#ChapterReveal “Taking the Fight (Gloves Off – Next Generation)” by L.P. Dover

🥊 CHAPTER REVEAL 🥊

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𝗧𝗮𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁: 𝗮 𝗚𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗢𝗳𝗳 – 𝗡𝗲𝘅𝘁 𝗚𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗡𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗹 by L.P. Dover is releasing on

July 26th! Read the #chapterreveal and #preorder today!

~~~~

🥊 CHAPTER REVEAL 🥊
 
Braden
 
I didn’t want to walk away, not with Reagan alone with that cocksucker. The way he looked at her pissed me the fuck off. He wanted her.
 
“So tell me,” Annika murmured, rubbing her leg against mine, “how does it feel to be the hottest athlete in the country?”
 
Tearing my gaze away from Reagan, I clenched my fists underneath the bar. I didn’t give a shit about that list anymore. All I cared about was getting Reagan as far away from that fucking brother of hers as I could. I was a good judge of character and there was something up with him—and Annika, for that matter. There were too many red flags.
 
“Braden?” Annika called out.
 
I loosened my hands and took a deep breath. “It feels great,” I replied, tossing back my glass of bourbon.
 
Annika placed a hand on my arm. “Tell me about yourself. I know your parents are MMA royalty and your sister’s a Hollywood starlet. Is your dream to fight until you retire?”
 
The young lady behind the bar reached for my glass. “Want another?”
 
I nodded. “Yep.”
 
I thought the alcohol would help, but it only worsened my rage. I wanted a lot more but couldn’t be drunk while driving Reagan and Annika back. “So, you’re asking if it’s my dream to fight until I retire?” I repeated, thinking about the question. Then, turning to Annika, I shrugged. “For the most part. One day I’ll take over my dad’s share of Fightanium. I want to train new and upcoming fighters, maybe even coach my own kids one day, if I ever have any.”
 
Annika sipped on her raspberry martini and smiled. “I can totally see you having a son. He’ll be a heartbreaker just like you.” Annika was beautiful and I had no doubt she knew how to use that body of hers in bed, but she wasn’t what I wanted.
 
“What’s your story,” I asked her. “Why do you want to learn to fight?”
 
She shrugged. “In today’s time, it’s a good thing to know how to protect yourself. Especially being a woman.”
 
I agreed with her there. “Well, you seem to know what you’re doing. You’re a natural in the ring.”
 
Annika beamed. “Thanks. I’ll never be as good as Reagan, but it’s my goal.”
 
Glancing over my shoulder, I focused on Reagan and Finn, drinking champagne and conversing as if they had a million fucking things in common. What the hell could they be talking about?
 
“What does your brother do exactly?” I questioned.
 
Annika peered over at Finn. “He and my father own several large construction companies on the east coast, and they just bought out a huge firm here in California. It’s where I’ll work once I find my own place to live. Right now, I’m staying at Finn’s.” She looked back at me. “We should go house shopping together. I’m sure you know the area well.”
 
I wasn’t about to fall into that rabbit hole. “My real estate agent found my place. I have his number if you want it. He’s the best.”
 
Her lips turned into a pout, but she nodded. “That’d be great.”
 
I knew what she was trying to do, but I had no interest in spending more time than necessary alone with her. Carter told me I needed to show Reagan she was the only one I wanted, but Annika wasn’t helping. Of course, I could always be a dick and tell her I wasn’t interested. However, I had a feeling Annika wasn’t the type to back down, nor was she the kind of girl to get turned down by men.
 
Once Annika finished her martini, she moved closer to me. Any closer and she’d be in my fucking lap. “Do you have plans Friday night?”
 
I was right, she wouldn’t give up. “I do,” I answered her.
 
“That’s a shame. I’m attending a charity ball with my brother, and I was hoping you’d be my date. Finn plans on asking Reagan.”
 
Motherfucker. Every muscle in my body tensed as I focused on my drink. Reagan wouldn’t say yes to that douche, would she? Finn was wealthier than me, educated, a businessman, and a few years older, but that was all he had going for him.
 
“We’ll have a great time,” Annika said, biting her lip seductively. “I have a limo coming to pick me up.” She slid a hand down to my thigh. “And I rented the penthouse suite at the hotel where the event is taking place. I can think of several things we can do together there.”
 
I tossed my bourbon back and stood, causing her hand to drop from my thigh. Then, reaching into my back pocket, I pulled out my wallet and set a wad of cash on the bar.
 
“I don’t know if I can make that happen. I’m sorry.”
 
Annika stood and pursed her lips. “No worries. I know it’s last minute.”
 
“Should we join them now?” I said, nodding over at Reagan and Finn’s table.
 
Plastering on a smile, Annika looped her arm with mine, but I could tell she was pissed at my rejection. “Sure.”
 
We walked over to the table, and I took the seat beside Reagan while Annika sat beside her brother. Reagan tensed and looked at anything and everything but me.
 
“Would you like some champagne?” Finn asked, glancing back and forth from his sister to me.
 
Annika nodded, her tone clipped. “Yep.”
 
Finn poured her some, and she downed it quickly. Reagan stared at her curiously and then at me. I wished like hell we were alone so I could talk to her; it was time to put everything on the table.
 
Finn held up the champagne bottle. “Emerson?”
 
I shook my head. “No, thanks. I have to drive the girls back.”
 
He waved me off. “I can do that.”
 
“No,” I snapped. “I got it.”
 
Gaze narrowed, Finn set the bottle down and turned to his sister. “Did you ask Braden to the charity ball?”
 
Annika’s hazel eyes pierced into me. “I did. He doesn’t think he can make it.”
 
Reagan stiffened beside me, and Finn smiled. “I hate to hear that. Reagan and I would’ve loved to have you both join us.” So, Reagan said yes to him. What the fuck? It took all I had not to punch the smug smile off Finn’s face.
 
With pleading eyes, Annika stared at me. “Are you sure you can’t figure out a way to go? What could be more important than charity?”
 
“You know what? You’re right. I think I will go,” I said, grinning at her.
 
I thought I was doing the right thing by turning Annika down, but lo and behold, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

~~~~

 
🚨 𝐁𝐋𝐎𝐆𝐆𝐄𝐑𝐒 – 𝐁𝐎𝐎𝐊𝐒𝐓𝐀𝐆𝐑𝐀𝐌𝐌𝐄𝐑𝐒 – 𝐓𝐈𝐊𝐓𝐎𝐊𝐄𝐑𝐒
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🥊 𝗔𝗟𝗦𝗢 𝗔𝗩𝗔𝗜𝗟𝗔𝗕𝗟𝗘 – 𝗦𝗧𝗔𝗡𝗗 𝗔𝗟𝗢𝗡𝗘 🥊
𝗖𝗿𝗮𝘃𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁: 𝗮 𝗚𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗢𝗳𝗳 – 𝗡𝗲𝘅𝘁 𝗚𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗡𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗹

#ChapterReveal “Beyond Measure: A Dark Bratva Romance” by Jane Henry




USA Today bestselling author Jane Henry delivers a gritty, impassioned romance of arranged marriage, fearless love, and ultimate triumph over evil.

I’m the girl no one wants.
Scarred beyond repair and locked away, I’m tainted and tarnished.
Unworthy of friendship, love, or hope.
But I was born into Bratva life, and my life is not my own.
I’m ripped from my home and forced to marry a man I’ve never met, sight unseen.
He’s ruthless, possessive, fierce…
My husband.

Tomas

I scowl at the computer screen in front of me. As pakhan, the weight of everything falls onto my shoulders, and today is one day when I wish I could shrug it off.

A knock comes at my office door.

“Who is it?” I snap. I don’t want to see or hear anything right now. I’m pissed off, and I haven’t had time to compose myself. As the leader of the Boston Bratva, it’s imperative that I maintain composure.

“Nicolai.”

“Come in.”

Nicolai can withstand my anger and rage. Over the past few months, he’s become my most trusted advisor. My friend.

The door swings open and Nicolai enters, bowing his head politely to greet me.

“Brother.”

I nod. “Welcome. Have a seat.”

When I first met Nicolai, he wore the face of a much older man. Troubled and anguished, he was in the throes of fighting for his woman. The woman who now bears his name and his baby. But I’ve watched the worry lines around his eyes diminish, his smile become more ready. While every bit as fierce and determined to dutifully fill his role as ever, he’s grown softer because of Marissa, more devoted to her.

“You look thrilled,” he says, quirking a brow at me. Unlike my other men, who often quake in my presence, having been taught by my father before me that men in authority are to be feared and obeyed, Nicolai is more relaxed. He’s earned the title of brother more readily than even my most trusted allies.

“Fucking pissed,” I tell him, pushing up from my desk and heading to the sideboard. I pour myself a shot of vodka. It’s eleven o’clock in the fucking morning, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve been up all night. “Drink?”

He nods silently and takes the proffered shot glass. We raise our drinks and toss them back together. I take in a deep breath and place the glass back on the sideboard before I go back to my desk.

“Want to tell Uncle Nicolai your troubles?” he asks, his eyes twinkling.

I roll my eyes at him.

I made an unconventional decision when I inducted Nicolai into our brotherhood. The son of another pakhan, Nicolai came here under an alias, but I knew he had the integrity of a brother I wanted in my order. I offered him dual enrollment in both groups, under both the authority of his father and me, and he readily agreed. We’ve come to be good friends, and I would trust the man with my life.

“Uncle Nicolai,” I snort, shaking my head. None of my other brothers take liberties like Nicolai does, but none are as trustworthy and loyal as him, so he gets away with giving me shit unlike anyone else. “It’s fucking Aren Koslov.”

Nicolai grimaces. “Fucking Aren Koslov,” he mutters in commiseration. “What’d the bastard do now?” He shakes his head. “Give me one good reason to beat his ass and I’ll take the next red-eye to San Diego.”

He would, too. Nicolai inspires fear in our enemies and respect in our contemporaries. Aren falls into both categories.

“Owed me a fucking mint a month ago, and hasn’t paid up,” I tell him. I spin my monitor around to show him the number in red. “And you don’t need me to tell you we need that money.” As my most trusted advisor, Nicolai knows we’re right on the cusp of securing the next alliance with the Spanish drug cartel. Our location in Boston, near the wharf and airport, puts us in the perfect position to manage imports, but the buy-in is fucking huge. We have the upfront money, but the payout from San Diego would put us in a moderately better financial position.

Nicolai leans back in his chair, rubbing his hand across his jawline.

“And you have meeting after meeting coming up with politicians, leaders, and the like.”

I eye him warily. Where’s he going with this?

“It’s easy to say you need money. But that isn’t what you need, brother.”

I roll my eyes. “I suppose you’re going to tell me what I need.”

“Of course.”

“Go on.”

“You know what you need more than the money?” he asks. I’m growing impatient. He needs to come out with it already.

I give him a look that says spill.

“You need a wife,” he says.

A wife?

I roll my eyes and shake my head. “Sometimes I think your father dropped you on your head as a child,” I tell him. What bullshit. I look back at the computer screen, but Nicolai presses on.

“Tomas, listen to me,” he says, insistent. “Money comes and goes, and you know that. Tomorrow you could seal a deal with the arms trade you’ve been working, and you know our investments have been paying off in spades. But a good wife is beyond measure, and Aren has a sister.”

“You’ve been married, for what, two fucking days and you’re giving me this shit?” I reply, but my mind is already spinning with what he’s saying. I never dismiss Nicolai’s suggestions without really weighing my options. Aren is one of the youngest brigadiers in America and has a reputation that precedes him everywhere he goes. He commands men under him, and I’m grateful he hasn’t risen higher in power.

He grunts at me and narrows his eyes. “I’ve loved Marissa for a lot longer than we’ve had rings on our fingers.”

“I know it, brother,” I tell him. “Just giving you shit. Go on.”

“Aren’s sister is single, lives with him on their compound. Young. I don’t know much about her, and haven’t seen a recent picture, but I met her years ago when I first came to America. And she was a beauty then. I imagine she’s only grown more beautiful.”

Seconds ago, this idea seemed preposterous, but now that I’m beginning to think about it, I’m warming to the idea.

“You think he’d let her go to pay off his debt?”

“With enough persuasion? Hell yeah. And a good leader needs a wife. You’ve seen it yourself. There’s something to be said for having a woman to come home to. The most powerful men in the brotherhood are all married.”

