Category Archives: Chapter preview

Chapter Reveal ~ In The Crease by Toni Aleo

 

 

Coming August 22nd

 

 


Jensen Monroe is a unicorn. As handsome as any model, as polite as can be, a goalie of unmatched skill, and the best friend anyone could ask for. But he longs for a particular special someone to make his life complete. He’s been in love with Wren since he was a teenager, but as his best friend’s sister, she’s always been off-limits.


Wren Lemiere has prided herself on being a love ’em and leave ’em girl her whole life. She’s all about equal opportunity in the battle of the sexes. Why should guys like her brother and his best friends get to be the only ones allowed to play the dating game? One wrong move, however, and she finds herself in violation of her own rules.

In need of a fake husband and baby daddy for her unexpected bundle of joy, Wren finally accepts Jensen is the logical one to ask for help. Except he has a counteroffer…one with so many strings attached, they may just find themselves wrapped up in ties that bind. Forever.

 
Prologue

Five months earlier…

Wren Lemiere felt awful.
The kind of awful where you felt like you were dying.
Not that she had ever been the victim of an almost-death, but she was pretty sure it felt like what she was feeling.
Why she came back home to Colorado when she was this godforsakenly sick was beyond her, but then she hadn’t felt like death when she got on the plane. It was once she got off and for the following three days that the death hit her. She didn’t know what was going on, but she just wanted some drugs to make the excruciating nausea go away. That was all. Just some drugs.
Holding her face in her hands, she inhaled a deep breath before letting it out in a whoosh, begging the turning of her gut to stop. She wasn’t sure what she ate or what bacteria she picked up, but when she found out whatever did this to her, they would suffer. Slowly and painfully. It was probably Vaughn, her brother’s best friend. He was a walking cesspool. Ugh. She had never been so sick in her life, she swore it, but then again, that time she had the flu, she was sure she’d thought the same.
Either way, she was dying.
Plain and simple.
“Ugh,” she moaned as she swallowed back the bile that was threatening to come up her throat. When the door opened and the doctor stepped in, she cried out in relief. “Please, give me something. Anything. Knock me out if you have to.”
Ryan Churner laughed. They had gone to school together, dated briefly, but they’d been just kids. Now, he was married and happy—with lots of kids of his own. Wren, though, was living the single, carefree life. Much to her mother’s dismay. Her mother wanted grandbabies, and since her brother, Wells, was gay, it was easy to say it was Wren’s job to give her mother babies. Which was not going to happen. Wren would suck as a mom. Plus, she couldn’t find a decent guy to love her large ass. So that left her brother, and Wells could adopt. Yeah, he should do that. Take some of the pressure off her. She needed to call him about that.
“I’m afraid there are no drugs for what you have.”
Wren threw up her hands. “It’s a virus?”
He laughed. She didn’t like the sound of that laugh. Or the way he said, “Um, no.”
Her face wrinkled in confusion. “Then, what?”
He grimaced a bit before looking up at her. His dark blue eyes held her gaze as a grin pulled at his lips. “When was your last period?”
She shrugged. “Like six months ago. I have polycystic ovary syndrome, though.” She added while pointing at him, “Not sure that’s in my chart.”
He nodded. “It is, but I hadn’t realized it had been that long.”
“Yeah.” She had maybe two periods a year, possibly three. It was a problem, but her problem. One she was blessed with when she was younger. Her PCOS kept her a little on the thicker side and also wreaked havoc on her hormones, but she managed. She wasn’t going to let it bring her down or dwell on it. She already did that enough.
“Okay, well, are you in a relationship right now?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Are you sexually active?”
“Always,” she said with an exaggerated wink. Then she paused. “Wait, I’m not hitting on you.”
“I know.” He laughed and she grinned, though, it was brief before she felt a wave of queasiness. “But your pregnancy test came up positive.”
Wren could only blink as her body went cold. She started laughing because surely, she’d heard him wrong. “You weren’t this funny when we were younger.”
“I’m not joking.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Your pregnancy test came up positive, but sometimes with PCOS, you can get a positive result. So I want to do an ultrasound.”
“For what?”
“To see if you’re pregnant.”
“Pregnant? Me?”
“Yes.”
“But…really?”
“Yes,” he said with a smile before he stood, walking to the door. “Well, usually when you have sex, a baby can be made as a byproduct of all that passion.”
“But…” She trailed off, her heart jumping into her throat. Surely that wasn’t the case. She couldn’t be pregnant. They’d used protection. “I have sex with condoms, and I’m on birth control.”
“Are you consistent with your birth control?
She shrugged. “Sure.”
He raised an eyebrow. “That’s not believable, Wren.”
Her face wrinkled more as he called out to the nurse. Sitting there, she tried to remember when this could have happened. She was home last month and had seen him…a lot and all of him, but they’d used condoms. Hadn’t they? Shit.
Soon a cart was brought in, and she was asked to take off her pants. It was all a blur, lying there with a drape over her bottom half and Ryan shoving some damn probe up inside her. Staring at the ceiling, she didn’t know what to think. She hadn’t even thought this was a possibility. With her PCOS, it was supposed to be hard for her to get pregnant. Not to mention, she didn’t want to be a mom. She would suck as a mom. And he would suck as a dad. They were selfish.
“Yup, there it is.”
Turning her head, she looked at the screen to see a little peanut. Seriously, a peanut, or at least, that’s what she assumed it was. But in the middle of the peanut was a little flicker. It was so small, almost undetectable, but she was sure she could see it. Was that the heartbeat?
“That’s it? I’m pregnant?”
“You’re pregnant.”
Blinking hard, she gasped. “Oh, fuck.”

~*~

“I’m pregnant.”
The words felt funky.
“I am pregnant,” she said to her reflection in the rental car’s visor mirror. “We’re having a baby.” She tried saying it while waving her hands. But that felt weird too.
Holy shit, she was pregnant.
She was almost thirty. She had a good job, and she was in a good place. It was not even the least bit expected, nor was it good timing since she wasn’t thirty yet, nor was she married. But it was fine. They would get a quickie marriage, and bam, they’d be good. No one would have to know she was pregnant before they decided to elope. It would be fine. Everything would be fine; her inheritance wasn’t in jeopardy.
But, shit, she didn’t want to move back to Colorado. She would have to because he wouldn’t be able to leave his job. He owned the damn firm, while she was contracted by the Nashville Assassins, the professional hockey team back in Nashville, Tennessee. Her gig was awesome, so damn awesome, and she loved it, but it wouldn’t work. She’d have to be the one to move. Damn it. She’d finish out the season for sure, but that meant she couldn’t sign the five-year extension that was sitting on her desk back home. With the lovely bonus that was going to pay off her car early. Damn it.
She wasn’t sure how he was going to take it, but they were good. They had known each other their whole lives. Been fucking for years, so it was time. She loved him. Ish. Kinda. Well, obviously a little since she continued to sleep with him, but he was a cool dude. And even if marriage was the last thing she wanted, she knew she had to do it.
She needed the money from her inheritance that her dad was holding, which had been passed down from her grandfather. When she turned thirty in October, it would be hers. The only catch was she couldn’t have a baby out of wedlock before she was thirty. It was stupid, and it was barbaric in her opinion. But it was what her grandfather had written up, and her father was standing behind it. It was annoying, to say the least, but if she wanted to pay off all her debt and live pretty damn comfortably for the rest of her life, along with providing a comfortable life for Wells, she had to do what she had to do.
She just hoped he didn’t let her down.
Getting out of the car, she swallowed hard as she walked toward the doors that read Washington, Fieldsman, and Barnes. When she opened the door, she was greeted by the receptionist, and Wren shot her a quick, curt smile. She was nervous. Why was she nervous? Crap, was she going to puke?
Yup.
Dipping into the bathroom before his office, she threw up the rest of her guts and sat there shaking her head. “You’re lucky I love you, kid.”
Wow, that was quick.
Wren had never seen herself as a mother. She’d thought she was going to grow old with lots of money and dogs. She hadn’t seen love or babies in her future. She’d seen lots of fucking, but that was about it. She didn’t have the best luck in love and really hadn’t imagined this coming, but now, she saw herself holding a baby.
Problem was, she still didn’t see him in her picture.
But that would change…right?
Surely.
Crap.
Washing her mouth out and then popping some gum, she walked out of the bathroom and right into another person. “Ah!”
“Crap! I’m sorry, Wren.”
Wren clammed up. Shit. “Hey, Shanna. What you doing here?”
“I had to see Bradley. What are you doing?” her best friend for her whole life asked.
Dammit, Wren hated lying to her.
“I have a meeting with him. He has to go over my contract for the Assassins.”
Shanna lit up. “Cool! Are you still coming for dinner tonight?”
Wren was shaking. Why was she shaking? Shit. “Shan, I texted you. I had to move my flight up, remember?”
“Oh, yes. My bad. Next time.”
“Of course,” she said before Shanna embraced her. Squeezing her eyes shut, Wren knew she would have to tell her. But Bradley had wanted to keep them under wraps. Plus, Wren knew how overprotective Shanna was of her baby brother. Wren had known better, but the dude was hung like a horse and hot to boot. She just hoped she wouldn’t lose a friendship over this. But Shanna would be excited. They’d be sisters like they’d always wanted, and there’d be a new baby. Shanna would love that.
Right?
Right.
Don’t freak out. This is fine.
Saying goodbye, Wren waved as she walked toward his office before knocking on the door. “Come in.” As she opened the door to the huge, posh office, he stood behind his desk, looking every bit as gorgeous as the day was long. His suit was pressed and clung to him. His blond-brown hair was brushed to the side, while a bit of stubble dusted his jaw. She only saw it because the sun was kissing it, shining on it ever so sweetly. He was a good-looking man, beautiful even, but still, she couldn’t see herself married to him. Shit.
Wren smiled though, and when Bradley looked up, heat filled his gaze. “Hey, you.”
“Hey,” she said, shutting the door as he came around the desk to her. Gathering her in his arms, he kissed her hard on the lips, dipping her back slightly as she clung to him. This had to work. He was a great guy.
Pulling back, he kissed her nose. “You look hot.”
She laughed, waving him off. “I look and feel like death.”
“Still?” he asked, concern filling his handsome face. He was a year younger than her, and growing up, they’d called him the baby. Though, he didn’t look like a baby. When he had first kissed her, eons ago, she hadn’t expected it. And even though they had both been with other people over the years, they somehow always gravitated back to each other.
Always.
But that was about to change.
“Yeah. I went to the doctor today.”
Moving his thumb along the inside of her palm, he smiled. “Is it contagious?”
She shook her head, her face filling with heat. “No.”
“Oh, good,” he said, gathering her in his arms and pressing his lips to hers. “So we can take this discussion to the couch.”
She stopped him as he tried to pull her to where she knew they would likely have all kinds of hot sex, but she needed to get this out. “Not yet.”
His brows pulled together. “What’s wrong? Don’t feel up to it?”
She swallowed hard. “It’s not that. It’s…um…” Inhaling deeply, she met his gaze. The gaze she had known her whole life. Though right now, she felt like she was going to puke, her nerves were so bad. “I’m pregnant.”
She watched as his eyes widened, his jaw dropping before he dropped her hands. “Pregnant?”
“Yeah.”
He only blinked. “Is it mine?”
She nodded. “You’re the only guy I’ve been with for the last six months.”
He blinked once more, his eyes burning into hers. “Are you sure?”
She gave him a deadpan look. “I think I’d remember if I happen to fall, pussy first, on a cock other than yours.”
He didn’t laugh like she wanted, nor did he look her in the eye. Instead, he chewed his lip, looking anywhere but at her. “So, no other chance it isn’t mine?”
Her brows drew in. “It’s yours, Bradley.”
Turning his back to her, he walked away, going to the windows as he looked out of them, his hands folded across his chest. “I didn’t expect this. We used condoms.”
“I know.”
“And you’re on birth control, I thought.”
“I am, though I don’t take it as often as I should.”
He looked over at her. “So you trapped me?”
She glared. “You’d better be joking.”
He didn’t answer; he just looked away as her heart started to speed up.
This didn’t feel right.
As he started to pace, she watched him, her blood beginning to boil. She didn’t like his comment, nor did she like the way he wouldn’t look at her. Clearing her throat, she watched him as she said, “Okay, well, I know this is a lot at once, and it’s a lot for me too. But we have something that could pose an issue—my inheritance.”
His face wrinkled up as he snapped, “How does that have anything to do with me?”
She glared at the side of his face. “It has to do with you because your baby is inside of me, and I’m not thirty yet. So if I have this baby before I turn thirty and I’m not married, I’m fucked.”
“Then don’t have the baby.”
Her jaw dropped. Actually dropped, almost catching flies. “Excuse me?”
Still looking out the window, he shrugged. “Go get an abortion.”
“What?”
“Listen, I don’t want this. I don’t want a kid, and fuck, this is going to mess everything up.”
Her heart was in her throat. “Mess up what?
Turning to her, he yelled, “I’m marrying fucking Fieldsman’s daughter.”
It was as if he’d hit her. Reaching out, she braced her hand on the window. He had been seeing the girl, but he swore it wasn’t serious. They were just cool; it was business as he said. But marriage? “What? You said you didn’t want to get married.”
“I know, but I have no choice.”
“You do. You can marry me and help out the mother of your child.”
“No, I can’t. I was going to tell you tonight, that we had to break this off. For good.”
Drawing in a breath through her nose, she shook her head. “Wow.”
“Yeah. So listen,” he said, walking around her and to his desk, but she didn’t move as the tears gathered in her eyes. “Go get an abortion. It’s for the best. Here, this should cover it.”
When she opened her eyes, he was filling out a check before holding it out to her. Shaking her head hard, she muttered, “I don’t want your money.”
“Take it, Wren. Please. I can’t have this fuck up what I’ve got going for me. I’ll have more stock in this firm once I marry her.”
Her lip started to tremble. “But I’m having your baby.”
“I don’t want it,” he said simply. “I don’t want any of it. She will get pissed. She’s already so jealous and thinks I’m fucking around.”
“You are!”
“I know, but not anymore. So, please, get rid of it.”
“I can’t.”
“Wren, come on!”
“You can’t do this. We’ve known each other our whole life.”
“I understand that. So please do it.”
“No.”
“Don’t be stupid, because I’ll deny it. You fuck around. Everyone knows it, and I’ll deny the kid is mine. You’ll have to take me to court to prove it. But by the time that happens, you’ll already have it before your thirtieth birthday, so you’ll be fucked anyway. Just do the right thing. Get rid of it, Wren.”
She wouldn’t let her tears fall. Not for this fucking douche. “I thought I knew you, you selfish asshole.”
The words didn’t even faze him. He glared at her. “I thought I knew you. How could you let this happen? We were never serious. We were just fucking.”
Looking down at the ground, she bit into her lip to keep the tears from falling. Yeah, he was right, but she thought she’d meant more to him than just a fuck. “Just fucking, huh?”
“Yeah, it isn’t like we love each other. I mean, come on. You’re not even my type.”
“Your type?”
“Wren, come on,” he said simply, holding his hands out. “You’re not trophy wife material.”
She was going to deck him. “I can’t believe this.”
“Just take the check.”
He held it out once more, and her eyes landed on it through her tears. She should take it. It really was the only option, yet she knew she couldn’t.
Meeting his gaze, she swallowed hard as she shook her head slowly from side to side. “No.”
“Wren, don’t be an idiot.”
“No.”
“You’re being fucking stupid—”
Standing erect, she stepped over to him, her eyes burning into his and completely cutting off his words. She was sure her eyes were full of heat, full of rage because his words shook her. To the core. She wasn’t sure who this man was, but he sure as hell wouldn’t be the father of her child. Over her dead fucking body. “Fuck you, Bradley. I don’t need your money or even you. So. Fuck. You.”
And with that, she walked away.
With no clue what she was going to do now.
Except for the certainty that she wasn’t killing her baby.


