can trust in them is you. And by God, I want to know why.”

She faced him, fists clenched, anger flushing her face, but that was heat in her eyes. It wasn’t just nightmares she had, it wasn’t simply dreams.

It was this bond he could sense between them even as she stared back at him, furious, frightened.

And he’d waited long enough.

Taking the steps that separated them, he jerked her into his arms, his lips stilling her cries, his arms tightening around her, holding her to him.

Her lips parted in shock, and he took full advantage of it. He tasted her. Lips and tongue possessed her kiss, and he let his senses grow drunk on her.

Because somehow, someway, she’d shared not just her dreams with him, but those incredibly erotic fantasies that filled his head as well.

And now, he wanted a taste of all that passion, that feminine hunger and need he hadn’t nearly had enough of before her abduction.

Then they could discuss the rest.

Copyright © 2018 by Lora Leigh in Collision Point and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Paperbacks.

Author Bio:

#1 New York Times bestseller Lora Leigh is the author of the Navy SEALS, the Breeds, the Elite Ops, the Callahans, the Bound Hearts, and the Nauti series.


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COVER REVEAL ~ ONLY YOU by Melanie Harlow


Only You, an all-new sexy and emotional standalone from USA Today
bestselling author Melanie Harlow is coming March 12th!


Title: Only You

Author: Melanie Harlow

Publishing Date: March 12th
Designer: Letitia Hasser, RBA Designs
Photographer: Lauren Watson Perry


Nate Pearson is ridiculously handsome and wears the hell out of a suit and tie, but I’ve seen the parade of beautiful women leaving his apartment across the hall—a different one every time—and I want no part of it. When it comes to romance, I’m looking for something real, something that will last: the happily ever after.

As a divorce attorney, he loves to tell me there’s no such thing.

As a wedding planner, I choose to disagree.

We disagree on almost everything, in fact. Everything except James Bond. The only time we really get along is when we’re watching 007 flicks together, and I’ll admit—he has rescued me from a disaster or five. So when one of the baton twirlers from his parade leaves a baby girl at his door with a note that says “I’ll come back for her” and he begs me for help, I can’t turn him down.

But it’s a mistake.

Because watching him with his daughter, I start to see another side of Nate, a side that has my breath coming faster, my body craving his, my heart longing for him to change his mind about love and tell me there’s a chance for us.

I don’t want to be just another girl leaving his apartment in the morning.

I want to be the one he asks to stay.

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About Melanie:



Melanie Harlow likes her martinis dry, her heels high, and her history with the naughty bits left in. When she’s not writing or reading, she gets her kicks from TV series like VEEP, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Homeland. She occasionally runs three miles, but only so she can have more gin and steak.

Melanie is the author of the AFTER WE FALL series, the HAPPY CRAZY LOVE series, the FRENCHED series, and the sexy historical SPEAK EASY duet, set in the 1920s. She lifts her glass to romance readers and writers from her home near Detroit, MI, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and pet rabbit.

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BLOG TOUR ~ One Night in Havana (#34 in the City Nights Series) by Kathleen Rowland

One Night in Havana 
#34 in the City Nights Series from Tirgearr Publishing
by Kathleen Rowland

Kathleen will be awarding 3 lucky winners a $10 Amazon Gift Certiticate. Winners will be chosen randomly with Rafflecopter. Please use the Rafflecopter below to enter. Remember you may increase your chances of winning by visiting the other tour stops. You may find those locations here.

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About the Book:  

A desperate competition and sizzling attraction leads to dangerous desire.

New York Marine biologist Veronica “Roni” Keane is attending the Havana Bay Conference in Cuba. Tomorrow only one grant will be awarded which will provide the winner with professional recognition, resources for a project, and living expenses for two years. She hopes to continue her deceased father’s work, but smooth operator, Carlos Montoya, has won many grants in the past.

Carlos, a freelancer for the Havana Port Authority, works to help protect Havana’s reputation as a bastion of safety. As international travelers flock to the island, attracted by its 1950’s time-warp and colonial architecture, the drug business is running rampant, particularly on Roni’s cruise ship. Something’s not right, and when her scuba tanks are tampered with, Carlos brings in the military police to investigate. For her safety, he keeps her close, but he craves her body.

Their attraction leads to a fun night with a bit of kink. But Roni finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for when the criminals blame her for alerting the military police and come looking for her. Can Roni trust Carlos to protect her? Will she stay in Havana if Carlos wins the coveted grant, or kiss her lover goodbye?

An erotic romance with mystery. 

