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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.

Cassi





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.

Almost.

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.

“Stranger!”

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

“Stranger!”

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—”

“Stranger!”

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.”

“Toddler-tamer.”

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.”

Silence.

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?”

“Sure.”

“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?”

“Anywhere.”

“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?”

“Well-water.”

“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—”

“Nope.”

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.

“Where?”

“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.

BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

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.

 

 

 

One

Anna
“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.”
“Shit.”
“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.”
“Piper!”
“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!
Follow Aria on Amazon for new release updates, or stalk her on Facebook and Twitter to see which daring book boyfriend she’s writing next!

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BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

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.

 

 

 

Prologue



Yardley Devereaux {Ten Years Ago}

He sent my letter back.
I re-read my words, imagining the way they must have made him feel.
Nevada,
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,
Yardley
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.
NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN.

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.”
“Why?”
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.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

 

 

 

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BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

Chapter Reveal – The Perfect Roommate by Minka Kent

 

 

 

 

 

She’s my roommate.

I know how she takes her tea, how she organizes her closet.

I know when she goes to bed each night, what she eats for breakfast, the passcode on her phone.

I know she calls her mother on Mondays, takes barre on Thursdays, and meets her friends for drinks on Fridays.

But more important than any of that … I know what she did.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

It’s a pretty little house with an ugly little address.
47 Magpie Drive.
What should have been an ordinary Sunday kicked off with an eviction notice on my door and ended with my belongings shoved into wrinkled grocery sacks and the neighbor’s stolen WiFi on my computer. With just minutes to spare, I managed to find the perfect place—one that didn’t require credit checks, a huge deposit, or a long lease.
With clammy palms stuck to the peeling steering wheel of my ’97 Civic, I stare through my cracked windshield at an adorable white-washed brick ranch nestled in the heart of a family-friendly neighborhood south of Meyer State’s picturesque campus.
I find it difficult to believe that a college student lives here, but her ad was posted on the Tiger Paw Portal and a quick reverse search of her email address in the student directory revealed her name to be Lauren Wiedenfeld, senior in English Lit.
Just like me.
In fact, I recognized her photo immediately, having taken a good handful of classes with her over the years. Shiny ash blonde hair. Dimpled smile. Crystalline eyes accented by thick, curled lashes. I couldn’t count how many times I’d seen her stare past me like I was invisible.
Just like everyone else.
Sniffing my shirt, I’m relieved to drag the scent of dollar store fabric softener into my lungs. I was in such a hurry on my way out, I wasn’t sure if the clothes I’d grabbed were from the clean basket or not.
I need this girl to like me. If she doesn’t? I’m not sure where I’ll go. Apartments in this town come at a premium, and if it weren’t for the fact that my car needed new tires and a new transmission this winter, I might still be holed up in my studio right now. Un-homeless.
Killing my engine, I shove the keys in my purse and check my reflection in the rearview.
At least I got to shower today. My hair is clean, my teeth are brushed, and my pits are slicked with two layers of store-brand deodorant. Plus, I don’t reek of stale alcohol—which is more than most students around here can say on the weekends.
My hands threaten to tremble as I climb out of my car, and I try not to slam the door—I don’t want to seem careless. The ground wobbles beneath my feet. If I were a super hero, social awkwardness would be my power. My entire life, I’ve struggled to get out of my head, constantly overanalyzing every little word or movement or shift of a gaze. I’ve learned it’s easier to sit back and shut up. I find I don’t make as much of a fool out of myself that way. Quietude has become the law of my land, with silence being my official language.
But I don’t have a choice today.
If I want Lauren to welcome me with open arms as her shiny new roommate, I have to plaster a smile on my face, see her bubbly personality, and raise her one of my own.
After rapping on the front door a moment later, I wait with my arms straight at my sides. Signature awkwardness. My heart knocks in my chest before whooshing in my ears, and warmth blooms in my cheeks.
I haven’t officially met her and already I’m blushing.
Shit.
Inhaling a breath of frosty February air, I soften my expression, loosen my shoulders, and wrap my right hand around the worn leather strap of my purse. I’m not sure if this is what casual and confident looks like, but the sound of the door latch tells me I don’t have another second to try and figure it out.
“You must be Meadow?” I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Lauren is all smiles as she gets the door—as if she’s happy to see me. “Come in!”
The scent of soft gardenia emanates off a flickering boutique candle centered on her glass coffee table, and in the corner, the glow of diffused lamplight paints the room in a welcoming ambience. Her phone is docked on a set of speakers next to her TV, playing the kind of chill music I’d expect to hear in some upscale Manhattan bar.
“Have a seat wherever you’d like,” she says, lowering herself into a rattan chair covered in a faux fur throw. Lauren tucks her mile-long legs beneath her and adjusts her sweatshirt so it hangs just so, revealing a hint of her left shoulder. Her hair is piled on top of her head, and I’m convinced she’s one of only ten people on the planet who can make a messy mane look chic.
Glancing around before I settle in the middle of her gray linen sofa, I have to remind myself to talk. “Love your place. So cute.”
I can do this. I can be friendly even if I have to fake it. People like her don’t understand people like me—the quiet type. They think we’re weird. And no one wants to live with a weirdo.
Lauren’s face lights and she shrugs, almost as if the flattery makes her uncomfortable. “Thanks.”
“Is that your major? Interior design?” No way in hell I’m going to tell her I did a little research on her before I came here.
She shakes her head. “English lit. What about you?”
“Same.” I exhale, sinking into the cushions. She’s easier to talk to than I assumed she’d be. “I think we might have some classes together? I swear I’ve seen you in World Lit.”
