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The Perfect First by Maya Hughes Chapter Reveal with Giveaway ($10 Amazon in Amazon book bucks)

18 Apr


Title: The Perfect First

Author: Maya Hughes

Genre: New Adult Romance

Cover Design: Najla Qamber, Qamber Designs

Release Date: April 25, 2019

Chapter Reveal Sneak Peek! And giveaway down below!

“Very nice to meet you, Reece. I’m Persephone Alexander. I have a few questions we can get started with, if you don’t mind.”

“The quicker we get started, the quicker we can finish.” He looked around like he would have rather been anywhere but there.

Those giddy bubbles soured in my stomach. A server came by with the bottled waters I’d ordered. I arranged them in a neat pyramid at the end of the table.

“Would you like a water?” I held one out to him.

He eyed me like I was offering him an illicit substance but then reached out. His fingers brushed against the backs of mine and shooting sparks of excitement rushed through me. Pulling the bottle out of my grasp, he cracked it open and took a gulp.

My cheeks heated and I glanced down at my cards, flipping the ones at the front to the back.

“I have a notecard with some information for you to fill out.”

Sliding it across the table, I held out a pen for him. He took it from me, careful that our fingers didn’t touch this time. I’d have been lying if I’d said I didn’t want another touch, just to test whether or not that first one had been something more than static electricity. He filled out the biographical data on the card and handed it back to me.

“Let’s get started.” Just rip the Band-Aid off. Clearing my throat, I tapped the cards on the table. A few heads turned in our direction at the sharp, rapping sound. “When were you last tested for STDs?”

Read the rest of the Chapter Reveal!

Author Bio

Maya Hughes can often be found sneaking in another chapter while hiding in the bathroom from her kids! 🙂 I’m a romance writer who loves taking inspiration from everyday life, namely my husband and biggest fan. Inspiration also strikes when I hear a song, meet someone new or daydream while at soccer practice.

I’m the mom of three little ones, the wife to an amazing husband and also work full time. Some of my favorite things are cinnamon rolls, white wine, laughing until I can’t breathe and traveling with my family.

 

Author Links

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1001 Dark Nights: Ashes to Ink (Montgomery Ink Novella) by Carrie Ann Ryan Chapter Reveal with Pre-Order Links

16 Jan

Are you ready for more Montgomery Ink? Carrie Ann Ryan’s ASHES TO INK releases January 22nd – read the first chapter below and preorder your copy now!

About ASHES TO INK

Available January 22nd, 2019

From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan comes a new story in her Montgomery Ink series…

Back in Denver, Abby lost everything she ever loved, except for her daughter, the one memory she has left of the man she loved and lost. Now, she’s moved next to the Montgomerys in Colorado Springs, leaving her past behind to start her new life.

One step at a time.

Ryan is the newest tattoo artist at Montgomery Ink Too and knows the others are curious about his secrets. But he’s not ready to tell them. Not yet. That is…until he meets Abby.

Abby and Ryan thought they had their own paths, ones that had nothing to do with one another. Then…they took a chance.

On each other.

One night at a time.

**Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you’ll enjoy each one as much as we do.**

ASHES TO INK releases January 22nd, 2019 – preorder your copy now!

✦Amazon https://amzn.to/2VV27Hr
✦Paperback https://amzn.to/2FtsijL

Read the first chapter of ASHES TO INK:

Abby loved tea. She loved everything about it. The taste, the smell, the way it warmed her up on a cold day or cooled her down on a warm one. She’d even loved tea when she was a little girl, playing with air in her teacups and treating her stuffed animals and Cabbage Patch dolls to an afternoon tea party.

Her grandmother had taught her the basics of brewing the perfect cuppa, as well as the ratio of sugar cubes needed. Abby had then learned to try tea with all additives: cinnamon sticks, lemon wedges, a dash of cream. Some might consider that ruining it, but Abby had wanted to try it all.

She loved tea bags but adored loose-leaf tea even more. She relished steeping it, blending it, and finding the perfect mix for the season.

So when she found herself looking for a way to create something that was just hers and start over after everything had fallen apart around her, opening the tea shop had seemed like a no-brainer.

Teas’d specialized in loose-leaf tea, but Abby also sold some bagged tea and different teapots and helpful equipment.

It was Abby’s goal in life to make it so others could discover the joys of tea like she had, and maybe find a new favorite along the way. She had always loved the idea of teatime, even if she didn’t have the time to truly sit down and enjoy it herself every day.

Regardless, she adored the scents, loved the idea of falling into a cup—a different flavor every day. With the resurgence of tea drinkers, it was easier for Abby to find fellow tea lovers as time moved on. There were big chain tea shops and smaller ones as well, but Teas’d was just for her. She was a tiny little speck in the idea of tea and how it could serve the needs of the people, but she was the best speck she could possibly be.

She’d had to be after everything changed.

She’d had to be when she lost everything.

Well, not everything. She still had her little girl. Abby grinned down at her phone and swiped up so she could look at the photo on the home screen.

Julia was growing every day and even looked slightly different now than she had in the picture. Abby still couldn’t quite believe that she and Max had made this beautiful baby girl. Max might not be around to help raise Julia, but he had been there for the conception and had been there to pick out everything the two of them as new parents would need to raise their child together.

It didn’t hurt as much as it once had to think about Max. Oh, it would always hurt, but at least it didn’t make Abby want to throw up and grieve right then.

She could think about her husband and smile now. She could think about the fact that he had loved her with all of his heart, even if that had been the thing to take him away from her in the end.

And she couldn’t say her feelings didn’t matter now though, because that would be a disgrace to his memory and the fact that she could see Max in her little girl every single day.

Julia would never know her father, but Abby was doing her best to make sure that Julia knew exactly who Max was, and how excited he had been to have Julia in his life.

The two had never met, but Abby knew Max was always watching over them.

There was no other way to think about it. Not when Abby needed to get up every day and breathe—try to be the mom and woman she needed to be.

But today was a new day, just like all the others. Today, she would make some tea, sell some tea, and maybe even have a cookie or two. Because it was Friday, and she was allowed to have a cookie if she wanted.

She just might have a little extra padding on her hips, but that was fine with her. It wasn’t like she was trying to entice a man.

Oh, she’d dated a couple of times in the past year or so, but it hadn’t really amounted to much. She hadn’t been ready, and she didn’t know if she was ready now either.

“What are you looking at over there?”

Abby looked up at the sound of her friend Adrienne’s voice and smiled. Adrienne Montgomery owned the tattoo shop, Montgomery Ink Too, next door and was part of a huge family—way bigger than just the set of cousins that lived near Abby.

The Montgomerys were large, loud, brash, and the sweetest people Abby had ever known. They had taken her in with just one look, much like their cousins in Denver had, and Abby loved every single one of them.

“Just looking at tea,” Abby answered, holding up a couple of tins. “I’m trying to see what I need to put on special. We have good stock of most things, but not all.”

“I don’t know how you do it. I mean, I know how to run a business, and I think I’m doing pretty well, but it takes the advice of two accountants for me to know what I’m doing.”

“Since I have the same two accountants you do, I totally understand.”

Shea was Adrienne’s sister-in-law, and Roxie was Adrienne’s sister. Both were accountants, and pretty much helped run the businesses on this stretch.

The Montgomerys owned two of the businesses—Montgomery Ink Too, and Colorado Icing. While Adrienne and Shep ran the tattoo shop, the Montgomerys’ middle sister, Thea, owned the bakery at the end of the strip.

Abby had a feeling that if there had been more space available, the accountants of the family probably would have moved in as well. Or maybe even the mechanic, Carter, who was married to Roxie. In fact, Adrienne was dating one of the tattoo artists, Mace, and that just meant there was more family than ever. More Montgomerys.