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 Chapter One

“Why, Veronica Keane.” A voice heavy with a Spanish accent drawled from behind her. “A dive bar?” A taunting tsk.
“What do we have? A slumming New Yorker?”
She stiffened and closed her eyes. She knew that voice and its owner, Dr. Carlos Montoya, a finalist like her, competing for the same damn grant at the biggest Cephalopoda conference of the decade. Her heart pitter-pattered against her ribs. To turn toward him would intimate distress, or worse yet, weakness. She wouldn’t fail to win this grant, not when she was a final contender. “I like this funky little place.” Sia Macario Café, smack in the center of Havana, allowed her to observe locals and their daily lives.
“You need to eat with all the mojitos you’ve downed.” The big tease wasn’t  counting. This was her first drink, but his rumbling, sexy timbre hinted at all kinds of dark, hot promises. She’d rubbed shoulders with the Cuban scientist all week. This splendid specimen of Latin male brought on a physical ache that punched low.
A flare-up stirred fear. For her own good, she needed to resist. “I ordered camarones enchiladas.” By now she knew the menu on the chalkboard by heart. She tipped her head back to whiff grilled shrimp soon to arrive in sofrito sauce with fried sweet plantains.
“The flan is good. Just like my abuela makes.”
“I bet. Your grandmother would be happy to hear that,” she said, knowing he brought out the best in most people. Two days ago he’d invited her and a handful of others scuba diving. The chance to ogle him had been one of the perks. He’d worn nothing but swim trunks, his bare chest on display. Every glistening muscle was finely etched. Not a drop of fat on him. Since he’d not given her the time of day, she’d checked him out without him noticing.
The hard-bodied host had led the way toward habitats of soft-bodied creatures. To find where invertebrates lived was never an easy task. Octopuses squeezed into narrow passages of coral for protection and gave females a place to keep their eggs. She’d discovered the remains of a few meals nearby.Octopuses scattered rocks and shells to help them hide.
 This grant meant so much to her and no doubt to him as well. Veronica mindlessly toyed with the gold necklace around her neck, but anxiety crackled through her brain. Unlike this man of action, she lacked the flamboyant personality necessary to talk people into things. Carlos had that ability. He’d made friends with judges on board while she’d conversed with an older woman about a box of scones made with Cuban vanilla cream.
That day the wind had picked up to a gale force, and this woman named Bela with Lucille Ball red hair needed help walking to her home. The half mile down the seaside promenade, The Malecón, had provided her with time to practice her Spanish. Turned out Bela was Carlos’s grandmother. She’d worked as a maid when the Castro government came to power. When private homes were nationalized, titles were handed over to the dwelling occupants. Bela owned a crumbling home in the respected Verdado district and rented out rooms.
What Veronica detested about Carlos was his abnormal level of talent for schmoozing. Not that he wasn’t charismatic; he drew her like a powerful magnet with emotions hard to untangle. Why was a self-assured woman who ran her own life thinking about a man who commanded everyone around him?
She inhaled a breath and turned around on the barstool, caught fast by a gut punch of Carlos Montoya in the flesh. She sighed and surrendered to the tendrils of want sliding up between her thighs.
Tall and muscular, his lush dark hair curled to his collar giving him a wild, roguish appearance. His face was lean and chiseled. His mouth full and tempting. His eyes the smoky-gray of a grass fire and fringed with black lashes as dense as paintbrushes. He smiled. A faint hint of mockery curved his mouth, a sensual mouth she imagined to be either inviting or cruel. Or both at the same time when he leaned over a woman with a diamond-hard gleam in his dark eyes while she drowned with pleasure. She fought a fierce desire to run her hand across his broad chest, tip her face upward, and…
His breath tickled her face.
Not going there. She blinked and forced her mind to focus. Carlos Montoya was not the kind of man you lost focus around. But that image of putting her mouth full on his and peeling away his shirt once introduced in her mind was impossible to expunge. Pointless even to try.
He was an intimidating blend of intellect and sexy danger. Both qualities had her leaning back against the bar’s edge. If it weren’t for him, she’d have a chance at winning the grant.
His lips twitched. “You’re staying on one of the cruise ships, am I right?” He rolled up the sleeves of his linen jacket to reveal a dusting of manly hair.
”Yes.” Her cabin served as her hotel room while attending the January meetings with perfect high-seventies temperatures. His eyes locked with hers. She willed herself to move and yet she remained seated, clutching heat between her legs, a wetness so intense that her breath stalled in her chest while her heart hammered faster. Soon she’d return to freezing New York City.
“So, Bonita, give.” He slid onto the bar stool next to her. “What brings you down from a lofty ship to grace us lowly Cubans with your presence?”
Bonita. Pretty lady was not an endearment coming from the mouth curved in a taunting smile, but not a slight either. Not with his deep, melodic voice speaking words as if he knew secrets about her. What secrets did he know? Would he pry into her personal life? She doubted this bad-boy college professor acknowledged boundaries.
“Just drinks and dinner.” She scrambled for composure. “Aren’t we attending a world-class conference? I find the local population to be friendly and kind. That’s not slumming.”
The bartender set down a saoco. “Hope you like it, senorita.”
“Gracias,” she said. “Very nice, served in a coconut.”
“Ah, the saoco,” Carlos said. “Rum, lime juice, sugar, and ice. The saoco,” he repeated, disbelief heavy in his words. “Um. Wow. Once used as a tonic for prisoners of the revolution.”
“Medicinal?” She couldn’t help it. She chuckled and sounded as if a rusty spoon had scraped her throat raw, but it was genuine. The warm glow in its wake was welcome and needed. .
He leaned an elbow on the bar, his beer bottle with the green-and-red Cristal label dangling between his fingers. “Be careful with that one.” He dipped his head toward the front door as if he needed to go somewhere soon.
That fast, the glow snuffed out. She cleared her throat and gripped the fuzzy surface of the coconut container.
He placed a five-peso coin with a brass plug on the counter and whirled it. The spinning motion mirrored a dizzying attraction going on in low parts of her belly.
She cleared her wayward mind and nodded toward artwork on the opposite wall. “I plan to buy a painting tonight.”
“Don’t buy anything unless the seller gives you a certificate. You’ll need one to take art from Cuba. Artists deal in euros in case you don’t have pesos.”
She’d come prepared but said, “Thanks for the info.”
His coal-black eyes widened as he gazed from her head down to the tiny straps around her ankles as if she wore high heels and nothing else. “You give off a Barbie doll image,” he replied and stood up.
“Where’s Ken, anyway? Kenneth Morton. He came with you to the talks in Antarctica. Five years ago.” He grinned, and the mortification in her belly gave way to a longing which she had no business feeling toward her competitor.
“Ken and I broke up.” She hesitated for a moment. “You have a gift for remembering names. Like a salesman.”
“A person’s name is, to that person, the most important and sweetest sound. Back then I introduced myself to Ken in the men’s room.”
“I remember now. Didn’t you give a talk on a specialized pigment in the octopus?”
“Ahh, si.” He splayed his fingers over his chest. “A pigment in their blood is—”
 “—called hemocyanin. Turns their blood blue and helps them survive subfreezing temperatures. Were you awarded something?”
“The antifreeze protein grant? No. It went to a deep-diving photographer. He wasn’t chicken about getting lost or trapped under the ice.”
She slid from her stool and strutted around, jutting her chin in and out like a chicken. “Bock, bock, bock, bock, bock, begowwwwk.”
He chuckled. “Cute chicken dance. Very cute in that skimpy black dress.”
Her cheeks heated, and she clutched her necklace. He’d seen plenty of women in body-fitting attire. In Cuba, women wore dresses to meetings. If she’d harnessed sexier mojo, she’d have livened up presentations. Her presentations with an abundance of dull data went south. She slid back against her stool and clutched her purse to her stomach as if the small satin bag could calm the nerves playing deep down kickball. She belonged in her tidy New York office filled with computers, modems, and research manuals. Not in this softly lit café where passion oozed from a man’s pores, and artists displayed their canvases. Here was where Havana’s trendsetters congregated, and Ernest Hemingway wrote about desire.
“Good luck with your purchases, Veronica Keane.”
Okay, so they weren’t going to pretend they were going head to head for the grant.
As if he had more to say, he grinned at her, his perfect white teeth flashing.. “Do you find us different, like apples and oranges?”
“What am I, an apple or an orange?”
“Hmm. You’re an apple.” He was doing that sexy voice thing which made her brain shut down. Heady. 
It started with an unexpected spark, an instant attraction, the jolting jab of oh-I’m-feeling-something. Something like a flashfire in her belly, but now they were talking. “Am I the apple of desire? Want to take a bite out of me?” She pulled in a breath. Had she really said that?
Bonita, do I ever.”
“Tomorrow is the final ceremony.” Would she watch him walk to the podium to accept the grant? 

About the Author: 

Book Buyers Best finalist Kathleen Rowland is devoted to giving her readers fast-paced, high-stakes suspense with an erotic love story sure to melt their hearts.  Her latest release is One Night in Havana, #34 in the City Nights series.

Kathleen also has a steamy romantic suspense series with Tirgearr Publishing, Deadly Alliance is followed by Unholy Alliance. Keep an icy drink handy while reading these sizzling stories.

Kathleen used to write computer programs but now writes novels.   She grew up in Iowa where she caught lightning bugs, ran barefoot, and raced her sailboat on Lake Okoboji.  Now she wears flip-flops and sails with her husband, Gerry, on Newport Harbor but wishes there were lightning bugs in California.

Kathleen exists happily with her witty CPA husband, Gerry, in their 70’s poolside retreat in Southern California where she adores time spent with visiting grandchildren, dogs, one bunny, and noisy neighbors.  While proud of their five children who’ve flown the coop, she appreciates the luxury of time to write.

If you’d enjoy news,  sign up for Kathleen’s newsletter at


BEYOND SERIES REBRANDED COVER REVEAL ~ Beyond Ecstasy (Beyond #8) by Kit Rocha


Beyond Rebrand Blog Reveal

Beyond Ecstasy
by Kit Rocha




I always thought Beyond Ecstasy would be one of the easiest covers to design, but this one took me the longest. Many of our heroines protect themselves by wearing masks, but it’s usually one mask, a distinct mask. Their mask.  Jeni, on the other hand, is like a master of disguise. She dons personas for the stage and discards them just as easily.

She’s comfortable in a sun dress on Hawk’s family’s farm—which was the first concept I tried. Farm equipment didn’t look sexy in the background, it turned out! But she’s also comfortable glammed up and lounging in fabulously lavish luxury. And since she and Hawk had a very intimate moment in such surroundings, that’s where I finally decided to place her. Sexy, sensual, glamorous…but with just a hint of vulnerability. Because her mask is about to come off.