Lauren laughs, rolling her eyes. “No kidding? I’m so oblivious most of the time.”
Of course.
That’s why she looked through me all those times …
I’m still not sure if I’m buying this cutesy, friendly shtick of hers because girls like her can be sickeningly fake when they want to be, but I’m willing to give her a shot if she’s willing to take a chance on me.
Besides, it’s not like I have any other options to fall back on.
“People probably think I’m some snob.” She waves her hand, endearing almost. “But I’m just in my own little world most of the time.”
I pride myself on my keen observational skills, something I’ve honed and polished to sheer perfection over the years … but I may have been wrong about this one.
Maybe.
“You thirsty?” Lauren rises from her chair, straightening her shirt and eyeing the doorway to her kitchen. Since she’s already up, I can’t exactly say no. “Fiji water? San Pellegrino? Tea? I’d offer you a glass of wine, but it’s only ten o’clock in the morning.”
I chuckle out of politeness, not because I think she’s funny. “Tap water is fine.”
Her expression falls, as if she’s unable to comprehend that my broke college student taste buds haven’t yet acquired the taste of artisanal water. “Meadow, the lead levels in the water here are off the charts. Haven’t you been following the news? It’s all they’re talking about anymore. And the city’s broke. No plans to do anything about it. I’m telling you, Bonnet Creek is going to be the next Flint, Michigan.”
She disappears around the corner before I get the chance to tell her that between working twenty-four, sometimes thirty hours a week cleaning houses and taking sixteen credits, I don’t exactly have time for late-breaking local news stories.
Lauren returns a moment later, a square bottle of luxury water in one hand and a floral printed paper napkin in the other. She places them before me, like a proper hostess, and I can’t help but wonder if she’ll always be this formal once we live together.
If we live together.
This has to be an act.
People aren’t actually this formal, are they? At least the ones back home, the ones I grew up around, weren’t. I’ve never heard of anyone needing a coaster to go with their bottled water.
Then again, this coffee table looks pricy with its reclaimed wooden legs and crystal-clear glass top.
“Thanks.” I take the water from her, unscrewing the cap and ensuring I don’t so much as spill a drop.
This place is much too nice of a dwelling for a typical Meyer State student. Her family clearly comes from money.
I’ll try not to resent her for that.
“So, tell me about yourself.” Lauren settles into her chair again, resting her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand, leaning toward me. My Intro to Psychology professor taught us years ago that when someone leans in to you, they’re interested, genuinely interested in what you have to say. “What’s your schedule like? Who’s your ideal roommate? Do you smoke? Throw parties?”
Brows lifted, I let her questions marinate, unsure of where to begin. “Oh. Um. I don’t smoke or drink. I don’t party. So nothing to worry about there. I work. Part-time. And when I’m not working, I’m home. Usually studying. I don’t make a lot of noise. Basically, I’m a clean-freak, studious homebody.”
My cheeks flush and I feel myself growing flustered, but the fact that she isn’t staring at me like I’m some kind of social reject is somewhat reassuring. I suppose I’ve never stopped to examine my uneventful existence, but I’ve always been content to keep to myself.
It’s better if I don’t know what I’m missing out on.
Lauren’s face is lit as I ramble on, like I’m telling her everything she wants to hear.
“Okay, so what do you do for fun?” she asks.
I was hoping I could avoid that question. Pretty sure to someone like Lauren, I’m a shining example of a boring bookworm. Not the kind of person she’d be caught dead with.
“I like to see plays,” I lie. I don’t have money for a theater membership. Not even with the gracious 50% student discount. “And I see movies.”
At the dollar theater. Maybe once every three months.
“Do you ever do Friday After Class at Wellman’s?” she asks. “They have dollar wells from four to six.”
Beer. Pass.
“Sometimes,” I lie. Again.
Lauren sinks back, eyes still glued on me. “That place is always crazy packed. I bet we’ve been there at the same time and never even noticed.”
Taking a sip of water, I nod. “I’m sure.”
My tone echoes hers, something I do when I’m nervous. It’s like second nature, adopting her body language, her intonations, the cadence of her words.
“Where do you work?” she asks.
I push a breath through my nostrils and roll my eyes. “Sparkle Shine Cleaning Co.”
I hate that fucking name.
And the Minion-yellow car I’m forced to drive from client to client, the one that matches the Minion-yellow uniform I’m forced to clothe myself with.
But the pay is decent.
And it sure as hell beats working in food service. Food service means interacting with people all day long, being yelled at by customers when the kitchen screwed up their order or their fork has a water spot on it or I’m not refilling their third glass of Diet Coke fast enough.
No thanks.
“Never heard of it,” Lauren says. “Do you like it?”
What kind of question is that? And what does she expect me to say? That I love scrubbing people’s shit-stained toilets? Don’t even get me started on some of the bathrooms I’ve had the pleasure of bleaching from floor to ceiling. Rich people—or people rich enough to pay someone to clean their house for them—aren’t always as clean as one might expect.
I shrug and offer a tepid smile. “It’s a job. What about you? Do you work?”
Lauren bites her lip and scrunches her face, hesitating for a second. “I don’t.”
Of course not.
“My parents want me to focus on my studies,” she says, as if that makes up for her good fortune. “They said school should be my full-time job, so I get a monthly stipend as long as I keep my grades up. They did the same for my brother. They actually own this house. My brother lived here when he went to Meyer State and my younger sister will live here next year when she’s a freshman. My parents didn’t want to throw money away on rent, I guess. That’s their excuse anyway. If you ask me, I think it’s just a way for them to control their adult children.”
She huffs. I huff.
“Anyway.” Lauren shrugs, studying me, perhaps silently waiting for me to judge her. I keep a poker face.
“So what happened to the roommate before me?” I ask.
“I’ve never had one.”
“Okay. So, why now?”
Exhaling, Lauren says, “So that stipend? It’s based on my GPA. Last semester, I kind of got a little … distracted … and I failed a class. First time in my life. It was a seven AM on the north side of campus on Friday mornings. Anyway. It’s no excuse. I failed it. GPA plunged. Parents were livid. Chopped my stipend in half—essentially barring me from having fun. Their way of punishing their twenty-three-year-old daughter.”
“Oh.” Nice to know I’m scrubbing toilets so she can get wasted with her friends.
This explains everything. The lack of a deposit, the lack of a lease or a background check. She’s desperate for some supplemental income, willing to take in a stranger to maintain her cushy little life.
“Just to let you know … my parents won’t know you’re living here,” she’s quick to add. “And you’ll only be able to stay through May. Maybe July. Depends on how quickly I land a job after graduation. I hope that works?”
So, she likes me.
She’s choosing me.
Just like that.
“That’s perfect actually,” I say. “I’m graduating too. Hoping to get the hell out of here.”