Abby didn’t think that Thea’s boyfriend, Dimitri, would be able to move a whole high school into the strip, but if there were a way, the Montgomerys would likely make it happen.

“Your family really is pretty amazing.” Abby grinned as Adrienne rolled her eyes.

“Oh, don’t tell the guys that. I mean, you can tell me, Thea, and Roxie. It’s true, and it’s sort of what we do. We are the touchstone for the Montgomerys.”

They both laughed at that because even though it might be true, every single one of the Montgomerys had their own touchstones when it came to what those around them needed.

“So, have any good tea for me today?” Adrienne asked. “I have a long project coming up, one that’s gonna take me a few hours and a few sessions. I could use all the energy I can get. And while I love coffee from Thea’s bakery, I think I’m in the mood for tea today. Something to keep me wired, but something flavorful as well. I can head over to Thea’s later for something sugary, or even a sandwich for some protein, but here is where I want my tea.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Let me set you up with some chai. I know that’s your favorite.” Abby went around the counter and began working. She knew the exact blend her friend favored and even had the milk Adrienne so dearly loved to put in it. She’d make a latte if she could, but she only did that when she visited Thea’s bakery. Here at Teas’d, it was all about the blends and steeping.

“That and some of that peppermint one for later. It is the holidays. You have some peppermint, too, right?” Adrienne bounced from foot to foot as if she’d already had her caffeine for the day. Knowing Adrienne, she probably had but wanted more. Abby was happy to oblige.

“Oh, I have the peppermint. I also have that white chocolate peppermint bark one that you love.” Both of them smiled, and Abby watched as Adrienne rubbed her stomach with her hand, her eyes comically wide.

“I might have to come back for that later.”

“I can always stop by with some tea. That is what I’m here for.”

“You’re going to be a delivery person for tea as well?”

“I can. Only for my friends.”

Abby didn’t actually serve brewed tea all that often. Most people came to Teas’d for stock rather than just a cuppa. But she did have a couple of places to sit outside, as well as one inside. It was winter in Colorado Springs, so sitting outside wasn’t something that people did often.

But Abby knew some did like to sit outside the bakery at the other end of the strip, drinking their hot cocoa or coffee and braving the cold just because they were Coloradans, and that’s what they did.

And while it didn’t happen often, she loved when people came in for a cup to go, or even stayed to drink out of her ceramic mugs. She had painstakingly searched forever for the cups that she wanted and had ended up just going to Jake Gallagher to have them made.

Jake was an artist. He sculpted with his hands and with his heart. He’d made the mugs for her, as well as other things she could sell in the store.

She knew that he made art. Real art. And though she thought of her teashop as its own kind of art—the way it made others feel was art itself—she knew Jake was in a realm of his own.

With any other person, he might not have tried to help her as he did, but they had a good relationship now, and she liked that their working relationship meant that she could sell his wares and still use everything that he made for her and her customers.

The Gallaghers were connected to the Montgomerys through marriage, and Abby was tied to the Gallaghers through Max since Jake’s brother Murphy had been one of Max’s best friends.

It was odd how everything seemed to tie together and be so close—yet so far away.

She might have felt that she was on the outside looking in once, but that wasn’t the case anymore. The Montgomerys and the Gallaghers wouldn’t allow that.

And while both families had given her space to breathe, they hadn’t given her enough room to bury herself. No, she wasn’t thinking physically, she would never do that. Never to herself, never to Julia, and never to Max’s memory.

But she had needed some time to figure out how to be a single mom in this world. A mom without a real job and with only a savings account for a dream that she’d never thought to have realized in the timeframe she was forced to work in.

“That smells delicious,” Adrienne said. “Seriously delicious.”

Abby smiled, knowing today would be a good day, because it had to be. There was no other option when it came to tea.

“Here’s the chai, just for you. I put it in a to-go cup, but if you want it out of a mug later, just let me know. I don’t know how you and your elbows are doing today.”

Adrienne rolled her eyes. “That was Ryan’s fault, not mine. He startled me, and my elbow broke that mug. I paid for it. I went right up to Denver to ask Jake for another one. I am still so sorry about that.”

Abby just smiled and shook her head, handing over the tea. “I know it wasn’t your fault. I was just teasing. Though I do have to watch out for all of you over at the shop. You are a wild bunch.”

Adrienne threw her head back and laughed. “That we are. Although, I do have to say, Ryan might be the wildest of us all.” Adrienne winked.

Abby frowned at that but didn’t say anything. Was Adrienne trying to match up two of her single friends? She wasn’t sure if she was ready for anything like that. Or if she could think about Ryan like that at all.

He was handsome, that was for sure. And he always had a soft smile for Abby and was really great with Julia whenever they ran into each other. But that wasn’t often since Julia was usually with the sitter when Abby was working. Or maybe Abby was just reading into what Adrienne had said because she’d had a little too much caffeine that morning. It was time to switch to herbal tea for the rest of the day if this was how she was going to start thinking.

“You better hurry if you’re going to make your appointment. I’ll be over later with any tea you need. Just call if you want something different than the peppermint. Or if Mace or any of the others need anything.”

Adrienne leaned over and hugged Abby hard before taking her chai. “That I can do. It’s just me, Mace, and Ryan over there. It’s Shep’s day off to hang out with the kiddos.”

“I’m glad that you guys are able to work it out with all the kids. Daisy is with Shep as well?”

“Yes. Since we’re able to make our schedules work, we don’t have to get an outside sitter as much.” Adrienne paused. “You know, Julia’s always welcome to come over. I know that you would trade off with us if you could. You don’t have to pay for a sitter. We Montgomerys make it work, and you are an honorary Montgomery, after all.” Abby didn’t shake her head or say no. She knew the others were just trying to help, but it was sometimes hard to willingly accept help when she wanted to stand on her own two feet. Plus, Abby didn’t want to have to rely on anyone. Everything could change in an instant.

She shook off that thought and tried not to think about what it meant. She knew she was thinking about Max and the fact that she hadn’t really spoken to his family since the funeral. They hadn’t even met their granddaughter. Hadn’t been involved in anything having to do with Julia’s life. But that was okay. Abby would be okay. She had to be okay.

“I will talk to you later. And bring the tea.” Adrienne just rolled her eyes. Probably because Abby hadn’t commented about the daycare, but it didn’t matter.

The Montgomerys would just bring it up again, and Abby would cave—because she would. Julia loved hanging out with Daisy and Livvy. And since Julia and Livvy were close to the same age, it worked out well. Soon, there would probably be more babies in the Montgomery world. They might not have room for Julia.

Abby shook that thought out of her head as Adrienne walked out of the store. And then she went back to work. There were more teas to make, more blends to perfect. And peppermint tea and chocolate to give to her friends later.

The day went on like normal. People came in for tea, and more than one for gift baskets and Christmas presents. The holidays were quickly approaching. So fast that Abby was sure she was behind on her shopping. She tried to get some things for the Montgomerys, but most everything was for Julia. She didn’t want her daughter to assume there would always be gifts, something material. But she also wanted to spoil her baby just enough.

Julia deserved to be spoiled.

When Abby went to bring over peppermint tea for both Mace and Adrienne, Ryan was out on a personal call. She hadn’t asked why, and she didn’t want to explore why her brain immediately went to her wanting to know more about the man.

She shouldn’t want to know more about him. He was a friend. Nothing more. And that meant she shouldn’t be thinking about how he looked in his jeans every day. Or how much she liked the beautiful ink on his arms.

Nope, she wouldn’t be thinking about any of that, thank you very much.

As the day wore on, the snow started to fall a little faster, a little harder. It had even begun to accumulate, which annoyed her since the forecast hadn’t predicted it. Then again, the meteorologists were rarely right these days.

Abby wasn’t really looking forward to driving in the snow, but she was a native Coloradan, and she was used to it. There was no use complaining about the precipitation in Colorado. That was like complaining that there were mountains or high altitude.

