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BLOG TOUR ~ Sky’s The Limit (Doomsday Preppers) by Elle Aycart

 

 
 

 

 

 

 
 

Tired of waiting for her big break in the fashion industry, Sky Gonzalez, eternal part-time student and overworked retail drone, quits her job, sublets her New York apartment, and embarks on a semester abroad study program in Paris. Paris! Time to throw caution to the winds and jump-start her dreams. What’s the worst that could happen?

How about getting sent to the wrong Paris? As in Paris-frigging-Minnesota?

Bye-bye career dreams. Bye-bye glamour and haute couture. Hello flannel shirts, mind-numbing cold, zero bars on the cell phone, and socially challenged mountain men with tons of unruly facial hair.

So yeah, let the truck barreling her way hit her, please. Less painful.

Logan should have dodged the little lost waif and kept on driving. Who in their right mind walked in the middle of the road, dressed in white from head to high heels, during a snowstorm? Clueless city girls, that’s who. Sky is all that Logan has gladly left behind: stylish, cosmopolitan, and a massive pain in the butt. He wouldn’t trade a single day in his quirky little corner of the woods for all the high-maintenance beauties the city can offer.

Too bad this beauty has been deemed a health hazard and quarantined in his house. Damn his doomsday-prepper neighbors and their paranoid emergency protocols. Now he has to keep Sky in and the pandemic squad out until the roads are clear. The question is, will that happen before or after Sky realizes she’s under house arrest?

Ah, the best-laid plans…


Logan addressed the pandemic squad up on the platform. “Sorry to break it to you. This is a free country. You can’t go quarantining people at will.”
“Wrong. Exactly because this is a free country, we can.”
There were some mumbles of agreement from the crowd, “That’s right” and “You got it” and “Try to stop us.”
“We live in a democracy. Let’s take a vote,” Carol suggested. “All in favor of quarantining Patient Zero, please raise your hands.”
Everyone, including a smirking Ty, raised their hands.
“Oh, come on,” Logan grumbled. “Really? You serious?”
“Motion accepted,” Carol said, wrestling the gavel from the mayor and banging it on the podium. “Besides, Patient Zero doesn’t have to know she’s been quarantined. Just keep her indoors by any means necessary until she gets better.”
“Or she kicks the bucket,” somebody chimed in.
Nuts. The whole bunch of them. Down to the very last one.
“She’s not Patient Zero, people. Her name is Sky and she’s got the flu, damn it. Not Ebola. Just a common, garden-variety flu.”
“By our calculations, Patient Zero has been here almost twenty-four hours. We’re late on containment,” Carol said.
Logan shook his head in dismay. Man, like talking to a wall.
“You had her hidden away for a whole day?” Ty asked impishly.
“She was just sleeping on my sofa.” Logan realized his mistake right away and turned to Carol and the rest. “You are not burning my sofa. Are we clear?”
Whether it was clear or not, Logan didn’t know, because Carol ignored his words. “And we’ll be monitoring you,” she added while the rest nodded. “At the slightest indication you’re sick—”
“Yeah, yeah, you’ll quarantine me too, and if I don’t get better fast enough, you’ll shoot me and cremate my remains.” Along with the damn couch, of course.
Carol rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly.”
“Yeah, don’t be silly,” someone interjected. “We’ll autopsy you before that. Dissect you into tiny pieces.”
Jesus fucking Christ. Why couldn’t his neighbors have been the gearheads prepping for solar flares that would fry the grid? More kumbaya. Less ready to dissect.
“This is all your fault, Megan,” he said to his sister, who was sitting two rows behind him. “Couldn’t you have moved somewhere else? A normal fucking place?”
She just laughed. “You heard the lady. Keep Patient Zero indoors—by any means necessary.”
“Ha. Ha.”
“What? Skills too rusty to keep a woman indoors?” she asked.
“I can help,” Ty added. “Is she pretty?”
Gorgeous, actually. Big, dark eyes. Olive-colored skin. Delicate features. But that was beside the point too.
“Fuck off, both of you,” Logan muttered. Raising his voice, he addressed the crowd again. “You’re certifiable. All of you.”
“I totally agree,” Carol said. “We give you far too much leeway. Look at how flexible we’ve been about your toxic contaminants.”





BLP REVIEW ~ Tracy

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After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff. While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.

Elle loves to hear from readers!

elleaycart@gmail.com

 

 

FREE ~ Deep Down (The OGs Book #1) by Elle Aycart

 


FREE January 9th – 11th via Amazon


 
 

Mike Haddican is a proud small-town gym owner, a renowned karate instructor, and all-around good guy. He’s never needed much to be happy: his family, his friends, his girl. Especially his girl. But when Kyra left him seven years ago to chase her dreams, she all but destroyed him.

Contemporary dancer Kyra Brims made it big, but it cost her dearly. With her life and career in shambles, she doesn’t need a do-over, she needs a friggin’ miracle. Injured, broke, and out of options after going through hell, she’s come back to Alden, the town she swore she’d never return to and home of Mike Haddican, the man who ripped her soul to pieces, to lick her wounds and recover.

Forgetting and letting go proved impossible when they were worlds apart; now that they’re stuck together they don’t stand a chance, especially with Mike’s grandma and her partners in crime plotting, meddling and refusing to give up on them.

As the passion that never died burns out of control, so do old hurts and unresolved issues. Both have reasons to be angry and feel betrayed, but now that they’re older, are they wise enough to make things work?

 

 


“This is a bad idea, Grandma,” Mike said as he walked out of the dressing room at the community center, wearing nothing but his boxers and an intimidating scowl that, unfortunately and as usual, had no effect whatsoever on the old lady.

“Nonsense. The girls are anxiously waiting. Let’s roll,” she said as she pushed him forward and down the corridor.

Scratch bad. This was a shitty idea.

His grandmother was barely five feet tall and a hundred pounds when drenched. How she got the strength to push his big frame while he was literally dragging his feet was beyond him.

“Besides, you promised you’d do it.”

He snorted. “No, I didn’t. I promised I’d help you with your senior courses. Meaning I’d drive you around, do your shopping, and stuff like that. I didn’t agree to pose for your male-anatomy painting lessons. You know I’m too busy for this.” He’d stopped working as a foreman several years ago to run the family gym full-time with his dad, but last month Cole had taken on the renovation of the town’s library pro bono, and Mike had volunteered to help. That plus the gym and the martial-arts classes in the afternoons had taken up all his time. Fuck it if now that the library was almost ready he was going to invest whatever was left of the summer in this. “Can’t you guys use, I don’t know, a statue? Or better yet, a picture. There are plenty of books and—”

“Live human-anatomy painting, Mike,” she interrupted, emphasizing the word “live,” “and one is never too busy to help his grandmother.”

Well, it depended on how nutty the grandmother was, didn’t it?

“What about Mr. Honbacker or Mr. Stilt from bingo nights?” he asked, trying to get out if it. “I’m sure they are free and willing.”

His grandmother clicked her tongue. “The idea behind these classes is for us senior citizens to enjoy ourselves. We do know we have a foot in the grave. We have enough of a reality check every time we look in the mirror, honey. Besides, Mr. Stilt’s prostate is acting up again. He can’t stay still fifteen minutes to save his own life. And about Mr. Honbacker,” she added, lowering her voice, “Greta had a…fling with him. They are not on speaking terms. Some kinky thing he did with his false teeth, I hear.”

Oh man. There was an image he wouldn’t be able to erase from his mind even if he lived to be one hundred.

That was what he got for being nice—permanent brain damage.

“You’re a flawless specimen in the prime of your life,” she continued, reaching for his arm and squeezing his biceps appreciatively. “Handsome and fit. A perfect Michelangelo’s David.”

He turned his head to her. “You’re kidding me, right? Come on, do I look anything like Michelangelo’s David?”

She pondered his words as her gaze traveled over his bulk and tattoos, then settled on his face. “Well, your hair isn’t curly.”

He rolled his eyes. Trust her to focus on the most insignificant things.

For one, his hair was cropped so short it was barely there. And two, he was heavily tattooed, weighed around two hundred forty pounds, and a lifetime of practicing boxing and martial arts had granted him a body that had little to do with that of an effeminate boy.

“You’re a bit rougher than Michelangelo’s David,” she finally conceded, “but you’ll do nicely, I’m sure of it. The girls will be pleased.”

For the love of God.

“I’m your grandson, and you’re pimping me out. Don’t you see anything wrong with this picture?”

“Just humor us. We’re a bunch of women in our eighties. Half of us are blind; the other half won’t remember what we did today tomorrow. And you only have to pose. The girls voted for body oil to highlight your muscles, but they couldn’t agree who should help you rub it on, so I vetoed.”

“Fuck me,” he muttered as he dug his heels in.

Fucking hell.

That was what he got for going along with her wacky ideas. For not putting his foot down. Like when she decided her girls needed self-defense classes. They needed an extra edge, she’d said. Extra edge for what? What were those grandmas going to be doing? Strolling around Southie sporting colors? Considering their age, the best bet if anyone tried to rob them would be to hand over the purse. Better that than risk any injury. His grandmother hadn’t agreed, of course, and now, every Tuesday, there was a self-defense class for seniors down at the gym, where Mike was supposed to teach those charming ladies how to knock down a potential assailant without breaking any bones of their own.

“Come on, Mike, you know we’re harmless.”

Yeah, harmless his ass. He’d rather face a bloodthirsty firing squad or, better yet, the Hulk in a no-holds-barred underground fight than deal with all the guilt-tripping of the OGs—the Original Grandmas—what his grandmother and her partners in crime, Greta and Wilma, had fittingly named the messenger group they shared.

“Besides, you’ve been fooling around with too many women to count. I bet half the continental US has seen you naked. What does it matter if a bunch of grannies see you in your undies? Oh, look, I got a rhyme. Sort of. I need to remember it. For my creative-writing course. I’m compiling my memoirs.”

“Your memoirs? Why do you need creative writing for memoirs?”

She let out a soft snort. “You wouldn’t believe it.”

Next time Mr. Bowen came for a visit, Mike was so bribing him into taking her to Eternal Sun Resort in Florida. From what he’d heard, the senior community was more than adequately equipped to keep his grandmother entertained and the rest of the world out of trouble.

In the meantime, he needed to do some damage control.

“Grandma—”

Probably sensing he was about to hightail it out of there, she pulled out the big guns. “You promised, Mike. You can’t break your promises to me. For all you know, I could drop dead tomorrow, and you’d have to carry the guilt of breaking my heart for the rest of your life.”

God grant him patience.

“Oh please, you’ve been using the same I-could-drop-dead-tomorrow line to get away with whatever you wanted for the last twenty years.”

She shrugged. “I’ve just been lucky, but clearly I’m running out of time. The probability of me kicking the bucket becomes higher and higher with every passing day. You shouldn’t risk it.”

Right. She was in great shape, not only for her age but for someone ten years younger.

“A shameless blackmailer, that’s what you are,” he muttered as they approached the room, following the sound of animated chatter. “No oil. No rubbing. Heck, no touching at all. And the boxers are staying on, are we clear?” He wasn’t sure if Michelangelo’s David was a complete nude or if he had something covering his junk, but Mike had his suspicions, and no way in hell was he risking it.

She patted him condescendingly. “Of course, dear. It’s not our intention to make you uncomfortable in any way.”

Really? Thank fucking God, because he’d been nothing but damn uncomfortable since he’d set foot in the community center.

