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Chapter Reveal – Careless by Michelle Horst


Available via Kindle Unlimited




Irony – when life f@cks you over.


She’s the one girl I can’t forget.
She’s as innocent as a saint, with the mouth of a sinner.
After taking her virginity, it’s taken me four years to get rid of the guilt.
I used her while she was at her lowest and she’s never forgiven me.
Watching my best friend die a little every day, and not being able to do anything about it, kills me.
I should’ve seen it coming. The second I hit rock bottom, she walks back into my life.
The f@cking irony?
She might be the only one who can save Marcus.
The life of the person who means the most to me lies in the palm of the girl I screwed.


Hate is a strong word, but it’s one I’ve really considered when it comes to Jaxson West. But I’ve settled for intensely disliking him. It’s similar to the way I feel about visiting the dentist.
Asking me to forgive Jaxson, is like asking me to willingly sit through a root canal.
He’s heartbreakingly gorgeous, emphasis on heartbreakingly.
He’s an amazing friend, just not to me.
He’s supportive, understanding, caring and loving, just not to me.
No, for me he reserves his dark scowls and low growls.
I’ll do everything I can to save Marcus, but I’m not doing it for Jaxson.

Jaxson West & Leigh Baxter ~ Book 3 in the Enemies To Lovers Series

This is a Stand Alone book in the Enemies To Lovers Series. Each book in the series is about a different couple. To get the full experience of their friendship I’d recommend that you start with Heartless.




Five years ago…
The bottle slips from my fingers, clinking as it lands on top of the small pile of empty beer bottles already gathering underneath the hammock I’m relaxing on.
“It’s your turn to get beers.”
Drowsily, Marcus closes his eyes. “I’ll go get some in a minute.”
I melt into my own hammock and sigh sleepily.
“This was the best idea you’ve ever had. I’m going to park my ass right here the entire weekend.”
During the week, Marcus came home with five hammocks. So far we’ve only put up two of them, which was an accomplishment in itself, if you ask me. The three leftover hammocks are still lying in the living room.
“Do you think you’ll be able to fuck while keeping your balance on this thing?” I ask, without opening my eyes.
Damn, this is the life. Me and Marcus, all the beer we want, and the sun all fucking day long.
“Don’t know. You can try it out sometime and let me know. It takes ten minutes just to get my ass settled in this thing,” Marcus murmurs.
Yeah, it’s only a matter of minutes before he’ll be fast asleep. Come to think of it, an afternoon nap isn’t such a bad idea. It will give me more energy for the party we’re having tonight.
I glance over at my best friend and grin. He’s lying with both legs hanging off on either side of the hammock.
“Dude, you look uncomfortable, lying like that,” I laugh.
He doesn’t answer at once, and I’m starting to think he’s asleep when he mumbles, “Free-Fucking-Balling. There’s a nice breeze on my balls.”
“Cool,” I grin, as I move slowly so I don’t tip the damn hammock. When I have my legs hanging off the sides, my grin grows. “Fuck, you’re right.”
Marcus laughs lazily. “The wind’s blowing us, dude.”
Everything is about sex when it comes to my best friend. Not like I’m one to talk. It’s as if our minds have a direct link to the gutter.
We’ve been friends since diapers. Our moms were best friends as well. At least, they were until Mr. Reed killed Mrs. Reed. That was one fucked-up day. Marcus was only ten and his sister, Summer, had just turned six the previous month. To this day, no one knows the reason Marcus’ dad lost his shit and shot his wife, daughter, and son, before turning the gun on himself.
Fortunately, the bullet missed Marcus’ heart by a ball hair. Summer and Mrs. Reed died instantly. It happened during our summer vacation so luckily, I could stay with him every day until he got released into Mom’s custody. He had no other family and besides, she was his godmother.
Logan might be my twin, but after the shooting, Marcus and I became inseparable. We might have been close before he lost his family, but during his stay in the hospital, it was as if I became everything in his life.
Those first few weeks he wouldn’t talk to anyone but me. Mom made him see a psychologist, but that didn’t help much either. He became detached from everyone and everything. I was the only one allowed to see behind the walls. I was the only one he didn’t pretend with. I comforted his broken heart suffering from the loss of his mom and sister. I held him as he cried because he didn’t understand what had happened. I took the blows when he was overcome with anger at his father. I took it all – the good, the bad, the broken – without fail. I took it all, so he didn’t have to carry the full weight of his fucked-up past alone.
After the shooting, Mom changed as well. The horror that took place in the Reed’s home rocked the whole community, but after a while, things slowly returned to normal, and people stopped talking about it. Where Marcus turned into himself, Mom seemed to be all over the place, as if she lost her balance in life. The friendship between her and Mrs. Reed reminded me a lot of what Marcus and I had. After Mrs. Reed died, Mom unraveled right before our eyes. She’d gone from mother-of-the-year to fucked-up mess at breakneck speed.
At first, it was little things. She’d spent entire nights sitting outside while finishing a bottle of wine or three. She grew impatient with us, her once loving demeanor being replaced by a snapping tone and cold glare.
It got worse after our thirteenth birthday. I was the first one to go through a growth spurt. Knowing I couldn’t go to Mom about the hair making its appearance on my face, I went to Mr. Hayes. He was the only father any of us had. Even though he worked his ass off, he always had time for us. Honestly, we spent more time at Carter’s house, than anywhere else.
Mr. Hayes was amazing. I mean, fucking amazing. He was never too busy for us. He’d go out of his way to show every single one of us how much he cared. He never missed any of our firsts. The first day of school, first games, first driving lessons—he was there for everything. He was the only solid in our constantly changing lives.
The memory of how he taught us to shave will always be one of my favorites.
It was early one morning after Mom had left for a well-deserved day at the spa after a night of heavy drinking. I was relieved to find that Mr. Hayes hadn’t left for the office yet. After I asked him if he could show me how to shave, he took off his tailored suit jacket and proceeded to roll up the sleeves of his expensive shirt. When he had the five of us standing in front of the mirror, he placed razors and shaving gel in front of us. He made sure to remove all the blades from the razors so we could practice first.
He started with Carter, spending time with each of us, making sure we knew what to do. I was last in line, for which I was grateful because it gave me time to watch as he showed the others. I still remember Mia sitting on the side of the tub, pulling her face as she watched us.
Rhett and Mia were the first to move in with Carter and Mr. Hayes after their parents died. That was a blow to us all. Rhett and Mia had the best parents, and their sudden death caused Marcus to have a setback as well. It was a reminder of what he had lost, opening up his scabbed over wounds.
Mom wasn’t close to Mr. and Mrs. Daniels. She didn’t have any sympathy for Rhett, who she always referred to as that friend.
I don’t like that friend of yours.
You’re spending too much time with that friend.
I don’t want that friend here. You’re all working on my last nerve.
That only led to Logan, Rhett, and Carter spending all their time at Carter’s place, and avoiding our house at all costs.
I was doing my best to help Marcus deal with the nightmares that had started again. He wasn’t confused and angry like he was at the age of ten. Hell no, he was bottling it all up, and I was scared what he’d do the day he exploded.
That’s when the verbal abuse started. I wasn’t sure why she targeted me. Maybe it was because I was the first one to show signs of becoming a man. I’m just thankful she hadn’t set her sights on Logan or Marcus. I never fought back out of fear that she would lay into them instead.
She walked in on me while I was shaving and the usual blank stare she gave me quickly turned to one of rage.
“You look just like him,” she whispered, her voice sounding as tight as a piece of string that was about to snap.
Logan and I weren’t identical twins. We had the same dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, but that was it. I was taller than him, and my features were harsher. Logan was the pretty one with the killer smile where I was abrasive and argumentative. Logan was the friendly, light-hearted brother, and I—I was the careless, cynical one.
That’s another reason why Marcus and I were such a great fit. Marcus was ruthless and at times downright derisive towards others. He was the oil to my fire.
“You’re the spitting image of your father.”
I’d gotten used to the cold and vacant look in her eyes, but I’ll never forget how her mouth pulled down that day. She looked at me with disgust.
“You think I don’t see it, but I do. You and Marcus are narcissists, just like your fathers. You’re poison. Your father killed me, and Robert killed Stella. It’s sickening to know there will be a day you will both do the same to some poor girl.”
The words didn’t hurt half as much as the gleam in her eyes. I’ve been on the receiving end of disappointed and angry looks, plenty of times in my life, but never the ‘I-wish-you-were-never-born’ glare. It felt like I stopped being her son that day.
After that, she took a swing at me every chance she got.
You’re pathetic.
You’re just as spineless as that good-for-nothing father of yours.
I should’ve gotten rid of you when he left. Now I’m stuck looking at your face every day as a reminder that he left. One day you will leave too.
It’s weird how things played out after that.
I should’ve seen it coming, but hell, I had just discovered the magical effect a pair of tits had on my dick.
Mr. Hayes wanted to take us all to New York for the summer break. He was taking over a business there. I’ll be the first to say I was worried about it. If he decided to move, it would pretty much leave me, Marcus, and Logan screwed. It would tear the group in half.
He invited Mom over for dinner so he could discuss the trip with her. After dinner, they walked to the study so they could talk privately, while we went outside to swim. It was hot out already, and it was only the start of summer.
After spending some time in the pool, I needed to use the restroom. Mr. Hayes wouldn’t be too happy with me if he caught me watering the garden, so I dried off and ran inside the house.
I should’ve stayed outside. You never hear anything good when you eavesdrop. As I walked past the study, Mom started yelling.
“How can you sit there, looking so calm as if it didn’t happen? Your wife and my husband ran away together, leaving us with the kids. I’ve spent the best years of my life raising those boys. I’m almost forty, and I have nothing to show for my life! I’m done sitting at home, watching as my life passes me by.”
I felt a weird mixture of shame and anger brewing in my chest. I was embarrassed that my mother was talking to Mr. Hayes like that, and I was pissed off that she was so selfish. Then the part of my father running off with Carter’s mother sunk in, making me feel sick.
I heard a chair scraping over the wooden floor, but no footsteps came towards the door, so I kept listening.
“Are you even listening to the words coming out of your mouth, Judy? You have two amazing sons. What about them?”
“I don’t care. Your wife ran off with my husband. If you had kept an eye on her, it wouldn’t have happened. I have my trust fund. You can keep your monthly allowance. I don’t need it. I’m done wasting away in this pathetic town.”
“You’re really going to abandon your sons? What about the promise you made to Stella that you’d always take care of Marcus?”
“She’s been dead for six years. I was a different person when I agreed to be his godmother. They’re sixteen, Christopher. You can either take them or they can take care of themselves. I’m done playing mother to those boys.”
I heard Mom’s high heels on the hardwood floor and ran for the restroom. Just as I slipped inside, the door to the study opened.
“I won’t stop you, Judy, but make it a clean cut. Walk away right now. I’ll keep the boys here tonight and take them home tomorrow to pack their stuff. I want you out of that house by the time I get there with them. I won’t make this harder for them than it already will be.”
“I’ll be gone first thing in the morning.” She didn’t storm off like I expected she would, but instead whispered, “You’re a good man, Christopher. They’ll be happy with you.”
I leaned my head back against the wall as I listened to her footsteps die away.
She left without saying goodbye.
The next day Mr. Hayes took us home to pack our stuff, after having told us that Mom was okay with us spending the summer with him.
I never told anyone about the things she said to me, not even Marcus. I wasn’t sad that she had chosen to leave us. Actually, it made it easier for me to hate her. It made it easier to pretend around Logan.
A few weeks later, Mr. Hayes sat us down and explained that our mother wouldn’t be coming home soon. She was taking some time to travel. He really did his best to break the news to us gently. Marcus and I got up and went to shoot some pool. To me, it was just another day.
Logan, on the other hand, took it hard. He looked like a zombie as he walked out of the office. Mia smiled when she saw him, took one look at his face and hugged him. I left Logan with Mia so she could comfort him.
It was during our senior year that I struggled to control my anger. I joined a gym so I could punch the shit out of a punching bag and lift weights until I was too tired to care.
That’s when Marcus started the Screw Crew list. He made it his mission to add as many names as he could to it.
So for the last few years, Marcus has been doing his best to fuck his demons away, while I’ve been trying to exercise mine away.


“Seriously! You do know what it means to take a break, right?” Willow watches me with her hands on her hips, her blonde hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun.
We could’ve been sisters, instead of best friends. We both have blonde hair and brown eyes. Willow is a head shorter than me and has a heart-shaped face which you can’t help but stop to admire. I’ve been told I’m pretty but being skinny and tall with an oval-shaped face, I’m not drop-dead gorgeous. Looks never bothered me, though, because I’ve always been a bookworm.
“I am taking a break,” I mumble while keeping my eyes on my laptop’s screen.
Saying I’m a bookworm might be scaling it down a bit. I’m addicted to the written word, although my passion lies with cardiac surgery. I inherited the obsession from my parents. Being the only child of two of the most admired cardiothoracic surgeons in the states, it was a given that I’d follow in their footsteps.
Willow plops down next to me and leans closer so she can see what I’m busy reading.
“You call this taking a break?” she asks, giving me a look that clearly says our definition of the term break is vastly different.
Willow’s the only person who’s been a constant in my life. I have an amazing relationship with my parents, but with their busy careers and my studying, we don’t get to spend a lot of time together. Willow keeps me grounded.
When I graduated school at thirteen, Willow was determined to stay friends with me even though I’m a year younger than her. During my first year at Boston, we kept contact by facetiming at least three times a week. What I love most about Willow is that she never treats me any different just because I have a high IQ. I still think if it weren’t for the fact that Willow and I were neighbors before I started at Boston, I never would’ve made a friend. Being privately tutored at home didn’t exactly give me many opportunities to interact with other kids, and there wasn’t any time to make friends once I started school. I did my best to try to break the record of becoming the youngest doctor in the US, but I missed it by two years. Now my heart is set on becoming the youngest cardiothoracic surgeon.
Dad and Mom forced me to take a six-month break before starting my six-year integrated cardiothoracic surgery residency program at USC. I’m only halfway through my forced vacation, and I’m already feeling antsy. The thought alone of starting my residency makes my heart race with excitement.
“I’m reading an article on postoperative physiotherapy. It’s interesting. It’s like when you read those fashion magazines you love so much.”
She slowly shakes her head, giving me a look that closely resembles pity.
“Only you would think boring medical articles can compete with the latest fashion trends. You, my friend, are in desperate need of fun.”
“But –” I glance from my laptop screen to her, then back to the really interesting article about a survey they did in Sweden rating the effectiveness of physiotherapy after cardiac surgery. “This is fun.”
She shakes her head again, and her facial expression clearly says my relaxation time is up.
“I’m afraid all the studying might have done permanent damage to the fun section of your brain.” She shakes her head, really getting into her role as the doctor. “You, Miss Baxter, are in dire need of a party. I prescribe a full forty-eight hours of drinking and dancing.”
I scrunch my nose, certainly not in the mood to go to parties the entire weekend. Before I can argue she holds up her pointer finger.
“No arguing. It’s of utmost importance that we immediately start with treatment, before the fun section of that genius brain of yours, shrivels and dies.”
I can’t help but grin at her. “You should’ve gone into medicine with me. You’d make a great doctor.”
She pulls a face, shaking her head.
“Hell no, I’d kill all my patients. Fashion is my passion. While we’re on the topic of fashion…”
Willow grabs the laptop and closes it before pulling me up along with her.
“Go shower and put on the dress I made you. Don’t you dare put up your hair in that god-awful bun. It makes you look like a nun who escaped from a convent.” She pulls a face as my eyes dart to the messy bun on top of her head. “I’ll curl it for tonight. You’re nineteen, not ninety.”
“You’re really going to make me go, aren’t you?”
She grins, a wicked gleam in her eyes which promises no sleep in my near future.
“I only have you for another three months before you start your residency. I get a feeling I won’t see you for the next six years. Hell, I’m taking full advantage of my time with you.”
Willow is right. I’ll be working my butt off over the next six years. I want to make a difference in this world, especially when it comes to heart transplants.
I go through the motions of showering and washing my hair. While I leave the conditioner in for a few minutes, I quickly shave. I can’t wear the gorgeous dress Willow made when my legs are so hairy. After rinsing the conditioner out, I grab a towel and pat my body dry before wrapping my hair in it. When I rub lotion all over my body, I inhale deeply. I’m addicted to the sweet, rich fragrance of jasmine.
Walking back into the bedroom I share with Willow, I’m not surprised to find her waiting.
“Let’s do your hair. I’ll shower while you’re putting on your makeup.”
There’s no use in arguing with her, so I take a seat at the vanity. Willow gets busy blow-drying layer by layer of my hair. As I sit and watch her hands move, I think about how lucky I am to have her as a friend.
She shares the apartment with two other girls. I’ve spent some time with Evie, whom I get along with. I can definitely see myself staying friends with Evie once I leave. I haven’t seen much of Della, but she seems nice.
When Willow is busy massaging styling wax into my hair so it won’t go frizzy, I ask, “You mentioned a party? Will Evie be going as well?”
Willow wipes her hands on the towel I had around my hair while admiring her handy work.
“Yeah, she’s already at Carter’s place. We’ll meet her there.”
“Carter? He’s friends with Rhett, right?” I’m still trying to remember names, never mind who fits in where in their social circle.
“Yep, you’ll meet all of Rhett’s friends tonight. Carter is an asshole, so just make sure you stay out of his way.”
My eyebrows almost dart into my hairline. The fact that Willow thinks the guy is an asshole says a lot. She’s the kindest person I know.
“Okay,” I agree, although I’m curious why she doesn’t like him.
“Come to think of it, just stick to my side tonight. I don’t want any of the Screw Crew getting their hands on you.”
“Why are we going then? If you don’t like any of them, we can do something else.”
Like, stay at home.
I can think of a couple of things I’d rather do than go to a party.
“We’re going because it will be fun. Besides, it’s not that I don’t like them. They’re just too wild and tactless for you. They’re fun to hang out with, but you seriously don’t want to end up in bed with one of them. Believe me when I say they will try. They have this thing going to see who can screw the most girls.”
Worry lines instantly cover my forehead.
“I really don’t think I should go. You know I have zero experience with guys. I wouldn’t know who’s being nice and who’s playing me even if my life depended on it.”
“You’ll be okay. We’ll stick together, and they won’t try anything with you as long as I’m by your side.”
Curious to find out more, I ask, “Have any of them tried to get you into bed?”
Willow scrunches her nose. “Only Marcus has tried. Ugh, he’s the worst of the group.”
I don’t miss the blush creeping up her neck as she quickly leaves to go shower. There’s definitely a story there.