Weather like this was just something one got used to. The snow would probably melt the next day anyway. Even if the sun shone and it was frigid outside, the precipitation did its own thing here in Colorado.

As she made her way to the babysitter’s house to pick up Julia, Abby knew that she would eventually have to ask the Montgomerys for help. She didn’t like how long it took to get to the sitter’s. If Julia stayed with one of the Montgomerys, she would actually be closer to Abby throughout the day, and Abby would have an easier and shorter drive home. It just made sense, and it would help out more people if she were there to add to the days when someone could watch all of the children.

She knew she just had to give up control and say yes.

But as the snow started to come down a little more earnestly, Abby was afraid she might have a bit of a hard time getting to her daughter tonight. And when she finally got there, it might be even more difficult to get them home. Her windshield wipers flew back and forth, the speed increasing, but so did the quickness of the snowfall.

She cursed herself once again for saying no to the Montgomerys.

When she finally arrived, Julia was hyper but not too much since Abby knew the babysitter didn’t give her extra sugar. This was just Julia’s happy, bubbly way. Her daughter was an amazing baby girl—though she wasn’t really a baby anymore, was she?

Julia was perfect in every way. No, Abby wouldn’t tell her that she was perfect over and over again because that would probably lead to issues down the road. But in Abby’s mind, her daughter was perfect.

She had gone through so much in her short life, even before she was born.

She was a survivor. Just like Abby.

Her daughter spread joy to everyone, even if she was a little shy at times. But she was so graceful, so grateful. She shared her toys with others, and always had a smile for those who might not want to. If another kid was crying or just needed a hug, Julia was right there. Sometimes even faster than the adults in the room.

In the car, Julia babbled on about her day, using strings of words that wouldn’t really make any sense to anyone but Abby. Because that was the role of the mother, to always understand what her baby girl was saying, even if it didn’t make a lick of sense.

Darkness started to fall across Colorado. The fact that it was December meant that there weren’t many hours of sunlight these days. The snow fell harder, the wind getting a little bit brisker. Abby just wanted to get home. She just wanted to be home.

She was just turning onto the next street in her route, knowing she was close to home but not close enough, when her tires slid on the ice that she hadn’t seen.

She tried not to panic, tried to remember what she was supposed to do in this situation. She didn’t twist her wheel hard, but she did try to turn into the skid. It was no use.

She was sliding into the other lane of traffic, and though there were no cars right now, that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be some soon. Julia didn’t make a sound, Abby wasn’t even sure she knew that something bad was happening.

Inside her head, Abby was screaming, her hands tight on the wheel—so tight, she was afraid she’d lose circulation.

But she couldn’t focus on any of that. She just had to concentrate on making sure they survived the skid. She had to make sure that whatever they hit, they didn’t hit too hard.

The sound of her tires sliding across the ice seemed loud in the vacuum of her panic.

It shouldn’t have sounded loud. But the rubber did squeal, and Julia let out a sound in response that made Abby want to turn. But she couldn’t. She had to keep her eyes on the road. The decision to do that, to not look at her baby girl when her daughter might need her, broke her. But she had to focus on what was in front of her.

The car hit the snowbank on the other side of the street with a dull thud, not even jostling the vehicle as it did, and Abby just sat there for a moment, her heartbeat so loud in her ears she couldn’t hear anything else.

Everything had moved so slowly—and still did, as if she hadn’t just been in a minor accident.

No other cars were coming, and there was no one else on the road. She always took this route because there was less traffic and fewer idiots out and about.

But it was cold, and there was nobody around to help. Her car was still running, but she was halfway in a ditch and slammed into a snowbank. Her body didn’t hurt, but her head did. Only because of the headache, not anything else.

But Julia.

Oh my God. Julia.

Abby undid her seatbelt, trying to ignore the fact that she just might pass out from the stress, and tuning out the cheery Christmas music filling her car. This seemed like the worst time for Christmas music, but then again, she didn’t know when a good time for it would be anymore.

When she finally got turned around, Julia just smiled and held out her hands for a hug. Abby practically crawled over the seat back to check on her baby girl. They hadn’t hit hard, neither of them getting jarred too badly. The car hadn’t even been going fast enough for the airbags to go off.

Abby knew that she needed to figure out how to get out of the ditch. Maybe she should call Carter. Or the cops. Then, she remembered that Roxie’s husband Carter had just been in an accident and wasn’t working at his shop. He wouldn’t be operating the tow truck.

Right then, all Abby wanted to do was cry because she had no idea what to do.

But because she knew her baby was fine, that both of them were fine, she got Julia out of her car seat and held her close.

She had to keep reminding herself that they were okay. She wasn’t even shaking, even though she probably should have been. Shock would likely do that to her later, but right now, she needed to hold her baby girl.

Headlights suddenly filled the car, and Abby closed her eyes and held Julia close, trying to protect her as best she could.

If a car hit them right then, Abby knew that they were done for.

But as the light continued to fill her car, the oncoming vehicle slowed.

The sound of a door opening and closing filled Abby’s ears, followed by the sounds of a person walking, their shoes crunching on the snow.

Someone tapped on the window and called out her name.

Her name.

They knew her.

But because she and Julia had fogged up the windows, Abby couldn’t see who it was. She scooted over in the backseat and opened the car door.

“Ryan,” she breathed. “Ryan.”

She had never been happier to see his bearded face.

Ryan frowned down at her, looked at Julia in her arms, and let out a soft curse. “Are you okay, Abby? What the hell happened?”

She just looked at him, and then promptly burst into tears.

 

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 3.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over sixty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest

 

A Place Without You by Jewel E. Ann Chapter Reveal

1 Dec

A Place Without You, an all-new emotional, new adult romance from Jewel E. Ann is coming January 2nd, and we have a sneak peek for you!

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The Law of Henna and Bodhi:

When love breaks, fall inward, fall together, and fall hard. Then let time pick up the pieces.

Everything feels temporary when you’ve experienced tragedy—until Henna Lane meets Bodhi at a music festival.

Young and spontaneous, they have a lust for seizing the moment, falling hard and fast.

When Bodhi is forced to leave without a goodbye, Henna thinks she’ll never get over him. But then she meets Mr. Malone, her sexy, new guidance counselor.

They are reckless.

They are forbidden.

When their secret is discovered, Henna has to choose between finishing school—banned from seeing Mr. Malone—or dropping out to follow her nomad dreams.

Henna chooses her dreams.

Over time, she learns that life is not a destination or a journey, some things are more than temporary, and the forbidden can never be ignored. But if she returns for him, will he still be hers?

A Place Without You is an emotional story of young love, shattered dreams, and impossible decisions.

Add to GoodReads: http://bit.ly/2AHhTNT

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Excerpt from Chapter One

His lips move. I stare at them for a few breaths before I realize he’s talking. My hand tugs out my earbud again.

“Sorry. Did you say something?”

“What are you listening to?” he asks in a voice as smooth as his Mediterranean eyes.

“That’s kind of a personal question. Like asking my underwear color.”

He grins. It’s all kinds of wicked. “Personal?” He shrugs. “I don’t know about that. Depends on the song … and the color.”

“Amy Shark, ‘Adore.’And red and silver polka dots.”

“Mmm …” He nods slowly. “Good choice.”

“The song?” I bite the corner of my lower lip to control my grin.

“The underwear.”

My heart wakes up as if to say, “Whoa, is something going on here I should know about?”

“Wanna see mine?”

My eyebrows lift a fraction. “Your underwear?”

He digs his phone out of his front pocket. “Do I look like a perv? My song.”

Damn. He’s good. My tummy joins in on the little dance happening inside of me.

Twisting his wrist, he shows me his phone screen.

“Apocalyptica, ‘Nothing Else Matters.’ Hmm … that’s unexpected.” I let my gaze fall into his, a dangerous place to be. “You going to Coachella?”

