Category Archives: Excerpt

RELEASE TOUR ~ Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind by Jessie Lane & Abbie Zanders

 

Title: Close Encounters of the Sexy Kind
Author: Jessie Lane and Abbie Zanders

Genre: Sci/fi Romance
Release Date: April 17, 2018
 

 


Destiny’s not just for Earthlings…

Detective Ryan Winslet is a by-the-book kind of girl. The one and only time she allowed her personal feelings to cloud her judgement, the results were devastating. Now she’s getting a chance to make things right, but a certain sexy nightclub owner is muddying the waters.

Tiberius Maximus isn’t the first Aequorian prince to be exiled to Earth. Like his ancestors, he came, he saw, and he conquered. He’s vanquished his enemies, gained a fiercely loyal family, and runs an incredibly successful nightclub that might push a few legal human boundaries. The only thing he doesn’t have is the life mate he so desperately craves – until a salty blonde saunters into his club one night. 

When the no-nonsense detective meets the exiled prince, their chemistry is off the intergalactic charts. Tiberius is convinced she’s the one for him, but Ryan’s not taking the bait. Sure, he’s über hot and seems like a great catch, but he’s also involved in some fishy business and thinks he’s from another planet. 

Should she follow her head and throw him back?
Or follow her instincts… and her heart… and jump into the deep end?


 

 

 
 
 

 

 


Tiberius sat back and sipped his drink, content to observe. It was amusing to watch the females compete for Donny’s attention. They flirted openly, made lewd suggestions, and sometimes even managed to grope him when he got too close. None of them realized, apparently, that Donny was in a happy, committed relationship with Jay. Donny’s flirtatious behavior was nothing more than his natural, outgoing joie de vivre. The eager females would receive nothing more than a friendly smile and excellent service in exchange for their generous tips, for it was only Jay he sought out at the end of every shift.

 
Tiberius was in the process of raising the glass to his lips when a voice cut through the din and rang like a crystal bell in his head. “Thanks, but no thanks. And just so you know, I’m a cop and she’s my best friend. If you so much as hurt her feelings, I will be back here, and not for a social call, get me?”

 

The voice set his nerves and loins tingling. He scanned the crowd, searching for the source.

 

“Everyone should have such fierce friends. She is in good hands with me, I assure you.” That was from Quintus.
“She’d better be.”

Tiberius stood, his heart thundering in his chest, his mind whirring at tornadic speed. There!He spotted Quintus first, tall and dark, his head bobbing above the majority of shorter humans as he moved away. And there, where he had been, a golden-haired female swathed in blue.
As if drawn by an unseen force, he moved toward her. A fierce, possessive need washed over him. He needed to get her away from the lascivious interests of the worked-up crowd.
Never before had he had such an instant and all-consuming reaction to the mere sight of a woman, in this realm or any other. Dare he hope that his prayers had been answered?
The odds were astronomical, yet his soul cared not. Neither chance nor logic entered into the equation. If the gods had decided to bless him with a mate, then they would also ensure their paths crossed at a location and timing of their choosing. Why not here? Why not now?

He stopped only a short distance away. She was looking in the other direction.
He took a moment to rake his eyes over her. Loose waves of golden silk cascaded over curves that made his mouth water. She was smaller than he had originally thought, barely reaching his neck, even in heels.
As if sensing his presence, she turned. Big, blue-green eyes, the perfect color of an Aequorian sea, widened as her gaze rose upward. He couldn’t help feeling pleased when her skin flushed a lovely shade of pink and her lips parted slightly. With his superior senses, he could hear her heart speed up and feel the heat radiating from her body.

 

“Oh,” she said.

 

Oh, indeed.

 

They stared at each other for a long moment, until the spell was broken when an overexuberant patron plowed into her back, pushing her forward, right into Tiberius’s waiting arms.

 

Energy coursed through his body, firing every nerve and lighting him up from the inside out.
 
“I’m so sorry,” she said, righting herself.

 

He wasn’t. It took every ounce of discipline he possessed not to pull her right back into his embrace.
When another surge of the crowd threatened, he placed his hand on her lower back and firmly but gently guided her out of harm’s way. “May I purchase a beverage for you?”
She blinked then shook her head slightly as if to clear it. “Thank you, but no. I was just leaving.”

 

Leaving? No, he couldn’t allow that. Not until he knew more about her and this inexplicable pull she seemed to have on him.

 

“Unacceptable.”

 

“Why unacceptable?”

 

“Because I have only just found you.”
“Does that line usually work?”

 

“I do not know. You are the first woman to whom I have spoken those words.”

 

Her eyes softened, then she cleared her throat. “Oh, you’re good.”
He grinned. “Does that mean it is working?”
She laughed, the sound filling his chest with light. “Kind of, yeah. But I really was just leaving. This”—she waved her hand around her—“isn’t really for me.”
“Then perhaps you will allow me to suggest a quieter venue, one where we may talk and get to know each other. There is a small eatery just down the street. I have been told it is quite good.”

 

She considered him for a moment then nodded. “Yeah, okay. Why not?”
Copyright © 2017-2018 Abbie Zanders & Jessie Lane.

 

All rights reserved.

 

 







 

 

 




Jessie Lane is a best-selling author of Paranormal and Contemporary Romance, as well as, Upper YA Paranormal Romance/Fantasy.

She lives in Kentucky with her two little Rock Chicks in-the-making and her over protective alpha husband that she’s pretty sure is a latent grizzly bear shifter. She has a passionate love for reading and writing naughty romance, cliff hanging suspense, and out-of-this-world characters that demand your attention, or threaten to slap you around until you do pay attention to them.

She’s also a proud member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA).


 
 
 





Abbie Zanders is a sucker for romance and promises her readers two things: happily ever afters, always, and no cliffhangers, ever. Alpha males and strong heroines are a given.

 

Abbie was born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania, USA. With degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics, she worked for more than twenty-five years as a software engineer, designing and writing financial applications, though she has also held second jobs as a deli clerk, pub waitress, restaurant baker, and secretary. She has been crafting stories since elementary school. She is a very busy wife and mother of three (including a set of identical twins). Besides being an avid reader and writer, she also loves animals (especially big dogs), classic muscle cars, and 80’s hair bands.
 
