Chapter Reveal · Giveaways · Romance

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


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.

 

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Chapter Reveal · Pre-Order Links · Romance

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

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.

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Chapter Reveal · Pre-Order Links · Romance

Bread by Cassia Leo Chapter Reveal with Pre-Order Links

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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Chapter Reveal · Romance

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

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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✦Audiobook http://adbl.co/2FJIZ6N

 

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.

 

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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

 

Chapter Reveal · Romance

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

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.

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

 

Chapter Reveal · Romance

Boyfrenemy by Sosie Frost Chapter Reveal

 

 

 

 

MICAH
Julian’s the kind of sexy that demands a cigarette before sex.
He’s the whip and the cream on top of my chocolate sundae.
Hell, he’s the only man worth the fancy underwear in my panty drawer. But suddenly, the thong isn’t the only pain in my ass.
He’s rude. He’s arrogant. And he’s the single greatest threat to my job.
So, of course, I fell in love with my perfect enemy.
Accidentally getting pregnant was our first battle.
Now? It’s all-out-war.

JULIAN
Micah’s the sort of girl who breaks more balls than hearts.
No matter how perfect her ass, it’s not worth the pain in mine.
Her smile might tighten my pants, but the woman’s worse than the drought, pestilence, and ramble of weeds destroying my fields. Too bad she’s the only one who can save my farm.
So, I made a deal with that devil.
…Then I knocked her up.

 

Micah

It was a bad day to fall in love.

Then again, every day was a bad day to fall in love.

I’d missed the warning signs—the alarm that never went off, the torrential downpour, the car that didn’t start.

Days like that day were perfect for hiding in the office and catching up on paperwork. There, the only risk was the occasional coffee ring on an important contract or an unfortunate paper cut. And while I was sure that the good, old-fashioned journey of self-destruction they called love might have been exhilarating for the first few irresponsible moments, that sort of complication had no place in my life plan.

Especially since Mr. Julian Payne was the wrong man to steal my heart.

If he could find it under the layers and layers of mud.

Mud made a bad day worse. Worse and soggy. Mud caked me head to toe, settling in a variety of places that would require a very intimate scrubbing. Unlike Spa Gemma—Ironfield’s hottest and most exclusive health resort—Butterpond’s famous mud offered no organic benefits to skincare or hydration. Instead, this particular land was supposedly exceedingly fertile. Not any concern of mine, considering the next five years of my life were specifically organized to focus on career growth and physical fitness.

Butterpond wasn’t a great launch pad for any future ambitions or social networking. After four months of employment in the municipal zoning office, my most productive assignment had been unwedging myself from a mud hole in the Payne’s driveway-turned-swamp. I’d kept my shoe but lost my dignity to the sticky pit.

First, my broken-down car.

Then, getting tsunami’d by a speeding pickup truck tearing through a pond-sized puddle on Bakers Run Road.

And now…

Mud.

I’d fallen—wallowed—in six inches of uncompromising, unrelenting mud, crawling hand over fist until I reached the safety of the Payne’s county-styled farmhouse.

And, at the end of the quarter-mile trek up the filthy, water-logged, knee-deep mud driveway? I faced a man who might have stolen my breath if I hadn’t lost it all on the hike to his porch.

Julian Payne was a superior kind of sexy.

As hot as a flickering cigarette after hours of lovemaking.

As teasing as a wrinkle in the sheets twisted by bare toes.

As damning as a body prickling with sweat in the dark.

He was the type of man who’d make a woman giggle as she made the biggest mistake of her life.

I’d made a personal promise to never compromise my values for a little green, but eyes like his were worth dirtying a clean reputation in a new town.

My heart beat quicker—and it wasn’t the panic of leaving my Jimmy Choo’s sinking in a puddle of gloppy mud. This was either love at first sight…or an entirely inappropriate reaction as I stared at Julian, pacing the porch in broad, athletic strides.

Shame. Definitely shame.

I was supposed to be meeting this man on behalf of the Sawyer County Zoning Department. Instead, I drooled over a god so beautiful, so muscular, so utterly stunning that he’d be a perfect excuse to amend my current life plan of career advancement for a fairy tale dream of desire and lust.

Then…he opened his mouth.

“You know what’s wrong with this world?”

Julian spoke daggers—slicing words from lips that shouldn’t have tumbled anything but compliments and dirty words.

He wove his hand through thick, dark hair—wet from either the rain or a shower. His flannel shirt, only halfway buttoned, revealed a hard chest of solid muscle.

This was a man who had never feared a day of hard work in his life. Probably made hard work fear him.

Julian paced the porch, but he wouldn’t outrun his frustration. “I’m trying my goddamned hardest to get this farm up and running.”

This was a proud man. A confident man. A man unburdened by mud and dirty puddle water. And I stood, unnoticed, caked in the unthinkable.

Of course I would meet the man of my dreams while living a waking nightmare. But maybe he’d like a woman who smelled like his farm.

God…I hoped it was just farm I smelled. What the hell was in that mud?

Across the old, rickety porch—covered with a roof that would never meet modern structural guidelines—Julian’s friend eyed me with shock…then pity. Probably the same look I’d receive once I returned to the township offices for my scheduled meeting with the mayor and city council.

So much for the raise.

The second man bounced a baby on his knee. He didn’t seem the type to cuddle a one-year-old, but the baby took glee in tugging the trimmed beard teasing his hardened jaw. He spat out the fingers the little girl jammed into his mouth and attempted to interrupt Julian to greet me.

Julian ignored his friend and proceeded to rant instead.

“How the hell am I supposed to work this farm? The taxes are killing me, the regulations are binding my hands, and now this zoning bullshit tells me where I can and can’t build on my own damn property?”

He was a rugged sort of cowboy, chock full of muscles and arrogance and something less pleasant.

I attempted to interject and announce my arrival, but Julian had no time in the world to listen to anyone by himself.

And I didn’t like what I heard.

“This is our land. It was my father’s land. His father’s land. And his father’s land.” He slapped a calloused hand against the clapboard siding of his house. His home didn’t deserve the solid spank, punishing the building for the inconvenience of the zoning laws that were my job to enforce. “My grandparents built this home from nothing. When my father took over the farm, he worked every day of the year. Sunup to sundown. Back then, no municipality ordered them around on their own private property.”

Why did the cute ones always advocate anarchy?

A man like Julian Payne should’ve stayed quiet and enjoyed the air of mystery. Tall, dark, handsome, and utterly silent. Gone was my fantasy of a rugged cowboy, riding us off into the sunset on his trusty horse, while obeying every zoning regulation set forth in the county’s Unified Development Ordinance.

This was not a man who wanted to play by the rules…or by the laws enacted via local ordinance by the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors and vested in me as Director of Building and Zoning.

“Now there’s some hotshot, wannabe politician telling me what to do?” Julian hadn’t yet noticed me. That was fine. I’d wait this performance out. “He’s probably some fat ass who never even set foot on a farm.”

My ass was not fat. And none of my previous admirers had ever complained about the bump. All…two of them.

Julian seethed, his boots thudding hard against the porch’s warping planks. “He’s probably never worked a day in his life, you know?”

His friend cleared his throat. “Uh…”

“Probably spent his life sitting behind some desk in a cushy office.”

My desk had three legs and a pile of books propping up the fourth. One florescent bulb had burned out a year ago and had yet to be replaced. And, when it rained, the window leaked and trickled water into the outlet.

Real cushy.

Julian smirked. “Probably gets off on the power. Jerks it every time he rejects a building permit application.”

If I took any more offense to his statement, I’d be stuffing my pockets with indignation.

So what if my job was in an office? What did it matter if I wasn’t riding a tractor in the sun all day? I had papers to file and applications to review and men like him to disappoint when they thought they could do as they liked without regard to the greater good of the community.

But Julian was right.

His was one building permit application that would be downright orgasmic to reject.

“Know it took me two weeks to even get an appointment with this asshole?” Julian said. “And now he’s too goddamned incompetent to show up on time.”

Incompetent?

I’d just lost a five-hundred-dollar pair of shoes in the pit he called a driveway. This was after I’d rearranged my entire schedule to visit him in person, sacrificing my thirty-minute lunch and a growing stack of county fair plans in desperate need of review. I’d come to Triumph Farm as a favor to the one man everyone in Butterpond loved like their own damned child.

And now I was incompetent?

No matter how panty-melting handsome the son of a bitch was, he was going to be nothing but a pain in my ass.

“Julian!” The man holding the baby finally interrupted the rant, but Julian had already stuck his foot so far in his mouth he’d be shitting toes for a week. “I think he is here.”

Julian turned. My stomach flopped back into the mud.

This man took my breath away. Which was good. It’d put us on even ground once I punched him square in the gut. But that wouldn’t be very professional as a representative of Sawyer County.

I’d get him audited instead.

I extended a hand. A glop of mud dripped from my fingers. At least it made the java brown of my skin shine. Not that I wanted to exfoliate with the sticky, clumpy mess of debris that churned in Julian Payne’s backyard.

I sucked in a breath, tempered my anger, and attempted to introduce myself.

“I’m—”

His riotous, exceedingly inappropriate laugh carried across his untended farmland—land that would stay empty if he insisted on misbehaving.

“What the hell…” He stared at me—eyes greener than any weed sprouting in his fields. “What happened to you?”