We’ve been here twenty minutes, and I’m ready to go.
I can’t dance so I avoid the makeshift dance floor at all costs. The living room is packed with students, some drinking while others are already drunk, and most are in various stages of making out.
Suppressing a yawn, I decide to go outside for some fresh air. I avoid going near the pool which is surrounded by party-goers. The last thing I want is to be thrown in the pool. It would ruin the beautiful dress Willow made me. I smile as I look down at the pale green, silky fabric. She made me a shift dress which might be a little too short for my taste, but it fits perfectly otherwise.
I spot a table with drinks and make my way over to it. I’m surprised the table isn’t crowded with students. When we got here, we couldn’t even get into the kitchen where the drinks were.
When I notice only sodas on the table, I understand why it’s practically deserted. I pour coke in a red solo cup and watch as the tiny bubbles fizz to the top.
“You want ice?” a deep, gravelly voice says from behind me, which startles the hell out of me. I drop the cup, and it falls to the ground, causing soda to splash all over my legs and sandals.
“Damn it,” I groan as I step away from the mess at my feet. I bend to pick up the now empty cup, seeing as the contents are all over me when I hear the voice behind me again.
“And here I thought it would take some foreplay to get you wet.” From the laughter in his voice, it’s clear he thinks my accident is hilarious.
“You must be one of the assholes, thinking it’s funny that I messed all over myself,” I snap as I place the cup on the table and turn around, getting my first look at the guy.
I freeze like a deer in oncoming traffic as I take in the perfect specimen of everything that’s male, standing in front of me. Even though his smug smile makes my anger grow, I can’t help but drink in the sight of his dreamily carved, scruffy face. Don’t even get me started on his hair which is a few shades darker than mine, disheveled and sexy.
Ugh. Double shit.
“You must be one of those bitches, unable to take a joke,” he says as the smile around his full mouth curves into a wicked grin which only makes him hotter.
Damn it. Why does he have to be so incredibly attractive? It messes with my ability to think, which has never happened to me before.
“I can take a joke,” I say, clearing my throat.
“Could’ve fooled me.”
I watch as he pours soda into a cup. He holds it out to me, one eyebrow raised. Not even thinking, I take it from him and as our fingers touch briefly, a shiver races over my body.
To make matters worse, as I’m about to take a much-needed sip, he takes hold of the hem of his shirt and yanks it off his body in one smooth motion.
My mouth drops open as my eyes dart over his chest, wildly trying to drink in every inch of tanned skin and muscle. Damn, he might have a shitty attitude, but his body sure makes up for it.
He grabs a bottle of water which he pours out over my legs and feet. My brain is screaming at me to slap the smirk right off his gorgeous face, but my traitorous body won’t move a muscle.
“Sit,” he says. His voice a mixture of playful and raspy, making flutters erupt in my stomach.
Placing his hand on my shoulder, he pushes me lightly back, and my body, ever the traitor, goes where it’s being guided. The back of my knees hit the edge of a chair, and I sit down.
I want to say something clever that will put him in his place, but my mind has clearly taken a hiatus, leaving my hormones in control of this situation.
He reaches for my left leg, and slipping the sandal from my foot, he starts to dry my leg with his shirt.
I can’t stop myself from staring at his well-toned back and broad shoulders, fascinated by each muscle rippling when he moves. When he’s done with my left leg, he repeats his actions with my right leg. Only, this time his left hand slips up until it reaches the back of my knee while he keeps drying my already dry leg.
I clear my throat to get his attention. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get my voice back with all the tingles zapping upwards to my lady parts, from where he’s touching me.
“There you go, all dry,” he says as he stands up. He looks down at me as he throws the shirt over his shoulder. “Run along now, your mother must be worried.”
“Huh?” I grunt as if my IQ dropped to a miserable zero.
“Pretty little things like you shouldn’t hang out at parties. Isn’t it past your bedtime?”
Finally, a flicker of my intelligence returns along with my temper. I push myself up from the chair, not that it helps as I barely reach his shoulder.
He flashes me a confident grin, his eyes dropping to my feet before slowly making their way up my body. I don’t miss how they rest on my hips and breasts for a few seconds too long before they settle on my face.
I’ve never been so blatantly checked out in my life before, and it makes a dreaded blush creep over my cheeks.
“That’s right, my eyes are up here,” I say so he’ll know that I know he was ogling me. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m nineteen. I’ve practically been living on my own since I was thirteen. Also, I do not appreciate you calling me a pretty little thing. Women aren’t things.”
Feeling proud of my ability to string a few sentences together, I smile triumphantly.
“Jax, stop harassing my friend,” Evie suddenly says behind me, which makes me swing around from surprise. I recognize Rhett, but I haven’t met the other guy with them.
“Your friend?” Mr. Too-hot-to-have-a-personality asks. Thanks to Evie, I now know his name is Jax.
I feel him move behind me and I hate that my body is aware of him. His arm presses against my shoulder and my sandals appear in my line of vision.
I do my best to ignore the fact that I almost forgot them, and snatch them from his hand. I drop them to the floor and quickly slip them onto my feet.
“Yeah, my friend, which means she’s off limits.” Evie hooks her arm through mine and pulls me closer to where Rhett’s standing. “You’ve met Rhett, and this is Carter Hayes. They live here.”
Smiling, I reach out a hand to Carter. “Leigh Baxter. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
We shake hands as Willow joins us, followed by another guy who looks like he’s about to kill someone.
“Sorry, I leave you alone for ten minutes and the wolves descend.”
“Wolves?” Rhett asks with a playful smile on his face.
“Yeah, wolves. Leigh’s parents would kill me if any of you corrupted their daughter.”
“You’re carrying on as if the pretty little thing is fucking royalty?” Jax says from behind me, sounding a little offended. I also don’t miss how he accentuated ‘pretty little thing’ as if he’s already caught onto the fact that I hate it whenever he says it.
“You could say that,” Evie says. She looks to Carter. “Dr. Baxter, your dad’s heart specialist, is her father.”
Instantly, a cloud moves over Carter’s face as if Evie just spat at him instead of introducing me.
“In that case, she’s off limits,” Carter bites out. He grabs my hand and starts to pull me away from the growing crowd gathering around us. “I’ll take her back to the apartment. Willow, are you coming?” It doesn’t sound like a question but more like an order.
More common sense seems to return to my frazzled mind, and I yank my hand free from his grip.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I seethe as my anger quickly burns through my body now that my focus is no longer on Jax.
“You shouldn’t be here, Leigh. Your father will kill me. I’ve heard him talk about his little girl. I’m not pissing off the man who might have his hands inside my dad’s chest one of these days.”
I throw my hands in the air, actually dumbfounded by how quickly the night went downhill.
“You know what,” I say as I start to walk towards the side of the house, “I don’t want to be here. Why the hell I’m torturing myself like this is beyond me.”
I keep walking, not looking back to see if Willow is coming. I’d rather sit outside the apartment for the entire night than spend another second here.






Michelle Horst is a Bestselling Romance Author who likes her books hot, dirty, and with a touch of darkness. She loves an alpha hero who is not scared to fight for his woman.

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Chapter Reveal – CRUX UNTAMED (HADES HANGMEN #6) by Tillie Cole







A broken woman.
A damaged man.
A free spirit intent on saving them both.

Elysia ‘Sia’ Willis lives a solitary life. The only person in it is her big brother, Ky, vice-president of the infamous Hades Hangmen. She loves him, but she has absolutely no love for the outlaw MC he belongs to.
Raised in secret by her mother, Sia grew up separated from her brother and distant father. No one knew she even existed.

After the tragic murder of her mother, Sia spiraled into a rebellion against the rules of the Hangmen. A rebellion with dire consequences that now, years later, she still can’t escape.

As she lives once again in secret, happy on her own at her secluded ranch, a devil from her past comes calling. A devil who wants to possess her once again and take her from the simple life she never wants to lose.
And he will stop at nothing to collect what he believes is his: her.

Valan ‘Hush’ Durand and Aubin ‘Cowboy’ Breaux have finally found a home in the mother chapter of the Hangmen. The notoriously private Cajun twosome have, for now, put aside what chased them from their beloved Louisiana. But as threats toward the club build, Hush and Cowboy are given a task—protect Elysia Willis at all costs. Cowboy welcomes the job of watching over the blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty.
Hush fights against it.

Scarred by events from his past and a secret that plagues his everyday life, Hush refuses to let anyone else get close. Only Cowboy knows the real him. Until a certain sister of the club’s VP begins to slowly knock down his defenses, shattering the heavily built walls that guard his damaged soul . . . with his best friend leading the charge.

As lost and open hearts begin to meld, taking each other from indescribable pain to the never-before felt relief of peace, the newly-mended threesome must first endure one more rocky path.
Only then will they finally shake free of the shackles of their pasts.
Only then will they shed the bonds that have for too long held their happiness captive.
And there is only one way to survive that path . . . together.

Dark Contemporary MFM Romance. Contains scenes of violence and explicit sexual situations. Over 18’s only.


High Ranch, Austin, Texas
Present Day

“Steady . . . steady . . .”
Sandy’s ears flicked back and forth as she heard me soothe her from my place in the center of the ring. I kept my newest mare’s training rein loose as she trotted on the sand. Her coat was lathered with sweat; so was my forehead. The sun was burning a hole in my jean-clad ass.
“Okay, enough for today,” I announced, both to Sandy and myself.
I had just fed her with hay and water and locked her stall door when I heard the all too familiar sound of motorcycles roaring in the distance.
Frowning, I headed out of the barn. I walked to the front of my house and spotted two Harleys as they approached my door.
Styx and Ky, I realized, giving them a surprised wave.
They didn’t wave back.
I perched on the top step of my porch as they pulled to a stop and flicked out their kickstands. Ky smoothed back his long hair and strode toward me. I got to my feet. “What y’all doing here?”
I hugged Ky. He held on a little too long. It was weird. I pulled back, curious, only for him to look out to the distance, checking around my ranch. I was about to ask him what was up when Styx came toward me and gave me a brief one-armed hug.
“Hey, Styx. How’re Mae and Bump?” A flicker of a smile graced Styx’s lips.
“Good,” he signed, but my attention snapped back to Ky when my brother said, “Get inside, sis. We need to talk.”
He grabbed my elbow and guided me forcefully up the porch steps. “Hey!” I said. He pulled harder, not releasing my arm. “Hey! Dickhead!” I wrenched my arm back. I turned on my heel to meet my brother’s moody-ass face. “What the hell are you doing?”
“For once in your fucking life, will you just do as I say, Sia?” Ky said, exasperated. His face was red . . . in fact, so were his eyes.
I crossed my arms across my chest. “What’s wrong? Why are your eyes all bloodshot? Why do you look like shit?” I shook my head. “And more to the point, why are you handling me like a damn child?”
Ky sighed. His eyes closed, and he opened his mouth to speak. But then he didn’t . . .
Styx cleared his throat. “Been a stressful time lately.”
“Why?” I asked, immediately panicked. “Is Lilah okay? Grace?” I quickly checked my brother over for wounds, or . . . hell, I didn’t know what else. What the hell trouble bikers could get into. “Are you okay?”
My heart started pounding, some weird sense of dread seeping through my body like a poison. Ky opened his eyes and nodded. “Everyone’s fine.” But I could see through his pretense. I was just about to call bullshit when Ky blurted, “Garcia’s back.”
I was sure the warm wind was blowing, because I saw strands of my blond hair floating in front of my eyes, but I didn’t feel it. Ky’s mouth was working, saying something I was meant to hear, yet to my ears, he made no sound. I was lost to the memory of heavy footsteps on creaking floorboards as they approached my room. Memories of screams and barked orders scourged my mind . . . and his touch, his fingers running down my back, his lips nipping at my ear as he caressed my burned flesh. As—
“Sia!” Ky was holding my arms, shaking me from my stupor. I blinked, but a suffocating lump clogged my throat. I blinked fast to rid the flood of tears from my eyes. “Sia,” he repeated, softer this time. I stared at my brother, wordlessly. “Get inside.”
I let him lead me into my home and to the couch. A glass of whiskey appeared in my hand a second later, courtesy of Styx. I knocked it back in one, relishing the burning feeling that filled my chest. I shakily placed the glass on the coffee table and turned to look at Ky.
“You better?”
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s . . . he’s found me?” My voice was choked. I couldn’t have hidden my fear even if I’d wanted to.
“Not yet,” Ky assured me. He got to his feet and began to pace. “Some club shit went down a while ago, and Garcia was involved. Fucker saw me and Styx.” Ky met Styx’s eyes. Styx nodded. Ky removed an envelope from the pocket of his cut. He placed it before me. I stared at the obviously expensive stationery on the table. My hands shook as I slowly reached forward and opened it. A Polaroid picture peeped out. When I finally pulled the picture out and turned it to face me, every ounce of blood in my veins seemed to drain to my feet.
A single black rose.
A black rose, on a bed I recognized so well.
There was no note. No explanation. But I didn’t need one. This image spoke more than a thousand words ever could.
“Mi rosa negra,” the echo of his voice whispered in my mind. His heavy Mexican accent sliding around the words like a delicate silk scarf wrapped around a thorn-studded vine.
All of the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “Where . . .?” I cleared my throat. “Where was this sent to?”
“The club.” Ky slumped to sit beside me. “Don’t like the cryptic shit”—he pointed to the Polaroid—“but I know that it’s his brand or something, yeah? The one he forced on you? On the girls he traffics?” I instinctively ran my hand over the plaid shirt covering my shoulder, where the small black rose tattoo had once desecrated my skin. I could still feel the scar under my fingertips, out of sight but never gone. And if I ever dared show my bare skin to the sun, a white outline would form as the area around it tanned. Erased, yet forever seared into my very flesh.
Worse still, the longer I stared at that picture, the more someone else flickered to my mind, a face I reflexively recalled several times a day. Brief images of what might have happened to her. But only ever enough to taunt me; I didn’t know how to mentally unlock the rest. Where she was—
“Sia!” Ky called. I blinked into focus. My brother kneeled in front of me. “You’re coming home with me.”
I shook my head. “No.” My arms wrapped over my chest, a shield to fend off the thought of leaving. “I don’t want to.” I swept my eyes around my home. The only place I now ever felt safe in. “You know I can’t leave.” Ky went to speak, but I cut in before he could. “I know I went to y’all’s weddings. I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. But I can’t leave here for too long. I . . . I . . .” I searched for more of an explanation, to put into words the vapid stream of anxiety forming in my stomach like a black pit, stealing all of my courage, my reason, my sanity, my very being.
It was ironic: when I was a teen, I made a vow to leave Austin and stop all contact with the Hangmen.
Then, one escape . . .
That was all it took to make me wish I had never set foot outta Texas. Never cut all ties with the Hangmen.
And one man . . .
One man, named Garcia, to make me long for the lazy Texas days and the sound of horses’ hooves padding on the grass outside of my old bedroom window.
“I don’t give a shit if you wanna come or not, Sia. You’re coming, and that’s that.”
The lack of empathy in Ky’s outright order broke through the mental fog that shielded my inner thoughts. A fire ignited the kindling that lived within me. My chin tilted high and my eyes narrowed to stare at my brother. “Don’t you dare speak to me like that, Kyler Willis. Don’t mistake me for a club whore who’ll jump at your command.” Ky’s face reddened. But I wouldn’t be spoken to like this. Right now, my brother resembled the one man who’d treated me like an errant child. A man I blamed for all the shit in my life. “I love Lilah, I truly do. But I am not some meek and submissive woman who’ll accept your orders. I’m your sister, not your fucking lapdog.”
Ky slowly rose to his feet. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
“Does he know where I live?” I asked my brother. He didn’t answer. “I said, does Garcia know where I am?”
Ky’s eyes snapped open. “It’s only a matter of time.”
I got to my feet, ignoring the shaking of my legs. I boldly met Ky’s eyes. “Then I ain’t leaving my ranch. I’m hidden. I’ve been hidden for years. False identity. False deeds on this place. For Christ’s sake, I live in the fucking boondocks. No one around for miles. He ain’t making me leave my home. I won’t give him that satisfaction.”
“Think again.” Ky stood taller. “Get upstairs and pack a bag, and tell that young bitch we hired to help you that she’ll be taking care of things around here ’til you’re back. Tell her there’s a family emergency or some shit.”
My heart pumped faster. “I. Ain’t. Going. Clara can’t deal with everything herself. We have two mares in foal, two saddle broncs that need training. I’m needed here.”
We argued back and forth, back and forth, voices and tempers rising, until a loud whistle cut through our squabbling. I snapped my eyes to Styx, who was standing before the fireplace. His face was like thunder, and he looked like a fucking Titan, he was so huge. He raised his hands. “Sia, grab your shit. You’re coming with us.” I swallowed, defeat settling over me like an unwelcome rain shower on a sunny day. “Ky, calm the fuck down.” Ky turned and bust out of the front door of my ranch. I watched my brother go. I had an eerie feeling that this—the argument, his shitty mood—wasn’t all down to Garcia.
Styx cleared his throat. “You two are way too fucking similar. Both a pain in my ass.” He paused, then signed, “More going on at the club than you know. So how about you chill the fuck out with all the dramatics. I get enough on the daily with my fucknut brothers without adding you into the mix.” His lips tightened, and I knew I wasn’t gonna get my way. “You’re coming with us. I ain’t giving you an option. You’re Hangmen family. And that fucker is sniffing around. Pack your bag so we can get the fuck gone.”
Feeling like a sulking teen, I stormed past Styx toward my bedroom, shouldering him as I passed. He didn’t even move. “Sometimes I fucking hate the family I’ve been born into. Chauvinistic pricks. Y’all have fucking god complexes.”
Styx didn’t even flinch at my words. “As long as that complex belongs to the Dark Lord holding a noose and an Uzi, I’m fucking all right with owning that shit. It’s the way it is. Ain’t gonna change because you’re pitching a fit,” he signed. “You don’t have to like my orders, but you will obey them.” Then he added, “You’ve got ten minutes,” before he left to go after my brother.
Too angry to even give two shits about what was wrong with Ky—it was probably some “club business” I wouldn’t be allowed to know anyway—I stuffed clothes and toiletries into a bag and called Clara to ask her to watch the ranch while I was gone and get help from the vet if she needed it. He owed me a favor or a million for taking in sick horses when his practice was full.
Ten minutes later, my house was locked up and I was in my truck, following my brothers to the Hangmen compound. With each mile I drove away from the safe haven of my ranch, I felt less and less myself. I heard Garcia’s voice in my head, telling me he was coming for me. Threatening that he’d own me once and for all.
But like Kyler, I was good at covering what was bothering me.
So I’d pull up my big-girl panties and stay at the club for a while. As we passed through downtown Austin, lights from South Congress Avenue illuminating the cab of my truck, I let two images of Hades guide me: his smug face, and a noose, reminding why I ran away all those years ago.
This club was quicksand. A quicksand in which I was hell-bent on not getting stuck.