 
 

 

HOSTED BY:

RELEASE BLITZ ~ Fighting for Phoenix by Lynne Leslie

 
Title: Fighting for Phoenix
Author: Lynne Leslie

Genre: Second Chance Romantic Suspense
Cover Designer: Wicked Dream Designs
Publication Date: April 18th, 2018
 
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
 
Blurb:

Phoenix Miles was my future…
 
Until he left me shattered just like our engagement photo. I’m a survivor though. I have to be because it’s not just my life anymore. When he walks into my bar, I smell more than beer brewing and knew letting him in would be a mistake. I won’t let him break me again.
 
I will win this fight.
 
Jayden Carter was my world…
 
Until she tossed me away just like her engagement ring. I’m a survivor though. I have to be because revenge is all I have left. My path was set, then I walked into her bar. Now, I’m fighting for love and family.
 
As the saying goes, all’s fair in love and war.
 
Neither of us count on outside forces trying to tear us apart. Their endgame? Destruction. Our endgame? Love.
 
 
Buy Link: 

Amazon: 


 
Lynne is a momma bear to two beautiful little girls and one amazing stepson. When she’s not writing, she’s an avid reader. If you don’t catch her with her nose in a book or her fingers scribbling in a notebook, she’s usually right in front of the television with her  family. She lives in the quiet country, somewhere on the Panhandle of Florida. She loves music, dancing and beer. Preferably the beer first so she can at least pretend to know how to twerk when the music comes on. She loves anything that glitters and has a weird habit of collecting pens. Even though she’s in Florida, she hates the ocean and doesn’t eat seafood. I know. I know. She’s a strange human being.
 
Author Links:
Pinterest
Website
 
 

 