The O’Kanes have a reputation for working hard and playing harder—except for Hawk. He joined the gang with one goal: to ensure his family’s survival through the impending war with Eden. It’s been years since he had the luxury of wanting anything for himself. Now, he wants Jeni. From the first moment he saw her, he’s been obsessed with making her his. Not for a night—forever.

Jeni’s been lusting after the former smuggler for months, but he keeps shutting her down. She’s almost given up on getting him in her bed when he offers her the last thing she ever expected—a collar. Accepting it means belonging to him, body and soul. It’s a reckless gamble, but Jeni can’t resist the chance to slip under Hawk’s armor.

The only thing more shocking than the dark, dangerous pleasure they discover is how right it feels. But falling in love is even more reckless when forever is far from guaranteed. Because they aren’t just at war, they’re out of time—and every breath could be their last.




B & N





Chapter One

Hawk couldn’t decide which would drive him crazy first—the shadows or the light.

The shadows, that was the easy answer. The sectors had been dark for a month now, driven back to the earliest days after the Flares. Back home in Six, things wouldn’t be so bad. The farms had always survived off wind and solar energy, and as powerful as Eden was, they couldn’t still the air or blot out the sun. But sectors like Four relied on whatever electricity they could borrow, beg, or steal from Eden’s grid. Blackouts had always been an infrequent annoyance.

Now they were a constant reality—and Sector Four was unraveling under the strain.

That was why Hawk was out for his fourth night in a row, patrolling the market square with Jasper. He could feel people watching them from behind closed doors and windows, from hidden alleys and sheltering walls. Watching and waiting. Calculating their chances of getting away with whatever trouble they’d been planning to start. Out of fear, or desperation, or just to relieve the unrelenting tension.

But all those stares couldn’t raise the hair on the back of his neck like glancing over his shoulder toward the city.

The darkness was awful, but the light posed the real danger. Hell, it was going to make them all crazy. Eden’s damn glowing walls, sparking with all the power they’d stolen from the sectors. Precious electricity twisted into a weapon and a warning and brazen, bragging psychological warfare.

During the day, you could almost ignore it. But when the sun dipped below the western hills, all anyone could see was Eden’s walls, lighting up the night in a silent reminder that everything had changed.

“Nothing.” Jas growled, a low noise in the back of his throat. “I hate the waiting.”

I hate the waiting. Words that summed up life in the sectors now, on every fucking level. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“The intel is good.” Jasper pulled a cigarette from his pocket, but he didn’t light it. “Two shops and someone’s house have been hit on this block in the last week.”

The intel might be good, but crime wasn’t simple anymore. Some people were stealing out of greed and need, but more and more had been starting shit just to start it. The wave of petty crime had dropped after the O’Kanes bumped up fight night to twice a week—an approved outlet for violence with a chance to make some money was math even an idiot could do—but the feeling was back, seething from the shadows, growing day by day.

If something didn’t happen soon, every damn night would have to be fight night.

Jas rubbed the spot between his eyes with the heel of his hand. “Let’s take a walk.”

Hawk nodded in agreement and fell into step next to Jas as he turned toward the city. Even this far away, an ache was already forming behind his eyes. He knew how many blocks they could walk before the ache blossomed into pain, and how many more before nausea joined the party.

No one could live this close to the wall anymore. Some of the shopkeepers who’d kept homes above their shops had been driven back after the first two weeks. A few stubbornly stayed—pale and drawn and increasingly sick from the constant exposure.

Hawk couldn’t understand how. When they cleared the last row of buildings, he could feel the damn thing in his bones, thrumming, itching, humming. It took all his self-control not to turn the fuck around and run for it.

But he couldn’t. Not until he and Jas had completed their most grisly task of the night.

The open space closest to the curving walls was strewn with abandoned carts and trash no one had bothered to pick up. No shadows lurked here—just eerie, unnatural illumination that made Hawk’s eyeballs itch and washed everything out into silver and blue.

Especially the dark form standing at the wall, his hands wrapped around a line of wire.

“Fuck,” Jasper muttered. “Motherfucker.”

Suicide-by-Eden. The newest threat facing the sectors, and the most hopeless.

Jas was already pushing through the carts, looking for something they could use to knock the body loose. They’d pry this poor bastard off the wall the way they’d done the ones before, but they couldn’t hide what was happening. The whispers would spread, and tomorrow would be a little worse than today.

People were giving up. Old-timers who’d lived through the first terrible years after the Flares, who couldn’t face doing it again. Their children, who’d grown up with the horror stories, with nightmares that only intensified in the telling.

The worst were the kids. Teenagers, really—adults by the rules that guided the sectors but still fucking children in the way that mattered. Too young to understand mortality and too fucking scared to fight, because they’d already spent all of their short lives fighting. If they had to drag another kid off the wall—

Jas came back with a board, and Hawk reached for it. “I’ll do it.”

The man hesitated only for a moment before handing over the plank of wood. “Careful, man.”

Hawk didn’t relish getting closer, but Jas couldn’t afford to take the risk at all. Too much rested on his shoulders—and Hawk sure as fuck wasn’t going back to the compound to face Noelle after letting her boyfriend fry himself. “I got it.”

He approached carefully, setting each foot down firmly to eliminate any chance of tripping. By the time he was within swinging distance, his teeth were vibrating. The low buzz filled his ears, and maybe that was a blessing.

There was nothing pretty about trying to knock a corpse off the wires that had electrocuted him.

The first swing didn’t budge the man. And it was a man—or had been. His clothes were as singed as his skin, burned black by the heat generated by the high current coursing through him. The sickly scent of roasted flesh filled Hawk’s nostrils, and he held his breath as he swung again. Harder.

This time, the blow managed to dislodge the dead man’s grip on the wires, and he tumbled to the cracked pavement in a heap.

Jasper closed his eyes with a low, pained noise, then dropped to a crouch beside the prone body. “Burial detail?” he asked hoarsely. “Who’s on it tonight?”

“Flash and the new kid. Tank.” Hawk joined him. “Do you recognize him?”

“No.” Jas looked up. “Seems like that would make it easier, doesn’t it?”

Nothing could make this easy. This moment—the horror of it, the fucking useless waste of it—it would always hurt. And it should.

But at least they didn’t have to go back to the compound and break the news to the dead guy’s friends. Not like last week, when they’d trudged home to face Tatiana. The woman they’d peeled off the wall that night had brought Tatiana lunch from her food cart every day for damn near five years.

Hawk might still end the evening drunk, but he wouldn’t be covered in someone else’s tears this time. Practically a banner fucking night—his most morbid thought yet. “I hope it never gets easy. I don’t want to think about what that would mean.”

“Truth.” Jas turned his head away from the wisps of smoke rising from the corpse and rose. “I worry about the effect this has on people.”

Hawk had spent enough time with Jas now to read between the lines. The man would never betray a weakness in the king and queen of Sector Four, but shit. You’d have to be a monster not to feel it, and while Dallas and Lex’s reputations could be plenty monstrous, Hawk knew they were both very, very human.

And, friend or not, Jas had to break this news to them every damn time.

There was nothing Hawk could say to make it better. No way to fix it. All he could do was toss the board aside and grab a ragged tarp from one of the carts to toss over the body. “I’ll find Tank and Flash. Get it taken care of.”

“No, I’ll handle it.” Jas punched him lightly on the shoulder. “You’ve been working hard. Have some fun tonight.”

Hawk huffed. “Fucking hypocrite.”

