Category Archives: Reveal

CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Something So Perfect by Natasha Madison

 

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Coming July 31st

 

 

Matthew

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

Karrie

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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


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


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

Coming July 24th

 


Hunter

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

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

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

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

Love, Annie

 

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BLURB REVEAL ~ When We Touch by Tia Louise

When We Touch, an all-new sexy, second chance standalone from

Tia Louise is coming September 5th!

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Blurb:

From international bestselling author Tia Louise comes a new STAND-ALONE second-chance romance…

Ember Rose was saltwater and sin.

My biggest temptation.

My biggest regret.

I thought she’d always be waiting for me.

I was wrong.

Now I’m back in Oceanside searching for peace, hoping to escape what my life has become.

She isn’t supposed to be here…

Dark hair blowing in the ocean breeze,

Luscious curves barely hidden by thin cotton.

I didn’t come back for her.

But when we touch, I know I’ll do whatever it takes to make her mine…

WHEN WE TOUCH is everywhere Sept. 5, 2017!


WWT-Teaser1


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About Tia Louise:TiaLouise

“Queen of Hot Romance”; Award-winning, International Bestselling author of the ONE TO HOLD series.

Her debut adult romance ONE TO HOLD was a 2014 “Lady Boner” award-winner, #1 in Military Romance, and a Top 20 Contemporary Romance novel for several months. ONE TO KEEP, #2 in the series of stand-alone novels, followed the same course, with the remaining performing equally well.

From being a “Readers’ Choice” nominee two years running, to picking up USA Today “Happily Ever After” nods, nothing makes her happier than communicating with fans and weaving new tales into the Alexander-Knight world of stories.

A former journalist, Louise lives in the center of the U.S.A. with her lovely family and one grumpy cat. There, she dreams up stories she hopes are engaging, hot, and sexy, and that cause readers rethink common public locations…

It’s possible she has a slight truffle addiction.

 

Connect with Tia:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTiaLouise/

Twitter: @AuthorTLouise

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https://authortialouise.com/dirtyplayers/


CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Complicating (A Preston’s Mill Series Standalone) by Noelle Adams & Samantha Chase

 
 

 

 
 
Title: Complicating
A Preston’s Mill Series Standalone
Authors: Noelle Adams & Samantha Chase

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 19, 2017
 


Blurb
Forget all those other accidental pregnancy romances you might have read.
 
Daisy and Carter don’t have a one-night stand…because it’s thirty minutes in a back room at a wedding reception. And
Carter isn’t a bad boy baby-daddy…except for the motorcycle, tattoos, and attitude. Daisy doesn’t have the typical issues with her pregnancy…if you don’t count the morning sickness, food cravings, and occasional horniness. And
Carter doesn’t hang around all the time, wanting both her and the baby…until he falls in love.
 
But they definitely don’t become a happy family…right away.
 
Daisy has always been a good girl. She’s never done anything wild or spontaneous until she has a little too much to drink at a wedding and has a fling with a sexy stranger. She thought they were careful, but accidents happen. And now she’s going to have the baby of a man she barely knows.
 
Carter is her opposite in every way and completely the wrong man for her. They can still work out a reasonable arrangement regarding the baby. But the more time she spends with him, the less reasonable she feels. And he’s acting all possessive and protective, so it gets harder and harder to convince herself that he’s just the father of her baby.
 
She wants him to be so much more.

 

 

 
Pre-order Links
 
AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU

Chapter One
 

Daisy stared at herself in the mirror over the sink and thought with a thrill that she looked pretty darn good.

Her dress was green to match her eyes, and although it was perfectly appropriate for a five-o’clock wedding, it was sexier than what she normally wore with its sleek shape and slight flare above her knees. She turned a bit to make sure the curve of her butt wasn’t too pronounced.

It was pronounced, but hopefully not unattractively so.

“Your ass looks fantastic,” Chloe said with a grin as she came out from one of the bathroom stalls.

“I wasn’t looking at it.” Daisy gave her butt another quick glance to verify that it did indeed look fantastic.

Chloe laughed uninhibitedly as she washed her hands. “You can act all sweet, innocent librarian all you want, but you’ve got a wild side in there somewhere that I’m going to set loose eventually.”

Daisy gave her friend an appreciative smile and didn’t argue. Out loud anyway.

She knew the truth. She didn’t have a wild side. She was a sweet and (mostly) innocent librarian. She was twenty-four, and she’d only had one serious boyfriend. She went to church every Sunday, and she’d been raised to never swear, never drink, and never, ever let boys touch her in naughty ways.

She might not have lived up to those rules perfectly—and lately she’d been working on being herself and not just who she was raised to be—but she certainly wasn’t close to Chloe’s level of wildness. Daisy had met Chloe at Preston’s Mill, their apartment building in a small town in eastern Virginia, and they’d become friends immediately. Chloe was fun and fearless and had traveled all over the world, and she was always encouraging Daisy to spread her wings a little further.

Daisy was trying. But there was no way she’d ever spread her wings as far as Chloe did on a regular basis.

She would always be a quiet, small-town girl at heart.

“We’ve got to try to find you a man tonight,” Chloe said conspiratorially as they were leaving the bathroom.

“Ha ha,” Daisy replied dryly.

“Why do you mock? There must be a few eligible men around. Half of Preston is here tonight—plus tons of people from surrounding areas.”

“Chris and Heather were both raised in Preston, so they know everyone.”

Daisy had been raised in Preston too. She was a couple of years younger than Heather, the bride of today’s wedding, so they hadn’t been really close. But she knew almost everyone in town.

She also knew there weren’t any interesting single men lurking in the shadows of the reception hall, a large ballroom in a lovely Victorian house that was now hired out for weddings and other occasions.

As she and Chloe reentered the room, Daisy’s eyes immediately strayed toward the far corner where the man she’d noticed before was still lurking in the shadows.

She wasn’t sure why she’d noticed him earlier except he was sitting alone and seemed so out of place. He was tall and well built with unruly dark hair. He was dressed in all black, and he’d evidently made a gesture toward wedding attire with a jacket, but his shirt didn’t have a collar.

He looked rough. Intimidating. Not particularly friendly.

He wasn’t even very handsome—at least not the type of looks Daisy had always gravitated toward. She wasn’t sure why she kept sneaking looks at him.


“You’re just scared,” Chloe said as they returned to the table they’d been sitting at earlier.


The reception was lovely and generously stocked with food, but it wasn’t a formal banquet dinner, and there wasn’t assigned seating. Daisy enjoyed these kinds of receptions more. They didn’t feel so stiff and artificial. The band was playing a good variety of music, and there were a lot of people dancing—but mostly kids bopping around and older couples who clearly knew all the old steps.


“I’m just scared about what?” she asked Chloe, trying to think back to their earlier conversation.


“About coming on to men.”


Daisy sucked in a sharp breath. “I’m not scared about that. There aren’t any men here to come on to.”


“I’m sure I can find you a few. Then what would you do? You’d be too afraid to make a move on them.”


“If there are eligible men around, I wouldn’t be afraid.”


It was a lie. Daisy never came on to men. She’d always waited for them to make the first move, which was why she was often waiting a very long time between dates.


“Are you willing to prove it?”


“Prove it how?”


“If I find three eligible guys, will you come on to them?”


Daisy went still. They’d been joking around before, but Chloe was entirely capable of making good on this particular dare. “What do you mean, come on to them?”


“I mean you have to go over to them, start a conversation, and do a little flirting.”


“And that’s all?”


“That’s all. Best to start with baby steps with you, I think.”


Daisy frowned, although she knew her friend wasn’t serious.


She was by nature fairly conservative and by upbringing rather sheltered, but she wasn’t a child or a coward. She could do something other women might consider normal—even if she’d never done it before.


“Is it a deal?” Chloe asked.


Daisy never would have agreed had she not felt like she had something to prove—to herself even more than to Chloe. She didn’t want to be trapped by her own insecurities. Her heart was already hammering in her chest, but she was going to do this. “It’s a deal.”


Chloe looked delighted and a little surprised. “Okay. Great. We’ll start easy then. The guy with the glasses over there.”


Daisy glanced over and recognized the man as a cousin of one of her old classmates. He was pleasant-looking and a little shy. She breathed out in relief.


She could do this.


She could do it.


She stood up, aware of Chloe watching with amused interest, and she went over to talk to him. She felt a little stupid as she sat down in an empty chair at his table, but she relaxed when he smiled, recognized her, and looked happy to talk with her.


It was easy. He was perfectly nice, if a little boring. She laughed a lot and touched his hand, his arm, so Chloe would believe she’d been flirting.


It was clear to see that the man would be very happy to continue talking to her, but Daisy didn’t actually want to lead him on, so she ended the conversation with a smile and returned to Chloe.


Chloe was laughing, clearly pleased with her friend’s success, and she’d gotten them both fresh glasses of champagne so they could toast Daisy’s victory.


“Okay. That one was easy. Now you have to do that guy over there near the bar. The one with the flashy watch.”


Daisy turned to look and immediately saw the one Chloe meant. She didn’t recognize him, so he must not be from town. He was quite handsome in a charming, entitled way, and he looked like he was used to having his way with women. That would make him challenge enough, but he wasn’t standing alone. He was chatting with two pretty, single women, who were both clearly flirting with him.


And Daisy was going to have to go over there, bust into their conversation, and somehow try to win him away from the other women.


She swallowed hard.


“You can always admit you’re not up to the challenge,” Chloe murmured.


Daisy squared her shoulders. “I am up to it. I’ll do it.”


She walked over to the man in a blur, an anxious stupor taking over her movements, and she almost wilted in relief when, as she got closer, she recognized one of the women.


So when she got to the bar, she greeted the woman, having to remind her of how they’d had biology class together in high school.


They chatted for a minute, and the woman introduced her to the other woman and then the man.


As Daisy turned her smiles on the man, she was aware of how the other women looked annoyed.


Maybe this was normal practice for some women, to horn in on other groupings and take the attention of the best man.


Daisy didn’t like it though. It felt rude. And kind of selfish. But she had something to prove here, and so she tittered with laughter at a stupid joke the man made and did her best to look alluring.


She must have been successful because the man said how much he loved redheads and asked if she wanted another drink.


She said she did, and they walked away from the other two women.


There. That would prove to Chloe that she’d appropriately come on to this man. She’d earned his attention, and he evidently wanted to keep talking to her. She sipped a new glass of champagne, put up with his silly compliments about her long red hair, and finally got so annoyed with his obnoxious attitude and the way he kept flashing his ridiculously expensive watch that she made an excuse and returned to Chloe.


“That was fantastic,” Chloe said, brimming with excitement. “Did you see those other girls’ faces when you took him away from them?”


“Yes,” Daisy admitted, flushed with her third glass of champagne and with a kind of power she didn’t often feel. “Although it feels like a mean thing to do.”


“It wasn’t mean. That’s the way it always is. All’s fair and all that.”


“Okay. Fine. So who is the last one? Or do you just give up now that I’ve proven I’m more than up to this challenge?”


“I’m not giving up. I’ve got your last guy all picked out for you.” She nodded toward the far corner of the room. “There. The guy by himself.”


Daisy tensed up, knowing even before she looked who Chloe was referring to. The rough, intimidating guy she’d been sneaking looks at all evening. “He’s not eligible!”


“What do you mean, he’s not eligible? He’s been alone the whole time. He doesn’t have a date. I don’t think he looks married, but if you find out he is, just say ‘whoops’ and get the hell out of there. No big deal.”