He’s right. Just last week, I met with Demyan from Moscow and his wife Larissa. He brings her everywhere with him. The two are inseparable. And he’s risen to be one of the most powerful men the Bratva has ever known.

“And face it, Tomas. You’re not exactly in the position to meet a pretty girl at church.”

I huff out a laugh. The men of the Bratva rarely obtain women by traditional means.

I lift my phone and dial Lev.

“Boss?”

“Get me a picture of Aren Kosolov’s sister,” I tell him. Our resident hacker and computer genius, Lev works quickly and efficiently.

“Give me five minutes,” he says.

“Done.”

I hang up the phone and turn to Nicolai. “I want to see her first,” I tell him.

“Of course.”

“How’s Marissa?”

He fills me in about home, his voice growing softer as he talks about Marissa, but I’m only half-listening to him. I’m thinking about the way a woman changes a man, and how he’s changed because of her.

Do I need a wife?

The better question is, do I want Aren Kosolov’s sister to be the one?

My phone buzzes, and Nicolai gestures for me to answer it. A text from Lev with a grainy picture pops up on the screen, followed by a text.

There are no recent pictures. This was from a few years ago, but it should give you a good idea.

Still, it’s a full profile picture. I murmur appreciatively. Wavy, unruly chestnut hair pulled back at the nape of her neck, with fetching tendrils curling around her forehead. Haunting hazel colored eyes below dark brows. High cheekbones, her skin flushed pink, and full, pink lips. She’s thin and graceful, though if I’m honest, a little too thin for me. The women I bed tend to be sturdier and curvy, able to withstand the way I like to fuck.

I don’t want to have this conversation via text. I call him and he answers right away.

“Background?” I ask.

“Never went to college. Under her brother’s watchful eye since her father died.”

“Lovely,” I mutter. He might not give her up easily.

“Temperament?” I ask, aware that I sound like I’m asking about adopting a puppy, but it fucking matters.

“Not sure, but she has no record on file at school or legally. Perfect record. Graduated top of her class in high school.” He snorts. “Volunteers in a soup kitchen in San Diego and attends the Orthodox Church on the weekend.”

Ah. A good girl. Points in her favor. Sometimes the good girls fall hard, and sometimes they’re tougher to break, but they intrigue me.

“Boyfriend?”

“None.”

“Name?”

“Caroline.”

“Caroline?” I repeat. “That isn’t a Russian name.”

“Her mother was American.”

I nod thoughtfully. Caroline Koslov.

She would take my name.

Caroline Dobrynin.

I drum my fingers on my desk, contemplating. I nod to Nicolai when I instruct Lev. “Get Aren on the phone.”

USA Today bestselling author Jane Henry pens stern but loving alpha heroes, feisty heroines, and emotion-driven happily-ever-afters. She writes what she loves to read: kink with a tender touch. Jane is a hopeless romantic who lives on the East Coast with a houseful of children and her very own Prince Charming.
Connect with Jane at http://janehenryromance.com


#ChapterReveal “Letting You Go (Stone Lake Book 1)” by Jordan Marie

I met Luna Marshall when I was seventeen.
She was a force of nature that I wasn’t ready for.
She was gravity and I was caught in her pull—
Powerless while she held me in a world I was desperate to escape.

They say you never forget your first love.
I believe they’re right.
I’ll always remember the sound of her laughter.
The way she whispered my name when I touched her, and the taste of her on my lips.
I’ll remember everything.

Including the look of pain as I walked away.

Gavin

Luna Marshall.
The girl haunts me.
Has for years.
I watch as she stands over by the football bleachers laughing with her friends. Her voice is fucking… musical. It’s soft and sweet and it has a melody in it that somehow brings me peace.
We’re complete opposites.
She comes from one of the wealthiest families in Stone Lake. Her dad drives a fucking Caddy and her mom has a Lexus SUV. Her clothes are designer and last month she was voted homecoming queen. Krissy Hanes was pissed because she thought the title belonged to her. Normally seniors are always the queen, but Stone Lake allows juniors to run too. Luna is that popular.
Way out of my fucking league.
She is destined to marry the football quarterback or some shit. It’s a small town and that’s the way these things go.
Except, Luna doesn’t date.
She’s been asked out a lot. She’s been asked out by the football jock, the captain of the debate team, the basketball jock, the swim team—the entire male swim team. She’s been asked out and turned them all down.
She’s developed the nickname Icebox. The entire male population of our school jokes that if you can ever get your dick inside of her that she’ll freeze it off.
They’re idiots.
I don’t get that from her at all. I think she could burn you alive with her fire and there’s a big part of me that craves that heat, wants to tempt fate and take it from her.
She’s got long golden blonde hair—the complete opposite of what you would think given her name. It falls in these soft waves all the way down—the tips resting on the small of her back. Her eyes are green with flecks of brown in them and they sparkle when she laughs. Her lips are full and thick and I’d be a lying mo-fo if I said I didn’t fantasize about having them wrapped around my cock.
I’m seventeen. It’s a given that sex is pretty much all I think about and for me… sex is all about Luna Marshall. It’s just my bad luck that it’s the same for every damned male in our high school.
Even my own brother.
Atticus is standing near her even now. Sniffing around her, desperate for her attention and she gives it to him—at least more than she has any other male. Maybe that’s the one reason I haven’t made my move with her. The thing is, when she touches Atticus—like she’s doing right now—it’s not sexual, it’s not any different than she does with her friend Jules. Jules is hot too—also blonde and a rocking body—but, not in the same league as Luna.
Not even close.
Still, she laughs and talks with Atticus but there’s no sexual vibe there at all, at least coming from her. I know without a shadow of a doubt he’s got his eye on her.
Atticus and I have our own problems, which is fucked. When you have a family like we do, it’d be good to be close, to rely on one another.
We don’t.
Our mother hit the road when I was eight and Atticus was seven. My father is a bastard who holds down a day job—although a shitty one—and then comes home and burns his gut with whiskey every night. By the time he’s done he barely knows his own name, let alone ours.
I’m a junior in high school. I failed my freshman year and had to repeat it. I’m barely passing now. I hate school and Stone Lake, for that matter. I have plans to get out of this hellhole the minute I graduate. I’m doing it and not looking back. I have nothing holding me here, not even my brother. I wish we were close, but that’s not going to happen. He blames me for the way our father is. I blame our mother and that pisses him off even more.
Atticus and I are night and day and I don’t see that ever changing. It’s Friday and I haven’t spoken to him all week. I don’t figure that will change either.
Family means nothing. It’s not blood that binds you to someone. I don’t know much, but I’m smart enough to know it’s not blood. My father’s blood is running through my veins, for that matter, so is my mother’s. That definitely didn’t bind them to me in any lasting way.
Not one damn bit.
I’m getting out of here and I’m leaving Stone Lake completely behind.
When I do, I’ll have no regrets…
Except maybe that I didn’t get a taste of Luna Marshall before I left. Then again, that’s probably a good thing.
For both of us.

A QUIRKY WRITER GOING WHERE THE VOICES TAKE HER.
USA Today Best Selling Author Jordan Marie, is just a simple small town country girl who is haunted by Alpha Men who talk in her head 24 hours a day.

She currently has 14 books out including 2 that she wrote under the pen name Baylee Rose.

She likes to create a book that takes you on an emotional journey whether tears, laughter (or both) or just steamy hot fun (or all 3). She loves to connect with readers and interacting with them through social media, signings or even old fashioned email.

#ChapterReveal “Opposition” by Jane Henry

 

 

 

 

I hate Liam Alexander.
I hate his Rolex. I hate his scowl. I hate everything his multi-billion-dollar company stands for.

When the pompous, rich, arrogant jerk comes strutting into the coffee shop, I barely manage civility.

But people make mistakes, and when I screw up, it’s epic.
I never expected the jerk would actually be a well-respected member of Club Verge.
I never should have trusted the masked stranger when he beckoned me.
I never should have taken him up on his offer.
And the biggest mistake of my life?
Letting him kiss me.

 

 

 

