Dec 082019
 
 8 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Seducing Lola (Girl Talk #1) by Jessica Prince

I’ve had my fair share of bad relationships. I’ve dated liars, cheaters, shoe fetishists, and everything in between. Sure, these experiences would make any woman cynical when it comes to dipping her toe back into the dating pool, but I used my past for good and made a career out of helping other women avoid going down the same paths I had.

And I was damn good at it.

Until a random act of fate set my life on a course I’d been avoiding for years, and put me in the crosshairs of a man that made me feel things I swore to never feel again.

Now I’m in his sights and it seems like he’ll stop at nothing to seduce the hell out of me. He might hold my career in the palm of his hands, but if Grayson Lockhart thinks he can blackmail me into submission with his sexy voice and sexy hands and sexy everything, then he’s…probably right.

Excerpt Seducing Lola (Girl Talk #1) by Jessica Prince

If you’d have asked my twenty-year-old self what I saw in my future ten years down the road, I probably would’ve answered the same way as every other naïve co-ed living the college dream on Sorority Row.

I’d be married to the love of my life, raising our two perfect children in the suburbs—because the city is no place to bring up a family, obviously—and driving a top-of-the-line SUV that all the minivan moms would envy because I had way too much style to ever be caught dead driving a minivan.

Clearly, my twenty-year-old self was an idiot.

It was she who forgave—then was subsequently dumped by—my college sweetheart after finding him pile-driving my sorority sister from behind on the handmade quilt I’d spent countless hours creating out of his old high school football T-shirts as a birthday present. His brilliant excuse?

“You’re just not adventurous enough, Lola. She’s willing to try things in bed that you aren’t.”

Apparently refusing to allow him to film us having sex and entering it into a contest on a porn site was just too vanilla for him. Last I heard, he was making a killing on the amateur scene.

Unfortunately, my twenty-one and twenty-two-year-old selves weren’t all that smart either.

It was my twenty-one-year-old self who discovered I’d unwittingly been made a beard by Brad, the guy I had dated for six months, because his evangelical parents just “wouldn’t understand.”

BTW, Brad and Phillip’s wedding was a really lovely affair. He asked me to stand as his best woman—since he considered our relationship the reason he finally made his way out of the closet—but I turned down the honor, choosing instead to get annihilated on mojitos at the open bar.

My twenty-two-year-old self thought I had finally found a decent guy. That was until I came home to find him doing something I’ll never be able to unsee to a pair of Louboutins I’d spent the better part of a year saving up for.

The saddest part? I hadn’t even had a chance to wear them before his defilement. I didn’t have the heart to throw them in the trash, so I let him take them with him when I kicked his ass out.

I should’ve known better, honestly. It wasn’t like I’d grown up in a home with my very own personal June and Ward Cleaver. Oh no, my parents split when I was only six years old. And it was anything but amicable. My mom never kept her hatred for my father secret. And dear old Dad never hid the string of women he kept on tap, one for whatever mood he may’ve been in. It was shocking that I hadn’t grown bitter at an even younger age, having to deal with their drama, but I was in my early twenties and still a believer in happily ever afters.

Like I said, I was an idiot.

Now I know what you’re thinking. After three miserable failures, I was probably a jaded cynic who was convinced true love didn’t exist.

Well, you’d only be half right. See, I believed in love, sure… as long as it was happening to anyone other than me. I’d been the fateful target of that bastard Cupid’s stupid-ass arrow three times already; I had no desire to go for a fourth. I wasn’t anti-relationship when it came to other people. To each their own and all that jazz. And I didn’t hate men. I just didn’t believe they were of any use to me for anything other than a few hours of fun that eventually led to a—hopeful—mutual release before I sent them on their way.

I learned from my mistakes, grown wise as the years passed. I knew exactly what I wanted out of my life, and believe me, there wasn’t a shitty picket fence in sight. If the suburbs were for families, then the city was exactly where I was meant to be. I was a successful, accomplished thirty-two-year-old woman who’d gotten where I was in life by hard work, perseverance, and the cluelessness of women all around the world.

My name was known in households all throughout Washington State. I, along with my two best friends, hosted Seattle’s most successful female-based talk radio show, aptly titled Girl Talk. I’d managed to make more money in the past ten years by offering relationship advice to helpless women than I’d ever know what to do with.

It was safe to say the rose-colored glasses were off. I lived in the real world where men cheated and women drowned their sorrows in vats of Ben & Jerry’s.

Sure, I wasn’t living the future I saw for myself when I was twenty, but then again, at twenty, I still thought Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were meant to be, that Wedding Crashers was cinematic brilliance, and that the whole Tom Cruise/Oprah couch jumping “I’m in love with Katie Holmes” thing was actually romantic. What the hell did I know back then?

A lot had changed over the years. And as I gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows of my penthouse apartment, overlooking the Puget Sound, I could honestly say without a shred of doubt that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Seducing Lola

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Tempting Sophia

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Enticing Daphne

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Charming Fiona

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Dec 052019
 
 5 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Beard Necessities (Winston Brothers #7) by Penny Reid

Billy Winston’s family is going to see him happy and in love if it’s the last thing they do.

Beard Necessities, the final standalone in the bestselling romantic comedy Winston Brothers series from New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Penny Reid, is available now!

No one deserves a happily-ever-after quite as much as the second oldest Winston brother and his lady love, Claire McClure (aka Scarlet St. Claire). Cruelty and circumstance tore them apart almost twenty years ago. Secrecy and bitterness kept them separated.

But you know who’s tired of their separation and stubbornness? Everyone. Especially Billy Winston’s family. And now they’re going to do something about it.

Well-meaning interference means the star-crossed lovers can’t stop tripping over each other in the hills of Tuscany, the catacombs of Rome, and the waterways of Venice. Billy and Claire find themselves thrown together and at the mercy of the Winston siblings’ shenanigans.

But will their forced proximity bring them together? Or push them even further apart?

This second-chance romance brings back the entire Winston gang, playing cupid in one last story of love, hi-jinks, and family collusion.

BEARD NECESSITIES is a full-length contemporary romantic comedy, and can be read as a stand-alone, but it’s probably best read after books 0.5, 2, 3, 5, and 6 of the Winston Brothers series.

Excerpt Beard Necessities (Winston Brothers #7) by Penny Reid

Strolling to the desk, I set down the milk and cookies, crossed my arms and turned to face my brother. “You’re pointing out that Scarlet and I will see each other during various family functions.”
“Correct.”
“And, therefore,” I continued reasonably, “I need to be nice to her.” I knew that already, and tonight—after watching her face crumple and feeling a part of my soul shrivel at the sight—I’d finally accepted it. I would be nice. I would be so damn nice. I’d be a saint.
But then Cletus said, “No, Billy. Not nice. Nice is for tea parties and doctor’s visits. You need to woo her.”
I blinked once. “Woo her.”
“That’s right. You need to woo the pants off her, hopefully literally, and then make that woman yours. Permanently. Once and for all. Put a ring on it. Woo is where it’s at. Jenn still has the centerpieces from our wedding if you’d like to borrow them.” During this enlightening monologue, he’d moseyed over and picked up the glass of milk and a cookie, dunked the cookie into the milk, and then took a bite just as he’d finished his listings of delusions.
“That’s never going to happen.”
“Why not? Those centerpieces are lovely. You don’t know your color scheme yet. Ask Scarlet before you decide.”
I ground my teeth. “Scarlet and I are never going to happen, Cletus.”
He shook his head firmly. “I’m disappointed in your lack of ambition, Billy. I thought we’d be on the same page. But I see now, I’m going to have to take a tough love approach.”
“Cletus—”
“I’m going to give you one chance,” he said, then pushed the rest of the cookie in his mouth and spoke around it as he continued, “One more chance is all you get. I’ve waited long enough for this and you know my feelings on delayed gratification.”
“Pardon?”
“It’s overrated.” He took a gulp of milk and picked up another cookie.
“No, Cletus. One chance on what?”
“I’m giving you one chance. One.” He pointed the cookie at me. “Tomorrow, you’re going to go find her, apologize to her for whatever that kerflufflefuck was I walked in on. Tell her you were suffering from temporary insanity, hopped up on illicit drugs, abducted by asshole probing aliens, whatever. I’m giving you one chance to make this right, and if you don’t take it, you are not going to like what happens next.”

Book 4 Beauty and the Mustache

1 Truth or Beard

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2 Grin and Beard It

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3 Beard Science

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4 Beard in Mind

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5 Dr. Strange Beard

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5.5 Beard with Me

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6 Beard Necessities

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Newsletter

Dec 052019
 
 5 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Tempting Sophia (Girl Talk #2) by Jessica Prince

Having my heart broken once was enough to make me give up on the idea of love all together. Instead of searching for The One I decided to embrace variety and turn my back on monogamy. I made a living convincing women they didn’t need a man to feel complete.

And I totally rocked at it.

Until the man who shattered my happily ever after came waltzing back into my life, determined to make me fall for him all over again.

He claims that I’m the love of his life. He wants a second chance, and it seems like he’ll stop at nothing to tempt the hell out of me. But if Dominic Abbatelli thinks he can win me back with his puppy dog eyes, heartfelt apologies, and declarations of love then he’s…probably right.

Excerpt Tempting Sophia (Girl Talk #2) by Jessica Prince

“I can still tell when you’re lying,” he murmured, this time even closer than before. When I turned back, our faces were barely an inch from one another. It would’ve been so easy to lean in and press my lips to his. I still remembered how they felt against mine, how he could start a kiss so soft only to take it somewhere carnal a second later. “You get that little wrinkle between your eyes right here.” The tip of his finger gently stroked the skin between my eyes.