“But…”


“But what?” Chloe was grinning wickedly now. “You’re throwing in the towel, aren’t you?”


“No. I’m not.” Daisy gulped. Was she really going to have to go over there and talk to that guy? What on earth would she even say? She had no thin connection with him to initiate the first contact the way she had with the other two men. She had nothing but a blunt, open approach.


“So do it. He’s been watching you.”


“He has not been watching me.” She knew that for sure because every time she glanced over, his eyes were focused on something else.


“Yes, he has. But it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to go talk to him anyway or else admit you’re not up to it.”


“I am up to it.” She swallowed down the rest of her champagne and then stood up, her head spinning a little from nerves or alcohol or both. “Okay. Here I go.”


She didn’t move.


“Anytime now,” Chloe prompted.


“I’m going. Right. Now.”


Daisy finally managed to make her feet move, and she forced them to head toward the corner. She was halfway there when the man’s eyes landed on her, and his gaze didn’t falter as she approached.


He knew she was coming over to him.


There was no face-saving excuse with this one.


She was breathless and almost numb with fear when she reached his table. Her knees wouldn’t hold her, so she sat down on the chair next to him. “Hi,” she said stupidly.


He raised his dark eyebrows. “Hi.”


His eyes were blue. Very blue. She couldn’t help but notice. He needed to shave—or maybe he was growing a beard. And there were tattoos all over his forearms, exposed now that he’d taken off his jacket.


Tattoos.


She was going to have to come on to a guy with tattoos all down his arms.


“You’re sitting all alone,” she managed to say when it was clear he wasn’t going to help her out in making conversation.


“So you felt sorry for me?” His voice was deep, slightly gruff. Definitely sardonic.


“No. Just being friendly.”


“Is that what you call it?”


She was getting confused now. Her mind was slightly clouded from the three glasses of champagne. “What I call what?”


“It looks more like you have some kind of bet going with your friend.” He inclined his head toward where Chloe was sitting and blatantly staring at them.


“There’s no bet.”

“Really? Because I just saw you come on to two other guys and then walk away when they responded.”

She gulped. “It wasn’t a bet.”

“Then what was it?”

“I was just… just proving something.”

“Proving what? How men will make asses of themselves when faced with a pair of green eyes and a hot body? Because I’d have thought that has already been proven over and over again throughout history.”

He was smart. She could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. And he had a dry sense of humor. She liked both those things.

She also liked the strongly chiseled lines of his face and the breadth of his shoulders.

He was big and solid. Man all the way through.

“That’s not what I was trying to prove,” she said.

“Then what?” He asked the question like he had the right to know, even though they didn’t even know each other’s names.

“Just proving something to myself.” She wasn’t sure why she was telling him the truth.

“What did you need to prove to yourself? You must know how gorgeous you are.”

She didn’t know. She’d always figured she was pretty enough, but guys had never been knocking down doors to get to her. But she couldn’t help but flush with pleasure at the heated interest in his eyes.

He thought she was gorgeous. That much was clear.

“Not that,” she said, answering his question. “Just that I can… I can do things other women can do.”

“Things like what?” He seemed to really want to know.

“Come on to men.” No sense in pretense now. He evidently knew when she was lying to him or playing games.

“You really thought you couldn’t come on to men? Angel, all you have to do is show up.”

Her cheeks burned even hotter, and the pleasure washed down from her chest to her belly—and then even lower.

“So you came over here to come on to me?” he asked, swallowing down the last of the scotch in his glass.

She cleared her throat. “Yes.”

“And what was your plan?”

“I didn’t have a plan. Is that something women plan out in advance?”

“Some do.”

“Oh. I was just making it up as I went along.”

He chuckled, low in his throat. The sound seemed to vibrate through her whole body. “I see. Well, I’m waiting here breathlessly to see how you’ll proceed.”

He was teasing her, and she liked it. Her mind buzzed as she tried to keep up with his wit. “Oh. Well, maybe you get me another drink, and we’ll see what happens.”

The man laughed appreciatively and stood up. As he strode over to the bar—damn, the man had a great butt and amazing arms—Daisy tried not to giggle in excitement. She looked over to Chloe and saw she’d gone to talk to a few other friends. But she gave Daisy a grin and a silly thumbs-up sign before she looked away.

Daisy laughed out loud by herself at the table.

Was she really doing this? Flirting with a sexy stranger?

He returned with two glasses of scotch.

She frowned. “I was drinking champagne.”

“I know you were. But if you want to come on to me, you’ll have to drink something less fizzy.”

She didn’t like whiskey, but she took a swallow anyway. It burned her throat and filled her with a pleasant heat.

He nodded in approval. “I’m Carter,” he said.

“Daisy. It’s nice to meet you.”

“I have a feeling it’s going to be very nice to meet you.”

***

An hour later—a lot of flirty conversation and two more scotches each—and Daisy was flying high.

She wasn’t even sure how it had happened, but they were stumbling down a hallway in the old Victorian mansion, looking for a private room.

For the past thirty minutes, Carter had been touching her a lot—kissing her hand, stroking her bare arm with his fingertips—and between that, the alcohol, and his throaty drawl, she was so turned on she could hardly see straight.

He was evidently just as aroused. His cheeks were slightly flushed, and a delicious tension filled his body.

He pushed open a partly cracked door to discover a little sitting room. “This will do,” he growled, pulling her in with him.

He closed the door and pushed her against the wall, kissing her hard.

Her body throbbed with pleasure as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. Nothing had ever felt so good. Nothing in her whole life. His hard body was pressed against her completely, and every inch of him was hot, was strong, was man.

Was hard.

She could feel his arousal in the bulge he kept grinding against her.

“You sure you want to do this, angel,” he murmured thickly, pulling out of the kiss to nibble a delicious line down her throat.

“Yeah.” She arched against him in helpless pleasure. “Oh yeah. Please.”

“You’re not too drunk?”

“I’m a little drunk,” she admitted. “But not too drunk to know what I want. I’ve never wanted anything more.”

It was true. It was absolutely true.

She might be buzzing from the alcohol, but her mind was still working. This was a choice she was making, and it was exactly what she wanted.

“Damn, I’m glad to hear that.” His hands were all over her now, stroking up and down the curves of her body.

She’d always wished she wasn’t quite so curvy so she could look more like the stylish girls her age, but he seemed to appreciate her body. He couldn’t stop touching it, and the fire in his eyes kept burning even hotter as he gazed at her.

Then they were kissing again, and he was walking her over to a console table against a wall. When her ass hit the edge of it, she gave a little “oof” at the impact.

She was so aroused she was throbbing with it, and she kept lifting one of her legs, trying to wrap it around him so she could get more pressure where she needed it.

He helped her by pushing up her skirt and then lifting her up to prop her on the table. She wrapped her legs around him eagerly and gave herself over to the feelings.

By now, he’d managed to unzip her dress and pull her breasts out of her bra. He lowered his head to nip at them, causing her to cry out at the intense jolts of pleasure. In their position, he couldn’t do much more than that, and both of them were too far gone to take the time anyway.

He slipped a hand inside her underwear so he could finger her, and she whimpered and rocked her hips in response.

“You like that?” he murmured hoarsely.

“Oh God, yeah! Keep touching me like that. Just like that.”

“Damn, you’re hot when you’re turned on. Who knew such a little angel could let go like this? You’re the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

She experienced the oddest sort of pride—that she was that kind of woman, that she was capable of being so wild and spontaneous. And sexy.

She’d never dreamed it was possible for her.

He kept moving his fingers inside her until the pleasure coiled up and broke unexpectedly. She cried out loudly as she came, trapped between the wall and his body, propped up on the table.

“There you go, angel,” he was murmuring, his eyes devouring her face and body. “There you go. So good. Damn, that was gorgeous.”

Her body throbbed in satisfaction as he finally removed his hand.

“Do you have a condom?” she asked, her groggy mind managing to land on one reality she didn’t want to forget.

“Yeah.” He reached into his back pocket.

She wondered if he always carried condoms around with him.

She wondered if most men did.

She’d only had one boyfriend—the guy she’d dated all through college and had briefly been engaged to—and he’d never had condoms available at a moment’s notice.

But maybe some guys did.

She was infinitely grateful for it now as they both worked on undoing his pants and rolling on the condom. His erection was big and hard, and she couldn’t wait to feel it inside her.

He adjusted their bodies so he could enter her, and she wrapped her legs around him tightly as he sank in.

Both of them groaned at the penetration.

“Jesus,” he hissed through his teeth, holding on to her ass tightly. “Jesus, you feel so good.”

He felt good too. Better than anything.

She wriggled as her body relaxed around him and started to need even more.

He levered his hips and pushed into her with a short, hard thrust.

She cried out, dropping her head back as the sensations slammed into her.

“Like that?” he asked, his body so tight it was almost shuddering.

“Yeah. Yeah. More. I need more.”

He took her like that, propped up on the table with her legs wrapped around him, and she’d never known it was possible to feel so sexy and uninhibited. She tried to keep her voice down since there were people all over the building, but she couldn’t stay quiet. Every time he pushed into her, a helpless sound of pleasure escaped her lips.

When she felt the sensations start to tighten into another orgasm, she started to urge him on. “Harder. Faster. More. Please more.”

He was taking her hard now, almost roughly, and he was grunting with a primal passion as he thrust.

She bit down on her bottom lip hard as a climax ripped through her, causing her to shake and shudder. Then he was coming too, letting out a long, low exclamation that sounded like, “angel” as he let himself go.

And all of it felt good. Amazing. Exactly what she wanted.

Until she started to come down from her climax and realized she’d just had sex with a stranger at a wedding reception.

His name was Carter, but that was all she knew about him.

She wasn’t this sort of person.

She felt weird and achy as she unwound her legs and he pulled out of her.

“Damn, what a mess,” he muttered as he started to take care of the condom.

She was wet between her legs. Really wet. And it seemed to emphasize that maybe she hadn’t really thought things through as much as she’d believed.

Carter was looking down at the condom as she readjusted her panties and smoothed down her dress.

She was suddenly terrified. The heated fog was lifting in her mind, and she had no idea what she’d been thinking.

Her legs were sore. She was sore inside. Her whole body was sore.

She gasped and hurried toward the door, wanting only to be alone so she could think.

“Angel, wait—” Carter began.

She didn’t wait. “Sorry,” she said, swinging open the door. “I’ve got to go.”

And with that, she ran down the hall.

(Copyright © 2017 by Noelle Adams and Samantha Chase. All rights reserved)

 

Noelle Adams
 
 
Noelle handwrote her first romance novel in a spiral-bound notebook when she was twelve, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She has lived in eight different states and currently resides in Virginia, where she reads any book she can get her hands on and offers tribute to a very spoiled cocker spaniel.  She loves travel, art, history, and ice cream. After spending far too many years of her life in graduate school, she has decided to reorient her priorities and focus on writing contemporary romances. Find her at noelle-adams.com.
 
 
Samantha Chase
 
Samantha Chase released her debut novel in 2011 and currently has more than forty titles under her belt! When she’s not working on a new story, she spends her time reading romances, playing way too many games of Scrabble or Solitaire on Facebook, wearing a tiara while playing with her sassy pug Maylene…oh, and spending time with her husband of 25 years and their two sons in North Carolina. Find her at chasing-romance.com.
 


