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Boyfrenemy by Sosie Frost Chapter Reveal

13 Mar

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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Hard Wood by Jenika Snow Chapter Reveal

12 Mar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

9 Mar

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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Whispers in the Dark by Leteisha Newton Chapter Reveal

7 Mar

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

16 Jan

 

 

 


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

 

The Rebound by Winter Renshaw Chapter Reveal

13 Jan

 

 

 

 

The last time I saw Nevada Kane, I was seventeen and he was loading his things into the back of his truck, about to embark on a fourteen-hour drive to the only college that offered him a full ride to play basketball.

I told him I’d wait for him. He promised to do the same.

But life happened. I broke my promise long before he ever broke his. And not because I wanted to.

We never saw each other again …

Until ten years later when Nevada unexpectedly returned to our hometown after an abrupt retirement from his professional basketball career.

Suddenly he was everywhere, always staring through me with that brooding gaze, never returning my smiles or “hellos.”

Over the years, I’d heard that he’d changed. And that despite his multi-million dollar contracts and rampant success, life hadn’t been so kind to him.

He was a widower.

And a single father.

And rumor had it, he’d spent his last ten years trying to forget me, refusing to so much as breathe my name … hating me.

But just like a rebound, he’s back.

And I have to believe everything happens for a reason.

 

 

 

 

Prologue



Yardley Devereaux {Ten Years Ago}

He sent my letter back.
I re-read my words, imagining the way they must have made him feel.
Nevada,
I’m writing because you haven’t been taking my calls or answering my texts. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors, so I thought you should hear it straight from me…
I’ve broken my promise.
But you should know that I never wanted to hurt you, none of this was planned, and I still love you more than anything I’ve ever loved in this world.
This is something I had to do. And I think if you’ll let me, I can explain in a way that makes sense and doesn’t completely obliterate the beauty of what we had.
Please don’t hate me, Nevada.
Please let me explain.
Please answer your phone.
I love you. So much.
Your dove,
Yardley
The paper is torn at the top, as if he was about to rip it to shreds but changed his mind, and on the back of my letter, in bold, black marker, is a message of his own.
NEVER CONTACT ME AGAIN.