I sat frozen for several seconds before my brain reengaged and I pulled back, casting a furtive glance around the table. “Okay, look,” I whispered, leaning in closer. “This is how this is going to go. You’re my best friend’s brother, which means you’re going to be a part of her big day, which means I’m going to be stuck having to breathe the same air as you on occasion whether I like it or not. Because I love her and want this to be the best time in her life, I’m going to agree to put our past aside and be civil. But I am not doing this for you. Are we clear? I’m doing this for her. So please, don’t make this any harder than it already is.” Despite starting out strong, my voice turned weak on that last sentence, belying the pain I still acutely felt.

I watched with awe as Dominic’s face grew soft, making him even more handsome. “You know, no matter what you believe, I didn’t do any of this to hurt you, butterfly.”

“Please,” I pleaded. “Stop calling me that.”

“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll stop calling you that if you stop avoiding me like I have the plague. We work in the same building, for Christ’s sake. Can you at least pretend you don’t want to set me on fire every time you see me?”

Oh, if only he knew what I really wanted to do to him every time I saw him. But that would give him all the power.

“Okay, deal.” I extended my hand and successfully warded off a shiver when his large fingers engulfed mine in a shake. Quirking a brow, I gave him a skeptical look and said, “But this is for Lola… right?”

He grinned a sexy Cheshire cat grin that showed off his perfect white teeth. “Whatever makes you feel better, baby.”

I was fucked.

Seducing Lola

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Tempting Sophia

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Enticing Daphne

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Charming Fiona

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Dec 032019
 
 3 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Charming Fiona (Girl Talk #4) by Jessica Prince

As I child, I believed in true love and fairytales. I convinced myself that there was one special man out there, made just for me. All I had to do was wait, and one day he would appear. Then I grew up and discovered the ugly truth.

Disney movies were full of crap.

Relationships took work. People made mistakes. And sometimes, you didn’t see what was standing right in front of you until it was too late.

Deacon Lockhart was my best friend. And then I lost him. But now I finally have a chance to make things right, and this time I refuse to screw it up. With every smoldering look and wicked word, he charms the hell out of me… and I’m pretty sure I’ll never get enough.

*Author Note: Charming Fiona is a friends-to-lovers romance with its own happily ever after.*

Excerpt Charming Fiona (Girl Talk #4) by Jessica Prince

I hated grocery stores. Like seriously hated them to the point that all that was in my fridge was a box of baking soda, half a case of soda, and something that might have been cheese at one time, but I wasn’t a hundred percent certain on that.

Funny thing was, I used to love cooking, and I was damn good at it. But there was nothing enjoyable about cooking for one. I always ended up with leftovers that sat in my fridge until they inevitably spoiled. So I eventually moved to takeout or those sad meals for one you found in the freezer section. Thus began my disdain for the grocery store.

However, in my infinite wisdom, I’d decided that, since I was about to step back into the dating world, maybe it was time to implement changes in every aspect of my life. If I was going to get back on the horse again, so to speak, and start dating, then I figured why not just revamp everything?

I was going to be a whole new Fiona, one who stopped stress-eating snack cakes to fill the hole of loneliness inside of me. I was also going to implement a healthier diet and start working out.
It all sounded good, in hindsight. Then I signed up for one of those early-morning boot camps. I didn’t even last half a session. I kind of lost my shit when the instructor yelled “give me five more!” while we were doing these god-awful things called burpees—an invention of the Devil, right along with bras and pantyhose. I’d done three and was already dying, so I told him to take his five more and shove them right up his clenched ass.

I got kicked out.

Then I tried Pilates and woke up the next day feeling like I’d pulled every muscle in my body. My third attempt at exercise was yoga. Thankfully that hadn’t been so bad. I’d already gone three times and was actually starting to feel a little more zen. Sure, it probably wouldn’t help with the little food baby I’d developed since Deacon started dating Leah and I’d decided to eat my feelings, but it kept me off the couch and away from the brain-rotting reality TV I’d started to become obsessed with.

And bonus: the instructor was hot. Granted, he was a vegan hippy who wore Birkenstocks and reeked like patchouli, so not my type at all, but the smell wasn’t too over powering if I sat in the second row, and it provided me with nice weekly eye candy.

With dating on my horizon and fitness checked off my list, it was time to start the clean-eating portion of my New Fiona plan. Hence the trip to the supermarket after yoga.

I stood in the health food aisle, glaring down at the bag of kale chips in my hand like it had just insulted my mother. Little Debbie had just come out with their holiday cakes in the shape of Christmas trees, and they tasted a million times better than stupid kale chips.

My lip curled in disgust as I tossed the bag back onto the shelf. Maybe it would be best for me to start out slow, like a salad for one meal a day for a few months before expanding on that. I turned and started pushing my cart out of the aisle of tasteless, flavorless cardboard snacks only to come to a screeching halt at the sight of Deacon standing a few feet away.

“H-hi,” I stuttered. Seeing him made my belly erupt with a million butterflies.

“Christ,” he grunted in a deeply masculine, gravelly voice. “What the hell are you wearing?”

I looked down at my attire. Black yoga pants that hugged every inch they covered and a dark orange cami. I had a pale yellow jacket over my top, but it still clung to me from chest to waist, not that there was much to cling to. I was tall and thin, and while I had curves, they were nothing on par with Lola or my other friends. I had a happy handful of boobs and ass, but only just a handful.

I was covered from my neck all the way down to my feet, but the way Deacon was staring at me made me feel like I was standing in the center of the supermarket totally naked.

“Uh, yoga clothes? I just came from yoga.”

His eyes left a burning trail up my body before meeting my own. I barely caught the heat in his gaze before it was snuffed out by curiosity and a bit of bewilderment. “You do yoga?”

I wanted to be offended that he’d be so surprised by my doing anything even remotely active, but he’d known me all my life.

“It’s a new thing,” I said with a small shrug. “I decided I wanted to try and be healthier.”

His lips quirked up in a smirk as he scanned the items in my cart. “Really? And mini donuts and Fruity Pebbles are part of your diet plan?”

I glared defensively, cocking my hip and crossing my arms over my chest. “I also got whole grain bread and baby spinach.”

His smirk turned into a grin. “Oh, you’re right, sorry. Those totally cancel out the breakfast cereal that’s basically nothing but sugar.”

“I’ll have you know that cereal is perfectly healthy. It contains most of the basic food groups, and it’s not like I’ll eat the whole box in one sitting. And I’ll have a salad for dinner to balance it.”

He held up his hands in surrender and moved to the end of my cart, directly opposite me. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any offense. I was just teasing.”

His big hands wrapped around the thin metal prongs, and I couldn’t help but notice how long and thick his fingers were. It made me think of something else of his that could possible be long and thick, and how badly I wanted to find out for myself.

Annnnd, I’m blushing again.

I smiled shyly. “It’s cool. I know you were. I think… well, I think we’re just finding our footing with each other again.”

Deacon’s face went soft, causing my insides to melt. “I’m thinking maybe you’re right. But we’ll get there.”

We’ll get there. At just those three simple words, the reality of just how badly I’d screwed up with Deacon hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Yeah,” I whispered, my heart lodged in my throat. “We will.”

We had to, because I’d been living a life without him in it for way too long.

After saying our goodbyes, I was left with a feeling of longing as I watched him walk away. Needless to say, I bought the damn Christmas tree snack cakes.

Two boxes of them.

Seducing Lola

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Tempting Sophia

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Enticing Daphne

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Charming Fiona

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Newsletter

Dec 032019
 
 3 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Co-Ed (A Bro Code #1) by Rachel Van Dyken

Four guys.

Constant moaning.

And a revolving door across the college suite I somehow ended up in because my first name is Shawn.

They don’t discriminate. Girls. Guys. Grandmas. Plants (okay maybe not plants) all walks of life stroll in stressed to the brim, and leave so satisfied I’m wondering what sort of talents lie behind that door.

My roommate calls them the pleasure ponies.

But the rest of the college campus?

They just call them the new face of Wingmen Inc. A paid for relationship service that makes big promises.

Breakup? They’ll glue you back together again.

Depressed? They have the magic pill.

Lonely? Just spend a few minutes while they rub you down and you’ll forget all about it.

And broken hearts? Well, that’s their specialty. They’ll fix you.

For a price…

I swore I wouldn’t get involved.

But apparently they like a challenge, and a girl who doesn’t put up with their BS is basically like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

They. All. Charged.

But one holds my attention above the rest.

Knox Tate looks like a Viking — and getting pillaged is starting to look more appealing by the day. Though he’s hiding something — all of them are. And the closer I get. The more I realize that some things are left better in the past.

You’ve read reverse harem books before — but you’ve never read one like this. It’s not what you think, or is it? Dive in and find out…

Knox, Leo, Finn, and Slater are waiting, and they aren’t patient men.

Welcome to the new face of Wingmen Inc — You’re welcome.

