Chapter Reveal: Exes With Benefits by Nicole Williams

Exes With Benefits

By Nicole Williams

Release Date: September 18, 2017

Pre Order: Amazon / B & N / IBooks

 

Synopsis:

 

He wants a second chance. I want a divorce. To get what I want, I’ll have to give him what he does.

From New York Times & USA Today bestselling author, Nicole Williams, comes a new standalone romance in the same vein as Roommates with Benefits.

___________________________________________

 

 

PROLOGUE

Goodbye.
It was the one relationship guarantee we could all expect. Whether it was death or circumstance, tragedy or choice, it was the only promise we were assured. Goodbye. It had been coming since the day we met, and now it was here. Sooner than I’d hoped. Even sooner than the sensible segment of me had predicted.
Still, it was later than maybe I should have expected out of a relationship with Canaan Ford.
I’d been waiting all night for his truck to rumble up the driveway when it finally did just past two a.m.. Before his footsteps echoed up the stairs, I shouldered the couple of bags I’d packed and waited in the shadows of the hallway. My paintbrushes were sticking out of one of my oversized totes, tickling the underside of my arm. I’d packed everything that seemed important at the time, but now, I wasn’t sure that what I’d stuffed in my bags mattered at all.
It was late, dark, and Canaan would be coming home exhausted, hurting, and some degree of drunk. He wouldn’t see me, and I could just slip away without him knowing.
Maybe I should have left before he made it back, but whenever I tried, my feet froze to the floor before I could make it to the door. I needed to wait for him to get home first—to make sure he was okay before I left him. That might have been a messed up model of morality, but most of Canaan’s and my relationship was messed up, from the beginning to now, the ending.
He struggled with the key in the lock before shoving the door open and clomping straight toward the couch. He’d stopped crawling into bed beside me after a night of fighting and drinking months ago, like he thought it would spare me the pain of seeing him bloodied and plastered. It never had. The black eyes, the swollen lips, the bruised ribs; they were that much worse in the light of morning.
Canaan had barely crashed onto the sofa before his breathing evened out. Still, I waited another minute in the hallway before moving into the living room.
Don’t look, Maggie. Don’t let yourself look at him.
I looked. Of course I looked. I never listened to what was best for me—if I had, my life would have wound up so much differently.
He was already passed out, sprawled across the couch we’d bought at a yard sale the summer before . . .
Before all of this.
One arm and one leg were hanging off the end, his face tipped far enough toward me I could gauge the type of fight he’d been in tonight. A good one by Canaan’s definition—the best kind. The type where his opponent got in as many hits as he did. The type of fight that made him almost question if it would be the first one he’d lose. Canaan loved the challenge, the fight. He thrived off of chaos, seeming to wilt when life was simple. I used to admire that about him, and maybe I still did. It just wasn’t the life for me. I couldn’t live life like it was a battle—not anymore.
He was passed out hard, but I still crept slowly toward the front door, my heart thundering as the boards creaked below me. Even though I was moving toward the door, my eyes stayed on him.
Look away.
I couldn’t. Canaan was the best part of my life. And the worst. The best memories. And the worst. He was the high and the low and I was so damn tired of the sick cycle I thought would kill me one day.
As my hand cupped around the cool doorknob, my eyes burned. This was it. As resolved as I’d felt in the weeks leading up to this, I felt like I was being torn in half by walking away. I knew if I stayed, this relationship would be the end of me. But at the moment, leaving felt like the same.
Lying on that couch, he looked so vulnerable. Almost like he needed someone to protect him. From the world. From his demons. From himself. I’d tried. God, I’d been trying for what felt like forever, but the only thing I had to show for my efforts was scars and pain.
One of his eyes was swollen shut, his bottom lip three times its normal size, and he’d split the same eyebrow open again. It was going to need stiches. Six, I guessed. I’d gotten really good as estimating the number of stiches needed to seal a wound.
A sob rose from my chest, but I managed to swallow it back down. He was the only boy I’d ever loved—the only one I’d ever come close to loving. In some ways, he was perfect for me. But in more ways, especially lately, he was entirely wrong for me.
That was why I needed to leave. We might have been good together, but we weren’t good for each other. I knew that now.
I opened the door slowly, so it wouldn’t make a sound, then I let myself take one last look at the life I was leaving behind before I forced myself to walk away.
Now that I wasn’t looking at him, moving was easier. Each step down from our little apartment above the garage came quicker, so by the time I reached the ground, I was jogging.
Canaan’s truck was parked right beside my old car. Ancient was maybe a better description of how “mature” my car was. It was almost like he’d known I was going to leave tonight, because he’d parked his truck so close I could barely crack my door open half a foot. Getting my bags tossed into the backseat and managing to wiggle in through the door was a tight fit, but I made it work.
The moment I was inside, I jammed the key in the ignition and turned it over. I didn’t pause. I didn’t flinch. The hardest part was behind me, and now I needed to keep moving.
Easing my car around the truck, I noticed the one light burning inside the big house in my rearview mirror. Grandma knew what was happening tonight and was keeping her light on for me as her unique way of expressing that no matter what, she was here for me. She’d keep the light on—even when it felt like there was nothing but darkness around me.
My throat constricted as I kept backing down the long driveway. I’d tried saving him, but it had cost me almost everything. I was taking what I had left and saving myself.
As I rolled past Grandma’s front porch, my gaze shifted from the rearview mirror to that little garage apartment I’d lived the last eleven months in. The door was open, light was streaming from inside, and a dark, towering shadow loomed in the doorway.
My foot instinctively moved toward the brake. Canaan was too far away for me to determine the look on his face, but I could imagine it. It came easy since I’d known him as long as I had. Knowing his face was like second nature.
He stayed unmoving in that doorway for a moment, my car doing the same. It wasn’t until he started moving down the stairs that my foot flew back to the gas. If he got to me before I made it out of this driveway, I wouldn’t leave. I knew it. Walking away from someone I loved was hard enough, but Canaan wasn’t just someone I loved—he was someone I’d shared everything with. He’d walked with me through the hardest part of my life, and I’d walked with him through his. We’d been each other’s beacon, shelter, and compass through all of life’s shit . . .
So how had we gotten here? To this hopeless, dead end of a place?
He was charging down the stairs now, taking them two at a time. How was he able to move that nimbly when he’d just been comatose on the couch?
“Maggie!”
The windows were rolled up, but his shout broke through the glass, sounding so close it was almost like he was pressed against me, whispering it into my ear.
He sprinted the moment his feet touched the ground, his long arms pumping hard at his sides.
“Canaan, don’t,” I whispered inside the car, my lower lip trembling as I focused on the driveway behind me. “Please don’t.”
I didn’t miss the shadow that had appeared in that lit window. Grandma was watching me leave, witnessing Canaan trying to convince me to stay. Before, his attempts had been successful, but not this time. I couldn’t stay for him one more time—I had to leave for me.
“Maggie! Please!”
Canaan’s shouts were so loud, they were going to wake up the neighbors a few acres over. Each word emanated like a blast inside the car.
“Let me go,” I whispered as I swung the car onto the street.
Right before I could punch it into drive and hit the gas, Canaan swooped in front of the car. His chest was moving hard from the exertion, his snug white tee stained with fresh and dried blood. His face was so messed up it was practically unrecognizable, but I couldn’t help seeing the young boy with a clip-on tie walk up to me when I was frozen on a porch step, appraising me with those wild gold eyes before holding out a tiny box. How had that boy, who’d saved me back then, become the ruin of me now?
When I revved the engine, he didn’t move. Instead, he slid closer so his legs were pushing against the bumper. He raised his arms like he was surrendering, his unswollen eye landing on me. “I’m not letting you leave. Not without a fight.”
A breath rolled past my lips—a fight. Everything was a fight with him. He couldn’t land enough hits or take enough. His guilt wouldn’t let him.
Cranking down the window, I made myself glare at him. It was harder to achieve than it should have been. “I’m not something you win or lose in a fight.”
His jaw moved as he pressed his hands into the hood of the car. “You fight for what’s important. That’s the way life is. And you are worth every fight I have in me.”
“You’re too busy fighting everyone else—including yourself—to fight for me.” My sight blurred as I stared at him. So little of the person I’d fallen in love with remained. So little of who he’d fallen in love with remained in me as well. “I can’t wait around, watching you kill yourself one fight and drink at a time.”
He wiped at his split-open brow, leaving a streak of blood on his forearm. “I can change.”
My fingers tightened around the steering wheel. How many times had I heard those words come from his lips? Those same lips that claimed ownership of my first kiss?
“Yeah, you can.” I steeled myself against him a little more. “That’s not your problem. Your problem is that you won’t change.”
“This time I will.” His head whipped side to side. “It’s taken this, you trying to leave me, to slap some sense into me.”
I’d tried leaving so many times. This was just the furthest I’d ever made it. “I’m not trying to leave you. I am leaving you.” I made myself look at him. I made myself appear strong when I felt so very opposite. “This is it.”
He slowly came around the side of the car toward me. I rolled up the window halfway, aiming my eyes at the road in front of me.
“One more chance.” Even from a few feet back, I could smell the alcohol on his breath. I could smell the sweat and blood on him mixed with it, the trace of perfume that didn’t belong to me.
“You’ve had a thousand one more chances.” I studied him from the corners of my eyes, knowing better than to let them lock on his when he was this close. “This was your last one.”
“Maggie . . .” His hands formed around the lip of the window. His knuckles were split open and swollen, dried blood covering them. Still, I wasn’t sure I’d ever craved having them reach for me more. I wasn’t sure I’d ever needed him to pull me to his broken body and soul more than I did right then.
In that moment, I might have needed him more than I needed air, but I couldn’t give in. Kicking the habit was the only way to cure myself.
“Let me go, Canaan.” My legs were trembling as my foot moved back to the gas.
His head lowered so it was in line with mine. “You’re my wife.”
My left hand curled farther around the steering wheel, until I couldn’t see the gold band circling my finger. “No. I was your wife.”
His head dropped for half a second, his eyes flashing with defeat right before. “I love you.”
​My chest ached. The man was the boy again, and I wanted to save him the way he’d saved me. But I couldn’t. The only person who could save Canaan Ford was Canaan Ford.
“I promised to love you forever, and I will.” My foot touched the accelerator. “But I can’t spend forever with you.”
His hands braced around the window harder when I rolled forward. “I made a promise. To you, and to myself. A promise to love you forever. To look after you as long.”
When I found my mind drifting to that overcast afternoon eleven months ago, my heart wringing when I remembered the way he’d stared at me as we repeated those phrases in the courthouse, I shook my head. Good memories weren’t enough. Hope wasn’t enough. Empty promises weren’t even close to enough.
“We exchanged vows.” My eyes focused on the road in front of me, letting go of the dead end beside me. “There’s a difference between saying them and meaning them.”
When my foot pushed down on the gas, Canaan moved with the car. “I’m not letting you go. I’m not giving up.” The car moved faster, his feet pounding the asphalt as he struggled to keep up.
“I know. But I’m giving in.” Breaking my own rule, I let my eyes meet his before punching the gas pedal as far down as it would go. “Goodbye.”
That was enough. Hearing that word shocked him just enough to still him. For one second. I didn’t ease up on the gas, not even when I heard his fists pounding the trunk as he struggled to keep up.
“I can change!” His footsteps were thundering after the car. “I will change.”
With him behind me, I let the tears I’d been fighting fall. Everything I’d ever known—my whole life—was getting smaller and smaller behind me. With every tick of the odometer.
“MAGGIE!!!” His voice pierced the air one last time before I was too far away to hear whatever came next.
It was morning by the time I stopped seeing his reflection in the rearview mirror, still chasing me into my new life.

