Every mission has a price.
He never meant for her to pay it.
Aiden has never left anyone behind. Not a comrade and certainly not an innocent. But when an undercover mission goes wrong, he's forced to abandon a woman trapped in a human trafficking ring.
Violet learned brutally that no one is promised a happy ending. She knows Aiden blames himself for his part, but she refuses to let her abduction define the rest of her life.
She won’t be a victim again. And she’s going after what she wants: Aiden.
Watching Violet transform herself into a fierce warrior is the sexiest thing Aiden has ever seen. The honorable plan would be to stay away from her—let her heal and grow without the shadow of his mistakes clouding her progress—even though every instinct tells him to claim her for his own.
But when they discover the danger they thought they’d left behind is closer than ever, they’ll have to confront their fears and fight side-by-side in order to survive.
Linear Tactical series is proving to be all I was hoping it to be, and so much more. The stories are emotional, suspenseful, intense, and riveting. And Aiden and Violet's story, Shamrock, while I was getting the idea from Eagle that it is going to be tense and fierce with all the feels, I was not prepared it to just shatter my heart and soul, in the best possible way that a great book can make that happen.
The images Crouch draws to the minds of the readers are so vivid, so real and raw, and the horrors and terror Violet goes through at the beginning of the story, it left me gasping for air. Yes, this can be a trigger to some, so consider yourself to be warned. But the beautiful thing is, the author doesn't leave the heroine there to suffer and wither away when the readers get to witness this amazing, strong, beautiful soul emerge from the ashes, and grow to be a true heroine, a true champion, a person I admired with my whole heart and being. She struggles through the nightmares, through the attacks, through the memories, and through the bubble wrap, her brother wants to put her in, and the through the distance Aidan wants to give her after everything that she has experienced. Her perseverance, her strength, her endurance, it just multiplies as she develops into the strong, beautiful person she was meant to be. Yes, another fabulous strong female lead from Crouch, I swear, she does them better than the most.
Aiden - he is the perfect match to the warrior Violet is. Their minds, souls, and hearts are lined up on the same frequency, and it is a beautiful thing to witness. The age difference between them is brought up several times, but it was hard to see in practice, as they go on with their lives, and develop on the personal front, and grow together as soul mates, and built upon their relationship. And though they are sizzling hot together, burning up the pages, there is more to their relationship than just the hot, physical attraction, as the author proves to the readers.
The team is well presented in the story, as are the mates from Violet's brother's team. It is always a joy to see the characters from the previous books and visit with old friends.
Shamrock is an impressive, potent, and vigorous story filled with harsh, vehement suspense and action that is perfectly balanced and matched by the fervent and ardent love story that is developing between the protagonists. It will pull out all the feels, maybe even more than you were prepared to give, yet it does not leave you hanging as it delivers well in the smoothly flowing, well-written, heartwrenching story. What a ride!
~ Five Spoons
Addicted to You
SAPD SWAT Series Book 2
by Nikki Mays
Genre: Romantic Suspense, Comedy
Michelle is my addiction. She’s sweetness and light wrapped up in a delicious package. Almost as delicious as the confections she makes. Until now, I’ve kept my distance to make sure my darkness doesn’t taint her. She’s better than a killer who sits behind a scope.
I watch her from afar. Getting dragged under her spell a little further with every sweet smile and mischievous grin. I know I’ll cave one day, give into the craving to be near her. Being in her presence is a feeling like no other, one I can’t seem to resist.
Unfortunately, I’m not the only one living under her influence. While I was watching her, someone else was watching too. But she belongs with me, no matter what anyone else wants.
Now I need to make sure she gives me my next fix of her, even if she’s too stubborn to admit she wants to. She’s my addiction, cure and redemption all rolled into one. Her soul calls out to my own. I’ll make sure she’s as addicted to me as I am to her. She’ll crave me - if it’s the last thing I do.
Surrender to You
SAPD SWAT Series Book 1
Mellie has been hypnotized by a pair of gorgeous green eyes, attached to a very yummy package for months now. Unfortunately for her, her brain goes on hiatus anytime Morris Jackson is around. Looking like a bobble head whenever he asks her anything isn't the best way to go about getting a man like him interested. Not like ruggedly handsome men go for quirky, accident prone introverts like her. Plus, even if she did have a snowballs chance in hell with him, him being her brothers SWAT teammate doesn't bode well for her. A girl can dream though!
Those blue eyes sucker punched him the minute he looked into them. It felt like the ground had literally gone out from under him. Mellie is everything that he could ever want and everything that he shouldn't have. Even if he didn't know that she's too good for a guy like him, her brother would never be okay with it. He is over protective and proud of it. But at some point you have to say screw the consequences and go after what you know is meant to be yours.
Too bad someone wasn't happy for them when the found their way to one another. Someone will make sure they don't stay together by any means necessary. They'll even kill to get what they want.
Nikki Mays is a pen name that was created from her maiden name. She is a wife and mother, who lives in a small town in New Jersey. She has been with her husband for a decade and is surprised that he's still alive. She began writing as a creative outlet after becoming a stay at home mom. She decided that she needed something exclusively for herself, not just being mommy. She has two crazy boxers that love to keep that "Evil" mailman out of the yard. Besides writing and spending time with her little hellions, she enjoys cooking & baking. She has recently taken up gardening and made her loving husband plant her a mini fruit tree orchard, as well as a garden taking up half an acre. Nikki loves to be stalked by her readers and encourages all interaction.
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Who Would You Choose?
Love in the City Book 4
by J.M. Bronston
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Marge Webster has always known what she wanted, and how to accomplish it. As editor-in-chief of Lady Fair magazine, she’s got influence and fame, a social calendar as packed as her closet, and a gorgeous attorney boyfriend. Jerry is successful, loving, and ready to settle down. As for Marge—she just feels exhausted. Maybe that explains her weak knees and fluttering heartbeat when she runs into Sam Packard, her high-school crush.
Back then, Sam was the most popular and charismatic guy around. He didn’t always understand Marge’s dreams, but their connection was undeniable. Marge isn’t that awestruck girl anymore—but for the first time in her life, she has no idea which path to follow. Maybe the answer is to step back, take a doctor-ordered European vacation, and explore exactly what and who makes her happy. The answers might surprise everyone—especially Marge…
It was just too good a day not to be outside in the sun. The retailers’ meeting had gone really well and ended early with smiles all around. She was ahead of schedule for her lunch appointment and the city was inviting her to come out and breathe a little.
“Luke. Stop the car.” She looked at her watch—a gift from Hermès—and said, “I have some time. I’m going to walk from here. You go on to the restaurant and wait for me till it’s time to go back to the office.”
“Okay, Ms. Webster.” Before Marge could move, Luke was out of the car and came around to open the door for her. “Nice day for a walk,” he said. “Summer’s winding down. It’ll be fall soon.”
“Yes.” She smiled. “You can feel it in the air.” It seemed, despite Piero Massione’s childish behavior, the world was full of smiles now.
“You sure can. Need to enjoy what’s left of the good weather.” Luke smiled, too. “Have a good one,” he said, and he got back into the car.
Marge watched the big black town car blend in with the rest of the traffic—the moving mass of other big black town cars and boxy yellow taxis, the private cars, the buses, and the trucks that made the city feel
always on the go.
She turned away and smiled again; she’d just slipped out of the day’s tightly packed schedule and found a little escape time just for herself. It didn’t happen often. It certainly didn’t happen often enough. She really needed just a small escape—needed to get away from her mental to-do list. She took one big, deep breath and looked around, looked to see where she had landed.
It was an ordinary neighborhood street, somewhere in the Village. Small shops, some brownstones, people just quietly going about their business. Babies in strollers. Dogs being walked. Teenagers falling in love. A city street. Always a treat. Better than any television screen for variety, humanity, action, the potential for drama, a laugh, something new.
She took off her jacket, hooked it over her arm and started to walk. A man passed her, turned to look, and kept going. At the corner, a street vendor was filling the air with the irresistible aroma of honey roasted nuts. She paused at his cart, checked her watch once more—forty minutes till she had to meet Bridey—decided she could indulge in a snack before lunch. She paid her dollar and started to walk away with her paper bag of honey roasted peanuts. But an idea stopped her. She turned and watched as a mother and her little boy approached the cart. The mother gave her boy the money to buy a bag. And Marge thought about it.
Street food in New York. Surprisingly, it really is very good. Good, and often very interesting. Might be an idea to discuss with Bridey. See what she thought of a piece on the street food of New York. It would make an amusing story. “What to Wear While Dining Out.” With the emphasis on “out,” of course.
Always new ideas. Can’t help it. I just love the magazine so much.
She really needed to take more breaks like this one.
I know. I know. Doctor Diaz says I have to ease up a little. Working too hard.
She did a little deep breathing, quietly, as she walked along. Marge would never let anyone know, but it was beginning to worry her. Carrying it all on her shoulders. She was feeling the stress, she was seeing the
signs of overwork, the wound-up overdrive of her thoughts that kept her from falling asleep. The little wrinkles forming at her lips. The need for concealer under her eyes.
But who would—who could—run Lady Fair as skillfully as she did? Marge knew it was her ability to be the calm in the eye of the storm that was her major asset—that had gotten her hired for this job at the impossibly early age of twenty-nine.
She’d first come to the notice of the magazine’s owners early on, when she was a young features editor, first months on the job, and an article of hers won an ASME award. Not bad for a rookie. Not bad for anyone! Then, a month later, there was her memo to upper management suggesting a cost-cutting digital innovation that resulted in an annual bottom-line savings of more than eighty thousand dollars. And the clincher came the day a crazy ex-con broke through the lobby security downstairs and ran naked through Lady Fair’s reception area, waving a long Tanaka knife. While the receptionist cringed behind her chrome and glass desk, paralyzed with terror, and the staff trembled in the corridors and behind their locked doors, it was the still-a-rookie Marge whose gentle and sympathetic voice talked the man down and kept him quiet until the police arrived to escort him out of the building, wrapped up in a gorgeous blue floral wool-and-silk
shawl from Gucci, produced at the last minute by one of the design people, out of the nearest fashion closet.
When an ABC reporter did the interview about the incident for the evening news, Marge credited the outfit she’d been wearing. “It was probably the charcoal gray Valentino I had on. It’s a very no-nonsense business suit, suitable for handling any office crisis. Maybe,” she added, “he thought I was his parole officer.”
But it wasn’t only Marge’s steel in the face of danger together with her light touch that got her noticed. She was a brilliant writer, knew how to work to a deadline, and understood the difference between a good story and an indispensable story. She’d proven she understood the dollars and cents of the industry, and she had a respect for its full product range from the low end of a strip mall’s ready-to-wear to the haute couture of the most exclusive salons. And, perhaps the most important skill in a potential editor in chief, Marge had not only a passion for fashion but a sure sense of its exact place in today’s social scene as well as in the scene that would appear over tomorrow’s horizon.
What no one included in the mix, not even Marge herself, was what it was costing her to be cool and effective, day in and day out. No one, that is, except Dr. Martine Diaz who had been telling her to take it easier.
Joan Myra Bronston grew up in New York City, married her college sweetheart, and went with him to Germany for a year while he was in the Army and where she worked as a telex operator and mail clerk. They then moved to Austria where Joan spent five years teaching at an international school. She is the mother of three wonderful girls and the grandmother of a super-wonderful grandson. Joan was also a secretary, social investigator, and psychiatric researcher, before entering law school and eventually becoming a corporate attorney. In addition to her years in Europe, Joan has lived in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and, for 18 years, Salt Lake City. At last, she has closed the circle and returned to her first and most beloved—New York City.
Breathless by Cherrie Lynn
Series The Ross Siblings Series
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Entangled Amara
Publication Date November 19, 2018
Seth and Macy Warren haven't been married long, but they have their eyes on the future. Macy is excited to start a family, while Seth debates the pros and cons of giving up their spontaneity for the potential perils of parenthood. But Macy thinks she can convince him...
When he gets a chance to relive some of his past glory days by rejoining his former band onstage, though, he jumps at it. Still, she thinks she can turn the trip to his gig into some baby-making fun. Until she comes face-to-face with a part of Seth’s past that she'd hoped to never deal with again.