My name is Toni Aleo and I’m a total dork.
I am a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic.
I am the biggest Shea Weber fan ever, and can be found during hockey season with my nose pressed against the Bridgestone Arena’s glass, watching my Nashville Predators play!
When my nose isn’t pressed against the glass, I enjoy going to my husband and son’s hockey games, my daughter’s dance competition, hanging with my best friends, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and reading the latest romance novel.
I have a slight Disney and Harry Potter obsession, I love things that sparkle, I love the color pink, I might have been a Disney Princess in a past life… probably Belle.
… and did I mention I love hockey?

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RELEASE BLITZ ~ BAD DEEDS by Lisa Renee Jones

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Bad Deeds: A Dirty Money Novel
by Lisa Renee Jones

Release Date: August 8th, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Bad Deeds

Would you bleed for the one you love?

To save his family empire from the grip of the drug cartel, Shane is pushed to the edge of darkness, forced to make choices he might never make. His father is dying. His brother is desperate to rule the empire and this means war and all gloves are off. His brother only thought he knew what dirty meant. Shane is about to give it new meaning. There is another war brewing though, and that one, is inside him, his battle between right and wrong, light and dark, and in the heat of the night, it is Emily he turns to for escape. Driving her to new limits, pushing her to accept a part of him that even he cannot.

In every one of Shane’s seductive demands, Emily can taste and feel, his torment, his struggle to save his family and not lose himself. But he is losing himself, and that is a problem just as dangerous as her secret, that still lurk in the shadows, a threat to the Brandon Family waiting to erupt. No matter where she and Shane have traveled, or will travel in the future, she can’t just sit back and watch him become everything he hates, everything he never wanted to become, everything she tried to save him from when she tried to run. It could be their undoing, the end. His end.

This is war, blood will spill, and someone in the heart of the Brandon family will not survive….


Bad Deeds Available

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And Lisa has a chance for readers to read the first TWO CHAPTERS of book 4, END GAME, early
PLUS the first chapter of SETH’S story (Poison Kisses) as well!

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About the Author:Lisa Renee Jones

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lisa Renee Jones is the author of the highly acclaimed INSIDE OUT series. Suzanne Todd (producer of Alice in Wonderland) on the INSIDE OUT series: Lisa has created a beautiful, complicated, and sensual world that is filled with intrigue and suspense. Sara’s character is strong, flawed, complex, and sexy – a modern girl we all can identify with.

In addition to the success of Lisa’s INSIDE OUT series, Lisa has published many successful titles. The TALL, DARK AND DEADLY series and THE SECRET LIFE OF AMY BENSEN series, both spent several months on a combination of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists. Lisa is also the author of the bestselling DIRTY MONEY and WHITE LIES series. Presently, Lisa is working on her Murder Girl/Lilah Love series to be published by Montlake.

Prior to publishing Lisa owned multi-state staffing agency that was recognized many times by The Austin Business Journal and also praised by the Dallas Women’s Magazine. In 1998 Lisa was listed as the #7 growing women owned business in Entrepreneur Magazine.

Lisa loves to hear from her readers. You can reach her at www.lisareneejones.com and she is active on Twitter and Facebook daily.

 

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Absinthe by Winter Renshaw.

 

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The name on the screen was “Absinthe.”

I knew her as the sultry voice blowing up my phone for late night chats about Proust and Hemingway interspersed between the best phone sex I never knew I could have.

We’d never met.

Until the day she walked into my office, her cherry lips wrapped around a candy apple sucker and an all too familiar voice that said, “They said you wanted to see me, Principal Hawthorne?”

 

Coming August 8th

Prologue


Ford


“You wanted to see me, Principal Hawthorne?”
I know that voice. I’d know it anywhere.
Glancing up from my desk, I find a girl in skintight athletic leggings and a low-cut tank top standing in my office doorway, her full lips wrapped around a shiny sucker and a familiar electric jade gaze trained on me.
It’s her.
The woman I spent most of all summer chatting with under the anonymous veil of a dating app—one in specifically meant for adults seeking connections but not commitment. I purchased a stock photo for seven dollars, chose a pseudonym, Kerouac, and messaged a woman by the name of Absinthe who quoted Hemingway in her bio when everyone else quoted Nickelback and John Legend.
Fuck.
Me.
“You must be Halston.” My skin is on fire. I stand, smooth my tie, and point to the seat across from me. I never knew her name, but I’d know that voice anywhere. I can’t even count how many times I came to the sound of her breathy rasp describing all the wicked things she’d do to me if we ever met, reading me excerpts from Rebecca. “Take a seat.”
She takes her time pulling the sucker from her mouth before strutting to my guest chair, lowering herself, cleavage first, and crossing her long legs. The tiniest hint of a smirk claims her mouth, but if she knows it’s me, she’s sure as hell not acting like it.
“You want to tell me what happened with Mrs. Rossi?” I ask, returning to my seat and folding my hands on my desk.
I may be a lot of things; overconfident prick, allergic to commitment, red-blooded American man …
But I’m a professional first.
“Mrs. Rossi and I had an argument,” Halston says. “We were discussing the theme of The Great Gatsby, and she was trying to say that it was about chasing the elusive American dream. I told her she missed the entire fucking point of one of the greatest pieces of literature in existence.” She takes another suck of her candy before continuing, then points it in my direction. “The real theme has to do with manipulation and dishonesty, Principal Hawthorne. Everyone in that book was a fucking liar, most of all Jay, and in the end, he got what he deserved. They all did.”
My cock strains against the fabric of my pants. It’s her voice. It’s her goddamned sex-on-fire voice that’s doing this to me. That and her on point dissection of classic American literature. Sexy, intelligent, outspoken. Three elusive qualities I’ve yet to find in another human being. Until her. And knowing that now, I couldn’t even have her if I wanted her, isn’t doing me any favors. If I don’t compose myself, I’m going to be hard as a fucking rock.
“Language,” I say. The room is growing hotter now, but I keep a stern, undeterred presence.
She rolls her eyes. “I’m an adult, Principal Hawthorne. I can say words like fuck.”
“Not in my office, you can’t.” I exhale. “And not in class either. That’s why Mrs. Rossi sent you here.”
“The jackass behind me was drawing swastikas on his notebook, but I get sent down here for saying ‘fuck.’” Her head shakes.
“I’ll discuss that with Mrs. Rossi privately.” I scribble a note to myself and shove it aside.
“You’re really young for a principal.” Her charged gaze drags the length of me. “Did you just graduate from college or something?”
Six years of school and two years of teaching place me in the budding stages of a career shaping and educating the minds of tomorrow’s leaders, but I refuse to dignify her question with a response.
“My age is irrelevant,” I say.
“Age is everything.” She twirls a strand of pale hair around her finger, her lips curling up in the corners. The cute-and-coy shtick must work on everyone else, but it’s not going to work on me. Not here anyway. And not anymore.
“I said my age is irrelevant.”
“Am I the first student you’ve ever had to discipline?” She sits up, crossing and uncrossing her legs with the provocative charm of a 1940s pin up. “Wait, are you going to discipline me?”
I take mental notes for her file.
–       Challenges authority
–       Difficulty conducting herself appropriately
–       Possible boundary issues
“I’m not going to punish you, Halston. Consider this a verbal warning.” I release a hard breath through my nose as I study her, refusing to allow my eyes to drift to the soft swell of her breasts casually peeking out of her top. Knowing her so intimately over the phone, and being in her presence knowing she’s completely off limits, makes it difficult to maintain my unshaken demeanor. “From now on, I’d like you to refrain from using curse words while on school grounds. It’s disruptive to the other students who are here to actually glean something from their high school education.”
“I don’t know.” Her lips bunch at the corner, and she fights a devilish grin. “I mean, I can try, but ‘fuck’ is one of my favorite words in the English language. What if I can’t stop saying it? Then what?”
“Then we’ll worry about that when the time comes,” I say.
“You could always bend me over your knee and spank me.” She rises, wrapping her lips around the sucker before plucking it out of her mouth with a wet pop. “Or maybe you could fuck my brains out and break my heart.”
“Excuse me?” My skin heats, but I refuse to let her see that she’s having any kind of effect on me.
“You’re him,” she says, as if it’s some ace she’s been keeping up her sleeve this entire time. “You’re Kerouac.”
I’m at an extraordinary loss for words, trying to wrap my head around all the ways this could go very fucking wrong for me.




Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

 

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here 

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ So Good by Nicola Rendell

 

 

 

Coming August 7th

 

 

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On the roof of a house outside Truelove, Maine, master carpenter Max Doyle looks down through a skylight and sees the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on. She’s naked, she’s gorgeous, and everything about her is perfect, down to the ball-busting tattoo of a rose that wraps around her hip. But it isn’t just any woman making his knees buckle. It’s his best friend, Rosie Madden. And as he stands there, mesmerized and precariously close to toppling off the roof, he knows he’ll never, ever be able to look at her the same way again.

Rosie can’t help but notice that Max is suddenly acting very strange—lots of long stares, totally tongue-tied, and not at all like the slightly cocky hunk she’s proud to call her best friend. She can’t figure it out, until later that night when Max rescues her from the world’s worst date, challenges her to a game of pool, and shows her just exactly what she’s got him thinking about. Repeatedly.

But life is complicated. Rosie’s cat, Julia Caesar, wants to eat Max’s dog Cupcake for an afternoon snack. A dream job threatens to pull them apart. And another glance through the skylight changes everything, one more time. Yet try as they might, they can’t go back to being just friends, because falling in love with the one you’ve always adored?

It feels so good.