Excerpt Co-Ed (A Bro Code #1) by Rachel Van Dyken

A heavy arm was draped over me.
I knew that arm.
I traced my fingers down the firm muscle toward the massive shoulder it belonged to then ran my hand through dirty blond hair. It should be a crime to have tresses like that and have a penis. His hair was silky and smooth while still being thick.
I stopped moving my hand, but he grabbed it again and placed it against his head as if he wanted more.
“Please…” he murmured.
I sighed and scratched his head then ran my fingers down his neck. His lips parted. I touched them too, because I was curious, because when his eyes were closed, I could almost believe that he didn’t realize I was touching every inch of his body out of curiosity, but also out of disbelief. This guy here was too much of all the right things to be real.
“How’d you sleep?” Knox’s eyes were still closed as he asked the question.
I sighed against him, not ready to wake up and face the music of last night. “I dreamed that a unicorn was chasing me, and I remember puking out ten pounds of food last night.”
“More like twenty,” he said in a dry tone.
I smacked him on the chest.
He grabbed my hand and held it tight. This time his eyes were open when he whispered, “Never again.”
Shame hit me hard and fast as I ducked my head and licked my lips. “I’m sorry. I don’t normally drink, and after the whole social media shitstorm….”
“You think I’m pissed because you drank?” He frowned.
I nodded, feeling worse.
“Drink, party, explore whatever weird sexual fantasies you have with unicorns.” His lips twitched, his perfect pout was almost irritating. “Just make sure you have a sober buddy with you, alright? And for the record, I’m more than happy to volunteer for the job.”
I scrunched up my nose. “That sounds like the worst job ever for my new friend.”
His eyes narrowed. “Why not me?”
“Well, let’s see… have my TA follow me around while I explore my sexuality with some random stranger….”
His fists clenched.
“…or do it on my own?”
“Not on your own.” He glared. “And I changed my mind. You aren’t exploring anything with anyone, ever.”
“Oh?” I smirked. “Gonna lock me in my room or just order a chastity belt from Amazon? Get it Primed right on over?”
His expression clouded. “You think they have one on Amazon Prime?”
I hit him with one of the pillows, which sent me reeling backward onto the ground in a huff.
He grinned down at me. “I think I’d like to see you all suited up… Think of it as an adventure. The day you find the key you can unlock the treasure.”
I gave him the finger while he howled with laughter.
“You’re impossible,” I grumbled. “And I’ll find another buddy, maybe Leo or Finn wouldn’t mind.”
His expression contorted, and he went ape-shit. “The hell you are! If anyone is going with you, it’s me!”
“But—” Heat rushed into my cheeks. “—it would be weird.”
“Why?”
“Because we’re friends,” I said in a hollow voice.
Or maybe just because he still intimidates me, and I still taste him on my tongue. Yeah, those reasons too.
Knox sighed. “It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s not like you’re hell-bent on exploring your sexuality. You just had a bad day. Won’t happen again.”
“Are you asking or telling?”
“It was a one-time thing, right?” His eyes locked onto mine, as if he needed me to agree with every fiber of his body, and I wouldn’t have put it past him to log onto his Amazon account and make real on his threat just to prove he meant business.
Bastard.
“You know?” I got up and stretched. “I think I will.”
He stood, towering over me. “You got drugged last night.”
“I’ll be more careful next time.”
“Next… time.” He said the words slowly as if he was tasting, waiting for the bitterness around them to fill his mouth. “You’re impossible!”
He gave me his back.
“Thank you, though, for last night,” I said in a small voice. “I’m equal parts embarrassed and ashamed that I was so stupid to take a drink from someone I barely knew. I must have turned around or something. I guess it only takes a few seconds, huh?”
His shoulders relaxed as he slowly turned around. “Seconds, and a life could end. Yes.” His eyes were wild. “I want it to be me. I need it to be me, but if you can’t get ahold of me, take Leo, Finn — hell, I don’t even care if you take Slater. Just make sure you have someone with you. Anything can happen. You’re too pretty for your own good.”
He thinks I’m pretty! I tried not to smile too wide.
And failed.
He just shook his head and smiled. “I’m impressed with your restraint.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
He smirked. “Lies.” Knox opened the door and called over his shoulder. “The last girl I called pretty passed out into her birthday cake — so yeah, the restraint is admirable, also pretty tempting.”
“That’s my goal. Tempt you until you can’t handle it anymore.” I laughed.
He didn’t. Instead, he walked tensely across the room, and I could have sworn he said, “It’s working.”

Co-Ed

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Seducing Mrs. Robinson

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Avoiding Temptation

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The Setup

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Dec 012019
 
 1 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Enrage (Eagle Elite #8) by Rachel Van Dyken

Part of a world I loathe.
Part of a family who hates me more than I hate myself.
Living with a girl who reminds me of my darkness.
I’m. In. Hell.
Also known as the Cosa Nostra.
My life was over the minute I stepped off that plane.
Son to a murdered mob boss.
Heir to a throne of murder and lies.
My name is Dante Nicolasi.
And there will be blood.

Excerpt Enrage (Eagle Elite #8) by Rachel Van Dyken

Dante slammed his hand into the tree, his jaw popped as he gritted his teeth together and then calm washed over him as he whispered near my ear, “Want me to kill him?”
A few people walked by and stared at us, it looked like he was kissing my neck, like we were normal college students sharing a moment.

Nope. Wrong story, kiddos.

He just offered to kill someone for offending me, run along, nothing to see here.

“After,” I said. “Kill him after he stops being useful to you, to the bosses.” I couldn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth, what I was agreeing to. “Yes.”

Dante pulled back, his face broke out into a smile. “How messed up is it that I’m actually looking forward to that moment?”

I gulped. “It’s in your blood.”

“I wish it wasn’t,” he said gruffly. “I wish I didn’t crave it — dream about it — almost as much as I wish I didn’t feel guilt every day because of it.”

I sighed and put my hands on his chest, then ran them up around his neck, he didn’t move, or flinch, so maybe we were having a moment as our mouths almost touched. “The only shame in life, is not being who you were truly born to be. If that means you kill the bad guys — kill the bad, guys Dante. Just don’t lose your soul in the process.”

“And if it’s already gone?” He croaked his eyes darkening as he slowly leaned in until his forehead touched mine.

Days ago I would have been terrified that his body was this close.

Days ago, I would have shoved him away and run.

Days ago, I would have shuddered that his bloodstained hands were running up and down my skin.

But today.

Today was different.

Today I closed my eyes and drank in the wicked scent of Dante Nicolasi, the cologne mixed with soap. I inhaled.

And opened my eyes again.

Yesterday I was angry. I was afraid.

Today. Against the tree.

Pinned by Dante’s arms.

I was safe.

“I’ll help you find it,” I whispered.

“Just don’t damn yourself in the process, El.” He cupped my face with his right hand, his eyes fell to my mouth, his half-lidded seductive look could stop a girl dead in her tracks.

The wives always talked about how attractive his father was, even at an older age.

Almost like he’d aged backward.

Dante was no different.

If it was possible for a human to get more attractive by the day — he’d be the one to prove you right.

“Are you going to kiss me again?” I asked hopefully.

“No.” He pulled away.

My heart sank into my stomach.

“Because I don’t want to start something I have no intention of stopping.”

My head jerked, our eyes locked, and I saw it. The honesty.

“Told you I’d never lie to you, El.” His voice had a warning edge to it, like I shouldn’t push him, push whatever invisible boundaries he’d mentally set up between us. His eyes never left mine.

And I knew, this was what he looked like when he was telling the truth.

His eyes pierced through my defenses in an unapologetic search for my heart, my soul.

And I let them.

“We should get to class.” I finally found my voice and started walking, he fell into step beside me.

And I spent the rest of the day thinking about the non-kiss.

And the promise that came with it.

1 Elite

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2 Elect

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3 Entice

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4 Elicit

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Bang Bang

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Enchant

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5 Ember

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RIP

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7 Empire

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8 Enrage

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9 Eulogy

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9.5 Envy

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Exposed

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Dec 012019
 
 1 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Downfall by Jay Crownover

Solomon Sanders doesn’t have time to fall in love. Until a stunning, skittish, single mother forces him to pause and recognize just how empty and hollow his busy life has become.

From the start, it’s been ingrained in Solo’s DNA to fight.

Fight for what he believes is right.

Fight for the people he loves.

Fight for the traces of good in a place which tends to be filled with a variety of bad.

Fight for survival, so at some point, his life will quiet down and find a normal pace.

He wasn’t ready for the impact his secretive, shy, obviously out of place new neighbor was going to have on him. And never in a million years was he prepared to fall head over heels for her and her young daughter.

Now, he’s facing the most important, and the hardest fight he’s ever fought… the battle to win Orley’s damaged heart.

Orley Vincent’s heart is full of fear, leaving no space for love. Until a big, brash, brawler of a man forces his way in and makes her realize facing her fears is the only way she can ever be free.

From the start, Orley was groomed to believe she wasn’t good enough.

She wasn’t the perfect daughter. Or student. Or girlfriend.

But, she has always been the best mother she could be to her daughter, Noble.

Keeping Noble safe has always been the one thing she was determined to do, which ironically, is how she ended up on the wrong side of the tracks, living next door to an unlikely hero. Orley’s a woman on the run. She had no idea her frantic sprint was going to land her in the tattooed arms of a man ready to teach her how to fight for herself… and for love.

Excerpt Downfall by Jay Crownover

SOLO

“I’m not anyone’s savior, Orley. Don’t get that confused.”

She sighed again and pushed herself up off the floor. “I’m not confused. I’m incredibly lucky.” She sounded like she felt anything but lucky. “I want to do something nice for you. I have limited options, but if you want to come next door for dinner one night, Noble and I would love to have you.” She waved a hand around my kitchen, “I may have noticed you don’t keep much of anything edible on hand when I was looking for the coffee.”