 

__________________________________________________

 4887264Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.

Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

Prologue Reveal: Dirty Filthy Rich Love by Laurelin Paige

 

Dirty Filthy Rich Love by Laurelin Paige

Release Date: September 11th

 

Preorder Dirty Filthy Rich Love TODAY:

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Start the Duet TODAY with Dirty Filthy Rich Men:

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Paperback: http://amzn.to/2nEDTm5

 

Head to Laurelin’s website to read the FULL PROLOGUE to Dirty Filthy Rich Love:

https://laurelinpaige.com/dirty-filthy-rich-love-prologue-reveal

 

 

Blurb:

I’ve discovered Donovan Kincaid’s secret.

It’s dirty and filthy and rich – as dirty and filthy and rich as he is – and it haunts me as much as he ever did.

Even after knowing what I know now, I still want to talk to him, to touch him. But there’s an ocean between us, and I’m not sure it can be crossed with something as easy as a phone call or a plane ride.

Yet I’m willing to try.

He doesn’t know this yet, but this time I’m the one with the power. And maybe – just maybe – if the air were cleared and all our secrets bared, there could still be a chance for us.

And this dirty, filthy thing between us might end up being love after all.

 

 

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Chapter Reveal: In The Crease by Toni Aleo – The Assassins Series – Book 11

 

In The Crease
Assassins Series – Book 11
By Toni Aleo
Coming August 22nd

 

Jensen Monroe is a unicorn. As handsome as any model, as polite as can be, a goalie of unmatched skill, and the best friend anyone could ask for. But he longs for a particular special someone to make his life complete. He’s been in love with Wren since he was a teenager, but as his best friend’s sister, she’s always been off-limits.

Wren Lemiere has prided herself on being a love ’em and leave ’em girl her whole life. She’s all about equal opportunity in the battle of the sexes. Why should guys like her brother and his best friends get to be the only ones allowed to play the dating game? One wrong move, however, and she finds herself in violation of her own rules.

In need of a fake husband and baby daddy for her unexpected bundle of joy, Wren finally accepts Jensen is the logical one to ask for help. Except he has a counteroffer…one with so many strings attached, they may just find themselves wrapped up in ties that bind. Forever.

*****

Chapter One

Prologue

Five months earlier…

Wren Lemiere felt awful.
The kind of awful where you felt like you were dying.
Not that she had ever been the victim of an almost-death, but she was pretty sure it felt like what she was feeling.
Why she came back home to Colorado when she was this godforsakenly sick was beyond her, but then she hadn’t felt like death when she got on the plane. It was once she got off and for the following three days that the death hit her. She didn’t know what was going on, but she just wanted some drugs to make the excruciating nausea go away. That was all. Just some drugs.
Holding her face in her hands, she inhaled a deep breath before letting it out in a whoosh, begging the turning of her gut to stop. She wasn’t sure what she ate or what bacteria she picked up, but when she found out whatever did this to her, they would suffer. Slowly and painfully. It was probably Vaughn, her brother’s best friend. He was a walking cesspool. Ugh. She had never been so sick in her life, she swore it, but then again, that time she had the flu, she was sure she’d thought the same.
Either way, she was dying.
Plain and simple.
“Ugh,” she moaned as she swallowed back the bile that was threatening to come up her throat. When the door opened and the doctor stepped in, she cried out in relief. “Please, give me something. Anything. Knock me out if you have to.”
Ryan Churner laughed. They had gone to school together, dated briefly, but they’d been just kids. Now, he was married and happy—with lots of kids of his own. Wren, though, was living the single, carefree life. Much to her mother’s dismay. Her mother wanted grandbabies, and since her brother, Wells, was gay, it was easy to say it was Wren’s job to give her mother babies. Which was not going to happen. Wren would suck as a mom. Plus, she couldn’t find a decent guy to love her large ass. So that left her brother, and Wells could adopt. Yeah, he should do that. Take some of the pressure off her. She needed to call him about that.
“I’m afraid there are no drugs for what you have.”
Wren threw up her hands. “It’s a virus?”
He laughed. She didn’t like the sound of that laugh. Or the way he said, “Um, no.”
Her face wrinkled in confusion. “Then, what?”
He grimaced a bit before looking up at her. His dark blue eyes held her gaze as a grin pulled at his lips. “When was your last period?”
She shrugged. “Like six months ago. I have polycystic ovary syndrome, though.” She added while pointing at him, “Not sure that’s in my chart.”
He nodded. “It is, but I hadn’t realized it had been that long.”
“Yeah.” She had maybe two periods a year, possibly three. It was a problem, but her problem. One she was blessed with when she was younger. Her PCOS kept her a little on the thicker side and also wreaked havoc on her hormones, but she managed. She wasn’t going to let it bring her down or dwell on it. She already did that enough.
“Okay, well, are you in a relationship right now?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Are you sexually active?”
“Always,” she said with an exaggerated wink. Then she paused. “Wait, I’m not hitting on you.”
“I know.” He laughed and she grinned, though, it was brief before she felt a wave of queasiness. “But your pregnancy test came up positive.”
Wren could only blink as her body went cold. She started laughing because surely, she’d heard him wrong. “You weren’t this funny when we were younger.”
“I’m not joking.”
“I’m sorry?”
“Your pregnancy test came up positive, but sometimes with PCOS, you can get a positive result. So I want to do an ultrasound.”
“For what?”
“To see if you’re pregnant.”
“Pregnant? Me?”
“Yes.”
“But…really?”
“Yes,” he said with a smile before he stood, walking to the door. “Well, usually when you have sex, a baby can be made as a byproduct of all that passion.”
“But…” She trailed off, her heart jumping into her throat. Surely that wasn’t the case. She couldn’t be pregnant. They’d used protection. “I have sex with condoms, and I’m on birth control.”
“Are you consistent with your birth control?
She shrugged. “Sure.”
He raised an eyebrow. “That’s not believable, Wren.”
Her face wrinkled more as he called out to the nurse. Sitting there, she tried to remember when this could have happened. She was home last month and had seen him…a lot and all of him, but they’d used condoms. Hadn’t they? Shit.
Soon a cart was brought in, and she was asked to take off her pants. It was all a blur, lying there with a drape over her bottom half and Ryan shoving some damn probe up inside her. Staring at the ceiling, she didn’t know what to think. She hadn’t even thought this was a possibility. With her PCOS, it was supposed to be hard for her to get pregnant. Not to mention, she didn’t want to be a mom. She would suck as a mom. And he would suck as a dad. They were selfish.
“Yup, there it is.”
Turning her head, she looked at the screen to see a little peanut. Seriously, a peanut, or at least, that’s what she assumed it was. But in the middle of the peanut was a little flicker. It was so small, almost undetectable, but she was sure she could see it. Was that the heartbeat?
“That’s it? I’m pregnant?”
“You’re pregnant.”
Blinking hard, she gasped. “Oh, fuck.”

