Chapter Reveal: Delayed Call by Toni Aleo – The Assassins Series

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Delayed Call

The Assassins Series – Book 10

Genre: Sports Romance… Hockey

By Toni Aleo

Pre Order: Amazon / B & N / IBooks / Kobo

Release Date: March 20, 2017

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Synopsis

 

Vaughn Johansson is the Nashville Assassins’ star player. He’s brash, cocky, and talented. And he isn’t afraid to let anyone know it. He lives his life on his own terms, never forming romantic attachments, and only allowing his very closest to see his true, caring self.

Brie Soledad has the weight of the world on her shoulders. As the staff reporter for the Assassins, she balances a high-profile job and its heavy travel schedule with being the sole provider for her adult brother with Down syndrome. Sure, she’d like to find love. But who has time for that when there are bills to pay?

Brie has been the match to Vaughn’s gasoline since the day she first held out her microphone to him. They strike sparks off each other, keeping their friends, the team, and the Assassins fans in stitches. Brie’s refusal to fawn over Vaughn sets his teeth on edge and his blood boiling. Especially in that body part…

Brie’s been let down by love before, but she knows she deserves nothing less than real, forever love. Vaughn’s past has left deep, hidden scars, and there are some secrets he cannot bear to reveal. As much as Brie wants him, Vaughn may be too big a risk for her wary heart to take. But he’s is at his best under pressure. When the delayed call is in effect and he has no choice but to score, Vaughn always delivers.

 

Chapter One

 

“He’s cute.”

She’s a sweetie, too.”

“Oh, she’s a she?”

“Yes.”

“Girls don’t usually like me,” Vaughn Johansson said with his brows pulled together as he looked into the dark brown eyes gazing back at him.

They were full of such hope, wanting… And instantaneously, he fell in love.

“Well, I think she loves you.”

Looking up briefly at the adoption counselor, Vaughn gazed back at the little black French Bulldog and smiled. She was a cutie; her little nub tail was wiggling, and her eyes were so wide that Vaughn felt like he could fall into them. But just as quick as he fell in love, he noticed something was missing. “She only has three legs.”

The adoption rep smiled grimly. “Yes, she was brought in having been hit by a car, and we fixed her up. That’s what throws people off, her not being whole and all.”

Making a face, Vaughn crouched down and took ahold of the fence as the little girl wiggled in excitement. She wanted to come through the fence. He could feel her eagerness, especially when she started to lick his hands, her eyes telling, or better yet, begging him to take her home. The thing was, she didn’t have to beg. The little three-legged dog was his from the moment he saw her. As he leaned into the fence, his nose went through the links before he whispered, “Don’t worry, girl, I’m not whole either.”

She licked his nose before letting out the sweetest little bark, and Vaughn was hooked. Standing up, he clapped his hands together. “I scored three goals last night, a hat trick, so it only makes sense that my first dog be a three-legged one.”

“Oh, cool.”

She had no clue what he was talking about. “I play for the Nashville Assassins.”

The lady, who obviously had never seen a game of hockey a day in her life, nodded happily.

“Cool. That’s fun.”

“You know what team that is, right?”

“Yeah, football. Right?”

Vaughn blinked in dismay, but then, what did he expect? She was barely an adult and probably hadn’t been exposed to the great sport of hockey. “Hockey.”

“Oh, I don’t like hockey,” she said, wrinkling her face up. “But the players are hot.”

He couldn’t disagree, but then she looked him up and down with very sinful eye, and he froze. There was no way in hell he was going to prison for this jailbait, so that was his cue to get his dog and bounce. Yet, he asked, “Have you been to a game?”

“Oh, no, I don’t have time.”

Rolling his eyes once more, he looked back at his new girl and smiled. “Well, that’s too bad because I’m naming this girl Tricksie, and that won’t make sense to you.”

“Oh, you want her?”

“Yes, I do. You know what a hat trick is, right?”

The fact that she had no clue what he was speaking of was all over her face as she only nodded. “Like tricks with hats?”

Vaughn wanted to cry. The poor youth of the world. “It’s where you score three goals.”

He might as well have told her the answer to the greatest unsolved math problem in the world, because she was more lost than the three blind mice. “Cool. That’s hard, huh?”

Smiling, he shot her a wink. “For some. But for me, it’s easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”

Her face scrunched up more. She thought he was an idiot. “That’s corny.”

“Well, that’s because you’re ten.”

She pressed her lips together in annoyance. “I’m twenty.”

“Same thing. Can I get my dog, please?”

Rolling her eyes before popping her gum, she turned for the front. “Yeah, let’s go to the office, and Linda will get the paperwork done.”

She started to walk away, but Vaughn didn’t move. “Can I have her?”

Letting out a long breath, she nodded before reaching for her keys, which made Tricksie jump to the best of her ability and howl louder. A huge grin spread across Vaughn’s face as he bent down and the little girl came running for him, jumping into him and scrambling to climb up his body. Holding on to her overactive little body, Vaughn laughed as he stood, kissing her head. “I think she’s happy.”

“That’s an understatement,” the girl said dryly as she started for the front of the adoption center, but Vaughn was in complete paradise.

It had been a long month of looking for a companion, but holding Tricksie, Vaughn was pretty sure it had been totally worth the wait. His need for company came when he discovered he was the only single guy on the team. Everyone had girlfriends or wives and/or kids. Meanwhile, Vaughn was chilling with just an Xbox when he wasn’t working. Hockey kept him busy, but when he wasn’t at the rink, there was no one to hang with, no one to talk to, and he found himself a bit lonely. He wasn’t ashamed to say that; it was a natural occurrence when one didn’t want to put himself out there and find someone to love him. The thing about love was it was just so uncertain, and Vaughn didn’t have the time for it. But a dog, a dog loved you no matter what. Plus, he had always wanted a dog. Ever since he was a little kid, he had yearned for one, but since hockey was so expensive, his dad never got him and his brother one. Along with all the therapy and treatments his brother needed, a dog wasn’t doable. But now, now, a dog was doable.

And Vaughn was convinced Tricksie was going to be the best dog ever.

As Tricksie licked and barked happily, Vaughn couldn’t believe he had waited so long to do this. But then, if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have this beautiful gem of a girl. And boy, what a beauty she was. He couldn’t believe people would turn up their noses at her, all because she didn’t have four legs. She had killer dark-as-night fur, her big, brown eyes were two huge views into her heart, and she smiled. The damn dog was smiling, tongue hanging out as she wiggled in his arms. She smelled a little musky, but that was fixable. No, this girl was the jackpot, and Vaughn was glad he had pulled the lever.

As he walked through the doors leading to the office area—or at least, he hoped this was the right way since the lady who was helping him had disappeared—his phone sounded with a notification from his Nashville Assassins’ team app. It was probably weird that he had the app to the team he played hockey for on his phone, but he liked to know what his team was posting. Plus, he sometimes heard information from the app before he did from Coach. When he pulled out his phone, sliding the tab over, he realized this instance was one of those times.

Jensen Monroe signed to Nashville Assassins for a three-year, three-million-dollar deal.

“Holy shit! Tricksie, look! Uncle Jenny is coming to our team,” he said to his girlie before he laughed out loud. “You don’t know Uncle Jensen, hell, you don’t know me, but you will. Don’t worry.”

Tricksie licked him happily, and he was pretty sure she didn’t care what he said as long as he loved her and fed her, which was his plan. His phone started to ring, and he laughed when he saw it was the man of the hour. “Jensen Monroe, signed to the Nashville Assassins for some bookoo bucks! What’s up, brother?”

Jensen laughed softly, his voice deep. It had been deep since they were, like, thirteen. “Who the hell says bookoo still?”

“Fuck you, dude. Congratulations!”

“Thanks, it’s a great deal, I’m excited. It will be like old times too,” he said with a low laugh, and Vaughn smiled.

There wasn’t a teenage moment that didn’t have Jensen and their buddy Wells in it. The three had been inseparable. When Jensen came to live with Wells’s family to play for their high school team, the three guys just clicked. They played all through high school, went to the same college, and were all drafted the same year too. Even being apart, Wells on the Avalanche, Vaughn on the Assassins, and when Jensen was with the Wild, they all stayed in contact. They were brothers. Always would be too. The guys were there for Vaughn when no one else was, and he would be forever in debt to the two men who became his brothers.

“Wait, what happened to Dylan?”

“He got sent down. Mrs. Adler said she wants someone she knows will win games. He hasn’t won a game since last season. I can win the games.” He wasn’t lying. Jensen was a great goalie, and it surprised Vaughn that he had come to the Assassins as a backup when he had a starting position with the Wild.

“Why did you leave?”

“I wasn’t happy. Yeah, I was winning games, but my contract was up and I needed a change. So I took the deal from Mrs. Adler, and I think it’s a good one. Except now I’ll be fighting the best goalie in the league for playing time.”

Vaughn sucked his teeth. “Yeah, Tate Odder is the best.”

“Thank you.” Vaughn laughed. “Besides, you, duh,” he said, his voice high and playful. “I hate you, but are you still single?”

Vaughn paused. “Shit, are you telling me you’re gay too? I always knew Wells was, but I never suspected it from you. And, dude, you know I don’t bat for that team. I’m a pussy-only kind of guy.”

“No, you douche canoe. Fuck.” He could practically hear Jensen roll his eyes, which, of course, made Vaughn laugh. “I seriously hate you, and I can’t believe I’m about to beg for this, but can I please live with you?”

Vaughn stopped laughing as he looked down to his new ladylove. “I don’t know, man, I just got a new roommate.”

“What?”

“Yeah, she’s sweet, cold nose, licks a lot, and has three legs, but she’s cute as all hell,” he said as Tricksie kissed him with excitement before barking out in agreement. “And she barks. I’m not sure if it’s a lot, though.”

“You got a three-legged dog?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Of course you did. Who is going to watch said three-legged dog when we are on trips?”

“Wren,” he said simply, and Jensen groaned loudly at the mention of Wells’s baby sister. Jensen had always had a thing for her, but Wren never took notice. She was too busy with her nose in a book. Which he guessed paid off because now she was a hotshot therapist for the Nashville Assassins. Plus, Vaughn was pretty sure she batted for the other team. He had never seen her with a dude, and he had tried to sleep with her plenty. He couldn’t imagine why she’d turn him down if she were straight. Obviously.

“Does she know this?”

“Yeah,” he lied, and Jensen let out a long breath of frustration.

“You never think things through, I swear. But whatever, can you get me from the airport at 9:10?”

Vaughn smiled since he had never said yes to Jensen living with him, for the simple fact that Jensen didn’t have to ask and he knew that. Jensen knew he had a home wherever Vaughn was. “Yup, me and Tricksie will be there.”

“Tricksie?”

“She’s a three-legged dog, and I scored a hat trick last night.”

Jensen paused and then laughed. “You’re insane. See you in a bit, and make sure you call Wren.”

“Will do.”

They hung up, and Vaughn rolled his eyes. Jensen was always the do-right kind of guy. While Wells and Vaughn wanted to go out, get drunk, and break something, Jensen would talk them down and convince them that getting drunk and playing on the back pond was a better idea. He was the last one to lose his virginity because he wanted it to be with someone “special.” He never cheated on a girl, and when he broke up with one, he felt bad. When his young marriage broke up, he took all the blame on himself. Never said an unkind word about his ex. He called his mom every day, multiple times, and he hung out with the dorky kids growing up. He was voted Homecoming King of their class because he was so sugary sweet. Not to mention, he looked like a runway model, while Wells and Vaughn looked a little rough around the edges. Still, they were best friends, and nothing could ever change that.

When his phone rang right as he reached the doors to go sign the papers for Tricksie, he looked down to see it was Wren.

Shit.

“Hey, Wren,” he said, answering the phone with a big smile. “How’s my favorite therapist who won’t sleep with me?”

“Oh, I’m just fine. But funny thing, you didn’t show up for therapy, and then I got a text from Jensen saying you got a dog and I’m watching it. Oh, and it has three legs.”

“Um… Her name is Tricksie and she is amazing, and I don’t need therapy.”

“You do. Tricksie. Cute, but I never agreed to watch her.”

“Yes, you did.”