I wear a smile that matches hers and we bask in a moment of mutual understanding for a single, endless second. Our desire to leave Bonnet Creek might be the only thing we have in common, but I’ll take it.
“You want me to show you around?” Lauren rises from her seat and straightens the hem of her top.
Returning my water to its floral napkin resting place, I stand. “Sure.”
Spinning on the ball of her foot, she struts across the small living room, toward a dark hallway. I follow. Flicking on the light, she says, “This house is, like, a million years old. It’s really dark. Windows are small. And your room is on the smaller side, by the way.”
My room.
“I mean, the room you’d be renting,” she clarifies. “If you want it.”
Stopping at the last door, she reaches her hand inside and gets the switch.
Clearly we have different definitions of “small.” This room is easily the size of my last apartment, complete with shiny wood floors, a double bed, a nightstand, dresser, and two curtain-covered windows.
“But you’d get your own bathroom—the hall bath.” Lauren’s words are rushed, as if she’s worried I’m having second thoughts. “I never use it.”
We step inside, and she shows me the closet, which is the smallest thing about this room. But it’s fine. I don’t have a lot.
“What do you think?” Lauren lifts her nails to her mouth, watching for my reaction. “It’s yours if you want it.”
“You sure?” I lift an eyebrow. We’ve known each other all of fifteen minutes, though I suppose living with strangers is kind of the college way.
“Oh my God, are you serious?” She laughs. “You’re everything, Meadow. All that stuff you told me? You’re the perfect roommate. Quiet. Studious. Polite. You’re a rarity in this town, do you know that?”
Yes. Well aware. And she’s kind to say that. I let her earlier words echo in my mind. No one’s ever called me perfect before—in any context.
It feels kind of … amazing.
As much as I try not to, I beam like an appeased idiot, my ego practically purring like a milk-fed kitten.
I know nothing about Lauren Wiedenfeld besides the fact that she treated me like a human being today, which maybe marks the first time in my collegiate history that anyone’s ever tried to have an actual conversation with me about anything, the first time someone’s ever been so engaged and interested.
She’s not the mean girl I expected.
“When do you want to move in?” she asks, bouncing on her toes and clasping her hands across her chest like an excited schoolgirl anticipating a slumber party. Not that I would know anything about that. I didn’t have friends in school. I just saw the way other girls would giggle and jump around Friday afternoons as they talked about the sleepover they’d been planning all week and whose mom was doing the picking up and whose mom was doing the dropping off.
“Is … now … okay?” I ask, exhaling. “My stuff is in my car. I moved out of my apartment a while back, and I’ve been staying at my mom’s, commuting back and forth.”
I have to lie if I want this place.
And I do. I want it so bad.
This house is adorable and clean and it smells like fresh flowers and it’s decorated like a page out of a Serena and Lily catalog. It would be the nicest place I’ve ever lived in. Maybe the nicest place I’ll ever live in.
“Yeah, of course.” If Lauren doesn’t believe me about the commuting thing, she does a good job of hiding it. “You want me to help?”
We head out of the room and down the hall, her messy bun bobbing as she walks, and she reaches up to tighten it—which of course makes it look even better.
“No, it’s fine. I don’t have much,” I say, realizing I sound like someone who’s been living out of their car for God knows how long. “I mean, most of my stuff is back at my mom’s. I didn’t bring any furniture because your ad said the place was furnished.”
I bite my tongue to keep from rambling on and making a mountain out of my mole hill of a lie. I hate lying. It feels unnatural, slimy. And I hate liars.
But desperate times and all of that.
I fully expect karma to bite me in the ass after all the little white lies I’ve told today.
“Right,” Lauren says. “My mother had this place professionally decorated.” She reaches for a magnifying glass resting on top of a curated stack of interior design books on a marble-topped console. The handle is painted navy blue, with little stripes of bone-colored stone. “They went with a California coastal theme,” she continues. “My mom grew up in Orange County. Moved here to Minnesota when she married my dad. I don’t think she ever got used to living in the frozen tundra. You should see their house. Looks like it’s better suited on the beach in Malibu than in some gated neighborhood outside St. Paul.”
Ooh. A “gated” neighborhood. How fancy.
That’s the thing about rich people, they feel the need to insert these little details so casually in conversation, as if you’ve forgotten for a moment that they have money. It’s a crutch, I think. A side effect of their insecurity. And it’s a damn shame, too. Lauren could be that much more likeable if only she didn’t feel the need to word vomit her privileged upbringing into every topic of conversation.
It’s almost as if she’s worried I won’t like her—which is hilarious. No one’s ever cared if I liked them.
“Anyway, I’ll let you get settled,” she says, turning to face me when we reach the end of the hall. “If you need any help with anything, I’ll be in my room.”
I smile and nod. It’s exhausting having to talk this much, having to smirk and laugh and be social and constantly engaged.
But at least it didn’t kill me.
Lauren disappears into her room, leaving the door open a crack. Soft, downtempo music plays a second later, the glow of her expensive, feather-light laptop filling her dark room. The sliver of light is like the tiniest peek into her world, and I must admit I’m curious—though I’m not sure why.
Heading out to my Honda to grab my things, I realize that I’ve parked behind her shiny black Lexus. We’ll have to talk parking spots and particulars later. But for now, I need to focus on getting these bags and bins out of my backseat and into my beautiful new place.
Lugging the first plastic tote in my arms a minute later, I return inside and trek down the hall to my well-appointed guest suite. Dropping it on the center of my bed, the top loosens and falls to the wooden floor with a plastic-y thump. Swiping it off the floor, I catch the hint of a white envelope sticking out from beneath the ruffled bed skirt.
Upon first glance, it appears to be an old bill of some kind, or maybe a credit card offer? The return address is too generic to tell. I place it on top of the chest in the corner with the intention of giving it to Lauren when my gaze falls on the name.
Emily Waterford.
I grab the envelope again, examining the address.
47 Magpie Drive.
And the date on the postage meter sticker.
December 17th of last year.
Only two months ago.
Lauren looked me in the eyes and told me she’d never had a roommate before, that her dire financial situation essentially began this semester.
Did she … lie?
God, I hope not. As hypocritical as it may be, if there’s anything in this world I can’t stand, it’s being lied to. It’s disrespectful, insulting. My tolerance for bullshit and everyday annoyances is higher than most, and keeping my mouth shut when something bothers me is what I do best, but being lied to drives me insane.
It’s like they think I’m stupid. Or unworthy of the truth.
Folding the envelope, I tuck it into my purse. I’m going to have to do some digging as soon as I get settled. But for now, I need to concentrate on not being homeless.

