Category Archives: Chapter preview

RELEASE DAY BLITZ ~ From Breath and Ruin by Carrie Ann Ryan

FROM BREATH & RUIN by Carrie Ann Ryan is available now – get your hands on this stunning first book in a debut YA fantasy series now!

About FROM BREATH AND RUIN

Available March 19, 2019

In her YA debut, New York Times bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan dives into a world with magic and sacrifice with the Elements of Five.

Five hundred years ago, the Maison Realm was shattered, divided into warring kingdoms of elemental Wielders with fate and truth shadowed and uncertain. Now, factions of both the light and dark venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to Wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together.

Lyric has no idea that there’s a realm outside the human one she lives in. When fate and circumstances are pulled from her hands after an accident, and she finds out that nothing is at it seems.

There is a war surrounding her and when Lyric realizes that they are searching for her, she must rely on those she once trusted: a boy who isn’t who she thought, and a new realm of warriors who have come to protect her as she trains.

For the darkness is coming, and the Queen of Obscurité wants to ensure that the King of Lumière can’t get his hands on Lyric. And the only way to ensure that is if Lyric herself is no more…no matter the cost to prophecy.


Preorder your copy of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!

✦Amazon https://amzn.to/2CQOMda
✦Apple Books https://apple.co/2PyXmjb
✦B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q
✦Kobo http://bit.ly/2ylrnN9
✦Google Play http://bit.ly/2EvwL5F
✦Amazon Paperback https://amzn.to/2q4vcBL


Audio (Read by Bailey Carr):

✦Audible https://adbl.co/2OjccxI
✦Amazon https://amzn.to/2A3fJrw
✦B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q
✦Kobo http://bit.ly/2QLISgr
✦Downpour http://bit.ly/2EuUq6q

Add FROM BREATH AND RUIN to your Goodreads shelves!


Read the first two chapters of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!


About the ELEMENTS OF FIVE series

One thousand years ago, there was one realm of magic. The Maison Realm. It held five kingdoms with five kings or queens, who worked together to keep the Maison people safe and ensure the balance of magic. Over the last five hundred years following the Fall, the great war that began the fracture, many of the kingdoms’ inhabitants intermated, and the magics soon became tied to one another in pairs. Except for the Spirit Wielders. The two remaining kingdoms are now converging, and the veil between the two is fading. Only the human realm lies between the two, and no one there knows there is a war surrounding them.

Over time, certain children of the Fall began to leave their respective kingdoms to venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together. For the realms are dying without their sister magics. And soon, there will be no more power left to rule the kingdoms, for there will be no more kingdoms left to rule.


 About the Author

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 3.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest



CHAPTER REVEAL – From Breath and Ruin by Carrie Ann Ryan

We’re less than a week away from the release of FROM BREATH AND RUIN by Carrie Ann, but you can read the first two chapters now!

 

About FROM BREATH AND RUIN

Available March 19, 2019

In her YA debut, New York Times bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan dives into a world with magic and sacrifice with the Elements of Five.

Five hundred years ago, the Maison Realm was shattered, divided into warring kingdoms of elemental Wielders with fate and truth shadowed and uncertain. Now, factions of both the light and dark venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to Wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together.

Lyric has no idea that there’s a realm outside the human one she lives in. When fate and circumstances are pulled from her hands after an accident, and she finds out that nothing is at it seems.

There is a war surrounding her and when Lyric realizes that they are searching for her, she must rely on those she once trusted: a boy who isn’t who she thought, and a new realm of warriors who have come to protect her as she trains.

For the darkness is coming, and the Queen of Obscurité wants to ensure that the King of Lumière can’t get his hands on Lyric. And the only way to ensure that is if Lyric herself is no more…no matter the cost to prophecy.


Preorder your copy of FROM BREATH AND RUIN now!

✦Amazon https://amzn.to/2CQOMda
✦Apple Books https://apple.co/2PyXmjb
✦B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q
✦Kobo http://bit.ly/2ylrnN9
✦Google Play http://bit.ly/2EvwL5F
✦Amazon Paperback https://amzn.to/2q4vcBL

Audio (Read by Bailey Carr):

✦Audible https://adbl.co/2OjccxI
✦Amazon https://amzn.to/2A3fJrw
✦B&N http://bit.ly/2CQma3Q
✦Kobo http://bit.ly/2QLISgr
✦Downpour http://bit.ly/2EuUq6q
✦iTunes Coming Soon

Add FROM BREATH AND RUIN to your Goodreads shelves!

 



Read the first two chapters of FROM BREATH AND RUIN:

Chapter 1

The dreams didn’t come often, but when they did, it usually took me far too long to realize I could find my way out of them. At least, most of the time, I could make my way out. Other times, no matter how hard I tried to shake myself awake or tear at the seams of what the dream could be, I was forced to live within them, in the nightmares that felt far too real.

My heartbeat thudded in my ears as I tried to get my bearings once again. The dreams were never the same in what happened or even where I was when they occurred, but there was a thread that seemed familiar, as if it were calling to me in a way I could never understand.

Sometimes, I was on the fringe, watching the court of royals dance and hide their daggers of both wit and steel. Then they’d bow and turn to smoke, the ashes of their lies and hidden admissions blowing away like dust in the wind.

Other times, I was in the middle of the action, hurtling from side to side as towers fell, and water rushed by. Air blew through my hair, whipping it into my face, the earth below me trembling as fire rained down on all of us.

Tonight, however, the visions weren’t either of those. Yes, I was in the present, the dream happening to me rather than me being a witness to an absolution I would never understand.

But I stood in a clearing, winter on my back, summer facing me down with wicked heat. Spring danced along my right side with a cool warmth that didn’t make sense, while fall brushed my left, its warming coolness confusing me even further.

There were two shadows in front of me, their arms outstretched, each calling my name in whispers. I could only hear their breaths, not their voices, so I had no idea who they were or what they represented in this dream that I knew would linger long after I woke.

“Lyric,” they called in unison.

“Lyric.”

And though that was my name, it still didn’t sound as if they were truly calling to me. Instead, it was as if they called to the person they needed me to be. I wasn’t that person, though. Wasn’t what they needed, and I knew I may not ever be.

And while I still had the same body shape as I did when I was awake—my slightly larger-than-average curves filling out my dress, and my height just below average so the bottom of my hem slid along the mud—I wasn’t truly me in the dream.

My blond hair blew in the wind, catching the light and making it look white at times, gold at others. The shade was always changing depending on how much sun I took in during the season, but in this dream, it changed with the direction I turned.

It isn’t truly me, I told myself again. This wasn’t my dress, this wasn’t my life.

Those shadows couldn’t actually call to me because I wasn’t me.

“Lyric,” the shadows called again.

“Wake up,” the one nearest the spring side demanded.

“It’s time,” the one closest to fall whispered.

And though they were both whispers, they sounded like screams in my ear.

I jolted awake, my sweat-slick skin clammy as I tried to catch my breath. My tank was soaked, sticking to my body, and my shorts had ridden up as if I’d thrashed in my sleep. Considering my comforter was on the floor, and my sheet was currently a knot at the end of my bed, I would say that was probably exactly what had happened.

I swallowed hard, narrowing my eyes at the clock, trying to see what time it was. The sun was already up, even though it wasn’t quite seven in the morning, but it was summer in Denver, Colorado, and that meant blue skies, bright sun, and the occasional rain that came out of nowhere.

I had my white curtains drawn, but they didn’t really block out the light, so I’d learned to sleep through the rays on my face long ago. I had to if I ever wanted to sleep in. And since I was also a teenager, sleeping in was part of life—especially during the summer.

I might be eighteen, out of high school and ready to start college in the fall, but I still felt like the teenager who wanted to sleep in and not have to wake up early for classes. It didn’t help that my walls were still a light lilac from when I’d been in my purple phase, and there was still lace on my curtains and the skirt of my bed.

My family made a decent income, but we were firmly in the middle of middle class, and these days, that meant there wasn’t money to update my bedroom to something a little less tween girl and a little more college-bound woman. I didn’t care too much, however. I wasn’t staying here long. Soon, I’d be in a dorm at the local university, an offshoot of the University of Colorado since there was no way I could afford Boulder’s campus. Plus, this way, I could still be close to home.

Because as much as I might think I was ready to start my new life and be an adult, the nightmares that had plagued me for as long as I could remember told me that I wasn’t as grown-up as I thought.

Honestly, what kind of teenager still needed a nightlight because she was scared of the shadows?

Me, apparently. Lyric Camaron, the walking embodiment of indecision and someone not quite ready for anything.

I ran a hand over my face, holding back a gag at how sweaty I was, and let out a sigh. The dreams hadn’t happened so often before, but now they came almost every other night, and I had no idea what they meant. I’d always had a vivid imagination, but my dreams took that to a whole new level.

I wasn’t a little girl anymore, and yet I still dreamed of princes and princesses, of magic and might. I dreamed of courts and pretty dresses, and flowers and rain. Still, I thought that was probably all just a front for what the dreams actually carried. A veil across the hate and lies and mystery of everything that came with them.

I’d always secretly wanted to write them down, to make them into a book or just a few stories, but for some reason, I’d held myself back. There was no use documenting what never made sense. The dreams scared me even when they shouldn’t, and writing them down would only make them more real.

And it wasn’t like writing would help me in my real life outside of the dreams. I needed to grow up, stop thinking about fairy tales that weren’t bright and shiny, and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Because I wasn’t a little kid anymore and, sadly, the time to make those choices had already started to pass me by, and I was struggling to keep up.

“Shut up, Lyric,” I mumbled to myself. It was far too early, and I still wasn’t awake enough for my mind to be going down that path. I’d likely be getting a very similar lecture from my parents over breakfast—and perhaps lunch and dinner—as it was.

They loved me, and I loved them.

And that meant I needed to be a better daughter.

The first step to doing that was getting out of bed and washing off the sweat that coated my skin. Then, I’d wash my sheets, air out my comforter, and maybe even go for a run so I could get the cobwebs out of my mind. I wasn’t a coffee fan since I tended to need far too much sugar to even like it, so I couldn’t have a cup of that to help. So, that meant chores and fresh air so I could get out of my funk, let the dreams lie where they needed to be—far from my reality—and get on with my day.

I could do that. Totally. If only I could get the images from the dream out of my mind.

Those two shadows had been in more than one of my nightmares, and I couldn’t help but think that they meant something. Who or what did they represent? Why were they important? I didn’t know if they were male or female or if they were truly people at all. If they were supposed to be love interests, then having them be either a man or a woman would only mean that my dream-self represented my real-self since I was attracted to both and had dated both in real life. But I still didn’t know what the dreams or the shadows in them really meant.

In a few, the apparitions had moved, and I could almost imagine them wanting to be even closer. They always held out their hands, as if I had to make a decision between them, to go to one or the other.

The seasons coming at me all at once seemed like another symbol for choice and change, as well. The same with the instances where I was covered in earth or water, air or flame. All of it indicated choice.

So maybe the dreams didn’t mean anything beyond what I already knew.

It was time for me to make a choice.

A choice regarding who I could be—who Lyric Camaron would be as an adult.

That choice seemed the hardest of all, and yet I knew it was important. All teenagers went through this, they all had to make decisions, no matter what course outside forces wanted them to take.

I knew there was a path laid out before me, one that would lead to a life not unlike the one I held now, one made of decisions that made practical sense. That was the one I knew I should take, the one that would be easier and yet far more thought-out.

And yet part of me wanted something different. I wanted to be a Lyric who wasn’t so middle-of-the-road as I currently was as a bisexual teenager living in Denver, Colorado.

There were choices I had to make. Clear-cut ones that had nothing to do with royals and elements, nothing to do with seasons and change.

I would make the right choice.

I had to.

And I would ignore the dreams and the idea that there could be something more for me. There hadn’t been before, and I wasn’t going to lie in wait for answers that scared me, translations of dreams that challenged me.

I would make my own way, make my own choices.

And they would be the right ones because they would be mine.

The dreams would go away eventually.

They would fade just like the young girl I used to be. In its place would be the future I needed, the one I craved.

I told myself I wouldn’t dream again. I couldn’t.

Because I didn’t want to know what those shadows meant. I didn’t want to know why they knew my name.

I didn’t want to know why it all felt so real. And, above all else, I didn’t want to know why I saw those same shadows when I was awake. Because those were the ones that scared me. The ones that were far too real.

I was Lyric, the girl with everything to look forward to. I wasn’t the girl who saw shadows, who had dreams.

I couldn’t be.

 

Chapter 2

After I’d put my sheets into the washer, I set the load, took a quick shower to rinse off, and headed out for my jog. I’d decided to go with long, black leggings, a hot pink sports bra under two black tanks, and a black jacket that had air holes all through it and thumb holes in the sleeves. It was my favorite jacket of all time, and I was seriously disappointed when I went to buy another one and found out that they were no longer making them. There were already frayed edges on the cuffs and, sometimes, the metal on my purse got caught in the mesh of the body, making me wince.

The fact that I had such an emotional attachment to my running gear told me I needed to get out of the house more—and not just for jogging around the neighborhood. I huffed a breath as I slowly ran up the steep hill at one of the entrances to the sub-division, cursing the fact that I lived in a mountainous city. Sure, once you got outside city lines to the east, it was all flat planes and easy walking, but within the city limits and west toward the Rockies? Hills galore that did nothing but make my side ache as I ran.