His was a question that would take an afternoon in a spa, a soak in a tub, and a dinner of pure carbs and an entire bottle of wine to answer.

It’d started when I’d busted the corrupt Chief of Police in Ironfield and ended around the time the city fired me for whistle blowing. Fast forward six months of unemployment, and suddenly I was changing the tire of the hand-me-down Sawyer County Crown Vic with three hundred thousand miles, no air conditioning, and an accelerator that tended to stick. Add to that an afternoon dip in a mud puddle and fifteen minutes of clawing through a swamp to get to his front porch, and I had quite the tale to tell Mr. Payne-In-My-Ass about my punctuality and sludgy appearance.

Of course, that was the moment my shock, rage, and absolute lust for this cowboy coalesced into a knot that bound my tongue, heart, and a place a bit lower that—frankly—could have used a good hogtie in the past six months.

“Someone…” My words sputtered out in a most unflattering, incoherent jumble. I stumbled forward, my bare toes sinking into yet another slimy, cold layer of gunk. “There’s…a…it was locked…”

The man with the baby offered me the little girl’s blanket to, presumably, un-mire myself. It wouldn’t help. I needed a damned hose to clear the mud from every nook and cranny on me—places I’d worked so hard to keep clean.

The job wasn’t supposed to be like this.

My life wasn’t supposed to be like this.

I didn’t belong in the dead-end, rural, farming town of Butterpond.

And I sure as hell didn’t deserve to be treated like a inconvenience by Julian Payne when I’d been trying to help.

I swallowed the irritation and gestured down the quarter-mile of sludge that was the farm’s driveway.

“The gate was locked.”

Julian hadn’t stopped laughing.

“I had to get out of the car…open it…the mud was…everywhere.”

His cayenne smoky laugh gutted me. This was a bastard who’d rot in hell for watching my toes wiggle in the grass.

My words turned to a hiss. “You…are you Julian Payne?”

For half a second, I prayed I had the wrong man, wrong farm, wrong anything.

If he was the whip and cream on my chocolate sundae, he’d just melted my entire dessert.

“Yeah,” he said. “Who the hell are you?”

Unfortunate. He was the one man I’d hate to hate.

I straightened my dress as best I could and attempted to wipe some of the mud from my face. No good. It only smeared yet another line across my cheek.

“I’m your appointment,” I said. “And I would have been here sooner if someone hadn’t locked the driveway gate. I fell in the mud and had to claw my way here.”

I received no pity from him. Julian scowled. Damn the man for looking so good even while irritated.

“Look, swamp thing. Sorry you got a little dirty…that’s life on a farm. This is what happens when you’re working the land, not pushing papers.”

Like he had any idea how to do my job. I clenched my fists, wishing a layer of gunk hadn’t squished from between my fingers. My voice cracked with rage. Not the most intimidating.

“Well, I’m here now,” I said. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Hell, no. I’ve got an appointment with Mr. Micah Robinson, not…”

He gestured over my curves. He couldn’t be that stupid. All brawn and no brains.

Julian shook his head. “I’m not meeting with his secretary.”

If I wasn’t so sure I’d lost my earrings somewhere by my flattened tire, I’d have ripped the hoops out and prepared to rumble.

Bad day to fall in love.

Bad day to have my heartbroken by a jackass.

Bad day to mess with me.

“You know, cowboy…” I used the term loosely. His farm had no crops and no animals, and it’d probably stay that way. “I intended to do you a favor.”

“What’s that?”

“I came out in person. I wanted to survey the farm. Meet this Julian Payne everyone keeps talking about.”

And they talked a lot.

The Paynes were the glue that held together a town comprised mostly of a grocery store that stocked nothing organic and a roughneck bar that didn’t serve Cosmopolitans or even understand the meaning of the word.

Small couldn’t begin to describe Butterpond—but financially insolvent got close. Maybe it was the family’s charity from years ago, or maybe it was the trouble caused these last thirty years by his five sons, but the Paynes dominated the town gossip. Tales of wild nights and fires, eligible bachelors and warring siblings added a bit of mystery to the usual stories of the town’s bingo cheaters, not-so-secret affairs, and warnings about the feral cats overrunning the county fairgrounds.

But Julian Payne?

This man could do no wrong.

Giving up a potentially lucrative career with the Ironfield Rivets just to come home and take care of the family farm, his grieving family, and the responsibility as head of household? Supposedly, the man was a rural messiah who still had enough connections to score the occasional Rivets’ ticket.

That would teach me to listen to idle gossip again.

Especially when it wasn’t about me or threats to my employment.

I raised my chin and pretended the mud was just another layer of Sephora foundation. “And here I thought you could use some help…and you’re gonna need it. You submitted an application to rebuild a barn that’s been demolished for five years.”

“Burned down,” Julian said. “Long story. It burned down.”

“Yes, well, you haven’t attempted to rebuild it within a permitted time frame which makes it exempt to any grandfathered building codes and requirements. Since the structure’s destruction, Sawyer County has passed a new set of zoning regulations which you must adhere to. Your application—which did not include the required set of architectural drawings or a survey of your property—”

“It’s just a barn.”

“—Was not only incomplete, but it lacked the relevant detail to even consider approval for the new construction of an accessory structure on this chosen location.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

It meant this would have felt a hell of a lot better if I wasn’t covered in mud for the reveal.

“It means…I can tell you right now what the decision will be regarding your barn.”

“Oh, yeah?”

I tasted the anger. It tasted a lot like mud. “It’s gonna get denied.”

“What?” Julian blinked. He held his arms out. “That’s it?”

“Don’t bother helping me with the gate. I can manage this time.”

“Don’t let it knock you on your ass on the way out.”

Maybe then he’d stop staring at it, curves barely covered by a designer skirt ruined by the mud and gunk. I hobbled across the driveway just as the skies opened and my luck torrentially poured on me. The saturated material clung to my curves—curves which might’ve been a grand accomplishment for any lady who was not attempting to maintain a level of professionalism within her newfound career. I hadn’t intended to literally storm to my car, but I crossed my fingers for a flash flood to whisk me away.

No amount of hand sanitizer would clean this mess. Especially not before my two o’clock meeting with the mayor and council. I couldn’t go back to the office looking like this. Then again, I doubted I could even make it back to my car.

The mud snowballed around my feet, mixing with the rain to become as heavy as cement. I’d have to cancel the meeting with the council meant to save my job. Too many complaints in government usually meant a municipal employee was doing something right. But in a town where everyone knew each other’s names, kids, properties, secrets, and vulnerable insecurities, one-too-many High Grass and Weed citations didn’t commend me for community outreach. It pissed off the wrong people.

I groaned.

This was his fault.

That sexist, arrogant jerk of a man.

I wouldn’t have gotten muddy if I hadn’t come to his stupid farm. Wouldn’t have popped the tire if I hadn’t volunteered to meet him. Wouldn’t have been late to the meeting to save my career if I hadn’t offered to help that egotistical son of a—

My foot plunked too deep into the mud. My ankle didn’t go with it. I twisted and collapsed to the ground.

“Not again…”

The rain made everything stickier. I wiped the hair out of my eyes with a stroke of my hand. Mistake. The mud smeared over my nose, in my eyes, over my lips.

Gross.

Dress—ruined.

Hair—embedded with twigs.

Foot—stuck in a hole.

Career—over.

I hobbled upright and kicked. Nada. The earth sucked me in but didn’t have the courtesy to bury me six feet under.

Screw it. I’d gnaw my damn ankle off if it meant getting the hell off this farm.

Another yank and I fell forward once again. My Louis Vuitton purse abandoned me, tumbling into a puddle. The vibrating cell phone rolled from the front pocket and splashed in murky water.

Great. I’d die in a backwoods mud pit.

I reached for the phone. My fingertips just grazed the vibrating case before a sun-warmed rumble of a voice piqued my blood pressure.

I’d either jump his bones or bury them in his own backyard.

I didn’t bother glancing at Julian Payne. I’d remember exactly what he looked like tonight in my dreams. It’d take more than a bottle of wine and evening with my showerhead to forget that face.

I spoke through gritted teeth. “You expected someone different?”

“Yeah.” Julian circled me, the mud practically hardening under his boots. Jesus walked on water, Julian could traverse through mud. Less of a god and more a pig. “I thought I was meeting a guy—the zoning officer.”

“Do you even know what a zoning officer is?”

“Yeah. He’s the asshole who won’t let me build a barn.”

And that was why I wouldn’t waste my breath explaining how the municipal code forbid the construction of a new structure so close to the property lines or why a barn of that size would be denied based on the township’s maximum permissible square footage calculation.

Hell, even breaking the regulations down wouldn’t work. A thick head like his wouldn’t understand no build here, too big.

I ignored him and attempted to dislodge my foot from a property that was one blue heron away from a wetlands designation. Then he’d really be pissed when he couldn’t build anything.

“Need help?” Julian asked.

Was he joking? “No.”

“You sure?”

I squirmed. Wiggled. Juked.

And sunk deeper into the mud.

I gritted my teeth. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Cause…to me?” Julian snickered. “Looks like you’re about to become part of the foundation for my new barn.”

Now I did glare at him. And I regretted every single pelting raindrop that splattered his shirt and stuck the material to his thick muscles.