 

 

 

Minka Kent has been crafting stories since before she could scribble her name. With a love of the literary dark and twisted, Minka cut her teeth on Goosebumps and Fear Street, graduated to Stephen King as a teenager, and now counts Gillian Flynn, Chevy Stevens, and Caroline Kepnes amongst her favorite authors and biggest influences. Minka has always been curious about good people who do bad things and loves to explore what happens when larger-than-life characters are placed in fascinating situations.

In her non-writing life, Minka is a thirty-something wife and mother who equally enjoys sunny and rainy days, loves freshly cut hydrangeas, hides behind oversized sunglasses, travels to warmer climates every chance she gets, and bakes sweet treats when the mood strikes (spoiler alert: it’s often).

Want to hear about sales and new releases? Sign up for her non-spammy newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/cwOMSD

 

 

 

 

BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

Chapter Reveal – Undefeated by Stuart Reardon & Jane Harvey-Berrick

 

 

 

 

 

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A powerful contemporary romance set in the fast-moving world of international rugby.

When your world crashes down
When they all say you’re out
When your body is broken
I will rise.
I will return.
And I will be undefeated.

Nick Renshaw is the golden boy of British rugby. When a serious injury threatens his career, he starts to spiral downwards, a broken man.
Feeling abandoned and betrayed by those closest to him, he fights to restart his life. Maybe there’s someone out there who can help him. Maybe he can find his way back toward the light. Maybe … not.
Dr. Anna Scott might be the one person who can help Nick, but she has her own secrets. And when Nick’s past comes back to haunt them both, the enigmatic doctor is more vulnerable than she seems.
Broken and betrayed, the struggle to survive seems intolerable. Who will give in, and who will rise, undefeated?

 

 
Coming January 23rd 2018

 

 

Prologue

It’s a beautiful game.

It’s a hard game.

And even on a good day your body is battered and bruised. It’s a brutal game with blood, mud and dirt.

See this scar on my cheek? Rugby.

See this scar running through my eyebrow? Rugby.

I have a lot of scars.

I have 13 scars on each arm from keyhole surgery, knee surgery, scars on my forehead and the back of my head, scars on my knuckles, broken fingers. I’ve had both eyelids stitched, surgery on both shoulders, suffered a broken nose twice and spiral fractures in my hands, I’ve broken my fingers so many times, I don’t event count those. I’ve had cartilage cleaned out of my left knee, two medial ligament grade two tears on each knee, three lots of surgery for Achilles tendon injuries, and once I put my bottom teeth through my top lip. Getting stitches in your mouth isn’t much fun. They tug when you eat or speak.

There’s nothing nice about rugby. Maybe that’s why I bloody love it.

Chicks dig scars? Yeah, I’ve heard that, too.

In my experience, they’re not so keen on being around while you’re healing. Being the loser who’s benched, not so sexy. Being the guy who’s career went down the toilet … I’m looking a lot less appealing now.

Trusting a woman when you’re at your lowest—dumbest, stupidest thing ever.

Beat me, break me, butcher my heart.

I’m coming for you. And this time…

I’m going to win.

 

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Stuart Reardon

 

Stuart is a retired England International Rugby League player who’s career spanned 16 years as a professional playing for several top League clubs. He has had several major injuries that nearly ended his career just as in Undefeated, the amazing collaboration with Jane.
Currently he is a Personal trainer living in Cheshire, and has an online fitness program: Fear Nothing Fitness.

 

 

 

Jane Harvey-Berrick

 

I enjoy watching surfers at my local beach, and weaving stories of romance in the modern world, with all its trials and tribulations.
It’s been the best fun working with Stu on this story. And yes, he did think about joining the Marines once.

 

 

 

 
Author Links
 

 

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BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

Chapter Reveal -Sky’s the Limit by Elle Aycart

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, the best-laid plans…

 

 

 

Somewhere in the back of beyond, Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every. Single. One.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A what?”

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

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

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

Sky Gonzalez, apparently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes opened wide. Holy shit.

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

No shit.

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

“Can’t leave… without… my bags.”

He stepped outside and scouted the ground a little.

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

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

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

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

“My Manolos are in there.”

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

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

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

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

It figured.

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

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

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

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

“Lady, you okay?”

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

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

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

Elle loves to hear from readers!

elleaycart@gmail.com

 

 

 

BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

Chapter Reveal – Cruise by Drew Elyse

 

 

Once a Disciple, forever a Disciple.

After giving up eighteen months of his life for his club,
the Disciples’ president is finally tasting freedom again.
Stone knows there’s only one thing that might ever be as sweet,
but she’s too young, too perfect, too untouchable for a man like him.

A Disciple will fight like a savage to protect what matters.

Evie’s life is pretty much blowing up in her face
until Stone finds her broken down on the side of the road.
Now if only she could get him to stop being the martyr
and give them a shot at what she knows they both want.

It’s high time this biker got the chance to let go and just cruise.

 

Coming January 11th
Prologue

 