COVER REVEAL & 99c PRE-ORDER BLITZ ~ A Change of View (The Northern Lights Collection #2) by Freya Barker

 
 

Title: A Change of View
Series: The Northern Lights Collection

Author: Freya Barker

 

Genre: Romantic Suspense Standalone
Release Date: August 16, 2017
Cover Designer: Rebel Edit & Design
 
 
 
 
 
What if one morning you look in the mirror and no longer recognize the person looking back?
 
When Leelo can no longer identify herself by the roles that once defined her, it’s both terrifying and liberating. Oh, she feels the loss, the grief, and then the anger, but when she inherits property up north, she jumps at the promise of freedom and independence. 
 
Yet not everyone in her new community is what they seem, starting with the surly mountain man down the road.
 
As owner of the local fishing lodge, Roar is content with his everyday life. And the older he gets, the less he appreciates change. So when a blue-haired, tattooed ‘city girl’ moves into the old motel, shaking up his daily routine, he’s none too pleased.

Still, something about the woman’s easy smile and almost reckless grit has him step up as her keeper.



 

 

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


 

 
 
Freya Barker inspires with her stories about ‘real’ people, perhaps less than perfect, each struggling to find their own slice of happy. She is the author of the Cedar Tree Series and the Portland, ME, novels.
 
Freya is the recipient of the RomCon “Reader’s Choice” Award for best first book, “Slim To None,” and is a finalist for the 2016 Kindle Book Awards for “From Dust”. She currently has two complete series and three anthologies published, and is working on two new series; La Plata County FBI—ROCK POINT, and Northern Lights. She continues to spin story after story with an endless supply of bruised and dented characters, vying for attention!
 
 
 
 
 

 


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COVER & EXCERPT REVEAL ~ Wrangled by Love (The Cowboy Way Series #1) by Barb Shuler

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Wrangled By Love
The Cowboy Way Series; Book 1
by Barb Shuler


Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Design by: MadHat Books
 
 
 
Tate
 
I could rope a calf before I could walk. Ranching is in my blood, my heart, and fills my soul. My family and I work for everything we have. But money only goes so far – sweat goes farther. My life has taken many paths. It’s made me grow up and deal with things that others only fear. My daughter is my life. No one could ever compare to that love – or so I thought. That was until this little city gal fell into our laps.
 
She stole my breath. Stole my thoughts, and stole my heart.
 
 
Georgie
 
Georgia was home until I lost everything. I had no one, so I packed up and hit the road. My dog was my only companion and for a time that was all right. Fate had other ideas though. My path brought me to Wyoming. Sprawling grasslands, wildlife and cold. I was surrounded.
My heart warmed when we got a good look at a certain cowboy. He was a brother, son and a father. He chased my blues away. Made me smile and put his heart on the line with mine.
 
He is my one and only. My forever.
 
 
 


 

Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

 

Three years ago I started off on a new adventure in this crazy unpredictable  world. One that took me to new places in life – naturally – as well as emotionally and physically. Why make changes to a life that was wrapped in gold paper and sealed with a silver money clip? Many reasons. The biggest of them all was that I felt stunted as a person. I couldn’t be me without hurting feelings or letting down the people that I loved. Or so I thought. I was stuck in a dead end, nine to five job that I grew to absolutely hate. I stayed because I made a commitment that I didn’t want to break… but even good things come to an end.
I wasn’t a fan of living off my family’s money, though it was there for me. My PaPa always wanted to take care of me. He’d always say, “No granddaughter of mine will ever want or need for anything.” I loved that man more than the air I breathe now, but I couldn’t get lost in the cloud of money. I wanted a life of my own. I had to prove to him and myself that I could take care of me.
God love him, he let me do things my way once he understood what I wanted in life. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be the responsible woman he had raised me to be. My grandfather was the man in my life from the time I was a small child. After my parents had me their lives were cut short by tragedy. My mother let her depression over take her mind and ended her struggles with a bottle of pills and a bottle of gin. My father, distraught that his one true love had left him, suffered for years. His depression never seemed to get better. One day when I was about four he just up and disappeared. His body was found years later by hikers. We still don’t know exactly what happened to him. My father was an avid outdoorsman. There was no way it was an accident, whatever it was.
It was just me and PaPa from then on. I don’t really remember much of my father. I have vague memories, but that’s it, other than the pictures I carry with me of him, and my mother and me as a newborn. I hadn’t realized how much I depended on my PaPa until the man I idolized most in my life was taken from me. He had a long, and happy life. He took his last breaths with me at his bedside retelling stories of my favorite memories of us. We had family there, but no one mattered except my PaPa. That night I vowed to change my life. I was going to be happy doing things I wanted to do. I just had to figure out how to go about doing it.
Deciding I needed a clean slate, I sold my house and set a lease with the Historical Society to use my PaPa’s home on the tours of homes – which was a way to preserve it and keep everything just as it was. His maids and butler, who my PaPa had with him for as long as I could remember, were staying on to help keep the home up. Their monthly pay was sent automatically to them through the lawyers, as was anything else home related. It was a way to make sure I always had a place to call home. My heart would always be where my PaPa was.
After weeks of thinking, planning and sorting out my life, I cashed in the savings bonds my PaPa left me and anything else that didn’t hold sentimental value from my belongings. My friend – Kaitlyn – would check in on things for me as well while I was gone. I had my bills (phone, insurance, life insurance and my two credit cards) all set up to do autopayments, so nothing important would be in the mail anyhow. It didn’t take long to decide what went, so I packed my SUV with what I had to have, such as clothes, my german shepherd dog, Tango, and small things that I could never part with and I was ready. As soon as I had cash in hand – via my bank card – I headed off on the adventure of a lifetime. I had a road map, a GPS app on my smartphone, and a helluva lot of time to kill.
No one expects to be this lucky at the age of twenty-nine. I didn’t have to work. I didn’t have to be accountable to anyone, or anything. I was free. I was a bird in the wind that could soar as high or low as she wanted. I took advantage of the freedom. I searched small towns for trinkets. I went to movies and plays in the larger metropolitan cities. I ate at restaurants mere tables away from movie stars and famous ball players. Was I impressed? Eh, not really, people are people. They wanted their freedom and alone time as much as I did. Anyone I passed got a smile and that was about it.
After a few months of said adventure I knew I was in heaven. I had the freedom of the road, and was able to do what I wanted, when I wanted. Who knew being my own boss would be so freeing. Thanks to my PaPa I had more money than I would ever need, so I was definitely taking advantage of it. I was going to discover who I was. Or I wouldn’t. As long as I had wheels under me, food in my tummy and my bank card, I was golden.
That was what I had always said, until an accident in the backwoods of some small, indistinguishable town led me to stumble into the man that would change things for me. An accident changes things for you. Makes you rethink things. But it can also set you off on a new path. My path led me to the infuriatingly, super sexy cowboy that made my anger rise, my lady bits throb, and my heart skip a beat at his smile. And that was after he yelled at me. I yelled back, but really… It was all for show. I think.
That man not only put me on the fence about the truth behind his actions, he cracked my heart wide open. He showed me what I was missing in life – he showed me what it was to be me. To be loved and desired in ways I could have only imagined. I was free to be what he desired. I was free to be the woman that set him free as well. Together we had it all, even our start was not so easy.
Life is never easy, though. Life is a rollercoaster and I’m here with my arms up, a laugh bubbling inside me, and the man that now owns my heart and soul at my side.
 