“When?”

“When I got you drunk the other night and stole your virtue.”

“Vaughn Johansson, I haven’t had my virtue in a long damn time.”

“But did a guy take it?”

“I will kill you dead, and that’s off the record, mister,” she growled into the phone, at which he laughed. “So you have no leg to stand on, and I don’t think Tricksie can lend you one.”

Vaughn scoffed. “You said I needed a companion. I got one, and in return, you have to watch her when I leave.”

“I meant a woman, but fine, a dog is fine. It’s a step in the right direction, I guess. But I never agreed to this, and I travel too, Vaughn.”

“Not all the time, though. Maybe once a month, and I can board her then.”

“So you have a plan?” she asked, and she didn’t sound convinced because, really, Vaughn never had a plan.

“Yup, sure do.”

“Okay, well, add me in at nine tomorrow before morning skate, and if you don’t show up, I’ll tell your coach.”

Vaughn’s face scrunched up. “You’re mean.”

“I love you too. Bye.”

She hung up, and Vaughn tucked his phone into his pocket before looking down at Tricksie. “That was your aunt Wren and she’s mean to me, but she’ll be nice to you. Are you ready to go home?”

Tricksie began to lick his skin off, and he took that as a yes. As a huge smile covered his face, Vaughn nodded his head. He had his baby girl, his best friend was coming to his team, Wren would watch Tricksie, and he was playing for the team of his dreams. Things were good. Really good.

And loneliness would be a thing of the past; he just knew it.

 

***

 

“Who talked me into this?”

“No one. You did that to yourself.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. You’re lonely?”

“Oh. I am, aren’t I? Shit.”

“Yup, so may the force be with you, my friend.”

“But I don’t want to do this.”

“Then leave?”

“Can’t you come with me? There’s still time. It doesn’t start for another fifteen.”

“I’m just sure my fiancé would love that.”

Brie Soledad rolled her eyes as she leaned on the pillar of the ballroom, her eyes burning a hole in the sign that read: Speed Dating for Nashville Locals. It was embarrassing that this was what her life had resulted in, but as her best friend had said, she was lonely. Mekena Preston, though, was not lonely. Nope, she was all happy and in love with her fiancé, while having a great job and a wonderful life, blah, blah, blah. And if Brie was honest, she was jealous as hell and so desperately wanted to get laid, maybe even fall in love. Get the blah, blah, blah.

God, she wanted the blah, blah, blah. So damn bad.

Being a hockey reporter for one of the hottest teams in the NHL, the Nashville Assassins, one would think she would be rolling in the men, but she wasn’t. Everyone treated her like a little sister or they ignored her or they treated her like shit. Well, only one did that, but that was beside the point. The point was, Brie needed more. She was happy in her career. It was awesome, she was amazing, and people loved her. She had even won an Emmy the year before; she was kicking ass. The only problem was she didn’t have anyone to share her success with.

Yeah, she had her little brother, Rodney, but he really didn’t understand. Also, he needed to focus on his health and not on her. She was supposed to worry for him, not the other way around. Or at least, that was what she had promised her mom before she passed away from cancer a few years back. Sometimes, it was hard to remember, but she blamed that on the fact that she had no one to lean on. It was just her, with the weight of her job and her brother’s issues on her shoulders.

And plus, she really wanted to get laid.

It really didn’t make sense. She wasn’t an ugly girl. She was short, and maybe she could have skipped a few desserts, but then, what was life without ice cream and donuts? She had a pretty face, big blue eyes, and lips that screamed to be kissed, yet no one was kissing them. It was annoying, and pray God, this damn speed dating worked.

“I’m gonna stay,” she said, coming off the pillar and fixing the skirt of her little blue dress that stopped right at the middle of her thighs. “I need to get laid.”

Mekena stuttered. “Not tonight, though, right?”

“Jesus, Mekena, I’m not a whore.”

“Oh, you’re not?”

And this was the problem with being best friends with a girl she met only a month ago. “I’m not. Asshole.”

She giggled. “Fine, but please text me and let me know you weren’t killed.”

“I’ve got my pepper spray.”

“And your Taser?”

“And my Taser,” she said, rolling her eyes. She wasn’t sure why Mekena was even asking; she was the one who had stuffed it in her purse the day before. If nothing else, Mekena Preston was practical and smart, very smart.

“Good, text me when you leave.”

“Will do.”

“Have fun. Find your forever!”

Brie’s face scrunched up. “That is dumb, don’t ever say that again.”

“Hey, everyone says that when they fall in love.”

“God, I hope I don’t.”

“You will.”

“I won’t.”

“Stop stalling. Go find your forever.”

“That’s disgusting. Bye,” Brie complained before hanging up and then tucking her phone into her pocket and taking in a deep breath. Looking around the room, she noticed there was a decent men-to-women ratio, which was good. She didn’t want to be the only chick in the middle of a sausage fest. While she wanted some sausage, she only needed one. A large one, thick, some girth, mmm… Great, now she was hungry. Pressing her hand to her belly, she rolled her eyes. She needed help.

Or, again, to get laid.

Maybe she should just go home with the first able-bodied man.

When a large, round man stopped in front of her, her eyes widened. He was easily twenty years older than her thirty-two years and he was losing his hair, but he was trying to cover it with a toupee. People still wore those? Pointing at her, he smiled with bright yellow teeth. “Hey, sugar, make sure to stop at my table.”

“Ugh, sure,” she blurted out before hightailing it to the left.

She would not be going home with that guy. No matter how desperate she was.

Standing in the back, she looked over the sea of people as the announcer explained what they were to do. The sad thing was, this wasn’t her first time, so she knew what to do. Last time, she hated it and met no one, but maybe this time would be different. Letting out a long groan, she shook her head. If she could be normal and meet someone in a coffee shop or at her job, that would be awesome. But she hadn’t had luck with guys her whole life.

She wasn’t one of those serial daters or even a casual one. She dated for a reason, and because of that, she had only been in two serious relationships. Both were ended by the guy, which did nothing for her confidence. Both times she didn’t see it coming, and that alone was depressing as hell. Especially Matthew. She loved Matthew—a lot. But when her mom died, he said it was too much and left her high and dry. Not only did she have to pick up the pieces of her heart and Rod’s from her mother’s death, but then she had to pick up the extra pieces of her heart from Matthew’s departure. It was horrible, and because of that experience, she was a little scarred by relationships.

Okay, a whole lot scarred. But she was coming up on a new year, and it was time to turn over a new leaf. She wanted the happiness that being with a guy could provide. It had taken her a long time to love herself again. After the grief was no longer overwhelming, after the pain of Matt was gone, she was ready to love once more. It was time, time for her to venture out and find that guy. The… There was no way she was saying the forever guy, but something along those lines.

“So let’s get started!” the announcer said, and then she rang a really annoying cowbell. Taking the cue, Brie went to the first table and sat down as a guy with hair longer than hers did. He was decent-looking, but no spark whatsoever. Maybe it would come?

“Hey, I’m Brian.” Brie smiled.

“Hi, I’m Brie.”

“Ha, like the cheese.”

She blinked. “Excuse me?”

“The cheese. I love Brie, it’s my favorite. I wonder if you taste like Brie? Wanna get out of here?”

She blinked once more and then let out a hard laugh. “So let me get this straight,” she said, leaning on the table. “First, you compare me to cheese, and not even the most exclusive cheese, kind of midrange. And then you want me to go home with you?”

He shrugged like that was a normal exchange.

“Yeah.” “Yeah, no. And fuck-you-very-much,” she said, standing up just as the bell rang. Thankfully. Moving down the chair, she skipped the guy from earlier, the balding dude, and sat down as a very attractive, clean-cut guy sat down. And wowza, was he gorgeous. Big blue eyes, wonderful angles to his face, and thick, yummy shoulders. He reminded her of someone…but… Whoa, not now, Soledad.

With a bright smile, she said, “Hey, I’m Brie.”

“Tim, nice to meet you,” he said, matching her grin as he looked her up and down. “Let me guess, a doctor?” She laughed. “Reporter for the Nashville Assassins.” His eyes lit up. “Go Assassins!”

She smiled as she nodded. “Greatest team in the league.”

“Agreed, but I’m sad. I could have sworn you were a doctor. That would have worked for me since I’m a lawyer, and I need someone to deal with my crazy hours.”

“Well, I need that too because I leave a lot.”

“Oh, well then, hi,” he said, leaning on the table, and she did the same.

“Hi.”

“Family?” She nodded. “A little brother.”

“What’s his name?”

“Rodney.”

“Is he in town?”

“Yup, over at Riverdale.”

His brows pulled together. “Riverdale? Isn’t that the old folks’ home?”

“They also have a facility for people with Down syndrome.”

“I didn’t know they kept retards too. That place stinks, I had an aunt die there.”

Oh, look, there went all the attraction she even thought she had for this piece of junk. Swallowing hard, she stood slowly and then tucked her chair in. “Actually, not all people with Down syndrome have mental challenges. My brother is highly intelligent. You wouldn’t even know he had Down syndrome if he didn’t have the physical characteristics.”

He shrugged, waving her off. “Same thing.”

She could only blink. “You know what isn’t the same? A dick-fuck and a cuntasaurus.”

“Um—”

“But you know what? You’re both of those,” she yelled. “And we are done.”

“Your loss, sweetheart.”

“No, you piece of dog shit, it’s your loss because I am fucking amazing,” she announced before turning on her heel and walking straight out of the speed-dating event.

Fuck guys.

They sucked.

 

 

 

 

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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

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Chapter Reveal: Mister Wrong by Nicole Williams

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Mister Wrong

By Nicole Williams

Release Date: February 27,2017

Pre Order: ITunes

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Synopsis

Cora Matthews grew up with the Adams boys, twin brothers and best friends who wouldn’t let anything come between them except for one thing—her. One of them became her best friend, the other, her fiancé.

She always knew she’d wind up marrying one of them, and Jacob Adams is the very epitome of Mister Right. At least he is up until he fails to show up for their wedding day. Not that Cora realizes it. At first.

As Jacob’s best man, and identical twin, Matt makes a split second decision, but one that will affect the three of their lives forever—he steps in to take his brother’s place. In front of the altar, exchanging vows with the woman he’s secretly been in love with for years.

Cora eventually finds out about the groom swap. The morning after the wedding. As if realizing she just slept with her fiance’s brother wasn’t disturbing enough, she’s forced to confront her feelings for Matt Adams she thought she’d buried years ago.

Matt’s wrong for her. In every way. But through the course of her real honeymoon with her fake husband, she starts to uncover truths both Adams brothers were hoping to keep hidden, for opposite reasons. One to protect himself, the other to protect her.

She married the wrong brother, but what if he’s been the right one all along?