Stone
I shoveled in a forkful of eggs thinking I was becoming a masochist.
It was high past time for me to stop dragging my ass to that diner five days a week. Christ, after that first time stopping in to grab a bite, I should have gotten on my bike and not come back.
Instead, I developed some sick fucking need to torture myself incessantly.
Across the dated countertop I sat at—the same damn place my ass was parked every time I came in—she was singing. She did that a lot. It was always quiet, just barely audible from my spot, and eaten up by the room before it could get to any of the tables.
Today, it was “Delta Dawn.”
I knew the song, though I wondered how the fuck she did. It had to be about as old as me. My mom listened to it when I was growing up, but it wasn’t a new one even then. Forty-odd years later, it was surprising a girl in her twenties would know it, let alone be singing it quietly while she worked.
In her twenties, I repeated the thought to myself the way I did every time I had it.
Even as I did, I couldn’t tear my eyes off of her. Not that that was anything unusual. How the hell she hadn’t cottoned on, I didn’t know. Then again, Geneviev was a woman the likes of which were rare these days.
Evie had told me a lot in the months I’d been planting my ass on the stool in front of her four times. The only reason I skipped three days every week was because she didn’t work them. The food she set down in front of me each time was fine, but it wasn’t what kept me coming back. It was her. She was sweet as sugar and for some reason seemed to take to me. This meant I got a lot of her sweet directed my way when I took up residence at that counter. She’d talk about what she had going on, how she was studying to be a nurse, her roommate, crazy shit that happened there at the diner. She’d talk about whatever came to her, and I’d soak up every damn word.
What she hadn’t said—and I hadn’t asked because I was smart enough to know that it was dangerous ground for my own self-control—was how the fuck she came to be the woman she was. That being, a woman who was cute, gracious, caring, funny, but more importantly, sheltered.
I knew it the first time she’d taken the gamble on talking to me, and she’d asked about my cut. It wasn’t like I never got questions about the Savage Disciples MC patch on my back. Hell, it wasn’t even like I didn’t get those from a whole lot of folks who knew nothing about the life. It was the blatant curiosity that shone in her eyes—a look I’d seen more than a few times since—that verged on wonder. Like a bunch of bikers were the stuff of fairy tales or some shit.
“Top you off, Mr. President?” the object of my obsession asked on a light, ringing laugh.
Yeah, she’d started calling me “Mr. President” when I’d explained that part of the cut to her.
Christ, she was dangerous.
I gave her a lift of my chin, which got me a smile I forced myself not to fully take in as she topped off more coffee into my mug.
“Thanks, babe.”
The words earned me another smile, this one softer.
That right there might be the biggest indicator she was sheltered.
She’d told me once, amid her talking about the nursing program she was doing, and how she wished she’d been able to start right out of high school and already be working in the job she’d wanted since she was young, that she’d just recently turned twenty-five. I wouldn’t deny that there were twenty-five-year-olds out there that’d smile at me and do a fuck of a lot more. I wasn’t in my twenties—or my thirties—anymore, but I could still get a lot of women of a lot of different ages in my bed. Patch chasers or party girls, that “President” stitched onto the front of my cut could get me a taste of a variety of flavors.
Evie wasn’t one of those.
A girl like Evie, with the air of innocence that hung around her, had no business smiling at the gruff, former marine, old-enough-to-be-her-father president of the local motorcycle club.
And that asshole had no business coming around, drinking in all the sweet that was her, and dreaming about what it would be like to get a taste.
“Time to make the rounds,” she announced, moving her lithe body around the counter to go check on the two occupied tables in the joint.
I had to curl my hand into a fist so tight my knuckles protested to keep from turning where I sat to watch her move. It was a battle I fought every time I was there. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say I was at about a forty percent success rate. The other sixty percent of the time, I’d end up engraining her courteous smiles, the flair of her waist, the way her hips moved with her steps into my head. Like I didn’t already have a million images of her stored away up there, making certain the torture I came here and subjected myself to didn’t stop when I walked out the door.
By the time Evie finished her rounds, including delivering bills to both tables, I was finished eating. I’d even gotten out the cash to cover my meal—since I ate there so often I already knew what the damage would be. I told myself again and again that I should get my ass up and just call out a goodbye as I left.
Sticking with the theme, I didn’t listen to my own good advice.
Which was why I was still sitting at that damn bar when she was back behind it, standing right across from me with a smile on her face that had turned tight. I didn’t get it, not as I watched her grab the rag she used to wipe down the tables, not as she set about cleaning the unmarred stretch of counter in front of her.
“So…um…any plans this weekend?” There was a faint, nervous tremor to the words.
“Nothing much,” I answered, keeping my voice level.
Her anxiety set me on edge. It wasn’t like her. She wiped the same spot repeatedly as she turned over whatever she was about to say.
“I was wondering—you know, if you’re not busy and all—if you’d want to…I don’t know…get dinner,” she stumbled out. “Or something.”
Fuck.
Fuck me.
Here I’d been thinking all this time that I needed to let go of this attachment. Never, not even once in the craziest shit my brain thought up when I didn’t check myself, did I think that the tables would turn.
She had no business, not a fucking lick, asking me out.
And now it fell on me to correct that problem, even when I wanted nothing more than to take her up on her offer.
Fuck.
The time had come. No more avoiding this shit. No more convincing myself it was fine.
This was the end.
“Kills me to do this, you gotta know that, but I’m gonna have to say no.”
It sounded like a line, a bullshit way to ease the rejection. I wanted to rip the words back, choke on them if I had to when I watched her face fall as they sank in. She thought I wasn’t interested. She honestly fucking thought I’d been coming in all this time for…what? The food? The atmosphere?
No, I’d been there day after day because she was the most magnificent thing I’d ever laid my eyes on and that didn’t even scratch the surface of all there was to her.
Turning down her sweet invitation burned through me in a way I knew the singed wasteland left behind would never be the same. But I couldn’t give her that. She’d push if I did, and I was too fucking weak to keep resisting.
“Oh,” she finally breathed in response. “That…that’s okay.”
It wasn’t. Not for her, with the disappointment she tried—and failed—to mask still showing in her eyes. Not for me, with the way it was actually physically painful to hold in all the words I wanted to give her to ease that damage I’d done.
It wasn’t okay in the fucking slightest, but it was the right thing to do.
“I’m not the man you should be offering that to,” I found myself saying. I should have just kept my mouth shut, taken the blow that was seeing her dejection, and gotten the fuck out. “Shit’s me to say it, but it’s the truth.”
The downturn of her lips, something I’d never seen before that moment, told me she didn’t believe a word of it even as she said, “Okay.”
As I sat there, watching her avoid looking at me, watching her chin tip down to her slender neck like she was trying to hide beneath her honey-colored hair, I fought the urge to say more. I wanted to talk until I was blue in the face if needed to make her understand, but doing so would be admitting too much.
Instead, I finally forced myself to do what I should have done months ago. I stood, slid the money closer to her for the bill, and I lied.
“I’ll see you soon, Evie.”
They were the same words I gave her every time I walked out the door, but it was the first time I said them with no intention of making them true.Four months later, as the bars to the cell I’d be calling home for the next year and a half closed for the first time, that lie was the only thing in my head. 

 

 

 

Drew Elyse spends her days trying to convince the world that she is, in fact, a Disney Princess, and her nights writing tear-jerking and smutty romance novels. Her debut novel, Dissonance, released in August of 2014.

When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found over-analyzing every line of a book, binge watching a series on Netflix, doing strange vocal warm ups before singing a variety of music styles, or screaming at the TV during a Chicago Blackhawks game.

A graduate of Loyola University Chicago with a BA in English, she still lives in Chicago, IL where she was born and raised with her boyfriend and her prima donna pet rabbit, Lola.

Author Links

 

BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL GIVEAWAY

Chapter Reveal & Giveaway – Sick Fux by Tillie Cole

 

 

When Ellis Earnshaw and Heathan James met as children, they couldn’t have been more different. Ellis was loud and beautiful – all blond hair, bright laughs and smiles. Heathan was dark and brooding, and obsessed with watching things die.
The pair forged an unlikely friendship, unique and strange. Until they were ripped apart by the sick cruelty of others, separated for years, both locked in a perpetual hell.
Eleven years later, Heathan is back for his girl. Back from a place from which he thought there was no return. Back to seek revenge on those who wronged them.
Time has made Heathan’s soul darker, polluted with hatred and the thirst for blood.
Time has made Ellis a shell of her former self, a little girl lost in the vastness of her pain.
As Heathan pulls Ellis out of her mental prison, reviving the essence of who she once was, down the rabbit hole they will go.
With malice in their hearts and vengeance in their veins, they will seek out the ones who hurt and destroyed them.
One at a time.
Each one more deadly than the last.
Tick Tock.

Dark Contemporary Romance. Contains explicit sexual situations, violence, disturbingly sensitive and taboo subjects, offensive language and very mature topics. Recommended for ages 18 and over.

 

 

Prologue

The first time I met Heathan James he was picking the wings off a butterfly. When I asked him why, he turned his light gray eyes my way and said, “Because I want to watch it die.”
I watched as his gaze rolled back to the squirming wingless insect in his hand. Watched his lips part as the sad creature withered and died in his palm. A long, soft breath escaped his parted lips, and a victorious smile tugged on his mouth.
I once heard of the theory that the simple flutter of a butterfly’s wings, a tiny perturbation, that merest whisper of movement in the air, could start the process of building something much bigger; a tornado, devastating thousands. A tsunami crushing iron-heavy waves onto sandy shores, obliterating everything in its path.
As I looked back on the moment we met, this introduction to Heathan James, the man who became my entire world, the pulsing marrow in my bones, I wondered if his deadly act of ripping the wings from the bright blue-and-black butterfly started such a perturbation in our lives. Not a tsunami or a tornado caused by a simple flutter, but something much darker and more sinister, caused by stripping a beautiful creature of its ability to fly, to thrive. A path of destruction no one saw coming; the sweetest, most violent deaths carried out with the gentlest of smiles on our faces and the utmost hell in our hearts.
Heathan James was never the light in my life, but instead a heavy eclipse, blotting out the sun and anything bright, bringing with him endless, eternal night and murderous tar-black blood pumping through my veins.
Heathan James was the genesis of my soul’s reawakening . . . a soul not meant for peace, but one handcrafted for death and murder and blood and bones . . .
Soulmates forged in fire, under the watchful gaze of Satan’s mocking eyes.
Heathan.
Ellis.
Just a couple of sick fux . . .