Macy knows she shouldn't have her doubts. But she also knows that when you have everything, you have everything to lose.
Seth “Ghost” Warren wiped his oil-smudged hands on a well-used rag, frowning into the depths of his 1969 GTO’s engine. That should do it. She’d been running hot lately, but he thought he had it pegged to an airflow problem. At least that was what he hoped, since he wasn’t too keen on sinking more money into her right now. Frigging thing had been a drain on his finances ever since he’d bought her, but like any good addict, he couldn’t stop—at least not when the alternative was selling her. They’d been through too much together.
Thunder rumbled overhead, signaling an afternoon spring thunderstorm and the end of his patience. Sighing, he dropped the hood and gathered his tools, heading toward the garage just as the first fat drops of April rain began to slap the pavement. He could’ve worked on her under the roof of the garage, but he didn’t like the closed-in feel, preferring to tinker with her in the driveway. Until ten minutes ago, it had been too nice of a day to be inside—but that was Texas weather for you.
Just as he putting his tools away, the bottom really fell out—a sudden deluge of rain that he was damn glad he’d escaped. It was so loud he almost missed his ringing cell phone on the workbench, but at the last minute he noticed the lit-up display. Unfamiliar number. Ordinarily he didn’t answer those, but it was local, so he relented. Could be a client with a new number, and he never wanted to miss out on work at the tattoo shop.
“Yeap,” he drawled, his usual greeting that was lost somewhere between “yeah” and “yep.”
“Hey dude. Long time no see.”
Ghost’s spine shot ramrod straight. What. The. Hell. “I don’t see you now, motherfucker.”
“And you haven’t changed any.” Mark laughed, asshole that he was. Ever since Ghost had quit his position as lead guitarist of In the Slaughter, the band Mark fronted, there had been absolutely no reason to talk to the slimy little bastard. He’d deleted all evidence of him from his phone, and his life, and had been happier for it. Mark’s little brother had filled Ghost’s shoes in the band, which was exactly what Mark had always wanted. Everyone’s problems solved. So there.
“Well. That’s a problem.”
“What’s that noise? Is it raining?”
“What am I, the fucking weatherman? Look out your window.” He slammed a cabinet shut and glanced around. Nothing was left out that Macy might ride his ass over later. His wife was a damn neat freak, even though he’d clearly specified the garage was his domain. That didn’t seem to matter to her, though. “And is there some reason you’re on my phone right now?”
“I can’t call up an old friend?”
“You never called when we were friends, unless you wanted something.”
Oh. Yeah, that should have occurred to him right from the start. But the only thing more interesting than fucking with Mark was finding out what Mark could possibly want.
“Okay, so you caught me. But I’ve got a proposition for you. Just hear me out, all right?”
“Before you even waste your breath, you know I’m walking the straight and narrow now, right? So carefully consider just how fast I’m going to tell you to fuck off before you even ask whatever it is you’re going to ask.”
“I heard you got married. My invitation must’ve gotten lost in the mail.”
“Yeah, your invitation that I never sent must’ve gotten lost in the mail. That’s it.”
“Look, short and sweet,” Mark began, obviously getting tired of the verbal sparring he never won, “we wanted to ask if you’d like to come back for a gig with us.”
Ghost nearly laughed, wondering how many times the other guys had counseled Mark to ask as nicely as possible. Indeed, it wasn’t like him. And in the split second before Ghost’s phone had rung, if someone had asked him his thoughts about rejoining In the Slaughter for any length of time, he probably would have punched them in the face for their insolence.
But with a real offer on the table…
“I don’t know, man.” Macy’s SUV pulled into their driveway, headlights on, windshield wipers beating furiously against the gray curtain of rain. “Hang on a second.” She crept past the GTO and eased into the garage. Ghost didn’t necessarily want her to hear the conversation he was having right now, so he put the phone down and helped her carry her bags into the house before hurrying back out and snatching it up again. “All right. You’ve got my attention. Tell me more.”
“Drew broke his hand in an ATV accident. He’s out for a while, but we have a show in Austin in three weeks. I know it’s been a while for you. Would that be enough time to practice? It would all be familiar stuff.”
“How’s Gus been doing?” he asked, referring to the other guitarist and pretty much the only guy in the band Ghost gave much of a shit about.
“Well, you know. He’s Gus.”
Yeah, that was about what he’d expected. While he’d been in the band, he’d adopted a big-brother approach with Gus, but in the end he’d had to wash his hands of the whole thing. Too many co-dependent woman problems, too much substance abuse. You couldn’t help a guy who didn’t want to help himself.
Besides all of that…Ghost had bad fucking memories of the last Austin gig he’d been a part of. Between Mark and Raina scheming behind his back, and Raina damn near tricking him into fucking her when he was almost passed out, he’d nearly lost Macy. He’d watched the best thing that had ever happened to him walk away, in large part thanks to the guy on the phone who never listened to a fucking word Ghost ever said. Did he really want to get involved with that old crowd again?
“Is it at Crossbones?”
“Yeah. The usual.”
“You’re gonna have to let me sleep on it, man. But I gotta tell you, it’s probably gonna be a no.”
For the first time, a hint of desperation began to creep into Mark’s voice. “If there’s anything I can do, any promises I can make, anything—say the word. I’m sorry for all the shit that went down between us. It was a bad deal. I know that. And…it goes without saying that Raina will not be there.”
No, it really didn’t. Macy might have sent her running once, but his ex-girlfriend showed up wherever she damn well pleased, and if she caught wind of In the Slaughter playing in Austin with Ghost on the axe, she would be there. Oh, would she ever fucking be there. Not that she was even a blip on his radar of shit that mattered, he just preferred not to be the target of any flying beer bottles from the audience.
“Pardon me for saying that coming at me with all this shit now rings a little hollow, you know?”
“I know it must seem that way. But we need you, man. And if it’s a chance to repair some shit and have a great time, it’s all for the good, right?”
Sure. What could go wrong. He was being completely sarcastic, even in his head. “I’ll call you back in a day or so.” Jesus, did he even dare bring this up to Macy? He would have to, of course, but he fully expected that would be the final nail in the coffin of the whole idea. Macy didn’t have fond memories of that night, either.
Yeah, he thought as he hung up. Macy would shoot this down. But damn, the thrill. Even now, he felt it awakening in his veins. No matter how much time had passed, he remembered how it felt to be up there playing on a stage. In the Slaughter had only been small-time, mostly a cover band, but he’d loved it until all the bullshit drama began to erode the friendship he’d had with his former bandmates. All of it had come to a head, and he’d bailed on the band when he and Macy were getting together, but what would one gig hurt?
Just one. Maybe she would understand.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of BREATHLESS by Cherrie Lynn, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 11/2/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Cherrie Lynn
NY Times and USA Today bestselling author CHERRIE LYNN has been a CPS caseworker and a juvenile probation officer, but now that she has come to her senses, she writes contemporary and paranormal romance on the steamy side. It’s *much* more fun. She’s also an unabashed rock music enthusiast, and loves letting her passion for romance and metal collide on the page.
When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, listening to music or playing with her favorite gadget of the moment. She’s also fond of hitting the road with her husband to catch their favorite bands live.
Cherrie lives in East Texas with said husband and their two kids, all of whom are the source of much merriment, mischief and mayhem.
She’ll risk everything to bring her cowboy back home…
One week ago, Cyrus Cahill told Ashley Jo “AJ” Somerfield that he’d be back in her arms by the weekend. He just needed to buy a bull for his ranch, and then they’d pick up where they left off after that romantic ride through the foothills. But now he’s gone missing and everyone—even the sheriff—believes he’s dead.
Everyone…but AJ. She suspects foul play and she won’t rest until Cyrus is back home in Gilt Edge, right where he belongs. Because Cyrus isn’t the kind of cowboy who breaks a promise. And since she’s not the kind of woman who gives up on her man, AJ will risk anything to help bring him home…even her own life.
Ashley Jo “AJ” Somerfield couldn’t help herself. She kept looking out the window of the Stagecoach Saloon hoping to see a familiar ranch pickup. Cyrus Cahill had promised to stop by as soon as he returned to Gilt Edge. He’d been gone less than a week after driving down to Denver to see about buying a bull for the ranch.
“I’ll be back on Saturday,” he’d said when he left. “Isn’t that the day Billie Dee makes chicken and dumplings?”
He knew darned well it was. “Texas chicken and dumplings,” AJ had corrected him since everything Billie Dee cooked had a little of her Southern spice in it. “I know you can’t resist her cookin’, so I guess I’ll see you then.”
He’d laughed. Oh, how she loved that laugh. “Maybe you will if you just happen to be tending bar on Saturday.”
“I will be.” That was something else he knew darned well.
He’d let out a whistle. “Then I guess I’ll see you then.”
She smiled to herself at the memory. It had taken Cyrus a while to come out of his shell. One of those “aw shucks, ma’am” kind of cowboys, he was so darned shy she thought she was going to have to throw herself on the floor at his boots for him to notice her. But once he had opened up a little, they’d started talking, joking around, getting to know each other.
Before he’d left, they’d gone for a horseback ride through the snowy foothills up into the towering pines of the forest. It had been Cyrus’s idea. They’d ridden up into one of the four mountain ranges that surrounded the town of Gilt Edge—and the Cahill Ranch.
It was when they’d stopped to admire the view from the mountaintop that overlooked the small western town that AJ had hoped Cyrus would kiss her. He sure looked as if he’d wanted to as they’d walked their horses to the edge of the overlook.
The sun warming them while the breeze whispered through the boughs of the nearby snow-laden pines, it was one of those priceless Montana January days between snowstorms. That’s why Cyrus had said they should take advantage of the beautiful day before he left for Denver.
Standing on a bared-off spot on the edge of the mountain, he’d reached over and taken her hand in his. “Beautiful,” he’d said. For a moment she thought he was talking about the view, but when she met his gaze she’d seen that he’d meant her.
Her heart had begun to pound. This was it. This was what she’d been hoping for. He drew her closer. Pushing back his Stetson, he bent toward her. His mouth was just a breath away from hers—when his mare nudged him with her nose.
She could laugh about it now. But if she hadn’t grabbed Cyrus he would have fallen down the mountainside.
“She’s just jealous,” Cyrus had said of his horse as he’d rubbed the beast’s neck after getting his footing under himself again.
But the moment had been lost. They’d saddled up and ridden back to Cahill Ranch.
AJ still wanted that kiss more than anything. Maybe today when Cyrus returned home. After all, it had been his idea to stop by the saloon his brother and sister owned when he got back. She thought it wasn’t just Billie Dee’s chicken and dumplings he was after, and bit her lower lip in anticipation.
Not So Happily Ever After by Christina Phillips
Series British Bad Boys
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Entangled Embrace
Publication Date November 19, 2018
Two years ago, I accidentally, yeah maybe on purpose, crossed that line with my best friend and it ruined everything. I haven't seen him much since.
But now he’s standing at my door.
Same lumberjack build. Same dark hair that begs my fingers to run through it. And then he gives me that half smile, and I know I’m about to agree to do something I’m going to regret.
I’ve got to spend two months with him now… and that’s not the worst part.
I open the front door, ready to mock my best friend Brooklyn for turning up early for once. We’d planned to meet at the Portobello Road market in half an hour and spend the morning checking out the vintage jewelry, but the words lock in my throat as Will Hamilton gives me his bone-melting, knee-knocking smile.
“Hey, Mac.” His smoldering voice wraps around me like a velvet caress, setting off flutters in places that have no right fluttering. At least, not when it comes to Will, the guy I’ve known for most of my life, and who just so happens to be my brother Lucas’s best friend.
His close-cropped dark hair is a lot shorter than it used to be, and his deep brown eyes are still as annoyingly seductive as ever. I attempt to find fault with the stubble that darkens his jaw, but no such luck, as it’s sexy as hell and twice as addictive.
Against my better judgment, my gaze slides south. The rugby shirt he’s wearing is completely ordinary, but somehow it manages to enhance the rock-hard muscles of his spectacular chest.