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CHAPTER ONE


Matt

He was wrong for her.
That was the only thought running through my head as I rechecked every inch of the church. So completely wrong for her. This latest disappearing act, the most recent proof. He’d skipped out on her before, but today was different.
Today, they were supposed to get married. Today, Cora Matthews would become Cora Adams. She’d have my last name. But not in the way I’d hoped for—not that I hadn’t accepted that years ago.
She’d chosen him. My brother. My twin brother. She’d chosen him forever ago, and that was that. She’d been as good as Mrs. Jacob Adams since the day Cora Matthews first showed up in our lives eighteen years ago.
At least until today, when Cora was going to be marching toward an empty altar in fifteen minutes if I didn’t find the supposed Mister Right. Jacob wasn’t the right one—for a dozen reasons I could list—but he was who she wanted and he’d done his best to convince her she was all he wanted too. But I knew better.
My brother had always been indulged; being the “firstborn” son—by a whole three minutes—to a wealthy family has a way of doing that. The problem arose when the boy grew into a man who wanted to be equally indulged in all sorts of ways that a wife would likely frown upon. Jacob wasn’t the right one for her. I knew that. Hell, I think even he knew that when he surfaced from his self-adoring stupor every so often.
Not that I was the right one for Cora either. I was just as wrong for her as Jacob was, but in a different way. See, where he’d always loved her too little, I’d loved her too much. So I’d kept my secret for years and watched the girl I loved fall in love with the brother I’d shared a womb with for thirty-eight weeks. The brother I loved and looked after, despite his faults.
God knew I had a shit ton of my own.
That was why I was about to start tearing this church apart in order to find him. I was looking after his interests as well as Cora’s, because even though he had a piss-poor way of showing it, he loved her. In his own way. If you could call what Jacob felt for anyone love. In a way, it was love, but in another way, it was the opposite.
“Where the hell’s Jacob?” The senior Adams, also known as Dad, asked when I circled into the lobby again, hoping my missing brother had magically appeared. He was holding my brother’s tux zipped up in an expensive bag and looking at me like I was failing the task of keeping track of my brother as I’d failed all the rest presented to me in life.
Where the hell’s Jacob? How many times had I asked myself that question? How many times had I probably known or had a good idea where he was?
“He’s back in one of the church offices waiting. Just got here.” I had to slow myself down when I heard the words wobble. It had been years since I’d stuttered over a word, and now was not the time to resurrect that old habit. “I’ll take it down to him.”
I grabbed the tux from Dad and backed down the hall, trying to ignore the stuffed sanctuary and the orchestra playing some song that sounded more fitting for a funeral than a wedding.
That was what this was about to become if I didn’t do something. Whether it would be my dad murdering me for flunking my best man responsibilities of keeping track of the groom, or me murdering Jacob when I finally found his pathetic ass after doing this to Cora on today of all days, someone was going to die.
“That tux isn’t going to put itself on a groom, Matt. Get after it.” Dad motioned me down the hall before he marched toward the sanctuary like he was ready to get this over with.
He wasn’t thrilled about the wedding. Didn’t exactly approve of the match. It wasn’t that he didn’t love Cora, because he did, like a daughter. He just didn’t find her fitting as a daughter-in-law, especially to his prized firstborn who was incapable of doing wrong. He probably wouldn’t have cared so much if she was marrying me, which was disconcerting to say the least. The only person who’d approve of Cora and me ending up together was my dad.
As I jogged down the hall, carrying a found tux to a missing groom, Dad’s last words replayed through my mind. That tux isn’t going to put itself on a groom.
A groom.
A groom.
My plan was already forming as I ducked into a dark church office, my fingers working my tie loose. Jacob wasn’t just my twin brother—he was my identical twin brother.
I was maybe a little bit taller and he was maybe a little bit fuller, but not enough that anyone would notice. Not enough, I hoped, that Cora would notice. She used to confuse us all the time when we were growing up together and still, on occasion, she’d mistake me for Jacob and Jacob for me. Like the last time I’d been at her and Jacob’s condo when she’d thrown a surprise party for him. I’d been talking with a group of old friends, she slid by me, found my hand, and gave it the briefest of squeezes. She’d thought I was Jacob. I knew that because she never touched me anymore. At least not on purpose. We used to be comfortable enough with each other that she’d hug me without thinking, but that changed when she and Jacob became a thing. An official thing.
She didn’t touch me anymore, not even to nudge me for saying something stupid, which I said all too often in her presence. But that night, she’d touched me. And a year later, I could still remember the way her small hand felt falling into mine.
Cora would be distracted today—nervous. I knew because she’d told me how panicked she was about standing in front of five hundred people. She’d be so distracted by trying to keep herself from passing out or hyperventilating, so would she really notice if the man standing across from her in front of that altar was me?
I was banking on the chance that she wouldn’t, as I changed from my suit into Jacob’s tux as fast as humanly possible. The clock on the wall was fast, hopefully, or else I had two and a half minutes to get my ass up front so that when Cora started down the aisle, she’d have someone waiting for her.
Someone who loved her.
As I tied the shiny dress shoes, I tried to put aside all of the inner voices telling me how wrong this was. How utterly and unforgivably wrong this was. I knew it was wrong. I knew that. But it was just as wrong to do nothing. It was wrong to let Jacob ruin another moment for her. By doing something that I knew was wrong, I hoped I was ultimately doing the right thing.
Maybe he wasn’t where I thought he was, hungover and waking up in some girl’s bed. Maybe he’d gotten into an accident or been kidnapped or . . . damn, then I’d feel like a real piece of shit for thinking the worst about my own brother. Maybe something legitimate had come up and he’d have some great explanation and I’d pull him aside to let him know I’d stepped in and no one besides us would know what had gone down.
And maybe Jacob had decided to turn over a new leaf and not be such a selfish prick, I thought with a sigh.
Pausing in front of the picture hanging beside the door, I adjusted the bowtie as best I could before tearing the door open and jogging down the hall. Jacob’s tux was a little big for me, and his shoes a little small, but those were minor discomforts compared to what my psyche was putting me through.
The ring.
Fuck.
After sprinting back to the office, I wrestled the ring box out of the pocket of my jacket, along with my wallet and phone—just in case I didn’t make it back here anytime soon—then I kicked my suit behind a bookcase in the event that someone stumbled into the room to find an abandoned suit and started asking questions.
My dad’s face was red by the time I made it inside the sanctuary, but when he saw me, his face relaxed and he smiled. It took me a moment to realize he wasn’t smiling at me—he was smiling at Jacob.
Dad never really smiled at me too much. Smirks were more the way of it.
“Where the hell’s Matt?” one of the groomsmen, Hunter, whispered when I passed.
God, this church was stuffed to capacity. And hot. And lacking in oxygen.
“Barfing up his guts,” I answered quietly, reminding myself that I was Jacob and needed to talk and sound like him.
The groomsmen rocked with silent laughter. They were all Jacob’s friends; none were mine.
“Go figure. We’re the ones drinking places dry, and it’s your brother, the DD, yacking his insides out today.”
My shoulder lifted in the dismissive way Jacob’s did. “Some guys have all the luck.”
“And some guys named Matt Adams have none,” Aaron, another groomsman, whispered up the line.
Didn’t I know it?
They didn’t make any more jokes or jeers at my expense because they knew better. Jacob and I might have seen things differently and been as unalike as two people could be, but we were twins. He stood up for me and vice versa. He had my back, I had his.
As my current predicament proved.
The orchestra broke into a new song—the “Wedding March”. The collar of Jacob’s dress shirt felt like it was strangling me at the same time it felt like someone had just dialed up the temperature in the room by twenty degrees.
What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Is it right? Or wrong?
The answers to those questions didn’t have a chance to form because that was when I saw her. Like the thousands of times before, the world faded away when Cora Matthews walked into the room. When she started down the aisle, I swayed a little and had to step out of line to keep myself from toppling into the minister.
“Easy there, big guy,” Hunter said under his breath, elbowing me. “Too late for cold feet. Bride is en route.”
I wanted to tell him it wasn’t cold feet I had, but something else. It was the feeling of being so sure of something that the rest of the world seemed off-kilter. So sure of something that the rest of the world just didn’t make sense. I’d never been as certain of anything as I was about the woman walking toward me, about to marry me.
Under false pretenses.
I had to remind myself of that when Cora’s eyes found mine and her plastered-on smile crumbled behind a real one. She was smiling at me the way she smiled at him—like I was her world.
Matthew Adams had never been her whole world, but unknown to her, she’d been mine. That was why I was standing here now, posing as my twin brother, as his fiancée took the final steps toward me. I was doing this for her because I knew she loved him, and I didn’t want to see her hurt again at my brother’s hand.
Marry the woman you love, Matt, then let her spend the rest of her life with the man she loves.
The orchestra was just playing its final chords when Cora stopped beside me, her eyes matching the real smile still on her face. God, she was beautiful.
Too beautiful, I thought again, as I noticed the line of groomsmen appraising her with more than just casual regard. Cora had always been more than another one of the pretty girls; she was the standout. Every guy knew the type. The girl who shouldn’t be real, but there she was, passing you in the hallway every morning. The girl who’s noticed by every person she passes, male or female. She was so beautiful on the outside, few people took the time to get to know the beauty hiding underneath, but I had. I knew she was beautiful everywhere.
Jacob. Channel Jacob, I reminded myself as everyone took a collective seat behind us.
“Hey,” I whispered to her, winking.
Hey? What a moron. Who says hey to the woman he’s about to marry when she stopped beside him looking so damn perfect. I couldn’t feel my lungs.
“Hey,” she whispered back, like she didn’t think anything of it.
Because, yeah, Jacob totally would have said hey to his bride like a moron.
Cora had been versed in moron for practically two decades.
As the minister started droning on about something I probably should have been paying attention to, I tuned out. This wasn’t my wedding. This was hers. This was his. So instead I watched Cora, memorizing every detail of her face as she stared at the man across from her, who loved her like she was both a poison and an antidote.
When the pastor asked if I promised to love and cherish her, in sickness and in health, until death do us part, that was the easiest question I’d ever had to answer. It was the simplest part of this mess of a day.
“I will.”

___________________________________________________

 

 

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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: Mastering Her Senses by Laura Kaye

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Decadent… Sensual… Forbidden…

12 Masters. 12 Desires. 12 Fantasies Come to Life.
Meet the Masters of Blasphemy…

 

 

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About MASTERING HER SENSES (Blasphemy #2, 2/21/17):

12 Masters. Infinite fantasies. Welcome to Blasphemy…

He wants to dominate her senses—and her heart…

Quinton Ross has always been a thrill-seeker—so it’s no surprise that he’s drawn to extremes in the bedroom and at his BDSM club, Blasphemy, where he creates sense-depriving scenarios that blow submissives’ minds. Now if he could just find one who needs the rush as much as him…

When an accident leaves Cassia Locke with a paralyzing fear of the dark, she’ll try anything to get help. Ready to fight, she knows just who to ask for help—the hard-bodied, funny-as-hell Dom she’d always crushed on—and once stood up.

Quinton is shocked and a little leery to see Cassia, but he can’t pass up the chance to dominate the alluring little sub this time. Introducing her to sensory deprivation becomes his new favorite obsession, and watching her fight fear is its own thrill. But when doubt threatens to send her running again, Quinton must find a way to master her senses—and her heart.

Pre-order now!

Amazon: Coming 2/21/2017 | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iBooks

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Dear Readers,

I’m having so much fun writing in the sexy, sensual world of Blasphemy that I couldn’t wait until release day to share a chapter from my next story in this series, Mastering Her Senses. Quinton is funny and sexy and smart as hell, but he also has that intense, dominant side that I just can’t get enough of! The Blasphemy series are stand-alone erotic romances all set in an exclusive play club located in the ruins of an abandoned church in downtown Baltimore. That means you can read them in any order and enjoy them all! Now, read on to meet the next Master of Blasphemy!

And don’t forget to preorder – now available everywhere!

Thanks for reading!
Laura Kaye

 

MASTERING HER SENSES (A BLASPHEMY BOOK)

BY LAURA KAYE

CHAPTER ONE

Quinton Ross was in his happy place.

Standing behind the bar at Blasphemy, the club he co-owned with eleven of the coolest assholes he’d ever known, he surveyed the roomful of wonderfully kinky people wearing a whole lotta nothing. Totally his jam.

And the fact that he’d get to play with one of them later? Seriously, a man’s life didn’t get any better.

Well, having a submissive of his own…that could be better. Theoretically.

Except the one and only time he’d attempted that, the woman had screwed him over so royally he’d almost needed lube. Heh.

But, whatever. Quinton tried really frickin’ hard to let things roll off his shoulders. People had much worse shit in their lives than him. Most of the time, he considered himself lucky and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other. Besides, he never lacked for company or partners around the club, and no submissive ever left him anything but fully satisfied. He made damn sure of it.

“Hi, Master Quinton,” came a feminine voice from further down the counter.

He turned to find a blond-haired woman with a sleek, silver prosthetic arm leaning against the marble of the ornate bar. Kenna Sloane. And right behind her stood her big mountain of a Dom and one of Quinton’s best friends, Griffin Hudson. “Aren’t you looking lovely tonight, Kenna,” Quinton said with a smile as he made his way to where Griffin was sliding into a seat and pulling Kenna’s slim hips between his legs. “And am I wrong or is this some snazzy new hardware?” He nodded at her arm. She’d lost everything below her right elbow while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. If she and Griffin hadn’t been fuckin’ fated, Kenna might’ve been Quinton’s kind of woman.

Adventurous. Brave. Willing to push life to the extremes.