He nods several times, glancing over the seats to the road before us. “I’m working there.”

“Oh, cool. Doing what?”

He inspects my hair. I’d planned on changing clothes and doing something a bit more original with my crazy, dark auburn hair than a messy braid over one shoulder, but sushi dad took away my hotel room. Sexy stranger grins like either my question or my messy hair pleases him. “I’m an in-house tech—audio, lighting, video.”

Dear God, he’s the full package, especially when that grin of his grows as I continue to violate him with my eyes. Maybe it’s just the lollipop I had on my way to the hotel. Everything seems aesthetically pleasing when I’m a little high.

“So, I’ll know who to blame if the sound is a bit off while one of my favorite bands performs.”

“You’ll know who to thank when it isn’t.” He leans toward the middle of the backseat. I follow his lead because I’m curious if he smells as good as he looks. “But I get this feeling that in your state, everything will sound good.”

Ignoring his whispered accusation that I’m high, I sniff. “You smell like lemon.”

He sticks his tongue out, revealing a half-melted lemon drop.

I grin as we sit straight again. “Last year my mom brought back lemon drops from the Limoncello factory in Sorrento. They were amazing.”

Sucking more intensely on his sour goodness, he nods slowly. “I’m sure they were. Sadly, I don’t think my lemon drop was made in Italy.”

“That is incredibly sad.”

He chuckles. Is he laughing at me?

“Nice tats.” He nods to my arms.

Holding them out, I admire my art. “They’re henna, like me.”

“Like you?”

“Yes. My name is Henna. And these will be much more intense tomorrow.”

“Like you?” His teeth scrape along his bottom lip. It’s ridiculously sexy.

“Are you flirting with me?”

He chuckles. “We met less than five minutes ago. I have a little more tact than that.”

“Tact? Like asking the color of my underwear?”

He runs his hands over the legs of his jeans. Is he sweating? Am I making him sweat? That possibility gives me a whole other kind of high.

“I didn’t ask. You freely offered that information. Besides, I have rules about flirting.”

“Well, I despise rules, but you must share your rules anyway.”

“Never flirt with someone who is not sober.” He stares out his window like his rule is the end of our friendly conversation.

“Sober? Dude, this is as sober as I get.” Leaning forward, I shove down the waist of my shorts in back, exposing a long L-shaped scar.

He glances over, forehead wrinkled.

“If I sit too long or stand too long or do anything too long, life kinda sucks. But a little high can go a long way with making said life a lot less sucky.”

Sitting back, I exhale. Sexy stranger seems at a loss for words.

“Tell me, tech guy, do you have a name?”

The driver stops at the crowded entrance.

“Thank you,” we say while getting out of the car.

To read the rest of Chapter One, visit:

http://bit.ly/2r9bWU0

About Jewel:

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

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

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

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

Connect with Jewel:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorjeweleann/

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http://www.jeweleann.com

 

Restless Ink (Montgomery Ink: Colorado Springs) Chapter Reveal

12 Sep

The Montgomerys just got hotter… RESTLESS INK by Carrie Ann Ryan releases September 18th, but you can read part of the first chapter now! Check it out below and preorder your copy now!

 

About RESTLESS INK

Available September 18, 2018

The Montgomery Ink series continues with the so-called sensible sister and the one man she never should have fallen for.

For Thea Montgomery, baking isn’t only therapeutic, it’s also her dream job. She’s worked countless hours keeping her bakery afloat, and now that it’s where she wants it to be, she’s ready to expand and take the next step. When it comes to work and her family, she’s on top of her game. Her personal life, however, is a different story.

When Dimitri Carr isn’t teaching and hiding his ink under long sleeves to keep the bosses happy, he’s trying to be the best brother and friend he can be. After his divorce, he’d thought he would lose Thea from his life forever because she’s his ex-wife’s best friend. But now that he’s free, and the two of them realize they want to keep their friendship. Then he finally sees what he’s been missing all this time.

But there are more problems than the fact that Dimitri is Thea’s best friend’s ex. And when accidental touches and flirtations aren’t enough for either of them, and they’re finally ready to take the next step, they’ll find out exactly what that cost is for crossing that line. And will need to find the strength to face it.

RESTLESS INK releases September 18th – preorder your copy now!

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✦Audiobook https://adbl.co/2P1YP1V

 

Read part of the first chapter of RESTLESS INK!

Thea Montgomery flopped down on the bed and knew that tonight was the first and last time she’d sleep with Roger. She never should have slept with a man name Roger anyway. He was just as dull as his name suggested. She’d gone into date number six thinking that maybe he wasn’t as bad as he seemed and wondering if maybe her standards were set too high. After all, not every Roger could be Roger Federer— the king of Rogers and the court.

She’d liked this Roger, at least she’d assumed she did. She’d thought that if she worked harder, they’d have more than just their small attraction. And because she liked sex, and she thought she liked Roger, she’d slept with him. He let out a pleased sigh beside her, and she held back a sigh of her own— of a very different kind.

This had been a mistake. But not her first, and probably not her last.

Damn it, Thea, get your act together.

Okay, that wasn’t fair. She was the sensible Montgomery. The one that joked about sex with her sisters but rarely had it. She’d been too busy starting her business and far too picky to jump into bed with just anyone. And since it had taken six dates with Roger to get to this stage, she figured she really wasn’t jumping. It was more like a gentle hop.

But there’d been nothing hopping in bed with Roger tonight, and now she hated that she sounded so callous about it. Even to herself. He was sweet. He was nice. And… he had no idea what he was doing with his hands or his tongue. And she had a feeling if she were to tell him something along those lines— even gently— and try to show him what she wanted, he’d be one of those guys that pushed back, blaming it on her.

It had happened once or twice.

Okay, four times, but seriously, some guys needed to watch a little less anal porn and a little more cunnilingus. It wasn’t that hard.

Roger turned over at that moment and reached out to pat her stomach. She winced since that wasn’t the most romantic thing in the world, but then again, nothing about what had just happened could be classified as romance. Ugh, now she felt bad, but there was nothing she could do with her feelings except feel them. Her family had taught her that.

And she really shouldn’t be thinking of family lessons while naked in bed with a man she wasn’t going to see again.

“So… nice, eh?”

Dear God.

“Sure. It was great.” She could hear the false note in her tone, but she wasn’t sure he could. She hated herself just a bit that she hadn’t had any fun, but she’d thought that maybe if she tried hard enough, things would work out.

Apparently, there just wasn’t enough chemistry between them, and she probably should have figured that out before she got into bed with him, but she’d thought there’d been enough.

“I have an early day tomorrow, but I’ll walk you out.”

She barely held back a slow blink. Walk her out? Why didn’t she just leave money on the table on her way to the door?

She sat up, using the sheet to cover herself since she didn’t really feel like baring herself more than she already had and pasted a smile on her face. She’d wanted to leave anyway, but now she felt as though she had to. As if she weren’t good enough for him to even want to talk to beyond patting her on the stomach like a dog who’d learned a new trick and wanted some love.

Hell, she needed to get out of there before she got angry and said something she would regret. Because before this moment, Roger had been nice. Maybe too nice. Perhaps that niceness had covered up his bad sex and selfish ways.

Now, she really needed to get out of there. He sat in bed, looking pleased with himself as she put on her panties while still hiding under the sheet. She slid into her dress, not bothering with her bra since she couldn’t do that one-handed.

And even as she clumsily tried to dress behind the sheet, he lay there. Watching her. Why had she thought he was nice?

Oh, because he had been. But not the kind of nice she needed in her life.

Finally, she dropped the sheet since she now wore her panties and dress. She quickly stuffed her bra into her tiny purse, the straps hanging out, slid her feet into her heels, and wrapped her jacket around herself. She’d dressed up for this date and had thought it might lead to something more.

