Category Archives: Chapter preview

BLOG TOUR ~ PROVOCATIVE (White Lies Duet #1) by Lisa Renee Jones

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Provocative
(White Lies Book One)
by Lisa Renee Jones

Release Date: April 18th
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Provocative Final Border 4.07.17 PM

Book one in the sexy and intense new White Lies duet by Lisa Renee Jones!

There are those moments in life that are provocative in their very existences, that embed in our minds forever, and sometimes our very souls. They change us, mold us, maybe even save save us. But some are darker, dangerous. If we allow them to, they control us. Seduce us. Quite possibly even destroy us.

The moment I walked into Sonoma’s Reid Winter Winery and Vineyard and made eye contact with Faith Winter for the first time was one of those moments. Provocative because I know at least one of her secrets, of which, I suspect she has many. Provocative because she believes I was a stranger to her when we met, but I am not. Provocative because I sought her out, with no intention of touching her. But now I have. Now I want her. Now I have to have her. But that changes nothing. It doesn’t change why I came for her.


 A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Hi everyone!

I’m so excited that PROVOCATIVE is available now! Just a few notes: if you order PROVOCATIVE this week only you will get $1 off and it will only be $2.99 – I will be increasing this price at the end of the week! You’ll also receive the FREE novella Rebecca’s Forgotten Journals (these are NEW journal entries) in the back of your copy!

PS – if you missed your chance to receive any of my bonus scenes from Amy & Liam, Chris & Sara, or Ella & Kayden, this is your last chance to get them! Register your order of PROVOCATIVE here – http://bit.ly/2pkQ49b and you’ll receive them early next week!

Check out the Trailer: 

READ CHAPTER ONE


Available Now

Read PROVOCATIVE Today!

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:

B&N: 

iBooks: 

Kobo: 

Goodreads: 


BLP REVIEW ~ Tracy

Sweet jeezuz….. I forgot how much LRJ’s writing hooks you in, knocks you sideways and then leaves you tied up in knots wondering what’s gonna happen next!!!

Provocative is an excellent read. Nick is totally an alpha male but so far we haven’t seen the depths of his control, we’ve just had hints to his likes and proclavities…..
Faith is a contradiction. She blushes easily and is uncomfortable when receiving compliments but is open and forthright when it comes to sex and anything related.

Both have serious secrets that could end whatever this thing that they’re starting is – most of Nick’s we have discovered already but Faith’s are still all hidden in the main!

Packed with mystery, intrigue, suspense, a sh*t load of sexual attraction, heat & passion and more secrets than you could shake a stick at, Provocative had me constantly trying to work out what the hell was going on, speculating what we have yet to discover and hoping that the Tiger and his Faith can work through the secrets and lies and find a life together neither of them think they want!!

I cannot wait until July when we finally get the answers we need in Shameless, the second part of the White Lies duet.

 


Elegant handsome man in suit.


Book two: SHAMELESS will be out on July 11th!

Amazon US: 

Amazon UK: 

B&N: 

iBooks: 

Kobo: 

Goodreads: 


GIVEAWAY

Prize: $100 Amazon gift card


Rafflecopter giveaway


About the Author:

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

In addition to the success of Lisa’s INSIDE OUT series, Lisa has published many successful titles. The TALL, DARK AND DEADLY series and THE SECRET LIFE OF AMY BENSEN series, both spent several months on a combination of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists. Lisa is presently working on a dark, edgy new series, Dirty Money, for St. Martin’s Press.

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

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

 

Connect with the Author:

Facebook: 

Amazon: 

Twitter: 

Stay in touch with Lisa by joining her mailing list:

Website: 



RELEASE BLITZ ~ PROVOCATIVE (White Lies Book One) by Lisa Renee Jones

LRJreleasebanner

Provocative
(White Lies Book One)
by Lisa Renee Jones

Release Date: April 18th
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Provocative Final Border 4.07.17 PM

Book one in the sexy and intense new White Lies duet by Lisa Renee Jones!

There are those moments in life that are provocative in their very existences, that embed in our minds forever, and sometimes our very souls. They change us, mold us, maybe even save save us. But some are darker, dangerous. If we allow them to, they control us. Seduce us. Quite possibly even destroy us.

The moment I walked into Sonoma’s Reid Winter Winery and Vineyard and made eye contact with Faith Winter for the first time was one of those moments. Provocative because I know at least one of her secrets, of which, I suspect she has many. Provocative because she believes I was a stranger to her when we met, but I am not. Provocative because I sought her out, with no intention of touching her. But now I have. Now I want her. Now I have to have her. But that changes nothing. It doesn’t change why I came for her.



A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:

Hi everyone!

I’m so excited that PROVOCATIVE is available now! Just a few notes: if you order PROVOCATIVE this week only you will get $1 off and it will only be $2.99 – I will be increasing this price at the end of the week! You’ll also receive the FREE novella Rebecca’s Forgotten Journals (these are NEW journal entries) in the back of your copy!

PS – if you missed your chance to receive any of my bonus scenes from Amy & Liam, Chris & Sara, or Ella & Kayden, this is your last chance to get them! Register your order of PROVOCATIVE here and you’ll receive them early next week!

Check out the Trailer: 

READ CHAPTER ONE ➜ 


Available Now.jpg

Read PROVOCATIVE Today!

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:

B&N: 

iBooks: 

Kobo: 

Goodreads: 



Book two: SHAMELESS will be out on July 11th!

Amazon US: 

Amazon UK: 

B&N: 

iBooks: 

Kobo: 

Goodreads:

 


Touching



GIVEAWAY

Prize: $100 Amazon gift card

Rafflecopter giveaway


About the Author:Lisa Renee Jones Author Pic

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

In addition to the success of Lisa’s INSIDE OUT series, Lisa has published many successful titles. The TALL, DARK AND DEADLY series and THE SECRET LIFE OF AMY BENSEN series, both spent several months on a combination of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists. Lisa is presently working on a dark, edgy new series, Dirty Money, for St. Martin’s Press.

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

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

 

Connect with the Author:

Facebook: 

Amazon: 

Twitter: 

Stay in touch with Lisa by joining her mailing list:

Website: 


TRAILER REVEAL ~ PROVOCATIVE (White Lies Book One) by Lisa Renee Jones

Provocative
(White Lies Book One)
by Lisa Renee Jones

Release Date: April 18th
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Provocative Final Border 4.07.17 PM

Book one in the sexy and intense new White Lies duet by Lisa Renee Jones!

There are those moments in life that are provocative in their very existences, that embed in our minds forever, and sometimes our very souls. They change us, mold us, maybe even save save us. But some are darker, dangerous. If we allow them to, they control us. Seduce us. Quite possibly even destroy us.

The moment I walked into Sonoma’s Reid Winter Winery and Vineyard and made eye contact with Faith Winter for the first time was one of those moments. Provocative because I know at least one of her secrets, of which, I suspect she has many. Provocative because she believes I was a stranger to her when we met, but I am not. Provocative because I sought her out, with no intention of touching her. But now I have. Now I want her. Now I have to have her. But that changes nothing. It doesn’t change why I came for her.


Check out the Trailer:



READ CHAPTER ONE

 

Pre-Order PROVOCATIVE Today!

Special $2.99 pre-order price – will increase after release!

Amazon alert: 

B&N: 

iBooks: 

Kobo: 

Goodreads: 


Book two: SHAMELESS will be out on July 11th!

Pre-Order notification:

Goodreads: 


 

Teaser 1


About the Author:Lisa Renee Jones Author Pic

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

In addition to the success of Lisa’s INSIDE OUT series, Lisa has published many successful titles. The TALL, DARK AND DEADLY series and THE SECRET LIFE OF AMY BENSEN series, both spent several months on a combination of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling lists. Lisa is presently working on a dark, edgy new series, Dirty Money, for St. Martin’s Press.

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

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

 

Connect with the Author:

Facebook: 

Amazon: 

Twitter: 

Stay in touch with Lisa by joining her mailing list:

Website: 


 

BLOG TOUR ~ Rough Edges & Jumping In by Cardeno C.

SYNOPSIS

~ Rough Edges

Kyle has an unwelcome crush on his nemesis Brent. Brent has a welcome crush on his friend Kyle. As it turns out, the line between a friend and an enemy doesn’t have to be a line at all.

Born on the wrong side of the tracks to the wrong family, Kyle Potter has spent his life clawing his way toward a better future. When he gets the perfect job at the perfect firm in perfect Los Angeles, Kyle is sure there are only blue skies ahead. And then he meets perfect Brent Haralson.

Born with a silver spoon to a well-established family, Brent Haralson has never been interested in leveraging his connections. Friends, success, and dates come easily to Brent and rejection isn’t something he has to deal with in life. And then he meets perfect Kyle Potter.

Kyle despises his unwelcome crush on his lazy, arrogant nemesis. Brent welcomes his feelings for his stubborn, brilliant friend. As it turns out, the line between a friend and an enemy doesn’t have to be a line at all.

This is a 2nd edition without substantive changes from the 1st edition, which was part of the It Was Always You anthology.

Read Chapter 1 Here 

BUY LINKS

~ Jumping In

When love’s on the line, the brave jump in with both feet…

Small town cop Clint Rivera can’t catch a break. His ex of two weeks is suddenly getting married, his dogs tore up his furniture, he’s getting evicted, and he’s out of beer. When he decides to solve his alcohol shortage by going to his ex’s engagement party, Clint winds up too drunk to drive himself home. Enter gorgeous deputy mayor Hawk Black, the man who constantly shows up unexpectedly and sends Clint’s body and mind into a tailspin with nothing but his whiskey voice and blue eyes.

After months of patience, Hawk can finally seduce the man he’s been craving. Clint’s day might not have started out well, but Hawk’s going to make sure it ends with a bang, preferably in bed. He’ll show Clint some rewards are worth the risk.

With love on the line, Clint will need to decide if he can open his heart, tear down his shields, and jump in with both feet.

This is a 2nd edition without substantive changes from the 1st edition.

Read Chapter 1 Here 

BUY LINKS



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cardeno C - Logo

Cardeno C. – CC to friends – is a hopeless romantic who wants to add a lot of happiness and a few “awwws” into a reader’s day. Writing is a nice break from real life as a corporate type and volunteer work with gay rights organizations. Cardeno’s stories range from sweet to intense, contemporary to paranormal, long to short, but they always include strong relationships and walks into the happily-ever- after sunset.

Cardeno’s Home, Family, and Mates series have received awards from Love Romances and More Golden Roses, Rainbow Awards, the Goodreads M/M Romance Group, and various reviewers. But even more special to CC are heartfelt reactions from readers, like, “You bring joy and love and make it part of the every day.”

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Exodus by Kylie Hillman

 


Coming April 11th

 

 

 

 

Xander Barrett had it all.
Until it was stolen by the devil.
His life. His lover. His freedom.

A chance encounter secures his release.
But, it comes at a cost–a debt he must settle before he’s allowed to take his revenge.

Luckily, it’s a price he’s willing to pay.

Stripping a man of everything but his pride isn’t smart. It creates a monster that’s bigger and meaner than the original. Satan has spawned his match, and he’s ready to cause an exodus.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains triggering content and is not suitable for all readers, especially those under eighteen years of age.