Chapter One

Yardley Devereaux, age 16

I don’t belong here.
I realize being the new kid makes people give you a second look, but I don’t think it should give them permission to stare at you like you have a second head growing out of your nose. Or a monstrous zit on your chin. Or a period stain on your pants.
At this point it’s all the same.
Not to mention, I don’t think anyone can prepare you for what it feels like to eat lunch alone, like some social reject.
The smell of burnt tater tots makes my stomach churn, and the milk on my tray expires today. I’m pretty sure the “chicken patty on a bun” they gave me is nothing more than pink slime baked to a rock-hard consistency. I’m unwilling to risk chipping a tooth, so I refuse to try it.
Checking my watch for the millionth time, I calculate approximately 3 1/2 hours left until I can go home and tell my parents what an amazing first day I had. That’s what they want to hear anyway. Dad moved us here from California with the promise that we were going to be richer than sin, whatever that means. But if Missouri is such a gold mine then why doesn’t the rest of the world move here? So far, Lambs Grove looks like the kind of place you’d see in some independent film about a mother trying to solve her son’s murder with the help of a crooked police department, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, JK Simmons, and Frances McDormand.
Okay, I’m probably being dramatic.
But this place is pretty lame. I miss the ocean. I miss the constant sunshine and the steady stream of seventy-five degree days. I miss the swaying palm trees.
I miss my friends.
Forcing your kid to move away from the town they’ve grown up in their entire life—in the middle of their sophomore—year is cruel. I don’t care how rich dad says we’re going to get, I’d have rather stayed in Del Mar, driven a rusting Honda, and paid my own way through a technical college if it had meant we didn’t have to move.
And can we talk about my name for a second? Yardley. Everyone here has normal names. Alyssa. Monica. Taylor. Heather. Courtney. If I have to spell my name for someone one more time I’m going to scream. My mom wanted my name to be special and different because apparently she thinks I’m special and different, but naming your daughter Yardley doesn’t make her special. It just makes it so she’ll never find her name on a souvenir license plate.
I’d go by my middle name if it weren’t equally as bad, but choosing between Yardley and Dove is akin to picking your own poison.
Yardley Dove Devereaux.
My parents are cruel.
I rest my case.
I pop a cold tater tot into my mouth and force myself to chew. I’ll be damned if I’m that girl sitting in third block with a stomach growling so loud it drowns out the teacher. I don’t need more people staring.
Pulling my notebook from my messenger bag, I pretend to focus on homework despite the fact that it’s the first day of spring semester and none of my teachers have assigned anything yet, but it’s better than sitting here staring at the block walls of the cafeteria like some loser.
Pressing my pen into the paper, I begin to write:
Monday, January 7, 2008
This day sucks.
The school sucks.
This town sucks.
These people suck.
After a minute, I toss my pen aside and exhale.
“What about me? Do I suck?” A pastel peach lunch tray plops down beside me followed by a raven-haired boy with eyes like honey and a heartbreaker’s smile. My heart flutters in my chest. He’s gorgeous. And I have no idea why he’s sitting next to me. “Nevada.”
“No. California. I’m from Del Mar,” I say, clearing my throat and sitting up straight.
The boy laughs through his perfectly straight nose.
I can’t take my eyes off his dimpled smirk. He can’t take his eyes off me.
“My name,” he says. “It’s Nevada. Like the state. And you are?”
“New,” I say.
He laughs at me again, eyes rolling. “Obviously. What’s your name?”
My cheeks warm. Apparently, I can’t human today. “Yardley.”
“Yardley from California.” He says my name like he’s trying to memorize it as he studies me. I squirm, wanting to know what he’s thinking and why he’s gazing at me like I’m some kind of magnificent creature and not some circus sideshow new girl freak. “What brings you here?”
He pops one of my tator tots between his full lips, grinning while he chews.
Nevada doesn’t look like the boys where I’m from. He doesn’t sound like them either. He isn’t sun kissed with windswept surfer hair. His features are darker, more mysterious. One look at this tall drink of water and I know he’s wise beyond his years. Mischievous and charismatic but also personable.
He’s … everything.
And he’s everything I never expected to come across in a town like this.
A group of girls at the table behind us gape and gawk, whispering and nudging each other. It occurs to me then that this might be a set-up, that this beautiful boy might be talking to this awkward new girl as a dare.
“Ignore them,” he says when he follows my gaze toward the plastic cheerleader squad sitting a few feet away. “They’re just jealous.”
I lift a brow. “Of what?”
He smirks, laughing at me like I’m supposed to ‘get it.’
“What?” I ask. If this is a joke, I want to be in on it. I refuse to add butt-of-the-joke to the list of reasons why this day can go to hell.
“They’re jealous because they think I’m about to ask you out,” he says, licking his lips. Nevada hasn’t taken his eyes off me since the moment he sat down.
“Should I go inform them that they have absolutely no reason to shoot daggers our way?”
His expression fades. “Why would you say that?”
“Because …” I laugh. “You’re not about to ask me out.”
“I’m not?”
I peel my gaze off of him and glance down at my untouched lunch. “Why are you doing this?”
“Why am I doing what? Talking to you? Trying to get the courage to ask you on a date?”
I glance up, studying his golden gaze and trying to determine if he’s being completely serious right now.
“You’ve never seen me before in your life and then you just … plop down next to me and ask me on a date?” I shake my head before rising. If I have to dump my tray and hide in the bathroom until the bell rings, then so be it.
“Where are you going?”
My lips part. “I … I don’t know. I …”
Nevada reaches for me, wrapping his hand around my wrist in a silent plea for me to stay. “Do you have a boyfriend back in California? Is that what this is about?”
“What? No.” This guy is relentless.
“Then go on a date with me,” he says, rising. “Friday.”
“Why?”
His expression fades. “Why?”
The bell rings. Thank God.
“I was new once. So I get it,” he says, fighting another dimpled smirk. God, I could never get tired of looking at a face like his. “And, uh … I think you’re, like, really fucking hot.”
Biting my lower lip and trying my damnedest to keep a straight face, I decide I won’t be won over that easily. It takes a lot more than a sexy smile, some kind words, and a curious glint in his sunset eyes. If he truly wants me … if this isn’t a joke and he honestly thinks I’m “really fucking hot,” he’s going to have to prove it.
“Bye, Nevada,” I say, gathering my things and disappearing into a crowd of students veering toward two giant trash cans.
I don’t wait for him to respond and I don’t turn around, but I feel him watching me—if that’s even possible. There’s this electric energy pulsing through me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I’m not sure if it’s excitement or anticipation or the promise of hope … but I can’t deny that it’s real and it’s there.
Making my way to the second floor of Lambs Grove High, I find my English Lit classroom and settle into a seat in the back.
For the tiniest sliver of a second, I imagine the two of us together. We’re laughing and happy and so in love that it physically hurts—the kind of thing I’ve never had with anyone else.
The tardy bell rings and a few more students shuffle in. My teacher takes roll call before beginning his lecture, but I don’t hear any of it.
I can’t stop thinking about that beautiful boy.