 

 

Signed Copy of Sick Fux, $50 Gift Card to Amazon or iTunes, and Book Swag
Open Internationally

 

Enter HERE
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

 

 

 

 

BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

Chapter Reveal – Dark Promises by Winter Renshaw

 

 

 

I have a secret …

I don’t care if you like me or not.

Insatiable lust for power and control runs thick in my veins. My father served as president of the United States of America—and his father before him. Montgomeries are born to lead and rule, to fear nothing and cower to no one, to make allegiances not friends.

But I digress.

With a senate campaign about to launch and presidential aspirations at fever pitch intensity, imagine my dismay when my strategist tells me I need to “settle down” with a “nice girl” in order to appeal to my constituents.

Enter Rowan Aldridge, a head-turning stunner with a charm school walk, Jackie O. refinement, and a well-connected family.

She’s perfect.

So I’ll do what I have to do, make her believe what I need her to believe, and as soon as the campaign’s over and I’ve secured my senatorial seat, I’ll release my pretty little butterfly back into the wild.

But this isn’t about all of that.

This is what happens a villain falls in love.

 

 

“Run into an old friend?” I ask when she returns, handing her flute back.
“There was a girl crying in the restroom,” she says. “I had to console her.”
Mary Kate.
“Let’s make rounds, shall we?” I ask, downing the rest of my champagne before leaning into her ear. “I’d like to get out of here while the night’s still young. You slinking around here in that dress and knowing I can’t touch you the way I want to is driving me fucking insane.”
Her chin tucks and her mouth slips into a smirk.
Rowan slips her hand into the bend of my elbow, and I lead her into the crowd. The ballroom is filling by the minute, guests still arriving, and the jazz band in the corner is playing some Frank Sinatra tune.
Everywhere we go, people stare, and I don’t blame them.
We look incredible together, but it isn’t just our outward appearance. It’s everything. We just mesh. We fit. She gets me. I get her.
“I want to introduce you to someone,” I tell her, squeezing her hand as we approach a bald man in a dark gray suit. “Senator Harvey.”
The senator turns, his eyes landing on Rowan first then lifting to me, and when he recognizes me, he extends his hand, grinning wide.
“Keir,” he says. “It’s been a long time. Look at you.”
“Rowan, I’d like you to meet Senator Bill Harvey,” I say. “He was one of my most influential professors at Dartmouth. Now he’s influencing millions. Congratulations on passing that reform bill last year. I know what a labor of love that was for you.”
He rolls back on his heels, nodding. “Almost lost hope for a second, but it pulled through at the last minute. How have you been? How are things going for you?”
I glance at Rowan before answering. “Never better.”
And I mean it.
Rising on the balls of his feet, he makes eye contact with someone in the distance. “Looks like my wife is trying to flag me down, Keir. It was nice talking to you. And great meeting you, Rowan.”
Moving on, I take her from senator to representative to ambassador to billionaire benefactor, all of this serving two purposes.
Primarily, I want these people to feel comfortable supporting me once I announce my candidacy, and in order for them to feel comfortable, I want them to see that I’m getting settled, calming my wild ways. And second, I want Rowan to feel at ease in this world. I want her to feel like a part of it, a part of me. If she stays with me, she’ll need to schmooze and smile and socialize while I get my career off the ground.
When we’ve spent a solid two hours making our rounds, I call the car around.
I want to get her home and I want her all to myself.
I’m done sharing her.
And tomorrow, when she makes her decision, it better be me. And if it isn’t, I’m going to do everything in my power to change her mind.
I can’t lose her. I can’t let her go. Not now, not ever.
I realize tonight, with complete certainty, that I’m falling madly in love with this woman.

 

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

 

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j
Author Links

 

 

 

BOOKPROMO CHAPTER REVEAL

Chapter Reveal – A Saving Grace – Annie Stone

 

 

 

 

A grave injury leaves Hunter in a dangerous state. A place where he can no longer see the light. In anything. But Mackenzie can’t—and won’t—accept that.

So she sends him a reason to live. With that comes unforeseen difficulties.

Once again, Mackenzie sees firsthand how strong Hunter’s love and determination can really be. But is that enough? Will their lives ever be the same again?

 

 


ONE
Hunter

On our way back to Camp Leatherneck, I sit in the back seat, looking out the window at the monotonous wasteland around us. Our mission at the COP is over, and I’ve completed my second deployment to Afghanistan. It’s back to Virginia for me.
I’m looking forward to going back to the States. Maybe I’ll manage to meet up Carey this time. The more time that passes since the thing with Mac, the easier it gets to live with it. I haven’t forgotten her, of course—and I never will—but it no longer hurts as much as it did in the beginning.
Suddenly, the front left of the car is yanked up off the ground. I hear screams and swearing as I try to steady myself in my seat. But our armored vehicle flips and lands on its side. All I can hear are shots, moans, and screams in Pashto, Dari, and English.
I can’t move. My leg is stuck. I try to say something, but nothing comes out. As I attempt to free my leg, the vehicle is hit and thrown up in the air again, throwing me through the window. I land on the ground a few feet away, disoriented and confused.
I want to get up and look for my buddies, make sure everybody’s okay, but I realize I can hardly hear anything. Then my field of vision shrinks, blackness creeping in around the edges. Before I can even lift an arm, I pass out.