This story is the second installment in the Centrifuge Duet, and while it can be read as a standalone, reading Amnesia, Centrifuge Duet #1 first is recommended.

 



Prologue


I always thought everyone had a conscience. That even the worst type of people had one—they were just adept at ignoring it. However, the past eighteen months have forced me to reassess this.
Why? Because I no longer have a nagging voice in my head or the hollow feeling in my gut when I do something wrong. The two things that I associated with my conscience are gone. Poof. Like a puff of smoke, they up and left me sometime between the first time I was arrested and last night, when I watched a man I didn’t know—a man who’d never done a thing to me—bleed out over his desk after I’d slit his throat.
Nowadays, I don’t believe that many of us possess a conscience. There’s too many people willing to throw their own granny under the bus for a dollar for me to hang on to the idealistic view of the human race that I held for the first thirty-two years of my life. In this current incarnation of the world we inhabit, a conscience is no longer an asset.
It’s a liability.



Chapter 1

Ever wanted to see the love of your life getting fucked six ways to Sunday by the asshole she chose over you?
Nah, me neither.
Unfortunately, I don’t get a say in the matter. Not when each afternoon at precisely three o’clock, I’m hauled out of my cell, dragged down the long, white hallway, and handcuffed to the table in one of the private visitation rooms provided by the prison. The flat-screen TV mounted in the corner of the room is turned on and I get a ringside view of my ex-fiancée getting reamed by her new husband.
I say “reamed”, not because I’m being a prick. I say it because that’s exactly what it is. He drives his cock into her like he’s trying to brand her from the inside. Hard. Fast. And, furious. He’s always furious. There’s a deep rage burning in the gaze that Dr. Jaxon Ray always manages to send straight down the barrel of the camera. If I was prone to flights of fancy—which I’m not—I’d say that he does it deliberately in some sick determination to let me know that he knows how I feel watching them.
Every thrust is a clear message, anyway.
I won. You lost.
She’s mine.
Keys rattle in the door of my cell. They herald the start of another free porn show. Bile rises in my throat, the sickening churning in my gut commencing like clockwork at the thought of what’s to come.
Here we go again. Another epic fucking day in this freakshow that is currently my life.
“Barrett.” A cursory glance in the direction of the man who speaks tells me that the guard is not one I’ve met before.
I ignore him and remain lying on my back on the lumpy mattress, one arm behind my head in an attempt at nonchalant posture while the other is hidden by my side with my fingers curled into a fist ready for whatever this change in guard’s may bring. The flaky grey ceiling above me has two distinct dark shadows on it. One is mine, unmoving and unwilling. The second is the guard. I track the latter black blob moving toward me, the handcuffs he holds jingling ominously with each step he takes.
“Move your ass, Barrett.”
“Fuck you.” My response earns me a boot to the side. I hear the second guard enter my cell, his chuckle of enjoyment giving away his identity. It’s the usual prick who escorts me. The one who likes to wait with me and narrate the carnal joining as it unfolds on the screen. My nostrils flare when pain blooms from the connection of the first guards foot with my ribs. I roll into a ball. My mouth shut—lips sealed through sheer willpower. I’ll swallow my tongue before I give them a reaction.
“I’m not kidding.” The threat precedes a follow-up kick that has me rolling away until my knees hit the wall at the far side of the bed. “Your visitor doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I’d move my ass if I was you. This might be your only chance to get out of here.”
The pain in my body leaves immediately. I struggle to sit up, swinging my legs over the edge of the bed once I’m facing them. Apprehension pumps through my veins when I meet their smug gazes.
“Visitor?” The raspy quality to my voice is less than optimal. Clearing my throat, I try again, this time with some authority in my tone. “What visitor? I don’t have anyone approved.”
The closest guard—Mr. Chatty Porn Lover—answers first. “No shit, Sherlock. Who said anything about her being approved?”
His companion shrugs, then holds the cuffs out to me. “She might not be approved, but I think you’ll want to see her.”
My heart lurches in my chest, skipping a beat before it settles into a frenetic pace that has me sweating like a fat kid at an all-you-can-eat buffet. There’s one question running around my head at a million miles an hour.
Amber’s here?
A glance in the direction of the guards tells me that I won’t get any further answers out of them. I swallow my growing curiosity and the overwhelming desire to knock out the two pricks who separate me from the woman who owns every functioning cell in my body. I know acting on my urgency will only slow the damn process so I force myself to cooperate.
Standing, I hold out my arms with the wrists parallel. He snaps the handcuffs on and then follows the chain that connects them until he’s squatting at my feet. Sharp, efficient movements have the other set of larger steel cuffs locked around my ankles in seconds. Once I’m secured, the guard yanks on the chain that joins my bound hands and feet in a silent command to follow him. I shuffle along, one guard in front of me and one behind, intently watching me like I’m the convicted murderer I’m purported to be.
When we pass the visitor’s room that I’m usually led into, I almost let my curiosity get the better of me and ask where the hell we’re going. Thankfully, answers are provided before I give them the opportunity to shoot me down with sick glee.
The door that leads into the room next to the one I normally occupy is opened by the guard who’s leading me. I stand as tall as I can, shoulders back and head held high, determined to resemble my old self as much as I can when I come face to face with Amber for the first time in almost two years.
It takes a ridiculous amount of resolve to stop the shaking that threatens to take hold of my body as I lift my head to greet my woman. Our eyes meet. I blink furiously, unable to believe what I’m seeing. Playing it cool is no longer an option. Not with the guard behind me blocking any opportunity for escape. Instead, I let my mouth fall open and verbalise the question that’s beating a thunderous cacophony of confusion around my skull.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Such rudeness is unbecoming from a man in your position.” The woman seated at the table in the middle of the room sniffs, her annoyance with my lack of manners clear. She smooths her skirt over her thighs before settling a satisfied gaze on me. “Considering I’m your new boss and your passport out of this establishment.”




Wife to a Harley riding, boating and fishing, four-wheel driving, quintessential Aussie bloke.

Mum to two crazy, adorable, and creative kids.
Crohn’s Disease sufferer and awareness campaigner.
She’s also an avid tea drinker, a connoisseur of 80’s/90’s rock music, and is known for lacing everything she says with sarcasm and inappropriate innuendo.

Formerly working in finance, she was forced to reevaluate her plans for her life when severe Crohn’s Disease brought her corporate career to a screeching halt. Restarting her childhood hobbies of writing and reading to alleviate the monotony of being sick and housebound, she found her calling and is enjoying life to the max. A typical day is spent in the “real” world where she hangs out with her awesome family and “book” world where she gets to chill with her fictional characters.

Kylie writes the books she wants to read. A lover of strong men who aren’t perfect and aren’t afraid to admit it, straight talking women who embrace their vulnerabilities, and real life gritty stories, she hopes these themes shine through her writing. An avid reader of all genres, Kylie hopes to release books that keep the reader on the edge of their seat- be it with suspense, heart-stopping thrills, or laughter.

Author Links

 



 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Tortured by Nicole Williams

 

 

 

  

Coming April 9th
Pre-order exclusively via iBooks HERE

 

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AP new - synopsis.jpg

 

When he left for a twelve-month deployment, she knew it would feel like forever before they saw each other again. She didn’t realize how right she was.

When Lance Corporal Brecken Connolly gets taken as a POW, Camryn hopes for the best but steels herself for the worst. In the end, steel was what she needed to survive when he didn’t. She moves on the only way she knows how—gilding herself in more steel.

Years go by.

She builds a new life.

She leaves the old one behind.

Until one day, she sees the face of a ghost on the news. Brecken seems to have risen from the dead, but she knows she can’t perform the same miracle for herself. While Brecken was held in a torture camp for the past five years, she’s been trapped in her own kind of prison. One she can’t be freed from.  

The man she mourned comes back to join the living, but the girl he wanted to spend his life with isn’t the same woman he comes back for. Brecken isn’t the same person either. The past five years have changed them both. While he’s determined to put the pieces back together, she’s resolved to let hers rot where they shattered.

 

Broken or not, Brecken wants her back. He’ll do anything to achieve that. Even if it means going against the warden of Camryn’s personal prison—her husband.