Chapter One
Road Tripping
 
Georgie
 
“Tango, stop, lift and pee already, would ya?” I called out to my German Shepherd as he sniffed around the empty lot behind the gas station. I was off the road for a few minutes to pee, get some gas and hopefully find a little off the road eating place. I was starving. But, first things first. I needed him to pee, so I could go in and pee. How hard was it to hike a leg? Or cop a squat? Jesus. I was squirming now more than before. I needed to go and he was taking forever. I was not about to leave him out here in bumfuck egypt alone. He wouldn’t go to a stranger, far from it, but I wasn’t chasing him, or taking the risk of him chasing someone off and getting shot or hit by a car.
“TANGO! Dude, hurry your furry butt up!”
I saw a man pumping gas at the other pump give me a look and I smiled at him. I wanted to roll my eyes but I stopped myself, only barely. Finally, after what seemed like four days of waiting, Tango cocked his leg up, peed and then had to do that damn, macho man ‘I peed here so it’s mine’ dance where he kicked his back legs up and growled.
“I swear on all that’s holy I will make you sleep outside if you don’t get over here,” I muttered as the man getting gas eyed me. Maybe he thought I was talking to myself. Possibly. Sorry, mister. I ain’t crazy yet. I smiled at my thoughts. My gaze went back to the older man at the pump. He seemed to take notice when Tango ran around the building and back to me. He sat with a hand signal and I gave him a treat. That was how he was trained after all. He went, he got a treat. It’s not that he was spoiled or anything. No, never.
“Good dog, Tango. Now, load up. Momma has to pee, and pay for the gas before this fella calls the cops ‘cause he thinks I’m gonna run off on him.” I pushed his muzzle away from my face when he decided I needed a slobbery lick on the cheek. “Not now, Romeo,” I said, laughing as I pushed him back into the SUV, shut the door and gave him the signal to stay through the opened window. I jogged across the parking lot. I hurried into the store and back to the bathrooms.
When I came out I smiled at the man behind the counter before grabbing a bag of Doritos, a Dr Pepper and of course, two big bottles of water for Tango. I paid for everything, gas included, and headed back out after a not so nice chat with the clerk. Men are idiots. But I did finally get him to tell me that all that was close by in the way of food stops was a burger place. I’ll pass on that. Tango and greasy stuff was a no go. The dog had enough gas issues as it was. I swear, sometimes it was like he’d had something crawl up in him and die. He was stealthy about it too. He was secretly trying to kill me with toxic fumes. I just knew it.
As I walked back to my vehicle I noticed there was a new truck parked across from me. I watched the two men as I opened the back door to grab Tango’s bucket. Hey, it’s a road trip and he’s messy. Least with a bucket and the three towels on his seat my seats won’t get ruined. He could drink in peace and I wouldn’t get a slobbery water bath, again.
“Hey, sexy, that your dog there?” I sighed and turned, slamming the door a little harder than I needed to. I glanced at the men then to Tango. He was alert, ears pricked up and his shoulders tight. I shook my head as I moved to open the driver’s door, making sure I blocked Tango’s exit. He was very protective of me after all. He had been since my PaPa got him for me. That had been two years ago. Tango was one of the last birthday presents I got from my PaPa. He gave me someone to love, a protector and a friend all in one.
“Nah man, he like, totally came with the car,” I said in my best Valley girl impression. Ugh, that made my own head hurt.
“I think she’s a bit of a smartass, man,” the one ass said to his friend.
“Watch it, bro. Dogs bite,” the other one said. I was guessing it was to warn his friend, who had taken a few steps around his truck.
“He’d bite me?”
“Yerp, like you were a nice juicy steak.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything to ya, sexy.”
“You’re annoying me, isn’t that enough? I asked, sardonically.
“Oh, we got a feisty one, Jet,” the idiot in the truck said.
“Oh for fuck’s sake. Why can’t I shoot stupid people?” I muttered as climbed up in the seat and shut the door. Tango licked my hand as I patted his shoulder. “Easy, big fella. Ignore them. Apparently they don’t get enough oxygen up here. It makes them stupider than a bag full of rocks.”
I started the SUV, pulled out of the space, and flipped the two idiots a one finger salute before pulling out of the station’s parking lot onto the road. We were somewhere in Colorado. I was following I-25 up and heading into Wyoming. I’d rented a cabin, one that I’d found online of all places, for a few weeks. Summer was finally here and I wanted to take advantage of the beauty of a wide open space. Plus, Tango and I needed a little time off the road. This leg had us on the road for two long weeks now. We’d just muddled along after leaving Tennessee, only stopped whenever and wherever. Minus the potty breaks. We stopped for those and to stretch our legs every two hours. Too much sitting could cause health problems.
I’d picked up the trailer behind us at some place in Kansas. It’s got a small kitchen area with a stove and table, a tiny bathroom and a bed. So I bought it. I don’t use the bathroom, though because, well I’m not cleaning that. Even I have my limits. I stop us at places that have wash houses, or at cheap motels. It’s worth the time to shower and refresh. I’m not sleeping on funky sheets, though. So the trailer it is.
Flipping on my signal, I merged back into the I-25 traffic and set the cruise control. As Tango laid down he put his head on my lap and I scrubbed my fingers over his ears. His whine made me laugh.
“We’ll eat in a couple of hours. Once we cross the border we’ll only have a few hours more. Then it’s a hot bath for me and a new place for you to mark as yours,” I said, for my benefit too. I loved the freedom of the open road, but it would have been slightly more entertaining with someone else to talk to that could actually return my words with more than barks, growls or toxic fog inducing farts.
 
~~~~
 
A few hours later, both Tango and I were spread out on a picnic blanket on the grass of a roadside picnic site. The sun was beaming down on us and the cool air brushed against my exposed skin like a sensual caress. It was heaven. The countryside we’d traveled through so far was beautiful and peaceful. We were going to enjoy our time here. I just knew it.
“Tango, let’s go,” I said, standing. I grabbed the blanket up, folding it as I walked. Looking back, I grinned. Tango had the draw string bag with what was left of our lunch, and our trash in his mouth. “No slobbering this time, pup, ‘cause that’s just gross, Kay?” Maybe I was losing it, ‘cause that made me laugh. Yeah, I really needed someone to chat with besides my pup. I could always call Kaitlyn, but she’d try to convince me to come back home and I just wasn’t doing that. There was nothing there for me. My parents had been gone since I was a baby, I knew nothing of them other than that they loved me. All I’d had was my PaPa and now that he was gone, I had nothing. Kaitlyn was a friend, yes, but she also one of the reasons I left Brant & Sons. It was a small family owned insurance company. Mr. Brant was a sweet man. His sons, though, were two dickwads who thought they were some gift from God and that every woman should kneel down and worship them. Kaitlyn was all for quickies in the back office, the bathroom or anything else they asked, but not me.
Jefferson and Carlisle Brant were both disgusting human beings. Period. I learned that the day I was hired as Mr. Brant’s new administrative assistant. See, Oliver Brant was an upstanding, kind hearted man. I liked him, a lot. Too bad his sons missed that boat. Though, I’ve met their mother and she’s not much better. Oliver married and mated with the she beast, who was a decade – at least – younger than himself and that’s where the twin hellspawns came from. Shuddering, I shut the back door to the SUV and sighed. Maybe if things were different and I wasn’t the ‘ice queen’ as they called me, I would have stayed. But as it was, I wouldn’t let myself be used like some whore. I loved myself a helluva lot more than that.
I shifted myself so I could give Tango the “go pee” hand signal, which was just me pointing. He didn’t need it twice. I looked at my watch and smiled. Two hours, I think that’s all it takes for us to get to the place…. crap, I forgot the name. Moving to the passenger side of my vehicle I opened the door, pulled out the notebook where I kept everything and found the reservations page. Yeah, I was a little OCD but I wasn’t stupid enough to not keep up with my spending and contacts along the way.
“Ah, there it is,” I said, sliding as I slid my finger down the page. “Abernathy Cannon Ranch.” Closing my book I stretched, turned and whistled for Tango. He rounded the car and was up in the seat before I had time to really blink. “I’m gonna put a bell on you. Whatcha think about that?” I scrubbed my hands along his neck and scratched behind his ears.
“Ready to go?” With a lick to my face and a bark that made my ears ring, I shook my head, shut his door and ran around to get in. Within fifteen minutes we were back on the road, and hopefully we’d be crossing the border in an hour or so. That all depended on traffic. I sang along to the radio, ignoring the GPS app on my phone that kept cutting in and out. I wasn’t stressing over any of this. I just wanted to enjoy the ride, and with Jason Aldean singing along with me, my day was going great.
An hour and fifty six minutes later we were making a wide turn onto the dirt road the GPS indicated. There wasn’t much around, just mountains, grasslands and cattle. Or at least I thought they were cattle. The sun was starting to get lower and I was exhausted. My body was not sure what time zone we were in anymore so I stopped trying to sleep on a schedule. It was all too much to keep track of. I followed the road, going slower than normal since I wasn’t sure where I was.
Ten minutes later we were rounding a curvy part of the road when something stormed out in front of us. I shrieked and slammed on the brakes, throwing myself against the steering wheel and swerving off the road. Tango was growling and barking, but what caught my attention was the sound of metal shrieking, another engine roaring, and then silence.


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***all titles are available on Kindle Unlimited
 

My Own Nightmare

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Somewhere I Belong
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Shatter Me Whole
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~ Meet Barb Shuler ~

 
I’m a Carolina Girl by right and a Texan by birth. Best of both worlds. I have the brass sass to keep up with my Texas sized temper. Living and working in both states i’ve learned a lot about hard work, adapting to your surroundings and making the best of the path that you have been led down. My grandma Dollie once told me I would know what I was meant to do when it happened. She was right, as always.
As with most book lovers, I am an avid reader. Reading has always been a hobby – a passion, really and a way to get lost in other people’s lives, their drama and other worlds. It’s a private movie in your imagination that you get to cast and navigate through, at your own pace. Reading helps to expand the perimeters of one’s mind. That is what got me into writing. Writing has been something that I have done since I was a kid. If I had paper, I was writing. Nine out of ten times it made no sense but what are words if they are not to be used to your advantage? Words are a part of us all. Why not use them, right?
During the day I work as a ‘desk jockey’ and help the residents of my county navigate themselves around our little, but not too little country town. By night I am either blogging with my best friends, doing PA work for some of my favorite authors or fighting with the voices in my head. They can be stubborn at times. It’s a blessing and I am cherishing every moment. Tomorrow is never guaranteed so I want to make sure I live the day as fully as possible. For what is my creation, can become someone else’s treasure.
 
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COVER REVEAL Hail No (Hail Raisers #1) by Lani Lynn Vale


Title: Hail No
Series: Hail Raisers #1
Author: Lani Lynn Vale

 

Genre: MC Romance
Cover Model: Jake Wilson
Photographer: FuriousFotog
Release: September 27, 2017
 
 
 


Evander Lennox doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to do. At least, that is, until he’s sent to prison. The four years he’s incarcerated, he’s had no choice but to do the things that he’s asked to do, when he’s asked to do them. And now, if he doesn’t, it will mean a one-way ticket straight back to hell.

Once he’s free, it takes him twenty-four hours to get his old job back, his dog at home where he belongs, and an understanding that people aren’t as forgiving as he once thought them to be. He’s just about given up hope of ever integrating back into society when a woman slams into his heart, literally and figuratively.

***

Kennedy Swallow just wants to belong somewhere.

When she was younger, her parents divorced, and chose to separate her from her twin. Fast forward fifteen years, and she’s finally getting to meet the family she’s always wanted to be a part of. To make that happen, she uproots her life and moves to the tiny town of Hostel, Texas—giving her almost everything she’s ever wanted.

Just when she thinks she’s making progress in winning her family over, she finds out that her twin is ill, and the only reason her family tolerates her is due to the convenience of having a free caretaker whenever they might be in need of one.

After a few eye-opening experiences, she quickly realizes that she’s being used. Vowing to herself that she’ll make the best of the situation, she begins to steel her heart. What she doesn’t prepare for is a man named Evander who sees that barrier as a challenge.