Guiltily, I glanced at the abandoned bag of tater tots on the couch. “I’m on the go a lot. I usually just grab something I can eat on the run. Plus, I can’t cook.” My mom was a great cook, though, or she had been at one point. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a home-cooked meal. “Do you cook?” She was so young, it was hard to picture her slaving over a hot stove on the regular.

Orley nodded. “Sure. I mostly throw stuff together geared to the palate of a toddler, but I’m sure I can figure out something adult appropriate for one night. I really owe you more than I can ever repay. Being a good neighbor is the least I can do.”

I did a mental rundown of my week trying to find a hole where I could fit her in. Not for the first time a wave of exhaustion washed over me when I realized how every hour of my days were packed. It shouldn’t be nearly impossible to eke out a night for something as easy as dinner. Finally deciding I was just going to have to skip a training session or get up even earlier to work on school work, I told Orley I would be over on Wednesday night.

She nodded at me and took a step forward. I went to move out of the way so she could get out of the small space without feeling crowded, but she caught me completely off guard when she walked right up to me and wrapped her arms around my waist. I felt her soft breath against the base of my throat and her soft hair brush against the bottom of my chin. I reflexively put an arm around her shoulders and returned her embrace. If she tilted her head back just a little, there wasn’t enough self-control in the world for me to keep my mouth off of hers. I would kiss the shit out of her, even though I knew it was the last thing she needed.

“I’ve never had anyone like you in my life, Solo. You terrify me.” She hugged me hard enough I had to bite my tongue to keep the yelp of pain from my jacked-up ribs at bay.

“That street goes both ways, Orley. I’ve never met anyone like you either.” I never thought I would to be honest.

She let me go and took a deep breath. She was halfway across the room when I realized something. “Hey, what about you. You never told me your last name.”

She stopped by the door, her back to me. For a minute I thought she didn’t hear me, but then she pulled the door open and called softly, “I’ll see you on Wednesday night.”

She slipped out the door without another word, leaving me with one more piece of a puzzle I was determined to put together. Figuring out my pretty neighbor was going to have to wait. I still needed to shower and drive out to see my mom. My obligations were never-ending and usually I liked being busy enough I didn’t have to think about much of anything. Lately, I found myself resenting every minute that took my attention away from the mysterious redhead I couldn’t stop thinking about.

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Dec 012019
 
 1 December 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: , ,  No Responses »

Hustler by Meghan Quinn & Jessica Prince

I make my living as a hustler, and I’m great at it.
I don’t have a single tell and I use that to my advantage to manipulate any situation.
I’ve always known what a person is about to do before they’ve even decided. That is, until I met Penelope.
I can’t get a read on her, and what’s worse, she doesn’t want anything to do with me. Which only makes me want her more. Now I’m in for the hardest hustle of my life. Somehow I have to convince her she belongs with me. Good thing I’m always up for a challenge.

Excerpt Hustler by Meghan Quinn & Jessica Prince

“Hello Miss Prescott. What brings you here this fine morning?”
Her eyes are glued to my chest, not a single word comes out of her mouth.
“Um, we’re having a picnic,” Page answers for her, poking Penelope in the back with a stick.
“Oh yeah, food,” Penelope answers, shaking her head quickly and turning back around.
Not waiting for an invitation, I take a seat next to her and say, “Well, don’t mind if I do. I’m famished.” Grabbing a few grapes, I pop them in my mouth and then hold my hand out to Page. “Gavin Saint.”
“Page,” she answers, awe in her voice. “Nell has told me so much about you.”
Grinning from ear to ear, I turn to Penelope whose face is bright red. “Is that so?”
“No!” she answers quickly, shooting daggers at her friend. “I have not said anything about you, at all.”
“Not even about the storage closet?” I ask, not ashamed at all.
Davies throws her head back and laughs while Penelope coughs into her drink. I pat her back in a calming gesture, occasionally rubbing my hand over the thin material of her top, wishing it were her skin.
“From your reactions, it seems like our little friend here did tell you. What did she say? Give me all the dirt.” I rub my hands together, loving the way Penelope is seething next to me.
Before any of the girls could cut in, Penelope says, “Just that you told me you had to use your fingers because you have a micro-penis and felt bad that you wouldn’t be able to please me any other way. We all agreed, you can’t have it all Gavin Saint,” she finishes with a sympathetic wince.
Should have seen that one coming. Fucking woman keeps me on my toes.
I lean over to Penelope, placing my hand on her lower back, and speak directly into her ear, keeping our conversation private. “You and I both know that’s a lie, but I’ll let it slide because I look forward to the moment when I fuck that thought right out of your head with my long…thick…cock.” I take my time speaking into her ear, eliciting goose bumps across the surface of her skin. With a quick glance, I also take in how her nipples have hardened.
Bluff all you want baby, I can read you like a fucking book.

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Nov 302019
 
 30 November 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Ember (Eagle Elite #5) by Rachel Van Dyken

I am a Killer. A Rapist. A Monster.
I know only pain and survival.
That is until the Cappo’s sister walked into my life.
And changed everything.

She’s a light who makes my darkness darker, her smile makes my heart turn to ice, and I can’t escape the fear her seductive looks instill–knowing it’s only a matter of time before I fail–again, and take her for myself.
This is the story of my redemption.
But it’s not pretty…I died, and now I’m alive, but not living, breathing but not surviving. I am Phoenix De Lange, son to a murdered mob boss, estranged brother, horrible friend, monster in the making, newest leader to one of the most powerful families in the Cosa Nostra.
And I will have my vengeance.
Or die trying.
I am Phoenix De Lange.
Death is all I know.
Until she offers me a piece of life–I can’t resist taking.

Excerpt Ember (Eagle Elite #5) by Rachel Van Dyken

PROLOGUE:
Phoenix
“Do it,” my father spat. “Or I will.”
I looked at the girl at my feet and back at my father. “No.”
He lifted his hand above my head; I knew what was coming, knew it would hurt like hell but had no way to fight back — he’d already starved me of my food for the past three days for arguing, for trying to save the girl and her cousin.
His fist hit my temple so hard that I fell to the ground with a cry. The click of his boots against the cement gave me the only warning I’d have as he reared back and kicked me in the ribs; over and over again he kicked. The girl screamed, but I stayed silent. Screaming didn’t help; nothing did.
I waited until he was done — I prayed that he would kill me this time. I prayed so hard that I was convinced God was finally going to hear me and take me away from my hell. Anything was better than living. Anything.
“You worthless—” Another kick to the head. “—piece of shit!” A kick to my gut. “You will never be boss, not if you cry every time you must do the hard thing!” Finally, blessed darkness enveloped my line of vision.
I woke up from the nightmare screaming, not even realizing that I was safe, in my own bed. With a curse I checked the clock.
Three a.m.
Well, at least I’d only had one nightmare — that I’d remembered. I’d been living with Sergio for the past week; his house was so big that I’d basically taken the east wing, and he’d taken the West, said he’d hated living alone anyway. I wasn’t stupid; I knew the guy wasn’t exactly a big fan, but it worked. I needed to stay in the States while I figured shit out.
And I wasn’t ready to leave. Not when I needed to learn all I could from Nixon. Not when I had responsibility.
And not when I had those black folders freaking burning a hole in my mind.
Luca hadn’t just left me an empire; he’d left me secrets. I wasn’t sure what was worse, knowing everything there was to know about those I was supposed to be protecting or knowing that at any minute one of them could turn on us.
“Hey!” Bee barged into my room.
“Damn it!” I pulled the blankets over my naked body, my heart picking up speed at her tousled hair and bedroom eyes. Tex’s sister, Tex’s sister. My body wasn’t accepting that — physically it wasn’t accepting any information other than she was beautiful.
And it was dark.
I looked away, scowling.
“I heard screaming.” Bee took a step forward, her perfume floating off her body like an aphrodisiac or drug, making me calm, making me want something I had no business wanting.
“Yeah, well…” I gave her a cold glance. “…clearly I’m fine, so you should go. Actually, why are you here? You know you live with Tex, right?”
She shrugged and sat on my bed. I clenched my fists around the blankets to keep from reaching out to her. It was getting harder and harder to ignore her warmth — when I lived in a constant state of near-death cold.
“He’s with Mo, and they need privacy. I’m not stupid. So I asked Sergio if I could move in for a while.”
“You did what?” I asked in a deadly tone, one I was sure would probably give her nightmares later.
She grinned. “I’m your new roomie!” Bee bounced on the bed and sent me a shy look from beneath her dark lashes. “Admit it, you miss our slumber parties.”

Forget the nightmare — I was looking at it.

1 Elite

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2 Elect

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Enchant

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5 Ember

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6 Elude

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RIP

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7 Empire

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8 Enrage

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9 Eulogy

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9.5 Envy

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Exposed

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Nov 302019
 
 30 November 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

21 Stolen Kisses by Lauren Blakely

When I first met him I resisted.
Like any forbidden love, I told myself he was a crush, and it would pass.
That was a lie. It never faded.
And I never expected he would fall for me just as hard.

There were so many reasons that should have kept us apart, least of all, the decade that separated us.
Growing up in New York City, I learned early on that love is a double-edged sword.
Love broke up my parents, love took away my friends, and love — the big, intense, never-been-like-this-before love — landed me in therapy.
Now I’m heading to college, and it’s time to give love a clean slate again. But, can I really start over when he’s still in my life?
Because the one man I’ve always wanted, is also the only guy I absolutely can’t have…
And he wants me just as fiercely.