PROLOGUE


Whenever he had to leave, it was torture. You’d think I’d get used to it, but I didn’t—each time got harder. This one might have felt especially brutal because of how long he’d be gone. A year. We’d done weeks, we’d done months, but we’d never done the full year.
​Being with someone in the military, I knew I’d have to get used to it. The separation. The worry. The loneliness. The feeling that I was trying to catch my breath for however long he was gone.
​It was a way of life. And he was my life. So I’d just have to figure it out.
​“I’m never going to look at dog tags the same way again.” Brecken’s mouth turned up as his eyes roamed over me splayed across the backseat as he tucked in his T-shirt. He twisted his wrist, his gaze moving to his watch. A crease folded into his forehead. “But I’m going to need those back before I climb onto that bus. Something about military regulations. Not wandering around enemy territory without them. Those marines are sticklers for the rules.”
​He was trying to make me feel better—trying to get me to smile—but little could lift my spirits other than finding out he didn’t have to leave for the Middle East for twelve long months.
​“You don’t need them. Not really.”
​“Why’s that?”
​“Because you only need them if you’re planning on dying, and so help me god, I’m not taking these off my neck if you have plans for some kind of a hero’s death.” My hand curled almost defensively around the metal tags hanging against my bare skin as I focused on the way the cool metal warmed in my hand. The way it seemed to come to life in my hold.
​“I’m not planning on dying over there. I’m not going to die,” he corrected the moment my eyebrow started to lift. “But I do have plans of scoring some gnarly war wound so I have a story to tell our grandkids one day and can hang one of those Purple Hearts off my chest.”
​I flattened my face as best as I could, even though it was kind of impossible with the way he was grinning at me as he wrestled his jeans back into place. “Not funny.”
​“Come on. It’ll make me look tough.”
​“You already look tough. Too tough,” I added as I scanned him for the millionth time since he’d arrived back in Medford for a week-long vacation before shipping out. Whenever I looked at him, I didn’t just see the good-looking guy others did—I saw every good memory from my past. I saw every good memory that would be formed in the future. Brecken had been a part of my life since I was eight, and he was as much a part of me as I was.
​“Nah, I need one of those big, angry-looking scars running across my chest. Or one of those bullet hole scars on my thigh. Something real tough like that.”
​“And why do you need your dog tags for that?” My fingers tightened around the thin metal ovals, refusing to let them go as if I hoped in doing so, he couldn’t go either.
​“Blood transfusion. Medics are going to need to know my blood type when they’re trying to patch up my unconscious body.”
​“Unconscious body?”
​He nodded all solemn-like. “I can’t be one of those guys who earns his Purple Heart by getting a scratch on some barbed wire. I need to lose a quart or two of blood, maybe even code on the operating table. Something worthy of that medal.”
​The thought of Brecken marching through a hostile country with a rifle in his hands, with god only knew what aimed his way, made me feel weak with worry. The thought of him fighting for his life in some marine medical tent about took whatever was left of my sanity.
​I must not have been doing a good job hiding my emotions, because his face broke when he saw my eyes, his arms opening toward me. “It’s going to be okay, Camryn. I’m going to be okay. We’re going to be okay. The year will fly by, and before we know it, we’ll be getting married and buying a little house as close to the beach as we can afford. Okay?”
His arms wound around me, swallowing my body, and I let him tuck me close to him. I’d never known the feeling of being safe until Brecken Connolly’s arms had shown me the meaning.
​My hand planted in the middle of his chest, feeling his heartbeat vibrate against my palm. “Why can’t we just get married now? Why can’t I join the marines and go with you, wherever that is, so we can be together?”
​His laugh was muffled from his mouth being pressed against my temple. “Well, you can’t join the marines and my unit because the military’s under this impression that us marines of the male species become distracted and one-track minded when the women we love are marching beside us. They’re convinced the only things on our minds are protecting you, flirting with you, or screwing you.”
​Quietly, I counted off on my fingers, “Protecting, flirting, screwing . . .” Then I nodded. “Damn, they sure have you pegged.”
​Brecken’s fingers brushed up and down the bend of my waist. “And we can’t get married right now because you’ve got two more months of high school to finish before you earn that nifty diploma thing.” He kept going, undeterred by my grumble. “And I need to save some money to give you a proper ring and wedding. I’m not doing the courthouse thing with cheap silver bands. Not for you. You deserve the best.”
​My head tucked beneath his chin as I let him hold me in the backseat of his aunt’s old Corsica. The only good thing I could say about the car—which was a coin toss if it would start any given day—was that it had a decent-sized backseat that Brecken and I had made more than ample use of. Growing up in a strict household with my dad as Brecken grew up in the packed household a few houses down, privacy had been in short supply for both of us. Thankfully, his aunt was willing to lend Brecken her car whenever she could, like today, when I’d just made love to the only boy I’d ever loved for the last time for the next year.
My fingers curled into his chest as I willed time to freeze. “I have the best.”
Brecken grunted like he doubted that, his head lifting to check out the windshield. We were parked way back in the bus depot lot. His bus would be leaving for the long drive back to Camp Pendleton in a few short minutes.
“Besides, you already got me a ring.” I raised my left hand in front of him, rolling my fingers so he could see the adjustable birthstone ring on my finger.
He shook his head. “I won that for you at an arcade when we were ten.”
“It cost you twelve hundred tickets too. You saved up all summer to get that many tickets.”
His fingers touched the ring, twisting it around with a small smile on his face. “And it probably has the street value of a nickel. Not exactly the kind of wedding ring I want my wife to have.”
I found myself staring at the ring with him. The gold paint had started chipping off the thin band years ago, but the small pink birthstone still sparkled when the light hit it just right. “Well, it’s priceless to me. I don’t care what the street value is. Or how many tickets it cost.”
“Even so, I’m getting you a nice ring. With all of the hazard pay I’ll earn this year, you’d better start working that left ring finger out so it can bear the weight of the diamond I’ll be dropping on it.”
I was glad he couldn’t see my face, because he hated knowing how worried I was about him. He said hazard pay like a sales rep mentioned a bonus, but I heard it for what it really was—the government giving you a little more money for the likelihood of losing your life increasing.
“One more year. That’s it. Then we’ll be able to be together like we’ve always planned. Away from here.” Brecken’s arms loosened around me. We didn’t have much longer. “Away from these people.”
An uneven exhale came from him, the muscles in his arms twitching. I knew who he was talking about without him going into detail. Neither of our lives had been charmed or particularly easy, but mine had been worse. Being raised by a single dad who was so strict he made a monk’s life seem carefree, I’d had an unusual upbringing. Brecken only knew what I let him know about it, which was barely half of the reality.
“I don’t like leaving you alone with him,” he said, his voice a note lower. “If things get hard again, just leave. Move in with my insane family or a hotel or anywhere. Don’t let him hurt you. Words or fists. He does it again”—Brecken’s hands curled into balls as his back stiffened—“I’ll kill him. I swear I will.”
“He won’t,” I said instantly, in my most convincing voice. “He’s working on all that. Not drinking as much.” I made sure to hold his stare to sell as much conviction as I was capable.
My dad wasn’t just a strict man. He was a sad one, a lonely one. After my mom left, he’d turned into someone else, almost like she’d taken everything that had been good about him and stuffed it in that small suitcase too. Since I was the only one around and bore a striking resemblance to my mom, I’d taken the brunt of my dad’s grief. In the form of cutting words and, occasionally, outstretched palms.
Brecken had been walking down the sidewalk one day when he saw my dad strike me across the cheek for attempting to leave the house in a skirt he described as “fitting for a whore.” Brecken had only been thirteen, but he’d taken my dad down, managing to land a few punches before I could pull him off.
My dad stopped hitting me after that. At least where anyone passing by could see.
Not that I needed to tell Brecken that now. Though I guessed it would get him to stay a while longer . . . if only to be charged with murder and thrown into prison for the next twenty to thirty years.
Suddenly, that year didn’t seem so bad.
“He won’t,” I reiterated, when Brecken continued to give me that penetrating stare, like he was capable of finding a lie if I was hiding one.
Both of his brows lifted. “He better not.”
“If anything happens, I’ll crash at your family’s place, I swear.”
Sitting up, he pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “With fourteen people sharing twelve hundred square feet of space, good luck finding a quiet spot to do your homework.” He pulled every bill out of his wallet. Even the last crumbled dollar. “Take this, hide it from your dad, and use it if you need to. That’s enough to get you a week or so at a hotel that isn’t a dump, and as soon as I get my next paycheck, I’ll send more.”
My head was shaking as I tried to stuff the money back into his wallet. He’d already closed it and was sliding it back into his pocket though. “I’ll be fine.”
Brecken’s gaze dropped to the money in my hand. “Yeah, I know.”
“Brecken.”
“Camryn,” he mimicked.
“I’m not taking the last dollar in your wallet.”
“Why not?” he asked, making a face. “I’d give you the shirt off my back, the air in my lungs, the last drop of blood in my veins. The last dollar’s a cakewalk compared to, you know, dying of suffocation or bleeding out.” He winked as he folded my fingers around the wad of money in my hand, then he leaned down to pull on his boots. He was moving quickly, glancing in the direction of the buses like he was making sure his wasn’t pulling away from the curb yet.
“Do you want to walk with me to the bus?” His focus stayed on cinching up his last boot as he waited for my answer.
He already knew it though. Good-byes weren’t my forte. Especially not the kind where I had to wave good-bye to the man I loved as he prepared to head into the middle of a war zone for the next year. Good-bye came with a whole different context when you said it to a marine.
“I know, Blue Bird. I know.” He sighed, his eyes narrowing at the weathered floorboards before he reached for the dog tags still hanging around my neck.
I didn’t make any move to lift my head or slide my hair aside to make it easier for him. As long as those tags were on my neck instead of his, he was safe. He was alive.
“I’m not going to die over there,” he whispered, pulling the tags over his head. They clinked together as they fell against his chest. “I’m coming back to you.”
My throat was burning from trying to keep myself from crying. “You can’t promise that.”
He reached for the blanket that had fallen on the floor and gently tucked it around my still-naked body. It was strange how I’d forgotten I was naked until he’d taken his tags off of me. Now though, I felt bare. Exposed. Vulnerable. My dress was somewhere around, even though I didn’t see it. We’d barely managed to make it to the parking lot before falling into the backseat together.
“Yes I can,” he said, his thumb tracing my collarbone before tucking the other corner around my shoulder. “Have I ever broken a promise to you?” He angled himself so he was in front of me, so I was forced to look him in the eyes.
“This is different. You can’t know for sure.”
“I’m going to enjoy watching you eat those words when I’m standing in front of that pretty face in twelve months, Blue Bird.”
I pulled the blanket tighter around me. “You know I don’t like it when you call me that when I’m mad at you.”
“You’re mad? At me?” He blinked. “Why?”
“You know why.” My eyes automatically moved toward the line of buses.
“To set the record straight, it’s the marine corps sending me to Iraq. Not me by personal choice.”
“No, but you made the personal choice to join the marine corps.”
“Yeah, because I didn’t want to spend the next twenty years pumping gas at the Qwik Mart.” His hand curled around the back of the front seat. “We’ve talked about this, Camryn. I’m not cut out for college, and I sure as shit am not going to spend my life working a minimum-wage part-time job and stuck in Medford. The marines is a chance at a real life. A career where I can be promoted and provide for a family and get a chance to kick a little ass every once in a while.” He leaned forward to kiss my forehead. Then my lips. “This is the ticket to that life we’ve been talking about for years. But it comes with a price.” His mouth covered mine again, this time a bit longer. “I’ll be okay. I’ll make it back.”
My eyes closed so I could focus on the taste of him left behind on my mouth. “You’re always the first to charge into anything. You don’t hang back. You don’t like the shadows. You like being the one who cast those shadows.”
When my eyes finally opened, I found his dark blue ones inches away from mine. His light hair, buzzed short so he was all ready for deployment, the few freckles scattered across the bridge of his nose, the way his jaw tightened when he stared at me, those were the things I’d remember when I’d lay awake at night, wondering where he was. If he was safe. If he was thinking about me. As long as I held on to a part of him, he could never really leave me.
“I’m coming home to you,” he said like a solemn vow. “It might be in more than one piece, but I’m coming home to you.”
I tucked his tags inside his shirt. They’d become cold again. “A thousand pieces, I don’t care. Just come home.”
His smile was almost as forced as mine as he leaned in, pulling me into his arms one last time. He held me for a minute, one hand secured around my neck, the other around my back, rocking me against him. Then he kissed me one last time. “Gotta go, Blue Bird. The Middle East isn’t going to settle itself down.”
As he threw open the back door to go around to the trunk to grab his bag, I leaned across the seat. He was leaving. For what felt like forever. “Yeah, don’t think you’re single-handedly responsible for tackling that agenda either.”
Throwing the bag over his shoulder, he crouched beside me. This smile wasn’t contrived. It was real. Perfect. “I’ll see you soon.”
“Soon?”
His hand formed around my cheek as his thumb traced the seam of my lips. “Sounds better than see you in a year, right?” Tucking his thumb into his mouth, tasting my lips on it, he gave me a wicked smirk before shoving to a stand and starting toward the buses. “I’m coming back for you, Camryn Blue Gardner, so you’d better be waiting for me, or I’ll just have to come find you and remind you why you fell crazy in love with me.”
Tucking the blanket around myself, I slid out of the car, leaning over the open door. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be waiting.”
He’d started to jog backward. “Waiting as in a few days until some other guy makes his play?”
My eyes rolled as I gave him a look. Brecken and I’d been together since I was fifteen and he was seventeen. Even before that, we’d been inseparable, no one able to come between us.
I cupped my hand around my mouth. “Waiting as in forever.”
“I won’t keep you waiting that long. Just long enough.” He was shouting now, the rumbling buses muffling his voice.
“Long enough for what?” I yelled back.
Even with this much distance between us, I didn’t miss it. The look in his eyes. The tip of his smile. “For you to agree to marry me the moment I get back.”
The breeze played with my hair, sending it away from him, like forces out of our control were already pulling us apart. “I will!”
He paused just below the bus steps, his eyes consuming me from a hundred yards away. “It’s, I do, Blue Bird. I do.” He grinned and handed his bag off to the person stuffing them into one of the outside compartments. Then his hands cupped around his mouth, and he dropped his head back. “I do, too!”
His voice echoed across the parking lot, earning the attention of more than just me.
That was it. He climbed the stairs, turned the corner, and disappeared inside the bus. I wouldn’t see him for a year. I might not see him ever . . .
My jaw tensed as I put a stop to that train of thought. Wedding vows and rings were the last things on my mind as his bus lurched away from the curb.
“Just come back to me,” I whispered to no one. “Just come back.”