It’s not spectacular.
Yes, it is.
For goodness sake stop drooling, Mac.
“Hi.” Frantically, I try to figure out why he’s here. But I don’t have a clue, when he knows Lucas is in Madrid.
A wary expression flashes over his face. “Didn’t Lucas phone you?”
“No.” Should I invite him in? I pull the door open a little wider, and after giving me a doubtful glance, he steps into the hall. “What’s my brother done now?”
“Nothing. He asked me to pick you up.”
Even my sarcastically wired brain can’t come up with an instant response to that. My blank gaze clearly tells him I don’t have the faintest idea what he’s talking about.
“Atomic Fire was in a bus crash,” he adds. “We need to go see them.”
“Ah, shit.” Atomic Fire is the hottest boy band, and Lucas and their manager are good friends. I first met them nearly a year ago, when they were one of the warm-up bands at a huge charity concert. They were the hit of the night, and Atomic Fire took off like a rocket.
They’re also the headline act for the charity event I’ve spent half the year organizing. My stomach churns, and I steel myself for bad news. “Are they hurt?”
“Just a few bruises, but Jake broke his leg.” Relief rushes through me that it’s not more serious. Not that broken bones are any fun, but at least they’re fixable. And it could’ve been a lot worse. Jake Myers is the lead singer—at least he didn’t damage his voice. “Surprised you didn’t know about it. It’s all over social media.”
“I haven’t been online today.” Now that I know the boys are out of danger, my brain races ahead. Four years ago, Lucas and his teammate, Jax, set up the Rainbow Star Foundation to help grant wishes to sick kids and raise money for children’s charities, and every year I’ve organized the Christmas fundraiser. Since Will’s also involved in the charity, him turning up on my doorstep now makes more sense. Except it doesn’t. Because there’s still three months until Christmas, which should give Jake enough time to recover.
Unless there’re some complications we don’t know about? God, I hope not.
I’ve no idea why my brother thought it was a good idea to send his best friend to let me know instead of a text message, but there must be a reason. “What’s the problem?”
“Jake’s convinced his career’s over. And that includes pulling out of the fundraiser. He’s not listening to the other guys in the band.”
I don’t even want to think about it. And not just because of the logistics of trying to rejuggle everything. Atomic Fire’s fans will be gutted.
“We’re missing something here. Jake broke his leg. Why does he think his career’s over?”
“I don’t know. Lucas said the only one Jake’ll talk to about it is you.”
He raises his eyebrows in mock shock at my response. “Thought you were going to shoot the messenger. I would’ve bet on it.”
“Good job you didn’t, then.” The words are out before I even know it, and a warm glow fills my chest. I can hardly remember the last time we had a normal conversation—the way we used to, before things went sideways.
There’s still something I don’t get. “Why did Lucas phone you and not me?”
He shrugs as though it’s no big deal, but I get the strange feeling he’s embarrassed by my question. Which is intriguing.
“You know what he’s like. He doesn’t want you seeing Jake alone.”
I know my brother thinks Jake has a crush on me, and a few months ago he was a little pissed off at the way the rock star behaved with me. But hell, I can handle boys like him.
Will, not so much.
“Wait.” I cross my arms and try not to glare at him, because it’s not his fault. “Are you supposed to be my bodyguard or something?”
“Trust me. It wasn’t my idea. We both know you can wind Jake around your little finger without even trying. I’m just doing a favor for a mate.”
I’m not sure I like him assuming that about me, but it’s not like he’s being a dick. He’s just helping out Lucas. And while I don’t need a bodyguard, it’s not worth starting a fight about.
I don’t want to fight with him anymore.
“Okay, fine.” I flap my hand at him for emphasis, in the hope that’ll stop me from analyzing my accidental thought. Except it’s true. I wish we were friends again. But since we can’t turn back time, that’s never going to happen.
Time to move on, Mac. I’ll be twenty-two in a few weeks. I have to get over Will. Might as well start now.
Pretend he’s just another random friend of Lucas’s.
I give him what I hope is a friendly—but not too friendly—smile. “Your car or mine?”
I’d expected Mac to be pissed off when I turned up this morning, but she didn’t even give me a hard time over Lucas asking me to be her unofficial bodyguard. And what’s with the question? She never gives up the driving seat voluntarily, and I’m not just talking about cars. But since she asked… “Mine.”
“Sure.” She gives me a smile that knocks me speechless. “I’ll just grab my bag.”
I give an inarticulate grunt, which is all I can manage, as she picks up her keys from the Edwardian hall table before pulling her phone from her pocket and sending a text.
Her black hair’s in a plait that falls over her shoulder, there’s a gorgeous blush on her cheeks, and long, multi-colored earrings dangle from her ears.
Stop staring at her. But her deep blue eyes have always done stupid things to me.
“Ready?” She breezes by me, and I steel myself against the faint scent that lingers in the air, and I follow her outside.
As she locks the house, I open the passenger door for her. Growing up, I spent half my life here, and Lucas was more like the brother I never had than a best friend, and even his twin Harry accepted me right from the start.
She gives me a smile of thanks as she gets in the car. I shut the door, get in my side, and she fans her long skirt over the car seat before fastening the belt. She glances up and catches me watching her, but instead of an annoyed glare, she just gives me another smile.
“You okay?” I start the engine and pull into the road. For the last couple of years things have been weird between us, but ever since she opened the door, it’s like we dropped into an alternate reality.
“I’m fine. How are you?”
Are we having this conversation? Anyone would think we hardly know each other. “Feeling old.”
“Not surprised. Twenty-six is pushing it.”
Déjà vu shivers through me, and I shoot her another glance. It’s been ages since she used that mocking tone on me. I’ve missed this. “Where were you last week? I thought you’d be at Lucas’s.” He threw a big party in Madrid for my birthday and invited everyone we knew. Even Harry and Alice were there, and while Harry’s great, he’s also the most antisocial git I’ve ever met.
“Oh, university related stuff.”
“How’s that going?” Considering we used to be such good friends, this is something I should know. But I don’t have a clue, except for the fact she’s starting her third year at Oxford next month.
“Good,” she says, but there’s a strange, high pitch in her voice that scrapes along my nerves. “Really good. Yep.”
Obviously, she doesn’t want to talk about it. For some reason, I can’t let it go. “Still in the top five percent?” I toss her a grin. It’s an academic question. Pun intended. She was always top of her year at school, without even trying.
“Mm-hm.” She sounds like she’s swallowed a frog. “Maybe not quite the top five percent.”
“Tough course, huh?”
“You could say that.”
What isn’t she telling me?
What the fuck am I thinking? If she doesn’t want to talk about Uni, it’s none of my business. Besides, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask her for ages, but never got the chance. “Are you still doing your art?”
Funny, before she took the Oxford route, I thought she’d do something with her art, even though it was always an unspoken given in her family that she’d follow in her late mother’s academic footsteps.
“Not really. It’s just a hobby, and I don’t get a lot of free time now.”
“But there’s always time to party, right?” I sling her a smile, but her answering one is strained, as though the party scene isn’t as great as she’s always made out.
“Definitely,” she says, but it’s like it’s an automatic reflex, the expected answer to a question she’s been asked countless times over the last couple of years.
Am I losing it, or what? Why am I analyzing every bloody thing she says? She loves partying. Her first year seemed to consist of nothing but.
I can’t shift the feeling that I’m missing something obvious, though.
It’s not far from Notting Hill to the top London hospital where Jake and the boys are being treated. It’s a different one than was “accidentally” leaked to the press, so there are no panic-struck fans around, and after I park we make our way to the entrance. Mac’s scrolling through Atomic Fire’s social feed on her phone. “Bloody hell. It says here Jake’s throat is crushed.” She looks at me. “I thought he broke his leg.”
“I wouldn’t believe anything that’s online.”
“I guess.” She sounds doubtful. “But it makes sense if Jake thinks his career’s over, though, doesn’t it?”
“Baz isn’t an idiot.” Baz is their manager, and he’s well on the ball. “If it was that bad he would’ve called their insurers, not Lucas.”
“True,” she concedes. “I just can’t help thinking there must be something we don’t know, for Jake to be in such a state.”
I hold open the entrance door for her. Although her concern makes me question if Lucas forgot to tell me something vital, the urge to make her smile is strong. “Maybe he just wants to see you again.”
She gives a dramatic groan and shakes her head. “I can think of easier ways that don’t include having to break a major bone.”
“Yeah, well, you know Jake. He likes to make an impact.”
This time she smiles, and it’s damn hard not to bump my shoulder against hers the way I used to. Don’t push your luck, Will.
We make our way to the private wing, where a couple of beefy private security guards lurk. They take our details and attempt to confiscate our phones before muttering into their headsets, all the while eyeing us as though we’re a couple of spies for the paparazzi.
Baz appears halfway along the corridor, and we’re allowed through—phones, too. He gives Mac a hug and nods at me.
“How is everyone?” she says. “Lucas wasn’t very clear on the details.”
“The others were discharged this morning. So was Rafe, but he’s still trying to talk Jake round.”
“Not having much luck, then?” It’s rhetorical, since if Rafe had managed to change his younger brother’s mind, there would’ve been no need for Mac to turn up. She’s worked so hard on pulling this year’s fundraiser together, and securing Atomic Fire, just before their first single hit the top of the charts, was a stroke of genius. It can’t fall apart at this late stage.
Baz grunts. “He got it into his head he needs to see Mac. For Christ’s sake, just tell him he looks fucking fantastic, will you?”
“He did just break a leg, didn’t he?” She sounds worried and I take a step toward her. Not sure why. I hope she didn’t notice.
“Yeah.” Baz opens a door, and we follow him into the room. Rafe’s standing with his back to the window, his bandaged arms folded across his chest, and he gives us a nod in greeting. Jake’s on the bed, his left leg plastered, and in a pulley, and--
Is that a bath towel wrapped around his head?
“Jake, thank God you’re okay.” Mac goes over to the bed and takes his hand. His other hand is clutching the towel across his face, so only his eyes are visible. I shift my weight from one foot to the other and have no idea what to say. What’s happened to his fucking head?
“It’s all over, Mac.” His voice is muffled, and I glance at his brother and catch him gritting his teeth and glaring at the ceiling. What’s that all about? I know Jake can be melodramatic, but the poor bugger looks wrecked. “I can’t face anyone like this.”
“You’re doing great.” Her tone is soothing, and it shouldn’t surprise me. After all, this is what she’s working toward. Being a doctor, reassuring patients. This side of her has never struck me before, even though she’s as outgoing as Lucas. Maybe she wants to be hands-on when she’s got her degree, instead of going into research like her mum did, as I’ve always assumed she would.
“I look like Frankenstein’s monster.”
“You’re getting the best care, Jake. Your leg will be as good as new before you know it.”
Jake clutches her harder, and I step toward the bed. Not because she can’t take care of herself, or that I gave my word to Lucas to watch out for her. It’s because I have this crazy need to give her moral support.
Like she needs that from me, of all people?
Doesn’t matter. I brought her here. I’m responsible. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Not So Happily Ever After by Christina Phillips Copyright © 2018 by Christina Phillips. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of NOT SO HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Christina Phillips, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 11/23/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Christina Phillips
CHRISTINA PHILLIPS is an ex-pat Brit who now lives in sunny Western Australia with her high school sweetheart and their family. She enjoys writing paranormal, historical and contemporary romance where the stories sizzle and the heroine brings her hero to his knees. Christina is addicted to good coffee, expensive chocolate and bad boy heroes. She is also owned by three gorgeous cats who are convinced the universe revolves around their needs. They are not wrong.
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One deputy wants to keep her safe.
Another one wants her dead.
Rita Horn doesn’t know the identity of the uniform-wearing criminal targeting her.
But Officer Cole Garrett vows to bring the rogue deputy—whoever he is—to justice.
Strong, sexy and determined to protect, the heroic cop sparks feelings in Rita that she can’t deny, even as the danger swells around them.