Boy had she been wrong. “Don’t bother locking the door on your way out. I’ll get up and do it soon. Wore me out, you know?” He winked, and Thea knew she needed a shower— and maybe a bath, too.

A hot one that would take off the first layer of her skin because she was never going to get the feeling of him off her.

What had she been thinking? Roger?

Jesus, she needed to take a hard look at her life and maybe never go on another date with a man because she’d seriously never felt this humiliated. It didn’t matter that she’d taken her time, done her research on him, and had wanted to make sure she liked him before she went to bed with him. It hadn’t been enough.

Men were slime, and Roger was the slimiest.

“Yeah. Sure. Bye.”

“Thanks for tonight, babe. I’ll call you.”

“Don’t bother,” she whispered as she walked away, her middle finger in the air. It was possible he couldn’t see it, but it was still warranted.

“Don’t be that way, babe,” he yelled from the bedroom where he still hadn’t moved, but she ignored him, closing the front door softly behind her. As much as she wanted to slam it, she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of her showing any emotion beyond coldness.

Because she was Thea, the ice bitch who played with icing in her bakery. She knew what her exes had said before, and now Roger would just be another of those who thought her cold or something along those lines.

Whatever, she was done with men.

She got into her car, threw her purse onto the passenger seat, and made her way to the grocery store. She was so freaking mad, she didn’t even want to bake. That’s when she knew that something was wrong, and if she didn’t get some sugar soon, she would break— and that wasn’t something Roger deserved. And because she didn’t want to do something she loved, she knew she was right at the level where she’d start crying in her car, and she refused to do that.

So, she’d go to the store, pick up some ice cream, then eat the whole pint before she went to bed. Alone. Because, of course, she would be alone. Why wouldn’t she be?

“Ugh,” Thea whispered to herself, annoyed at her train of thought. She hated self-pity, but being tossed out after a particularly bad bout of sex had kind of sent her over the edge into the land of meh.

As soon as she parked, she leapt from the car, purse in hand, and made her way into the twenty-four-hour market. Hopefully, she’d be in and out quickly, and no one she knew would see her do her version of a sugar-loaded walk of shame.

Of course, that’s when her heel broke.

Because… of course, it did.

Nothing good ever came from lack of orgasms.

Fuck this night.

Fuck it hard.

Fuck it harder than she’d been fucked.

Though that wouldn’t be hard, because… Roger.

She picked up the broken part of her heel and limped her way to the frozen food section. She’d be damned if she left without her sugar. Now, though, she’d buy five pints because it was just that kind of night.

Thea was just deciding between the low-calorie fake ice cream and the good old-fashioned heavy cream version when a familiar voice called her name. “Thea?”

Why not tonight? Seriously. Why wouldn’t this man be right by her after everything that had happened already? Seemed about right.

She rolled her shoulders back and turned to Dimitri, her best friend’s ex-husband and Thea’s friend, as well. If she were going to meet anyone in a grocery store after what had turned out to be a horrible date while wearing a broken heel, her version of the walk of shame outfit, and messy bedhead hair that tumbled down her shoulders in dark waves, it might as well be him.

“Hey, Dimitri.”

Dimitri. The man had once been in her life just as much as Molly had. Thea had been friends with both of them and had even known the two separately before they started dating. She’d also refused to take sides during the separation and then after the divorce. Of course, it had always been Molly who wanted Thea to take a side. Dimitri stayed quiet, clearly hurting from the breakup at the time and the changes in his life. He’d tried to keep his friendship with Thea soon after the papers had been signed and even a few months following that, but Thea had always felt awkward because of Molly. Now, she had a feeling she’d made the wrong choice because Dimitri was her friend too, and she’d lost him.

She looked over the line of his jaw, the bend on his nose from where he’d broken it in a bar fight in college— a scuffle that had been about protecting a friend and not because of too many drinks. He wore a cotton shirt under his leather jacket that clung to his wide chest, and jeans that molded to his thighs— not that she was looking at his legs. She knew he had a large tattoo on one quad that was part of his family history, words in Cyrillic that she’d never been able to decipher. He also had a grouping of trees on his forearm and wrist that made a half-sleeve that he’d said reminded him of his family’s home. He was a fourth-generation American and had never been to the place his family hailed from, even his last name wasn’t Russian, but he’d always loved his ink.

That much Thea remembered about him, even though she hadn’t set eyes on him in a month— though it felt like far longer. His brow rose as he studied her, his gaze traveling down her dress to her broken heel. It wasn’t like she could hide anything.

“Are you okay?” He didn’t smile as he said it. In fact, he looked angry, really angry. “Do you want me to take you somewhere? To talk?”

She blinked, confused. “What are you talking about? I’m fine.” Well, she would be fine once she had her ice cream and a long bath, but she didn’t need to tell him the details.

Dimitri moved closer and lowered his head so he could whisper in her ear. She ignored the heat of his breath on her neck. Apparently, she was having an off night if she were even thinking about that at all.

“Your dress is on inside out underneath your coat, you have a broken heel, your hair looks tangled, and your bra is in your purse. Are you sure you’re okay? Did someone attack you? I’ll take you out of here right now and do whatever you need. Just let me help.”

Dear. God.

There had to be a better word than mortification for what slid through her right then. If there were a hole opening up anywhere around her, she’d freely jump into it. She’d forgotten about her damn bra and could now clearly remember the straps dangling from her purse. And because she’d been trying to keep the sheet over herself, she’d put on her dress incorrectly, and hadn’t noticed because she just wanted out of Roger’s place.

Could this night get any worse?

She shouldn’t even tempt the fates with that question. She just hoped they hadn’t heard her think it.

 

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

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

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest

 

Bread by Cassia Leo Chapter Reveal with Pre-Order Links

17 Jul

Today we have the chapter reveal for the much-anticipated novel, BREAK, by USA Today Best Selling Author Cassia Leo. Check it out and pre-order your copy today!

About Break

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Shattered Hearts Series comes a sweet and sexy stand-alone rock star romance.

For most of my life, Ben Hayes was the gorgeous bad boy musician next door. My brother’s heart throb best friend.

Then, he was my boyfriend for six of the happiest years of my life. Until he dumped me on social media in front of millions of people, officially cementing his role as my worst enemy.

Three years later, Ben returns to our small beach town with an ego the size of California, a drinking problem, a movie deal that’s about to fall through, and a secret that only he and his dying father know.

I’m not the same pathetic girl I was when he broke my heart. I’m stronger now. I won’t let him break me again.

But it’s hard to resist those ocean-blue eyes, that sculpted, tattooed body, that smooth voice, that enormous… Well, you get the picture.

Every time he makes me laugh or swoon, my defenses fracture. The walls around my heart are crumbling fast. And Ben’s wrecking ball of a secret is about to deliver the final blow.

Pre-Order Now

BREAK will be available for purchase on all retailers for ONE DAY ONLY, July 26, 2018. After July 26th, it will only be available on Amazon. You do not need to have a Kindle Unlimited subscription to purchase BREAK on Amazon.

Amazon | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Google Play | Paperback

About Cassia Leo

New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo loves her coffee, chocolate, and margaritas with salt. When she’s not writing, she spends way too much time re-watching Game of Thrones and Sex and the City. When she’s not binge watching, she’s usually enjoying the Oregon rain with a hot cup of coffee and a book.

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Join Club Cassia

 

Whiskey Reveals (Whiskey and Lies #2) by Carrie Ann Ryan

8 Jun

We’re less than a week way from the release of WHISKEY REVEALS by Carrie Ann Ryan, but you can read the first chapter now! Be sure to check it out below!

 

About WHISKEY REVEALS (Whiskey and Lies #2)

One whiskey-saturated night turns into something far more in the second standalone installment of the bestselling Whiskey and Lies series from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan.