~*~

“I’m pregnant.”
The words felt funky.
“I am pregnant,” she said to her reflection in the rental car’s visor mirror. “We’re having a baby.” She tried saying it while waving her hands. But that felt weird too.
Holy shit, she was pregnant.
She was almost thirty. She had a good job, and she was in a good place. It was not even the least bit expected, nor was it good timing since she wasn’t thirty yet, nor was she married. But it was fine. They would get a quickie marriage, and bam, they’d be good. No one would have to know she was pregnant before they decided to elope. It would be fine. Everything would be fine; her inheritance wasn’t in jeopardy.
But, shit, she didn’t want to move back to Colorado. She would have to because he wouldn’t be able to leave his job. He owned the damn firm, while she was contracted by the Nashville Assassins, the professional hockey team back in Nashville, Tennessee. Her gig was awesome, so damn awesome, and she loved it, but it wouldn’t work. She’d have to be the one to move. Damn it. She’d finish out the season for sure, but that meant she couldn’t sign the five-year extension that was sitting on her desk back home. With the lovely bonus that was going to pay off her car early. Damn it.
She wasn’t sure how he was going to take it, but they were good. They had known each other their whole lives. Been fucking for years, so it was time. She loved him. Ish. Kinda. Well, obviously a little since she continued to sleep with him, but he was a cool dude. And even if marriage was the last thing she wanted, she knew she had to do it.
She needed the money from her inheritance that her dad was holding, which had been passed down from her grandfather. When she turned thirty in October, it would be hers. The only catch was she couldn’t have a baby out of wedlock before she was thirty. It was stupid, and it was barbaric in her opinion. But it was what her grandfather had written up, and her father was standing behind it. It was annoying, to say the least, but if she wanted to pay off all her debt and live pretty damn comfortably for the rest of her life, along with providing a comfortable life for Wells, she had to do what she had to do.
She just hoped he didn’t let her down.
Getting out of the car, she swallowed hard as she walked toward the doors that read Washington, Fieldsman, and Barnes. When she opened the door, she was greeted by the receptionist, and Wren shot her a quick, curt smile. She was nervous. Why was she nervous? Crap, was she going to puke?
Yup.
Dipping into the bathroom before his office, she threw up the rest of her guts and sat there shaking her head. “You’re lucky I love you, kid.”
Wow, that was quick.
Wren had never seen herself as a mother. She’d thought she was going to grow old with lots of money and dogs. She hadn’t seen love or babies in her future. She’d seen lots of fucking, but that was about it. She didn’t have the best luck in love and really hadn’t imagined this coming, but now, she saw herself holding a baby.
Problem was, she still didn’t see him in her picture.
But that would change…right?
Surely.
Crap.
Washing her mouth out and then popping some gum, she walked out of the bathroom and right into another person. “Ah!”
“Crap! I’m sorry, Wren.”
Wren clammed up. Shit. “Hey, Shanna. What you doing here?”
“I had to see Bradley. What are you doing?” her best friend for her whole life asked.
Dammit, Wren hated lying to her.
“I have a meeting with him. He has to go over my contract for the Assassins.”
Shanna lit up. “Cool! Are you still coming for dinner tonight?”
Wren was shaking. Why was she shaking? Shit. “Shan, I texted you. I had to move my flight up, remember?”
“Oh, yes. My bad. Next time.”
“Of course,” she said before Shanna embraced her. Squeezing her eyes shut, Wren knew she would have to tell her. But Bradley had wanted to keep them under wraps. Plus, Wren knew how overprotective Shanna was of her baby brother. Wren had known better, but the dude was hung like a horse and hot to boot. She just hoped she wouldn’t lose a friendship over this. But Shanna would be excited. They’d be sisters like they’d always wanted, and there’d be a new baby. Shanna would love that.
Right?
Right.
Don’t freak out. This is fine.
Saying goodbye, Wren waved as she walked toward his office before knocking on the door. “Come in.” As she opened the door to the huge, posh office, he stood behind his desk, looking every bit as gorgeous as the day was long. His suit was pressed and clung to him. His blond-brown hair was brushed to the side, while a bit of stubble dusted his jaw. She only saw it because the sun was kissing it, shining on it ever so sweetly. He was a good-looking man, beautiful even, but still, she couldn’t see herself married to him. Shit.
Wren smiled though, and when Bradley looked up, heat filled his gaze. “Hey, you.”
“Hey,” she said, shutting the door as he came around the desk to her. Gathering her in his arms, he kissed her hard on the lips, dipping her back slightly as she clung to him. This had to work. He was a great guy.
Pulling back, he kissed her nose. “You look hot.”
She laughed, waving him off. “I look and feel like death.”
“Still?” he asked, concern filling his handsome face. He was a year younger than her, and growing up, they’d called him the baby. Though, he didn’t look like a baby. When he had first kissed her, eons ago, she hadn’t expected it. And even though they had both been with other people over the years, they somehow always gravitated back to each other.
Always.
But that was about to change.
“Yeah. I went to the doctor today.”
Moving his thumb along the inside of her palm, he smiled. “Is it contagious?”
She shook her head, her face filling with heat. “No.”
“Oh, good,” he said, gathering her in his arms and pressing his lips to hers. “So we can take this discussion to the couch.”
She stopped him as he tried to pull her to where she knew they would likely have all kinds of hot sex, but she needed to get this out. “Not yet.”
His brows pulled together. “What’s wrong? Don’t feel up to it?”
She swallowed hard. “It’s not that. It’s…um…” Inhaling deeply, she met his gaze. The gaze she had known her whole life. Though right now, she felt like she was going to puke, her nerves were so bad. “I’m pregnant.”
She watched as his eyes widened, his jaw dropping before he dropped her hands. “Pregnant?”
“Yeah.”
He only blinked. “Is it mine?”
She nodded. “You’re the only guy I’ve been with for the last six months.”
He blinked once more, his eyes burning into hers. “Are you sure?”
She gave him a deadpan look. “I think I’d remember if I happen to fall, pussy first, on a cock other than yours.”
He didn’t laugh like she wanted, nor did he look her in the eye. Instead, he chewed his lip, looking anywhere but at her. “So, no other chance it isn’t mine?”
Her brows drew in. “It’s yours, Bradley.”
Turning his back to her, he walked away, going to the windows as he looked out of them, his hands folded across his chest. “I didn’t expect this. We used condoms.”
“I know.”
“And you’re on birth control, I thought.”
“I am, though I don’t take it as often as I should.”
He looked over at her. “So you trapped me?”
She glared. “You’d better be joking.”
He didn’t answer; he just looked away as her heart started to speed up.
This didn’t feel right.
As he started to pace, she watched him, her blood beginning to boil. She didn’t like his comment, nor did she like the way he wouldn’t look at her. Clearing her throat, she watched him as she said, “Okay, well, I know this is a lot at once, and it’s a lot for me too. But we have something that could pose an issue—my inheritance.”
His face wrinkled up as he snapped, “How does that have anything to do with me?”
She glared at the side of his face. “It has to do with you because your baby is inside of me, and I’m not thirty yet. So if I have this baby before I turn thirty and I’m not married, I’m fucked.”
“Then don’t have the baby.”
Her jaw dropped. Actually dropped, almost catching flies. “Excuse me?”
Still looking out the window, he shrugged. “Go get an abortion.”
“What?”
“Listen, I don’t want this. I don’t want a kid, and fuck, this is going to mess everything up.”
Her heart was in her throat. “Mess up what?
Turning to her, he yelled, “I’m marrying fucking Fieldsman’s daughter.”
It was as if he’d hit her. Reaching out, she braced her hand on the window. He had been seeing the girl, but he swore it wasn’t serious. They were just cool; it was business as he said. But marriage? “What? You said you didn’t want to get married.”
“I know, but I have no choice.”
“You do. You can marry me and help out the mother of your child.”
“No, I can’t. I was going to tell you tonight, that we had to break this off. For good.”
Drawing in a breath through her nose, she shook her head. “Wow.”
“Yeah. So listen,” he said, walking around her and to his desk, but she didn’t move as the tears gathered in her eyes. “Go get an abortion. It’s for the best. Here, this should cover it.”
When she opened her eyes, he was filling out a check before holding it out to her. Shaking her head hard, she muttered, “I don’t want your money.”
“Take it, Wren. Please. I can’t have this fuck up what I’ve got going for me. I’ll have more stock in this firm once I marry her.”
Her lip started to tremble. “But I’m having your baby.”
“I don’t want it,” he said simply. “I don’t want any of it. She will get pissed. She’s already so jealous and thinks I’m fucking around.”
“You are!”
“I know, but not anymore. So, please, get rid of it.”
“I can’t.”
“Wren, come on!”
“You can’t do this. We’ve known each other our whole life.”
“I understand that. So please do it.”
“No.”
“Don’t be stupid, because I’ll deny it. You fuck around. Everyone knows it, and I’ll deny the kid is mine. You’ll have to take me to court to prove it. But by the time that happens, you’ll already have it before your thirtieth birthday, so you’ll be fucked anyway. Just do the right thing. Get rid of it, Wren.”
She wouldn’t let her tears fall. Not for this fucking douche. “I thought I knew you, you selfish asshole.”
The words didn’t even faze him. He glared at her. “I thought I knew you. How could you let this happen? We were never serious. We were just fucking.”
Looking down at the ground, she bit into her lip to keep the tears from falling. Yeah, he was right, but she thought she’d meant more to him than just a fuck. “Just fucking, huh?”
“Yeah, it isn’t like we love each other. I mean, come on. You’re not even my type.”
“Your type?”
“Wren, come on,” he said simply, holding his hands out. “You’re not trophy wife material.”
She was going to deck him. “I can’t believe this.”
“Just take the check.”
He held it out once more, and her eyes landed on it through her tears. She should take it. It really was the only option, yet she knew she couldn’t.
Meeting his gaze, she swallowed hard as she shook her head slowly from side to side. “No.”
“Wren, don’t be an idiot.”
“No.”
“You’re being fucking stupid—”
Standing erect, she stepped over to him, her eyes burning into his and completely cutting off his words. She was sure her eyes were full of heat, full of rage because his words shook her. To the core. She wasn’t sure who this man was, but he sure as hell wouldn’t be the father of her child. Over her dead fucking body. “Fuck you, Bradley. I don’t need your money or even you. So. Fuck. You.”
And with that, she walked away.
With no clue what she was going to do now.
Except for the certainty that she wasn’t killing her baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

img_1721

About the Author

 

 

My name is Toni Aleo and I’m a total dork.
I am a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic.
I am the biggest Shea Weber fan ever, and can be found during hockey season with my nose pressed against the Bridgestone Arena’s glass, watching my Nashville Predators play!
When my nose isn’t pressed against the glass, I enjoy going to my husband and son’s hockey games, my daughter’s dance competition, hanging with my best friends, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and reading the latest romance novel.
I have a slight Disney and Harry Potter obsession, I love things that sparkle, I love the color pink, I might have been a Disney Princess in a past life… probably Belle.
… and did I mention I love hockey?

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

 

 

Chapter Reveal: Inked Expressions by Carrie Ann Ryan – Montgomery Ink Series – Book 7

InkedExpressions72 (1)

Inked Expressions

Montgomery Ink Series – Book 7

By Carrie Ann Ryan

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Pre Order: Amazon / B & N / IBooks / Kobo / Google Play /  Amazon Paperback

****

Synopsis:

 

The Montgomery Ink Series from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan continues with the brother who keeps his secret and the one woman he shouldn’t want.

Everly Law married the love of her life and on the eve of giving birth to their twins, lost him in a tragic accident. Now she’s a single mother working overtime at her bookstore trying to make sure her boys have the life they deserve. Her life is busy enough without her adding dating a Montgomery. As past secrets come to light, she’ll need Storm more than ever—even if she doesn’t realize it.

Storm Montgomery has spent his life atoning for sins that only few know he’s committed. When he lost his best friend, he promised his widow that he’d always be there for her—even when she wanted nothing to do with him. But when a single touch ignites passions they’ve both buried deep inside, he’ll have to remember exactly who is in his arms and that taking chances might be far more dangerous than they bargained for.

Add INKED EXPRESSIONS to your Goodreads list here!

 

Read the First Chapter of INKED EXPRESSIONS

Then

The babies kicked, sending a shockwave through Everly Law’s bladder. She winced, rubbed the large swell of her stomach, and tried to remember the last time she’d seen her feet.

“Storm?” she called out, now running a hand down her back since that ached, as well. Being eight months pregnant with twins wasn’t an easy task. “Yeah?” her husband’s best friend called out from the back of the house. “You need me?”

That man, she thought with a smile. He always put everyone else first no matter what. Here he was on his evening off, hanging out at her house making sure things were ready for the new babies and finishing up the back deck that Jackson had never gotten around to. She honestly didn’t know why the man was single. Some woman should have snatched him up years ago.

“I just need you to tell me if my shoes match,” she yelled back.

He chuckled as he made his way into the living room where she stood, sorting through the mail. “Your shoes match, Ev. I would have told you if they didn’t.”

She rolled her eyes. “You say that, but I still remember the time you let Jackson walk around campus with toilet paper tucked into the back of his pants.”

While she was a few years younger than both Jackson and Storm, she’d been an undergraduate at the University of Denver while both men were in graduate school finishing up their degrees— Storm his Master’s in Architecture, Jackson his Ph.D. in Anthropology. From the moment she’d begun dating Jackson over a decade ago, Storm had been a part of their lives. The men had been childhood friends, and as such, she’d formed a friendship with Storm also, though it was nothing like what the two men shared.

