Release Week Blitz, Author Q&A, Review & Giveaway: Beautiful Liar by @ZCoxBooks @ForeverRomance

BEAUTIFUL LIAR
Series:
Dark Desires, #1
Author: Zara Cox
On Sale: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Forever
Trade Paperback: $14.99 USD
eBook: $4.99 USD

**NOW AVAILABLE IN TRADE PAPERBACK**

People call me many things: CEO, billionaire, bastard. Q.

I love women. I love sex. I love money. I love hot, wild nights with no promise of a future, because a future is one thing I don’t have. I’m twenty-eight years old. I won’t live to see thirty, and I don’t care. Or I didn’t, until her.

Nobody plans for a life like this. Some of us just end up here.

They call me Lucky, though luck has never been on my side. Before I met Q, my life was a big, twisted mess. Never enough money, never anyone to trust. No way out. With Q, the shame and fear disappear. Instead I feel pure pleasure, and that’s something I’ve never had before. But if what I’ve just learned is true, we’d better enjoy every second together while we can…before our time runs out.

BEAUTIFUL LIAR was previously published as Porn Star

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“So it’s true? It’s not a con? This job really pays a million dollars? For…sex?” she rasps.“You think I’d admit it if it was a con? What did the ad say?”

Her delicate jaw flexes for a second.

“One million uninhibited reasons to take a leap.

One million chances to earn a keep

One million to give in to the carnal

Are you brave enough to surrender,

For a payday to remember?”

It speaks even more to her desperate state of mind that she remembers the ad verbatim.

I remain silent and wait for her to speak.

“So…assuming it’s not a con, how will this work, then?”

“If you pass the next few tests, and I decide you’re a good fit, you get the gig. You’ll receive one hundred thousand dollars with each performance.”

“So…ten performances…over how long a period?”

“Depending on how many takes are needed, anywhere between three weeks and a month. But I should warn you, it’s hard work, Lucky. If you think you’re just going to lie back and recite the Star Spangled Banner in your head, think again.”

Her fingers drum on the table, the first sign of nerves she’s exhibited. “I…I won’t be doing anything…skanky, will I?”

“Define skanky.”

“This is going to be straight up sex. No other…bodily stuff? Because that would a firm no for me.”

My mouth attempts another twitch. “No water works, waste matter or bestiality will be involved in the performances.”

Her fingers stop drumming. “Okay.” She waits a beat, stares straight into the camera. “So when will I know?”

I hear the barely disguised urgency and I rub my finger over my lip again. “Soon. I’ll be in touch within the week.” I’m not sure exactly why I want to toy with her. But I sense that having her on edge would add another layer of excitement I badly need.

When she opens her mouth, I interrupt. “Goodbye, Lucky.”

A passing thought about the origin of her name is crushed into oblivion. I press the remote to summon the bodyguard to escort her out, and I leave the room.

In my study a few minutes later, I bring up the screen on my desk and activate the encrypted service I need. I open the application and within minutes, the members of my exclusive gentlemen’s club are logging in.

My email is short and succinct.

The next Q Production is scheduled for release on 20 May 2015.

Limited to ten members.

Bidding starts in fifteen minutes.

I start the countdown and rise to pour myself a neat bourbon. I swallow the first mouthful with two prescribed tablets, which are meant to keep me from going over the edge, apparently, and stroll to the floor to ceiling window. I look down at Midtown’s bumper-to-bumper traffic. This mid-level penthouse is one of many I own in this building and around New York City.

Technically, I don’t live here. I only use it when volatile pressures demand that I put some distance between the Upper West Side family mansion and myself. I would never stray far for long. For one thing, I’ve accepted that my family would never leave me alone.

I know what I know. So they’ve made it their business to keep me on a short leash. But with over three hundred properties in my personal portfolio, and a few thousand more under the family firm’s control, there are many places to disappear to when the demons howl.

Today, the Midtown penthouse is my temporary haven.

I turn when the timer beeps a one-minute warning.

I return to my desk and adjust the voice distorter. When the clock reaches zero, I click the mouse. “Gentlemen, start your bids.”

My words barely trail off before the first five bids appear on the screen. Sixty seconds later, the total bid is at a quarter of a million dollars. I steeple my fingers and wish I were more excited. The money means nothing. It never has. It’s the end game that excites me.

My mind drifts back to Lucky. I turn the gem of her elusiveness this way and that and admit to myself she has potential.

I want to take a scalpel to all her secrets, bleed them and soil my hands with the viscera. I also want to fuck her until her body gives out. Right in this moment, I’m not sure what I want more.

So I concentrate on the numbers racing higher on the screen.

Half a million. One million. One point five.

My phone beeps twice. I pick it up and read the two appointment reminders on the screen.

7pm – Dr. Nathanson. My shrink.

9pm – Dinner with Maxwell.

I re-confirm the first and delete the second.

Cancelling dinner with Maxwell will bring a world of irritation to my doorstep. No one cancels dinner with Maxwell Blackwood. For a start he’s one of the most powerful men in the country.

He’s also my father.

Yeah, my name is Quinn Blackwood, heir to the Blackwood Estate, only child of Maxwell Blackwood and Adele Blackwood (deceased). My family owns a staggering amount of property across the eastern seaboard of the United States and a few in the west. According to the bean counters, I’m personally worth twenty-six billion dollars.

But tangling with my father in hell is what I live for. Have done since I was fifteen. So I ignore his summons and watch the stragglers fall away until I’m left with the top ten bidders. The bids wind down, and within the space of half an hour, I’m just under two million dollars richer.

I spot the familiar name of the top bidder and I sneer. Taking his money on top of everything else is darkly satisfying.

Once bidding ends, I close down the application and call up another list. Dozens of charity websites showing pictures of starving children flood my screen. Within minutes, fifty charities are the grateful recipients of two million dollars.

I may be Quinn Blackwood, occasional user of prescribed meds to keep the demons in check, who moonlights as Q, porn star to an exclusive few who pay millions for my work.

And I may be an unhinged asshole with serious daddy issues.

But no one said I wasn’t a giver.

AUTHOR Q & A

DGR: What was your favorite scene in Beautiful Liar?

ZC: It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite scene but one of my favorites has to be the first time Quinn & Elly meet “in real life”. He doesn’t look at or acknowledge her as she serves him his lunch, but she’s completely electrified by him. When he gets up to leave he sees this woman that he’s only seen through his camera lens and he’s in turn captivated, but only for a second because he can’t reveal who he is. Portraying their emotions during that scene was fantastic to write.

DGR: What was the most difficult scene to write in Beautiful Liar?

ZC: Hmm, maybe this should come with a spoiler alert, but it’s the heartbreaking moment when Quinn watches his mother take her own life. That was heartbreaking to write because he lost the only person who loved him, until Lucky came along.


The hate, the vengeance and sex are instruments that oil my existence and keep my compass true.

HOLY. SHIT.

I did NOT see this book coming. I’m so happy it got a title and cover change because the old one didn’t do it justice AT ALL. I’m serious. If you think this is yet another run of the mill smut filled romance read, think again. The writing. The story. It was hauntingly captivating. I’m absolutely blown away and got myself a new author to stalk.

I may be Quinn Blackwood, occasional user of prescribed meds to keep the demons in check, who moonlights as Q, porn star to an exclusive few who pay millions for my work. And I may be an unhinged asshole with serious daddy issues. But no one said I wasn’t a giver.

Q is a man of wealth and power. He’s a man skirting the fine edge of revenge and depravity and he makes no excuses or apologies. Every single move is calculated to achieve his end goal. His revenge. To right a wrong of years past, to punish those responsible, even if he doesn’t survive to bask in the glory of the fallout. It’s not time to make his most calculated move yet. Everything he’s been doing has been leading up to this…his grand plan. And the key to it is a woman with haunted eyes and a closet full of skeletons who may be hiding more baggage then even him. Lucky.

I want to take a scalpel to all her secrets, bleed them and soil my hands with the viscera. I also want to fuck her until her body gives out. Right in this moment, I’m not sure what I want more.

The writing in this story is absolute perfection. It’s haunting and lyrical. The characters are so well developed, they practically have an energy that you can feel through the pages. The sheer power of Q’s presence is enough to captivate even the most cynical reader.

Quinn Blackwood’s eyes are soulless pools. Staring into them is like staring into a bottomless abyss in the middle of a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Every word has a purpose. Every description leading to a new revelation. It was dark and hypnotic. Erotic and captivating. I was glued to every single page, practically salivating for more.

While Q was an erotic enigma full of sex appeal and secrets, Lucky was an interesting blend of cracked glass about to shatter but with a hidden steel reinforcement. This is a woman that survived her own hell and will do anything to escape it…even sell her body and her dignity for a million dollars.

We’re caught in a cycle of wrath and cruelty and sex. He’s unleashed his darkness, and I’m the sex-hypnotized recipient of all of it. Even after he roars his climax, he keeps going, keeps flaying me.

A voice cleverly disguised by state of the art technology and a face hidden behind a steel mask is all she sees of Q. The rest is a veil of blindfolds, mind games, and sex so mind-blowing that she struggles to hold on to the fact that none of it is real…and it doesn’t take long for the lines to begin to blur… for both of them.

God, I want to fuck you till you break. I may not be the right person to put you back together, but I want to do it anyway.”

This story is so much more than a romance. It’s a story of survival and revenge. It’s a sizzling romance wrapped around a captivating mystery. It’s a splash of dark and suspense. And while the book is long, the pacing was perfect.

If you’re looking for a new author to check out and a read that’s totally different from the norm, this is the one book I can’t recommend enough. Zara Cox now has a forever fan in this girl. I will gleefully pick up anything this woman writes. No questions asked. She’s a talent that I wish I discovered sooner and am kicking myself for not reading this book when it first hit my radar. But better late then never, if you ask me.

Maybe my cracks aren’t so bad. Maybe the chasm isn’t as deep as I thought. Maybe she’ll take the leap with me. Maybe with her, I’ll survive the fall. Maybe she’ll even save me. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe…it’s too late.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to immediately dive into book 2!


THE DARK DESIRES SERIES

BEAUTIFUL LIAR, #1
BLACK SHEEP, #2
WICKED S.O.B, #2.5 (August 8, 2017)
ARROGANT BASTARD, #3 (September 12, 2017)


Zara Cox has been writing for almost twenty-five years but it wasn’t until nine years ago that she decided to share her love of writing sexy, gritty stories with anyone outside her close family (the over 18s anyway!).

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Blog Tour & Excerpt: The Deep End (Honey #1) by Kristen Ashley

THE DEEP END
Series: Honey Series #1
Genre: BDSM, Erotic Romance
Author: Kristen Ashley
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Enter a decadent sensual world where gorgeous alpha males are pleasure slaves committed to fulfilling a woman’s every desire.

At the elite Honey club, no boundary will be left untested, and one’s darkest desires will become a sensual reality.

Olivier isn’t sure what he’s gotten himself into when he joins the Honey Club, only that a dark part of him craves the lifestyle offered by this secret, exclusive club.

When Amèlie invites Olivier to surrender, she pushes him to explore his deepest desires as a submissive. As they grow closer and find themselves falling harder than either of them anticipated, the truth about Olivier’s past could threaten the budding relationship they both long for.

Gripping and seductive, The Deep End is the first book in a sensational new series from bestselling author Kristen Ashley.

 

✮✮✮ A delicious world of erotica, BDSM with alpha-subs and their Dommes, and a gripping love story… Welcome to The Bee’s Honey! The first book in New York Times bestselling author Kristen Ashley’s Honey Series, THE DEEP END is a seductive and rich love story. Order your copy today! ✮✮✮

Fall into THE DEEP END and order your copy today!

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She slid out of the booth with murmurings of “good night” and “have fun,” taking her stiletto-heeled-sandal-shod feet with the will of steel her mother had begun the process of instilling in her and her training as a Domme had completed.She could not have her legs give out on her and she could not expose her nervous anticipation.

And she wouldn’t.

But, God, she had not felt like this in years. That sub she’d spied or she’d had who was so promising or such a transcendent experience to play with that she could barely control her own reactions to exploring that promise or again feeling the wholeness, togetherness, oneness with another.

She moved in his direction, no game playing. She didn’t even glance at Stellan in his booth.

Amélie didn’t participate in those games, not ever. There was no reason for her to be coy with a sub.

And she moved with the gait and bearing that it was solely her mother who’d ingrained in her in the sporadic times they’d had together, doing it with an unrelenting fervor that it would take the threat of death to force her to move any other way.

Chin up. Shoulders straight and slightly back. A sway of her hips so subtle, it was elusive. Long, confident strides.

Amélie could walk a catwalk.

She could also make a specimen she was approaching get so hard his cock was aching by the time she made it to him.

She hadn’t even gone halfway when he sensed her approach and she was gratified that his response was instantaneous.

He pushed from the wall.  He turned fully to face her.  And she felt his eyes drop not with the respect a sub owed a Domme, but to take her in from sandals to hair.

Then his gaze locked on hers and he didn’t look away.

He didn’t look away.

He watched her approach not like he was taking the risky liberty he was taking but like it was his God-given right.

Amélie felt her clit quiver.

She arrived at him, stopping several feet away, knowing that the minute her body language made it clear she was going in for the capture, most eyes in the room, if not all, were on her.

She did not care about this.  Not that she’d ever care about this (which she wouldn’t), but because, now close to him, she found to her enchanted surprise, he was not big.

He was colossal.

A mighty beast.

A magnificent beast.

Exquisite.

He was not six foot five.  He was six-six, more likely six-seven.  A mountain of compacted muscle encased in a very fine, very expensive suit.

Taking him in, in proximity, she wanted him more than she’d already wanted him.  She wanted no boundaries.  She wanted everything.  Her diverse skill set, experience, imagination, creativity, and if it came down to it, sheer determination and grit, she’d utilize it all to wring him dry in a way he’d contemplate murder in order to have the opportunity to come back for more.

She was on the verge of speaking when he did.

His direct gaze appreciative, and arrogant smile curving his full lips, he asked, “How you doin’ sweetheart?”

She froze.

Full eye contact. Speaking without being spoken to. Using an unconsented and unearned endearment.

The already damp gusset of her panties soaked to the point her wet crept up the silk of her front and back sides.

But her brows snapped together, her censure clear, and her lips ordered, “Follow me.”


Kristen Ashley was born in Gary, Indiana, USA and nearly killed her mother and herself making it into the world, seeing as she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck (already attempting to accessorise and she hadn’t taken her first breath!). Her mother said they took Kristen away, put her Mom back in her room, her mother looked out the window, and Gary was on fire (Dr. King had been assassinated four days before). Kristen’s Mom remembered thinking it was the end of the world. Quite the dramatic beginning.

Nothing’s changed.

Kristen grew up in Brownsburg, Indiana and has lived in Denver, Colorado and the West Country of England. Thus, she’s blessed to have friends and family around the globe. Her family was (is) loopy (to say the least) but loopy is good when you want to write. They all lived together on a very small farm in a small farm town in the heartland. She grew up with Glenn Miller, The Everly Brothers, REO Speedwagon and Whitesnake (and the wardrobes that matched).

Needless to say, growing up in a house full of music, clothes and love was a good way to grow up.

And as she keeps growing, it keeps getting better.