“Hey, it’s my load to bear, not yours.”

Easy words, but they were the reason Hawk had come to this sector. The reason he’d joined the O’Kanes, and the reason he had come to embrace them. For Jas, they weren’t just words. He meant them. The O’Kanes didn’t just believe in the pleasure that came with power. They believed in the responsibility, too.

For that, Hawk would follow them into hell. Maybe literally.

He squeezed Jas’s shoulder. “You sure? I got nowhere to be.” No one waiting for him, either.

“Hell, yeah.” Jasper jerked his head in the direction of the O’Kane compound. “Go. Crack open a bottle. We’re all gonna need it tonight.”

Hawk should have protested again, but an order was an order, and his churning gut and aching head were motivation enough. Dignity kept him out of a flat run, but he still made it through the market in record time, not slowing down until he reached the first row of tall apartment buildings and their reassuring shadows.

The darkness definitely wasn’t the enemy.

Neither was the silence. Noises teased at the edge of his senses—a slammed door, the scuffle of footsteps. Voices carried on the wind, too far away to reach him as more than a whisper. Hawk kept his hand close to his gun and pretended he wasn’t half-hoping someone would see a guy on his own as a tempting target.

It was two more nights until he’d have a chance at climbing into the cage. Two more nights of twisted up tension and anger and frustration with no damn outlet, because the only outlet he wanted—

No. No, he wouldn’t think of her like this, not while he smelled of death and dreamt of violence. He needed to purge the darkness first.

He needed a fucking drink.

That was what he told himself, anyway, when he swung right and headed for the entrance to the Broken Circle instead of the back gate that led to the living quarters.

Zan was guarding the door. He took one look at Hawk and cursed viciously. “Another one?”

So much for his poker face. “Yeah. Jas didn’t recognize him, but…”

Zan’s scowl deepened, then disappeared behind his hands as he scrubbed them over his face. “You headed inside?”

“I need a drink. Has it been crazy?”

“Different kind than usual.” Zan’s glower returned, full force. “Not real busy, but we’re having to keep four on the floor so the little shits’ll stay in line.”

Maybe he’d get his fight after all. Hawk slapped Zan on the shoulder. “I’ll keep an eye on things.”

“Swing by the kitchen,” Zan advised as he pushed open the door.

The music washed over Hawk as he stepped inside, the throbbing of the bass vibrating in his bones in different way than the electric pain of the wall. It dragged his gaze to the stage even though he’d promised himself he wouldn’t look—

He didn’t know if he was disappointed or relieved to see Trix up there, midway through her most popular act. Leather and steel and naked challenge—her movements were the O’Kane reputation distilled into a dance as potent as their whiskey.

The crowd was going wild. Cheering and hollering, leaning forward in anticipation that built with every teasing twist of her body. Hawk hesitated—not watching her, but the room itself. Bouncers bracketed the stage, a burly reminder not to get any ideas about appreciating the show up-close and personal.

Trix would be fine. If Hawk had had any doubts, he would have stayed. Not just because he owed it to Finn to look after his woman, but out of fondness for Trix herself.

Most of the time, he coped with the O’Kane women by treating them the way he would his sisters. With Trix, that came easy. She’d been to his home, had met his family. She was bound to Hawk’s oldest friend among the O’Kanes, the first one he’d called brother and meant it.

Affection would have prompted him to stay if she needed protection. And affection was the reason he booked it to the kitchen. This night was fucked up enough without watching a sister take her clothes off.

The kitchen was bright compared to the front room, light gleaming off steel counters and appliances. Somewhere beneath their feet, the finest collection of generators in the sectors were humming away, providing an oasis from the silent darkness of the rest of the sectors. Hawk suspected they could cancel the shows altogether and people would still show up, as much for the light and the sound as the liquor.

But the kitchen was quieter, the cheers and music muffled. Rachel sat on a stool at one high counter, a sharp knife in one hand and half a lemon in the other. “Hawk.” She gestured to him. “Have a seat.”

“Hey, Rachel.” He slid onto the stool next to her and eyed the lemon. She was only a few months pregnant, barely even showing yet, but the baby was definitely making its presence felt. “Queasy again?”

“Mmm.” She dropped another slice of lemon into the glass of water in front of her and lifted it. “This is the only thing that helps right now.”

No wonder Zan had sent him to the kitchen. Growing up on the farms in Six meant spending your life surrounded by women in various stages of pregnancy. But in a sector like Four, pregnant women were mysterious, dangerous creatures who suffered from inexplicable symptoms that sent the men—and women—around them into a panic.

Hawk honestly didn’t know how Amira had gotten through it without stabbing them all.

He edged the cutting board away from Rachel and picked up the knife. “You use ginger in your beer, don’t you?”

“In some of them. Why?”

“You should try that.” He gestured to the glass with the knife. “You can brew it into a tea. It helped my stepmothers and sisters.”

Rachel smiled and laid her head on his shoulder. “Thanks, Hawk.”

Poor girl. Hawk kissed the top of her head. “I’ll show Cruz how to make it when he gets back in.”

“I think he’d like that.” She lifted her head. “Bad night?”

“Not the worst. Not the best, either.” He offered her a crooked smile. “We hiding any of the good stuff back here?”

She reached under the cabinet nearest her and pulled out a bottle half-full of rich, amber liquor. “Not the best,” she said, turning his words around on him. “But not the worst, either.”

“Perfect.” He grabbed a glass and let her pour out a triple, then raised it to her in silent salute. She clinked her glass of water against his, and they both took a sip. “Shit, not the best is still better than we had on the farm.”

“One of the perks of being an O’Kane.”

There were many, and only one of them had factored into Hawk’s determination to join. He’d been on a mission, with Dallas O’Kane square in his sights. Dallas hadn’t even been the general of a newly formed rebellion back then, just a sector leader with a barbaric reputation that clashed with his history of being calculated, clever, and dangerous as fuck.

Hawk had recognized power. It took intelligence and forethought to cultivate an image that made the O’Kanes’ enemies consistently underestimate them, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The drinking and fucking and partying were perks, but they were also part of the act—painting themselves as sinners fighting just hard enough to indulge their lusts in luxury.

Rachel was watching him. “Everyone thinks this is what it’s about—all the booze you can drink, and all the hell you can raise. That, or the sex. But there’s something to be said for comfort, you know? For not having to be alone with your thoughts after a hard day.”

He swirled the liquor around his glass and tried to find the words. That was what she wanted—for him to unburden himself, to fall into the easy rhythm of chatter and sharing that seemed to come naturally to everyone else.

He could talk about ginger tea. About his sisters’ new farm, or cars, or the business of keeping the sector running. Facts and knowledge, clean and simple. Small talk. But Rachel wanted more.

What else was he supposed to do? Tell a pregnant woman about the corpse he’d just pried off the walls, walls that surrounded a city that might attack them at any second? Tell her about the smell of it, so stark and pungent that even the lemon and whiskey couldn’t overcome it?

Tell her about the fear in their guts every time they faced another suicide, wondering if this time they’d turn the body over and find what was left of a familiar face?

He snorted and took another sip. “Some thoughts are too damn bleak to share.”

“And some are too bleak to keep to yourself.” The lights overhead flickered, and her fingers tightened on her glass. “We’re in a stressful spot here, Hawk. It’s bad enough even if you do let yourself deal with it. But if you lock it away…”

“I know.” He rubbed the edge of his glass. “It’s dark out there, Rachel. And we all thought we were good at that, living in the dark. But this isn’t the same.”

She brushed his hand, a light touch that lasted for only a moment. “Just remember that you don’t have to be alone, okay?”