Fox Collins likes his life just the way it is. His siblings are falling in love all around him, but he’d much rather focus on his next story than on a serious relationship. However, when his latest one-night stand returns to Whiskey-this time for good-he’ll need to learn to trust his instincts to figure out if he can live without her in his life.

Former dancer Melody Waters is finally ready to settle down in her grandmother’s small Pennsylvania hometown. Bad decisions and fateful nights have changed her path more than once, but now she’s focused on one thing: opening her new own dance studio. But fate is a funny thing, and once again, she’ll be forced to learn that actions have consequences and some repercussions can not only change your life forever, they can also come back to haunt you…one broken promise at a time.

Each book is a complete stand alone and can be read in any order.

 

WHISKEY REVEALS releases June 12th – preorder your copy now!

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Read the first chapter of WHISKEY REVEALS

Fox Collins never wanted to wake up.

At least not while he was having the best damn dream of his life. He wasn’t necessarily fully asleep at the moment, but rather half dream-like snoozing, where he could wield his subconscious to finish the delicious dream he’d been having. Meaning, any sound could wake him up, and thinking about it too hard could also rip him from sleep.

That meant he quickly shoved those too complicated thoughts out of his head to avoid waking and went back to the delectable blonde currently sucking his cock. Sadly, she was only his dream woman, not real, but he’d take what he could get since this was one damn sexy figment of his imagination. The fact that she was sort of based on a real person was, again, one of those thoughts he wasn’t going to think about since he wanted this part of his morning to continue.

His blonde licked up his shaft, her tongue like magic and warmth and everything that made him want to come right there. But he held himself back— barely. She slowly sucked on the crown, the tip of her tongue playing with his slit, and his eyes mentally rolled to the back of his head, his body shaking both in and out of the dream. She was so damn sexy, all curves and softness. There was a strength to her, as well. Something that had taken him for a ride the one time they’d had sex out of his dreams, but he wasn’t going to focus on that either. Instead, he would only think about her on her knees on the bed in front of him, as he lay back to let her suck him down. She bobbed her head, her eyes meeting his as she took him whole.

He didn’t reach out to touch her, didn’t let his hands follow the curves of her soft skin. As soon as he did that, he knew he’d wake up. He always did. Because he’d never be able to reach her. It was as if his brain wouldn’t allow him to remember exactly how perfect she felt in his arms— even if those memories were wrapped in a whiskey-laced fog.

His blonde squeezed his dick, and his eyes crossed, his hips bucking off the bed. He shouted her name, but only her first since she’d refused to give him her last, and found himself awake in his bed, his stomach sticky, and his own hand wrapped around the base of his cock.

He was alone, somewhat sated, and as he looked over at the clock on his nightstand… running late.

“Well, Melody, it seems I just can’t quit you.” His voice sounded loud in the emptiness of his room, and he let out a sigh. Apparently, Fox wasn’t the best at one-night stands— even if he’d tried to be. And, now, the blonde from his single night playing with whiskey and fate haunted his dreams and his dick.

He quirked a smile at that. A haunted dick? That could be a fun story to write. He might be the owner and editor of the Whiskey Chronicles, but he could take an afternoon and write a short story just for fun. It would keep his skills sharp, and frankly, he could use a laugh. It had been a long few months with deadline after deadline, and his dream woman continued to seep into his subconscious to the point where he wasn’t sleeping nearly enough.

His second alarm went off on his phone, and he sighed. He’d jacked off in his sleep through the first one, and that meant he had no more time to stay wrapped in his sweaty sheets and brood. Plus, he wasn’t the broody brother, he let that title go to Loch— and maybe even Dare before he’d met Kenzie.

And now, he was thinking about his brothers and his future sister-in-law while naked in bed because he didn’t want to get up and go to work.

He’d officially hit rock bottom.

Fox rolled out of bed, careful to keep his dick close to his stomach so he didn’t make more of a mess and went to clean himself up at least slightly. Before he even took a shower, he went back into his bedroom and stripped off his sheets. This was the second time this week he’d woken to a dream like that, and he was already getting tired of doing laundry.

Knowing he needed coffee before he did anything else, he strode naked to his kitchen and made himself a cup while checking his email and looking over the news on his phone. He’d read the physical publications as well since he was in the paper business and tried to keep up with both formats, but for now, he just wanted to check on any headlines. And with the world as it was, it seemed there was almost hourly breaking news these days.

That was one reason he liked living and working in Whiskey. It was not only his hometown where he knew every single person in residence— other than the tourists, of course— but it was also quiet enough most days that he could get to the heart of the town with its news rather than reading horror stories day in and day out. Maybe, at one time in his life, he’d have liked to be the hardcore reporter who worked on terrifying and heartbreaking news until the wee hours of the morning, but he’d learned long ago that he needed balance in his life in order to make his writing mean something. There needed to be substantial pieces of good news amongst the horrors, and finding a way to do that without looking as if they were merely fluff pieces was his juggling act.

“And now I’m getting way too philosophical on half a cup of coffee. Not to mention, talking to myself.” He drained the rest of his mug and set it under the spout for when he got out of the shower and wanted his second cup. He was on a three-cup-a-day rule and would switch to water after his third, but he tended to drink all three at once. Probably not exactly what his doctor wanted, but it wasn’t as if he were going to change his habits anytime soon.

Fox rolled his shoulders and, still naked, made his way back the bathroom so he could shower and finish getting ready for the day. For a man already late, he sure was taking his time. Of course, since he owned the paper, he could come and go as he pleased, but he didn’t like showing up after the rest of his staff. He needed to at least show some responsibility.

Thoughts of his dream blonde filtered into his mind again, and his cock stiffened once more. Defeated, he looked down at his stiffening dick and frowned.

“Traitor.”

He didn’t live by his dick and actually needed to get to work, so it looked as though he’d be finishing up his shower as a cold one.

Again.

Damn it.

 

Missed the first book in the WHISKEY AND LIES series? Grab it now!

 

About WHISKEY SECRETS (Whiskey and Lies #1)

Sparks fly between a former cop-turned-bartender and his new innkeeper in the first installment of a Montgomery Ink spin-off series from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan.

Dare Collins is a man who knows his whiskey and women—or at least that’s what he tells himself. When his family decides to hire on a new innkeeper for the inn above his bar and restaurant, he’s more than reluctant. Especially when he meets the new hire. But he’ll soon find that he has no choice but to work with this city girl and accept her new ideas and the burning attraction between them.

Kenzie Owens left her old life and an abusive relationship behind her—or so she thought. She figures she’ll be safe in Whiskey, Pennsylvania but after one look at her new boss, Dare Collins, she might still be in danger, or at least her heart. And when her past catches up with her despite her attempts to avoid it, it’s more than her heart on the line. This time, it might mean her life.

 

Get your hands on WHISKEY SECRETS now!

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About Carrie Ann Ryan

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

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram | Tumblr | Pinterest

 

Fallen Ink (Montgomery Ink: Colorado Springs) by Carrie Ann Ryan First Chapter Reveal

11 Apr

We’re less than a week away from the release of FALLEN INK by Carrie Ann Ryan – and you can read the first chapter now! Read it below!

 

About FALLEN INK

Releases April 17, 2018

The Montgomery Ink series continues with a spin-off in Colorado Springs, where a familiar Montgomery finds her place in a new tattoo shop, and in the arms of her best friend.

Adrienne Montgomery is finally living her dreams. She’s opened a tattoo shop with her brother, Shep, and two of her cousins from Denver and she’s ready to take the city by storm with her art—as long as she can handle the pressure. When her new neighbors decide her shop isn’t a great fit for the community, however, she’ll have to lean on the one person she didn’t expect to fall for along the way…her best friend.