I relax back in the tub and close my eyes. If the man wants to take care of me then who am I to stop him. My mind is running ninety miles an hour trying to process everything that he told me anyhow. Four years I’ve thought he cheated on me with her and at most times I’ve hated him for it. After hearing the truth, I don’t know what to feel anymore. I can’t say I’m surprised about Eric and the guys having something to do with it. They never liked me. I honestly never thought they would take it as far as they did though. Never thought they really hated me that much. I don’t know why either. I never kept Phoenix from his friends. That’s not something I would have done. I also wasn’t looking to replace them in his eyes, so I could never figure it out. When they were over, and the tension became too much I would just make excuses and go home. I never let on to Phoenix how bad it was and as far as I know, to this day he still has no clue. Oh, he knows they don’t like me because of all this but I mean he has no clue to how bad it was. As far as her, nothing surprises me. I’ve never been able to understand her or any decisions she made.
Shutting the water off with my foot, I notice how quiet it is in the bedroom.
“Nix?” I call out softly. “Everything okay?”
I hear him gruffly clear his throat before he calls back. “Yeah, kitten. Just a sec.”
I let out a sigh. I’ll never tell him just how much I’ve missed that endearment of his. It’s been a lonely four years without him and whenever I think about all the shit they put us through my heart squeezes in my chest. My baby boy has gone four years without knowing his daddy because of them and the more I think about the more pissed off it makes me. That’s not how it should have been. But it’s something I must let go of if we’re going to try to make this work between us. If we’re going to try and be a family. And the more I think of it the more I realize this is exactly what I want. I want my little family. I’m running my hands through the bubbles, lost in thought when Phoenix walks back into the bathroom empty handed. I don’t know if I can even describe the look on his face, but his eyes are burning with flames and I feel the heat from them scorch me as his eyes roam my body. I don’t know what happened from the time he was in there to the time he walked in to here but it’s an interesting turn of events. His eyes are telling me that I’m desert and he’s fixing to devour me. Not that you’ll hear me complain at all.
           “Lean back.” He demands squatting down by the tub.
I do as he says and watch him through drooped eyelids. My body is burning from the inside out and I want him to ease it. He grabs the loofa and squeezes some soap on it all the while watching me with those burning eyes. Starting with my leg, he tenderly washes from the bottom of my feet to the top of my thigh, teasing the apex of them before moving to the other leg. He unhurriedly slides it up my stomach, running slow circles around and up until he reaches my breasts. I suck in a breath and hold it, waiting with anticipation. Slowly, he grabs one breast with his hand as he uses the other hand to wash it. He teases my nipple with his thumb and forefinger before moving to my other breast and repeating the process. By now my breathing is erratic, my body feels like it’s going to combust into flames and I’m so dizzy from wanting him to ease the ache he’s built inside of me, that I can’t take much more. He’s started an erotic game of foreplay that I seriously hope he plans on finishing. He must feel the same way because before I know it, my arms, back and hair are all washed and rinsed in record time, taking care of the stitches on my eye and scratches on my arms and legs, and he’s got me standing with a towel wrapped around me.
Still without speaking, he grabs my hand and slowly walks me into the bedroom, stopping me at the end of the bed. He unwraps me from the towel bit by bit, like he’s savoring every little piece of me he opens. Turning me around so I’m facing the bed, he dries my back. My body starts to quiver as I feel his lips press against the back of my neck. Sliding my hair out of the way, his lips trail a path from my neck, down my back as his arms wrap around me from behind and cup my breasts. My head falls forward and it’s taking all the energy I have to hold myself up. Instead of trying, I lean further over and brace my hands on the bed. Tweaking my nipples enough that it leaves a hint of pain behind, his hands drift down to my throbbing pussy. I feel my juices already dripping down my leg, I’m so turned on. He slides his fingers through my slit and gathers my cream to lube his fingers. Returning to my clit, he starts running in a circular motion as he lays his forehead against my back. His breathing is harsh and each puff of air that slithers across my back, amps me up more. Moving his fingers away, he places a feather light kiss to the middle of my back, picks me up and places me in the middle of the bed. I watch through lust hazed eyes as he quickly removes his shirt, jeans and briefs. No boxers for my man. Never once does he take his eyes from me. I roam my eyes down his heavily tatted body. One day I’ll explore all the delicious flesh he has exposed to me, including that tattoo wrapping towards his cock. Lifting the fingers of my right hand, I slide two of them into my mouth and glide them down my stomach. His eyes flash hotter as they reach my pussy and slide in. I let out a moan and close my eyes. Fuck, that feels good. Pumping my fingers in and out, I work my clit with my thumb. My hips are lifting in time with my rhythm. I feel him settle in between my thighs and his warm breath hits my clit, adding to the sensation I’m already creating. Knowing he’s watching me and enjoying every minute of it, amps me up even more. I open my eyes and look down my body at him. He’s got his hand wrapped around his cock and is stroking it slowly as his eyes devour everything that I’m doing. I feel the heat licking up and down my body as my orgasm draws near. He knows because he strikes as fast as a snake and yanks my hand away. I let out a whimper and writhe my body on my satin sheets.
“That’s mine, kitten.”
Motherfucker. Even in our sweet moments he’s got to pull his dominating shit. I should have remembered who I have between my legs.
“Then do something.” I growl at him.
“I’ve got you, baby. But we still have to be easy. You’ve been hurt.”
“Dammit, Nix. I’m not made of fucking glass. Just fuck me already.”
He crawls up my body and settles in between my legs. Finally. Grabbing his cock, he twirls it in circles on my clit, teasing me. He leans down and presses kisses to each eyelid, my nose and finally my lips.
“My kitten is hungry, huh.” He whispers lovingly. “I’m sorry baby, but I ain’t nowhere near finished with you. And when I’m finally done playing only then will I sink into that fucking pussy of yours that’s weeping my name and give my kitten what she wants.”
Oh god. He’s going to be the death of me. He feathers kisses down my body stopping to nibble on my nipples. Sucking one and then the other into his mouth, twirling his tongue around each pebbled nub and biting down. A thrill runs through me as he nibbles his way down to the heat of me. I spread my legs wide as he makes his way further south. I give a little shiver as his warm breath feathers against my clit. Placing soft kisses to the inside of my thigh, my breathing speeds up as he gets closer my core. Grabbing my thighs, he holds them apart, opens me up to him and gives me one leisure lick from my ass to my pussy. He taps my thigh to let me know I need to hold it in place as he uses his fingers to hold my pussy lips open. Running his tongue around my lips, he gently teases me with the tip of his tongue. He repeats this motion until I can no longer stand him having no contact with my clit. Slamming my hands to his head, I guide him where I want him. Letting out a wicked chuckle he places his mouth over my clit and starts flicking it slowly. I can’t stop the moan that works its way from my throat. His side to side motions send electricity rocketing through my body.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” I chant as my body goes rigid.
Knowing I’m now close he starts sucking on my clit adding a few nips with his teeth. I feel my body flush as he moans when my pussy starts to leak, causing a vibration that sends me soaring with my release. My body twitches as he feathers his tongue on my overly sensitive clit, making sure he doesn’t miss a drop. Placing a kiss to the top of my pubic bone he sits up, leans back on his knees and gazes at me with a smirk on his face. His eyes are filled with pride and he’s got his lower lip between his teeth.
“How are you feeling? Are you in any pain?”
I let out a dreamy sigh. “Oh no. I’m absolutely perfect. I forgot how well you eat pussy.”
Letting out a gravelly laugh, he climbs his way up my body. Planting soft kisses to my lips, he runs his tongue across them until I open and tangle my tongue with his. His tongue caresses mine with a single-minded focus. Tasting the tangy sweetness of my climax, I wrap my legs around his waist, moan into his mouth and rock my pussy against the cock resting against it.
He pulls back with a shudder and a gasp, unwrapping my legs and separating us. “Kitten, keep grounding that sweet pussy against me and I’m gonna take it. I’m trying to be a gentleman and do the right thing here, no matter what I said. But I’m a man, baby.”
His voice is raw with desire as his hand locks around his wide girth and starts a rough slide, hitting my clit with each upward stroke. Anchoring my legs around his waist once again, I dig my heels into his ass, yank him to me at the same time I raise up and bite his lip.
“I said I wasn’t made of fucking glass.”
I capture his lips with mine and ravish them with a savagery I didn’t know I possessed. He’s my oasis in a dry desert and I can’t get enough to quench my thirst. I feel his large rough hands grab my legs and pin them open right before he plunges into me. We both let out a hoarse cry at the feeling of once again being joined together. His ass flexes under my heels each time he pounds in to me. My head is thrown back in ecstasy, tits bouncing, fingers clenching and unclenching in the sheets. He switches his unrelenting pace to slow, scorching thrusts as he leans down and imprisons me between his arms. I take note of how careful he’s trying to be not to put too much pressure on me, no matter how rough we get. One hand tangles in my long hair, gently pulling my head back as his lips once again settle over mine, his mouth ravenous yet meaningful. Our bodies slick with sweat, our mouths letting 0ut guttural growls and broken cries, we immerse ourselves in each other, the only sounds in the otherwise quiet room. My breath hitches at the naked emotion I see in his eyes and I feel a tear leak from mine. One hand leaves my hair as he captures it with his thumb. I feel exposed, but I can’t stop the words from escaping my lips.
“I’ve missed you.”
It’s like my words awoke a beast within because the next thing I know, my legs are thrown over his arms, pussy spread wide open and I’m being rammed with savage strokes. His cock pummels my pussy as I succumb to his wild, feral fucking. He’s magnificent in all his glory. The tattoos on his neck stick out as he strains it back and lets out a rough groan.
“So fucking good.” He murmurs, his hips slamming against mine with no intention of stopping.
My back arches, hips lifting to meet his as pleasure courses through my body. Goosebumps break out and I flush, body coiling tight as my release approaches. Phoenix, knowing my body as well as I do, pinches my clit between his fingers and tugs.
“Come, now.”
I let out a husky scream as I shatter and fly apart. It’s not long before Phoenix follows, his body convulsing, cock twitching with his release as his strained roar echoes around the room. Still keeping his weight from my chest, he buries his face into my neck trying to recover. He holds his lips there for a short time before pulling back and cupping my face in his tattooed hands.
“I’ve missed you too, kitten. So damn much.”
His kisses my forehead, then my lips before giving a slow erotic glide from my body causing both of us to let out greedy moans. Rolling to the side, he falls to his back and throws his arm over his eyes. His chest is still rising and falling rapidly as he catches his breath. Hell, so is mine. We’ve not come together like that since the night he asked me to marry him.
“Not that I’m complaining but where the hell did that come from?”
Removing his arm, his head swivels in my direction. His eyes are full of something. Torment? But I’m not understanding why.




 


 

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Knave by Jane Henry & Maisy Archer

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 


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

 


 

 





Jane Henry

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

 

 

Maisy Archer

 

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

 

 

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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ His To Claim by Shelly Bell

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Fate brought them together. Family could tear them apart.