“For the record, Mike, none of us has had sex during this century, granted, but equipment-wise, I doubt you have something we haven’t seen before.”

He choked on the breath he was taking. He wouldn’t bet on that.

The second he entered the room, a perfectly heart-shaped ass clad in barely there boy shorts that left the undersides of the ass cheeks in plain view welcomed him. Well, maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. The girl was bent over, so he couldn’t see her face, but what he could see was very promising.

“I thought you needed a model for the male-anatomy painting class,” he whispered as he lifted his chin, greeting his grandmother’s blue-haired posse.

“No, I needed a male model for the anatomy painting class.”

She should have started with that. As an incentive if nothing else. He was still pissed he’d be spending every Wednesday posing in his damn underwear—hopefully—but at least he wouldn’t be alone in his misery and could entertain himself with eye candy.

He caught his grandmother’s gaze drifting away to the floor, a flash of unease on her face, and his joy took a nosedive.

Oh boy, why did he have a shitty feeling about this? Before he could ask anything, the owner of that glorious ass straightened, turned around, and his fucking heart jumped to his throat and stopped.

He froze.

There, standing in those sexy-like-hell shorts and a sports bra, showing off her toned, curvy, and mouthwatering body, looking surprised as all fuck—and displeased as all fuck too—was Kyra.

His Kyra.

No, not his Kyra anymore, he corrected himself.

He instinctively took a step back, the air suddenly too thick to breathe.

She’d been back in Alden for a bit over a month now, and this was the closest he’d been to her.

Much closer than he wanted to be ever again.

“A word?” he growled to his grandmother while moving back to the hallway, dragging her along.

Hoping he was out of earshot, he stopped and turned to her, his jaw clenched so tight he had trouble getting any words out. “Are you crazy?”

She thought for a second. “Is that a trick question? Because I warn you my admission won’t have any legal validity, in case you’re having funny thoughts.”

He ignored her. “Kyra? Really?” He hated the raw bitterness dripping from his voice, but there was nothing he could do about it.

She lifted her shoulders. “I had nothing to do with that. I was in charge of bringing a male model. Greta is the one who got Kyra.”

Sure she had nothing to do with Kyra being in there. His grandma, Wilma, and Greta made the Three Musketeers look like total strangers.

“Not doing it. No fucking way.”

“What’s the problem? You told me you were over her.”

Sure he was over her.

Over and fucking done, but that didn’t mean he wanted to spend any time around her. For one, because even now, seeing her or hearing her voice still sent a surge of pain through his chest, which, considering how fucking badly she’d crushed him all those years ago, pissed him off to no end. That, of course, he wasn’t going to explain to his grandmother.

Not that she needed any explanations to read him.

“I thought we could be mature about this,” he heard her say.

Fuck mature. He was running for the hills.

If it hadn’t been for the fact that he’d promised Cole he would help with the library’s renovation, he would have gotten the fuck out of Alden the very first day she came back. Then again, his father couldn’t manage the gym by himself, so he was stuck.

Since her return, out of pure self-preservation, he’d become a master at avoiding her, which in a place the size of Alden was a damn feat. Posing with her for a couple of hours in a confined space, without immediate means of escape, would blow to hell and back the frail status quo he’d managed to achieve. Not to mention he would lose whatever little was left of his frigging peace of mind. He’d have nothing to do but stare at her. At those gorgeous gray eyes of hers that he, once upon a time, used to wake up to. At that bee-stung, luscious mouth he used to spend hours kissing. At that sexy hourglass body he used to love fucking.

He shook his head. “Grandma, I—”

She sighed. “I understand. If you can’t take it, you can’t take it. I’ll walk right back in and say you can’t do it. You shouldn’t feel like any less of a man for it. It’s okay your feelings are still tender, my boy,” she said, patting his chest. “Nobody will think less of you.”

He groaned in exasperation. Fantastic. Now he’d look like a fucking pussy if he backed down.

Whatever. Worse things to look like in life than a pussy, even for a born fighter like him. Not sure what exactly, but he was sure there were some.

He turned around and began walking away.

“Michael Haddican, if you leave, we have to cancel the class. The whole course, probably. If we cancel, she won’t get paid. She needs the cash. She’s in trouble, my boy. In two days—”

“Don’t want to hear it,” he said through gritted teeth, his tone harsh.

He didn’t want to hear a damn fucking word. Not a one. The sight of her and Sam was painful enough. He didn’t need a sound track to go with it, thank you very much.

He got a handful of steps more before he stopped and let out a low, pissed-off growl.

“Mike, please,” he heard his grandma say.

He slung his head forward.

Fuck. Shit. Crap.

He hated being played, but for the life of him he couldn’t walk away knowing he would be directly responsible for making Kyra’s situation more difficult than it already was. And why that mattered to him after all that had gone down, he couldn’t fathom. Well, he could; he was a moron in dire need of a lobotomy. Pronto.

After a long pause, his back still to his grandmother, he muttered, “I thought you said this was volunteer work.”

“For you it is. I’ve donated your pay to the church.”

He shook his head. He was so going to regret this.

God protect the unsuspecting soul who would spar with him in the gym later on. He was going to have so much pent-up aggression he would annihilate the poor bastard.

He turned around. “Just this once,” he said as sternly as he could muster. “You better find a substitute for next time. I don’t care if you have to make do with Mr. Honbacker and his kinky teeth or Mr. Stilt and his prostate. You either get someone else next time, or your classes will be canceled. You hear me?”

She beamed. “Yeah, yeah. I hear you.”

He drew in a deep breath and walked back inside.

He could do mature.

Hopefully.

The second his gaze landed on Kyra, he felt his cock stir. Jesus fucking Christ. Didn’t the little fucker have a smidgen of dignity?

Apparently not.

He should not only be lobotomized, he should be castrated too, for good measure.

Her voluptuous mane of black hair was twisted back in a knot, two hair sticks haphazardly holding it up. Thanks to her mixed Hispanic ancestry, she had sun-kissed skin, raven hair, and almond-shaped eyes. That they weren’t black but smoky gray made her even more exotic.

They stared at each other for a long second.

Man, to him she was the most beautiful woman in the world.

How the fuck was he going to pull this off?

“Mike,” Kyra greeted him, her voice clipped.

She wasn’t happier than he was at this moment. She stood stiff, eyeing the door as if she might bolt at any second. But he knew she wouldn’t. Like him, she’d always had a soft spot for his grandmother. Never mind how badly Kyra might need the money, she would be running out the door if this gig didn’t involve the OGs. Or maybe not. Who the fuck knew her now? Certainly not him. He wondered if he ever did.

Shaking those thoughts away, he nodded in her general direction. His cock followed suit.

Christ. He had to get the fuck out of here.

He threw a dirty glance to his grandmother, who now was shamelessly smiling. Wilma and Greta, her sisters in mischief, were smiling too.

“Let’s get cracking,” the evil woman said, grabbing him by the arm and pushing him forward. “Come stand here in front of Kyra.”

He lifted his gaze up, chanced another look at Kyra, and his dick twitched again. Oh hell. These boxers were no barrier. At all. They were going to start tenting in three…two…one.

And cue public humiliation.

Well, if his cock burst straight through his pants and gave her friends a collective heart attack, his grandmother would have no one to blame but herself. Then again, sending half the senior population in Alden to the ER would be a hell of a way to end his Wednesday. He would never live that one down.

He took in a slow breath, and reaching deep inside into the place where he kept it all locked away, he released every ounce of pain that came hand in hand with Kyra, allowing the memories to flood into his mind. And with that, he felt his dick retreating.

Good.

Now he could do this.


After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff. While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.Elle loves to hear from readers!

elleaycart@gmail.com




CHAPTER REVEAL ~ Sky’s The Limit by Elle Aycart

 


 

 

 


 

Tired of waiting for her big break in the fashion industry, Sky Gonzalez, eternal part-time student and overworked retail drone, quits her job, sublets her New York apartment, and embarks on a semester abroad study program in Paris. Paris! Time to throw caution to the winds and jump-start her dreams. What’s the worst that could happen?

How about getting sent to the wrong Paris? As in Paris-frigging-Minnesota?

Bye-bye career dreams. Bye-bye glamour and haute couture. Hello flannel shirts, mind-numbing cold, zero bars on the cell phone, and socially challenged mountain men with tons of unruly facial hair.

So yeah, let the truck barreling her way hit her, please. Less painful.

Logan should have dodged the little lost waif and kept on driving. Who in their right mind walked in the middle of the road, dressed in white from head to high heels, during a snowstorm? Clueless city girls, that’s who. Sky is all that Logan has gladly left behind: stylish, cosmopolitan, and a massive pain in the butt. He wouldn’t trade a single day in his quirky little corner of the woods for all the high-maintenance beauties the city can offer.

Too bad this beauty has been deemed a health hazard and quarantined in his house. Damn his doomsday-prepper neighbors and their paranoid emergency protocols. Now he has to keep Sky in and the pandemic squad out until the roads are clear. The question is, will that happen before or after Sky realizes she’s under house arrest?

Ah, the best-laid plans…

 


 

Somewhere in the back of beyond, Minnesota

SOS. Car broke down. Stuck in snowstorm. Check my location and alert troopers.

Sky Gonzalez pressed Send and threw her cell in the air as high as she could. There was nothing but trees and snow around, no cell coverage to be had where she was standing. Maybe another six feet up, the situation was different.

She caught the phone on its way down. Checked the screen. Nope. Jesus Christ, the whole country was infested with butt-ugly, fake-tree cell towers, and she had to get lost in a place where all the damn trees were real.

Turning against the gusts of wind and brushing flakes away from her face, she gave it another go, tossing as far as she dared. Which wasn’t far, really, because she wasn’t the most coordinated person in the world. If she dropped the phone and it smashed into a million pieces, or she lost sight of where it landed, that was it for her last lifeline to the outside world. She’d never find her cute, sparkly cell again—slick and thin and white.

In hindsight, going for that color had been a very poor decision.

Still no dice. Squinting, she tossed the device up again. Hopefully her message would eventually go through, and Lola would contact the authorities. After all, it was Lola’s fault Sky was in this bind. Of all the crazy shit her sister had pulled over the years, this stunt trumped every one of them.

Every. Single. One.

She caught her cell a third time. Nothing. Well, practice made perfect, right? Besides, she didn’t have much else to do except throw that stupid phone into the sky and continue walking. The road must lead somewhere. Sooner or later she’d arrive there. Or she’d get lucky and her cell would catch a signal. Or she’d freeze to death and become a cautionary tale to stupid girls. Whatever came first.

She looked back to where her car was being buried under a steady fall of big flakes. Steam was still coming from the hood. How a car could overheat in the middle of a snowstorm, she didn’t know. That annoying little red light on the dashboard that had flashed at her for the last twenty miles might have had something to do with it. Not that she could have done shit about it, seeing as the last person she’d crossed paths with was at a gas station a hundred miles away. Or so. She wasn’t great at calculating distances or reading maps.

Orienting herself wasn’t one of her fortes either, evidenced by the embarrassing fact that her destination should only have been about fifteen miles from the regional airport and she’d still managed to miss it. She’d tried backtracking, but she’d only succeeded in getting more lost. And that was hours ago. The car’s GPS had stopped working right after she left the airport, and her cell had been without a steady signal for a long while before the car itself died. For all she knew, she’d crossed state lines. Heck, she might be in Canada. Or in frigging Alaska.

Great way to kick off the New Year. Best first of January ever.