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Release Blitz & Excerpt: For His Eyes Only by Lexi Blake

FOR HIS EYES ONLY
Series: Masters and Mercenaries #13
Genre: Romantic Suspense, BDSM, Erotic Romance
Author: Lexi Blake
Release Date: February 28, 2017

A night he can’t forget

Five years ago, Nick Markovic found himself consumed by his quest for vengeance. The one time he managed to find peace was in the arms of Hayley Dalton. Being with her was like bathing in sunlight, and he ached to feel that again, but he couldn’t. He gave his oath to Hayley’s cousin Desiree, his partner at McKay-Taggart and Knight, that he’d never let his darkness infect Hayley’s innocent world.

A spark she can’t put out

It was years before that Hayley offered everything she had to Nick. After that one amazing night, all she wanted was to be his forever. Unfortunately, Nick’s reaction was to walk away from her and never look back. The warm and caring man she’d discovered was gone, and after Des’s death, he’d only grown colder. But when Hayley finds herself in mortal danger, she’s forced to seek protection from the man who broke her heart.

A flame that threatens to consume them both

Haunted by the women he failed, Nick can’t allow himself to grow close to Hayley again. Running to stay ahead of the powerful forces that endanger their lives, they travel from the lush Garden in London to the glittering lights of Rio. As the threat against her becomes clearer, he realizes that to keep her safe he must confront the demons from his past, even if it costs him a future with the woman he loves.

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Nick went back to staring at the report. “Hayley’s not mine. She was Desiree’s cousin. Now she’s my client.”Who had been tired the night before and that was why she’d said the things she’d said. This morning she’d seemed much more sensible. After she’d had some sleep and a shower and had straightened herself up, she’d been quiet and seemingly reflective. She was very likely embarrassed by what had been said the night before.

I would get safety from murderers and I would get orgasms. I’m sorry, Nicky, you’re going to tell me how that’s a bad deal for me.

He was going to make sure she understood that his protection wasn’t based on whether or not she slept with him.

Because he wasn’t sleeping with her. He couldn’t hurt her that way again.

“So she was your old lover’s cousin,” Owen mused. “The lover you weren’t exclusive with and who wouldn’t marry you. The pretty girl who looks at you like you’re the sun in the sky is her cousin.”

“She looks at me like she would look at man who can save her.”

“I can save her.” Owen’s eyes lit up, his brows waggling. “Maybe she’ll look at me like that.”

Anger flared through his system. “Don’t you dare. I told you I would take care of her.”

His arms crossed over his big chest and Nick knew he’d been had. “Well, that answers the question with more honesty. You can pretend, but you like the girl. And if you honestly don’t then you need to know that the boys got a good look at her last night. If she’s going to be hanging about, she should be ready for some serious male attention.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The lads talked it over last night and decided there’s no dibs on this one. They all saw her at pretty much the same time. They looked over that dead body and saw her walking in the hall and that was when the fighting started. We all sat down and decided no dibs on her. She’ll get to pick. You should know that Sasha and Jax have decided if she picks either of them, they’re willing to share. I don’t play that way. That’s something I do know about meself. No need for you to be telling me that tale. If there’s going to be some sharing in the bedroom, it’s going to be the traditional kind between a man and a woman and her stacked best friend. That’s what I say.”

“You tell those boys to stay away from her or they will be dealing with me. They will not like to be dealing with me. I will put up with many things from them. They can poke all the corpses they like. They can punch each other. I do not care. They touch Hayley and I will be caring.”

“Wow, now you do sound Russian. A scary Russian. Still, I think if you don’t want the girl, shouldn’t she be allowed to choose? Think about it. It could be fun.”

“Are we talking about the lost boys and their battle for the new chick?” Kayla strode in, her hair in a high ponytail. It bounced as she walked, a testament to her seemingly ever-sunny personality. “I had babysitting duty last night and they kept talking about her even after lights out. Bad boys. I had a plan though. I think we make them compete in a beauty pageant. Hayley gets to judge.”

“I’m judging a beauty pageant?” Hayley followed behind Kay, and both women were followed by Charlotte Taggart and Penelope Knight. It looked like Hayley was rapidly being accepted by the women on his team.

That was not necessarily a good thing. The women on his team could create chaos like no others.

“That sounds like fun,” Charlotte said with a smile. “I think we should require Speedos for the bathing suit competition. No boring board shorts. If Hayley’s picking a lover, she needs to see some booty.”

Hayley stopped, her cheeks going the sweetest color of pink. “Wait. What?”

Penelope put a hand on her arm. “They’re teasing you, dear. Don’t worry about it. The lads will be very polite. Though you should expect some suitors while you’re here. Especially if you come down to the dungeon.”

Now he was the one flushing. “Excuse me?”

Hayley shook her head as she joined him at the table. “It’s nothing. I was just talking to the girls. Did you get the report? Penny said the Dallas office had found something.”

He was all too aware that they weren’t alone. Damon and Ian walked in with Brody Carter and Walter Bennett. The four men settled into chairs as the women joined them. Nick held out a chair for Hayley. He would have to remember that he couldn’t leave her alone for a minute or someone would be whispering in her ear, giving her ideas she shouldn’t have.

Like visiting The Garden on a play night.

It wasn’t happening.

NY Times and USA Today bestselling author Lexi Blake lives in North Texas with her husband, three kids, and the laziest rescue dog int eh world. She began writing at a young age, concentrating on plays and journalism. It wasn’t until she started writing romance and urban fantasy that she found the stories of her heart. She likes to find humor in the strangest places and believes in happy endings no matter how odd the couple, threesome, or foursome may seem.

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Blog Tour & Excerpt: Lost In Between by KL Kreig

LOST IN BETWEEN
Series: Finding Me
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Author: KL Kreig
Release Date: February 20, 2017

We all have one.

A price.

That magic number that will get us to agree to do anything, be anything.

Don’t sit on your gold-plated high horse and say you don’t because you do. Everyone does. Each of us has something we covet enough that we’d sell ourselves to have it.

What’s my tipping point, you ask? Apparently a cool quarter mil will do the trick.

What does one do for 250 large, you wonder? Anything the infamous, gorgeous playboy of Seattle wants. For the next four months I’ll be Shaw Mercer’s arm candy, his beck and call girl, his faux girlfriend. I’ll be his to command, mold, push and pull in any direction he sees fit.

I’ll fight falling into bed with him. I’ll fight falling in love with him even harder. I’ll fail at both. And when my past and present collide in the most unexpected of ways, I’ll learn that while one man’s love for me has never died, the only man’s love I really want will never be mine.

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As long as Noah and I have known one another and as close as we are, he’s far from an open book. He holds some of life’s secrets so close to the vest, he’ll likely take them to his grave. So how he knows Ms. Randi Deveraux of La Dolce Vita is still a mystery he won’t divulge.When he told me his plan and showed me the picture of the woman who’d play my love interest for the next several months, I was immediately drawn to the her, but it took me a few seconds to realize why.

It was her.

My spicy little Goldilocks.

The one I haven’t heard from.

The one I haven’t been able to get out of my fucking head for the past eight days.

The one my cock involuntarily gets hard for in the dark of night.

The glossy-colored print I stared at for long minutes was a complete contradiction to the fiery woman I’d met.

On paper her exterior was flawless. Not one sculpted eyebrow out of place. Striking blue eyes rimmed with the right amount of shadow, liner, and mascara that made them alluring but not slutty. Pouty lips painted a deep shade of maroon, lined impeccably so the stain didn’t seep, then glossed enough in the middle to draw your attention to their fullness. Hair curled into loose ribbons that fell over her shoulders and down her slim back.

But while the outside was practiced perfection, the inside screamed dead. Not damaged, not broken or bruised, but lifeless. This beautiful creature went through the motions. She moved through life without living. I don’t know how I saw it, or why, but I know it wasn’t a product of my overactive imagination. This woman’s pain was rooted deep but she put on an award-winning façade that told the outside world otherwise.

I saw the same thing when I stared into her fierce eyes under the cover of my sunglasses days ago, but I also saw something else. Smoking embers buried under piles of ash. God help me, but for some reason I want to be the man who stokes those smoldering cinders until they spark into a burning inferno, bringing her roaring back to life.

Standing before her now, I’ve no doubt I’m the igniter, the single match needed to wake her from the living dead.

“Summer, is it?” I close the door behind me and move to the couch, gesturing for her to sit.

She doesn’t. She just blinks rapidly like she’s seeing a ghost. That makes me smile for some reason.

I know the name she’s using is fake. I hate it. Not the name, per se, but the fact that I don’t know her real one. I told Ms. Deveraux my circumstances and my concern around using a fake name. The press will eventually find out and it’s best if we’re up front in the beginning rather than if they dig, thinking we’re hiding something. That would be disastrous. She agreed but told me the decision was up to Summer. If she agreed to my terms, I could plead my case. If not, then her anonymity was still protected.

“You don’t look like a Summer,” I say casually as I take a seat and cross my legs.

Although in a way she does. She’s hot and sultry and I’ve no doubt she’s nice and moist in the place I’m dying to drive my cock. Jesus, she is absolutely mouthwatering. And she has the sexiest fucking voice I have ever heard. It’s no wonder I can’t stop thinking about her.

She crosses her arms and cocks a hip in irritation. “Is that so? What do I look like then?”

Mine.

Why that disturbing word pops into my head, I haven’t a clue. She is yours temporarily, though. If she agrees.

“How is your neck by the way?”

That seems to catch her off guard because her cocky bravado falters. “Uh…fine. It’s fine.” She unconsciously reaches up to palm it. My fingers itch, wishing they were on her skin instead. I still remember the electricity that ran down my arm when I touched her before. It set my cock on fire and it hasn’t stopped burning since. “You’re lucky, you know. I could be wearing a neck brace right now and be lawyered up.”

“And you’d still be just as beautiful.” I ignore the lawyer comment. I know it’s just a dig. When she blushes and looks away, my grin gets wider and I allow myself a few seconds to absorb her, head to toe. I find myself zeroing in on that tiny diamond stud in her nose, now catching the light. I first noticed it when she pounded on the window of my Rover calling me names. I generally find them childish, yet on her, I find myself incredibly turned on by it.

“Why don’t you take a seat?” On my lap would be preferable.

Defiant eyes snap back to mine. “Hit and run anyone else lately?”

“Hit and run?” I chuckle. “I didn’t hit and run you. I took accountability.”

“Yeah. After I dumped car parts into your lap, it was pretty hard to deny it any longer.”

Hell. This woman is full of restrained passion. She just needs someone to help her unleash it in a very controlled manner.

“Why haven’t you called about your car? Change your mind on whose fault it was?” I’m goading her, but Hot. Damn. The sparks firing from her are overly addictive.

“Oh, it was your fault, all right,” she snaps. “And I’ve been…busy.”

“Yes, I can imagine you have a very full schedule.” I sound more sarcastic than I intend, but the thought of her with other men makes me feel exactly the way I felt when I thought of Noah with her.

Her lips thin. She’s madder than a hornet. I’m harder than a two by four.

“Why are you here, Drive By?”

Drive By? I laugh at her feisty spirit. God, I want to kiss her. Feel her tongue sparring eagerly with mine. See if she tastes of rage and raw energy.

“I was under the impression you were agreeable to meeting with me.”

When Noah set this up, I insisted on three things.

One: it take place in Ms. Deveraux’s private home with her alone. There’s no way in hell I will be caught on film coming and going from her “business.”

Two: I meet with Ms. Deveraux in advance and work through the contractual details to my satisfaction. Let’s just say I now feel comfortable we have a mutual interest in keeping this arrangement buried deep.

And three: I be allowed to personally meet with “Summer” before she signs the contract. Surprisingly, that was the toughest piece to negotiate. Seems Ms. Deveraux is very protective of her, or maybe she’s that way with all of her employees.

Everything I have done to secure her has deviated from Ms. Deveraux’s normal course of business, but this situation is far from normal. It’s reckless at worst. Precarious at best.

“How did you find me?”

Sheer, dumb luck.

“I’m very resourceful.”

Her forehead creases. “This is a mistake.”

She turns to leave and I panic. True blistering panic sears through me at the thought she’s about to walk through that door and I may never see her again. I don’t know her real name. I don’t know how to contact her and if this meeting goes south, I know I won’t get anything further about her from Randi Deveraux. If she walks out on me now, I highly doubt she’ll give me the time of day when she finally does call Dane about her car.

I don’t know why I care that I spend the next few months with her and only her so damn much. I just do.

“Wait,” I plead.

She stops but doesn’t turn. I have no idea what possesses me, but I close the distance between us until I’m a whisper away. Our body heat plays off each other, growing hotter by the second.

“You haven’t even listened to my proposal,” I say against her ear.

Her breath kicks up. Good. She’s not unaffected by me, and that will play into my hand nicely.

“You can get someone else,” she replies softly, without conviction.

Drawing her long hair off her shoulder, I let my finger feather across her bare flesh. It’s soft and silky. She shivers. I suppress a moan. Fuck, I want her so much. It makes no sense.

“I don’t want anyone else,” I tell her truthfully, keeping my voice low.

“Why?” she breathes.

I don’t know why. I have no idea what it is about her that draws me in. I wish I did. I need to stop it. I should end this right now—look at a dozen other pictures and pick a woman whose very presence doesn’t twist me into knots and make me have thoughts I’ve never had before. Thoughts that make me uncomfortable. It’s unnerving.

But, fuck me. I can’t. There is just something different about this woman and I won’t rest until I find out what it is.

“Have a seat. Just hear me out. Please,” I tack on sincerely.

She stands motionless and I wonder what her next move will be. My hands curl into fists as I restrain myself from throwing her over my shoulder and hauling her to my house. I think she could benefit greatly from a hard hand and a red ass. I have a feeling she might even enjoy it.

When she floats effortlessly to one of the velvet-covered chairs, I release a veiled breath. Picking up the contract from the edge of Ms. Deveraux’s desk, I make myself comfortable across from her and place the paperwork on the table separating us. Her eyes drop to it but she makes no move to pick it up.

“So what’s your proposal, Mr. Knowles?”

“Mr. Knowles?”

“That’s your name, right? Dane Knowles. Wildemer & Company?”

Amused, I rest my elbows on my knees and grin at her. “No. Dane is my assistant. I told you to call him and he’d take care of the damage to your death box.”

“Death box?” She sounds offended.

“Do you know what the safety rating is on that little tin can you drive?” When she opens her mouth to respond, I talk over her. “Five point seven out of ten. You’re basically driving around in your own steel coffin.”

I expect a hot retort or for her to leave in a huff. What I don’t expect is a genuine, breathtaking smile that lights up her face like summer and makes my cock knock uncomfortably on my zipper in a futile attempt to reach her. My God, she’s trying to kill me already.

“Are you a walking Kelly Blue Book of safety ratings, Mr.…?”

“I have a vast array of useless Trivial Pursuit knowledge up here,” I retort with a smirk, finger pointing to my temple. I’ll never admit that I looked it up after our little accident. She could be seriously hurt in that ridiculous miniature box on wheels that somehow passes for a fucking car. Hell, had I hit her any harder, she would be in the hospital. “And I’m Shaw. Shaw Mercer.”

“Shaw Mercer,” she repeats slowly like she’s tasting my name for the first time. Savoring every consonant and every vowel. Fuck. I sit back and cross one leg over the other to hide my rock-hard erection.

“Any relation to Preston Mercer?”