***

It takes Evander all of ten seconds while watching the woman on the floor, bleeding from her jaw, to realize that maybe life isn’t as bad as it could be.

This woman with her thrill for life, a crazy obsession with chickens, and a desire to be wanted, changes everything he thinks he knows.

But it doesn’t take long for him to realize that just by being around her, the people of the town have judged her guilty by association.

Her business suffers, and soon after, she realizes what it will mean to have him by her side—the loss of everything she’s worked so hard for.

Kennedy knows that Evander is worth it. Evander, however, decides that he’s not letting another person get hurt because he was stupid enough to care.


 

 

 

 

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I’m a married mother of three. My kids are all under 5, so I can assure you that they are a handful. I’ve been with my paramedic husband now for ten years, and we’ve produced three offspring that are nothing like us. I live in the greatest state in the world, Texas.
 
 


 


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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Country Nights by Winter Renshaw

 

 
 
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Sixty country days and sixty country nights—that’s all I wanted.

I needed to get away from the city, away from the hot mess that had become my life.

When I stumbled upon my childhood home on RentBnB.com, I took it as a sign, cleaned out my life savings, and hightailed it to the only place that ever meant something to me, a place I hadn’t seen since a lifetime ago.

Only when I arrived to the familiar South Dakotan farmhouse, I was met by a brooding, we-don’t-take-kindly-to-strangers cowboy by the name of River McCray, who insisted this was his house and most definitely not a rental property.

I’d been internet scammed.

And that cocky, smart-mouthed stranger had the nerve to make me a humiliating offer: I could stay in his house for the next two months rent-free, but I had to work for him.

He’d be my boss. And my roommate.

With no money and nowhere else to go, I agreed. But nothing could have prepared me for the tension, the attraction, and the bombshell revelation that changed … everything.
 
Coming June 27th
 
 

 




Leighton

“Babe, I’m not done yet.” My fingers press into the back of his arms as his naked body unsticks from mine. My lips, parted and breathless, wait for his to return, craving the heat of his tongue as I bask in the early Arizona sunrise peeking through our curtains.
Grant pushes himself away from me, rolling to the cold side of the bed. The contents of his climax spill from the unsatisfied ache between my thighs.
“Thought I told you.” He offers a two-second apologetic smile. “I’m meeting a client at eight. Have to go in early.”
I glance at the vintage alarm clock on his nightstand. There’s more than enough time.
“Five more minutes?” I roll to my side, my swollen lips curling into a slow grin as I trace my fingertips along the crumpled sheets between us. “Please? That’s all I need.”
He smirks, like he thinks I’m being cute, and then he walks around to my side of the bed. Bending to kiss my forehead, he drags his thumb along my lower lip and exhales through his nose.
“Here,” he says, reaching toward my bedside table. Pulling the top drawer open, he fishes through the contents before retrieving my purple vibrator, a relic from the early days of our relationship when I was still trying to be the girl I thought he wanted me to be. A plan that backfired and then some. “This ought to help.”
If there were more light in our bedroom this morning, he’d probably be able to see the color draining from my face.
“You don’t want it?” he asks, pausing for a beat before placing it on the bed to my left.
I can’t answer.
I’m speechless.
Ever since Grant finished law school at NYU and made partner at his uncle’s prestigious law firm in Scottsdale, he’s become self-involved, self-obsessed, and disgustingly self-centered. It’s all about him, all of the time.
I didn’t want to see it.
I didn’t want to believe it.
All this time, I made excuses for him, convincing myself it was a phase. Convincing myself one of these days I’ll get the old Grant back …
… the one with the charming smile who couldn’t keep his hands off me …
… the one I fell in love with fresh out of college …
…the one who was obsessed with me, seeing to it personally that my happiness was above all else …
… the one who almost made me forget about the ones before him and not think twice that there might ever be one after him …
Grant strides toward the en-suite bathroom, his tight ass flexing as he moves, and I listen as he flushes the toilet a moment later. The shower begins to spray. My eyes move to the vibrator. I refuse to touch it.
And besides, my mood has miraculously vanished.
Twisting the diamond engagement ring on my left finger, I run my fingertip along the sharp edges of the glimmering brilliant-cut stone.
It was supposed to symbolize his commitment to me. Hope for the future. Infinite love that never ends.
Peeling myself out of bed, I wrap the percale sheets around my body. Suddenly the idea of standing naked before him feels awkward and vulnerable in a way I’ve never felt around him before. As I make my way to the bathroom, I clear my throat and feel the creep of nervous heat as it blooms up my neck.
He turns to me, rinsing suds from his eyes as his fingertips massage his thick, sandy blond hair. “You want to get in?”
“I don’t want to be with you anymore.” I didn’t rehearse the line. I didn’t ponder the decision longer than the time it took me to walk from the bed to the en-suite. Sliding the diamond ring from my finger, I place it gently next to the sink.
Grant scoffs, pressing the glass shower door open and sticking his head out. “Leighton.”
I shrug before tucking a messy strand of dark hair behind one ear, unable to meet his gaze because although my head knows the man standing before me is different from the one I once knew, my heart knows no difference. As soon as he leaves for work, I’ll clean myself up and pack my things.
I’m not sure where I’ll go, but I’ll figure it out. Anyplace would be better than sticking around here like Grant’s personal doormat.
“All because I didn’t give you an orgasm?” He laughs. He isn’t taking me seriously.
Shaking my head, I say, “It’s not that.”
He rinses the soft white suds from his body, steps onto the mat, and wraps a white towel around his waist, tucking it at his hip. The scent of cedar wood shower gel permeates the muggy air, suffocating my senses as his hands circle my waist.
Spinning me to face him, he cups my chin in his right hand.
“Talk to me,” he says, focused. “What’s this about? What’s going on here?”
“You’ve changed.”
He rolls his eyes, still smiling. “Of course I’ve changed. I’m building the life we’ve always dreamed of. The long hours? The Maserati? The wardrobe? It’s all part of an image I have to project. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer who rolls up in a rusty sedan in an off-the-rack suit. Come on. You know that.”
“I’m not talking about that.”
His brows meet. “Then how have I changed?”
“You’re selfish,” I say, “And you never used to be. We used to be in this together. You and me. We used to fit together so easily, and now … now it’s like we don’t even line up anymore.”
“Christ, Leighton. You know I love you. You know you’re the center of my world.” He drags a hand through his damp hair. “I’m sorry my career is overshadowing what we have right now, but I promise it’s not forever.”
My mind replays a moment from last weekend, when we attended a charity gala in downtown Phoenix. I counted at least eight women who couldn’t take their eyes off Grant all night, and the man was well aware. He strutted around, peacock proud, introducing himself to anyone who so much as met his cunning emerald gaze. Never once introducing me as I stood in his shadow like a forgotten afterthought.
There’s a difference between networking and schmoozing.
The old Grant would’ve worn me proudly on his arm, kissed my forehead every chance he got, and introduced me like a true gentleman.
Instead he left me alone by the open bar, at one point spending twenty-five minutes chatting up a leggy redhead in head-to-toe Givenchy. She couldn’t stop smiling in his presence, touching his arm as she laughed at everything he said, and he stood unusually close to her.
I’m not a jealous woman, and I never have been, but seeing how Grant looked at every other woman that night with the same gaze he used to lovingly reserve for me filled me with doubt and made me question our relationship for the first time since we met.
“You scheduled a client dinner on our anniversary last month,” I say. “And you forgot my birthday this year.”
Grant places a hand over his perfect, chiseled chest. “And I apologized for those incidences, did I not?”
“The old you—”
“—the old me?” His brows lift, incredulous. “There is no old me. Stop being dramatic. I’m going to work before you make me late with all of … this.”
A little piece of me dies every time he takes that tone with me, which lately has been more frequent than ever.
He shakes his head, disgusted, and heads to the closet. When he returns with a red gingham tie in hand, he releases a quick breath.
“We’ll finish this when I get home tonight.” He places the tie on a robe hook, and his tone is softer than it was a second ago.
For a splintered moment, I second guess my decision.
Am I being rash?
Do other people spend almost eight years with someone and then wake up one morning and decide it’s over? That it’s not worth trying to salvage? That it’s suddenly come to this?
I watch Grant as he stands over the sink, lathering shaving cream onto his chiseled cheek bones, humming a Rolling Stones song to himself like it’s any other day. I don’t think this man has ever worried for a single second that he might lose me, and maybe that’s why he’s pushed me to the back burner over the last couple of years.
“I love you, Leighton.” He stares into the mirror, our eyes meeting in his reflection. “I’ll fix this. Whatever’s bothering you, we’ll figure it out tonight. I’ll make it right, I promise.”
That’s Grant: cold and cutting one moment, sweet and tender the next.
He never used to be this way.
Grant’s razor drags along his cheek, leaving a track of smooth, tanned skin in its place, and he flashes his trademark disarming smile that makes me think the old him might still be in there somewhere, waiting for me to breathe him back to life.
I pause before stepping out of the bathroom and heading back to bed. Mondays are my late day, and I don’t have to be at work for another three hours, which will give me more time to think this through.
Passing his nightstand, I catch his lit phone screen from the corner of my eye.
Normally I wouldn’t look, but there’s a nagging sensation in the pit of my stomach, a jarring feeling that tells me something isn’t right.
Peering into the bathroom, I don’t see Grant. He must be in the closet, changing into his suit. Sucking in a deep breath, I steal a look at the text message taking up half of the screen.
And then my heart drops to the floor.

I’M READY FOR MY CROSS EXAMINATION THIS MORNING, COUNSELOR, BUT I HAD A COUPLE OF QUESTIONS BEFORE WE PROCEED. LACE OR SILK? MY OFFICE OR YOURS? XO

A million questions swarm my mind, all of them circling at once.
Who is she?
How long has this been going on?
Is she the first?
How could I not know?!
Why would he initiate sex this morning?
Why would he tell me he loves me and then run off to fuck someone else?
“Leighton?” Grant’s voice brings me back, and my frozen stare moves from his phone to the bathroom doorway where he stands. His hands adjust the Windsor knot of his tie, though right now I’m wishing they were my hands, pulling it tighter and tighter still. If I can’t breathe right now, why should he get the privilege? “What’s wrong?”
My vision drowns in warm tears.
It was different earlier. There was a sense of pride in knowing I could make the decision to end things based on principle.
But now …
It seems the decision has been made for me.
There’s no recovering from this.
There’s no bouncing back.
This is the bottom dropping out.
“Leighton, talk to me.” Grant moves closer, lowering to his knees and taking my limp hands in his. I want to recoil at his touch, but I don’t have the energy. “Did something happen? Is it your grandmother?”
He doesn’t get it, at least not right away.
But when his eyes move toward the phone, his breath catches. And then he lets me go, his hands sliding off of mine, slow and careful.
Grant stands, straightening his posture before slipping his phone into his pocket and studying my face.
The weight of his stare is heavy, but the silence between us is heavier.
The man who has argued hundreds of cases over his budding career is officially speechless, unable to defend his reprehensible actions.
And how could he?
The evidence is damning, and his lack of words may as well be a guilty plea.
He leaves.
I stay.
But not for long.
  


 
 
Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.
 
And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j
 
 
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CHAPTER REVEAL ~ A Fighting Chance by Annie Stone

 

 
 
 
 
 
Coming June 5th
 
 
 
When Mackenzie meets Carter, it’s love at first sight. They have a blissful year together before trouble arrives. In the form of Carter’s two teenage sons.

When Hunter and Carey decide they want to live with their father in California, Mackenzie knows right away that she’s in for a tough time. And she couldn’t be more right.

The two boys show her on a daily basis that she’s not good enough for their dad. In fact, they make it quite clear their lives would be better without her. But could it be that Hunter has quite a different motive for hating her?
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
ONE

Mackenzie

I first met Carter on a Friday. I was standing talking to someone when he came in, and it was like every atom in the room was immediately drawn in his direction. The oxygen, the people, even the flowers turned their heads to look at him. His presence was so powerful I couldn’t help stepping a little closer. When his eyes met mine, an electric shock went through my body. I was literally glowing, and in that fraction of a second, I imagined what it would be like to be his woman. And then…