“What barn?” I huffed. “After today, you’ll be lucky if you can plant a damn tomato without a permit.”

“Not sure who made you princess of the county…” Julian enjoyed my plight a little too much. “But lemme help you.”

“I don’t need help.”

“You’ve never spent a day outside your office, have you?”

Not that he needed to know. I warded him away with a swing of a very muddy hand. “I’m fine.”

“Not from around here, are you?” He smirked. God, it was a great smirk. “Most of the locals don’t try to swim through the mud.”

“I wouldn’t have needed to swim if someone had remembered to open the gate.”

“Might’ve opened the gate if someone were on time for her scheduled appointment.”

“Would have made it on time if you had opened the gate.”

“Would have had the gate open if you’d called to tell me you were here.”

Julian didn’t ask permission before sliding his arm around my waist. With a graceful shrug, he lifted me out of the mud and freed me from the hole.

With any other man, in any other time, in any other moment when I wasn’t coated head to toe with muck, I might have offered myself for his ravishment.

It wasn’t the classiest or most realistic of expectations, but it had been a long time since a man had grabbed these hips, and sometimes a girl needed an excuse to get dirty.

But not with him.

Not with a man that arrogant, that aggravating…

That attractive.

“You sure you’re old enough to be a zoning officer?” He hadn’t released me, smirking as I swung my legs above the ground. “I should just keep you in my pocket. Might get the build done faster—”

I kicked. My foot connected a little too hard with the part of him that fed his ego. With a groan, he dropped me. We both clattered to the ground. Me, smooshed into the mud.

Him?

Julian landed over me—all two hundred pounds of pure muscle and small-town mischief.

The skies drenched us in buckets of warm, summer rain. The mud had cushioned our fall. I laid beneath him, pinned, staring into eyes as green as the ominous clouds overhead. Probably a sign to find better cover than under the body of the town’s most frustratingly handsome farmer.

Embarrassment choked me. Or maybe that was lust. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t unburrow from the muck and mire to ensure my dress hadn’t hiked too far up my thighs

The bastard still held me in his arms. I squirmed, clenching my jaw and my legs tightly shut. Didn’t help. A new heat sizzled the raindrops against my skin. Julian stared at me, bright eyes under thick brows, a stoic nose slightly bent from years of abuse, a hardened jaw teased with a scruffy, five o’clock shadow.

A face worthy of cuddling against a pillow or burrowing between my thighs. I hated the thoughts and banished the flutter of warmth aching inside me.

He caught his breath and adjusted the injured part of him. “Are you—”

He’d rubbed his face, leaving a trail of mud along his cheek.

A wriggling, dark little spec remained.

A nightmare of nightmares.

I screamed and punched him square in the nose.

“Leech!”

Julian fell backwards with a grunt. I scrambled to safety.

“Oh, God.” I’d hyperventilate before I could climb a tree or escape into my car to flee from the leeches. “Ew, ew, ew.”

I whipped my hands over any exposed skin, but it wouldn’t do any good.

I’d lain in that oozing, sticky mud.

A million of those creepy crawly disgusting creatures might have latched onto me. The panic set in. So did the lightheadedness. I clutched my clothes and struggled to check all over me before the leeches gorged themselves on every last drop of my blood.

But where could I run? Hide? Fight? I lamented my bare feet and scrunched up tight, sacrificing my right foot to the mud. Hopefully, they wouldn’t strip it to the bone in mere minutes.

Or maybe that was piranhas?

Oh, God, I didn’t want to find out.

“What the hell is your problem?” Julian touched his nose. No blood, but he winced anyway.

He didn’t have to thank me. I’d never stop retching. “You had a leech on your face!”

“No, I didn’t, you maniac.” Julian held out his hand, exposing the little black wiggler. “It’s a fucking blade of grass.”

I still didn’t let it touch me. I nearly collapsed, my breath heaving in uneven gasps. Julian watched, eyebrow rising.

“Have you ever been outside before?” he asked.

Forget the glass of wine. Tonight I’d take the whole damn bottle into the tub. “I don’t often make farm calls. Usually the applicants properly fill out their applications.”

“Never thought I’d have to sweet talk a dirty girl for my barn.”

Hardly appropriate. “Don’t you dare sweet talk me, Mr. Payne.”

“Oh, I forgot. You’re county royalty, princess.” He waggled his eyebrows—the bastard. “I’ll take you out to dinner instead.”

“How could that possibly help?”

“Better than propositioning you in the mud.”

He had to be joking. “You aren’t propositioning anything.”

“Drinks?”

I shoved past him. “I’d need to be drunk to accept that offer.”

“Dinner?”

“Your application has been denied.”

Julian didn’t quit. A smile tugged at his lips. “Dancing.”

I ignored him and trudged away. To my displeasure, he followed.

“Come on, princess.” He loved this. “Those hips were made for more than mud wrestling.”

No one had ever talked to me like that before. I sure as hell didn’t approve of it.

But I wasn’t sure I hated that good ol’, small-town charm.

“Look, cowboy…” I spun and poked him in the chest. “I don’t take bribes.”

“And I don’t sleep with charity cases, but I’ll do whatever it takes for this barn.”

The insolent, conceited asshole! “You’re a real bastard, you know that?”

“Are my tax dollars paying for that mouth of yours?” He grinned. “Wish I could put it to better use.”

“How many times do I have to reject you today?” The insults burned through me. So did the desire, though I couldn’t possibly loathe this man more. “Keep trying, cowboy. Disappointing you is starting to feel nice.”

“I can make you feel better than nice.”

“Not interested.”

“Liar.”

“I have morals,” I said.

“You work in government.”

“And men like are you are the reason I avoid the public sector.”

Julian hollered as I stomped away. “How am I supposed to get my barn, princess?”

“You could start by using my real name.” I should have kept walking. “Then you could build the damn thing where it’s authorized in the right dimensions and not insult the only person who can grant you the permissions.”

“Didn’t know government came with a safe word.”

He was going to need one soon. “Don’t test me.”

“What other permissions can you grant?”

“None. But I can cite you for being a public nuisance.”

Julian sighed. “You haven’t even given me a chance.”

“I gave you enough of a chance, Julian Payne. You blew it.”

He laughed, a hearty, country-born, home-grown rumble. “Don’t make this into a challenge, princess. You won’t win.”

“This isn’t about winning,” I said. “It’s about the law.”

“I’m not giving up.” Julian winked. “You’re going to see a lot of me, Miss Robinson.”

“First an insult, now a threat?”

He shrugged. “You could just grant approval now—save us the time and the inevitable foreplay.”

“You couldn’t handle me, cowboy.”

“Won’t know until we try…see if you’re as dirty as you seem.”

I sauntered close, my words a low growl. “Oh, I can play very dirty.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Then he’d love this. “Your application is not only denied, now I will take all forty-five business days to review any appeal you may submit.” I met his gaze. “Before this gets any worse for you, Mr. Payne, I recommend you submit.”

“Always did like a feisty girl.”

Loathsome man. “I think you’ve met your match.”

“Oh, princess, believe me. I’m gonna do you to code.”

“That so?”

“Inspect you head to toe, make sure you adhere to my master plan.”

“I bet you will.”

Julian’s words were filthier than the mud. “Wonder what I could do if I bound you up in your own red tape.”

“Never gonna find out.” I offered him a sweet, professional smile and continued to my car. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Julian Payne. I can’t wait until the next time I get to reject you.”

 

Sosie Frost is no stranger to quirky, embarrassing, and wild situations, and she’s channeling all that new adult angst into fun romances.

From marching at the high school homecoming game without her trumpet (a punishment for forgetting the instrument on the band bus), to regretfully tucking her prom dress into the back of her tights before pictures, and even accidentally starting a chemical fire in the college chem lab, Sosie has the market cornered on crazy stories.

But hey, writing is a better outlet than therapy right? 😉

If you want funny, charming, and steamy romances, you’ve found the right author!

Sosie lives in Pittsburgh with her hubby, her two cats, and thrives on a near constant stream of gummy bears.

 

 

 

Chapter Reveal · Romance

Hard Wood by Jenika Snow Chapter Reveal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dirty Bits from Carina Press give you what you want, when you want it. Designed to be read in an hour or two, these sex-filled microromances are guaranteed to pack a punch and deliver a happily-ever-after.



A new supersexy insta-love novella from USA TODAY bestselling author Jenika Snow that has a gruff lumberjack yelling T-I-M-B-E-R for the woman he’s been waiting for.

The Ash Brothers—they know how to handle their wood.

I’m a hard man. A loner. Or so town gossip says. After having my heart sent through the chipper, I’ve kept to myself. I prefer the quiet of the woods to the ramblings of clingy women who think they can tame a wild mountain man.

Until Mia. Now she’s all I think about.

I should have stayed away. She’s too sweet for a brute like me, but I can’t stop wanting her, picturing her sated in my sheets.

Mia knows just what kind of wood I’m working with. She’s the soft to my hard, the sugar to my bitter bark.

And I love seeing her walk on the wild side.

This book is approximately 15,000 words

For those times when size does matter. The Dirty Bits from Carina Press: Quick and dirty, just the way we like it.

 

 

 

 

Noah

Being part owner of Ash Lumber made it so technically I didn’t have to do the dirty work. I had employees who worked under me to do that. But just because I co-owned the company with my two brothers didn’t mean I didn’t want to get my hands dirty. Not only did we deal with cutting down the trees for production, over the last few years we’d even dabbled in development and construction. It was just one more branch of the business that was expanding.