Tillie Cole hails from a small town in the North-East of England. She grew up on a farm with her English mother, Scottish father and older sister and a multitude of rescue animals. As soon as she could, Tillie left her rural roots for the bright lights of the big city.

After graduating from Newcastle University with a BA Hons in Religious Studies, Tillie followed her Professional Rugby player husband around the world for a decade, becoming a teacher in between and thoroughly enjoyed teaching High School students Social Studies before putting pen to paper, and finishing her first novel.

Tillie has now settled in Austin, Texas, where she is finally able to sit down and write, throwing herself into fantasy worlds and the fabulous minds of her characters.

Tillie is both an independent and traditionally published author, and writes many genres including: Contemporary Romance, Dark Romance, Young Adult and New Adult novels.

When she is not writing, Tillie enjoys nothing more than curling up on her couch watching movies, drinking far too much coffee, while convincing herself that she really doesn’t need that extra square of chocolate.

Author Links





Chapter Reveal – Boyfrenemy by Sosie Frost

Julian’s the kind of sexy that demands a cigarette before sex.
He’s the whip and the cream on top of my chocolate sundae.
Hell, he’s the only man worth the fancy underwear in my panty drawer. But suddenly, the thong isn’t the only pain in my ass.
He’s rude. He’s arrogant. And he’s the single greatest threat to my job.
So, of course, I fell in love with my perfect enemy.
Accidentally getting pregnant was our first battle.
Now? It’s all-out-war.

Micah’s the sort of girl who breaks more balls than hearts.
No matter how perfect her ass, it’s not worth the pain in mine.
Her smile might tighten my pants, but the woman’s worse than the drought, pestilence, and ramble of weeds destroying my fields. Too bad she’s the only one who can save my farm.
So, I made a deal with that devil.
…Then I knocked her up.


It was a bad day to fall in love.

Then again, every day was a bad day to fall in love.

I’d missed the warning signs—the alarm that never went off, the torrential downpour, the car that didn’t start.

Days like that day were perfect for hiding in the office and catching up on paperwork. There, the only risk was the occasional coffee ring on an important contract or an unfortunate paper cut. And while I was sure that the good, old-fashioned journey of self-destruction they called love might have been exhilarating for the first few irresponsible moments, that sort of complication had no place in my life plan.

Especially since Mr. Julian Payne was the wrong man to steal my heart.

If he could find it under the layers and layers of mud.

Mud made a bad day worse. Worse and soggy. Mud caked me head to toe, settling in a variety of places that would require a very intimate scrubbing. Unlike Spa Gemma—Ironfield’s hottest and most exclusive health resort—Butterpond’s famous mud offered no organic benefits to skincare or hydration. Instead, this particular land was supposedly exceedingly fertile. Not any concern of mine, considering the next five years of my life were specifically organized to focus on career growth and physical fitness.

Butterpond wasn’t a great launch pad for any future ambitions or social networking. After four months of employment in the municipal zoning office, my most productive assignment had been unwedging myself from a mud hole in the Payne’s driveway-turned-swamp. I’d kept my shoe but lost my dignity to the sticky pit.

First, my broken-down car.

Then, getting tsunami’d by a speeding pickup truck tearing through a pond-sized puddle on Bakers Run Road.

And now…


I’d fallen—wallowed—in six inches of uncompromising, unrelenting mud, crawling hand over fist until I reached the safety of the Payne’s county-styled farmhouse.

And, at the end of the quarter-mile trek up the filthy, water-logged, knee-deep mud driveway? I faced a man who might have stolen my breath if I hadn’t lost it all on the hike to his porch.

Julian Payne was a superior kind of sexy.

As hot as a flickering cigarette after hours of lovemaking.

As teasing as a wrinkle in the sheets twisted by bare toes.

As damning as a body prickling with sweat in the dark.

He was the type of man who’d make a woman giggle as she made the biggest mistake of her life.

I’d made a personal promise to never compromise my values for a little green, but eyes like his were worth dirtying a clean reputation in a new town.

My heart beat quicker—and it wasn’t the panic of leaving my Jimmy Choo’s sinking in a puddle of gloppy mud. This was either love at first sight…or an entirely inappropriate reaction as I stared at Julian, pacing the porch in broad, athletic strides.

Shame. Definitely shame.

I was supposed to be meeting this man on behalf of the Sawyer County Zoning Department. Instead, I drooled over a god so beautiful, so muscular, so utterly stunning that he’d be a perfect excuse to amend my current life plan of career advancement for a fairy tale dream of desire and lust.

Then…he opened his mouth.

“You know what’s wrong with this world?”

Julian spoke daggers—slicing words from lips that shouldn’t have tumbled anything but compliments and dirty words.

He wove his hand through thick, dark hair—wet from either the rain or a shower. His flannel shirt, only halfway buttoned, revealed a hard chest of solid muscle.

This was a man who had never feared a day of hard work in his life. Probably made hard work fear him.

Julian paced the porch, but he wouldn’t outrun his frustration. “I’m trying my goddamned hardest to get this farm up and running.”

This was a proud man. A confident man. A man unburdened by mud and dirty puddle water. And I stood, unnoticed, caked in the unthinkable.

Of course I would meet the man of my dreams while living a waking nightmare. But maybe he’d like a woman who smelled like his farm.

God…I hoped it was just farm I smelled. What the hell was in that mud?

Across the old, rickety porch—covered with a roof that would never meet modern structural guidelines—Julian’s friend eyed me with shock…then pity. Probably the same look I’d receive once I returned to the township offices for my scheduled meeting with the mayor and city council.

So much for the raise.

The second man bounced a baby on his knee. He didn’t seem the type to cuddle a one-year-old, but the baby took glee in tugging the trimmed beard teasing his hardened jaw. He spat out the fingers the little girl jammed into his mouth and attempted to interrupt Julian to greet me.

Julian ignored his friend and proceeded to rant instead.

“How the hell am I supposed to work this farm? The taxes are killing me, the regulations are binding my hands, and now this zoning bullshit tells me where I can and can’t build on my own damn property?”

He was a rugged sort of cowboy, chock full of muscles and arrogance and something less pleasant.

I attempted to interject and announce my arrival, but Julian had no time in the world to listen to anyone by himself.

And I didn’t like what I heard.

“This is our land. It was my father’s land. His father’s land. And his father’s land.” He slapped a calloused hand against the clapboard siding of his house. His home didn’t deserve the solid spank, punishing the building for the inconvenience of the zoning laws that were my job to enforce. “My grandparents built this home from nothing. When my father took over the farm, he worked every day of the year. Sunup to sundown. Back then, no municipality ordered them around on their own private property.”

Why did the cute ones always advocate anarchy?

A man like Julian Payne should’ve stayed quiet and enjoyed the air of mystery. Tall, dark, handsome, and utterly silent. Gone was my fantasy of a rugged cowboy, riding us off into the sunset on his trusty horse, while obeying every zoning regulation set forth in the county’s Unified Development Ordinance.

This was not a man who wanted to play by the rules…or by the laws enacted via local ordinance by the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors and vested in me as Director of Building and Zoning.

“Now there’s some hotshot, wannabe politician telling me what to do?” Julian hadn’t yet noticed me. That was fine. I’d wait this performance out. “He’s probably some fat ass who never even set foot on a farm.”

My ass was not fat. And none of my previous admirers had ever complained about the bump. All…two of them.

Julian seethed, his boots thudding hard against the porch’s warping planks. “He’s probably never worked a day in his life, you know?”

His friend cleared his throat. “Uh…”

“Probably spent his life sitting behind some desk in a cushy office.”

My desk had three legs and a pile of books propping up the fourth. One florescent bulb had burned out a year ago and had yet to be replaced. And, when it rained, the window leaked and trickled water into the outlet.

Real cushy.

Julian smirked. “Probably gets off on the power. Jerks it every time he rejects a building permit application.”

If I took any more offense to his statement, I’d be stuffing my pockets with indignation.

So what if my job was in an office? What did it matter if I wasn’t riding a tractor in the sun all day? I had papers to file and applications to review and men like him to disappoint when they thought they could do as they liked without regard to the greater good of the community.

But Julian was right.

His was one building permit application that would be downright orgasmic to reject.

“Know it took me two weeks to even get an appointment with this asshole?” Julian said. “And now he’s too goddamned incompetent to show up on time.”


I’d just lost a five-hundred-dollar pair of shoes in the pit he called a driveway. This was after I’d rearranged my entire schedule to visit him in person, sacrificing my thirty-minute lunch and a growing stack of county fair plans in desperate need of review. I’d come to Triumph Farm as a favor to the one man everyone in Butterpond loved like their own damned child.

And now I was incompetent?

No matter how panty-melting handsome the son of a bitch was, he was going to be nothing but a pain in my ass.

“Julian!” The man holding the baby finally interrupted the rant, but Julian had already stuck his foot so far in his mouth he’d be shitting toes for a week. “I think he is here.”

Julian turned. My stomach flopped back into the mud.

This man took my breath away. Which was good. It’d put us on even ground once I punched him square in the gut. But that wouldn’t be very professional as a representative of Sawyer County.

I’d get him audited instead.

I extended a hand. A glop of mud dripped from my fingers. At least it made the java brown of my skin shine. Not that I wanted to exfoliate with the sticky, clumpy mess of debris that churned in Julian Payne’s backyard.

I sucked in a breath, tempered my anger, and attempted to introduce myself.


His riotous, exceedingly inappropriate laugh carried across his untended farmland—land that would stay empty if he insisted on misbehaving.

“What the hell…” He stared at me—eyes greener than any weed sprouting in his fields. “What happened to you?”

His was a question that would take an afternoon in a spa, a soak in a tub, and a dinner of pure carbs and an entire bottle of wine to answer.

It’d started when I’d busted the corrupt Chief of Police in Ironfield and ended around the time the city fired me for whistle blowing. Fast forward six months of unemployment, and suddenly I was changing the tire of the hand-me-down Sawyer County Crown Vic with three hundred thousand miles, no air conditioning, and an accelerator that tended to stick. Add to that an afternoon dip in a mud puddle and fifteen minutes of clawing through a swamp to get to his front porch, and I had quite the tale to tell Mr. Payne-In-My-Ass about my punctuality and sludgy appearance.

Of course, that was the moment my shock, rage, and absolute lust for this cowboy coalesced into a knot that bound my tongue, heart, and a place a bit lower that—frankly—could have used a good hogtie in the past six months.

“Someone…” My words sputtered out in a most unflattering, incoherent jumble. I stumbled forward, my bare toes sinking into yet another slimy, cold layer of gunk. “There’s…a…it was locked…”

The man with the baby offered me the little girl’s blanket to, presumably, un-mire myself. It wouldn’t help. I needed a damned hose to clear the mud from every nook and cranny on me—places I’d worked so hard to keep clean.

The job wasn’t supposed to be like this.

My life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I didn’t belong in the dead-end, rural, farming town of Butterpond.

And I sure as hell didn’t deserve to be treated like a inconvenience by Julian Payne when I’d been trying to help.

I swallowed the irritation and gestured down the quarter-mile of sludge that was the farm’s driveway.

“The gate was locked.”

Julian hadn’t stopped laughing.

“I had to get out of the car…open it…the mud was…everywhere.”

His cayenne smoky laugh gutted me. This was a bastard who’d rot in hell for watching my toes wiggle in the grass.

My words turned to a hiss. “You…are you Julian Payne?”

For half a second, I prayed I had the wrong man, wrong farm, wrong anything.

If he was the whip and cream on my chocolate sundae, he’d just melted my entire dessert.

“Yeah,” he said. “Who the hell are you?”

Unfortunate. He was the one man I’d hate to hate.

I straightened my dress as best I could and attempted to wipe some of the mud from my face. No good. It only smeared yet another line across my cheek.

“I’m your appointment,” I said. “And I would have been here sooner if someone hadn’t locked the driveway gate. I fell in the mud and had to claw my way here.”

I received no pity from him. Julian scowled. Damn the man for looking so good even while irritated.

“Look, swamp thing. Sorry you got a little dirty…that’s life on a farm. This is what happens when you’re working the land, not pushing papers.”

Like he had any idea how to do my job. I clenched my fists, wishing a layer of gunk hadn’t squished from between my fingers. My voice cracked with rage. Not the most intimidating.

“Well, I’m here now,” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Hell, no. I’ve got an appointment with Mr. Micah Robinson, not…”

He gestured over my curves. He couldn’t be that stupid. All brawn and no brains.

Julian shook his head. “I’m not meeting with his secretary.”

If I wasn’t so sure I’d lost my earrings somewhere by my flattened tire, I’d have ripped the hoops out and prepared to rumble.

Bad day to fall in love.

Bad day to have my heartbroken by a jackass.

Bad day to mess with me.

“You know, cowboy…” I used the term loosely. His farm had no crops and no animals, and it’d probably stay that way. “I intended to do you a favor.”

“What’s that?”

“I came out in person. I wanted to survey the farm. Meet this Julian Payne everyone keeps talking about.”

And they talked a lot.

The Paynes were the glue that held together a town comprised mostly of a grocery store that stocked nothing organic and a roughneck bar that didn’t serve Cosmopolitans or even understand the meaning of the word.