“I’m not alone.” The truth wrapped around a lie, because there were so many ways to be lonely, and Rachel could say it wasn’t about booze and sex, but it wasn’t that simple. Not when you were an O’Kane.

Rachel sighed. “You don’t do subtle, do you, Hawk?”

No, he really didn’t. Especially not the way these O’Kane women did, issuing invitations and propositions with their smiles and their soft touches—not that he thought Rachel was coming on to him. But there’d been another poured drink, another soft touch—

Don’t think about her. Not now.

Because telling yourself not to think about someone worked really damn well. Hawk finished his drink, reached for the bottle, and tried to prove Rachel wrong. “Jeni’s not dancing tonight?”

Surprise and a little rueful amusement flashed in Rachel’s eyes. “She’s upstairs, working on something new.”

Hawk turned the knowledge over as he splashed more liquor into his glass. Jeni, upstairs. Alone, maybe, working on a new dance. Sweat glistening on her skin, her breath coming short and fast, her body loose and supple.

Practice meant Jeni. Not the wigs and costumes and makeup that turned her into any of a dozen characters she used to work the stage or the bar, but the woman he glimpsed in quiet moments.

Beautiful. Fearless. Sad.

He could go upstairs. Bring the bottle with him, smile at her. He knew shit-all about romance and women, but he knew know how good fucking could be. Fast and hot enough to burn through all the tension tying him up, better than a thousand fight nights.

And then it would be over. Jeni would leave, because that was how the O’Kanes worked. Friendly. Casual. Easy.

Until someone else smiled at Jeni at the next party, and Hawk was overwhelmed by the unacceptable urge to punch their damn teeth in.

O’Kanes definitely didn’t do jealousy.

Rachel was still watching him, her rueful amusement melting into a smile. So he headed her off. “Don’t get any ideas. I got a couple dozen sisters, Rachel. I know that look.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she denied. “I was just saying that a little company never hurts. And,” she added, talking over his half-hearted protest, “that it doesn’t have to be about sex. There are hundreds of ways to reach out to someone, and that’s just truth.”

“I know,” he grumbled. And because he did have a couple dozen sisters, he knew he had to do one thing—change the damn subject. “That’s why I’m in here, drinking with you.”

Her smile turned into a grin, and she lifted her glass of water again. “To friends.”

“To friends,” he echoed, knocking their glasses together. Tonight, he would avoid Jeni and track down Cruz instead. Every discomfort Rachel suffered put the poor bastard on high alert, and Hawk could sympathize with his feeling of helplessness.

Brewing ginger tea might not seem like the best use of an elite soldier’s time, but feeling like he’d helped would soothe Cruz, which would soothe Rachel and Ace. Not a bad exchange for a little cup of tea.

And maybe with Ace in a good mood, Hawk could ask him a few questions. Casual. Easy. Just two O’Kanes, making small talk about life and fucking and all the ways they intersected in Sector Four.

If he could just figure out the right damn questions, someone might give him the answers that ended with Jeni in his bed for more than one night.

(Note: if you like your books to match and are worried, don’t be!
You’ll still be able to get the old covers in print at online retailers.)

Follow this link to KR’s website where you can view all of the new covers revealed so far…

Right now, book #1 in the series is free!!


All Noelle Cunningham has ever wanted was a life beyond–beyond her stifling role as a prim and proper councilman’s daughter, and beyond the walls of the patriarchal city of Eden, the only remnants of safety in a world destroyed by solar storms decades earlier. But when she’s banished for violating the prohibition against immorality, she’s unprepared for the lawless world outside the city’s walls.

The sectors surrounding Eden house those abandoned to fend for themselves–men like Jasper McCray, bootlegger and cage fighter. Jas clawed his way up from nothing to stand at the right hand of Sector Four’s ruthless leader, and he’ll defend the O’Kane gang with his life. But fighting hasn’t prepared him for dealing with a sheltered City princess who falls at his feet.

Her innocence is undeniable, but so is her intense sexual curiosity. Soon they’re exploring every dark fantasy she’s ever been ashamed to have. But if Noelle wants to claim her place with the O’Kanes and at Jas’s side, she’ll have to find the courage to embrace something even more terrifying than her own desires.

Her own power.

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Below you can find the absolute in-chronological-order reading order for all of the books, novellas and stories set in and around Eden and the Sectors. The KR gals do their best to make it so you can read the novels in order without missing anything if you skip the novellas and stories, but for those of you who like to read it all, in order…here you go!

Beyond Shame (novel)

Beyond Control (novel)

Beyond Denial (outtake)

Beyond Pain (novel)

Beyond Temptation (novella)

Beyond Jealousy (novel)

Beyond Solitude (novella)

Beyond Addiction (novel)

Beyond Possession (novella)

Beyond Innocence (novel)

Closed Doors (short story)

Blank Canvas (short story)

Beyond Ruin (novel)

Beyond Ecstasy (novel)

Beyond Surrender (novel)

Creative Incentives (short story)

Ashwin (novel)

Beyond Doubt (novella)

Deacon (novel)

Cravings (short story)

Beyond Forever (novella)


 Kit Rocha is the pseudonym for co-writing team Donna Herren and Bree Bridges. After penning dozens of paranormal novels,
novellas and stories as Moira Rogers, they branched out into gritty, sexy dystopian romance.

The series has appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, and was honored with a 2013 RT Reviewer’s Choice award.

Find out more at their website, or sign up to be notified of their next release.


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EXCERPT REVEAL ~ BabyJacked by Sosie Frost




Five years ago, I let the girl of my dreams get away.

To be honest, I set fire to her barn, fought with her brothers, then exiled myself to a logging company in the Canadian wilderness.

But a reclusive b@stard can’t hide forever. When my sister got sick, I took in my two young nieces. Now I’m paying rent to Sesame Street, drinking Jack and fruit juice, and reading my chainsaw manual as a bedtime story. I’ve gone from lumberjack to babyjacked, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

Fortunately, I found a nanny. Five years have passed, and Cassi’s not just my best friends’ little sister anymore. She’s all grown up, dark and beautiful with a smart mouth and a broken heart.

Doesn’t take long before she’s falling for me again, but I can’t shout timber yet.

Cassi can’t forgive the past. And I can’t tell her why I ran.

When a man doesn’t deserve a second chance, he’s just gotta steal her heart.


The first time I saw Remington Marshall, he stole my heart.

The last time I saw Remington Marshall, he’d just burned my family’s barn to the ground.

Arson usually complicated relationships.

Especially afterward, when Rem left our sleepy town of Butterpond in the dead of night without so much as a goodbye. He’d stayed gone for five long years.

Five years with no phone call. No visits. No explanations.

Even worse—no apology.

So, when my brother, Tidus, told me Rem was back in town, I had to make a decision.

Ignore Remington Marshall and forget he’d ever existed…

Or demand an answer for why he’d broken my heart.

I chose the latter, encouraged by the perspective I’d gained over the last couple years. As long as we stayed away from any flammable objects that might’ve torched what remained of my potential happiness, a conversation would bring me some much-needed closure. Besides, all that time had allowed me to douse the last few embers burning in my barn, heart, and loins.

But that still didn’t make confrontation a good idea, despite my brother’s insistence.

He came home to take care of his nieces, Tidus said.

Take him up a box of kids’ toys from storage, he said.

Pick me up a burger from Lou’s on the way home, he said.

Yeah, right.

Rem wasn’t a man who wanted to be found, even in the tiny town of Butterpond—a small cluster of dreams, prayers, and fatty liver disease. Butterpond was where the trees wanted in, the people wanted out, and my family’s farm accidentally lynch-pinned the whole place together.