To call this story riveting and intense doesn't do it justice. I loved every moment of the heartfelt suspense and growing romance between Rita Horn and Officer Cole Garrett, I think these stories are getting better with each book and considering it started with a Five Spoon BANG, that says a lot.
I adored that the attraction between Rita and Cole had been sizzling in their minds and fantasies for a while without them making a contact. But they had definitely noticed each other, and there is no doubt about the interest there, it is a palpable force that keeps them glued together during this time when Rita's whole world is exploding and Cole's time could be better used somewhere else within the investigation.
In a thriller-like style, the author pulls the story tighter, scarier, eerier each moment without making big gestures or grand twists in the plot. As I read the story, I was horrendously and constantly aware that there will be more destruction and possible death coming, and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to stop the wave of crimes and attempted murders coming at their way. The emotions were high, both in the story and in my mind, as the I bit my nails with teary eyes, hoping for the best, and trusting that Ms. Lindsey would guide us to the safer waters. This is the kind of suspense, gruesome and harsh, that seeps into your mind, and possible into your dreams the night after. It will keep you on the edge, and even push you over it a few times, but the sweet, ardent romance on the side is what balances the tale, and brings smiles at the end.
Julie Anne Lindsey's writing is the kind that reminds me of Linda Howard and Sandra Brown early works, of the books that made me fall in love with romantic suspense in the first place. Shadow Point Deputy is absorbing and intriguing, a fierce tale of intense suspense and the kind of romance that sweeps you off your feet.
~ Five Spoons!
Her rancher boss is looking for the perfect wife...and she wants the job!
Poppy Sinclair kept her feelings for Isaiah Grayson secret for a decade.
When her infuriatingly gorgeous Stetson-wearing boss enlists her help in finding him a convenient wife, she threatens to quit.
Until Isaiah counters with an interesting proposal: Why doesn't she marry him?
Can she say yes to sharing his life and his bed, but not his heart?
Want Me, Cowboy floored me in the best possible way and I wanted to start reading it AGAIN right after I finished it.
Poppy and Isaiah, as characters, were endearing and lovable, with their smarts, intelligence, and ability to shine within their professions they impressed me, but it was the brokenness, the vulnerabilities, and aches in their souls, the fear of losing control and getting hurt, that made both of them so attractive, so appealing, so easy to relate to.
They have known each other for ten years, they have worked closely together, they were colleagues and friends, but there were possibilities to so much more if they dared, if they found the courage, if they took the leap, and just jumped into the unknown, still holding on to each other tightly.
The journey they take on the pages of this book is an inner struggle they have to win. The ardent passion they feel for each other surprises them, confuses them, until it takes over them.
I admired and adored that Isaiah wasn't the perfect male, who has everything under control. I loved that his social awkwardness was part of the story, his difficulties not only to deal with people but to communicate with them just made him even more lovable to me.
Poppy's life hasn't been easy either, going from foster home to another, her life had turned up to be a challenge of trust, knowing everything could be wiped away tomorrow without explanation.
Together, these two didn't only heat up the pages into an inferno, they taught valuable life lessons while they grew as people and as a couple, as friends, partners, and lovers throughout the story.
I love this series more than most, and this addition, that can easily to be read as a standalone novel, is just so perfectly done, an unputdownable experience filled with love and passion, that I consider it a must read!
~ FIve Spoons!
The Cowboy's Christmas Baby by Jennifer Hoopes
Series Fly Creek Series
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Entangled Bliss
Publication Date November 12, 2018
Stranded in the middle of the road in big sky country, Wyoming, at eight months pregnant isn’t exactly what Sofie Pennington had planned when she decided to pack up and surprise her sister. Fly Creek is a fresh start for her, one where she’s finally free from her controlling ex and can figure out this whole single parent thing. First, though, she needs to get there. To her shock, her rescuer comes in the form of a frustratingly handsome cowboy.
Dan Rigby is on his way out of town—for good—when he stumbles across a very pregnant Sofie. She’s the most obstinate, exasperating woman he’s ever met…and the most appealing. She drives him crazy, in more ways than one. When her sister suddenly has to leave, and Dan becomes Sofie’s welcoming committee, they find themselves growing closer despite their desire for conflicting things. Can Dan convince Sofie that Christmas miracles do happen?
Sofie Pennington rubbed her eyes and looked out the windshield again. Sure, she was tired and aching and about ten other adjectives to describe an eight-month pregnant woman who’d driven cross-country, but her eyes told her there was a hoard of large things blocking the road, and they sure as heck looked like cows.
Shifting into park and letting out a string of inventive words that her baby better never, ever repeat, she flipped up the hood of her parka and opened her door. Moos and grunts greeted her with nary a look. The bovines were just chilling in the middle of a two-lane road in Godforsaken Wyoming. This was just her luck.
Why her sister had moved out here, she still didn’t understand, but as Sofie needed Emily, and Emily was here, well, now, so was Sofie. And in order to get to Emily, she needed to make it through this roadblock. A roadblock that she had no idea how to handle, and that was about to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of a complete and utter meltdown.
Wind whipped across the flat plain and lashed her long brown locks against her face. It seemed to find every little crevice in her way-overpriced parka and currently caressed her shivering body in ways no woman wanted to be caressed. Not even a pregnant woman who felt as attractive as the cow patties no doubt littering the road.
“Move,” she shouted and was rewarded with one turned head and a snort that released a puff of steam into the my-god-how-cold-did-one-state-actually-get night. She knew she was close. Her GPS said Fly Creek was only ten more miles down the road. This road. This apparently made-for-cattle-crossing road.
Sofie moved closer and several more heads turned her way, eyed her up and down, and definitely found her lacking.
Well, join the club. She made a shooing motion with her hands.
The baby shifted and Sofie cradled the massive bump. Leave it to her to look ten months pregnant with at least another four weeks to go. A foot or maybe an elbow protruded into Sofie’s ribs, and she rubbed her palm to try to force the little stinker back down so she could possibly breathe a bit.
The cows shifted and mooed, advancing about a foot. At this rate, Sofie would be a damn Popsicle by the time the road was clear. She stomped back to her car and settled in, blasting the heater until her fingers regained some composure. Fumbling through her tote, she grabbed her cell and angled it toward the dashboard.
“No service. Of course not. Why would anything about this trip, and frankly my life, at this point, be easy?” She closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the seat. A year ago, she’d been happily married to an up-and-coming politician, living a great life of teaching and playing the dutiful spouse. Now, she was divorced, pregnant, and stuck behind a bovine roadblock.
Her heart pounded against her chest as a lump formed in the back of a very dry mouth. If she let them, the tears she’d managed to hold at bay would spill over, and she didn’t know if they would ever stop. Blindly reaching for the water bottle, she lifted it to her mouth, only to remember she’d downed the last few drops about twenty miles back. Limbs too heavy to move, she let the bottle drop and clatter to the floor.
She needed Emily. Needed family that wouldn’t judge. That would support her and not ask twenty-million questions about what she was doing and what had happened and where she was going from here. That would let her create this new life on her own terms with her decisions leading the way.
Tension seeped into her muscles, and she forced her fingers to relax. Wiggling each one and rotating as many limbs as she could, given the cramped space and her blown up body. She could do this. She had done this. She just needed to get a little farther down the road. Like Dorothy.
“You wanted to be in charge, Sofie. Well, make a choice.” Go back or stay here?
Wind shook her little sedan, and Sofie’s eyes flew open. Decision made. But just as she grabbed hold of the shifter, she thought she caught a glimpse of headlights somewhere among the dark hoofs and massive bodies. Maybe whoever else was stupid enough to be out on a Wyoming road at three in the morning would know how to handle this situation. If they did, she would be sure to show her gratitude in the form of pretty much anything that got her moving in the right direction. Once she made it to Fly Creek, her fresh start could finally begin.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of THE COWBOY’S CHRISTMAS BABY by Jennifer Hoopes, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open internationally. One winner will be chosen to receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Entangled Publishing. Giveaway ends 11/16/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Entangled Publishing will send one winning prize, Pure Textuality PR will deliver the other. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted. CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
About Jennifer Hoopes
JENNIFER HOOPES lives in a small town in Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters. When not writing, she can usually be found elbow deep in flour or inhaling chlorine as she cheers her daughter on at a swim meet. She loves musicals, caramel and roller coasters, and lists Machu Picchu at the top of her bucket list. She is a member of RWA and is the President of her local chapter, Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers.
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Knocked-Up Cinderella by Julie Hammerle
Series n/a; standalone
Genre Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher Entangled August
Publication Date November 12, 2018
I’m a walking contradiction.
School principal who liberally drops the F bomb.
Fiercely independent yet willing to auction myself off for charity.
Serial monogamist who’s down for a no-strings one-night stand.
Except now I’ve gone from one-working-ovary to co-parent in the time it took a stick to turn blue.
Ian Donovan may be a richer-than-hell venture capitalist, but he’s no Prince Charming ready to sweep me off my feet. Good thing I don’t need him. I’ve been doing fine on my own for forty years, and I’m not about to start changing that now.
Ultrasounds, swollen feet, midnight cravings? Bring. It. On.
But why is it when you finally swear off men, you meet one who’s too sexy—and determined we can make it work?
I reached under my voluminous tulle skirt and scratched my butt, once, twice, three times—heck, no one was around. I’d been hiding behind a massive topiary in the hallway outside the ballroom of the Evanston Hilton Hotel ever since I’d escaped a herd of drunk second-grade parents and their ten thousand questions about the school’s paltry foreign language program. My dress itched. My nylons itched. I was developing a pretty massive blister from the clear plastic stilettos I had borrowed from my friend Natalie. Even my earrings were killing me. They were like glittery boulders dangling from my lobes.
But I’d make it through tonight. Somehow. I had to.
Using my phone’s camera as a mirror, I checked my appearance. Back when I taught English to fourth graders, I’d ask the kids to add “sparkle” words, fancy adjectives, to their essays. The “sparkle” words for my current state included “laughable,” “absurd,” “risible,” and “ludicrous.” I was a forty-year-old woman—a forty-year-old elementary school principal—in a half-baked Cinderella costume. At least it was Halloween and not, like, some random day in March.
Having to show up here tonight was an unexpected “perk” of my new job. I had to stay and ride it out, all while wearing a smile. I had to prove to the parents, alumni, and assorted boosters that I was a team player, that I was game enough to make a fool of myself up on stage with the rest of the single ladies to raise money for the Glenfield Academy Athletics Association.
This bachelorette auction marked the first of many, many planned fund-raisers this school year, including the Wintertime Alley Night (yes, the school had a functioning bowl-a-rama in its basement), the Cupid’s Crush Valentine’s Day Ball, and the elaborate, black-tie Glenfield Gala to close out the year.
After reapplying my lipstick, I hiked up my skirt and yanked at the waistband of my nylons. If the shoes didn’t kill me, these control-top pantyhose would. I stretched the band to the hilt and let it snap, satisfyingly, against my stomach, just like, I’m sure, the real Cinderella did whenever she had a moment alone.
A cough from across the way drowned out my sigh of momentary relief.
Heart ramming against my ribs, I dropped my skirt and peered around the side of my topiary sanctuary. A shock of dark hair peeked over the bush on the other side of the hall. I had been operating under the assumption of solitude. I’d scratched my ass. I’d—oh crap—lifted up my skirt and fixed my nylons. My face right now was an inferno.
“I didn’t want to say anything.” The lurker stepped out from behind the bushes. This guy had come dressed in a regular old tux in lieu of a costume to an event the planning committee had expressly billed as a “costume party.” What a rebel. “You seemed to think no one was around.”
“Yeah, I kinda did, dude who leers at unsuspecting women from bushes outside hotel ballrooms.” I stayed put behind my little tree, finger poised on my phone’s 911 button.
“I swear I wasn’t leering.” He held up his hands in surrender. From what I could see through the branches, he was not unattractive. But still. He was a lurker. I kept my finger where it was. “I was hiding, too.”
“What makes you think I was hiding?” I’d entered interrogation mode. The same skills that made someone a stellar FBI agent made me an excellent teacher and elementary school principal. “You’re the one who said ‘hiding.’ Who were you hiding from?”