Small couldn’t begin to describe Butterpond—but financially insolvent got close. Maybe it was the family’s charity from years ago, or maybe it was the trouble caused these last thirty years by his five sons, but the Paynes dominated the town gossip. Tales of wild nights and fires, eligible bachelors and warring siblings added a bit of mystery to the usual stories of the town’s bingo cheaters, not-so-secret affairs, and warnings about the feral cats overrunning the county fairgrounds.

But Julian Payne?

This man could do no wrong.

Giving up a potentially lucrative career with the Ironfield Rivets just to come home and take care of the family farm, his grieving family, and the responsibility as head of household? Supposedly, the man was a rural messiah who still had enough connections to score the occasional Rivets’ ticket.

That would teach me to listen to idle gossip again.

Especially when it wasn’t about me or threats to my employment.

I raised my chin and pretended the mud was just another layer of Sephora foundation. “And here I thought you could use some help…and you’re gonna need it. You submitted an application to rebuild a barn that’s been demolished for five years.”

“Burned down,” Julian said. “Long story. It burned down.”

“Yes, well, you haven’t attempted to rebuild it within a permitted time frame which makes it exempt to any grandfathered building codes and requirements. Since the structure’s destruction, Sawyer County has passed a new set of zoning regulations which you must adhere to. Your application—which did not include the required set of architectural drawings or a survey of your property—”

“It’s just a barn.”

“—Was not only incomplete, but it lacked the relevant detail to even consider approval for the new construction of an accessory structure on this chosen location.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

It meant this would have felt a hell of a lot better if I wasn’t covered in mud for the reveal.

“It means…I can tell you right now what the decision will be regarding your barn.”

“Oh, yeah?”

I tasted the anger. It tasted a lot like mud. “It’s gonna get denied.”

“What?” Julian blinked. He held his arms out. “That’s it?”

“Don’t bother helping me with the gate. I can manage this time.”

“Don’t let it knock you on your ass on the way out.”

Maybe then he’d stop staring at it, curves barely covered by a designer skirt ruined by the mud and gunk. I hobbled across the driveway just as the skies opened and my luck torrentially poured on me. The saturated material clung to my curves—curves which might’ve been a grand accomplishment for any lady who was not attempting to maintain a level of professionalism within her newfound career. I hadn’t intended to literally storm to my car, but I crossed my fingers for a flash flood to whisk me away.

No amount of hand sanitizer would clean this mess. Especially not before my two o’clock meeting with the mayor and council. I couldn’t go back to the office looking like this. Then again, I doubted I could even make it back to my car.

The mud snowballed around my feet, mixing with the rain to become as heavy as cement. I’d have to cancel the meeting with the council meant to save my job. Too many complaints in government usually meant a municipal employee was doing something right. But in a town where everyone knew each other’s names, kids, properties, secrets, and vulnerable insecurities, one-too-many High Grass and Weed citations didn’t commend me for community outreach. It pissed off the wrong people.

I groaned.

This was his fault.

That sexist, arrogant jerk of a man.

I wouldn’t have gotten muddy if I hadn’t come to his stupid farm. Wouldn’t have popped the tire if I hadn’t volunteered to meet him. Wouldn’t have been late to the meeting to save my career if I hadn’t offered to help that egotistical son of a—

My foot plunked too deep into the mud. My ankle didn’t go with it. I twisted and collapsed to the ground.

“Not again…”

The rain made everything stickier. I wiped the hair out of my eyes with a stroke of my hand. Mistake. The mud smeared over my nose, in my eyes, over my lips.



Hair—embedded with twigs.

Foot—stuck in a hole.


I hobbled upright and kicked. Nada. The earth sucked me in but didn’t have the courtesy to bury me six feet under.

Screw it. I’d gnaw my damn ankle off if it meant getting the hell off this farm.

Another yank and I fell forward once again. My Louis Vuitton purse abandoned me, tumbling into a puddle. The vibrating cell phone rolled from the front pocket and splashed in murky water.

Great. I’d die in a backwoods mud pit.

I reached for the phone. My fingertips just grazed the vibrating case before a sun-warmed rumble of a voice piqued my blood pressure.

I’d either jump his bones or bury them in his own backyard.

I didn’t bother glancing at Julian Payne. I’d remember exactly what he looked like tonight in my dreams. It’d take more than a bottle of wine and evening with my showerhead to forget that face.

I spoke through gritted teeth. “You expected someone different?”

“Yeah.” Julian circled me, the mud practically hardening under his boots. Jesus walked on water, Julian could traverse through mud. Less of a god and more a pig. “I thought I was meeting a guy—the zoning officer.”

“Do you even know what a zoning officer is?”

“Yeah. He’s the asshole who won’t let me build a barn.”

And that was why I wouldn’t waste my breath explaining how the municipal code forbid the construction of a new structure so close to the property lines or why a barn of that size would be denied based on the township’s maximum permissible square footage calculation.

Hell, even breaking the regulations down wouldn’t work. A thick head like his wouldn’t understand no build here, too big.

I ignored him and attempted to dislodge my foot from a property that was one blue heron away from a wetlands designation. Then he’d really be pissed when he couldn’t build anything.

“Need help?” Julian asked.

Was he joking? “No.”

“You sure?”

I squirmed. Wiggled. Juked.

And sunk deeper into the mud.

I gritted my teeth. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Cause…to me?” Julian snickered. “Looks like you’re about to become part of the foundation for my new barn.”

Now I did glare at him. And I regretted every single pelting raindrop that splattered his shirt and stuck the material to his thick muscles.

“What barn?” I huffed. “After today, you’ll be lucky if you can plant a damn tomato without a permit.”

“Not sure who made you princess of the county…” Julian enjoyed my plight a little too much. “But lemme help you.”

“I don’t need help.”

“You’ve never spent a day outside your office, have you?”

Not that he needed to know. I warded him away with a swing of a very muddy hand. “I’m fine.”

“Not from around here, are you?” He smirked. God, it was a great smirk. “Most of the locals don’t try to swim through the mud.”

“I wouldn’t have needed to swim if someone had remembered to open the gate.”

“Might’ve opened the gate if someone were on time for her scheduled appointment.”

“Would have made it on time if you had opened the gate.”

“Would have had the gate open if you’d called to tell me you were here.”

Julian didn’t ask permission before sliding his arm around my waist. With a graceful shrug, he lifted me out of the mud and freed me from the hole.

With any other man, in any other time, in any other moment when I wasn’t coated head to toe with muck, I might have offered myself for his ravishment.

It wasn’t the classiest or most realistic of expectations, but it had been a long time since a man had grabbed these hips, and sometimes a girl needed an excuse to get dirty.

But not with him.

Not with a man that arrogant, that aggravating…

That attractive.

“You sure you’re old enough to be a zoning officer?” He hadn’t released me, smirking as I swung my legs above the ground. “I should just keep you in my pocket. Might get the build done faster—”

I kicked. My foot connected a little too hard with the part of him that fed his ego. With a groan, he dropped me. We both clattered to the ground. Me, smooshed into the mud.


Julian landed over me—all two hundred pounds of pure muscle and small-town mischief.

The skies drenched us in buckets of warm, summer rain. The mud had cushioned our fall. I laid beneath him, pinned, staring into eyes as green as the ominous clouds overhead. Probably a sign to find better cover than under the body of the town’s most frustratingly handsome farmer.

Embarrassment choked me. Or maybe that was lust. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t unburrow from the muck and mire to ensure my dress hadn’t hiked too far up my thighs

The bastard still held me in his arms. I squirmed, clenching my jaw and my legs tightly shut. Didn’t help. A new heat sizzled the raindrops against my skin. Julian stared at me, bright eyes under thick brows, a stoic nose slightly bent from years of abuse, a hardened jaw teased with a scruffy, five o’clock shadow.

A face worthy of cuddling against a pillow or burrowing between my thighs. I hated the thoughts and banished the flutter of warmth aching inside me.

He caught his breath and adjusted the injured part of him. “Are you—”

He’d rubbed his face, leaving a trail of mud along his cheek.

A wriggling, dark little spec remained.

A nightmare of nightmares.

I screamed and punched him square in the nose.


Julian fell backwards with a grunt. I scrambled to safety.

“Oh, God.” I’d hyperventilate before I could climb a tree or escape into my car to flee from the leeches. “Ew, ew, ew.”

I whipped my hands over any exposed skin, but it wouldn’t do any good.

I’d lain in that oozing, sticky mud.

A million of those creepy crawly disgusting creatures might have latched onto me. The panic set in. So did the lightheadedness. I clutched my clothes and struggled to check all over me before the leeches gorged themselves on every last drop of my blood.

But where could I run? Hide? Fight? I lamented my bare feet and scrunched up tight, sacrificing my right foot to the mud. Hopefully, they wouldn’t strip it to the bone in mere minutes.

Or maybe that was piranhas?

Oh, God, I didn’t want to find out.

“What the hell is your problem?” Julian touched his nose. No blood, but he winced anyway.

He didn’t have to thank me. I’d never stop retching. “You had a leech on your face!”

“No, I didn’t, you maniac.” Julian held out his hand, exposing the little black wiggler. “It’s a fucking blade of grass.”

I still didn’t let it touch me. I nearly collapsed, my breath heaving in uneven gasps. Julian watched, eyebrow rising.

“Have you ever been outside before?” he asked.

Forget the glass of wine. Tonight I’d take the whole damn bottle into the tub. “I don’t often make farm calls. Usually the applicants properly fill out their applications.”

“Never thought I’d have to sweet talk a dirty girl for my barn.”

Hardly appropriate. “Don’t you dare sweet talk me, Mr. Payne.”

“Oh, I forgot. You’re county royalty, princess.” He waggled his eyebrows—the bastard. “I’ll take you out to dinner instead.”

“How could that possibly help?”

“Better than propositioning you in the mud.”

He had to be joking. “You aren’t propositioning anything.”


I shoved past him. “I’d need to be drunk to accept that offer.”


“Your application has been denied.”

Julian didn’t quit. A smile tugged at his lips. “Dancing.”

I ignored him and trudged away. To my displeasure, he followed.

“Come on, princess.” He loved this. “Those hips were made for more than mud wrestling.”

No one had ever talked to me like that before. I sure as hell didn’t approve of it.

But I wasn’t sure I hated that good ol’, small-town charm.

“Look, cowboy…” I spun and poked him in the chest. “I don’t take bribes.”

“And I don’t sleep with charity cases, but I’ll do whatever it takes for this barn.”

The insolent, conceited asshole! “You’re a real bastard, you know that?”

“Are my tax dollars paying for that mouth of yours?” He grinned. “Wish I could put it to better use.”

“How many times do I have to reject you today?” The insults burned through me. So did the desire, though I couldn’t possibly loathe this man more. “Keep trying, cowboy. Disappointing you is starting to feel nice.”

“I can make you feel better than nice.”

“Not interested.”


“I have morals,” I said.

“You work in government.”

“And men like are you are the reason I avoid the public sector.”

Julian hollered as I stomped away. “How am I supposed to get my barn, princess?”

“You could start by using my real name.” I should have kept walking. “Then you could build the damn thing where it’s authorized in the right dimensions and not insult the only person who can grant you the permissions.”

“Didn’t know government came with a safe word.”

He was going to need one soon. “Don’t test me.”

“What other permissions can you grant?”

“None. But I can cite you for being a public nuisance.”

Julian sighed. “You haven’t even given me a chance.”

“I gave you enough of a chance, Julian Payne. You blew it.”

He laughed, a hearty, country-born, home-grown rumble. “Don’t make this into a challenge, princess. You won’t win.”

“This isn’t about winning,” I said. “It’s about the law.”

“I’m not giving up.” Julian winked. “You’re going to see a lot of me, Miss Robinson.”

“First an insult, now a threat?”

He shrugged. “You could just grant approval now—save us the time and the inevitable foreplay.”

“You couldn’t handle me, cowboy.”

“Won’t know until we try…see if you’re as dirty as you seem.”

I sauntered close, my words a low growl. “Oh, I can play very dirty.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Then he’d love this. “Your application is not only denied, now I will take all forty-five business days to review any appeal you may submit.” I met his gaze. “Before this gets any worse for you, Mr. Payne, I recommend you submit.”

“Always did like a feisty girl.”

Loathsome man. “I think you’ve met your match.”

“Oh, princess, believe me. I’m gonna do you to code.”

“That so?”

“Inspect you head to toe, make sure you adhere to my master plan.”

“I bet you will.”

Julian’s words were filthier than the mud. “Wonder what I could do if I bound you up in your own red tape.”

“Never gonna find out.” I offered him a sweet, professional smile and continued to my car. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Julian Payne. I can’t wait until the next time I get to reject you.”

Sosie Frost is no stranger to quirky, embarrassing, and wild situations, and she’s channeling all that new adult angst into fun romances.

From marching at the high school homecoming game without her trumpet (a punishment for forgetting the instrument on the band bus), to regretfully tucking her prom dress into the back of her tights before pictures, and even accidentally starting a chemical fire in the college chem lab, Sosie has the market cornered on crazy stories.

But hey, writing is a better outlet than therapy right? 😉

If you want funny, charming, and steamy romances, you’ve found the right author!

Sosie lives in Pittsburgh with her hubby, her two cats, and thrives on a near constant stream of gummy bears.


Chapter Reveal – Hard wood by Jenika Snow

The Dirty Bits from Carina Press give you what you want, when you want it. Designed to be read in an hour or two, these sex-filled microromances are guaranteed to pack a punch and deliver a happily-ever-after.

A new supersexy insta-love novella from USA TODAY bestselling author Jenika Snow that has a gruff lumberjack yelling T-I-M-B-E-R for the woman he’s been waiting for.

The Ash Brothers—they know how to handle their wood.

I’m a hard man. A loner. Or so town gossip says. After having my heart sent through the chipper, I’ve kept to myself. I prefer the quiet of the woods to the ramblings of clingy women who think they can tame a wild mountain man.

Until Mia. Now she’s all I think about.

I should have stayed away. She’s too sweet for a brute like me, but I can’t stop wanting her, picturing her sated in my sheets.

Mia knows just what kind of wood I’m working with. She’s the soft to my hard, the sugar to my bitter bark.

And I love seeing her walk on the wild side.

This book is approximately 15,000 words

For those times when size does matter. The Dirty Bits from Carina Press: Quick and dirty, just the way we like it.


Being part owner of Ash Lumber made it so technically I didn’t have to do the dirty work. I had employees who worked under me to do that. But just because I co-owned the company with my two brothers didn’t mean I didn’t want to get my hands dirty. Not only did we deal with cutting down the trees for production, over the last few years we’d even dabbled in development and construction. It was just one more branch of the business that was expanding.

I was a lumberjack right down to my very marrow.

I liked chopping wood, slinging it over my shoulder and hauling it to where it needed to go. This was a family owned and run business, and it also helped keep me busy, kept my mind from wandering. And that was the main reason I worked just as hard as the men who worked for my brothers and me.

For nearly my whole life I’d lived in Rockbridge, Colorado, a picturesque lumber town. We had mountains on three sides of us, the town situated so the snowcapped peaks could always be seen. The thick forest was our backyard, and this was the only place I’d ever felt comfortable, ever felt was truly my home.

This was the only place that I ever felt I belonged.

There had been one time in my life that I’d moved away, one time where I’d been out of my element and miserable as fuck. And I’d done it all for a woman…for what I thought was love. I’d agreed to move to the city, to allow Amelia to pursue her dreams, even though skyscrapers and concrete would surround me, would be my coffin.

We only lived in the city for a few months before tragedy struck, but I’d hated every second of it. Traffic had been my alarm clock, and steel and glass had been my view. It was because of my emotions and the hope that things would be better, that I stuck it out, knowing that in order to make things work I had to sacrifice what I wanted for her to be happy.

But even though I wanted her to be happy and successful, maybe it had been my own selfish thoughts, the fact that I hated living in the city so much that I found myself despising everything about it.

And things had started to become tense between us, strained. She was working constantly, and her attitude toward me became cold. In just those few months I’d seen a change take over her, watched as she started putting her career before our relationship. We’d grown detached, and it had felt more like I was with a roommate.

But before we worked anything out, if we even could or would have, I lost Amelia to a drunk driver.

I blamed myself for not trying harder with her, for not making her see we needed to focus on each other. But in just those short months we’d grown apart to the point I don’t know what the future would have looked like for us anyway. Even after all that, though, self-hate and guilt had eaten at me.

So I moved back home, jumped back into the family-owned lumber business, and tried to move on with my life.

Ten years passed, and I hadn’t been with a woman since, had never even wanted to have one by my side or in my bed.

The years had hardened me to a point, had made me despise the kind of emotions that falling in love and being with somebody invoked. Because I knew it didn’t last. It never lasted. People drifted apart, love was lost, and loneliness was the only solid thing you could count on.

I was happy in my current situation, content with working day in and day out. I enjoyed keeping to myself. And that’s how it would stay. Because even if I did find a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, hell, to share my bed with, I feared I’d be no good for her.