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Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
 
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

 

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RELEASE BLITZ ~ His Alone by Alexa Riley

 

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Ryan Justice may be her boss, but nothing will stop him from making her his. USA TODAY and #1 ebook bestselling author Alexa Riley entices with a brand-new, full-length novel.


She thinks I’m perfect. A good boss, a good man. She thinks that I play by the rules.

She has no idea who I truly am. Why I’m really here.

Paige Turner is trying to outrun her past, but there it is, tossed back in her face anytime she manages to get two steps ahead.

She has no idea what a man like me will do to get what he wants.

Her need for Ryan got in the way of revenge, took her off course. Redirected her focus. Before she knew it, he’d made his way into her life. Into her heart.

I’m dirtier than she knows. She thinks I’m good to the core, but she doesn’t know the things I’ve done. The things I would do for her.

True love doesn’t let secrets as big as these stay buried. And when the truth about Paige’s father is finally exposed, Ryan will do anything to fix everything. Paige has always been his and his alone.

 


PREFACE

 

RYAN

She thinks I’m perfect. She thinks I look like Captain America. That I play by the rules. But she has no idea who I truly am. Or why I’m really here.

She thinks Miles was obsessed.

She has no idea what obsession is. What a man like me will do to get what he wants.

I’m dirtier than she knows. She thinks I’m good to the core, but she doesn’t know the things I’ve done. The things I would do for her.

Only her.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 


Paige

I didn’t know you could actually feel someone’s eyes on you. I don’t mean that creeping feeling when you think someone is staring at you and all the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. No, this is different. I can feel his eyes on every part of my skin. They make my body warm, in places I didn’t even know existed. A part of me I’d buried long ago. Other girls probably feel this all the time, but not me. It’s like he has intimate knowledge of my body, and somehow it belongs to him. His eyes, roaming my body, fascinate me. I remember every detail about them, and it’s both a blessing and a curse.
When I look at him, I never know what eyes I’ll receive. Sometimes they’re bright green like a fresh shamrock. Other times, when the light hits just right, little blue specks shine through, making them appear almost cerulean. But my favorite is when they turn a dark green. They’re the color of a morning forest, soft and crisp, and I know he’s playing it cool. I often wonder if I’m the only one who can see the difference. He’s always so calm and cool, but his eyes probably show me more than he wants. Or maybe I’m the one doing a little too much staring. It makes me wonder if there’s more to this man who always seems so perfect. He’s too good and clean. If he knew everything about me, I probably wouldn’t get those eyes on me like I do now. The ones I secretly love.
At first I thought Ryan Justice didn’t like me, but over the years I’ve noticed it isn’t dislike, no matter how hard I try to annoy him. The annoyance I once read in his eyes has turned out to be hunger. The more I poke at him and push him away, the more that hunger grows. Or maybe that’s my own I’m feeling. I should stay as far away from him as possible, because he could break me. I’ve already had one man almost shatter me, and I don’t think I could survive another, no matter how bad I want it.
I turn my head and look across the crowded ballroom to find him leaning up against the wall with his eyes on me. Just like I knew they would be. Like they always are. He looks casual in his suit as he tries to appear non threatening, which is impossible when you’re built like him. His size is intimidating, and even more so when he’s got well over a foot and a half on you, like he does me. I know he hates the suits, because when we’re at work he always ditches the jacket and rolls up his sleeves, revealing the tattoos that coat his thick arms. It’s the one thing that always seemed off about him. The tattoos never matched the good ol’ boy attitude.
It’s as if everyone in the room knows not to block his line of sight on me, because even in this crowded room no one has stepped in his way. If I want out of his view, I’ll have to leave and find somewhere else to stand. That’s where the real inner battle begins. To move or not to move. As much as I hate the staring, I want it. I’ve been pushing for it, no matter how much I try to lie to myself that I haven’t. I’ve come to crave it.
This dress is exhibit A of that fact. I picked it out with him in mind. I asked myself what would Ryan—or Captain America, as Mallory and I call him—think of this dress. Would it piss him off like it does when I wear a sports bra and skintight shorts to our training exercises? At first I didn’t do it on purpose, but when I saw it bothered him, I did it more.
It’s a head game I’m playing. No matter how much I tell myself Captain isn’t for me, I can’t stop trying to get his attention. I guess it’s more like provoking him, because his attention is always on me. I like it when I get the rise, even though I push him away when he gets too close. God, what is wrong with me? I’ve become one of those girls who play games. That isn’t me, but I find I’m not always me when it comes to him. I’m different. Or maybe it’s not different, exactly. He draws out a part of me that I don’t want coming out.
I pull my eyes away from him and turn, giving him a side view. The black strapless dress reaches all the way to the floor, fitting snugly against me. It looks conservative…until I move. There’s a slit that runs up one side, all the way from the floor to the top of my hip. It bares my leg, my thigh, my hip, making it impossible to wear underwear. Top that off with the killer heels I have on and for once I feel tall. My legs seem longer with the tall heels and cut of the dress. I feel sexy, which is something I’m not used to. However, over the past few weeks I’ve found myself wanting to be more than just plain Paige.
I move through the room, cataloging everything, even though we aren’t officially on the clock tonight. We’re here only as light security, but the need to know my surroundings is always there. Tonight, as always, Captain and I are to protect my boss and half brother, Miles Osborne, and his girlfriend, Mallory. Mallory is my best friend, so I’ve always got her back, and tonight is no different. We’re meant to blend in, but if something catches our eye we’re to point it out to the security on call. The charity event is auctioning off millions of dollars in different pieces, so there’s plenty of staff to handle this. Miles just likes to take extra precautions. There are art pieces, jewelry, and God knows what else here that cost more than one person makes in a lifetime. So you can’t blame the heightened awareness that’s buzzing through the room.
Moving through the crowd, I try to see if I can lose Captain in the shuffle. I can feel him following me, and I want to shake him. Nothing is happening at the event and I’m getting bored as each second ticks by. The space is locked up tight, and no one looks out of place. I don’t foresee anything happening and I might as well have a little fun. I turn, trying to see how close he is, but I’ve lost him in the crowd. He’s normally easy to spot, towering over everyone in the room, but now he’s the one hiding.
It’s one thing I’ve learned about Captain over the past few weeks—he moves like a fucking cat. I didn’t know it was possible for someone as big as he is to be able to move without making a sound. It’s unnatural and sexy as hell. We both work security at Osborne Corporation, and technically he’s my boss, has been for years, but most of everything we’ve done together has been on calls or emails. Now I’m here working face-to-face with him every day. So all this is a very bad idea, yet I can’t help pushing for it. Just a little more every day. We work so close together, and it would be awkward if something happened, but that still isn’t enough to shake some sense into me, to stop this game I keep playing with us. Though I’m starting to question if I’m really leading the game at all.
Looking around the room, I still don’t see him, and I wonder with a pang in my heart if he’s left. He wouldn’t leave the event and go home without checking in, but I didn’t think he’d let me slip away from him so easily. Maybe all my pushing is working, and I get angry with myself.
Suddenly he’s on me. His big hands cup my biceps as he pulls me down a hallway. He presses me up against the wall, and his palms come down on either side of my face, caging me in, his giant body in front of me as he leans in and stares. His dark green eyes take the breath right out of my lungs.
“What are you doing?” I manage to whisper.
I look up at him. Even though I’m in these ridiculous heels, he still towers over me. His face is set and completely unreadable, but there isn’t a speck of blue in his eyes right now. Nothing but the dark green, and my stomach tightens as all his intensity is fixed on me. It’s intoxicating to have someone so focused on you. No one has ever cared to watch me like he does.
Except I know why he’s pissed. I might have poked a little too hard before we came here tonight. I let something, a lie, take hold, and didn’t try to stop it. We were both on Miles’s and Mallory’s details today, but I’d sneaked out and gotten Mallory a pregnancy test. Of course Captain caught me, because he catches everything. He never misses a beat and I wonder if he has a photographic memory like I do.
When he’d seen what I’d purchased, his whole body locked up. He assumed it was for me, and I didn’t correct him. I let him believe I was the one who needed the pregnancy test. I did it to piss him off. It was the one and only time I’d gotten a real reaction out of him—something that wasn’t a mannerly gesture. I’m sure his mom taught him to be polite when he was growing up, in a perfect house with his parents and three point two kids and a dog named Spike that stayed inside his white picket fence. I should have said something, but instead I let him believe that I was fucking someone and may or may not have gotten pregnant. Seeing the emotion all over his face should have been worth it, but a knot in the pit of my stomach told me maybe I’d taken it too far.
He pulls one of his hands from the wall, dropping it to my hip. I should push it away, but instead I stand there frozen, waiting to see what happens. His big palm rests on my hip, and he wraps his fingers around me. He’s touched me before, but not like this. At work when he touches me, it’s with a little too much ease. He started out only brushing past me, but then it progressed to tucking my hair behind my ear. No one touches me, except for Mallory from time to time. But the more time Ryan and I spend together, the more he does it. Like he’s been doing it forever. Like we’re lovers. As if it’s his right to do so.
Normally I push him away or brush off his touch, and I hate when I do it. This time, though, I can’t seem to find the will. I want his affection. I’m needy for it. I’ve been so starved for it lately. I need this moment. I need this one time, and then I’ll be okay. I’ll snatch it up and replay it over and over in my head when I need another taste of him. It has to be enough.
I’m going to blame it on my best friend falling in love with a man who looks at her as if she hangs the moon. Watching them together has been bittersweet. I love that she found it, but I know I’m losing her a little. Seeing her this happy makes me crave something I didn’t want to crave. Love isn’t in the cards for me. Even if deep down I know it’s the one thing I want most. I have other plans in life, and falling in love isn’t part of that. I’ve got a score to settle—avenging the one person who ever loved me. My mother. Well, loved me as much as she could.
Ryan moves his hand from my hip to my stomach and stops there. His eyes search my face, and I don’t know what he’s looking for. Maybe he’s waiting for me to push him away, but I can’t seem to breathe right as I wait for him to speak. I know he wants me, but I’ve been such a brat, and I tricked him into thinking I was pregnant to make him mad. It’s ridiculous because it’s physically impossible for me to be pregnant; unless by immaculate conception. Maybe I thought it would make him back off, and that all the things he makes me feel would go away. If he wasn’t watching me or touching me, then my feelings would stop. But now he’s more in my space than he’s ever been.
“You shouldn’t be on field work. It isn’t safe.” His deep voice rumbles from his chest and washes over me. I narrow my eyes on him, loving his concern but hating that he thinks he can tell me what to do. Before I can snap at him, he cuts me off. “I don’t know who he is.” Captain leans down a little more. His words are hard and filled with something I can’t make out, an edge I’ve never heard from him before. “But apparently he’s nobody important, because I haven’t seen a man sniffing around you.”
I want to tell him he has no idea what I do, but that would be a lie. I live in the same building as my brother, and it’s one Captain monitors the security on. Along with us working security in the same building together, he pretty much knows every one of my moves.
“This baby is mine now. I’ll take care of you.”
His words hit me hard, shocking me. He did not say what I think he did. He wants to be the father of my baby? A baby that isn’t his? He wants to step up and offer to care for me and my unborn child. Never mind that there is no baby, it’s the fact that he wants to do this in spite of my pushing. In spite of all that I’ve done to hurt him, trying to keep him at a distance, he still won’t give up. It’s a reminder of how perfect he is. Too perfect for me. He always wants to do the right thing. I seem to always want to do the wrong thing.
Suddenly our mouths are on each other. Our lips connect and there’s no softness to the kiss. It’s fueled by everything I’ve been bottling up for him since the moment we met. The need and want I’ve been hiding, and all the fear of what could happen, is released in this kiss. The desire I’ve been hiding bleeds out as I cling to him, wrapping myself around his giant body. He easily picks me up, and my back once again presses against the wall. I want to close all the space I’ve been putting between us.
His mouth moves against mine, his tongue pushing its way into my mouth. He takes over the kiss, dominating it, and I let go. I allow myself to enjoy the closeness of him and soak it all up. I want every last drop I can get out of this.
He growls into my mouth, and I find myself moaning in response. I move against him as my dress slips to the side and I’m bare against his suit. He’s moved one of his hands under me and he’s holding my bare ass, his fingers digging into my flesh in a possessive, unbreakable hold. Something about the way he has me pinned to him so tightly is making me come undone.
Then he’s gone.
I’m on my feet and he’s turned around, his back to me. I’m in a daze, and it takes me a moment to realize he’s talking to someone. Another man in a suit is telling him something, but I was too far gone to realize it. I’m lost in the moment we just had, stunned at how quickly all that perfection was ripped away. In the blink of an eye, everything can be gone. I’ve learned that lesson before, and it’s not a pain I want to relive. It’s not where my head should be, and I take a step to the side to steady myself. Captain turns and reaches for me, but I back up another step. Then another.
His eyes narrow on me as the guy continues to talk to him, and I hold up my hands in defense. I can tell he’s going to make a grab for me, whether the guy is talking to him or not. I’d probably melt against him if he touched me, and I can’t do that.
“Paige.” He says my name in warning, but I shake my head. His hand clenches into a fist, but I don’t give in. I need space, so I turn and I take off across the ballroom.