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

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

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

 


 

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


 


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

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

 

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RELEASE DAY BLITZ ~ Knock on Wood by Jenika Snow

 

A new virgin-hero novella from USA TODAY bestselling author Jenika Sno


The Ash Brothers—they know how to handle their wood
They call me Big Johnny, and they’re not wrong. I’m big all over, and burly, too. But when it comes to her, I’m a freaking pussycat.

Flora.

There’s never been a time when she wasn’t on my mind, not even when she left Rockbridge for college. Those four years were the hardest of my life. Literally.

Saving myself for her has never been the problem. It’s telling her how I feel.

She’s back now and it’s painfully obvious to even a lumberjack like me: Flora’s not a teenager anymore.
She’s a woman who knows what she wants.

That’s me…and the wood I’m packing


They called me Big Johnny because of my size. At six foot seven I was a beast compared to most men—even my brothers, who were well over six feet themselves. But there was one woman who made me feel even bigger than that.

Flora.

I stared off as the car pulled away from the lumberyard. Flora was in there, and yet I didn’t have the balls to go and speak with her. She was too young for me, too innocent. At only eighteen she had the entire world at her fingertips, her future so damn bright I wasn’t about to muck it up because I had feelings for her. I was twenty-five, seven years older, far too old to want anything romantic with her.

She’d bloomed into a woman. Before this summer I hadn’t paid much attention to her. She was just the daughter of family friends, not someone I’d even thought about. But shit, this past summer when we’d had that big cookout and she had come over with her folks, she was all woman. But I still wasn’t going to touch on that, wasn’t going to go after her. That would have been crossing a whole lot of fucking lines.

I wiped the sweat from my face with a rag I’d gotten out of the front of my truck. I stared off as the car disappeared down the road. I felt someone watching me and glanced at Noah. The look he gave me told me maybe he had a suspicion about what I felt for Flora, or maybe I was reading too much into it. Maybe I was feeling guilt over it all. And I kind of did feel guilty. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way, but the emotions were right there at the surface, wrapping their hands around my neck and refusing to let go.

Shit, it was good she was going off to college. She’d meet a nice guy her own age. But the very thought of that pissed me off. I felt rage boil up in me at the very thought of her with another guy, of some asshole touching her, holding her. I wanted to be the one to do that, to make sure she was safe.

Fuck, get a grip.

I finished wiping the sweat off and got back to work. No, her leaving was a good thing, even if it fucking sucked. And if she did meet some guy, had a nice life with him, well, she deserved that and I’d deal with it. I had no choice.


 Jenika Snow, a USA Today bestselling author, lives in the northeast with her husband and their two daughters. She prefers gloomy days, eats the topping off of her pizza first, and prefers to wear socks year round.

 

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BLOG TOUR ~ ELUSIVE (Full Circle Series #Two ~ Book One, Princess Presley Duet) by SE Hall

 


 
TITLE: Elusive

Full Circle Series Book Two
(Book One of the Princess Presley Duet)
AUTHOR: S.E. Hall
 
GENRE:New Adult Romance
 
 

Met her.
Got familiar.
Liked it.
A lot. 

Wouldn’t mind some more. 

Same ol’ story— they meet, roll around in the sheets, and get their happily ever after… or don’t — right? So what makes ours any different? 

Simple. This story involves one Presley Alexandra Beckett. 

The woman who takes any and every damn thing I thought I knew and flips, twists, distorts, denies and defies it until I lose track of up from down. 

Just when I start to think I’ve got her figured out… I uncover the real reason why Presley spends her life hiding behind a wall of sassy, stubborn deflection. 

And now? 

Now I fix it. 

Free her. 

Make her mine. 

Whether she likes it or not.
 



 
 
 





He reaches past Bellamy to open the glove box, and sure enough, pulls out three bottles of pepper spray. I thought he was kidding; he’s never gone to these extremes before, when we’ve went… anywhere. “Excuse me, Sergeant Shithead?” I tap his shoulder. “What’s with the extra precautionary measures tonight?”

“Like I said earlier, Private PainInMyAss, there’s three of you, one of me, and hundreds of them. Also as mentioned before, this is Bellamy and Brynn’s first frat party, so unlike any other type of party… that’s a factor I considered while prepping.”

“Speaking of things mentioned earlier, I believe you’re making the point I tried to for me. You know, that this is a really bad idea. The fact you feel it necessary to equip us with a multi-step, tactical plan, and weaponry, like we’re being deployed to Desert Storm, might be a sign that I’m right?” Surely, they’ll all see reason and finally agree with me. I’m always up for a party, good time… if it’s safe. This is not. I knew it before we got here, and now that we are on scene, my gut’s screaming in warning. I didn’t correct JT before, but this is my first frat party too… for reasons I’ll never list.

“Desert Storm ended well over two decades ago,” Brynny says. “Over before anyone in this car was even born.”

JT and Bellamy laugh, but I don’t think she’s funny — and scowl at her accordingly. “Brynny, as fascinated as I usually am by your amazing brain-bank of random factoids, I’m feeling sort of off tonight, so could ya maybe not? You know the point I was trying to make, so feel free to miss me with the pointless history lesson.”

“Sorry.” She pats my shoulder. “J, you’ve got Presley all wigged out. Now’d be a great time to tell her about the surprise.”





TO BE ADDED


  

 
 

S.E. Hall is the New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of the Evolve Series, standalone contemporary romances Pretty Instinct, Pretty Remedy and Unstable, and her standalone spinoff from the Evolve Series—Embody.

S.E., which stands for Stephanie Elaine, resides in Arkansas with her husband of 21 years and three amazing daughters of the home. She is also blessed with an older, married daughter, and son-in-law, who graced her with three beautiful grandchildren. And last, but far from least, is Roscoe—her precious lil’ lamb of a dog and best friend in the entire world… who can always be found right by her side.

When not watching her baby girl rule the mound of fast pitch softball or one of her songbird’s choir concerts, S.E. Hall can be found… in her garage. Oh, and she also enjoys reading, writing, gabbing on the phone and online shopping… in her garage.

Her other works include Stirred Up, Handled, Packaged, Matched, Filthy Foreign Exchange, Filthy Foreign Exchange 2 and One Naughty Night (co-written with Angela Graham), Conspire (co-written with Erin Noelle), Quarterback Sack (co-written with Hilary Storm) and Accidentally on Purpose (co-written with Ashley Suzanne).