 

 

 

 

 

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

 

 

Author Links

 

 

 

Undefeated by Stuart Reardon & Jane Harvey-Berrick Chapter Reveal

10 Jan

 

 

 

 

 

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A powerful contemporary romance set in the fast-moving world of international rugby.

When your world crashes down
When they all say you’re out
When your body is broken
I will rise.
I will return.
And I will be undefeated.

Nick Renshaw is the golden boy of British rugby. When a serious injury threatens his career, he starts to spiral downwards, a broken man.
Feeling abandoned and betrayed by those closest to him, he fights to restart his life. Maybe there’s someone out there who can help him. Maybe he can find his way back toward the light. Maybe … not.
Dr. Anna Scott might be the one person who can help Nick, but she has her own secrets. And when Nick’s past comes back to haunt them both, the enigmatic doctor is more vulnerable than she seems.
Broken and betrayed, the struggle to survive seems intolerable. Who will give in, and who will rise, undefeated?

Coming January 23rd 2018

 

 

Prologue

 

It’s a beautiful game.

It’s a hard game.

And even on a good day your body is battered and bruised. It’s a brutal game with blood, mud and dirt.

See this scar on my cheek? Rugby.

See this scar running through my eyebrow? Rugby.

I have a lot of scars.

I have 13 scars on each arm from keyhole surgery, knee surgery, scars on my forehead and the back of my head, scars on my knuckles, broken fingers. I’ve had both eyelids stitched, surgery on both shoulders, suffered a broken nose twice and spiral fractures in my hands, I’ve broken my fingers so many times, I don’t event count those. I’ve had cartilage cleaned out of my left knee, two medial ligament grade two tears on each knee, three lots of surgery for Achilles tendon injuries, and once I put my bottom teeth through my top lip. Getting stitches in your mouth isn’t much fun. They tug when you eat or speak.

There’s nothing nice about rugby. Maybe that’s why I bloody love it.

Chicks dig scars? Yeah, I’ve heard that, too.

In my experience, they’re not so keen on being around while you’re healing. Being the loser who’s benched, not so sexy. Being the guy who’s career went down the toilet … I’m looking a lot less appealing now.

Trusting a woman when you’re at your lowest—dumbest, stupidest thing ever.

Beat me, break me, butcher my heart.

I’m coming for you. And this time…

I’m going to win.

 

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Stuart Reardon

 

Stuart is a retired England International Rugby League player who’s career spanned 16 years as a professional playing for several top League clubs. He has had several major injuries that nearly ended his career just as in Undefeated, the amazing collaboration with Jane.
Currently he is a Personal trainer living in Cheshire, and has an online fitness program: Fear Nothing Fitness.

 

Jane Harvey-Berrick

 

 

I enjoy watching surfers at my local beach, and weaving stories of romance in the modern world, with all its trials and tribulations.
It’s been the best fun working with Stu on this story. And yes, he did think about joining the Marines once.

 

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