I nod, impressed that she tied me back to my father instead of referring to me as one of Seattle’s most eligible bachelors. She’s intelligent and up on politics. I like that. Immensely. If you ask three-fourths of the residents of Seattle, they wouldn’t be able to tell you how many branches of government there are, something that’s taught in middle school, let alone who the mayor of Seattle is.

“So why is the mayor’s son…here?”

Her eyes are locked on mine, waiting on an answer.

When she swallows I follow the delicate line of her neck down to the swell of her breasts that peek out from the light pink strapless flowing dress she’s wearing like a fucking Greek goddess. One flick of my finger and I could find out the color of her areolas and the size of her nipples before I draw one into my mouth for a sample. My mouth waters at the thought.

The conversation that Ms. Deveraux and I had earlier about expectations sits hard in the pit of my stomach. On one hand, I was relieved to get confirmation she doesn’t sell herself, only her “time,” but now that I’m sitting here in front of her, I won’t rest until she lets me explore every square inch of not only her perfect body, but her complex mind. I want to know her like no one else has.

When our gazes connect again I’m sure mine is full of unmistakable heat. Hers definitely is.

She clears her throat and straightens her back. “I think you have the wrong idea about what it is I do.”

“I don’t,” I state plainly.

“I don’t sleep with my clients, Mr. Mercer.”

Oh, but you will. We both know our ingredients are explosive.

“Women would pay to have sex with me, not the other way around.”

She huffs a laugh as a wry look crosses her face. “Then what is it you need if not a good fuck?”

I chuckle and when I lean forward she straightens her spine. I love that even the simplest of movements I make in her direction affect her, just like she does to me. “Is that what I’ll be missing with you? A good fuck?” I won’t be missing a damn thing. She will be mine in every conceivable way. I know it and so does she.

“Not just good. Life altering,” she banters smoothly.

Now it’s my turn to smile slowly. What I wouldn’t give to throw her up against the wall and show her just what a life-altering fuck really is. For what seems like forever we stare at each other in some sort of weird silent challenge where we’re waiting to see what move the other will make.

Shaking myself out of her spell, I pick up the papers and hand them to her.

“What’s this?”

“Your employment contract.”

“All the paperwork is handled through Randi.”

“I want a little extra insurance.”

She quickly flips through the five-page document before lifting her eyes. “Nondisclosure agreement? This is sounding very fifty shades-ish. And just so you know, if I find any mention of hard limits or safe words, that’s a deal breaker.”

I can’t help but laugh loudly.

“I’m not kidding,” she says, her voice stern.

“Trust me, Goldilocks, if I could have gotten that past your warrior she-devil, I would have.”

Her eyes narrow, but I see a little twitch at the corner of her mouth so I forge ahead, making a mental note to invest in handcuffs and a flogger. Or six.

“The duration is for approximately the next four months. Ten hours a week, maybe more, maybe less, depending on my schedule. You may be required to travel and you will be available at all times when I need you, day or night. You will attend social events, fundraisers, business dinners, and family functions. You will be photographed and it’s only fair to warn you, you will likely be hounded by the press but I’ll try to shield you as much as possible.”

She regards me quietly. I wish I could tell what’s spinning around in that pretty little head of hers. A corner of my mouth tips when she says, “Reelection is just around the corner.”

Not a question and I don’t answer, but score another point for her.

For not the first time I wonder if this little plan of Noah’s will backfire, taking us all down in a curl of hot flames. She figured out what I was doing within two minutes. Lianna would be a far safer, more believable choice. But there’s also an undeniable, powerfully charged connection between us that will be hard for people to refute.

“And what is my role, specifically?”

Deciding I don’t care if this entire thing blows up in my face because that means I won’t get what I want—which is her—I stand and step around the table, holding out my hand.

When she tentatively sets hers in mine, I help her up and wrap one arm around her waist.

Pulling her close, I relish in the hitch of her breath. Cupping her cheek, I savor the baby-fine skin under the pad of my thumb. I take a deep breath, drinking in her delicately floral scent. She’s intoxicating and my head is already spinning.

“What are you doing?” she whispers, her small hands going to my chest.

Dipping my head, I trail my nose along her jaw, stopping so my lips brush her ear. “Making sure we have chemistry.”

She mutters a curse under her breath I know I’m not meant to hear before stuttering, “Wh…why?”

Fuck, if she only knew the dirty things running through my head right now.

“Because, my wide-eyed little pretty, you’re going to play my new love interest. My girlfriend. My serious girlfriend.” I emphasize the word so she understands what she’s getting herself into. I won’t pay her to be in my bed but that doesn’t mean she won’t end up there anyway.

“I…I haven’t agreed to anything yet.” Her breathlessness is testing me and she’s only about half an inch away from finding out exactly how much.

Walking into this meeting, I had already agreed to what I thought was a generous offer with her boss, madam, keeper, whatever she’s called. But after the last fifteen minutes, I’ve decided I will pay whatever it takes to have her. To own her. I think I would give away my own soul.

Framing her face with both hands now, I lean in until my mouth is a hairsbreadth from hers. Her eyes fall to my lips. I feel her wariness, but I also feel her hunger. She parts her lips and I watch with a deep ache in my groin as her tongue darts out to moisten them in anticipation of my kiss.

I restrain from slamming my mouth to hers, taking what I want. What she wants me to take, regardless of how she’s trying to refute me.

“But you will. Everyone has a price, Summer. What’s yours?”


As a USA Today Bestselling author, I write stories that are deeply emotional with flawed characters, because humans ARE flawed and if we read about perfect characters living in their perfect world, first of all, snoozer, but secondly, we never experience the gratification of redemption.

Outside of writing, I’m just a regular ol’ Midwest girl who likes Game of Thrones and am obsessed with Modern Family and The Goldbergs. I run, I eat, I run, I eat. It’s a vicous cycle. I love carbs, but there’s love-hate relationship with my ass and thighs. Mostly hate. I like a good cocktail (oh hell…who am I kidding? I love any cocktail). I’m a huge creature of habit, but I’ll tell you I’m flexible. I read every single day and if I don’t get a chance…watch the hell out. My iPad and me: BFFs. I’m direct and I make no apologies for it. I swear too much. I love alternative music and in my next life I want to be a bad-ass female rocker. I hate, hate, hate spiders, telemarketers, liver, acne, winter and loose hairs that fall down my shirt (don’t ask, it’s a thing).

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Series Spotlight, Excerpt & Giveaway: Ex-Con by @katanacollins

Who likes their bad boys EXTRA bad and EXTRA sexy? I have your next addiction right here!!

Ex-Con is the first book the newest Harrison Street Crew series from author Katan Collins and you don’t want to miss it. This Sons of Anarchy meets Fast and the Furious series is a gritty, erotic romance featuring the quintessential “bad boy” hero and kick ass heroine. Though the Harrison Street Crew is a series, each book is a stand alone novel featuring a different member from the car club. The second book in the series, Outlaw, is scheduled to release on March 7th, 2017. Book 1 is being released as a serialized novel, in 3 parts in the span of 3 weeks, and part 1 and 2 are already available now! Part 3 is releasing on February 14, 2017.


Ex-Con (Part 1)
Author: Katana Collins
Serialized in 3 Parts, Roughly 350 pages
Genre: Contemporary, Erotic Romance
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (Swerve)

Ex-convict Shane McGill is as rugged and wild as they come. Bad to the bone and back on the streets, he’ll do anything and say anything to survive. Even if that something means joining the one car club he had worked so hard to avoid. But there’s one person out there who can match him toe-to-toe…the hot mechanic pin-up doll of a woman with the body of a goddess and tomboy attitude would even give him a chance.
Charlize “Charlie” Wakeman fixes cars and doesn’t suffer fools. But when the hot as hell ex-convict Shane McGill enters her mechanic shop, she can’t resist one wild night with him. It was just meant to be a fling…the wildest, most thrilling fling of her life. But Shane’s too ruthless, too bad to ignore, and Charlie can’t stop herself from coming back for more.
Shane McGill learned one thing from prison—if you get a second chance, don’t screw it up. Shane doesn’t regret a single second of his life once he’s found Charlie. She’s the happiest, hottest, most important thing to happen to him. But as tensions rise in the Harrison Street Crew, his relationship with Charlie takes on a new level of heat, and danger…

Ex-Con: Part 1Ex-Con: Part 2Ex-Con: Part 3

 “He’s the one. I can feel it.” Charlize “Charlie” Wakeman could feel the flush in her cheeks and the grin on her face as she reclined in her office chair.

You say that every time, Charlie,” Michelle, her best friend since kindergarten, said.

Kicking her feet onto her desk at back of the garage, she cradled her cell phone between her ear and shoulder. The Tiffany-blue accents created a peaceful work environment against the stark white walls. Most people would think she was crazy to have sleek white furniture in her mechanics’ shop office, but to Charlie? It was calming and a much needed reprieve from the greasy garage. Not that she didn’t love the grease. But just because she could kick ass under a hood didn’t mean she didn’t also love her more feminine side as well.

No, Michelle, this is it. I’m telling you. He’s perfect.”

You do this every time. You tell yourself things are perfect and within a week you’re threatening to remove parts piece by piece.”

It’s different this time.” Charlie stood, peering out into the front of the garage where Rick waited. She stared, her mouth watering. Needing, wanting. “He needs a little work, yeah. But a few tweaks here and there—”

See? That’s how it begins.”

I’m gonna go for it. I need to at least try. No regrets, right?”

Charlie, no—”

She hung up before her friend could talk some sense into her, and stole a quick glance in the mirror. “Shit,” she muttered, grabbing a tissue and wiping a bit of grease off her temple. The black oil streaked her red hair and she sighed, flipping her part to the other side to cover it. It would have to do. Nothing short of a hot shower would remove that black smear from her hair.

Reaching for her checkbook, she took a quick glance at her balance in the business account. Eight thousand. Sure, that seemed like a lot, but for a garage, it was barely enough to make rent, electricity, and water; pay for supplies and parts; and pay off her monthly business loan. Not to mention her personal bills—rent for her house and little things like, you know, food. That number was low. Too low for her liking. Especially since she’d missed her last three months of the loan payment. That damn interest was killing her. Sucking in a sharp breath she tossed the checkbook back down onto her desk beside the stacks of overdue bills.

One thing at a time,” Charlie whispered to herself before shutting her office door behind her.

Rick,” she said entering the garage. Her eyes flicked to the 1971 AMC Hornet and her whole body purred at those sleek lines. Oh, how she wanted that car. Needed him. She could see herself riding it late into the night, windows down during the balmy Boston summers. “I crunched some numbers and I’ll be honest with you, it’s a great car. He’s in rough shape, though. Despite that, I’m interested in him.” Interested? Ha. That was the understatement of the year. She was wet for that car.

Rick gave a chuckle and shook his head. “Him? Sweetheart, this baby is all woman. At least until your check clears. Then it could be a damn hermaphrodite for all I care.”

Until your check clears. His statement caused her heart to stumble. Would her check clear? If she could get the car for a decent price, Charlie was certain she could flip it for a profit within a few weeks. She needed that. She needed the big-ticket item to get her garage back in the black. Though she had enough money to pay most of this month’s bills, she still had the previous three months’ debt. Not to mention her personal rent at home which she didn’t pay last month. She needed a big payoff. Something that would not only allow her to pay off this month’s bills, but catch up on the previous as well. Without that, next month she’d have just as many bills, even more debt, and nothing in her account to pay it all off with. At least by spending that money now on a car, she could keep the garage going another month. Maybe two. And if she gets the car for cheap enough, she could even do it all over again next month. Find another fixer-upper and turn it for a profit.

Sweeping her gaze across the garage, the parking lot was lined with small jobs. Oil changes, tire rotations; small gigs that took time and paid very little. Her dad was trying to help by bringing in the Boston PD car maintenance to her shop. But in the end, those small jobs were reducing her hourly bottom line. Even still, money was money. She couldn’t turn away business, no matter how small or low-paying the job was. “So? How much for it?” she said, purposefully leaving gender out and wetting her lips nervously.

I need at least twenty. And I’m losing money at that.”

Fuck. Charlie shook her head and turned back for the office. “I’m happy to negotiate, Rick, but don’t insult me. We both know that you couldn’t get twenty thousand for that car in its current condition if it came equipped with a gold dashboard and a man to give me head while I drove. Now give me a real number or get the fuck out of my garage.”

Rick sucked his teeth, but there was a smirk twisting at the corners of his mouth. “You know the drill. It’s your turn to throw down a number.”

Two.”

He snorted, shaking his head. “Bitch,” he muttered.

You throw an insulting number my way, but when I do the same I’m a bitch?”

He rushed to the hood, throwing it open. “This is a V8, two-barrel carb, 245 gross horsepower. It’s the rarest AMC muscle out there.”

Yeah, but you and I both know that the four-barrel is faster and more cherished by collectors. And the two-barrel is a helluva lot more work.” She gave a light kick to the back bumper. “And this thing is in rough shape. Seventy thousand miles on it.”

Lucky you’re the best mechanic in Southie.”

It’s a little late to try buttering me up, Rick. All that’s gonna do is give you a fat ass,” she said.

Only if I eat you.” He grinned.

She fiddled with some cables, dipping her head back into the engine, ignoring that comment. They hardly fazed her anymore. One year owning her garage in Southie, and she’d fucking heard it all. “Three thousand,” she said, knowing he’d never take a number that low.

Fifteen,” he countered. He was still shitting her. For a Hornet in this condition? That was an insane number. That’s what she was hoping to sell it for once she finished fixing it up, for Christ’s sake.

Look at all that rust. Finding original parts is going to be a bitch.” Except that she already had a bunch of parts stored in the back of her garage. Not that she’d be telling him that. She’d been saving them, scrapping them together when she found them at the perfect price, and digging through the scrap yard on her days off. All waiting for the day she found the Hornet of her dreams. Don’t get attached, she told herself. She had to sell this baby for a profit.

Who are you kidding, Charlie? You love that shit. You live for it.”

Not at fifteen thousand, I don’t. Besides, even if you don’t sell it to me, there’s only a handful of garages in this neighborhood. There’s a pretty good chance that whoever buys it will be bringing it in here to fix up anyway. I get to work on this car regardless. The question is, do I get to drive it after?” She paused. “Four thousand.”

He sighed. She was breaking him down and they both knew it. “Eight. That’s more than fair and you know it.”

It was his first reasonable offer. And yet still two thousand higher than her budget. She needed to keep at least a couple thousand in her account to order parts and pay Declan his rent this month. She paced around to the back of the car, kicking the tires. “It’s got the original sea-foam green interior leather,” he added.

Yeah, shitty and cracked. Again, the amount of patchwork that’s gonna take to restore it to period is more than the damn thing is worth. Fifty-five hundred. My final offer.” Charlie held her breath . . . she’d even given herself extra breathing room in case he countered one last time.

He nodded, holding out his hand, and Charlie grasped it quickly before he could pull it back right along with the offer. If there was one thing she’d learned living in Southie, it was that no one went back on a handshake. “Excellent. You got the title with you?”

Sure do. Lemme just go grab it.” Rick walked out into the parking lot, and Charlie waited until he was out the door before launching herself into the air, jumping around and dancing. Bending at the waist, she dropped a kiss on the hood. Yes! This was what she needed. It might deplete her bank account momentarily, but overall this restoration project was going to do well for her. At fifty-five hundred, after expenses, she could easily make ten to twelve thousand of profit off of this car, finally paying off her debt and be in the black with her business.