Being celibate, focusing on work, on being the loner I’d become, had worked out well for me. I didn’t deny that I jerked off plenty of times, needed some kind of outlet for pent-up arousal, but that’s as far as I went. Women didn’t interest me, and another relationship sure as fuck wasn’t in my future.

Keeping to myself was best for everyone all around. At least that’s what I’d been telling myself this whole time.


I said goodbye to the life I’d known for far too long, packed up all my belongings, and headed to Rockbridge, Colorado. Although Rockbridge was only a couple hours northwest of Denver, where’d I’d been living and working for the last few years, it felt like a whole other world.

In my previous life, before I’d moved to the city for work, I’d lived in Thornton. It had been an up and coming place to live and had its quaint points. But over the years even those homegrown scenic views had been eaten up by restaurants and supermarkets, doctors’ offices and housing developments. Hell, they’d even built over a gorgeous prairie dog field that had been right behind my housing development.

Dammit, I’d loved those prairie dogs.

And now I was dropped into some postcard town, where evergreens and aspens surrounded me, and the smell of Christmas filled my head.

Mountains surrounded the town, the peaks reaching for the very heavens, and forests touching the edges of the roads. The houses were quaint, cabin-like.

I felt freer, like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders as soon as I arrived in Rockbridge.

I pulled open the sliding glass door to the house I was renting for the time being and stepped out onto the small deck. Evergreens and aspens were my backyard now. I could see the snowcapped mountains peeking over the treetops, and I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. I’d been so worried about moving, so stressed out about starting a new job and leaving everything else behind, that I hadn’t really been able to appreciate how good this would be for me in the long run.

I brought my mug up and blew a light brush of air over the top, the steam from my tea disappearing into the fresh, clean air. I had been here for a few weeks now, my new position that of an executive accountant for the one small real estate company in town.

Truth was, executive accountant was a term far too fancy and sophisticated for the small business I was working for. I was a glorified number pusher, but the pay was decent—not exactly what I’d made before, but good enough for me to be comfortable. And this small rental property with an acre of land that I’d found had sealed the deal about making this new jump in my life.

So, I’d put in my two weeks at my former position and never looked back.

My energy had been drained living that life. I felt the weight of working for a large corporation and coming home to the same four walls, the same postage stamp–sized yard every day. I knew if I didn’t make a change my health would suffer.

I found myself smiling, and was thankful there were no neighbors around. They’d probably think I was insane, standing here alone, my mug pressed to my lips, a huge grin spread across my face.

I might’ve only been here a few weeks, but I already felt like this was home.

Copyright Carina Press and Jenika Snow 2018

Jenika Snow is a USA Today Bestselling Author that lives in the northwest with her husband and their two daughters. Before she started writing full-time she worked as a nurse.

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Cover Reveal – Only You by Melanie Harlow


Only You, an all-new sexy and emotional standalone from USA Today bestselling author Melanie Harlow is coming March 12th!


Title: Only You

Author: Melanie Harlow

Publishing Date: March 12th

Designer: Letitia Hasser, RBA Designs

Photographer: Lauren Watson Perry


Nate Pearson is ridiculously handsome and wears the hell out of a suit and tie, but I’ve seen the parade of beautiful women leaving his apartment across the hall—a different one every time—and I want no part of it. When it comes to romance, I’m looking for something real, something that will last: the happily ever after.

As a divorce attorney, he loves to tell me there’s no such thing.

As a wedding planner, I choose to disagree.

We disagree on almost everything, in fact. Everything except James Bond. The only time we really get along is when we’re watching 007 flicks together, and I’ll admit—he has rescued me from a disaster or five. So when one of the baton twirlers from his parade leaves a baby girl at his door with a note that says “I’ll come back for her” and he begs me for help, I can’t turn him down.

But it’s a mistake.

Because watching him with his daughter, I start to see another side of Nate, a side that has my breath coming faster, my body craving his, my heart longing for him to change his mind about love and tell me there’s a chance for us.

I don’t want to be just another girl leaving his apartment in the morning.

I want to be the one he asks to stay.

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About Melanie:


Melanie Harlow likes her martinis dry, her heels high, and her history with the naughty bits left in. When she’s not writing or reading, she gets her kicks from TV series like VEEP, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Homeland. She occasionally runs three miles, but only so she can have more gin and steak.

Melanie is the author of the AFTER WE FALL series, the HAPPY CRAZY LOVE series, the FRENCHED series, and the sexy historical SPEAK EASY duet, set in the 1920s. She lifts her glass to romance readers and writers from her home near Detroit, MI, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and pet rabbit.

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Chapter Reveal – KING by Aria Cole

King Williams has seen the other side of hell, his tortured solitude hiding pain behind the cut of his marble jaw. Stubborn fortitude has gotten him this far, but one night with Piper at a club party is all it takes to unravel the walls he’s built. Now he can’t get her out of his head. His obsessive need rages before he pulls her in so deep both of their lives land on the line. The only thing that matters might be the only thing he can’t protect.

When Piper Parish spots King, high-ranking member of the Sinister Knights MC, nearly naked late one night, it isn’t the first time he’s caught her eye. It is, however, the first time she’s set eyes on the cobblestoned abs and chiseled lines etched into this bad boy’s body. Like a flash of lightning in the darkness, Piper finds herself thrown into a whirlwind ride with the brooding biker…a ride he will never let her forget.

Warning: King is one sexy, moody Harley ridin’ bad boy. he’s Piper’s idea of devilish, dark, attractive and so off-limits. Until now. He’ll stop at nothing to make her his, but is she ready to buckle in for the ride of a lifetime?


“I love him, Piper. I know I’ve said it before, but I know for sure this time. Truly,” Anna breathed at my ear, squeezing my elbow once.
“Ryker is mad about you. I can see it. Just the way the grouchy old bear as glaring at us now…” Ryker huffed, taking a long swallow from his beer bottle. “Despite your sunshiny disposition, I’m glad you’re back.” I glanced at the man of the hour, still hovering a few feet away from his girl, just in earshot, looking as if he were ready to steal her away from me at any minute.
He probably was.
I sucked in a sigh, eyes casting not for the first time at King, scowling from across the room, a matching beer bottle in his hand. I’d been wishing lately that King would look at me the same way Ryker was looking at Anna now.
Anna deserved happiness, and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Ryker was the man who made her happy. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t a tiny bit jealous of the love she’d found. I’d taken to spending so much more time at the ranch in the last few years since Ryker had gone up to County, not that Anna needed a babysitter, but Ryker being gone was tough on her.
Some nights I’d just held her in her bed and let her cry on my shoulder.
There was nothing else I could do.
Not only had Anna been recovering from an assault suffered at the hands of someone she trusted. But then Ryker, the very person who’d saved her from a far worse fate, had been stolen from her life too. Anna was never quite the same after Ryker was gone.
And now that Ryker was back and Anna’s face was plastered with a radiant smile, I was left with only one person on my mind.
Someone I’d seen hovering in the shadows for years now, just out of reach, broad and brooding and smarter than any other person I’d ever known.
I’d grown up like a little sister to the Sinister Knights, but from the very beginning, I’d had an uncontrollable crush on the quietest of the crew, King Williams. Always thoughtful, respectful, with a wry sense of humor and a full beard that sent butterflies fluttering around my stomach.
“I’ll text you later, okay?” Anna grinned, Ryker’s hand pulling her from me already.
“Have fun!” I waved her off, unable to help her infectious grin from covering my face too. I loved nothing more than seeing my best friend happy, even if the guy who made her feel that way was one big, tall, scary motherfucker.
To each her own, I figured.
Just as my eyes settled on the sound system set up in one corner, King came into view, head bent and eyes trained on my heavily lined ones.
He was so devastating it almost took my breath away.
He closed the distance, eyes never leaving mine, and he was suddenly in my space and draining all the oxygen from my lungs.
“H-hi,” I stuttered.
“Piper.” He nodded, pausing at my shoulder, a thousand unspoken things in his eyes.
I gnawed on my bottom lip, not able to form a single word.
King and I had had a hundred conversations about a hundred different things over the years, but now I was suddenly choking on my tongue.
“How’s Anna?” King finally asked, breaking his gaze.
“Great, now that Ryker is here.”
King nodded, a sly grin cocking up one side of his mouth.
The air hung heavy between us, energy so thick and suffocating it nearly swept me under just being so close. I no longer felt like a little girl next to this man; I felt like a woman, independent and strong, worthy of his attention.
I pressed my lips together, stomach swirling to the point of dizzying irritation before the first few chords of a Tom Petty song came through the stereo.
I covered my lips, stifling a giggle as I thought of one summer night when Ryker and King had caught Anna and me out after midnight, giggling as we talked about boys we had crushes on. Even then, King had sucked me in, the dark way his energy sucked up all the air in a room. He’d been making my insides turn cartwheels since day one.
“Wanna dance?” I blurted, half regretting it.
His guarded grin turned up, eyes dancing before a palm tucked in at my waist and pulled me a few inches closer to his body.
I nearly lost my head then.
I swallowed the ball of nerves in my throat and slid my hand along the hard muscle of his bicep.
“The only person I want abusing that pretty lip is me,” King muttered, thumb catching my bottom lip and pulling it from its prison beneath my teeth.
His smile deepened when he twisted our fingers together, turning me in a circle under his arm and then leaning me back into a heavy dip. The strong angle of his Roman nose trailed up the dip of my throat, lips brushing against my fiery hot skin and nearly causing me to swoon into a pool of bliss between his leather boots.
“I swear, every time I hear this song I’m with you.” He pulled my lips closer, faintly touching as we danced close. His hand was positioned at the small of my back now, melding our bodies a little more.
“Really?” I asked.
He nodded, eyes darting to the ceiling as he thought back. “When Saint, Ryker, and I taught you and Anna how to drive by using the old diesel around the pasture.”
I shook my head, laughing at the memory.
Anna had stalled the old manual transmission at least a dozen times, and just when Ryker was about to lose it, he’d gotten behind the wheel to prove a point and stalled it himself.
“That was a fun day.” I giggled.
“We’ve had a lot of fun days,” he said, other hand slipping over the nape of my neck, drawing me a little closer into his orbit. Making me a little more drunk on all things King. “And remember when Prez almost caught you and Anna sneaking out of her window one night?”
“Oh, yeah.” I nodded, the faint memory growing clearer as I remembered King pulling up on his bike just at the moment Prez was about to question where we were going. Instead, he thought we were only out talking to King, no harm, no foul there. “We never went out that night, got too scared and crawled back into Anna’s window. We made popcorn and watched The Breakfast Club.”
“I know.” King exhaled at my neck, sending a shiver skittering down my spine.
“How do you know?”
His fingers looped into the hair at my temple, his hard body pressed so closely to mine I was sure I could feel his heavy erection stretching past my navel. “Do you think I would have let you leave? I got you off the hook with Prez, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know what the hell you were up to. I woulda tanned your hide if you’d tried to sneak out again.”
My knees went weak, my breaths suddenly ragged as I thought about his body against mine, our clothes discarded on the floor, his lips tracing the lines of my body…
His callused palms traced down to my backside, the dress that spanned high across my thighs suddenly feeling like too much fabric separating us.
I didn’t know what tomorrow might hold, but I didn’t even care. Just having King’s hands on me was a fantasy I’d dreamed of so many nights I couldn’t even begin to count. Now here it was, so close to all falling into place.
“King!” Prez’s voice boomed from across the room.
King sighed heavily, hands gripping at the flesh of my backside as his forehead landed on mine. “I wish to fuck I didn’t have to answer that.”
I pushed a hand through his hair, my urge to purge the frown from his face strong. “Duty calls.”
“So it does.” His grip on my backside loosened, lips hovering just out of reach.
I swallowed, waiting, silently begging for his lips to touch mine, before Prez bellowed one last time. “King! Now!”
My handsome, thoughtful biker grunted under his breath, nodding once, eyes catching mine for one long moment before he turned, head down, and walked away from me.
Having King to myself would never be easy around the Sinister Knights. What was I thinking? That maybe now was finally our time?
I was under the influence of Anna’s contagious lovey-dovey shit, Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers, and that delicious, woodsy masculine scent that seemed to follow King everywhere.
Who the hell smelled that good anyway?

Aria Cole is a thirty-something housewife who once felt bad for reading dirty books late at night, until she decided to write her own. Possessive alpha men and the sassy heroines who love them are common, along with a healthy dose of irresistible insta-love and happily ever afters so sweet your teeth may ache.

For a safe, off-the-charts HOT, and always HEA story that doesn’t take a lifetime to read, get lost in an Aria Cole book!
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Chapter Reveal – Payback by Kristin Harte

In Justice, Colorado, the Kennards run everything, including the only big business in the area. Their sawmill employs most of the town, and the Kennard brothers live up to a long family history of keeping their neighbors and coworkers safe—until a motorcycle club comes to town and starts causing trouble. Big trouble. The kind that ends in funerals.

He carries the burden of protecting an entire town
Being the oldest Kennard brother, I’ve got a centuries-old promise to uphold—run the family business to give the townspeople jobs and the sort of security they can only find in Justice. When a motorcycle club blows that plan apart, I’ll do anything to make them aware that they picked the wrong town to target. As a former Green Beret, I know just how to sabotage an enemy. The only weakness in my armor is my obsession with a five-foot-nothing blonde who unknowingly holds my heart in her hands. My attraction to her could cost me my life, but I’d sacrifice it all to save hers.

She owes a debt that could cost her life
I’ve spent three years hiding out in Justice and paying off a debt to the Soul Suckers, one they’ve decided to collect whether I’m ready to pay or not. When danger lands on my doorstep, one man jumps in to help. Alder Kennard—former Special Forces soldier and current object of all my fantasies. But the Soul Suckers won’t let a debt go unpaid, and with the price on my head rising every day, it’s only a matter of time until they come back for me. Alder would put his life on the line to save mine, which is something I simply can’t afford.