“Well, that’s personal.”
Phone still at the ready, I stepped out into the open. Time to be a grown-up. Time to put on my professional principal persona and take charge, nip this conversation in the bud. Besides, while it was true that this guy could be here to harm me, the more likely scenario was that he was someone important to my career—a parent, a rich alumnus, a reporter. I owed it to myself and my profession to handle this ugly situation with grace—all the while prepared to scream bloody murder if necessary. I held out my right hand, the one I hadn’t just used to scratch my butt. “I’m Erin.”
His eyes lit up with recognition. “Erin Sharpe!” He grinned and, whoa, it hit me that my earlier assessment of “not unattractive” was a gross understatement. This dude was hot—tall and lean but muscular, in his expertly fitted suit. He’d tousled his cocoa-colored hair in a way that was supposed to look natural but probably took him a half hour to accomplish, and he wore glasses with thick black frames that would’ve looked nerdy on anyone but him. They made him look like Clark Kent, only minimally masking his Superman persona. Pursuing this guy would stress me out. He was much too cool for me. I bet he stayed up way past ten p.m. and enjoyed “spending quality time together.” Definitely not my type.
Besides, he was a tree lurker.
I mean, obviously. I had standards.
Yes, I was dressed like fucking Cinderella at a bachelorette auction, but I had standards.
Also, yes, I was an elementary school principal who used the word “fuck” liberally while not at work. You would, too, if you spent most of your day biting your tongue around surly parents, snippy teachers, and unruly students.
“How do you…?” I asked. Even though I knew how he probably knew me. It had been big news around these parts when I left my job in the Chicago Public Schools to take over as principal at the Glenfield Academy. Chicago was a series of small towns in a big metropolitan area, and I’d come in as quite the curiosity on the North Shore—an outsider from “the city,” who had never attended private school before, let alone taught at one.
“You’re Dirt’s girlfriend,” Glasses Dude said.
Thaaaat…was not what I’d expected him to say.
He narrowed his eyes and shook his head slightly, waiting for a hint of recognition from me. “We met at Loyola…?”
Ohhh. Right. The night my ex had dragged me to his twentieth high school reunion so he could show all the guys who’d once shunned him that he still had his hair. “Dirk,” I said, though who knew why I bothered to defend him by invoking his real name. Old habits died hard, I guessed. “And we broke up.”
Glasses Guy grinned. His teeth were perfect, straight, and white. My dentist dad would probably tell me to lock this dude down now, which, get out of my head, Dad. He’s not the one for us. “You stole the wine,” the guy said.
“Say what now?” I knew exactly what he meant but was shocked he remembered it.
“You stole the wine.”
“Yeah, I know what I did, but why do you?”
“Because it was the most amazing thing that happened that night. You saved the whole party.” He raised his hand and I reached up to high-five him, which was odd, but…okay. I may have noted the size of his hands in the process, not that I looked on purpose. It was just that Dirk’s hands had been so small we could’ve shared gloves. The difference was staggering. Anyone would’ve noticed. Whoop-de-do, Superman had big hands. It hardly counted as breaking news.
“Dirk didn’t think my stealing the wine was so great,” I said.
“Dirk’s an idiot.”
I shrugged. I couldn’t argue with that. At least not anymore.
The guy swept his arm in front of him as if preparing to paint me a mental picture. “Our twenty-year high school reunion. Everyone drinking and having fun, so much fun that we ran out of alcohol. And who comes out of the woodwork with a brilliant idea no one else had thought of—to run up to the school library and pilfer the wine from the guys celebrating their thirty-fifth reunion?” He stared right at me. “You.”
My face flushed. Dirk had full-on berated me during the car ride home. He’d said I’d embarrassed him by taking the six unopened bottles from upstairs. I shrugged. “I just figured the thirty-fifth reunion was filled with a bunch of straight old guys, and none of them were drinking the sauvignon blanc.”
“Like I said, brilliant.”
I had not been called “brilliant” by a man who wasn’t my boss or professor in about, oh, ten years. It didn’t suck. The dude held out his hand again, and I shook it. His hands dwarfed mine. Everything about him dwarfed me, and I was not a tiny lady by any means. Feeling diminutive was a whole new sensation for me, one that I bashfully enjoyed.
“I’m Ian, by the way. Ian Donovan.”
“Ian Donovan,” I repeated. “So are you a parent or alum?” And, yeah, I checked his finger. No ring.
Ian chuckled. “I am definitely not a parent.” He looked me up and down, and I self-consciously crossed my arms over my Cinderella dress. “You’re in the auction, then?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Whatever.” I was totally in the auction, but I couldn’t admit that to this too-cool guy, who’d called me brilliant. No truly brilliant person had to get up on stage and parade around, begging for someone to bid on her. I felt like an old mutt in a crowded dog shelter.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Ian said. “The Halloween auction is a long-standing tradition, and really it only amounts to having to sit next to the person who buys you at dinner. It’s fun, and it helps fund the school’s basketball teams. No big deal.”
“So you’ve done this a lot?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Never. I come for the spectacle only. No bidding.”
“You come to watch the single women get picked over by the kind of guy who needs to buy a date.”
“It’s not as tragic as you make it out to be. No one expects the date to extend beyond tonight, believe me. My best friend, Scott, buys his mom every year. Seriously. Just think of this as a free meal.”
A free meal. That was how Nat had sold the event to me after my first anti-auction tirade, knowing I’d be loath to turn down a dinner. A girl’s gotta eat. “Well, I do love Stephanie Izard.” The “date” at the end of the auction was dinner at Girl and the Goat. Even if I didn’t meet the love of my life tonight, at least I’d be treated to some spicy hamachi crudo and green beans that were, in my experience, way better than sex.
The door to the ballroom swung open and the auctioneer’s voice boomed. “Our first bachelorette tonight is the lovely and talented travel blogger, Maria Minnesota…”
I nodded toward the ballroom. “You coming?”
Ian stared at the door. His face had gone white. “No.”
“Suit yourself.” I made a move toward the door and nearly ran right into Natalie.
“Erin, I’ve been looking for y—” Her eyes snapped to Ian. “You. You stay away from her.” Hands on hips, Nat glared at him. She looked glorious in her Nakia costume from Black Panther. No silly petticoats for Nat. She’d gone full badass tonight—form-fitting green dress, hair done in tight knots.
Ian held up his hands in surrender. “How’re you doing, Nat? It’s been a while.”
“Ten years,” she said. “Not long enough.” Nat grabbed my wrist and yanked me toward the party like her disobedient child. “We’re going to the auction. You”—she sneered over her shoulder at Ian—“can go to hell.”
“A little dramatic?” I hissed as she pulled me into the dreaded ballroom. My face had probably turned beet red from embarrassment. “We were just talking.”
“Ian Donovan is bad news,” Nat said. “A ten-foot pole isn’t enough. You don’t touch that guy with a fifty-yard steel rod.”
“You don’t think I know that?” I said. “Give me some credit. He’s totally not my type.”
“I’m glad you realize that.”
“Of course I realize that.” I glanced back at Ian, who had already disappeared, and ignored the unexpected pang of disappointment in my gut.
Knocked-Up Cinderella by Julie Hammerle
Copyright © 2018 by Julie Hammerle. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Tour Wide Giveaway
To celebrate the release of KNOCKED-UP CINDERELLA by Julie Hammerle, we’re giving away for a $25 Amazon gift card!
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About Julie Hammerle
JULIE HAMMERLE is the author of The Sound of Us, which will be published by Entangled Teen on June 7, 2016. Before settling down to write “for real,” she studied opera, taught Latin, and held her real estate license for one hot minute. Currently, she writes about TV on her blog Hammervision, ropes people into conversations about Game of Thrones, and makes excuses to avoid the gym. Her favorite YA-centric TV shows include 90210 (original spice), Felicity, and Freaks and Geeks. Her iPod reads like a 1997 Lilith Fair set list. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two kids, and a dog. They named the dog Indiana.
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Yeast of Eden
A Pancake House Mystery #4
by Sarah Fox
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pub Date: 10/30/2018
In USA Today bestselling author Sarah Fox’s delicious new Pancake House Mystery, it’s up to Marley McKinney to discover the waffle truth behind a rival’s murder . . .
Winter has come to Wildwood Cove, and riding in on the chill is Wally Fowler. Although he’s been away for years, establishing his reputation as the self-proclaimed Waffle King, the wealthy blowhard has returned to the coastal community to make money, not friends—by pitting his hot and trendy Waffle Kingdom against Marley McKinney’s cozy pancake house, The Flip Side. Wally doesn’t see anything wrong in a little healthy competition, until he’s murdered in his own state-of-the art kitchen.
Marley isn’t surprised when the authorities sniff around The Flip Side for a motive, but it’s her best friend Lisa who gets grilled, given her sticky history with the victim. When a second murder rocks the town, it makes it harder than ever for Marley to clear Lisa’s name. Marley’s afraid that she’s next in line to die—and the way things are looking, the odds of surviving her investigation could be stacked against her.
My car’s headlights cut through the darkness, illuminating the driving rain. The windshield wipers swished back and forth in a rapid rhythm as I carefully navigated my way along the deserted streets of Wildwood Cove. Normally I preferred to walk to work each morning, trekking along the beach so I could listen to the crashing waves and smell the salty air. Lately, however, I’d been making more use of my blue hatchback. Over the past several days the weather had been less than inviting, drizzling with rain if not outright pouring, and chilly enough that the occasional glob of slush splattered against my windshield along with the pelting raindrops.
The rain was supposed to let up in the next day or so, according to the weather forecast, so I hoped it wouldn’t be much longer before I could get back to enjoying my early morning walks along the shoreline. For
the moment, though, I was grateful for the warmth and shelter of my car.
When I turned into the small parking lot behind The Flip Side pancake house, I pulled up next to the only other car in the lot—a baby-blue classic Volkswagen bug belonging to The Flip Side’s chef, Ivan Kaminski. He arrived even earlier than I did each morning, as did his assistant, Tommy Park. It was barely six o’clock, but I knew the two of them would have been working for a good while already.
I shut off my car’s engine and grabbed my tote bag off the passenger seat, steeling myself for the upcoming dash through the pouring rain to the back door of the pancake house. As soon as I climbed out into the rain, I slammed the car door, ducked my head, and made a beeline for the slim bit of shelter provided by the recessed doorway.
Despite having spent mere seconds exposed to the elements, I had damp hair and droplets of water running down my face. I wiped them away with my sleeve and jiggled my ring of keys until I found the right one. As I put the key into the door, I caught sight of something white from the corner of my eye. A flyer lay plastered against the pavement, waterlogged and with a muddy footprint stamped across it.
I darted out of the shelter of the doorway and peeled the soggy paper off the ground. When I was once again out of the rain, I peered at the flyer, the exterior light above my head providing me with enough illumination to read by.
When I took in the bold black words printed across the saturated paper, my former good mood did a nosedive. I’d seen the flyer before. I’d seen several them, in fact, plastered all over town on utility poles, signposts, and community notice boards. I’d also received one in the mail. That one had gone straight into the recycling bin. This one I crumpled up in my hand as I unlocked the door, the words Wally’s Waffle Kingdom disappearing from sight as the paper scrunched up into a soggy ball.
Once inside, I unlocked the door to my office and tossed the scrunched flyer into the wastepaper basket. If I never saw another one, I’d be happy, although I knew the advertisement wasn’t the real problem. That was the Waffle Kingdom itself. The Flip Side had become a fixture in the small seaside town of Wildwood Cove, with many faithful customers who returned again and again to enjoy Ivan’s scrumptious breakfast creations. There were other restaurants and cafés around town, but none of them specialized in breakfast foods like The Flip Side did.
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never really worried about competition. Then Wally Fowler had moved to town—moved back to town actually, since he’d grown up here—and my mind had remained unsettled ever since. I wasn’t about to roll over and give up on the pancake house just because of some competition, but I couldn’t keep my niggling concern at bay.