Storm ran a hand over her belly— the only person other than Jackson she’d ever allow to do that— and smiled. “Jackson deserved that. He pissed me off that morning.” He shrugged, his dark hair falling over his forehead. The man needed a haircut, but he seemed to like it longer on the top than the sides anyway. “I don’t even remember what he did, but I remember that not telling him about what he missed was decent revenge. I’d never do something like that to you.” He winked, those blue eyes of his sparkling. “Not because I’m a nice guy, but because I’m pretty sure you could take me.”

She waved her fist at him, her fingers so swollen she couldn’t even wear her wedding ring. “And don’t you forget it, Storm Montgomery.”

He let out a breath and rubbed her belly again. The babies rolled, enjoying Uncle Storm’s touch, apparently, since they weren’t kicking her bladder again at the moment. “Your shoes match, and you even have pants on, but how about you relieve my stress and sit down on the couch while you look at the mail. You’re like days from your due date and starting to freak me out.”

She let him lead her to the couch since he’d just annoy her if she didn’t— though her ankles had swollen up like her hands, so maybe he wasn’t all that wrong about her needing to sit down.

“I’m a couple of weeks away, Storm, not days,” she countered once he’d settled her on the couch with a couple of throw pillows at her sides.

“You’re having twins, and they don’t usually like to take their time. Believe me, I know. I am a twin.” He winked again, and she snorted.

“Your poor mother,” Everly teased. “Not only twins with you and Wes, but eight children altogether. I have no idea how she did it.” She rubbed her belly, that familiar tension sliding through her. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it.”

Storm frowned and sat down on the table in front of her. “You’re going to be a great mom, Ev. You already take care of Jackson and me. What’s one more set of boys?”

She laughed, despite the worry in her veins. Something was off tonight, she could feel it, but she hoped it was just nerves from the upcoming labor and delivery— and then the whole raising twin boys thing.

“You handle yourself just fine, and Jackson’s not that bad.” She rolled her eyes as she said it, and Storm grinned. “I’m serious,” she said with a laugh as Storm shook his head. “Jackson is always in his head, thinking and working, but he’s not immature or anything. I just like to make sure he’s taken care of because he sometimes forgets daily things.”

Storm narrowed his eyes. “And who is taking care of you?”

You are.

She blinked at that thought and firmly put it away. “Jackson takes care of me, as well. And now we’ll both take care of these babies.”

Storm nodded. “And I take it he won’t be going on as many trips as he has been lately? I mean, this is like the fifth or sixth conference he’s flown to since you found out about the twins. I hope he’s just getting it all out of his system before he comes home and stays here for a bit.”

There was an edge to his tone that Everly couldn’t place, but she was far too tired to deal with it. The babies had kept her up all night, and she frankly hated having half of the bed empty without Jackson there to warm it.

“He said it won’t be as bad when the babies come.” Though Jackson hadn’t sounded all that happy at the time about not being able to do as many guest lectures and conferences, and that did tend to worry her a little. Everly loved the fact that he was so passionate about his work, but she was also happy that he was going to stay at home for longer periods of time to help with their babies. While she knew she was strong and capable, raising twins on her own was not something she desired to do.

“I hope so,” Storm grumbled. “A man needs to take care of his family.”

Everly sighed. “And a woman needs to do the same. We’re fine, Storm, stop fretting. It’s going to turn that beautiful mane gray one of these days.”

His cheeks reddened, and he let out a curse. “You’re just mean, Ev. Plain mean.”

“I’ve had to be if I wanted to keep up with you and Jackson.” She frowned and looked down at her watch. “Speaking of Jackson, he was supposed to have landed already and he hasn’t texted. I hope his flight isn’t delayed.”

Storm stood up and rubbed his back. “He probably just forgot. You know Jackson.”

She did, sadly, so him not texting or calling wasn’t all that surprising. He just got so in his head with his work, he forgot those around him some days. Another thing she hoped would change with the arrival of the twins. He seemed so excited about them, so she figured they would at least keep him out of his head for longer periods of time than he was now. “

Thanks for taking care of me, Storm,” Everly said after a moment. “And taking care of the back deck tonight, though I know you’re not really in the mood.”

He shrugged. “It needed to be fixed since that bottom step rotted out. Jackson’s not exactly handy, and I do happen to own half a construction business. It’s sort of my thing.” He rubbed his back again, and Everly frowned.

“What’s wrong? Did you hurt yourself?” She tried to lever herself up, but he held up a hand.

“I’m fine, Ev. Don’t get up and jostle the babies. I’m just a little sore, is all. Nothing a few stretches won’t fix.”

“Are you sure you should be working on the deck tonight, then?” she asked, worried. “You’re the architect of Montgomery Inc., not the contractor, so I don’t know how much pressure you usually put on your back if you’re this sore. I don’t want you hurting yourself.”

He fisted his hands for a moment before stuffing them into his pockets. “I’m fine, Ev. Stop fretting. Just sit there and relax and before you know it, Jackson will be home, and your deck will be ready for you to actually stand on.”

She huffed a breath. “If that’s some kind of fat joke, I’ll hoist myself off this couch and kick your ass right now. Don’t think I won’t.”

He pulled his hands out of his pockets and held them up in mock surrender. “Dear God, woman. I would never make a fat joke about a lady, let alone a pregnant one. I have three sisters and a mother who can kick my ass just like you can. I know better.”

She smiled sweetly. “I’m glad they taught you a few things.”

He muttered under his breath as he walked away, and Everly grinned, feeling a little better than she had before, though she wasn’t about to tell him that her sitting down had helped. There was only so much ego stroking she could handle.

The doorbell rang a few minutes later, and she frowned. She wasn’t sure who it could be, but Jackson’s parents did live a few miles away and liked to show up unannounced. Just thinking about that set her teeth on edge, so she ignored it and somehow levered herself off the couch. She wasn’t sure Storm could hear the doorbell from outside, and since it was her house, after all, she might as well answer it.

Everly waddled over and opened the door, blinking hard at the sight in front of her. The two officers gave her a sad smile, their chests broad as they took deep breaths. Her hands shook as she gripped the doorknob with one, the frame with the other. “Can I help you?”

“Mrs. Law?” the older of the two officers said softly. “May we come in?” Everly’s throat went dry, and she tried to keep the sense of foreboding from rushing into her, but she couldn’t quite manage it— or think.

“What’s going on, officers?” Storm asked from behind her. He put his hand on her shoulder, steadying her. Everly’s knees went weak, and she leaned into him, knowing she couldn’t stand on her own.

Both men looked up at Storm, frowns on their faces. “We need to speak to Mrs. Law. May we come in?”

“That way, she’s not on her feet,” the younger one added softly, and Everly’s heart raced.

She moved back, pushing Storm out of the way softly. “Come in,” she whispered, her voice hollow.

The two officers could have been there for any number of reasons, and yet Everly knew. She knew that no matter what happened next, her life would forever be altered.

As soon as they sat down, the officers spoke, and Storm gripped Everly’s hands, but she couldn’t hear anyone clearly. It was as if she were in a vacuum and everything was taking longer to reach her ears than normal.

Her husband was dead.

Gone before she could take her next breath.

The commuter plane that Jackson had been on had crashed outside of Boston. There were no survivors. No hope of finding her husband alive and whole, or even his body to put to rest.

The babies kicked at her bladder again, and she pressed her hand against her stomach, numb yet knowing she had no right to be that way. She couldn’t sit here and listen to them talk of grief councilors and who would be in touch with her shortly. Storm spoke for her, and she couldn’t care. She’d deal with everything later.

Right now, she needed to protect her children.

Jackson’s babies.

Babies he’d never see. Never hold. Never know.

She stood up then, only just aware that she’d interrupted whatever the men in the room had been saying. “I have to pee,” she blurted. The officers gave her an odd look, but Storm kept his grip on her hand.

“Everly.” His voice was deep, soothing, and a little bit worried. Yet she couldn’t focus on that.

“I need to take care of the babies,” she rasped. “I’ll… I’ll be right back. Can you…” She swallowed hard. “Can you take care of… just take care of it?”

He nodded before letting her hand go, and she waddled away from the living room, not looking at the officers who sat on her soft loveseat. Storm would take care of them and tell her what she needed to do. She couldn’t focus on anything else just then, only her babies.

They were the most important things.

Tears slid down her cheeks as she locked herself in the hall powder room, her legs shaking. The numbness settled in once more, and she looked at herself in the mirror, wondering who stared back at her, because that wasn’t the Everly she knew.

Jackson is gone, she reminded herself.

Gone.

And when the pinch inside her echoed throughout her body and liquid pooled around her feet, she once again knew nothing would ever be the same.

The babies were coming, but Jackson wasn’t.

He never would be.

And Everly wept.

 

Now

“I need you to breathe in, baby,” Everly said softly as she held Nathan to her chest. Her three-year-old wheezed into the nebulizer, and she tried not to let herself go numb again. She refused to allow that sensation to take hold as it had once before. She didn’t have time to ignore the panic running through her veins, but she could take that panic and turn it into the focus she needed.

Nathan looked up at her, his big eyes full of fear, an emotion that made her want to cry right along with him. James, her other sweet baby boy, held onto her shirt from where he stood beside the bed, tears running down his face.

We’ve all been here before, she thought, though tonight seemed like a far worse asthma attack than usual. She held back a curse and bundled Nathan in a blanket in her arms.

“Okay, Nathan honey, we’re going to go to the doctor just to make sure you’re okay.” She kissed his little face, a thousand things going through her mind as to what needed to be done.

“Uncle Storm,” James said from her side. “I want Uncle Storm.”

Everly looked down at James before looking at Nathan, who nodded beneath the mask. She honestly didn’t want to call Storm because that’s all she’d been doing for the past three years, at least until a month ago, but tonight wasn’t about her. It was about her boys and the fact that, frankly, she needed help.

“I’ll call from the car, now come on, babies. Let’s go.” She bundled them up quickly and got them into the car within five minutes. The fact that she’d gotten into such a routine because of her two boys’ health issues made her heart hurt, but she ignored it. The twins came first.

Always.

And that meant if she had to call Storm for help once again, she would.

Even if it pained her to do so.

 

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See the INKED EXPRESSIONS trailer

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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Chapter Reveal: Roommates With Benefits by Nicole Williams

Roommates With Benefits

By Nicole Williams

Release Date: June 5, 2017

Pre Order: IBooks

Synopsis

Soren Decker. He’s the epitome of the “bad boy, good man” persona. The best of both worlds. The worst of them too. He’s the type of guy most girls would not mind sharing a confined space with, except my new roommate isn’t all swagger and chiseled abs.