Well, you sure as shit ripped that guy off.” The low voice was deep with a quiet intensity that permeated Charlie’s bones. The blood rushed away from her face, and her entire body solidified with clenched muscles. Shit. She hadn’t realized she had other customers waiting.

Standing straight, she smoothed her T-shirt, pulling the hem lower and clenching her teeth to keep herself from biting her lip. “What are you talking about?” she said as she turned toward the voice. And if Charlie thought his voice was sexy . . . holy hell. It was nothing compared to the man standing before her. He wore faded jeans with the beginnings of holes at the knees and a tight white T-shirt that gripped bulging muscles beneath. The material hugged his biceps so tightly that she feared any movement would result in a Hulk-like tearing of the material off of his body. A tattoo, something angular looking, started below his sleeve, curving around his bicep before dipping under the shirt which hid the rest of it. His long, light brown hair was wavy, edging just below his ears, with stubble a shade darker covering his sharp jaw.

You got a Hornet two-barrel for under ten thousand?” he said. “Either he didn’t know what he had, or he was hypnotized by your tight jeans.” Moss-green eyes pierced into her, a smile softening the back handed compliment, and Charlie felt her body shiver under his gaze. This guy was bad news. And she should know; she’d seen enough guys like him in this part of town this last year. She’d sworn to herself that she wouldn’t get involved with any of the local guys here. Too much of pissing where you eat. Even as her brain was telling her to step back, her body was clenching with desire for the stranger.

It’s business,” she countered when she finally found her voice again. “And speaking of, what can I help you with?” Charlie grabbed a rag on the shop table and wiped her hands. Anything to keep herself busy and not stare at this guy. Or worse, touch him.

She looked up in time to catch his green eyes still on her. Faint wrinkles fanned from each corner, and smile lines framed his mouth spotlighting the exact area she wanted to press her lips against.

My cousin told me this was the best place in town now that Dec’s retired. I got a car that ain’t running so good.”

Charlie licked her lips and jerked her head into the empty spot beside her new Hornet. “Pull her on in, and let me have a look.”

I’d love to . . . but she won’t even make it inside on her own. Barely got her the five blocks here in the first place.”

Five blocks. This guy only lived five blocks away? And yet she’d never seen him around before today. He didn’t wait for Charlie’s response before he turned and walked out for the parking lot. He dragged one leg with a slight limp. Very slight. She wouldn’t have really noticed it if she hadn’t been staring so damn hard at his ass. She followed him to where a smoking 1976 Corvette Stingray was parked. Literally smoking, with stacks of dark gray clouds streaming out of the open hood. “What the—”

She hasn’t been driven in almost four years,” he said, reading her thoughts.

Well, that’ll do it.” Charlie sighed, waving away the smoke. “I can’t even take a look until the engine cools. There’s a waiting room right inside. Grab yourself a coffee. I’ll settle up on my Hornet, then have a look.”

Coffee,” he repeated as though she had mentioned a long-lost lover he hadn’t seen in years. Like the very mention of her name conjured visions and memories. And Charlie could have gotten lost in that dreamy gaze of his.

Um, yeah,” she said, barely recognizing her own voice as it came out a few notes lower and more gravely than intended. “Through that door.” She swiped her hand across her jeans before extending it to the man. “I’m Charlie, by the way.”

Charlie?”

Short for Charlize.”

His hand curved into hers, the pad of his thumb skimming over her skin. The tenderness of his touch lurched through her body, and she locked her grip in his palm as though maintaining that handshake could somehow steady her. His eyes studied hers, moving quickly across her face, and she momentarily feared that he could see everything. His penetrating stare could have sliced her right open, spilling her feelings and secrets right to his feet. “Shane,” he answered.

There was something in his eyes; something different than how other men looked at her. She wasn’t blind. She knew the reason most of the local guys came to her shop. It wasn’t just because she knew her way around a 396-cubic-inch engine . . . it was because she knew her shit about cars, but she also looked damn good while working on them. And they loved to watch as she bent into their hoods, probably imagining that she was bending over their dicks. But Shane seemed different. He didn’t just look at her—he saw her, his gaze intense and hungry. The sort of lust she hadn’t allowed herself to give into in a year.

He pulled his hand back, and Charlie watched as he took his time walking inside before she allowed herself to catch her bottom lip between her teeth. Damn, that was a fine man. Typically, she found herself lusting for horsepower and engines and mufflers. But today? It was the man behind the wheel she craved, not the engine beneath the hood.

She didn’t have time for a boyfriend. If there was anything her previous relationship had taught her, it was that no man was better than the wrong man. With her business coming up on its first year anniversary and the fact that she couldn’t afford any employees to help tackle the work load, almost every free moment she had was spent here at the shop. But damn, would he be fun to take home for a night.

In the year Charlie had been working in Southie, she’d learned that the men here cherished their cars . . . and it was bad news if someone treated something they cherished like shit. And that guy in there? He’d barely given his “baby” any attention in years, to the point that she was barely running. Using her phone as a decoy, she watched him through the window. Despite the hard veneer, he seemed to have a gentleness to him that she hadn’t seen in men around these parts before. Rough, but pliable. Like sandpaper that bristles against your skin on one side, but with hardly any effort can rip right in half.

Christ, what was she doing? She wasn’t looking to marry the guy. Sandpaper or velvet or fucking steel, he could still be good for one thing . . . one night. Just because she didn’t want to tie him down with a wedding band didn’t mean she couldn’t tie him down to her bedpost. One and done, a little voice said in her head. Would one night be so bad? A relationship would be too much work at the moment . . . and she already had one job taking up most of her time. But one night did not equal a relationship . . .

It had been a year since Charlie had been with a man. A year since she’d felt the weight of him on top of her or his scratchy scruff brush between her legs. A year too long. She watched through the window as Shane limped to the coffee machine and carefully poured the ebony liquid into a paper cup. He cupped it gently, bringing the cup to those full lips of his and pausing, inhaling deeply before taking a long, lingering sip. His pink tongue darted out and he licked his top lip in a long, luxurious swipe.

Shit. She needed that tongue on her body.

She was going to fix his Stingray, and before he left her shop today she was going to convince him to give her a ride . . . and not in his car.

Found it!” Rick called from the other end of the lot, waving the Hornet’s title. “You’re going home with one hell of a catch tonight.”

You bet I am,” she said.

DREAM CAST

Katana Collins is lucky enough to love her day job almost as much as she loves writing. She splits her time evenly between photographing boudoir and newborn portraits and writing steamy romances in a variety of genres — paranormal, contemporary, new adult and suspense.

She lives in Portland, Maine, with an ever-growing brood of rescue animals: a kind of mean cat, a very mellow chihuahua, and a very not mellow lab puppy… oh yeah, there’s a husband somewhere in that mix, too. She can usually be found hunched over her laptop in a cafe, guzzling gallons of coffee, and wearing fabulous (albeit sometimes impractical) shoes.

www.katanacollins.com

Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @katanacollins

Enter HERE for a chance to win an ebook of EX-CON (Part 1)

Blog Tour, Review & Giveaway: Vicious by LJ Shen

VICIOUS
Series: Sinners of Saint
Author: LJ Shen
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 1, 2017

Emilia

They say love and hate are the same feelings experienced under different circumstances, and it’s true.

The man who comes to me in my dreams also haunts me in my nightmares.

He is a brilliant lawyer.

A skilled criminal.

A beautiful liar.

A bully and a savior, a monster and a lover.

Ten years ago, he made me run away from the small town where we lived. Now, he came for me in New York, and he isn’t leaving until he takes me with him.

Vicious

She is a starving artist.

Pretty and evasive like cherry blossom.

Ten years ago, she barged into my life unannounced and turned everything upside down.

She paid the price.

Emilia LeBlanc is completely off-limits, my best friend’s ex-girlfriend. The woman who knows my darkest secret, and the daughter of the cheap Help we hired to take care of our estate.

That should deter me from chasing her, but it doesn’t.

So she hates me. Big fucking deal.

She better get used to me.

AMAZON

“You’re pissing me off,” she said quietly, her eyes still searching my face.“And that’s turning me on,” I retorted, my voice flat. “So you might wanna tone down the hate glares if you don’t wanna find yourself being fucked on this desk with the blinds still open.”

I was still staring at my screen, working on the merger deal I was eager to get signed before Christmas, but I could see from my peripheral that she had paled. I liked how—once again—I’d gotten under her skin. Quickly.

“You’re disgusting,” she muttered, still staring at me—but not in a way that suggested she was appalled.

I cracked my neck, opening my browser and checking the stocks on the screen, skimming through the greens and the reds. “That may well be, but I’m balls deep in your fucking head, Help, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Her eyes glittered with rage, and fuck, I was so hard, and fuck, she was so beautiful. This was so on. I was going to fuck Dean’s ex-girlfriend, use her for my personal needs, and toss her away when I was done.

And after choosing the wrong guy, there was no doubt in my mind, she deserved it too.

“You just gave Floyd a lecture about the inter-office fraternization policy. No mixing business and pleasure.” She leaned forward. Her elbow touched my finger accidentally, and she jerked it away.

I met her halfway, erasing the space between us across the desk. “Correction—guys like Floyd won’t give you pleasure. Men like me would. Besides, the man likes Arrow,” I drawled, as if this alone was a reason to fire him.

To me, it was.

“You know what your problem is, Vicious? You still haven’t decided if you hate me or like me. That’s why you act like this every time I’m around other men.” There wasn’t a trace of embarrassment in her voice. She owned up to this.

What she didn’t know was that I knew exactly how I felt about her.

I hated her, but was attracted to her. It was really that simple.

“You know what I feel right now, Ms. LeBlanc? I feel like you need to pack a fucking bag and start making the necessary arrangements. You’re coming with me to California, whether you like it or not.”

My obsession. My muse. My enemy.

It’s official. L.J. Shen is a witch. How else could the woman possibly crawl inside my mind and create a story that seriously felt custom written for me?
Uber angst? Check!
Hot alphahole hero? Holy hell, CHECK!
A heroine that’s the perfect blend of innocent but with a steel backbone? Check!
An enemies to lovers story that left me practically salivating? CHECK!
A sexual chemistry and a burn so good it makes you want to slap yo mama? CHECK!
An addicting, obsessive read from cover to cover? ABSOLUTELY FREAKING CHECK!!!

This guy is going to break my heart if I let him.

The Four HotHoles rule All Saints High. All the guys want to hang out with them and all the girls want to sleep with them. It doesn’t matter that women are more disposable to them than a pair of socks, they’ll gladly give up their dignity for a night…or a few hours in their bed. Vicious is the most brutal of the four. He’s a coldblooded asshole that practice bubbles over with barely surprised rage. And the target for the brunt of his anger is Emilia, his classmate and daughter of the hired help living at his father’s mansion.

Vicious was vicious. It was too bad that my hate for him was dipped in a thin shell of something that felt like love. But I promised myself I’d crack it, break it, and unleash pure hatred in its place before he got to me.

Emilia was a heroine you can’t help but like. They say the line is thin between love and hate and that’s definitely the case here. She wants to hate Vicious and he surely gives her plenty of reason to…and yet, he’s like a magnet drawing her in.

Shen did a phenomenal job with character development, that you don’t just read what they’re feeling, you feel it. That couldn’t be more true with Emilia. I clicked with her from the very first page. Here’s a heroine that’s down on her luck, down to her last penny, barely making ends meet working two jobs to support herself and her sick sister, but she still has this undercurrent of strength that you can’t help but respect.

Intersected with flashbacks to their high school years, the story develops in the present. Years after Emilia left All Saints High and Vicious behind. But circumstances soon bring her face to face once more with a man that made her teenage years a living hell.

I want to fuck you and watch your face while I do. To see how you drown in me as I hurt you as much as it hurts me to have to see your goddamn face every day.” 

Now if you’re an angst lover like me, you will gobble up everything about this book and be left begging for more. The sexual tension between Vicious and Emilia crackles with electricity. I loved that added burn of hate lust between them. The woman definitely gave him a run for his money and for all his thinly veiled insults that he throws her way, you can see just how much he craves her underneath it all.

You’re pissing me off,” she said quietly, her eyes still searching my face.
“And that’s turning me on,” I retorted, my voice flat. “So you might wanna tone down the hate glares if you don’t wanna find yourself being fucked on this desk with the blinds still open.”

The writing was absolutely brilliant. Shen simply gets better and better with each book she writes and she truly outdid herself with this one. She gave us four heroes that you not only click with but obsess over. Sure, this book is focused on Vicious and I loved every page of it. But I also loved the three other HotHoles and if the set up for two of them is anything to go by, I already know I need their books.

As for this book? This is what obsession is made of. This book. These characters. This romance. It was too delicious for words. Simply. Addicting.

This is not a relationship. It’s two people fucking the obsession out of each other.”

L.J. Shen resides in sunny California with her husband, son, chubby cat and wild, wild dreams.

Her passion is to write badass stories, sushi, UFC and her awesome family and friends (not in this order, though. Obviously, sushi comes before writing. Oh, and also the family part.)

She spend the first half of her twenties traveling the world and is now paying all the fun with extra shifts in front of her MacBook. Feel free to contact her on her Facebook page. She loves to hear from her readers.

https://www.facebook.com/authorljshen/

Social Media links:

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Website ➜ www.ljshen.com

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Also Available On Sale (Limited Time)

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Head over to LJ’s Facebook Page for multiple giveaways

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Teaser Tuesday Excerpt: Raw Deal by Cherrie Lynn

RAW DEAL by Cherrie Lynn
E-Original published by Swerve
Publication Date: January 24, 2017
ISBN: 9781250126368
Price: $3.99

Savannah’s brother was killed in a cage fight with Mike “Red Reaper” Larson after a savage punch to the head.

When Mike shows up at the funeral, he’s nothing like Savannah expected. Gone is the fierce, brutal beast she’s seen in the cage. In his place is a beautiful man torn with guilt, seeking forgiveness, and willing to do anything to ease her pain.

Her family doesn’t approve, but her heart doesn’t stand a chance. Irresistibly drawn together, neither of them can deny the intoxicating desire unleashed between them, turning their pain into the most exquisite pleasure.
But every time Mike steps into the cage, Savannah knows she could lose him too. She can’t go through that again, but how can she let go of the one man who sets her body and soul on fire?

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New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CHERRIE LYNN has been a CPS caseworker and a juvenile probation officer, but now she writes contemporary and paranormal romance on the steamy side. She’s also an unabashed rock music enthusiast, and she is fond of hitting the road with her husband to catch their favorite bands live. Cherrie lives in East Texas.

Website | Facebook | Twitter |  Instagram 

She lifted her head to look up at him, horrified by his story. “The first day we met, Michael, you told me you were a horrible person. I’m confused. The person you’re describing is not that, not at all. The person who arranged this trip so Rowan and I can feel better is not that.”Even in the darkness, she could see the cold void in his eyes, as if he were looking at something terrible that only he could see. “Bad shit follows me, Savannah. It just does. I don’t know if I’m working off some kind of karma or what. It never ends.”

“That can’t be true,” she protested. “I accept that Tommy was an accident. My family probably never will, but that’s how they are. It’s no reflection on you because the way they feel is based on a lie.”

“Tommy isn’t the only one.”

Those words affected her like ghostly fingertips up her spine. “Who?” she asked softly.