Eyes on her airborne cell, she tripped and fell flat on her face, the useless device landing on the back of her head.

Coordinate colors? Forecast fashion trends? Put together a knockout outfit from a thrift shop? All that she could do, no problem. But apparently, throwing an object up in a straight line and catching it on the fly were not in her skill set.

Aggravated, she got up, patted the snow from her pants, and burrowed her hands under her jacket. The wind wasn’t too strong, but the constant bee stings of flakes on her skin, along with her shitty clothes, made her feel like she was freezing. The extremely fashionable hand-me-downs from her boss were not designed for off-road snow trudging.

Then again, she should have been strolling around Paris’s Golden Triangle of luxury boutiques and haute couture labels. Or sitting in a cute little café, watching the sun set over the Champs Elysées, enjoying the mild chill of the French winter—which this year was supposed to be warmer than usual—sipping red wine, and munching on a baguette slathered in gooey cheese. For that, she was perfectly dressed.

Thank God she’d gotten that ridiculous white bunny-ear hat at the airport, ugly as it was, and the white bunny-paw mittens. The snowstorm must have caught other travelers off guard, because those had been the only winter garments in the tiny store. High heels and a bunny hat. Hell of a fashion statement. On the plus side, she was color coordinated down to her underwear. White pants. White jacket. White boots. White hat.

She should have stayed in the broken car. No heat and a cramped space were a thousand times preferable to walking in the open, but she was so tired, she couldn’t afford to sit idle. She’d fall asleep in a second and wake up a Popsicle. Or, more to the point, not wake up at all.

That she’d been awake thirty hours and counting wasn’t helping. But why would she have wasted her last night in New York City sleeping when she thought she had a transatlantic flight ahead of her? Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. Sky was infamous for drifting off in the weirdest places and the most impossible positions. Tourist class, no leg room, screaming babies? Bring it on. Heck, once she’d zonked out in a jumper seat and snored there for hours, back in the day when she flew standby, courtesy of a friend’s industry-discount tickets.

Looking forward to a cozy nap in coach, she’d gone partying with friends instead of resting—and checking her flight details. Now she was stuck in the middle of nowhere, sleep-deprived, knee-deep in snow, freezing her butt off, and probably catching the mother of all flus.

Minnesota. Where the heck was Minnesota? She was an East Coast person through and through. She hadn’t been this far west since that time she took the wrong train and ended up in Newark. That had been traumatic enough, thank you very much.

She glanced around. It was beautiful, though. Perfect snowflakes poured out of the sky, blanketing the whole landscape in white. Very… Christmassy. Too bad it wasn’t Christmas, and she was lost, alone, and irremediably soaked. Her hair and makeup were ruined. And let’s not talk about her brand-new manicure. Hansel and Gretel dropped bread crumbs. Her? She was dropping fake nails all over the place.

Damn the countryside. Not a single soul around to ask for directions. Where were aggressive taxi drivers when one needed them? Rude walkers, honking cars, hotdog vendors, a Starbucks on every corner—there was nothing like that here. No landmarks she would recognize.

Just snow, trees, and a back road, poorly delineated and with worse signage, all of it getting fuzzier by the second.

And that was the view in the middle of the day. She shuddered to think how all this would look when it started getting dark. Were there wolves in Minnesota? Bears? Because if her high-heeled boots were shit walking in the snow, just wait until she had to climb a tree.

Sky was about to toss the cell up again, but she stopped. Sighed. Who was she kidding? She’d need a rocket launcher to make it past the treetops. She might as well put her phone to better use before the battery died or it got buried in the snow, Fargo style, until the end of time. She pressed the recording function and started talking. “This is the last will and testament of Sky Gonzalez. This message is addressed to my sister Lola. I leave you, Lola, all my belongings, which you’ll find in a car buried under a ton of snow somewhere in the middle of Minnesota, where you sent me!” she yelled into the device. “Know that I blame you for everything, and I will haunt you from the afterlife for freaking ever! You’ll never have a good night’s sleep, I guarantee you. Damn your presbyopia! Yes, you’ve hit forty. Yes, you need glasses. Own it, for Christ’s sake!”

Screaming seemed to help, marginally. To vent her frustration, if nothing else. She knew she shouldn’t be mad at Lola. After all, it wasn’t completely her sister’s fault. Never mind how busy she’d been, Sky should not have asked her sister to fill out her application for the semester-abroad program. At the very least, she should have suspected something was fishy when the secretary in the placement department had been so glad about Sky’s choice of location, she not only arranged the flight for her, but also informed her that the position came with a voucher for a car rental. Big red flag if Sky ever saw one.

“I don’t need a car,” she’d told the woman. Why would she? Public transportation was a far better option in European cities.

The secretary had sounded confused. “Uhh, believe me, you’ll need a car. Any preferences?”

In all her years as a part-time undergrad at that school, taking classes here and there whenever she could afford it, Sky had never heard the old hag be so nice to anyone. So she went for broke. “Okay, if I can choose, a cute little Mini would work.” Driving in style trumped trunk space any day. Besides, parking would be at a premium in Paris.

“A what?”

She’d gone too far. “If it’s too much, I can—”

“No, no,” the secretary had hurried to interrupt. “It will be arranged.”

Probably she’d thought Sky was going to pull her application if she didn’t get her preferred car. Which she would have. In a heartbeat. Not because of the car, but because she had thought she was going to Paris, France. Not Paris, Minnesota. Who in her right mind would choose an internship in Minnesota when Europe was available?

Sky Gonzalez, apparently.

Entering the semester-abroad program had been an ill-omened idea. She should have accepted her destiny as an eternal student and sales clerk turned personal shopper’s assistant. Dressing in castoffs from her boss and living vicariously through others people’s pics on Instagram. Making ends meet, a big smile on her face, happy and satisfied with her lot.

But traveling to Europe in the hopes of becoming a buyer for a classy continental retailer? Not in the cards for a Gonzalez.

Sky blew warm air over her frozen fingers. Manipulating her cell with the mittens had been a no-go, so she’d stashed them in her jacket. Time to fish them out, or she was going to lose more than her nails. Rummaging in her pockets produced only one mitten. Oh, shit. She must have dropped the other one. Fantastic. Getting better and better. Her teeth were chattering. The storm didn’t look like it was lightening up anytime soon, so she put on the one mitten and picked up her speed.

She pressed Record again and spoke into the phone.“I left Arnie at the dog hotel, so you are getting your sorry ass over there and picking him up, Lola. To hell with your allergies.”

Arnie hated it there. Ungrateful mutt. Much as it pained Sky, she couldn’t take him with her overseas. She’d dished out an indecent amount of money, money she couldn’t afford, to that first-class kennel, and he’d looked at her as if she were dumping him into the pound. “If I freeze to death… which at this stage is a very strong possibility, because the clattering sound you’re hearing is my teeth… I expect you to care for him. The expensive doggie treats he likes. His massage and spa days. The whole shebang, Lola. Do not cut corners with my baby. You owe me.”

When Sky stopped yelling into the phone, she realized the screeching she was hearing wasn’t coming from her. It sounded like brakes locking. She turned around in time to see the shiny grill of a black monster truck barreling her way.

Her eyes opened wide. Holy shit.

It was a damn good thing she couldn’t feel half her body anymore, because this was sooo going to hurt.

* * *

The second that Logan saw a flash of long red hair and something resembling human eyes, he wrenched the wheel, sending the truck spinning to the shoulder, barely missing the tiny figure in the middle of the road. Jesus Christ. Who in her right mind wore white from head to toe in a blizzard? The truck screeched to a halt, the passenger side a mere half an inch from the woman. He jumped down and ran around the front. She had fallen to the ground. Fuck, had he hit her? “You okay?”

“You… almost… ran… me… over,” she said, her teeth chattering. From fear or cold, he couldn’t tell. Well, he could. It had to be cold. Her clothes were flimsy at best. Flashy, but not warm at all.

“Are you crazy? Standing in the middle of the road, all in white? I could have killed you.”

He saw a gleam of defiance in her eyes. “White’s… trendy… this… year.”

Right. “There’s nothing ‘trendy’ in this part of Minnesota, lady. Where’s your car?”

“There.” She pointed in the direction Logan had come from. “Or there,” she corrected herself, pointing in the opposite direction. “Not sure now. It all looks… white.”

No shit.

He tried to help her stand, but her legs buckled, so he lifted her in his arms. “Let’s get you somewhere warm, shall we?” After placing her on the passenger seat, he cranked up the heat.

“Can’t leave… without… my bags.”

He stepped outside and scouted the ground a little.

Her footsteps indicated she’d been walking in the same direction he’d been driving, which meant he must have passed her vehicle and missed it. “What car are you driving?”

She sneezed, the useless synthetic-fur hood on her jacket flopping over her bunny-eared head. Out of the whole stupid outfit, that bunny-eared hat was the most sensible piece. “A Mini.”

Great. Wherever she’d left the car, it was probably buried now.

“We’ll come back for it tomorrow,” he decided, jumping back in and revving up the engine.

“My Manolos are in there.”

Manolos. Oh, boy, wasn’t that a blast from the past? Another shoe whore. Just what he needed. “They’ll still be here tomorrow, believe me.”

She was going to object, but a sudden sneeze derailed her. And another and another. He opened the glove compartment, took out a wad of napkins, and offered it to her. “Why did you leave the car?”

“Stopped working,” she answered, grabbing a napkin and wiping her nose. “And when I began walking… it wasn’t snowing so much.”

“You aren’t from anywhere around here, are you?” Her dumb clothes were a dead giveaway. Her actions too. She shook her head, placing her hands in front of the air vent. “New York City.”

It figured.

She narrowed her dark eyes on him. “Why?”

The heat had kicked in. She must have finally felt it, because her teeth weren’t chattering as hard. She was even getting some color back in her face.

He looked resolutely forward and edged the truck into motion. “For your information—next time you decide to take a stroll in the Minnesota countryside, you need better shoes. And clothes. You don’t assume the weather conditions will improve. And you never leave your vehicle. Ever. Under any circumstances. You don’t stand in the middle of the road without wearing reflectors. And—”

A sudden move from the passenger side caught his attention. He gave her a quick glance and saw, flabbergasted, that her head had lolled to the side.

“Lady, you okay?”

A light snore was all the answer he got. “And you don’t get into a stranger’s ride and proceed to check out,” he muttered. Jesus fucking Christ. Talk about a lack of common sense.


BLP REVIEW ~ Tracy 

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the previous Elle Aycart books I’ve read and Sky’s the Limit was no different! 

Sky was a law unto herself and you couldn’t help be amused at her ending up in the wrong Paris – seriously, how did they not realise!?!, dressed completely in white in the middle of a snow storm! She was quirky to the extreme, funny, had some fab comebacks and I really liked that there was more to her when she let herself relax and not be so fashion and image focused. 

Logan was a sweet hottie. Another unusual character, he’s shunned his previous life to live quietly and happily in the middle of nowhere – even if he is surrounded by some crazy assed doomsday preppers…. 
I was kinda pissed at him when he jumped to conclusions when things went wrong and that it took him so long to pull up his big boy pants and try to fix what he’d messed up, but that asides I liked him a lot.

A really unique and oddly interesting supporting cast round out this fun read. I’ll be checking out further books in the series.

I rate StL 4 quirky stars.


 

After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff. While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.

Elle loves to hear from readers!

elleaycart@gmail.com

 

 

RELEASE BLITZ ~ Hard Limits by Elle Aycart

 

Get to know Nico and Paige in Hard Limits by Elle Aycart!