He’s bossy. Messy. Cocky. Infuriating. Doesn’t believe in personal space. Has no qualms about roaming the apartment with a loincloth-sized towel cinched around his waist. Seems under the delusion he’s my personal protector (refer back to infuriating). He plays college baseball and holds down a part-time job—I don’t know where he finds the time to get on my nerves.

We’re got nothing in common . . . except for one thing. Our attraction to one another. And in six hundred square feet of shared space, the tension only has so much room to grow before one of us gives in to temptation. But really, what chance do a couple of young kids chasing their dreams in the big city have of making it?

Since Soren claims I know squat about sports (he might have a semi-point), here’s a stat for him—one in a million. That’s our odds.

___________________________________

Chapter One

I felt like all of my dreams had, or were about to, come true.
​Waved farewell to Podunk hometown? Check.
​Arrived in posh metropolis with luggage in tow? Check.
​Signed to a top agency? Check.
​About to roll up to my swanky new pad? Check.
​The world wasn’t just at my fingertips—I felt like it was clutched in the palm of my hand. All the obstacles—everything I’d had to overcome to get here—and I’d done it. I’d paid the price. Now I was ready to reap the darn reward.
​“Oh, crap.” My heart soared into my throat when I glanced at the taximeter for the first time since leaving the airport. I’d been totally preoccupied with staring at the bright lights and sights of New York City. “Is that how much it will cost for the entire ride? Hopefully?” My eyes widened when the meter tacked on another fifty cents.
​The driver glanced at me through the rearview. He must have thought I was making a joke until he saw my face. “What? You serious, kid?” His meaty arm draped across the passenger seat. “That’s how much it costs to get to right here.” He speared his finger out the window, two bushy brows lifting. “There’s still another mile before we hit the address you gave me.”
​“Pull over. Please. Pull over.”
Digging inside my purse, I counted out what I owed the driver. Which left me with a whole two dollars and some cents to my name. Ever since I was a little girl declaring my plans to make it in the big city, everyone had been warning me that New York City was expensive. I guessed I hadn’t realized that translated to public transportation as well.
​Once the driver had pulled up to the curb, I handed him what I owed. He waited, blinking at me like I was missing something.
​“Oh, yeah.” I pulled out the last two dollars and handful of cents I had left for the tip. Even dropping the last penny to my name in his palm, it was a puny tip.
​Heaving a sigh, he crawled out his door to pull my suitcase from the trunk. The dark streets looked different now that I’d be walking them alone.
“Do you have a map or anything I might be able to have?” I asked as he rolled my suitcase around to me.
​The driver pointed his finger down the street we were on. “Keep going straight one mile. That will get you there.”
​I felt my palms clam up when I realized I was about to attempt to navigate on foot a city I’d never been to, with all of my personal belongings in tow, without a dollar to my name. The small-town girl I’d been wanted to cry and run to the first phone to call home. The big-city woman I was born to be had me clutching the handle of my luggage and lifting my chin. By the time, I took my first step toward my new life, the taxi was long gone.
​Even though it was almost eight at night, the streets were still bustling. Unlike Hastings, Nebraska, where a person could hear the whir of their neighbor’s washing machine by nine every night, New York looked like it was just getting warmed up. Cars whipping up and down the streets, horns blasting, people moving, bikes weaving in and out through it all; this was an entirely different life than the one I’d grown up knowing.
​I loved it.
​I felt like I passed more people on every block than had made up the whole population of Hastings, and the people here were dressed like they were off to a meeting with foreign dignitaries, instead of the 4-H meeting every Saturday morning at The Hastings Grange.
Fashion. God, I loved fashion. Designing it was my endgame, but first, I had to get my foot in the door however I could. Modeling would give me that opportunity.
​By the time I’d rolled myself and my luggage down what felt like a million city blocks, I figured I had another three or four to go. My feet were killing me, since I’d worn heels instead of the comfy flats my mom had suggested when dropping me off at the airport earlier. I’d argued that I didn’t want to arrive in NYC with faux leather loafers, but man, those discount store flats sounded pretty amazing right now.
​Sheer willpower got me through the last few blocks, and I arrived at what I guessed was my destination, afraid to look at my feet for fear of finding them swimming in pools of blood or swollen beyond recognition. Or on fire, based on the feeling coming from them.
​When I stopped in front of the address I’d written down, I had to triple-check that the numbers on my paper matched the ones on the outside of the building. They did, but this sure didn’t look like Big City Living at its Finest, as the classified had listed. It more looked like Big City Living at its Most Primitive.
​Then again, maybe it was one of those apartment buildings that looked like a dump on the outside but was a palace on the inside. You know, to keep the bourgeois away. That had to be it. There was probably a chandelier hanging in the elevator and the hallways were lined with gleaming white marble, but no one would guess that from the outside.
​Doing one final check to make sure I was at the right address, I lugged my suitcase up the stairs. Someone was leaving as I made it to the front door, but either they didn’t see me or didn’t care to hold the door open for the woman in three-inch heels wrestling a monster-sized bag into submission. The door practically slammed in my face, heavy enough it almost sent me sprawling backward. I managed to snag the handle to keep it open long enough to shove inside.
​Okay, so there were a lot of differences between Hastings and New York City.
​I still loved it. A lot.
​It would just take an adjustment period to get used to. Before I knew it, I’d be keeping up with the best of the city girls.
​Once I’d made it past the front door, I paused to catch my breath and take in the interior of the apartment building. So the halls weren’t exactly lined in marble. Or gleaming, whatever surface it was they were covered with. There was an elevator though, but as I took my first steps toward it, I noticed the sign taped to the doors. Out of Order.
​Why not?
​Shuffling toward the bottom of the staircase, I stared up them, thankful there were only six floors to the top. Kicking off my heels, I collected them in one hand and started heaving my suitcase up all six flights, one stair at a time.
The upside to arriving on the sixth floor in a panting, sweating mess? I’d just gotten my cardio in. For the whole week.
​My chest felt like it was about to explode as I rolled down the hall, checking the number on each door as I passed. There wasn’t any marble up here either. Or chandeliers. Or anything that held a semblance of shine, actually.
​There was a smell though—a mix of mildew and garbage and. . . some other scent I didn’t want to assign a name to. A couple of bulbs were burnt out on the ceiling, casting an eerie tone to the environment.
There were noises, too. Music, hammering, talking, screaming . . . other heavy breathing sounds. It was like the walls were made of plastic wrap and painted white’ish to give the illusion of privacy. I could hear every word of the heated conversation coming from the door behind me.
​Number sixty-nine. That was a number nine, right? I checked the piece of paper in my hand just to be sure. Yep. My eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. The door’s paint was chipping, the numbers cockeyed, and from the damage done to it where the locks were, it looked like there’d been multiple attempts to break into it. There was nothing welcoming about this door.
​This couldn’t be the right place. No way. I had to have written something down wrong, or misread the address outside, or something—anything—that would assure me this wasn’t the place where I was about to spend the next six months of my life.
​As I debated knocking on the door or fleeing from it, a door screeched open down the hall.
​“You finally made it.” A young guy emerged through the door, his focus on me. “Have you been waiting there long? When you were late, I decided to swing by Mrs. Lopez’s and give her a hand with a few things.” He was still talking to me as he slid his feet into a worn pair of Converse. His fly was down too, but that didn’t seem to be on his concern radar.
​It looked like he’d decided to give Mrs. Lopez more than just a hand.
​“Oh, god. You don’t speak English, do you?” He exhaled, making his way down the hall. “You’re one of those Eastern European chicks, right?”
​I stepped back as he moved closer.
In another situation, I wouldn’t have been trying to back away from the stranger approaching with a look that could make the most frigid of girls melt. He was easy to look at—a little too easy—walking that ever-so-fine line of cute meets hot. He was cute-hot. Hot-cute. Whatever. He was candy to the eyes, and had we run into each other at the Jolt Café back in Hastings, I wouldn’t have been creeping away from him as I was now.
“Do I know you?” I asked.
He finally realized his proximity was making me uncomfortable, and he stopped right outside of Number Sixty-Nine. “You do speak English. Good. Because I’m not sure I have the brain space to figure out how to say ‘The water bill’s due yesterday’ in Latvian.”
I guessed the look on my face echoed my prior question.
“Soren Decker.” He held out his hand then slid it into his jeans’ pocket when it caught nothing but airtime. “And you are . . . ?”
“Not at the right address. Clearly.”
He leaned into the dilapidated door. “What address are you looking for?”
I had to lift the piece of paper in my hand to remember. Once I read it off, he shrugged.
“You have arrived at your destination.”
That’s what I was afraid of. “I must have the wrong apartment number then.”
The way he was looking at me told me exactly what he was thinking—that I was mental. “What apartment are you looking for?”
Another review of the paper. Just to be sure. “Sixty-nine.”
When his brows bounced, I felt my cheeks heat. I balanced my temporary embarrassment by narrowing my eyes.
“Sixty-nine.” He rapped his knuckle below the crooked numbers on the door. “Home sweet home.”
That was when the obvious started to settle in. “You’re looking for a roommate? You posted the ad I responded to?” I swallowed. “You?”
He glanced down at himself like he was checking for a stain on his shirt. In the process, he noticed his fly was still open. “I really didn’t think this would be so confusing,” he said, pulling his zipper back into place. “Yes, this is the right address. Yes, this is lucky apartment number sixty-nine. And yes, I am the one looking for a roomie, who you replied to last week.”
My heart had lodged into the back of my throat from the feel of it. This was the person I’d be living with? This was who I’d be sharing the same space with for the next half year?
He looked part California surfer, part vintage Hollywood film star. Pretty much the type of guy anyone attracted to males and in possession of a functioning set of eyes would drip some degree of drool over. Light hair, blue eyes that projected trouble, matching his smirky smile, good—great—body; he was pretty much the result of creation’s best efforts.
Most girls probably would have been chanting jackpot in their heads, but I gaped at the perfection that was him, freaking out.
“You said you were looking for a girl,” I said.
“I am.” He motioned at me.
I motioned right back at him. “You’re a guy.”
“Wow. Okay. So much confusion.” He shifted from one foot to the other, tipping back the red ball cap on his head.
“Why would you prefer a girl roommate when you’re a guy?”
Again, the look that implied I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. If he kept it up, I was going to start throwing daggers at him. Provided I had any. Or even one. Which I didn’t, because airline regulations and all.
“For obvious reasons,” he said.
“For obvious reasons like what? A built-in bedmate?”
His expression flattened as he realized what I was getting at. “You think I’m looking for some kind of ‘roommates with benefits’ type of thing?” He rubbed his chin like he was considering it right that moment. “I hadn’t thought about that, but now that you mention it . . .” Whatever he saw when he glanced at me sparked an amused gleam in his eyes. “I’m not looking for that. I swear.”
“Then why insist on a female roommate?”
“Because the female species tends to be neater than the male, ape variety. Plus, you smell better, too.” His hand dropped to the doorknob. Before he opened the door, he tipped his chin at me. “And you’re nicer to look at.” When I didn’t move after he motioned inside the apartment, he leaned into the hall and crossed his arms. “Come on, give it to me. I can tell you’re dying to say whatever it is you’ve been biting your tongue over since I had the nerve to address you.”
The way he said it, I realized I was maybe leaning toward the bitchy end of the spectrum. “It’s just that I thought you were a girl. I didn’t realize the person I’d agreed to room with was a guy.”
“That’s not my fault.” As soon as my mouth opened to argue, he added, “You could have asked. But you didn’t. You assumed.”
My teeth chewed on the inside of my cheek, hating that he was right.
“If you’re uncomfortable moving in because I’m a guy, okay, no problem. I’m not going to force you to move in. Even though I took down the ‘roommate wanted’ ad when you placed dibs. Losing out on a whole week of finding someone.”
My fingers pinched the bridge of my nose as I struggled to form one rational thought. If this guy would shut it for one minute, I could think.
“You know, and what’s this whole thing about gender equality and erasing those lines that used to separate the sexes? You’re pretty much saying you’re okay with moving in with a total stranger, sight unseen, just so long as that stranger doesn’t come equipped with a scrotum.”
“What?” My hand dropped back at my side. “Gross. Just stop talking. Please. Give me a second to try to figure out what is happening right now . . .”
Squeezing his lips together, he tipped his head back against the wall, making a “carry on” motion in my direction.
Okay. Think.
Swanky new pad was more a nasty, biohazardous dump.
Hip New York roommate was more a crass, vile entity of dubious intentions. Who came equipped with a scrotum, as he’d so articulately put it.
I had an appointment in the morning with the agency, potential go-sees right after, and a whole zero dollars and zero cents to my name. A hotel was out. A really shady motel was out. I supposed I could sleep on a park bench, but instead of just one man, I’d have to be worried about the rest of the city sneaking up on me as I slept.
I didn’t have many options.
Actually, I wasn’t sure I had any at all.
Taking another good look at him, he didn’t seem so bad. He wasn’t tattooed from head to toe, didn’t have that predatory look parents taught their daughters to identify from twenty paces back, and he didn’t reek of alcohol or other substances of questionable repute.
He was no Boy Scout, that was for darn sure, but he didn’t have the look of an axe murderer either. Besides, I was a tough chick. If he tried anything, he wouldn’t walk away with that cute-hot face unscathed.
“I’m Hayden.” I rolled my shoulders back and crossed the distance. “Hayden Hayes.”