Can I settle for anything less than the love of my life?

Excerpt 21 Stolen Kisses by Lauren Blakely

I step closer. The current draws me to him; the air between us is charged with ions and electrons. He is the eye of my hurricane; the calm I am drawn to amid the chaos of my home. Here, a mere block away, we are so close to being caught.
But we are far enough away that I feel both safe and reckless. That’s
how I always felt with Noah.
“You can’t picture me causing trouble?”
He shrugs. “Depends on the trouble.”
“You know I’m trouble.”
He nods, the smile erasing itself. “I know, K. I know. Trust me.”
“I do trust you,” I whisper. “With everything.”
He inhales sharply. The look in his eyes says we’re crossing into the danger zone again. It’s the only place I want to be with him. Because when we’re there, nothing between us feels dangerous. Everything feels right.
“I turn eighteen in a few more weeks,” I say, like my birthday is an open invitation for us to slam back into each other.
He nods. “I know.”
A breeze blow by and rustles his hair. A lock falls out of place. Instinct takes over. I raise my hand to reach for his hair.
But he’s faster. He grasps my wrist, and the second he does, the moment expands. It stretches and unfolds into the thing I will replay tonight and tomorrow and the next day. I stare at his hand clasped around my wrist, flashing back to all the times he held my hand, touched my wrist, and ran his fingers along my arm. I shiver as the memories collide, the past slamming into the present.
I look up from our hands to his eyes. Blazing, full of heat. Full of all that restraint from him that I know so well.
“I’m almost out of high school,” I whisper. “Three more weeks till I graduate.”
He closes his eyes. The expression on his face is so pained. I’m supposed to stay away. But all I want to do is be close again.
“I am acutely aware of the dates. Of everything,” he says through gritted teeth. He opens his eyes. “I know everything about you. I know when you graduate. I know when you turn eighteen. I know what we planned. I know you.” Everything comes out like they’re stones in his mouth, hard and hurting. Except the last word, all breath and warmth and whispers. An echo. “You.”
I want it all back, I want to say. But I don’t. I let him drop my hand. It aches from where he touched it.

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Nov 302019
 
 30 November 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Breaking the Habit (The Breaking #5) by Ember Leigh

In the live music industry, Eddie Valenzuela’s seen enough bands to know what good really sounds like. During one wild night out, he collides headfirst with an up-and-coming singer who puts ‘good’ to shame. She’s got the voice, the look, and holy hell, the body too. But after a sizzling week together, the singer who seemed like Mrs. Right turns out to be Mrs. Not Quite Right when she disappears without so much as an Instagram handle.

Fiona Frank’s only goal in life was to make it big doing what she loved: playing music. And her hard work paid off, in the form a big-time record deal that has her doing TV shows, radio spots, and even her first international tour. Her career is built on spurning love and staying single, though she’s never been opposed to the occasional lover. As long as they don’t last. And she’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that the world falls in love with The Sin Girl.

But she wasn’t ready for the positive pregnancy test on her first international tour. There’s only one man that could be the father: Eddie. While Fiona grapples with the next steps, Eddie goes gung ho being the family man she never asked for, and the pressure from the label is mounting. If they discover her secret, she can kiss her contract goodbye.

Which means she has to figure out how to break her fall.

BREAKING THE FALL is is a sizzling stand-alone set in the interconnected book of the Breaking series. One-click now to see just how hard and fast these two fall for each other!

Excerpt Breaking the Habit (The Breaking Series #5) by Ember Leigh

 

Fiona shrank when she spotted him, offering a small smile that said a thousand different things at once. He went up to her, pausing a few feet away.

She was gorgeous, of course. Because she was gorgeous always, even if she’d lied to him, left him in the dust, and hadn’t spared him a thought until recently for some unknown, urgent reason. And with the nervousness dancing in her gaze, he wasn’t sure this was purely an apology mission. Probably she was here to deliver some bad news. Sorry, I forgot to tell you my Russian mafia boyfriend found out about you, and now you need a new identity. Or maybe, Sorry, turns out I had something highly contagious and foreign when we hooked up, and now we’re both going to die.

Nobody said anything for a moment. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

“Come on.” He jerked his head toward the bar, and she followed, tugging at the bangles around her wrist. When they got to the wooden bar top, he pressed his palms to the surface, searching out a bartender. “I’m in a business meeting. What do you want?”

His clipped tone surprised even him. Fiona sighed. Even in distress or exasperation or confusion, or whatever this was, she still sounded throaty and sexy as hell.

“I…wanted to talk to you.” She fiddled with her bracelets a moment longer before white-knuckling the edge of the bar.

“After all this time?” He couldn’t keep the snide tone out of his voice. “It’s been three months. What could we possibly have to talk about?”

“I went on tour,” she said, her voice low but firm. “It’s not like I was around.”

“I guess that’s why they make phones.” He sniffed, tapping his knuckles against the bar.

“Things happened,” she said, picking at a cuticle.

“Like what?”

“Like…my first international tour, ever!” She huffed, dropping her arms. “That’s not exactly the time to start anything.”

She had a point. Didn’t mean she was right to just disappear like that.

“Nobody said anything about starting anything.” But lord, had he wanted to. “More about common courtesy, you know.”

To her credit, she looked regretful. There was that, at least. But he was tired of talking about it. Even though he’d wished for this, he was already sick of the opportunity to hear her out.

A tense silence settled between them, and Fiona was licking her lips now. He caught the bartender’s attention, turning to her once he arrived.

“You getting a drink?”

She shook her head. “I can’t stay long.”

More silence. He ran a thumb up and down his jawline.

“I—”

He glanced at her sharply. The frustration had officially boiled over. “Cut the childish shit and just say it. What do you need from me?”

Something dull slid over her, like a mask maybe, or perhaps a shield. “I’m pregnant.”

The words hammered through him, knitting his brows together with their dissonance and urgency. Fiona shifted on her seat, and he caught a gut-punching waft of her scent. Amber and patchouli.

Why would she be telling him this?

“It’s yours,” she suddenly added, as though in response to his thought. He drew a low breath, the words still not quite sinking in.

“Okay.”

“I just…” A breathy sigh. “I wanted you to know.”

He nodded, unable to look away from the glacial tip of the ice cube in his drink. The way it caught the light when he twisted the glass. The calm it promised, if only he drank it.

But suddenly, he wasn’t feeling the old-fashioned.

He turned to Fiona. Her brows were drawn together, her face tense. As if waiting for some sort of inevitable backlash.

“You serious?”

“Yes.” She deflated suddenly, her head dropping to her palms. “Trust me, I wouldn’t disrupt your life if I wasn’t serious.”

Silence thudded between them again, so vast and engulfing that for a moment he got lost in the abyss. So many questions—he had a list of at least ten right now—questions that he didn’t have to think about before asking. What would they name the baby? Did she want a girl or a boy? What about when schooltime arrived—was she hellbent on public or something else?

He swirled his drink around, the ice cubes clinking bringing him back to the present. Finally he dared to meet Fiona’s gaze. There was something real and raw there, the same intensity that had prompted their three-day bender.

The same intensity that could reel him in again like a fish.

And now that she was carrying his baby?

Hook, line and sinker, for the second time.

 

Breaking the Rules

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Changing the Game

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Breaking the Fall

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Nov 292019
 
 29 November 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Elicit (Eagle Elite #4) by Rachel Van Dyken

Cursed, numb, rejected, scorned, wicked, sinister, dark, twisted…my name is Tex Campisi and this is my legacy. I killed my father in cold blood and lost my soul right along with him.
I crave war more than peace, and I’m about to take my place in history as the youngest Capo dei Capi in the Cosa Nostra…that is until someone stops me, saves me from myself.

But the only person able to do that…is my best friends sister, Mo Abandonato, and she just ripped my heart out and asked me to hold it in my hands while she put bullets through it.

Im cursed so I did it.
I’m numb so I held it.
I’m wicked so I liked it.
I used the pain Mo caused as a catalyst to turn into my biggest nightmare–the five families greatest enemy. It’s my turn to take a stand, knowing full well I’m going to lose my mind to the madness that is the American Mafia. I’ve always been told Blood is thicker than life. I wish I would have listened. Because regardless of who you love? You will betray. You will kill.
Blood Always Wins.
The only way out is death…yours.

Welcome to the Dark Side of the Family.

Excerpt Elicit (Eagle Elite #4) by Rachel Van Dyken

“Eight minutes where I’d rather time didn’t exist.” I whispered watching pain roll across his face in a wave. “Kiss me again.”

With a soft exhale, he brushed his lips across mine, little feathery strokes that tempted me with promises of something more. He used his tongue to trace the outline of my lips before sliding inside, past my teeth, tasting every inch of me, giving me every inch he could of himself. Living in the moment, both of us knowing that it would soon be over.

“Seven.” I whispered against his mouth.

“Go to school,” he urged for a second time. “Make mistakes, Mo. Get in trouble, let Nixon find you sneaking wine into your backpack. Get sent to the Dean’s office, make mistakes,” he said again then licked his lips. “Let someone pick up the pieces of your broken heart, let someone fix what I destroyed.”

“What if I want to drop out and hermit myself in my room?” I refused to look at him.

“That’s not living, Mo.” Tex cupped my face. “I have five minutes left with you, do you want me to use it to kiss you or lecture you on why I’m right?”