NOW LIVE!

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Blurb

Nico Grabar, head of one of the most ruthless cartels in the world, is in the last stretch of a two-year nightmare, his agenda extremely busy. He has a criminal organization to run. A cover to maintain. A promise to fulfill. Too bad he’s bleeding to death in the middle of nowhere, about to meet his maker on a deserted street. A fitting ending to a bleak existence, really. When a beautiful Vintage bride with racoon eyes and a choke collar, covered from head to military boots in blood, came to him. It looked like the Grim Reaper had gotten a makeover just for him. What an honor.

Who finds a frigging drug lord in serious need of resuscitation while coming back from a bachelorette party at the wee hours? Paige, aka magnet for psychopaths, of course.

The Goth waitress at Rosita’s has already survived a major asshole, narrowly escaping with her life. The last she needs is to have to play Nightingale to a dangerous kingpin. What if he dies on her? Or worse; what if he doesn’t?


Excerpt

“I think that man is calling the cops on us,” Ronnie said, glancing through the window and waving.

Paige leaned against the steering wheel and smiled innocently at the driver in the next car, but it didn’t help. Eyes about to bug out of their sockets, he spoke even faster into his phone, while automatically locking the doors. “We are sooo ending up in jail.”

Who would have guessed people would be more scared of her clad in white than in her normal Goth clothes? Then again, she was wearing a wedding dress splattered with red, Carrie style, and Ronnie was too, so yeah, she could understand the horrified expression in the neighboring car. That they were driving at three o’clock in the morning through the Boston suburbs—makeup all smudged and hair in messy snarls of paint and party—didn’t improve matters.

“Probably,” Ronnie conceded, trying to pat her frizzy curls down. “You better floor it.”

No shit. When the light changed, Paige put the pedal to the metal and soon lost the spooked driver. Whichever came next, the arrest or the speeding ticket, she would let her lovely lunatic of a boss deal with it.

After all, their current predicament was entirely Elle’s fault. She’d declared her bachelorette party would happen in stages over a whole month, the coed paintball game being the first installment. As if the women hadn’t already been an easy mark for those testosterone-ridden, military-trained guys, Elle had made them wear thrift-store wedding gowns over the protective gear. Wrong move. Not even leveling the odds by mixing the teams had helped.

After the shooting fest, looking like vampire gore brides, they’d gone partying downtown. How Elle had gotten them into the club dressed like that, Paige didn’t know, although it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Elle always got her way. Now, with that ominous weapon of mass destruction called Jack shadowing her 24/7, it was a miracle anyone dared blink at her, regardless of how nuts her requests were.

All in all, a memorable first installment. Paige couldn’t wait to see what was to come. By Jack’s aggrieved looks, he couldn’t either.

Paige glanced at the rearview mirror. No spooked driver, no police cars chasing them. Just empty, quiet road. “We might avoid jail after all.”

“Jail would have been a fitting ending for the night. Can’t believe it didn’t happen before, at the club.”

“You seemed to hit it off with Kai,” Paige said. “How come I’m driving you home and he’s not? Not that I mind. Just curious.”

Ronnie laughed. “Didn’t you see the way Jack looked at him when we were talking? I didn’t want to give my brother a coronary. Besides, better not jinx it now that he’s more relaxed and all that crazy stuff about the drug cartel is over.”

And thank God for that. At the time, when Jack had suddenly started following Elle everywhere, Paige had not known what was going on. Then Elle had gone underground, and James Bowen, Elle’s brother-in-law, had gathered the staff of Rosita’s and informed them he was taking over management of the restaurant temporarily. From then on, there were 250-pound, heavily tattooed bodyguard types on the premises at all hours. In hindsight, no frigging wonder. It was not every day that you had a South American cartel gunning for you.

When all was said and done, Jack had almost lost his life rescuing Elle. Now, though, they were happily in love and about to get married. If the groom or the guests could survive the bachelorette party, that was.

“What about you?” Ronnie asked. “How come you’re driving me home and not with some sexy stranger? You were by far the prettiest bride, the way you Goth-customized the outfit.”

She shrugged. “No one tickled my fancy.”

The last guy who managed that feat had been one of the enforcers for said cartel. The second in command, as she later found out. He had come to Rosita’s to scout the place and had struck up a conversation with her. Nick, oil-rig worker, a reluctant participant on a blind date gone wrong. Extremely handsome, interesting, and easy-going, with a fascinating wit and a deep, husky voice, the man had almost convinced Paige to go out with him.

It figured that the lying psychopath would zero in on her. They always did.

Worst of all? She could still feel how badly she’d wanted him.

“You need to give them a chance,” Ronnie insisted, distracting Paige from her gloomy thoughts. “Talk to them at least. Like that cute guy who kept sending drinks your way even though you kept turning them down.”

A frat boy interested in taking a stroll on the kinky side. No, thank you. Either they ended up disappointed or she freaked out. Both options were unacceptable, really. And unpleasant. Not to mention totally unsexy.

“You need more than drinks to impress a bartender,” Paige answered with a wink.

“So that’s me,” Ronnie said as they turned onto her street, and she pointed at a building. “Thanks for getting me home.”

“No problem. It was on my way.”

Paige would have gone straight home because she was dead on her feet, but she was about to have three days off in a row. She needed to make sure all was in order at Rosita’s, especially as she had been the one closing and at the moment couldn’t recall if she’d verified the lock. Besides, Paige’s colorful roommate was having her boyfriend over. The only thing they did more than fuck was fight, so she was not in too much of a hurry to get into that mess.

She parked in front of the restaurant. Time to make her OCD proud.

The lock on the roller shutter was closed. She opened and closed it again, fixing the moment in her mind, and pulled at it three times to ensure she wouldn’t forget.

Then from the corner of her eye, she detected movement in a nearby parked car, the door ajar.

There was a man inside, hunched over, one leg out.

Probably one of those inebriated morons who thought they drove better intoxicated. She’d met her fair share of those. He didn’t make a sound. No drunken babble or dribble, but it was cold outside. Maybe he was freezing. Or choking on his own vomit.

Paige approached. “Yo, buddy, you okay?”

No answer. The guy wasn’t moving, his head still flung forward. She couldn’t see properly through the window, so she opened the door a bit more, and the huddled figure tipped sideways until his face was half-buried in her stomach. Not cool. At all. She took a step backward and noticed a fresh splotch on her dress. Oh, God. That was blood. Real blood. Thick. Sticky. Dripping from the side of his abdomen too.

She reached for him, and the second she touched him, a strong hand clamped on her forearm.

The man lifted his bloody face to her, his expression a snarl, his deep-blue eyes cold and murderous. Suddenly, he shoved a gun against Paige’s neck.

Oh, shit. She knew that man. “Nick?”

NICO HAD TROUBLE focusing. Everything was blurry. Distorted. He narrowed his eyes, his trigger finger twitching. The image in front of him sharpened little by little: a bride covered in blood. Looked like the Grim Reaper had gotten a makeover just for him. What an honor. Or maybe he was hallucinating. It wouldn’t be the first time tonight.

“It’s me. Paige,” the bride blurted.

Who? He couldn’t recognize the face, but her eyes were strangely familiar. Not sensing any immediate danger, he lowered his gun. It must have been the right call because the bride didn’t grab his weapon and shoot him with it.

He let her go and put pressure on the wound beneath his ribs, his hand sinking into warm blood. How he had any left, he didn’t know.

“You’re bleeding,” he heard her say. “Have you been shot?”

And drugged. Or poisoned. Hell, both probably. He wasn’t sure he could articulate so many words, so he just nodded.

“You need a doctor. A hospital,” she continued.

“No hospital,” he choked out. A hospital meant police. Too many questions. If by any miracle he managed to survive, he didn’t want to wake up in a government black site. Or in a hole in the jungle, compliments of the cartel.

The bride hesitated for a second. “Okay. No hospital. But you can’t stay here.”

That was true. Remaining in the open was a sure death sentence.

Without waiting for his response, she sprinted around the car. Then he heard the door of the passenger side open and felt her beside him.

“Lift your ass when I tell you to,” she ordered, grabbing him by his armpits and taking a deep breath. “Now.”

With the last of his strength, Nico obeyed, gritting his teeth, almost blacking out from the agonizing pain in his side. She was small, but damn if she didn’t manage to drag him over the console onto the passenger seat.

“Sorry,” she whispered, flinching as she helped him bend his knees over the gear shift. Then she ran to the driver’s side, jumped in, and revved the engine.

Nico struggled to keep conscious, but his vision became fuzzy again. Fuck, not now. He had to get to a safe location before he passed out completely. “Where are we going?” Hopefully she was not turning him in, because he was too weak to mount any substantial resistance.

She didn’t answer, just continued driving, throwing furtive glances his way.

He tried to fight the blackness, but he couldn’t. He was drifting away. Resignation blanketed him, dulling his senses as his body started shutting down. He looked at his driver. Vintage wedding dress, covered in blood. Military boots. Spiked choke collar. Crazy hair. Black lips. Weirdly pretty raccoon eyes. He’d always thought the last thing he would see in this world was the snarl of the guy sending him to hell.

If a beautiful Goth bride was the last image he witnessed before biting the big one, he was happy. Considering the life he’d led, it was more than he deserved.


About the Author

After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff. While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.

Elle loves to hear from readers!

elleaycart@gmail.com

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RELEASE BLITZ – Jacked Up by Elle Aycart

 jacked up it's live 

Meet Jack & Elle
in Jacked Up by Elle Aycart!

jacked up loose

NOW LIVE!

jacked up now available

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Blurb

Since James Bowen married Elle Cooper’s sister, tall dark and handsome Jack Copeland has become a permanent fixture in Elle’s life. A silent, rather annoying fixture, with his arrogant aloofness and my-way-or-the-highway attitude rubbing her the wrong way. So she does what any self-respecting woman would: aggravate the wits out of him.

Party girl Elle Cooper is everything covert operative Jack Copeland doesn’t want in a woman. Outspoken, sassy. A smartass. Too bad when he closes his eyes, all his mind conjures up is her. To everyone else, he comes off as intimidating and unapproachable. Everyone except Elle. So he does what any self-respecting man would: stay the hell away from her. But when Elle gets herself in deep trouble, all of Jack’s protective instincts kick in, and keeping his distance is no longer an option.

Elle’s already complicated life takes a downturn, and she’s given two choices: go to jail or stick with Jack.

With Jack and Elle in such close proximity, sparks are flying all over the damn place and it’s only a matter of time before they ignite. The only question is, who will kill Elle first? The vicious drug cartel hunting her or Jack?

*******

Prologue & Chapter One:


Bowen Series Reading Order

More than Meets the Ink (Bowen, #1)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

Heavy Issues (Bowen #2)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

Inked Ever After (Bowen, #2.5)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

To The Max (Bowen, #3)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iBooks:
Kobo:
All Romance ebooks:


About the Authorelle aycart

Facebook | Twitter | Website | Goodreads

After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff.

While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.


 

RELEASE BLITZ – Heavy Secrets by Elle Aycart

 heavy secrets release blitz

Happy Release to Elle Aycart!