“Soren Decker. In case you missed it the first time.” He held out his hand as I approached. “By the way, I’m a dude. You know, to clear up any confusion you might have on the subject.”
“One of those creatures that comes with a scrotum?” My eyebrows lifted as I shook his hand.
He cracked a smile as he shoved off of the wall. He didn’t have a terrible smile. Not even a little bit.
“Wow. Dang.” He twisted his cap around so it was backward as he stood as tall as he could. “You are tall. Like, please don’t wear heels around me tall.”
I held up the pair of heels I was still clutching. “Just missed them.”
“Good. I can’t have a girl roommate who’s taller than me. It might emasculate me.”
“More than you already are?”
“A fellow smartass.” He made a face of approval as I moved inside the apartment. “We’re going to get along just fine.”
“So long as I don’t wear heels when you’re nearby?”
“See? You get me. Two and a half minutes into our relationship and you understand me. Why can’t the rest of the girls on the planet seem to get it?” He didn’t give me a chance to fire back my idea on that topic. “Seriously, though, how tall are you?”
“Five ten.” Once I rolled my suitcase inside, he closed the door behind us.
“Liar, liar. Designer jeans on fire.” He waved his finger at me as he moved into the apartment.
These were designer jeans. The one pair I owned and would be living in until I could afford a second pair. It had taken me three months of mucking out stalls to make enough to afford them.
“Fine. Five eleven.” When his brows disappeared into his ball cap, I sighed. “And a half.”
“My six one is suddenly not feeling so big and bad.”
The inside of the apartment was an improvement on the outside. Somewhat. Paint wasn’t chipping off the walls, and the funky odor wasn’t quite as strong in here. Although there was a different one—that sweat-and-dirty laundry man smell with the faintest hint of aftershave or cologne mixed in.
“So. Here it us. My humble abode.”
Emphasis on humble.
​There wasn’t much to see. A shoe-box-sized kitchen was right inside the door—at least there was a stove and a fridge—with a same sized bathroom across from it, and what must have been the main living space, which we were standing in now, was made up of a line of windows, a couch I would not sit on unless a sheet of plastic separated me from it, a couple of room dividers, and a rectangular metal table with four mismatched chairs.
​It was semi-clean and super small.
​“Where’s the rest?” I asked when he stopped beside me, nodding at the space like it was the definition of opulent.
​“What do you mean? This is it.” He indicated the room.
​My gaze circled the space again. A secret hallway. There had to be one of those hiding in here somewhere. “Where are the bedrooms?”
​He made a clucking sound with his tongue, leading me to one corner tucked behind a sad divider. “Here’s mine,” he said, letting me peek behind the divider.
My heart did that hiccupping thing again when I noticed a twin mattress lying on the floor, a whirl of blankets and pillows scattered on it. There was a big plastic bin too, which looked like it served as a dresser.
“And yours is over here.” Guiding me to the corner across from this one, he proudly waved at the empty space behind the second divider.
​There was nothing there. Unless you counted the dust bunnies.
​“You’re kidding, right?” I blinked, frowning when I found the exact same scene in front of me.
​“About what?” he asked, straight-faced.
​“This being a bedroom.” My arms flew toward the empty space. “This is a stall. Actually, I’ve mucked out stalls twice as big back home.”
​His brows pinched together. “Like a bathroom stall?”
​“No, like a stall inside a barn. A horse stall. A cow stall. Shoot, even the pigs get a better deal than this.” My voice was rising, as I realized he wasn’t messing with me. This was supposed to serve as my bedroom, and there were a few big things missing to make it my definition of a bedroom—for starters, a door.
​“Wait. So you’re one of those small-town girls?” He appraised me with new eyes, like everything was finally making sense.
​“Yes, I’m one of those small-town girls, but not small town enough to realize I’m getting the big city runaround.”
​“The runaround?” His arms crossed. “What do you mean the runaround? I didn’t say anything about there being a private bedroom straight out of the Four Seasons, girlie.”
​I tried to remember the “roommate wanted” ad I’d seen online last week. Specifically, the wording. “Yeah? And what about the penthouse views?” I crossed my arms just like he was. “This is the opposite of a penthouse, and the view sucks.” I glanced out the row of windows, where there was a view of the building across the street.
​Soren’s eyes lifted before he moved toward the windows. He waited for me before pointing his finger up. Way up. “Penthouses.” His finger was aimed at the tippy top of the buildings around us. “We have a view of penthouses.”
​My mouth opened. “That’s not how you meant it to be taken, nice try.”
​“How do you know how I meant for it to be taken? Penthouse views. That’s the truth.” He was still pointing out the window. “You make a lot of assumptions. Might want to work on that if you plan on surviving in the city.”
​Turning away from the window, I scanned the apartment. Had it shrunken in size when I’d turned my back? “You said it was a generous living space.”
​He indicated the same apartment I was looking at. “Are you kidding me? This is a generous living space.”
​“Compared to what? A cardboard box?”
​His mouth snapped open, but he closed it before whatever was about to come out, did. He rolled his head a few times, his neck cracking in a way that made me cringe. “Listen. You are obviously from a different world than I am. I grew up in Brooklyn. My definition of generous is clearly different than yours.”
​“I grew up in Hastings, Nebraska, raised by a single mom with a high school education after dear old dad bailed on her and his three daughters.” I paused, staring at him. “I was not raised in the lap of luxury, nor am I a spoiled brat, but this . . ..” My hand waved between his and my “bedrooms,” my stomach churning when I counted off maybe ten feet of separation between them. “This is not generous living space.”
​“Then fine. Don’t move in. It’s not like you’ve unpacked your things. You’re the one looking for an apartment, not me. Go find some other place to live in the heart of the city for less than eight hundred dollars a month. Good luck with that.”
When he started toward my suitcase, I intercepted him. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. No friends. No family. No money. My first rent check here wasn’t due for a couple of weeks. Accepting that should have made this place seem much more appealing, but instead I felt more like an inmate resigned to their cell.
​“It’s been a long day. There have been lots of surprises. I’m feeling overwhelmed.” I rolled my suitcase toward my barracks so he didn’t roll it out the front door.
​“You’re not in Nebraska anymore. You’re in New York City.” He indicated out the windows before storming toward the kitchen. “Buck up, buttercup.”
​I bit my tongue when I wanted to fire something right back. My life had not been easy, and I hated that he assumed it had been because I was shocked I’d be sharing a room with a strange boy. This wasn’t normal. This was five thousand percent not normal.
​“You want a sandwich?” he called from the kitchen as he started tossing things onto the counter.
​“A sandwich?” I repeated. Hadn’t we just been in a moderately heated conversation? And now he’d moved on to sandwich-making twelve seconds later?
​“You know, meat, cheese, condiments? Two slices of bread holding it all together?” He shot me a smirk as he twirled open the bag of bread.
​My stomach answered for me. “Actually, yeah. Thanks.” Leaving my suitcase behind the divider, I moved toward the kitchen.
​“What brought you to the biggest city in the country from Nebraska?” he asked, glancing at me.
​I stopped behind one of the plastic chairs around the table. It didn’t feel right to just make myself at home . . . even though this was my new home. “Modeling.”
​He made a sound like everything made sense now, then stalled with the knife in the mayo jar. “So when you say you want a sandwich, you mean two pieces of celery smashed together?”
​My eyes lifted. I’d been called a stick, a twig, a pole, a beanpole, accused of being anorexic, bulimic, a drug addict, you name it, because I was genetically predisposed to having a thin frame. Now that I was officially a model, it was only going to get worse, I guessed. “I hate celery.”
​Soren spread a thick layer of mustard on one piece of bread. “Too many carbs?”
​“You’re annoying.”
​“So I’ve been told.”
​Of course my roommate would be one of the few people on the planet who was capable of getting under my skin. Who better to share a six-hundred-square-foot space with than someone who couldn’t look at me without triggering mild irritation? The more he talked, the less cute-hot he became. Silver linings. I didn’t need to harbor some minor attraction to the guy I was sharing an apartment with.
​“Don’t you have any questions for me?” I asked after a minute.
​One shoulder rose as he layered on what looked like pastrami. “You don’t smoke?”
​“Nope.”
​“You don’t stay out late partying, getting your drink on, and come home smelling like the city barfed on you?”
​“Definitely not.” I wasn’t straitlaced, but I wasn’t a hot mess either.
He pulled a couple of plates from a cupboard, tossed the sandwiches onto them, and moved toward the table. “You aren’t prone to stealing other people’s property? Namely my Nutter Butters?”
It didn’t seem like a serious question. The look on his face told otherwise. “No,” I answered.
He held one plate toward me. “Then we’re good.”
When I took the plate, my stomach growled. The last thing I’d eaten was the pretzels on the plane.
“Thanks,” I said, feeling a stab of guilt for the way I’d acted since meeting him. He was the only person in New York who’d offered me a place to live, and he was giving me a free meal.
“You don’t look like you could afford to miss one more meal,” he said. I didn’t miss the way he inspected my arms as I took a seat. “So now that you’ve had the grand tour, do you have any questions for me? And by that, I mean actual questions, not accusations.”
When I shot him a look, he gave me a big smile right before stuffing his sandwich in his mouth. Let’s see. I knew his name, his gender, where he’d grown up, that he was a smartass, and that he was cute-hot when he wasn’t talking.
“What do you do?”
He lowered his sandwich. “I model,” he said, his expression flat. “Men’s underwear mainly. Sometimes women’s. If they pay me enough.”
I smiled at my sandwich as I lifted it. “I thought you looked familiar. I just didn’t recognize you without those big wings and the million-dollar diamond bra.”
He chuckled, tearing off another bite of his sandwich. “I play ball,” he said, still chewing.
“Like dodgeball?” I took a small bite of the sandwich he’d made me so it wouldn’t seem like I was starving.
He shot me a tight smile. “Like baseball.” He waved his sandwich toward his “bedroom,” where a big red duffel was, a mitt and bat hanging out of it. “I play at one of the junior colleges close by since none of the D1 schools wanted to take a risk with me.”
​“A risk?” I took another bite, this one bigger. I wasn’t usually a fan of pastrami or mustard, but dang, this was the best sandwich I’d ever had.
“Let’s just say I was a bit of a hothead in high school, and D1 schools would rather have the golden boy with some talent than the wild card with mad talent.”
“Hothead . . .?”
“I got into a few fights at some games.”
I circled my sandwich in the air. “Like pushing, name calling type fights?”
“Try fists flying, dust spinning type of fights.” He must have guessed where my mind was taking me. “Don’t worry. I never have or never would put my hands on a woman like that, and I’ve calmed my shit down a lot since then. Nothing like being forced to eat a slice of humble pie at junior college to get a player in line.”
Nibbling off a corner, I curled my legs up onto the chair. I’d been too busy freaking out over my new living arrangements to notice how chilly it was in here. I couldn’t see my breath or anything, but it felt only a few degrees away from that.
“What are you studying?” I asked.
He dropped the last piece of sandwich into his mouth before wiping his hands on his jeans. “I’m just banging general requirements out of the way right now. I don’t care about becoming an accountant or a project manager or whatever the hell else other guys go to college for. I want to play ball. I go to school because it’s a package deal.”
“So your plan is to transfer to a D1 school to play ball after you’re finished?” I asked, like I knew what I was talking about. Which I didn’t. Sports weren’t my thing. Watching or partaking in them.
“I want to get drafted by the best professional baseball team in the whole wide world. That’s my plan.” He shoved out of his chair, carrying his plate into the kitchen.
“You want to play professional baseball?”
“No. I’m going to play professional baseball. And the one good thing about playing at a junior college is that I can be drafted any time they want me. I don’t have to wait until I graduate like I would have if one of those D1 schools had recruited me.” He rinsed his plate in the sink before setting it on a drying rack. He hadn’t used soap, but I supposed it was better than licking it clean and sticking it back in the cupboard. “Want anything to drink? Another sandwich?”
I lifted what was left of my first sandwich. It was only halfway gone and I was already feeling full. It wasn’t because I was a small eater either—he made his sandwiches like he was entertaining a team of linebackers. “I’m good, thanks.”
He lifted a package of Nutter Butters, one hanging from his mouth, a half dozen clutched in his other hand.
“I just promised I wouldn’t steal your Nutter Butters.”
“But I’m offering you one. There’s a difference.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. Looks like you need them.” I eyed the stack in his hand as he stuffed the package back on the top shelf.
“I play ball two to four hours a day. I go to school four to six hours. Homework on top of that, and a part-time job in between. I have to take advantage when I have a minute to stuff my face.” He padded back to the table and set one cookie from the pile in his hand on my plate. “For dessert.”
I thanked him, even though I wasn’t a fan of Nutter Butters. I was more a chocolate person than a peanut butter one.
“You want a hand bringing up the rest of your stuff? I’ve got some time before I should hit the books. I have a biology test tomorrow morning.” His nose crinkled as he stuffed another cookie in his mouth.
For his apparent love affair with cookies, he sure didn’t have the body of a cookie enthusiast. Thanks to his light-colored tee, which hugged particularly nice parts of the male anatomy, he looked like the type who ate egg whites and kale in his sleep.
“Oh, I don’t have anything else. Just my big suitcase and me.” I set my sandwich down after taking one more bite.
“So you don’t have any more stuff to move in?” When I shrugged, he frowned. “No more stuff as in a futon or mattress or . . .?”
My head shook as I moved toward my suitcase. I needed to throw on a sweatshirt before I gave myself frostbite. “They don’t let you check mattresses or futons on the airplane. But I brought a pillow and a sleeping bag.” Setting down the suitcase, I unzipped it and pulled out those very items.
“Hardwood floors.” His foot tapped the floor.
“I’ve slept in barns, train depots, and the backseat of a ’77 Malibu.” Shaking the sleeping bag open, I shot him a smile. Whatever had happened or was about to, I was chasing my dreams. Life was pretty damn good. “Buck up, buttercup.”