I grinned as a tear slid down my cheek. “Both.”

His smile matched mine. “I forget how much you like being scolded.”

“Only if the one scolding has a firm hand.”

“Every last inch of me is firm and you know it.” Tex tugged me into his lap. “School will distract you, it will give you a better future then guns and war, it will take your focus from tragedy to the future. Please, for me, Mo, please try to do normal.”

“Normal.” I shook my head. “Not sure I know what that word is.”

“Normal,” Tex repeated. “Making love to someone under a tree not because you have to say goodbye, but because it’s the best way you can think to say hello.”

My lower lip quivered.

“Normal.” His voice was hoarse. “Marrying the love of your life not because her brother shoots you at point blank range–but because not marrying her would be a fate worse than death.”

He was silent then added, “Three minutes.”

I clenched his shirt with my hands and fought the urge to sob against his chest.

“Normal.” Tex’s voice was barely audible. “Going from country to country, traveling all over the world, not because you have a hit on you, but because you want to see the girl you love smile in every country God ever created.”

I knew the time was ticking by, it seemed the less time we had the faster it went, I guess that’s life.

I was looking at two more minutes, maybe less, with my lover, my friend, and all I could do was clench his shirt in my hands and twist, somehow willing him to stay on the ground rather than get up and walk towards certain death.

“Normal.” Tex moved to his feet, helping me up. “Giving the woman you love two hours of your time, because you can’t imagine spending your minutes, those precious seconds, any other way.”

Tex kissed my mouth hard, nearly bruising my lips before stepping back and kissing my nose.

“Time’s up,” he said gruffly.

“We’re no longer friends.” I said it as a statement, not even a question.

“For two hours I was your lover, your friend, your everything.” Tex looked away. “For the rest of eternity–I’m now your enemy.”

1 Elite

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2 Elect

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4 Elicit

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Bang Bang

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Enchant

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5 Ember

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6 Elude

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8 Enrage

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9 Eulogy

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9.5 Envy

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Exposed

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Nov 292019
 
 29 November 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Falling From the Sky (Gravity #2) by Sarina Bowen

She’s the woman he doesn’t remember. He’s the man she can’t forget.

Bad boy Hank “Hazardous” Lazarus used to have everything: a gorgeous girlfriend, a career as a freestyle snowboarder and a spot on the US Olympic team. Nine months ago, after a bad crash in the half pipe, he woke up in the hospital, unable to move his legs. Now he’s landed there again, but gravity is not the culprit. With his family pressuring him to try a groundbreaking treatment, Hank self-medicates with too much tequila instead.

Doctor Callie Anders has the courage to restart a patient’s heart with a thousand volts of electricity, yet she’s afraid to risk her own. So she doesn’t confess to her newest patient they they met just before the accident, an encounter that he doesn’t remember. Even as their friendship develops, she won’t admit that she regrets turning down his dinner invitation, or that her heart stutters every time those inked shoulders roll through the door of the therapy department.

With another Vermont winter coming again, Hank needs a hand out from under the avalanche of his disappointments. If only Callie were brave enough to take the job.

This book is a standalone novel, no cliffhangers, no prior experience necessary.

Excerpt Falling From the Sky (Gravity #2) by Sarina Bowen

CHAPTER ONE

Standing on the snowy hillside under the December sun, Callie Anders found herself pulsing along with an unfamiliar bass line. The heavy groove scraping through the oversize speakers was the sound of bands she didn’t recognize, played in clubs she’d never visited.

And it wasn’t just the music. Nothing about the slopeside party resembled her ordinary life. The vibe felt more like an after-hours club than a sporting event. Beers in hand, spectators watched as a final competitor tipped his snowboard over the edge of the super pipe to drop into its steep curve. Gravity did its thing for the athlete, ramping up his speed as the board dropped into the valley of the pipe and then up the opposite side. At the top again, the guy snapped his hips upward, grabbed the board with one hand, and then whipped his body around in the air, reversing course to land neatly on the snow again. And then he was off, hurtling down the pipe with only seconds to prepare for his next trick.

Callie had seen snowboarding on TV, but in person it was even more impressive. After the kid launched his second trick—some kind of dizzying spin, she lost count of his rotations—he seemed to meld his board onto the surface, his shoulders relaxing into a carefree stance as he dropped downhill again. As he sped by, Callie even saw his lips moving, forming the lyrics of the song thumping overhead.

After two more whirling tricks, he finished to a cheer from the crowd. The wool-clad heads in the crowd swiveled toward the giant screen, waiting for his scores.

“Not bad for a bunch of knuckle draggers,” her friend Dane muttered beside her.

“I love it,” Callie heard herself say. She was glad that Dane and Willow had towed her along to the snowboarding competition. “It’s…half athleticism, half circus performance.”

In response, Dane only snorted. And that made her best friend Willow grin. “He can’t help it, Callie. A skier can’t say anything nice about snowboarding. It’s not in his DNA.”

Dane gave Callie a wink. “In two months you’ll see what a real mountain event looks like.”

“I can’t wait,” she agreed. So far, she had only seen Dane race on television. But she’d already bought her plane ticket to Europe for the Olympics, where Dane would be contending for as many as four medals.

As if on cue, the music changed to the telltale trumpets of the Olympic anthem. Callie’s eyes drifted to the big screen at the top of the pipe, which announced in giant type that the elite exhibition would happen next. After the last trumpet tone, the music devolved again into a heavy beat, and Callie saw the crowd begin to move with the music. As the knit hats and down jackets around her began to bob, it was as if Callie had been transported to a sunny, snowy land of hipsters. One that she wished she’d visited long ago.

Actually, she wished a lot of things.

When you spend nine years of your life becoming a doctor, there’s a lot that you miss. For most of that time, the sacrifice hadn’t really bothered her. But the past several months had been hard, and Callie had been spectacularly lonely.

It was almost exactly a year ago that she’d caught Nathan, her doctor boyfriend, cheating on her in an exam room with a leggy young nursing student. Callie had thrown the bastard out, of course. Yet twelve months later, Nathan and the nurse were still going strong, and she was still alone.

To make matters worse, Willow and Dane left Vermont for Utah in the spring, leaving Callie doubly bereft.

This weekend would make for a happy exception. Her friends were in town to take care of some business. And they’d brought Callie’s new favorite person—their three-month-old daughter. Baby Finley was riding out the snowboarding event asleep inside Dane’s ski jacket. If Callie put a hand on Dane’s shoulder and raised herself up on tiptoe, she could just glimpse the baby’s satin eyelids.

Callie hadn’t seen her friends for ten weeks—not since she’d flown out to Salt Lake after the baby was born in September. In the meantime, Willow and Dane had been busy settling into their new house, caring for the baby and surviving a whirlwind of preparations for the Olympic Games. In two months she’d see them again overseas. Callie and Willow would hole up in the hotel together, caring for Finley and cheering on Dane during the games.

It was all very exciting, but Callie still felt hollow inside. As she stood there beside her happy friends, she found herself fighting off unfamiliar feelings of envy. Willow had taken what seemed like an outrageous risk on a man with a difficult past. And now Willow was one third of what Sports Illustrated had recently described as “the cutest family in winter sports.”

And what was Callie part of, exactly?

“So, you never told me,” Willow said, stomping the snow off her boots. “Did you have drinks with the cute radiologist?”

“I think he’s seeing someone,” Callie answered without meeting Willow’s eyes.

“Well, did you ask him?” Willow pressed.

“I’m pretty sure.”

Willow shook her head, and let out an exaggerated sigh. “You know what I don’t get about you?”

“Nope. But you’re going to tell me whether I want to know or not, right?”

“I don’t understand,” Willow continued undeterred, “how you have the guts to literally restart someone’s heart with a thousand volts of electricity. But you can’t risk yours even to ask a guy out for drinks.”

“Actually, we don’t need a thousand volts anymore. The new defibrillators come in around three hundred.”

“You’re hopeless.”

That was probably true.

“Hey, I see Hazardous!” Willow said, raising a hand to wave at someone.

Callie followed her friend’s gaze over to the roped-off area at the base of the half-pipe. A very attractive man stood there, suited up for the snow, his helmet under one arm. The pose reminded Callie of old Apollo astronaut photos. When the guy spotted Willow, a lazy smile broke across his broad mouth, and he raised a hand in greeting.

“Let’s go say hello,” Willow prompted, angling through the crowd in his direction.

“After you,” Dane said to Callie. And so she followed her friend toward the low fence.

“You’ve got to meet Hank Lazarus,” Willow said over her shoulder. “He parties a lot harder than we can keep up with these days, but the guy is seriously fun.”

The closer they got, the more Callie stared. Willow’s friend might be seriously fun, but he was also seriously hot. His shaved head was a military style that usually did nothing for Callie. But it was offset by big brown eyes and full, sensual lips. He was broad in a way that said “linebacker” more than “snowboarder,” and his cut jaw and cleft chin were speckled with two or three days’ worth of dark whiskers.

As they drew up to him, his chocolaty gaze took them all in. He lifted an eyebrow, and Callie saw that a barbell-shaped piercing bisected it. “Hey there,” he said in a voice that was low and smoky. “What are you kids doing in Vermont?”

Sweet baby Jesus. Even his voice was hot.

Willow gave him a quick hug. “We’re here to put my old farmhouse on the market. And Hank, this is my best friend, Callie. She’s local.”