I was a lumberjack right down to my very marrow.

I liked chopping wood, slinging it over my shoulder and hauling it to where it needed to go. This was a family owned and run business, and it also helped keep me busy, kept my mind from wandering. And that was the main reason I worked just as hard as the men who worked for my brothers and me.

For nearly my whole life I’d lived in Rockbridge, Colorado, a picturesque lumber town. We had mountains on three sides of us, the town situated so the snowcapped peaks could always be seen. The thick forest was our backyard, and this was the only place I’d ever felt comfortable, ever felt was truly my home.

This was the only place that I ever felt I belonged.

There had been one time in my life that I’d moved away, one time where I’d been out of my element and miserable as fuck. And I’d done it all for a woman…for what I thought was love. I’d agreed to move to the city, to allow Amelia to pursue her dreams, even though skyscrapers and concrete would surround me, would be my coffin.

We only lived in the city for a few months before tragedy struck, but I’d hated every second of it. Traffic had been my alarm clock, and steel and glass had been my view. It was because of my emotions and the hope that things would be better, that I stuck it out, knowing that in order to make things work I had to sacrifice what I wanted for her to be happy.

But even though I wanted her to be happy and successful, maybe it had been my own selfish thoughts, the fact that I hated living in the city so much that I found myself despising everything about it.

And things had started to become tense between us, strained. She was working constantly, and her attitude toward me became cold. In just those few months I’d seen a change take over her, watched as she started putting her career before our relationship. We’d grown detached, and it had felt more like I was with a roommate.

But before we worked anything out, if we even could or would have, I lost Amelia to a drunk driver.

I blamed myself for not trying harder with her, for not making her see we needed to focus on each other. But in just those short months we’d grown apart to the point I don’t know what the future would have looked like for us anyway. Even after all that, though, self-hate and guilt had eaten at me.

So I moved back home, jumped back into the family-owned lumber business, and tried to move on with my life.

Ten years passed, and I hadn’t been with a woman since, had never even wanted to have one by my side or in my bed.

The years had hardened me to a point, had made me despise the kind of emotions that falling in love and being with somebody invoked. Because I knew it didn’t last. It never lasted. People drifted apart, love was lost, and loneliness was the only solid thing you could count on.

I was happy in my current situation, content with working day in and day out. I enjoyed keeping to myself. And that’s how it would stay. Because even if I did find a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, hell, to share my bed with, I feared I’d be no good for her.

Being celibate, focusing on work, on being the loner I’d become, had worked out well for me. I didn’t deny that I jerked off plenty of times, needed some kind of outlet for pent-up arousal, but that’s as far as I went. Women didn’t interest me, and another relationship sure as fuck wasn’t in my future.

Keeping to myself was best for everyone all around. At least that’s what I’d been telling myself this whole time.

Mia

I said goodbye to the life I’d known for far too long, packed up all my belongings, and headed to Rockbridge, Colorado. Although Rockbridge was only a couple hours northwest of Denver, where’d I’d been living and working for the last few years, it felt like a whole other world.

In my previous life, before I’d moved to the city for work, I’d lived in Thornton. It had been an up and coming place to live and had its quaint points. But over the years even those homegrown scenic views had been eaten up by restaurants and supermarkets, doctors’ offices and housing developments. Hell, they’d even built over a gorgeous prairie dog field that had been right behind my housing development.

Dammit, I’d loved those prairie dogs.

And now I was dropped into some postcard town, where evergreens and aspens surrounded me, and the smell of Christmas filled my head.

Mountains surrounded the town, the peaks reaching for the very heavens, and forests touching the edges of the roads. The houses were quaint, cabin-like.

I felt freer, like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders as soon as I arrived in Rockbridge.

I pulled open the sliding glass door to the house I was renting for the time being and stepped out onto the small deck. Evergreens and aspens were my backyard now. I could see the snowcapped mountains peeking over the treetops, and I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. I’d been so worried about moving, so stressed out about starting a new job and leaving everything else behind, that I hadn’t really been able to appreciate how good this would be for me in the long run.

I brought my mug up and blew a light brush of air over the top, the steam from my tea disappearing into the fresh, clean air. I had been here for a few weeks now, my new position that of an executive accountant for the one small real estate company in town.

Truth was, executive accountant was a term far too fancy and sophisticated for the small business I was working for. I was a glorified number pusher, but the pay was decent—not exactly what I’d made before, but good enough for me to be comfortable. And this small rental property with an acre of land that I’d found had sealed the deal about making this new jump in my life.

So, I’d put in my two weeks at my former position and never looked back.

My energy had been drained living that life. I felt the weight of working for a large corporation and coming home to the same four walls, the same postage stamp–sized yard every day. I knew if I didn’t make a change my health would suffer.

I found myself smiling, and was thankful there were no neighbors around. They’d probably think I was insane, standing here alone, my mug pressed to my lips, a huge grin spread across my face.

I might’ve only been here a few weeks, but I already felt like this was home.


Copyright Carina Press and Jenika Snow 2018

 

 

Jenika Snow is a USA Today Bestselling Author that lives in the northwest with her husband and their two daughters. Before she started writing full-time she worked as a nurse.
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Chapter Reveal · Giveaways · Playlist · Romance

Seed by Cassia Leo Chapter Reveal with Pre-Order Links, Playlist, and Giveaway!!!

Today we have the chapter reveal for SEED by Cassia Leo! Check it out and pre-order your copy today!

 

Title: SEED
Author: Cassia Leo
Series: Evergreen Series
Release: March 16, 2018

 

About SEED

The explosive continuation of the Evergreen Series from New York Times bestselling author Cassia Leo.

The seeds of doubt have been planted.

Two to six weeks. That’s how long it takes, on average, to get a divorce in Oregon.

With Jack convinced I betrayed him, I expect to be served divorce papers within hours of moving out. But weeks pass without word from Jack, and the papers never arrive. Though my heart isn’t ready to give up on him, I can’t shake the feeling that we may be better off apart. And Isaac is more than happy to help me move on.

But just as I begin to build some semblance of a life and career, a new and improved Jack arrives on my doorstep. Divorce papers are the furthest thing from his mind as he delivers news that both shatters me and restores my faith in the love we shared. But is it too late for us?

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Chapter Reveal

JACK

May 10, 2015

“Stay with me, baby,” I murmured as I stroked Laurel’s hand to keep her from falling asleep. “You realize our son is going to be born on a very special day.”

Her eyes rolled back in their sockets as another contraction hit. “What?” she groaned.

I had been trying to keep her mind distracted from the pain with idle conversation about the things she most liked to talk about. So far, I’d engaged her in a wide array of topics: Stoic philosophy, ridiculous names for baked goods, inappropriate wedding songs, and her favorite topic, names for baby boys.

“His birthdate is going to be May 10th, 2015. In numbers, that five, ten, fifteen.”

She managed to groan and chuckle at the same time. “You’re so American. The rest of the world would say it’s ten, five, fifteen,” she said. She breathed in and out a few times through pursed lips before she continued. “Drea would make fun of you if she heard you say that.”

“It’s a good thing Drea’s not here then.”

As soon as I said the words, I wanted to take them back. I didn’t want to bring attention to the fact that, besides Drea, Laurel’s mom also was not here.

As if on cue, Laurel asked, “Where’s my mom?”

I squeezed her soft hand, which seemed to be getting colder. “She’s stuck in traffic, baby. There’s an accident. But she’s trying to get here as soon as she can.”

I didn’t have to lie for Beth. I had to lie for Laurel. I didn’t want her to worry that her mother was abandoning her in her time of need. This was probably the most important day of Laurel’s life, and her mother couldn’t be bothered to come when called.

Beth insisted this was a private moment for Laurel and I to share. According to her, most grandmothers weren’t in the labor and delivery room to see their grandchildren born. That was the parents’ “job.” She insisted she would get here as soon as the baby was born.

The fact that Beth referred to what I was doing at this moment as a “job” only made me angrier. I wasn’t here with Laurel because it was my job to be here. I was here because I loved Laurel, and this was where she wanted me to be. If Laurel told me to leave, I’d leave. She was the one making the decisions today, not me or Beth or the fucking Dalai Lama.

The midwife came into Laurel’s room just as the baby’s heart rate monitor began to beep loudly. The swift, hollow tap of our baby’s heartbeat had slowed to a slow, muffled thump. The midwife’s black eyebrows shot up as she raced to the monitor to get a better look at the flashing red numbers.

“What’s happening?” Laurel asked, but her eyelids were only half-open as her voice trailed off. “Is the baby… Is the baby okay?”

Maisie, Laurel’s Filipino midwife, lifted the sheet covering Laurel’s legs and her dark eyes became as wide as planets.

“What is it?” I demanded as the doctor rushed in.

“Get Florence and tell the others to get the OR ready,” the doctor ordered Maisie, who quickly disappeared into the corridor.

“Dr. Eastman, what’s wrong?” I demanded.

But as my words fell like stones at our feet, Laurel’s hand went slack. Suddenly, four nurses raced into the room and shoved me aside as they locked the side rails on Laurel’s bed and systematically disconnected her from various machines.