_______________________________________

4887264Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.

Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

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Chapter Reveal: When Life Happened by Jewel E. Ann

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When Life Happened, an all-new standalone romance from

Jewel E. Ann is coming June 5th!

WLH Full

When Life Happened by Jewel E. Ann

Publication Date: June 5th, 2017

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Parker Cruse despises cheaters. It might have something to do with her boyfriend sleeping with her twin sister.

After a wedding day prank involving a strong laxative, that ends the already severed relationship between the twins, Parker decides to grow up and act twenty-six.

Step One: Move out of her parents’ house.

Step Two: Find a job.

Opportunity strikes when she meets her new neighbor, Gus Westman. He’s an electrician with Iowa farm-boy values and a gift for saying her name like it’s a dirty word.

He also has a wife.

Sabrina Westman, head of a successful engineering firm, hires Parker as her personal assistant. Driven to be the best assistant ever, Parker vows to stay focused, walk the dog, go to the dry cleaners, and not kiss Gus—again.

Step Three: Don’t judge.

Step Four: Remember— when life happens, it does it in a heartbeat.

Exclusive Chapter One Reveal:

 

http://www.jeweleann.com/when-life-happened-exclusive

Preorder exclusively on iBooks:

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Add to GoodReads: https://goo.gl/2Nkk9h

About Jewel:

Jewel is a free-spirited romance junkie with a quirky sense of humor.

With 10 years of flossing lectures under her belt, she took early retirement from her dental hygiene career to stay home with her three awesome boys and manage the family business.

After her best friend of nearly 30 years suggested a few books from the Contemporary Romance genre, Jewel was hooked. Devouring two and three books a week but still craving more, she decided to practice sustainable reading, AKA writing.

When she’s not donning her cape and saving the planet one tree at a time, she enjoys yoga with friends, good food with family, rock climbing with her kids, watching How I Met Your Mother reruns, and of course…heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, panty-scorching novels.

Connect with Jewel:

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Twitter: @JewelE_Ann

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Chapter Reveal: Behind The Wall by Jane Harvey-Berrick

 

 

 

Behind The Wall
A Novella
Release Date: May 26, 2017
By Jane Harvey- Berrick
Buy: Amazon

 

 

Synopsis

 

Prison.
The place where dreams fade and hope dies.
That’s what it’s meant for the five years that Garrett has been behind bars. But now hope is on the horizon and he’s daring to dream again: small dreams, small hopes.
Getting his GED would be a start. If only his prison-appointed teacher Miss Ella Newsome wasn’t so damn sexy.
As Garrett and Ella start to play a dangerous game, the price could be higher than either of them have guessed.

This story first appeared in the anthology HOT FOR TEACHER in 2016. It has since been extended with new scenes, more heart ache and even more heat.

 

 

 

Chapter One

Garrett

“Hey, Garrett. Check out the new teacher, man.”

Hudson’s voice was quiet, so as to not attract attention.

I’d been in this shitty classroom for thirty seconds and I was already itching to leave. It brought back too many bad memories. But getting educated was a condition of trying to get my parole. I could put up with any amount of crap to say goodbye to this hellhole.

I glanced up, sighing inwardly when I saw that Officer Reynolds was with the teacher. Some of the guards were fair, treating us okay, but some, like the asshole in front of me, got off on making us remember which side of the bars we were on. But I figured I’d been inside for five years—Reynolds was in for life, even if he did get to leave every night. Once I was out of this sewer, that was it, done. I was never coming back. Not again.

My gaze drifted to the woman standing next to the Warden’s poster boy for prison brutality. She looked nervous, but was trying to hide it by standing straight, keeping her chin up, meeting a man’s eyes without prejudice or promise.

I turned away. Sure, it was nice to have a female to look at, but anything longer than a quick glance would have Reynolds burning my ass.

Besides, she wasn’t my type. I liked my women to look like women: tall, with tits and ass, big hair, lush lips, and a ballsy attitude.

The new teacher was kind of small, although she had a nice rack. Her hair was a pretty auburn color, but it was short, not even chin length. Nothing for a man to grab onto. And not a scrap of makeup. A man dreamed about scarlet lips in a place like this.

I could see her hands shaking as she stood behind the desk, holding onto her schoolbag like it would save her from drowning.

Not in this classroom, sweetheart.

She wouldn’t last. She looked as if a stiff breeze would blow her over.

Reynolds rapped his baton on the desk to get our attention, but the only person who jumped was the new teacher. I was amused to see a warm flush rise up her cheeks. I could tell by the irritated glance she threw Reynolds’ way that she was annoyed with him as well as herself.