You can stay connected with S.E. Hall in several ways:

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Start the Full Circle Series from the beginning with Embody

 

BLOG TOUR ~ This Time Around (A Love in the Heartland Novel) by Stacey Lynn

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This Time Around 
A Love in the Heartland Novel
by Stacey Lynn

Release Date: April 10th, 2018
Genre: Contemporary Romance

 

ThisTimeAround-StaceyLynn-Amazon_1

Cooper Hawke was everything I didn’t need. Rich and famous, and a high-profile actor, he lived a life of luxury while my life had always been much more simple.

Yet when he showed up at my cattle ranch in Kansas, he gave me everything I didn’t think I wanted again.

His marriage was over and he was lost.

I was still barely surviving in my grief after my husband’s sudden death.

As hard as I tried to keep him out, he slipped past my defenses, and slowly, a connection grew between us I could no longer deny.

But this time around, we were on borrowed time. Because Cooper still had his real life waiting for him back in Hollywood.


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Excerpt:

“What are you doing here?” I wrapped the robe around my waist, tightened the knot.

Goddamn it! He wasn’t supposed to see this.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

That was what he asked. The urge to scream at him, to unleash holy terror for putting the idea into my head and making me feel, clawed at my throat. “No. Why are you in my room?”

“Because I couldn’t sleep on the couch thinking of you and then I started hearing all this racket like the ceiling was going to cave in on my head and thought I should come check on you.”

My brain must have malfunctioned. I must have skipped some words, rearranged them in the wrong order. He didn’t say what it sounded like.

“What?”

He pinned me with a look. It stole the breath from my lungs. “You heard me.”

Shit.

“Yeah, shit.”

I slammed my mouth closed. If words were slipping out, when I didn’t mean them to, it was best to be quiet.

“Come out of the closet, Rebecca.”

He held out his hand. I ignored it.

I couldn’t breathe or move or focus.

He was standing outside my closet, and he was naked.

Not naked, naked. Mostly naked. He’d taken off the pants and shirt I’d given him and all he had on was a pair of black boxer briefs.

Skin-tight boxer briefs.

That showed every outline of him. And there was a lot of him to see.

My eyes darted to the side of the closet I’d swiped clean. Tomorrow, I’d bleach my eyes to erase that visual.

“Rebecca.”

“I’m fine here.”

He laughed low and slow, beautiful and over too quickly. I was not moving.

“You don’t come out, I’m coming in there to get you.”

No way in hell was he touching me. Not dressed like that.

I stepped over the bucket of shoes at my feet and stepped into the room. He moved back, giving me space and crossed his arms over his chest.

It hid nothing. I couldn’t find a place to focus on.

I was losing my mind. It had to be sleep deprivation. I looked to my bed and ruffled covers which made me think of…

Nope. Not going there. I stared at the wall. It was cream and void of any decorations or photos. It was safe.

Finally, I breathed. He stood there, watching me, I felt it like I felt my skin crawling from his inspection.

“Want to talk about this?” he asked.

Nope. I didn’t. I didn’t want to say a single word to Cooper Hawke. The man in underwear in my bedroom.

I crossed my arms over my stomach. Uncrossed them. “No.” My hands went to my hair and I untangled my hair tie, shoving my hands back into my hair and re-fixing the messy knot. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I might be able to help, you know. It’s not like I haven’t stood in a closet, wanting to do the exact same thing you’ve just done.”

“You can’t help me.”

He stepped closer. I shuffled back. He moved again. I retreated. He was getting closer when he needed to move back.

“Cooper,” I said, “Please. I need to be alone.”

“I thought we were friends.”

“What?” My gaze jumped to him, fell. Tight, tanned skin and black boxer briefs. A trail of hair from his bellybutton that disappeared beneath those briefs burned into my retinas. I squeezed my eyes closed. A futile attempt to erase that pretty, pretty sight.

“I thought we were friends,” he repeated.

I forced my eyes open and choked out, “We are.”

His full lips quirked into a grin. I knew that look. He had it downstairs. I did not like that look. Not one little bit. “Friends help each other, don’t they?”

“Friends respect what the other person wants and needs.”

I scooted away from him again and bumped into the wall next to my closet.

He took one more step toward me. Slowly. Like he’d done downstairs, allowing me time to move away, allowing me time to see his intention. My head screamed to move out of the way while my body shouted stay right where you are.

My body sucked.

He was in front of me, not touching me. Far enough away where he was in no danger of touching me.

I still wanted him to touch me.

His hand raised and he settled it on the wall above my shoulder. And I could smell him.

“Cooper. Why are you here?”

He didn’t even blink. “Because I want to help you.”

“You can’t.”

“I can try.”


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About the Author

Stacey Lynn currently lives in Minnesota with her husband and four children. When she’s not conquering mountains of laundry and fighting a war against dust bunnies and cracker crumbs, you can find her playing with her children, curled up on the couch with a good book, or on the boat with her family enjoying Minnesota’s beautiful, yet too short, summer.

She lives off her daily pot of coffee, can only write with a bowlful of Skittles nearby, and has been in love with romance novels since before she could drive herself to the library.

If you would like to know more about Stacey Lynn, follow her here:

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RELEASE DAY BLITZ ~ Creeks Bend by Alora Kate

 

Creeks Bend Release Day Blitz!