 

 


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Alexa Riley is two sassy friends who got together and wrote some dirty books. They are both married moms of two who love football, donuts, and obsessed book heroes.
They specialize in insta-love, over-the-top, sweet, and cheesy love stories that don’t take all year to read. If you want something SAFE, short, and always with a happily ever after, then Alexa Riley is for you!

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Just Like That by Nicola Rendell

 

 

Coming April 10th

 

Pre-order exclusively via

iBooks HERE

 

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“I bet I can untangle you.”

At an airport baggage claim, Penny Darling looks up from her knotted mess of ear buds to find the sexiest hunk of man she’s ever seen. He’s got a military haircut, a scar through his eyebrow, and he’s rocking a pastel pink dress shirt like only a real man can. But Penny is on a man-free diet so she leaves the airport without succumbing to his delicious double-entendres…or his dreamy dimples.

PI Russ Macklin can’t take his eyes off Penny. As she sashays out of the airport with hips swaying and curls bouncing, he suspects they may share more than just sweltering chemistry. That suitcase she’s rolling along behind her? It looks a lot like his.

Because it is.

When he tracks her down, he holds her bag hostage in exchange for a date. Their night begins with margaritas and ends in urgent care, and Russ proves that Cosmo’s theory about a very particular type of orgasm was oh-so-wrong.

In Penny, Russ finds a small-town sweetheart with a very naughty side. For the first time ever, he’s thinking about picket fences. Penny finds in Russ a loving, caring man who understands the power of massaging showerheads.

But Russ is only in Port Flamingo for a week. They agree it’ll be a fling and nothing more.
Because really, they can’t fall ass-over-teakettle in love just like that…


Can they?

99k words. HEA. Dual POV. No cheating.
Featuring a big drooly dog named Guppy.



Russ

I step off the escalator, and there she is. She’s looking down, doing something with her phone. Air conditioning blows on her from above, making the hem of her purple dress flutter against her leg. And fuck, look at those legs. Look at that body. Look at that woman. Underneath the dress, instead of a bra she’s wearing the top half of a pink bikini, tied at the nape of her neck in a bow.
Welcome to Florida. God bless the Sunshine State.
The place is dismal, except for her. On the walls are 1980s tourism posters, rippling with the humidity. All the guys have Magnum, P.I. mustaches, and all the women look like extras from Baywatch. She’s a vision in the middle of all of it, an oasis at the goddamned baggage claim. I circle the clumps of old people bumping into each other with walkers, like slow-motion bumper cars. As I get closer, I see her face. Her freckles, her slightly shiny pink lips. Her breasts, which are fucking beautiful. But her expression, it isn’t beautiful. It’s seriously pissed. Nostrils flared, teeth set, jaw clenched.
In her hands is a whole big tangle of ear buds, and maybe a phone charger. A big knot of cords, like a wad of cold pasta.
I get closer. Not too close, because I don’t want to be that guy, but close enough to see the small starfish necklace dangling from her neck, and close enough to smell something warm, and sweet. Familiar. Vanilla, maybe. Whatever it is, it’s fucking delicious.
On the wall behind her is a big banner. It’s got a faded old cartoon flamingo, flapping his wings and grinning. Underneath is the caption:
WELCOME TO PORT FLAMINGO! HOME OF THE FIRST AIR CONDITIONER!
No shit. Because it’s hot, and I don’t mean like ordinary summertime hot. I mean hot like the time the sauna malfunctioned at my gym and turned all the drywall in the locker room into oatmeal. She doesn’t look hot at all though. She looks cool, and soft, and beautiful. Just the thing I need. Like a vodka soda after a long fucking day.
I set my shoulder bag at my feet and take off my suit jacket. Her braid comes down over one shoulder, the curl at the bottom nestling into her cleavage. I roll up my sleeves. “I bet I can untangle you.”
She looks up at me. Her eyes are deep blue and sparkling. A smile starts to pinch her cheeks. The end of the charger swings between us. “I’m okay. Got myself into this mess, got to get myself out of it.”
“Sometimes two is better than one.”
She smacks her lips at the cords. “Sometimes.” She pulls hard on the plug end, making the wires tighten even more. “You’d think I’d learn to keep that little plastic box that comes with these, but oh no, every—” She tugs. “—single.” Tugs again. “—time.”
Granted, she’s not exactly in need of rescue from a burning building, but no way am I going to stand here and watch her struggle, no fucking way. Without another word, I start undoing the end of the tangle that’s nearest me, and I watch that smile of hers get bigger. She doesn’t look at me, but I see a dimple, and she bites her lip.
Still focused on the knot, she says, “Let me guess. You’re not from around here, are you?”
Can’t imagine what gave me away. Maybe the fact that I’m the only guy in the building wearing slacks and actual shoes. “Here on business.”
She looks me up and down. “What kind of business? FBI?”
Fuck. Not the first conversation I want to have, definitely not. Also, I don’t know a single fed who wears pants this nice. “Private business.”
“Hmmm.” She eyes me more mischievously. “Tall, dark, and a military haircut. Something tells me you’re not here to do some competitive bass fishing. “
Oh man. Cute. Really cute. “No, I’m not.”
Slowly, the tangle comes undone, until we’re in the middle together. Reminds me of that scene in Lady and the Tramp.
But before I can say anything more—like, for instance, I’m down for 20 questions, as long as it’s over a drink—the buzzer on the carousel roars to life, as loud as a tornado siren. The crush of people starts to tighten around the conveyor. She winds the three sets of ear buds and the cord around her palm. From the pocket of my bag, I take out the plastic case that came with my ear buds and hand it over. “There.”
She laughs through her nose. “I’ll be okay.”
“I insist.” I press it into her hand, and her eyes meet mine.
“I’ll bet you do.” She looks away as a blush covers her cheeks.
The bags start to rumble off the conveyor. For one long second, she watches me, smiling. Sizing me up. The little curls around her face tremble in the air conditioning, and I’m about to say You, me, a pitcher of margaritas, tonight when she looks away and hoists her purse up on her shoulder.
“That’s my bag,” she says. “I should get going. Thanks for…untangling me.”
She steps away and threads her way between a handful of old ladies in walkers. I know I should help her, I know I should grab her bag, but holy fuck look at that body.
She grabs her bag herself and flips up the handle.
“Give me your number. Let me take you out for dinner.”
Her smile dissolves into a scowl. “You married?”
I shake my head slowly. “I’m a lot of things, but married definitely isn’t one of them.”
“Separated?”
Shake my head again. “Nope.”
She takes her starfish charm between thumb and forefinger and loops the chain over her lip. “Under any restraining orders? Involved in a complicated love triangle that your Match.com profile describes as an open marriage? Divorced five times and counting? Polyamorous?”
Whoa. This girl’s got to find a new dating pool, stat. “Promise. I’m Russ, and what you see is what you get.”
Zip-zip-zip goes her necklace.
“Just a drink.” I lift my hands out between us, to say C’mon. “Maybe dinner, if I make the cut.”
She blinks hard a few times and she drops her necklace charm. “I’m sorry. You’re sweet, but I can’t.”
Well, fuck it. The first time I try to get back in the saddle in ages and the goddamn thing slides right down onto the ground again. I respect it though. I don’t want to overdo this, so I give her a final nod and clear my throat. “Had to try.”
She swallows hard. “I’m glad you did.”
Fuck.
And she’s gone. As she goes, her hips sway with her dress. She works that sashay, as my aunt says, like a fucking pro. She looks back over her shoulder, only once, as she walks through the sliding doors. I give her a wink.
And she fucking winks back.
Jesus Christ.
She takes a left out of the door, which means she isn’t gone yet. Not by a long shot. The architecture does me a favor, and I get to watch her sashay right past the floor-to-ceiling windows. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, not even if I wanted to. She smiles at the sidewalk without looking up, and laughs a little. Like she knows I’m watching her and is feeling pretty good about it.
God, what a cutie. And what a bummer. She was fucking sexy, she seemed sweet, and there was something about her that was up to no good. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it was somewhere between the bikini top and I’m glad you did. But the spark wasn’t all we had in common. I realize, as she finally disappears from view, she also has a bag that looks just like mine.
Medium-sized black Samsonite. Sensible, dependable. Number One Amazon Bestseller in Luggage.
But that couldn’t be my bag, I think to myself as I turn back toward the conveyor. Couldn’t be.