Cora

“It’s the justice of the situation, Chandra,” I tell her, while I push the button to grind the coffee beans. The fragrant aroma makes my stomach growl with hunger, which doesn’t even make logical sense because you don’t even eat coffee. “The separation of the classes in this city is just utterly maddening.”
“I agree, honey,” Chandra says, waddling over to me with a large sleeve of paper cups. Chandra’s hugely pregnant and ready to pop. We met in college a few years ago and became fast friends, so when my life imploded a few months ago, Chandra was the one who got me the job here at Books and Cups. Petite, with dark, coffee-colored skin and vibrant brown eyes, Chandra is beautiful. Pregnancy becomes her, as she’s grown pleasantly plump and fairly glows. Leaning against the counter, she rests a hand on the enormous bulge of her abdomen and giggles. “And apparently, the baby does, too.”
“Awww,” I say. “Is she kicking again?”
“He.” Axle’s growly voice comes from the doorway as he makes his way into the shop. Chandra and Axle haven’t figured out the sex of their baby, and it’s become a point of contention between us. I insist Chandra’s having a girl, mostly just to irk her husband, and Axle insists he’s having a son, mostly just to provoke Chandra. I really don’t care either way, but it’s fun to tease them.
“And what is the injustice we’re fighting today, Cora?” Axle bends down to brush a kiss to Chandra’s cheek, and I watch them with a sort of wistful hopefulness. They represent everything I want in life. After years apart from one another, they found each other again, overcoming so many obstacles to forge their way back into each other’s lives. Now they’re preparing to raise a family in the heart of the city. She adores the ground he walks on, and he dotes on her. She’s my friend, so I know it isn’t always sunshine and roses, and they have their moments like everyone else.
“The Greenery, Axle,” I tell him, my heartbeat accelerating as I take up my cause once more. “They want to pave over The Greenery because they’re building some other stupid high-rise. Because that’s what this city needs is another high-rise.”
“Who does?” he asks.
“Oh, who knows,” I tell him. I’ve only just begun research today, but as I’m studying investigative reporting at school, and I have a major paper on this subject due by the end of the month, I’ll do my research tonight.
After I finish my job at Books and Cups.
And make sure Ben and Bailey have done their homework and gone to bed.
And picked up some food at the twenty-four-hour supermarket on the way home.
After this, I’ve got a second job Chandra and Marla got me a few months ago, at Club Verge. Marla’s the bookstore owner and a long-term member of Club Verge. Chandra and Axle are members, too. At first, they were all hesitant to even talk to me about it, but there’s a reason I’m drawn to Marla’s bookstore. She stocks the largest selection of kinky romance in the city, and hell, I love those books.
So even though I’m not in the lifestyle… and I have no desire to be… I’m pretty open-minded. And hell, the other bartender, Travis, is cute and sweet.
My phone rings, and Chandra nods for me to take it when I show her the screen. We’re not supposed to talk on the phone when we’re on a shift, but bookstore owner Marla understands my circumstances are different. When I see it’s Bailey, I take the call.
“What is it?” I ask, turning my back to the counter and whispering into the phone. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Bailey says. “I’m really sorry to bug you at work, Cora. I know you’re not supposed to take calls.”
“It’s okay,” I say quickly. “Why’d you call?”
“Yeah,” she says. “But I… well, I don’t know what to feed Ben for dinner.” She sighs.
I pinch the bridge of my nose with my thumb and index finger and lower my voice. I don’t like even my closest friends to know the reality of our situation. They all know I’m guardian to my two youngest siblings. That I fought the system and won, when my mother was put in jail for larceny and driving under the influence and my younger siblings were in danger of being tossed into the NYC foster care system. That I’m the one holding it together after she overdosed in prison and I’m left with two minors under my care. What they don’t know is that I barely make enough money to pay for the tiny apartment we live in. I need to stay in school if I’m ever going to get a better-paying job, and that means my jobs are limited.
Our cupboards are so bare, it makes me want to cry. Hell, I have cried. I’ve had nothing but a stale muffin all day long, and only because Marla was going to discard it because it wasn’t fresh anymore. I played it off like I was making an environmentally-conscious decision, and Marla might’ve bought it, but the truth was, we were totally out of food and I was starving. And now I feel guilty for eating a stupid stale muffin.
“There’s a box of mac and cheese in the cabinet,” I tell her. “I know there is.” It’s barely enough for the two of them, but it’ll do. They get free breakfast and lunch at school, thanks to the generosity of the NYC school system, but dinner’s another story.
“Yeah,” she says with a sigh. “But the little bit of milk we have left is bad, and there’s no butter.”
Fuck.
“I’m sorry, honey,” I say.
Someone clears their throat behind me, and I quickly swivel around. From where I’m standing, I can see there’s a man in a suit drumming his fingers on the glass countertop, but I can’t see much else. Damn it. Chandra’s three aisles over helping another customer. It’s just me here.
“Just a minute, Bailey,” I say, walking back over to the counter.
I look up… and up… and up.
This man’s huge. So tall and so broad, he’d look like a linebacker for the Jets if he wasn’t dressed in a suit that looks like it costs my yearly wages. But it isn’t just his height and breadth that makes my stomach tighten when I look at him. It isn’t the clench of his strong, chiseled jaw. Or the sapphire blue eyes that pierce right through me with utter disdain.
It’s that he’s fucking glaring at me, his lips pinched together like he’s just tasted something bad. I can’t decide if I want to apologize or slap him.
“Sorry to interrupt your conversation with your boyfriend,” he says, his tone riddled with disdain, and God, his voice sounds like sex. Deep and smooth, like gourmet chocolate.
Wait. Hold the phone.
Boyfriend?
“But I’d like to order a cup of coffee sometime today,” he finishes with a scowl. “Do you think you can tear yourself away long enough to fill that order?”
“Excuse me?”
What the hell?
“Coffee,” he repeats, then makes a pouring motion with his hand and air-sips the pretend cup. Flicking his wrist, he looks at his obnoxious gold Rolex. “Today?”
To my surprise, there’s a tattoo that peaks under the bright white cuff of his shirt and it catches me off guard. Everything else about him seems so highbrow and conservative.
Whatever.
Like I give a shit.
“Yes, of course,” I tell him through gritted teeth. “I’ll be right with you.”
I turn my back to him and can swear I feel him seething from where I stand. My cheeks flame. Damn my fair, pale skin. He’ll see my pink cheeks and for some reason, I hate that.
“Bailey,” I whisper into the phone. “I’m sorry, babe, you’ll have to use water.”
She sighs. “Okay. Can you pick something up tonight?”
“Yes,” I tell her. “I promise.” Marla will give me my tips before I leave, and that’ll be enough for at least a few things. “I gotta go.”
We hang up and I square my shoulders to face the man at the counter. King Douchebag.
Most of the customers who come in here are pretty decent. We have our regulars, and many of Club Verge members come in here on occasion. But it’s NYC, and we also have our fair share of jerks.
“What can I get you, sir?”
I glare right back at the beautiful bastard with my hands on my hips, but at first, he doesn’t answer. Instead, he drags his gaze from my eyes to my collarbone, then lower, lingering on my cleavage. Figures, the one good thing my mama gave me was a decent set of boobs, but now I wish I was wearing a bulky sweater, and not this thin little V-neck top. But laundry day is Saturday, and the laundromat costs a lot of money, so I try to wear things a few times, and my clothing options are really limited.
He doesn’t stop there, though but lets his gaze roam over my softly-rounded tummy, the hands placed on my full hips, then once he’s given me a painfully slow once-over, he goes all the way back up to the top again until he finally meets my eyes. I’m so shocked by his bold perusal of my body my mouth drops open. I clamp it shut when I realize he’s smirking at me.
Yeah, I’ve made up my mind about him alright.
I want to slap him.
“Please,” he drawls, in that sexy-as-sin voice. “The largest cup of coffee you have.”
“Cream or sugar?”
“No. Black.”
Of course.
I turn to pour him his cup of coffee when I realize the light’s off on the thing.
Shit. One of us must’ve hit the breaker by accident.
“Just a minute,” I tell him. “Unfortunately, it looks like our machine’s unplugged. I’ll have to make you another pot.”
He sighs with exasperation.
“Excellent. I’ll just wait here, then.”
“Why don’t you do that,” I mutter. I keep my back to him, and hear footsteps approaching. Marla’s making her way to us from the back room, her hair tied up in a ponytail, nose smudged with dust. She was likely doing inventory and came to check on the front end.
Marla’s a few years older than I am, with light brown hair and eyes, and a pair of slim glasses perched on her nose. She’s not only the bookstore owner, she’s become a friend to me, like an older sister, and I hate that she caught me at a bad time like this. I enjoy when she’s pleased with the work that I’ve done. And now…
“Hey, Cora!” she says cheerfully, then turns to face the stranger. “Oh, hello. Are you being helped?”
“Theoretically,” he mutters. I watch as Marla’s eyes widen, and she looks at me in surprise.
My chest tightens and tears prick my eyes. It matters to me to do a good job, and I dislike the insinuation that I’m not. Worse, I hate crying in front of people. Internalizing my anger makes me emotional, and I fucking hate that.
Marla shoots me a look of sympathy and leans in to whisper, “Honey, go take a break. I’ll handle this guy.”
I shake my head. Nope. I’m not gonna let him chase me off.
“I’m good, thank you.” She raises a brow, so I continue, “I can do this, Marla.”
Stepping a little closer to me, she whispers in my ear, “Of course you can. He just doesn’t seem super… pleasant. You sure?”
I nod. “So sure.”
“Interesting selection of books you have,” the man says, leaning against the counter and glancing at the titles on display. Marla takes pride in her eclectic little shop.
“Thank you,” she says. “Several were written by friends of mine, actually.” Chandra and Marla’s friend Giada both write kinky romance books and have quite a following of dedicated readers. We actually had a signing last month, and the line went all the way out the door for hours.
He shakes his head with a frown and a rueful chuckle. “What an excellent waste of time those books are.”
I’ve had enough of this asshole’s crap. I pour him the now-steaming coffee and hand it to him.
“What is and what is not a waste of time is totally relative,” I tell him. “For your information, those books provide endless hours of entertainment, and they’re written by excellent writers.”
Taking the coffee from my hand, he passes me a twenty-dollar bill.
“Entertainment?” he scoffs. He pierces me with a look while I fetch his change. “Books are meant to educate, yet those books are doing nothing of the sort. They make men into mythical creatures and women to be hapless victims. And worst of all? They glorify the BDSM scene with no real-world knowledge.” He shakes his head.
I open my mouth to protest but Marla shakes her head. Instead, I gather his change with tight lips, biting back every retort.
“Keep the change, Cora,” he says.
And then he’s gone. I stand with a stack of bills in my hand.
“He seems familiar,” Marla murmurs. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in here before. Have you?” Quietly she takes the bills from my hand, folds them, and places them in my pocket. “I’ll get the rest of your tips to you before you go.”
“Thanks,” I tell her. A part of me wants to take his stupid money and throw it at him, but… well, I’ve got mouths to feed. I don’t have the luxury of pride. “And no. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before. And frankly? I’ll be happy if I never see him again.”

***

When I finish up my shift, I take my backpack and sling it over my shoulder, then head to Verge. Even though I’m still unsettled with the whole interaction between me and the jerk, I’m looking forward to going to Verge. I love the people there. I have only a few close friends, and they’re all as busy as I am, and even though it’s a little weird to admit, the people at Verge have become like a second family to me.
I huff out a quiet laugh to myself. Figures, I’d find a second family at a sex club. BDSM Club. Whatever it is. But there’s something about that kinky crowd that I love… the way they’re free to be their quirky, crazy selves without fear of judgment or ridicule. And the feminist in me applauds the pursuit of sexual freedom. It’s partly why I love Marla’s store.
The lonely widow, snarky school teacher, harried stay-at-home mom. The powerful Wall Street executives, fearless leaders, intellectual visionaries. All of them are free to live out their fantasies in the pages of a book. And everyone needs a little escapism. Club Verge, to me, is kinda the same thing.
Braxton stands as bouncer to the door tonight. Tall and broad with a ready grin and sharp tongue, he’s one of my faves. His girl Zoe is feisty as hell, and a member of the NYC Police force.
“Hi, Brax,” I say brightly, as he holds open the massive black door to Verge so I can step inside.
“Cora. How you been, kiddo?” I haven’t seen him in a few days, and he acts like he’s missed me.
Something inside me warms despite the whole kiddo thing.
“Good. Working my ass off at school and stuff. The usual,” I say, and he gives me a sympathetic nod. “Zoe here tonight?”
“Nah. She’s got an overnight shift. I saw Diana and Beatrice head in a little while ago, though. I think Giada, too.” He rolls his eyes. “Not like anyone can tell, though.” He looks over his shoulder to make sure no one hears him. “Stupidest idea ever, to have a masquerade party like we’re some kinda fuckin’ sorority.”
I groan. I totally forgot tonight was Masquerade night at Verge. I’m told they don’t do holiday parties, but their competition apparently does, so this year Verge has decided to begin occasional themed nights.
“So people are wearing masks and stuff?” I ask him. It’s not uncommon for people who go to sex clubs to wear masks, but somehow knowing most people will be makes me a little uneasy.
“You could say that,” he says, but then he turns to face a couple entering behind me, so I wave good-bye and head into the club.
Club Verge is large and sprawling, clean and well lit. Current club owners, husband and wife, Tobias and Diana Creed, make sure to keep Verge classy by vetting members and enforcing strict adherence to basic rules. It helps that the most prominent members and dungeon monitors are long-term members of Verge, and several are officers for the NYPD.
Right beyond the entryway sits Tobias’ office to my right, and to the left, a lobby outfitted with comfortable furniture and paperwork. Contracts and the like are available for members to negotiate terms of play before they enter. It’s not required, as some are long-term couples and others are just here to observe, but new partners looking to scene are encouraged to lay down the ground rules before they begin. Tonight, though, the lobby is vacant.
Beyond the lobby is the entrance to the main bar area, and my place of business. The doorway opens to a massive floor. The gleaming bar with bar stools and bright overhead lighting that makes the glasses sparkle sits to the left, and to the right are small, round tables for members to sit together. Beyond that lies the pool tables and dance floor. This is the fun part, and where I spend most of my time, as people party and mingle and socialize. Just beyond this room, though, lies the area of Club Verge that piques my interest. I just haven’t been brave enough to venture there beyond my initial brief tour.
Down the hall is the dungeon… with every BDSM accoutrement one could hope for. And down the hall from the dungeon are all the private rooms for long-term members. The doors are color-coded and locked. I’ve never seen one, though they interest me.
That’s where the real fun happens. Or so I imagine.
I wouldn’t know.
I… hear things. See things.
And hell, I want to know more. But who has time for things like relationships? I’m a full-time college student and legal guardian to my younger brother and sister. And God, if Child Protective Services ever heard that I was involved in a kinky scene in a club, I can’t imagine what they’d do with that. It’s much safer for me here at the bar.
So much safer.
I place my bag in a locker in the small employee room near Tobias’ office. I eye the vending machines with envy, my stomach aching with hunger. That muffin seems like a long, long time ago.
I bite my lip. The cash in my pocket weighs heavily. It isn’t much, but hell I need it. Figures we live in one of the most expensive cities ever. We pay twice as much for basic groceries than the national average. I feel a little dizzy when I turn away from the machine and put on one of the clean aprons that hangs on a hook. We serve warmed mixed nuts at the bar, and employees are free to help themselves. That’ll tide me over.
I enter the bar area and can’t help but smile. Travis, who hails from Texas, stands at the bar dressed in full cowboy attire. He shoots me a boyish grin and tips his hat to me when I take my place behind the bar.
“Howdy,” I say with a snicker. He’s wearing worn leather jeans, a wide leather belt with one of those massive oval metal buckles, cowboy boots, a bandana or something tied around his neck, and a large, tan-colored Stetson.
“Howdy, purdy lady,” he says. I groan.
“You hit your older brother up for some…” I pause, searching for the right word. “Gitup?”
I giggle when he swats at me with a dishtowel.
“Supposed to be fancy dress night,” he drawls, shaking his head at me. “You didn’t get the memo?”
I stick my tongue out at him. “I have work to do, cowboy.”
“Hey, Cora.” I look up to see Diana and Beatrice approaching the bar. At least I think it’s Beatrice, as she’s dressed from head to toe in black leather in a Catwoman costume, whip and all. Diana’s one of my favorite people here, tall and graceful with long, super curly hair and kind eyes. I grin at her. She’s wearing a full-on Wonder Woman costume.
“You look awesome. Is that… Beatrice under all that black leather? Catwoman or Dominatrix?” She’s tiny, but tonight she’s wearing platform boots and carrying a scary-looking leather whip.
“Dominatrix my ass,” comes a growly voice to my left. Beatrice’s husband Zack, wearing just civilian clothing and a scowl, takes her by the elbow and draws her to him. “Remember what I said about that whip, woman.” He’s her long-term dominant, and one of the more serious guys around here. Pulling her close, he kisses her, then when he’s got her disarmed, he nimbly flicks the whip out of her hand.
“I’ll take that,” he says.
“Zack! You fooled me!” Beatrice playfully smacks his chest.
“Watch it,” he says, shaking his head and coiling the whip in his hand. “Lest you forget. I’m experienced in relieving people of their weapons.”
“He’s just jealous he doesn’t look half as good as you,” Diana teases, taking a glass of wine that Travis hands her.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Zack says, rolling his eyes. “Did you get something to eat yet?” he asks Beatrice. “They’ve got food over by the pool tables tonight.”
My stomach aches.
“Since when?” I say, trying to pretend like I’m not starving and just curious why they’re serving food.
“Well,” Diana says, taking a seat at the bar. “A few months back, we asked for member feedback, and lots of people wanted more food so they could stay longer, so we decided on our themed nights we’d have some tables set up in there. The problem is, people keep trying to sneak food in the dungeon, and that’s not happening.”
“Why not?” I ask. I have no idea what goes on in the dungeon, and I wonder what the reasoning is.
Beatrice giggles and Travis walks over to me. “There’s sex in there,” he says with a grin. “Bodily fluids? May not be okay with the NYC health department.”
“Oh, ew,” I say without thinking, wrinkling up my nose.
“Well,” Beatrice says. “Don’t ew it until you’ve tried it.” She bites her lip when she looks at Zack, who responds by giving her a flick of the whip. Squealing, she comes up on her toes, and I instantly feel my body heat from the sound of the crack.
“I just meant… about the food, not the… well… public sex.” My damn cheeks flame, so red, they likely match my hair, as if they all know my breasts are swelling and a pulse of arousal just flared between my legs.
God.
I’ve been watching people interact here for months, reading every book I can at Marla’s, and telling myself this isn’t for me. But somehow that flick of the whip did strange, erotic things to my body. What the hell?
A few customers place drink orders, and I get busy filling them. I need to eat something, though. It doesn’t usually affect me like this, but I’m so hungry I can barely think straight. I’m handing a gin and tonic to a girl wearing a slinky mermaid gown, when I feel someone staring at me. The hair on the back of my neck prickles and I glance around the room. It takes me a minute until I see him, and when I do, I nearly drop the drink.
Standing against the dungeon door, he takes up the whole door frame with his massive height and breadth. He’s wearing nothing but head-to-toe black and a mask that covers his eyes and nose. It takes me a minute to realize he’s in a mime’s costume, yet his shirt is sleeveless, showing strong, muscled arms covered in tattoos. Like a sexy sorta twist on an age-old classic. Mute. Powerful. Cloaked in mystery. I want to see all of him. And why is he staring at me?
“Who is that?” I ask Beatrice on a whisper. I lift my finger to point, but before she turns to look, he crooks a finger at me. I blink. Once more, he beckons, then turns around and walks straight into the dungeon. He’s more than a mime. He’s a puppeteer, because I feel the tug like I’m attached to him when he walks away, like I need to follow him. To somehow satisfy an unknown hunger in me that’s as powerful as physical starvation.
“I don’t know who he is,” Beatrice whispers back. “Not sure I’ve seen him before. But, babe? If it were me? I’d go.”
“Go where?” Diana chirps up.
“The dungeon,” Beatrice says, filling her in quickly.
Diana gives me a grin. “Isn’t it around your break time?”