Title: Creeks Bend
Author: Alora Kate

Release Date: April 13th
Genre: Standalone Mystery Thriller
 

 

Creeks Bend is LIVE and available for purchase at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Nook
 


Synopsis:

 This was his chance.
His time.
There was no one in his way from showing the world what he could do.
He would show them what he was capable of.
His talents.
His creativity.
His passion.
Five Dead Bodies.
Four Possible Suspects.
Three Special Women.
Two Lovers.
One Killer…. Him

Creeks Bend is for readers aged 18 and over



 


 



Excerpt:

Chapter 1 – Deklan

 
“Even in death, she’s beautiful,” the coroner of Crook County said, admiring the body on the slab while I did my best to keep my shit. Never, and I mean never in my career had I seen something, someone so tragic.
Christ.
It was bad.
I pushed my mask tighter against my face, the one the coroner gave me after dropping some oil on it—apparently, to mask the smell, which didn’t work. Even though I was pushing it into my skin, I could still smell her. I had a job to do though, so I did my best not to breathe too deeply, or at all.
Creeks Bend was in Crook County and was about a hundred miles from where I lived in Morris Hill. It was tucked away, nestled up in the Appalachian Mountain Range in Tennessee. Though Crook County had a few deputies, they were missing a detective so when the call came into the station, my commanding officer, Dan, decided I needed a break from my life and I jumped at the chance to get out of town.
“Don’t you think?” the coroner asked, glancing at me.
“What?”
“I said, ‘Even in death, she’s beautiful.’ Don’t you think so, Detective?”
I wondered what he was breathing through his mask as he looked down at the victim’s body again. Her face—what was left of it—was rotten. Her jaw and mouth were gone, one eye was missing, and all the hair on her head looked like it was plucked out, one strand at a time, leaving not even a hint of stubble on her bald scalp. She had multiple puncture wounds, small and circular and it was unclear if something had eaten part of her face or if had melted away.
She was beautiful, not today but prior to her death, I thought, yes. Yes, she was probably beautiful.
“Sure,” I answered, continuing to inspect her mutilated body. I noticed all her fingertips were missing, along with her toes and the left side of her stomach. They weren’t missing because they were cut off; no, they looked just like her face—like melted plastic.
The coroner leaned closer to the victim, his hand hovering above her arm as he closed his eyes. I heard him take a sharp inhale, the coroner’s nose a breath away from the curve of the woman’s neck. “She was,” the young man said and I shook my head.
“Can we get on with it?”

Author Bio:


“I hear voices in my head and I love that its totally okay.” – Alora Kate

Alora Kate is a multi-genre author who likes to be bold and original; stepping outside of the box and bringing her
readers fresh characters from all parts of life. She’s a mother, college student, photographer, and graphic designer.
She resides in northern MN with her son, where she plans to stay for a long time despite the cold winters.

 

Brought to you by….


SPOTLIGHT TOUR ~ Fearless in Texas (Texas Rodeo #4) by Kari Lynn Dell

 
Title: Fearless in Texas

Series: Texas Rodeo #4

Author: Kari Lynn Dell


Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 9781492658115

 

He’d step in front of a bull to save a life

But even he’s no match for a girl this Texas tough

Rodeo bullfighter Wyatt Darrington’s got it all figured out. The perfect car, the perfect job, the perfect looks—the perfect lie. He may be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, but he knows he’ll always be an outsider to people like Melanie Brookman. Texas-born and bred, with the arena in her blood, Melanie’s come to see Wyatt as her personal enemy, and that suits him just fine—this way, she’ll never realize the truth.

He’s been crazy in love with her for years.

Melanie’s always been a fighter. Fiercely independent and tough as nails, she’s stood up to everything that got in her way—including Wyatt. But now her infamous temper’s got her on the ropes, and there’s nowhere left to run but toward the man she swore she’d never trust…and this time, there’s no denying just how hot he makes her burn.

Buy Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indiebound | iTunes | Chapters




GIVEAWAY

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What I Love about Rodeo

There are so many things I love about rodeo that I could—and have—filled several books (aka the Texas Rodeo series). A million tiny details like the scent of wood shavings in a horse stall, the indescribable joy of a perfectly thrown loop, or the way a belt and buckle sets off a nice pair of hips. Lately, though, I’ve come to appreciate a facet of rodeo and life on the ranch that I’ve always taken for granted: rodeo makes women stronger.

Unlike other parts of our society, in rodeo and ranching, strength is a highly prized trait in a woman—both physical and mental. From the time we are old enough to be hoisted onto a pony to trot around the arena, we are praised for being ambitious, competitive, aggressive and independent. We are valued as much for what our bodies can accomplish as we are for our appearance. I might’ve started out by catching my husband’s eye, but I captured his heart the first time he saw me sort cows.

The smart, capable, take-no-crap women of the Texas Rodeo books are products of my environment, and none more so than Melanie Brookman of Fearless in Texas. May every reader who ventures into our world steal a page from her book and leave with a little more cowgirl in their blood—and their attitude.




EXCERPT

Wyatt braced a hand on the front door of the Bull Dancer Saloon, blocking Melanie. “You can’t go back in there.”

She looked at his arm as if debating whether she should bite it or snap it in half. “You think you can stop me?”

“Yes.” He jerked a thumb toward the door and quoted the flyspecked sign posted inside. “I am the proprietor, and we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

Hell. That wasn’t what he’d meant to say, but the sparks that were flying off of her were burying themselves under his skin, kindling fires that threatened to reduce all of his good intentions to ashes. Her mouth dropped open, and he braced himself for some truly spectacular swearing. Instead, she snapped it shut, whirled around, and strode away, her shiny red heels clicking angrily on the empty street.

“Melanie…wait! Could we just talk—”

Her answer was a stiff middle finger shot straight in the air. He took a couple of steps in pursuit, but his ankle made it clear that anything above a sedate stroll was a bad idea, not that he was sure what he’d do if he caught her. Attempting to stop her when she was like this would be like tackling a mountain lion, but if she intended to go to one of the other bars, she was headed the wrong direction.

“Where are you going?”

“To the bridge. It’ll have to do, since I assume you’ll follow me and there’s not a cliff handy.”

He’d already taken several more steps, but he stopped. “The rail is too high.”

“Then I’ll knock you over the head with a rock and roll you off the dike.”

She wouldn’t. Would she? “If you’re going to commit assault and attempted murder, you’ll need your keys to make your getaway.”

She stopped dead and spun around. He held up the keys in one hand and the purse in the other.

She swore and started back toward him. “Don’t think I won’t kick you square in the nuts and stomp on your fingers when you fall.”

“Not a doubt in my mind.” He unlocked the door that led up to her apartment, yanked it open, and threw both the keys and the purse to the top of the stairs before she could reach him. Then he stepped back, feet braced, ready to dodge or deflect any blow aimed at his groin. If Melanie had said it, she was seriously considering it.

She went for the door instead, but paused with her hand on the knob. “If I go in after them, you won’t let me out.”

“Nope.” Although it would take all his strength to hold the door shut if she was determined to push it open, and there was the fire escape…

Her hand dropped, and she turned on him. If it were possible for a stare to be literally cutting, his guts would’ve fallen out onto the street. “What…the hell…is your problem?”