 

TWO
Mackenzie

I’m antsy throughout the entire flight, unable to focus on anything. Reading, watching a movie, distracting myself in any other way—forget about it.
I knew it all along. I was up all night, sure something had happened to Hunter, and the next morning, Carey and I heard Hunter had been injured in an attack and flown to Ramstein. By the time we were notified, he was in surgery. And that was all they could tell us.
I immediately got on a plane to go see him, even if it was tough for me to leave Hazel with Carey. I had to. I don’t know if Hunter is going to survive. I need to see him again, tell him how much I love him. I can’t let him go without that knowledge. Even if he can’t speak to me. He only needs to hear me. He needs to know I care.
I knead my hands until it feels like my skin’s going to fall off. I’m sitting beside the aisle, so I keep getting up to pace the length of the plane. How long can one flight last?
Twelve hours. Twelve long, agonizing hours later, we land in Frankfurt, and I board a shuttle bus Carey booked to take me to Ramstein Air Base. Carey also made sure I’ll get a visitor’s pass when I arrive.
The entire hour I’m on the van, I chew my nails, my thoughts going in circles. How is Hunter doing? Is he still alive? Am I too late?
Please, don’t let me be too late! I can’t imagine life without Hunter. Please, no! I don’t want to be without him.
When we get to the gates, I have to write my name on a form and show them my ID before they give me a pass and let the shuttle through. I go straight to the hospital and tell them at reception I’m here to see Hunter, but they ask me to have a seat in the waiting room. So I wait.
And keep waiting.
I call Carey to tell him I got here and ask about Hazel. Carey instructs me to hold the phone to Hunter’s ear as soon as possible he can hear him.
I swallow. “What if…” No. I can’t get the words out.
“No, Mac, no!” Carey snaps. “If it was that bad, somebody would have told me! I haven’t heard anything. We need to hope for the best.”
“You’re right. I’ll call you back later, okay?”
“Okay, wait a second. Hazel wants to talk to you.”
“Hazel?”
“Mommy! When you tummin bat?”
“Soon, angel. I’ll be back soon. You be good for Carey till then, okay?”
“Otay!” she squeals. “Ice tream!”
I smile. “Lots of ice cream, and then I’ll be back. I love you, honey.”
“Love you too!”
I didn’t cry on the plane, because I thought I simply had no tears left, but now they start rolling again.
“Mackenzie Hall?” somebody calls across the waiting room.
I turn and see a doctor in a doorway leading back into the hospital. With trembling legs, I get up. “Yes?”
“I’ll take you to your fiancé now. Sergeant Tilman’s brother told us you were authorized to see him. Obviously, Sergeant Tilman will need to confirm that when he wakes up from his coma.”
“Coma?” I repeat, shocked.
“Don’t worry. We thought it was best to induce a coma after surgery. We’re already reducing the meds, so he should wake up within the next few hours.”
“Can you tell me what’s wrong with him?”
“He suffered several non-lethal wounds, one to his shoulder, one to his arm, and a graze to his thigh. He has internal injuries, but we were able to stop the bleeding. The worst of it is that when he was ejected from the vehicle during the ambush, his leg suffered the greatest damage. We had to amputate below the knee.”
“Amputate?” I repeat dumbly. “He…He only has one leg now?”
The doctor nods gravely. “Yes. Amputating was the best option. He can wear a prosthetic, and if he’s lucky, he’ll be able to walk just like he used to.”
For a moment, I feel like I can’t breathe. But then relief wins out. “But…he’s going to make it?”
“There may be some other complications, but if everything heals like we think, then yes, he’ll make a full recovery. With some rehab and therapy, he’ll be able to lead a good life with his prosthetic.”
“Thank you,” I say, the words coming from the very depths of my heart. Everything is going to be okay, as long as Hunter lives. “Can I stay here with him?”
“Of course.” The doctor nods over his shoulder. “We’ll set up a cot for you in his room.”
“That won’t be necessary. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”
The doctor gives me a strict look. “Ma’am, you look like you haven’t slept in a long time. You breaking down with exhaustion is not going to help Sergeant Tilman. He needs you to be strong right now. Do you understand?”
I nod. “I’m a trauma therapist. I understand.”
“Okay. I’ll take you to him.”
I follow the doctor through the double doors of the waiting room and down a hallway, only stopping in front of the last door the doctor walks through. I have to work up all the strength I have left in me.
Hunter needs me to be strong, I repeat to myself.
When I finally step through the doorway and see him, I’m shocked. He looks so different than he did three years ago. Like I expected, he looks more masculine. He’s grown a beard, and his brown hair is still cropped short, but he has a ghastly tube in his mouth, and several others protruding from his body.
But the worst thing of all is seeing the place where his calf used to be. Because now there is…nothing.
I’m glad he’s not awake, because it gives me a chance to get used to the sight of him. This way, when he wakes up, I really can be strong for him. It’s good I’m getting this moment. I shed a few tears before reminding myself it could have been worse. People live with prosthetics every day, and an amputation below the knee is the best-case scenario. Everything will be okay. What matters is that he’s alive, that he’s going to recover. And that he’s finally going to listen to me. The stubborn ass.
Sliding a chair next to his bed, I sit down and take his hand without the port in it. Gently stroke his knuckles, I watch his beautiful face. He seems bigger—at least wider. He didn’t have shoulders like that three years ago, did he? Even though he’d already grown in width back then, he seems even bigger now. But my memory is surely a little blurred. I met him when he was seventeen and only saw him once at the age of twenty-one. What a history we have.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, Hunter,” I say, swallowing. “Some say people in comas can hear what’s going on around them. I’ll tell you all of this again once you’re better, but just in case you can hear me, I want to tell you right now that I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t take your hand without hesitating, even for a second. I can only blame a moment of derangement. I did not choose Carter, do you hear me? I chose you. I love you. So much! And you have given me the greatest present a man can give a woman. Her name is Hazel Claire. H for her daddy, C for her uncle. Carey is crazy about your daughter, Hunter. And I hope you will be, too. I’ve missed you so much. Carey has missed you so much. Hazel needs her dad. Please, Hunter, wake up and get well again. For me, for her. We need you.”
I tell him little stories about Hazel, like when she tried to eat the needles of the Christmas tree we bought last week. And how she learned to write the letter H and took her paintbrush to write Hs all over the hallway. That she’s a good eater but doesn’t like Brussels sprouts, even if you mash them together with potatoes. That she can say “Dad,” even if she never gets to use it. But she knows her daddy from pictures and videos.
At some point, I put my head down next to Hunter’s hand on the bed. I’m exhausted. I haven’t slept in three days, which gives me an idea of how he must have felt in boot camp—minus all the other types of torture he had to endure, of course.