1
Max


I wasn’t planning to see her naked—I swear to God, I wasn’t. The day was a scorcher, one of those godforsaken New England summer days that makes a guy wonder how he ever said fuck you to winter. I stood on the roof of her house, three stories above the Maine woods, with a far-off view of the ocean. It was pretty, yeah, like the kind of shit real estate companies put on complimentary calendars. But in that heat, it was like standing on top of a goddamned toaster, turned all the way to burnt. I could feel that shit in my socks, straight through my work boots. At my feet was a stack of shake shingles, old school, to replace the ones that were missing. Her house had a few slow leaks, and one over her bathroom that made the ceiling look like a huge Rorschach test. She said it definitely looked like a rose in bloom, I said it definitely looked like Batman. But I told her hidden meanings wouldn’t make shit for difference when the ceiling collapsed into the tub, so there I was. Fucking miserable work, but I was glad to do it. Glad to do anything for her—anything she needed at all.
In the forest on every side around the cottage, the cicadas screeched. It sounded like a needle squeaking off a record player. I knelt down by the stack of shingles, using my utility knife to score a line through one to fit a nearby gap. I snapped it with my hands and tossed the scrap end off the edge of the roof. A trickle of sweat ran down my forehead, and I wiped my face with my forearm. One droplet got away, sparkling in the sun. It caught my eye, and I watched it fall, as it landed on the skylight window with a splat.
​And that was when it happened. Boom.
​There she was, right under me. She couldn’t have been more than six feet away, but she felt even closer. I had a direct line of sight down into her gorgeous, soft cleavage, bright and pure in the sunshine. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the surprise of seeing her, but at first I didn’t really process that it was Rosie at all. My dude brain said, I want that woman.
​Then my regular brain said, Don’t be an asshole, man. It’s Rosie. Have some respect.
Respect I definitely had, but of course I’d thought about seeing her naked before. She was so fucking beautiful that any man would have thought about it. Sometimes, like right then looking down into her dress, I couldn’t fucking help it. Sometimes we’d be out doing something ordinary, like eating dinner, or I’d be changing her oil, or she’d be teaching me to do shit I should have learned at some point in the last 34 years, like iron a dress shirt without screwing up the collar, and I’d catch myself watching her cleavage rise and fall as she breathed, or thinking how nice her legs were, and I’d think, Holy hell.
Now she was directly underneath the skylight. The angle of the sun cast my shadow down the roofline, away from the skylight, so I didn’t give myself away. Like that, I watched her. I gave in to my dude brain and just took her in. Her light brown hair glinted, and a beam of light caught the curve of her shoulder.
That was when the goddamned striptease started, beginning with the left strap of her sundress.
Her movements were graceful, sexy, sassy—the sway of her hips, the shake of her shoulders. I realized I might be in real fucking trouble, because I loved that sexy sass. It wasn’t normal Rosie-cute. It was naughty, like nothing I’d ever seen her do before. I liked it so much, I couldn’t look away. She shimmied out of her sundress, and it fell to the floor in a pool at her feet. No big deal, I tried to tell myself. I’d seen her in her bikini a thousand times. This was no different from that.
Except it was, because then she reached around to undo her bra. Before I could tell myself Don’t look, dude. It’s Rosie, don’t look, it was too fucking late. The straps slid down off her shoulders, and for one perfect second got caught on her nipples, swinging in the air before falling to the floor.
Holy…
I pressed my clenched fist to my mouth and groaned into my hand. All my blood was leaving my head. The roofline was getting wobbly.
It wasn’t like I didn’t know her curves; we’d spent whole summers on the beach—I knew her shape and her softness, I knew her lines and her freckles. Every curve of Rosie Madden was sacred in my book. Fucking douchebags on the beach giving her eyes had to answer to me and my eyes, right behind her. She did that to me—I was one punch away from defending her honor, always. But this? This was different. Seeing your best friend in a bikini at a clam bake is one thing. Protecting your best friend from assholes with wandering eyes is part of the guy-girl best friend creed. But seeing your best friend, absolutely naked in her bedroom, without knowing she can see you? That was a different deal.
…Shit.
Part of me knew I should keep my eyes off of her. She thought she was in private, I had no business spying. Anyway, I didn’t want to be that guy. I hated that guy. But the other part of me, fuck. The other part of me was nothing but want.
Then she bent at the hips, and time slowed down, like some kind of stop-motion Jackie Chan kung fu sequence. All the cicadas went silent, at least in my head they did. The wind stopped blowing through the trees. It was just her, and her perfection, in the sunshine underneath me. I felt like I was on one of those glass-bottomed boats, looking at a world I never knew existed.
She tossed her bra aside, and it landed on her neatly made bed. She shimmied out of her panties, shaking her ass as she did. I growled into my fist, and that’s when I went down into a crouch.
Because as she shimmied I saw it in a V above her ass. My kryptonite. A skimpy thong.
All these years, all these decades, I’d had her pegged for cute cotton panties—pastel polka dots, thin stripes, shit that was sweet and sensible. But I was so fucking wrong. Black. Strappy. Tiny. Not sensible at all. Now it was in a rolled-up ball at her ankles. Using her toes, she plucked her panties from the floor, and caught them on one finger.
Fucking A.
She was completely naked, not a thread on her. Every thought I’d ever had got sucked out of my brain, like dishwater down the sink drain. What was left was only one true thing, and it wasn’t about her ass, or her skin, or her breasts. It was the one thing I think I’d always known but never let myself feel. Until that moment.
She is the most beautiful woman in the world.
Part of the reason I thought that was, yeah, obviously, she was fucking stunning, every inch of her straight out of a dream. Not just my dream, either. Guys would slow down on Main Street to give her the elevator stare, and I’d quietly crack my knuckles and give them don’t-you-fucking-dare stares. But the other part, the part that wasn’t in my gut but that was in my heart, was that I fucking adored her. Adored her so hard it hurt.
She crouched down to pick up her dress, lifting the delicate straps with her small, sweet fingers. She pivoted, so I had a view of her other side of her body for the first time. There it was.
The tattoo.
I groaned again. I wasn’t prepared for this shit; three stories up, that body was dangerous. It was a rose tattoo, snaking around her hip, on the milk-white skin that was always under her bikini bottoms. The part of her I’d never seen. It was serious ink, real art, not some namby-pamby temporary tattoo or some amateur shit she might’ve gotten in an hour at a tattoo parlor on a dare on a cruise to Puerto Rico. It was complicated, detailed, and artful. Multiple visits to some tattoo artist, touching that creamy skin—goddamn.
It took every fucking ounce of strength I had, but I did manage to look away. I felt as disoriented as if I’d been sucker punched. Not cotton—lace. Not cute—hot. Not my friend—my fucking fantasy.
She was so important to me, such an integral part of my world, that I’d never let myself think of her as more than what she was. She was like running water, or electricity, or the sunshine itself. She was one of those things that was perfect exactly as it was, and one of those things only an idiot would want to change. I never looked at her and thought, I wish I could have more of her than I do already. That would be like thinking, I wish I could turn that cold glass of water into a swimming pool. Or, I wish electricity came through the air. Fuck that noise. Perfect things are perfect things, and Rosie Madden was a perfect goddamned thing, from the tips of her toes to the freckles on her nose. And that rose, holy fuck, that rose.
I was strong, but not that strong, and I let my eyes move down again. She’d disappeared from view, mostly, except for the edge of her ass. I watched her rifle through her closet, and a few dresses fluttered onto her bed. On her bedside table, I caught a glimpse of the picture she always kept there, of the two of us together. The memories flew back at me like a runaway train. The first time I’d ever seen her was the day my parents and I moved to Truelove, at the start of middle school. The first time I ever saw her, she was volunteering at the community gardens. She had a smudge of dirt on her cheek, and I thought she’d looked super badass. I’d helped her dig up carrots and had been too fucking tongue-tied to say a goddamned word.
That’s how I felt, all over again times a thousand.
I’d never made a move. She’d cried on my shoulder through a line of guys who were never good enough for her. Jocks and pricks and a brief and seriously unfortunate stint with a guy who was a drummer for a reggae band who I hated so much it made me grind my teeth. But I never said shit about it. She was perfect even when she made mistakes. Tips of her toes. Freckles on her nose.
Never mind that rose. Like Banksy took on a temple.
One more time, I glanced down. Now she was sitting on her bed, and I saw that dark V shadow between her thighs. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. I watched her put on a pair of red panties. Equally skimpy, equally not-sensible, equally ball-busting. They were only tragic because they hid the parts of her I’d never seen before.
Christ. All. Mighty.
As the world started to spin, I realized fixing the shingles could wait. I’d been working on old houses long enough to know that if you found yourself on a dangerously sloping roof and felt like you might be less than 100% on the ball, you needed to reconsider your game plan. I needed to get my shit together—that body had me totally fucking derailed. So I made my way down the roof, basically bouldering down backward. I focused on my grip, and my steps, like a climber coming down from Everest without enough oxygen. When I got to the gutter, I worked my way around the corner, standing on the eave, and hooked my leg over my ladder, making sure to put one foot after another and keep a tight grip on every rung.
When I stepped off the ladder, I grabbed a bottle of water that she’d left for me and filled up my palm and then splashed my face. My sweat stung my eyes through the droplets of water, and I rubbed away the tears. I heard the hinges on the screen door creak. “All done?” she asked.
I opened my eyes. They stung like hell, but I didn’t give a fuck. There she was, in a dress I’d seen before. Striped and sweet. But now I knew the secret. There were red panties under there. Red. Cherry red. My eyes fell on that part of her hip that I knew was inked.
“Max?”
I managed somehow to snap out of it. “Sorry. Getting there. Spotted something weird with the skylight.”
Rosie cocked her head. “Were you up there? Above my room?”
Awesome, dude. Smooth. “Just noticed it out of the corner of my eye.”
“I don’t like you being on the roof.” She pursed her lips. “Too steep. Promise you’ll get some ropes up there or something? Promise?” She reached out and put her hand to my arm, her fingers with their short pink nails pressing into my tanned skin. I had a quick but totally unavoidable image of her gripping my forearm in a very different situation. I want that. So fucking…
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
When I didn’t answer—I knew that if I opened my mouth the first words out would be You. Me. Right Now.—she looked up at the roof and squinted into the sun. She peered suspiciously up at me and shifted her nose, kind of like a bunny. Adorable. She wasn’t very tall, so whenever she looked at me she had to lift her chin, which used to be cute. But now looked…like everything I’d ever wanted. “Have you had too much sun?”
​I was vaguely aware that she’d said some words, but I wasn’t hearing them because I realized that I couldn’t see her bra straps, so that had to mean she was she was wearing a strapless…
Knock. That. Shit. Off. “I’m good.”
“Mmm.” She nodded and furrowed her delicate eyebrows, which had never looked so pretty as they did at that moment. I didn’t even know eyebrows could be pretty. They’re eyebrows, for fuck’s sake. But suddenly I felt like for the last ten years, I’d been looking at her through a standard definition television, with a shitty cable connection. Now someone had handed me an HDMI cable, and she was in 1080 dots per inch. Christ.
“Lemme make you a sandwich. You’re acting strange.”
Rather than answer her, I dumped the remaining half a bottle of water over my head, like Andre Agassi used to do between break points at the French Open.
“Ham? Or turkey? I’ve got both. Or chicken salad!” She clapped her hands together, compressing her cleavage. “Do you want a pickle?”
She means an actual pickle, you fuckwit. “Surprise me,” I told her, and dragged my eyes off the curve of her cleavage. I grabbed the bottom of my T-shirt and pressed it to my eyes. I had to get out of there. I needed a cold shower, or a call from my tax guy, or an unexpectedly urgent trip to the DMV—anything to stop myself seeing her stark naked every goddamned time I looked at her. Anything to get my mind off that ink.
As I wiped my face, she cleared her throat, and I dropped my shirt. “What?”
She pressed her lips together and rocked back on her sandals. “Nothing!”
I followed her eyes and glanced down at my fly, but the stallion was still in the barn. “Come on,” I said, finding myself smiling right along with her. “What are you looking at?”
“Just…” She swallowed hard. “Looking good there, champ.” She glanced at my stomach, where I’d shown her my bare abs. She made a fist and gave me a mock punch, soft and sweet. “That P90X is working great for you.”
Here we go again with the fitness videos. For everything else she was—beautiful, smart, funny—she was also a fucking ball-buster sometimes. She’d worked up this whole narrative that I spent my nights with Tony Horton on my houseboat, getting cut and doing reps while I drank protein shakes with a straw straight from the blender. It was her only explanation for why I didn’t have a girlfriend. P90X it had to be, she’d said. Or maybe, she’d whispered like a co-conspirator, “Jazzercise.” Now, though, I had a better idea than ever about why I was so picky: not a single woman held a candle to her. I’d been fucking blind to it, but now the mist had burned right off. “I’ve never even seen the opening sequence. Never have. Never will.”
“They’re streaming now!”
​“Christ.”
Rosie snorted and made a long wheeeeee. “Sure. Surrrrrrre,” she said, stifling her giggle. “One ham-and-turkey, coming right up.” She spun on her sandals and disappeared into the house. Hips swinging. Red panties invisible, but not to me.
Not anymore.

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Nicola Rendell writes dirty, funny, erotic romance. She likes a stiff drink and a well-frosted cake. She is at an unnamed Ivy and prefers to remain mostly anonymous for professional reasons. She has a PhD in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from schools that shall not be named here. She loves to cook, sew, and play the piano. She realizes that her hobbies might make her sound like an old lady and she’s totally okay with that. She lives with her husband and her dogs. She is from Taos, New Mexico.

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NEW RELEASE ~ Keeping Her Close by Dani Wyatt

 

 

 

 

 

Black Rousseau has honored the code and kept his distance from the one thing in this world that means something to him. But things are about to change. Black’s just received the blessing he’s been waiting for since the moment he set eyes on his boss’ daughter.


Growing up in the biker bar her father owned, Roxie Lear dreams of getting out of Hell, Michigan. The only other thing she’s always wanted is Black Rousseau. But he treats her like she doesn’t exist. Until the day her father goes to prison, that is. And Black lets her know what’s been boiling behind his cool indifference all these years.


Will Black’s preparations to claim Roxie once and for all be too much for her?
Will the darkness inside of him frighten away the only thing in this world he’s ever needed?




Author note:   This alpha is a little dark and a bit brutal but he cherishes what is his.  As always, this story is safe/no cheating with the perfect happy ending.  Strap on your wrist cuffs and your safe word, this hot quickie of a smutty read will have you questioning your morals and wiggling in your seat.
 