But they were fated, something the diamond on her finger and the platinum collar with its unique interwoven knot sitting at the hollow of her throat both indicated. Loud and clear.

Kenna smiled, so much more comfortable here at the club—and seemingly in her own skin—than she’d been when she and Griffin had first reconnected a few months back. “I have a couple different sockets. And a girl has to coordinate,” she said, holding it up to the almost sheer sparkling silver halter top she wore.

Chuckling, Quinton nodded and clasped hands with Kenna’s Dom. “Master Griffin, how the hell are ya?” Their wrists bore matching leather cuffs with embroidered Gothic M’s. Every Blasphemy Master—the experienced Dominants who owned the club and took turns running and monitoring it—wore one like it.

“Never better, my friend. Never better.” The skin crinkled around Griffin’s dark eyes as he spoke, his smile coming a million times easier than it ever had before. Quinton guessed that was what happened when you were not only able to correct one of the biggest mistakes of your life, but find a submissive who was also your soul mate in the process.

Lucky fucker.

“I know that’s true,” Quinton said, winking at Kenna. She ducked her chin but was smiling bright enough to light up the whole room. And that was saying something given the size of Blasphemy. Located in the renovated remains of an old abandoned church, the massive rectangular nave formed the central part of the club. Filled with lots of seating and play areas, it had a soaring ceiling, massive stained-glass windows all around, and a performance and demonstration stage where the altar had once been. Themed rooms and other private spaces stretched off from the main floor. In addition to the very private and exclusive Blasphemy, the public front of their business—Club Diablo, a three-story dance club in a renovated warehouse—stood across a courtyard.

And Quinton provided hands-on management over it all.

He’d been with the clubs from the beginning, and had used his savings and the money he’d made selling a small but successful bar of his own to purchase his ownership stake in Blasphemy, a deal that got even sweeter when his partners had offered him the job of managing the bars and all the food service at both clubs. Food, drink, and sex all tantalized the senses and therefore were equally high up on the list of things he loved, and always had been. Given his prior experience, he pretty much had full control of the operation. Just like he liked.

Griffin placed an order for him and Kenna, then asked, “You have a scene set up tonight?”

Quinton got busy making their drinks and shook his head. “No,” he said with a grin. “But I’m looking forward to the thrill of the hunt.”

Griffin chuckled. “Good luck with that.”

The quip on Quinton’s tongue died when a flashing red light under the bar’s edge caught his eye. An emergency in one of the rooms. He glanced at the tag over the light to determine which one, then slammed the drinks down in front of his friends harder than he’d intended. “Shit, G, sorry. Emergency in the dark room. Get someone to cover?” he said, moving without waiting for an answer. He knew Griffin would have his back.

Quinton moved as fast as he could without calling undue attention. Their members knew that the Masters and a team of other Doms who worked as monitors responded to all sorts of problems around the club, some as mundane as an equipment malfunction and others more delicate situations involving disputes between players in a scene. Hell, a few months ago, Quinton had responded when Kenna broke down during a bondage scene, and Griffin had called for help extricating her from his intricate ropework. Sex at the extremes was bound to run into a few issues, which was why consent and safety were hallmarks of BDSM and Blasphemy itself. But none of that meant any of them wished to distract players from their pleasures with worry or curiosity, either.

Off the main floor, Quinton picked up his pace as he moved down the long hallway off of which most of the themed play rooms were located. The dark room was at the far end. Master Wolf came up beside him. “Hey, man,” he said.

Quinton gave him a nod. “Didn’t know you were on tonight, Wolf. Good to see you.”

A little taller than Quinton, the guy had dark blond hair, the brightest green eyes you’d ever seen, and a chiseled Scandinavian face that turned heads all over the club. “Running the security control room. Relieving Isaac because the baby’s sick,” he said, referring to Isaac Marten, their head of security operations, who had a two-month-old son.

“Damn. Sorry to hear that,” Quinton said as they closed in on their destination. The dark room was actually a series of three interconnected rooms. In the center was a pitch-black bedroom, accessed only through two changing/waiting rooms on either side of it—one of which let out into this hallway, and the other of which let out into a different hallway so that the players couldn’t run into each other before or after the anonymous scene. The dark room was very popular, and given Quinton’s interest in sensory deprivation, it was one he’d used many times.

He heard someone in distress before they even got inside.

Quinton and Wolf burst through the door to find one of the monitors trying to calm a woman curled on the floor, gasping like she couldn’t breathe. She wore a slinky bronze dress that bared most of her legs.

“What happened?” Quinton asked, grabbing a blanket from a shelf and going to his knees beside her. He tucked the soft fleece around her.

“I don’t know,” the monitor said. I sounded the alarm but she told me not to call an ambulance when I asked.

“She just freaked out. I swear. Nothing hardly happened between us,” a shirtless man said from the doorway to the dark bedroom.

Quinton hadn’t even noticed him there, but Wolf was already questioning him. He nodded to the monitor, a Dom in his forties, and then peered up at Master Wolf. “You all clear out. Debrief him and get his information.”

“You got it, Q,” Wolf said, motioning the other men out into the hall. “Call if you need help.”

As they left, Quinton brushed the woman’s shoulder-length hair back off her splotchy face. “We need to get your breathing under control or I have to call an ambulance.”

“No…no…I…it’s…” Clenching her eyes, she shook her head and growled as if in frustration.

Damnit, he needed to do something for her. The part of him that needed to care and soothe decided, and he scooped her off the floor and carried her to the couch. Everywhere they touched, her pulse hammered against her skin. If this was a panic attack, it was one of the worst he’d ever seen.

He sat with her in his lap, the blanket still wrapped around her, and cradled her so that they were facing each other. “Breathe with me, little one. Do you hear me? Look at me and breathe with me.” Striking hazel eyes with flecks of gold cut to his. Almost familiar…

Focusing, he exaggerated one breath, than another, and another, until she struggled to match her rhythm to his.

Griffin appeared in the doorway, questions clear on his face. Quinton spared him the smallest of glances and gave a single shake of his head. Griffin nodded and closed the door. Quinton had this. The others would be there in a heartbeat if he was wrong, but he didn’t think he was.

Because the woman’s body was calming. Her breathing was evening out. Her pulse was slowing. Her muscles were losing their tension.

“That’s it. That’s good. Just watch me and breathe with me. Don’t stop. We’ll kick this thing, don’t you worry.” He stroked his hand over her hair, wanting to soothe her. The color was so rich it almost matched the bronze of her dress. Her hair was beautiful and soft. As was the rest of her, all golden skin and pretty curves. Her weight felt good in his arms. She turned her face into his hand, just the littlest bit, and he stroked her hair again. A jagged scar ran along her forehead and into her hairline over one eye.

The scar triggered the oddest thought: That wasn’t there before.

His gaze cut back to those eyes. Hazel with the gold. And he suddenly knew he’d seen them before. Years ago. Right here at Blasphemy. A name clicked into place.

“Cassia?” he asked. Cassia. As in Cassia Locke, a submissive he’d flirted with quite a few times and was once supposed to play with…but she’d stood him up the night of their scene.

“Y-yes, Sir,” she whispered. “H-hi, Mas-ter Q-quinton.”

So she recognized him, too. Did she remember that night? He shook off the thought. Their history wasn’t something to deal with just then.

“Hi yourself, kid.” He gently scratched his fingertips against her scalp and concentrated on taking slow, deep breaths that she mimicked. Studying her, Quinton noticed another scar on her right shoulder. Her hair was also much longer than the almost boyish style she used to wear. Finally, Cassia went limp in his lap, and her ease unleashed a satisfaction in his blood. “Feeling better?”

She gave a long sigh, the sound exhausted and defeated. “As better as I can feel after utterly humiliating myself. Sir.”

He shook his head. “No such thing happened. Not as far as I’m concerned.”

Her gaze skittered away.

“Did I tell you to stop looking at me?”

Cassia’s eyes snapped back to meet his. “No, Sir.”

Her obedience unleashed even more of that satisfaction. The attraction of BDSM, to him, was as much about the psychology of it as the physicality of the acts. Her reaction—that obedience—represented an ingrained instinct, a need to serve, a desire to surrender. And that fucking heated his blood. He arched a brow and nodded. “Good girl.”

She shifted in his lap, but kept her eyes on his. The movement reminded his body that he’d been planning to find a partner, but he locked that shit down tight. First, because she’d been through something tonight he didn’t entirely understand. And second, because given that she’d stood him up and never bothered to follow up to explain, he wasn’t sure what to make of her anyway. And trust was kind of a thing, for him. Well, for most Doms, really. Which meant he needed to know.

“Now, tell me what happened,” he said, nailing her with a stare. “And tell me the truth.”

 

 

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Books in Series:

Hard to Serve #.5

Bound to Submit #1

Mastering Her Senses #2 – 2/21/17

Eyes on You #3 – 7/11/17

 

 

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Join the MASTERING HER SENSES Facebook Party on February 21st!
JOIN THE PARTY HERE!

 

 

Laura Kaye - headshotAbout Laura Kaye:

Laura is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thirty books in contemporary and erotic romance and romantic suspense, including the Blasphemy, Hard Ink, and Raven Riders series. Growing up, Laura’s large extended family believed in the supernatural, and family lore involving angels, ghosts, and evil-eye curses cemented in Laura a life-long fascination with storytelling and all things paranormal. Laura also writes historical fiction as the NYT bestselling author, Laura Kamoie. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and appreciates her view of the Chesapeake Bay every day.

 

 

 

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Chapter Reveal: Broken Pieces by Toni Aleo – The Patchwork Series – Book 2

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Broken Pieces

The Patchwork Series – Book 2

Genre: Paranormal

By Toni Aleo

Release Date: January 24, 2017

Pre Order: Amazon  US

 

Synopsis

The rules of The Works have remained unchanged for centuries. There is to be no romantic mixing between any of the five supernatural clans.

But from the moment Oceanus von Stein, second-in-command to the Patchwork family, caught sight of Taegan Conner, daughter of the leader of the Wolves, he knew he would never love anyone else.

Only now, Taegan has been promised in marriage to another, an arrangement to strengthen her family’s alliances—and she gets no say in the matter.

Neither does Oceanus.

While they both know they have their places and responsibilities in their clans, their love is too strong. How can they let go of what they have? Though it is forbidden, Oceanus and Taegan won’t stop until they can have each other. The only problem is that the world is against them, and Oceanus has a threat to his sister’s life to vanquish.

Can they find a way to be together, or will they both always be two Broken Pieces?

_________________________________________________

Excerpt

Chapter One

Being the oldest isn’t always easy.

Everyone depends on you.

Looks up to you.

You are the poster child for the family.

Plus, you worry about everything.

Well, at least, I do.

Which means being selfish isn’t possible. Maybe not selfish—that word is harsh and I’ve

never really liked it, but something along those lines. What I mean is that my needs, my wants

are not important when I have three younger siblings and a father to worry for.

You see, I’m a very busy man. I have many jobs. The first and most important being to

protect and love my family. With everything inside of me. It is my job to guide my brothers and

sister in the right direction to be future leaders of our community. The community my family

runs. A community that is unseen to the human eye, which is fine by me. Dealing with witches,

wolves, shifters, and vampires, along with the Patchwork citizens is enough in my opinion. They

cause enough drama for one man, yet I love them. I want to protect them.

They are my extended family.

Even if a faction of our Works—the shifters—wants to overthrow my family and take

over, I still care for their well-being. I have to. It’s my job as a future leader of the Works. When

my father decides to step down, which could be at any moment, it will be my job to step up and

be the king this community needs. Not that my father isn’t doing his job; he is. It’s just…he’s

old-school. Very old-school, and while all his parts are working at their full capacity, he isn’t the

man he used to be. So much has changed. This isn’t the 1800s anymore, but my father apparently

missed that memo. He’s budged a bit, adapted some, but he still has the same notions he had

back then, and they drive me absolutely mad.

Beyond furious, actually.

But what do I expect? He lived in a time where a man was always right and you followed

your father, your leader. After he lost his father to the plague, he became the leader and led his

family. I don’t think my father meant for his life to go where it did, but it all changed when he

found his grandfather’s old lab books.