Mace Knight takes pride in two things: his art and his daughter. He knows he’s taking a risk by starting over in a new shop with the Montgomerys, but the stakes are even higher when he finds himself wanting Adrienne more than he thought possible.

The two fall fast and hard but they know the rules; they can’t risk their friendship, no matter how hot it is between the sheets and how many people try to stand in their way.

FALLEN INK releases April 17th, 2018 – preorder your copy now!

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Read the First Chapter of FALLEN INK

Adrienne Montgomery wasn’t going to throw up, but it would probably be a close call. It wasn’t that she was a nervous person, but today of all days was bound to test her patience and nerves, and she wasn’t sure if all those years of growing a spine of steel would be enough.

Maybe she should have worked on forming a steel-lined gut while she was at it—perhaps even a platinum one.

“You’re looking pretty pale over there,” Mace said, leaning down low to whisper in her ear.

She shivered involuntarily as his breath slid across her neck, and she looked up into her best friend’s hazel gaze. The damn man was far too handsome for his own good, and he knew she was ticklish, so he constantly spoke in her ear so she shivered like that.

She figured he’d gotten a haircut the day before because the sides were close-cut so you could see the white in his salt-and-pepper hair. He’d let the top grow out, and he had it brushed to the side so it actually looked a little fashionable rather than messy and just hanging in his eyes like most days. Knowing Mace, he’d done it by accident that morning, rather than making it a point to do so. Her best friend was around her age, in his thirties, but had gone salt-and-pepper in his late twenties. While some men might have started dying their hair, Mace had made it work with his ink and piercings—and the ladies liked it.

Well, at least that’s what Adrienne figured. It wasn’t as if she were one of his following. Not in that way, at least.

“Yo, Adrienne, you okay?”

She glowered, hearing the familiar refrain that had been the bane of her existence since she was in kindergarten and one of the fathers there had shouted it like the boxer from that movie she now hated.

“What did I say about using that phrase?” She crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot. She was at least six inches shorter than her best friend, but since she was wearing her heeled boots, she could at least try to look intimidating.

Mace being Mace just shrugged and winked, giving her that smolder that he’d practiced in the mirror after seeing Tangled with her years ago. Yeah, he was that guy, the one who liked to make her smile and knew she had a crush on the animated Flynn Rider.

“You know you like it.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gave her a tight squeeze. “Now, are you okay? Really? Because you honestly look like you’re about to throw up, and with the place all new and shiny, I don’t know if vomit really sets the tone.”

Thinking about the reason the place—her place—was all new and shiny sent her stomach into another roll, and she let out a long breath.

“I’m fine.”

Mace just stared at her, and she kicked his shoe. Mature, that was her name. “Try it with a little more enthusiasm, because while I’d like to believe you, the panic in your eyes doesn’t really portray the right confidence.”

“I’ll be fine. How’s that?” she asked and gave him a wide smile. It must have looked a little manic, though, since he winced. But he gave her a thumbs up.

“Okay, then. Let’s get out of this office and go out into your brand new tattoo shop to meet the horde.”

There went her stomach again.

Her tattoo shop.

She couldn’t quite believe it. After years of working for others in Colorado Springs instead of going up north to Denver to work at her cousins’ shop, or even south to New Orleans and her brother’s former shop, she was now part-owner of Montgomery Ink Too, the first offshoot of the main shop in downtown Denver.

Yep, she was going to be sick.

“It’s mostly family. Not quite a horde.” Sort of, at least. Even three people felt like a lot at this point since they’d all be there…waiting for her to say something, do something, be someone. And that was enough of that, or she really wouldn’t make it out of the office that day.

“True, since most of your family didn’t come. The entire Montgomery clan would probably fill four buildings at this point.”

“You’re not wrong. Only Austin and Maya came down from Denver since Shep and I asked the others to stay home. It would be a little too much for our small building if everyone showed up.”

“But your sisters and parents are here, plus Shep and his wife, of course, and I’m pretty sure I saw their baby Livvy out there, too. And then Ryan, since you hired him.” Mace stuffed his hands into his pockets. “It’s one big, happy family, who happen to be waiting for you to go out there and possibly start a tattoo a bit later for your first client.”

After what had seemed like months of paperwork and construction, today was opening day for Montgomery Ink Too—MIT for short. Ryan and Mace had called it that one day, and the nickname had stuck. There was nothing she could do now but go with it, weirdness and all. There had been delays and weather issues, but finally, the shop was open. Now, she needed to be an adult and go out into the main room to socialize.

And there went her stomach again.

Mace’s strong arms came around her, and she rested her head on his chest, tucking herself under his chin. He had to lift his head a bit so she could fit since she wasn’t that short, but it was a familiar position for them. No matter what anyone said about Mace, he gave great hugs.

“You’re going to be fine.” His voice rumbled over her, and she could feel the vibrations through his chest and against her cheek.

“You say that now, but what if everything tumbles down and I end up with no clients and ruin the fact that Austin and Maya trusted me with their first satellite shop.”

Austin and Maya were two of her numerous Denver cousins. There were eight freaking siblings in that family, and all of them had married off—with Maya having two husbands even—so it added up to way too many people for her to count. Maya and Austin owned and operated Montgomery Ink in downtown Denver—what was now the flagship shop it seemed.

Her cousins had come to her over a year ago, saying they were interested in expanding the business. Since real estate was sparse off the 16th Street Mall where Montgomery Ink was located, they’d come up with the idea of opening a new tattoo shop in a different city. And wasn’t it nice that they had two other artists in the family so close? Well, Shep hadn’t actually been close at the time since he was still living in New Orleans where he’d met his wife and started his family, but now her big brother was back in Colorado Springs and was here to stay.

Maya and Austin were still the main owners of the business and CEOs of the corporation they’d formed in order to add on, but Shep and Adrienne had bought into the franchise and were now partial owners and managers of Montgomery Ink Too.

That was a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, but she knew she could do it. She just had to buck up and actually walk into the tattoo shop.

“Stop freaking out, Addi. I wouldn’t have come with you on this journey if I didn’t believe in you.” He pulled away and met her gaze, the intensity so great that she had to blink a few times so she could catch her breath.

He was right. He’d given up a lot for her. Though, in the end, the whole arrangement might work out better for him. Hopefully. He’d left a steady job at their old shop to come and work with her. The trust in that action was staggering, and it gave Adrienne the final bit of strength she needed to do this—whatever this was.

“Okay, let’s do this.”

He held out his hand, and she took it, giving it a squeeze before letting go. It wasn’t as if she needed to brace herself against him again or hold his hand as they made their way into the shop. Enough people already wondered just what went on behind closed doors between the two of them. She didn’t need to add fuel to the fire.

Mace was just her best friend, nothing more—though certainly nothing less.

He was at her back as she walked through her office door and into the main room, the heat of him keeping her steady. The shop in Colorado Springs matched the one up north in layout, with only a few minor changes. Each station had its own cubicle area, but once people made it past the front section of the shop where onlookers couldn’t peep in, it was almost all open. There were two private rooms in the back for those who wanted tattoos that required a little less clothing, as well as folding panels that could be placed in each of the artist’s areas so they could be sectioned off easily. Most people didn’t mind having other artists and clients watch them while they got a tattoo, and it usually added to the overall experience. As the licensed piercer in residence, Adrienne could do that part of her job in either of the rooms in the back, as well.

While some shops had closed-off rooms for each artist because the building was a converted home or office building, the Montgomerys hadn’t wanted that. There was privacy when needed and socialization when desired. It was a great setup, and one Adrienne had been jealous of when she was working at her old place on the other side of the city.

“About time you made your way back here,” Maya said dryly, her eyebrow ring glinting under the overhead light.

Adrienne flipped her cousin off then grinned as Maya did the same back. Of all her cousins, she and Maya looked the most alike. They each had long, dark hair, were average height, and had just the right amount of curves to make finding jeans difficult. Of course, Maya had birthed two kids, while Adrienne’s butt came from her love of cookies…but that was neither here nor there.