C H A P T E R  O N E

Black

 

   “Black.”
   The newest waitress enunciates it like we’re fucking and she’s about to come. “Awesome. Name.”
   She maintains eye contact, licking her bottom lip and crossing her arms under her tits, conspicuously pushing them up until they are all but spilling out of the uniform black tank top. The name of the bar, The Long Draw, is printed in silver glitter across the front.
   Even in the middle of the day, this place is almost at capacity. But my ears are trained so even with the noise coming from the band rocking a Steely Dan cover and the hundred or so patrons yelling over each other in order to be heard, I still hear Ransom, the bartender, snort a chuckle behind me. I clench my teeth. In here, I’m all business. “You got your paperwork?” I feel my jaw pop.
   I’ve never touched a single one of the girls who works here. This newb will quickly get the lowdown from the staff, that’s for sure. If she continues, I will shut that shit down so fast it will make her bleach blond head spin.
   I’m not going to say I don’t touch the men who work here. It’s a rare occurrence, but I do not hesitate to shut their bullshit down as well, usually with a foot in their ass. A place like this, every night you gotta come in like a warrior. Ready for anything and prepared for everything.
   The staff and the patrons here smell weakness like a shark on blood.
   The irony is, with this iconic biker culture and all, you’d expect the man who founded it to be a biker. He’s not and I’m not.
   I’ve never even been on a bike. Never wanted to. Not that everyone who comes in here rides up on their custom Harley, but when you own a bar in Hell, Michigan, you are going to attract your share of bikers from all over this country. All over the world, in fact.
   My newest hire leans back in disappointment, checking her manicure, barely hiding her irritation that her flirtation met with my frigid demeanor. But I don’t care. She’ll learn that. I’m a son of a bitch, and it doesn’t bother me in the least.
   I flip through her new-hire packet, making sure all the critical components are in order. I may not look it, but I’ve got a sharp eye for details. Running a business is all about the details and who ever thought a fuck like me would be good at anything? Let alone running a successful as hell bar that’s given me and the owner bank accounts to envy.
   I don’t miss her eyes running me up and down as she stares, though it draws nothing from me but increased irritation.
   “Looks good.” I hand the stack of papers her way, running a hand from my forehead to the back of my head, pushing the hair that’s constantly falling down back into place. “Take that and give it to Stella in the back. She’ll set up your section for tonight, give you house rules again, and you’ll train with Rita.”
   She gives me a snarky eye roll as she comes back, “I don’t need to train—” But I cut her off without ceremony.
  “There’s the fucking door.” I jerk my head to the left, where the bouncers are checking IDs and collecting the ten-dollar cover just to walk in. “Got it?”
   To my surprise, she proves she has something between her ears, because without another word, she’s spun on her stiletto toward the back hallway.
   Another snort from Ransom and I turn to see him squirt 7UP into four rocks glasses lined up on the worn wooden bar.
   “If I had one tenth of the tail you have wagging in your face, I’d die the happiest man on the fucking planet.” He shakes his head as he tops off each of the four glasses with Seagram’s and a maraschino cherry, then lifts two in each hand onto Trina’s waiting tray. “Table six, beautiful.”
  She rolls her eyes, but a wry grin plays on her lips as Ransom tops off his compliment with a wink.
   “Shut the fuck up.” I stand from the barstool, arching my back.  
   I toss back the last bit of my smoothie with a satisfied grunt, then slide the glass to Ransom, smacking my lips together.
   He knows I don’t poach; he and everyone else in this place. In fact, my lack of interest in anything resembling the opposite sex has become more than just whispers and speculation to the staff, but I don’t give a fuck. Think what they want, gossip all they want…sticking my dick in any pussy that offers was never my thing to begin with. And in the last six years, it’s not only just not my thing, it’s impossible.
   “How do you drink that shit?” He shakes his head with a disdainful squint as he picks up my empty glass with his fingertips, as though it is tainted with Ebola.    
   “I don’t taste it. I just drink it. Mind over matter.”     
   “Hemp seed and pea protein?” He looks like he’s going to vomit as he turns to put the glass in the sink. The sides are coated with the grainy remains of my daily regimen. “If I could refuse to make that for you, you know I would. There’s gotta be some rule about making some hippie health drink behind the counter of the biggest biker bar in three states.”
   I choke out a laugh. “This isn’t a biker bar. It’s a tourist attraction.”
   “That it is,” he agrees, tending to the next in an endless line of waitresses that will come and go from the service station on his twelve-hour shift.
   Just at that moment, my senses prick, and I feel my back straighten. They say grizzly bears have the olfactory capacity to pick up scents from up to eighteen miles away. I think when it comes to Roxie, I’ve got that shit beat.
   She’s not even around the corner yet, but I know she’s coming. It’s not even the scent. No, after all these years, it’s as though I see her with some sixth or seventh sense, something bestowed upon me by hell itself.
   Because seeing her, smelling her, knowing she’s close and never being able to touch her has been my own personal living hell. But I’d take this torture every day until the end of my days just to know she’s close. Safe.
   Having her in my life in any way has given me purpose.
   But today, things are different. I want to hold her more than usual. Because she’s hurting and I can’t fix it. Fuck, I’m hurting, but that doesn’t affect me. I’ve learned to put away my emotions for her sake. Most people who know me think I’m a black hearted son of a bitch. And I can be. I am about a lot of shit, but truth is, when it comes to her, I’d give my right nut just to hold her in my lap.
   Brush her fucking hair.
   Listen to her tell me every thought and dream in that amazing mind.  
   My dick is hard as lead just knowing she’s about to step into my day, same as she has every day for the last six years. Only today, she needs me to step up into her world. More than ever. More than was allowed before.
   And I intend to do just that, even if it kills me.

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Dani Wyatt loves her alpha men; make them military, cowboys, MMA — any uber alpha with a wicked possessive streak and an insatiable libido. Receive a free exclusive unpublished title when you join Dani’s private readers group for updates, free chapters and discounts.
She’s a 40 something regular lady who just happens to love badass alpha males who pull your hair and love their women with a lethal passion.

When she’s not writing (which is not often) she is probably laughing about some irony (like A-1 Steak Sauce is vegan), riding her horse, wondering why The Walking Dead can’t have a new episode every night, or looking cross-eyed at some piece of technology sent to ruin her day.
 
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BOOK BLITZ ~ Tapped (Love on the Rocks #1) by Cora Cade

 

Title: Tapped
Series: Love on the Rocks #1
Author: Cora Cade

 

Genre: Steamy Contemporary Romance

Release Date: July 16, 2016
 
Blurb

One night is all she wanted.Georgia Burke is on a mission to find a sexy one night stand. After she catches her cheating ex with her friend, in Georgia’s apartment no less, she visits her brother in his sleepy lakeside town to regroup. Her first night at Fox Lake and she finds the Drunken Duck pub and puts her plan into motion. Almost.

Will Calder is looking for the real deal. He’s done with the short-term flings and wants to find a woman ready for everything he has to offer. Will’s determined to show Georgia more than just a single night of debauchery and he’ll do everything in his power to keep her close.

Georgia’s going to find Will’s idea of the perfect woman isn’t what she expected. She’ll have to face her own insecurities to land the sexy contractor or settle for the vacation fling she anticipated.

Warning: Contains a curvy woman with a geeky streak and the contractor out to win her heart. Expect a sexy romp with a man who knows how to work with his hands.

 


 
 
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AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
 
Free in Kindle Unlimited

Excerpt
 
Chapter  1
 
Georgia Burke slipped a hand down her hip, smoothing her favorite skirt in place as the summer breeze whipped across the lake.  The last thing she needed was to flash the Drunken Duck patrons on the patio a look at her
girly bits.
  Granted, they were covered in her sexiest pair of cream lace panties, and she was here to pick up a hot
man to do the dirty with, but her newfound brazen spirit only went so far.
If she was lucky it would actually survive until she ordered a drink at the bar. Georgia’s confidence crumbled as she made her way to the front entrance of the pub and a group of guys on the patio started laughing.  Two pointed at her and the third whipped his head around to see her.  They all had classically good looks, short hair and lean muscles behind fitted t-shirts.
Young.  They snickered at her expense again, but she squared her shoulders and moved into the interior of the pub.
Fuck them and their frat boy mentality.
Women came in all shapes and sizes, and if they expected every female to fit their version of sexy, they were going to be sorely mistaken when they got out in the real world.
Georgia put a little extra swing into her walk as she gathered her confidence again.  She had great tits and a curvy build with no shame in showing off.  It might’ve taken years to find that confidence, only to have it knocked back by her last boyfriend, but she wasn’t letting any man dictate how she felt about herself ever again.
Fuck that and fuck them.
And with that final thought, she took her size sixteen ass straight to the mahogany bar and ordered a very nice local craft beer on tap.  The little pixie behind the bar served it up without fuss and started Georgia a tab.
While she was sipping at her beer and scoping out the crowd, a body bumped into her right arm.  The beer splashed down the front of her fitted, white shirt, highlighting the lace bra underneath for anyone to see.  After setting her half empty beer down, Georgia turned to face the guy who had yet to apologize or acknowledge he was most definitely in her personal space.
It might be a Friday night on the lake, but it was still relatively early and the place wasn’t busting at the seams yet.
It was one of the college boys from the patio.  He had a self-satisfied smirk on his face, staring down Georgia’s top but never really looking at her face.
“Nice rack for a fat chick.”
Before she could speak up, the petite bartender scooped up her glass and handed over a stack of bar napkins.  “Apologize to the lady.”
“It was an accident.”
The bartender, all five feet nothing of her, leveled the kid across from her with a glare that could melt the skin off his face and said, “Acting like a dick in my bar will get your ass kicked out.  Now apologize.”
“Babe, this isn’t even your bar.  And I’m a paying customer. No one’s kicking me out.”
Georgia raised a lone eyebrow at the kid’s audacity, but the bartender across from her just threw her head back and laughed. And laughed some more.
When she dropped her head back down there wasn’t any lingering humor on her face.  She was all business and looked a little bit deadly.
“That mountain standing behind you,” she lifted a finger to point at a very severe, and very large, man that appeared behind the frat boy, “is my husband.”
“Molly?”
Georgia did a double take when the massive man slapped a hand down on the kid’s shoulder.  He was tall, well over six feet, built like a brick house, and completely bald.  Dead sexy as well.  But that was all secondary to how quickly the
frat boy paled when he turned to face Molly’s husband.
“Cal, be a doll and show this dick and his friends off the property.”
The kid sputtered as Cal led him away with a firm grip without another word.
Georgia turned around and faced Molly behind the bar.
“Thanks, but you didn’t have to kick anyone out because of me.”
Molly frowned.  “Honey, those fucking clowns needed to go.  They’re predators and it was just a matter of time before Cal throat punched them.  It was my pleasure.”
Even though she smiled, Georgia didn’t know what to say in response to that, so she just started to mop up her wet shirt.
“You vacationing here?  Haven’t seen you around before.”
“My brother lives here and I’m house sitting while he’s road tripping with my nephew. I just got in this afternoon.”
“You’re Dane Burke’s kid sister?  Georgia, right?”
Georgia’s head snapped up.  “You know Dane?”
Molly shrugged.  “Small town.  He’s neighbors with a good friend of mine.  Nice guy.  Great kid.”
“Yeah, they’re both pretty great.”
“Welcome to Fox Lake.”  She paused, placing a fresh beer down.  “Your neighbor in the bungalow is Emma Rae, and her man is Gabe.
You let any of us know if you need something while you’re here.”
Georgia nodded, then sat back and took in the petite woman.  Small town hospitality at its finest.  She might actually like it here.  “I appreciate that. I’m a little out of my element right now.”
Molly leaned forward and rested her arms on the bar before speaking.  “Stop back in through the week sometime.  It’s typically quieter, and I’ll buy you a drink.  We’re going to be friends, chick.”
Georgia let a slow smile spread across her face.
“I’d like that, Molly.”
“Good.  I’ll be back to check on you in a bit.  Crowds going to be picking up soon.”  She slapped a hand down on
the bar before walking away. 
Georgia scanned the area again.  It looked like everyone was paired off or in groups. So much for her grand plan to score a hot guy for some dirty sex.  It was probably a dumb idea anyway.  Just because you found your jerk boyfriend sticking it in your friend, in your bed, and in your apartment, doesn’t mean snapping up a random dude at a bar was a good idea.
But it definitely sounded like fun.
 

Author Bio
 
Nestled away in a small Ohio town, Cora spends her days surrounded by cornfields, her husband, and her three rotten dogs. She writes small town romances that give you fierce heroines and strong, stand-up guys.
Warning: Flirty and dirty books guaranteed to make you drunk in love.
 
 
Author Links
 
 

RELEASE BLITZ ~ Right For Love by Aria Cole

 

Amazon

 



Love is only a swipe away…

Pre-med student Carly Samuelson doesn’t have time for things like swoony Valentine’s dates, so when her best friend downloads a dating app to get Carly lucky, her expectations are low. But when her friend swipes right on tall, dark, and dashing Thorn Cartwright, Carly walks into something she never expected—Thorn’s got a proposition: one night, one dress, him and her. But can one swipe right really lead to love?