Reynolds looked as though he was about to start one of his lectures, telling us how we was shit and not worth the money spent on keeping our asses in prison, but the woman stepped from behind the desk and started talking.

“Hello, class,” she said, walking to the front as her blush faded. “My name is Miss Newsome…”

My mouth dropped open, and every swivel-eyed pervert in the room was transfixed by our new teacher. She had the smallest waist hovering over the biggest ass I’d ever seen. Hourglasses didn’t have anything on her. I scrubbed my hands over my face. One hour of sheer hell coming up.

“I wish I did knew some her ass,” mumbled Cooper from the back of the room, echoing the thoughts of every man here.

“Who said that?” roared Reynolds, stalking down the gap between the desks that were bolted to the floor. “Cooper, you show some goddamn respect or you’ll be spending the next six weeks in solitary!”

Reynolds’ face had turned a reddish-purple, and I wondered if we’d be lucky enough to watch him stroke out. Movie night had been cancelled for the last month, so the boredom level was at an all-time high.

But then the teacher cleared her throat, her voice stronger although still high pitched with tension.

“As I was saying, my name is Miss Newsome, and I’ll be your teacher for the rest of the semester…”

“We ain’t got no semesters here,” muttered Chiverson. “Just one-to-three for felony assault.”

Reynolds growled out another threat.

Miss Newsome ignored him, approaching the front row, giving those lucky bastards a ring-side view of a knee-length charcoal gray skirt stretched tight over those wide hips, and a plain white shirt that did nothing to hide her fuck-me curves.

She was obviously trying to go for spinster, but she’d lucked out on sexy librarian instead.

I was doomed. I’d never pass my GED with her as my teacher. I raised my eyes to the ceiling, praying to some higher power that I definitely didn’t believe in.

It was only when the room went silent, no man even breathing, that I realized she’d stopped by my seat.

“Am I boring you already, Mr. … Garrett?”

I saw her eyes dip to the number printed across my prison scrubs before checking her clipboard for my name.

I didn’t know which surprised me more—hearing her say my name, calling me ‘mister’, or the sass in her voice as she did it. Girl was tougher than she looked.

Yep, screwed. Royally fucking screwed.

I realized that she was still waiting for an answer.

“No,” I said, dropping my eyes to her hips, before squeezing my eyelids shut. “I mean, no, ma’am.”

“Good!” she said brightly. “I look forward to your full participation in this class.”

“Party— what?” asked Jakowski, sitting at the desk next to me, his voice hopeful.

Her eyes softened a fraction as she turned in his direction, and I couldn’t help noticing that they were large and brown, like a puppy or Bambi’s mom before she got shot.

Ah, shit.

“Participation,” she said calmly. “It means that I want everyone to join in during my classes, not sit there thinking about what you’re having for dinner.”

A soft rumble of amusement rippled through the room. Reynolds looked furious. But then again, that was pretty much his resting bitch-face.

“I’ll do my best to keep the lessons interesting,” she went on. “But we have a lot of work to get through. I know you’re all up to the challenge because you’ve been specially selected—you guys are my top class.”

I looked up at that. I’d never been top of anything, unless it was a hot woman. I saw a lot of the other guys eyeing her with disbelief and mistrust, too.

“I mean it,” she said softly, as we all hung on her every word. “Mr. Michaels, the Warden, is very keen that everyone in this class gets their GED. It’s my job to make sure that you do. But I’ll need your cooperation to achieve that. I promise that I’ll make every effort to help you, but you all need to promise me that you’ll try, as well. So, I don’t want anyone in this classroom sitting silently because they don’t understand. If you have a question, you raise your hand. Please remember that you learn by asking questions. Don’t be macho about it—ignorance isn’t bliss.”

I felt her gaze on me again, but I kept my head down.

“Isn’t that right, Mr. Garrett?”

I didn’t like her picking on me, and I frowned at my rough hands clasped together on the empty desk.

“Answer her, boy!” snarled Reynolds, rapping his baton next to my fingers, making me snatch them away fast.

“Yes, ma’am,” I muttered, keeping my eyes fixed on the buttons of Reynolds’ uniform to keep from punching the bastard.

Yep, those eighteen months of mandatory anger management classes had gotten through to me: think first, punch later when you won’t get caught.

Miss Newsome cleared her throat, bringing attention back to her.

I drew in a breath, and as she drifted past me, the faint scent of summer flowers hung in the air. I didn’t think she was wearing perfume, so it must have been her shampoo or soap, but whatever it was, the smell was all woman.

I breathed deeply again, feeling a mixture of anger and dizziness at having something so enticing, near but out of reach.

“Those of you who graduate my class will have the opportunity to move on to college-level courses.”

At that point, most of us lost interest. We hadn’t succeeded in school and we hadn’t succeeded in life. What made this college-educated bitch think she could give us anything we needed?

Sensing she was losing us, she went on brightly, her voice a little more shrill than it had been a minute before.

“And I’ll be looking out for a teacher’s aide as we go on—so maybe you can impress the heck out of me.”

Looking around at the bored, disconnected expressions of the other prisoners, it seemed unlikely.

“Okay, so I thought I’d start off with a poem by Oscar Wilde, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’.”

Her voice gained strength as she read, but fuck me, what a depressing fucking poem. I listened to the rise and fall of her voice, but I tuned out most of the words.

“I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky.”

That penetrated—so many times I’d looked up at the patch of sky above the exercise yard and tried to remember what it felt like to be free. Free to stare up at the sky and not have to watch my back at the same time.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a black guy I didn’t know raise his hand, making the teacher stutter and pause.

“Yes, Mr. … Haslett?”

“Ma’am, we already know all about prison. Rather we’d study somethin’ else.”

Her mouth popped open and her eyes screwed up. Ah hell! Surely she wasn’t going to cry? If she did, she’d never put a foot in this classroom again.

“Oh,” she huffed, sounding flustered. “Yes, I see.”

I was fascinated by a bead of sweat that escaped her hairline, running down her cheek and disappearing into her prim collar.

I expected her to wipe it away with those long, slim fingers. But she acted like she hadn’t noticed, even though the classroom was rank with humidity, sweat and failure.

“I just thought…” she waffled on. “I thought … no, you’re right. Well, we could study a poem about love—about love and hate? Would that be better?”

The black guy twitched a shoulder.

“You’re the teacher.”

Miss Newsome laughed. It was such a bright sound, easy, such a contrast to the tense, angry or bored voices I heard around me the rest of the day.

Something tightened in my chest.

Six months. Six more months, then maybe I can find myself a woman who laughs so free and easy.

I enjoyed the view of Miss Newsome’s ass as she walked back to her desk, the rhythmical sway of those full hips, the way her skirt swung around her knees. Pretty fucking mesmerizing.

She started rummaging through her enormous pile of books. Her lips were moving, and I guessed that she was talking to herself.

Her pile was huge, and she was in danger of tipping over. But the thought of her ending ass up across her desk made my prison uniform uncomfortably tight. And if the expressions of the guys around me were anything to go by, she was having the same effect on them.

Miss Newsome had better watch her cute ass and not get caught in an empty classroom with any of these goons. There’s only so much restraint a man has. I frowned at the thought of someone violating teacher-lady. No, that pissed me off.

Goddammit! Now I’d feel obliged to keep an eye on her.

I slumped in my seat, sighing heavily, only noticing the stink-eye she gave me when Hudson elbowed me in the ribs again, grinning broadly.

She snapped open the book she was holding like she was about to shank me with it, and with a final glare, began to read.

“Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.”

She lowered the book, her face flushed, and when she glared in my direction again, I guessed she must still be mad at me. Great.

“The poet, Robert Frost, was inspired by the fourteenth-century Italian poet Dante and his description of Hell. The worst offenders—traitors—are in a fiery hell while bound in ice. And isn’t that contradiction an apt description of love?”

There was a moment of silence before anyone spoke.

“That poem is the shit, ma’am!” said a guy to my right. “Like how a woman gets you all hot and angry, then freezes your ass off ‘cause you didn’t get her the right kind of candy. And how it gets you fired up that she can be so cold, and all you can think of is warming her up till she burning like a Fourth of July firework.”

“Yeah, and then you blow your fucking load and it’s a loud bang and all over,” laughed another guy.

“Watch your damn mouth, Fisher!” Reynolds yelled. “You will respect your teacher and keep your language clean.”

“It’s fine, really,” Miss Newsome said weakly.

Reynolds turned to her slowly.

“With all due respect, ma’am, these animals will take advantage any chance they get. You’ve got to let ‘em know who’s boss.”

She flushed with anger and embarrassment, but for the rest of the lesson, she could hardly get a word out of anyone; no one wanted to be on the wrong side of Reynolds. No one wanted to end up in solitary on his watch.

It was the quietest poetry discussion that I’d ever seen. And I couldn’t even spell party— partycipation…

As the bell rang for chow time, the little teacher looked almost desperate.

“Thank you all for today,” she said, smiling like she’d just chewed on a juicy lemon. “I’m afraid there’s homework—but nothing too much for the first time. I’d like you all to write a page on the subject of ‘the best day of my life’.”

Benson raised his hand.

“Was it when you graduated college, Miss?”

“What? Oh no! I mean what was the best day of your life?”

Benson stared at her gravely.

“Well, let me see now; I been incarcerated for nineteen years, and might get paroled next winter. I’ll have been in stir more than half my life. Ain’t been a whole lot of best days.”
She blinked rapidly, then gave him a soft smile.

“Maybe you’d like to imagine what your best day would be like?”

He stared back at her, then nodded solemnly.

“I reckon I’d like that just fine.”

She smiled with relief.

“Good, good. And the same goes for the rest of you. If you want to imagine your best day instead, that’s okay by me.”

As we filed out of the room, Reynolds watching our backs like the answer to the Universe was written on them, the teacher gave us each a lined sheet of paper and a blunt pencil.

“Write small,” she teased.

When she handed me my paper, her smile slipped.

And I can’t tell you how bad it hurt that she’d smile for every motherfucker in here, but not for me.

 

 

 

 

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Jane is a writer of contemporary romance fiction, known for thoughtful stories, often touching on difficult subjects: disability (DANGEROUS TO KNOW & LOVE, SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM); mental illness (THE EDUCATION OF CAROLINE, SEMPER FI); life after prison (LIFERS); dyslexia (THE TRAVELING MAN, THE TRAVELING WOMAN).

She is also a campaigner for former military personnel to receive the support they need on leaving the services. She wrote the well-received play LATER, AFTER with former veteran Mike Speirs. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk1CyB8c0xA )

 

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