My stomach went sour as they rushed her out of the labor and delivery room to the operating room. As I followed closely behind them, I felt as if I were having an out of body experience. I was watching these medical professionals pushing a gurney with someone else’s unconscious wife. Maybe I’d fallen asleep in the chair in Laurel’s hospital room and this was all a nightmare.

But when we arrived at the double doors to the OR, someone grabbed my arm to stop me from entering. That was when I knew this was really happening.

Before the doors swung shut, I caught a glimpse of three more nurses inside the operating room. They appeared to be hanging bags of blood on IV stands and prepping instruments.

“She’s hemorrhaging,” Dr. Eastman finally said, as I watched what was going on through the windows in the double door.

“What do you mean? How? Why?” I replied as I watched two nurses wheel Laurel’s bed into the center of the OR.

“Mr. Stratton, please look at me.”

I turned toward the doctor and the grave look in his eyes sent me into a panic. “What’s going on? Tell me what the fuck is happening to my wife!”

“Do you remember at a previous sonogram when I said we would have to do more sonograms every three days instead of every week, to keep an eye on the placenta?”

I nodded vigorously. “Just cut to the chase and tell me what the hell is happening to my wife.”

Eastman sighed. “The placenta was not over the cervix at the start of labor, but it seems the contractions have moved it down and Laurel’s losing a lot of blood. We’ll have to deliver the baby via C-section.”

I tried to follow a nurse into the OR, but Maisie and Dr. Eastman stopped me again. “I have to be in there!” I shouted.

“We need to scrub before we can enter the surgical suite,” East said. “Follow me.”

In the washroom, Eastman introduced me to the anesthesiologist, Dr. Brunei, who was already washed up as a couple of nurses helped him slip into a fresh pair of scrubs.

“Doctor, I need you to be straight with me,” I said as I set down the disposable nail brush and proceeded to rub the red Hibiclens soap all over my hands and up to my elbows. “Should I be worried?”

“Hemorrhaging in labor is not ideal, but it’s not uncommon. It’s a situation we’re always prepared for, especially with what we saw in the previous sonograms. You’re in good hands today. We’re going to deliver your baby and replace the blood your wife lost. I just need to verify that neither you nor your wife have any religious objections to receiving blood transfusion?”

I shook my head as I held my arms under the running water. I couldn’t speak. This couldn’t be happening.

When Eastman and I were gowned and gloved, we entered the surgical suite in time to see the nurses using a sheet to lift Laurel’s limp body off the hospital bed and onto the operating gurney, her arm flopped over the edge of the mattress.

Her skin was drained of the usual golden-peach glow. Her fingers were blue.

No. I shook my head, unwilling to accept what I was seeing.

“Mr. Stratton?”

I turned my head to the right and found four-foot-eleven Maisie staring up at me.

“You’re very pale, Mr. Stratton. You should sit,” she said, motioning to a chair on the other side of the room, closer to Laurel.

I nodded as I trailed behind her like a lost puppy. “Thank you,” I muttered, but I didn’t take a seat. I couldn’t rest when both my babies needed me.

Due to the hemorrhaging, Laurel would be put under general anesthesia instead of the usual spinal block used for C-sections. Maisie made it clear that this meant I would be the first person to hold our baby, not Laurel. I knew this would make Laurel sad, when she woke and I had to tell her what happened. But I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel about it.

I held Laurel’s hand through the entire surgery, stroking and kissing the back of her hand and murmuring words of encouragement as if she were awake. When our son was pulled from her womb, his blue skin covered in blood, I stopped breathing. Mere seconds passed before he took his first wailing breath of life, but it felt like an eternity.

As the nurses cleaned him up, I kept a firm grasp on Laurel’s hand while I whispered in her ear, narrating what was happening. I hoped that somewhere in her subconscious mind, she was listening, and maybe someday she could piece together this moment.

Maisie smiled as she approached me with the bundle wrapped in a striped baby blanket. As I took my son in my arms for the first time, I was overwhelmed by a wave of emotion so powerful, it should have knocked me out of my chair.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I looked down at his puffy, pink face. “This is my boy,” I said with a chuckle. His tiny body moved in my arms and it my chest filled with sheer wonder and joy. I shook my head, unable to believe I’d made something so pure and so real. “This is our son.” I put my finger next to his tiny hand and my heart nearly burst when he grabbed on. I kissed his fingers the way I’d kissed Laurel’s hand earlier and his eyelids fluttered. “Laurel, baby, I wish you could see this.” I looked up at Maisie. “Doesn’t he need to be breastfed or something?” I asked.

She smiled. “They will bring her out of anesthesia in a few minutes, once she’s stitched up. For now, he needs to be held by his papa.”

The words echoed in my mind. His papa.

My face screwed up as I was overcome with emotion. The fear and doubt I’d felt about becoming a father seemed like a distant memory. I’d never been so filled with absolute joy in all my life.

I was a father. I was papa.

***

Present day

I had let my jealousy and rage distract me from what was truly important. I’d driven Laurel away twice, at a time when my pixie needed me most. I knew Laurel didn’t owe me a third chance, which was why I was going to earn my way back into her arms. And there was only two ways to do that.

One way was to catch the bastard who stole our happiness. The other way might prove more difficult. It would involve closing my case files and admitting that my need for justice was tearing my marriage apart. But I couldn’t do that, not until I gave my quest for justice one final effort. If I couldn’t get justice for my boy by the time Laurel turned thirty next month, I would pack away my case files and do whatever I took to get her back.

I handed my suitcase to the guy wearing the fluorescent safety vest, then I climbed the steps of the private charter plane at exactly eleven a.m. Immediately, I slid my cell phone out of the interior pocket of my sport coat and called my assistant, Jade Insley.

“Good morning,” she answered cheerily.

“Jade, I need you to forward all my calls, even the ones to my cell, to your desk phone. I’m out of town and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“Absolutely,” she replied. “What should I tell the partners?”

“Tell them I’m visiting family. I’ll check in occasionally for messages.”

I ended the call and immediately removed the SIM card from my phone, tossing the tiny chip over the side of the staircase before I stepped inside the plane. I gave the attendant my drink order — club soda with lime — then I tucked my cell into my coat. Sliding the burner phone out of the front pocket of my slacks, I took a seat in the plush leather seat. I turned the phone on and shot off a text.

Me:

Plane taking off. Should land in less than two hours. We still on for three p.m.?

Sean:

I’ll be there with bells on.

***

I pulled my rental car into a space in front of a two-story office building clad in weathered cedar shingles. The dark tinted windows and lack of signage made it look like a place one would go to get illegal plastic surgery. Other than my rented Chevy Tahoe, the only other cars in the lot were a beat up Cadillac Eldorado and a pristine 80s era cherry-red Porsche.

When I stepped into the lobby, I was not surprised to find a directory missing a third of its letters. But I was still able to determine that “SEA D GHE TY PI 2 1” meant Sean Dougherty, Private Investigator was in suite 201 or 211. That narrowed my options down significantly.

I opted not to take my chances on the wood-paneled elevator and took the stairs up to the second floor. The smell of body odor and desperation engulfed me as I walked down the hallway. The first door I saw was 201 and I quickly reached for the doorknob, eager to escape the smell in the corridor, but the knob didn’t turn. I rapped on the steel door a few times, certain that no one would hear me. I was surprised when my knocking was met with a loud grunt from within.

I immediately lifted the right side of my sport coat, my hand hovering over the gun holstered on my hip as I waited for the door to open.

“Who is it?” a gruff voice called from the other side.

“Jack Stratton. We have an appointment.”

The door opened slowly and we both smiled when we realized we both have our hands poised over our sidearms.

I slowly moved my hand away from my weapon and held it up in front of me. “All good.”

The man lowered his hand and pushed the door wide open. “Good to meet you, Jack,” he said, holding out his hand. “I’m Sean.”

We shook, and I was not at all surprised to find his calloused hand had a killer grip. “It’s really good to meet you,” I replied as I stepped inside suite 201.

My shoulders relaxed instantly when I realized Sean’s office was actually quite clean and modern and smelled like coffee. Not a hint of despair. Sean was a sturdy man in his early fifties, with thick salt and pepper hair and muscled limbs clothed in a crisp button-up and slacks. Not at all what I expected from a gritty private investigator who worked in the ninth circle of office park hell.

“The exterior throws people off. Only the people who are serious make it past the front door,” he said as if he were reading my thoughts. “Have a seat.” He continued speaking as I took a seat across the glass desk. “Hood River PD approved my request to see the file this morning, and I was able to go through most of it before you got here. We’re both obviously most interested in this memo they received from Boise PD. Have you spoken with Detective Robinson yet?”

I shook my head. “She couldn’t say much over the phone. I have a meeting scheduled with her tomorrow. She didn’t seem very optimistic that this would lead anywhere. She hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with sealed adoption records. But I’m working on a piece of software to cross-reference birth records and the NCIC persons files for individuals in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. I should have the code finalized and ready to run in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to get you on the case to see if we can track down that adoption decree. I mean, I don’t even have the guy’s name. I’m flying blind.”

NCIC stood for National Crime Information Center, the database shared between the FBI and federal, state, local, and tribal criminal justice users to cooperate on investigations and policies.

Sean leaned back in his desk chair and cocked an eyebrow. “So what put you onto this lead anyway? This is a pretty serious accusation.”