Nothing.
His eyes moved on to the next object, not even acknowledging my presence, leaving me absolutely crushed. I wasn’t worth a second look. Swallowing hard, I watched him walk over to Brittany, who had been in charge of interior design at his new company headquarters. I’d had nothing to do with the project—I was just here to support my best friend on what was going be a big evening for her.
And I had never felt as much contempt for anybody as I felt for her in that particular moment. Even though I loved her to pieces.
Carter Tilman, head of Tilman Finance Group, had occupied the number-one spot on our girls’ talk agendas the past few weeks. God, was he handsome, Brittany had told me so many times I’d started rolling my eyes at her. But now I saw him in the flesh. He was blond and blue-eyed, about six-foot-two and, from what I could see under his suit, well built. The perfect combination of sleek and edgy, he immediately made me imagine him being a somewhat less-than-perfect gentleman in private quarters.
But there he was, talking to Brittany! Not even giving me a second of his attention.
I kept watching him, inconspicuously following him around, trying to be near him. But not once did I manage to capture his attention. It made me feel small and insignificant. In his world, I didn’t even exist.
Just before midnight, Brittany signaled to me that she was done. With a slight sense of regret, I left. After all, there was no reason for me to stay. It would just make me sad.
Outside, I said goodbye to Brittany and her colleagues before walking over to my car. I was just about to open the door when somebody behind me said, “I was hoping to be introduced to you.”
Every molecule of my body strained toward him, but I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself, so I made a point of turning around slowly. “Really?” I asked, feigning disinterest.
He came closer, nodding. “You’re stunning. I just have to kiss you.”
And kiss me, he did. Our first kiss, which led to many others. Our first encounter, which turned into hundreds. Two lives fused into one.

Which leads me to the here and now, almost one year later.
“Are you excited?” he asks.
I nod, kneading my fingers. “Oh boy, am I excited,” I say in a strangled voice.
He laughs, quietly stroking my cheek. “Just don’t show any fear. They’re like predators. They can sense it.”
“Please tell me you’re joking!”
“I’m sure they’ll like you.”
“They” are his sons. Hunter and Carey. Ages seventeen and fifteen. I haven’t met them before because they live with their mother in Miami. But they’re coming to spend the summer with their dad in San Diego. And here I am. I can’t escape the inevitable, even though it scares the living daylights out of me. Seriously, I’ve never been this nervous, not even during finals week in college.
“Relax, sweetheart,” Carter says, reaching for my hand. He runs his fingers across my knuckles soothingly.
I look at him, trying to smile. It isn’t usually difficult, but today I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m meeting his sons. His teenage sons. I’m not even that much older than them… I’m twenty-five, and Carter is forty-three. Our age difference has never been a problem before, and people say age is just a number, but, come on—this just seems like a recipe for disaster.
“Here they are,” he says, pointing. Two tall boys who look a lot like Carter—and totally different at the same time—are walking across the baggage claim toward us.
Carey, the younger one, must be nearly six feet tall. He’s blond and blue-eyed like his dad. But while his father has a distinctly manly look about him, Carey brims with the beauty and energy of youth. His skin is spotless, which I take as a personal affront, because I still get zits in my mid-twenties.
Hunter is already taller than his father. He has close-cropped brown hair and brown eyes. His cheeks and chin are speckled with stubble, and for such a young man, he has a very masculine aura. The girls must be all over him. It’s true what they say. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
They’re both trying to appear cool, but I can tell they’re happy to see their dad. They each give him an affectionate hug, and he hugs them back happily. Carter has always seemed like a sexy bachelor to me, but seeing him with his sons is kind of cute.
“Okay, boys,” he says, putting his arm around me. “This is Mackenzie. Sweetie, meet Hunter and Carey.”
The boys’ bright faces darken, letting me know I don’t stand a chance. I stretch out my hand, and they do shake it, but they squeeze so hard I have to put effort into not screaming. “Nice to meet you,” I say, trying to sound cheerful.
Carter seems satisfied, at least. “Let’s go home. Mackenzie and I thought it’d be fun to have a barbecue.”
Carey turns his cold blue eyes away from me, defrosting them for his father. “Actually, we’re meeting up with some friends tonight, Dad.”
“Oh, well, why don’t we have dinner, then you can go?” Carter suggests cheerfully.
The boys seem mollified as their dad takes Carey’s bag and puts an arm around his shoulders, Hunter on his other side. They’re the perfect trio.
“Are you coming, sweetie?” Carter calls over his shoulder.
I follow them out of the airport, the lowly fourth wheel.
Back at the car, Hunter gets in front like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Carter looks irritated for a second but doesn’t say anything. Instead, he holds the back door open for me, and I silently climb into his Mercedes SUV.
Once behind the wheel, Carter is all cheer again. “What are your plans for the summer?” he asks.
“Friends, beach, babes,” Carey says automatically.
Hunter laughs. “In that order?”
Carey shrugs. “It’s not exactly a secret you go through all three of them like candy. Especially that last one.”
Carter throws his oldest a look. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was respect, but that’s impossible, right? Could a father be proud of his seventeen-year-old son’s sexual exploits? No. There must be something else behind that look.
Hunter turns around to grin at his brother. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, virgin.”
“TMI, thank you very much,” Carter says, and he actually sounds amused.
Hunter slouches down in his seat. “I thought you’d put those condoms there on purpose so we couldn’t help but find them.”
“Don’t corrupt your brother,” Carter laughs. “There’s still hope for him.”
“Did you hear that?” Hunter says. “You’re the good, normal, boring brother.”
“No, I’m not!” Carey leans forward to punch Hunter’s shoulder.
Hunter dodges it, laughing.
For some reason, I feel like I shouldn’t be here. They’re acting like I’m not here, anyway.
“Hey, boys, no punching,” Carter throws in. “Words are your weapons! You know the rules.”
“Hunter’s too stupid to use language as a weapon,” Carey grumbles.
“Stupid?” Carter repeats. “Was that report card a fake then?”
Hunter grins. “No need for that, Dad. Unlike Carey, I’ve got brains and looks.”
“Yeah, and your looks are shit!” Carey teases.
His brother turns around, looks straight at me, and then says to his brother, “I guess you want to spend the evening with Dad then…”
There’s a meaningful silence.
Carey looks at me for a second as well and then makes a cut-throat gesture with his hand, as if to threaten me, “They’re my friends, too.”
Hunter grins like a predator. “Be a good boy then.”
Carey snorts but doesn’t say anything.
I’m relieved when we get to the house—our house. Even though I know the toughest part is still ahead. Because the boys don’t know I’ve moved in with their dad. What on earth are they going to say when we tell them? It’s clear by now that they don’t hold back. And I don’t want those word-weapons trained on me…
Walking up the driveway, I look at the house like I always do. It’s huge, built for a large, happy family, and once again, I feel like an intruder. This is where they all used to live as a family. And now Carter lives here with a new woman. Me.
As soon as the boys get inside, they quietly claim the space around them. The house seems smaller with three big men in it.
“I’ll go fire up the grill, sweetie,” Carter says when I enter the kitchen.
I nod, and he gives me a hug, kissing me on the top of my head. Carey gives me a look so hostile I have to close my eyes, fighting back tears. I don’t want to show them how much they affect me.
As soon as Carter leaves, Carey steps in front of me. “Are you after our money?”
I give him an irritated look. “Excuse me?”
“Dad’s got a lot of dough. Is that what you’re after? Why else would you be with a guy twice your age?”
I’m speechless. Hunter nonchalantly leans against the fridge, not saying anything, but there’s something terrifying about the way he’s standing there all calm, his arms crossed in front of his chest. My eyes move from one brother to the other, and my mouth goes dry.
“Sweetie, can you bring out the steaks?” Carter calls from outside.
I swallow and glance at Hunter blocking the fridge. When I take one step toward him, he doesn’t budge. “Would you mind…”
He puts on his predator’s smile. “Would I mind what?”
“Moving over.”
He smiles down at me. “Say please.”
I want to tell him to fuck off but remind myself that he’s seventeen—and testing me. I can’t say to him what I would say to a twenty-five-year-old asshole in this situation. Pulling myself together, I give him my best unflinching look. “Would you please move over?”
He steps aside. “There you go, doll.”
Doll?
Do not react, I tell myself. Just ignore it. “My name is Mackenzie. Or Mac.” I silently curse myself. Great job! Now he knows it bothers me, so he’s never going to stop calling me that.
Flustered, I get the steaks from the fridge and take them outside.
Carter smiles at me. “Hey.” He pulls me closer for a kiss. “Is everything okay?”
I nod. “Yup. Just weird.”
He gives me a loving smile. “I know you guys are all going to get along great. I love having my three favorite people here with me.”
I snuggle up to him until he frees himself to put the meat on the grill.
“Hunt?” he calls inside. “Can you set the table out here, please?”
As the boys come out onto the porch with plates and cutlery, I go back to the kitchen to grab the sides I made earlier.
“You haven’t answered my question,” someone says behind me, and I flinch so hard I drop the bowl in my hands. My potato salad lands on the floor, and glass shards from the bowl fly through the air. One of them hits my shin, and I stare at the red drop trickling down my leg.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” Carter calls, rushing inside, alerted by the almighty crash I just made.
“Yeah.” I nod a little too fast. “Just dropped a bowl. Sorry.”
“No problem,” he says. He comes over, picks me up, and sets me down on the kitchen island before diligently picking up the shards and throwing the rest of the bowl in the trash.
As he begins to wipe the floor up, my manners kick in. “Hey, let me do that,” I say, starting to slide off the counter.
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it.” He smiles at me, and a knot in my heart dissolves. Carter. He loves me. I love him. That’s what I need to remember.
When he’s finished, he gets out a Band-Aid and carefully places it over the little cut on my leg. “There you go. All set. I hope Hunter didn’t burn the meat.”
“I heard that,” a voice calls from outside. “Like I’d make a mistake doing something as manly as grilling meat.”
Carter laughs and kisses me before we take the remaining sides outside. Once we’re all sitting at the table, Carter looks at both boys. “Weren’t you two talking about going to football camp this summer?”
“It doesn’t start for three weeks,” Carey reminds him. “And we’ll only be gone a week.”
“What positions do you play?” I ask, just to be part of the conversation. Truth be told, I already know Hunter plays wide receiver and Carey’s a second-string quarterback, which they proceed to politely tell me. In fact, as long as their dad’s around, they’re polite and reasonably friendly. They’re not going out of their way to make me comfortable, but it’s at least possible to talk to them. However, when Carter takes a call and disappears into the house, things change quickly.
“Answer my goddamn question,” Carey snarls.
Hunter just grins and leans back, crossing his arms in front of his chest again. In a few years, he’ll be a real giant. He’s already tall, and even though his muscles are pretty impressive for a teenager, I’m sure he’ll bulk up some more.
Realizing I’m on my own, I look back at Carey. “You can stop asking. Because it’s none of your business.”
He pulls a face. “So you are a gold digger then.”
I gather up all my courage. It’s difficult to remember I’m a confident woman with Hunter staring at me like I’m some insect he’s about to crush. He somehow manages to appear both cocky and laid-back at the same time—a skill most men do not attain in this lifetime. “I-I don’t want to argue with you,” I say, trying to keep my voice from wavering. “I want to get to know you both, and get along. I’m not here to cause trouble. I love your dad.”
“News flash, doll,” Carey says. “Just because you spread your legs for our dad doesn’t mean you can wrap us around your finger. Dad’s brought home a lot of women over the past three years. They all had one thing in common. You want to know what it is?”
I shake my head, but I didn’t really think that was going to stop him.
“They’re not here anymore.”
Like I said, I didn’t want to know. “Please don’t talk to me like that.”
“Like what?” Carey asks innocently.
“Condescendingly.”
“Hmm,” he says, like he’s mulling it over. “To be honest, I think I’m being pleasant.” He looks at Hunter like he’s waiting for instructions, but Hunter obviously doesn’t care to interfere.
And I don’t know how to react. What am I supposed to say? “I’ll tell your father”? That’s a sure-fire way of ruining whatever chance I might still have at building a relationship with them. Or should I tell them—again—that I don’t want them talking to me like that? Only to have them ridicule me again… Maybe I should get up and leave. But then they’ll think they can do whatever they want with me.