Everyone has a debt to pay, and the only currency I have left is my body. So when the time comes, I’ll trade my life for his.
“We’ve got a problem, boss.”
If I hadn’t already been in a foul mood, those words would have gotten me there. “What is it now?”
“Motorcycle gang up on Widow’s Ridge.” Camden Reese—born and bred in Justice, friend of my youngest brothers, and former Marine sergeant—launched into a speech about his team running into some bikers up by the Hansen property. We’d recently signed a contract with Miss Hansen to harvest eighty acres of dead Ponderosa pine on that hill, so anything getting in our way was definitely a problem. A big one.
As Camden laid out the events of the altercation, I checked over the satellite images of the area on my desk, making notes and marking locations. A star on the house to the west where the elderly Miss Hansen still lived, another to the east on the patch of earth where a trailer sat, all alone. The only two residences up that long, rough stretch of road leading to a drop-off on the far west side.
That rocky piece of land sat just outside the city limits, so things like road maintenance were all but forgotten unless the two residents brought them to my attention. No biker would intentionally ride up such a rutted, gravel road without a reason—too hard on their bike and their face if they were trailing someone else.
“He tried to call out Finn, but I squashed that shit,” Camden said, securing every bit of my attention for the moment. Finn—my second youngest brother, one of a set of twins, and the only Kennard ever to spend time in prison. He was also a recovering addict, and I had vowed to my dad that I’d keep him in recovery and not let him backslide. That had been ten years ago, and I still worried about keeping that vow every fucking day.
“What the fuck was Finn doing on a job?” My brother didn’t work for me except for the occasional project, and I knew for a fact he hadn’t been assigned to the Hansen job.
“He’d driven with me to check in on Miss Hansen. We never made it out there, though, because we ran into the bikers on the way up. One guy said some shit about Finn’s drug days, how they missed him over at the strip club in Rock Falls.”
Jesus. “You get a name?”
“Patch on his vest said Spark.”
“Spark.” I sat back, balancing my chair on two legs. “As in plug?”
Camden blinked, a cocky smile breaking across his face. “Yeah, like plug. I didn’t see the other guy’s name.”
“So Spark knows Finn from what…ten, twelve years ago? He look familiar to you?”
Cam shook his head. “Never seen him in town.”
That caught my attention. Justice was a small town planted squarely between two slightly larger towns, all in the middle of fucking nowhere. People didn’t happen into Justice—they came here for a reason.
And if that reason was named Finn Kennard, Spark and his friend needed to be dealt with and quick. “How’d my brother handle the run-in?”
“Finn ignored the bullshit from Spark. I wasn’t as restrained.”
Not surprising. Cam always did have a bit of a temper. “If the sheriff gets called again on you—”
Camden waved me off. “I knocked his legs out from under him and put him on the ground. Didn’t even leave a mark, I don’t think. But I made my point.”
“And what point was that?” Not that I needed to ask.
“That Kennard Mills would be harvesting the lumber on that side of the hill, and their club had better not have any business up there. They drove off after Spark picked himself up out of the dirt, the other guy saying something about bigger fish.” Camden frowned. “I recognized the other guy.”
“Local?” I couldn’t think of anyone in Justice who rode with an MC, but I might have missed someone. Three hundred plus people were a lot to keep track of.
“No. He came into the truck stop one night when Leah and I were there for dinner.” He blew out a breath and shifted his weight. An almost unconscious gesture, but one that stood out. Normally almost confident to a fault, Cam suddenly seemed nervous, which meant I wouldn’t like what he had to say.
“Yeah?” I prodded, wondering how a night out with his wife would piss me off.
“Leah noticed something was up when she went to the restroom and came to get me. The asshole had Shye cornered in a back hallway and wasn’t letting her pass.”  
The snap of the pencil I’d been holding breaking in two might as well have been a gunshot. “And you let him walk away?”
“I had Leah and Shye looking on. I had to.”
Picturing perfect little Shye—at least ten years my junior and so damn sweet, every one of her smiles would give you a toothache—watching as I kicked the shit of some asshole was about as unappealing as a thought could get. I probably would’ve wanted to do the same as Camden and let the guy walk with a warning if I’d been there. I wouldn’t have, but I’d have wanted to. Because I wanted her, and the idea of Shye being scared of me made my gut sink like a rock.
I needed to stop thinking about Shye Anderson. An impossibility as of late, which directly correlated to why my mood had been so foul all day.
I sighed, rubbing my forehead and sitting deeper into my chair, bringing all four legs back to the floor. “All right. So they rode off after you knocked Spark to the ground. Any indication they’d keep hassling you or come back for Finn?”
He shrugged. “Not really, though you never know with these types of guys.”
Lawless, clan-like, arrogant. Yeah. You never knew a damn thing with them. “Did you recognize the club logo?”
“Definitely the Soul Suckers.”
Of course. I’d heard they’d added a clubhouse not too far over the county line to the west. I probably wouldn’t have thought twice if I’d seen their bikes on the highway through town or heading toward the new restaurant on Main Street. I would now, though.
“Might be time to set the club straight on what they can and can’t do as they ride through Justice. I’ll talk to Deacon, see if he knows anyone. Head back to the ridge, and get the Hansen site plot worked out so we can start cruising and marking trees. This might be our last big harvest before the rains come, and I want to take advantage of the summer weather while we have it.”
“We’ll get it done.”
“Good. And if you see Bishop on the mill floor, have him call me.”
Camden nodded, then left without another word, leaving me to stew over this new mess.
Fucking messes all over the place lately, it seemed.  
I looked over my satellite images again, tracing roads and logging paths I’d known my whole life. Acres of Widow’s Ridge pine forest stared back at me, a mottled brown and green landscape. Half the trees stood dead or dying, a sign of the mountain beetle infestation that had nearly bankrupted my late father and destroyed Kennard Mills. But the bug that had nearly killed us had instead left us flush with jobs and cash. The droughts hadn’t stopped this mill, the industry collapse hadn’t either, and the fucking plague of beetles killing the forests around us had actually been a boon instead of a death knell. Everyone in Justice had enjoyed the bonuses beating our sales plans every month brought, and no fucking bikers would make us end that streak. I had a town to employ.
But Justice, Colorado was more than a town to me—it was my responsibility. The place my ancestors had set down roots. Where they tended to each and every resident over the years, giving families time to grow good, strong roots. Kennard men had run Justice like a homestead for nearly two centuries with the mill as the central business fueling everything else, and I’d live up to the legacy set before me as the oldest living Kennard. That meant making sure people had jobs, food, shelter, and that they felt safe.
Another thing bikers wouldn’t be taking away from us, even though it seemed as if they were trying just that.
An annoying, robotic song interrupted my thoughts. The words “Bishop Kennard”—name of my closest brother who also happened to be my VP of sales and marketing—flashed on the screen of my phone as it played that stupid song again. I swiped to answer and brought the device to my ear.
“Camden said you wanted me,” he said, not bothering with a greeting.
“We’ve got trouble on Widow’s Ridge.”
“I heard. Finn all right?” Because, as the second oldest Kennard brother, our family would be the first thing on Bishop’s mind. As it should be.
“Camden thinks so. Let’s run by the bar tonight and be sure, though. And I’ll need you to check in on Miss Hansen—make sure she’s okay out there.”
“Sounds good. I’ll call as soon as we hang up. Anything else?”
“Sell some fucking lumber, Bishop.”
“On it, boss. I’ll be ready to go at six.”
I tossed the phone back onto my desk, the maps snagging my attention again. One spot in particular, actually, and not the one belonging to Miss Hansen. I ran a finger over the east side of the hill, circling the little trailer on a barren, flat piece of rock. Just outside the city limits, it technically sat beyond my protective net, but Shye Anderson lived in that trailer. New girl in town at only three years since she moved to the area, waitress at the truck stop over in Rock Falls, and the only woman I’d ever met who could drive me mad with frustration and desire all at once.
I’d been ultra-aware of Shye since I first met her. Slightly obsessed, really. The girl captivated me; stole all my attention with her sweet little smile and never let me go. It didn’t hurt that she looked like a damn angel—long, blond hair and big, dark eyes, a tiny little body that I wanted to get my hands on more than anything else. Sweet as honey, that one, but she lived up to her name. She blushed and stuttered around me, avoided my eyes when I tried to catch her gaze. If I pushed too much, she ran, so I held back. Made myself available but waited for her to come to me.
Which is how I ended up eating at the truck stop five nights a week—all on Shye’s shifts. I’d had to up my workouts to keep from getting soft on all the grease and baked goods, but seeing that smile every night was worth it. The coffee—man, that was a harder pill to swallow. How a restaurant could have such bad coffee—especially one based out of a truck stop—was beyond me. I drank cup after cup of the foul brew so she’d come to my table more often to pour me refills. Without the coffee, I didn’t get much time with Shye, so I suffered.
And when I worked? I sent my guys in there. Shye had no family in Justice, so I made sure everyone understood they were to treat her as they would a Kennard. Making my men see her as mine kept them watchful around her. Hell, I paid Bishop to eat his lunches there so he could keep an eye on her, and everyone on my team headed that way at least once a day if I had to go out of town. They mocked me relentlessly for chasing her around like a damned puppy, but I didn’t give a shit. I needed to know she was happy and safe. That she had everything she needed…even if she wasn’t ready to willingly take things from me yet. We’d get there. Three years I’d waited for her to come around, and she would. Eventually. I just had to figure out the right plan.
As I pondered honey-blond hair, sugary smiles, and how many times I could use the excuse of working on the ridge to stop and see her at her place, my phone rang again—Camden, this time.  
I swiped to answer and hit the button for speakerphone. “If you tell me we have another problem, I’m going to toss a grenade in your truck.”
“So I shouldn’t tell you we’ve got a fire on the mountain?”
Motherfucker. The trouble with harvesting the blue-stained wood left behind by the mountain beetle infestation was the trees needed to cure standing for a number of years. But dead trees meant dry trees, and with the droughts of the past few years and the mild winters we’d had, that meant trouble. Big, dry, tinder-type trouble. A single lightning bolt could ignite an inferno, while a forest fire could destroy the whole damn town.
And apparently, we had one to deal with.
“Where?” I grabbed my keys and pressed the mill-floor alarm to get the team’s attention.
“Eastern slope. Just past the Hansen property.”
My steps stumbled, then sped. “That’s by Shye’s place.”
An engine roared in the background. “I’m already on my way there. Two minutes out.”
She could be hurt in two minutes. Dead. Jesus fuck, I was too far away. “Drive faster.”
I hung up and stormed down onto the mill floor. My team stood ready, looking at me expectantly, ready to fight the fires we knew could ruin everything we’d all built here.
“Fire just east of the Hansen site. Let’s get two water trucks up the eastern side of the ridge and send one up to the west side to be safe.” I met the eyes of Gage Shepherd, former Navy SEAL like Bishop and current heavy machinery engineer of Kennard Mills. “It’s close to Shye’s place.”
Without another word, Gage began issuing orders to the team. He understood the severity of the situation from every angle—the loss of our product, the potential for destruction in the town, and the possibility that the woman I had my eye on could be in danger. He’d get shit done for me.
As Gage loaded the water trucks with oxygen tanks and medical equipment—something that made my gut churn—his dog Rex trotted after him, looking as if he was headed for a joyride instead of into a fire. Wouldn’t be the first time he’d been on site at a fire, though. Gage never went anywhere without Rex.
While Gage made sure the team knew where to go and what to do, I raced to my truck. My heart pounded as I started the engine and peeled out of my spot, heading for the ridge where smoke was beginning to turn the sky black above the tree line. Fuck, if Shye was up there, if she was hurt—
I didn’t get to finish my thought because my phone rang right as I turned onto the highway heading toward the mountain. Camden again.
“Tell me good news.”
“She’s not here,” Camden said, sounding slightly out of breath. “It’s her trailer on fire, though.”
“The water trucks are on the way.”
“Don’t think they’ll do any good for her, to be honest, but we need them for the tree line. It’s so dry up here, a single spark could set the whole mountain on fire.”
Confirming my earlier thoughts. Fuck. I yanked the wheel sideways, making a sharp turn onto the road that would take me up to Shye’s place, looking over all the dead, brown pine on the hillside as I flew over the rutted, gravelly road. “Gage had the team rolling out right behind me. I’m four minutes out, though.”
“Want me to call the fire department in Rock Falls?”
Wouldn’t do any good at that point, which was why Kennard Mills had as many water hauling trucks as we did. “No use, though you’d better call the sheriff.”
“That useless piece of shit? What for?”
Useless wasn’t the term I’d use—corrupt sounded better for the county sheriff we were forced to deal with. I didn’t have time to correct Camden, though. “He’ll throw a tantrum if he’s not informed. Knowing him, he won’t come out to investigate anyway. Just make the call.”
“Yeah, got it…hang on.” Voices yelled in the background, and the sound of Camden moving fast created static on the line.
“We’ve got a problem.”
That phrase spoken about my girl’s place made me want to growl my frustration to the universe. “What fucking problem?”
“There are motorcycle tracks in the dirt around her property. Lots of them.”
Rage unlike anything I’d felt exploded in my chest. “Call the sheriff and put the word out—anyone sees a fucking Soul Sucker in Justice, I want to know about it.”
I hung up and threw my phone across the bench seat before taking the switchback turn way faster than I should have. Not that the worry burning in my gut had anything to do with me—Shye owned that ache.
Shye may not have known it, but she was mine. I’d do whatever it took to protect her.
And if this fucking motorcycle club had threatened my girl?
I’d gut them and leave their bodies for the predators.

Kristin Harte started off as a chemistry major in college but somehow ended up writing romances featuring ex-military heroes and the women who knock them to their knees…literally and figuratively. She likes drinking in the shade, snuggling under a warm blanket on a cold evening, and researching how to blow things up. Her children know nothing of what she writes, and her husband just hopes he’s not at their Chicago-ish home the day the government shows up to confront Kristin about her Google search history.
When not writing good men doing bad things, Kristin can be found writing paranormal romance as Ellis Leigh or co-writing naughty novellas as London Hale.


Chapter Reveal – Babyjacked by Sosie Frost

Five years ago, I let the girl of my dreams get away.

To be honest, I set fire to her barn, fought with her brothers, then exiled myself to a logging company in the Canadian wilderness.

But a reclusive b@stard can’t hide forever. When my sister got sick, I took in my two young nieces. Now I’m paying rent to Sesame Street, drinking Jack and fruit juice, and reading my chainsaw manual as a bedtime story. I’ve gone from lumberjack to babyjacked, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

Fortunately, I found a nanny. Five years have passed, and Cassi’s not just my best friends’ little sister anymore. She’s all grown up, dark and beautiful with a smart mouth and a broken heart.

Doesn’t take long before she’s falling for me again, but I can’t shout timber yet.

Cassi can’t forgive the past. And I can’t tell her why I ran.

When a man doesn’t deserve a second chance, he’s just gotta steal her heart.


The first time I saw Remington Marshall, he stole my heart.

The last time I saw Remington Marshall, he’d just burned my family’s barn to the ground.

Arson usually complicated relationships.

Especially afterward, when Rem left our sleepy town of Butterpond in the dead of night without so much as a goodbye. He’d stayed gone for five long years.

Five years with no phone call. No visits. No explanations.

Even worse—no apology.

So, when my brother, Tidus, told me Rem was back in town, I had to make a decision.

Ignore Remington Marshall and forget he’d ever existed…

Or demand an answer for why he’d broken my heart.

I chose the latter, encouraged by the perspective I’d gained over the last couple years. As long as we stayed away from any flammable objects that might’ve torched what remained of my potential happiness, a conversation would bring me some much-needed closure. Besides, all that time had allowed me to douse the last few embers burning in my barn, heart, and loins.

But that still didn’t make confrontation a good idea, despite my brother’s insistence.

He came home to take care of his nieces, Tidus said.

Take him up a box of kids’ toys from storage, he said.

Pick me up a burger from Lou’s on the way home, he said.

Yeah, right.

Rem wasn’t a man who wanted to be found, even in the tiny town of Butterpond—a small cluster of dreams, prayers, and fatty liver disease. Butterpond was where the trees wanted in, the people wanted out, and my family’s farm accidentally lynch-pinned the whole place together.

To the town, my family was a fixture. The Payne’s farm. The Payne’s charity. The Payne’s pain in the ass boys who rolled over the town’s one streetlight like a plague of locusts. The Payne’s adopted daughter in a family of five boys—bless her heart.

But Rem? He no longer belonged in the town. Men like him kept to themselves, tucked away inside a cabin in the mountains, hidden from society by gravel roads, the occasional tick, and busted suspensions.

As much as I’d once loved Rem, risking Lyme disease and a punctured tire seemed a bad idea.

I did it anyway.

A box of old toys and children’s clothes was jammed in next to my suitcase.

This would be quick. In and out. Hand him the box stuffed with goodies from when my family had foster kids running all over the farm. Wish him well. Make the requisite small talk. And then pretend like my heart wasn’t held together with a roll of scotch tape and a smattering of pride.

I wasn’t about to let Remington Marshall shatter my barely rejuvenated dignity. Besides, the last I’d heard, he was the one crippled with guilt. Rumor had it—and by rumor, I meant the occasional conversation with his sister, Emma—he’d run away to the deepest forests of Canada to join a logging company.

If a heart broke in the forest, did it make a sound? The answer was yes, but it wasn’t a thud. More like the noise a sleepy woman yelped in the middle of the night when she stubbed her toe on the way to the bathroom. Less of a timber! More like son of a—

The box fit snugly against my hip, drawing the hem of my skirt up only an inch. I was fine with that. Showing a little leg would do me good. I’d grown up since the fire. Earned my curves. Managed to fill out my bra without two handfuls of wadded up toilet paper. Things were looking up.

I wound my way over a weed-choked cobblestone path and picked my steps up the rickety porch. The cabin was lost in the woods, and the forest wasn’t happy with the new occupant. The little space was so overgrown with brush and leaves that the trees would be grateful to be cleaned out of the gutters.

My knock clattered against the cabin door—almost loud enough to drown out the very irritated cry of a baby.


The wail might’ve belonged to a child. Could have also been a mountain lion with a toothache. Sometimes it was tough to tell, even with a degree in early education. Money well spent.

The door flung open. I expected Remington. Instead, a bright-eyed, blonde-haired, puffy-cheeked three-year-old peered up at me, scowled, and belted at the top of her precious little lungs to alert all within a square mile of my arrival.


I winced. “Hi. I’m Cassi. Is your Uncle—”


This alerted the baby—the real siren of the household who’d missed her calling as the dive alarm for a German U-Boat.

The chorus of screams rang in my ears. I shushed the three-year-old with a wave of my hand.

“I’m not a stranger—I’m a…” Was friend the right word? “I know your Uncle Rem…well, not know know. We grew up together. I mean, he grew up with my brother—I grew up later. But we were…I’d see him a lot—”


I cringed and went to Plan B. The box dropped to the porch. I debated on running, but the tape had loosened enough for me to rip the flaps. An old baby doll rested on a folded pile of clothes. I offered it as a sacrifice to appease the child.

“It’s for you!” My frantic words shushed her. “It’s PJ Sparkles. All the little girls loved PJ Sparkles!”

The child quieted. She bit her lip, scratched her leg with a foot clad in mismatched socks, and reached for the doll. She jumped as a husky voice caught her in the act.

“What do we have here?”

His voice was a blend of sticky marshmallow and crumbling graham cracker, and I melted like a chocolate bar squished near the fire.

I knew better than to get burned by Remington Marshall, but even the wisest girl sometimes took a big bite before blowing on it.

And, believe me, Rem would go to his grave wishing I had blown him.

Rem leaned against the door frame. His broad shoulders were clad in a warm, red flannel shirt. He scratched a wild, thick beard, and might have teased a smile. I couldn’t tell. Five years of isolation had obscured his face in dark hair.