To the town, my family was a fixture. The Payne’s farm. The Payne’s charity. The Payne’s pain in the ass boys who rolled over the town’s one streetlight like a plague of locusts. The Payne’s adopted daughter in a family of five boys—bless her heart.

But Rem? He no longer belonged in the town. Men like him kept to themselves, tucked away inside a cabin in the mountains, hidden from society by gravel roads, the occasional tick, and busted suspensions.

As much as I’d once loved Rem, risking Lyme disease and a punctured tire seemed a bad idea.

I did it anyway.

A box of old toys and children’s clothes was jammed in next to my suitcase.

This would be quick. In and out. Hand him the box stuffed with goodies from when my family had foster kids running all over the farm. Wish him well. Make the requisite small talk. And then pretend like my heart wasn’t held together with a roll of scotch tape and a smattering of pride.

I wasn’t about to let Remington Marshall shatter my barely rejuvenated dignity. Besides, the last I’d heard, he was the one crippled with guilt. Rumor had it—and by rumor, I meant the occasional conversation with his sister, Emma—he’d run away to the deepest forests of Canada to join a logging company.

If a heart broke in the forest, did it make a sound? The answer was yes, but it wasn’t a thud. More like the noise a sleepy woman yelped in the middle of the night when she stubbed her toe on the way to the bathroom. Less of a timber! More like son of a—

The box fit snugly against my hip, drawing the hem of my skirt up only an inch. I was fine with that. Showing a little leg would do me good. I’d grown up since the fire. Earned my curves. Managed to fill out my bra without two handfuls of wadded up toilet paper. Things were looking up.

I wound my way over a weed-choked cobblestone path and picked my steps up the rickety porch. The cabin was lost in the woods, and the forest wasn’t happy with the new occupant. The little space was so overgrown with brush and leaves that the trees would be grateful to be cleaned out of the gutters.

My knock clattered against the cabin door—almost loud enough to drown out the very irritated cry of a baby.


The wail might’ve belonged to a child. Could have also been a mountain lion with a toothache. Sometimes it was tough to tell, even with a degree in early education. Money well spent.

The door flung open. I expected Remington. Instead, a bright-eyed, blonde-haired, puffy-cheeked three-year-old peered up at me, scowled, and belted at the top of her precious little lungs to alert all within a square mile of my arrival.


I winced. “Hi. I’m Cassi. Is your Uncle—”


This alerted the baby—the real siren of the household who’d missed her calling as the dive alarm for a German U-Boat.

The chorus of screams rang in my ears. I shushed the three-year-old with a wave of my hand.

“I’m not a stranger—I’m a…” Was friend the right word? “I know your Uncle Rem…well, not know know. We grew up together. I mean, he grew up with my brother—I grew up later. But we were…I’d see him a lot—”


I cringed and went to Plan B. The box dropped to the porch. I debated on running, but the tape had loosened enough for me to rip the flaps. An old baby doll rested on a folded pile of clothes. I offered it as a sacrifice to appease the child.

“It’s for you!” My frantic words shushed her. “It’s PJ Sparkles. All the little girls loved PJ Sparkles!”

The child quieted. She bit her lip, scratched her leg with a foot clad in mismatched socks, and reached for the doll. She jumped as a husky voice caught her in the act.

“What do we have here?”

His voice was a blend of sticky marshmallow and crumbling graham cracker, and I melted like a chocolate bar squished near the fire.

I knew better than to get burned by Remington Marshall, but even the wisest girl sometimes took a big bite before blowing on it.

And, believe me, Rem would go to his grave wishing I had blown him.

Rem leaned against the door frame. His broad shoulders were clad in a warm, red flannel shirt. He scratched a wild, thick beard, and might have teased a smile. I couldn’t tell. Five years of isolation had obscured his face in dark hair.

A one-year-old baby wailed in his arms.

“Never expected to see you here, Cassia Payne.” He grunted as the three-year-old bashed the doll’s plastic head into a part of him that regretted meeting PJ Sparkles. He stepped aside and let her go play, but his stare pinned me in place. “Lost in the woods, little girl?”

What had happened to my Remington Marshall?

Gone was the teenage bad boy, strong enough to win his fights but lean enough to make a quick escape once Sherriff Samson flashed his lights. Now, Rem had become a terrifying beast of rugged strength. A lumberjack. A man like him could have punched down a tree. The Canadian forests never stood a chance.

Muscles packed on muscles. And the beard…oh, the beard. I didn’t know if he belonged in an ice fishing cabin or on a Harley, but this wasn’t the boy who’d left me behind.

This was a man.

And he was in trouble.

Rem struggled to bounce the little bundle of pink in his arms. The baby fussed, red-faced and probably wishing her Uncle hadn’t given her diaper a wedgie while rocking her. The three-year-old dropped the doll and instead raced over, around, and on top of his feet, tugging on his jeans with an urgent need to tinkle. She tripped over one of the four stuffed garbage bags piled in the entryway. One had already blown open, spilling dresses, shoes, socks, and toys into the cabin.

The three-year-old was wearing two shirts. The baby needed a pair of pants. Rem’s own belongings had tumbled into the hall—duffel bags and mountain boots.

Tidus wasn’t lying. Rem must have come home only hours before to take care of the kids.

The older girl somersaulted around his feet, somehow summoning and then spilling a glass of water. The TV blared cartoons from the den. The baby cried just to be louder than the show. Behind him, every chair had been toppled in the dining room. The cushions stripped off the couch. Something slimy dripped from the sink.

Chaos had descended upon a three-square-foot area of his life…

And a part of me really enjoyed the struggle.

“Everyone said you ran away to become a lumberjack,” I said. “But apparently you joined a circus.”

Rem was a great liar. I’d learned that long ago. He attempted to soothe the baby and accidentally smooshed her face into the wall of muscle that was his shoulder. His wink wasn’t fooling anyone.

“Brought the circus home too.” He reached down and lifted the little girl to her feet before she somersaulted into the wall. “Got my acrobat tumbling her way into preschool, and the prepubescent bearded lady doing shows before and after naptime.”

Cute. “And what’s your talent?”

“World’s sexiest uncle.”

“Ain’t no one buying tickets for that.”

“Ringleader then.”

The three-year-old demanded cookies. The baby, blood. I shook my head. “Guess again.”


He wished. I crossed my arms. “Better get a shovel. I think you’re mucking out stalls and diapers.”

Rem grinned, but that was a charmer’s smile, part of his bag of tricks. He’d always been the type to sweet-talk his way out of handcuffs just to use them in bed. But maybe he had changed. Maybe the wilderness had straightened him out? Perhaps…the hard work taught him responsibility? Was it possible the time apart had made him as miserable as it had me?

Or maybe that smile meant I should’ve left the box on the porch and ran.

“Do I have to charge admission, or are you coming inside?” he asked.

Dangerous question. “Depends. Got an elephant under this big top?”

“Nah. He’s on break. I’m standing in.”

“And what are you?”

“The jackass.”

Fair enough. I offered him the box. “This is some stuff from the farm—back when we had all the foster kids. Tidus said you could probably use it. Clothes and toys.”

Rem easily balanced the baby on his shoulder and the box in his arms. He left the door open. Inviting the little ones to escape or beckoning me inside?

I spoke from the entryway, a promise to myself. “Only for a minute.”

“Want something to drink?” he asked.

“That would take longer than a minute.”

“Good. I don’t have much to offer.”