If the Waffle Kingdom’s fare was as good as the flyer proclaimed (the best waffles EVER!) it wasn’t unrealistic to think that The Flip Side would lose some of its business to the new establishment. In the summertime, when tourists flocked to the small town, that might not be such a problem. There would probably be enough business for both restaurants during those weeks. But during the rest of the year? That could be a definite issue.
I’d been hoping to give each of my three full-time employees a raise in the near future. Now I was keeping that plan to myself, unsure if I’d be able to follow through. I’d have to wait and see what happened once the waffle house opened. As Wally and his flyers had been announcing to the whole town for several days, the grand opening of the Waffle Kingdom would take place next week.
It would take time to know the full extent of the effect on The Flip Side, so I was determined to carry on as usual. I just wished I could get rid of that ever-present worry lingering at the back of my mind.
With the wet flyer in the trash and my jacket hung on the coat stand, I ran a hand through my damp curls and made my way into the dining area. I flipped on the lights, and immediately some of the tension that had crept into my shoulders fizzled away. There was something so comforting about the cozy pancake house. Like the beach and the charming town, The Flip Side had easily worked its way into my heart, becoming a second home away from my blue-and-white beachfront Victorian.
Smiling, I glanced out the large front windows, seeing nothing but inky darkness and rivulets of water running down the panes.
Well, almost nothing else.
I walked quickly across the room to the front door, bone-chilling damp air hitting me as soon as I pushed it open. Staying beneath the awning so I wouldn’t get soaked, I approached the two white rectangles taped to one of the windows, spaced a couple of feet apart. When I got close enough
to recognize them as two more Waffle Kingdom flyers, I let out a growl of annoyance.
Ripping the flyers off the glass, I stormed back into the pancake house.
“Of all the nerve!”
Twenty-one-year-old Tommy Park poked his head out the pass-through window to the kitchen. “What’s up?” he asked.
I waved the crumpled flyers. “Wally the Waffle King strikes again.”
The kitchen door swung open and Ivan appeared. Tommy ducked away from the window and came through the door a second later.
“These were taped to the front window,” I said, waving the flyers again. Ivan grabbed one and glowered at the piece of paper. While an intimidating scowl was the chef’s typical expression, this one was far
darker than usual.
“He’s rubbing your nose in it,” he declared, crumpling the flyer as his large hand closed into a fist.
Tommy took the other flyer from me. “Totally not cool.”
“It’s one thing to open up a waffle house that will compete directly with us,” I said, “but it’s hitting a new low by plastering the ads all over the front of this place.”
“He’s trying to get under your skin.” Ivan tossed the crumpled flyer
toward the wastepaper basket, making a perfect shot. “But why? Does he really think annoying us will get us to close up shop so all our business goes his way?”
“Not going to happen,” Tommy said.
“Definitely not,” I agreed. “But why else try to aggravate us?”
“Probably for fun,” Ivan said. “Some people enjoy riling others up.”
“That’s true.” I’d learned that firsthand several months back when a bitter and vengeful woman had tried to make my life miserable.
“And I hear Wally Fowler’s a slimeball,” Tommy said. “I’m not sure anyone in town actually likes him.”
Ivan nodded his agreement. “Wildwood Cove would be better off without him.”
If enough people believed that, maybe I had nothing to worry about. The townsfolk weren’t likely to give the self-proclaimed Waffle King their business if they despised him.
“I guess it’s best to ignore him and focus on keeping our customers happy, like we always do,” I decided.
“Sounds like a plan.” With a flick of his wrist, Tommy sent the second flyer arcing into the trash can.
He returned to the kitchen and Ivan followed after him, his scowl as dark as ever. Was he more worried about the new waffle house than he was letting on? With his bulging muscles, numerous tattoos, and dark, intense eyes, Ivan wasn’t one to be easily fazed. But something in his face led me to believe he was taking the potential problem posed by Wally and his waffle house very seriously.
My worries tried to resurface, but I forced them back down, focusing on starting a fire in the stone fireplace to keep myself busy. The Flip Side would be fine, I told myself. It was a well-established restaurant, with a solid and loyal customer base that loved Ivan’s cooking and the cozy atmosphere.
Surely it would take more than Wally the Waffle King to destroy what we had here. After all, how much damage could one man cause?
Sarah Fox is the author of the Music Lover's Mystery series and the USA Today bestselling Pancake House Mystery series. When not writing novels or working as a legal writer, she can often be found reading her way through a stack of books or spending time outdoors with her English Springer Spaniel. Sarah lives in British Columbia and is a member of Crime Writers of Canada.
Atlanta's Finest Series Book 3
by Sharon C Cooper
Genre: Romantic Suspense
He wants to forget his past… She’s hiding from hers…
Former FBI agent Kenton Bailey traded in his badge when an assignment went horribly wrong. Now he provides personal security to high-end clients. But falling for Egypt Durand, the Queen of Supreme Security, wasn’t part of the plan. She’s smart, classy, and ignites a fire in him that only she can extinguish. Except she retreats from his advances…and she’s shrouded in a veil of secrecy.
Egypt has never met a man as sexy as Kenton. Funny and smart, he’s hard to resist. But her past leaves no room for a happily ever after. Still, with him, she dreams of a future.
Finally, Egypt’s startling truths are revealed, throwing Kenton off balance and forcing him to confront the past he left behind. And when threats from a dangerous crime family send Egypt bolting, Kenton convinces her to stay. Together they will fight to bring closure to their pasts, but will they live long enough to explore the passion brewing between them?
“Why do I always have to go through this with you, Hamilton, and Angelo? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate you guys looking out for me, but I’m a big girl. I don’t need my big brothers, going all He-Man whenever I have a date.”
“You know not to include me in the big brothers’ scenario,” Kenton said in a low voice close to her ear, his hand moving to her hip.
Had he not known for a fact that their feelings for each other were mutual, he wouldn’t have made such a bold move. He was close enough to feel Egypt shudder against him.
“I definitely don’t see you or consider you as a sister. In fact, the things I’d love to do with you would not fall into the brotherly love zone.”
Her hand went to his chest, and her touch scorched his skin right through his shirt. At 5’9” she was tall for a woman, but even with her high heels, the top of her head only came up to his nose. He had always been attracted to tall, curvy women and she didn’t disappoint.
“Kenton, I…we,” she started, but stopped and dropped her gaze. When her tongue slid across her bottom lip, an uncontrollable growl rumbled in his throat.
“Cancel your date, and go out with me,” he said, caressing her soft cheek with the pad of his thumb.
Egypt glanced up at him, and the urge to kiss her was stronger than ever.
“I already told you. I can’t go out with you.”
“You can’t or you won’t?”
She stepped out of his hold but didn’t move away. “Is there a difference?”
Kenton shoved his hands into his front, pants pockets to keep from touching her again. “Yeah, there is a difference. Have you ever seen the movie, Pretty Woman?”
Egypt’s brows shot up. “Are you kidding me? There’s not a woman alive who hasn’t seen the movie, at least twice. Question is, have you seen it?”
“I have three sisters, two who are older. It was impossible for me not to see it and every other chick flick that exists. The point is, toward the end of the movie, when Edward asks Vivian to stay with him for one more night, she gives a teary-eyed I can’t. That’s how you say I can’t, but without the tears.”
Egypt stared at him with her mouth hanging open but didn’t say anything.
“When you tell me you can’t go out with me, that speaks volumes. It means you can’t go out with me because you’re afraid, or it’s because of something that has happened in your past. Deep down, you really do want to date me.”
She shook her head, and Kenton didn’t miss the soft smile spreading across her lips. “You’re too much. You know that?”
“Tonight, there was something else behind your words, and I can’t put my finger on it. Have I done something to make you think that you and I can’t date? And don’t give me that shit about fraternizing. That rule is not included in our employee handbook.”
He grasped her arm gently and pulled her close. “If you told me that you won’t or will never go out with me, I would’ve backed off a long time ago. You haven’t done that. So which is it? You can’t go out with me, or you don’t want to?”
Egypt folded her bottom lip between her teeth as if debating on whether to tell him the truth or lie. As a former undercover FBI agent, he’d been good at reading people, and he already knew the answer. She wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her, but something was holding her back. He didn’t know what, but he had every intention of finding out.
“Sweetheart, your silence tells me everything I need to know.”
Atlanta's Finest Series Book 2
Even when he does good, he’s bad…
Detective Lazarus Dimas doesn’t play by the rules. On the streets, he’s a force to be reckoned with, a dangerous man with a badge and a gun. But he does have a soft spot — the sexy assistant district attorney Journey Ramsey. There is something about the woman he can’t shake. She’s irresistible and off limits. At least that’s what he keeps telling himself, but one kiss leads to others and well…so much for limits.
Journey plays by the rules, normally. But she can’t deny the sexual tension that sparks whenever Laz is near, even when he puts her professional integrity at risk. Laz is complex. The type of man fathers warn their daughters about. Yet, there’s a gentle, vulnerable side to him that he lets no one see except her, and she can’t resist him.
Can Laz prove he’s the man for Journey before a reopened case exposes his true colors? Or will the danger they face show that the love they share knows no boundaries?
Journey moaned as his tongue danced with hers, familiarizing itself with every nook and cranny of her luscious mouth. All the desire he’d had pent up over the years to kiss her came to the forefront as he savored every moment. This connection exceeded his expectations and when her hands slid into his hair, he just about lost it. His body throbbed with need. But just as quick as the kiss started, common sense settled over him like a cold chill.
They couldn’t do this. He was no good for her. If she ever got involved with him, his reputation alone would ruin her good name. Laz couldn’t let that happen.
Knowing this, he reluctantly broke off the kiss, but was slow to release her. They were like two magnets molded together and it was almost impossible to pull away. He needed to…he should…but he couldn’t, at least not yet.
Journey took her time opening her alluring eyes and he easily got lost in the dreaminess of them. This woman had a hold on him that he couldn’t explain. And now that he’d kissed her, he was screwed. If she had any idea how much power she had over him, she could do some serious damage to his heart. Good thing she’d never know.
Laz dropped his hands and Journey visibly shivered before clearing her throat.
“Um, how about that drink?” She hurried away from him, pouring herself a glass of wine, and taking a huge gulp.
Laz released a noisy breath and ran his hands through his hair, glad to know he wasn’t the only one affected by their intense lip-lock. Making himself at home, he reached into the refrigerator, not surprised that there was very little food since she spent most of her days at the office. Yet, she had plenty to drink. He grabbed a bottle of water and moved to the other side of the long counter, where she’d set the burritos he’d brought.
He pointed at their food. “Let’s eat. I’m starving.”
He waited until she was seated at the breakfast bar before snagging the stool next to her. They ate in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. What he needed to do was find out what she’d been holding back from him earlier, but first he had to get his body under control. Only minutes ago, flames of desire consumed him like the hottest fire, singeing every cell within him. He hadn’t felt this worked up in a while. Sure, he’d been with plenty of women over the years, but not one had him ready to say to hell with everything in order to have her. He hadn’t felt like this since…not since Gwenn.
Don’t go there, Dimas. He definitely didn’t need to travel down that mental road.
“The flowers were from a client,” Journey said out of nowhere.
Laz nodded, not bothering to ask if the client was male or female. It was best he didn’t know.
“Are you ready to tell me what you wanted to say earlier?” he finally asked Journey, tossing the wrapper from his burrito into the trash.
He poured more wine into her glass before grabbing another bottle of water for himself. “Talk to me. What’s going on?”
She wrapped her hands around her wine glass and he could feel the tension bouncing off her.
“What’s wrong? Are you in trouble? Is it a case? Because whatever it is, I know it’s bothering you.” He touched her hand and she looked at him. “You can trust me. Tell me what happened.”
“Laz, I could lose my job or worse, be disbarred if I say anything right now.”
Okay, so this is serious.
“Is there something I can do to help?” he asked quietly. If she was in trouble, there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do. He couldn’t explain his possessiveness when it came to her. He wasn’t even sure when his feelings for her had grown so strong.
“Be careful of the people around you,” she whispered, staring at her wine glass.
He stiffened. The words were spoken so quietly, he almost didn’t hear them.
“So this is about me?” he asked cautiously.