That grandfather was Dr. Frankenstein.

The guy who made Frankenstein’s monster himself. Yes, the stories are true. But what

the stories don’t tell you is that he had a son, who had four more sons, my father being one of

them. With Father’s grandfather gone, and then his own father dying, I doubt anyone expected

for Dr. Frankenstein’s work ever to surface again. But my father was and may be smarter than

his ancestors. For when he found the books, he became obsessed with them, and soon he

developed a formula that granted a man immortality.

True immortality.

He soon administrated the formula to his brother, Samuel. But after their mother and two

other brothers died when the formula didn’t work on them, Samuel and Father were discovered.

So, of course, they fled. They had no choice. But they did have a choice when they decided to

come to America and make their own clan.

A clan full of immortal people who would follow and bow down to them. Or, really, to

my father. I doubt Samuel had much say in it, but my father, yeah, he was drunk with the power

he had. He knew he was the best, a god in his mind, and people flocked to him. They begged for

the formula, needed it, and soon my father had his clan.

His Patchwork.

You would think that would be enough, but it wasn’t. Soon he reached out to the other

supernatural groups. The vampires were first. The main reason was the simple fact that my uncle

loved to sleep with them. The vampires didn’t need anything from my father, but he offered them

an alliance, a way to get them constant blood since he had turned the owner of the local hospital

immortal. As long as the vampires followed my father, he would be there to help them. As

creatures of the night, and being killed off almost every other night by hunters and humans, they

signed on quickly.

Next were the witches. My father promised to export and import anything they needed or

wanted on his fleet of ships. In return, he would use their spells and rituals for things he was

unable to fix.

The wolves signed on for the money. My father needed lots of guards and security

support, and he paid very heavily for them. At first, it was just employment. But somewhere in

there, my father worked out some kind of alliance. It’s beyond me, but he did it, and now they

are basically eating out of his hand.

No pun intended.

The shifters are a whole other story. The resisted us, only coming to us with offers for the

formula itself. Father denied them, of course, but he did ask them to join us. He offered that we

would protect them and even employ some of them. He wanted to make our community

complete with the five strongest clans of supernatural beings. But the shifters didn’t want any

part; they were independent. That was, until people started dying and they needed the protection

my father offered since no one could catch who was killing off their clan. I believe my father had

a part in it, that he hired people to kill them, but he denies it.

Either way, my father got his underground clan, and soon, the rules were in place.

Do what your clan is expected to do. All of us have a particular job to keep the Works

running. The guard support the wolves offer—along with their construction work. The spells and

treatments the witches provide. The political connections the vampires play a part in. And we

can’t forget the connections on Wall Street that the shifters give us. It’s simple, really. Everyone

plays their part and reports back to Father. Well, the clan leaders do, at least.

Another rule is paying your taxes. For obvious reasons, if my father is protecting your

group, curing diseases, providing good housing, and everything else he does, the least you can do

is pay the monthly tax.

Lastly, don’t mix clans. Father wants to keep the purest of bloodlines, to make the future

children of the Works the strongest and best—my father’s words, not mine. Now, that is the rule

that gets broken the most. Mostly by my uncle Samuel and his obsession with vampires. But

even with his lust for the creatures, he has never fathered a child, mostly because vampires can’t

have children. That isn’t the case for other clans, though. And when it happens, I mean, when a

mixed-clan child is conceived, it isn’t long after birth that the child is killed.

That sickens me and will be one of the first things I change when I am the leader of the

Works.

I just have to get there.

“You’re thinking way too hard for someone who just woke up.”

I smile, my heart filling with such unadulterated tenderness for the wide blue eyes that

soon trap me in their gaze. A grin pulls at my sweetheart’s lips, her long, flowing strawberry

blond hair falling every so delicately along her jaw and onto my chest as she traces the scar on

my stomach.

“I thought you were sleeping,” I whisper, my lips pressing against hers as my hands grasp

the thick globes of her ass. Holding her tight against my side, I kiss her. Softly, ever so slowly,

memorizing every single thing about her lips and the way they make me feel.

Perfection. Pure perfection.

When she pulls back, her eyes darken a bit as she throws her leg across me, straddling me

as her nails bite into my chest. “I’m not sleeping,” she says, her cheeks dusting with color as I

drink in the gorgeous freckles along her body. She is covered head to toe in them, and I swear, I

want nothing more than to spend the rest of my days tracing each of them with my tongue, my

fingers, anything. As long as I’m touching her.

My love.

As she moves her hot center against my growing erection, I smile. “I can see that.” My

hand comes up to cup her full breast. “Whatever are you doing up there?”

She scoffs, her wet core making every single thought from before disappear within

seconds. “If you have to ask, I worry for ya,” she jokes, and I smile, my eyes falling shut a bit.

Her voice, her thick Scottish brogue, does the dirtiest things to my body. Turns me on to the

point of no return.

“I thought you had to leave?”

“I think I have a wee bit of time. Maybe we can spend it?”

Bringing her down by a hand at the back of her neck, I kiss her jaw as her breasts press

into my chest. “I know we can,” I say before rolling her over, my body pressing into hers as I

push her legs back into her chest and enter her quickly. She is hot, accepting me and squeezing

me, making me breathless as I stare down into her beautiful, flushed face.

She stuns me, and I just look at her, my lips curving as my cock throbs inside of her,

begging for release. But I can’t move. Not when she is looking at me like that. She reaches up, a

grin pulling at her lips as she runs her thumb down my jaw.

“Gonna stare at me, my love? Or fuck me?”

“Stare,” I say simply, my body heavy against her legs. “I swear I’ve never seen anyone as

beautiful as you.”

Her grin grows, her body flushing even more, and my heart explodes in my chest.

Cupping my face with her other hand, she threads her fingers through my hair. My body breaks

out in gooseflesh as she holds my gaze. When she looks at me, I know she doesn’t see the scars

or the wounded flesh, the cut marks or the gunshot wounds. She sees me, her lover.

Because that’s all I can ever be.

“I love you, Oceanus,” she whispers, her eyes so dark, so full of lust, and of course, love.

Fuck, I love it when she says those words. Those three words that are ever so beautiful—but

more tragic than one could think. Well, that is until I take over the Works. The moment that

happens, which pray God is soon, I will marry my love. I will make her mine, I will put my child

in her, and together we will lead the Works.

She will be my queen.

I don’t care that she is Taegan Conner, the princess of the wolves, because I don’t see her

faction or even her family name.

I see her heart.

And it’s mine.

All mine.

Moving her hair out of her eyes, I kiss her nose before sliding mine against it. “I love you

too, my love.”

When her mouth captures mine, I lift her up, holding her ass in my hands as I fall back on

my haunches, thrusting up into her. Her breath is harsh against my mouth, her breasts heavy

against my chest, and as I drive into her, I don’t care about anything but her and me.

I’m being selfish.

I’m taking what I want.

And I don’t care one bit.

It doesn’t happen enough in my opinion, but I guess, being me, I don’t get that luxury.

Truth be told, being Oceanus von Stein isn’t easy.

But it’s who I am. And while I lose myself inside of this beautiful woman, I don’t think

of anything but her, and that’s okay for now.

Eventually, I’ll be able to do it for the rest of my days.

I just have to be patient.

Because my time is coming.

______________________________________________

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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

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Chapter Reveal: Hate Story by Nicole Williams

 

 img_1701Hate Story

By Nicole Williams

Release Date: December 26, 2016

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Nina can’t let herself fall in love with the man she’s going to marry. Both of them have experienced the sting and sham of love and have no intentions of falling victim to it twice. Love is expensive—hate is free.

Three years. A million dollars. A solution to both of their problems. They planned it all, from the story of their first meeting to the date of their divorce. Nothing could go wrong.

But what they didn’t consider was chemistry, and Nina and Max have no shortage of it. After too many near-kisses, Nina convinces herself that hating Max is better than loving him, and the more she gets to know this soon-to-be-husband of hers, the more she discovers just how very much she truly, madly, and deeply . . . hates him.

This isn’t a love story. This is the other kind.

 

 

 

    Chapter One

 

   Second thoughts. I was having them.

   Experiencing these any time before stepping into the lobby of the swanky hotel I was meeting him at would have been helpful.

   “Sure you’re ready for this?” my best friend, Kate, asked, surveying the lobby like he was going to be lurking there with a sign hanging above his head.

   “I’m sure.”

   It was a lie. I wasn’t sure I was ready, but I didn’t have a choice. The bills had gone from a pile to a pillar, and if I didn’t do something soon, I would lose the house. I couldn’t lose the house. Not ever. It was the only home I’d ever known.

   “You don’t have to do this, you know? There are other options. When I mentioned this a few months ago, it was just a far-off suggestion, not one I thought you’d actually run with.” Kate slowed down as we got closer to the hotel lounge where he was supposed to be waiting.

   “There are no other options that include me keeping the house. At least not ones that are any less illicit than this one.” I licked my lips out of nervousness. With the way things had been lately, it was a miracle they hadn’t turned into sandpaper.

   “You know you could go to jail, right?”

   My tongue touched my lips again. “Only if I get caught.”

   Kate shook her head, and her light hair whipped across her shoulders. She was everything I wasn’t. Tall, rail-thin, straight blond hair that cooperated, skin that looked like she’d been gilded in something ethereal, and dressed like life was one endless party. Our personalities were a stark contrast as well. She was effervescent, where I fell somewhere closer to the jaded end of the scale. She wrung the life out of each day, loved like she’d never been hurt, and laughed like she’d never known sorrow.

   What she saw in me that kept our friendship enduring, I didn’t know. I just hoped she hadn’t hung around when others bailed because she felt obligated. I didn’t want to be anyone’s pity penance.

   She snagged my arm when I walked in front of her, braking me to a stop when I was a few steps from the lounge’s entrance. “Do you know what he looks like?”

   I tempered my irritation before glancing at her. She was coming from a place of concern, but I was committed. I just needed to get this over with already. “No.”

   “About how old he is?”

     My armpits were starting to sweat. I hadn’t even seen him yet and I was already pitting out. “No,” I answered, lifting my arms a little for ventilation.

   “Do you know what he’s going to be wearing tonight?” Kate glanced over my shoulder, almost glaring into the lounge.

   “No.” I twisted from side to side to create as much of a breeze as I could. I so should have splurged for the clinical strength deodorant instead of this cheap dollar-store junk that was probably going to give me cancer one day. If my budget hadn’t been worked out to the last quarter, I would have.

   “Do you know anything about him?” Kate sighed, motioning at me like I was the lamb who’d just brayed as the first volunteer for the slaughter. “Other than, you know . . .” She swallowed. “What he wants?”

   My stomach rolled. I definitely knew what he wanted.

   “I know his name.”

     Kate waited a moment. “And his name is . . .?”

   “Sturm.”

   Her nose wrinkled. “What kind of a name is that?”

   “Sturm’s his last name. I don’t know what his first is.”

   Kate’s nose went back to normal, but a high eyebrow took over its job of disapproving. She was especially expressive. That was another way we were different. Kate seemed to have no desire or inclination to hide what she felt, whereas I had every desire and inclination to hide.

   “So what is he expecting you to call him? Mister Sturm? Because this twenty-first-century feminist is so not okay with one of her best friends addressing this guy like that.”

   “Yeah, neither is this twenty-first-century feminist.” I flapped air in the direction of my armpits because they were only getting worse.

   “The same feminist agreeing to marry a man for money?” Kate drew her hand up to her hip and stretched into every inch of her nearly-six-foot frame.

   The word still sucked the air out of my lungs, but it had lost some of its potency. “Exactly—agreeing to marry him for money instead of lame reasons like love or feelings or to grow old together. How much more feminist does it get?”

   Kate looked down at me. “Eh, how about instead of marrying him for money, you could turn him into the authorities for trying to commit green card fraud?” She peeked over my shoulder and craned her neck to look into the lounge. “Besides, what is a million dollars really? That chick in that Indecent Proposal movie got a million and she only had to spend one night with him. Plus if you factor in inflation, since that movie’s almost as old as I am, you are getting the proverbial and literal shaft. In the ass.”