The three-year-old circled the sofa with the doll, tripped over the logs that were once stacked neatly by a stone fireplace, and plummeted onto the hardwood. She whimpered, rolled, and revealed a scraped knee. The crying began anew.

Rem brushed his hands through his shaggy, collar length dark hair and sighed.

“Are you bleeding? Again? Really?” He fumbled through a couple drawers. “All right. Here. No band-aids, but…”

Oh, this was a disaster.

Rem ripped a piece of electrical tape between his teeth, juggled the baby from one arm to the other, and slapped the silver strip over the girl’s knee.

“Good job,” I said. “Now she’s patched up, and she won’t conduct electricity.”

“She’ll be fine.” He patted the girl’s head. “Mellie, say hi to Cassi. Cas, this is Melanie. And this…” He flipped the baby outwards, finally letting her look around the room. She instantly stopped crying. The chubby cheeks and sniffling nose gave way to an adorable smile with three little white teeth poking out. “This is Tabitha—Tabby. They’re Emma’s kids.”

They looked like his sister—blonde and perky with the right amount of sass that got her in as much trouble as Rem.

I hated to ask the question, but a man like Rem wouldn’t volunteer to babysit without a genuine crisis. “What happened to Emma?”

Rem turned somber—a dark, serious glance broken with a forced shrug. “She’s…sick. Needed some help.”

“Is she okay?”

“Yeah. Just needs time. I came home to wrangle the kids.”

“I’m surprised to see you.” No harm in the truth.

“It’s been a while.”


I looked away. Somehow, under the heavy flannel, bushy beard, and shaggy hair was the Remington Marshall that still made my chest flutter. My options were to escape or find a defibrillator. My heart was broken, but it could still stop if he whispered the right words.

I shuffled towards the door, but Mellie plucked at the electrical tape banding her knee. The garbage bags of clothes, the injured child, and the quarter inch of dust over the cabin didn’t bode well.

“Are you sure you know…” How to phrase it without insulting him or completely terrifying the kids. “I had no idea you liked children.”

“They’re all right.”

“And…they’re still alive. So you must be doing…okay?”

Rem snorted. “They’re kids, Cas. I can handle ‘em.”

Right. “And…how long have you had them?”

Rem checked his watch. “It’s been five hours, and I haven’t lost my mind yet.”

Yet. “And you’re happy to babysit?”


“For how long?”

“As long as she needs.” Rem sounded confident. Or foolish. Probably foolish. “Don’t worry. It’s temporary. A week or two at the most. Shouldn’t be too hard. Keep an eye on them until Emma’s good, and then I’ll head back to the logging company.”

I laughed. Sweet Jesus, he was serious. I covered my mouth. “You…you’re keeping them here?”

“I was going to let them out at night like a cat, but I figured they’d rather get the lay of the land first.” He plopped the baby on the ground within range of both the wall outlet, fire place, and his penknife on the coffee table. “How hard can it be?”

And that was all I needed to hear.

I did not need to get involved.

Did not need to warm at his smile.

Did not need to wonder why my skin tingled in his presence.

Rem was a good-looking boy when we were kids, but at twenty-seven, he was absolutely gorgeous. A hard jaw from hard work. Toughened voice from a tough life. A strong back strengthened through manual labor. He might’ve tussled with a baby hell-bent on toddling into the fireplace, but he hadn’t left the wilds in the forest.

Rem looked as out of place in his own home as the kids did in the middle of the woods.

I had to help him.

Maybe I made this bad decision because it had been so long since I last saw him. Maybe I let my heart lead because the beard disguised him in a dark, tempting mystery. Or maybe I took pity on him because five years ago I had been hopelessly in love with our small town’s baddest bad boy.

Rem wasn’t a trouble-maker anymore, but he was still in trouble. Especially now that Butterpond had changed so much. We had cell phone reception. Community events. A giant Facebook group where all the busybodies kept in touch. Butterpond wouldn’t let him hunker down in the forest and hide forever.

And it must’ve terrified him.

“How’s the farm?” Even his words were jagged, briars in his throat. Either he was out of practice with small talk or he knew he shouldn’t have asked.

“It’s a warzone,” I said. “but no fires at least.”

“Tidus okay?”

“Is he ever?” I smirked. “Tidus hates this town as much as me.”

“What about everyone else?”

Well, they wouldn’t be happy to hear that Rem came back home. “Julian is…Julian. Trying to rebuild the farm like he has any idea how to manage it. Marius is overseas still—he can’t tell us where, and he likes it that way. Varius hasn’t been the same since the tornado. Quint…God only knows. Runs around like a puppy, but turns rabid the instant any of my brothers look his way.”

Rem rummaged through his fridge and offered me a beer. I shook my head. He popped the cap off but didn’t drink.

“About your dad…” he said.

“I know.”

“Just…I’m sorry.”

So was everyone, but I still nodded and accepted the thoughts, prayers, and Bundt cakes.

“We knew it was coming,” I said. “His heart was bad.”

“Doesn’t mean it hurts any less.”

I’d done a fantastic job of smooshing that pain deep, deep down and suppressing the memories of the past few months when I’d taken care of him. My brothers understood, but it felt different for me—the one adopted girl in the family of biological sons.

They’d left me alone on the farm with Dad, and the family slowly tore itself apart. Fight after fight, even during Dad’s last days. Each of my brothers swore they’d never speak to the others again.

At least, until that phone call had to be made.

“The good news…well…news, I guess,” I said. “Everyone is home now. In Dad’s infinite wisdom, he left the farm to everyone. Every decision on the land must be made in unison, in person. No subdividing the farm. No selling our pieces to anyone else. It’s World War Three with pitchforks and chicken coops.”

“Feathers flying?”

“Bombs dropping like eggs.”

Tabby attempted to toddle with Rem’s wallet into the bathroom. Mellie giggled from inside. Rem excused himself, swore as the toilet flushed, and returned with a soaking wet wallet. He pitched it into the sink and shooed both kids away.

They stayed glued to him, wrapping their arms around his legs like they hadn’t been hugged in years. Rem knelt down and welcomed them into his thick arms.

It wasn’t a sight I’d expected to see from a man like him.

“So what…” His words mumbled over Tabby’s fingers as she clobbered him in the mouth. “What are you…doing?”

“Anything I can to get out of here.”

Mellie slid from his side and skipped back to her baby doll. He set Tabby on the counter. I rushed forward before he realized that the one-year-old was a bit hyper and likely to take a tumble. She eagerly offered me more of his possessions. I accepted the jingling keys and his cellphone, but I stopped her before she lunged for a sheathed bowie knife tucked inside a stack of paperwork.

Rem leaned against the sink, sipping his beer. “You’re leaving, huh? Where are you planning to go?”


“Been there, Sassy.” The nickname rolled off his tongue, like he’d never stopped using it. “Running doesn’t get you as far as you think.”

“Well, I need to get somewhere. I love my brothers too much to start hating them.”

“You know they need you, especially with your parents gone.”

The guilt was already suffocating me. “Jules says I remind them of Mom.”

“Yeah. I can see the family resemblance.”

As was the gentle joke which passed around the town. I brushed my dark fingers through the bouncing curls I’d swept away with the aid of a bubblegum pink scarf. Didn’t matter if my momma was blonde haired and green eyed or if she shared my mahogany skin and fawn eyes, people in Butterpond knew I was her daughter because she’d taught me how to be a lady.

And how to whoop my brothers into shape if they gave me a hard time.

But mostly how to be a good lady.

Also, a forgiving woman. She never thumped the Bible, only used it to swat our backsides when we acted out. What would she say about this? The man I swore never to forgive…and the kids tumbling around his house.