Heavy Secrets is NOW LIVE!

heavyy secrets

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BLURB:

Christy Sheridan has come a long way from the physical and emotional wreck she used to be. She’s made Alden her home and is happily engaged to a man who loves and accepts her for who she is, curves, quirks, and geekiness included. Life is good. Until mommy dearest blows into town to “help” her clueless daughter seal the deal.
Cole Bowen is experiencing a world of firsts: first time in love, first engagement, first Valentine’s, first in-laws. He’s found the woman of his dreams, so he figured dealing with Martha Sheridan was a small price to pay. That is before his monster-in-law plants herself in their home and inside Christy’s head, stirring up old demons and destroying her newly regained self-esteem. And while his hands are full with trying to neutralize their meddlesome guest, a mysterious phone call turns his world upside down.

With ghosts from the past resurfacing and threatening to tear Cole and Christy apart, can they make it to the wedding they both so desperately want, or will heavy secrets send their relationship to the breaking point?


 

Excerpt

Chapter One

“How many years do you think I’d get for offing my mom? Because honest to God, if we’re talking single digits, I’m willing to risk it,” Christy said while leaning back on the lounge chair after getting a full-body massage that had left her totally gooey.
They were at the spa, wearing fluffy bathrobes and sipping tea, except for Christy, who was nursing a diet soda.
“Just name a time and place, and we’ll be there with a shovel. No questions asked,” Annie said, and Holly and Tate assented.
“I could claim temporary insanity.” Heck, emotional self-defense too.
“Don’t worry, we’ll vouch for you. No jury in its right mind would convict you,” Holly stated. “I thought you were exaggerating, but boy, were you understating. What a…character.”
Ha. That was one way of putting it.
Annie nodded in commiseration. She’d met Martha a long time ago, when the girls were in college. Christy had gone for an East Coast institution, hoping it would be out of her mom’s range, but going away had been useless. There was no place far enough.
Crazy had its own methods of reaching her.
“Where’s the Grand Diva now?” Tate, Christy’s future sister-in-law, asked.
“Checking out wedding dresses. She arranged an appointment at a bridal shop. I stood her up.”
Her whole posse turned to her, looking stupefied.
“She’s picking out a wedding dress without the bride?”
Yeah, typical Martha stunt.
“I know I should be there, but why, really? She won’t listen to anything I say. I might as well save my breath.”
And a whole lot of pain and abuse in the process.
The girls pondered for a second and then nodded.
“Oh, and remember,” Christy added, reaching for her diet soda. “I’m not here. I’m in the middle of a massive twelve-car accident. Well and healthy but stuck inside the vehicle and waiting for the firefighters to come and cut the roof open to rescue me.”
That her mom hadn’t rushed to her side when Christy called her—and that Christy had known she wouldn’t—already said it all.
“And when your mom realizes your car is intact? Then what?” Tate asked, to which Christy couldn’t help snorting.
“That would imply she remembered our talk. It won’t happen. A total impossibility.”
Christy would bet anything, her first unborn child included—and her second and third—that her mom wouldn’t even mention it. That was the advantage of being disappointed one too many times; no way in hell to harbor false illusions.
Martha’s number-one priority was…Martha. Followed by whatever man she was screwing with at the moment. How she’d managed to marry a decent guy and keep him for several years was beyond Christy. Then again, Fred was too kind for his own good. That or he had a hell of a lot of bad karma from a previous life.
For a split second, she’d considered going to the bridal shop, but then she’d discarded the idea. Defaulting to her smile-accept-and-walk-away technique, she’d nodded and kept quiet. And had run in the opposite direction at the first chance. Let her mother get her kicks. Just let her do it far away from Christy. Besides, there was no damage Martha could do; Christy had told the shop assistant not to reserve anything without her consent.
Holly poured herself more tea. “Doesn’t she know you don’t want a traditional dress for your summer wedding?”
“She knows. She just doesn’t care.” They were talking about a woman who had gotten married four times, once with a beer-can tab as a ring. Appointments at high-scale bridal shops were a dream come true for her. “I feel like a shitty daughter, but I’m so ready for her to leave.”
Martha had come for Christmas with her husband and stayed a couple of days. It had gone rather well, probably because Cole was scary enough and Martha hadn’t worked herself up to be…well, herself. This time around, she’d been in Alden for three days, without Fred, and Christy was ready to face the gallows for a chance to get rid of her.
Fate had thrown Christy the mother of all curve balls when it chose Martha as her sole parent.
Their relationship had always been complicated, to say the least, with Christy spending all her life putting out fires—Martha’s—and eating to cope. Eventually she’d gotten her food addiction under control, but changing her mom and her nasty ways was something out of her reach.
And having Martha living with her without Fred as a buffer was bringing up all sorts of feelings and automatic coping mechanisms that Christy had thought she’d left behind.
Lora, Christy’s former sponsor, had been right: nothing guaranteed recovery, and they were always one upset away from relapse.
“What about Cole?” Tate asked, taking Christy out of her reverie. “Isn’t he putting her in her place?”
He would if he knew. Apparently Martha was learning subtlety, at least in front of a 240-pound, uncompromising ex-marine. It also helped that Christy had asked him not to interfere. Cole was a black-and-white kind of person. Intransigent and not inclined to put up with moronities. Left to his own devices, he would have kicked Martha out the first day.
“She’s…contained around him. I think she’s scared of him.”
“She and half the world, sister,” Holly mumbled.
Christy rolled her eyes and, after reaching inside the pocket of her bathrobe, fished out a sugar-free cherry lollipop. “Come on. Cole is a harmless sweetie.” Who liked macho power tripping and playing with cuffs, but a sweetie nonetheless.
They’d been together for six months, and although they’d clashed several times, he’d kept his word and hadn’t shut her out. He’d leave to cool down—sometimes he went to his brother James’s; sometimes she saw him pacing up and down the yard, muttering under his breath—but he always came back and they always found middle ground.
“To you he’s harmless,” Holly corrected as Christy unwrapped the candy. “Wait until he finds out about the pole-dancing classes. Mike already told Kyra to up her insurance. And to make sure there are no guys lurking around during said classes.”
Cole and his men had started working on Kyra’s dance studio right before Christmas and had gotten it ready in no time. Anything to get the exotic aerobics and the horde of giggling women in tight thongs out of Haddican’s, the local gym, and away from so much bubbling testosterone.
“It’s all Annie’s fault,” Christy shot back, giving her friend the evil eye. “She signed me up without asking.”
Christy wasn’t much for showing herself off, and pole dancing was exactly that, but Kyra had been so excited to have her and Tate on board that it had been impossible to get out of it without hurting Kyra’s feelings.
On the plus side, Martha hadn’t found out about her daughter’s new hobby. She would have made fun of Christy or joined the classes. Either way, no number of twelve-step meetings would have helped Christy get through that trauma. Her mother was many things, but ugly and clumsy she wasn’t. That her ass and boobs were still perkily pointing north and that she moved perfectly to capitalize on that also helped. Working a pole under her reproving stare would have killed Christy and her shaky, newly developed self-esteem. For all Martha’s dumb decisions in her personal life—and boy, were there plenty—she had a witty tongue and knew how to deliver killer putdowns.
“Duh, you would have said no,” Annie replied, bringing her back to the present. “And I owed you one after you got me into exotic aerobics.”
“You know I can’t quit the exotic aerobics. I needed company.” Christy had gone there just on a whim, but then Cole saw her and, in one of his my-way-or-the-highway stunts, had tossed her over his shoulder and stomped out of the class. Now she couldn’t quit, just on principle. She needed to stand her ground with Cole, especially when he was being a control freak and attempting to fuck her into submission, which was very often.
Besides, she liked that class. And defying Cole.
Annie pursed her lips. “A pregnant woman wiggling her ass around a chair and pretending to be sexy is…definitely not.”
“I’m pretty sure Max feels otherwise,” Holly said. “I’ve seen him watching you. No way to disguise that look.”
“What look?”
“That tight expression. The she’s-mine-everyone-back-the-fuck-off glare, mixed with wait-till-I-get-a-closed-door-between-us-and-the-rest-of-the-world.”
Tate laughed. “That’s the standard Bowen look.”
Damn right. Christy had seen it on Cole’s face many times. Before and after fucking her senseless. Heck, while too. She loved that proprietary look. It said she was beautiful and he needed her. For someone who’d battled self-esteem issues all her life, it meant the world. Cole meant the world to her.
“As soon as the baby pops out,” Christy said, pointing at Annie’s seven-months-pregnant belly, “you’re marching into the pole-dancing classes with me. No frigging excuses.”
Annie shook her head. “I have shitty coordination. I’d kill myself.”
“Sure. And the swing up in Max’s room?”
They were all rosy from their facial massages, yet Annie visibly flushed. “Hmm, that’s for yoga?”
Christy couldn’t stifle the giggle. Neither could Holly or Tate.
Yeah, because Max was such a yoga type.
Christy dipped her sugar-free lollipop on her diet soda. “If I’m making an ass out of myself and Kyra is risking the integrity of her new business, you’re joining us after recovering from childbirth.”
Annie grimaced, pointing at Christy’s glass. “That’s gross. I thought you were cutting back on your weird stuff.”
Yeah, she’d thought that too. Until her mom blew into town.
“Cola-flavored cherry lollipop or cherry-flavored soda. Not weirder than scooping Nutella with bacon.”
“True, but I’m hormonal.”
Ha! Pregnancy hormones had nothing on the spike of anxiety that Martha created.
“By the way, Tate,” Holly chimed in, “did you get a pole installed in the bedroom?”
Now it was Tate blushing. “Yes.”
“And?”
She blushed even harder. She was six months pregnant, and although she had some limitations where the movements were concerned, Christy had seen her dance. Tate really knew how to make it work. She kicked ass. Pregnant and all.
“James loved it. As in really loved it.”
“On a scale of one to ten?” Holly asked, wiggling her eyebrows.
“Thirty. And don’t worry,” Tate hurried to appease Christy. “I made him promise he won’t say a word to Cole about the classes.”
Good, because Mike was right. If Cole found out, Kyra was going to need top-of-the-line insurance, especially with Amantis’s dancing crew and the security detail snooping around.
“Although I don’t see the big issue. It’s for Cole. Whenever you’re ready, he’ll be the one enjoying the result of the classes, right?”
“Right,” Christy mumbled. She’d started liking it, but considering how klutzy she felt at pole dancing, it was going to take a couple of decades before Cole got to see her.
Holly turned her inquisitive gaze to Annie. “And your, uh, yoga swing? Scale of one to ten?”
“Thirty,” she answered after a long pause, red as a frigging tomato.
“Wow. Swings, dancing poles. The pregnant ladies here like their toys,” Holly said with a grin.
Christy glanced at Annie and Tate, both fanning themselves. “We should change the subject. Before the kinky pregnant ladies faint.”
“You’re a fine one to talk. And the cuffs tucked in the drawer in your nightstand?”
“Annie!”
“What? I’m being tactful. The cuffs were the only objects I recognized.”
Okay, they were so banned from each other’s bedrooms.
“Really?” Holly asked, looking intrigued as hell. “What kind of objects?”
“We are deviating from the subject, people. We were talking about how to off my mom, remember?”
Tate waved around. “That’s easy. We bring her here, lock her in the sauna, and turn it to high.”
“It won’t work. She’s from LA. And she lived in Georgia for a while, chasing after some crocodile hunter. The heat’s nothing for her.”
“Or now that we have plenty of props,” Holly said with a wink, “we could plant Tate’s dance pole somewhere in the forest and cuff Martha to it. Leave her for the wolves.”
Poor wolves. Her mother would have them committing suicide in no time. Christy couldn’t do that to them.
“Must be a simpler way. Can’t you just send her to hell?”
Christy shrugged. It was easier said than done. Her mom had the nasty habit of doing something nice whenever Christy was reaching critical mass. She couldn’t send her to hell in good conscience.
The girls couldn’t understand. Annie had a kick-ass mom. Tate too. Holly’s she didn’t know, but the messages between mother and daughter were hilarious, so she imagined their relationship was solid. People with great parents had no clue how difficult it was to deal with bad ones.
“How long until she leaves?”
“Still a while. Thirteen days, nine hours”—Christy reached for her cell—“twenty-five minutes and thirty-five seconds, to be exact.”
Annie chuckled. “You keeping track?”
“I have a countdown set.” Every twenty-four hours, an app sent her a yay-you-can-do-this message. “She’s leaving four days before Valentine’s Day. She wants to be in LA then, so that she can prepare for it.”
“Four days in advance?” Holly asked. “What’s she planning on doing for her husband?”
“For Fred? Nothing. She goes to make sure he gets her all that she wants.”
“Oh boy.”
“You can say that again. How he puts up with her, I don’t know.”
Her smile-accept-and-walk-away technique was failing her big-time now that they were both under the same roof. Or maybe it was that she had gotten a taste for normal and supportive with Cole, and going back to mental was hard.
“We should call Fred and get some pointers,” Holly suggested. “Thirteen days is a long time. Spending your and Cole’s first Valentine’s Day in jail wouldn’t be too much fun.”
“Run to Vegas ahead of schedule. You’re going there anyway for your annual convention, right?” Annie asked.
Tate frowned. “What convention?”
“The geeky version of Valentine’s,” Annie said. “I was there once with her. Memorable. Not going ever again.”
Christy rolled her eyes and turned to Holly and Tate. “There’s a Star Trek convention held in Vegas the weekend before Valentine’s every year.” Plus this year they had the premiere of a new Star Trek movie. “And no, I’m not going. Cole wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like that. I’ve been dropping hints about it for a couple of months already, but he isn’t biting.”
Holly patted her on the arm. “So no hanging out with your nerdy friends and stuck with your mom. That sucks.”
Yep. Totally.