I shook my head as I stared at the manila folder on his desk. “Just a hunch, I guess. I always felt like there was more to Beth than any of us knew.”

“And Beth is your wife’s mother, right?”

I nodded. “Don’t get me wrong, Beth was a great mom and I couldn’t have asked for a better grandmother for my son. She… She gave her life trying to protect my boy. I hold no ill will toward her. But there was always something about her that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

“I used to chalk it up to the same mysterious quality Laurel has. A strange, otherworldly kind of beauty and wit. But with Laurel’s mom, there were other signs that I didn’t know the real Beth.”

“Like what?”

“Just general secretiveness when it came to what caused her divorce from Laurel’s father and stuff like that. It wasn’t until someone in our Facebook group passed on the tip to Boise PD about Mike O’Toole that Detective Robinson decided to do a little digging into Beth’s past.”

“So who’s Mike O’Toole?”

I waved off the question. “A dead lead, but it did get Robinson asking questions and that’s why I’m here. The PI I spoke to in Portland told me that it could take years to win a battle to unseal adoption records. She said my best bet, if the suspect is living here in Idaho, would be to try to find someone who could track him down here. So here I am, hoping like hell you can help me find the piece of shit that killed my son, because… I’m on the verge of losing everything.”

Sean is silent for a long while as he stares at the glass desktop, and when he finally looks up, his square face is fixed with a tight smile. “Well, you were honest with me, so I guess it’s my turn for a little show and tell.” He reaches behind him, opens the top drawer of a two-drawer file cabinet, and pulls out a silver picture frame. “This is my Rosie,” he says, placing the picture on top of his desk so I could see the photo of a teenage girl with wavy blonde hair and a beaming smile. “Rose hated when I called her Rosie,” he said, staring at the picture with a wistful look in his steel-gray eyes.

“She’s beautiful,” I said, stopping myself before I could say she reminded me a bit of Laurel.

“Rose was seventeen when she went to an ice skating rink with some friends. Same as she’d done every winter since she was eight years old. But this time, she went outside to have a smoke. A nasty habit. I kept grounding her to try to get her to stop, but she just wouldn’t listen. She was too pigheaded.” He finally looked up and met my gaze. “That was the last we saw of her until her body was discovered two months later, in a creek forty miles away.”

I clenched my jaw as I imagined how I would have felt if I’d had seventeen years with Junior before he was murdered. Or if, God forbid, it had been Laurel who had been taken away from me. I wouldn’t want to live in a world without Laurel.

“That was a knockout punch. I was down for the count. No coming back from that, I thought,” Sean continued. “So I doubled down on how fast I could wreck my life. I was a financial crimes detective at the time, but I began sleeping in my office, poring over the case files day and night. I became obsessed.”

I lowered my gaze as his words shamed me. All the nights I’d spent sleeping on the couch in my home office instead of in the bedroom with Laurel were mirrored in Sean’s story. And somehow, I didn’t think his story had a happy ending.

“Did you find out who did it?”

Sean smiled as he shook his head. “Nope. I lost my job. Lost my marriage. Lost my house. That bastard took my daughter from me, but I willingly gave him everything else. You understand?”

I nodded in silence. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t think of a single cynical thing to say. I was only in this office because this was my last resort. I couldn’t come back to Laurel emptyhanded. I’d given her every material thing she could ever want. I gave her shelter and security. I gave her my love. But I hadn’t given her my full attention.

Unfortunately, I knew myself too well to know that I would not be able to focus on my marriage and work until I was certain I’d done everything I could for Junior. And, yes, even for Beth. She may have had her secrets, but I meant it when I said Junior could not have asked for a better grandmother. She deserved justice as much as my boy did.

Sean Dougherty and the software program I was working on, which I had dubbed PNW Checkmate, were my last hope. If the software helped us find Junior’s killer, I would expand the software to include all fifty states and territories. For now, I had to focus on this area, and specifically Boise. If Ava Robinson’s suspicions were correct that Beth and Junior’s murders were not random, this was surely the missing piece of the puzzle we needed to help us crack this case. Laurel and I might finally be able to turn the page on this gruesome chapter of our lives.

Sean and I chatted for more than two hours. I filled in any holes in the case file he’d received from the Hood River Police Department. I laid out my suspicions about Beth’s past, information I’d gleaned through conversations with Beth and Laurel over the years. The most interesting tidbit being the time Laurel told me her mother had left her father for a few months when she was about five years old. It wasn’t definitive evidence, but it was one brushstroke in a colorful picture of a woman who lived her life with as much verve as the flowers she so carefully nurtured.

“Whatever you do, do not—I repeat, do not attempt to approach any potential suspects or interviewees on your own. You hear me?” He glared at me with his thick eyebrows raised, awaiting my agreement.

“You have my word,” I replied, probably not as definitively as I should have.

“I’m serious, Jack. Don’t get yourself killed or arrested for this shit. It’s not worth it. Tell me you understand.”

I nodded. “I understand,” I said with a bit more vigor.

He eyed me warily. “I’ll handle all interviews. You’ve got too much at ´stake. Too many emotions that pose a threat here. And I’m the experienced interrogator. So this is not a request. This is an order. You hear me?”

I looked him dead in the eye. “Loud and clear.”

 

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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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Chapter Reveal · Dark Romance

Whispers in the Dark by Leteisha Newton Chapter Reveal

 

 

 

 

 

I was captured…That’s just the beginning of my tale. I’ve survived Purgatory, abuse, and near death. In that abandoned farmhouse I nearly lost everything, but Jacob saved me. We were trapped in this hell together, giving each other the strength to hold on. I fell into darkness with my captor’s son.Until I left him behind.She was perfect, my Alana. Brilliant and full of pain. She understood my darkness and fueled the fire. When she left, I waited patiently to find her, and in her honor, I killed men who took away from innocents. Then I found her…She’s deadly now, a killer too, and perfectly mine. It was beautiful to behold, but she belongs in a cage. My cage. She’ll love me again, or I’ll expose her dirty secrets for the world to see while going down in flames with her. In darkness, it’s most definitely till death do us part.
Warning: This book is full of triggers. It’s wicked dark, with created evil falling in love. People die. They are hurt horribly. The bad guys get away, and there is no apology for it. Hardcore trigger within these pages.

 

 

 

 

Taken
Alana

What’s past, is prologue.
-William Shakespeare

I raided the cupboards for something quick and easy to make and grabbed a package of blueberry Pop-Tarts to throw in the toaster. As I waited for them to finish, I figured I’d broach the topic of the father-daughter dance with Dad. Every year, Northside Prep held its annual dance to raise money for the after-school programs. The dance was the talk of the town as the girls ran out to buy their dresses and make appointments for hair and makeup. Me? I got to wait for the dad who never came. This year, I wanted to be the same as the rest of the girls; I wanted him to choose me.
“Hey, Dad, the dance is this weekend. Can you get away from work for a few hours and go with me?”
He looked up from his laptop, eyebrows drawn and a faraway glaze to his eyes. Aaron and I had dubbed this Dad’s “deep thought” expression. Usually, it ended up with one of us in trouble or disappointed, unfortunately.
“What day is it, Lani Girl?” Dad was the only one to call me Lani Girl. I loathed nicknames, especially the horrendous “Al” Aaron kept insisting on calling me. For Dad, I was always his Lani Girl, no matter how much he loved my name Alana Rose.
“Saturday night. The dance starts at eight o’clock,” I replied, hopeful. Always hopeful.
“I’m sure I can get away, sweetheart. Let’s go.”
“Oh, Daddy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Running around the counter, I gave my dad the biggest hug I could.
“How about I take you to dinner before the dance too. Just the two of us?”
I squeezed him harder. “I’d love that. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too. I’m sorry I’ve missed so much lately. Saturday night is all yours. Dinner, the dance, anything you want.”
As he planted a kiss on the top of my head, I thanked him once more before grabbing my Pop-Tarts and heading upstairs to get ready.
I turned my iPod on and danced to Fergie’s “London Bridge” as I made my way to my closet to pick out an outfit. I chewed on the last bite of my Pop-Tart as I sorted through my pants until I landed on a pair of dark-blue American Eagle jeans. I completed the outfit with my tan Ralph Lauren boots I’d received a few weeks earlier for my birthday and a burgundy tank top. Styling my hair in a messy bun, I grabbed my book bag and took one last look around my room to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I had a habit of leaving behind my homework almost every time I left my room.
With one more stop in the kitchen, I threw my arms around my dad and kissed his scruffy cheek as I thanked him again for agreeing to go to the dance. Moving on to my mother, I gave her a kiss on the apple of her cheek. Saying goodbye, I popped my earbuds in my ears and let James Blunt serenade me with “You’re Beautiful” as I headed into the direction of Northside Prep. I had to pick up the pace so I wouldn’t miss the first bell. Lost in my own world, I jumped when a heavy hand came down on my shoulder. I turned around to see who it was, thinking it could be Ryan. Instead, a tall man stood in front of me. My five-foot figure was small next to his; he had to be over six feet tall. With wire-framed glasses and dress pants, the man looked harmless enough despite his basketball-player height. He reminded me a lot of our eccentric neighbor, Mr. Edwards. His dark hair blotted out the sun, and his nose, crooked as if had been broken before, caught my attention between steel eyes. He could be hot, but something about him was wrong. Buzzing nerves crept down my arms. Get away from him, Alana. Run.
“Do you have the time?” His gruff voice shocked me to the core. The roughness to it was almost biting.
I offered him the time and backed away. Adrenaline raced through my blood and kicked my heart into a gallop as a cold chill raced down my spine. Continuing my walk to school, I refused to turn and look back, even though I knew his eyes were boring into me. Within a few steps, his hand landed heavily once more on my shoulder, but before I could scream, his other hand came around and covered my face. As the world blurred, I noticed the rag in his hand. The slightly sweet smell filled my nostrils and I swayed, only to be caught before I fell. I was weightless, floating in the air, and then I crashed to the ground and darkness claimed me.