“When I was a kid, my mother had a new man every month, and none of them except for one or two were worth a shit. The ones who were decent didn’t last long, because they couldn’t deal with her issues. But it seemed the worse they were, the longer they were around. Some of them were straight-up predators. I was a kid and I saw these things; she was an adult and she didn’t, or else she didn’t care.”

Savannah didn’t need to hear any more. She didn’t think she could. “Anything you did in defense of your family was completely understandable.”

“Is it?” he asked, searching her eyes. “Why does it still follow me?”

“Maybe because you let it?”

“Believe me, if I could shake it, I would.”

“I know. Easier said than done. Probably the worst thing I’ve ever done is shoplift a box of condoms; I’m not one to give advice.”

He blinked at her and then, amazingly, burst out laughing. The shock of it stunned her, but after a moment of embarrassed silence—had she really just told him that?—she couldn’t help but join in. My, but he was gorgeous when he laughed. “Well! I didn’t want the lady at the checkout counter to know I was going to have sex. Turns out I didn’t anyway. What a jackass that guy turned out to be.” Actually, the damn things expired before she could ever use even one of them, but he didn’t have to know that.

“To think I risked a misdemeanor over him.”

“I needed that,” Mike said once he’d caught his breath. “But don’t hold it against me that I’m glad you sent the jackass packing.”

“Oh, I’m glad too. I should have made him get the damn condoms.”

Easily, naturally, Mike’s hands found hers again, both of them. This time his fingers laced through hers, sending a nice shivery sensation through her. The slightly uncomfortable girth of his fingers between hers had her thoughts running wild with imagining the girth of other areas of his body.

“You’re something else,” he said.

“But you don’t know what, right?” she teased.

“No,” he admitted, shaking his head a little dazedly. “I don’t know what. Yet.”

“Same here.” Oh God, was he leaning closer? She felt dizzy looking up at him with the stars all around his head, like they revolved around him. A small wave washed up around her feet, cool and fleeting. Simple as that wave that touched her, his lips touched hers, then drew back. Simple, but enormous. Savannah shivered, drinking in his breath, off balance and whirling though she stood perfectly still, held to earth by nothing but his hands holding hers.

More. Please. She tried to tell him without saying a word, looking into his eyes, seeing the raw need there. And he came back to her, his mouth opening against hers now to invite a deeper contact. The wind whipped wildly around them and she let him in, let his tongue tease inside her mouth and coax hers out to play. His thumbs drew lazy circles on her palms, drawing desire from a wellspring inside her that had been dry for so long now—

“Mike!” a shout came, borne on the wind. It jolted them apart, Savannah blushing and trying to tame her hair into something that looked like it was attached to her head, Mike straightening his shirt.

Review & Excerpt Tour: Perfectly Paired by Lexi Blake

perfectly-paired-reviewPerfectly Paired
Series: Masters and Mercenaries: Topped #3
Genre: Contemporary, BDSM Romance
Author: Lexi Blake
Release Date: November 29, 2016add-to-goodreads-button-2

perfectlypaired_highres

A table for two

Waitress Tiffany Hayes knows what she wants and she wants Sebastian. Top’s grumpy sommelier calls to her in a way no man has before. She simply needs to show him that they belong together. Finding an opportunity to spend some quality time with him turns out to be the easy part. Convincing Sebastian to look beyond his damaged heart and soul is far more difficult.

A thirst he can’t deny

After losing everything he held dear, Sebastian Lowe has finally rebuilt his life and the walls around his heart. Tiffany is a sweet temptation he struggles to resist. She’s bright and complex, but he’s sure she can’t handle his dark desires. When they’re thrown together on an assignment, he can’t help himself.

A perfect pairing

As passion builds, the new lovers are both forced to face their pasts. To have a future, they must find a way to heal the wounds they thought would haunt them forever.

Buy LinksAMAZON | iTUNES | B&N

Elegant young handsome man over night city background

Excerpt

Damn but she was a beautiful woman. She was also something he needed to keep his hands off of. No matter what Big Tag said, he did not date women he worked with.He didn’t really date anyone. He played with subs. When the need got too great, he found a partner for a brief time. He didn’t sleep with anyone. He fucked, and that was starting to get very old. Empty.

“So you said something about house rules?” Tiffany leaned forward, her elbows on the bar. “Are these housekeeping rules or like big bad Dom rules?”

“I don’t suppose I differentiate.” He couldn’t let those big eyes of hers soften him up. It had almost happened at her apartment. When she’d stood up after he’d spanked her and there had been tears running down her face, his impulse had been to reach for her. He’d wanted to draw her in the way he had that night when she was drunk and she’d cried on his shoulder. He’d wanted to smooth back her hair and promise her everything was going to be all right, that he could fix things for her. It was a path that was sure to lead to discomfort for her and humiliation for him. “I prefer a clean living space. I don’t like for things to be messy. I expect that you will keep your things in their proper place.”

Because no matter how hard he tried, he could still trip. The legs he now walked on were only a year old. He’d spent the first two years in a wheelchair.

The Garden’s Wheelchair Dom.

He still wasn’t completely comfortable in the prosthetics.

“I can try,” she said with a frown. “I’ll be honest, I’m not the world’s biggest neat freak.”

He’d been able to tell that from the state of her apartment. It had been cluttered, a bit dusty. With the exception of her easel. That had been perfectly taken care of. He rather wished he’d taken the time to ask to see her art.

He’d seen one painting that night he’d taken her home. It had been a painting of three laughing girls, the swirling colors so vibrant he could hear them giggling as they splashed in a puddle on a rainy day. The figures had been more impressions than photographic reality, but he’d known what she was trying to convey.

“If you cook I’ll clean, and the other way around.” He’d started a list in his head on the long drive. The drive that would have been considerably shorter had they left at the proper time. As she’d sung along to sugary pop songs after she’d changed his radio, he’d sat and considered how to proceed.

With caution. Lots and lots of caution.

“I’m not the best cook in the world,” he continued, “but I can manage. Most nights, of course, we’ll be eating at Top as our training sessions for the new restaurant will last long hours, but I would prefer to eat breakfast here rather than skipping the meal or picking up fast food. Eric made sure the fridge was stocked with a few items I requested.”

“Breakfast.” She gave him a little salute with her free hand. “I can manage that.”

“In addition to our duties at Top, we will now be taking on the additional task of appearing to be a long-term D/s couple, and we need to talk about what that should look like.” Another thing he’d been thinking about ever since that moment the trap had closed around him. “You know you probably could have gotten us out of this assignment. It’s much more difficult for the Dom to say no. The sub always holds the power. Is there a reason you didn’t use yours today?”

“I didn’t want to,” she replied simply. “I don’t have a full-time Dom and I thought it would be interesting to see what that’s like.”

Was she thinking at all? “You know nothing about how I function as a dominant partner.”

“And now I do,” she replied. “You like rules and schedules and you tend to be very fair.”

“I can be quite exacting in my standards.”

“I can be quite flexible,” she shot back as the sexiest smile crossed her face. “I’m serious about that. I can still do the splits and everything.”

“You’re far too reckless, Tiffany.” He didn’t appreciate recklessness so why was she like a siren calling to him? If he listened, he would end up wrecked.

“You’re far too uptight, Sebastian.”

Erotic moments of couple in bed

Review-DGR4.5 starsperfectly-paire-dgr-teaser

A smart girl got what she wanted. A good girl made sure her Dom got what he needed, too.

tumblr_nh648kl9fl1u6bin0o3_400Lexi Blake brings the feels with this one. Big time. So sexy and swoony. I adore everything this woman writes. She has a knack for writing a romance that not only scorches but packs an even more solid punch of emotion. It’s perfectly balanced. It’s perfectly written. It’s has a couple that’s perfectly paired.

That’s the trade, baby. Love can lift us up or it can crash us right down. Nothing good comes without risk.

Tiffany Hayes isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. And what she wants is the perfectly mannered but grumpy and standoffish sommelier, Sebastian. These two are polar opposites. Tiffany is fun loving and sunny while Sebastian shies away from any attention and prefers the shadows. Losing everything you ever held dear may do that to a man. Now he feels like a shell of a man he used to be, a monster. He doesn’t understand why a bright ray like Tiffany may be attracted to someone like him. But Tiffany isn’t above manipulation to get what she wants. And suddenly a flooded apartment and a few other “occurrences” and Tiffany is the only sub available for a Dom/sub training that Ian Taggard asks Sebastian to do…well…in his own Ian Taggard way.

Dude, will you take over the baby Doms for me? There’s a new crop coming in and they need to be sown. Otherwise they’ll all be like ‘brah, let’s go spank some bottoms and drink craft beer’ and then I’ll have to murder them. Seriously. I’ve been told not to murder them. Millennial Doms. Has it really come to this?”

Can I just say how much I love Ian? Because I swear the man is the perfect comedic intervention in every single book he appears in. I will never, and I mean EVER get enough of him.

It’s not like I’m getting any right now. Have you ever tried to top a woman who recently had a baby you put up in her? Charlie’s not having any of it. And Seth and I here are still outnumbered because someone neutered Bud and now the dog doesn’t have a dick either. Or balls. Yeah. I think he’s got a dick, but no balls. Isn’t that right, Sean? It’s the same thing. You kept your dick, but they cut off your balls. Dude, I don’t know how you survived. It made the dog cranky so he ate one of my shoes. That made me cranky. God, I’m tired.”

As for Tifanny and Sebastian? I couldn’t get enough of them together. I loved the way that Tiffany was determined to break down all Sebastian’s walls. She doesn’t bow down or run away when things get difficult. She pushes his and forces him to see things the way they should be. She gives as good as she gets, if not better, and man but I loved her for it.

And Sebastian? Holy mother of swoons but I adored this man. Watching the painful struggle of him still trying to deal with his past and his present was absolutely gut wrenching. I hurt for him. I cried for him and everything that he’s been through. The man was just so perfectly imperfect.

This book was everything I love about romance; an endearing and strong heroine, a broken alpha that just needed the right female touch, a perfect balance of swoon and steam, and all with the spice of Lexi Blake’s BDSM to top it all off. It’s the perfect book to warm you up on a cold winter’s night. Simply delicious.
About the Authorlexi_blakeNY Times and USA Today bestselling author Lexi Blake lives in North Texas with her husband, three kids, and the laziest rescue dog int eh world. She began writing at a young age, concentrating on plays and journalism. It wasn’t until she started writing romance and urban fantasy that she found the stories of her heart. She likes to find humor in the strangest places and believes in happy endings no matter how odd the couple, threesome, or foursome may seem.

FACEBOOK / TWITTER / WEBSITE / AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

McNaught-E Mondays: Excerpt from Kingdom Of Dreams

McNaught E-Mondays continue today with another excerpt. This one from a book that comes highly recommended to me by everyone I know and I can’t wait to read; KINGDOM OF DREAMS.

If you missed the other posts, then I am so excited to share with you that since November 1, the fourteen Judith McNaught titles listed below are available for the first time in E-Book! If you previously read any of these amazing titles, revisiting them in E-Book is not “All for Naught,” as each E-Book will contain original, new content (a letter) from Judith McNaught.

About The Book A Kingdom of Dreams

cover-akingdomofdreams

Abducted from her convent school, headstrong Scottish beauty Jennifer Merrick does not easily surrender to Royce Westmoreland, Duke of Claymore. Known as “The Wolf,” his very name strikes terror in the hearts of his enemies. But proud Jennifer will have nothing to do with the fierce English warrior who holds her captive, no matter what he threatens. Boldly she challenges his will—until the night he takes her in his powerful embrace, awakening in her an irresistible hunger. Suddenly Jennifer finds herself ensnared in a bewildering and seductive web of pride, passion, and overwhelming love. This beloved tale about two defiant hearts clashing in a furious battle of wills in the glorious age of chivalry “will stay in your heart forever and be a classic on your shelves” (RT Book Reviews, Top Pick).

S&S | iBOOKS | AMAZON | B&N | GOOGLE PLAYExcerpt

CHAPTER 1“A toast to the duke of Claymore and his bride!”

Under normal circumstances, this call for a wedding toast would have caused the lavishly dressed ladies and gentlemen assembled in the great hall at Merrick castle to smile and cheer. Goblets of wine would have been raised and more toasts offered in celebration of a grand and noble wedding such as the one which was about to take place here in the south of Scotland.

But not today. Not at this wedding.

At this wedding, no one cheered and no one raised a goblet. At this wedding, everyone was watching everyone else, and everyone was tense. The bride’s family was tense. The groom’s family was tense. The guests and the servants and the hounds in the hall were tense. Even the first earl of Merrick, whose portrait hung above the fireplace, looked tense.

“A toast to the duke of Claymore and his bride,” the groom’s brother pronounced again, his voice like a thunderclap in the unnatural, tomblike silence of the crowded hall. “May they enjoy a long and fruitful life together.”

Normally, that ancient toast brings about a predictable reaction: The groom always smiles proudly because he’s convinced he’s accomplished something quite wonderful. The bride smiles because she’s been able to convince him of it. The guests smile because, amongst the nobility, a marriage connotes the linking of two important families and two large fortunes—which in itself is cause for great celebration and abnormal gaiety.

But not today. Not on this fourteenth day of October, 1497.

Having made the toast, the groom’s brother raised his goblet and smiled grimly at the groom. The groom’s friends raised their goblets and smiled fixedly at the bride’s family. The bride’s family raised their goblets and smiled frigidly at each other. The groom, who alone seemed to be immune to the hostility in the hall, raised his goblet and smiled calmly at his bride, but the smile did not reach his eyes.

The bride did not bother to smile at anyone. She looked furious and mutinous.

In truth, Jennifer was so frantic she scarcely knew anyone was there. At the moment, every fiber of her being was concentrating on a last-minute, desperate appeal to God, Who out of lack of attention or lack of interest, had let her come to this sorry pass. “Lord,” she cried silently, swallowing the lump of terror swelling in her throat, “if You’re going to do something to stop this marriage, You’re going to have to do it quickly, or in five minutes ’twill be too late! Surely, I deserve something better than this forced marriage to a man who stole my virginity! I didn’t just hand it over to him, You know!”

Realizing the folly of reprimanding the Almighty, she hastily switched to pleading: “Haven’t I always tried to serve You well?” she whispered silently. “Haven’t I always obeyed You?”

“NOT ALWAYS, JENNIFER,” God’s voice thundered in her mind.

“Nearly always,” Jennifer amended frantically. “I attended mass every day, except when I was ill, which was seldom, and I said my prayers every morning and every evening. Nearly every evening,” she amended hastily before her conscience could contradict her again, “except when I fell asleep before I was finished. And I tried, I truly tried to be all that the good sisters at the abbey wanted me to be. You know now hard I’ve tried! Lord,” she finished desperately, “if you’ll just help me escape from this, I’ll never be willful or impulsive again.”

“THAT I DO NOT BELIEVE, JENNIFER,” God boomed dubiously.

“Nay, I swear it,” she earnestly replied, trying to strike a bargain. “I’ll do anything You want, I’ll go straight back to the abbey and devote my life to prayer and—”

“The marriage contracts have been duly signed. Bring in the priest,” Lord Balfour commanded, and Jennifer’s breath came in wild, panicked gasps, all thoughts of potential sacrifices fleeing from her mind.

God,” she silently pleaded, “why are You doing this to me? You aren’t going to let this happen to me, are You?”