 


ONE

 

Carly
   “Girl.” My best friend leveled me with serious eyes, one hand holding a lock of blond hair that was wrapped around a searing hot curling wand above her head. “You need to get some action before those bits turn to dust.”
   I burst out in a laugh. “My vagina will just incinerate and float away, huh?”
   “What do they say…” She tipped her head to the side. “If you don’t use it, you lose it?”
   I shook my head, watching as she unrolled the curl and let it bounce into a perfect ringlet as she got ready for her Valentine’s Day date tonight. Lord knows with whom this time. Saying Selma was a free agent was putting it lightly.  
   “I’m too busy for the kind of trouble you get up to at all hours of the night,” I finally answered. “You know, someday all of that natural beauty—” She wagged a finger at my face “—is going to crack. That young virginal thing you got going on won’t last forever. Why you wasting all your youth with your head in a textbook? You have to live, Carly!”  
   I crossed my arms, thinking it was moments like these that made me both love and despise Selma for her natural, dark-eyed beauty and that effortless attitude she lived her life with.
   “I’m not like you.” I finally shook my head. “I don’t do well with strangers or in groups or in public places on holidays…really, anywhere with people. I just don’t do well with people.”
   “Bullshit.” Selma dropped another curl, twisting it softly then setting the wand on the counter. “Anyone can date now, no more awkward first dates or getting-to-know-you conversations. I downloaded this dating app. You just swipe right if the guy is a hottie, left if he looks like a douchenozzle. Welcome to dating in the modern world.”
   “A dating app? You downloaded a dating app?”
   “You know I like to spice things up in my life.”
   I huffed, a little incredulous. I thought online dating was for nerds… Well, I guess I was technically a nerd, considering all I did was go to class, study, sleep, repeat. While Selma was partying the night away at clubs, kissing strange, sexy men, I was up late in a college sweatshirt and pajama pants, poring over anatomy books. With just one more year to go in my biology degree, the end was in sight. All the hard work of the last few years would finally pay off with a diploma and a set of skills that could allow me to get a job at any doctor’s office around the country as a physician’s assistant. The coursework had been brutal—I’d known it would be—but I was too far in to throw it away now, even if my grades were at the top of my class.  
   “I’m not using a dating app. I can’t even think about dating right now.”
   “It’s not dating, exactly…” Selma pushed me in front of the mirror and picked up the wand, twisting a lock of my hair in her fingers and wrapping it around the barrel of the wand. “It’s more like…hookups.”
   “Hookups.” I scrunched my nose, catching her eyes in the mirror.  
   “Yeah, you know, burn off some steam. Sex releases anti-stress chemicals to your brain, you know, and people who have an orgasm within thirty minutes of having a test perform up to five points higher. Five points! You need to fuck off some steam, Carly.”
   “Oh my God.” I covered my face with one hand as she continued to curl random sections of my hair.  
   “I mean it. When’s the last time you got any play at all?” She twirled a soft lock at my face, adding a wave until it lay nicely with the rest.  
   “Uh…” I paused, pushing back through old dusty cobwebs to the last time I’d even let a man kiss me. “Freshman year, maybe?”
   “Oh my God. You’re practically a born-again virgin. We need to get you that app.” Selma set the wand down on the counter. “Finished.”
   I glanced up, shocked she’d curled my entire head of hair and was now separating the ringlets until they were only softly defined and falling over one shoulder.  
   “Your hair looks too good to waste.” Selma swiped my phone and held it up. “Smile, and give me that look in your eye.”
   “What look?”
   “That one that says you’re really horny but still a good girl.”
   I narrowed my eyes.  
   “No, that looks like you might swipe their wallet when they’re finished. Softer. Less murder-y, more seductive.”
    “Selma!” I squealed, swiping the camera just as the flash went off.
    “Wait, let me see. That was a good one!” Selma pulled the phone from my hand, swiping to the last picture taken. “Look.” She thrust the picture into my face. “You look fucking hot. Let’s find you a man tonight.”
   “No, Selma.” My asshole friend spun, my phone in hand, and shuffled out the bathroom door, her fingers tapping a hundred words a second as she went. “Selma!”  
   She stopped dead in her tracks, turned to me in the middle of my studio apartment kitchen, and handed me the phone. “There.”
   Her smile was big. I wanted to bitch-slap it off her face.  
   “What did you do?”
   “Created your account, uploaded that pic. Now you’re ready to swipe your way to a lay, baby.”
   “Jesus, Selma. Why are we friends?”
   “Probably because I challenge your very boring and predictable nature.” She twirled a fresh curl at my temple. “And you love me.”
   I only grunted in reply, my eyes focused on the screen, the first handsome candidate to show up on my phone. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
   “Swipe left. He looks like a businessman wannabe.”
   “Wannabe? What are you, an expert at typing men on this thing?”
   “Swipe enough.” She shrugged, peering over my shoulder to glance at the next potential date.  
   “Ew!” We both swiped left, clearing the older gentleman with the overgrown mustache off our screen.  
   “He’s not bad.” Selma paused on the third, tilting her head. “If you squint.”
   I groaned, swiping left. Then left. Then another left.  
   “I’ve learned one thing from this app tonight,” I said.
    “What’s that?” Selma was swiping left for me, the frown growing deeper with every swipe.  
   “That we’re surrounded by a million really creepy guys. It’s no wonder I haven’t found a date in ages.”
   Selma nodded, taking in my words. “Maybe it’s time I move. When I visited my cousin in Denver, you should have seen the hot guys. Like, h-o-double-t hot.”
   “Well, I’m deleting it. All that’s on here is mountain men and college guys looking to score more action. Not interested.”  
   “Wait, what about him?” She paused, thumb hovering over the handsome face lit with a one-sided cocky smile. His eyes were a clear shade of ocean blue, hair dark and a little mussed, with a dark smattering of sexy five-o’clock shadow across his angled jaw.  
   “Nuh-uh. He’s married.”  
   “What? No way! What makes you say that?” Selma squinted, as if trying to read the signals through the screen.  
   “Because no man that beautiful is still on the market at his age.”
   “His age? He’s like thirty-five, tops,” she scoffed.  
   “Exactly. Married, divorced with kids, something.”
   “Well, okay, then. What do you care? This is just a hookup anyway, remember? Not like you have to worry about him proposing on the first date or anything.”
   “Selma…” I groaned, ready to swipe left on his gorgeous, smug ass.  
   “Nope.” Selma slid her thumb across my screen, swiping right. “Got him.”
   She grinned up at me triumphantly.  
   “Oh my God, what are you doing!” I wiped left, left, up, across. “Where are the settings? Can I undo that right swipe?”
   She laughed, walking back down the hall to the bathroom. “Nope. No undoing!”  
   I followed quickly on her heels, stopping right next to her in front of her post at the bathroom mirror. Just then, the little app chimed in my hand. An alert popped up that said a match was made.  
   Oh, shit.  
   “Oh, you are such an asshole, Selma Martinez.”
   “You got a match! That means he likes you, too.” She nodded, taking every second of this painfully embarrassing moment in stride.  
   “That wasn’t even a good picture of me! I hate you.”
   “Or you could say thank you.” She winked. “Now send that boy a message.”
   “What? No way. I’m not interested. Maybe you should go out with him.”
   “Nah, I’ll take one for the team. Your vag needs some love, and I think Mr. Sex right there is going to give it to you.”
   “I’m not going.”
   “You’re an idiot if you don’t.”
   I nearly replied that she was an idiot for even downloading the app when another chime popped up.
    New message alert.  
   “Oh Jesus.”
   “Ooh, he’s really into you.” Selma snatched the phone from my hands and opened the message.  
   “Wait! Don’t answer it!”
   “Too late, it already shows him that I’ve seen it—or you’ve seen it.” She waggled her eyebrows at me. “It says, Would love to meet tonight. I’ll just reply…” She started tapping at warp speed.  
   “No! No!” I yanked my phone from her. “Don’t reply.”  
   “Well, you have to. Otherwise, that would just be rude.”
   “Rude. Like I care if I’m rude to a stranger, Selma!” I couldn’t contain the shrieky frustration lacing my voice.
    “Well, I just wasn’t raised that way, stranger or not.”
    I shook my head, finding myself again stupefied by all things Selma. “You’re unbelievable.”
   She caught my eye in the mirror, refusing to say a word. I narrowed my eyes, taking in the stubborn set of her jaw, the way her eyes flared with simmering irritation.  
   “Fine. I’ll answer him. I’ll tell him he was a mistake swipe or something.”
   “What? You can’t say that.”
   “Why not?” There were too many rules for online dating, exactly the reason it was better I’d avoided it.  
    “Way to kick a guy when he’s down. No, I would not like to see you tonight. Actually, I think you’re a dog and wouldn’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. Have a nice night!”  
   “Well, I wouldn’t be that harsh.”
   Selma shook her head, finishing one last curl in her hair before placing the wand on the counter and unplugging it. She spun, pushing fingers through her hair until the curls bounced and bobbed with enviable volume. “Tell him the truth—you’re a busy college student with a very large stick up your ass.”
   “And with a nosy friend who doesn’t know how to keep her hands off other people’s property,” I chimed in.  
   “Sounds about right. Listen, chica…” Selma paused, catching her reflection in the mirror and adjusting her boobs in the cups of her bra to get more oomph. Her word. Not mine. “I’ve got to meet Pratt outside in twenty minutes. I hope you give yourself a break tonight. You deserve it. Give that vag a little workout, and you’ll feel better in the morning.” She spritzed some of my perfume in a cloud around her. “I’ll call you later when I get home…or in the morning.” She paused. “It probably won’t be until the morning.” She winked, then placed a kiss on my cheek. “Let loose tonight, Carly. God knows you need it.”
   She turned, blowing me one last kiss before sauntering out of my apartment in her chunky, laced boots and skirt.  
   I glanced back down at my phone, then to the puppy pajamas that fell to the tops of my bare feet.  
   I sighed.  
   I did need some fun.  
   I was ready for a life outside of textbooks and professors and exams and essays.  
   I hovered over the keyboard, not knowing what in the hell to say before I typed quickly.  
   Sure. Where and when?
   Before I could think twice, I hit send.
   Maybe Selma was right. If I didn’t use it, I would lose it. Perhaps not so much my vag but my sexuality, my sense of self, my free spirit.  
   I grinned, shutting down the app and tossing it on the bed, not caring if the handsome guy with the cocky smile ever replied or not. I was having fun making the butterflies in my stomach jump all on my own.



Aria Cole is a thirty-something housewife who once felt bad for reading dirty books late at night, until she decided to write her own. Possessive alpha men and the sassy heroines who love them are common, along with a healthy dose of irresistible insta-love and happily ever afters so sweet your teeth may ache.
For a safe, off-the-charts HOT, and always HEA story that doesn’t take a lifetime to read, get lost in an Aria Cole book!
Follow Aria on Amazon for new release updates, or stalk her on Facebook and Twitter to see which daring book boyfriend she’s writing next!

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Something So Perfect by Natasha Madison

 

Pre-order exclusively via

 

Coming July 31st

 

 

Matthew

Drafted first round pick when I was seventeen, playing first line at eighteen, branded NHL’s bad boy at nineteen. At twenty-three I was cut from the team and living back home with my parents. A knock on the door brought an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. All I had to do was prove I learned from my mistakes, so no way would I fall for a chick with a pouty mouth even if I wanted to spend all day devouring it.

Karrie

When my father gave me a job, I had no idea it would be to babysit some washed up NHL player. He wanted me to be his chaperone, his overpaid babysitter. I thought it was a joke. Then I met him, Matthew Grant. I wasn’t prepared for this particular bad boy. He’s not only hot but he’s arrogant and kinda sweet in a ‘you make me crazy’ kind of way.
Basically now that he’s finished screwing up his life, he’s decided to turn mine upside down.


She’s the first thing I’ve ever wanted more than hockey.

He’s the guy I know I should stay away from.

But what if this thing that started out so wrong turns into something so perfect?