***

“Wakey, wakey, little girl.”
Hot breath hit my face with the whispered words. Disoriented and sick to my stomach, I couldn’t wake up fast enough or bring the world into focus. The loss of my bearings made my stomach pitch.
Where am I?
“Wake up. Wake the fuck up. Open your goddamn eyes!”
I shook my head, attempting to clear the fog, as a smack blazed across my face. A cold trickle of fear rushed up my spine. I recognized the voice. The man in glasses who’d stopped me on my way to school. Afraid to open my eyes, I turned my head away from his voice, but surprise filtered through me with a sharp pain spreading over my cheek as his meaty fist connected again. One tear escaped as I bit my lip and opened my eyes before another hit could come my way. He held my arms viciously, digging his fingers into my biceps, and my breasts were smashed into his chest. I could barely touch the floor on my tip-toes.
“Ah, there she is. Hello, sweet girl.”
His voice was beyond creepy. Refusing to respond or look him in the eye, tears choked me, and my cheek burned from his strike.
“Aren’t you a stubborn little one? But oh, so precious. Look at you, sweet cheeks. You’re sure going to be fun to break in. Those stunning looks of yours must’ve driven the boys crazy, but don’t worry, you’ll never have to worry about them again. You’re mine. All mine.”
Terror shook me to my core, and I whimpered. My heart throbbed, pounding so loudly I knew he must have heard it. Mouth dry, and tongue thick in my mouth, I stared at him. This man was a monster, and Lord knew what he planned to do with me. Against my best judgment, I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out of my mouth.
“I want to go home. Please, please, please let me go home. I won’t tell. I promise I won’t tell. Let me go. Please.” My voice cracked over the last word. I wanted my mom back. My dad. Even my brother. Anyone. I didn’t want to be here.
“Isn’t it the cutest thing? You think you have power here. Well, you don’t. You’re nothing but a slave.”
There was recently an abduction case on the news. The newscaster shared tips from law enforcement on how to deal with being taken. Didn’t the police say to make yourself real to your captor? To get them to feel something? Humanize yourself.
“My name is Alana Masters. I’m only seventeen. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m a normal teenage girl. Please don’t hurt me. Please. Please.”
A change came over him; those must have been the wrong words. Where he looked like a normal man before, his eyes darkened with evil and his face filled with rage.
“Of course you’ve done something wrong, little girl. You’re like the rest of those bitches. Flaunting your ass in front of me. Teasing me but never giving me the time of day. You’re a manipulative little whore. You begged for this. You begged me to take you and make you mine, you fucking bitch. Don’t worry, whore, you’ll learn your place before I’m done with you. I’m going to fuck you up and make you scream. Make you regret turning up your little prim and proper nose at me, cunt.”
His eyes glazed over, lost in his own world. He no longer looked at me. His gaze went through me, and I wondered who he was thinking of. Who did he remember? Frightened more than ever, I wanted to go home. But somehow, I knew the nightmare had only begun. Grabbing my face, the monster brought my face to his. Looking me right in the eyes, he spoke, and every word cut me to the bone.
“You are mine. Your body. Your pussy. All mine. I am going to train you, mold you, and break you. And if you ever, ever dream of escaping me, remember this: You are Alana Masters. Your parents are Alan and Barbara Masters. You live at 3412 West Monroe Street, and you have a younger brother. If you step one foot out of line, little girl, I will kill them all. Their blood will be on your hands.”
When he pushed me away, I landed on the harsh, cold cement. I was in a large cage, maybe about six-by-six, with a mattress full of stains— the smell of urine wafting from it—lying on the floor in one corner and a bucket in another. A loud clang made me spin. He locked me in here. Sweat trickled down my back, and my clammy hands wouldn’t allow me to be fooled into believing this wasn’t real. I had been taken. I’m going to die here. How’d this happen to me? What had I done wrong? I wanted out now. Back with my family, my dad, my mom. But the grit on the ground and the soiled mattress were all I could see through the watery film in my eyes.
“From now on, you will call me Master.” He turned and headed up the darkened staircase, leaving me behind as the tears flowed freely down my face.
“Don’t worry, you’ll eventually have cried so much you won’t be able to cry anymore,” a voice said from the darkness.
“Who’s there?”
“My name is Celia. And I’m you, months from now. Welcome to Purgatory.”

 

 

 

Writing professionally since 2008, LeTeisha Newton’s love of romance novels began long before it should have. After spending years sneaking reads from her grandmother’s stash, she finally decided to pen her own tales. As many will do during their youth, she bounced from fantasy, urban literature, mainstream, interracial, paranormal, heterosexual, and LGBT works until she finally rested in contemporary romance.
LeTeisha is all about deep angst and angry heroes who take a bit more loving to smooth their rough edges. Love comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors, as well as with—or without—absolute beauty and fairy tale sweetness. She writes the darker tales because life is hard … but love is harder.

 

 

Chapter Reveal · Pre-Order Blitz · Romance

Well Played by J.S. Scott & Ruth Cardello Chapter Reveal & Pre-Order Blitz

 

 

 


Lauren:

Graham is my brother’s best friend. He’s always been my protector and my confident because he accepts me the way I am—and not many do. I can’t imagine not having him in my life.


Our weekend together was supposed to be a celebration. I graduated from college, Graham got engaged and signed with a pro football team, and my brother landed his dream job. It should have been the best time of our lives.

Except that the weekend started with me walking in on Graham’s fiancée going down on my brother.

I complicated the situation by having sex with Graham after that, but I wanted to comfort him and, damn, when I saw desire in his eyes—for me—I couldn’t say no. I’ve wanted him for so long.

Now he doesn’t want to see me. He says he has a darker side he needs to protect me from.

Where do we go from here? Do I try to pretend to be his friend again or push him to open up to me and possibly lose him forever?

Graham

Sleeping with one of my best friends was not exactly a brilliant idea. It made things complicated, and I didn’t do anything that threw my life into chaos. The fiancee her brother, Jack, had stolen had been part of my life plan, one more step I was taking to be somebody. Granted, I hadn’t been in love with my intended bride, but I didn’t really know how to love anybody

I survived.

I pushed to achieve more.

I battled my way to the top of the heap in my pro football career..

I’m a total dick, and I don’t want Lauren to see the side of me that would trample over anybody to work my way up in the world.

Lauren sees me as a hero, a title I’d never gain with anybody else in my life, so I wanted to keep her sheltered from the hard realities of my life. I wanted her to continue to think I was nice guy when I was really just the opposite.

We never should have crossed the line of going from friends to lovers.

There’s too much Lauren doesn’t know about me, and I care enough about her that I don’t want her to share my pain and the darkness that never sees daylight inside me.

I want her, but she’s a woman I can never have. She’s too smart, too sweet, and way too good for a guy like me.

Unfortunately, pushing her away becomes much more difficult than I’d planned…

 

 

Chapter 1

Lauren


Specific moments tend to embed onto your psyche. They are so traumatic, so painful, they instantly imprint onto your long-term memory.

This was destined to be one of those moments. If I survived. If my ability to breathe returned.

I clenched the doorknob as my brother scrambled to cover his naked ass with a pillow. He swore and told me to get out.

I froze.

Holy shit, nothing will ever be the same.

Hope, the woman whose mouth was inhaling my brother’s cock, scrambled to retrieve her clothing from the floor. Her face was tomato-red. It should be. She’s engaged to Graham Morgan, my brother’s best friend.

Or she was.

“My lesson was canceled.” My voice was strangled as were my insides.

“You should have said something,” Jack said in a tone he’d used once when we were much younger and I’d caught him downloading porn on my computer.

That memory was also embedded.

I’m not a prude, but certain societal codes of behavior should be adhered to. One: Not violating my computer or—ew—my room because you’re grounded from the Internet.

Two: This!

“I’m sorry—” I stopped; I wasn’t sorry. I was numb. I waited for Jack to break out in a smile. It had to be a prank. Graham and Hope’s wedding invitation had arrived two days ago. Mine was secured on the refrigerator at Dad’s place with a heart magnet. We were in Aspen to celebrate the pending nuptials as well as my graduation and Jack’s promotion. “What are you doing, Jack?”

He shook his head without answering, and I pitied him. He usually wasn’t an asshole, at least not as assholey as he appeared with a pillow clutched to his genitals as if his nudity was the big issue.

Clothing in hand, Hope dashed from the living room, down the hall, and to the master bedroom. I wanted to escape, too, so no judgment on my behalf.

“Hope,” Jack bellowed.

She didn’t stop.

He grabbed his clothing and charged after her.