 

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

 

 

 

#ChapterReveal “The Girl in the Closet (Southern Heroes #2)” by Michelle Heard

 

 

 

 

BIRDIE

Escaping an unthinkable nightmare, I’m given a second chance at life. Cole Trenton is the first person to look past the broken girl. But the moment I give him my heart he leaves.Secrets never stay buried, and mine returns with a vengeance.
Cole walks back into my life when I need him most. He shows me how to be strong, that monsters only have the power you give them.

But my biggest fear remains.
How do I silence the girl in the closet before I lose Cole again?


COLE

 
I always knew Birdie Liles was different, but that didn’t stop me from falling for her.
After years of being away, I return home to bury my best friend,
only to learn that Birdie’s in trouble.If I had known about the monster from her past, I never would’ve left.
I went to fight someone else’s war while I left the woman I love unprotected.

But I’m here now, and I’m ready to send Birdie’s demon right back to hell.

 

 

PROLOGUE

‘rattle them bones’


BIRDIE


Since grandma died Daddy’s been smoking more, and it’s stinking up the trailer we live in.
Knowing I’ll be in trouble if he finds out, I steal his lighter while he’s in the bathroom. I run outside and quickly bury the lighter in the patch of sand behind the trailer. With a pounding heart, I glance over my shoulder and hearing the toilet flush, I begin to panic. If Daddy finds out what I’ve done, he’ll give me a beating.
As fast as I can, I dig up the lighter, but when I try to make it work there’s not even a spark. Scared of how angry Daddy will be, I shove it back into the hole and cover it with dirt. Not wanting to be caught, I run back into the trailer and hearing him whistling in the bathroom, I quickly rush into the bedroom. Frantically, I look for a place to hide, and when I hear the bathroom door creak open, I duck under the bed. Dust motes tickle my nose, and I place a hand over my face so I won’t sneeze.
“Where the fuck’s my lighter?” Daddy roars, and it scares me so badly I crawl further under the bed until I press against the wall. Seeing an old suitcase, I pry it open and squeeze myself inside it. Curling into a small ball so I can close the lid, I try to slow my breaths so he won’t hear me.
As the minutes tick by, my fear grows. Daddy’s gonna be so mad.
After a long time of hiding, I drift off to sleep, but when the suitcase moves, it startles me awake. The lid gets thrown open, and Daddy glares down at me with a mean look.
“You little fuckin’ cunt,” he hisses angrily. Grabbing hold of my arm, he hauls me out of my hiding place. “’Cause you like small spaces you can live in the fuckin’ closet.”
I start to shake my head and pull back against Daddy’s hold on me. My heart’s beating hard in my chest, and it makes my body tremble.
“No, Daddy. I’m sorry.”
He yanks the closet door open and forcefully shoves me inside. The smell of old shoes and dirty clothes fill the air. He slams the door shut and locks it, leaving me in the tiny, dark closet.
“Fuckin’ stuck with the kid ’cause the ole’ bitch croaked,” Daddy grumbles from the other side of the door. He slams his hand against the closet, then growls, “I’m gonna make you a skeleton like your momma ’cause you killed her. Fuckin’ evil little bitch.”
The words are scary, and I crawl to the corner of the closet. Shoes dig into my body, but as I hear him moving outside the door, I’m too scared to shove them away from me.
“Yeah, the evil cunt deserves to stay in the closet,” he chuckles darkly.
There are a few minutes of silence, and I strain my ears to hear where Daddy is when music comes from somewhere in the house.
The song is creepy, and I pinch my eyes shut, wondering when Daddy’s gonna give me a beating for being naughty.
There are different shades to black. There’s normal black, then there’s the kind where it’s so dark you see things.
Things children shouldn’t see.
You see the Boogeyman. It’s the one Daddy whispers about through the door. “Here comes the Boogeyman. The Boogeyman’s comin’ to get you.”
It’s so dark you see monsters in every speck of dust.
The Boogeyman’s real.
The Boogeyman’s my daddy, and every day he sings to me, “I’ve got a skeleton in the closet and she ain’t ever comin’ out.”



CHAPTER 1

‘oh, rattle them bones’