 

Bowen Series Reading Order

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More than Meets the Ink (Bowen, #1)
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Heavy Issues (Bowen #2)
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Inked Ever After (Bowen, #2.5)
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To The Max (Bowen, #3)
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About the Authorelle aycart

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After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff.

While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.


 

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COVER REVEAL – Heavy Secrets by Elle Aycart

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Release Date: June 30th


 

Christy Sheridan has come a long way from the physical and emotional wreck she used to be. She’s made Alden her home and is happily engaged to a man who loves and accepts her for who she is, curves, quirks, and geekiness included. Life is good. Until mommy dearest blows into town to “help” her clueless daughter seal the deal.
Cole Bowen is experiencing a world of firsts: first time in love, first engagement, first Valentine’s, first in-laws. He’s found the woman of his dreams, so he figured dealing with Martha Sheridan was a small price to pay. That is before his monster-in-law plants herself in their home and inside Christy’s head, stirring up old demons and destroying her newly regained self-esteem. And while his hands are full with trying to neutralize their meddlesome guest, a mysterious phone call turns his world upside down.

With ghosts from the past resurfacing and threatening to tear Cole and Christy apart, can they make it to the wedding they both so desperately want, or will heavy secrets send their relationship to the breaking point?


 

Bowen Series Reading Order

More than Meets the Ink (Bowen, #1)
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Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/1AddDA2
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Heavy Issues (Bowen #2)
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Inked Ever After (Bowen, #2.5)
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To The Max (Bowen, #3)
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About the Authorelle aycart

Facebook | Twitter | Website | Goodreads

After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff.

While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.


 

RELEASE DAY BLITZ: To The Max by Elle Aycart

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Happy Release to Elle Aycart!
To The Max is NOW LIVE!

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Blurb

Forensic accountant Annie Griffin has always suspected she’s a bit jinxed, so when she finds herself 35, single, temporarily homeless, and pregnant on a technicality by a gigolo, her fears are confirmed.
Adrenaline junkie and professional stuntman Max Bowen needs a house-sitter to watch after his pets while he’s out of town. Annie needs a place to stay. Standard quid pro quo. No biggie. She can handle that, whatever hellhounds he owns. Until Max, the most sought-after bachelor in the county, comes back ahead of schedule and suddenly she’s roommates with a 27-year old sex God who turns out to be so much more than what she expected.
Max might have had the attention span of a humming bird on crack when it comes to women, but that was before Annie. Her quirkiness and sweet contradictions soon captivate him, not that she’s inclined to give him the time of the day. With his reputation preceding him, he knows the odds are badly stacked against him, but he will do his best to prove her that he’s what she needs, stuck-up socialite grandmothers, doomsday preppers, groupies, pregnancy hormones, and repentant biological dads be damned.


to the max now available.