Fortunately, Carter returns then, but he’s wearing a frown. “That was your mom,” he tells the boys. “She wanted to know where you are.”
Their expressions change immediately. Carey suddenly looks guilty, while Hunter’s face hardens.
“She said she had no idea where you were,” Carter says, his voice stern. “She was worried.”
Carey looks at the floor, but Hunter snorts disbelievingly.
“Hunter,” Carter says, frustrated, running a hand through his hair. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Hunter looks him directly in the eye. “We want to move back to San Diego.”
Carter looks stunned. “Excuse me?” he finally grinds out.
“You want me to say it again?” Hunter says.
Carter snorts. “Why?”
Hunter rolls his eyes. “You know Mom.”
“Yeah, what about her?”
Hunter runs a hand through his short hair. “She’s a mean drunk. And she brings home all kinds of men. It’s like living in a goddamn brothel.”
I swallow. I’d thought they couldn’t stand me because they loved their mom so much. But that’s apparently not it. They may have been treating me like dirt just a few seconds ago, but I can feel their pain now. No child should have to worry about whether a parent actually cares about them. I know that best of all.
Carter runs a hand over his face. “Hunter…”
“Come on, Dad! I know what you’re going to say. But we can’t stay there with Mom.”
Carter nods slowly. “Actually, you don’t know what I’m going to say.” He looks over at me quickly. “Mackenzie moved in with me a few weeks ago. So, this is her home now, too. If you two want to move back in, you have to get along with her, too.”
Carey gives his dad an exasperated look. “She moved in with you?”
“You have a problem with that?” Carter asks, and for the first time, he sounds slightly snappy.
“No,” his youngest mumbles.
“Hunter?”
“Anything’s better than staying in Miami,” he says.
Carter nods. “Mac?”
I give him a surprised look. “Yeah?”
“It’s your home, too. Are you okay with them moving in?” he asks.
“They’re your sons,” I say, even though I have to swallow before I finish my thought. “They’ll always be welcome here.” Deep inside, I thought it would be tough to spend ten weeks with them. But having them move in with us? It’s a whole different story. While Hunter’s about to start his last year of high school—and then he’ll be off to college or somewhere else—Carey would be with us for at least another three years.
Can I do this? It very well could be three years of hell lying ahead of me.
But, at this point, I’ll just have to wait and see.
Carter puts a hand on my shoulder and looks over at Hunter again. “If I let you move in here, I expect you to behave better than you did in Miami.”
Hunter and Carey both nod. “Promise,” they say in unison.
Carter snorts. Obviously, he doesn’t believe it. “Okay, we’ll still have to see. I’ll call your mom and let her know about your decision.”
“Awesome.” Hunter gets up. “Now, we’re out of here.”
“Be back at midnight,” Carter says.
“Dad, seriously?” Carey asks in the tone of a complete brat.
“You’re fifteen,” Carter responds.
“Hunter isn’t.”
“So Hunter can bring you back here at midnight and stay out another hour.”
“That’s totally unfair!” Carey whines.
Carter gives him a firm look. “What did you just say about good behavior?”
Carey gives him a sly smile. “You said better, not good.”
I struggle to keep a neutral face, because inside, I’m secretly applauding Carey. Carter though isn’t so impressed.
“Midnight,” he says.
“Can we take the car?” Hunter asks.
Carter nods. “Keys are on the table.”
They’re gone within a second.
“Rascals,” Carter says, sitting back down with me. He puts a hand on my leg. “Thank you, sweetie.”
“It’s your house, and they’re your sons. Of course they can move in with us.”
“It’s our house,” he corrects me gently.
I shrug. “Still.”
He runs a hand through his hair. “It’ll be different.”
“Sure.”
He looks at me. “What’s wrong?”
I’m kneading my fingers, and he zooms in on them. He knows I do this when I’m nervous, so there’s no point lying to him now. “They don’t like me,” I admit.
Carter nods slowly. “Give them some time. They’ve never seen me with another woman. Only with their mom. But it’ll be okay.” I realize then that he has no idea his sons actually know about every woman he’s ever dated.
“So, I guess they don’t have a great relationship with their mom?” I say, trying not to sound like I’m prodding.
Carter shakes his head. “Not anymore. They always did before. But then she cheated on me, and I left. She started drinking, and… I guess sometimes they still hold me responsible for it.”
I take his hand. “But it’s not your fault.”
He smiles wistfully. “I know. I couldn’t stay with her. But I’m sorry my boys got hurt.”
“You’re a great dad. They love and respect you.”
He nods. “They’ve always been my number-one priority.”
“Why did they stay with their mom?”
“It’s what they wanted. Lauren was not in a good place after the divorce, and Hunter always feels like he has to take care of people. Save them. He didn’t want to leave her alone, and Carey always does what Hunter does. I’m just glad he’s somewhat of a good role model.”
A faint smile flits across my lips. “So what trouble did they get into in Miami?”
Carter smiles. “Oh, man, they messed up a few times. Nothing serious, though. Hunter got in a few fights with his coach and had plenty of detention. And they were at a few parties that were broken up by the police. Carey was caught drunk once. I’d say it’s all pretty normal for their age. Judging by what my friends say, it could be much worse. Some kids are really out there. Hunter might be a bit of a hothead, but he’s sensible enough to make sure Carey’s always safe.”
“What if they don’t accept me?” I ask.
He strokes my hand. “It’ll be fine, sweetie. Don’t give up.”
I nod, even though I know I’m in for a rough ride.
 

 

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

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

Love, Annie
  
 
Author Links
 
 


CHAPTER REVEAL – At His Mercy by Shelly Bell

 

 

 

 

 

Angel in his arms . . . Devil at her heels

One last, no-strings night of indulgence. That’s all Tristan wants before he begins a much-needed new chapter in his life. Instead he finds an innocent angel in pink who brings him to his knees.

Isabella is done hiding from the world . . . and her haunting memories. Discovering courage in the arms of a perfect stranger, she finally lets go and sheds her inhibitions.

To Isabella’s shock, she soon learns that Tristan is more than her mystery man-he’s her professor. But Tristan isn’t the only person who’s found Isabella on campus. A dark figure from her past has come back for her. Now Tristan will risk anything to protect Isabella . . . even if it costs him his life.

 


Chapter One

If there ever was an unassuming location for a sex party, the quaint Tudor-style house in front of her definitely fit the bill. For Pete’s sake, there were children’s bicycles on the neighbor’s lawn.
Her cousin, Dreama, must have given her the wrong address.
Isabella Lawson rifled through her purse, cursing the starless night and wishing for the umpteenth time that someone would invent a purse that lit up when you opened it. After digging her way to the bottom, she finally located her cell.
A black screen.
Of course it was dead.
She leaned on her grandfather’s old Buick and growled in frustration. Would anything go right?
Tonight’s event was going to be her first sex party. And probably her last. But since Isabella couldn’t call Dreama for the right address, her plans to screw were screwed.
“What are you wearing?” asked her cousin.
Startled, Isabella spun around and pressed a palm to her chest as if trying to keep her racing heart from flying out. Her cousin had scared the stuffing out of her. She glanced down at her outfit. “What I’ve worn all summer.” Even she could admit that black stretch pants and a pink T-shirt with her family bakery’s logo probably wasn’t standard sex party wear.
Dreama blew a ring of smoke into the humid air, then took another puff of her cigarette. “That isn’t what I meant. I’m wondering why the hell you’re still wearing it.”
Fanning away the smoke, Isabella fake coughed. “I came straight from work. I didn’t have time to change. Not to mention, everything I own is in boxes.” About to leave for her freshman year of college, she’d packed up the majority of her clothes. “And I wasn’t about to ask Mom to borrow something of hers. She would’ve grilled me for information until I told her the truth.” Isabella plucked the cigarette from her cousin’s mouth, dropped it on the concrete, and ground it out with her shoe. “Would you have preferred if I’d told your aunt that you’re taking me to my first sex party?”
Dreama shook her head, a little laugh escaping her lips. “That’s all I need. Aunt Maria not only blaming me for corrupting her innocent daughter, but hauling my ass to church to confess my many sins.” She jumped up onto the hood of Isabella’s car and fished through her purse. “And I didn’t bring you to a sex party. It’s a play party.”
Isabella raised a brow in both confusion and at the fact that her cousin had just added another dent to the car’s collection. “There’s a difference?”
Dangling a cigarette between her fingers and rolling her thumb over her lighter, Dreama smiled. “Yes. Intercourse isn’t permitted at a play party.”
“You didn’t tell me that.”
“Sure I did,” Dreama said, bending to light her cigarette.
What was the point of being here then? She could’ve not had sex anywhere. The idea of coming to this thing was to experience BDSM in a relatively safe environment.
Isabella snatched the cigarette from her cousin and stomped on it. “No, I think I’d remember a detail like not getting laid at a sex party.” If the party wound her up, how would she get any relief? She’d already packed away her vibrator.
“Play party,” Dreama repeated, jumping off the hood of the car with a pop. “And don’t worry. There are other ways of getting off than intercourse.” Cracking up, she lewdly wiggled her fingers and stuck out her tongue.
Isabella’s cheeks heated. “Oh.”
Dreama placed a hand on her hip. “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought you here. You’re so innocent.”
She ran her fingertip along the pink scar on her left forearm. She’d always thought innocence referred to the status of your virginity. How wrong she’d been. Innocence was a state of mind, and she’d lost hers the hard way. Her scars would always remind her of that. “I’m not innocent,” she said quietly. “Not anymore.”
As her cousin was one of the few who knew the truth about what had happened to Isabella last year, her eyes clouded over with sympathy. “No, I suppose you’re not.” She curled her hands around Isabella’s shoulders, concern etched on her face. “Are you ready to go in and get a firsthand look, or would you rather go get a drink somewhere? I’m good either way.”
“Isn’t your Dom in there waiting for you?” Isabella asked.
Dreama’s lips tilted up in a smile. “Master Jamie is inside, but he’ll understand if I go get a drink with you. He knows you and I won’t get to see each other for a while.”
“I want to go inside,” she said. And she did, despite her racing heart and her sweaty palms. “I need to do it. You know I do.”
After surviving what she and her parents referred to as “the incident,” Isabella found that she’d lost her ability to trust anyone, especially herself. As a result, instead of having gone away to college as planned, she’d allowed her parents to convince her to stay at home and work in their bakery full-time. Her life in limbo, she’d spent her days at the bakery and her nights either in therapy or at home, hiding away in her bedroom.
But everything changed the night she’d hung out at Dreama’s and stumbled upon her huge collection of BDSM books.
After a long conversation with her cousin, Isabella realized she wanted to learn more about BDSM and borrowed a few of the books. Something about the lifestyle had resonated with her. Warmth permeated throughout her limbs at the idea of a man giving her structured rules to follow and at knowing there were established boundaries neither of them could cross. The sensation was so foreign, she almost didn’t recognize it.
Until she realized it was peace.
The unsettling feelings she’d harbored since puberty didn’t mean there was something wrong with her. Other people fantasized about being restrained and punished by a lover too. Of course, things like that weren’t spoken about in her large Italian-Irish Catholic family. No, she was expected to do her duty for her husband with her legs spread and her eyes shut tight without complaint. Husbands weren’t supposed to tie their wives to the bedpost and take them every way imaginable while she cried “no” and thrashed beneath him, all the while violently coming over and over.
She’d spent the following six months researching BDSM and discussing it with her therapist. At first, she hadn’t understood how she could want to be dominated or why she craved a little pain with her pleasure. Shouldn’t her past have turned her off to those yearnings?
For days, she’d walked around feeling both shame and guilt until she’d finally accepted that her sexual inclinations had little to do with what had happened to her. Yes, she was submissive. That didn’t mean she was weak or asking to be a victim.
Now, with eight weeks of her local BDSM group’s introductory class under her belt, she was ready to participate in her first real power exchange with an experienced Dominant. Dreama had assured her that she knew almost all of the Doms at the party, and with rules in place, Isabella would be perfectly safe.
In Isabella’s opinion, giving up her power to a Dom tonight would help her reclaim control over her life. Tonight, she’d take back what she’d lost and become whole again. And damn it, if it went as she suspected it would, and she got off on being dominated, then she’d accept that her sexuality was different. But it was hers, and she’d own it.
Dreama released her hold on her. “Yes, I know all the reasons you need to do this, but once you get a taste, you may develop a particular palate. Life will become a lot more complicated.”
Isabella shrugged. After tonight, her particular “palate” would have to wait four years for another taste. It wasn’t as if she would have time for a Dom/sub relationship in college, even if she did manage to find a compatible partner in the Michigan Upper Peninsula’s small college town of Edison. “I’m not worried, but thanks for the warning. I’ll be sure to take that into consideration.”