***

It was. Twenty minutes later, I’m the only guy standing by the carousel, and there’s a single black bag going around and around in front of me. It’s exactly the same as mine, except it’s overstuffed and has a pink puff of yarn tied to the handle. Same color as her bikini top and literally hanging by a thread.
It slides to a stop, and the yarn ball swings off the side of the carousel. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
A rattle from the center of the conveyor sounds promising—I was early connecting through Atlanta, so my bag had to be the first one on—but no dice. What comes off the conveyor isn’t a bag at all, but instead one of the baggage guys in big set of protective earphones and a reflective vest. He crawls up through the flap and pokes his head out. He wipes his forehead on his bare leathery shoulder and then looks from me to the bag and back again. “Nice pom-pom, man,” he says and backtracks down the hole.
I glance around for some airport help on this, but all I see is a handwritten sign at the baggage claim desk. Will Return On Monday!
It’s Saturday.
Christ.
As I take hold of the bag, I notice it’s got not one but three “LIFT WITH CAUTION” tags: the first one new, the second one beat up, and the third one halfway shredded, all together the way people keep lift tickets from ski areas. I give it a hoist. The thing is so heavy it makes me grunt like I’m doing a dead lift. With a two-handed lug, I yank it off the conveyor and set it on the ground, wheels down.
Squeezing the roller handle, I pull it up…and it snaps off right in my hand. The arms stick up from the suitcase like the tines of a fork.
I clench my eyes shut and think back to “the most helpful critical review” from Amazon. “Looks like every other bag on the planet. Sh**ty handle.”
Touché. But it is what it is. Which is her bag, hopefully.
I wheel it along to a bank of benches, by some old beat-up phone booths, lining the far wall. I open up the ID pouch and read:

PENELOPE DARLING
125 E. BEACH POINT DRIVE
PORT FLAMINGO, FL 34102

I bite down on my gum and groan. How cute is that name? Jesus Christ, come on. Penny Darling. What’s more, it’s not a business card or typed up like mine, but written by hand. Her writing is sweet, pretty, and feminine, with big plump letters written in bright pink marker that’s bled into the plastic cover, so they’ve got a haze around them like neon lights. And there, at the bottom.
Her number.
Jackpot.
It might not be my smoothest move, but I’ll take it. I pull my phone from my pocket and give her a call. As I wait for the ringtone, I decide to hell with suave and understated. I want her, and I need her to know it.
But then in my ear I hear, “Mobile Network Temporarily Unavailable.”
Goddamned Verizon, jamming up my plans. So I try to text her instead.

This is Russ.
From the airport.
I’ve got your bag and I think you’ve got mine.
How about that drink?

I hit send, and I’m answered immediately with a row of red exclamation points and four repetitions of NOT DELIVERED. What. The. Fuck.
Then I noticed my cell service flips over from 1 bar, to Roaming, to Searching for service…
I pull my hot pack of gum from my sweaty pocket and take out a second piece. The gum is weirdly melted even before I put it in my mouth.
The options now are pretty simple: I could touch base with the guy who hired me to come down here to the land that Verizon forgot or…
I think about those tan lines, the curve of her hips. That bikini. The glisten on her rosy lips. The way she wrinkled her nose when she smiled.
Why is this even a goddamned question? It’s four o’clock on a Saturday. A beautiful woman is on East Beach Point Drive with all my stuff. And somewhere in this town, I’ll bet there’s a beachside bar with a pitcher of margaritas with our names on it.


 

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

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Tempt The Boss by Natasha Madison

 

 

 

Coming April 3rd

 

Pre-order exclusively via iBooks HERE

 

 

 

Lauren
Going back to work was supposed to be a painless transition, but when my new boss turns out to be an arrogant, cocky jerk, he quickly turns my professional life into a world of torture. Okay, fine, calling him an asshat before knowing he was my boss wasn’t my finest moment. Hating him should be easy. I just never counted on him being so gorgeous or charming when he’s not annoying me.

Austin
I expected my new assistant to be professional and punctual, but all I’m getting are dirty looks and rude comments. I should fire the little hellion, but instead all I can think about is bending her over my desk and breaking every rule I’ve ever made for myself.

One look. One touch. One night. If we break the rules, our lives will never be the same again.

Good thing rules were made to be broken. And besides, it feels so good to Tempt the Boss.

 



Lauren

Beep, Beep, Beep. My hand snakes out from underneath the warm cocoon of my blankets. Grabbing my phone from the side table, I shut it off and bring it under the blankets with me. Seven minutes later, I feel it vibrate under my pillow between my hands.

Pulling myself up and swinging my legs out of the bed, I walk downstairs, going straight for the coffee machine. Thank god for this programmed machine, because the coffee is ready for me to drink.

I blink my eyes a couple of times while I turn on the light over the stove. With it lightly dimmed, I lean against the counter and look at the clock. Five-thirty on the nose. Smelling the coffee, I slowly take a sip to not burn my tongue. My brain jolts awake as the hot, strong brew rolls over my tongue.

It’s the calm before the storm. In thirty minutes, I will have to get the kids up and get them ready for the bus that is always here at exactly seven-ten.

I look into the dining room, taking in the hurricane that is my children. Opened backpacks linger on the floor near the chairs, papers are tossed on the table, homework they finished but haven’t put away. No matter how much I tell them to clean up the table before they go to sleep, Gabriel, who is ten, and Rachel, who is six and a half going on twenty, always leave it until the last minute. Something they inherited from their father.

I look around the house—the open concept floor plan makes it easy to see into the rooms around me—taking in the changes that the house has gone through in the last six months. No more men’s sneakers at the door. No more suit jackets hanging on the back of the chair at the table blending in with the backpacks.

Nope. Nothing. Nada. Taking another sip of the coffee, I let my mind wander to when it all changed.

Walking up to the children’s school for the parent/teacher interview, I am running late, of course. I had to pick up Gabriel from soccer practice, while rushing Rachel to gymnastics, then we grabbed McDonald’s in the car on the way home. Eating my cheeseburger in the car is why I now have a mustard stain on my shirt. Pulling a scarf that I find in my backseat, I throw it over my neck hoping it covers the stain.

Once in the school, I make my way to the classroom of Gabriel’s teacher. I run down a list of things that I need to get done when I get home. Thinking about the birthday parties that the kids are invited to this weekend. The gifts are already sitting in the trunk waiting to be wrapped. I hope that Jake will at least be available on Sunday.

Stay-at-home mom. That is my job, and I love it. Sometimes. Most times. More days than not. My husband, Jake, is an ad executive in the biggest marketing firm in the city. He spent the last eight years working his way up the ladder. His long work hours are our sacrifice until he gets that corner office, then he can cut back a bit. At least, that’s what he keeps saying. I still stand by my conclusion he is a workaholic.

We met when I was fresh out of college; I had just started working at the same agency he did. Not the one he’s with now, but the first agency he worked at after college. I was hired as the office temp assistant. Since it was a small office of only five, it was normal that we spent all day together. Those long hours together resulted in us becoming good friends. Becoming a couple was the natural next step. I don’t think it surprised anyone when we walked in on a Monday morning holding hands, both of us looking at each other with our hearts in our eyes.

Getting to Ms. Alvarez’s door, I knock once and then walk in. Looking around, I’m shocked to see Jake sitting in one of the chairs in front of the desk, while Ms. Alvarez sits in hers.

Walking up to him, I lean down and kiss him on the lips. “Hey, I didn’t know you would be here,” I say, sitting down in the chair next to him.

He nods at me and then looks down at his shoes. I don’t know how to describe what came next, except to say that my world crashed around me. It’s like my heart knew it. It’s like my body knew it had to go into protection mode.

“Lauren,” he says, still looking at his shoes. I look down at them wondering what he is looking at exactly. I will never forget them. Brown, with light brown laces. Stain free, scuff free. Clean.

It is at this point I start to panic, start to think something is wrong. “What’s the matter?” I ask him and then look over at Ms. Alvarez. She is gorgeous with beautiful thick, black curly hair that is always styled perfectly. Whether she wears it in a ponytail or loose, you can’t help but envy her fantastic hair. She always looks so put together, but right now, she’s looking at my husband nervously as she blinks away tears, and her hands clasped together in her lap are shaking.

“I’ve met someone.” The breath I have been holding rushes from my lungs. My legs go so weak, I feel it so strongly even though I am sitting. My heart is beating so hard and fast, I hear it echo in my ears. My mouth gets dry, and my hands start to tremble as I feel that heart starting to break.

“What?” I look at him and then at Ms. Alvarez. “Jake, now is not a good time. Not here.” It’s like I’m begging him to not tell me. Like I’m begging him to take it back.

“I love her,” he says with a whisper, and then all the pieces to the puzzle start coming together. Gabe’s tutoring classes that Jake would always pick him up from—the ones they’d always be late getting home from. I look at my son’s teacher and see a tear run out of the corner of her eye while she smiles at my husband. My fucking husband—the one who made vows to me. The one who promised to love, honor, and cherish me for the rest of his life.

“You?” I say to him and then look at her. “You slept with my husband?” I ask her while I feel Jake’s hand on top of mine. I shake it off, not wanting to feel his touch right now. Not wanting him to try to comfort me.

“It was me. I started this. I did this, not Camilla.” He tries to reach out and touch me again. Getting up from the chair, I start to pace the room. Thoughts are running through my mind. How did I not know? How did I not suspect? Was it because I was too tired for sex? Was it because I still needed to lose the extra ten pounds that I had lingering on me? Was it because I was too tired at the end of the day to even talk to him?

Stopping in my tracks, I look at them. He has now stood up and so has she. A desk still separates them. “We had sex last night,” I tell him, and he doesn’t continue to look at me; instead, he looks at her.

“It was the last time. Kind of a good-bye kind of thing,” he says, now looking at the floor.

“A good-bye thing.” I now raise my voice. “A good-bye thing?” I shake my head. “How long? How long has this been going on? How long have you been sleeping with your student’s married father?” My voice is firm, anger starting to rush through me.

“Lauren, let’s not—” he tries to say, but I don’t give him a chance. I yell, and this time loudly, “How long? How long have you been sleeping with her and coming home to me? How long have you been telling me you love me and lying about it? How fucking long, Jake? How much of my life is a lie?”

They both look at each other. “Seven months,” he answers right before there is a knock on the door. The principal sticks his head inside “Oh. Mr. and Mrs. Watson, is everything okay?”  The poor man doesn’t see anything coming.

“Oh, we are totally fine.” My voice starts to rise, while my hands start to shake. “I’ve come to attend my son’s parent/teacher conference only to be told his teacher is fucking my husband. Looks like in addition to tutoring her students in math, she also offers sex ed lessons to their fathers! She deserves a raise.” I laugh humorlessly. Maybe I’m having a stroke. Maybe, just maybe, this is all a dream. “But other than that, I would say everything is perfect.”

I walk to the chair that I have been sitting in, picking up the purse that fell off my shoulder while my life fell apart. Grabbing it, I turn to walk out as Jake grabs my wrist. “Lauren, wait.”

I yank my wrist away from him, the force shocking both of us. “Don’t fucking touch me,” I hiss before I walk past the principal and right into the hallway, where I’m greeted by the president of the PTA, Colleen.

The tears have now started to freely fall down my cheeks. “Oh, honey, I just heard.” I look at this woman who I thought was actually my friend. I tilt my head to the side. “You knew?” I don’t really need her to answer, since she puts her head down to look at her hands she is wringing together.

I can’t stop the angry laugh that bursts from my mouth. I’m that oblivious spouse who everyone makes fun of. I’m that wife who said it would never happen to me. I’m that woman who they all feel sorry for. I’m her. That poor, clueless woman who can’t seem to keep her husband from falling dick first into a sexy, twenty-something woman. I look around to see who else is looking at us.

The secretary, the principal, Colleen, and four of her posse, who are there trying to get parents to join the PTA, Jake, and her. “Does everyone know he was having an affair? Was I the only one who didn’t know?” I throw my hands out to the side, turning on my heel as I walk out of the school, vowing never to return.