Everyone stood around talking to one another, cups of water or coffee or tea in their hands as they looked around the place. As they weren’t opening up for tattoos until later in the day, they were able to easily socialize in the main entry area. Their new hire, Ryan, stood off to the side, and Mace went over to him so they would be out of the way. They were really the only two non-Montgomerys, and she could only imagine how they felt.

“The location is pretty damn perfect,” Shep said with a grin. His wife Shea stood by his side, their daughter Livvy bouncing between them. How her niece had gotten so big, Adrienne had no idea. Apparently, time flew when you had your head down, working. “We’re the only tattoo shop around here, which will be good for business.” They were located in a strip mall off the busiest road in their area—other than I-25, of course. That’s how most of the businesses around were set up, with only the large market chains and restaurants having actual acreage behind them.

Adrienne nodded, though her stomach didn’t quite agree. Most of the shops like hers were farther south, near the older parts of downtown. There were trendier places there, and a lot more people who looked like they did with ink and piercings. Up north, on North Academy Blvd, every building was the same: cream or tan-colored, and fit in almost like a bedroom community around the Air Force Academy.

Shep and Adrienne wanted not only the cadets but also everyone who lived in the sprawling neighborhood who wanted ink to find them and come back for more. Beginning something new was always difficult, but starting something new in an area of town that, from the outside at least, didn’t look as if they’d fit in wouldn’t make it any easier.

She knew that a lot of the prejudices about tattoo shops had faded away over time as the art became far more popular and almost normal, but she could still feel people’s eyes on her when they noticed her ink.

“It’s right next to a tea shop, a deli, a spice shop, Thea’s bakery, and a few fancy shopping areas. I think you fit in nicely,” Austin said, his arms folded over his chest as he looked around the place. “You almost have a little version of what we have up north. You just need a bookstore and a café where you can hang out.”

“You’re just spoiled because you don’t even have to walk outside into the cold to get coffee or baked goods,” Adrienne said dryly.

“That is true,” Austin said with a laugh. “Adding in that side door that connects the two businesses was the best decision I ever made.”

“I’ll be sure to mention that to your wife,” Shep said and ducked as Austin’s arm shot out. The two men were nearly forty years old but fought like they were teens. Shea picked up Livvy and laughed before heading over to Maya. Adrienne didn’t actually know her sister-in-law all that well since she hadn’t seen her much, but now that the family had relocated, she knew that would change.

“They’re going to break something,” Thea said with a small laugh as she watched the two play-fight. She was the middle girl of the family but tended to act as if she were the eldest. When the retail spot three doors down from Thea’s bakery had opened up, her sister had stopped at nothing to make sure Adrienne could move in. That was Thea, taking care of her family no matter what.

“Then they’ll deserve it,” Roxie, Adrienne’s other sister said, shaking her head. “As long as they don’t ruin something in the shop, of course,” she added quickly after Adrienne shot her a look. “I meant break something on themselves.” Roxie was the youngest of their immediate family, and often the quietest. None of them were truly quiet since they were Montgomerys, but Roxie sometimes fit the bill.

“Thanks for thinking of my shop that hasn’t even had its first client yet.” Adrienne wrapped her arm around Roxie’s waist for a hug. “Where’s Carter? I thought he said he’d be here.”

Roxie and Carter had gotten married a few months ago, and Adrienne loved her brother-in-law, though she didn’t know him all that well either. He worked long hours, and the couple tended to be very insular since they were still newlyweds.

Roxie’s mouth twisted into a grimace before she schooled her features. “He couldn’t get off work. He tried, but two guys called in, and he was up to his neck in carburetors.”

Adrienne kissed her sister’s temple and squeezed her tightly. “It’s okay. It is the middle of the day, after all. I’m surprised any of you were able to take time off for this.”

Tears formed at the backs of her eyes at the fact that everyone had taken the time to be there for her and Shep. She blinked. She looked up from her sisters and tried not to let her emotions get to her, but then she met Mace’s eyes. He gave her a curious look, and she smiled at him, trying to let him know that she was okay—just a little overwhelmed. Mace had a way of knowing what she felt without her saying it, and she didn’t want him to worry. That’s what happened when you were friends with someone as long as they had been.

“I just wish he would have come,” Roxie said with a shrug. “It’s fine. Everything is fine.”

Adrienne met Thea’s gaze, but the two sisters didn’t say anything. If Roxie had something she wanted to share, she would. For now, everyone had other things on their minds. Namely, opening day.

“Shep punched Austin in the shoulder one more time before backing away and grinning. “Okay, okay, I’m too old for this shit.”

“True, you are too old.” Austin winked, and Adrienne pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Great way to show everyone that we’re all so professional and ready to lead with our own shop,” she said, no bite to her tone. This was her family, and she was used to it all. If they weren’t joking around and being loveable, adorable dorks, she’d have thought something was wrong.

“It’s sort of what we signed on for,” Ryan said with a wink. “Right, Mace? I mean, the legendary Montgomery antics are why any tattoo artist worth their salt wants to join up with them.”

Mace gave them all a solemn nod, laughter dancing in his eyes. “It wouldn’t be a Montgomery gathering without someone getting punched. Isn’t that what you taught me, Adrienne?”

She flipped him off, knowing that Livvy’s head was down so she wouldn’t see. She tried not to be too bad of an influence on her niece.

“Okay, party people. Finish your drinks and cake and then let’s clean up. We have three clients scheduled between one and two this afternoon, and Ryan is handling any walk-ins.” Though she wasn’t sure there would be any walk-ins since it was day one and they were doing a slow start. Some of their long-time clients had moved with them, and they already had a waiting list because of it, but that could change on “dime. Having word of mouth would be what made their shop a success, and that meant getting more clients in who weren’t just the same ones from before.

The door opened, and she held back her frown. They weren’t officially open yet, but it wasn’t as if she could tell a potential customer off. The door had been unlocked, after all.

As a man in a nicely cut suit with a frown on his face walked in, Adrienne had a feeling this wouldn’t be a client.

“Hi there, can I help you?” she asked, moving her way through the crowd. “We’re opening in an hour or so, but if you need any information, I’m here.”

The guy’s face pinched, and she was worried that if he kept it up, it would freeze like that. “I’m not here for whatever it is this establishment does.” His gaze traveled over her family’s and friend’s ink and clothing before it rested back on her. “I’m only here to tell you that you shouldn’t finish unpacking.”

“Excuse me?” Shep asked, his tone serious. The others stood back, letting Adrienne and Shep talk, but she knew they were all there if she needed them.

“You heard me.” The man adjusted his tie. “I don’t know how you got through the zoning board, but I can see they made a mistake. We don’t want your kind here in our nice city. We’re a growing community with families. Like I said, don’t unpack. You won’t be here long.”

Before she could say anything in response to the ridiculous statement, the man turned on his heel and walked out of her building, leaving her family and friends standing beside her, all of them with shocked looks on their faces.

“Well, shit,” Mace whispered then winced as he looked behind him to where Livvy was most likely with her mom.”

“We’ll figure out who that was. But, Adrienne, he won’t be able to shut us down or whatever the hell he wants.” Shep turned to her and gave her that big-brother stare. “Don’t stress about him. He means nothing.”

But she could tell from the look in his eyes, and the worried glances passing back and forth between her family members and friends that none of them quite believed that.

She had no idea who the man was, but she had a bad feeling about him. And every single warm feeling that had filled her at the sight of her family and friends coming together to celebrate the new shop fled, replaced by ice water in her veins.

So much for an easy opening day, she thought, and her stomach roiled again. Perhaps she would throw up because she just knew that wasn’t the last time they’d see that man. Not by a long shot.

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

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

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