“You.” He gestured toward her painted face, her dress, those damn red shoes. “I know what all of that means, but you’re wrong. And if you would just let me explain—”

“Yes!” She threw her hands in the air like a Baptist preacher. “Please, oh wise and knowing male, tell me how I’m supposed to feel. Better yet, explain why it is that you could leave this place with any of those women you’ve never met before and you get high fives, but if I do the same, I’m an embarrassment to your shitty little bar.”

Despite his vow to remain calm, his temper began to stir. “I did not say—”

“You don’t have to. I grew up in the goddamn Bible Belt. I’ve heard it all my life.” The bitterness in her voice ran generations deep. “Well, sorry, but not sorry. I’m done trying to please anyone but myself. I’ll sleep with who I want, when I want, and y’all can just deal with it.”

Not likely. Wyatt’s anger boiled up, shooting past the red line and straight into fury. Yes, her rage was justified, but she did not get to lump him in with bastards like Michael and her former boss. All he’d ever wanted, from damn near the first moment they’d spoken on the phone, was Melanie, but it was as if the entire universe had conspired against him, and he was so damn tired of fighting this bone-deep need…

He took a step toward her. Then another. She didn’t budge, but her eyes flicked toward the apartment door as if reconsidering her choices.

He leaned in close, his breath fanning her cheek, his voice low and lethal even to his own ears. “Is that what you want? Just someone with a pulse you can use up and toss out when you’re done?”

He heard her swallow, but she didn’t flinch. “Why shouldn’t I? Men have been doing it forever.”

“Yes, we have.”

He gathered a fistful of her hair and wound the warm silk around and around his hand until his knuckles were pressed to the nape of her neck. Her breath caught at the electric press of skin against skin, and her eyes went even darker. The line he’d held for so long had been crossed. He was beyond stopping—unless she made him.

“As long as you’re determined to do something you’ll hate yourself for in the morning, it might as well be with me.” And then he kissed her.

And instead of shoving him away, Melanie clenched both hands in his shirt and yanked him closer.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR 10904548_329608287246855_122230511325396069_o

KARI LYNN DELL brings a lifetime of personal experience to writing western romance. She is a third-generation rancher and rodeo competitor who works on the family ranch in northern Montana, inside the Blackfeet Nation.
She exists in a perpetual state of horse-induced poverty along with her husband, Max and Spike the (female) Cowdogs, a few hundred cows and a son who resides on the same general segment of the autism spectrum as Cole Jacobs and doesn’t believe names should be gender-limited.

LINKS:

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PROMO TOUR ~ Derailed (The Dominion Falls Series #2) by Sarah Cass

 
Derailed
The Dominion Falls Series Book 2
by Sarah Cass

Newly Revised Edition
Promotional Tour
 
 
 
 
BLURB
 
The crimes of her forgotten past threaten the very life Jane Doe has learned to cherish.

Jane is out of time. With a warrant on her head, a maniac out for her blood, and a secret baby on the way, something has to give.

Without Cole Mitchell’s help to find the answers, there may be no hope left.


Cole has nowhere left to hide. He unwittingly let Jane into his heart, and is ready to share the secret of his dark past.

Fate has a way of playing its hand, and tragedy strikes. With the world crumbling around them, it’s easy to lose faith. If they can’t forgive past sins, they have no hope for the future.

Because the noose waits for no man or woman.


 
BUY LINK
 



EXCERPT ONE
 
She had no plans to stop, her mind already back on the magazines and papers she’d found in the trunk and the mysteries they contained. The past week had been filled with enthusiastic reunions with Cole; enjoying every moment with him she could while she could. Her fears of what he’d do once he learned of her condition left her grasping at every moment together, and left little time for solving riddles. 
While she’d thoroughly enjoyed every moment in Cole’s arms, the pressing need to learn the truth took precedence. Soon enough she’d be unable to deny to him what was happening, the child inside would be obvious. In her heart she knew Cole wasn’t ready for another child, and likely never would be. He wasn’t even ready for a real relationship.
As much as she treasured his support and caring in the past weeks, she would need to start pushing him away. She had no other choice. If she gave him freedom now he couldn’t accuse her of trying to trap him.
A sharp whistle pulled her from her thoughts. She slowed Tempest to locate the source. Before she could focus on what was happening, Cole had leapt into the saddle behind her. She gasped, yelping when he grabbed the reins and spurred the horse into a much faster clip than she was comfortable with. “Cole!”
He didn’t say a word, just raced down the road toward her house.
“Cole. What are you doing?”
A tug on the reins pulled them to a stop in front of her house and he swung out of the saddle. The moment Jane shifted to get herself down, Cole reached for her.
She tried to protest the impulsive move. “I’m not—”
His lips captured hers, sealing her protest with searing heat she felt to her core. Without clear thought, her body responded to his insistence eagerly. He tugged her body tight against his and backed toward the door.
She gasped for air when he released her from the brutal, claiming kiss. Her protest morphed into a sharp yelp when he scooped her up and carried her toward the bedroom. She tried to push against him, and when he laid her out on the bed she hit him hard in the chest. “What in the hell are you doing?”
“You gotta ask?” He sucked in her lower lip and nibbled at it. She didn’t want to respond, for she knew what she needed to do, but her nerves sprang to life against her better judgment. His lips trailed down her chin to her throat.
She couldn’t help but arch into the warmth of his lips. Her brain spun in circles, alive from the fire of his touch, though she tried to force it back to calm. After all, this action wasn’t of affection, it was of another emotion. “Acting on your jealousy?”
“I ain’t jealous.” He found the sensitive patch of skin beneath her ear. His capable fingers popped open the buttons of her bodice faster than ever.
“Laying claim to me again? Marking your territory?” The bitter words tumbled from her lips before she could stop to think, but his possessive claiming wounded her pride. The words hit their mark, and he froze above her. She tried to still her nervous, rapid breathing.
His smirk twisted into a grimace. Nose to nose with her, he remained still for several moments before forming a reply. “No one could own ya.”
“It’s good you know that.” She’d stilled her breath and dug deep into the pain of what she knew would be their upcoming downfall to force venom into her words. It should have been more difficult, but his ministrations had made her ache for him. Unsatisfied libido had always made her grumpy, and forcing herself to say the words she knew would anger him made her even more so.
In one slow, painful gesture, he pulled the weight of his body off hers. He’d planted on either side of her head, and the anger of her words had settled in his eyes. “Always did.”
“Good. Always remember.” Her heart twisted when he stood and walked away. Why was she torturing herself? Why couldn’t she just tell him? End the grief. Let him make the choice she knew he would. Her heart would break either way, why not do it faster rather than slower? “Cole.”
His footsteps stopped somewhere in the next room. Silence fell, wrapping around her heart and squeezing it still.
“I’m pregnant.” There. She’d said it. Surprisingly, she wasn’t panicked or giddy, or much of anything. A calm acceptance settled inside, perhaps because she’d already run through every possible outcome of this scenario in her head. The persistent silence ripped through the calm she’d felt until a tear trembled up and escaped down her cheek. She clung to a small vestige of the rare feeling of hope that he might, perhaps, not do as expected.
“Who should I congratulate? Or do ya even know? Could be anyone’s right?”
That lingering smidgen of hope shattered into a million pieces, each one shearing through her already bleeding heart with razor sharpness. The pain pooled into a dark pit of growing anger. How dare he?
She flew to her feet, ignoring the shooting pain in her ankle to storm to her bedroom door. All set to yell at him, the fear in his features shocked her silent. None of his angry accusation matched the feared lines creasing his face.
Dread and hope curled into a pained grimace as he dragged his normally strong, fierce gaze from hers. When he couldn’t even look her in the eyes, she knew. He wanted her to agree with him, he needed her to; he was too weak to face the possibility of having, and losing, another child. 
Tears filled her eyes, but she dug down deep to give him this one last thing before she released him. Her hand gripped the door – pain, fear, loneliness, and revulsion racked her body as she forced forward the first outright lie she’d ever told him. “Yes. It could be anyone’s.”