I get in my car and make one phone call to Kaleigh, my sister. I don’t know how much she understands between the sobs and the yelling, but ten minutes later when I pull up to the curb of my perfect house, she is there throwing Jake’s clothes out of our bedroom window. They land right in the front of my house on the lawn.

It takes her a full five minutes to toss everything out. I stand here, still in shock, still in a daze, looking at the mountain of his clothes. Clothes I bought him. Clothes I picked out. Clothes I washed, ironed, and put away. I don’t see Kaleigh come from the side of the house with the gasoline container in her hand. I just see her pouring it all over his clothes. She walks over to me, handing me the packet of matches. “Let’s burn this motherfucker down.”

And we do. Till one of the neighbors calls the fire department, who rush out, three full trucks, lights blaring in the night, an EMT, and one police cruiser. I sit here on my lawn, watching the flames rising up from the pile of everything that he owns before the whole mess is drenched in water.

The second alarm sounds, bringing me out of my trip back into that nightmare.

“Gabe! Rachel! Time to get up, guys! Mommy starts her new job today,” I yell, hoping they hear me. I take another sip of my coffee before I make my way upstairs to get ready for my new job. Yay me.

 



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

 

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ The Perfect Illusion by Winter Renshaw

 


Coming April 27th

 

It’s only pretend…

And it’s only three months.

I’m in the midst of scrawling “I QUIT!” onto his fancy cardstock letterhead when my boss corners me. He needs a favor, he says. And then he asks how well I can act …

Hudson Rutherford needs a fiancée.

With his old-moneyed parents forcing him to marry some bratty hotel heiress and his hedonistic, playboy lifestyle at stake, the only way to get them to back off is to make them think he’s truly, madly, deeply in love … with me—his third personal assistant this year.

But I can hardly stand working for him as it is.

Hudson is crazy hot and well-aware. He’s arrogant, spoiled, and silver-spooned. He checks me out when he thinks I’m not looking, and his life is a revolving door of beautiful women. Plus, he can’t even pronounce my name correctly—how’s he going to convince his family he’s in love with me?!

I’m seconds from giving him a resounding “no” when he flashes his signature dimpled smirk and gives me a number that happens to contain a whole mess of zeroes …

On second thought, I think I can swallow my pride.

But, oh baby, there’s one thing I haven’t told him, one teensy-tiny thing that could make this just a hair complicated …

Here’s hoping this entire thing doesn’t explode in our faces.


Chapter One

Mari

Dear Mr. Rutherford,
I humbly request that you accept this as my two-weeks’ notice. As of Friday, May 26th, I will be stepping down from my position as your personal assistant. I’ll do my best to ensure this is a smooth transition for the company.
Sincerely,
Maribel Collins

I press my pen into his thick cardstock, scratching out my neatly written resignation before crumpling the paper in my hand and pushing it to the corner of my desk. It’s too nice, and Hudson Rutherford does not deserve nice.
It’s half past seven, which means I have thirty minutes to come up with something better than this—something that’s going to leave a lasting impression.
I’m his third personal assistant this year and it’s only May. There’s a reason no one can tolerate working for him longer than a month or two, and someone ought to point this out to him.
Might as well be me.
Clearing my throat, I try again.

Hudson,

You’re rude and inconsiderate, and I no longer wish to work for you. You think the world revolves around you. Your excessive wealth disgusts me, as does your secret Rolodex of women’s phone numbers that you keep hidden in your third desk drawer on the left. Your good looks are overshadowed by your vanity and arrogance, and your kindness, I’m convinced, is non-existent. You treat your employees like indentured servants, and you’re the most hypocritical asshole I’ve ever met.
I work sixty hour weeks for you without so much as a thank you, a raise, or a glowing performance review. I’m tired of running your menial errands, and I didn’t spend four years at college to make photo copies and coffee.
I didn’t sign up for this.
You lied to me.

With zero fondness and absolutely no gratitude,
Mari

Sighing, I crumple this one too. I think my message got lost amongst all the spiteful word vomit, and the last thing I want to do is come across as trite.
Fed up is what I am.
Tired.
Underutilized, underpaid, and overworked.
But not trite.
I toss the wrinkled paper in the waste basket and grab one last sheet of letterhead. Ditching the formalities, I decide to go a more direct route. My mother once told me it’s not in what you say, it’s in what you don’t say. And my father always says actions speak louder than words. Maybe I’ve been overthinking this whole resignation letter? With my pen firmly gripped, I scrawl my final version.

Hudson,

I QUIT!