She gave a slight nod of her head before turning her troubled gaze in his direction. His heart squeezed. Not so much for himself, but for the worry he saw in her eyes. “I can’t tell you anything more yet, but for now Laz just…watch your back.”
Atlanta's Finest Series Book 1
She’s a distraction he can’t resist…
A spark ignites the moment security specialist, Hamilton Crosby, meets stuntwoman, Dakota Sherrod. She’s like no other woman he’s ever met. But Hamilton never ignores his gut, and his gut tells him to stay clear of the enticing beauty.
Dakota is an adrenaline junkie. Leaping off buildings and running through fire is just another day at the job. Hence when she sets her sights on Hamilton, she goes after him full-force. Their attraction is fierce, but he thwarts her advances at every turn. He’s the strong, silent type who operates by a set of rules, but he’ll soon realize she rarely follows rules.
Falling for Dakota catches Hamilton off guard. So does the fact that she’s attached to part of his past. A past that indicted him with shame and loss. But when Dakota becomes the target of an unknown enemy, Hamilton stops at nothing to protect her. In turn, vindication is his reward, except it comes with complications.
Dakota snagged his attention when she revved the engine of a custom Ducati 1098S and took off down the street before slowing and circling back. She looked like a total badass on the sleek black bike that was accented in chrome with a matching helmet. The black leather jumpsuit she was wearing added to the fierce look.
“Your woman has nerves of steel, man. I can’t imagine doing half the stunts she’s performed on this project,” Justin said, admiration ringing in his voice. “How much did she tell you about this stunt?”
The question immediately put Hamilton on edge. “Not much. She just said that she’d be riding a motorcycle like one she wanted to purchase one day. I guess she’s been planning to test drive one but hadn’t yet.”
“With the way she’s handling that machine, no one would ever know she hadn’t ridden it before.”
As the words left Justin’s mouth, Dakota did a wheelie, riding a short distance with the front wheel of the bike off the ground. Considering the act was illegal on city streets, he hoped it wasn’t something she did outside of being on a movie set.
Justin chuckled. “Now she’s just showing off, probably for you.”
Hamilton’s pulse thumped loudly in his ear and his chest tightened as she popped another wheelie. When the front tire hit the ground, she sped down the street at top speed, then slowed and turned around only to do it again. This woman was going to be the death of him. He didn’t want her showing off. He just wanted her safe.
“This will be the last time I come and watch her do a stunt,” he said to Justin. “My heart can’t take this shit.”
Justin laughed and pounded him on the back, then gripped his shoulder. “Well, brace yourself, bro. You’re in for a treat.”
Award-winning and bestselling author, Sharon C. Cooper, is a romance-a-holic - loving anything that involves romance with a happily-ever-after, whether in books, movies, or real life. Sharon writes contemporary romance, as well as romantic suspense and enjoys rainy days, carpet picnics, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She's been nominated for numerous awards and is the recipient of an Emma Award for Romantic Suspense of the Year 2015 (Truth or Consequences), Emma Award - Interracial Romance of the Year 2015 (All You'll Ever Need), and BRAB (book club) Award -Breakout Author of the Year 2014. When Sharon is not writing or working, she's hanging out with her amazing husband, doing volunteer work or reading a good book (a romance of course).
Imagine the worst thing a friend could ever do.
This is worse.
When Mel receives an unexpected email from her oldest friend Abi, it brings back memories she thought she had buried forever. Their friendship belonged in the past. To those carefree days at university.
But Abi is in trouble and needs Mel’s help, and she wants a place to stay. Just for a few days, while she sorts things out. It’s the least Mel can do.
After all, friends look out for each other, don’t they?
I Invited Her In is a blistering tale of wanting what you can’t have, jealousy and revenge from Sunday Times bestseller Adele Parks.
I have loads to do today even though I’m not working. My at-home days are far busier than the ones in the shop. Even though I have two full-time members of staff and three part-timers reporting to me in a thriving store, it’s never as much work as being at home.
However, I find that as I am cleaning the kitchen floor, loading and unloading the washing machine and scrubbing the hard water marks off the shower door, I can’t get Abi out of my mind. I have thought of her often enough over the years, but usually when I’ve done so, I’ve deliberately pushed thoughts of her away. She is intrinsically linked with such a difficult time. No matter how fabulous the result of that time is (and Liam really is a fabulous son), it isn’t easy thinking about being pregnant and having to leave university. I’ve never wanted to think about her. Her path was so different to mine, I just found it easier not to dwell on what might have been.
But everything is different now.
Throughout the day, I keep checking my phone to see if she’s responded to my email at the same time as telling myself she absolutely won’t have. A shiver of excitement skitters through my body when I see her name once again in my inbox and I feel jubilant when I read her reply.
I’d love to visit! Send me your address. I’ll be with you on 22Feb.
All love, A
A. Just A. I remember that’s how she’d sign off her notes when we were at uni. Assumptive and intimate all at once. The twenty-second. Thursday. Just three days away.
Wow, I’m flattered and excited. She’s coming to see me more or less straight away. A pit stop in London and then up to see me. I can hardly believe it. Thursday isn’t an ideal evening to have guests—the girls have ballet. Oh well, I suppose they can skip a week.
My eyes dart around the hallway where I happened to be standing when I checked my phone for emails. There is a jumble of boots, shoes, sandals and wellingtons tumbling out of an overfull wicker basket in the corner; they look as though they’re making a bid for freedom. We have five coat hooks on the wall, one each. There are about five coats hung and slung on and over each hook.
The light grey carpet was a mistake. Who chooses light anything for a family hallway? Well, I did because I saw it in a lifestyle mag and it looked amazing. In all the time we’ve lived here, we’ve never had the carpets cleaned. That’s probably a mistake, too. The paintwork could also do with a freshen-up. We’ve got cats—they rub against the walls, which over time leaves grubby marks. In fact, because of grimy handprints or general wear and tear, most of our rooms look like they’ve been stippled, an effect that hasn’t been popular since the 1980s—and with good reason.
I’d better get to work.
Abigail was always honest with herself. She’d had enough life experience and counselling to understand and appreciate the value of developing a high level of self-awareness. It was essential to be completely truthful with herself because there was no one else with whom she could ever be completely so. She found people were less enamoured with the truth than they believed themselves to be.
So, as she packed her suitcases, she had to admit he had never lied to her or misled her. Not about the baby thing. He’d always been very clear, laid out his stall. No babies. Not then, not ever. She’d accepted as much, even told herself it was what she wanted, too. She decided to work hard at her career instead. That was fulfilling. Very much so. For a time. Quite some time. But that hadn’t panned out exactly as she’d thought it would. How she deserved it to. A gap had opened up in her life.
She caught sight of her reflection in the mirror, puffy eyed, gaunt. She really needed to pull herself together, put some makeup on. She was likely to be recognised at the airport. She was a face. Someone.
Maybe not a name—people didn’t always remember her name—but certainly a face.
Adele Parks was born in Teesside, NE England. She studied English Language and Literature, at Leicester University. She published her first novel, Playing Away, in 2000; that year the Evening Standard identified Adele as one of London’s ‘Twenty Faces to Watch.’ Indeed Playing Away was the debut bestseller of 2000.
Prolific, Adele has published nine novels in nine years, including Game Over, Tell Me Something and Love Lies, all nine of her novels have been bestsellers. She’s sold over a million copies of her work in the UK but also sells throughout the world. Two of her novels (Husbands and Still Thinking of You) are currently being developed as movie scripts. Young Wives’ Tales was short listed for the Romantic Novelist Association Award 2008. She has written numerous articles and short stories for many magazines and newspapers and often appears on radio and TV talking about her work.
Since 2006 Adele has been an official spokeswoman for World Book Day and wrote a Quick Read, Happy Families as part of the celebrations of World Book Day, 2008.
Adele has spent her adult life in Italy, Botswana and London, up until two years ago when she moved to Guildford, where she now lives with her husband and son.
Out of Mind
Maximum Exposure Book 2
by Kendall Talbot
Genre: Romantic Suspense, Adventure
A love frozen in time . . .
Holly knew the romantic helicopter ride up to the remote peak of Whisky Mountain was a bad idea. But she never expected it to snatch her fiancé from her—or destroy her life. A few fiery seconds turn a postcard-perfect morning in the Canadian Rockies into a snowy hell, thirteen thousand feet above sea level. And in the midst of grief and agony, Holly catches sight of a scene in the ice that will haunt her until she can return and discover the truth.
Oliver Nelson could see the stranger had a mystery inside her. The scars on her face, the pain in her eyes, the insistence that he teach her completely alone—no one needs to learn rock climbing, or so he thought. But the more he gets to know her, the more he admires her drive, her ingenuity, and that little edge of recklessness. If she can trust him with her story, he’s ready to follow her wherever her heart takes her.
But nature’s deadly beauty isn’t the only danger waiting for them on Whisky Mountain. To survive, Oliver and Holly will have to move fast—and think faster . . .
From the moment Holly climbed into the helicopter, a sense of foreboding plagued every thought. Three times in her life she’d had a premonition about death. Each time it’d come true. But she wouldn’t say anything. Not when Milton, her new fiancé, had paid so much money for this exclusive trip. And especially not when he’d looked like an excited teenager when he’d first spied the chopper at the ski resort. Holly forced her brain to focus on the mountain scenery around her, rather than the tendrils of dread inching up her spine.
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was supposed to be fun. But the buffering wind and shuddering windows made it so far from fun she could barely breathe. According to the pilot, a private picnic on the west
summit of one of Canada’s highest peaks had never been done before. But Milton had charmed the man with both his expert persuasion skills and his generosity with money. So much so that the pilot simply couldn’t refuse.
Twelve thousand dollars had been his tipping point. For that, not only did they get a private helicopter, but the pilot also provided expensive champagne, a gourmet feast, and a folding table and three chairs, ready
to be set up wherever they wanted.
Milton was capable of convincing anyone to do anything. Her being on Whiskey Mountain was a testament to that. She never did anything that even hinted at danger.
Death had a way of following her. Her brother died as a three-week-old baby. Her father went to work one day and never came home. Her best friend died in a freak accident that’d perplexed all the authorities. Even her one and only pet didn’t make it past puppy stage. And Holly was only twenty-four years old. Based on that average, one death every five or so years, she was due again. She smacked the disturbing statistic away and wiped her sweating palms on her ski pants.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, she looked up at the mountain peak. The snowcapped granite wall jutted skyward like an enormous shark fin. It was an interesting color, like the rocks were gilded in copper. She
wondered if that’s why it’d been named Whiskey Mountain. With each foot they rose, it appeared to grow wider and higher, and the very tip glistened like a diamond.
The helicopter shot over the ski resort’s highest cable car station, leaving behind the last signs of civilization. The lump of dread, deep in the pit of her stomach, hit a whole new level. The white terrain stretched as far as she could see. Even the trees had given up trying to live here.
When Holly had suggested to Milton that they take a vacation, she’d envisaged lying in hammocks on a deserted beach, sipping fancy drinks out of coconuts. Not this. Not high in the mountains where snow and ice
blanketed every surface. Cold weather seeped into her bones. Her mother said it was because she didn’t eat enough. Her fiancé said it was because she didn’t eat meat. Ever since their first date, two years ago, Milton had been trying to coax her off her strict vegetarian diet.
“Having fun?” Milton beamed at her. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored glasses, but she could picture the dazzle of excitement in his brown irises that she’d come to love.
Swallowing a bitter taste in her mouth, she decided to dodge his question. “It’s magnificent.” The last thing she’d do was voice her fear, not when he looked to be enjoying it so much. And especially not in front of Milton’s son, who’d commandeered the front seat next to the pilot. Kane had visited more countries in his seventeen years than Holly had dreamed of.
He hated Holly…and had made it his mission to tell her so at every opportunity. He blamed her for breaking up his parents’ marriage. She hadn’t. Their marriage was fractured long before Milton strolled into the coffee shop where she worked.
Holly had suggested to Milton that a vacation would be the perfect opportunity for Kane to get to know her better. She was desperate to prove to Milton’s son that she was worthy of his father’s love. At least, that’d been her plan.