EXCERPT TWO

An all-too familiar, sultry voice interrupted Norman’s reply. Jane’s voice wove through his body and called him like a siren called a sailor. “Norman, I’d like to send a telegram.”

Cole froze in place. Her gasp jolted him back into motion.
Norman’s smile broke through his grump, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he focused on the door. “Sure thing, Jane. Let me just finish up with Cole. Where’s it goin’?”
“Yankton.”
He immediately thought of her trunk, the mention of Yankton. Could she have found answers? He didn’t care, he shouldn’t care. Cole’s grip on the box in front of him tightened, crumbling the edge. He nodded Norman. “Ain’t no business left here, Norm. Gotta get back. Girls are waiting on me.”
She stiffened, her pale features drawn. Her eyes wore dark shadows like skirts, and she appeared thinner somehow despite her condition. As her fingers gripped her reticule, and her lips tightened until they almost disappeared, a twinge of guilt hit. 
No, he’d spent enough time allowing feelings he never should have. He wouldn’t let her affect him anymore.
The simple act of walking past her stirred up enough air to fill his nose with the scent of her perfume. His heart plummeted to his stomach. So often that scent had wrapped around him. He glanced over his shoulder and found her eyes on him.
Caught, she pulled her gaze away and rambled on about her telegram. Though she’d turned away fast, he’d see the tear on her cheek. The tear he knew he’d caused. He stormed from the depot, several colorful curses escaping under his breath. No matter what, he’d push away the emotions again. He had to.
There was no way he was going through the hell of having a kid. Not that he knew it was his. She’d told him as much. Just what he’d expected to hear. No, what he’d wanted to hear. What he’d needed to hear to make his escape.
He stopped in the middle of the street, feeling like he’d just been gored by a bull. She’d made it easy for him. Played on his anger. It had been so easy to leave. For him.
“Damn her.” He resumed his fast pace through town. He’d told her everything; he’d let her in. She knew as well as he did that he couldn’t handle it. The pain. The destruction to his life.
The joy.
How could he have forgotten that?
The joy was gone. It was gone because he’d allowed himself to feel it. What a mistake it had been to let Jane in. Now he was feeling joy wrenched away again.
Wrenched away?
More like pushed away. He’d forced her hand, and she’d forced it right back. She’d shown his weakness in one fell swoop, and let him have his out. She hadn’t really been finding comfort in others, had she?
If she hadn’t, the child was his.
The child was his. He knew it, maybe he’d known it all along. 
“Cole,” Graham barked.
He startled from his thoughts to glare at Graham. “What?”
“Why are you just standing there? We got a business to run. Them the cigars?”
“Yeah. Here.” He tossed them on the bar and raced up to his room where he slammed the door. It was empty again. It had been the first thing he’d done that day, removing anything that had made the room seem homey. All the little touches Jane had put there. It had been a comfort to go back to what was familiar.
The barrenness.
Solitude.
Now it felt cold. Too empty.
He opened his nightstand drawer and reached inside. The book was hers. The first thing she’d left in his room. He’d never given it back. She’d never asked for it.

Whitman.
That’s what she’d said it was, at least. He didn’t know.
He sat on the edge of the bed, the book heavy in his lap. After a long sigh, he dropped back onto the bed.
There was no way he could go through it again. It was too much pain.
But not having Jane there was causing pain too.
It was too late. He’d let her in and there was no road now that wouldn’t have pain.
He needed a way to make it right. To have her close again. If it was possible.
Would she even want him now?

 

 
ABOUT SARAH CASS

 
Sarah Cass‘ world is regularly turned upside down by her three special needs kids and loving mate, so she breaks genre barriers; dabbling in horror, straight fiction and urban fantasy.  She loves historicals and romance, and characters who are real and flawed, so she writes to understand what makes her fictional people tick.  And she lives for a happy ending – eventually. And enough twists to make it look like she enjoys her title of Queen of Trauma Drama a little too much.
 
An ADD tendency leaves her with a variety of interests that include singing, dancing, crafting, cooking, and being a photographer. She fights through the struggles of the day, knowing the battles are her crucible; she may emerge scarred, but always stronger.  The rhythms to her activities drive her words forward, pushing her through the labyrinths of the heart and the nightmares of the mind, driving her to find resolutions to her characters’ problems.
 
While busy creating worlds and characters as real to her as her own family, she leads an active online life with her blog, Redefining Perfect, which gives a real and sometimes raw glimpse into her life and art.  You can most often find her popping out her 140 characters in Twitter speak, and on Facebook.
  
AUTHOR LINKS
 
Website http://authorsarahcass.com/




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