I’d always been a runner, but never in an organized way when it came to school. I hadn’t played sports or joined the cross-country team. While I played soccer and T-ball as a kid, I hadn’t been particularly good at it, not enough to focus so much of my time on it. I’d even tried gymnastics and ballet as a little girl like most kids did, but it wasn’t my thing. And while I enjoyed running—still do—doing it to compete took the fun out of it for me. I was always a little jealous of people who could put in that effort and still have fun, but for me, sports wasn’t where it was at. I did well in school, knowing I’d need any academic scholarship I could get so I could go to college, but I’d had to work at anything not English-related. Writing I could do. Writing, I loved to do.

Differentials? Not so much.

I held back a shiver at that thought and pushed myself into my second mile. I wasn’t going to do any more than that today since I wanted breakfast, and I figured that most of the strain from my dreams was now gone. But I thought I might go out again later in the day after the hottest part of the afternoon for another run. Increments worked best for me and my attention span.

I thought I caught a shadow out of the corner of my eye, but as I whipped my head to look at it, nearly tripping over my own feet as I did, I figured it was just my hair and a trick of the light. I wasn’t seeing shadows outside of dreams. I wasn’t.

I just needed to get those weird thoughts and remnants out of my head and start my day off better.

My parents hadn’t been awake when I left for my jog, but thanks to the note I placed by the coffee machine, they’d know I was out of the house. I might be an adult, but I was still their child and living under their roof. There were rules to be followed, a curfew to be kept, and manners to be upheld. I didn’t know how I was going to handle living outside of their rules when I went to the dorms, but I also didn’t think I’d be the type to go crazy like so many of the stories I’d heard growing up. I didn’t want to flunk out of college when I hadn’t even chosen my major yet. And I sure as heck didn’t want to end up drinking the whole time and wind up with a minor in possession misdemeanor or something that would forever stain my record.

No, thank you, evil temptation and all.

By the time I got home, my parents were off to work, but I knew I’d see them for dinner. My best friend Braelynn, and my ex-girlfriend/friend Emory were coming over to eat with us, and I knew my parents were excited to see what the other two ladies planned for college. In Mom’s and Dad’s way of thinking, if I knew what others were doing, it would push me to make a decision. The problem was, the more they pressured me, the more I wanted to hide in my shell like a turtle and not make a choice at all.

The dream came back to me, and I tried not to frown as I poured myself some juice and put two slices of bread into the toaster. Just because I was once again having weird dreams that I tried to make sense of, didn’t mean they actually meant anything.

I had more to do today than think about nightmares that didn’t mean anything more than I needed to watch what I ate before bed. Sure, it was summer, and I was between jobs since the coffee shop I had been working at shut down unexpectedly, but I had other things in my life. Like that whole deciding what I wanted to do with my life thing.

But first, I would focus on my friends and the certain impending doom from the conversation that would surely happen over mashed potatoes and roasted chicken tonight.

 

Oddly enough, I wasn’t lulled into a sense of security once my parents came home and didn’t once mention school or my future. I knew the talk was coming, but they were giving me time to drop my defenses so they could pounce.

I didn’t know why I kept floundering whenever it came to making a decision about majors and life choices, but the enormity of it just seemed overwhelming. I was eighteen, an adult who could fight and die in wars, but I couldn’t drink. I could buy cigarettes and vote, but I was still technically a teenager.

Having to make a huge life choice when all I really wanted to do was explore and learn and find out what suited me felt so far out of my depth, it wasn’t funny. I knew thousands upon thousands of people did it every year, and many of them even went in not knowing exactly what they wanted to do—but they still had an idea.

Me? I knew what I loved, but I also knew that love wouldn’t pay the bills. At least that’s what I’d been told. And, frankly, I sort of believed it.

My mind had always been full of dreams and layers upon layers of vivid imagery my imagination would tumble over and over. I loved putting those visions into work, at least in my mind. Picking a major that worked with that, wasn’t something my parents were going to go for. The idea of doing it all on my own, or choosing a major and finding out that I wasn’t really good at it or didn’t like it anymore was just too much.

It was all too much.

I saw another shadow out of the corner of my eye, and I turned, trying to catch it, only to see my father staring at me instead. His eyes were wide since I’d moved so fast, clearly startled.

“Whoa there, Lyric. Didn’t mean to scare you.” I looked like a perfect mix of my parents, something that I’d never truly noticed until I got older. I had my mom’s blond hair and height, but my dad’s light brown eyes. Everything else was a complete mix of the two, and I’d always loved that I knew where I came from, despite not knowing where I was going.

Dad continued. “I was just wondering when Braelynn and Emory would be here.” Dad didn’t particularly like Emory. Not because she was gay, and I was bisexual—that part he was totally on board with, and I knew I had the best parents for that part of my life—no, he didn’t like her because she was my ex. He didn’t get how we could still be friends after she’d dumped me. Frankly, I didn’t understand it either. Sometimes, I felt like our friendship was fraying on the edges, but I didn’t think that had to do with our breakup. We were just finding out we were two different people, and everyone was moving on to college anyway. It sucked, and I didn’t know how I felt about it. I never did, really, when it came to Emory.

That explanation hadn’t been good enough for Dad. I still didn’t know how my mother felt about it since she was so good at hiding it, but she at least put on a better face.

“They’ll be here soon.” The doorbell rang, and I grinned. “And there they are.”

Dad nodded and moved out of the way so I could make it to the door before Mom did. My parents were great, but they were parents and liked to know exactly what my friends were doing at all times, even if it wasn’t their business. I was pretty sure all parents were wired that way, and I’d learned to deal with it.

Braelynn smiled widely at me, her shoulder-length black hair up in a ponytail so I could see the honey highlights she’d put in on the lower layers. Her moms hated it, and Emory called her a skunk, but I loved them.

“Yay for dinner. I brought rolls.” Braelynn held up a basket, and I moved back to let her in, knowing that Emory was right behind my friend.

“Yay rolls! I know Mom will be happy since you and your moms make like the best bread ever.”

“Totally true. I do have the best moms.” Braelynn winked and handed over the basket as Emory sauntered in. Why she had to saunter, I didn’t know, but whatever worked for her.

“I’m starving,” Emory said in way of greeting before leaning down to buss a kiss on my cheek. She’d done that before we began dating and hadn’t stopped. Since I didn’t care either way, I didn’t push her off. Once I started to care and put up those boundaries, she’d stop. That was who she was.

“I’m hungry, too,” I said. “Hi, Emory.”

Emory studied my face and frowned. “You didn’t sleep.”

I tried to school my features, but I knew I wasn’t good at it. “I’m fine. Let’s go finish setting the table.”

“Hmm.” That was all she said as she made her way into the dining room, saying hello to my parents as if she hadn’t broken part of my heart and left me wondering what I’d done.

And…I had no idea where that thought had come from. Maybe I really needed more sleep and fewer dreams about random shadows, seasons, and elements messing with my head.

By the time we were all seated at the table, Braelynn’s rolls like manna to us all, I was on edge since Emory kept studying me. I didn’t know why, and it bugged me because I knew this dinner would only get worse when my parents brought up the dreaded subject of majors.

They always did, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it other than choose a freaking major. But I didn’t want to make the wrong choice.

I couldn’t make the wrong choice.

“So, Emory, what did you decide to study again?” Mom asked, not even trying to be subtle.

Here we go.

Emory shrugged. “Photography with a minor in history. I want to work for the AP or something, going around the world, taking photos of the people left behind in war and strife.”

My parents nodded as if they totally understood and not just because they were happy Emory had chosen a direction for her life. It didn’t matter that it was dangerous and could end up being a career that didn’t keep her financially set, Emory wasn’t their daughter.

“And, Braelynn?”

My best friend smiled sweetly. She was always so sweet, so gentle. I loved her to the end of the world and back and knew I’d chosen well on that first day of preschool when we shared our blocks.

“Vet school, eventually. I know it’s going to be hard, but it’s my passion.”

I winced at that word. Passion.

I didn’t have that, not that I could tell anyway. How was I supposed to know what to do when I still had so much to learn? I tried not to let any of those thoughts cross my face, however, because my parents turned to me, expectant looks on their faces.

They loved me. They truly did.

But they didn’t understand me.

And the thing was, I wasn’t so sure I understood myself.


About the ELEMENTS OF FIVE series

One thousand years ago, there was one realm of magic. The Maison Realm. It held five kingdoms with five kings or queens, who worked together to keep the Maison people safe and ensure the balance of magic. Over the last five hundred years following the Fall, the great war that began the fracture, many of the kingdoms’ inhabitants intermated, and the magics soon became tied to one another in pairs. Except for the Spirit Wielders. The two remaining kingdoms are now converging, and the veil between the two is fading. Only the human realm lies between the two, and no one there knows there is a war surrounding them.

Over time, certain children of the Fall began to leave their respective kingdoms to venture into the human realm in search of the prophesied Spirit Priestess who is said to wield the Elements of Five and bring the two fractured kingdoms together. For the realms are dying without their sister magics. And soon, there will be no more power left to rule the kingdoms, for there will be no more kingdoms left to rule.


About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 3.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest


RELEASE BLITZ – Hard at Work (Nice and Dirty #3) by Lola StVil

Title: Hard at Work
Series: Nice and Dirty #3
Author: Lola StVil
Genre: Dark Alpha Romance
Release Date: February 25, 2019
Blurb:
When a clumsy waitress spilled a drink on me, I looked up to see who this woman was. Her name is Aria Stevens. She is gorgeous and her curves are so dangerous they should come with a warning. 
When her boss fires her for spilling the drink, I offer her a job at my firm. I find out that not only is she hot, she’s also smart and funny. I want her so damn bad; it hurts.
But she’s skittish and shies away from me. I thought she was staying away because I’m her Boss, but its more than that; she’s a virgin. 
Now that I know, I have plans for Aria and I will make sure that I claim not only her body but also her heart and soul. She says she’s single because men are hard to deal
with. But I’ll show her that a hard man is exactly what she needs. 
Purchase Links
Only 99c + free in Kindle Unlimited!!
AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
Excerpt
CHAPTER ONE
COLTON
What the fuck am I doing here? That’s the question that keeps on running through my head as I circulate around the governor’s ball. Yeah, the fucking governor’s ball.
It’s so not my scene, but it’s the sort of event that opens doors. You get seen at a place like this, and the money in the room knows your business is trustworthy.
I fit in because I force myself to, but my suit itches and irritates me. I’d be so much
more comfortable in jeans and a tool belt, but as the owner of Colton Blackwell
Industries, I find myself in a suit way more often than I’d like.
I smile politely and nod as a woman dripping in diamonds and wearing a little too much of over-expensive foreign scent tells me her issues with the current political
system for the fourth time. I’m trying to figure out how the fuck I can get away from her without being outright rude, when I see her. A vision. An actual fucking angel.
I can only see her from the back, but the way her black cocktail dress hugs her hips makes her ass captivate me. I feel my cock stiffening as I look her over. She’s tall,
but she’s not one of those girls who try to shrink themselves. She has her shoulders back, her head held high. She balances the tray of champagne on her hand with ease, moving through the crowd with a quiet grace. The electric-blue streak in her jet-black hair makes her look exotic, like she knows how to kick back and some fun.
I have no idea what the woman talking to me is saying. From the second my eyes set on that waitress, there’s been no room in my head for anything else. I see myself
walking up behind her, taking the tray from her, and throwing it to one side. I stand behind her, push her dress up, and rip away her panties. I bend her over the table and fuck her senseless.
“Mr. Blackwell? Are you all right?”
Hearing my name pulls me out of the fantasy and I turn back to the conversation. I fake a smile.
“Yes. Sorry, I felt a little dizzy for a moment there,” I say. “Would you excuse me? I think I need a bit of air.”
I walk away before she has a chance to reply, and I’m sure I offended her, but it would
surely offend her more if she happened to glance down and see I had a hard-on.
I slip into the bathroom and lock the door, leaning back against it, waiting it out until my cock goes down. I want to jerk off, to let my fantasies run wild as I picture the waitress. If the front of her is even half as pleasing on my eye as the back, then fuck me am I in trouble if I see her again.
I am shocked at the reaction she caused in me. I haven’t so much as glanced at a
woman in almost two years. There’s no deep reason for it, no skeleton in my closet. I just got sick of being part of the dating scene. It’s a mess of gold diggers, social climbers, and women with whom I just had nothing in common and no chemistry.
But her? She awoke a side of me I thought was gone for good. The side of me that wants to make her scream my name through her raw throat as she comes for the third
and fourth time. The side that makes me want to taste her pussy, claim it as mine and fuck her all day, every day.
Thinking this way is doing nothing to get my hard-on to go away, and I resign myself to
the fact that I’m going to have to jerk off in the governor’s bathroom. Not something I ever saw myself doing. But then, I didn’t know that such a rare beauty existed, that such fire could course through my body and make me lose complete control.
I take care of my business and clean my cock with some toilet paper. I flush it away and wash my hands. I walk back out into the room. I stand on the edges, scanning
the room, but I don’t see her. Instead I see an ocean of wealthy, glamorous, small-minded, fake people—the in crowd.
I can fake the smiles and feign interest in things I don’t give a rat’s ass about, but I’ll
never be one of them. Not really. I don’t want to be. I want Colton Blackwell Industries to flourish, and I like the fact I’m only twenty-nine and already a millionaire, but it hasn’t changed who I am. And who I am is not one of these people. I’m just a normal guy who turned his passion into a business. I was shocked when the governor called me and asked me to complete a large extension on one of his properties. I was even more surprised when he personally oversaw the job. And the last thing I expected was an invite to his ball. I mean, come on. Like, what the actual fuck?
It’s been a whole lot of surprises, and the most surprising part of it all is my reaction to the waitress. Part of me wants to stay right here until I see her again, but part of me wants to turn around, leave, and try to forget her. That won’t be easy, but I swore off women and I have no intention of that changing. Just because she looks so damn good in a dress doesn’t mean she’ll be different than the rest, and I have no intention of getting involved with her or anyone else.
I decide to give it another half an hour and then slip away. To leave too early would be
seen as a snub on the governor, and I’m not an idiot. I know that, as much as I hate this fake shit, to land big projects, you have to know the right people. I decide to go out on the balcony and get some fresh air like I said I was.
I start to cross the room, nodding hello at the few faces I recognize as I go. I am halfway across when my cell phone buzzes in my pocket. I fish it out and look down at the screen. Before I even register who it is, I feel someone collide with me.
A loud clatter fills the air, and I feel champagne soaking into my expensive suit. I stand there, frozen in time. Not because of the champagne, but because I find myself face to face with my girl.
Her face is a mask of horror, but she is still beautiful. She has big brown doe eyes that
stare back at me with the same intensity I am staring at her. Her lips are full, red and sensuous, and I can’t help imagining how they would feel wrapped around my cock. She looks every bit as good from the front as she did from the back. Her breasts aren’t big, but they are perky, and I want to caress them, to pull them into my mouth. I feel my cock starting to rise again.
I remind myself that I’m done with dating, but something tells me this waitress will break that resolve without trying. There’s something special about her.
Something that scares me. Because when I look at her, I don’t see a quick fuck and a goodbye. I see a lifetime.