A one-year-old baby wailed in his arms.

“Never expected to see you here, Cassia Payne.” He grunted as the three-year-old bashed the doll’s plastic head into a part of him that regretted meeting PJ Sparkles. He stepped aside and let her go play, but his stare pinned me in place. “Lost in the woods, little girl?”

What had happened to my Remington Marshall?

Gone was the teenage bad boy, strong enough to win his fights but lean enough to make a quick escape once Sherriff Samson flashed his lights. Now, Rem had become a terrifying beast of rugged strength. A lumberjack. A man like him could have punched down a tree. The Canadian forests never stood a chance.

Muscles packed on muscles. And the beard…oh, the beard. I didn’t know if he belonged in an ice fishing cabin or on a Harley, but this wasn’t the boy who’d left me behind.

This was a man.

And he was in trouble.

Rem struggled to bounce the little bundle of pink in his arms. The baby fussed, red-faced and probably wishing her Uncle hadn’t given her diaper a wedgie while rocking her. The three-year-old dropped the doll and instead raced over, around, and on top of his feet, tugging on his jeans with an urgent need to tinkle. She tripped over one of the four stuffed garbage bags piled in the entryway. One had already blown open, spilling dresses, shoes, socks, and toys into the cabin.

The three-year-old was wearing two shirts. The baby needed a pair of pants. Rem’s own belongings had tumbled into the hall—duffel bags and mountain boots.

Tidus wasn’t lying. Rem must have come home only hours before to take care of the kids.

The older girl somersaulted around his feet, somehow summoning and then spilling a glass of water. The TV blared cartoons from the den. The baby cried just to be louder than the show. Behind him, every chair had been toppled in the dining room. The cushions stripped off the couch. Something slimy dripped from the sink.

Chaos had descended upon a three-square-foot area of his life…

And a part of me really enjoyed the struggle.

“Everyone said you ran away to become a lumberjack,” I said. “But apparently you joined a circus.”

Rem was a great liar. I’d learned that long ago. He attempted to soothe the baby and accidentally smooshed her face into the wall of muscle that was his shoulder. His wink wasn’t fooling anyone.

“Brought the circus home too.” He reached down and lifted the little girl to her feet before she somersaulted into the wall. “Got my acrobat tumbling her way into preschool, and the prepubescent bearded lady doing shows before and after naptime.”

Cute. “And what’s your talent?”

“World’s sexiest uncle.”

“Ain’t no one buying tickets for that.”

“Ringleader then.”

The three-year-old demanded cookies. The baby, blood. I shook my head. “Guess again.”


He wished. I crossed my arms. “Better get a shovel. I think you’re mucking out stalls and diapers.”

Rem grinned, but that was a charmer’s smile, part of his bag of tricks. He’d always been the type to sweet-talk his way out of handcuffs just to use them in bed. But maybe he had changed. Maybe the wilderness had straightened him out? Perhaps…the hard work taught him responsibility? Was it possible the time apart had made him as miserable as it had me?

Or maybe that smile meant I should’ve left the box on the porch and ran.

“Do I have to charge admission, or are you coming inside?” he asked.

Dangerous question. “Depends. Got an elephant under this big top?”

“Nah. He’s on break. I’m standing in.”

“And what are you?”

“The jackass.”

Fair enough. I offered him the box. “This is some stuff from the farm—back when we had all the foster kids. Tidus said you could probably use it. Clothes and toys.”

Rem easily balanced the baby on his shoulder and the box in his arms. He left the door open. Inviting the little ones to escape or beckoning me inside?

I spoke from the entryway, a promise to myself. “Only for a minute.”

“Want something to drink?” he asked.

“That would take longer than a minute.”

“Good. I don’t have much to offer.”

The three-year-old circled the sofa with the doll, tripped over the logs that were once stacked neatly by a stone fireplace, and plummeted onto the hardwood. She whimpered, rolled, and revealed a scraped knee. The crying began anew.

Rem brushed his hands through his shaggy, collar length dark hair and sighed.

“Are you bleeding? Again? Really?” He fumbled through a couple drawers. “All right. Here. No band-aids, but…”

Oh, this was a disaster.

Rem ripped a piece of electrical tape between his teeth, juggled the baby from one arm to the other, and slapped the silver strip over the girl’s knee.

“Good job,” I said. “Now she’s patched up, and she won’t conduct electricity.”

“She’ll be fine.” He patted the girl’s head. “Mellie, say hi to Cassi. Cas, this is Melanie. And this…” He flipped the baby outwards, finally letting her look around the room. She instantly stopped crying. The chubby cheeks and sniffling nose gave way to an adorable smile with three little white teeth poking out. “This is Tabitha—Tabby. They’re Emma’s kids.”

They looked like his sister—blonde and perky with the right amount of sass that got her in as much trouble as Rem.

I hated to ask the question, but a man like Rem wouldn’t volunteer to babysit without a genuine crisis. “What happened to Emma?”

Rem turned somber—a dark, serious glance broken with a forced shrug. “She’s…sick. Needed some help.”

“Is she okay?”

“Yeah. Just needs time. I came home to wrangle the kids.”

“I’m surprised to see you.” No harm in the truth.

“It’s been a while.”


I looked away. Somehow, under the heavy flannel, bushy beard, and shaggy hair was the Remington Marshall that still made my chest flutter. My options were to escape or find a defibrillator. My heart was broken, but it could still stop if he whispered the right words.

I shuffled towards the door, but Mellie plucked at the electrical tape banding her knee. The garbage bags of clothes, the injured child, and the quarter inch of dust over the cabin didn’t bode well.

“Are you sure you know…” How to phrase it without insulting him or completely terrifying the kids. “I had no idea you liked children.”

“They’re all right.”

“And…they’re still alive. So you must be doing…okay?”

Rem snorted. “They’re kids, Cas. I can handle ‘em.”

Right. “And…how long have you had them?”

Rem checked his watch. “It’s been five hours, and I haven’t lost my mind yet.”

Yet. “And you’re happy to babysit?”


“For how long?”

“As long as she needs.” Rem sounded confident. Or foolish. Probably foolish. “Don’t worry. It’s temporary. A week or two at the most. Shouldn’t be too hard. Keep an eye on them until Emma’s good, and then I’ll head back to the logging company.”

I laughed. Sweet Jesus, he was serious. I covered my mouth. “You…you’re keeping them here?”

“I was going to let them out at night like a cat, but I figured they’d rather get the lay of the land first.” He plopped the baby on the ground within range of both the wall outlet, fire place, and his penknife on the coffee table. “How hard can it be?”

And that was all I needed to hear.

I did not need to get involved.

Did not need to warm at his smile.

Did not need to wonder why my skin tingled in his presence.

Rem was a good-looking boy when we were kids, but at twenty-seven, he was absolutely gorgeous. A hard jaw from hard work. Toughened voice from a tough life. A strong back strengthened through manual labor. He might’ve tussled with a baby hell-bent on toddling into the fireplace, but he hadn’t left the wilds in the forest.

Rem looked as out of place in his own home as the kids did in the middle of the woods.

I had to help him.

Maybe I made this bad decision because it had been so long since I last saw him. Maybe I let my heart lead because the beard disguised him in a dark, tempting mystery. Or maybe I took pity on him because five years ago I had been hopelessly in love with our small town’s baddest bad boy.

Rem wasn’t a trouble-maker anymore, but he was still in trouble. Especially now that Butterpond had changed so much. We had cell phone reception. Community events. A giant Facebook group where all the busybodies kept in touch. Butterpond wouldn’t let him hunker down in the forest and hide forever.

And it must’ve terrified him.

“How’s the farm?” Even his words were jagged, briars in his throat. Either he was out of practice with small talk or he knew he shouldn’t have asked.

“It’s a warzone,” I said. “but no fires at least.”

“Tidus okay?”

“Is he ever?” I smirked. “Tidus hates this town as much as me.”

“What about everyone else?”

Well, they wouldn’t be happy to hear that Rem came back home. “Julian is…Julian. Trying to rebuild the farm like he has any idea how to manage it. Marius is overseas still—he can’t tell us where, and he likes it that way. Varius hasn’t been the same since the tornado. Quint…God only knows. Runs around like a puppy, but turns rabid the instant any of my brothers look his way.”

Rem rummaged through his fridge and offered me a beer. I shook my head. He popped the cap off but didn’t drink.

“About your dad…” he said.

“I know.”

“Just…I’m sorry.”

So was everyone, but I still nodded and accepted the thoughts, prayers, and Bundt cakes.

“We knew it was coming,” I said. “His heart was bad.”

“Doesn’t mean it hurts any less.”

I’d done a fantastic job of smooshing that pain deep, deep down and suppressing the memories of the past few months when I’d taken care of him. My brothers understood, but it felt different for me—the one adopted girl in the family of biological sons.

They’d left me alone on the farm with Dad, and the family slowly tore itself apart. Fight after fight, even during Dad’s last days. Each of my brothers swore they’d never speak to the others again.

At least, until that phone call had to be made.

“The good news…well…news, I guess,” I said. “Everyone is home now. In Dad’s infinite wisdom, he left the farm to everyone. Every decision on the land must be made in unison, in person. No subdividing the farm. No selling our pieces to anyone else. It’s World War Three with pitchforks and chicken coops.”

“Feathers flying?”

“Bombs dropping like eggs.”

Tabby attempted to toddle with Rem’s wallet into the bathroom. Mellie giggled from inside. Rem excused himself, swore as the toilet flushed, and returned with a soaking wet wallet. He pitched it into the sink and shooed both kids away.

They stayed glued to him, wrapping their arms around his legs like they hadn’t been hugged in years. Rem knelt down and welcomed them into his thick arms.

It wasn’t a sight I’d expected to see from a man like him.

“So what…” His words mumbled over Tabby’s fingers as she clobbered him in the mouth. “What are you…doing?”

“Anything I can to get out of here.”

Mellie slid from his side and skipped back to her baby doll. He set Tabby on the counter. I rushed forward before he realized that the one-year-old was a bit hyper and likely to take a tumble. She eagerly offered me more of his possessions. I accepted the jingling keys and his cellphone, but I stopped her before she lunged for a sheathed bowie knife tucked inside a stack of paperwork.

Rem leaned against the sink, sipping his beer. “You’re leaving, huh? Where are you planning to go?”


“Been there, Sassy.” The nickname rolled off his tongue, like he’d never stopped using it. “Running doesn’t get you as far as you think.”

“Well, I need to get somewhere. I love my brothers too much to start hating them.”

“You know they need you, especially with your parents gone.”

The guilt was already suffocating me. “Jules says I remind them of Mom.”

“Yeah. I can see the family resemblance.”

As was the gentle joke which passed around the town. I brushed my dark fingers through the bouncing curls I’d swept away with the aid of a bubblegum pink scarf. Didn’t matter if my momma was blonde haired and green eyed or if she shared my mahogany skin and fawn eyes, people in Butterpond knew I was her daughter because she’d taught me how to be a lady.

And how to whoop my brothers into shape if they gave me a hard time.

But mostly how to be a good lady.

Also, a forgiving woman. She never thumped the Bible, only used it to swat our backsides when we acted out. What would she say about this? The man I swore never to forgive…and the kids tumbling around his house.

Mellie climbed the woodpile. Tabby unsuccessfully attempted to roll off the counter, falling into my arms.

And he thought it was going to be easy.

He wouldn’t last the night.

“Do you have everything you need for them?” I asked.

Rem nodded. “I got some of their clothes. They brought toys. I set them up in the spare bedroom.”

“Well, that’s good. But…do you know Tabby’s diaper is on backwards?”

He approached the child, picked her up under the arms, and gave her a quick once over.

“Is that why it keeps leaking?” He whistled in realization. “Thought she was an overachiever.”

Fantastic. “Okay, Rem…there’s like, six things I can see from where I’m standing that will seriously maim the very young children.”

He plopped Tabby on the counter and attempted to twist the diaper to the right position. When that didn’t work, he undid the tabs with so much force ripped the Velcro, removed the diaper, and left her tush on the cold counter. The diaper flipped, but he couldn’t fasten it.

He grabbed his handy electrical tape once more. “There. Now she’s got a racing stripe.”

If only he could feed, bathe, and entertain the kids with tape too. At least it wasn’t a staple gun.

I finally asked the question. “Do you need help, Rem?”

His lazy smile would’ve been cute if Mellie wasn’t heading for the axe he’d set near the backdoor. “You worried about me, Sassy?”

“Worried you’re going to end up on the news…” I pointed to the axe wielding Mellie—one blue ox short of a classic American tall tale. “And now I’ll be an accomplice.”

“Mellie, you chop my house down, you’re building the next one.” He took the axe from her hands and searched for a place to put it. The cabin was a mess, so he shrugged and stuck it on top of the fridge, clattering a couple pots and pans out of the way. “They’re kids. Sure, I need some time to fix the place up…” Rem batted at a spider web over the kitchen window. I cringed as the spider clamored to hide in the dusty curtains. “But they needed me. Emma asked, so here I am. Someone’s gotta help the girls. Just like what your family used to do for all those kids—including me.”

“You’re certain you can handle it?”

“Got no problems here.”

I should have left. The suitcase waited in my car. I had a full-tank of gas. I’d been threatening to head to Ironfield for two weeks now.

Rem had the box of supplies. The kids hadn’t set fire to the cabin yet.

They’d be fine.

But my feet didn’t move. “Do you have food for them?”

Rem took a swig from his beer. A liquid dinner might have suited him, but I doubted Mellie and Tabby wanted to lounge on the couch, knocking back a cold six-pack of Juicy Juice.

“I’ll find something,” he said. “I think it’s cute that you’re worried.”

“I’m not worried.” If I was worried, I’d have to stay. “I’m…making conversation.”

“Could have done that a long time ago,” he said. “Called me up.”

And let him know how twice in the past five years I’d actually tracked down a contact number for him in the middle of the Canadian wilds? No thanks.

“I didn’t hear from you either,” I said. “Not even a hey, sorry about the barn.”

“I am sorry about the barn. Sorry about a lot of things. Sorry I haven’t seen you since then.”

I stomped down a betraying warmth. No need to open that Pandora’s Box. “You were the one who left.”

“You didn’t want me around.”

“I never said that.”

“Cause you were too polite. You’d let Julian’s fist do the talking.”

“He’s quite persuasive.”

“And if he knew you were up here, asking about my dinner plans?”

I smirked. “Asking about the kids’ dinner plans.”

Rem glanced over his shoulder. “Mellie, want some dinner?”

The little girl marched into the kitchen, dragging Rem’s boots on her feet. She stumbled as she walked, but she raised her little chin as if she wore a tiara instead of steel-toed mud buckets.

“I don’t like peas,” she said.

“Me either. See?” He winked. “We’re fine.”

This would be fun. I knelt to her level. “Mellie, what else don’t you like to eat?”

Her words bumbled in and out of intelligibility. “Chicken. Broccoli. Green. Yogurt. Cars. Dragons. Shoes!”

The answer became a rambling story about a kitten, dragon, and a spaghetti noodle, but she illustrated my point.

“Any ideas, Chef?” I asked.

Rem had attempted to memorize her preferences and got lost somewhere around worms and green. “I…have some beef jerky.”

“You’re going to feed beef jerky to some toddlers?”

“Got some trail mix too. A can of soup beans.”

“…How long are you keeping the kids?”

“As long as Emma needs.”

I raised my eyebrows. “How long do you think you can keep them alive?”

“At least through the night.”

Good enough for me. Now it was my turn to leave him. I’d already survived five years without speaking, without resolving anything, without…

Saying those words.

I’d last another five. Maybe by then, he’d be out of jail for child endangerment.

“Start small,” I said. “Do you have milk?”


“Do you want my advice?”

Rem braced himself on the counter, muscles flexing, eyes brightening with a roguish playfulness that made any game unwinnable.

“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, Cas…I’ll take anything you’re willing to give.”

“Go into town—”


I sighed. “Why not?”

“I’ve gotten real good at avoiding Butterpond.”

“Who’s the real baby here? Get off this mountain. Take the girls into town. Buy some kid-friendly food.”

“Like…chew and whiskey?”

I scolded him. “Battery acid and horseradish.”

He grimaced, finally realizing the girls couldn’t survive on dried meats and wild onions.

“Okay,” he said. “This might be hard to believe, Cas…but I might need some help managing this circus. I mean…” His smile turned wicked. “I can pitch a hell of a tent, but beyond that…”

I didn’t need the visual. It’d taken years for me to stop fantasizing about it. “It won’t be that hard. Just…feed them. Make sure they don’t set themselves or the forest on fire. Put them to bed. Repeat.”

“Go with me,” he said.


“To the store.”

Nope. Nada. Not happening. “It’s right where you left it, Rem.”

“How will I know what to buy? Chicken nuggets or liver and onions? Red jello or red wine?”

“You’ll figure it out.”