BIRDIE

(17 years old.)
“You almost ready, dear?” Mom calls.
“Yeah, just a second.” Sitting on the floor with my back against the side of the bed, I don’t miss the flash of sadness as Mom takes in the sweater I’m wearing.
“You sure you wanna wear that? It’s hot out. Why don’t you wear one of those pretty t-shirts we got you last week?” she tries again.
I know she’s looking out for me, and I love her for it, but I wish she’d let it go. This is what I want to wear, and it makes me feel better knowing my scars aren’t visible for the whole world to see.
It’s been twelve years since I was rescued and adopted by Pastor and Mrs. Liles, and even though my father is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence, the memory of him still haunts me every night.
“Nope, I’m good,” I mumble while sticking a picture on the page I’m busy with. I have a weird hobby of writing out the lyrics to every song I like then surrounding them with matching pictures. Today’s song is Cross That Line by Joshua Radin, and I’ve just finished sticking a picture of Cole Trenton next to it.
Ever since the day Cole stood up for me, I’ve had a crush on him. Grayson Chambers was just being his usual mean self and had me cornered against my locker. Cole yanked him back and told him to leave me be.
Yeah, that was the day I knew for sure I was in love with Cole. One look at his icy blue eyes and chocolate brown hair, and I was a goner. He’s the only one who’s able to stir a happy feeling inside of me.
“Good, let’s go then. We don’t want to keep the people waitin’,” Mom says, yanking me out of my thoughts.
I slip the page into a plastic sleeve and place it on my desk before running after Mom.
Usually, Clay and I take turns accompanying Dad and Mom when they go to visit one of the families from the church. I know Clay hates it so most of the time I end up going along. I can’t let them down after everything they’ve done for me. They took me in without asking for anything in return.
Personally, I feel Clay should make more of an effort. When his father went to jail for selling drugs, the Liles’ took him in. He was only nine and had nowhere else to go. Clay’s momma died when he was still a baby, and apparently, they couldn’t find anybody on his momma’s side to take him. That’s how he ended up under the Liles’ care. It was the same with me. My momma died when I was still a baby, and there’s no one left on her side of the family.
As I step out onto the porch, Dad gives me an encouraging smile. He knows I don’t like going along for the visits, but he appreciates it.
“Thanks, Kiddo. I owe you one,” he says as we walk toward the car. The only thing keeping the station wagon together is a ton of rust.
“I get to choose the next movie,” I say while getting into the back.
“It’s a deal,” he laughs.
Most of the town calls him Pastor Doug and loves him. I know I got lucky when they adopted me.
A few minutes later when Dad turns up the street Cole lives on, my heart begins to beat faster. Automatically, I start counting down the houses until we reach his, but instead of driving by, the car slows down.
Oh my gosh, we’re visiting the Trenton’s?
I’m not sure whether I should be excited or anxious. The mixture of feelings makes me clench my hands on my lap as my stomach tightens with nerves.
Most of the time I see Cole at school. This will be the first time I’ll actually be inside his house.
“The Trenton’s? We’re comin’ to the Trenton’s?” I ask from the back.
“Yes, and the Mason’s will also be here. You know the boys, don’t you, dear? They’re seniors from your school,” Mom replies, unaware of the mini nervous breakdown I’m about to have in the backseat.
“Yeah, they’re friends with Clay. I hardly ever talk to Cole and Hunter.”
A simple ‘hi’ is the most I’ve ever said to either of the boys. But it’s one thing to admire Cole at school where we’re surrounded by other people. It’s a different ball game when I have to be around him with no one to hide behind.
It’s not that I’m scared of being around Cole. Not at all. It’s just… what would I even say to him?
Ugh, I’ll probably only make a fool of myself.
“You’ll have fun. The evenings you never plan are the ones you enjoy most,” Dad says.
I love his sayings, but tonight they’re not going to be of much help. Maybe I can slip away when no one’s watching?
The front door opens, and Mr. Trenton steps out onto the porch.
When we’re out of the car and walking toward the front door, I peek out from where I’m hiding behind Mom, but the second I see Cole standing next to his dad, I quickly duck back.
I can’t hear anything above the blood rushing through my ears. Sucking in deep breaths, I try to calm my racing heart.
“Pastor Doug, thank you so much for comin’,” Mr. Trenton greets warmly.
Mom and Dad walk inside the house, and I have to force my feet forward. Climbing the stairs to the porch, I glance up and lose my breath when I see Cole waiting to close the door behind me.
Breathe, Birdie. Act calm.
“Hi, Birdie.” Cole shuts the door, and as he turns back to me with a crooked smile on his face, my mouth dries up.
“Hi.” It pretty much sounds like I sucked on a balloon filled with helium.
Following everyone to the living room, I’m incredibly aware of Cole walking right behind me. Glancing around the room, I notice the Mason’s sitting on a comfy looking couch. Mrs. Tenton gets up to greet us.
Before I can go to Mom’s side, Mr. Trenton says, “Cole, why don’t you show Bridget the entertainment area?”
My lips part and I stand frozen like a deer in oncoming traffic.
“Sure,” Cole says, then he places his hand on my lower back and my heart all but stops beating. “This way, Birdie.”
It’s a miracle when I manage to take a step without falling flat on my face.
Cole’s touching me.
I immediately feel self-conscious about the scars on the right side of my body, even though I know he can’t see them. Folding my right arm around my waist, I cover it with my left.
A chaotic mess of emotions spreads through me. I’m elated that Cole is touching me, but at the same time, I feel on edge because of the scars.
So far, I’ve been lucky, and only Mom and Dad know about my scars, but I know the day will come when I won’t be able to keep my ugly secret buried beneath layers of clothes any longer.
Cole steers me into a room, which looks twice the size of the living room. A pool table stands in the middle, and a TV is mounted on the left wall. On the right side, there is a floor to ceiling window and a sliding door which opens onto a patio, looking out over a big swimming pool.
The entertainment area is right next to the living room which makes me feel a little better, knowing that Mom and Dad are close by.
I remain standing just inside the door as Cole walks to where Hunter is sitting at a bar area.
“Hey, Birdie,” Hunter says, giving me a friendly smile.
I give him a lame wave as I shyly whisper, “Hi.”
For a moment I think about how my best friend, Reece is going to freak out when she hears I spent the night visiting with Cole and Hunter. She’s had a crush on Hunter for the longest time.
With Cole and Hunter graduating soon, next year is going to be very boring at school without them there.
My eyes drift back to Cole’s face, and when our gazes lock, a blush creeps up my neck.
“Would you like somethin’ to drink?” Cole asks.
Feeling awkward, I just shake my head. Interacting with people is really hard, but when it comes to Cole, it’s near impossible.
I freeze when Mrs. Trenton’s voice drifts into the entertainment room. “Bridget’s become quite the beauty under your care.”
Yep, I’m officially dying.
“She was such a tiny thing when she came to Lyman,” Mrs. Mason says.
Knowing Cole and Hunter can also hear what their mothers are saying, makes me feel like I’m spiraling from embarrassment right into a pit of mortification.
It’s no secret the Lyles’ adopted me. It’s what happened before I came to live with them that petrifies me, and I don’t want people talking about it.
“Pastor Doug, I just want to let you know how grateful we are for what you’re doing for the boys,” Mr. Mason says. My shoulders sag with relief, glad that they’re stepping off the topic of my appearance.
I watch as Cole pours a glass of coke, but can’t keep myself from listening in on the adult’s conversation.
“Of course,” Dad says. “It’s nothin’ I wouldn’t do for any of the other kids in the congregation.”
“You’re really the pillar of Lyman,” Mr. Trenton compliments Dad. “If you have any problems with Trevor Slater again, you just say the word, and I’ll sort him out.”
My world stops at hearing my father’s name.
Trevor Slater.
The Boogeyman.
All the blood drains from my face as the walls close in on me.
“Birdie?” I hear Cole’s voice as I turn around and rush towards the front door.
I don’t want to hear anything about my biological father. I’ll never be able to deal with how he tortured me.
I just need to get outside so I can get some fresh air. With every step I take my breathing speeds up, bringing me closer to a panic attack. After all these years, I still haven’t learned how to control the crippling waves of panic. My therapist says it will get better with time. I hope so because these suffocating feelings are awful.
“Birdie,” Dad calls out as I race through the living room. “Let me explain.”
I manage to take a few more steps when Mr. Trenton stands up. “Bridget, you weren’t supposed to hear that. Where’s Cole?”
The fact that Mr. Trenton knows about my father creeps through the anxiety. Why was he talking about my father? What does he know?
My need to know what’s going on overshadows the dreaded fear. I stop and turn back to the adults. “Why were you talkin’ about him?” My voice sounds thin, and I try to breathe faster as the darkness begins to creep up on me.
I can’t have a panic attack here. Not in front of all these people.
Dad takes a step toward me, a concerned look on his face. “It’s nothin’ to worry about, Birdie. He just tried to send you a letter, but we stopped him.”
“He did what?” I whisper horrified. “He knows where I am?”
“He can’t hurt you.” Dad takes another step toward me as terror slams hard into my chest, ripping the air right from my lungs. I turn and run as if I’m running from the devil himself.
He knows where I am. He’ll come for me. He’ll finish what he started all those years back. He’ll kill me this time.
I pull open the front door and take the porch steps in one jump. I race across the lawn to get to the road but only make it half-way when an arm wraps around my waist, and I’m yanked off my feet.
The person swings me around, and I come face to face with Cole, as he jogs towards us.
“I’ll take her, Hunter,” he says just as Hunter sets me back down on my feet.
All the adults follow right behind Cole. They stand on the porch with similar looks of concern on their faces, which only makes me feel more claustrophobic.
Cole’s fingers wrap around my wrist and only then does Hunter let go of me.
I take a step away from them and try to pull my arm free, but Cole doesn’t let go. Instead, he steps right into my personal space, and placing his other arm around my shoulders, he pulls me against his chest. Feeling how muscular and steady Cole’s body is against mine, I realize how badly I’m trembling.
I’m terrified that my father knows where I am but not wanting to have a total meltdown in front of Cole, I close my eyes and suck in deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself.
“I’ll stay outside with Birdie,” Cole calls to the others. “She just needs some air.”
“Birdie, will you be okay?” I hear Mom call.
Just needing some space so I can gain control over my rampant emotions, I nod.
When I hear the front door close, I take a step back from Cole, hating that the first time I got to be in his arms is tainted by my past, even if he was just holding me to comfort me.
Instead of making me go back inside, he says, “Let’s go for that walk.”
Cole reaches for my hand, and when his fingers interlace with mine, a firecracker explodes somewhere between my left lung and my heart, leaving my insides a chaotic mess.

 

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

Want to be up to date with what’s happening in Michelle’s world? Sign up to receive the latest news on her alpha hero releases, sales, and great giveaways → http://eepurl.com/cUXM_P

 

#ChapterReveal “Blessed Betrayal” by Livia Grant

She wanted happily ever after.

He thought he had it.

Underneath the perfect exterior of Calista Bennett’s marriage lay an ugly truth that threatens to drown her when she is betrayed.

Across town, Nickolas Mikos isn’t doing much better after his life is plunged into his new reality by his wife’s lies.

Life can change in the blink of an eye. Can Cali and Nick comfort each other’s raw pain enough to allow for a second chance at happiness, or will their fears and anger prevent them from uncovering the blessing in the betrayal?

I’m sorry, Cali. I know it isn’t what you wanted to hear, but the test was negative.”
Her hopeful apprehension morphed to dread. “Are you sure? Should we do another?”
Dr. Galloway smiled indulgently. “That won’t be necessary. The tests are very reliable. I’m sure you took one at home as well, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” Her dejected reply was barely a whisper.
“Then you already know taking it again would just be a waste.” The OBGYN doctor wheeled his rolling stool closer to the exam table to pat Cali’s knee in a fatherly way. “I know you and your husband are anxious to get your family started, but you’re only twenty-four. You have plenty of time. We have a lot of options we haven’t tried yet.”
Cali struggled to hold back her tears. How could she tell her kind doctor how important it was for her to get pregnant?
“I think it’s time for us to do testing on your husband. Since we haven’t found any smoking gun on your side of the equation, it’s time to take a look at Mr. Bennett’s sperm count and mobility. That will help me decide our next steps.”
“I don’t know about that, Dr. Galloway. Kevin is so busy with his job. He joined his father’s law firm last year and is working crazy hours. I doubt he can come in for an appointment.” Cali didn’t know how to tell the good doctor her husband had made it very clear giving him an heir was her responsibility, and the only help he planned contributing to the process was a ‘daily hard fuck.’ The array of bruises scattered across her body were proof he was living up to his hard promise.
Calista trembled as she realized her temporary veil of protection had fallen with the negative test result. Kevin was gentler with her during the weeks of the month she might be in the process of forming a fragile new life. For the last year, each month the results were negative, he not only deemed it his responsibility to punish her for failing him yet again, but he then proceeded to make up for lost time. The next two weeks of her life were going to be hell.
No. She couldn’t tell the kind doctor that.
“What would he have to do?”
“Us men have it pretty easy, to be honest,” the doctor grinned wolfishly. “You poor women get poked and prodded with all kinds of needles and drugs. Your husband just needs to come in and give us a deposit of his sperm. He’ll have a private room and will be able to bring along reading or viewing material he might need to help. All in all, the men have it pretty good in this deal.”
How right he was. “Okay, I’ll talk to him about it.”
“Sounds good. Keep your chin up. We’ve done a lot of tests, and I see no reason why you can’t get pregnant. It’s gonna happen when the time is right and not a minute before.”
“Thanks again, doctor.” She forced a smile to hide her growing sense of dread. “I’ll see you next time.”
As Calista redressed, she said a small prayer that Kevin would be in a good mood when he got home today. He’d been out of town on business the last two days. Since passing the bar exam, he’d been working eighty hours a week or more, and in truth, he was gone so much, it made her life less stressful most of the time. Unfortunately, he still checked in at home often enough to dump his dirty laundry and contribute his duty to operation ‘give me an heir.’
Sitting at a stop light on the drive home, Cali once again questioned why she stayed with her husband. He’d changed so much since they got married almost two years before. He had always been dominant… demanding. The problem was he’d begun to take the definition of dominant to a whole new level. Cali used to think of herself as a submissive. Lately, she felt more like a well-worn doormat.