Out of Reach
Maximum Exposure Book 1
In a place where a city can be lost hundreds of years . . . they can still find each other.
Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life . . .
Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s traveled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple fires through him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.
Lily Bennett reached into the satchel at her side and placed her hand on the leather-bound journal that had triggered her traveling more than three thousand miles out of her comfort zone.
She’d already memorized everything inside its weathered pages.
Especially her late father’s sketch of the unusual temple she’d been shocked to see on CNN six weeks ago. According to the news report, the newly discovered, three-thousand-year-old Agulinta Temple had been hidden for centuries—literally consumed by the Mexican jungle.
Yet, somehow her father knew it existed.
The temptation to open the journal again was powerful . . . too powerful.
She pulled it from her satchel and flicked over the yellowed pages, stopping on his drawing of a hollowed-out circular statue, like a giant donut. Around the face of the structure, pictographs appeared to tell a story. CNN had shown footage of a statue at Agulinta Temple exactly like this. Exactly.
A branch with enormous elephant-ear-sized leaves swiped the side of the taxi, brushing the elbow she’d leaned out the door. It was hard to know what was worse—the hot air seeping through the car vents or the humid air blowing in through the window. Shifting on the cracked vinyl seat, she tugged her cotton dress over her knees, hoping for a slight breeze up her skirt, but it was pointless.
She cleared her throat. “How much farther?”
The taxi driver looked at her in the mirror and smiled, showing off his chipped front tooth. “Not long.”
That’s what he’d said an hour ago.
Her mind drifted back to the horror written on her mother’s face when they’d opened the beat-up old suitcase they’d discovered in her father’s shed after he’d passed away. Lily thought she’d known her father well, until that moment.
Alongside the leather-bound journal, they’d also found a collection of black-and-white photos. The implications behind the pictures further shattered her mother’s already broken heart. His sudden death meant their future was forever changed; however, the mysterious items they’d found in that case, changed their past too.
For nearly a year, she’d watched her mother’s slide into a grieving darkness, dragging Lily and her brothers along with her. Lily had feared the secrets her father had taken to his grave were destined to remain unsolved.
Until CNN revealed Agulinta Temple to the world.
From the moment she’d seen that news report and heard the archaeologist’s declaration that the unusual shape of the ancient statue was one of a kind, she’d made it her mission to come down to Mexico and see Agulinta for herself. She needed answers. As did her mother. It’d been a whirlwind couple of weeks, and she still couldn’t believe she was here.
Lily took a tissue from her satchel and dabbed it across her neck and chest before using it to soak up the sweat under her armpits. The driver snuck a glance at her, but when she met his gaze, he quickly looked away. She was used to that. With six older brothers, and overprotective parents, she’d felt the eyes of someone watching her whole life. It was like living in a snow globe, and when things tipped upside-down, they’d all be watching to see how she’d handle it.
That wasn’t how she’d ended up here, though. Traveling to the middle of the Mexican jungle had been her decision. She’d listened to everyone’s objections, fielding calls from every member of her family and her girlfriends.
Her boss had put his foot down, proclaiming the trip too dangerous for a woman like her, which made her even more determined. Taking her new position with More to Explore was a stepping-stone for her career. It had also relocated her from Montana, where she’d grown up under the wings of her abundant family, and into her own dinky little apartment in Seattle.
Defying them all, she’d taken unpaid leave to make this journey from Seattle to the jungles of Mexico. Once she’d proved her decision was final, her boss, being the dirtbag he was, had added a caveat: If she did write a story, and if it was any good, the magazine would publish it.
Everybody thought she was crazy.
Maybe she was.
But this was something she had to do. For her mother’s sake. And her own. People had been controlling her all her life. It was time to show everyone that Lily had grown up.
Kendall Talbot is the author of the Maximum Exposure series, and many other action/adventure stories. A thrill seeker, hopeless romantic, and award-winning author of stories that’ll have your heart thumping from action-packed suspense and steamy bedroom scenes, she lives in Brisbane, Australia with her very own hero and a fluffy little dog who specializes in hijacking her writing time. Meanwhile, Kendall’s two sons are off making their own adventures—look out world
The Smoky Blues Book 9
by Emily Mims
Genre: Contemporary Romance
CAN’T GET HER…
Deke Gregory has a type – petite, feminine, pliable. His ex-wife was his ideal, but she wasn’t his, obviously. Faced with the realities of joint custody and a family “village” raising his son, Deke sets out to find a woman who ticks all his boxes and thinks he walks on water. Enter Doctor Taylor De Witt: tall, strong, willful, opinionated, and too busy to be bothered with soothing his rough edges. Imagine his surprise when he falls for her – hard.
OUT OF HIS HEART
Taylor De Witt knew she would be a heart surgeon since college. Now a single mother with a schedule that requires roller blades, she has little time for her family, never mind a social life. When she meets Deke Gregory she thinks he’s a Neanderthal – yummy, but from a different era. Little does she know what their mutual attraction will bring, including examining her life to include an everlasting love.
Taylor and the man sat down with their children beside them furthest from each other. Mr. Jenkins introduced the man and his son as Deke and Brian Gregory. “And you’re Dr. DeWitt? Charlie’s mother?”
Taylor nodded. “Please tell me what happened.”
“I’d like to hear it as well,” Deke Gregory murmured.
“There’s not a lot to say. For whatever reason, Charlie punched Brian in the face this morning.” Mr. Jenkins looked grim.
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?” Taylor demanded. “My son wouldn’t walk up and hit a kid out of the blue.”
“It looks like that’s exactly what happened,” Deke murmured. “And I for one don’t appreciate it, not one little bit. This kid needs to be punished.”
“And he will be, I can assure you of that.” Mr. Jenkins turned to Taylor and Charlie. “We have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying on this campus. We will be dealing with this in the strongest of manners.”
“And you wonder why I hate this school,” Charlie ground out.
Taylor looked from her son to Principal Jenkins to the irate father sitting next to the small blond boy with the darkening shiner. Deke Gregory looked like he was about to blow. Brian Gregory was small and pale and a good thirty pounds lighter than Charlie, and to her professional eye he looked like he might be contending with health issues. On the surface it didn’t look too good for her son, hitting a child so much smaller than him. But something niggled in the back of her mind. Something had been going on with Charlie ever since school started. Did Brian Gregory have something to do with that? Was that why Charlie had slugged him?
“As I was saying, we will have to deal with this in the strongest manner,” Mr. Jenkins intoned. “We have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying here at Mountainside Middle School.
Charlie will have to—”
“Wait a minute,” Taylor broke in. “We’re not through discussing what happened this morning.”
Deke looked at her unbelievingly. “It’s pretty clear what happened this morning. Your kid gave my kid a shiner. That’s all that matters, lady.”
She shot him a look of disgust. “No, it’s not all that matters. And that’s Dr. DeWitt to you. Or Dr. Lady if that’s all you can manage.” She ignored Deke’s glare and turned back to the principal. “Did you ask Charlie what prompted him to hit the other young man?”
“Why not?” she snapped. “Was it easier to blame Charlie than to get to the bottom of what happened?” She turned to her son. “Charlie, why did you hit Brian this morning? Does it have something to do with why you haven’t wanted to go to school for the last two weeks?”
Charlie nodded. His lower lip trembled and his eyes filled with tears. “He and his friends wait for me every morning. They watch me come out of Mrs. Foster’s room and say I’m stupid. They call me a dumb jock and say I’m not good for anything since I’m in special ed. I tried telling Mrs. Foster but she said to ignore them, they weren’t hurting anything and there was nothing she could do about it.” He raised tear-filled eyes and looked at Taylor. “I couldn’t stand it anymore, Mom. I couldn’t stand it and I hit him.” Charlie collapsed into noisy sobs.
“Weren’t hurting anything? That teacher’s out of her mind.” Taylor reached out and held her son. “It’s going to be okay, Charlie. I’ll get it stopped.” She looked at Mr. Jenkins with disgust. “Zero tolerance, huh? Looks more like zero give-a-damn from where I’m sitting.” She turned to Brian’s father. “Does your kid know what verbal bullying is? Haven’t you taught him that words hurt as badly as fists?”
“It’s still no excuse for hitting Brian.” Deke Gregory’s lips were set in a firm line.
“The hell it wasn’t,” she shot back. “There wasn’t much else Charlie could do. He’d already gone to the teacher and gotten zip. Maybe if you’d taught your son how to behave, my boy wouldn’t have had to hit him. Your parenting skills leave a lot to be desired.”
She ignored Deke’s sharp intake of breath and turned back to the principal. “Mr. Jenkins, I don’t know how you intend to handle this. But Brian Gregory is equally as guilty of bullying as Charlie, and whatever you do to one you’d better damned well do to both. Do you understand? And while you’re at it, you might want to counsel your teachers about what constitutes bullying, so the next time a kid comes to them for help, they get it.”
Mr. Jenkins had the grace to look embarrassed. “Yes, I understand, Dr. DeWitt. And you’re right, of course.” He turned stern eyes on Brian. “Charlie’s mother is right. You are guilty of bullying. Are you aware of that?”
Brian slunk down in his chair, guilt and embarrassment all over his face. “He’s certainly aware of it now,” his father ground out.
Mr. Jenkins looked from Brian to Charlie and then to Deke Gregory and Taylor. “You know, I’m not sure punishment is the route to go today. I think the name calling and hitting would come to a swift halt if these two young men had a chance to get to know one another. They’re both good kids coming from different worlds who maybe can’t appreciate what the other boy has to offer. So what we’ll do is this. The boys can do in-school suspension tomorrow. Then sometime over the weekend, the boys, under the supervision of the two of you”—he looked from Taylor to Deke—“can take them on a four-hour outing of some sort. Not a movie, but something where the boys can interact and get to know each other.”
“It will have to be Saturday,” Deke said. “I have to work all day Sunday.”
“Let me check my schedule.” Taylor punched up her iPhone calendar. “As far as I can tell at this point, I’m free on Saturday afternoon.” She held up her hand when Mr. Jenkins started to speak. “But I’m on call this weekend. If I get a call from the hospital, I’ll have to cancel.” She
looked at Mr. Jenkins and Deke Gregory. “Does everyone understand?” “I hope you’ll make it a priority,” Mr. Jenkins said archly.
“I hope I can make it a priority,” she shot back.
Deke smirked but said nothing.
The boys were escorted out of the office. She and Deke walked to the visitors’ parking spaces together. “Tell me. Do you always tell other parents and your child’s principal how to do their job?” he asked dryly.
Her lips twitched as she tried and failed to bite back a snicker. “Only when they need it.”
“I see.” If Deke was amused, it didn’t show. “Would you like me and Brian to pick you and Charlie up for the outing?” He looked at her BMW convertible and his Tahoe.
“That might be a good idea.” He programmed her contact information into his telephone and they agreed he and Brian would pick them up about one. “Talk to Brian about what he’d like to do, and I’ll do the same with Charlie. We’ll decide on something when we get together.”
“Works for me.”
She followed his Tahoe out of the parking lot.
Brian Gregory was nothing like his father. The boy was small-boned and delicate to the point of being pretty, and if it hadn’t been for their matching set of vivid blue eyes she would have wondered about Brian’s paternity.
Deke Gregory, on the other hand, was one tough cookie. Big, tall. Vivid blue eyes shining out of a face carved from granite. Probably all kinds of muscles under the sport coat tailored to conceal a shoulder holster. Did he carry because he thought it was manly, or was it part of his job?
Whatever the case, he’d made her tummy do a few flips, and that hadn’t happened for a long, long time.
Author of eighteen romance novels under the pseudonym 'Emily Elliott', Emily Mims combined her writing career with a career in public education until leaving the classroom to write full time. 'Solomon's Choice' is her first romantic suspense and the first novel she has published under her own name. The mother of two sons, she and her husband Charles split their time between Central Texas and eastern Tennessee. For relaxation she plays the piano, organ, dulcimer, and ukulele. She says, "I love to write romances because I believe in them. Romance happened to me and it can happen to any woman-if she'll just let it."
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