   Matthew Cooper Stone is my stepfather, the Cooper Stone who’s the best person to ever skate. He holds every single record that’s out there because he’s just that fucking good.
   “What the fuck are you doing?”
   I didn’t even have a chance to say hello before Cooper’s voice filled the room. I groaned and turned over to see that he was on speakerphone. My finger must have touched it by accident. “Matthew, seriously, I’m one second from flying out there and yanking you off the fucking ice.”
    I was twenty-one and already being benched and scratched.
   I was no chump. I was drafted first over all. The day still played in my mind. “The Los Angeles Royals choose Matthew Grant.” The minute my name was said, I sat there in shock while my little sister was yelling and my mother, Parker, had tears running down her cheeks while her face lit up with happiness and pride. Cooper was the first to grab me and stand me up.
   “Go get that fucking jersey.” His voice was loud in my ear. My mother was next. “I’m so proud of you, Matthew, so, so proud.”
   I kissed her cheek and walked down the stairs toward the stage from where the general manager, the owner, and the coach all looked at me. When I walked on stage, I tried to hold my tears in.
   Taking the owner’s hand in mine, I shook it and thanked him. Putting that jersey on was surreal. Posing for pictures was a blur. I got so drunk that night I don’t remember much, except Cooper having to carry me inside while I pledged my love to my mother, my sister, and the trees around us.
   Usually, once you get drafted, you start off on their farm team, but not me. I was on the starting line. I was up to my ears in silicone. There would be a different girl every night, everyone wanting to get a piece of me. The star of the team. Then my game started to slip. The late nights took a toll on me and my body. Three years later, I was sent down to the farm team. You’d think I would wake up, but no, not me. I just partied harder. I was on the front page of almost every single tabloid magazine that you could think of.
   Every single summer I went back home, spending the time training hard with Cooper riding my ass, promising him that I was out of the party phase, but the minute my feet landed back in L.A., it was back to the booze and the puck bunnies. Another three years later, I was put on wavers. When no one picked me up, I packed up and went back home. For two years, I played hockey at home in charity games, till the GM from the New York Stingers came knocking at my door. Robert Western.
   Cooper, Mom, and I sat down with him. My hands shook with nerves, my legs bouncing with happiness that someone actually wanted me.
  “We want to offer him a one-year contract, with certain rules.” He eyed me and then Cooper. I knew Cooper had called in a favor.
   “What is it?” I asked, holding my breath.
   “Chaperone.”
    I was about to get up and say fuck that when Cooper put his hand on mine and blurted out, “He’ll do it.”
   I looked at him while he glared at me. My mother put a hand on top of her husband’s. United. Always.
   Robert slapped his hands together. “Matthew, you, my friend, are going to bring another cup to New York.” He got up to shake my hand and then Cooper’s, slapping him on the arm. “Who knows, you may also knock this asshole off a throne or two.”
   Cooper laughed out loud, but I knew he would be the one egging me on, the one daring me to push him off. He would also be the first one coming to congratulate me if I ever did it.
   He had come into my life when I’d needed a male figure the most. I just hadn’t known it. He showed me that you can fall in love with your whole heart and everything will fall into place. He showed me that you fight for what you want. But most of all, he showed me that love is a gift and once it’s given, you cherish it.
   So now here I am on the plane getting ready to land in New York. I have to meet the owner of the team and the PR people tomorrow at noon. I scroll through my social media sites while I wait for the doors to open. My sister is tagging me in old photos of us from Mom and Cooper’s wedding. Feels like it was just yesterday. When you see the way Cooper looks at my mother, you know he loves her with all his heart. He would walk to the ends of the earth for her.
   I press the heart emoji on the picture and then hear the ping of the seat belt sign telling us we can stand up. I grab my leather jacket and slide it on, put on my aviators, and grab my leather duffel bag. Walking out of the plane, I nod at the two flight attendants, who both slipped me their numbers. Numbers I left in the side of the seat.
   Fresh start. It’s time to make my parents proud of me. Time to show the world that Matthew Grant is here for good this time.
   On my way to my hotel in Times Square, I look out the window of the yellow cab zigzagging its way through traffic. Nothing in the world beats the cab drivers in New York City. You sit back and hold your breath while you pray to not end up being slammed forward. We reach the W hotel. I swipe my card through the card holder in the back, thanking him. I don’t even have time to close the door before he races off from the curb.
   I enter and check in without having anything to say. The woman at reception starts going through her routine talk. I cut in. “What floor is the gym on?”
   She smiles at me, telling me the information while giving me her private number in case I have any other questions.
   I nod at her and then walk up to my room. It’s the size of a closet. Welcome to New York. I take my phone out to send a text to Cooper.     
   Landed. Going to work out.
   Be good.
   I’m always good.
   Okay, then behave.
   I laugh and throw the phone on the bed, and then get my workout clothes out of the bag. I grab my headphones and make my way to the gym.
   I have texts from Allison, my sister, and Tom, who is married to my aunt Meghan and is an ex-NHLer, wishing me luck. But the one that makes me laugh out loud is from my Aunt Meghan, telling me that my dick won’t fall off if I don’t use it. I’m about to answer her when the elevator beeps, signaling I have arrived at the gym floor.
   I walk to the gym and scan my card so I can get in. Usually, these hotel gyms are almost empty, but not this time. A girl is jogging on the treadmill, but I don’t make eye contact with her.
   Grabbing a towel from the basket in the corner, I walk over to the other treadmill, look down at the buttons, and turn it on.
   I start off slow while Drake fills my ears, but that doesn’t last long before I crank it up and push myself hard. I’m in the best shape of my life, thanks to my mom, Cooper, and Tim. They didn’t let me sit down and drown my sorrows in bonbons and booze. They had my ass skating at the crack of dawn. In the gym pushing and pulling. Meaning I’m the biggest I’ve ever been. My shoulders are wider, my waist leaner, my arms bigger.
   I’m sweating up a storm, so I look over to see if the girl is still running on the treadmill, which is my first mistake. Not only is she next to me running as fast as me, but she’s in a sports bra holding up a perfect set of tits, her stomach bare, her abs defined but looking soft, and her little booty shorts not keeping anything back. She isn’t tall. Her blond hair swings in the air while she’s looking at the iPad she has in front of her. Is she watching the Kardashians? Jesus. She must sense me watching her because she looks over, which is when I feel the earth move under my feet. Her eyes are crystal blue, so blue it’s like I’m looking into the ocean. I almost trip over my own two feet, but I recover and smile at her. I turn my head forward and continue running till my legs feel like they’re going to snap in two.
   Getting off the treadmill, I whip my soaking shirt off and throw it over my shoulder before I grab a water bottle and drain it all. I notice she’s slowing her speed. She shuts off the treadmill, dabbing her face with the towel that she has near her. She takes the water bottle, drinking in a good amount.
   I start to walk out of the room when she gets off the treadmill. I stop right before we collide with each other, then put out my hand, giving her the right of way.
   “Thanks,” she says, her voice soft, sweet, pure.
   Following her out, I watch her ass swing in front of me. I don’t even notice she stops and I crash into her, grabbing her shoulders and making sure she doesn’t fall on her face because I was staring at her ass. “I’m sorry, I was…” I’m sure I don’t have to say anything to her because my cock is nestled in her back.
   She shrugs my hands off her shoulders while she presses the elevator button. We stand here not saying anything while we wait. What can you say? Sorry my dick poked your back? Sorry I was watching your sweet ass instead of watching where I was going? Silence is golden right now.
   When the elevator arrives, I wait for her to walk in before entering and see that we are on the same floor. Great. The ride lasts no longer than a second before the door opens and she sprints out, away from the crazy pervert who poked his dick into her back. I head to my door and see she’s in the room right next to mine. I want to say something, anything, but by the time I look up, she’s already in the safety of her own room.  

When her nose isn’t buried in a book, or her fingers flying across a keyboard writing, she’s in the kitchen creating gourmet meals. You can find her, in four inch heels no less, in the car chauffeuring kids, or possibly with her husband scheduling his business trips. It’s a good thing her characters do what she says, because even her Labrador doesn’t listen to her…

 

Author Links

 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ A Losing Battle (Free At Last series #2) by Annie Stone

 

 

Hunter has left home to join the Marine Corps, leaving Mackenzie behind, confused and unsure about her feelings.
She loves Carter, she really, really does, but could there be a spark between her and Hunter, as well?


Mackenzie does the only thing she can in the circumstances: she buries her conflicting emotions in her work.
But when she sees Hunter again, she knows the time for a decision has come.


Little does she know, time is running out for the both of them.

Coming July 24th

 


Hunter

When we get out off the bus at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, we’re told to step onto the yellow footprints, our first formation for close-order drill. They used the bus ride to give us a first impression of our new life as Marines. To sum it up: nothing here is even remotely gentle or pleasant.
We’re allowed to call home and inform our next of kin that we’ve arrived safely. But, obviously, I don’t. I can’t risk Mac picking up. Hearing her voice would kill me. What if she sounded sad? I’d be on my way home in an instant—but that would make me a deserter. And what if she sounded happy? My heart would turn to dust.
After people have made their calls, we’re given uniforms and a “high and tight”—that hot Marine-style haircut. I already wear my hair short, but after they’re done, I’m practically bald.
That first day, we have to fill in forms, then we get some vaccines and undergo medical examinations. And then? They give us our first weapon.
For three days, we’re up and running without any sleep whatsoever. After that, we have to take the IST—the initial strength test—to see whether we’re fit to be Marines.
First, we’re required to do sit-ups—at least forty-five in two minutes. I’m glad I’m in good shape, thanks to football—and Shane. While it’s happening, I don’t really have time to see how the others do, but I do notice some of them giving up. So far, I haven’t really talked to anyone. But after three days without sleep, expecting anyone to get anything done is pretty much a miracle.
Next, we do pull-ups. We have to do three, which seems laughable. I can do way more, but no need to show them. After that, we have to complete a one-and-a-half mile run in less than thirteen and a half minutes. Not a problem. Even when groggy and sleep deprived. But this is how they separate the wheat from the chaff. I would be embarrassed to be failing already, but some of these guys really do not measure up to what’s expected of a Marine.
I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. You know when you’re dead tired, but then you keep going and get beyond that point? No? I don’t either. I’d fall asleep standing up if they’d let me. But there isn’t a quiet minute to be had. The only good thing about all this? There’s no time to think.
I reach my limits on “Black Friday.” We meet our drill instructor, who yells at us and intimidates us, pushing our psychological limits. Shane told me about this—including the fact that they make the initial stage of boot camp as confusing and disorienting as possible to let us know that civilian life is over for us, and life as a Marine is something completely different.
But it’s tough. In my family, there’s never been a lot of yelling. Dad probably yelled at me for the first time in five years just last week. And suddenly there’s this guy yelling directly into your ear, not giving you an ounce of the respect you’re used to, the respect your father always said you deserved. Your initial impulse is not to stand there and take it. Growing up in liberal California has made it difficult to take that kind of abuse. But I do anyway. I know they want total obedience so that we can function in extreme situations, and this is what I want.
But that was only the Receiving Phase.
As soon as we enter Phase One, I’ll want to go back to the first part of our training—or to any other part of my life, for that matter. Phase One will take four weeks, and they’ll break us down psychologically, trying to expel every last ounce of civilian behavior from our bones. Because we are no longer civilians. We are Marine recruits. Everything we’ve done in our lives thus far is wrong and bad for us if we want to be proper soldiers.
Strict discipline, endless training, and the same routines over and over again—these are the building blocks of our first few weeks. Training is easy for me. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I knew it was going to be bad. I’ve been preparing myself for this, which makes it easier. I can take it. But what I really hate is all the stuff they do to rob us of our individuality. Your entire life people have been telling you to choose your own path and stop being like a sheep following the herd, and suddenly it’s the exact opposite they want from you.
We’re not supposed to be individuals. We’re supposed to be a team. And it makes sense. We need to be able to rely on each other. In combat, we can’t be successful if we’re not a cohesive unit, but it’s still tough. We’re only allowed to talk about ourselves in the third person, saying things like “This recruit understands” and stuff. Everything inside me rebels against it, but I know that’s part of it all.
At night, I lie awake trying not to think about Mac. She is my strength and my greatest weakness at the same time. I want to make her proud, show her what kind of a man I am. But thinking of her also opens up wounds inside me. It’s hard to love and not be loved back.
On the other hand, intense physical and mental exhaustion makes it impossible to give too much thought to anything. It may sound strange, but I embrace the rigidity. I don’t want to think about all the things that are going wrong in my life, and instead focus on surviving this. And it’s like the drill sergeants know it. They make sure that if they ever give us a free moment, all we want to do is sleep.
We learn about the history of the Marines, the rank structure, first aid. We study formations and uniforms. We learn how to handle our weapon, clean it, and always have it with us. We start our close-combat training. Without weapons, with repurposed weapons, and with our rifle, which is going to accompany us throughout boot camp.
We don’t talk much. Usually we’re half dead when they stop yelling in our ears. But the first friendships develop somehow. Killian Hastings is my bed neighbor. Cool guy. A natural-born soldier, a natural-born Marine. He passes every exam like he was made to do this. If he wasn’t cool, I would hate him. But he’s a team player, always thinking about others first. He is not a leader and never will be, but he is the glue you need to build a team.
Joey Montana is the second comrade I would call a friend. He’s a joker, always up for some banter. And let me tell you, I need it—especially in the third week when we start our swimming and water survival training. The pressure is getting worse. Because this is the first time they can kick us out of boot camp. Fail twice, and you can forget about being a Marine.
It’s enough to drives you to despair. But we don’t have time for that, either. We are not supposed to think, and our superiors take that idea seriously. And they’re really good at it.
Our training gets harder by the day. The stronger we get, the more they expect from us. The more our bodies get used to the strain, the tougher it gets. We’re made to repeat everything, in order to engrain it into our brains and make it muscle memory—so that we’re able to do every exercise in our sleep. It’s tiring. But nobody ever said boot camp was going to be easy.
It does help against heartbreak, though. The harder I work, the less I think of Mac, simply because my brain’s capacity is insufficient to deal with anything beyond survival.
And then there’s the part of Phase One I dread the most. The gas chamber. I don’t want to go in. But we have to. If we leave it, they send us back in. If we don’t obey, they kick us out of boot camp.
I’m standing there with my gas mask doing calisthenics when they tell us to take off our masks. I take it off and feel panic trying to conquer my insides. I can’t do this is the only thought in my head. I can’t do this, but I have no choice. I can’t give up because I wouldn’t know what else to do. I can’t go back home, back to that situation. That might make me a coward, but the thought of it just rips my heart out. Every time Dad kisses her, I want to grab her from his arms and punch him in the face because he’s kissing my girl. But I don’t think the caveman method would sit too well with him.
No, I need to stick to this. It’s all I have.
There comes the command to put our masks back on.
It’s over. My panic recedes.
The threat of Mac has saved me, even if I wish I could entertain more positive thoughts of her.
Before we go to bed, we get one hour of square-away time. It’s not every night, only when our DI says so. We have to make sure our gear is up to scratch, and while we’re not allowed to shower or sleep, we’re allowed to shave, which feels good. We’re also allowed to read and write letters. I keep getting letters from Carey, but I don’t read them, and I don’t write back. I just can’t. It makes me too sad. I feel horrible about leaving him. The only thing that makes me feel a little better is the idea that I’ve left him with Mac.
“Hey, man,” Joey says, sitting down beside me. “There’s this girl I like. She wrote to me, and I want to write back, but all I can think of is the fact that I want to stick my dick inside her.”
I smile.
“Something makes me think that wouldn’t be such a good idea,” he says. “Can you help me out?”
“It depends where you are in your relationship. Have you ever had your dick inside her?” I ask.
He smiles. “Everywhere.”
Across the room, Killian laughs. “I don’t believe you. If you’d actually been inside her ass, you’d know what to write to her.”
“A sonnet to her juicy ass?” Joey asks, laughing.
“Thinking of her juicy ass, I can survive the harshest gas,” Killian says with mock severity.
“Oh man, that was horrible,” I laugh, wiping tears from my eyes.
“When I see her juicy ass, I want her to blow my brass,” somebody else quips.
“Dude, I lose my fucking wits, sucking on her awesome tits,” yells another bard from the other side of the dorm. I laugh because it just feels good to be young and stupid for a change.
“Let me be blunt, I’d fuck her cunt.”
“She sucks my dick, it’s hard as a brick.”
“Good thing none of you have to make a living as a poet,” Joey says. “I actually like her, okay?”
“Hey, man, there’s no need to wallow. She might like you too—does she swallow?”
“Well, if she doesn’t suck it up, you can serve it to her in a cup.”
We laugh and laugh until we hear: “What exactly is there to laugh about, recruits? Free time’s over. A hundred and twenty seconds to get showered. Go!”
A hundred and twenty seconds isn’t that long, but you learn really quickly to only wash the important parts. Normally, this would include my dick—just in case it gets sucked—but there’s nobody here I would want on the job. And besides, I kind of swore an oath I would only ever let Mac do it.
Fuck. I really didn’t think that promise through.
Overall, it gets easier. A person can get used to anything. The tough training becomes second nature, and it gets easier to adjust to the whole drill. Phase Two is mainly weapons training. We’re sent to Edson Range, at Pendleton, for three weeks, where we practice marksmanship. We have to pass several exams, but they prepare us well. And let’s face it. We’ve been through worse. Still, when we get our first badges for marksmanship, it feels good to have achieved something tangible, to get to tick some boxes.
I don’t know whether it’s because we’re going through the same experience, or maybe you just get used to each other more easily in times of crisis, but Killian and Joey become like brothers to me. I don’t want to put Carey down, but I would entrust my life to them before him.
It also quickly becomes clear why the buddy system is such a hit. It is much easier to make it through difficult situations when you have moral support. We cheer and egg each other on—whenever we’re not too tired to open our mouths. Without my two buddies, this would be much harder.
Killian is from Texas and looks like an all-American boy. Normally. There’s hardly anything left of his blond hair, but his blue eyes still shine, even at the ends of the toughest days. He’s tall, not as tall as me, but then again, few are. He has a sunny disposition, and nothing can faze him. He’s always cool, never reacts to people teasing him. Not that a lot of them would try. I guess with his looks, you’re predestined to be respected.
Joey, on the other hand, is small. Sometimes I wonder aloud how he passed the minimum height and weight requirements—but only to tease him. He’s not actually that small, and he has endless strength and endurance. Where Killian and I have trouble with our height, Joey always gets through. Not that I’m jealous or anything.
At the end of our marksmanship training, the platoons compete with each other, and we win, breaking out into enthusiastic cheers. This really lifts morale on our team, and it also earns us a bonus. We’re allowed to make phone calls. A privilege I don’t use…
Still, the next week feels like we’re on break. They take our measurements for our gala uniforms, and any medical conditions are treated. It’s only four weeks left. Then we’re done. The goal during our final phase is to put everything we’ve learned together and polish our initial skill set. This includes an exam and a performance test that I pass with flying colors.
I’m stronger than I was a few weeks ago, not just physically, but mentally, too. I no longer have any doubt: I know what my life is going to look like, and I have accepted it. Physically, I’m somewhat wider, having built up more muscle. And it’s made me feel more at home inside my body. Often, when you’re tall, you subconsciously hunch down in order not to stand out. And even though I’ve always been relatively confident, I’ve always had to bend down to communicate with other people. Which messed with my posture. And, in psychological terms, it does the same to you as walking through life with a bent back.
But now? Now I have a completely different outlook.
Boot camp has given me a new confidence, the type of confidence you can only gain knowing that you’ll be able to defend yourself in any situation you’ll ever face—be it with words, weapons, or your own bare hands.
At the end of boot camp, we’re divided into groups to do a final exam lasting two days. It’s a combat simulation testing us in different stress situations, including sleep and food deprivation, and danger to your body and your life.
It is difficult, but it’s surprising how you can turn into a completely different person in such a short period of time. Twelve weeks ago, I would never have believed I could do this. Now, it seems like I was born to do it, like I’ve never done anything else in my life. And it feels good. It shows what I’ve achieved, what I can achieve if I make up my mind. A lot of it is physical, but it is the mental strength I’ve gained that really surprises me.
After twelve weeks, we’re done. Finally, I want to say. But that’s not how I feel.
Now it feels like I’m leaving my family all over again. It’s not a good feeling.
Joey wants to join the infantry, while Killian and I are going to do twenty-nine days of Marine Combat Training before joining the Marine Combatant Divers. At least it’s good to know I don’t have to leave everybody behind again.
After graduation, we’ll get ten days off. Killian has invited me to Texas, and I’ve decided to accept because I still can’t imagine going home. And I have nowhere else to go.