CHAPTER TWO
ARIA
I hate being a waitress. There, I said it. The thing is, I need this job. The pay is reasonable and the tips make it good money. Good enough to pay for business school and cover my bills and not intense enough that I can’t get any studying done.
The most annoying thing about waitressing is that even though I hate it, I’m pretty good at it. I look good enough in a tight black dress, I can be unobtrusive, and I have decent skills when it comes to balancing overloaded drinks trays on my hands. It’s not my passion, though. My passion is business, but I want to learn the ropes before I dive in. I’m only twenty-one; I have plenty of time to do this the right way.
I walk around the room with my tray of drinks, smiling politely, subtly collecting up empty glasses, and generally wishing I was anywhere but here.
“Excuse me, miss,” someone behind me calls.
I turn my head and realize they are talking to one of the other waitresses. I turn back the way I’m walking, but it’s too late. I collide with a man. The tray flies from my hand, hundreds of dollars’ worth of glassware crashes to the ground, and the champagne from all those glasses soaks him.
I freeze, looking at the mess I made. And then my eyes meet his. His eyes are dark brown, almost black. They are stormy and dangerous and utterly addictive. I feel a
rush of wetness between my legs as his piercing gaze locks on to mine. Great. I’m practically coming in my panties and he’s going to yell at me. The more I look at him, the wetter and more flustered I get.
I wish I spotted him sooner, like before I’d doused him in expensive champagne. Not that it matters. Someone like him wouldn’t waste their time with a waitress. And besides, I have a boyfriend and I’m not the kind of girl who cheats. I’m generally not the kind of girl who gets wet looking at strangers, either.
I manage to pull my gaze from his long enough to take in the expensive suit I ruined and the taut muscles beneath it. I feel myself tingling as I take him in.
I realize that the crashing sound of the tray falling to the floor has caused everyone in
the room to fall silent. I feel heat start to flush my cheeks. I wait for him to make a scene. I am so fired. I don’t know what to do. Should I run for a towel? Clean up the glass? I should at least apologize.
“I … I’m so sorry,” I stammer.
My words break the spell, and the tantrum never comes. The man gives me a half shrug and smiles, a smile that lights up his eyes and sends another shiver running through me. He crouches down and begins to pick up the pieces of broken glass.
I see the governor rushing toward us. He nods subtly to another waiter, who takes the hint: get the mess cleaned up. The conversation in the room starts up again as the other guests realize they’re staring.
The governor reaches us. “Colton, I’m so sorry about this.”
He doesn’t give Colton a chance to respond before he turns to me.
“What’s your name?” he demands.
“Aria. Aria Stevens, sir,” I whisper.
“Well, Aria Stevens, it’s time for you pack your things and get out of here. And I’ll make
sure you never work in this town again. You’re a disgrace.”
I feel tears flood my eyes. I need this job.
“I …” I start.
I stop, knowing I won’t be able to say any more without crying. Colton glares at the governor and then turns to me. He smiles and holds out his hand.
“Hi. I’m Colton Blackwell,” he says. “And I’d love to have you…”


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Author Bio
Lola StVil is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who writes Fantasy in
addition to Contemporary romance. She has written over a dozen books and loves taking her readers on an emotional roller coaster ride. She is currently living in California and enjoys staying in touch with her readers.
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SALES BLITZ ~ NUDES (Exposed #1) by Sarah Robinson

Sarah Robinson’s sexy NUDES is on sale!

Be sure to grab your copy by August 26th!

About NUDES:

Praised by #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Lauren Blakely, as “Passionate, emotional and uplifting!”, contemporary romance author Sarah Robinson brings readers a new standalone novel set in the glamorous hills of Hollywood and tackling challenging themes like the intersection of sexuality and female empowerment.

Ben Lawson is making a comeback…
After a few tabloid headlines, they think they know me. They don’t know a damn thing. As CEO of a movie production company, I’ll show them who I really am when we hit it big at the box office. My ex thought her smear tactics would ruin me, but I’m unbreakable. Rising from the debris, I swore I’d never let a woman distract me like that again. But then, my leading actress walked on the set and changed everything.

Seductive, sexy, and unapologetic, Aria Rose could break me. I wanted to help her, protect her…love her. Instead, I destroyed her.

Aria Rose is baring it all….
I knew better. I knew not to trust another Hollywood heartthrob with a reputation like his. He was my boss and became my ruin.
I should have stayed far away from him. Ben Lawson promised me the world. He even promised me his heart.

But he destroyed everything–my heart, my career, us.


Get Your Copy Today:

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Exclusive Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Aria woke with a jolt, looking around the dark bedroom. As her senses slowly began to adjust, she looked for the source of whatever had disturbed her. Her cell phone vibrated against the surface of her nightstand, the screen lit so brightly it cast a square light onto the ceiling above.

Yawning, Aria grabbed for it. She glanced over at the man in bed next to her, her heart filling with warmth at the sight of his sleeping form.

Finally focusing on her phone, she realized she had dozens of missed texts, calls, and emails.

“What the hell?” she whispered to herself, sitting up.

Aria, are you awake? WAKE UP NOW.

Don’t look at the news. We need to talk. 911.

Is that you on E! News? Did you allow that?

OMG, ARIA! WHAT THE HELL?

What did you do?!?! This is career suicide!

Her heart began to race, panic swarming her every cell as she quickly clicked out on a website link her best friend sent her. A photo popped up, and then another, and another, and another, and Aria knew exactly what she was looking at.

Herself.

Nude.

Aria could barely breathe, trembling as she searched social media and entertainment news sites. The photos were everywhere. She was everywhere. Her breasts, her body, her love life on full display for the world to see.

It would have been bad enough if they’d just been images of her posing, but these were pornographic. These were her in her most intimate moments with a man she’d…

A sob stuck in her throat. Did he do this?

She looked at the man still sleeping beside her, fear gripping her heart.

This couldn’t be happening.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Two Months Earlier

“Wait until you meet our lead.” The heavyset producer’s eyes glinted with excitement as he spoke. He brought a sandwich up to his lips, taking a bite and continuing around a mouthful of food. “She’s only had small roles up until this film, but she’s up-and-coming. No doubt about it. Aria Rose is poised to take the world by storm come Oscar season.”

Ben didn’t reply, too distracted watching the producer trying to wipe a blob of mayonnaise off his tie. Arthur Atwood was a large man with a messy comb-over and an ill-fitting suit, which must have been a deliberate choice since Ben knew Arthur made a handsome salary.

Is he licking his tie?

His new right-hand man was actually licking mayonnaise off his tie. Not a good sign. Ben made a mental note never to ask Arthur to have a meeting over lunch at his desk again.

“Bugger, it’s in there good,” Arthur muttered in his thick English accent, dropping his tie and slapping his hands on his knees. “All right. Enough of that. Ready for a tour of the studio?”

“Very,” Ben replied, balling up the parchment paper his own sandwich had been wrapped in and tossing it into the wastebasket beneath his desk. He stood, rolling his shoulders and stretching his neck from side to side.

They’d spent the morning touring the corporate offices on the lot of Shepherd Film Studios where Ben would be officially starting in two weeks as the company’s new chief executive officer. He had agreed to come in on Friday to tour everything and meet the crew on their final day of filming—but the pressure was already on.

One of the oldest movie production companies in Hollywood, Shepherd Film Studios was well respected, but struggled to adapt to new changes in the industry—the rise of streaming services, quicker distribution on the internet, and other changes that appealed to younger generations.

Maguire Industries had recently purchased the studio and placed Ben in charge to fix that. He had one year to prove to the board at Maguire that he could turn Shepherd Films back into a thriving production company or they’d dismantle the company and sell it off for profit.

He was Shepherd Films last resort, and thank goodness, too. No one else in Hollywood was desperate enough to throw him a lifeline. Being an embarrassing public spectacle for the last two years had been by far one of the biggest setbacks in his professional life to date—and his personal life was to blame.

Fucking divorce.

“Have you seen any of her movies?” Arthur held the door to the office open for him, and together they headed down the hallways of the main offices. “She’s a bombshell—literally one of the most gorgeous women I’ve ever seen.”

“Aria Rose?” Ben replied, racking his brain for a mental image of the actress. “I’ve seen a few. Very pretty. She’s very talented but never been a lead.”

Scarlet’s Letters is her first starring role, and she’s perfect for it. We can watch the dailies from today’s filming, and you’ll see what I mean. We were really lucky to score her for this film.”

Ben had wondered about that, too. Aria wasn’t necessarily A-list, but she was an up-and-coming fan favorite among millennial and younger generations. Her social media attention was nonstop, and there was an almost cult following to her that had made Hollywood execs begin to take notice. Yet, he’d seen the budget this morning. She was being vastly underpaid for this film, and he wasn’t sure why.

They passed the guards at the front desk of the main offices and stepped out into the sun. “How did your team manage to sign her?” Ben asked.

“Sheer luck, I’d gather. She was following the script around—or so I heard. Determined to be part of it, though I can’t say why exactly. The script is great—historical World War II romance with a Hester Prynne theme—and we’re already getting some Oscar buzz from it. Still, it’s a long shot, and it’s nothing like her previous films.”

Ben pulled a pair of sunglasses from his suit pocket and placed them over his eyes. The bright Los Angeles sun was beating down on them as they climbed onto a golf cart to traverse the large lot to the studios. “Sounds like we’re the lucky ones, then.”

“You’ve got that right,” Arthur agreed, taking the driver’s seat since Ben was still mostly unfamiliar with the area.

A few minutes later, their golf cart pulled up outside a large warehouse-type building that read STUDIO E in large black letters across the top. Ben climbed out and followed Arthur to a small door off to the side, a red light lit above the door.

Arthur pointed to the light. “That means they’re filming, so not a peep.” He placed a finger to his mouth, indicating they needed to be quiet.

Ben nodded, and they entered the building only to be immediately shrouded in darkness. It might be his first day at Shepherd Films, but Ben was no stranger to movie sets and felt immediately at ease as they carefully made their way over to where the camera crew was.

Ben’s father, Roger Lawson, was a highly sought after cameraman who’d taken a career most people overlooked and became the best. He’d taught Ben to do the same—excel in everything by putting his whole heart into every project, no matter how small or large. As a young boy, he’d spent many a summer day with his father at work, learning the business of not only filming, but creating movies, in general.

Newly thirty years old, Ben had spent the last decade putting his father’s words into practice, rising through the ranks to become one of the hottest names in film production. He only wished his father was still alive to see his ascent, or at least, he had wished that until his ex-wife smeared his name through the tabloids during their divorce.

Never fall in love with an actress. The one rule his father had told him before he died that Ben had ignored. Lesson learned.

“Am I to be punished for helping a fellow human being?” A strong female voice broke through the silence around them.

Ben stepped around a crowd of onlookers to see the set. Behind him was an entire crew, and not a single dry eye. The emotion on everyone’s face surprised him. Following their attention to the main set, he saw the set was a bedroom. Sitting on the edge of the bed was a tall, broad-shouldered man with his head in his hands, wearing a soldier’s uniform from the 1940’s.

In front of the downtrodden soldier was a statuesque blonde, her hair flowing down her back in one long, chunky braid. Pieces of her golden mane escaped the braid, framing her face and highlighting her soft, pink cheeks. Pale blue-gray eyes brimmed with tears as she folded her hands over her heart.

“I won’t lie, James,” she continued, her voice softer now. “I can’t.”

The soldier suddenly stood, gripping the woman by her upper arms. “You have to lie, Anna. Your life is at stake—my life, our life. You’ll be imprisoned, and everything we’ve dreamt of will be over.”

She steeled herself, her jaw tightening. “If this is real…if our love is real…then we’ll survive this. Without the lies, the tricks, the falsehoods. We can survive this, James.”

Ben felt a swelling in his chest, a lump in his throat. He wasn’t even sure what the storyline was about, and yet, he was captivated by the woman in front of the cameras. Her presence was powerful…she was powerful.

“No, Anna.” He dropped her arms and stepped back, a look of disgust on his face. “We can’t survive this. Not if you choose their lives over mine…over ours.”