A cold burst of air brought a flurry of snow through the opened door. It instantly melted on the dark wooden floor of the luxury chalet Graham had rented.

We had spent weekends in Aspen, although never in a place so nice. During high school, Jack and I had scraped our pennies and rented the best discounted rooms we could afford. Graham had joined us, but we’d refused his money. He’d never talked much about his home life, but we knew it wasn’t good. Eventually, he’d stopped arguing and simply swore he’d get a huge NFL contract and repay us someday.

He finally had, and the expense of this chalet probably balanced the account.

On autopilot, I closed the door, unzipped my jacket, and hung it in the closet. I peeled off my boots and neatly placed them on the mat. I should have sought the warmth of the blazing fire in the stone hearth, but I still had the visual of my brother and Hope sprawled in front of it.

I shook my head.

That’s an image that can’t be unseen.

The kitchen seemed like a safe destination. I poured a glass of Merlot, and even though I wasn’t a drinker, I finished it off in one long gulp.

This can’t be happening. I gripped the counter behind me. Graham had trust issues. Jack and I were the only family he had. Jack, how could you do something this stupid? This cruel?
I poured another glass and downed half. My stomach churned in warning.

Voices in the living room forced me to abandon my wine and walk toward them. Although I couldn’t make out what they were saying at first, they were obviously arguing.

Hope dropped her luggage in the foyer and retrieved her coat from the closet. I stood, silently observing. “I have to get out of here,” she said desperately. When she realized I was there, she said, “I’m sorry. Graham is on his way. I should tell him not to come, but—” She covered her face with her hands. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”

I might have felt sorry for her if I weren’t still trying to erase a certain image from my mind. It was still disgustingly vivid. Jack wrapped his arms around her, an act that angered me.

“You’re upset. You can’t drive like this,” Jack pleaded.

“I have to. I need to think. This isn’t me. I don’t do things like this.” She looked for confirmation from me, but I looked away. I hadn’t known her long enough to refute or support her claim, nor did I want to be put in that position.

“It’s going to be okay. I’ll drive you,” Jack said, as he cupped her face between his hands.

My voice finally functioned. “What about Graham?”

Jack turned to acknowledge my presence. I expected him to be angry with me, but his face held a pained expression instead. “I’ll drive Hope to the airport then come back. He’s still a few hours out.”

“I should be the one to tell him,” Hope said, although she didn’t look or sound convinced.

“No, we’ve been friends our whole lives. I’ll tell him,” Jack said firmly.

How noble of him. I wanted to slap him. His declaration had the opposite effect on Hope. She melted against him, and I wanted to vomit. There were many words I could have let fly, but none would have helped the situation.

I turned to walk away.

“Lauren,” Jack said as he approached me. Whispering to keep Hope from hearing, he said, “Don’t say anything to Graham if he beats me here. Tell him we were out when you arrived.”

“I won’t lie to him,” I said forcefully, brave from my wine buzz.

“Then drive home now.”

My mouth gaped. I didn’t know this Jack. “What if Graham gets here before you? Don’t you think he’ll worry if no one is here or answering his calls?”

The door opened, and Hope slipped out.

I started to tell him what I thought of his plan, but he walked away.

He grabbed his coat and swung the door open. “Listen, I fucked up. You don’t need to tell me how badly. Don’t say anything to Graham, okay? I’ll make this right. I swear.”

He slammed the door before I had a chance to agree or tell him to go to hell.

I grabbed my cell and brought up Graham’s number. He deserved to know what had happened. He deserved a chance to talk it out with Hope if that was what he wanted.

I stopped in front of the fire without calling him. I paused, trying to understand my feelings. My anger had dissolved; I felt relieved—almost happy.

That was as unnerving as seeing Jack and Hope together.

Graham was my honorary brother from another mother, my protector, and even my confidant. Jack’s betrayal would cut Graham deeply, and my heart should be breaking for him.

Leaving my phone on the mantel, I went to my room to pack. No matter who told Graham, chances were he would hate all of us, including me, simply for bearing witness. He’d cut members of his family out of his life for that very crime.

I tried imagining my life without Graham but couldn’t.

Confused and disgusted with myself, I transferred my belongings into my luggage, pausing when I saw my reflection in the bureau mirror. I told myself my feelings were irrelevant. Graham had never looked at me the way he looked at Hope.

I wasn’t in her league. On my best day, I was cute. On my worst, I was a slightly overweight, bespectacled nerd with awkward social skills.

Many people spend their entire lives trying to stand out. I only wanted to blend in. Strategically, I had learned to keep the majority of my thoughts to myself. Sharing them had never made my life better.

At age seven I pinpointed the error in a cartoon character’s attempt at Fermat’s Last Theorem, a problem that had taken mathematicians until 1994 to solve, and sought to discuss it. Not having the mathematical vocabulary to properly express how I would have solved it, I’d asked my teacher, and was instantly transferred to a school for the gifted.

I graduated from high school at fourteen, had an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics by seventeen, and my PhD in condensed matter physics by twenty. Whether it was what I wanted or what I was told I should want, I was still unsure. When I requested a year off to find myself, I was directed to therapy. Some good came from that experience. I learned to value my emotions even when they didn’t match the expected. Feelings weren’t wrong, actions were.

I also met my best friend, Kelley. She was interning at the practice where I paid for two sessions, debated the basic principles of psychology for two more, then on my clinician’s prodding, went on to formally study it.

In retrospect, the suggestion to get my own degree if I thought I knew so much might have been sarcastic, but I wrote a dissertation to support my views and had an additional diploma a year later. Unlike my clinician, Kelley found my questions invigorating. She defined friendship as two people bringing out the best in each other. We were still close even though she had gone off to college in California to finish her studies, leaving us to communicate only by phone for now. Besides Graham, she was the only person who accepted me as I was.

On impulse, I retrieved my phone from the mantel and called her. No answer. I checked the time. It was early enough that she might be in class. I left her a voice message—a long, detailed update that included a trip to the kitchen for another glass of Merlot.

 

Coming Soon From Author J.S. Scott – Billionaire Unloved

Available February 27th 2018

 

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Coming Soon from Author Ruth Cardello – Insatiable Bachelor Available February 22nd 2018


A brand new series set in a whole new world. 

Dalton:

Women are a perk of my lifestyle. I work hard. I deserve to play

harder. But I didn’t get on the Forbes List of Rising Entrepreneurs by

getting lost in the baggage and disruption that comes with dating. I’ve

seen dozens of men fail when they fall in love. Pathetic.

That’s

why I chose the Bachelor Tower. It was designed by a genius, my hero:

the late, Garry F. Sinclair. He created an all-male haven for ambitious

men who want to live like kings and play by their own rules. Casino

nights, a fully equipped gym and lap pool, cigar and Scotch bar, and a

media room with screens the size of the average movie theater. The list

is endless. I easily network with men trying to launch their careers or

those at the top who want to stay hungry. The best part: the tower

attracts women, beautiful women who hang out in the lobby bar and vie

for an invite upstairs. Easy, like fishing in a barrel.

Until Sinclair dies and Penny Fuller moves into the apartment next to me because the new owner doesn’t share his vision.

Everyone

agrees Penny can’t stay. I don’t want to get involved, but she doesn’t

understand the lengths my fellow building mates will go to to get her

out. She’s not only irresistibly sexy and painfully optimistic, she’s

also in real danger.

Siding with her would be career suicide.

Betraying her was never my intention.

 

 

 

J.S. “Jan” Scott is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA

Today bestselling author of steamy romance. She’s an avid reader of all

types of books and literature. Writing what she loves to read, J.S.

Scott writes both contemporary steamy romance stories and paranormal

romance. They almost always feature an Alpha Male and have a happily

ever after because she just can’t seem to write them any other way! She

lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and two very

spoiled German Shepherds.

 

 

 

Ruth Cardello hit the New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers

Lists for the first time back in 2012. Millions of sales are evidence

that her her books are akin to potato chips, addictive from the first

one. She has created a multi-series billionaire world with a combination

of escapism and realism that has gained her a faithful following of

readers.

What Kindle Reviewers write about her:

“Wow hot at every page. Heart stopping, fear raging, mind blowing wonderful.”

“I’m

a true fan of Ms. Cardello. I ran on to her first book a few years back

and have been hooked ever since. I could go on and on about the story

like of this book, but I’m not. All of her books are total page turners,

unique, heart wrenching, and I love them all. There isn’t two alike in

the bunch and I feel like i know the characters personally. I personally

read 97 authors books. And I buy every book they put out. This author

is in my top 10. Great job and keep them coming.”

“Love this

series. Got me to start reading again. I look forward to the next book.

Thank you for giving me the love of reading back.”

Ruth Cardello

was born the youngest of 11 children in a small city in northern Rhode

Island. She spent her young adult years moving as far away as she could

from her large extended family. She lived in Boston, Paris, Orlando, New

York–then came full circle and moved back to New England. She now

happily lives one town over from the one she was born in. For her,

family trumped the warmer weather and international scene. She

was an educator for 20 years, the last 11 as a kindergarten teacher.

When her school district began cutting jobs, Ruth turned a serious eye

toward her second love- writing and has never been happier. When she’s

not writing, you can find her chasing her children around her small farm

or connecting with her readers online.

 

Author J.S. Scott

 

Author Ruth Cardello 

Twitter @RuthieCardello