Everybody is desperate for our graduation ceremony. Not just because it means we’ve made it, but because they’re proud. They want to show their loved ones what they’ve achieved. Personally, I don’t care about that part of it, but I haven’t told the others that when I’m done here, I won’t have anybody waiting to congratulate for me.
At the ceremony, we stand in formation to listen to the final talk, the finish to this chapter of our training. As Marines. All around me, my comrades are hugging their mothers, sisters, and girlfriends. All around me, there is love.
But I’m all alone.
“Hey, soldier!” I hear the voice behind me but don’t turn.
For a moment, I stay completely still, certain I’m hallucinating. Finally, I turn around.
And there’s Mac, standing in front of me in a summer dress. She is so beautiful my breath stops for a moment.
“Marine,” I say softly.
She smiles. “Hey, Marine.”
She comes closer, somewhat unsure about how to act, before throwing herself around my neck. I hug her back, pick her up, and squeeze her really tight.
“I’m so proud of you,” she whispers in my ear.
Fuck, hearing that from her really turns me on!
When, after half an eternity, I put her back down, I look into her teary eyes. “How did you know?”
She shrugs. “I’m stalking you.”
I smile. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more beautiful in my life. “Oh, really?”
“I knew you wouldn’t tell me, but I wanted you to know how incredibly proud of you I am. I knew you’d make it.”
Right now, I feel ten feet tall instead of six. No, wait! I’m not even mortal. I’m a god!
My girl is proud of me. Is there anything in the world better than that?
“Carey’s here, too,” she says.
I look around and see him standing a little off to the side. He looks insecure, like he doesn’t know whether he’s welcome here. I hate myself for making my brother question whether I care about him. I run over to him and pull him into my arms.
“I’ve missed you, bro,” I say quietly, patting him on the back
“You never wrote back,” he says, his fingers clawing into my uniform like he never wants to let me go again.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t. I always wanted to, but I couldn’t. It would have broken my focus.”
Carey nods. “I thought…”
“I’m sorry, man. I always want you in my life. You’re my brother. The only family I’ve got.”
“You’ve got Mac, too,” he says quietly, and I look over at her. She’s standing a few steps away, her cheeks shiny, looking at us but giving us privacy.
I nod. “I’ve got Mac, too, but not like I want her.” Oops. That just came out. I wasn’t planning to tell Carey.
But he says, “I know.”
I give him a surprised look. “You do?”
“I’m not blind. Your goodbye kiss was pretty obvious,” he says. “And I’m not deaf, either. Dad and Mac fight about you all the time.”
“That bad?”
He shrugs just as Mac steps closer. “Is everything okay, boys?”
I nod, putting my arm around her shoulders to pull her close again. I plant a kiss on her head.
“Hey, Tilman!” Joey calls, coming toward us.
“Hands off,” I joke before I introduce him. He kisses Mac’s hand and smiles at Carey.
“My parents want to go grab a bite to eat. They wanted to invite my friends. You coming?”
I look at Mac and Carey.
“They can come,” Joey says quickly.
Mac shakes her head. “Thanks, that’s really sweet, but I need to go.” She avoids my eye, and I know she’s thinking about Dad.
I make an effort to hide my disappointment as I tell Joey, “Carey and I’ll be there in a second.”
“I’m sorry,” Mac whispers.
“It’s okay,” I say, even though nothing is okay. In that moment, I realize—no, remember—that she’s never going to leave Dad for me.
This needs to stop. Otherwise I will not survive it.
“How long do you get off?” she asks.
“Ten days.”
“Are you coming home?”
“Home. Nice word, but I no longer have one,” I say, shocked at the bitterness in my own voice.
She nods, tears running down her cheeks. “I—”
“Let it go, Mac. Let it go.”
She quickly presses herself against me and runs away without turning around again. I look after her.
“Hunt…”
“She’s never going to leave him, is she?”
Carey shrugs. “No idea, man. But I wouldn’t wait for it.”

I’m a contemporary romance writer, who likes her men tattooed, her women independent and her coffee strong.

My stories are all about love, but some are of the romantic kind, some of the sad kind and others of the very steamy kind. So if you can stand drama, foul language and sex, you came to the right place.

Love, Annie

 

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Pursued by the Imperial Prince by Mina Carter

 

 

 

Coming July 18th

 

He wanted the one woman he couldn’t have…

Outlawed noblewoman Jaida Lianl had been everything from a high speed courier on Arcalis Prime to a waitress in the cloud café’s on Selenis. Different careers, different names, different identities. When a cover got this easy–so easy she started to believe it herself–she knew she’d been in the same place too long. It was time to move on before she got comfortable and started to make mistakes. Mistakes would allow Imperial Prince Sethan to find her, and if that happened, people would die…

Now after five years, Seth has found her, and she can no longer outrun her destiny: she’ll be the prince’s courtesan, but he’ll never own her heart…

 


Prologue

“You don’t have to go through with this, you know that…don’t you, sweetheart?”
Jaida smiled. “Dad, I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Duke Lianl’s eyes were full of concern as he turned her to face him. His hands paused for a second on her armbands, then slid down to her hands. The armbands were new, to mark her coming of age. “You’re only eighteen Jaida. We can put this off a year or…ten maybe?”
“Dad, it’s fine. I’m fine. I’m all grown up now. You worry too much.” She chuckled, a light sound of amusement. Nothing could bother her today.
Her father smiled as he swept a look over her. His eyes were the same color as hers, deep sapphire ringed with the silver of royal blood.
“You look just like your mother. She’d have been so proud of you—” Duke Lianl broke off as a familiar sadness filled his eyes. She’d been dead ten years, but Malden Lianl had never forgotten his wife.
“Thank you. I hope she would have,” She squeezed his hands softly before letting go and then tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. “Shall we?”
“If you’re sure.”
Lord Malden gave in with a small sigh, but she caught the gleam of pride in his eye as he straightened up and gave a nod to the servant at the door. They were ready. The servant pushed the doors open ahead of them, and her stomach clenched. This was it. The moment she’d been dreaming of for years.
“His grace, Lord Malden, the Duke of Lianl, and his daughter, the Lady Jaida,” the herald announced. His rich voice rolled around the cavernous ballroom, a ringing voice that drew the attention of the crowds gathered below.
Would he be here?Jaida’s heart clambered into her throat, trying to escape the manic butterflies racing around her stomach. Shivers chased each other over her skin as Jaida and her father neared the top of the formal staircase. Wide and sweeping, it made a grand entrance into the palace ballroom, and as tradition dictated, every debutante walked down those steps to take her place in society.
Jaida’s heart stuttered to a stop, no longer beating wildly against the formal silk of her gown as everyone in the ballroom below turned to look up at them. Her knees trembled, knocking together so loudly she was surprised the people below couldn’t hear them.
Unable to help herself, Jaida lifted her eyes and looked out over the ballroom below. The floor was a kaleidoscope of color. The bright silks and satins of the women’s formal gowns contrasted sharply with the somber grays and greens of the men.
Her gaze swept over the hall. Had all these people really turned out just to see her presented to the court? Her eyes searched the crowds, looking for one figure in particular. He had to be here. A tall, broad shouldered figure dressed in black and wearing the sash of royal blood. Her breath caught in her throat as her gaze collided with piercing silver.
He was here.
His highness, Prince Sethan Kai Renza. Not just a royal prince, but an imperial prince, and the most eligible bachelor in the Combined Systems of the Fifth Princedom. The only man she was interested in seeing.
Everything faded into the background as he moved toward her, the crowd parting like water before him.
Her hand tightened on her father’s arm as they drew to a stop at the head of the stairs. They would remain there until she was formally invited to the court, then she would walk down alone. It was a journey that signified her transition from childhood to womanhood and marked her as eligible for marriage.
“Breathe, sweetheart,” her father said softly, obviously misconstruing her tension to be nerves. “Imagine them in their underwear if that helps.”
“Dad!”
“Especially young Kai-Renza. I remember him as a snot-nosed brat in diapers.” Duke Lianl carried on, ignoring the fact that Jaida was trying to contain her mirth and failing badly. Luckily, being at the top of the expansive staircase, only her father could hear the delicate little snorts of laughter she couldn’t keep in.
“You can’t say things like that! It’s…I don’t know, treason maybe?”
The Duke shrugged, but the amusement drained from his face. Below them, the Prince stepped forward.
“What the hell…” Her father’s voice echoed shock as Sethan strode to the bottom of the staircase in a total breach of protocol.
What was he doing? The tension in her father’s body was catching, flowing through to Jaida.
“Duke Lianl, it’s a pleasure to see you at court again.” Sethan inclined his head in deference to her father’s status as a royal duke. Then he turned his attention to Jaida, and heat flared in his quicksilver eyes. She shivered. It felt like her soul had been branded. Then Seth did something no one expected.
He bent into a deep bow before straightening and extending his hand to her. “My lady, would you do me the honor?”