The blonde shook her head slowly, her hand now on her stomach as if she might be sick. “You can’t mean that, James. You can’t make me pick between loving you and my purpose in life.”

“It’s them…or it’s me. Now or never, Anna.”

Ben focused on the actress’s face, expecting to see her acquiesce to the steely-delivered ultimatum. Instead, her chin pushed up and she inhaled deeply. Everything about her posture and stance screamed strength, and yet, in the exact same moment, those blue-gray eyes ached with pain. Ben nearly forgot he was watching actors because her portrayal was so genuine…she was so genuine.

“Goodbye, James.” Her voice was gentle, but resolute.

The soldier’s nostrils flared angrily, before he slowly shook his head. “Goodbye, Anna.” With that, he walked out of the door and left her standing alone in the bedroom.

She waited a moment, staring after him. Her hand slowly lifted to her lips, covering her mouth as a loud sob ripped from her throat. In an excruciating display, her body dipped forward slightly before completely crumpling in on itself. She fell against the edge of the bed, sobbing into its sheets, as the lights on set dimmed.

“Cut!” the director yelled. “Holy fuck. That was amazing, Aria!”

The blond actress pushed up off the bed, smiling and wiping the tears from her cheeks. Everyone in the studio erupted into applause, and Ben joined in. She deserved every second of it after that performance.

A surge of excitement ran through Ben’s body—he could do this. With acting like this, there was no way their movie wouldn’t be a success. There was no way he wouldn’t be able to bring this studio success within the year with a film like this.

“Hey, Russell,” Arthur called out to the director and ushered Ben over to him. “Meet our new studio head, Ben Lawson.”

Ben extended a hand to the grungy looking man with long, curly black hair to his shoulders. “Good to meet you, Russell.”

“Please, call me Russ. I’m Russ Rains, director. I’m sure you’ve heard of me.” He donned a cocky smile. Metal and bracelets around his wrists made a clanking sound as they shook hands—a not too unusual fashion choice in this city.

“I have,” Ben admitted, though he didn’t really like this man’s ego already. It was certainly nothing unusual in Hollywood, and Ben had met the type many a time before. Russell Rains was a legitimately well-known director with several big box office hits under his belt, though it had been many years since his last. “Your work is amazing, Russ.”

“Thank you, Benji,” Russ said with an obnoxious chuckle. “Come on. Let me introduce you to our leads.”

“I’ll meet you back at the office,” Arthur told Ben. “Have fun on set!”

Ben followed Russell onto the bedroom set where the actress he’d been so captivated by was hugging the soldier who’d just broken her heart.

“You were amazing, Travis,” she said to him, pulling back from their embrace to smile at him.

Something inside Ben stirred—irritation, anger? He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t like seeing the man’s arms around the beautiful blonde.

“Sweet pea, come meet our new studio head,” Russ called out to Aria, who visibly bristled at his demand. Ben made a mental note to ask about the director’s dynamic with the actors later. “This here is Benji.”

Ben Lawson,” Ben corrected the director, extending his hand to the woman.

“Aria Rose,” she replied, taking his hand with a gentle squeeze. Her fingers were small and warm around his, and there was something sad about letting go. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Lawson. This is my co-star, Travis Peters.”

The soldier shook his hand next. “Good to meet you, sir.”

“Please, call me Ben,” he instructed them both. “Travis, you were fantastic. And, Aria, I have to admit that your performance just now was incredible. I was unbelievably moved.”

Her pale pink cheeks darkened as she looked down at her hands. “Thank you.”

“I have no doubt this movie will be phenomenal.”

Russ slapped a hand on Ben’s back. “Hell, yeah. That was our last scene, so we’re officially wrapped.” The director stepped away from them and yelled to the entire crew. “It’s a wrap, fuckers!”

Ben didn’t even cringe at the man’s abrasiveness this time.

The crew clapped and cheered, and everyone was hugging and high-fiving each other. A swarm of people came onto the bedroom set to congratulate Aria, pushing Ben backward as he watched her gracefully accept their praise.

In fact, he couldn’t take his eyes off her, and it only had a little to do with how unbelievably attracted he was to her. As he stepped to the side, he watched how she smiled, laughing and embracing her co-workers. It was captivating. Aria commanded a room, not just when she was acting, but as herself. Her eyes danced and shone as she spoke to the crew and other actors, her smile wide and transformative.

He felt drawn to who she was, not just what he saw, and it was intoxicating. Though, what he saw was certainly breathtaking. Gorgeous wasn’t enough to describe this woman, or the way her long neck dipped into thin shoulders and a deep collarbone. Her breasts pushed against the dark red dress she was wearing that highlighted her hourglass silhouette, and her golden braid hung down over her shoulder with a weight and visible softness he’d never seen before.

Someone bumped Ben’s shoulder as they rushed in her direction, bringing Ben back to reality. What the fuck am I doing? He was barely six months out of a long divorce and had sworn off women entirely for now. And an actress? That was not happening. No way would he repeat his previous mistake twice. Not to mention that he was her boss, essentially, and that it would be a major conflict of interest. That was even assuming she was single and interested in him, which…

Why am I even thinking about this? Ben shook the thought from his head, unsure when the last time was that he’d ever felt this foggy-headed over a woman.

Aria’s laughter peeled through the air just then, melodic and joyous. Ben swallowed hard, shoving his hands in his pockets and heading for the door. He had to get out of there. Now.

He wouldn’t let himself fall for another actress, not even one as beautiful as Aria Rose.




About the Author:

Aside from being a Top 10 Barnes & Noble and Amazon Bestseller, Sarah Robinson is a native of the Washington, DC area and has both her Bachelors and Masters Degrees in criminal psychology. She is a divorcée who works as a crisis counselor by day and romance novelist by night. She owns a small zoo of furry pets and is actively involved in volunteering in her community.

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RELEASE BLITZ ~ Whiskey Girl by Adriane Leigh

 

Title: Whiskey Girl
Author: Adriane Leigh

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: June 26, 2018

 

Blurb
She was the one thing holding him together.
Until she was gone.
And then there was whiskey.
Fallon Gentry has spent the last decade reliving one dark night in his head. The moment he lost the woman he loved when a single blink cascaded into a series of events that stole both of their lives. Now his nights are spent playing music in southern honky-tonks and nursing the memory of her the only way he knows how–at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. 
A brief stint in Nashville, a hit song, and a brush with Hollywood couldn’t bring him closer to God, but when the ghost of Augusta Belle Branson appears in his corner of another lonely dive bar late after dark, he’s forced to confront everything he thought he knew about that fateful night, and a few things he didn’t.
He’s her contradiction, she’s his salvation.
A firestorm of emotion consumes them when they come together after ten lost years, every moment more revealing, more unpredictable, more intoxicating than the next until the only reckoning left for Fallon is the one he must make
with himself. But this time, fate may have left an after-burn too bitter to swallow. This time, he may lose his whiskey girl for good.
An unforgettable, epic love story about two lost souls who, against all odds, find themselves through their passion and music. Filled with raw emotion, this lyrical, all-the-feels masterpiece may catapult Adriane Leigh into the league of Colleen Hoover, Brittainy Cherry, and L.J. Shen.

Nelle L’Amour, New York Times Bestselling author of THAT MAN



Purchase Links
AMAZON: US / UK / CA / AU


Excerpt
One
Fallon
The first time I met Augusta Belle Branson, she was fixin’ on killin’ herself.
Said the minute I’d walked up, she was tryin’ to decide if jumpin’ off the bridge in the center—where the water was deep and the current stronger—would be a swifter end, or if she should jump near the edge, where jagged limestone slabs anchored the slow-moving current.
Certain death for sure.
I replayed the split second when the Indian summer sun burst through the orange oak leaves, a halo of warmth enveloping her.
Like an angel. Stardust sparkling straight from heaven, ploppin’ her in my path.
And then she turned, the most startling shade of liquid amber eyes breathing something real and alive, like fire, into my soul.
That same something I’d been runnin’ from—or chasin’, dependin’ on how you looked at it—just about every day since.
I settled myself on the lone wooden stool that awaited at center
stage, my thoughts drawing back to the present. My head swam, but the old familiar chords floated on through the current of whiskey in my blood, and I strummed the first few notes of a song I wrote a lot of nights ago by an act of
sheer muscle memory.
Old acoustic guitar resting on my knee, my first and third fingers in position on the strings, the opening chords of “Whiskey Girl” bled from my fingers.
Every chord, another dagger.
Every whispered lyric, my undoing.
I still didn’t know what the fuck had overtaken me the night I’d written this song in a fevered rush.
Well, the booze might have played a part, but I happened to think my best shit came out of uninhibited states.
I’d just had a fuckton of uninhibited states recently.
And the harder the liquor, the more she haunted me.
Whiskey Girl.
My poisoned lullaby.
The crowd of a few hundred erupted into a standing ovation
when I ended with the final, emotion-charged words.
The irony of this song was it was the one that’d launched my career. The first single to hit radio waves and then the top spot on the Billboard charts, and brought reporters, music executives, long-lost family members I wasn’t even really sure I was related to, and too much other scum with an end game that carried dollar signs to my front doorstep.
I’d moved to Nashville a rising star and left two years later, middle finger in the air as I tossed my once-promising music career out with last night’s liquor bottles in favor of the open road.
Chasing something.
Not finding the one thing I needed.
Playing local honky-tonks for a fraction of the money I could have made.
But the truth was, the road was the only place I could find my happy.
A familiar ball of pain formed in my throat as I stood, pushing my guitar over one shoulder and bowing deeply. I couldn’t see a single face behind the glaring stage lights, but still, some part of me pretended she could be out there, that I was singing to her.
That she would hear her song and find her way back to me.
After hundreds of faceless crowds and too many bottles of Tennessee whiskey to bother counting, I still felt the pull inside me to travel to every town in America if that’s what it took to find her.
Hell, maybe she was happily married with a few kids, a dog, and a fucking minivan by now.
I nodded my head, giving one last wave to the crowd in the dark beyond, then left the stage, taking the steps two at a time and angling past the curtains to head for the tiny-ass dressing room this dive bar provided. Heading for another chug of amber gold before packing my shit into my truck and hitting the road.
I pushed a hand through my hair, thinking maybe a shower would be in order before I bailed, when a curvy little thing backed right up into me.
My palms landed on her shoulders, warm blond waves falling in a cascade over one side. The heady scent of peaches and honey filled my nostrils. My eyes slammed closed and brought me back to summer nights under a giant oak, fireflies melding together with the stars above like a painting.
“Sorry, I just dropped my phone.” The sweet-scented creature spun, brilliant smile falling from her face when our eyes made contact for the first time.
Every coldhearted memory slammed into my chest like a pallet of bricks.
I narrowed my eyes, gaze tracing the familiar yet unfamiliar angles of her porcelain face.
She was thinner now, cheeks sharp slashes of bone that highlighted her always-devastating round eyes and full lips. It was her, all right. I’d know this woman anywhere.
“Hi, Fallon.” I’d been dreamin’ of this moment for the better part of a decade, and still, my heart wasn’t prepared for those two words. My name on her lips left me with a toxic reaction.
My whiskey girl.
My damnation and my salvation.
“I need a fucking minute.” I dropped my hands from her shoulders, her skin still haunting my fingertips, and walked straight down the narrow hallway, pushing the rusted back door open so hard the hinges protested.
Warm night air filled my lungs, replacing the empty feeling seeing her again had left.
“Fallon…” Hell, she’d followed me out.
And hell if wanted her to, but I didn’t not want her to either.
The emotions bombarding my mind were just a-fucking-bout unbearable.
“I said I need a fucking minute.” The sentence came out as more of a growl than I intended. Before she could reply, I stomped across the potholed parking lot, aiming for my heavy-duty Ford.
I yanked the door open, digging behind the driver’s seat for a fresh bottle of my favorite recipe.
I couldn’t be bothered to retrieve the half-full bottle I’d left in my dressing room. I had to get as far the fuck away from her just to clear my head and process what her being here even meant.
My hands circled the neck of the bottle, and I opened it in a flash, chugging back the first warm bite of pleasure I’d been craving.
I tossed the cap on my dash and fished the keys out of my pocket, about to climb into the cab and make hay, when fingertips painted a dark navy filtered into my vision and back out again, my goddamn truck keys hanging from one finger.
“Fuck,” I bit out, crawling out of the cab and swiping for the keys.
My reactions were a helluva lot slower than I thought they were. How much of that bottle had I drunk before the show? I shook the thought from my head, realizing this was probably about close to my average state of play on any given day. Runnin’ away from the life Augusta Belle and I’d had took something out of me. Something only whiskey could fill.
“I don’t care what your stupid ass does on your own time, but you’re not dying on mine, Fallon Gentry.”
My head pounded then. A whole fucking sentence out of her pretty pink lips, and my body’s old dependable reaction to her infuriating every cell of me.
I’d never been in control when it came to Augusta. Shouldn’t have been surprised it was no different now.
“As irritating as ever, I see,” I said, swiping for my keys one more time and missing before I stumbled off around her, whiskey bottle clutched in my hand and hell on my mind.  Augusta was back, and there wasn’t enough whiskey in the
state of Tennessee to help me deal.


Author Bio

Adriane Leigh is an Amazon Top 25 and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and erotic romance. Raised in a snowbank in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she was born with a book in her hand and won her first Young Authors award before the age of ten. She finished her first romance novel at 14, and hasn’t stopped playing with words since. She earned a literature degree, co-founded and organized international book conventions with RARE: Romance Author & Reader Events, and has written more than 45 independent titles under various pen names.