Cali was just doing a final check of her makeup in the large vanity mirror when she heard the garage door opening one floor below. She had taken extra care in her preparations for tonight’s Bennett, Bennett, and Moore post-holiday party. She knew how important it was to her husband.
She may not have understood why Kevin had singled her out when they’d met during her senior year at the University of Virginia, but she certainly knew now. Cali had been flattered when the president of the university’s most prominent law organization had set his sights on her. As a final year law student, he’d been charming, sweeping her off her feet with gifts, assurances of love, and romantic gestures.
Now, a few years later, she knew what a mistake she had made believing a single word he’d said. He had made it abundantly clear after she had said her ‘I dos,’ she was his showpiece. His grandfather and father were managing partners in one of Washington D.C.’s most prestigious law firms, specializing in international tax law. The fact Kevin had the last name Bennett had assured her husband a top spot at the large firm straight out of law school. It also meant she was married to a man who had unlimited resources to make her life a living hell should she try to leave him. She ought to know. She had tried. Just once, a year ago. She’d learned first-hand as ugly as it was being married to him, trying to leave him was worse.
Cali had been lost in thought, missing his arrival in their master suite. She caught his reflection in the mirror as he stood in the doorway. Her stomach churned at the sight of his predatory glare that reminded her of a hunter, about to pounce on his prey.
“You’re as gorgeous as ever, my dear. I see you took my advice and wore red.” His words may have been complimentary, but they didn’t distract Cali from the danger just under the surface of his handsome exterior. He had proven his mood could change on a dime.
“Of course, I wore red. I didn’t think it was a suggestion, rather an order.”
“Of course, it was an order.” He took deliberate steps closer, never taking his eyes from her reflection. “But an obedient wife wouldn’t be so crass as to point out that distinction. I keep warning you, Calista. You’re being groomed. You’re not going to hear other partner’s wives talking in that tone tonight. You’d do well to watch and learn, my dear.”
He had stepped up behind her as she sat at the make-up mirror, resting his manicured hands on her bare shoulders. His touch was deceptively gentle. She never forgot how hard those hands could turn when he was angered which was why she had made it her new life’s mission to keep him as happy as possible. Just like a good little wife.
“Yes, sir. I’ll remember that.”
“You do that. What a shame. It looks like you’re almost ready. I had hoped to fit in a little exercise before we left for the party.”
She hated to exercise with her husband. It was his code word for delivering her ‘daily hard fuck.’ She had hoped he would delay at least until after the party if she was already dressed.
“I wanted to be ready when you got home. I know how much you hate to be late.”
“How thoughtful of you.” His steely blue eyes were cooling. “And here I was thinking it was because you didn’t want to tell me the results of your appointment this afternoon.”
Cali’s heart was thundering so hard, she felt the pounding in her ears. She froze with panic, made worse as Kevin’s hands slid from her shoulders to circle her throat, slowly constricting until she had to fight for her next breath. She pushed against the marble countertop in a feeble attempt to free herself from his grip, but he pressed her forward, making her thrashing futile. Her husband cut off her airflow until she began to see stars, finally releasing her while leaning down to whisper menacingly into her ear.
“You’re such a disappointment to me, Calista.”
Cali gasped, filling her lungs with precious air, hating the tears streaming down her cheeks from the exertion. Trails of dark mascara marred the reflection of the beautiful woman with long black hair staring back at her from the mirror.
“I only ask one thing of you.” His quiet rage was simmering hotter. “I plucked you out of poverty and gave you the life of a princess. Yet you insist on keeping that ridiculous job teaching other people’s children when what you should be focused on is providing me with the child I need to fulfill the requirements in my grandfather’s will. He hasn’t been well, and I’m going to hold you responsible if the old man kicks it before I have time to claim my share of the pie with an heir.”
Fear helped her fight down the urge to remind him she was trying to create a baby, not an heir. “I was disappointed too, Kevin. I was late this month, and I really did think we had a chance.” Cali should have stopped there. “Dr. Galloway wants you to make an appointment to come in to be tested as well. He needs your test results to decide what the next course of action should be.”
Cali knew immediately she had made a grave error. Kevin’s blue eyes had turned to ice, venom flowing from them.
“How dare you blame me for this, you bitch? You have one fucking job in this marriage, and when you can’t get it done, you decide to put the blame on me?”
“No… that’s not… I mean it’s just…” Her voice quavered. “It’s a formality, that’s all. The doctor does this with all couples who have problems conceiving.”
He wasn’t placated. “Like I have time to go in to be poked and prodded. I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn into a pin cushion because you can’t do your job.”
She wanted to scream that everyone knew it took two to create a child, but she wisely kept that retort to herself.
“He promised you wouldn’t be poked or prodded. It’s easy for the men. You’ll just need to give a sperm sample.”
“Ah, is that all? I just need to go jack off behind some lame curtain like a lab rat? Well, no thanks. I provide sperm samples each and every day I fuck you. In fact, I missed a day yesterday. I think you need a reminder of exactly how frequently I have provided sperm samples in this marriage.”
She should have been prepared, but she hadn’t expected things to escalate so quickly. Kevin gripped her biceps in a vice grip and yanked her to her feet just long enough to smash her body forward. She was sprawled across the marble countertop, her forehead smashed against the oversized mirror. Cali squeezed her eyes closed, trying to shut out the vision of her husband’s icy eyes as she felt him flipping the skirt of her dress over her back just before he ripped the lacy underwear from her body. He insisted she wear stockings and garter belts with skirts, so she was now bare.
It only took him a few seconds to fumble with his zipper before she felt his hard erection spring free. It was inside her in one hard thrust. She was grateful she’d been careful to lube both her pussy and ass thoroughly after her shower. She had learned the hard way to make sure her body was prepared at a moment’s notice to take Kevin’s punishing cock.
She tried so hard to hold back the scream but failed miserably. His responding chuckle reminded her she was married to a sadist.
As he set a fast pace, Cali’s fight turned internal. As much as her brain hated what he did to her and how he made her feel, there was no denying her body betrayed her time and again. Kevin liked to use the natural lubrication flowing copiously from her body as proof she actually liked to be treated like his punching bag. Cali may have started to hate her husband, but she hated her own body more.
He fucked her like a machine, pistoning her to her first humiliating climax. She lay limp across the counter, receiving all he gave her, his ridiculing laughter only raising her humiliation. She was too lost in her orgasmic fog to recognize the few second intermission in the action. The piercing pain of his cock shoved balls-deep in her lubed rectum consumed her. She barely made out his grunting words.
“Lucky you lubed yourself. This would have hurt like a bitch if you’d forgotten.”
Cali lay boneless, receiving her hard fuck of the day, knowing it was unfortunately early enough there was a good chance he might go for round two when they got home from the party. She had learned the trick to surviving this particular exercise was to relax into it. Her husband had grabbed her hips, gripping her hard enough, she was sure he was leaving fresh bruises over the faded ones from past exercise sessions.
They were in a race. Her body was beginning to betray her again. She couldn’t fight him, but she went to work, waging war against herself, trying desperately to hold back her orgasm, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of dragging it from her.
He didn’t play fair. He leaned down and pressed his chest to her back. She wasn’t fooled into thinking he wanted the added intimacy of their sweaty skin caressing each other. No. He only did this so he could reach her clit with his left hand. He wasn’t trying to bring her satisfaction, rather humiliation as her body exploded into another strong climax. He joined her a minute later, collapsing on her, almost cutting off her breath again. He added salt to her wounds as she lay recovering.
“That’s the only good thing about you not being pregnant. We have a few weeks before I need to start making deposits in your pussy again. I do love taking this ass of yours. It’s nice and tight, just the way I like it.” He pulled out as abruptly as he had inserted, slapping her ass with his open palm while stepping away from her. “I’m gonna take a shower. Put yourself back together. We’ll leave in thirty minutes.”
He didn’t wait for her answer. He didn’t need to. He knew she was too afraid to do anything but what he asked.

USA Today bestselling author Livia Grant lives in Chicago with her husband and furry rescue dog named Max. She is fortunate to have been able to travel extensively and as much as she loves to visit places around the globe, the Midwest and its changing seasons will always be home. Livia’s readers appreciate her riveting stories filled with deep, character driven plots, often spiced with elements of BDSM.

 

 

 

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#ChapterReveal “Shameless (Enemies to Lovers #5)” by Michelle Horst

RHETT

Evie Cole. She’s the one person I can’t figure out.
People say they love you, but what they really mean is that they love how you make them feel about themselves, or what they can take from you.
I can’t leave her on the streets, so I make her a deal she can’t refuse. It buys me the time I need to figure out whether Evie is the real deal or just another gold-digger.
The day Evie graduates, she breaks all contact with me, which proves that she was only in it for the money.
At least, that’s what I think, until random payments are made to my bank account.

EVIE

Rhett Daniels. My hero, who saved me from a life on the street. My unrequited love, who will sleep with every girl but me.
His playful smile and humorous façade might fool others, but not me. I see myself in his eyes.
He only has one rule.
He’ll pay for my education, giving me a chance to become independent. All I have to do is keep my clothes on which also means no dating.
I hate being his charity case, but I tell myself it will only be until I graduate. I will find a way to pay him back.
The worst part is that I fell in love with him.
Hoping to forget the one man I can never have, I move to the other side of the country. I’m determined to make it on my own, but things don’t always work out the way we want them to.

Rhett Daniels & Evie Cole ~ Book 5 in the Enemies To Lovers Series

This is book #5 in the Enemies To Lovers Series. Each book in the series is about a different couple. To get the full experience of their friendship, I’d recommend that you start with Heartless

EVIE



(Seventeen years old.)

Having done my chores for the day, I drag my tired body to the bedroom I share with Sandra and Wendy. Sandra will be back from work at three am, and Wendy is already fast asleep. Sandra is two weeks older than me and started working last week when she turned eighteen. She’s moving to Moonlight Ranch tomorrow.
Just thinking about what the future holds for me sends a shiver of disgust rippling through me. I only have one week left before I have to start working at that hellhole, as well.
Eric and Charlotte are cunning and deceitful. They’ve mastered the art of fooling welfare services whenever they come to do an inspection. The house is always neat, and they make sure that no business takes place on the premises. Everything happens at the ranch, and only at night. During the day it functions as just another cattle ranch. Most of the boys who come to live here are lucky as they get to work on the ranch during the day. Although, the attractive ones get handpicked by Charlotte to work at night alongside all the girls.
From the outside, everything looks normal. Eric and Charlotte regularly donate and are respected by the community. I’ve learned that money can buy a lot of things. Hell, they even had me fooled when I first came to live with them. I thought I was one of the lucky ones when I got placed with the Williams family. I was only thirteen and still held onto hope that I would find a family I could call my own.
Instead of a family, I found monsters who use us for cheap labor, and once you turn eighteen, you’re forced to become a sex worker.
Eric and Charlotte can sweet talk anyone into believing they’re saints. They’re smart, never letting their perverted clients touch any of the underage girls. But once we turn eighteen, all bets are off. You either start working for them, or you’re out on the cold street without a second thought. It still surprises me how many girls choose to stay.
Even though I’m tired, I can’t fall asleep. Since Sandra starting working, I’ve been spending my nights worrying about my eighteenth birthday.
I’m planning to run away. It’s all I can do to save myself from a life as a prostitute. I shudder with revulsion just thinking about some perverted old man touching me.
So far I’ve managed to hide some food behind the washing machine. Once I’m living on the street, I know the food won’t last long, but right now my biggest concern is where I’ll live. I’m scared to death of being homeless, but it’s nothing compared to the fear of having countless men use my body any way they want to for the rest of my life.
I have no other choice but to run away.
Feeling hopeless and terrified of what my future holds in store for me, I curl into a small bundle.


∞∞∞

Alienated. It’s the only word which describes how I feel. Unloved and disregarded by life, I wonder why I was born if I’m meant to be snubbed by everyone? People either look right through me or glare at me with disdain.
My first week on the streets I was too scared to even sleep. Every person that crossed my path was a potential threat. Up until a few weeks ago, being raped was my biggest fear. I was wrong. Loneliness has become my greatest fear by far. I was never close to any of the other children who were taken in by Eric and Charlotte, but at least I wasn’t alone while I lived there.
There’s not a single person who cares about me. I could disappear from the face of the planet, and no one would notice.
I might as well not exist. The realization is devastating. It’s been hitting me with one crippling blow after another when I least expect it. The thought will wake me minutes after I’ve drifted off, or slam into me while I’m walking down the street.
The only reminder I have that I’m alive is my aching stomach. I can’t remember the last decent meal I ate. The food I stole before I ran away was taken on my second day out here. I had hidden it behind a dumpster while I was looking for work. When I returned to the alley where I thought I’d be able to stay until I managed to find a job, two men were going through my things, dividing it all among themselves. They were much bigger than me, and fearing for my life, I had no choice but to leave with only the bag I had with me, and run.
Desperation shudders through me and for a moment I think about searching through the dumpsters near restaurants, but then I remember the beating I got when I accidentally trespassed on another homeless man’s area. That’s another thing I quickly learned. Deprivation makes savages of people. On the streets, you’ll be ripped apart if you so much as look at another person.
I hunch forward, hugging my arms around my waist as I try and fight off the chill. I tried to sneak into the library’s bathroom, but security caught me. I was thrown out with a harsh warning. It could’ve been worse. I was lucky they didn’t have me arrested. I also tried to walk up and down the aisles of shops that stayed open during the night, but it became unbearable. Seeing all that food and not being able to eat it was pure torture.
I’ve thought about going back to Eric and Charlotte, but when I think of what I’ll be going back to, I’d rather die. Being at the mercy of a pimp and his whore, I only had two options. Either I get busy spreading my legs to earn my keep, or I leave. I’ve always known that day was coming, but nothing prepared me for how dangerous it is living on the streets is.
I look up at the sign that reads Double D’s Cleaning Services. Saying a silent prayer, I open the door and walk into the reception area. If I don’t get a job soon, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m reaching the point where I’m so desperate that I’ll even take a job as a stripper.

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

Want to be up to date with what’s happening in Michelle’s world? Sign up to receive the latest news on her alpha hero releases, sales, and great giveaways → http://eepurl.com/cUXM_P

#ChapterReveal “P.S. I Hate You” by Winter Renshaw

Dear Isaiah,

Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.

But you did notice.

We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.

I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.

But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.

To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.

Almost.

Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.

Maritza the Waitress

PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.