   I gave up the armpit sweat battle and hung my arms at my sides. Why did I care if this guy’s first impression of me was as a profuse sweater? I wasn’t asking for his approval or even expecting it. He was a business transaction to me. I was a means to an end to him.

   A case of two people embracing the capitalist spirit of America.

   “Yeah, but she had to sleep with the guy. That’s not part of our deal,” I argued. “But if it was part of the fine print, believe me, I’d ask for a hell of a lot more.”

   We had an agreement. Kind of. It was more a rough draft that had just as many amendments as it had bullet points, but I preferred having everything ironed out in advance. I wanted to know exactly what I was getting into before sinking up to my neck in it, which I was minutes away from doing.

   “So you’re saying you would sleep with him if the price was right?” Kate’s other hand flew to her hip.

   I gave her the most indifferent face I could. I might have been able to look the part, but I certainly didn’t feel the part. “Hey, Morality Police, I’m already agreeing to marry a guy so he can get a green card. Give me a break.”

   Kate’s phone chimed in her clutch. She’d wrangled up a couple of friends to meet her at this lounge tonight so she could keep an eye on me. I guessed she was worried the guy might not be on the up-and-up and might be using a green card as a cover for wanting to sell me off for internal organs or into the sex trade. I wasn’t worried about that, but I was thankful she was here for support if nothing else.

   After punching in a quick text, Kate circled her phone at me. “And what are you wearing? Did you think there was going to be a ribbon handed out at the end of the night for the most colorful outfit?”

   I glanced down at myself. I liked color. Lots of it. Living in a place like Portland, Oregon, a person had to find a way to fight off the perpetual gray. This was my chosen method.

   “I wanted to make sure he knew who I was,” I said, just barely peeking inside the lounge. Dozens of bodies, all of them different shapes, sizes, and colors, and all of them were dressed like they’d conspired to match. “If I’d known everyone would be in some shade of gray or blue, I wouldn’t have dressed in a green polka-dot dress, fuchsia shoes, and a blue checked scarf.”

   Kate bit her lip to keep from laughing. “You’re a fashion intervention begging to happen.”

   I stopped rubbing at a wrinkle in my dress. If an iron hadn’t been up to the challenge of smoothing it out, my thumb wasn’t going to do it. “I don’t care. I’m not here to impress him or earn his approval.”

   “Yeah, that’s obvious,” she mumbled just loud enough for me to hear. When I went to give her a little shove, she slid out of the way. “And if you’re not trying to impress him, why are you wearing the first dress I’ve seen you in since, god, probably when you wore that very one at spring fling of our senior year?” Kate was looking inside the lounge now, her gaze skimming the space like she was looking for something. Her friends must have already been there because she waved at someone before lifting her finger in a just-a-minute kind of way.

   “Because I didn’t think this place was a holey jeans and sneakers kind of place,” I argued, wondering why I was defending my wardrobe choices to someone who dressed by the less-is-more standard.

   “Let’s hope Mister Sturm is fashion blind.” The way she said it earned her another little shove.

   “He’s a single, foreign man who’s paying someone a hell of a lot of money to marry him.” I crossed my arms at her as she kept peeking into the lounge. “I think it’s safe to say I’m not about to come face-to-face with a guy who spends his nights flipping the pages of GQ. And if you call him Mister Sturm again, I’m going to pull your hair.”

   Kate winked at me. “My scalp’s a little sensitive from the hair pulling last night.”

   I rolled my eyes. “Alexander?” The last man du jour she’d mentioned to me.

   “Trenton.” She kind of sighed his name. Actually, it held the hint of a moan. God. I could never imagine sighing-slash-moaning some guy’s name. Ever. The closest I’d ever gotten to a sigh-moan was over the peanut butter pie my grandma had made for my last birthday.

     “Fine,” I said, interrupting the last notes of her moan.

   “Then I’ll slap your ass if you say it again.”

   She flashed a wicked smile my direction before giving her hips a shake. “Just as sensitive.”

   “God, fine,” I groaned. “Just stop. Your sex life nauseates me.”

   “Jealous is not a good look for you. Besides, someone needs to make up for your lack of it.” Kate waved at me like my sex life was visible for all to read.

   “At your rate, you’re making up for the entire city’s lack of sex life.”

   She nodded solemnly. “You’re welcome.”

   “Besides, sex is not all it’s cracked up to be.” At this point, I was stalling, but I was nervous.

   “Believe me, with the right person who knows what they’re doing, it is all, and more, it’s cracked up to be.” Kate bounced her brows. “Some guys just know how to use their dick better than others.”

   I frowned. “Wow. I’m about to orgasm all over the place.”

   Kate laughed as she slid in front of me and teased my hair with her fingers.

   “Oww,” I whined as she ripped and pulled at my hair. “And I hope you washed your hands with bleach after the last dick you touched.”

   She responded by smearing her hands down the sides of my face. “Most action you’ve ever seen.” She scrubbed them down my face one more time. “You’re welcome.”

   I stepped out of the reach of her filthy little paws and waved her toward the lounge.

   “I’ll be right there. Just give the signal if the guy turns out to be a serious creeper, okay?” She waited for me to nod, then she kissed the air in my direction. “Go get him, tomcat.”

   I didn’t know how to reply to that, so I went with an okay signal.

   I waited a minute after Kate had disappeared into the lounge. Then I waited one more before forcing my feet forward. It wasn’t like my dwindling courage was going to find its way back the longer I stalled.

   Taking in a slow breath, I pictured my house. The one I’d grown up in. The one that had housed a Burton for sixty years. The one that would probably be gutted or ripped down and replaced by whatever rich a-hole bought it at the foreclosure sale. I pictured relief from the stack of bills, the freedom to have choices, and a future that wasn’t already painted with bleak hues and dark strokes.

   Then I moved inside the lounge and took my first step toward my future husband.

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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: A Player For A Princess by Tia Louise – The Dirty Duet Series – Book 2

We’re just days away from the release of Tia Louise’s A PLAYER FOR A PRINCESS on September 20th and we thought we’d celebrate with a sneak peek at A PLAYER FOR A PRINCESS. You can read the first chapter below – and find out more about how to grab THE PRINCE & THE PLAYER for just .99c for a limited time!

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About A PLAYER FOR A PRINCESS (Available September 20th!)

From the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, the game continues…

Zelda Wilder is on the run, this time from the ruthless assassins who’ve decided she knows too much to live.

“Playboy Prince” MacCallum Lockwood Tate isn’t about to let the beautiful player who stole his heart get away—if only he could decide whether he wants to save her or strangle her for her dangerous choices.

After tracking her down to a casino in St. Croix, Cal follows Zee back to Tortola where he intends to keep her safe. One problem: Zelda’s criminal liaisons are two steps ahead of her.

Lives are threatened, and all of the players’ skills are tested in this plot to capture a killer and save a princess.

Cinderella meets Ocean’s Eleven in this CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE DUET featuring secrets, lies, royal high jinks, scams and double-crosses; breathless, swooning lust, cocky princes, dominant alpha future-kings, and crafty courtiers, who are not always what they seem.

Preorder A PRINCESS FOR A PLAYER now:

Amazon | iBooks | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | ARe

ADD it on Goodreads: http://smarturl.it/PLPgr

LISTEN to the playlist on Spotify: https://goo.gl/lfRGpH

SEE the inspiration board on Pinterest: https://goo.gl/Fyvl58

 

TP&TP with series★★★ Missed Book #1? ★★★

Pick up THE PRINCE & THE PLAYER for just .99c for a limited time!!!

“Tons of laughs, sex, and suspense…THE PRINCE & THE PLAYER had me on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, and blushing like crazy!” – Shayna Renee’s Spicy Reads

Let the games begin…

Runaway Zelda Wilder will do whatever it takes to secure a better life for her and her sister Ava. Crown Prince Rowan Westringham Tate will do whatever it takes to preserve his small country.

When Zee is blackmailed into helping a vengeful statesman take down Rowan, she never expects she’ll be pulled into a web of lies and international intrigue–much less that she’ll find herself falling for Cal, Rowan’s “playboy” younger brother.

Ava’s no help, as she finds quiet walks in the moonlight discussing poetry and leadership with the brooding future king irresistible. Even more irresistible is kissing his luscious lips.

They’re in over their heads, and the more time passes, the more danger the sisters are in. Shots are fired, and it’s soon clear even a prince might not be able to rescue these players.

★ GET The Prince & The Player for .99c for a limited time

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Audiobooks: Amazon | Audible | iTunes

Chapter 1: Old Habits

~ Zelda Wilder ~

My heart is beating too fast. Glancing down, I see my hands tremble, and I take a few measured breaths to try and make them stop.

I’ve never been this anxious on a job, but everything has changed in the last six weeks. Looking over my shoulder has become a nonstop addiction it seems.

For the first time, I’m alone with Seth, just the two of us. Unknown hit men took out our longtime partner Helen, and we don’t even know how long ago it was. The radio report simply said her body was found in a bathtub in a cheap hotel in Miami. A plastic bag was over her head.

Clutching my black purse, again I look over my shoulder. Through the neon lights and arcade noises of the Divi casino in St. Croix, I see men in black blazers dotted among the gamblers. Men with curly earpieces in their ears, men with dark brows lowered over steely eyes, men sweeping the room for any signs of criminal activity.

I do another quick sweep, and I realize I’m looking for Ava. Stop that, Zee. My little sister is far away from this life, and it’s because I chose to distance us. I decided her safety is more important than keeping our family together.

The last time I saw her, she was wounded and pale, unconscious in a hospital bed. It tore at my heart to leave her, but at least I know she’s okay. Thanks to the Internet, I’ve been able to keep up with the “developing story” of the assassination attempt on the future king of Monagasco and the shooting of his fiancée, a.k.a., my sister. Rowan has taken Ava from the hospital to the palace, where she’s recuperating under the watchful eyes of his royal guards.

With a steady exhale, I release the nerves, reminding myself it’s for the best. She’s with the man who loves her, who promised to take care of her. If a crown prince can’t do that, I don’t stand a chance.

Still… it isn’t me.

I’m not watching out for her.

As the oldest, I’ve always had that job. I’ve taken care of us since our parents died, leaving us at the mercy of the foster system. I’ve protected her ever since that last asshole thought he’d try relieving his sexual frustrations on a little girl entrusted to his “care.” It was me who’d bashed him over the head with the lamp, grabbed her hand, and run us out of there.

We’d hidden all night in the pouring rain in a concrete culvert, and I came up with a plan to keep us out of that life for good. Passing the baton to someone else—even a future king—hits me harder than I thought it would. My throat aches at her absence, my chest heavy. Stay safe, Ava-bug.

Tonight is the first time I’ve ever entered a place like this without her. Ava is the only person I can count on in any situation. Every security guard in this room reminds me of how we’ve always been a team. If anything goes wrong, I grab her hand and we run, just like always. We stay alive.

Only, I made the deal that changed everything. I shook hands with the devil.

I could argue I didn’t have a choice. We were facing jail time, felony convictions in Florida for grand theft, and while I’d be willing to take my chances in jail, there’s no way in hell I’m letting Ava go to prison. So yeah. Agreeing to work with Reginald Winchester might make me a “bad guy,” but I’d do it again in heartbeat.

A heartbeat…

Squaring my shoulders, I slide a lock of jet-brown hair behind my ear and force confidence into my stride. I make my way through the glittering, noisy casino to my target—a shiny brass roulette wheel—and prepare to start the show.

The last time we worked this con in Miami, Helen had been waiting at the table when I got there. I can still hear her gravelly voice and see her “May Contain Alcohol” sweatshirt. Sadness followed closely by fear ricochets through my insides. Whoever killed her is looking for me.

We were on our way to Tortola to hide when Seth said we should stop in here and bank extra cash. As Americans, we don’t need passports in St. Croix, and we can catch a cheap ferry and slip away in the night to our ultimate destination.

Keeping off the radar is the goal—as always. We’ll pocket a few thousand and disappear unnoticed. At least that’s the plan.

“No more bets!” The dealer passes his hand over the wheel just as I arrive, and I quickly assess the table rules. Minimum ten dollar bet. Decent.