Scrutinizing her, Dreama pursed her lips. “Before we go in, we need to do something about your outfit.”
Spoken like a true fashion maven. Dreama was wearing one of her own creations, a black bustier with metallic blue ribbons and an attached lace skirt. No one would ever guess from her clothes tonight that during business hours she was a buttoned-up, by-the-book parole officer.
But even with her cousin’s skills, Isabella’s outfit was hopeless.
Isabella pulled her shirt taut, showing off the logo for her family’s bakery. “Unless you have something in your car, I think I’m stuck with what I’m wearing.”
Dreama scanned her up and down, smiling. “We’ll make it work. Slide your arms out of the sleeves.” When Isabella did what she was told, Dreama folded and tucked the sleeves into the opening at her neck. “Now take off your pants.”
She raised a brow. “When I thought about attending my first play party, somehow it wasn’t you I pictured ordering me to remove my clothes.” Giggling, she shimmied out of her black pants and twirled around wearing nothing but a shirt made into a dress and white cotton boy shorts. “What do you think?”
Her cousin whistled. “You look hot.”
She laughed as she picked up her pants and tossed them into the backseat of her car before locking it. “I look like a stripper.”
“You’ll fit right in.” Dreama winked and threw her arm around Isabella’s shoulders, leading her to the front door. “Ready to play?”
Play. An innocuous word for such decadence. Was she ready to become part of it?
Smiling, she turned to her cousin. “Hell, yeah.”
***
With his dungeon gear bag slung over his shoulder, Tristan Kelley sidestepped Yvette, the blonde sub headed his way, and made a beeline for the exit. There wasn’t a sub here worth staying for, and while his dick hadn’t seen much action lately, other than some lube and his palm, nothing had raised his interest tonight.
“Leaving already?” asked the amused voice from behind him.
Only a few feet from the door, he pivoted toward his best friend and business partner, Ryder. “I’ve got some stuff to do before the move upstate.”
Debating whether he was making the right decision, he’d put off packing until the very last minute, but now that he had finalized his contract, there was no changing his mind.
“I call bullshit, Tristan. What’s the real reason?”
He scrubbed a hand over the two-day-old stubble on his cheek. “I meet the same single women at every play party, and at one time or another, each has expressed an interest in becoming my permanent sub. Why can’t I find someone who just wants a night or two of kinky fucking without expecting more?”
At twenty-eight years old, he wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship, vanilla or otherwise. Every sub he’d played with this year had thought she’d be the one to tame him, but he’d done the whole commitment deal once with disastrous results. Because of his ex-wife, Morgan, he’d lost everything that had mattered to him. There was no way he would go down that road again with a woman.
“Don’t look at me. I’m with you.” Ryder grinned. “At least I don’t have to worry about that with Maggie. Gotta love open marriages. We single men reap all the benefits while the poor married saps have to deal with all the day-to-day bullshit that goes into a relationship. Speaking of which, I’d be happy to tag team her with you. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”
Ryder had an even bigger aversion to commitment than he did, never fucking the same woman twice. Someday, Ryder would meet someone who would knock him on his ass, and when that happened, Tristan was going to make sure he had a front row seat.
Tristan shook his head. “No thanks. Not in the mood.”
The ménage thing was sexy as hell, and he’d certainly participated in his fair share, but there wasn’t a woman here who could make his dick stir from its slumber tonight.
Besides, it didn’t matter to him that Maggie was in an open marriage. Maybe it was because of his past, but in his opinion, having sex with someone other than your spouse, even with their consent, was infidelity. But he didn’t judge others, just as he didn’t want someone else to judge him for his sexual preferences.
Ryder shrugged. “Suit yourself. She’s waiting for me in the master bedroom.”
“Thought you abided by the no-sex rules at your parties.”
“It’s my house. If I can’t fuck here, where am I supposed to do it?” Ryder asked, his gaze glued to Yvette, who’d yet to become a notch on his bedpost. Leave it to his best friend to line up his next conquest while having a naked woman waiting for him in bed. Compared to Ryder, Tristan was a prude. “If you change your mind and stay, the other bedroom is open and available. Just like all the subs.” He snagged a bottled water off the bar and winked at Yvette before returning his attention to Tristan.
“That’s the problem. I just want someone for one night. Someone I’m not going to see again.”
“You’ve certainly made that easier, considering you’re moving this week.”
“Not permanently. And I’ll occasionally come back to the city. Lord knows I’m not going to find anyone in the lifestyle up there.” Although with the women he’d met lately, he’d been thinking he might go vanilla for a year. It certainly couldn’t be any less fulfilling.
“Maybe you should’ve thought about that before you agreed to the job,” Ryder said, his brows knitted into a frown. “Hey, there are kinky people everywhere. And you did have your first real experience with BDSM there.”
“Somehow, I think the chances of finding another Olivia in that one-horse town is slim to none.” Olivia had been four years older than he was and the first to show him the ropes. Literally. “You sure you’ll be okay without me?”
Ryder folded his arms across his chest. “Don’t worry about leaving me to run everything. I’ve already got phone calls into my contacts about the expansion into the southwest.”
Shit. He and Ryder had discussed that they needed testimonials for the long-term success of their products before they’d expand into other territories. “Tell me you’re joking. We don’t have the capital—” At Ryder’s smirk, Tristan realized he’d been played. “You dick.”
“Give me a little credit. I wouldn’t make any major decisions without your consent.” Ryder pounded him on the back hard enough to make his teeth chatter. “Have fun and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Tristan punched him in the arm. “There isn’t anything you wouldn’t do.”
“True that. Speaking of which, I’d better go meet Maggie before she starts without me.” On a laugh, Ryder walked off with the swagger of a man who was about to get laid.
Meanwhile, Tristan had a date with his right hand.
As he inched his way through the crowd to the front door, Dreama, a sub he’d met but never played with, came in. She gave him a little smile, careful not to make eye contact, and forged a path toward the basement. She was a sweet girl, but there had never been any sparks between them, and she was now in a collared relationship.
Seeing the opportunity to sneak out before someone else stopped him, he stepped to the door.
And there she was.
Tristan’s breath caught in his chest as if he’d been kicked in the ribs. She was a vision in pink, her long red hair flowing down her shoulders and pale skin that was just begging for him to mark. He could practically see his pink handprint on her ass and the way the flogger would make it appear as though her entire body blushed.
Along with several of the Doms in the room, his eyes tracked her as she entered the house with her gaze lowered, her blatant innocence calling to him…to all of them. She was new blood, a little lamb who had stumbled into a den of hungry wolves. It was only a matter of time before they’d be circling her, eager to get a taste.
He hesitated to leave, his curiosity roused by this angel in pink. Had she come with Dreama? Who the hell was she?
He hungered to harness that innocence for himself. To have her kneel at his feet in submission and to feel her silky skin against his rough palms. He stood rooted to his spot as she passed by him, leaving the scent of vanilla behind.
His whole body thrummed with anticipation, as if it was prepared for something momentous. The cock that had been hibernating all night suddenly blazed to life and began throbbing mercilessly against the front of his pants. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d felt this way. If he’d ever felt this way. He’d been numb for so long, nothing exciting him beyond a momentary thrill from domination. Now it was as if every part of him was awake.
There was no reason to stay, and yet he couldn’t make himself walk out the door. Not until he learned more about this mysterious beauty, and why the hell she affected him this way.
For a few minutes, he leaned against the wall and observed her. It was clear from the way she moved tentatively into the house that this wasn’t her typical scene. She tugged at her hair, curling it around her finger, and repetitively pulled at the hem of her odd dress, seemingly uncomfortable in it. Hell, it was so short it barely covered her ass, but that wasn’t unusual at a play party. In fact, she was still wearing more than half the women here.
Dreama stopped to put her arm around the mystery woman, whispering in her ear. She steered her over to the far side of the room, where a man in black leather waited with obvious eagerness.
Tristan crossed his arms and frowned. He didn’t know the guy well, but he knew he was relatively new to the BDSM lifestyle. She should be with someone with more experienced, especially if his gut was correct and she was as innocent as she looked.
But it wasn’t his business.
His redheaded angel shifted her weight from foot to foot as Dreama appeared to introduce the two of them before sauntering off and leaving her on her own. I should go.
By all accounts, she’d already been claimed for the night. There was no point in watching her scene with another man. Voyeurism wasn’t his kink, especially when he craved to be the one doing the dominating.
His feet moved, only rather than taking him in the direction of the exit, he found himself standing just inches away from her, angling himself so that he appeared to be admiring the garish painting on the wall as he listened in on their conversation.
“I know Dreama meant well, but I have to be honest. I don’t think I’m ready yet to play with someone who doesn’t have any experience,” the guy said, surprising Tristan with his accurate assessment.
At least now he didn’t have to worry about her sceneing with someone who didn’t know what he was doing. There were plenty of qualified Doms here tonight who would just love to get their hands on her.
His body tightened with tension. Why didn’t that make him feel any better?
Time to go before he did something stupid…like volunteer.
“Oh. Sure. I understand,” she responded, her voice as dulcet as he’d imagined.
Intending to leave, he took a step backward and began a pivot toward the door, when she crashed into his right side. So much for making a clean getaway. Not wanting to be rude, he flipped around to apologize and came face-to-face with her.
She stared up at him with clear green eyes. “I’m so sorry.”
Her pale pink lips were swollen as if she’d just spent the last ten minutes with his cock between them. Jesus, were they naturally that plump? Her tongue darted out, moistening her bottom lip and leaving it glistening in an invitation to sample.
“No,” he said, his voice sounding a bit grittier than usual, “I’m sorry.” It was a lie. He couldn’t have planned it better. He coughed to clear his throat before offering his hand. “I’m Tristan.”
A cute little notch formed between her brows as she accepted, placing her palm against his. Her skin was just as soft as he’d imagined it would be.
“I’m…” She lowered her gaze and a beautiful blush crept down her cheeks, disappearing under her dress.
For a myriad of reasons, some people didn’t want to give their real names at these parties. He wasn’t sure why she was hesitant, but seeing that blush sent a jolt straight to his cock.
“Why don’t I just call you Angel?”
“Angel?” she asked breathlessly, peeking up at him through her lush lashes and smiling. “I like that.”
All thoughts of leaving the party fled. He couldn’t go before he got a taste. She was positively edible, and he couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into her.
He took a step closer to her, her hard nipples brushing against his chest. He dipped his head to her neck, inhaling. God, she made his mouth water. “You smell like vanilla.”
“I’m a baker,” she said, a tremor in her voice. Her hands went to his chest, fisting his shirt in her hands as if using him to keep herself upright. “I didn’t have time to shower. Or change.”
That explained why she was wearing only that surprisingly sexy makeshift dress. It was actually a shirt. “You smell delicious.” He sucked the lobe of her ear into his mouth and nibbled. She tasted as sweet as cake, and if her pussy tasted half as delicious, he’d likely go into a diabetic coma by the time the night was over.
At her quiet moan, he whispered, “And your clothes are irrelevant. In five minutes, the only thing you’ll be wearing is a smile. That is, if you consent.”
Her breathing quickened. “If I say yes, what will I be consenting to, exactly?”
Images of her naked and bound flashed through his mind. There were so many dirty things he wanted to do to her, each one ending with her climaxing harder than she ever had before. And he was just the man to make that happen.
He cupped her heart-shaped face in his hands. “Paradise.”

 

 

A sucker for a happy ending, Shelly Bell writes erotic suspense and action-filled erotic thrillers with high-emotional stakes for her alpha heroes and kick-ass heroines.

She began writing upon the insistence of her husband who dragged her to the store and bought her a laptop. When she’s not working her day job, taking care of her family, or writing, you’ll find her reading the latest smutty romance.

She is the author of the BENEDICTION and FORBIDDEN LOVERS series.

 



 

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