He edged a little closer, grabbing Tabby before she tossed his phone against the wall. “Not asking for much, Sassy. Give me a couple pointers.”

“I’m on my way out of town.” And this time, I meant it.

That smile didn’t just slay me—it pinned me against the ropes, powerslammed me to the mat, then grabbed a metal folding chair from the crowd.

“How about one last favor for me?” he asked.

Not a chance. That well had emptied trying to put out the barn fire.

He read my reluctance. “Okay. A favor to the kids?”

Damn it. Tabby gave me a wave of her chubby fingers. Mellie continued to list things she liked, didn’t like, and some sounds the baby particularity enjoyed while shouted at the top of her lungs.

I surrendered. “Tell me you have a car seat.”

“No, the kids rode up here on top of a wild boar. Have a little faith, Cassi.”

“That’s the problem,” I said. “I don’t have much faith left in you.”

“Me either.” Rem’s voice had mellowed with honesty and time. “Just means I can’t disappoint you anymore, huh?”

“You’ve never backed down from a challenge.”

“That settles it.” His amusement thudded my heart like an axe missing a tree and striking a nearby boulder instead. “I got nothing else to lose, Cas.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I already lost you.”

Sosie Frost is no stranger to quirky, embarrassing, and wild situations, and she’s channeling all that new adult angst into fun romances.

From marching at the high school homecoming game without her trumpet (a punishment for forgetting the instrument on the band bus), to regretfully tucking her prom dress into the back of her tights before pictures, and even accidentally starting a chemical fire in the college chem lab, Sosie has the market cornered on crazy stories.

But hey, writing is a better outlet than therapy right? 😉

If you want funny, charming, and steamy romances, you’ve found the right author!

Sosie lives in Pittsburgh with her hubby, her two cats, and thrives on a near constant stream of gummy bears.


Chapter Reveal – RYKER (Sinister Knights MC #1) by Aria Cole






Also available via Kindle Unlimited




Ride. Protect. Defend.
Anna Kloss grew up as a smart girl in the Sinister Knights Motorcycle Club, an above-the-law group of misfits that fights to safeguard the women of their town. Straddling both worlds, she’s lived the last few years in a college dorm, losing herself in the promise of her future and trying to forget the lost love of her past.

As Vice President of the Sinister Knights, Ryker Beckett has proven his dedication and loyalty by sitting in a county jail cell for three years for saving one woman from a nightmarish assault. The woman. The only one who matters. Prez’s young, innocent, and untouched daughter, Anna.

But now, Ryker is back, his sights set on reconnecting with the woman who occupied every minute of his thoughts while he was away. Anna’s all grown up, but she’s still the only one he can’t have, the only one he craves… Is she ready for this giant, rough-around-the-edges biker to protect and defend her forever?

Warning: Ryker is hard in all the right places—a tall, tattooed drink of water sitting on a powerful engine. He’s got his mind on one woman only, and when he sees her again, he’s determined to get her bred and on his bike for their sexy ride into the sunset.





“So when do you think that sexy hunk of man meat will be here?” My best friend, Piper, threw herself onto my violet duvet.
“He’s not sexy.” I turned away from her, heart falling in my chest at just the thought of him.
“Bullshit.” Piper snapped her gum. “You’ve been pining over him since he went away.”
“I haven’t,” I protested.
“Again, I’m gonna have to call bullshit. So when’s he coming back?”
“I don’t know. I heard Dad say the party starts tonight, so I’m thinking sometime between now and then.” Dad would have killed me if he’d known I was eavesdropping outside of his office while he was on my phone, but the old man had refused to give me any information relating to Ryker, and I’d grown desperate for anything.
“Between now and then, huh?” Piper eyed me curiously. “So what are you gonna say to the asshole?”
“He’s not an asshole, Piper.”
“Well, he hasn’t written in the three years he’s been gone.”
“Maybe he couldn’t,” I defended weakly.
“But he could keep in touch with your dad?”
“Dad went to visit him every week, kept him in the loop, but I wasn’t allowed to go.”
Piper frowned. “You should call him on that bullshit. This is your life, you’ve got to get your man.”
“He’s not my man.” But he used to be.
“He was when he went up to County. I’m bettin’ he still sees you that way now.”
“Thirty-six months is a long time to be…” I struggled to find the word. The club didn’t say things like prison, jail, incarcerated. They said, “going away.” It was safer that way.
“He owes you an explanation,” Piper said finally.
“He doesn’t owe me anything. I think he’s given me enough already.” I felt the bundle of tears clogging my throat.
“That’s not your fault, Anna. You’re not the reason he’s up there.”
I paused, holding the gaze of the girl I’d been friends with since I was three. “Feels like it.”
Her eyes searched my face before she collapsed with uncharacteristic emotion and pulled me into her embrace. “I know it does, Anna, but it’s not. I promise you it’s not.”
I wiped at the itchy tears running down my face. Every day without Ryker in my life felt like a bullet fracturing my soul.
Would he even want me anymore? Was I the same girl he left?
I wasn’t sure I was, and somewhere down deep, I felt guilt for changing on him too.
In the weeks following Ryker’s arrest and sentencing, Dad had sent me away to an early entrance college program that could fast-track me to a degree in sociology.
I’d only half wanted to go before the event that changed all of our lives. So when I’d told Dad I planned to stay right here at Falcon’s Nest and wait for Ryker to get home, he’d pulled me off my ass and thrown me out the door faster than I could blink.
All for the best, he’d said.
It’d taken me a long couple years to see the wisdom in that statement.
Now I was only six months away from earning my degree and back home for the summer. Back where it all began.
“So what time does that party start? I don’t want to be late.” Piper twittered behind me.
“We’re not going.”
“Why the hell not? It’s Ryker’s welcome home party, right? We’d like to welcome him.”
“You might like to welcome him. I’d rather sit here and sulk away the pain.”
“I’d really like to check out that bod. I bet he got big in the joint.” Piper’s eyes lit up.
I shook my head. “I don’t care.”
“Ha! He was a big motherfucker before, just imagine him now, Anna. Bulging biceps, washboard abs… Remember when we used to watch him do pull-ups in the garage?” Her eyes glassed over with the pleasurable memory.
“I remember you dragging me down into the ditch and getting covered in thistle weeds when he caught us.”
“He didn’t catch us,” Piper retorted.
“He did.” I laughed. “He told me he did.”
“Not as stealthy as you thought, sister.”
She stuck out her tongue at me. “What are you gonna wear to the party? Something short, show off those legs. You’ve lost at least ten pounds since he last saw you.”
“Twelve.” I groaned, “And I’m not going. I’m staying right here, and if I run into him, I run into him—”
“This one will make your tits look great.” She ignored everything I’d just said and pushed a clingy purple dress over my head.
“Piper!” I spat as I shoved my arms through the holes. “My dad will fucking kill us if we show up. It’s a members-only kind of thing.”
“We’re members.” She adjusted the dress around my boobs, pulling the neckline down a little farther. “Well, you are. And I sorta am…by proxy or something.”
I arched an eyebrow when she spun me in the mirror. I frowned, taking in my curvy form.
“You look fucking hot.”
My frown deepened.
“He’s going to want to bone you the second he sees you.”
“It’s a good dress. And, you’re kind of fucking gorgeous, Anna. I know no one tells you that. I don’t know why they don’t tell you that… It’s that whole, I’m too smart for you unapproachable vibe you’ve got going on, but it’s true. You’re fucking gorgeous, and I bet Ryker beat off to you every night he was in that place, just waiting to see you again.”
A blush burned up my cheeks. “What if I don’t know him anymore, Piper?”
“Well, then it’s time to get reacquainted tonight.” She winked at my reflection in the mirror.
“I’m not going to that party.”
“Over my dead body, sister. Now let’s get into your makeup. It just so happens I brought my falsies with me.” She yanked a pair of false eyelashes out of her huge purse. “You’re gonna look like a Kardashian tonight.”
“Ugh or a hooker. Kill me now.”
“Not until your face is done. After that, I don’t care what you do.” Piper pushed me into my bathroom, flicking on the light and plopping me ass-first onto the bench. “Time for him to see what he’s been missing.”




Aria Cole is a thirty-something housewife who once felt bad for reading dirty books late at night, until she decided to write her own. Possessive alpha men and the sassy heroines who love them are common, along with a healthy dose of irresistible insta-love and happily ever afters so sweet your teeth may ache.For a safe, off-the-charts HOT, and always HEA story that doesn’t take a lifetime to read, get lost in an Aria Cole book!
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Chapter Reveal – The Rebound by Winter Renshaw




The last time I saw Nevada Kane, I was seventeen and he was loading his things into the back of his truck, about to embark on a fourteen-hour drive to the only college that offered him a full ride to play basketball.

I told him I’d wait for him. He promised to do the same.

But life happened. I broke my promise long before he ever broke his. And not because I wanted to.

We never saw each other again …

Until ten years later when Nevada unexpectedly returned to our hometown after an abrupt retirement from his professional basketball career.

Suddenly he was everywhere, always staring through me with that brooding gaze, never returning my smiles or “hellos.”

Over the years, I’d heard that he’d changed. And that despite his multi-million dollar contracts and rampant success, life hadn’t been so kind to him.

He was a widower.

And a single father.

And rumor had it, he’d spent his last ten years trying to forget me, refusing to so much as breathe my name … hating me.

But just like a rebound, he’s back.

And I have to believe everything happens for a reason.





Yardley Devereaux {Ten Years Ago}

He sent my letter back.
I re-read my words, imagining the way they must have made him feel.
I’m writing because you haven’t been taking my calls or answering my texts. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors, so I thought you should hear it straight from me…
I’ve broken my promise.
But you should know that I never wanted to hurt you, none of this was planned, and I still love you more than anything I’ve ever loved in this world.
This is something I had to do. And I think if you’ll let me, I can explain in a way that makes sense and doesn’t completely obliterate the beauty of what we had.
Please don’t hate me, Nevada.
Please let me explain.
Please answer your phone.
I love you. So much.
Your dove,
The paper is torn at the top, as if he was about to rip it to shreds but changed his mind, and on the back of my letter, in bold, black marker, is a message of his own.

Chapter One

Yardley Devereaux, age 16

I don’t belong here.
I realize being the new kid makes people give you a second look, but I don’t think it should give them permission to stare at you like you have a second head growing out of your nose. Or a monstrous zit on your chin. Or a period stain on your pants.
At this point it’s all the same.
Not to mention, I don’t think anyone can prepare you for what it feels like to eat lunch alone, like some social reject.
The smell of burnt tater tots makes my stomach churn, and the milk on my tray expires today. I’m pretty sure the “chicken patty on a bun” they gave me is nothing more than pink slime baked to a rock-hard consistency. I’m unwilling to risk chipping a tooth, so I refuse to try it.
Checking my watch for the millionth time, I calculate approximately 3 1/2 hours left until I can go home and tell my parents what an amazing first day I had. That’s what they want to hear anyway. Dad moved us here from California with the promise that we were going to be richer than sin, whatever that means. But if Missouri is such a gold mine then why doesn’t the rest of the world move here? So far, Lambs Grove looks like the kind of place you’d see in some independent film about a mother trying to solve her son’s murder with the help of a crooked police department, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, JK Simmons, and Frances McDormand.
Okay, I’m probably being dramatic.
But this place is pretty lame. I miss the ocean. I miss the constant sunshine and the steady stream of seventy-five degree days. I miss the swaying palm trees.
I miss my friends.
Forcing your kid to move away from the town they’ve grown up in their entire life—in the middle of their sophomore—year is cruel. I don’t care how rich dad says we’re going to get, I’d have rather stayed in Del Mar, driven a rusting Honda, and paid my own way through a technical college if it had meant we didn’t have to move.
And can we talk about my name for a second? Yardley. Everyone here has normal names. Alyssa. Monica. Taylor. Heather. Courtney. If I have to spell my name for someone one more time I’m going to scream. My mom wanted my name to be special and different because apparently she thinks I’m special and different, but naming your daughter Yardley doesn’t make her special. It just makes it so she’ll never find her name on a souvenir license plate.
I’d go by my middle name if it weren’t equally as bad, but choosing between Yardley and Dove is akin to picking your own poison.
Yardley Dove Devereaux.
My parents are cruel.
I rest my case.
I pop a cold tater tot into my mouth and force myself to chew. I’ll be damned if I’m that girl sitting in third block with a stomach growling so loud it drowns out the teacher. I don’t need more people staring.
Pulling my notebook from my messenger bag, I pretend to focus on homework despite the fact that it’s the first day of spring semester and none of my teachers have assigned anything yet, but it’s better than sitting here staring at the block walls of the cafeteria like some loser.
Pressing my pen into the paper, I begin to write:
Monday, January 7, 2008
This day sucks.
The school sucks.
This town sucks.
These people suck.
After a minute, I toss my pen aside and exhale.
“What about me? Do I suck?” A pastel peach lunch tray plops down beside me followed by a raven-haired boy with eyes like honey and a heartbreaker’s smile. My heart flutters in my chest. He’s gorgeous. And I have no idea why he’s sitting next to me. “Nevada.”
“No. California. I’m from Del Mar,” I say, clearing my throat and sitting up straight.
The boy laughs through his perfectly straight nose.
I can’t take my eyes off his dimpled smirk. He can’t take his eyes off me.
“My name,” he says. “It’s Nevada. Like the state. And you are?”
“New,” I say.
He laughs at me again, eyes rolling. “Obviously. What’s your name?”
My cheeks warm. Apparently, I can’t human today. “Yardley.”
“Yardley from California.” He says my name like he’s trying to memorize it as he studies me. I squirm, wanting to know what he’s thinking and why he’s gazing at me like I’m some kind of magnificent creature and not some circus sideshow new girl freak. “What brings you here?”
He pops one of my tator tots between his full lips, grinning while he chews.
Nevada doesn’t look like the boys where I’m from. He doesn’t sound like them either. He isn’t sun kissed with windswept surfer hair. His features are darker, more mysterious. One look at this tall drink of water and I know he’s wise beyond his years. Mischievous and charismatic but also personable.
He’s … everything.
And he’s everything I never expected to come across in a town like this.
A group of girls at the table behind us gape and gawk, whispering and nudging each other. It occurs to me then that this might be a set-up, that this beautiful boy might be talking to this awkward new girl as a dare.
“Ignore them,” he says when he follows my gaze toward the plastic cheerleader squad sitting a few feet away. “They’re just jealous.”
I lift a brow. “Of what?”
He smirks, laughing at me like I’m supposed to ‘get it.’
“What?” I ask. If this is a joke, I want to be in on it. I refuse to add butt-of-the-joke to the list of reasons why this day can go to hell.
“They’re jealous because they think I’m about to ask you out,” he says, licking his lips. Nevada hasn’t taken his eyes off me since the moment he sat down.
“Should I go inform them that they have absolutely no reason to shoot daggers our way?”
His expression fades. “Why would you say that?”
“Because …” I laugh. “You’re not about to ask me out.”
“I’m not?”
I peel my gaze off of him and glance down at my untouched lunch. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why am I doing what? Talking to you? Trying to get the courage to ask you on a date?”
I glance up, studying his golden gaze and trying to determine if he’s being completely serious right now.
“You’ve never seen me before in your life and then you just … plop down next to me and ask me on a date?” I shake my head before rising. If I have to dump my tray and hide in the bathroom until the bell rings, then so be it.
“Where are you going?”
My lips part. “I … I don’t know. I …”
Nevada reaches for me, wrapping his hand around my wrist in a silent plea for me to stay. “Do you have a boyfriend back in California? Is that what this is about?”
“What? No.” This guy is relentless.
“Then go on a date with me,” he says, rising. “Friday.”
His expression fades. “Why?”
The bell rings. Thank God.
“I was new once. So I get it,” he says, fighting another dimpled smirk. God, I could never get tired of looking at a face like his. “And, uh … I think you’re, like, really fucking hot.”
Biting my lower lip and trying my damnedest to keep a straight face, I decide I won’t be won over that easily. It takes a lot more than a sexy smile, some kind words, and a curious glint in his sunset eyes. If he truly wants me … if this isn’t a joke and he honestly thinks I’m “really fucking hot,” he’s going to have to prove it.
“Bye, Nevada,” I say, gathering my things and disappearing into a crowd of students veering toward two giant trash cans.
I don’t wait for him to respond and I don’t turn around, but I feel him watching me—if that’s even possible. There’s this electric energy pulsing through me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I’m not sure if it’s excitement or anticipation or the promise of hope … but I can’t deny that it’s real and it’s there.
Making my way to the second floor of Lambs Grove High, I find my English Lit classroom and settle into a seat in the back.
For the tiniest sliver of a second, I imagine the two of us together. We’re laughing and happy and so in love that it physically hurts—the kind of thing I’ve never had with anyone else.
The tardy bell rings and a few more students shuffle in. My teacher takes roll call before beginning his lecture, but I don’t hear any of it.
I can’t stop thinking about that beautiful boy.





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

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