Opening my clutch, I remove two hundreds and pass them to the dealer. He quickly exchanges them for twenty pale blue chips. I’ll join the fray next spin.

Tonight the transmitter is hidden in my shoe as opposed to my cuff bracelet. I’m wearing a strappy black dress that stops mid-thigh, and my black heels show off my legs while hiding the device facilitating our winning streak.

I have to sit with my legs crossed and point my toe to activate it. One dainty point, one shiny silver ball drops right in the tray, predictable at ninety percent accuracy. So far the odds have been in our favor.

We’ll play until Seth gives me the signal they’re onto us. Then I’ll calmly cash out, walk away, and meet him at the pier on Grapetree Point. From there we’ll make the forty-mile cruise to Tortola.

An elegantly dressed woman shakes her head and gives me a bitter smile as I sit. “Don’t stay longer than three spins,” she grumbles.

I smile in response. “That’s the rule, isn’t it?”

“That’s the rule.” Her expression tells me she lost a lot tonight.

As a student of casinos, I know how steeply the odds in roulette are stacked in favor of the House—they’re the worst of any game. The longer you sit, the greater your chances of losing, times a million. If I were giving advice to a rookie, I’d say stick to blackjack. At least there you can use strategy and possibly win a little. Walking away is something I learned early on. You can never be afraid to walk away—even when you’re certain you’re lucky. Luck is the biggest liar of all.

I place half my chips on the black rectangle and watch as the wheel begins to spin. The dealer snakes his hand to the side and releases the ball. It flies around the shining wood with a sharp rasp. I need to lose this round. The job doesn’t start until Seth arrives, and I can’t win for longer than a few spins or it’ll look suspicious.

Another glance over my shoulder. He’s still not here. Casting my eyes down, I watch the wheel spinning, black-red, black-red, black-red, flashing brass.

“Have you been here long?” A man in an elegant suit steps into the space beside me and fishes out his wallet as we wait for the ball to drop.

“I just sat down,” I say without making eye contact. I’m not here to make friends.

He passes a crisp one hundred dollar bill to the dealer. “Then we have no way of knowing if it’s a good table.”

“Sorry,” I shake my head. “I play red or black.”

“Not much of a gambler?”

A glance, and I see he’s tall and thick with dark brown hair and a cocky expression like he already knows the answer to his question.

“No,” I say in a discouraging tone.

No, thank you. Even if I hadn’t left my heart in Monagasco, I never let romance interfere with a job. Well, almost never.

“Logan Thomas.” Mr. Persistent sticks a hand at me.

He waits, and I hesitate. Two first names.

“Regina Lampert,” I lie only barely touching his fingers.

“Regina,” he gives me a nod, but that twinkle of knowledge is in his eyes.

A knot forms in my throat. I don’t like this. The ball drops on black seventeen, and a lady at the other end of the table emits a little cheer.

“You won,” Logan’s voice ripples toward me.

The dealer adds more chips to my pile, and I’m ready to hop up and intercept Seth. A swirl of warmth at my side tells me I’m too late.

“Roo-lette!” Seth exclaims in the exaggerated southern accent he reserves for our cons. “Well, I’m as happy as a tornado in a trailer park at this turn of events!” He turns to a man at the table. “You know, I’m a student of Roolette. Only three spins and you’re out.”

Tilting my head so Logan can’t see, I level my blue eyes on Seth’s green ones. As usual, he’s wearing black horn-rimmed glasses.

He ignores my pointed glare, his smile as overblown as his accent. “I hope you don’t mind if I stand right here beside you, Miss—?”

“Lampert,” I say, tightening my jaw. Abort, Seth. Abort!

“Lampert?” He looks up behind me at the big guy getting too close. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that name before. And you are?”

“Logan Thomas.”

The men shake hands, and Seth shakes his head. “It’s sure nice to meet you. I tell you, I’ve met the nicest people in Saint Crow—Ah, Dealer? I need a hundred in tens.”

The dealer doesn’t even look up as he exchanges Seth’s money, and as soon as the chips are distributed, my partner in crime splits his money on two corner bets. I rotate in my chair so I can cross my legs. He’s sticking to the plan, and my insides are quaking.

Logan Thomas is onto us. Somehow we’ve been detected. I’ve been in this situation before, and it cost us a partner, two if you count Ava.

I can only guess the man to my right is another of Wade Paxton’s thugs—or worse. Law enforcement. Perhaps Reggie made good on his promise to expose Ava and me to every casino boss this side of the Atlantic.

“No more bets!” The dealer’s hand passes over the table, and the ball shoots around the spinning wheel.

I sense Seth’s body tense. It’s time for me to do my part. Logan Thomas is probably waiting for this exact moment to arrest me. Five years and a felony conviction.

My breath is coming in short pants. Perhaps I should let it happen. Would I be safer in prison? Seth clears his throat, and I swallow my terror. The slightest twitch of my ankle, the slightest point. The ball stutters and drops… Twenty-nine black.

“WOO HOO!!!!! Well, I’ll be Johnny Mack Brown!!!” Seth explodes with excitement. “I WON! And on a corner bet to boot!”

He grasps the table edge and does a little jig. I can’t breathe waiting to see what our ominous tablemate will do. Will he whip out a badge? Detain us. At least with the device in my shoe they won’t find anything in a pat down.

“Congratulations,” Logan says. “That’s two and oh for me, so I’ll be saying goodnight, Miss Lampert.” He does a little nod in my direction, still with that knowing smile.

I don’t make eye contact, and Seth is busy distracting the dealer. I haven’t touched my chips on black, yet again they’ve doubled in number. One more turn is all I can stay.

“Now this is the hard part,” Seth says loudly, pinching his top lip between two fingers. “Should I leave them there or move them?”

He glances down at me again, a twinkle in his eyes. “What do you suggest, Miss Lampert?”

Shaking my head, I again feign ignorance. “I don’t know. I only play by color.”

He nods looking again at the table. “You know what they say. If everything’s headed your way, you might need to change lanes.”

I move my pile of chips to the red field just as the dealer starts the wheel. Final bets are going around, and Seth stares at the green felt, appearing to be deep in thought. At the very last minute, he reaches out and moves his chips to opposite ends of the grid.

“No more bets!” The dealer snaps just as Seth’s hands leave the area.

He straightens, still doing his very best acting job. His lip is again pinched between his fingers, and now he’s bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“I tell you, Miss Lampert, I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.”

My jaw tightens. That makes two of us… I can’t shake this tension, even with Logan Thomas out of sight. For all I know he’s waiting outside the door.

The ball starts to slow, and I shift on my stool, pointing my toe as I do so. In that instant, the silver ball drops quickly into the tray.

Red Five.

“HOLEE SHIT!!!! I can’t believe it!” Seth shouts, slapping the rubber table-guard. “I can’t believe it, I WON AGAIN!” He turns to me, and I glance up, giving him a little smile. “And look at there! So did you, Miss Lampert!”

“I should probably quit while I’m ahead,” I say, rising from my chair.

Warmth at my back, and a familiar voice clenches my insides. “You shouldn’t break a winning streak.”

Jumping away as if I were electrocuted, I turn to face the owner of that sexy voice. Our eyes lock, and standing here, right at this table, a knowing smile curling his lips, is MacCallum Lockwood Tate, my playboy prince. The one I left behind when I ran.

If I couldn’t breathe before, now I’m about to faint.

“Cal!” It’s a startled whisper, my fingers tightening.

His smoky hazel eyes won’t release me, and all the desire I feel is reflected back at me. At the same time, something new is in his—an edge I’ve never seen before.

“I’m sorry…” His voice is slow, measured. “Have we met? You seem familiar…”

Glancing down, I relax my grip on the chair. I focus on calm, stay in character. I straighten the enormous ring on my hand. It’s costume jewelry—fake yellow topaz set in fake yellow gold. How fitting, considering everything about me is fake.

Still, even in this remote location, wearing this silly dark-brown wig, I feel exposed, laid bare. I can’t do this in front of him. Even if he knows what I am, I’m ashamed for him to see me doing it.

Seth only pauses a hiccup before resuming the act. “He’s right, Miss Lampert. You can’t walk out when you’re winning.”

I want to kill Seth. “I can’t…” I start, but it’s too late.

The dealer only pauses a moment before starting the wheel again. My heart beats too fast. It shoots a pain between my shoulder blades, and I haven’t moved my chips. I haven’t moved anything. I have to sit down if I’m going to activate the switch, but if I sit, I’ll be right beside Cal. Our arms will touch. I’m not sure I can handle that.

“No more bets!” The dealer’s hand passes over my stationary chips.

Seth had moved his a few rows to the left, and I feel his eyes on me watching, waiting to see if I’ll choke. The wheel is slowing. I can hear the noise of the ball decelerating on its track.

Cal’s hazel eyes are like heat against my skin, never moving away, not letting me escape this time. I hear his voice the last time we spoke: I love you, Zelda…

My chest rises and falls quickly. I’m still standing.

“It’s slowing down!” Seth’s voice is eager, but it’s directed at me. He’s trying to snap me out of it.

If I blow this spin, we’ll lose everything. I’m on my own now. I left Cal behind, and even if he followed me, it changes nothing. I have to be able to take care of myself.

“Slower…” Seth says again.

With a blink I break Cal’s spell over me and lean down as if to adjust my ankle strap. A flick of my wrist and a curl of my toe, and the silver ball clatters into red seven.

“OH!” Seth bellows. “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!!!”

He slaps my shoulder, but I haven’t regained my footing. Pulling up quick, I’m slammed into Cal’s chest. My palms are flat against his jacket, and his warm breath skirts across my cheek. Strong hands grip my waist, and his warm-cedar and citrus scent floods my brain.

My insides clench. Whatever made him come after me, it’s certainly over now—unless now he wants to make me pay for what I did in Monagasco, my role in his brother’s assassination attempt. I might not have known what Reggie and Wade were planning, but I helped them get into the country all the same. I lied to all of them.

“Zee,” he says softly, his fingers grazing the skin of my lower back. The tiny hairs on my body rise, and my stomach flips the way it always does when Cal touches me. All the places and all the ways we’ve been together flood my mind.

“I’m sorry,” I manage, pulling away.

I can’t be here with him like this. It hurts so much knowing he knows everything. Everything we had, those moments with him were all stolen. It’s what I am. A thief.

And now he knows.

Seth grabs my upper arm, pulling me to his side. “I say, Miss Lampert, you must be my lucky charm.” The accent is still there, but ice is in his tone.

The muscle in Cal’s jaw moves, and I see his anger flash at my partner in crime.

“Cash me out.” I swipe my black clutch off the table, twisting from Seth’s grip.

My hands shake as I collect my winnings. I don’t even bother to count them. I take the money and run. Seth will meet me at the dock like we planned. Noises are behind me, but I don’t stop. I practically sprint to the doors and out to the line of cabs. It only takes a moment for me to dive into one.

“Grapetree Point,” I say, slamming the door.

I fall back against the cracked vinyl seat as we speed off into the night, tears lurking in the corners of my eyes.

 

 

About Tia Louise

The “Queen of Hot Romance,” Tia Louise is the Award-Winning, International Bestselling author of the ONE TO HOLD series.

From “Readers’ Choice” nominations, to USA Today “Happily Ever After” nods, to winning the 2015 “Favorite Erotica Author” and the 2014 “Lady Boner Award” (LOL!), nothing makes her happier than communicating with fans and weaving new tales into the Alexander-Knight world of stories.

A former journalist, Louise lives in the center of the USA with her lovely family and one grumpy cat. There, she dreams up stories she hopes are engaging, hot, and sexy, and that cause readers rethink common public locations…

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Chapter Reveal + Giveaway : Cold Hearted by Toni Anderson -Cold Justice Series – Book 6

COLD HEARTED by Toni Anderson releases May 31st – but we didn’t want you to wait to get a peek at what’s in store for you! Take a look at the first chapter below and enter to win a $25 giftcard!

 

ColdHearted_ToniAnderson_FINALAbout COLD HEARTED

Hunting For A Killer…Who Doesn’t Play By The Rules.