Maritza

“Welcome to Brentwood Pancake and Coffee. I’m Maritza and I’ll be your server,” I greet my millionth customer of the morning with the same old spiel. This one, a raven-haired, honey-eyed Adonis, waited over seventy minutes for a table by a window, though I suppose in LA time that’s the blink of an eye.
He doesn’t so much as acknowledge me.
“Just you today?” I ask, eyeing the empty chair across from him. The breakfast rush is about to end, and lucky for him, I only have one other table right now.
He doesn’t answer, but maybe he doesn’t hear me?
“Coffee?” I ask another obvious question. I mean, the diner is called Brentwood Pancake and Coffee for crying out loud. Everyone comes here for the coffee and plate-sized pancakes, and it’s considered a Class-D felony to order anything else.
Placing his mug right side up on his saucer, he pushes it toward me and I begin to pour. Waving his hand, he stops me when the cup is three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he adds two creams and one half of a sugar packet, but the way he moves is methodical, rigid. With intention.
“Ma’am, this really can’t be that interesting,” he says under his breath, his spoon clinking against the sides of the porcelain mug after he stirs.
“Excuse me?”
“You’re standing here watching me,” he says. Giving the spoon two final taps against the rim of the mug, he then rests it on the saucer before settling his intense amber gaze in my direction. “Isn’t there another table that needs you?”
His eyes are warm like honey but his stare is cold, piercing. Unrelenting.
“You’re right. There is.” I clear my throat and snap out of it. If I was lingering, it wasn’t my intention, but this I’m-sexy-and-I-know-it asshole didn’t need to call me out on it. Sue me for being a little distracted. “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute, okay?”
With that, I leave him alone with his menu and his coffee and his foul mood and his brooding gaze … and his broad shoulders … and his full lips … and I get back to work, stopping at table four to see if Mr. and Mrs. Carnavale need refills on their house blend decafs.
By the time I top them off, I draw in a cleansing breath and head back to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Douche-y, forcing a smile on my face.
“We ready to order?” I ask, pulling my pen from behind my ear and my notepad from my Kelly-green apron.
He folds his menu, offering it to me despite the fact that my hands are full, but I manage to slip it under my arm without dropping anything.
“Two pancakes,” he says. “Eggs. Scrambled. Rye toast. Butter. Not margarine.”
“I’m so sorry.” I point to a sign above the cash register that clearly reads ONE PANCAKE PER PATRON – NO EXCEPTIONS.
He squints, his expression calcifying when he reads it.
“So that’s one pancake, scrambled eggs, and buttered rye toast then,” I recite his order.
“What kind of bullshit rule is that?” He checks his watch, like he has somewhere to be.
Or like he doesn’t have the time for a rule that I entirely agree is pure bullshit.
“These pancakes are huge. I promise one will be more than enough.” I try to deescalate the situation before it gets out of hand because it’s never pretty when management has to get involved. The owners of the diner are strict as hell on this policy and their day shift manager is even more so. She’ll happily inform any and all disgruntled customers there’s a reason the “pancake” in Brentwood Pancake and Coffee is singular and not plural.
I’ve seen many a diner walk out of here and never return over this stupid policy and our Yelp review average is in the dumps, but somehow it never seems to be bad for business. The line is perpetually out the door and down the block every weekend morning without fail, and sometimes even on weekdays. These pancakes are admittedly as delicious and more than own up to their reputation, but that stupid rule is nothing more than clever marketing designed to inflate demand.
“And what if I’m still hungry?” he asks. “Can I order a second?”
Wincing, I shake my head.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He sits up a little, jaw clenching. “It’s a goddamned pancake for fuck’s sake.”
“Not just any pancake,” I say with a practiced smile. “It’s a Brentwood pancake.”
“Are you trying to be cute with me, ma’am?” he asks, directing his attention at me, though he isn’t flirting. His nostrils flare a little and I can’t help but let my mind wander the tiniest bit about how sexy he looks when he’s angry—despite the fact that I would never so much as entertain the idea of getting down and dirty with an asshole like this.
He’s hot AF but I don’t do jerks. Plain and simple.
I’d have to be drunk. Like, really drunk. And I’d have to be desperate. And even then … I don’t know. He’s got some kind of chip on his shoulder, and no amount of sexiness would be able to distract me from that.
“Let me put your order in, okay?” I ask with a smile so forced my cheeks hurt. They say good moods are contagious, but I’m starting to think this guy might be immune.
“As long as it’s the full order, ma’am,” he says, lips pressing flat as he exhales. I don’t know why he keeps calling me “ma’am” when I’m clearly younger than he is. Hell, I couldn’t legally drink until three years ago.
I am not a “ma’am.”
“The cook won’t make two,” I say with an apologetic tone before biting my bottom lip. If I play it coy and helpless maybe he’ll back down a little? It works. Sometimes.
“Then it’s for my guest,” he points to the empty seat across from him. His opposite hand is balled into a fist, and I can’t help but notice his watch is programmed in military time, “who happens to be showing up later.”
“We don’t serve guests until they’re physically here,” I say. Yet another one of the restaurant’s strict policies. Too many patrons have tried to use that loophole over the years, so they had to close it. But they didn’t just close it—they battened the hatches with hurricane-proof glass by way of a giant security monitor in the kitchen. They even make the cooks check the screen before preparing orders, just to make sure no one’s breaking the rules.
The man drags his hand through his dark hair, which I’m realizing now is a “regulation cut.”
Military.
I bet he’s military.
Has to be. The hair. The watch. The constant swearing juxtaposed with the overuse of the word “ma’am.” He reminds me of my cousin Eli who spent ten years in the U.S. army, and if he’s anything else like Eli, he’s not going to let up about this.
Exhaling, I place my palm gently on his shoulder despite the fact that we’re not supposed to put hands on the guests for any reason, but this guy is tense and his muscled shoulders are just begging for a gentle touch.
“Just … bear with me, okay?” I ask. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The man serves our country. He fights for our freedom. Despite the fact that he’s unquestionably a giant asshole, he at least deserves a second pancake.
I’m going to have to get creative.
Heading back to the kitchen, I put his order in and check on the Carnavales one more time. On my way to the galley to refill my coffee pot, I pass a table full of screaming children, one of which has just shoved his giant pancake on the floor, much to his gasping mother’s dismay.
Bending, I retrieve the sticky circle from the floor and place it back on his plate.
“Would you like the kitchen to fix another?” I ask. They’re lucky. This is the only time they’ll make an exception, and I’ll have to present the dirty pancake as proof.
The child screams and I can barely hear what the mother is trying to say. Glancing around the table, I spot five little minions under the age of eight, all of them dressed in Burberry, Gucci, and Dior. The inflated-lipped mother sports a shimmering, oversized rock on her left ring finger and the father has his nose buried in his phone.
But I’m not one to judge.
LA is lacking child-friendly restaurants of the quality variety, and it’s not like Mr. Chow or The Ivy would welcome their noisy litter with open arms. I don’t even think they have high chairs there.
“I don’t want a pancake!” The oldest of the tanned, flaxen-haired gremlins screams in his mother’s face, turning her flawless complexion a shade of crimson that almost matches her pristine Birkin bag.
“Just … just take it away,” she says, flustered, her palm sprawling her glassy, Botoxed forehead.
Nodding, I take the ‘cake back to the kitchen, only I stop when I reach the galley, grabbing a stack of cloth napkins and hiding the plate beneath it. As soon as my military patron finishes his first pancake, I’ll run this back to the kitchen and claim he accidentally dropped it on the floor.
“Order up!” one of the line guys calls from the window, and I head over to see my military man’s breakfast is hot and ready—though I may have accidentally moved it to the front of the ticket line when no one was looking because I don’t have the energy to deal with him freaking out if his breakfast is taking too long.
Grabbing his plate, I rush it out to him, delivering it with a smile and a sweet, “Can I get you anything else right now?”
His gaze drops to his food and then lifts to me.
“I know,” I say, palm up. “Just … trust me. I’ll take care of you.”
I wink, partially disgusted with myself. He has no idea how difficult it is for me to be accommodating to him when he’s treating me like this. I’d love nothing more than to pour a steaming hot pitcher of coffee into his lap, but out of respect and appreciation—and only respect and appreciation—for his service, I won’t resort to such a thing.
Plus, I work for tips. I kind of have to be accommodating. And lord knows I need this job. I may be living in my grandmother’s gorgeous guesthouse, but believe me, she charges rent.
Free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.
He peers down his straight nose, stabbing the tines of his polished fork into a chunk of fluffy scrambled egg.
He doesn’t say thank you—not surprising—and I tell him I’ll be back to check on him in a little while before making my way to the galley where another server, Rachael, is also seeking respite.
“That table with the screaming kids,” I ask, “that yours?”
She blows her blonde bangs off her forehead and rolls her eyes. “Yup.”
“Better you than me,” I tease. Rachael’s got three of her own at home. She’s good with kids and she always seems to know the right thing to say to distract them or thwart a total meltdown.
“I’ll trade you,” she says. “The family for the dimples at table four.”
“He has dimples?” I peek my head out, staring toward my military man.
“Oh, God, yes,” she says. “Deep ones. Killer smile, too. Thought maybe he was some model or actor or something, but he said he was an army corporal.”
“We can’t be talking about the same guy. He hasn’t so much as half-smiled at me and he’s already told you what he does for a living?”
“Huh.” Rachael lifts a thin red brow, like she’s wondering if we’re talking about two different people. “He asked me how I was doing earlier and smiled. Thought he was real friendly.”
“That one. Right there. Dark hair? Golden eyes? Muscles bulging out of his gray t-shirt?” I do a quick point before retracting my finger.
She takes another look. “Yeah. That’s him. You don’t forget a face like that. Or biceps like that …”
“Weird.” I fold my arms, staring his way and wondering if maybe he has a thing against girls like me. Though I’m pretty ordinary compared to most girls out here. Average height. Average weight. Brown hair. Brown eyes.
Maybe I remind him of an ex?
I’m mid-thought when out of nowhere he turns around, our eyes catching like he knew I was watching. Reaching for a hand towel in front of me, I glance down and try to act busy by wiping up a melted ice cube on the galley counter.
“Busted.” Rachael elbows me before heading out to check on the Designer family. I swat her on the arm as she passes, and then I give myself a second to regain my composure. As soon as the warmth has left my cheeks, I head out to check on him, relieved to find his pancake demolished, not a single, spongey scrap left behind. In fact, his entire meal is finished … coffee and all.
Reaching for his plate, he stops me, his hand covering mine, and then our eyes lock.
“Why were you staring at me over there?” he asks. The way he looks at me is equal parts invasive and intriguing, like he’s studying me, forming a hard and fast opinion, but also like he’s checking me out which makes zero sense because his annoyance with me practically oozes out of his perfect, tawny physique.
“I’m sorry?” I play dumb.
“I saw you. Answer the question.”
Oh, god. He’s not going to let this go. Something tells me I should’ve taken Rachael up on her offer to trade tables. This one’s been nothing but trouble since the moment I poured his coffee.
My mouth falls and I’m not sure what to say. Half of me knows I should probably utter some kind of nonsense most likely to appease him so he doesn’t complain to my manager, but the other half of me is tired of being nice to a man who has the decency to ask another waitress how her day is going and can’t even bring himself to treat his own server like a human being.
“You were talking about me with that other waitress,” he says. His hand still covers mine, preventing me from exiting this conversation.
Exhaling, I say, “She wanted to trade tables.”
His dark brow arches and he studies my face.
“And then she said you had dimples,” I expand. “She said you smiled at her earlier … I was just thinking about why you’d be so polite to her and not me.”
He releases me and I stand up straight, tugging my apron into place before smoothing my hands down the front.
“She handed me a newspaper while I waited. She didn’t have to do that,” he says, lips pressing flat. “Give me something to smile about and I’ll smile at you.”
The audacity of this man.
The heat in my ears and the clench in my jaw tells me I should walk away now if I want to preserve my esteemed position as morning server here at Brentwood Pancake and Coffee, but it’s guys like him …
I try to say something, but all the thoughts in my head are temporarily nonsensical and flavored with a hint of rage. A second later, I manage a simple yet gritted, “Would you like me to grab your check, sir?”
“No,” he says without pause. “I’m not finished with my breakfast yet.”
We both glance at his empty plates.
“More eggs?” I ask.
“No.”
I can’t believe I’m about to do this for him, but at this point, the sooner I get him out of here, the better. I mean, at this point I’m doing it for myself, let’s be real.
“One moment.” I take his empty dishes to the kitchen before sneaking into the galley and grabbing that kid’s dirty pancake. My pulse whooshes in my ears and my body is lit, but I forge ahead, returning to the pick-up window and telling one of the cooks that my customer at table twelve dropped his ‘cake on the floor.
He glances at the plate, then to the security monitor, then back to me before taking it out of my hands and exchanging it for a fresh one. It’s a verifiable assembly line back there, just a bunch of guys in hairnets and aprons standing around a twenty-foot griddle, spatulas in each hand.
“Thanks, Brad,” I say. Making my way back to my guy, I stop to check on the Carnavales, only their table is already being bussed and Rachael tells me she took care of their check because they were in a hurry.
Shit.
“Here you are.” I place the plate in front of my guy.
He glances up at me, honeyed eyes squinting for a moment. I wink, praying he doesn’t ask questions.
“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” I ask, wishing I could add, “just don’t ask for another pancake because I’ll be damned if I risk my job for an ingrate like you ever again.”
“Coffee, ma’am. I’d like another cup of coffee.” He reaches for his glass syrup carafe, pouring sticky sweet, imported-from-Vermont goodness all over his steaming pancake, and I try not to watch as he forms an “x” and then a circle.
Striding away, I grab a fresh carafe of coffee and return to top him off, stopping at three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he glances up at me, his full lips pulling up at the sides, revealing the most perfect pair of dimples I’ve ever seen … as if the past twenty minutes have all been some kind of joke and he was only busting my chops by being the world’s biggest douche lord.
But just like that, it disappears.
His pearly, dimpled smirk is gone before I get the chance to fully appreciate how kind of a soul he appears to be when he’s not all tense and surly.
“Glad I finally gave you a reason to smile.” I’m teasing. Sort of. And I gently rub his shoulder, which is still tight as hell. “Anything else I can get you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take my check.”
Thank. God.
I can’t get it fast enough. Within a minute, I’ve punched my staff ID into the system, printed his ticket, shoved it into a check presenter, and rushed it to his table. His debit card rests on the edge when I arrive, as if I’d taken too long and he grew tired of holding it in his hand.
He’s just as anxious to leave as I am to get him out of here. Guess that marks the one and only thing that puts us on the same page.
“I’ll be right back with this,” I tell him. His card—plain navy plastic with the VISA logo in the lower corner and NAVY ARMY CREDIT UNION along the top—bears the name “Isaiah Torres.”
When I return, I hand him a neon purple gel pen from my pocket and gather his empty dishes.
“Thank you for the …” he points at the sticky plate in my hand as he signs his check. “For that.”
“Of course,” I say, avoiding eye contact because the sooner I can pretend he’s already gone, the better. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Asshole.
Glancing up, I spot our hostess, Maddie, flagging me down and mouthing that I have three new tables. Great. Thanks to this charmer, I’ve disappointed the Carnavales, risked my job, and kept several tables waiting all within the span of a half hour.
Isaiah signs his check, closes the leather binder, and slides out of his booth. When he stands, he towers over me, peering down his nose and holding my gaze captive for what feels like a single, endless second.
For a moment, I’m so blinded by his chiseled jaw and full lips, that my heart misses a couple of beats and I almost forget our little exchange.
“Ma’am, if you’ll kindly excuse me,” he says as I realize I’m blocking his path.
I step aside, and as he passes, his arm brushes against mine and the scent of fresh soap and spicy aftershave fills my lungs. Shoving the check presenter in my apron, I tend to my new tables before rushing back to start filling drinks.
Glancing toward the exit, I catch him stopping in the doorway before slowly turning to steal one last look at me for reasons I’ll never know, and it isn’t until an hour later that I finally get a chance to check his ticket. Maybe I’d been dreading it, maybe I’d purposely placed it in the back of my mind, knowing full well he was going to leave me some lousy, slap-in-the-face tip after everything I’d done for him. Or worse: nothing at all.
But I stand corrected.
“Maritza, what is it?” Rachael asks, stopping short in front of me, hands full of strategically stacked dirty dishes.
I shake my head. “That guy … he left me a hundred-dollar tip.”
Her nose wrinkles. “What? Let me see. Maybe it’s a typo?”
I show her the tab and the very clearly one and two zeroes on the tip line. The total confirms that the tip was no typo.
“I don’t understand. He was such an ass,” I say under my breath. “This is like, what, five hundred percent?”
“Maybe he grew a conscience at the last minute?” Her lips jut forward.
I roll my eyes. “Whatever it was, I just hope he never comes here again. And if he does, you get him. There isn’t enough tip money in the world that would make me want to serve that arrogant prick again. I don’t care how hot he is.”
“Gladly.” Her mouth pulls wide. “I have this thing for generous pricks with dashing good looks.”
“I know,” I say. “I met your last two exes.”
Rachael sticks her tongue out before prancing off, and I steal one last look at Isaiah’s tip. It’s not like he’s the first person ever to bestow me with such plentiful gratuity—this is a city where cash basically grows on trees—it’s just that it doesn’t make sense and I’ll probably never get a chance to ask him why.
Exhaling, I get back to work.
I’ve worked way too damn hard to un-complicate my life lately, and I’m not about to waste another thought on some complicated man I’m never going to see ever again.