Mellie climbed the woodpile. Tabby unsuccessfully attempted to roll off the counter, falling into my arms.

And he thought it was going to be easy.

He wouldn’t last the night.

“Do you have everything you need for them?” I asked.

Rem nodded. “I got some of their clothes. They brought toys. I set them up in the spare bedroom.”

“Well, that’s good. But…do you know Tabby’s diaper is on backwards?”

He approached the child, picked her up under the arms, and gave her a quick once over.

“Is that why it keeps leaking?” He whistled in realization. “Thought she was an overachiever.”

Fantastic. “Okay, Rem…there’s like, six things I can see from where I’m standing that will seriously maim the very young children.”

He plopped Tabby on the counter and attempted to twist the diaper to the right position. When that didn’t work, he undid the tabs with so much force ripped the Velcro, removed the diaper, and left her tush on the cold counter. The diaper flipped, but he couldn’t fasten it.

He grabbed his handy electrical tape once more. “There. Now she’s got a racing stripe.”

If only he could feed, bathe, and entertain the kids with tape too. At least it wasn’t a staple gun.

I finally asked the question. “Do you need help, Rem?”

His lazy smile would’ve been cute if Mellie wasn’t heading for the axe he’d set near the backdoor. “You worried about me, Sassy?”

“Worried you’re going to end up on the news…” I pointed to the axe wielding Mellie—one blue ox short of a classic American tall tale. “And now I’ll be an accomplice.”

“Mellie, you chop my house down, you’re building the next one.” He took the axe from her hands and searched for a place to put it. The cabin was a mess, so he shrugged and stuck it on top of the fridge, clattering a couple pots and pans out of the way. “They’re kids. Sure, I need some time to fix the place up…” Rem batted at a spider web over the kitchen window. I cringed as the spider clamored to hide in the dusty curtains. “But they needed me. Emma asked, so here I am. Someone’s gotta help the girls. Just like what your family used to do for all those kids—including me.”

“You’re certain you can handle it?”

“Got no problems here.”

I should have left. The suitcase waited in my car. I had a full-tank of gas. I’d been threatening to head to Ironfield for two weeks now.

Rem had the box of supplies. The kids hadn’t set fire to the cabin yet.

They’d be fine.

But my feet didn’t move. “Do you have food for them?”

Rem took a swig from his beer. A liquid dinner might have suited him, but I doubted Mellie and Tabby wanted to lounge on the couch, knocking back a cold six-pack of Juicy Juice.

“I’ll find something,” he said. “I think it’s cute that you’re worried.”

“I’m not worried.” If I was worried, I’d have to stay. “I’m…making conversation.”

“Could have done that a long time ago,” he said. “Called me up.”

And let him know how twice in the past five years I’d actually tracked down a contact number for him in the middle of the Canadian wilds? No thanks.

“I didn’t hear from you either,” I said. “Not even a hey, sorry about the barn.”

“I am sorry about the barn. Sorry about a lot of things. Sorry I haven’t seen you since then.”

I stomped down a betraying warmth. No need to open that Pandora’s Box. “You were the one who left.”

“You didn’t want me around.”

“I never said that.”

“Cause you were too polite. You’d let Julian’s fist do the talking.”

“He’s quite persuasive.”

“And if he knew you were up here, asking about my dinner plans?”

I smirked. “Asking about the kids’ dinner plans.”

Rem glanced over his shoulder. “Mellie, want some dinner?”

The little girl marched into the kitchen, dragging Rem’s boots on her feet. She stumbled as she walked, but she raised her little chin as if she wore a tiara instead of steel-toed mud buckets.

“I don’t like peas,” she said.

“Me either. See?” He winked. “We’re fine.”

This would be fun. I knelt to her level. “Mellie, what else don’t you like to eat?”

Her words bumbled in and out of intelligibility. “Chicken. Broccoli. Green. Yogurt. Cars. Dragons. Shoes!”

The answer became a rambling story about a kitten, dragon, and a spaghetti noodle, but she illustrated my point.

“Any ideas, Chef?” I asked.

Rem had attempted to memorize her preferences and got lost somewhere around worms and green. “I…have some beef jerky.”

“You’re going to feed beef jerky to some toddlers?”

“Got some trail mix too. A can of soup beans.”

“…How long are you keeping the kids?”

“As long as Emma needs.”

I raised my eyebrows. “How long do you think you can keep them alive?”

“At least through the night.”

Good enough for me. Now it was my turn to leave him. I’d already survived five years without speaking, without resolving anything, without…

Saying those words.

I’d last another five. Maybe by then, he’d be out of jail for child endangerment.

“Start small,” I said. “Do you have milk?”


“Do you want my advice?”

Rem braced himself on the counter, muscles flexing, eyes brightening with a roguish playfulness that made any game unwinnable.

“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, Cas…I’ll take anything you’re willing to give.”

“Go into town—”


I sighed. “Why not?”

“I’ve gotten real good at avoiding Butterpond.”

“Who’s the real baby here? Get off this mountain. Take the girls into town. Buy some kid-friendly food.”

“Like…chew and whiskey?”

I scolded him. “Battery acid and horseradish.”

He grimaced, finally realizing the girls couldn’t survive on dried meats and wild onions.

“Okay,” he said. “This might be hard to believe, Cas…but I might need some help managing this circus. I mean…” His smile turned wicked. “I can pitch a hell of a tent, but beyond that…”

I didn’t need the visual. It’d taken years for me to stop fantasizing about it. “It won’t be that hard. Just…feed them. Make sure they don’t set themselves or the forest on fire. Put them to bed. Repeat.”

“Go with me,” he said.


“To the store.”

Nope. Nada. Not happening. “It’s right where you left it, Rem.”

“How will I know what to buy? Chicken nuggets or liver and onions? Red jello or red wine?”

“You’ll figure it out.”

He edged a little closer, grabbing Tabby before she tossed his phone against the wall. “Not asking for much, Sassy. Give me a couple pointers.”

“I’m on my way out of town.” And this time, I meant it.

That smile didn’t just slay me—it pinned me against the ropes, powerslammed me to the mat, then grabbed a metal folding chair from the crowd.

“How about one last favor for me?” he asked.

Not a chance. That well had emptied trying to put out the barn fire.

He read my reluctance. “Okay. A favor to the kids?”

Damn it. Tabby gave me a wave of her chubby fingers. Mellie continued to list things she liked, didn’t like, and some sounds the baby particularity enjoyed while shouted at the top of her lungs.

I surrendered. “Tell me you have a car seat.”

“No, the kids rode up here on top of a wild boar. Have a little faith, Cassi.”

“That’s the problem,” I said. “I don’t have much faith left in you.”

“Me either.” Rem’s voice had mellowed with honesty and time. “Just means I can’t disappoint you anymore, huh?”

“You’ve never backed down from a challenge.”

“That settles it.” His amusement thudded my heart like an axe missing a tree and striking a nearby boulder instead. “I got nothing else to lose, Cas.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I already lost you.”

Sosie Frost is no stranger to quirky, embarrassing, and wild situations, and she’s channeling all that new adult angst into fun romances.

From marching at the high school homecoming game without her trumpet (a punishment for forgetting the instrument on the band bus), to regretfully tucking her prom dress into the back of her tights before pictures, and even accidentally starting a chemical fire in the college chem lab, Sosie has the market cornered on crazy stories.

But hey, writing is a better outlet than therapy right? 😉

If you want funny, charming, and steamy romances, you’ve found the right author!

Sosie lives in Pittsburgh with her hubby, her two cats, and thrives on a near constant stream of gummy bears.


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