Married to her own Prince Charming, she now lives among the sand dunes of Lake Michigan, and plays mama to two sweet baby girls. She’s a romantic rebel and word junkie that believes wanderlust is life, is part of the #goodvibetribe, and wishes she had more time to read and knit scarves to keep her cozy during the arctic Michigan winters. Yoga pants, puppies, and mac and cheese also help. Never miss a release! Get an alert at: http://www.adrianeleigh.com

Praise for Adriane’s work:
“Sizzling chemistry, a glamorous world, plot twists…a perfect combination held together with Adriane Leigh’s
addictive writing. I dove into this world, and didn’t want to come up for air. I can’t wait for more!” 

– Alessandra Torre, Hollywood Dirt


“Adriane Leigh never dissapoints with equal amounts of heat and heart with all the sex, suspense and scandal…Leigh’s newest mysterious hero will have you anxiously flipping pages well into the night trying to uncover his secrets.” 

– Jay Crownover, Marked Men
Author Links


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COVER REVEAL & EXCERPT ~ Whiskey Girl by Adriane Leigh

WHISKEY GIRL

from Amazon Top 25 + USA Today Bestseller

ADRIANE LEIGH

  

Photographer: Wander Aguiar

Model: Victorio Piva

Blurb:

She was the one thing holding him together. Until she was gone.

And then there was whiskey.

Fallon Gentry has spent the last decade reliving one dark night in his head. The moment he lost the woman he loved when a single blink cascaded into a series of events that stole both of their lives. Now his nights are spent playing music in southern honky-tonks and nursing the memory of her the only way he knows how–at the bottom of a whiskey bottle.

A brief stint in Nashville, a hit song, and a brush with Hollywood couldn’t bring him closer to God, but when the ghost of Augusta Belle Branson appears in his corner of another lonely dive bar late after dark, he’s forced to confront everything he thought he knew about that fateful night, and a few things he didn’t.

He’s her contradiction, she’s his salvation.

A firestorm of emotion consumes them when they come together after ten lost years, every moment more revealing, more unpredictable, more intoxicating than the next until the only reckoning left for Fallon is the one he must make with himself. But this time, fate may have left an after-burn too bitter to swallow. This time, he may lose his whiskey girl for good.

 

GoodReads Link:


PRAISE for Whiskey Girl:

“An unforgettable, epic love story about two lost souls who, against all odds, find themselves through their passion and music. Filled with raw emotion, this lyrical, all-the-feels masterpiece may catapult Adriane Leigh into the league of Colleen Hoover, Brittainy Cherry, and L.J. Shen.”—Nelle L’Amour, New York Times Bestselling author of THAT MAN




Whiskey Girl Chapter One Excerpt:

(COPYRIGHT 2018 BY ADRIANE LEIGH)

One

Fallon

The first time I met Augusta Belle Branson she was fixin’ on killin’ herself.

Said the minute I’d walked up, she was tryin’ to decide if jumpin’ off the bridge in the center—where the water was deep and the current stronger, would be a swifterend–or if jumping near the edge, where jagged limestone labs anchored the slow moving current awaited her.

Certain death for sure.

I replayed the split-second when the blinding summer sun opened through the orange oak leaves, a halo of warmth enveloping her.

Like an angel, stardust sparkling straight from Heaven, ploppin’ her in my path.

And then she turned, the most startling shade of liquid amber eyes breathing something real and alive, like fire, into my soul.

That same something I’d been runnin’ from, or chasin’, dependin’ on how you looked at it, just about everyday since.

I settled myself on the lone wooden stool that awaited at center stage, my thoughts drawing back to the present. My head swam, but the old familiar chords drove on through the current of whiskey in my blood, strumming the first few notes of a song I wrote a lot of nights ago by the sheer act of muscle memory.

Old acoustic guitar resting on my knee, my first and third fingers in position on the strings, the opening chords of Whiskey Girl bled from my fingers.

Every chord, another dagger.

Every whispered lyric, my undoing.

I still don’t know what the fuck had overtaken me the night I’d written Whiskey Girl in a fevered rush.

Well, the booze may have played a factor, but I happened to think my best shit came out of uninhibited states.

I’d just had a fuck ton of uninhibited states recently.

And the harder the liquor, the more she haunted me.

Whiskey Girl.

My poisoned lullaby.

The crowd of a few hundred erupted into a standing ovation when I ended with the final, emotion-charged words.

The irony that this song was the one that’d launched my career, the first single to hit radio waves and then the top spot on the Billboard charts brought reporters, music executives, long last family members that I wasn’t even really sure I was related to, and too much other scum with an end game that carried dollar signs to my front doorstep.

I’d moved to Nashville a rising star, and left two years later, middle finger in the air as I tossed my once promising music career out with last night’s liquor bottles in favor of the open road.

Chasing something.

Not finding the one thing I needed.

Playing local honky-tonks for a fraction of the money I could have made.

But truth was, the road is the only place I could find my happy.

A familiar ball of pain formed in my throat as I stood, pushing my guitar over one shoulder and bowing deeply. I couldn’t see a single face behind the glaring stage lights, but still, some part of me pretended she could be out there, that I was singing to her.

That she would hear her song and find her way back to me.

After hundreds of faceless crowds and too many bottles of Tennessee whiskey to bother counting, I still felt the pull inside me to travel every town in America if that’s what it took to find her.

Hell, maybe she was happily married with a few kids, a dog, and a fucking minivan by now.

I nodded my head, giving one last wave to the crowd in the dark beyond, then left the stage, taking the steps two at a time and angling past the curtains to head for the tiny-ass dressing room this dive bar provided for another chug of amber gold, before packing my shit into my truck and hitting the road.

I pushed a hand through my hair, thinking maybe a shower would be in order before I bailed when a curvy little thing backed right up into me.

My palms landed on her shoulders, warm blonde waves falling in a cascade over one side. The heady scent of peaches and honey filled my nostrils, my eyes slammed closed and brought me back to summer nights under a giant oak, fireflies melting together with the stars above like a painting.

Sorry, I just dropped my phone.” The sweet-scented creature spun, brilliant smile falling off her face when our eyes made contact for the first time.

Every cold-hearted memory slammed into my chest like a pallet of bricks.

I narrowed my eyes, gaze tracing the familiar, yet unfamiliar angles of her porcelain face.

She was thinner now, cheeks sharp slashes of bone that highlighted her always-devastating round eyes and full lips. It was her alright. I’d know this woman anywhere.

Hi, Fallon.” I’d been dreamin’ of this moment for the better part of a decade and still, my heart wasn’t prepared for those two words. My name on her lips left me with a toxic reaction.

My whiskey girl.

My damnation and my savior.

I need a fucking minute.” I dropped her shoulders, her touch still haunting my fingertips, and walked straight down the narrow hallway, pushing the rusted back door open so hard the hinges protested.

Warm, autumn air filled my lungs, replacing the empty feeling that seeing her again had left.

Fallon…” Hell, she’d followed me out.

And hell if wanted her to, but I didn’t not want her to either.

The emotions bombarding my mind were just a-fucking-bout unbearable.

I said, I need a fucking minute.” The sentence more of a growl than I intended. Before she could reply I stomped across the potholed parking lot, aimed for my heavy-duty Ford.

I yanked the door open, digging behind the driver seat for a fresh bottle of my favorite recipe.

I couldn’t be bothered to retrieve the half-full bottle I’d left in my dressing room, I had to get as far the fuck away from her just to clear my head and process what her being here even meant.

My hands circled the neck of the bottle and I opened it in a flash, chugging back the first warm bite of pleasure I’d been craving.

I tossed the cap on my dash and fished the keys out of my pocket, about to climb into the cab and make hay when fingertips painted a dark navy filtered into my vision and back out again, my goddamn truck keys hanging from one finger.

Fuck,” I bit, crawling out of the cab and swiping for the keys.

My reactions were a helluva lot slower than I thought they were, how much of that bottle had I drank before the show? I shook the thought from my head, realizing this was probably about close to my average state of play on any given day. Runnin’ away from the life Augusta Belle and I’d had took something out of me. Something only whiskey could fill.

I don’t care what your stupid ass does on your own time, but you’re not dying on mine, Fallon Gentry.”

My head pounded then, a whole fucking sentence out of her pretty pink lips, my body’s old dependable reaction to her infuriating every cell of me.

I’d never been in control when it came to Augusta, shouldn’t have been surprised that it was no different now.

As irritating as ever, I see.” I bit, swiping for my keys one more time and missing, before I stumbled off around her, whiskey bottle clutched in my hand and hell on my mind.

Augusta was back and there wasn’t enough whiskey in the state of Tennessee to help me deal.

 

Thank you for reading!

Fallon + Augusta hit e-readers June 26!




Author BIO:

Adriane Leighis an Amazon Top 25 and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and erotic romance. Raised in a snowbank in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she was born with a book in her hand and won her first Young Authors award before the age of ten. She finished her first romance novel at 14, and hasn’t stopped playing with words since. She earned a literature degree, co-founded and organized international book conventions with RARE: Romance Author & Reader Events, and has written more than 45 independent titles under various pen names.

Married to her own Prince Charming, she now lives among the sand dunes of Lake Michigan, and plays mama to two sweet baby girls. She’s a romantic rebel and word junkie that believes wanderlust is life, is part of the #goodvibetribe, and wishes she had more time to read and knit scarves to keep her cozy during the arctic Michigan winters. Yoga pants, puppies, and mac and cheese also help. Never miss a release! Get an alert at: http://www.adrianeleigh.com

Social links:

Facebook Page:
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Twitter:
Pinterest:


 

BLOG TOUR ~ FAT CAT LIAR by Ahren Sanders


FAT CAT LIAR
BY AHREN SANDERS


Release Date: May 21st
Genre: Contemporary Romance

 

AVAILABLE NOW!!

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Preview the first THREE chapters here: 


 

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BLURB

The night I met Greer Palmer was no coincidence.

The plan was perfect.

Everything was in place. All I had to do was get her attention and the rest would take its course.

What I didn’t plan was my reaction the first time she spoke.

“Are you okay?”

Three little words…

That’s all it took for her to steal my breath and shatter every thing I’d expected.

She was supposed to be a spoiled socialite, a pampered princess, an elite heiress —
anything other than the striking beauty that blew my misconceptions to pieces.

One kiss and I became obsessed.

One night and I became addicted.

One month and she became my world.

Suddenly, my plan wasn’t so perfect.

To her, I am sunset kisses, whispers of seduction, and promises of forever.

It’s all a lie…

I’m Lawson Hall.

My name and reputation speaks for itself as one of the most successful architects in the industry.
Conceited, arrogant, egotistical, ruthless— I’ve earned it all.

In reality, I’ve bided my time, done my job, and waited my turn.

Now is my chance.

Greer thinks we met by accident, but she’s wrong.

Once the lies are exposed, will the truth be enough?




EXCERPT

“Don’t.” I pull her closer, brushing my lips against hers. “You want to know something, ask.”

She nods and resumes scraping lightly on my cheeks.

“Here’s another tidbit of information. I’m in no rush to introduce you to my brother. He’s a lady’s man, and he’ll have no problem trying to snatch you from right under my nose. I’m not an idiot and know a good thing when I find it.”

She giggles, the sound breaking any tension from earlier.

“You’re ridiculous.”

“I’m smart.”

“If you had a rough day, we don’t have to go out.”

“I’m tempted to keep you here like this, especially looking like you do. But I thought you wanted to meet your friends for drinks.”

“What’s wrong with the way I look?”

I make a point to sweep my eyes slowly over her face, neck, shoulders, and chest, stopping when I hit her low-cut neckline. “Your tits are about to burst out of your top.”

“They are not!” She swats me playfully.

I cock an eyebrow at her. “Pretty sure every man that sees you tonight is going to think the same thing. Do me a favor and don’t make any sudden movements.”

“Now, you’re being silly. This top doesn’t show that much cleavage.”

To make a point, I lean in and skim my lips along the edge on the fabric, stopping at the lowest point and darting my tongue out to touch her skin. She inhales sharply.

“Now, do you see my point?”



AUTHOR BIO

Ahren spent her formative years living in an active volcano. There her family made collectible lava art. She studied rock collecting at the Sorbonne in France. There she met the love of her life-her pet pig Sybil. She returned to the states and started writing. She is happily married to a guy who used to live under a bridge and she met while pole-dancing.

Now, meet the real me. I grew up in the south and consider myself a true “Southerner”. Most of the special locations mentioned in my books are reflections of my favorite places. Living on the Florida coast, my family spends a lot time at the beach, which is where I usually can be found with a book in my hand.

For more information on my books, please click here: Ahren Sanders

 

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Liars’ Lair



 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Sergio by Natasha Knight

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m the first-born son of the mafia king. The favorite. Destined to rule, I’m a dangerous man, a ruthless one. But in my world, you have to be.Then Natalie stumbles into my life. Wrong place. Wrong time.

Twice, fate put her in my path.
Twice, fate placed the innocent lamb at the mercy of the monster.

I gave her a chance to walk away. Told her it would be better for her if she did.
But she didn’t listen.
And now it’s too late.
Because I’m not good. I never wanted to be. And I won’t let her go anymore. See, I’m not the hero. When I touch her, it’s with dirty hands.

I know my reckoning is coming though. I know I’ll burn for the things I’ve done, the sins I’ve committed. And I don’t deny hell is where I belong, but I want my time first. I want my time with her.

She’s mine.
Forever.
No matter what.