Silence fell over the great hall as the doors were flung open.

“YES, JENNIFER, I AM.”

The crowd parted automatically to admit the priest, and Jennifer felt as if her life were ending. Her groom stepped into position beside her, and Jennifer jerked an inch away, her stomach churning with resentment and humiliation at having to endure his nearness. If only she had known how one heedless act could end in disaster and disgrace. If only she hadn’t been so impulsive and reckless!

Closing her eyes, Jennifer shut out the hostile faces of the English and the murderous faces of her Scots kinsmen, and in her heart she faced the wrenching truth: Impulsiveness and recklessness, her two greatest faults, had brought her to this dire end—the same two character flaws that had led her to commit all of her most disastrous follies. Those two flaws, combined with a desperate yearning to make her father love her, as he loved his stepsons, were responsible for the debacle she’d made of her life:

When she was fifteen, those were the things that had led her to try to avenge herself against her sly, spiteful stepbrother in what had seemed a right and honorable way—which was to secretly don Merrick armor and then ride against him, fairly, in the lists. That magnificent folly had gained her a sound thrashing from her father right there on the field of honor—and only a tiny bit of satisfaction from having knocked her wicked stepbrother clean off his horse!

The year before, those same traits had caused her to behave in such a way that old Lord Balder withdrew his request for her hand, and in doing so destroyed her father’s cherished dream of joining the two families. And those things, in turn, were what got her banished to the abbey at Belkirk, where, seven weeks ago, she’d become easy prey for the Black Wolf’s marauding army.

And now, because of all that, she was forced to wed her enemy; a brutal English warrior whose armies had oppressed her country, a man who had captured her, held her prisoner, taken her virginity, and destroyed her reputation.

But it was too late for prayers and promises now. Her fate had been sealed from the moment, seven weeks ago, when she’d been dumped at the feet of the arrogant beast beside her, trussed up like a feastday partridge.

Jennifer swallowed. No, before that—she’d veered down this path to disaster earlier that same day when she’d refused to heed the warnings that the Black Wolf’s armies were nearby.

But why should she have believed it, Jennifer cried in her own defense. “The Wolf is marching on us!” had been a terrified call of doom issued almost weekly throughout the last five years. But on that day, seven weeks ago, it had been woefully true.

The crowd in the hall stirred restlessly, looking about for a sign of the priest, but Jennifer was lost in her memories of that day.

At the time, it had seemed an unusually pretty day, the sky a cheerful blue, the air balmy. The sun had been shining down upon the abbey, bathing its Gothic spires and graceful arches in bright golden light, beaming benignly upon the sleepy little village of Belkirk, which boasted the abbey, two shops, thirty-four cottages, and a communal stone well in the center of it, where villagers gathered on Sunday afternoons, as they were doing then. On a distant hill, a shepherd looked after his flock, while in a clearing not far from the well, Jennifer had been playing hoodman-blind with the orphans whom the abbess had entrusted to her care.

And in that halcyon setting of laughter and relaxation, this travesty had begun. As if she could somehow change events by reliving them in her mind, Jennifer closed her eyes, and suddenly she was there again in the little clearing with the children, her head completely covered with the hoodman’s hood . . .

“Where are you, Tom MacGivern?” she called out, groping about with outstretched arms, pretending she couldn’t locate the giggling nine-year-old boy, who her ears told her was only a foot away on her right. Grinning beneath the concealing hood, she assumed the pose of a classic “monster” by holding her arms high in front of her, her fingers spread like claws, and began to stomp about, calling in a deep, ominous voice, “You can’t escape me, Tom MacGivern.”

“Ha!” he shouted from her right. “You’ll no’ find me, hoodman!”

“Yes, I will!” Jenny threatened, then deliberately turned to her left, which caused gales of laughter to erupt from the children who were hiding behind trees and crouching beside bushes.

“I’ve got you!” Jenny shouted triumphantly a few minutes later as she swooped down upon a fleeing, giggling child, catching a small wrist in her hand. Breathless and laughing, Jenny yanked off her hood to see whom she’d captured, mindless of the red gold hair tumbling down over her shoulders and arms.

“You got Mary!” the children crowed delightedly. “Mary’s the hoodman now!”

The little five-year-old girl looked up at Jenny, her hazel eyes wide and apprehensive, her thin body shivering with fear. “Please,” she whispered, clinging to Jenny’s leg, “I—I not want to wear th’ hood—’Twill be dark inside it. Do I got to wear it?”

Smiling reassuringly, Jenny tenderly smoothed Mary’s hair off her thin face. “Not if you don’t want.”

“I’m afeert of the dark,” Mary confided unnecessarily, her narrow shoulders drooping with shame.

Sweeping her up into her arms, Jenny hugged her tightly. “Everybody is afraid of something,” she said and teasingly added, “Why, I’m afraid of—of frogs!”

The dishonest admission made the little girl giggle. “Frogs!” she repeated, “I likes frogs! They don’t sceer me ’tall.”

“There, you see—” Jenny said as she lowered her to the ground. “You’re very brave. Braver than I!”

“Lady Jenny is afeart of silly ol’ frogs,” Mary told the group of children as they ran forward.

“No she isn—” young Tom began, quick to rise to the defense of the beautiful Lady Jenny who, despite her lofty rank, was always up to anything—including hitching up her skirts and wading in the pond to help him catch a fat bullfrog—or climbing up a tree, quick as a cat, to rescue little Will who was afraid to come down.

Tom silenced at Jenny’s pleading look and argued no more about her alleged fear of frogs. “I’ll wear the hood,” he volunteered, gazing adoringly at the seventeen-year-old girl who wore the somber gown of a novice nun, but who was not one, and who, moreover, certainly didn’t act like one. Why, last Sunday during the priest’s long sermon, Lady Jenny’s head had nodded forward, and only Tom’s loud, false coughing in the bench behind her had awakened her in time for her to escape detection by the sharp-eyed abbess.

“ ’Tis Tom’s turn to wear the hood,” Jenny agreed promptly, handing Tom the hood. Smiling, she watched the children scamper off to their favorite hiding places, then she picked up the wimple and short woolen veil she’d taken off in order to be the hoodman. Intending to go over to the communal well where the villagers were eagerly questioning some clansmen passing through Belkirk on their way to their homes from the war against the English in Cornwall, she lifted the wimple, intending to put it on.

“Lady Jennifer!” One of the village men called suddenly, “Come quick—there’s news of the laird.” The veil and wimple forgotten in her hand, Jenny broke into a run, and the children, sensing the excitement, stopped their game and raced along at her heels.

“What news?” Jenny asked breathlessly, her gaze searching the stolid faces of the groups of clansmen. One of them stepped forward, respectfully removing his helm and cradling it in the crook of his arm. “Be you the daughter of the laird of Merrick?”

At the mention of the name Merrick, two of the men at the well suddenly stopped in the act of pulling up a bucket of water and exchanged startled, malevolent glances before they quickly ducked their heads again, keeping their faces in shadow. “Yes,” Jenny said eagerly. “You have news of my father?”

“Aye, m’lady. He’s comin’ this way, not far behind us, wit a big band o’ men.”

“Thank God,” Jenny breathed. “How goes the battle at Cornwall?” she asked after a moment, ready now to forget her personal concerns and devote her worry to the battle the Scots were waging at Cornwall in support of King James and Edward V’s claim to the English throne.

His face answered Jenny’s question even before he said, “ ’Twas all but over when we left. In Cork and Taunton it looked like we might win, and the same was true in Cornwall, until the devil hisself came to take command ’o Henry’s army.”

“The devil?” Jenny repeated blankly.

Hatred contorted the man’s face and he spat on the ground. “Aye, the devil—the Black Wolf hisself, may he roast in hell from whence he was spawned.”

Two of the peasant women crossed themselves as if to ward off evil at the mention of the Black Wolf, Scotland’s most hated, and most feared, enemy, but the man’s next words made them gape in fear: “The Wolf is comin’ back to Scotland. Henry’s sendin’ him here with a fresh army to crush us for supportin’ King Edward. Twill be murder and bloodshed like the last time he came, only worst, you mark me. The clans are making haste to come home and get ready for the battles. I’m thinkin’ the Wolf will attack Merrick first, before any o’ the rest of us, for ’twas your clan that took the most English lives at Cornwall.”

So saying, he nodded politely, put on his helmet, then he swung up onto his horse.

The scraggly groups at the well departed soon afterward, heading down the road that led across the moors and wound upward into the hills.

Two of the men, however, did not continue beyond the bend in the road. Once out of sight of the villagers, they veered off to the right, sending their horses at a furtive gallop into the forest.

Had Jenny been watching, she might have caught a brief glimpse of them doubling back through the woods that ran beside the road right behind her. But at the time, she was occupied with the terrified pandemonium that had broken out among the citizens of Belkirk, which happened to lie directly in the path between England and Merrick keep.

“The Wolf is coming!” one of the women cried, clutching her babe protectively to her breast. “God have pity on us.”

“ ’Tis Merrick he’ll strike at,” a man shouted, his voice rising in fear. “ ’Tis the laird of Merrick he’ll want in his jaws, but ’tis Belkirk he’ll devour on the way.” Suddenly the air was filled with gruesome predictions of fire and death and slaughter, and the children crowded around Jenny, clinging to her in mute horror. To the Scots, be they wealthy noble or lowly villager, the Black Wolf was more evil than the devil himself, and more dangerous, for the devil was a spirit, while the Wolf was flesh and blood—the living Lord of Evil—a monstrous being who threatened their existence, right here on earth. He was the malevolent specter that the Scots used to terrify their offspring into behaving. “The Wolf will get you,” was the warning issued to keep children from straying into the woods or leaving their beds at night, or from disobeying their elders.

Impatient with such hysteria over what was, to her, more myth than man, Jenny raised her voice in order to be heard over the din. “Tis more likely,” she called, putting her arms around the terrified children who’d crowded against her at the first mention of the Wolf’s name, “that he’ll go back to his heathen king so that he can lick the wounds we gave him at Cornwall while he tells great lies to exaggerate his victory. And if he does not do that, he’ll choose a weaker keep than Merrick for his attack—one he’s a chance of breeching.

Her words and her tone of amused disdain brought startled gazes flying to her face, but it wasn’t merely false bravado that had made Jenny speak so: She was a Merrick, and a Merrick never admitted to fear of any man. She had heard that hundreds of times when her father spoke to her stepbrothers, and she had adopted his creed for her own. Furthermore, the villagers were frightening the children, which she refused to let continue.

Mary tugged at Jenny’s skirts to get her attention, and in a shrill little voice, she asked, “Isn’t you afeert of the Black Wolf, Lady Jenny?”

“Of course not!” Jenny said with a bright, reassuring smile.

“They say,” young Tom interjected in an awed voice, “the Wolf is as tall as a tree!”

“A tree!” Jenny chuckled, trying to make a huge joke of the Wolf and all the lore surrounding him. “If he is, ’twould be a sight worth seeing when he tries to mount his horse! Why, ’twould take four squires to hoist him up there!”

The absurdity of that image made some of the children giggle, exactly as Jenny had hoped.

“I heert,” said young Will with an eloquent shudder, “he tears down walls with his bare hands and drinks blood!”

“Yuk!” said Jenny with twinkling eyes. “Then ’tis only indigestion which makes him so mean. If he comes to Belkirk, we’ll offer him some good Scottish ale instead.”

“My pa said,” put in another child, “he rides with a giant beside him, a Go-liath called Arik who carries a war axe and chops up children . . .”

“I heert—” another child interrupted ominously.

Jenny cut in lightly, “Let me tell you what I have heard.” With a bright smile, she began to shepherd them toward the abbey, which was out of sight just beyond a bend down the road. ‘7 heard,” she improvised gaily, “that he’s so very old that he has to squint to see, just like this—”

She screwed up her face in a comical exaggeration of a befuddled, near-blind person peering around blankly, and the children giggled.

As they walked along, Jenny kept up the same lighthearted teasing comments, and the children fell in with the game, adding their own suggestions to make the Wolf seem absurd.

But despite the laughter and seeming gaiety of the moment, the sky had suddenly darkened as a bank of heavy clouds rolled in, and the air was turning bitingly cold, whipping Jenny’s cloak about her, as if nature herself brooded at the mention of such evil.

Jenny was about to make another joke at the Wolf’s expense, but she broke off abruptly as a group of mounted clansmen rounded the bend from the abbey, coming toward her down the road. A beautiful girl, clad as Jenny was in the somber gray gown, white wimple, and short gray veil of a novice nun, was mounted in front of the leader, sitting demurely sideways in his saddle, her timid smile confirming what Jenny already knew.

With a silent cry of joy, Jenny started to dash forward, then checked the unladylike impulse and made herself stay where she was. Her eyes clung to her father, then drifted briefly over her clansmen, who were staring past her with the same grim disapproval they’d shown her for years—ever since her stepbrother had successfully circulated his horrible tale.

Sending the children ahead with strict orders to go directly to the abbey, Jenny waited in the middle of the road for what seemed like an eternity until, at last, the group halted in front of her.

Her father, who’d obviously stopped at the abbey where Brenna, Jenny’s stepsister, was also staying, swung down from his horse, then he turned to lift Brenna down. Jenny chafed at the delay, but his scrupulous attention to courtesy and dignity was so typical of the great man that a wry smile touched her lips.

Finally, he turned fully toward her, opening his arms wide. Jenny hurtled into his embrace, hugging him fiercely, babbling in her excitement: “Father, I’ve missed you so! ’Tis nearly two years since I’ve seen you! Are you well? You look well. You’ve scarce changed in all this time!”

Gently disentangling her arms from about his neck, Lord Merrick set his daughter slightly away from him while his gaze drifted over her tousled hair, rosy cheeks, and badly rumpled gown. Jenny squirmed inwardly beneath his prolonged scrutiny, praying that he approved of what he saw and that, since he’d obviously stopped at the abbey already, the abbess’s report had been pleasing to him.

Two years ago, her behavior had gotten her sent to the abbey; a year ago, Brenna had been sent down here for safety’s sake while the laird was at war. Under the abbess’s firm guidance, Jenny had come to appreciate her strengths, and to try to overcome her faults. But as her father inspected her from head to toe, she couldn’t help wondering if he saw the young lady she was now or the unruly girl she’d been two years ago. His blue eyes finally returned to her face and there was a smile in them. “Ye’ve become a woman, Jennifer.”

Jenny’s heart soared; coming from her taciturn father, such a comment constituted high praise. “I’ve changed in other ways too, Father,” she promised, her eyes shining. “I’ve changed a great deal.”

“Not that much, my girl.” Raising his shaggy white brows, he looked pointedly at the short veil and wimple hanging forgotten from her fingertips.

“Oh!” Jenny said, laughing and anxious to explain. “I was playing hoodman-blind . . . er . . . with the children, and it wouldn’t fit beneath the hood. Have you seen the abbess? What did Mother Ambrose tell you?”

Laughter sparked in his somber eyes. “She told me,” he replied dryly, “that ye’ve a habit of sitting on yon hill and gazing off into the air, dreaming, which sounds familiar, lassie. And she told me ye’ve a tendency to nod off in the midst of mass, should the priest sermonize longer than you think seemly, which also sounds familiar.”