A nurse wakes me up to measure Hunter’s vital signs, and I look around sleepily. It looks like morning. “Why don’t you lie down on the cot?” she suggests gently.
“I want to be with him,” I murmur.
She nods. “But you need to take care of yourself, too. And your little girl.”
“How do you…?”
She smiles. “You told him stories about your daughter for hours last night. Hazel.”
I nod. “She’s so precious.”
“And he doesn’t know about her?”
I bite my lip. How do I explain that he doesn’t know we have a child when I’m supposed to be his fiancé? “He hasn’t met her, no. He hasn’t been home.”
“It’s okay, love.” She pats my hand. “I don’t need details.” She winks at me before leaving the room.
I don’t want to leave Hunter, but I need coffee. So I scurry away to the cafeteria and get myself a cup before returning to his bedside. The doctor said he would be awake within the next few hours.
How many hours? I think miserably. Maybe he meant days…
“Hunter?” I rush forward. Fluttering—I saw his eyelids fluttering!
I squeeze his hand, and all of a sudden, he’s squeezing back.
“Hunter!” I put a hand on his cheek. His lashes twitch in unison with his eyelids. Oh my God! He’s waking up! “Hunter, it’s me!” I sob. “I’m here. Please wake up.”
He moves his head a little, and then suddenly his eyes fly open. There’s panic in them. He fights against the tube in his mouth.
“Hunter, calm down, it’s all right!” I put both hands on his face, forcing him to look at me. “Shhh. It’s okay. They’ll remove the tube in a second. It’s okay. You’re safe.”
He gives me a confused look but calms down a little. Releasing him for just a second, I press the button to call the nurse, and she comes in a moment later. She calls the doctor, who checks Hunter’s pupils and vital signs before removing the tube from his throat. Hunter gasps, coughs, and retches, but when he starts breathing again, tears run down my cheeks.
“Mac?” he asks hoarsely.
“I’m here, babe,” I say, taking his hand again.
He squeezes my fingers.
“Sergeant Tilman,” the doctor interrupts gently, “I’m Dr. Ferguson. I operated on you. You sustained injuries to your shoulder, arm, thigh, and leg. And there was internal bleeding from damage to your spleen. Do you remember the mission on which you were injured?”
Hunter squints. “Yeah. We were on the way back to Camp Leatherneck… Wait, what happened to Jax?”
“Jax?”
“Corporal Jackson Halliwell,” Hunter clarifies with difficulty.
Dr. Ferguson shakes his head sympathetically. “I’m sorry. I’ve never heard the name. He wasn’t brought here.”
Hunter swallows heavily.
“Do you remember what happened?” the doctor asks.
“We were ambushed.” It’s still difficult for him to speak, so the nurse hands him a glass of water with a straw. He carefully drinks a few small sips before continuing. “The vehicle was thrown up into the air, and I was ejected through the window.”
The doctor nods. “Ripping off your leg.”
Hunter’s eyes widen, his nostrils trembling. “My leg?” he repeats, like he doesn’t quite understand. He tries to sit up, squeezing my fingers so hard I hear a popping sound.
“I’m sorry, Sergeant,” the doctor says. “We had to amputate your left leg below the knee.”
The nurse presses a button that raises the head of Hunter’s bed. The panic in his eyes breaks my heart. And when he sees the blanket lying flat on the mattress where his leg should be, he sobs. I squeeze his fingers, not knowing how to help him process this. It must be surreal. The last time he was awake, he still had two legs. Now he only has one.
“Oh God,” he mumbles, again and again and again.
“Hunter, babe,” I murmur, putting an arm around his shoulders.
“Fuck, Mac!” He leans his head against my chest and cries. I reach around him with both arms, pulling him firmly to my chest.
“I’m so sorry.”
His tears soak my shirt. Somehow, it’s different to not just see his pain but feel it, too. I kiss his head, whispering calming words, even though I know they’re completely inadequate. His world is breaking down.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” I murmur into his ear.
He pulls away, and there is madness in his eyes. “Nothing is going to be okay! I lost my leg!”
“I know, babe—”
“Don’t call me that! You chose him, you fucking whore!”
I know he doesn’t mean to hurt me. He’s just unable to deal with this situation. “Hunter—”
“I don’t want to see you.” He averts his eyes to the ceiling. “And I don’t want you to see me like this.”
“But I—”
“Get out, Mac! Be happy and forget about me,” he says bitterly.
I reach for his hand, but he pulls it away. “Don’t, Hunter, please… Listen to me!”
“Get out! Now!” He’s almost screaming by this point.
Though I don’t want to leave, the doctor and nurse escort me out of the room. Hunter’s not listening! He’s not interested in what I have to say. Not now.
“Ms. Hall, please go now,” Dr. Ferguson says. “You can talk to him later, when he’s had time to calm down. Right now, it’s best if you leave.”
“No, please,” I beg. “He needs me—”
“He does, but as long as he doesn’t understand that, he’ll just keep sending you away,” the nurse interrupts gently. “We’ll let you know when something changes. You can sit in the waiting room.”
“Okay,” I say defeated. “But please…d-don’t forget.” I walk down the hallway, my arms wrapped around myself. I haven’t felt this lonely in a very long time.
I don’t actually want to talk to anyone, but Carey must be worried, so I dial his number as I sit in an uncomfortable chair.
“Mac?” Carey answers. “How is he? Have you seen him? Can I talk to him?”
I sob the moment I hear his voice.
“No, Mac, no, no!” he desperately calls into the phone, his voice breaking.
“He’s alive, Carey, he’s alive,” I hurry to say, launching to my feet. His thoughts are taking him down the wrong track, and I can’t let him go there. “He’s awake.”
“Fuck! Mac!” Carey swears, relief evident in his voice. “What happened?”
“His convoy drove into an ambush. They were shot at, the vehicle was thrown up into the air, and he was ejected. His leg was ripped off.”
“Ripped off? What do you mean ripped…? Oh, no…”
“They amputated it.”
“Fuck! No! I… Oh my God!”
After a long moment in which neither of us know what to say, Carey asks, “How is he taking it?”
“Not great,” I admit. “And I didn’t make things any better. God, Carey, he hates me.” I lean against the wall, trying to control my tears.
“What did he say?”
“At first, he let me hug him, but then he sent me away and said he never wants to see me again because I chose Carter.”
“That was just the shock,” Carey says lamely.
I nod, even though he can’t see me. “Yes, I know, but I think he meant it, too.”
“Oh, Mac. Give him some time. He needs to sort himself out. After that, you’ll get your chance. I’m sure of it.”
I shake my head. “You didn’t see him. So cold and distant. I’ve never seen him like that before.”
“Give him time. Don’t rush things,” Carey insists, nearly begging. “You can’t leave him alone right now.”
“I’m not. I’ll stay here with him. Even if he doesn’t want me to.”
“Thank you, Mac.”
“How is Hazel?”
“She’s sleeping. She misses you.”
I smile a little. “My baby girl.”
“Mac, he loves you. I know he does. You just need to get through his hard shell. Don’t give up. He needs you.”
“I know.”
After we hang up, I wait there in the waiting room for hours. Every time I ask after Hunter, they tell me he still doesn’t want to see me. I curl up on one of the benches there, wrapping my sweater around myself for warmth. At some point, a nurse brings me a blanket. I fall asleep, but I’m restless the entire night.
I’m a contemporary romance writer, who likes her men tattooed, her women independent and her coffee strong.

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

Love, Annie

 

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