Author’s Note: Sergio: a Dark Mafia Romance is an intensely emotional, steamy and dark standalone romance set in the Benedetti Brothers Mafia world. Be prepared: this is not a traditional romance.


Prologue
Natalie

“Wrong place, wrong time, sweetheart.”

The words echo in my head.
I’ve done this before. Twice in my life now, I’ve been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Isn’t there some sort of karmic balancing? Like isn’t it enough to witness this kind of violence just once in a lifetime?
Last time was six years ago. I was fourteen and standing in front of the freezer of the convenience store down the street from my house deciding which ice cream bar I wanted. I remember the humming of the air conditioner. Liking the cool inside on that too hot August day. It was one of the few times my parents let me go alone. We didn’t live in the best neighborhood.
The men came in so quickly, I barely registered the fact they were wearing ski masks before the first gunshot went off. I dove to the ground and shut my ears to the commands they shouted, but the man with the greasy shirt saw me. He came at me and I would have screamed if I could find my voice, but the others’ screams muted me, and when he gripped me by my hair and hauled me to my feet, I followed where he led me.
Another gunshot was followed by another scream and I swear I saw red splatter the walls.
Blood.
But when he threw me to the ground in the last aisle and I registered what he meant to do, it all became surreal.
Gunshots and fists and screams all seemed in the distance. Like they weren’t part of my reality anymore because my reality was about to change. My reality came down to him and me on the floor of this forgotten shop, with blood seeping from beneath the aisle divider. Fear in the voices of the others trapped here with me. Him with his pants undone. Him with his hands in my jeans. Me watching, mute. Trying to shove him away.
I remember the bell over the door going again.
Remember the sound of footsteps.
Someone cursing.
I remember the sound of a gun being cocked. Readied. How I knew what that little click meant I’m not sure, but it’s an unmistakable sound. I remember the look on the face of the one between my legs as he registered cold steel on the back of his head.
We looked up at the man in the dark suit at the same time. He wore black from head to toe, a dark angel. His pistol shone bright in the blinking fluorescent light. The angel called me to go to him. I did. I scrambled to my feet and went. He glanced down to where my jeans were undone before meeting my eyes. He pulled me to him, put one hand on the back of my head, burying my face in his belly.
He told me to keep my eyes closed. To cover my ears. Said he’d try not to get blood on me.
I didn’t think. I did as he said. Put my hands over my ears. And I swear I know what a bullet tearing through flesh sounds like now.
But all that I’ve managed to file away. Locked up in a box until now.
It’s his words that play back over and over again. The sound of his voice that I recognize as now, so many years after that terrible day, I crouch behind the decrepit machinery in this abandoned warehouse and hide.
“Wrong place, wrong time, sweetheart.”
Sweetheart.
I’ll never forget that voice. Never forget the casual way he called me sweetheart. And I recognize it now. The man in the suit, my dark angel. The man who killed without flinching. The man who saved my life once. It’s him. He’s here.
And when he shifts his gaze in my direction, I swear he hears the pounding of my heart against my chest. Swear it’ll give me away.
Except that this time, if he finds me, he won’t be saving me.************************************************************************

Chapter 1

Sergio

Fuck. I hate these fucking warehouses. Dusty and always frigid.
I’m flanked by two of my men. Four more soldiers trail us with a dozen more outside. It’s to make an impression. Joe and Lance Vitelli have overstepped.
Lance. Who the fuck names their kid Lance in this business? It’s no wonder he’s acting out. Trying to prove he’s not a pussy.
Our footsteps echo off the old machinery as I follow Roman, my uncle, through the main room and to the back where the brothers are being held. There’s no door to that room and the glow of the single light bulb is a contrast to the pitch black of the rest of the place.
The sound of a fist connecting with flesh is followed by a grunt. The grunt, I know, belongs to either Joe or Lance. I pick lint off my sleeve and adjust the cuff of my shirt as we near the entrance. Roman steps into the room, stands to the side, folding his hands together. He takes in what’s going on, then turns to me, gives a brief nod and waits.
I walk into the room, crack my neck. Slept bad last night.
The sight that greets me is not an unfamiliar one. The offenders are sitting in straight back chairs, but they’re not bound. There’s a splattering of blood on Joe’s white shirt. It’s fresh. I guess he’s the one who took the punch I heard.
“That’s disgusting. Get something on his nose,” I say to one of my men.
“It’s fucking broke,” Joe whines, taking the wad of nasty cloth someone just shoved at him.
I go right up to him. Lean down to get my face in his. “You’re lucky you’re not broke. Be grateful or that’ll change.”
He breathes in a sharp breath and I know he’s biting his lip not to reply.
“Sergio,” Lance starts. Lance is the older brother. The slightly smarter one. Or the one with a healthier fear of death.
Of me.
I straighten, turn to him.
“Mr. Benedetti,” he corrects.
I wait.
“My brother screwed up, but it’s fixed. The girls are back home. No harm, no foul, right?” He attempts to smile but it fails and his lips droop.
“In whose territory do you live?” I ask. It’s been a long fucking night already and it’s not close to over. I’m tired, so I’ll get to the point.
“Yours, sir,” he answers.
“In whose territory do your families live? Mothers, sisters, wives, daughters.”
Lance’s face, which was pale when I got here, goes gray. “Yours, Mr. Benedetti. Benedetti territory.”
I nod, shift my gaze to Joe. “To whom has your father pledged your family’s loyalty, Joe?” His eyes narrow and when he doesn’t answer right away, Lance clears his throat to, but I stop him. “I’m asking your fucking brother.”
“Benedetti,” Joe says through gritted teeth.
“DeMarco’s were once loyal to us too, until they weren’t,” I remind them. What happened to that family should be enough warning. What is happening and still will happen to Lucia DeMarco, most precious daughter, should be enough. My father’s right about fear. But there’s more to it. Ruthlessness. It’s what truly gets you respect in this business.
He is ruthless.
And I am my father’s son.
“You have a sister, don’t you?” I ask. “Anna, right? How old is she now?”
Lance just stares back at me, his eyes wide with fear.
I may not agree with how my father is handling the DeMarco girl, but I understand it. “Lucia DeMarco’s age, am I right?”
“She’s only sixteen, sir,” Lance says, his voice a little quieter.
“Yeah, Lucia DeMarco’s age when they lost the war they started with us.” I don’t need to say more.
“Sergio—” Lance starts. “Mr. Benedetti—”
I raise my hand to halt him. “Let’s just be clear. I’m going to give you a warning. One chance, because I know your father. He’s been a friend to my family. But if you overstep again, the consequences will be more…permanent.”
Lance swallows.
“Benedetti’s do not deal in flesh trade. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Lance says quickly.
I look at Joe. If looks could kill, I’d be dead right now.
I grab a handful of Joe’s hair and tug his head backward. “Is that fucking clear?”
One of my men cocks a gun and Lance whimpers like a fucking girl.
“You the tough one?” I ask Joe. “Sucks to always be in big brother’s shadow, doesn’t it?” He exhales, shifts his gaze away from mine, but not to his brother. I’m right. Like Dominic, my youngest brother, he knows he’ll never be boss and it fucking kills him. “Am I fucking clear, Joe? Or do I need to make an example?” I squeeze the handful of over-gelled hair and if I twist just once in the wrong direction, I’ll snap his neck. Quick and clean. No blood on my suit. And he knows it.
“Clear,” he says.
I release him, wipe my hand on my pants and decide I’m not done yet. “Now, show me your loyalty. Your gratitude for my family’s generosity in this unfortunate event.” I step backward, giving him space. He knows what I want and it’s going to kill him to do it.
But he’s going to do it.
I wait. I’m patient.
“Joe. Just fucking do it,” Lance orders his brother when a full minute passes and Joe hasn’t moved.
Joe’s face is a fiery red and his eyes are filled with rage. But soon, the leg of the chair scrapes across the concrete floor as he drops to his knees at my feet.
I look down at him. Give him more space. And my smile widens as he prostrates himself and his lips touch the toe of my shoe.
I want to kick the son-of-a-bitch, but I don’t. I’m a man of my word. I will give them one more chance.
A sound comes from the metal ramp that runs along the perimeter of the large office forming a second level. I look at it. It must have been an observation deck to oversee the plant.
I don’t know if anyone else heard it. A glance at Roman tells me he did, but the others haven’t noticed. I nod to him. He steps out of the room and two men follow.
When I return my gaze to the spectacle in front of me, I’m very aware of my periphery. I want to catch any movement because that sound was too loud for a mouse.
“Get them out of here,” I say to the two soldiers behind the brothers.
“Yes, sir.”
I watch as Joe and Lance are walked rudely out of the room. After a few moments, I turn to my men. “Let’s go,” I say loudly. They walk out. I hang back, switch out the light, listen to the footsteps echo as they vacate the building. I reach for the handgun in its holster beneath my jacket and walk silently toward the direction from where the sound had come.




USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance, Natasha Knight specializes in dark, tortured heroes. Happily-Ever-Afters are guaranteed, but she likes to put her characters through hell to get them there. She’s evil like that.

 



 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Knave by Jane Henry & Maisy Archer

 

 

 

 

 

Sabrina: Good guys save the day and criminals go to jail. It’s not rocket science, people.

But then my father’s killed, I’m rescued by a thief, and my worldview is shattered. He takes me to his penthouse. His bed. I don’t have to like it but I can’t help it. His touch is everything a good girl like me shouldn’t want.

Anson: Good and bad mean nothing to a master thief. I take what I want, and what I want is vengeance. No more, no less.

Maybe the girl can help, so I’ll hide her. Protect her. And if I have to manhandle her to keep her quiet, she’ll deal. Hell, she might even like it. But she’ll learn fast that I make the rules.

 