Excerpt
Chapter One

“You know, if the idea behind a midnight wedding was to discourage people from attending, I think we can fairly say it hasn’t worked,” Annie Griffin heard from behind her.
Shit, busted.
She whirled around so fast, she not only got a dizzy spell but almost fell from the hammock she was sitting on. Thank God someone with a very strong grip reached out and steadied her.
“Wow, careful there.”
As she regained her balance, Annie lifted her gaze to find Max Bowen, the groom’s younger brother, smirking at her. She brought her hand to her thumping heart. “Jeez, you scared me, Max.”
“Sorry,” he said, his light eyes sparkling with amusement. “What are you doing here?”
They were in the unlit part of the backyard, as far away from the wedding reception as possible without actually leaving the Bowens’ property.
“I’m in hiding. Go away.” She shooed him, peeking around to make sure no one had followed him. “You always have a string of girls attached to your hip. Soon they’re all going to be gathered here giggling, drawing attention, and I don’t want to be found.”
Her duties as bridesmaid were done. Tate and James were already on their way to their honeymoon; she could disappear in good conscience.
“Hey,” he complained, sounding offended. “I may need to go into hiding for a while too.”
She gave him a disbelieving look. “You? Why?”
Max loosened his tie and, unfastening the first button of his shirt, sat beside her on the hammock. “Why? Because my ass has been pinched so many times tonight, I swear I can barely feel it anymore.”
Annie stifled a giggle. “Your ass is sore?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” he said, breathing out slowly and running his hand through his shoulder-length hair.
She locked eyes with him, realizing too late he was smiling less than three inches away from her face. The sight of him all but knocked the wind out of her. Max in faded old jeans and a tee was breathtaking. In a tuxedo? A total heart-stopper.
She wasn’t too fond of blond men, but Max was in a league all his own. With model-perfect masculine features, wicked blue-green eyes, and his usual weeklong golden stubble, Max was sexy as hell. Add to his Hollywood looks his laid-back disposition, kick-ass body, and roguish smile, and, well, it was almost impossible not to drool in his presence. A fact the charming devil knew very well and played to his full advantage.
Annie wasn’t sure how, but she managed to break eye contact. “I think the senior contingent from Eternal Sun Resort might be the ones primarily responsible for your ass condition.” She got it that both Mr. Bowen and Tate’s mom lived down there—were neighbors, in fact—but they should never have told the other residents about the wedding. The Bowen brothers were popular enough in the greater Boston area. No need to bring reinforcements from the South.
“Probably.” Max pondered for a second and then grinned at her. “I should just count my lucky stars those ladies are on the short side and can’t reach my nipples, huh?”
Annie burst into laughter. God, Max was such a clown. Although on that one he might be right. “I hear they chartered a bus and made regular stops along the way from Florida to Boston to pick up their granddaughters and nieces.”
And who could blame them? It was not every day that one of the Bowen brothers tied the knot. The standard guest plus one had transformed into guest plus ten. Not to mention the groom’s wedding party, which alone was a sight to behold. All those hunks in tailored tuxedos, standing tall and proud and yummy. Talk about eye candy. She must have gotten a couple of extra cavities tonight just from staring.
Max smiled. “That would explain it. This is the first wedding I’ve attended where there are more people crashing the damn event than actual guests. James should’ve hired his own security company to guard the place.”
He should have, but judging by the way he’d looked, he’d been so over the moon lately that he probably hadn’t thought about anything besides putting his ring on Tate’s finger.
Max seemed to be able to read her mind. “Yeah, I know my brother is in married-man bliss, but there is Cole and me to think about. Well, okay, just me now that Cole is engaged,” he conceded with a rueful grin. “But seriously, with how fiercely protective Cole is of Christy, and the mean right hook she’s developed, I’d say some guests would have thanked him for the extra protection too.”
“Please. Christy is a pussycat.” Nevertheless, Annie sure relished the yellowish remnants of the black eye Rose was still sporting, which, by the way, she’d totally deserved. A real pity no one had gotten that on video. “And you, mister, don’t need protection from women.”
If anything, it was the other way around. He was the ultimate ladies’ man. He’d never hurt for female attention before, but now with James married and Cole engaged, Max was getting so much action he was gorging on it.
His cheeky grin lit his face. “True, under normal circumstances, but that back there is a bit overwhelming, even for me.”
Annie was about to answer, when suddenly Max moved, making the hammock rock like crazy. “What are you doing?” she squeaked, gripping the net hard.
“Lying down. I need to give my poor, abused ass a respite. Come on,” he said, patting the spot near him. “Lie down with me. I don’t bite.”
Oh, she wouldn’t bet on that.
She warily eyed the net. Forget the spiky high heels she was wearing and the skintight bridesmaid’s dress, which was the shit but didn’t allow for much movement. She’d spent three hours in the beauty salon getting her unruly mop of hair pinned up and adorned with dozens of tiny white flowers. “If my hairdo gets tangled in that, I won’t be able to yank it free without looking like the modern version of Medusa.”
“Here.” He stretched out his arm and offered it as a pillow.
Annie doubted this was a good idea, but she was so tired. “I’m not that great with hammocks. I may roll us both over.”
“I’m a professional stuntman. I think I can handle a hammock.”
Well, he had a point there. She’d seen him on the big screen doing the craziest things. Not to mention his fondness for extreme sports.
“I’ll keep us steady,” he insisted. “Come on. You’re messing with the center of gravity by sitting there.”
She hesitated for just a second, then shrugged. “Fine. But I’m not too coordinated. Don’t come crying to me when we find ourselves on the grass, Mr. Hotshot Stuntman.” She slowly moved to lie beside him.
It was a two-person hammock, but he was so big and his shoulders were so damn broad, he took more than his fair share of space. She rested her head on his arm and tried to keep her body at a distance from his, but he was much heavier and her whole left side ended up glued to his right.
“Comfy?” he asked.
Actually, yes, but that was beside the point.
“Hmm…”
She tried separating herself from him, but gravity and his massive body worked against her. The more she moved away, the more the net bounced her right back against Max.
“Not that I’m complaining, but you’re rubbing against me. Anything you want to tell me, Miss Griffin?” he asked, his words laced with laughter.
This was the closest she’d ever been to Max. She could feel every flex of his muscles, his warm breath tickling her face. In spite of herself, his low, deep rumble and hard body had all her girlie parts tingling, which was so inappropriate on so many levels, she refused to even think about it.
She cleared her throat, trying to sound outraged. “Of course not. Besides, you’re way too young for me.” Eight years younger. Not to mention that at thirty-five, Annie was a good decade older than the women Max usually dated.
“Sure, you’re ancient. Now stop squirming, Ace. You’ll break your femur, and at your age any fracture could be fatal.”
She saw the smirk on his face and went to elbow him, but there was not enough space between them to get a good jab in.
“Watch it. You could easily dislocate a shoulder. I hear all you have to do is sneeze, and there goes the hip.”
“Oh please. Just shut up,” she said, unable to contain her laughter.
Annie hadn’t had much contact with Max before. But since Tate and Holly had started to hang out together, and Christy and Cole had become an item, the Bowen brothers and their crew had ceased to be a bunch of gorgeous guys she admired from afar and had become permanent fixtures in her life. It was hard to get used to such an overabundance of panty creamers, but she was coping. With the occasional panic attack, but she was coping.
Chuckling himself, he pinned her by his side and turned his gaze to the sky. “Settle down and look up, Ace.”
Bossy guy, she thought, but she found herself obliging him. “Wow,” she whispered as she took in the view.
“Everything looks better from a hammock, doesn’t it?”
It sure did. “I’m going to take one to the Friday-night outdoor movie instead of sitting on those wooden chairs. The Arnie marathon they’re running won’t be better, but at least the hammock will improve my viewing experience.”
“I hear they’re preparing a Mel Gibson marathon for next year.”
“That’s marginally better.”
His low voice rumbled in the night. “How do you figure that?”
“More rom-coms, less commando crap. Plus, I could stand to see his milky-white ass again in Braveheart.”
She felt him turn to her and shake his head.
Max lowered a foot to the ground and kicked, gently rocking the hammock. They lay there in silence for a long while, enjoying the view. She should have been more freaked about being there with Max Bowen, but the truth of the matter was she didn’t have the energy to get herself worked up.
It had been a very hectic day. The wedding had been beautiful, and everything had gone according to plan—more or less—but it had been taxing. For a while she’d felt dizzy and out of breath from the excitement and the place being packed. And then there had been the cake. Annie loved cake, even risqué ones, but she must have eaten the poisoned piece intended for Tate—or Christy—because, boy, the little sucker had repeated on her. Now though, away from the crowd, her gaze on the black sky, gently rocking, she felt totally relaxed and at ease.
“The wedding was beautiful,” she said.
“Aunt Maggie and Tate’s mom really thought of everything.”
“Except for the electrified fence around the yard.”
Max chuckled. “Yes, except for that. I could have done without the impromptu conga line during the reception too.”
“Come on, Max, you rocked the conga line.”
It had been one of the highlights of the night, second only to seeing Tate all but run down the aisle and kiss the living daylights out of James before the priest had gotten a word in, that amazing green dragon tattoo swirling on the small of her totally exposed back. Ah, and the dance of the best man and the maid of honor. There had been so much tension rolling off Jack and Elle, it was palpable.
“Did you see Elle’s face when the bouquet hit her on the head?” Annie asked.
Max nodded. “Epic. I hope the photographer got it. That picture is so going to the wall of fame in Rosita’s.”
Elle hadn’t looked happy the bouquet had defied physics, changed trajectory in midair, and landed on her head while she’d been standing beside her date—Kai, a gorgeous Japanese American full of tattoos. Jack hadn’t looked much happier either. It wasn’t clear if his displeasure had to do with Kai or the bouquet. Both, probably. Not that Jack himself could talk, considering the exuberant blonde he’d had perched on his arm.
“So, why are you in hiding?” Max asked, turning his captivating gaze on her and disrupting all her thoughts. God, the guy was stunning. And this close, there was all the olfactory and tactile data to deal with. Even in his relaxed position, Max oozed masculinity and testosterone. His smell, a mixture of aftershave, clean sweat, and a hint of tobacco from the cigar James had given him, was so male it gave her goose bumps. She couldn’t explain it, but to her, Max smelled like summer and sunshine. Even now, in the middle of the night.
She sighed and turned her face up to the sky. “I’ve been in the dating arena long enough to know that when your date starts talking about himself in the third person, it’s time to hide.”
The hammock shook with his muffled laughter. His hard body too.
“Not to mention the more he drinks, the more arms he grows. And the more his eyes bulge every time he sees a pair of boobs. It’s bad enough that he’s spent the last two hours talking to my nipples, but ogling other women’s goodies on top of that? Gross.”
Steven was a coworker from her office. She’d gone out with him once this past month. The first date hadn’t turned out too horribly, so she’d given it a second try. Bad, bad idea.
He tsked. “Moron. Doesn’t he know your goodies are the best?”
She felt her face flame. Then she realized what he was probably referring to. “You’re talking about the candy basket from the fund-raiser, right?” A couple of weeks ago, for the annual town fund-raising dinner, her candy shop had donated a basket of gourmet candy, which Max had bid on and won.
“Those goodies too.”
God, he was such a shameless flirt. Gorgeous, charming, easygoing. Pity when it came to women, he had the attention span of a hummingbird on crack. Which was irrelevant, really. Not only was he totally out of her league, but there was the age difference to contend with. Eight years might not seem like much, but in mind-sets, they were light years apart. Annie was ready to settle and marry, and Max was… Well, Max was most definitely not. He wasn’t playing the field; he owned the damned field.
“Behave,” she admonished him.
“I am, Ace. I am,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve been meaning to tell you those chocolate things were fantastic.”
“You liked them?”
He nodded. “Don’t misunderstand me; traditional candy is great, but this new shit you’re bringing…mouthwatering.”
Annie smiled, pleased as all hell. She’d inherited the little candy shop in Alden five years ago, when her mom remarried and moved to Ohio. Annie already had an office job in Boston, but she hadn’t wanted to close the place down. So she’d hired a girl to run it during the week, and Annie took care of Saturdays and the odd afternoons when the girl couldn’t.
The shop had barely been turning a profit. With the extra salary to foot, Annie had decided to upgrade the whole concept. Along with jelly beans and candy canes, she went for a more sophisticated line, sporting gourmet chocolates and truffles from Brussels, strawberries with champagne and white-chocolate frosting, and all sorts of products for special occasions.
“Remember to come ready to tweet.”
He winked at her. “Don’t worry. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the whole shebang.”
“You have all of those?”
“Actually, no, but I’ll sign up. How did you think of the whole concept?”
“Honestly? I didn’t. Christy did.”
One day, brainstorming while chatting with Christy about how to reach more customers, her friend had come up with the idea of using Twitter. The shop Sweets had become Sweets and Tweets, and clients got a discount if they tweeted on the spot about the goodies they were buying. Word got out about the new products, and in no time they had people coming from Boston to get their sugar fixes or to buy treats for special dates. This past Valentine’s Day had been crazy. The line had gone all the way to the street and around the corner.
Max smiled. “My future sister-in-law is a charming geek.”
“That she is.”
Annie and Christy had met in college and had kept in contact ever since. A bit over six months ago, Christy had taken a sabbatical from her job as a software engineer and moved temporarily from LA to Alden to get away from her ex-fiancé. Now she was engaged to Cole Bowen and ran Alden’s library. Funny how things changed.
They swung in comfortable silence for a while longer.
“So, I have to ask,” he said after a long pause. “How often do you end up in hiding during your dates?”
She snorted. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I’d be hiding in the bathroom right now if I could be sure that the Women Only sign would stop that self-absorbed pompous ass from entering.”
Annie was an active dater—an optimist. Yeah, the world was full of frogs, but there were princes out there. She just had to persevere until she found hers; it was a matter of probabilities, pure and simple. Easier said than done. A romantic at heart, she’d always kept faith that everyone got a happily ever after, but with the luck she’d had lately and all the frogs she’d had to deal with, she’d begun to suspect “everyone” just didn’t include her.
Max barked out a laugh. “Self-absorbed pompous ass?”
Annie nodded. “Aka Steven.”
“You’re dating the wrong guys.”
Didn’t she know it.
Not that Max would understand her predicament. The guy went through women like most men went through potato chips, a handful at a time. He charmed girls out of their panties as if it were an Olympic sport. Nevertheless, Annie hadn’t heard a single complaint from the female population. Far from it.
“What about the stud gala? Did you end up in hiding there too?”
Annie stilled. “How did you know about the gala?”
“You kidding me? I heard Cole grumbling about you guys buying the gala invitation for Christy. Then I had to listen Tate complain about not getting one. And then James growling and threatening Elle with bodily harm if she dared to buy one for Tate.”
She cleared her throat. “That wasn’t a date. But, no, I didn’t end up in hiding then.”
No, sir, not at all.
“Guys, what are you doing there?” a woman asked.
Annie turned her head to see Christy and Cole approaching.
“His ass was hurting and he needed to lie down,” Annie blurted, tensing. Under somebody else’s scrutiny, lying there with Max felt suddenly awkward.
Christy looked confused. “What?”
“Never mind,” Annie mumbled, clumsily hauling herself up and out of the hammock. Max followed her much more gracefully, holding her when her wobbly legs and the rocking made falling on her face a very distinct possibility.
“How’s it going?” Max asked his brother. “Is the party winding down already?”
Cole looked toward the reception and grimaced. “Nope,” he muttered. Then he turned to Christy. “We’re eloping.”
She smiled widely. “Sure, let’s elope to Vegas.”
Cole’s expression tightened. “I’m not getting hitched by Elvis,” he warned, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and bringing her front to his side.
“Who said anything about Elvis? I was thinking more along the lines of Captain Kirk.”
“So not happening.”
Christy, bless her heart, ignored him and smiled even wider. “Or Spock. We could book the Star Trek package, marry with a Vulcan and a Klingon as witnesses. And wire the chapel so that our friends could follow the wedding through the Internet. Wouldn’t that be a blast?”
He kissed her hard, then whispered against her lips, “I love you, baby, but no fucking way.” If his expression was anything to go by, it was a good thing Cole loved Christy to pieces, because he sure as hell wasn’t a man to be led by his dick, much less into a Star Trek wedding.
“Elope all you want, but I’m organizing your bachelor party. Imagine all I could do with Vegas as the backdrop,” Max said, to which Cole grimaced even more strongly.
“Here you are,” Annie heard someone say.
Shit. Steven, aka Pompous Ass. Her stomach roiled and realization dawned. Oh God, the spell of sickness she’d experienced during the reception? Apparently it had nothing to do with the crowded yard or the cake. She’d reached a milestone—her dates were physically making her sick. Way to go.
Max came closer and whispered, “Is this the guy?”
She nodded and turned to Steven, who was obnoxiously grinning.
“Ready to dance with the king of the night, darling?”
He was now close enough that his sugary smell reached her. Nausea rose in her belly. Trying not to cringe, she took a step forward, frantic for an excuse.
Suddenly, someone tugged her hand from behind. “Sorry, man,” Max apologized. “The prettiest girl in this wedding owes me a couple of dances, and I’m ready to collect.”
Max twirled her and wound her in, winking. “Let’s give him a show,” he whispered. Before she could react, Max wrapped one hand around her neck, the other around her waist. Exaggeratedly bending her backward, he placed his lips over hers.
She hadn’t regained her breath or her bearings when he pulled her up for another spin.
Oh God, too much movement.
“I’m not feeling good,” she managed to get out. Then she leaned over and threw up all over Max’s shoes.