Jenny’s heart sank at this seeming betrayal from the abbess whom she so admired. In a sense, Mother Ambrose was laird of her own grand demesne, controlling revenues from the farmlands and livestock that belonged to the splendid abbey, presiding at table whenever there were visitors, and dealing with all other matters that involved the laymen who worked on the abbey grounds as well as the nuns who lived cloistered within its soaring walls.

Brenna was terrified of the stem woman, but Jenny loved her, and so the abbess’s apparent betrayal cut deeply.

Her father’s next words banished her disappointment. “Mother Ambrose also told me,” he admitted with gruff pride, “that you’ve a head on your shoulders befitting an abbess herself. She said you’re a Merrick through and through, with courage enough to be laird of yer own clan. But you’ll no’ be that,” he warned, dashing Jenny’s fondest dream.

With an effort, Jenny kept the smile pinned to her face, refusing to feel the hurt of being deprived of that right—a right that had been promised to her until her father married Brenna’s widowed mother and acquired three stepsons in the bargain.

Alexander, the eldest of the three brothers, would assume the position that had been promised to her. That, in itself, wouldn’t have been nearly so hard to bear if Alexander had been nice, or even fair-minded, but he was a treacherous, scheming liar, and Jenny knew it, even if her father and her clan did not. Within a year after coming to live at Merrick keep, he’d begun carrying tales about her, tales so slanderous and ghastly, but so cleverly contrived, that, over a period of years, he’d turned her whole clan against her. That loss of her clan’s affection still hurt unbearably. Even now, when they were looking through her as if she didn’t exist for them, Jenny had to stop herself from pleading with them to forgive her for things she had not done.

William, the middle brother, was like Brenna— sweet and as timid as can be—while Malcolm, the youngest, was as evil and as sneaky as Alexander. “The abbess also said,” her father continued, “that you’re kind and gentle, but you’ve spirit, too . . .”

“She said all that?” Jenny asked, dragging her dismal thoughts from her stepbrothers. “Truly?”

“Aye.” Jenny would normally have rejoiced in that answer, but she was watching her father’s face, and it was becoming more grim and tense than she had ever seen it. Even his voice was strained as he said, “ ’Tis well you’ve given up your heathenish ways and that you’re all the things you’ve become, Jennifer.”

He paused as if unable or unwilling to continue, and Jenny prodded gently, “Why is that, Father?”

“Because,” he said, drawing a long, harsh breath, “the future of the clan will depend on your answer to my next question.”

His words trumpeted in her mind like blasts from a clarion, leaving Jenny dazed with excitement and joy: “The future of the clan depends on you . . .” She was so happy, she could scarcely trust her ears. It was as if she were up on the hill overlooking the abbey, dreaming her favorite daydream—the one where her father always came to her and said, “Jennifer, the future of the clan depends on you. Not your stepbrothers. You.” It was the chance she’d been dreaming of to prove her mettle to her clansmen and to win back their affection. In that daydream, she was always called upon to perform some incredible feat of daring, some brave and dangerous deed, like scaling the wall of the Black Wolf’s castle and capturing him single-handedly. But no matter how daunting the task, she never questioned it, nor hesitated a second to accept the challenge.

She searched her father’s face. “What would you have me do?” she asked eagerly. “Tell me, and I will! I’ll do any—”

“Will you marry Edric MacPherson?”

“Whaaat?” gasped the horrified heroine of Jenny’s daydream. Edric MacPherson was older than her father; a wizened, frightening man who’d looked at her in a way that made her skin crawl ever since she’d begun to change from girl to maiden.

“Will you, or will you no’?”

Jenny’s delicate auburn brows snapped together. “Why?” asked the heroine who never questioned.

A strange, haunted look darkened his face. “We took a beating at Cornwall, lass—we lost half our men. Alexander was killed in battle. He died like a Merrick,” he added with grim pride, “fighting to the end.”

“I’m glad for your sake, Papa,” she said, unable to feel more than a brief pang of sorrow for the stepbrother who’d made her life into a hell. Now, as she often had in the past, she wished there were something she could do to make him proud of her. “I know you loved him as if he were your own son.”

Accepting her sympathy with a brief nod, he returned to the discussion at hand: “There were many amongst the clans who were opposed to going to Cornwall to fight for King James’s cause, but the clans followed me anyway. Tis no secret to the English that ’twas my influence which brought the clans to Cornwall, and now the English king wants vengeance. He’s sendin’ the Wolf to Scotland to attack Merrick keep.” Ragged pain edged his deep voice as he admitted, “We’ll no’ be able to withstand a siege now, not unless the MacPherson clan comes to support us in our fight. The MacPherson has enough influence with a dozen other clans to force them to join us as well.”

Jenny’s mind was reeling. Alexander was dead, and the Wolf really was coming to attack her home . . .

Her father’s harsh voice snapped her out of her daze. “Jennifer! Do you ken what I’ve been saying? MacPherson has promised to join in our fight, but only if you’ll have him for husband.”

Through her mother, Jenny was a countess and heiress to a rich estate which marched with MacPherson’s. “He wants my lands?” she said almost hopefully, remembering the awful way Edric MacPherson’s eyes had wandered down her body when he’d stopped at the abbey a year ago to pay a “social call” upon her.

“Aye.”

“Couldn’t we just give them to him in return for his support?” she volunteered desperately, ready— willing—to sacrifice a splendid demesne without hesitation, for the good of her people.

“He’d not agree to that!” her father said angrily. “There’s honor in fighting for kin, but he could no’ send his people into a fight that’s no’ their own, and then take your lands in payment to him.

“But, surely, if he wants my lands badly enough, there’s some way—”

“He wants you. He sent word to me in Cornwall.” His gaze drifted over Jenny’s face, registering the startling changes that had altered her face from its thin, freckled, girlish plainness into a face of almost exotic beauty. “Ye’ve your mother’s look about ye now, lass, and it’s whetted the appetites of an old man. I’d no’ ask this of you if there was any other way.” Gruffly, he reminded her, “You used to plead wi’ me to name you laird. Ye said there was naught you wouldna’ do fer yer clan . . .”

Jenny’s stomach twisted into sick knots at the thought of committing her body, her entire life, into the hands of a man she instinctively recoiled from, but she lifted her head and bravely met her father’s gaze. “Aye, father,” she said quietly. “Shall I come with you now?”

The look of pride and relief on his face almost made the sacrifice worthwhile. He shook his head. “ ’Tis best you stay here with Brenna. We’ve no horses to spare and we’re anxious to reach Merrick and begin preparations for battle. I’ll send word to the MacPherson that the marriage is agreed upon, and then send someone here to fetch you to him.”

When he turned to remount his horse, Jenny gave into the temptation she’d been fighting all along: Instead of standing aside, she moved into the rows of mounted clansmen who had once been her friends and playmates. Hoping that some of them had perhaps heard her agree to marry the MacPherson and that this might neutralize their contempt of her, she paused beside the horse of a ruddy, red-headed man. “Good day to you, Renald Garvin,” she said, smiling hesitantly into his hooded gaze. “How fares your lady wife?”

His jaw hardened, his cold eyes flickering over her. “Well enough, I imagine,” he snapped.

Jenny swallowed at the unmistakable rejection from the man who had once taught her to fish and laughed with her when she fell into the stream.

She turned around and looked beseechingly at the man in the column beside Renald. “And you, Michael MacCleod? Has your leg been causing you any pain?”

Cold blue eyes met hers, then looked straight ahead.

She went to the rider behind him whose face was filled with hatred and she held out her hand beseechingly, her voice choked with pleading. “Garrick Carmichael, it has been four years since your Becky drowned. I swear to you now, as I swore to you then, I did not shove her into the river. We were not quarreling—’twas a lie invented by Alexander to—”

His face as hard as granite, Garrick Carmichael spurred his horse forward, and without ever looking at her, the men began passing her by.

Only old Josh, the clan’s armorer, pulled his ancient horse to a halt, letting the others go on ahead. Leaning down, he laid his callused palm atop her bare head. “I know you speak truly, lassie,” he said, and his unceasing loyalty brought the sting of tears to her eyes as she gazed up into his soft brown ones. “Ye have a temper, there’s no denyin’ it, but even when ye were but a wee thing, ye kept it bridled. Garrick Carmichael and the others might o’ been fooled by Alexander’s angelic looks, but not ol’ Josh. You’ll no’ see me grievin’ o’er the loss o’ him! The clan’ll be better by far wit’ young William leadin’ it. Carmichael and the others—” he added reassuringly, “they’ll come about in their thinkin’ o’ you, once they ken yer marrying the MacPherson for their sake as well as your sire’s.”

“Where are my stepbrothers?” Jenny asked hoarsely, changing the subject lest she burst into tears.

“They’re comin’ home by a different route. We couldn’t be sure the Wolf wouldn’t try to attack us while we marched, so we split up after leavin’ Cornwall.” With another pat on her head, he spurred his horse forward.

As if in a daze, Jenny stood stock-still in the middle of the road, watching her clan ride off and disappear around the bend.

“It grows dark,” Brenna said beside her, her gentle voice filled with sympathy. “We should go back to the abbey now.”

The abbey. Three short hours ago, Jenny had walked away from the abbey feeling cheery and alive. Now she felt—dead. “Go ahead without me. I—I can’t go back there. Not yet. I think I’ll walk up the hill and sit for a while.”

“The abbess will be annoyed if we aren’t back before dusk, and it’s near that now,” Brenna said apprehensively. It had always been thus between the two girls, with Jenny breaking a rule and Brenna terrified of bending one. Brenna was gentle, biddable, and beautiful, with blond hair, hazel eyes, and a sweet disposition that made her, in Jenny’s eyes, the embodiment of womanhood at its best. She was also as meek and timid as Jenny was impulsive and courageous. Without Jenny, she’d not have had a single adventure—nor ever gotten a scolding. Without Brenna to worry about and protect, Jenny would have had many more adventures—and many more scoldings. As a result, the two girls were entirely devoted to each other, and tried to protect one another as much as possible from the inevitable results of each other’s shortcomings.

Brenna hesitated and then volunteered with only a tiny tremor in her voice, “I’ll stay with you. If you remain alone, you’ll forget about time and likely be pounced upon by a—a bear in the darkness.”

At the moment, the prospect of being killed by a bear seemed rather inviting to Jenny, whose entire life stretched before her, shrouded in gloom and foreboding. Despite the fact that she truly wanted, needed, to stay outdoors and try to reassemble her thoughts, Jenny shook her head, knowing that if they stayed, Brenna would be drowning in fear at the thought of facing the abbess. “No, we’ll go back.”

Ignoring Jenny’s words, Brenna clasped Jenny’s hand and turned to the left, toward the slope of the hill that overlooked the abbey, and for the first time it was Brenna who led and Jenny who followed.

In the woods beside the road, two shadows moved stealthily, staying parallel with the girls’ path up the hill.

By the time they were partway up the steep incline, Jenny had already grown impatient with her own self-pity, and she made a Herculean effort to shore up her flagging spirits. “When you think on it,” she offered slowly, directing a glance at Brenna, “ ’tis actually a grand and noble thing I’ve been given the opportunity to do—marrying the MacPherson for the sake of my people.”

“You’re just like Joan of Arc,” Brenna agreed eagerly, “leading her people to victory!”

“Except that I’m marrying Edric MacPherson.”

“And,” Brenna finished encouragingly, “suffering a worse fate than she did!”

Laughter widened Jenny’s eyes at this depressing remark, which her well-meaning sister delivered with such enthusiasm.

Encouraged by the return of Jenny’s ability to laugh, Brenna cast about for something else with which to divert and cheer her. As they neared the crest of the hill, which was blocked by thick woods, she said suddenly, “What did Father mean about your having your mother’s ‘look about you’?”

“I don’t know,” Jenny began, diverted by a sudden, uneasy feeling that they were being watched in the deepening dusk. Turning and walking backward, she looked down toward the well and saw the villagers had all returned to the warmth of their hearths. Drawing her cloak about her, she shivered in the biting wind, and without much interest, she added, “Mother Abbess said my looks are a trifle brazen and that I must guard against the effect I will have on males when I leave the abbey.”

“What does all that mean?”

Jenny shrugged without concern. “I don’t know.” Turning and walking forward again, Jenny remembered the wimple and veil in her fingertips and began to put the wimple back on. “What do I look like to you?” she asked, shooting a puzzled glance at Brenna. “I haven’t seen my face in two years, except when I caught a reflection of it in the water. Have I changed much?”

“Oh yes,” Brenna laughed. “Even Alexander wouldn’t be able to call you scrawny and plain now, or say that your hair is the color of carrots.”

“Brenna!” Jenny interrupted, thunderstruck by her own callousness. “Are you much grieved by Alexander’s death? He was your brother and—”

“Don’t talk of it any more,” Brenna pleaded shakily. “I cried when Father told me, but the tears were few and I feel guilty because I didn’t love him as I ought. Not then and not now. I couldn’t. He was so—mean-spirited. It’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, yet I can’t think of much good to say of him.” Her voice trailed off, and she pulled her cloak about her in the damp wind, gazing at Jenny in mute appeal to change the subject.

“Tell me how I look, then,” Jenny invited quickly, giving her sister a quick, hard hug.

They stopped walking, their way blocked by the dense woods that covered the rest of the slope. A slow, thoughtful smile spread across Brenna’s beautiful face as she studied her stepsister, her hazel eyes roving over Jenny’s expressive face, which was dominated by a pair of large eyes as clear as dark blue crystal beneath gracefully winged, auburn brows. “Well, you’re—you’re quite pretty!”

“Good, but do you see anything unusual about me?” Jenny asked, thinking of Mother Ambrose’s words as she put her wimple back on and pinned the short woolen veil in place atop it. “Anything at all which might make a male behave oddly?”

“No,” Brenna stated, for she saw Jenny through the eyes of a young innocent. “Nothing at all.” A man would have answered very differently, for although Jennifer Merrick wasn’t pretty in the conventional way, her looks were both stiking and provocative. She had a generous mouth that beckoned to be kissed, eyes like liquid sapphires that shocked and invited, hair like lush, red-gold satin, and a slender, voluptuous body that was made for a man’s hands.

“Your eyes are blue,” Brenna began helpfully, trying to describe her, and Jenny chuckled.

“They were blue two years ago,” she said. Brenna opened her mouth to answer, but the words became a scream that was stifled by a man’s hand that clapped over her mouth as he began dragging her backward into the dense cover of the woods.

Jenny ducked, instinctively expecting an attack from behind, but she was too late. Kicking and screaming against a gloved male hand, she was plucked from her feet and hauled into the woods. Brenna was tossed over the back of her captor’s horse like a sack of flour, her limp limbs attesting to the fact that she’d fainted, but Jenny was not so easily subdued. As her faceless adversary dumped her over the back of his horse, she threw herself to the side, rolling free, landing in the leaves and dirt, crawling on all fours beneath his horse, then scrambling to her feet. He caught her again, and Jenny raked her nails down his face, twisting in his hold. “God’s teeth!” he hissed, trying to hold onto her flailing limbs. Jenny let out a blood-chilling scream, at the same moment she kicked as hard as she could, landing a hefty blow on his shin with the sturdy, black boots which were deemed appropriate footware for novice nuns. A grunt of pain escaped the blond man as he let her go for a split second. She bolted forward and might even have gained a few yards if her booted foot hadn’t caught under a thick tree root and sent her sprawling onto her face, smacking the side of her head against a rock when she landed.