Manhattan
“3, 2, 1… And, security systems are down,” Walker said, his voice with its lilting accent magnified over the tiny communication device in my ear, so that it sounded like he was sitting right next to me. “Daly, you’re up.”
No shit. I rolled my eyes as I employed the tiny laser cutting tool to make a hole in the glass window just large enough for me to slip through. Dangling from a cable four stories above the ground in the middle of a bright, moonlit night was not the best time to start contemplating your life choices, but it seemed to happen every time I worked with these guys; which was to say, twenty-four-seven for the past six months.
“I’m in,” I whispered, pushing the suction holder I’d clamped to the freshly-cut glass disk and reaching my arm into the cooler, drier air of the office. With practiced ease, I levered myself headfirst through the hole, twisting to land lightly on my feet. I set the now useless glass gently on the floor, removed the rappelling cable that tethered me to the roof, and stood silently in the empty office, taking a second to get my bearings, to let my eyes adjust to the relative darkness, and to let my body, sweating from the humid night outside, cool for a second.
“Daly, report.” As always, Xavier’s cool, imperious voice drove me bonkers.
“Report,” I muttered. “Because I’m your freakin’ minion, X.” The comm device, created by Walker to detect the slightest sound, obviously caught my words, but other than Caelan’s reproachful sigh, nobody replied.
Six months, the five of us had been living and working together, and I couldn’t say it had made much difference in my attitude. I still preferred to work alone, and it still bugged the crap out of me that I had four other voices in my head while I was on a job, but I had no one to blame for the situation but myself. I’d answered the invitation that January night, after all, and I’d agreed to stay even after Eugenia Carmichael’s videotaped last will and testament had thrown my life into a tailspin.
“Office is empty,” I said, after a beat or two of silence where I glanced around the empty surfaces of the desk and bookcase behind me. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s been working here. I was able to cut the window in a low visibility location. No direct views from inside or outside, thanks to the Rosenberg building next door being under renovation. Ethan’s intel was good.”
This would buy us crucial time before the office staff of Stuart Fowler Real Estate, LLC, caught on to the fact that they’d been the victims of a break-in.
“Of course it’s good,” Ethan huffed. “I didn’t spend two whole days in that place as the world’s most overqualified temp just to provide you bad information.”
I had to smirk at his little snit, mostly because nobody could see me. Ethan was every bit as good at his job—a cross between reconnaissance and high-key scamming—as I was at mine, but where my role in our little gang involved dressing in black gear and a full-coverage face mask like the one I wore tonight, Ethan’s usually involved wearing an expensive suit and an overly-friendly smile.
“Still wish it didn’t have to happen when the moon was this high,” I grumbled to no one in particular, repeating an argument I’d already made earlier in the week. “Moonlit night in July makes people want to take a walk and look around.”
“And like I told you, the phases of the moon refuse to change no matter how much I try to persuade them to,” Ethan said with an affected sigh. “But if we don’t get the information from the safe tonight, it’s gonna be too late. Now that Fowler’s dead, his attorney’s going to be cleaning out his office and opening the safe to disburse his assets, likely as soon as tomorrow.”
I knew Ethan was right, but I’d be damned before I’d admit it.
“I’m heading to the outer office,” I said instead, moving toward the door. “We’re sure internal door alarms are off?” I was already betting my life on Walker knowing his shit, a pretty safe bet considering he was probably the best hacker on the planet, but old habits died hard, and I really didn’t like relying on anyone but myself.
“I already told you I own the system. You doubting my prowess with the keyboard?” Walker grumbled, his accent thickening when he was put out. “It hurts, man. Just for that, I’m disabling the WiFi in your room and cutting your free premium cable channels.”
“Jesus,” I muttered, placing my hand on the door handle and turning it. Like I gave the first shit about getting free premium cable and WiFi. Thanks to Eugenia Carmichael and her billions, all five of us were now the joint owners of Manhattan’s swankiest penthouse and financially set for life… just as long as we managed to complete the task she’d left us. A task which seemed more and more like the labors of Hercules as the months passed.
I silently eased the door open a crack and stood still again, taking the measure of the room. I didn’t just listen for sounds or heavy breathing, despite the wisecracks Ethan and Walker liked to make, but tried to sense disturbances, picking up on the vibrations that people (and even unforeseen security measures) sometimes gave off. It was a crucial task for any thief who planned to spend his golden years anywhere but a six-by-eight cell.
The room smelled like strawberry candies, and cheap cologne so strong I almost sneezed.
“Daly, you’re on a clock here,” Xavier reminded me needlessly, and my nostrils instinctively flared as I fought the urge to tell him exactly where he could shove his clock. Walker’s jokes were annoying, Ethan’s overly-perceptive friendliness grated, and Caelan’s silent watchfulness made me uncomfortable, but all of them had earned my loyalty over the past six months. The only person in our quintet that I hadn’t warmed to even a fraction was Xavier Malone, heir apparent of the Madison Avenue Malones and douchebag extraordinaire. Walker, Ethan, and Caelan—a former MMA fighter and personal security guard—had all proved their usefulness to our team, as had I, but somehow Xavier’s useless ass had appointed himself our leader.
I wasn’t sure why nobody else minded this as much as I did.
“Shut the fuck up and let me do my job, X,” I retorted.
“X-av-ier. Three syllables, Daly,” he corrected in the fake-bored voice he used when he was all pissed off, and I smiled in satisfaction before I stopped myself.
Legit, was this my life, where calling a high-profile venture capitalist by a hated nickname was how I got my kicks in the middle of a job that could land me in prison?
Jesus.
But even so, I couldn’t resist adding in a whisper, “Did I hurt your feels, honey?”
“I’m gonna hurt both of you if you don’t shut the fuck up and get this done,” Caelan interjected, silencing both of us immediately. Caelan, despite all his bulk and some formidable fighting skills I’d seen in action, had the longest fuse of anyone I’d ever met. When he was finally pushed to the breaking point, it was as effective as an ice bath.
“Reception area is clear,” I said, stepping forward. “I’m going down the hall to Fowler’s office.”
“Remember, code for the office door is 0-0-7-0-1. The safe is on the wall behind the God-awful nude,” Ethan said. “You’re gonna have to use the digital code device…”
“Walker prepped me on the device,” I interrupted, my voice a bare breath of sound as I tread noiselessly down the hall. And I hadn’t needed much of a tutorial to begin with. My memory was nearly photographic, and I’d used similar devices a number of times in the past, for God’s –
Thunk.
“What’s that?” I asked, though I wasn’t sure the sound was audible to anyone else. For a split second, my pulse pounded, and I froze in place, worried there was someone moving in Fowler’s office at the end of the corridor, but then the HVAC system hummed to life, blanketing the room with recycled air. I took a deep breath.
“Daly, report,” Xavier demanded, and for once I wasn’t pissed off about it.
“False alarm, just the A/C kicking in,” I whispered, pressing a hand to my chest.
“Caelan, you’ve got the van in place?” Xavier asked. His voice sounded strained, and for just one second, I let myself wonder what it must be like to feel like you were in charge of a job and know that there was almost nothing you could do to control the outcome, once the game was in play. Huh. For a control freak like Xavier, that had to be a bitch.
“Yep. Got the van parked in the loading zone with a cold lemonade once Daly’s got the documents,” Caelan replied. “Gotta get this beast in for service,” he said fondly, and I could almost hear him petting the steering wheel as he spoke.
The surveillance van was Caelan’s baby, one of the first things he’d purchased on behalf of Masters’ Security Systems, Inc., the security company Xavier had ‘founded’ as a handy cover for our after-hours jobs, and he refused to let any of us even sit behind the wheel.
In some ways, that van and the company it represented were like the sixth member of our band—the one that gave us the respectable façade necessary to hack systems, break and enter locked buildings, and indulge in a little espionage. People actually paid us to test their security systems—both physical and technological—for weaknesses. We were officially known as white-hat thieves and hackers, and our company had quickly earned a reputation for providing the best personal and corporate security money could buy.
No one seemed to suspect that we spent our free time in similar, unsanctioned pursuits.
I crept down the hallway, listening outside each office as I passed, but all was silent. I took a second to curse the air conditioner, which blew strong enough to rustle papers on desks, and was totally throwing me off my game.
Not that any of this was a game—not since Eugenia Carmichael, widow of Federal Judge Trevor Carmichael, stared down at us from that television screen and calmly discussed her own impending murder.
“I’m about to die, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it, gentlemen. The people who’ll kill me don’t care that I’m old or rich. They don’t care that I haven’t long to live in any case, or that the only reason I’ve hung on this long is to get justice for my sweet husband. They’ll make my death seem like the simplest accident or the most natural death imaginable, just like they did for my Trevor. Just like they did for your mother, Anson Daly. Your brother, Ethan Warner. Your fiancée, Caelan Jamison. Your best friend, Walker Smith. And your sister, Xavier Malone.
“They’re soulless bastards, and their greedy tentacles reach into every branch of law enforcement, every institution meant to protect the population from evil men. But when the good folks can’t be trusted, what’s a woman like me to do? I’ll tell you, gents. You gather together a team of criminals. A cat burglar, a computer expert, a bodyguard who’s not afraid to fight, a con-artist… and the greatest criminal of all, a Wall Street investor to lead them.”
I shook my head as I checked the last office on the right and wished I could have known Eugenia Carmichael. Rich as fuck, batty as hell, and the kind of person I’d have liked to have on my team.
“All the other offices are empty,” I whispered. “Entering Fowler’s office.”
I stared down at the keypad and blinked. “Uh, Ethan, what’s it mean if the door is open?” I demanded.
“Impossible. Security system won’t set unless his door is closed,” Ethan said confidently. “Had to stick my tongue down Becca the receptionist’s throat and practically propose marriage to learn that little tidbit, but you know me. Anything for the Masters.”
“Didn’t ask if it was possible,” I retorted, backing away from the door. “Asked what it meant if the impossible was already happening.”
“What? No,” Ethan said, sounding truly concerned. “I don’t know how… Walker, the systems were booted before you shut them down?”
“Definitely,” Walker said. I could hear keys clacking frantically in the background as he no doubt pored over information on the many screens he had set up all over the office we’d created on the second floor of what used to be the Carmichaels’ penthouse. “External system was shut down by me, and the internal system was… Oh.”
“Oh?” I demanded. “What, oh?”
“Well, Jesus, it looks like the internal security wasn’t reset the last time the external security was engaged.”
“In English, geek. My ass is in the wind here!” I fumed, pressing my back into an alcove in the hall.
“Means that someone shut off the security after the building manager closed up. Probably somebody forgot something and had to come back. When they left, they only set the external security, none of the motion sensors inside.”
His voice was apologetic, and honestly, it was something even I wouldn’t have thought to check for, but it was still my ass on the line. “Probably? What’s probably mean, Walker? Like I’ll probably get twenty to life?”
“I’m pulling up the camera feeds now,” he said, the clicking of his fingers on the keyboard sounding like buzzing wasps in my ear.
“Daly, it’s your call,” X said. “If you haven’t seen anyone, Walker’s probably right. System confirms that the external security was restarted an hour ago and wasn’t shut down again until Walker shut it down. Either someone’s been sitting there silently for an hour, or the person who reset the system did a shit job. You know we need those papers, you know the stakes, but it’s your call,” he repeated.
Shit shit shit. I smoothed my hand down the mask that covered my face. My call, but not really.
Last week, the program Walker had set up to cross reference the names of our dead loved ones against the parties involved in cases Eugenia’s dead husband, Judge Trevor Carmichael, had presided over had finally found a match. A year or so ago, Judge Carmichael had ruled on a racketeering case against mid-level real estate owner Stuart Fowler. It just so happened that Stuart Fowler handled the business dealings for Silver, a seedy bar in Vinegar Hill, and the last place my mom had worked before the overdose that killed her. We needed to find out more about who Fowler was working with, who he was working for, and who was behind the dummy corporation Fowler had set up as the owner of Silver, if we wanted to figure out how and why my mother had died.
But clearly we weren’t the only ones who’d cottoned on to this idea, since Fowler, who’d been offered a plea deal in exchange for a reduced sentence, had been killed in prison before he could decide to start naming names.
Chalk another body up to the bad guys.
“Fine. I’m going in,” I told Xavier, pushing the door open with my heart in my throat.
The scent of cologne I’d smelled in the reception area was even more powerful here, and I froze again, listening for any sound, but the room seemed to be holding its breath.
I threw the door wide, making sure no one was hiding behind it, before cautiously creeping forward. Nothing seemed out of place, and the humming of the HVAC was the only sound.
“Clear,” I breathed, stepping forward to finish my mission.
Any thief who claimed he wasn’t superstitious was a liar. Every thief had a tell—a lucky pair of socks, a nervous tic—and I was no different. I cracked the knuckles of my right hand, and then my left, clenching and unclenching my hands exactly twelve times as I walked over to the desk, my eyes fixed on the ugliest nude I’d ever seen. Jesus, her breasts looked like purple apples. I shook my head in disgust as I opened the painting, handily attached to the wall by a hinge, and put my hand in my pocket to extract the digital code device.
“Christ on a cracker,” I breathed, letting the device fall back into my pocket. I wouldn’t need it now. “Someone got here before us. Safe is empty.”
A chorus of curses echoed through my ear.
“What do we do now?” I demanded, taking a step back and pulling the mask up off my face. “This shit show can’t get much worse.”
My heel hit something on the floor with a dull thud, something I couldn’t see from the thin shafts of moonlight coming through the tinted windows. I crouched down to examine it more closely.
“Oh, my God,” I breathed. “I lied. It’s worse. Dead body. Mother fucker, there’s a dead body in here.” I stood up abruptly.
“Who is it?” Xavier demanded, ever practical.
“He’s not exactly introducing himself, X!” I said. I could hear the panic in my own voice, but dead bodies and I did not get along. “I’m outta here.”
“Check his wallet,” Caelan argued.
“No way! You come do it!”
“You said yourself, it can’t get worse. Just keep your head and check the wallet. We need to know who we’re dealing with here!” Caelan soothed.
And that’s how I found myself, against my better judgment, touching the corpse on the floor of Stuart Fowler’s office, and rolling him over to pick his pocket. Yes, this was really my life.
“Got the wallet,” I said, pocketing the thing and letting the body fall back down.
“You sure he’s dead?” Ethan wanted to know.
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Before Caelan could get all reasonable or X could get all imperious, I held my breath, stripped my glove, and put my fingers to the guy’s throat. He was still warm, but there was no pulse. I leaned closer in case I could hear a breath.
“Achoo!”
I jumped three feet. My instincts had saved my life more times than I could count, and for just one second, I swear I thought the man on the floor, the body on the floor, had sneezed, but then I realized where the sound had come from.
“What the hell is that?” Xavier demanded.
“A sneeze,” I said, standing up and getting my wits about me once more. I crept along the floor towards a small coat closet next to the office door, and threw the door open wide.
“Guys?” I said, as I looked down at the small, wide-eyed redhead huddled there. “Things got worse again.”

 


 

 





Jane Henry

 Jane has been writing since her early teens, dabbling in short stories and poetry. When she married and began having children, her pen was laid to rest for several years, until the National Novel Writing Challenge (NaNoWriMo) in 2010 awakened in her the desire to write again. That year, she wrote her first novel, and has been writing ever since. With a houseful of children, she finds time to write in the early hours of the morning, squirreled away with a laptop, blanket, and cup of hot coffee. Years ago, she heard the wise advice, “Write the book you want to read,” and has taken it to heart. She sincerely hopes you also enjoy the books she likes to read.

 

 

Maisy Archer

 

Maisy is an unabashed book nerd who has been in love with romance since reading her first Julie Garwood novel at the tender age of 12. After a decade as a technical writer, she finally made the leap into writing fiction several years ago and has never looked back. Like her other great loves – coffee, caramel, beach vacations, yoga pants, and her amazing family – her love of words has only continued to grow… in a manner inversely proportional to her love of exercise, house cleaning, and large social gatherings. She loves to hear from fellow romance lovers, and is always on the hunt for her next great read.

 

 

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ His To Claim by Shelly Bell

 

 

 

 

 

“I had to constantly remind myself to breathe. Shelly Bell packs a powerful punch with her flawless writing and suspenseful, passionate love story.” — #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Ellen Malpas on At His Mercy

 

 

Fate brought them together. Family could tear them apart.

Ryder McKay may be a playboy, but he’s never been a fool. Not until he met the woman he simply knew as Jane. For one night, he dropped his guard, but in the morning she disappeared—along with a copy of his top secret technology.

When it ends up in the hands of his biggest enemy—his father—Ryder knows without a doubt he’s been betrayed. And when he finds Jane again, a year later, he can’t decide what’s worse—that her mother is marrying his brother, or that he still finds Jane irresistible, despite the fact that she’s a liar, a thief, and his father’s latest protégé.

Jane Cooper does have a secret, but it’s not the one Ryder thinks. As their rekindled passion changes into something deeper, they’ll have to work together to untangle a web of lies and corruption that will shatter everything they thought they knew about their pasts. Because Jane’s not the only one with a secret—and this secret is getting people killed.