* * * *

“Okay, spit it out, Annie,” Holly prompted, tapping at the table. “I’m the dispatcher for the sheriff’s department. Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ve heard worse. Although, if memory serves, Ben switching teams on you was a DEFCON3 emergency. I truly have no clue what possible planetary disaster DEFCON1 could refer to.”
Annie glanced around, making sure they were alone in the terrace. Then, trying not to hyperventilate, Annie uttered those two tiny words, the ones that had her freaked out of her ever-loving mind.
Holly, Christy, and Sophie gaped at her, totally shocked. Thank God they’d been sitting; otherwise her friends’ behinds would have had very close encounters with the floor.
“Definitely DEFCON1,” Christy mumbled and Sophie assented.
“Pregnant? What do you mean pregnant?” Holly asked, sounding stupefied.
“Pregnant,” Annie choked out. “As in knocked up.”
“How? When? Who?” Then, before Annie could answer, not that she was too eager to answer anyway, Holly continued, “Please don’t tell me it’s Steven’s.”
At least there was that: a positive side of this whole mess she hadn’t thought of. “Eww. You nuts? I didn’t have sex with Steven.”
Her friends let out a collective sigh of relief. “Thank God,” Holly muttered.
Annie had been about to chide them for even thinking she’d had sex with Steven after just two dates, but she saw the irony in her predicament and decided to bite her tongue.
“If it isn’t his, then…?” Christy asked, motioning with her hand for Annie to go on.
Annie cleared her throat. “Remember the StudsRUs.com gala a while back?” she said with a grimace. “The nice Italian escort I met there? Luigi?”
Complete silence.
Annie had attended the yearly gala in Christy’s place. The most prestigious escort agency in Boston had hosted it a month ago at the Ritz Carlton downtown. The girls had managed to buy an invitation for Christy’s birthday, after her vow to get professionally laid, but once Cole had heard about it, he’d put a damper to the whole plan. So they had drawn straws, and surprise, surprise, Annie had won.
“You’re shitting us,” Sophie said.
Annie shook her head. No, she wasn’t shitting them. She wished she were, but she wasn’t.
It had been a great night. Magical, with all the candlelight, the unending flow of expensive champagne, and the great company. That it was a masquerade ball had also added an extra layer of magic and privacy that had been exhilarating.
Apparently StudsRUs.com’s escorts were highly sought after. They traveled all over the country accompanying clients, some of them very powerful people, to high-profile events. They were not only gorgeous; they were extremely well educated and charming. One of the escorts she’d met that night was a dark-haired, handsome man by the name of Luigi. One thing led to another, and she most definitely had not ended up hiding in the bathroom.
Holly cursed. “What about the whole stash of condoms I put in your purse? Didn’t you think of using them?”
“I used condoms; I swear I did.”
“How exactly did you use them, sweetheart?”
“What do you mean, how did I use them? How does anyone use condoms? Are there so many different ways of using them?” Annie asked, out of breath, her tone of voice rising. She was freaking out. Big-time. But all in all, she thought she was entitled to. “I certainly didn’t put them on my head as new-age hats.”
“Did it break?”
She shook her head. If it had, she would have gotten the morning-after pill, and she wouldn’t currently be about to pass out.
“Are you sure it’s not a false alarm?” Sophie asked, trying to calm her down.
“No false alarm. Five peed-on sticks and two blood tests confirm it. I’m pregnant up to my eyeballs,” Annie said as she, very ineffectively, fanned herself with a napkin. Damn hot flashes. Before she found out about the pregnancy, she’d been having so many of them, she’d even considered going to the doctor to make sure she hadn’t entered some sort of freaky early menopause. Wouldn’t that have been a laugh.
“How did this happen?” Holly asked.
Sophie waved at her. “The usual way?”
“Not helping, sweetie.” Holly chastised Sophie with a look and then turned to Annie. “If you used condoms, how did you get pregnant?”
And here was where it got embarrassing. “It seems there’s an infinitesimal chance of getting knocked up if you start rolling the condom on, realize it’s inside out, and then turn it the right way. Drops of precum get onto the outside of the condom, and voilà, if the semen is of quality and has great mobility, you’re in deep shit.” Annie looked at them, fidgeting. “I was a bit nervous, and there wasn’t too much light…”
She should have left the logistical details to the pro.
All the head shaking she’d done when women in her office got pregnant out of carelessness, and look at her: knocked up on a technicality.
Sophie whistled. “Wow, some super-duper power sperm those studs have, huh?”
“Tell me about it,” Annie muttered.
“Could it be someone else’s?” Christy asked.
“It’s either Luigi’s or an immaculate conception.”
The good thing about getting laid so seldom was that she could pinpoint the conception date with 100 percent accuracy, which meant that if her baby was as anal as she was, he or she should be born in the early hours of March thirty-first.
Holly looked at her, worried. “I hate to say this, honey, and I know these guys are the best of the best, but did you get checked for diseases?”
“Yeah, no STDs.” That was what she’d done first once she’d found out about her pregnancy. And hadn’t that been fun, explaining to Alden’s only doctor, the same one who had treated her all her life, why she needed testing for STDs right after he told her she was pregnant. “All I got from the superstud is a baby.”
“At least you had a valid excuse for throwing up on Max the other night,” Christy said.
Annie cringed at the memory. Talk about making an ass out of herself. The most sought-after bachelor in the whole state was being sweet and offering her a way out so she wouldn’t have to dance with Steven, and what had she done in exchange? She’d puked her brains out all over his shoes, messing his pants too. Well, on the flip side, the second she’d started throwing up, her oh-so-attentive date had all but run in the opposite direction.
Max, on the other hand, had been very nice and understanding. He’d even joked that if he’d been saddled with a date like Steven, he would’ve been puking too.
“Does Luigi know about any of this?”
“Nope. And I never got a last name, so I don’t know how to contact him.” Or even if she wanted to.
Annie had been dazzled by Luigi, who had been so not what she’d expected. He wasn’t a young, buff stud with more muscles than brains. No, he was in his mid-to-late thirties, sophisticated, elegant, and a great conversationalist. She wasn’t a knockout, but she was pretty enough. And so far her body was holding its own against gravity and time, if one could ignore the expansionist tendencies of her ass. Still, Luigi favoring her company had kind of blown her mind. Between that, the alcohol, and the privacy the masks offered, she’d just let go. In the morning, though, she’d panicked and, much to her shame, run out on the guy before he even woke up. How the hell was she supposed to face the proverbial morning after when she had slept with a professional escort in his spare time? At least she thought it had been in his spare time. She didn’t even dare consider he’d been working and she’d stiffed him of his fee. That was just too much.
“It seems Italian escorts are in fashion. StudsRUs.com has eight Luigis on staff. I’m going to have to ask them for pictures.”
If the conversation at the doctor’s had been fun, she shuddered to think about the one with the stud-agency receptionist.
She might never find Luigi again, and she couldn’t say she felt particularly sorry about it. After all, she didn’t know the guy. But a man had the right to know he was a father. And although she didn’t need a husband, the thought of raising a kid all by herself sucker punched her. Money was not an issue; she had a good job, the shop was doing well, and she still had the untouched trust fund her paternal grandparents had created for her. They hadn’t trusted her flighty father, and thank God for that, because the man was already on his fifth bimbo wife, who was bleeding him dry like three of her predecessors.
So financially she was more than covered, but there were other things to consider. Some mornings it took her forever to decide whether she wanted to have cornflakes or honey puffs—how the hell was she going to choose a school for the kid? He or she would be old enough for junior high by the time Annie had made up her mind.
“You know, I somehow envisioned embracing motherhood differently. Not at thirty-five, without a partner, and knocked up by a gigolo who might or might not be named Luigi.”
After all, maybe Luigi was just his stage name.
“It beats the hell out of a sperm bank, which is what I can see in my future,” Holly muttered.
They were silent for a while. Then Annie sighed. “I’m so screwed, guys. I’m a forensic accountant. What do I know about kids?”
“You own a candy store. I’d say you’re already ahead,” Christy offered.
Well, there was that.
“I should have never gotten up on that flower pot after you,” Annie said to Christy. “You got the good stuff. I got…backlash.” Annie covered her face with her hands. “This is so unfair. You and Cole are the ones humping like rabbits all the time. Me? It was just once. One little screw. Why me? The universe hates me.”
She should have suspected there was some mega cosmic catch to it when she’d won that gala invitation. She never won anything. Ever. On the contrary. She was that jinxed.
Holly interrupted her mental rant. “Wait a second. What do you mean, only once? Wasn’t he, you know, up for a rematch?”
“It was good, don’t misunderstand me, but let’s just put it this way: when an overpriced European escort isn’t working, he starts snoring after the deed.”
“Are you sure he was a member of StudsRUs.com and not some nutcase impersonating a stud, like in True Lies?” Sophie asked.
Oh crap, she hadn’t thought of that possibility. Annie panicked for a second, then shook her head. “No, can’t be. He knew everyone there.”
“True Lies?” Holly repeated.
“You know, the waiter in that Arnie movie, the one who got chicks by impersonating a spy,” Sophie explained.
Christy frowned. “A waiter? Wasn’t he a car salesman? I—”
“People, people. Concentrate,” Holly interrupted, out of patience. “I told you to quit with the outdoor movies.” She turned to Annie. “Are you going to keep it?”
Annie looked at her friends. “Forget the fact I’m thirty-five and my clock is ticking. What are the chances of getting pregnant like this? One in a frigging billion. This baby hasn’t been born yet, and it’s already a damn superhero. Of course I’m keeping it.”

to the max


Bowen Series Reading Order

More than Meets the Ink (Bowen, #1)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

Heavy Issues (Bowen #2)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

Inked Ever After (Bowen, #2.5)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

To The Max (Bowen, #3)
Releasing 2/10/2015


About the Author  elle aycart

Facebook | Twitter | Website | Goodreads

After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff.

While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.

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COVER REVEAL: To the Max by Elle Aycart

Cover Reveal
to the max

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Pre-order available here:
(additional retailers to follow)

Release Date: February 10th

Blurb

Forensic accountant Annie Griffin has always suspected she’s a bit jinxed, so when she finds herself 35, single, temporarily homeless, and pregnant on a technicality by a gigolo, her fears are confirmed.
Adrenaline junkie and professional stuntman Max Bowen needs a house-sitter to watch after his pets while he’s out of town. Annie needs a place to stay. Standard quid pro quo. No biggie. She can handle that, whatever hellhounds he owns. Until Max, the most sought-after bachelor in the county, comes back ahead of schedule and suddenly she’s roommates with a 27-year old sex God who turns out to be so much more than what she expected.
Max might have had the attention span of a humming bird on crack when it comes to women, but that was before Annie. Her quirkiness and sweet contradictions soon captivate him, not that she’s inclined to give him the time of the day. With his reputation preceding him, he knows the odds are badly stacked against him, but he will do his best to prove her that he’s what she needs, stuck-up socialite grandmothers, doomsday preppers, groupies, pregnancy hormones, and repentant biological dads be damned.


Bowen Series Reading Order

More than Meets the Ink (Bowen, #1)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

Heavy Issues (Bowen #2)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

Inked Ever After (Bowen, #2.5)
Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Barnes & Noble:
iTunes:
Kobo:

To The Max (Bowen, #3)
Releasing 2/10/2015

About the Author

elle aycart

Facebook | Twitter | Website | Goodreads

After a colorful array of jobs all over Europe ranging from translator to chocolatier to travel agent to sushi chef to flight dispatcher, Elle Aycart is certain of one thing and one thing only: aside from writing romances, she has abso-frigging-lutely no clue what she wants to do when she grows up. Not that it stops her from trying all sorts of crazy stuff.

While she is probably now thinking of a new profession, her head never stops churning new plots for her romances. She lives currently in Barcelona, Spain, with her husband and two daughters, although who knows, in no time she could be living at the Arctic Circle in Finland, breeding reindeer.

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