Chapter One

“Move that fucking piece of shit… Yeah, I’m talking to you buddy. Sheesh, some people really need to learn to drive.”
Jaida slumped back into the harness of her power loader and concentrated on transferring the load she was carrying from the open cargo hold in front of her to the anti-grav pallets beside it. She grumbled under her breath as she worked. Today was not a good day. The idiot-factor was so high she was virtually swimming in them.
She shook her head, her dark hair dancing about her shoulders, and issued another curse directed at idiots who wanted to load high and drive fast. Yeah, she was just as interested in her weekly bonus as anyone else, but there was no way she was risking a safety fine. Especially not when her rent was due.
She moved smoothly, arms and legs activating the sensor plates in the bi-pedal loader as she transferred her load container by container. A tired sigh escaped her lips as the last one slid into place with a heavy clunk-click. The red light on the side of the full pallet flicked to green and it moved away on automatic, a fresh one sliding into place in front of her.
“Hey chica, almost quittin’ time… You working overtime?”
Jaida turned at the voice, the feet of the loader clunking against the deck plating until she could see the voice’s owner. Felis, the only other woman on the team, smiled back at her through her front screen.
Jaida rolled her shoulders to ease the ache creeping across them. “Yeah, I am. Could do with the extra cash, and you know what’ll happen if the Galess shipment doesn’t get offloaded in good time. Hicks’ll pitch a hissy fit, and tomorrow will be down the shitter before we start.”
She smothered a sigh at her language, automatically coarse to match her cover identity. She’d been everything from a high-speed courier on Arcalis Prime to a waitress in the cloud cafés on Selenis. Different careers, different names, different identities. When a cover got this complete and easy, so easy she started to believe in it herself, she knew she’d been in the same place too long.
It was time to move on, before she got comfortable and started to make mistakes. Mistakes would allow Seth to find her, and then people would die. They always did. Trouble was she liked Felis and the guys. For the first time in years she felt at home. If a wanted woman could relax enough to feel at home anywhere.
“Jai! Boss wants to see you in the office.”
Another voice interrupted their conversation. Both loaders turned at the heavy clump-whirr-clump of an approaching crane-lifter. Jaida hid her shudder as the driver leered at them. All the women on the docks knew about Hanrahan—they’d all been subjected to his sexist and suggestive comments.
“Hey Jai, you want a hand getting out of that tin can? Perhaps a little bit of a rubdown?”
“No thanks Han, I might catch something.” She turned away in a whir of mechanics, rolling her eyes as she passed Felis. “Best see what the boss man wants. Catch you tomorrow if I’m not out before you leave.”
“Okay, good luck sweets. Mood he’s been in, you may need it.”
* * *
“Jai’s one of our best loaders…precise and fast. Keeps to herself. Never had a bit of trouble with her. Polite and easy to get along with, the others all like her…” The docking bay manager’s voice trailed off as the man at the window turned and fixed him with an iron gaze.
“She’s a criminal, Mr. Gregaris, not at all the sort of person you want in your employment.” Seth’s voice was quiet, but inside he was seething. He turned back to the window as the loader rounded the last corner and started down the straight walkway toward the offices. He watched it approach, his face an impassive mask. He’d learned early in life never to show weakness or reveal the chinks in his armor. As chinks went, they didn’t get much bigger than Lady Jaida Lianl.
Why? he mused to himself, his temper simmering just under boiling point. I would have given you the universe, anything you ever wanted. Why run?
The loader clumped to a stop below him and a force field snapped into place around the bay. The blue-turquoise haze was unmistakable, shimmering as oxygen was pumped into the enclosed area. The air vents on the hatch popped, releasing the pressure in twin geysers as the canopy lifted. A small, slender figure emerged and climbed down the front of the large machine with an ease that spoke of long practice.
Seth’s anger started to mount again. She would rather do manual labor than be with him? If it was work she wanted, then he’d be sure to give it to her…on her back in his bed.
“She’s a criminal?” The dock manager sounded confused. “Begging your pardon, Your Highness, but are you sure you have the right woman? Jai…no, I can’t believe she’d even think about breaking the law. She’s a stickler for them.”
Below Seth, the woman walked toward the door, pausing for a moment to look up as though she sensed the sword of Damocles hovering over her.
“Perfectly sure, Mr. Gregaris.” Seth bit back the surge of triumph. There could be no mistake. It was her. He resisted the urge to step back. She couldn’t see him up here, and even if she could, there was no way out. His men had the bay surrounded and his second in command was in place at the single room apartment she rented. There was no escape. Not for Jaida.
Not from him. Not now.
Not ever.

* * *

Something was wrong. Jaida reached the main doors and paused for a moment as a tendril of dread wound its way up her spine. Narrowing her eyes she tried to get a look into the lobby ahead as she passed through the first set of sliding doors. She couldn’t linger here. The bay was on a time sequence. In five minutes the force field would snap off, and she’d be left trying to breathe hard vacuum. Something she didn’t particularly fancy doing.
Rock and a hard place. She stepped forward. The doors slid shut behind her with a solid clunk. The sound rolled through her like a death knell. Her instincts screamed at her to run, not step into the reception lobby.
“Crap, crap, crap. This is such a bad idea.”
She moved forward to the doors and tried to peer through them as the airlock went through its cycle. She’d always thought it was overkill, what with the bay outside, but now she was glad of the delay. Trying for nonchalance, she scanned the lobby. Already her agile mind was working out all the routes out of the building.
Miriam, the receptionist, sat behind the large flexi-glass-and-steel desk, headset on and hands moving swiftly over the holo-console in front of her. Her fingers twisted and pinched as she worked, plucking at images Jaida couldn’t see from this side of the desk.
She scanned around, her vision panning from one side of the room to the other. Opposite the reception desk, a small group of couches sat in front of full-length windows overlooking the loading docks. Having worked on them for months, she’d have picked a different view. Even a blank wall would have been preferable.
Nothing was out of place, not even a leaf on the expensive Terranian palms in the corner.
“Okay, jumping at shadows. Get a grip, Jai,” she told herself as the doors in front of her slid open and she stepped through.
“Morning Miriam, boss called me. Shall I wait?”
Jaida headed toward the chairs discreetly hidden behind the palms. Unlike the plush couches for the visitors, these were hard, wipe-clean plastic. For the workers, people like her. The dregs of society. A long time ago she’d have sat on the couches and not thought a thing about it.
Those days were long gone. She went to sit on the chair nearest to the lift door.
“No. Go on up, go right in.” Miriam said.
One eyebrow winging up in surprise, Jaida stood and headed that way. It wasn’t until the door slid shut behind her and the lift started up that she processed what Miriam had said.
Go right in.
No one went right into Gregaris’ office. He was an approachable guy, if a bit blunt, but even so, no one went right into his office. The sense something was wrong hit her in the gut again, stealing her breath. The lift was too small. She couldn’t escape. For five years she’d made sure she always had an escape route, always had a way out. Panic clawed at her gut and her heart climbed into her throat.
Something was wrong. She dragged deep breaths into her lungs and forced her heart rate back down to something approaching normal. It worked, but only just. Her heart pounded and slammed against her ribcage. The sides of her neck hurt with all the tension as she battled her fight-or-flight instincts.
Gradually she got them under control, biting her lower lip as she watched the numbers above the door count up. Sweat slid between her shoulder blades and down the valley between her breasts. Nothing was wrong; there was no way Seth could have found her here, not with all the hoops she’d jumped through to set up this identity. A lot of money had changed hands for her to get the ID and med numbers of a kid who’d died at seven but whose parents had never registered the death. Med numbers were worth their weight in gold.
The door pinged. She gulped a lungful of air as they slid open to reveal the corridor beyond. It was empty.
Shaking her head Jaida stepped out the lift and walked toward Gregaris’ office. Plush carpeting under her feet ate the sound of her steps as she approached the door. Her hand reached out, was almost at the handle, when she paused. A frown creased her brow.
Something was wrong. The instincts that had been clamoring since the lobby ganged up on her and became tribal screaming. This time, she listened.
She snatched her hand back from the handle and turned on her heel. The space between her shoulders itched as she headed back the way she’d come. She could feel the crosshairs painted on her back, a little red mark dancing across her skin like a butterfly.
Walking past the lift door, she headed for the emergency stairs at the end of the corridor. She’d barely covered half the distance when it began to open. Her heart stilled, fluttering deep inside her chest as she started to backpedal. She knew what she’d see before the heavily armed trooper stepped through the open door.
Time slowed to a crawl as the muzzle of the trooper’s rifle swung toward her. The red dot of the laser sight raced across the pale walls, then across her field of vision, blinding her for a second. She turned and raced for the lift, yelling and slamming her hands against the flat metal of the closed doors.
“No. Oh please, Lady, no…”
They’d called it back down. She jabbed at the buttons frantically as more troopers piled into the hallway. There was no way out, just the lift and the stairs currently filled by imperial guards. Or…the office at the end of the corridor, the door looming in her peripheral vision like some harbinger of doom.
“Bollocks…”
She abandoned the lift and raced up the corridor, grabbing at each handle as she passed, hoping beyond hope one would give. If she could just get into one of them she could find a ventilation shaft or something. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d escaped him that way.
“Lady Jaida Lianl, by order of his Imperial Majesty, you are under arrest—”
“Screw his Imperial Majesty!”
Her hand closed around the last door handle, and wonder of wonders, it opened. She stumbled through and slammed hard into a solid chest. Strong arms closed around her, and with a gasp she looked up into familiar silver eyes.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
“No…” Her gasp of denial was automatic as she fought against his hold, vicious as a wildcat, bucking and heaving in his embrace.
“Yes.” He quelled her struggles by yanking her up hard against him.
Panic and awareness flared through her at the familiar feel of his body against hers. His Imperial Highness, Prince Sethan Kai Renza. Seth. The man she’d once loved with all her heart and soul.
Defeat wrapped around her heart in a crushing embrace as she looked up. He had the face of a dark angel, all hard, masculine lines. His eyes were mercurial silver, their cast almost feline, surrounded by thick, dark lashes. A straight nose sat above sinfully full lips reputed to make even a priestess think wanton thoughts. He was as handsome as she remembered, but where once his expression had been charming, it was now hard and triumphant.
“Let me go!” She shoved at the brick wall of his chest, but it was a futile gesture. Seth was solidly built with a warrior’s physique. Once it had thrilled her, but right now she’d give everything she owned to be on the other side of the galaxy.
“Anyone would think you’re not pleased to see me.” His drawl was rich and mellow, just a hint of his court accent tainting the galaxy-standard he spoke.
Jaida’s lip curled into a sneer. “You don’t think? Goddess, you musta been at the back of the queue when she was handing out the brains.”
He winced at her words. She knew he would. The rough dock dialect would grate on his nerves just as much as the insult.
“Don’t talk like that.” His hand slid into the hair at her nape, and his thumb stroked along the sensitive skin at the side of her neck. Refusing to be cowed, either by his touch or his larger, more powerful body, she pulled against his hold.
“Or you’ll what? Declare me an outlaw, exile me from my family, and denounce me as a criminal? Oh…wait. You already did that.”
Anger flared in his silver eyes. He leaned in until his lips brushed against her ear and whispered. “You’re mine, you always were.”
She snorted, an inelegant sound of amusement and contempt. “I’ll never be yours, Seth. Never. Why do you think I left? You’re not man enough for me.”
It was a foolhardy thing to say to an Imperial prince, especially Seth, but she wasn’t thinking. She wanted to hurt him. Deal a blow to his masculine pride. Her heart ached at the lie, but now that he’d caught her, it was the only weapon she had. Her heart had been shattered beyond repair anyway, so what was one more hurt?
All that mattered now was hiding the effect that seeing him again was having on her. She kept her expression cold and furious, but deep inside a flutter had started in the empty and bruised space in her soul. Blood surged faster through her veins at his touch, and the solid strength of his body against hers started a fire low down in her belly that burned brighter every second.
“Not man enough?” His eyebrow winged up, a raven arch against his pale skin. Court pale. None of the nobility would be uncouth enough to allow their skin to tan. Well, unless they’d been on the run for five years like she had, taking any job they could just to eat and provide a roof over their head. The first thing she’d done to fit in was get a suntan.
“Never.”
As soon as the word was out of her mouth, she knew she’d pushed too far. Fury blazed in his eyes, scorching her to her soul. His fingers tightened in her hair. She tried to turn her face away, but he hooked a finger under her chin and tugged. Not gentle, not rough, just unstoppable.
Held fast, she watched as Seth’s lips descended. A whimper escaped as he pried her lips apart and thrust his tongue past them to claim the sweetness within. The touch of his lips shattered her defenses. Disbelief and need surged through her in equal amounts. She’d promised herself that, should the worst happen and he captured her again, she would be as cold as the grave. Wouldn’t respond to him at all. To her, Sethan Kai Renza had ceased to exist as a man.
Yeah, right.
His kiss was designed to punish and humiliate, but as soon as he touched her, her body responded. The blood in her veins heated, and her breasts tightened as he held her. Her heart rate skittered and went through the roof as she developed trouble taking her next breath. Worst of all was the heat spreading out from her core. Shame burned bright banners across her cheeks.
She moaned against his lips as his tongue thrust again, sliding along hers and demanding her response. A response she gave, tentatively at first but then with unwilling passion. Her tongue tangled with his in an erotic dance, but her heart ached. After all he’d done, how could she crave his touch?
He lifted his head. Heat and smug satisfaction colored his eyes. “Not man enough, was it?” he taunted as he stepped away.
She clamped down on the sense of loss. There was no way she wanted him touching her, not ever again.
“Take her to my room at the Babylon, and for heaven’s sake, scrub the stink of the dock off her.”


 


Mina was born and raised in the East Farthing of Middle Earth (otherwise known as the Midlands, England) and spend her childhood learning all the sorts of things generally required of a professional adventurer. Able to ride, box, shoot, make and read maps, make chainmail and use a broadsword (with varying degrees of efficiency) she was disgusted to find that adventuring is not considered a suitable occupation these days.

So, instead of slaying dragons and hunting vampires and the like, Mina spends her days writing about hot shifters, government conspiracies and vampire lords with more than their fair share of RAWR. Turns out wanna-be adventurers have quite the turn of imagination after all…

(But she keeps that sword sharp, just in case the writing career is just a dream and she really *is* an adventurer.)

The boring part: A full time author and cover artist, Mina can usually be found hunched over a keyboard or graphics tablet, frantically trying to get the images and words in her head out and onto the screen before they drive her mad. She’s addicted to coffee and would like to be addicted to chocolate, but unfortunately chocolate dislikes her.

 

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