Hank stuck out a hand, and Callie took it. As his hand engulfed hers, she felt her cheeks heat. His face was like the sun—too bright to look at directly. Hank gave her a quick head-to-toe, not even bothering to be subtle about it. And when he seemed to dismiss her out of hand, she wasn’t even surprised. He was the sort of guy who existed in an alternate universe, far from beeping medical equipment and green hospital scrubs.

She was almost relieved when he let go of her hand and looked back up at Dane. “Where are we drinking later?”

But Dane hesitated, glancing toward Willow. “I’m not sure what our plans are.”

First, the snowboarder’s grin grew tight. “Holy fuck, Danger,” he growled. “Seriously? You are so whipped that you can’t agree to a beer tonight? Let me ask again. Where are we drinking later?”

Dane chuckled, and shook his head. “Chill, asshole. We need to make sure that the house we haven’t seen in six months is still standing. Barring total destruction, I think a stop at Rupert’s could work out.”

As if she wanted a vote on the matter, baby Finley let out a squawk then. Dane bent his knees to bounce her gently, running one of his big hands soothingly under the bulge in his jacket.

Hank Lazarus watched his friend do this with a bemused expression on his face. “All right. Unless you get downvoted by the little family, Rupert’s it is.”

“Sounds good,” Willow said. “Baby’s first trip to the bar.”

The snowboarder glanced uphill, toward the top of the pipe. “I’d better get a move on. Dane. Ladies.” He gave them a sexy lift of his chin. “I’ll see you later.”

The very idea gave Callie a thrill. But of course she probably wouldn’t be there. She was on call today, and that usually didn’t end well. Even if she wasn’t summoned to the hospital, she couldn’t even have a drink like a grown-up.

Her life was pure glamour.

Not.

At least her pager hadn’t gone off yet. The headliner event—the elite exhibition—was about to start. The music kicked up a decibel or two, and the champion snowboarders began to line up at the top of the pipe. Pictures of the elite athletes began to slide across the big screen overhead, shifting every few seconds in time with the music. The shots showed each man in street clothes, complete with stats and nicknames. Compared to the clean-cut skiers that Callie had met through Dane, these were the bad boys of winter sports. There were more goatees, ponytails, tattoos and piercings than a biker bar would boast. Not that Callie had spent much time around bikers, except when they landed in the hospital.

When Hank “Hazardous” Lazarus’s picture popped up, Callie could only stare. In the photo, he was shirtless, and entirely drool worthy. He was all muscle, covered with ink. “Olympic Silver Medalist,” the screen read.

“They say he’s going to bring home the gold this time,” Willow mused beside her.

But Callie wasn’t interested in his stats. She was still admiring the man. He was sex on a snowboard, and so far out of her league it wasn’t even funny. Even if she did show up for drinks tonight, if he tried to talk to her she’d probably swallow her tongue.

The screen flipped back to show the first man in the lineup, and then the crowd roared. Callie watched one of Hank’s teammates take the pipe. And…wow. The aerial feats were on a completely different level than the competitors she’d seen before. The rotations were faster, and the tricks more complicated. And as soon as he finished, another boarder dropped into the pipe. Since there was no need to pause the action for judging, the exhibition was continuous. Callie’s gaze became trancelike as the colorful bodies soared and twisted before her eyes.

And then Hank Lazarus’s photo reappeared, and Hank came into view on the lip of the pipe, wearing his silver helmet and goggles. Callie stood up a little straighter as he dropped into position, his body in a loose, confident stance. At the opposite peak, he popped higher off the lip than seemed possible. With that big body tucked tight, he flipped backward with such casual finesse that Callie gasped. He landed the trick neatly, his shoulders bobbing with a cocky shrug.

“So that’s what it’s supposed to look like,” Dane muttered. And it was true. The comparison between Hazardous and the others was stark.

He shot through the pipe again, and his next trick went so high, and with such whirling ease, that time seemed to stop as he hovered in the air. The rules of physics appeared not to apply to him. The crowd whooped when he landed, gliding at top speed through the gully.

Callie held her breath, wondering what miracle he’d pull off next. He launched again, grabbing the board in one hand and rotating through the air—once, twice and then a third time. The scenery seemed to change then, and it took Callie a split second to realize that the sun had gone behind a cloud. And just as she registered the phenomenon, something else happened. The snowboard smacked the lip of the pipe, instead of the snow on the slope below it. Since he’d achieved so much lift, the force of impact flexed the board, ricocheting the rider back into the air. Callie watched, helpless, as momentum yanked the man’s body through space, propelling him headfirst and at high speed toward the curving ice below.

And then his helmet hit the surface first. Hard.

Callie heard herself gasp. After a sickening bounce, his body slid down the ice into the center of the gully.

“Jesus Christ,” Dane whispered.

People rushed onto the snow, a dozen of them quickly surrounding him.

Dane took a step forward, as if he wanted to run through the crowd to help. But Willow put a hand on his arm. “There are a lot of people down there,” she said gently.

He just shook his head. “Get up, man.”

But Hazardous lay crumpled and still.

Callie couldn’t look away. In her head she heard the drumbeat of emergency procedure. Checking the vital signs, supporting his neck and back. But this time, it wasn’t her job. At least three of the people down at the scene wore medical jackets. And even now she could hear the approach of ambulance sirens. On busy winter weekends, there was always a bus parked at the bottom of the ski-mountain access road.

“When you broke your leg,” Willow said to Dane, “I’m sure it looked really bad from the stands.”

But Dane just shook his head. “Christ. The Olympics.”

From inside his jacket, the baby made a sound of protest. Dane tore his gaze away from the medical swarm and leaned inside to kiss her. Watching him, Callie’s heart squeezed with some unnamed feeling of yearning.

“She’s probably hungry,” Willow said. “I’ll take her inside and feed her.”

Dane watched an ambulance thread toward the huddle on the ice, a look of unease still washing across his face. “I guess I’ll come, too,” he said.

Following them, Callie fingered her pager in her pocket. The odds of it going off today had just escalated. She pulled out her phone to check in.

“Busy?” she asked the triage nurse who answered the doctors’ line. “If I were you, I’d pull up the call sheet for ortho and neuro. There was an injury during the snowboarding event at the ski mountain. You should be seeing them in fifteen minutes.”

“Will you get called in?” Willow asked after Callie hung up. The ambulance was already threading its way out to the state road, its lights whirling.

“I’m not their first call,” Callie said. “But give it an hour or two.” Callie was a hospitalist—a doctor who kept track of admitted patients’ medical needs.

“Okay,” Willow said, her eyes on the retreating ambulance. “I guess Dane and I will go to the farmhouse now, and check things out. Then we’ll swing by the hospital to try to learn what we can. We don’t know him all that well, but…” She swallowed. “That looked bad, didn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Callie admitted. The force with which he’d hit the pipe was scary. “But bodies can be tougher than they look.”

Willow shivered. “Can I call you in a couple of hours? No matter what, I want to see you tonight. Or tomorrow before we go.”

“Absolutely. I need to hold that baby some more.” She wanted that now more than ever, given the scary accident she’d just witnessed.

God, life was short. Maybe hers wasn’t working out so badly, after all.

As it happened, Callie was not handed Hank Lazarus’s chart until the following day. And even though she’d had twenty-four hours to process what she’d seen, the first sight of him in a hospital bed gutted her.

Pale and swollen from the IV fluids, he lay perfectly still. Since she’d last set eyes on him, he’d undergone an eight-hour spinal surgery. In place of the goggles and technical fabrics was a new sort of gear—tubes and monitors snaking from his body in every direction.

Even though he was sedated, Callie found herself holding her breath as she checked the tag on his IV bag. As his powerful chest rose and fell, Callie realized how limited her view of her patients usually was. Never before had she gotten such a shocking demonstration of “before” and “after.” She met patients hours or days after things went sideways. But the ashen, broken man in room nineteen was such a frightening contrast to the one she’d seen drop into the half-pipe, it hurt her to look at him.

She forced herself to linger a moment longer. Though it shamed her to say it, there were times when she found herself judging the people in these beds. She might wonder why the patient had thought it was a good idea to ride that zip line so near to the trees, or drive so fast in the rain. Callie had always lived cautiously, and when she saw the results of a preventable accident, it seemed like such a waste.

But the memory of Hank Lazarus flipping effortlessly against the blue sky was burned in her brain. And in spite of the danger of it all, so cruelly proven by the sleeping figure in the bed, she didn’t have to ask why he’d choose to take such a risk. She’d seen the power and the beauty of it with her own two eyes.

Beneath the sheet, he breathed. In and out. At that moment, there was nothing he needed from her. And nothing more she could do.

Dane and Willow tried to see Hank before they left again for Utah, but the first time they stopped by, he was in surgery. The second time, he was asleep. With the Olympics just weeks away, they had to go back to Dane’s training. “Will you give him our love?” Willow asked, looking shaken in the waiting room.

“Of course,” Callie answered, fully intending to do it.

As it happened, she never did.

In the first place, when Callie finally saw Hank conscious, he didn’t seem to remember her face. And this was not at all surprising. They’d only met for a second, and the mind often forgot the events just before a trauma.

And Hank had a distracting swirl of other visitors as the days went by. His parents, Callie learned, were a sort of Vermont royalty. They were part owners of the ski mountain. And Hank’s father had built half of the condos in the county. There was a daughter, too, another athlete.

Callie gleaned many of these facts from the local paper, which ran a front-page story about Hank and his accident. At age eighteen, he’d left Vermont for the Rocky Mountains, where he’d taken a job as a dishwasher to pay for his lift tickets. He was as famous for partying as he was for winning competitions.