Mari

It’s perfect.
Smiling, I admire my work, fold it into thirds, then slide it into a cream-colored envelope with Rutherford Architectural’s logo in the upper left corner. Licking the seal and scribbling his name on the front, I stick it on top of a pile of mail I plan to hand to him the second he arrives. I’ll give him a moment to read it, and while he’s doing so, I’ll pack up my things and make a beeline for the elevator before he has a chance to stop me.
“Mary.” I glance up from my work station to see Hudson strolling into work in his signature navy suit and skinny black tie. He’s early today.
“It’s Mari,” I correct him for the millionth time, inhaling his cedar and moss cologne. It’s the only thing I’ve come to like about this man. “Rhymes with sorry—remember?”
His eyes narrow in my direction, and as he angles toward me, I see his right hand lifted to his ear. He’s on the phone.
Hudson says nothing, only gathers the mail from the corner of my desk and strides down the hall toward the enormous glass-walled office that tends to make my stomach twist every time I have to walk in that direction.
This entire office space was his design. Glass walls. Zero privacy. Everything is clean-lined and modern. Chestnut-colored leather seating, white walls, reclaimed wood and custom mid-century modern lighting installations are working in tandem here to create a space buzzing with creative inspiration, and all decorative accessories have to be approved by the head honcho himself. I tried to bring in a gray ceramic planter last month for my dendrobium orchids and Hudson said it was too drab and industrialist. He claimed it would fuck with his energy—and he uses words like “fuck” and “energy” because he thinks he’s some kind of renaissance boss.
My heart’s pounding crazy fast, and I’m stuck trying to determine if I should bolt now or wait. Hudson usually checks his mail first thing in the morning, but for all I know, he’s still on his phone call.
Drumming my fingers against my glass desktop, my feet remain firmly planted on the wood floor, though they may as well be frozen solid. The second my phone rings, it sends my heart leaping into my throat. I’m not afraid of him—I just hate drama. And I have a feeling Hudson’s going to try to make this into a big thing.
“Yes?” I answer, my eyes scanning the caller ID. Hudson’s extension flashes across the screen.
He exhales.
Oh, god.
He read it.
And now, the moment of truth.
“Mary, what is this?” he asks.
“What is … what, sir?” I ask. And that’s another thing—what kind of twenty-nine-year-old architect demands to be called “sir?”
“This invitation to the Brown-Hauer Gala? RSVPs were due two weeks ago. Call and find out if it’s not too late,” he says, his voice monotone. The tear of paper fills the background. He’s quiet.
“I thought you said you didn’t want to go?” I ask. I’m not sure why I’m phrasing this as a question because he did say he didn’t want to go. As a matter of fact, I know I have it in an email …
“I said that?” he asks, a sardonic chuckle in his question.
“Yes.”
“I don’t remember saying that.” He exhales. “I never would’ve said that. Not to the Brown-Hauer. That gala hosts the who’s who in the architectural world, are you fucking kidding me?”
His voice raises slightly, and my breath seizes. I should just hang up and get the hell out of here.
“Mary,” he says.
“Mari,” I correct. “Rhymes with sorry.”
In case he didn’t hear me two minutes ago …
“Can you come back here for a second?” he asks, his voice as stiff as his winning personality. “There’s something we need to discuss. Immediately.”
Anxiety forces my jaw into a tensed state. I shouldn’t let this asshole get to me, and I know that, but he’s literally the boss from hell. People like him are the reason happy hour was created.
At least he won’t be my boss for much longer.
I’m almost positive he’s read my note and he’s calling me back to try and talk me out of it but I refuse.
My stomach churns, and I think I’m going to be sick—but not because I’m nervous.
Not because he scares me.
But because I’m pregnant.
And morning sickness is one hell of a bitch.
“I need a minute,” I say, reaching for the bottle of room temperature water in front of me, though the sight of it intensifies my nausea. I meant to stop for saltines and ginger ale on the way here this morning, but I spaced it off because I was too preoccupied with second-guessing my decision to quit my job so abruptly with single motherhood on the horizon.
You may have a minute to spare, but I don’t,” he says. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait. My office. Now.”
Hudson hangs up before I have a chance to protest, and before I can stop myself, I’m marching back to his office like Darth Vader on a mission, heavy breathing and all.
I’m doing this.
I’m standing my ground.
I’m quitting.
And I’m walking out of here with my head held high.
Normally I’d knock three times on his door and wait for him to tell me to enter, but seeing how all the walls here are made out of crystal-clear glass, he’s looking directly at me, and I’m seconds from quitting, I don’t see the need.
Rushing into his office, I place my hands on my hips and plant myself in the doorway. Hudson reclines in his chair, his hands resting behind his neck as his full lips hold an amused little smirk that perfectly contradicts the snarky tone he took with me a few moments ago.
Everything about this man is a walking contradiction, and it drives me crazy.
“What’s with the attitude, Mary?” he asks, eyes scanning me from head to toe and back. “It’s Friday. Lighten up.”
I glance at his desk where my letter rests on top of the mail pile.
He hasn’t opened it yet …
“What did you need?” I ask, but only because I’m curious. I don’t actually intend on doing a damn thing for this smug asshole from this moment on.
“Did you get my email this morning?” he asks.
Ah, yes. The infamous pre-work emails he sends from his treadmill at five in the morning. Not going to miss those.
My brows meet. “I haven’t had a chance to check it yet.”
“I’m going to need you to pick up my dry cleaning at ten. Drop everything off at my place afterwards, then stop by Palmetto’s Deli to grab me a number four with no mustard. And make sure you check it before you leave. Last time you didn’t, and you know how much I despise soggy bread. Oh. And after lunch, I need you to call the Brown-Hauer foundation and get me on the list for their gala. Email me as soon as you’re finished so I know you didn’t forget …”
He’s rambling on, but I tune him out. My fists clench at my sides, and my vision darkens. He doesn’t need to qualify his requests with insults.
This …
This is why I hate this man.
This is why I have to quit. Immediately.
I don’t care what he says, I refuse to let him talk me out of this.
I came to Manhattan with a gleam in my eye, my little Nebraskan heart filled with optimism and hope. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be someone.
Little did I know, nobody in New York cares if you graduated at the top of your class at some tiny little private college just north of the Bible belt. All that matters out here, is who you know. And if you don’t know anyone? Then you have one of two options: screw your way to the top or work your ass off and hope that someone throws you a bone.
I had every intention of doing this with integrity, but clearly accepting a position at Rutherford Architectural was a bad move in the wrong direction.
So much for building up a respectable curriculum vitae.   
“Mary, are you listening?” he asks, leaning forward in his chair, his elbows resting on his glass desk. Behind him is an expansive view of downtown Manhattan flanked by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with every architectural college text, magazine, and coffee table book known to man. If there’s one other positive thing I could say about Hudson Rutherford—besides the fact that he smells like money and oozes obnoxious charm that apparently no one but me can see through—is that he’s passionate about architecture. The man lives, sleeps, and breathes design.
If I wasn’t so busy hating Hudson, I’d probably find his intense passion kind of sexy …
“No,” I say.
“Excuse me?” He scoffs, smoothing his thin black tie down his muscled chest before straightening his shoulders.
“When you speak to me like that,” I say, holding my head high, “it makes me want to tune you out. I can’t help it. It’s an automatic reaction.”
His jaw clenches, but his eyes glint, and I wonder if he’s ever had an assistant speak up before?
Doubtful.
“Am I supposed to speak to you like you’re on my level? Like we’re equals?” he asks, chuffing. “Mary, I’m your boss. Your superior.”
“Which is exactly why you should talk to me with a little more respect. It’s called being professional.” My lips are tight and numb. I can’t believe I’m saying this … “I make your coffee. I field your calls. I grab your lunch. I do anything and everything you ask because let’s face it, I’m the idiot who signed up for this job, but you treat me like your whipping post. If you forget something, it’s always my fault. If someone else forgets something, it’s always somehow my fault. If you’re having a bad day, it’s my fault. If I only work fifty hours instead of my scheduled forty, you make me feel like a slacker. If I ask for a day off, nine times out of ten, I’m told ‘no.’ It’s exhausting working for you, Hudson. It’s only been two months, and I can’t do it anymore.”
“So what are you saying?” he asks. I try to get a read on his expressionless face, but it’s impossible. He’s a man who holds his cards close to his chest at all times. I’m not sure whether he’s panicked, relieved, or something else entirely.
Pointing to the letter on the top of his mail pile, I say, “I quit.”
It doesn’t feel as liberating as I thought it would, and it’s all rather anti-climactic, but it’s done. I turn on my heels and show myself out of his office, hurrying to get the hell out of the place I’ve come to call the Pristine Palace for the last two months.
“Wait,” he calls after me as I head for my desk to gather my things. I glance behind me only to see him standing in his glass doorway. “I’d like to make you an offer before you go.”
Ha. Just as I expected.
I smirk, rolling my eyes as I keep walking. “No, thanks.”
“Mary.” There’s a deep husk in his voice, but I continue strutting away, my heels clicking on the reclaimed wood floor.
When I reach my desk, I grab my bag from the bottom drawer and toss a few personal items inside: my hand cream, lip balm, a tiny bag of emergency chocolate, and my back up water bottle. I’d toss some company pens in there too because they’re fancy as hell, but I prefer never to so much as glance at the Rutherford Architecture logo ever again. Before I forget, I slide the elevator key to his penthouse apartment off my keyring and slap it on the desktop.
“Fine.” The sudden, close proximity of Hudson’s voice jumpstarts my heart. I glance up to see him standing before me, his smooth hands splayed across my desk and his back arched. His sapphire blue eyes meet mine, refusing to let them go. “You can quit. Be my fucking guest. I’ll have you replaced by tomorrow afternoon.”
I offer a faux smile. “Glad everything’s going to work out for you.”
I fling my bag over my shoulder and stand tall, eyes grazing past his shoulder toward the elevator bay where the doors part and Hannah from accounting steps off. Our eyes meet, and she gives me what is clearly her “Oh, shit …” face.
It’s a shame I won’t be sticking around long enough to tell her everything’s fine. Everything’s abso-fucking-lutely fine.
“Goodbye, Hudson. And best of luck in finding a suitable replacement. I’m sorry I couldn’t be what you needed.” I move out from behind my desk and give him a sarcastic smirk, only I’m not prepared when he slips his hand around my wrist and guides me closer to him. “What the hell are you doing?”
I yank my hand from his, clutching it against my chest, fingers balled into a tight fist.
“One last thing before you go …” he says, his eyes softening just enough that I almost believe he’s being sincere for the first time since I’ve known him.
Trying not to laugh too loud, I shake my head. “No.”
“Hear me out,” he says.
“Why should I?”
“Because I’ll make it worth your while.”
Rolling my eyes, I suck in a deep breath, mulling over the extent of my curiosity. What could he possibly need from me, a disgruntled employee in the midst of storming out of his office?
My stomach gurgles and another wave of morning sickness evolves into an impressive hot flash. A sheen of sweat forms across my forehead. I think I’m going to be sick, and if he doesn’t get the hell out of my way, I’m about to be sick all over his immaculate Prada suit.
The wave passes, dissipating into nothing, and I pull in a clean breath of the hospital-grade air Hudson insists on piping through the office vents because it helps “keep his energy clean.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, “but there isn’t anything you could say or do at this point that would convince me to work another day next to you. I won’t be doing you any favors, Hudson. You disgust me.”
Oh, god. Here comes the word vomit, rising up my chest with unstoppable force.
“You walk around like you’re better than everyone,” I add. “You’re self-centered. And arrogant. And cold. And inconsiderate. And rude. And you’re delusional if you think you’re going to get me to stick around, so, goodbye.”
The corner of his mouth smirks, revealing a half-second flash of a dimple that sends an inconvenient and unexpected weakness to my knees. I hate how attractive this man is. And I hate how distracting his looks are.
“Calm down, Mary.” His voice is low, and when he leans in close, I find myself inhaling—and enjoying—the warm, musky scent radiating off his skin. “I know I’m a pain in the ass to work for. Well aware.”
“Then why don’t you try to change that?”
“Why should I? There’s an entire city full of girls just like you begging to work here. Why should I have to change who I am to accommodate them? Besides, there’s a whole world of assholes just like me—no, worse than me—waiting on the outside. If my employees can’t handle me, they’re sure as hell not going to be able to handle the next guy. The way I see it, I’m doing you all a favor. I’m prepping you for the real world.”
“I refuse to believe bosses like you are the norm.”
“Then you’re extremely naïve.” He huffs, his indigo-blue eyes lifting to the ceiling then back to me. “Anyway, three million dollars.”
“Three million dollars—what?” I squint at him, not sure where he’s going with this.
“If you agree to help me out, I’ll give you three million dollars. Cash. And then you’ll never have to work with this insufferable asshole ever again.”
He’s got to be joking.
“Aside from the fact that you’ve officially lost it, I’m not sticking around, not here. Not as your personal assistant. I’m better than this.”
“I’m not asking you to be my personal assistant.”
“Okay, whatever it is, I’m not interested. I have a degree in business analytics and international marketing with a minor in finance.” My arms tighten across my chest. I’m not interested in his bait money or whatever the hell kind of stunt he’s attempting to pull. “I know my worth, and I know when a job isn’t worth it.”
“So you understand that three million dollars is a pretty generous chunk of change, yes? Since you, uh, minored in finance and you know all about … worth?” He’s trying to fight a smile, like he’s not taking me seriously.
“Can you not?” I lift my hand to my right hip.
“Not what?”
“Can you not be so patronizing? It never ends with you.”
“I’ll work on it,” he says. “If you stick around.”
“No need,” I remind him. “I’m not.”
“Swallow your pride and agree to help me,” he says. “You won’t regret it.”
“No,” I say with as much conviction as I can drum up. A wave of nausea rolls over me once more, a silent reminder that it’s not about me anymore. “Whatever it is … no.”
Three weeks ago, after a sexually debilitating dry spell no twenty-five-year-old should ever have to endure, I downloaded one of those stupid dating apps that everyone knows is really only used for hooking up, and I found myself the perfect one-night stand.
I thought I was smart about it. I’m on the pill. He used a condom. All precautionary measures were taken.
He was Ivy League educated, or so he claimed, and he had one of those rich people names, Hollister. His photos were all Nantucket and sailboats and he quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald in his bio. When we met, Hollister was friendly and well-mannered, well-groomed and clean cut. With disarming honey brown eyes and thick, sandy brown hair, he was everything he had shown himself to be. And the night was satisfying enough if not a little boring. But it filled the void and accomplished the mission, and we both went on our ways.
But a few days ago, I happened to pop open my birth control pack and realized I was four sugar pills in with no sign of Aunt Flo. An hour later, I’d purchased an array of tests from the local Duane Reade, never believing in a million years I’d find myself face-to-face with a myriad of blue plus signs and happy faces.
That’s the day the bottom dropped out.
Hollister was the first person I called—it only seemed right since he was the father. But his number was conveniently no longer in service. I had no way of getting a hold of him and no way of knowing what his last name was. I even spent hours trying to find him again on the dating app, but it was as if he’d just disappeared into thin air.
So now it’s just us …
Me and this tiny little life I’m now fully responsible for—on my own.
This weekend I’ll pack up my place, rent a moving truck with whatever credit remains on my MasterCard, and hightail it back to Nebraska. I can’t afford to raise a baby in this city, at least not by myself. And now that I don’t have a job, I can’t afford the rent on my shoebox studio anyway.
“You’re a fool.” Hudson watches me sling my purse over my shoulder, and then he eyes the elevator bay in the distance. “With this money, the right investments and a little time, you could be an extremely wealthy woman. Now you’re going to spend the rest of your life working for assholes exactly like me because you were too proud to say yes to this one little favor.”
“You’re planting doubt in my head,” I say. “You’re trying to manipulate me. I see through you, Hudson. Always have. You’re nothing more than a self-serving asshole. You couldn’t shut it off if you tried.”
“You’re right. Me and every other man in this city.” His soft, strong hands slip into his pants pockets and he exhales like a man who shamelessly owns his behavior and makes no apologies. “Anyway, aren’t you curious? Don’t you want to know what I want from you?”
“Not really.” My lips bunch in one corner. “You pay me forty grand a year here, which isn’t really a livable wage in this city I might add. And you work me to the bone. I shudder to think of how much work three million dollars would entail.”
“Can you act, Mary?” he asks, ignoring my refusal.
“That’s random.”
“It’s not random at all. It’s pretty straightforward. Stop wasting my time and answer it.”
“I was in drama club in high school,” I say, smoothing my hair from my face and pulling my shoulders back like a proud drama nerd. “And for a couple years in college. I’ve done community theatre as well.”
Hudson smiles.
I’ve never seen him full-on smile like this.
“Perfect.” His blue eyes crinkle at the corner. “I have to have you, Mary. You’re hired.”
My jaw hangs. “I’m … what? I didn’t say … I don’t want … no.”
Hudson wraps his hand around my wrist, pulling me just outside the front doors of the office and out of ear-shot of the rest of the office.
“Listen,” he says, voice low. He tightens the space between us. “I’m sure you’re wondering what the fuck I’m about to propose and rightfully so. But believe me when I tell you it’s going to change your life. And mine—because I’m a self-serving bastard and we both know that. But it’ll be the easiest three million you’ll ever make in your life, and when it’s all said and done, you’ll never have to see me—or work for anyone like me—ever again. It’s win-win, Mary. And you’d be a damn fool to walk away.”
I inhale, harboring a breath before letting it go. When our eyes meet, I silently chide myself for remotely considering making a deal with this devil.
Sure, he’s impossibly handsome with his chiseled jaw, dimpled smirk, coffee-colored hair, steel blue eyes, runner’s build, designer wardrobe, and genius IQ—not that I’ve taken inventory of his assets before … but none of that is enough to overpower the ugliness that resides beneath his perfect, polished façade.
Without saying a word, I turn on my heel and press the call button on the nearest elevator.
“What are you doing?” he asks, voice rushed.
The doors part, and I step on flashing a smirk and shrugging my shoulders. “Being a damn fool.”



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

 

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