“Hand me the rope,” the Wolfs brother said, a grim smile on his face as he glanced at his companion. Pulling his limp captive’s cloak over her head, Stefan Westmoreland yanked it around her body, using it to pin her arms at her sides, then took the rope from his companion and tied it securely around Jenny’s middle. Finished, he picked up his human bundle and tossed it ignominiously over his horse, her derrière pointing skyward, then he swung up into the saddle behind her.


 Judith McNaught Historical Romances:

Let New York Times bestselling author Judith McNaught who “is in a class by herself” (USA TODAY) sweep you off your feet and into another time with her sensual, passionate, and spellbinding historical romance classics, featuring her “unique magic” (RT Book Reviews)! 


SEQUELS SERIES


 Once and Always

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Victoria Seaton, a blithe and fiercely independent orphan, leaves her home in America to travel across the vast Atlantic to claim her long-lost inheritance: a labyrinthine English estate named Wakefield. There she encounters her distant cousin, the notorious, proud, and mysterious Lord Jason Fielding. Drawn to his magnetic charisma, Victoria can’t help but suspect that like her, he harbors a dark and painful past. Neither Victoria or Jason are able to resist one another’s charm but, in a moment of blinding anguish, Victoria discovers the shocking truth that lays at the heart of their love—a love she had dreamed would triumph.

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 Something Wonderful

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“Judith McNaught not only spins dreams but makes them come true” (RT Book Reviews) in this sensual and moving tale of a tempestuous marriage facing its ultimate test. Alexandra Lawrence, an innocent country girl, and Jordan Townsende, the rich and powerful Duke of Hawthorne, have always had a stormy relationship. But when she is swept into the endlessly fascinating world of London society, free-spirited Alexandra becomes ensnared in a tangled web of jealousy, revenge, and overwhelming passion. But behind her husband’s cold, haughty mask, there lives a tender, vital, sensual man…the man Alexandra married. Now, she will fight for his very life and the rapturous bond they alone can share.

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Almost Heaven

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Elizabeth Cameron, the Countess of Havenhurst, possesses a rare gentleness and fierce courage to match her exquisite beauty. But her reputation is shattered when she is discovered in the arms of Ian Thornton, a notorious gambler and social outcast. A dangerously handsome man of secret wealth and mysterious lineage, Ian’s interest in Elizabeth may not be all that it seems. His voyage to her heart is fraught with intrigue, scandal, and a venomous revenge.  As a twisting path of secrets takes them from London’s drawing rooms to the awe-inspiring Scottish Highlands, Elizabeth must learn the truth: is Ian merely a ruthless fortune hunter at heart? “Well-developed main characters with a compelling mutual attraction give strength and charm to this romance set in nineteenth-century Great Britain” (Publishers Weekly).

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WESTMORELAND DYNASTY SAGA


 Whitney, My Love

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A saucy spitfire who has grown into a ravishing young woman, Whitney Stone returns from her triumphant time in Paris society to England. She plans on marrying her childhood sweetheart, only to discover she has been bargained away by her bankrupt father to the arrogant and alluring Clayton Westmoreland, the Duke of Claymore. Outraged, she defies her new lord. But even as his smoldering passion seduces her into a gathering storm of desire, Whitney cannot—will not—relinquish her dream of perfect love. Rich with emotion, brimming with laughter and tears, Whitney, My Love is “the ultimate love story, one you can dream about forever” (RT Book Reviews).

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Until You

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In this unforgettable romantic adventure, a teacher of wealthy young ladies finds her life changed forever when she travels from the wilds of America to elegant London. Sheridan Bromleigh is hired to accompany one of her students, heiress Charise Lancaster, to England to meet her fiancé. But when her charge elopes with a stranger, Sheridan wonders how she will ever explain it to Charise’s intended, Lord Burleton. Standing on the pier, Stephen Westmoreland, the Earl of Langford, assumes the young woman coming toward him is Charise Lancaster and reluctantly informs her of his inadvertent role in a fatal accident involving Lord Burleton the night before. And just as the young woman is about to speak, she steps into the path of a cargo net loaded with crates. Sheridan awakens in Westmoreland’s mansion with no memory of who she is; the only hint of her past is the puzzling fact that everyone calls her Miss Lancaster. All she truly knows is that she is falling in love with a handsome English earl, and that the life unfolding before her seems full of wondrous possibilities.

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Miracles (in A Holiday of Love)

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Now available for the first time ever as an e-novella, New York Times bestselling author Judith McNaught’s short historical romanceMiracles—which ties up ends left open in the Westmoreland Dynasty Saga—is available for the first time ever as a standalone e-novella. In Regency London, world-weary lord Nicki du Ville receives an outrageous proposal from Julianna Skeffington, who is Sheridan Bromleigh’s charge from Until You.

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Judith McNaught Contemporary Historical Romances:

Discover the sensual and sweeping power of love in New York Times bestselling author Judith McNaught’s contemporary romances that will make “you laugh, cry, and fall in love again” (RT Book Reviews)!


STAND-ALONES


Tender Triumph

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On Friday, a sensuous stranger enters Katie’s life. By Sunday, her life is irrevocably changed forever.

Katie Connelly submerges her painful past in a promising career, an elegant apartment, and men she can keep at a distance. Yet something vital is missing from her life—until she meets proud, rugged Ramon Galverra. With his charm and his passionate nature, Ramon gives her a love she had never known. Still she is afraid to surrender her heart to this strong, willful, secretive man—a man from a different world, a man with a bold, uncertain future. Will Katie’s relationship with Ramon survive once the thrill of their simmering passion subsides?

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Double Standards

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In the exclusive, glittering world of business superstars, Nick Sinclair is a legend. The ruggedly handsome president of Global Industries handles his business the way he handles his women—with charm, daring, and ruthless self-control. A man used to the very best, Nick hires Lauren Danner and assumes the proud beauty will soon be another easy conquest. But Lauren’s flashing wit and rare spirit dazzles him and slowly, against his will, he’s intrigued, challenged, and in love. Yet he doesn’t know that Lauren is living a lie and, trapped in a web of deceit, she fights her growing love for Nick. Her secret could destroy his fragile trust and the promise of life with the most compelling man she has ever met.

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FOSTER SAGA


Remember When

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When multinational tycoon Cole Harrison approaches her on a moonlit balcony at the White Orchid Charity Ball, Diana Foster has no idea how life-changing the night ahead will be. The most lavish social event of the Houston season had brought out Texas aristocracy in glittering array but Diana only agreed to attend to save face after reading about her fiancé leaving her for an Italian heiress in a sleazy gossip magazine. Her Beautiful Living magazine is her family’s success story, and Diana knows that as a single, childless, and suddenly unengaged woman, she is not living up to its lucrative image of upscale domestic tranquility. But when she spots the pride of Dallas billionaires, Cole Harrison, closing in on her with two crystal flutes and a bottle of champagne, she has no idea that he has ulterior motives for seducing her tonight. And he certainly has no idea that a match made in what he considers logic’s heaven might be headed straight for an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime love. “Judith McNaught once again works her unique magic in this charming, sparkling romance” (RT Book Reviews, 4 stars).

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 PARADISE SERIES


 Paradise

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“Judith McNaught comes close to an Edith Wharton edge” (The Chicago Tribune) in this stylish and fast-paced classic. Ruthless corporate raider Matthew Farrell is poised to move in on the legendary department store empire owned by Chicago’s renowned Bancroft family. In the glare of the media spotlight, it’s a stunning takeover that overshadows the electric chemistry between Matt, once a scruffy kid from steel town Indiana, and cool, sophisticated Meredith Bancroft. Their brief, ill-fated marriage sparked with thrilling sensuality but ended with a bitter betrayal. Now, locked in a battle that should be all business, dangerous temptations, and bittersweet memories are stirring their hearts. Will they risk everything for a passion too bold to be denied?

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Perfect

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A rootless foster child, Julie Mathison has blossomed under the love showered upon her by her adoptive family. Now a lovely and vivacious young woman, she is a respected teacher in her small Texas town and is determined to give back all the kindness she has received, believing that nothing can ever shatter the perfect life she has fashioned. Zachary Benedict is an actor whose Academy Award-winning career was shattered when he was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. After the tall, ruggedly handsome Zack escapes from a Texas prison, he abducts Julie and forces her to drive him to his Colorado mountain hideout. She’s outraged, cautious, and unable to ignore the instincts that whispers of his innocence. He’s cynical, wary, and increasingly attracted to her. Desire is about to capture them both in its fierce embrace but the journey to trust, true commitment, and proving Zack’s innocence is just beginning.“A mixture of virtue and passion that is almost—ahem—perfect” (Kirkus Reviews) this is a captivating tale that fans will adore.

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Night Whispers

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In this “exciting tale of loyalty, love, and danger” (Publishers Weekly), Sloan Reynolds, a small-town Florida policewoman, knows that her modest upbringing is a long way from the social whirl of Palm Beach, the world inhabited by her father and her sister, Paris. Total strangers to Sloan, they have never tried to contact her—until a sudden invitation arrives, to meet them and indulge in the Palm Beach social season. Reluctant to accept the long-overdue familial gesture, Sloan is convinced to visit when an FBI colleague informs her that her father and his associates are suspected of fraud, conspiracy, and murder. The only catch is she must hide her true profession from her family. Sloan is on top of her game until she meets Noah Maitland, a multinational corporate player and one of the FBI’s prime suspects. She finds herself powerfully attracted to him, against her deepest instincts. When a shocking murder shatters the seductive facade of the wealth and glamour surrounding her, Sloan must maneuver through a maze of deceit and passion in this superb and enthralling tale of breathtaking suspense.

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Someone to Watch Over Me

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Leigh Kendall is relishing her stellar Broadway acting career in her marriage to Logan Manning, scion of an old New York family, when her husband finds the perfect mountain property for their dream house. But while driving upstate on a winter’s night, Leigh is run off the road in the midst of a blinding blizzard. When she awakes in the local hospital, seriously injured, the police inform her that her husband has mysteriously disappeared, and Leigh becomes the focus of their suspicions. The more she discovers about her husband and his business affairs, the less she realizes she knew about Logan Manning. Now, Leigh is heading deeper and deeper into unknown territory—where friends and enemies are impossible to distinguish, and the truth becomes the most terrifying weapon of all in this thrilling tale filled with unrelenting suspense, unforgettable characters, and powerful traces of greed, ambition, and desire. 

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About the Author

Judith McNaught is the New York Times bestselling author who first soared to stardom with her stunning bestseller Whitney, My Love, and went on to win the hearts of millions of readers with Once and AlwaysSomething WonderfulA Kingdom of Dreams, Almost Heaven, ParadisePerfectUntil YouRemember WhenSomeone to Watch Over Me, the #1 bestseller Night Whispers, and other novels. There are more than thirty million copies of her books in print. She lives in Houston. Please visit her at JudithMcNaught.comand on Facebook at AuthorJudithMcNaught.

Release Blitz & Giveaway: Out of Bounds by Lauren Blakely

forbidden_adsizeFrom NYT Bestselling author Lauren Blakely, comes a sexy new standalone sports romance…

OUT OF BOUNDS

Ready to be swept off your feet? Meet the witty, sexy, dirty-talking quarterback Drew in OUT OF BOUNDS! Grab your copy today!


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The first rule of football–don’t screw with a streak.

My career is finally looking up, and I’m leading a new pro team down the field every Sunday. No way will I mess with that. But when I meet the most stunning and captivating woman I’ve ever seen, I tell myself one night will have to be enough.

But it’s not. And now I can’t get her out of my mind. Even when I’m playing. Even when I need to focus. Even when I’m on the hottest streak of my life.

And it turns out, she’s not just some random woman I met. She works for the team. My team.

 

***

I only have one goal this season–do my part as the team’s lawyer to keep them out of trouble. Help rebuild their reputation on and off the field. There’s no room for error and certainly no room for a secret tryst with a player . . . even if he’s the quarterback.

Right?

Buy Links

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ADD IT GOODREADS

motherfuckingprize2
Excerpt

“Be on your best behavior, Drew,” he says, a teasing tone in his voice.

“I always am,” I reply, and the fact is, that’s true. Clean-cut is my nickname.

“And text if you’re done early.”

“If I’m done early, I’m having a date with my mattress.”

He groans. “You are the definition of no fun.”

I grin. “That’s me. That’s why Qwench wants me now. Because I know how to get a good night’s sleep and stay out of the line of fire.”

When I hang up, I step out of the car, hand the keys to the valet, and thank him. Then I head inside, where Stuart greets me in the room reserved for the event, claps me on the back, and introduces me to several people. A photographer snaps shots the whole time, and I play the role that’s hardly a role—the outgoing, non-trouble-making, peace-loving quarterback who doesn’t throw punches or raise fists, like others before me have.

Don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have unprotected sex, and I also don’t speed. Squeaky clean indeed. Not even a traffic ticket on the record, and certainly no knocked-up teenyboppers with mini Drews baking in their bellies.

Stuart introduces me to the red-haired, freckle-faced guy who heads up this charity. “And this is Drew Erickson. He’s our new starter. We’re thrilled to have him on the team, especially since he’s already active with many wonderful charitable endeavors,” Stuart says to the ginger-haired guy.

We exchange small talk for a few minutes, then Stuart drops a hand on my shoulder and tells me there’s someone else he wants me to meet. “I’d love to introduce you to a sharp-as-a-tack woman who makes sure I don’t fumble,” he says, then winks in case I didn’t realize he was making a joke.

I smile to let him know I got it—fumbling humor and all—then my smile turns into a ruler-straight line when I turn on my heels and see my surfer angel.

Holy shit. She’s hot as sin in a red skirt, white blouse, and black heels. She holds a drink. Her blond hair is twisted on her head. Damn. The smoking-hot look is almost enough to make me forget she blew me off. My dick, the traitorous bastard, has already come down with amnesia. The fucker wants her.

“This is Dani Paige. She’s an attorney for the team,” he says, and I attempt to school my expression as I come face-to-face with the woman who ditched me.

And all I want to do is toss her on my shoulder, stalk to the bathroom, slam the door, and ask her why the fuck she didn’t call. Then when she tells me it was because she was too busy getting off to thoughts of me, I’d kiss the hell out of her until she melted in my arms and begged me to take her. I’d happily oblige. Hoist her up, hook her legs around my hips, and fuck her against the wall until she comes harder than she ever has before.

Instead, I shake her free hand. “Pleasure to meet you.” Then I whisper, just for her. “Jaws.”

 

dont-like-football_availnowAbout the Author

Since self-publishing her debut romance novel CAUGHT UP IN US over three years ago, Lauren Blakely has sold more than 1.5 million books. She is known for her sexy contemporary romance style that’s full of heat, heart and humor. A devout fan of cake and canines, Lauren has plotted entire novels while walking her four-legged friends. She lives in California with her family. With twelve New York Times bestsellers, her titles have appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists more than seventy times. Her bestselling series include Sinful Nights, Seductive Nights, No Regrets, Caught Up in Love, and Fighting Fire as well as standalone hit romances like BIG ROCK, MISTER O, WELL HUNG, and THE SEXY ONE which were all instant New York Times Bestsellers. In January she’ll release FULL PACKAGE, a standalone romantic comedy. To receive an email when Lauren releases a new book, sign up for her newsletter! laurenblakely.com/newsletter.

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✮✮✮ Celebrate the release of OUT OF BOUNDS! ✮✮✮

 

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