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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#ChapterReveal “Taking It Slow (Doing Bad Things Book 3)” by Jordan Marie


A bottle of tequila

10 lime wedges

1 sexy blonde

Add in a crazy Vegas weekend

Lick and Swallow.

What do you get? A recipe for disaster.

Titan

Last night I got married.

I think.

I’m not exactly sure.

I was drunk off my ass, so it’s not exactly crystal clear.

But, I woke up with a ring on my finger, a marriage certificate, and a sneaking suspicion I had a wild wedding night.

Oh, and a bride who is long gone.

Apparently, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay here. Sometimes it takes off running.

But a runaway bride is the least of my problems.

Now I’m chasing after my runaway bride with divorce on my mind.

What could go wrong?

Besides everything.

This is book 3 in the series, but is self-contained and can be read as a standalone.

HEA inside and absolutely no cheating of any kind.

Faith



I whimper when the damn ping of my phone won’t hush. I squint, opening one eye—and one eye only.

Sweet Jesus on a turnip truck, I drank way too much last night. I warned Hope I didn’t do weddings. I hate them. She was in Vegas, everyone knows you do the deed at a quicky drive-thru chapel somewhere and get it done—if you are ever crazy enough to say “I do.”

I won’t… ever.

Slowly the room begins to come into a focus… it’s a blurry focus, but still.

The first thing I notice is everything hurts.

Even my hair.

Definitely had too much to drink. The second thing I notice is I’m not in my one-room apartment, lying on my broken-down, never comfortable, probably ruining my back forever, futon.

I’m in a bed. A really soft bed. I’m also in what appears to be a very fancy room. A room with entirely too much sunshine coming in through the windows. My gaze immediately goes to the open glass doors that lead out to a balcony. When I look around I can see I’m not only in a strange hotel room, I’m in one that costs bank.

Lots of bank.

Then, I just happen to notice the crumpled wedding dress on the concrete floor of the balcony.

That’s when panic begins, as memories flood through my mind.

Memories of the night before.

Of course, it might not be the crumpled dress that brings those back quite as much as the huge leg—not that leg—wrapped over mine, the arm currently wrapped across my stomach and the third leg—yes, that “leg”—pushing against my ass.

I look down at the milk chocolate beast of an arm and I swear the female bits between my legs tingle as memories of the night before flood through me. Memories of… Titan. I have the strongest urge to wiggle against the semi-aroused cock pressing against my ass, but I don’t. I hold myself really still.

Because I’m in the middle of the biggest panic attack ever.

I can’t remember all of what I did last night. It’s a blur of devil’s juice, eating the worm—disgusting, by the way, and I may never drink tequila again—and sex… so much sex.

Sex everywhere. Bed, floor, shower, closet—don’t ask—and against the wall. Sex against the floor-to-ceiling window with my ass mooning the strip, but… sex on that balcony after I was stripped of my wedding dress is the one that sticks in my mind. Sex where I hung over the concrete balcony screaming, “Fuck me, harder, Big Daddy,” while Titan did indeed fuck me harder for everyone and anyone to see. There are other balconies close by. I can’t be entirely sure who saw us… or who we may have scarred forever.

Because, let’s face it, sex in real life is never like the porn movies.

I slide out of the bed an inch at a time—panic making my heart slam against my chest so loud I want to cry, because my head hurts like hell. Titan grumbles but flops over on his back, still asleep. I stand there looking down at him and I can’t move.

He’s that beautiful.

His arms are slung out on each side of him, his head turned to the side, his well-trimmed goatee and beautiful, thick lips making my knees weak. The sheet is tangled in his feet and his dick is obviously alert, even if the rest of him isn’t.

The sight of his dick makes me glad I was drunk last night.

Lord have mercy on me, a poor sinner girl… He’s huge. I take a step toward it before I can stop myself. It’s bobbing up in the air like it’s nodding at me. It’s wide, as in—thick as hell. How many women has this man sent running from the room in fear—that kind of thick. I’ve seen a few dicks—I’m not a whore or anything—not counting last night—but I have, and this one is in a class all by itself. And he’s long. I don’t have a tape measure on hand, and I wouldn’t risk waking Titan up for it, but this man could be the pink unicorn of dicks. He could actually be a foot long. He might not be, but it would not surprise me. I back away when Titan grunts in his sleep. Each step I take hurts, only adding credence to Titan’s dick. Damn, I might not walk right for a month.

I run bare-ass naked to the balcony. It’s early, the sun is shining, but the Vegas heat hasn’t raised its evil head yet. I’m definitely going to have to soak my poor abused body soon, however. I can feel where Titan has drilled—so to speak—with each step. I grab the wedding dress and step into it, trying to remain bent over so I cover my body. I might not have been shy last night in my tequila haze, but I don’t have that luxury today. I shove my hands through the dress, rising up so I can zip it—when I hear a throat clearing. I look behind me and see a man standing on a balcony behind me, grinning.

He’s older, as in probably Uncle Jansen’s age, and he’s wearing a cowboy hat. He’s sexy, but not my style.

“Morning,” he smirks, his Texan accent strong.

I give him a tight smile over my shoulder and then reach behind me to zip up the dress and hide my ass from the guy—even if it is a little too late. Walking back into the room, I look around for my shoes. I see some empty condom wrappers—thank you Jesus! I also see an empty bottle of tequila and Titan’s clothes.

Titan Marsh… pro football player, a hell of a good time in bed, and … my husband.

That last part makes me cringe. I don’t want a husband. He didn’t want a wife. We discussed that numerous times while drinking tequila and gambling the night away. How we ended up in that all-night Elvis wedding chapel, I don’t remember exactly. But I clearly remember saying “I do” and twirling my hips like Elvis when he proclaimed us husband and wife. I also remember turning to Titan and demanding—in my best Meg Ryan voice—to take me to bed or lose me forever.

He did take me to bed, but he didn’t get the whole Top Gun reference. I get the feeling Titan isn’t a big movie buff.

I look around for a few more minutes and pick up my veil, looking at the white converse tennis shoes and frowning. I wore tennis shoes to my wedding?

Whatever.

I put them on and lace them up quickly. Just as I’m heading out the door, I find a blue flowered garter. It’s on the entry table. I pick it up and start to stuff it into my pocket, but the dress doesn’t have pockets.

I look back at Titan and then down to the gold band on my hand. I walk back toward him, still feeling him between my legs with each step I make. I clutch the garter tightly in my hand. As I look down at the sleeping man, with the dick that apparently never sleeps, I only know one thing. I don’t want to be married.

He’s damn good in bed, though.

Decision made, I toss my garter toward his dick. It snags on the wide head, and lands at an angle. Titan’s hand comes down and he cups his balls before scratching them. I watch, my mouth falling open and my eyes widening in shock.

When the garter decides to fall down the long shaft of his dick I have to fight back a giggle. Then I hightail it out of the room. I don’t stop to think, I don’t stop to take in the strange stares I’m getting from the people in the elevator or in the lobby. I head straight for the door.

A QUIRKY WRITER GOING WHERE THE VOICES TAKE HER.
USA Today Best Selling Author Jordan Marie, is just a simple small town country girl who is haunted by Alpha Men who talk in her head 24 hours a day.

She currently has 14 books out including 2 that she wrote under the pen name Baylee Rose.

She likes to create a book that takes you on an emotional journey whether tears, laughter (or both) or just steamy hot fun (or all 3). She loves to connect with readers and interacting with them through social media, signings or even old fashioned email.

#ChapterReveal “Crux Untamed (Hades Hangmen #6)” by Tillie Cole



ONLY BOUNDLESS LOVE CAN SILENCE THE WHISPERS OF THE PAST . . .



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sia
High Ranch, Austin, Texas
Present Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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