 


 

Ryder McKay knocked back a shot of Jameson, slammed the glass down on the bar, and grabbed the next one, relishing the smooth burn sliding down his throat. It wasn’t every day your brother was about to marry the daughter of the country’s most powerful man.
The press was calling the union a “marriage made in heaven.”
More like a deal with the devil.
Only in this case, it had been a deal between two devils. Two criminals posing as legitimate business men who were likely using their offspring to solidify some kind of pact between the two families. If Keane McKay and Ian Sinclair joined forces instead of working against each other, they’d have the potential to be largest crime syndicate in North America.
It had been years since Ryder had turned his back on Keane and that life. After he’d graduated high school, he’d made good on his lifelong promise to himself. He’d moved out and never returned.
Any conversation with Keane over the past decade had been limited to Ryder’s insistence that his father not contact him again. It had taken several years, but he had eventually gotten the hint and stopped calling.
To maintain his distance from Keane, Ryder hadn’t planned on attending his brother Finn’s wedding.
Then last week, he’d come across a photograph that had changed his mind.
A photo of Jane.
Recalling the vixen he’d spent one wild night with almost a year ago, he licked remnants of the whiskey from his lips and swirled his finger along the rim of the glass. Before falling asleep that night, he’d realized one time inside of Jane hadn’t been enough for him.
He’d wanted more.
Not just sex, but the chance to get to know her.
Crazy thoughts for a man who’d spent his adult life never having sex with the same woman twice.
But she’d pulled a Cinderella on him, fleeing his hotel room in the middle of the night. Other than her first name, he’d known nothing about her.
Obsessed with finding the woman he couldn’t forget, he’d wasted months searching for her. He’d checked with the organization that had sponsored the conference where they’d met. Called other attendees. Combed through photos of the conference. Hell, at one point, he’d been so desperate, he’d hired a private detective.
And what had he found?
Nothing.
It was as if she’d never existed.
His fingers tightened around his glass.
He’d been a fool.
Because now he knew the truth.
Shortly after their night together, he’d realized someone had copied design and software files from his computer. He hadn’t wanted to believe that Jane had been the one to do it—the time stamp didn’t match—but last week, Ryder stumbled upon a recent article online about his father’s foray into the automated commercial kitchen business, the same business as Ryder’s company Novateur.
Then the photo accompanying the article caught his attention.
It was a photo of the company’s vice -president of innovation standing beside Keane.
Jane.
A muscle popped in his jaw as he acknowledged once again what an idiot he’d been that night.
He’d played right into her hands, lowering his guard when he brought her to his hotel room, not suspecting she would stab him in the back while he slept.
Novateur was one of the first in the world to bring “smart kitchen” technology to restaurants and bakeries. Already in business together providing productivity consultations to restaurants, Ryder and his best friend Tristan had formed the company shortly after their discussion that automation was an effective way to cut costs and increase efficiency in restaurant kitchens. Voice-activated appliances, robotic arms, and conveyor belts for restaurants and bakeries—even the smaller, family-owned ones—were now an affordable reality.
Novateur was the only restaurant automation company to custom design and install the technology per the customer’s specific needs—until McKay Industries.
The evidence was indisputable. Jane had been the one to steal the designs for his father.
Had she thought Ryder wouldn’t find out? Or had she thought that changing the time stamp would save her?
In the end, the joke was on her. Because anything she copied was worthless without key pieces of code. That alone should have given him the satisfaction to move on.
And yet he couldn’t. Something about her didn’t add up. He couldn’t equate the woman he’d met that night with the woman he now knew her to be. She’d acted so innocent in his bed, her eyes widening in something that looked like awe as he’d removed his clothes and given her the first glimpse of his cock.
Not that it wasn’t awe worthy. He didn’t bother with false modesty.
But Jane’s response had seemed…honest. She’d actually flinched when he’d first entered her. Even now, he could hear her husky voice in his head and the way she whispered his name as he brought her to climax. He remembered the sensation of her silky thighs against his cheeks and how tight her pussy had clamped around him when she came.
He rubbed the stubble on his chin with his knuckles.
Since that night, every time it came down to sealing the deal with a woman, thoughts of Jane popped into his head.
And while he could admit he was bit of an asshole when it came to the opposite sex, he wouldn’t fuck one woman while thinking of another.
She hadn’t only stolen his technology.
She’d stolen his fucking mojo.
He should hate her, and yet there were nights he’d roll over in bed and reach for her, only to find the sheets cold.
According to Finn, all of McKay’s essential employees had been invited to the wedding.
Which was why Ryder was here.
Tonight, he was on a mission.
Find Jane.
Confront her.
And get her out of his system, once and for all.
Whatever it took.
Even if whatever it took meant him having to dress in a monkey suit, smile at people he detested, and kiss up to his father. If he’d shown up at McKay Industries, no doubt Keane would have had security toss Ryder out of the building.
But he couldn’t keep Ryder from the wedding.
And Jane wouldn’t be expecting him.
Ryder gulped down his next shot, not even bothering to enjoy it, and returned it bottom side up to the white-satin-covered bar top. Thank fuck his brother and his fiancée had chosen to get married in the city’s only five-star hotel instead of having the traditional church wedding. He’d never make it through the next couple of hours if he had to do it sober.
“Make the next one a double and keep ’em coming,” he told the bartender.
A hard slap on his tuxedoed-clad back had his teeth rattling. He didn’t need to turn around to know who had smacked the shit out of him. Finn may be ten years older but he’d never gone easy on him.
“Save some of the good shit for the other guests,” his brother said.
Ryder turned around, relieved that Finn was alone. He definitely needed more whiskey before dealing with the rest of the family. “Thought you’d be getting ready with Keane and all the other groomsmen.”
Although they shared a father, they looked nothing alike. The only thing they had in common were their gray eyes, a trait shared by all the McKay men. Otherwise, Ryder took after his Mexican mother with his dark brown hair and tanned skin while Finn was a younger version of their Irish father with reddish-blond hair. Not to mention, Ryder towered over Finn by a good five inches, something he never let his older brother forget.
Smooth shaven and with his hair cut short, Ryder barely recognized his brother. Where was the beard? His trademark long hair? This guy was a carbon copy of their father. Of course, it had been a couple years since Ryder had last seen Finn. It had killed Ryder to do it, but once his brother had chosen to take a position at McKay Industries, Ryder had been forced to put some space between them.
Finn gave him a wink. “Wanted to make sure my best man hadn’t taken off with some random chick to get his pre-wedding ceremony blow job.”
More like Finn was worried Ryder had again changed his mind about attending the wedding and wouldn’t show. Understandable, since Ryder had questioned his brother more than once as to why Finn was marrying Ciara.
Bad enough Finn had left the attorney general’s office to work at McKay Industries, but to marry into a family possibly even more corrupt than theirs? Finn must have lost his damned mind.
Ryder scratched his head. He had to try one last time to convince Finn he was making the wrong decision. “Listen, I’m sure you don’t want to hear this, but—”
“I’m marrying Ciara.” Finn held up his hand, effectively stopping Ryder from continuing. “I appreciate that you’re concerned for me, but I assure you, I know what I’m doing.”
Folding his arms across his chest, Ryder snorted and leaned his back against the bar. “Yeah, because after all, your first marriage went so well.”
His brother shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Marriage is complicated.”
Complicated was something Ryder didn’t need in his life. That’s why he was never getting married. “Especially when your wife tries to kill you.”
“She wasn’t trying to kill me,” Finn mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck. “Greta was an expert marksman. Got me exactly where she wanted to.”
Ryder would never forget the night he’d gotten the phone call that his brother had been shot. Nearly ran off the road trying to get to the hospital, only to arrive and find his brother resting comfortably on his stomach as he watched the Tigers’ game on his iPhone.
Asshole.
“What does your new woman think of the scar on your ass?” Ryder asked Finn.
Finn grinned. “She thinks it’s sexy.”
“Only the daughter of a criminal would find a bullet to the ass sexy.”
His brother shushed him and stepped closer, looking around the empty room in a move that hinted at paranoia. “Keep your voice down, would you?”
Ryder tamped down his urge to chuckle. Fucking with his brother rated high on his list of favorite things to do. “What are you worried about? Someone finding out that your future father-in-law is a criminal or that your ex shot you in the ass when you asked for a divorce?” he asked loud enough for anyone close by to overhear, including the bartender, who stopped his cleaning at Ryder’s words and let out a snort.
Finn only shook his head. “You’re an asshole. Do you know that?” He clamped a hand on Ryder’s shoulder and squeezed. Hard. “But you’re also the best brother any guy could ask for. I’m thankful every day that Dad boinked the maid and fathered you. Which is why I’m going to tell you that when it comes to Ciara and her family, I know what I’m getting into.”
“I thought we agreed we were both getting out of the family business. Me with Novateur and you by becoming some hotshot lawyer. We don’t need Dad’s money and we certainly don’t need his connections.”
His brother clenched his jaw and looked away, almost guiltily. “As long as Dad is still in charge of McKay Industries, we’ll never be free of him. Don’t you get it by now?”
“So you just gave up and figured you’d make him even more powerful by marrying a rival’s daughter?”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Finn sighed. “I told you. I love—”
“You love Ciara.” He rolled his eyes. Childish, but appropriate. “I heard you the first twenty times. But I still don’t believe you.”
Ryder wasn’t completely dead inside. He had the ability to love. He loved his brother, Tristan, and an ice-cold beer at a ball game, but as for the so-called everlasting romantic kind of love?
Not in his genetic makeup.
His father was on marriage number four—no, five—and his brother’s first marriage had ended in gun play.
The odds were definitely not in Ryder’s favor…or his brother’s.
Long ago, Ryder had made the decision never to get married or have children. Both a wife and a kid would be a vulnerability he couldn’t afford. Look at what Keane had done by stealing Ryder’s designs and competing against him. No, Ryder could never give Keane that kind of power over him.
Finn shot him a look of disappointment. “I know you don’t, but I wish you had at least a little faith that I know what I’m doing.” He puffed out his chest and straightened his bow tie, cutting the awkward tension with his smirk. “After all, I’m the big brother. You’re supposed to look up to me.”
“And I would if you weren’t such a midget,” Ryder deadpanned.
His brother grabbed his crotch. “Yeah, well, unlike you, I’m large where it counts.”
Ryder was about to challenge that comment when his brother’s smirk slid off his face and all the joy was sucked out of the room. He didn’t have to turn around to know the source of the sucking.
“Pop,” Ryder said in greeting.
A firm hand clasped his shoulder and a raspy voice, created by a two-pack- a- day cigarette habit, came from behind him. “Ryder. Good to see you, son.”
Too bad he couldn’t say the same.
He waited for the scent of cigarettes to assault his nose and was surprised when it didn’t happen. Had the old man finally quit?
His father moved to his side, giving Ryder a glimpse of the man he hadn’t seen in years.
Always robust and thick around the waist, his father had shrunk to half his old size. Still not skinny, but to Ryder, the difference was jarring. His white hair had thinned on top, showing off the reddened scalp underneath it, and his wrinkled skin seemed especially pronounced because of his weight loss.
He looked…tired. Old. Too old for seventy-one.
For a moment, Ryder experienced a rush of compassion for his father, until he remembered that his father had never once had any compassion for anyone else.
He expected a lecture. A snide remark. Something.
But his father simply gave him a nod of regard and focused his attention on Finn. “There’s been a slight delay with the wedding ceremony. Apparently, Jane has had an incident with her bridesmaid dress and had to run to the bridal shop to have it repaired. She’s on her way now.”
Ryder froze mid-breath. Although he tried to keep his voice disinterested, he was anything but. “Jane?”
His father’s eyes twinkled with something resembling pride. “My step-granddaughter. Or soon-to-be step-granddaughter.”
No.
It had to be a different Jane.
“Ciara has a child?” he asked his brother, surprised that fact hadn’t come up before.
“Jane’s an adult now. Ciara had her at fifteen,” Finn said quietly. “Jane was raised by Ciara’s aunt and uncle down in Florida. Even now, not a lot of people in our circle know Ciara has a daughter, so I’d appreciate it if you kept the information to yourself.”
Whoever this Jane was, anger flared hot in his gut on her behalf.
They wanted to keep the girl a secret as if she had a reason to be ashamed. Why even bother inviting her to the wedding?
Mumbled curses and frantic footsteps echoed from down the hall, growing louder as someone approached.
Ryder’s mouth went dry.
Even mumbled, he’d recognize that silken voice anywhere.
Like a tornado, she whirled into the room, every part of her in disarray, from her long dark brown curls to the thick black-framed glasses tilted on her nose.
She was as beautiful as he’d remembered.
It made it difficult to remember she was the enemy.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, gripping the sides of her dress in her hands to keep it off the floor and looking down at her feet as if worried she’d trip. “As I was leaving my apartment, the hem of my dress got caught in the…”—she looked up and her eyes widened as she caught sight of Ryder—“…door.”
This wasn’t the plan. He’d wanted to surprise her.
But he hadn’t expected to be just as shocked.
If Ciara was Jane’s mother, that made Jane his…
He couldn’t even finish the thought.
Finn kissed her warmly on the cheek. “Jane. This is my brother, Ryder. Ryder, this is—”
“Jane,” she said, smiling tightly while her swan-like throat worked over a swallow. “Your soon-to-be step-niece.”


 


 Shelly Bell is the author of the popular Benediction and Forbidden Lovers series. Her book, Blue Blooded, received a Top Pick from Romantic Times Book Reviews and was nominated for an RT Award. At His Mercy, the first in her Forbidden Lovers series, has been nominated for an RT Award in Erotic Romance and received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

When she’s not working her day job, taking care of her family, or writing, you’ll find her reading the latest romance or thriller. Shelly is a member of Romance Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.

 

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