Detective Erin Donovan expects life to quiet down after the arrest and conviction of a serial rapist who terrified her university town last summer. Then two young women are brutally slain and the murders bear all the hallmarks of the campus rapist. Did Erin arrest an innocent man? Now her job is at stake and tensions are high and just when it looks like things can’t get worse, her department gets the help it needs to solve the double homicide–in the form of a man Erin has never been able to forget.

FBI Agent Darsh Singh has no interest in reliving the past. Three years ago, his feelings for Erin Donovan had him breaking all his rules about getting involved. Now his only interest in the former NYPD detective is figuring out if she screwed up a rape investigation and helped send an innocent man to prison. But being forced to work together rekindles their old attraction, and as Darsh and Erin fall for each other, the campus predator fixates on Erin. The race is on to identify the ruthless killer before he makes Erin his final victim.

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Read the first chapter of COLD HEARTED now:

He spotted her across the street, blonde hair shining like polished gold in the sunlight, her lithe body tormenting every Y-chromosome in a hundred yard radius. He pulled out his cell and took a snapshot to immortalize the moment. He’d thought she said she was returning later in the week. Obviously he’d been mistaken. He dialed her number and watched her pull out her phone. He waited for the matching smile to form on her lips, for her eyes to light up. Instead, she checked caller ID, grimaced, and let the call go to voicemail.

Horror rushed through him as she re-pocketed the phone and turned back to her companion. What the fuck? He killed the connection and collapsed to a nearby bench, hidden from sight by a mass of tangled bushes.

He’d thought she loved him. That she wanted to be with him…

God! He’d given her everything she needed, laid it out like a feast on a platter with a fucking apple stuffed in its mouth. She played you, dumbass.

Fury flayed his skin. Rage so hot and pure that the blood coursing his body burned his bones. She thought she could dismiss him? Like he was nothing? Like he hadn’t risked everything for her? His hand strangled his phone as he imagined it squeezing her alabaster neck.

A noise brought him back to himself, and he drew in a long breath.

A laugh.

A giggle.

His head jerked up. Students milled around. They were relaxed and happy after winter break. The monster had been caught. They were safe. Life could go back to normal.

Sheep.

How could they think they were safe when the person they were having coffee with might be a predator dreaming about ripping into their soft, white underbelly? Why were they so willing to swallow bullshit as long as it was confidently labeled “truth”?

The system was broken. Bad guys walked free every single day. Good guys rotted. Innocents died.

Idiots.

A cute freshman smiled shyly at him from the bench opposite. He stretched his mouth into an answering curve that revealed nothing of the shock and disappointment that still rippled through him. Women liked him. So why the fuck did she think it was okay to ignore him?

A plan formed in his brain—a plan that buzzed along his nerves with the blistering speed of electricity.

Should he do it?

It might mess up things, and he didn’t want to go to prison, but it would certainly get her attention. His brain raced over the possibilities. He knew how to do this. He knew how not to get caught. And it might keep things interesting. Life had been pretty fucking boring lately and, as he’d found out last year, there was nothing quite as satisfying as revenge.

The student hiked her bag on her shoulder and got up to leave. He eyed the flirty plaid skirt she wore over opaque black tights and tall black boots, then jogged to catch up with her. Made a joke. Made her blush.

It was almost too easy.

He laughed and realized he was enjoying himself again. The excitement resurrected something inside him that was both heady and familiar. Something that scared him enough to keep it tightly leashed and under control. Something he’d denied himself for ten long months.

He reined in the thrill that fizzed through his bloodstream. He needed to be careful. The memory of the disgraced former quarterback reminded him he couldn’t afford to get cocky. No way in hell did he intend to share the asshole’s shame and degradation. But he knew the system. Knew the flaws. She was going to regret not taking that goddamned phone call for the rest of her life.

* * *

Cassie Bressinger smoothed out the single sheet of paper and read Drew’s small, cramped handwriting for the seventh time that day.

Cass,

I was trying to figure out something interesting to tell you, but after only a month I’m already running out of material. I mean, there are only so many adjectives I can invent to describe the three shades of gray that make up the decor here—snot, Minnesota, and dead rabbit are my newest favorites. I probably wouldn’t win any prizes in English class, but as I got kicked out I guess it doesn’t matter.

Three shades of gray—hmm, there might be a book in there somewhere…

Fifty Shades this place is not. Not to say there isn’t plenty of banging going on from the grunts and groans I hear at night. Someone somewhere is enjoying the fuck out of somebody else.

I think it’s consensual…

An ironic concern for a convicted rapist but, hey, who wants to be predictable?

Honestly, Babe, I’m at the stage where protecting my own ass has become my #1 priority. Luckily, I’m a big motherfucker and spent years on the gridiron, staring down people desperate to drill me into the ground. I could do with my offensive line in here though…

Crap.

I didn’t mean to talk about this shit and I’m running out of writing paper so I don’t want to start over. Plus, my fingers are getting cramps from holding a pen. Yeah, me, former star athlete whose hands were supposed to be his golden meal ticket. Getting cramps from writing a freaking letter! More irony J

Enough about me. How are you? What’s happening with your courses this semester? You said you were going to try and get into law school. Please don’t do that because of me!!! The last thing I want is for you to be stuck in a stuffy courtroom listening to god-awful testimony and watching people’s lives disintegrate. Run away and join the circus. Take a year off and travel the world.

Seriously.

And make sure you write and tell me all about your adventures, okay? I’m living vicariously. And if you want to have sex with other girls—that’s okay. Feel free to write and tell me all about that, too. Kidding! Well…kind of kidding and now kind of horny, which is a pain in the ass. Obviously the DA was right to classify me as a dangerous sex fiend.

Fucker.

Okay, gotta go. Time for me to go line up for sloppy mashed potatoes and sausages that look like severed fingers… Ugh, okay, just grossed myself out.

Don’t worry about me—I got this.

Love you. Miss you.

Drew. X

Someone knocked on the door and Cassie jumped. Tanya Whitehouse sauntered in before Cassie had a chance to hide the letter.

“That from Drew?” Tanya was wearing skinny jeans, her favorite strappy black top, and sparkly earrings. Her lips glowed in glittering magenta. Going out. Doing normal things like a normal person.

Cassie popped a shoulder and nodded.

“He okay?” asked Tanya.

“He’s incarcerated with rapists and murderers for crimes he didn’t commit,” she bit out. “What do you think?”

Tanya placed her perfectly manicured hand along Cassie’s forearm. “You know what I meant.”

Always patient. Always reasonable.

Cassie swallowed the anger. She wasn’t patient, and she wasn’t reasonable. But Tanya was only trying to help. All her friends had been nothing but supportive throughout this entire nightmare.

“He says he’s okay.” Cassie swallowed the knotted lump of grief that had taken up residence in her throat and tried to find her rationality. “I think he just says that to make me feel better.”

“You going to visit him?” Tanya asked gently.

Cassie nodded. “I’m driving over with his dad at the end of the month. Drew doesn’t want me to come, but I—”

“Maybe he’s right.”

Cassie sat up on the messy bed. She knew where this was going. “Please don’t tell me I’m wasting my life. Drew is my life.”

Tanya grabbed Cassie’s hand and squeezed hard enough to hurt. “I just don’t want you to be sad for the next thirty years.”

Her vision blurred, but they both pretended Cassie wasn’t crying. Even she was sick of the incessant tears. “I won’t be.” She was lying. “Anyway, he can still appeal.”

There was an awkward silence when Tanya didn’t say anything. Cassie’s gaze shifted to the image on the front of a magazine. Easier to look at some movie star complaining about her messed up childhood than dealing with the sort of truth that dug holes in your soul.

“Hey,” Tanya said brightly, “there’s a party over at Riddell Hall. Wanna come with?”

Cassie shook her head.

“Come on. It’ll be fun,” her friend urged.

Going to a party would remind her of all the times she and Drew had hung out. She didn’t want to acknowledge the aching void of his absence—especially not in public.

“I have an assignment due tomorrow. I really need to finish it.” She crawled over to her bedside table in search of a tissue.

Tanya lightly flicked the magazine, mockingly. “Well, you better get on with it then.”

Cassie slumped back to the bed, ashamed of how piteous she’d become. “I can’t face seeing people,” she admitted. “Not yet. Maybe coming back to school was a mistake.”

“You did great. Take it slowly. You’ll get there, and we’ll all be waiting for you on the other side of this.”

Cassie nodded. The problem was there was no ‘other side.’ Drew’s loss was like a rip in her chest that got bigger every day. “The world thinks he’s a monster.”

Tanya wrapped her arms around Cassie in a quick hug. “We love him. We know he’s a good guy and would never touch those lying bitches.”

“I don’t know how this could have happened.”

“You can’t lock yourself away forever, Cass.”

But she wanted to.

She didn’t know why she’d come back this term, but hanging around her parents’ house with nothing to do was worse. Christmas had sucked balls. Now she needed to figure out a way to move on without giving up on the man she loved.

She gripped her friend. “I love you, Tan. I’m sorry I’m such a bitch.”

“I love you, too, baby.”

She forced herself to pull away and wiped her eyes. “I really do have an assignment to finish.”

“Then get to it, slacker.” Tanya gave her arm a noogie.

Cassie forced a smile. She’d blown off cheerleading practice earlier today, and if she did it again, the coach would throw her off the squad. She didn’t care, except it would screw with her scholarship, and her parents weren’t wealthy. She couldn’t afford to get thrown out of the program, and she needed a good GPA to have a hope of getting into law school. But every time the football players ran onto the field in their black and gold jerseys, it was like someone was pouring acid in her eyes. Knowing everyone’s life went on while Drew sat locked up in a cell. Her throat constricted. Some days it felt like the pain would consume her whole.

She stood and pushed her friend toward the door. “Go. Have fun. Kiss some hot guys for me.”

“If I can find someone worthy enough, I intend to do a lot more than kiss him. So don’t worry if I don’t come home tonight. I’ll text you.” Tanya grinned. “Mandy’s studying in her room. Alicia is still at the library but said she’d be back just after ten as per usual. She might come to the party later, so if you change your mind…”

“Maybe,” Cassie lied. “You be careful out there. Guard your drink,” she warned. Because if those women had been raped, there was still a dangerous criminal on the loose, and no one knew it.

“I will, honey. Jillian’s going to be here any minute to give me a ride.”

“Go. Have fun.”

Tanya turned and smiled at her sadly, touching her arm. Cassie felt the punch of it near her heart. “You’ll get through this, Cass. You don’t have to forget Drew, but you need to keep living your life. He’d want you to do that.”

Cassie’s lip wobbled as she remembered what he’d said in his letter. She crossed her arms over her chest as she watched her friend jog down the stairs, grab her coat, and race out the front door. She had to believe a miracle was going to happen and that Drew would be freed, but it seemed futile. The judicial process was so slow it took months to even schedule a court hearing. In the meantime Drew was forced to live amongst killers and thieves. Getting raped in the showers wasn’t something anyone should have to worry about. Who could live like that?

That bitch Donovan had a lot to answer for. The blonde detective probably thought this was over.

It wasn’t. It would never be over.

Anger grounded her. Without it she’d be so damn lost.

Across the hall, Mandy turned her music on full blast. Cassie slipped on her noise-canceling headphones and stared at her computer and thought about the paper she needed to finish. Instead she pulled out a pen and notepad and started to write back to the man she loved, stopping only once to wipe away the tears that insisted on falling.

 

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About Toni Anderson

New York Times and USA Today international bestselling author, Toni Anderson, writes dark, gritty Romantic Suspense novels that have hit #1 in Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, the Top 10 in Amazon and Kobo stores, and the Top 50 in iBooks. Her novels have won many awards. A former Marine Biologist from Britain, she inexplicably ended up in the geographical center of North America, about as far from the ocean as it is possible to get. She now lives in the Canadian prairies with her Irish husband and two children and spends most of her time complaining about the weather.

Toni has no explanation for her oft-times dark imagination, and only hopes the romance makes up for it. She’s addicted to reading, dogs, tea, and chocolate.

If you want to know when Toni’s next book will be out, visit her website (http://www.toniandersonauthor.com) and sign up for her newsletter. If you want to read other fascinating stories about life in a city that, during winter, is sometimes colder than Mars, friend her on Facebook: (https://www.facebook.com/toniannanderson).

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