Reading about him made Callie feel like a stalker. But there it was in black and white, on the table in the break room.

From her chair beside Hank’s bed, his mother was a silver-haired force of nature, barking orders at every nurse who dared to enter her son’s room. And whenever Callie saw Mr. Lazarus in the hospital corridors, he was always on his phone

“They’re flying in specialists. Three of them,” nurse Trina told her. The nurse’s station was another excellent source of news.

“That’s a lot of firepower,” Callie said.

“The Lazarus family can afford it. They gave a truckload of money to the hospital,” she said, cracking her gum. “The pediatric wing built ten years ago? That was all them.”

“Wow, really? You’d think their name would be over the door.”

Trina shrugged. “They don’t do bling. Mama Lazarus has those fancy shoes that no sane person wears in Vermont, right? And pearls? But no bling.”

Callie had noticed that, too, actually. Even during this time of crisis, Hank’s mother paced his room in camel-colored cashmere and suede. It was expensive, but not flashy.

“Their daughter survived some kind of childhood cancer,” Trina continued. “They gave the money afterward as a thank-you.”

“That’s generous.”

“Sure. But they’re also exacting. That woman was on my ass tighter than a bumper sticker while I did his blood draw. Like I haven’t been doing this for thirty years.”

“It’s because you look so young, Trina. She probably thought it was your first day.”

The woman rolled her eyes, and Callie moved on to her next patient.

On Hank’s third day at the hospital, a new visitor showed up. Outside Hank’s room, seated on a plastic chair, wept a very pretty girl. Callie assumed this was Hank’s sister. But again the nurses had the dirt. The statuesque blond was the girlfriend, and a slalom skier. And a model. She even had a glamorous name: Alexis. Her only obvious flaw was temporary—she’d cried raccoon eyes onto herself each time Callie glimpsed her.

As Hank’s medical coordinator, Callie was in and out, checking to be sure that the prescriptions his various specialists had ordered were appropriately dosed and would not conflict. She kept tabs on his vitals and watched for signs of infection. She was just one in a sea of faces caring for him.

It wasn’t until the fifth day after his accident that they had a real conversation.

Outside the door to his room, his parents were engaged in a heated conversation with a spinal specialist they’d whisked in from Cleveland. Callie slid past them to find Hank staring out the window. When he turned his head to meet her eyes, she could see that the post-surgical drug haze had lifted. In his gaze, she saw a man awake to the world, but in terrible pain. It was her job to try to figure out if that pain was something physical that she could relieve, or rather the distress of waking up to find he could not move his legs.

“Hi,” Callie said softly. “I’m Doctor Anders. Or Callie, if you wish.”

“Callie,” he cleared his throat. “You look really familiar.”

That wasn’t what she had expected him to say. It would have been as good a time as any to mention that they’d met about ten minutes before his accident, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Who would want to be reminded of that afternoon? “I’ve been here all week,” she said instead. “But we don’t expect you to keep track of the dozens of people who prod you all day.”

“And all night,” he added.

She sat down on a stool next to his bed. “That’s my fault. I need to know that they’re looking at your vitals every three hours. It helps me sleep.” She winked, and was rewarded with half a smile. “Now, quick—before the room is invaded again by nurses’ assistants—how’s your pain? Is there anything you need?”

Hank lifted one hand to his face, and Callie was glad to see it. If his injury had happened farther up his spine, he wouldn’t have been able to do that. With his palm, Hank rubbed several days’ worth of whiskers, which only served to make him look more rugged, while he considered her question. “Let’s see…I need a full rack of Curtis’ ribs, with spicy sauce and a baked potato. And I need to get the hell out of this hospital.”

She nodded obligingly, even though she couldn’t fulfill any of those requests. But if he was talking about food and getting out of here, those were both good signs. “You’ll be transferring to a rehab facility soon.”

“Yeah,” he sighed. His gaze wandered again, his eyes aiming at the window.

“The rehab place will let you sleep through the night,” she said, keeping her voice light. “And you’ll have your own clothes. I hear the food is better, too.”

“Couldn’t really be worse,” he said, turning to face Callie again. His dark eyes locked onto hers, and Callie felt the moment stretch and take hold. He didn’t say anything more, but he didn’t have to. Silently, an understanding passed between them. It didn’t matter if the food got better. Hank Lazarus was in for a shitty time, truly the shittiest time of his life. The distance he’d come these past five days was a descent from the highest high to the lowest low. And there wasn’t a damned thing either of them could do about it.

“Hang in there,” Callie whispered. “This right here is the very worst part.”

He didn’t break their staring contest. “You promise?” he rumbled, his voice pure whiskey and smoke.

But Callie didn’t get a chance to answer, because his parents burst into the room then, both talking at the same time. “Forty percent chance that he’ll walk from this guy, fifteen percent from the other?” Hank’s mother bleated. “These people call themselves scientists?”

“Flew him all the way out here, and it’s just more of the same,” his father muttered.

Callie watched Hank’s face close down as his parents approached.

“It’s ridiculous,” his father sputtered, pulling in a deep breath in order to fuel the next phase of his rant. Meanwhile, Hank’s jaw began to tick.

Callie stood up. “I know why you’re frustrated,” she announced, folding her arms. Hank’s parents eyed her, and Callie knew what they saw—a young doctor at a good but rural hospital. And she wasn’t even a specialist. But she had something important to say, and she wasn’t going to let them stop her. “You need answers, and you need them now. I don’t blame you at all.”

Hank’s mother opened her mouth to speak, but Callie cut her off. “Unfortunately, that’s not how the spinal cord works. It doesn’t care that you’re desperate to know whether he’ll walk again. There’s swelling and bruising, and his body is still in shock. It’s not the specialists’ fault that they can’t tell you what you need to know. The sooner you push for answers, the less accurate those answers will be, okay? Hank needs time, and we all need your patience. You won’t have the answers for maybe a year. And no specialist, and no amount of money can change that.”

Callie ceased her tirade to take a deep breath. God, she really shouldn’t have added that last part. Never mention money to rich people. She expected Hank’s parents to start yelling at her. But they didn’t. His mother only began to blink rapidly with saddened eyes. And Hank’s father wrapped his arms around her protectively.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered into the silence. “If you’ll excuse me.” Callie took a couple of steps toward the door. On her way out, she turned to look once more at Hank. To her surprise, he winked at her.

Callie walked out, and spent the next few hours wondering if she’d receive a reprimand for raising her voice to the Lazarus family. But the call never came.

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Nov 282019
 
 28 November 2019  Posted by  Tagged with: ,  No Responses »

Elect (Eagle Elite #2) by Rachel Van Dyken

Would you die for the one you love?

Nixon Abandonato made his choice. And now he has to pay the price. Tracey is the love of his life, but being with him has made her a target of his family’s enemies. The only way to keep Trace alive is convince the world she means nothing to him.

Trace Rooks has fallen irrevocably in love with the son of her family’s sworn rival, and she knows in her bones nothing can tear them apart. Until Nix suddenly pushes her away and into the arms of his best friend… But Trace isn’t ready to give up on a future with Nix–and if he won’t fight for them, she will.

In the end, a sacrifice must be made. A life for a life. For what better way to cover a multitude of sins than with the blood of a sinner . . .

Excerpt Elect (Eagle Elite #2) by Rachel Van Dyken

“Let’s make a pact.” Chase put his hand on my shoulder.

“A pact?” I sniffled and turned to him. “What kind of pact?”

“One that’s forever. One that protects people rather than hurts them.”

“How do we do that?” I was suddenly interested. What if I could make all the hurt go away? What if I could save everyone!

“We do this.” Chase pulled out his pocketknife and cut open his hand, then nodded to me to do the same thing. Without pausing I cut open my hand and handed back the knife. “Blood brothers. We’re never gonna hurt each other and we’re gonna save those like your ma, Nixon. Ones who can’t save themselves. We’re going to protect them.”

“How?” I watched as the blood dripped from my open palm.

“Rules.” Chase shrugged. “They keep people safe, right? At least that’s what my mom says.” He smiled. “We make rules and we start our own club. That way, we don’t have to listen to anyone but us.”

I liked it. I chewed on my lower lip. “What do we call ourselves?”

“The chosen?” Chase offered.

“No, that sounds lame. We have to sound… more powerful than that.”

My eyes flickered to the road, and a sign poked into the ground. It said election. “Elect.” I pointed. “Let’s call ourselves The Elect.” It made sense; after all, the president was elected, wasn’t he? We weren’t exactly chosen, but we were making the choice, we were electing ourselves protectors. That’s what we were.

“Who else can join?” Chase asked.

“Tex and Phoenix. They’ll want to.” A weight suddenly felt like it was being lifted off my twelve-year-old shoulders. “Should we shake on it?”

“Yeah.” Chase smashed his hand against mine as our blood mixed. “No going back, Nixon.”

“No.” I shook my head. “No going back.”

I pressed my fingers to my temples and watched, replaying that moment over and over again in my head as the outline of Chase and Tracey flickered in the moonlight. Would he really do this to me? After all the shit we’d been through?

I gauged her reaction, hoping that I would be wrong. Praying to God that Trace would just this once listen to me. Her eyes flickered with interest for a few brief seconds before she looked down at the ground.

“Shit.” I waited in the shadows. A part of me knew this would happen. The part that told me to damn my feelings to hell and ignore all the warning signs that I’d been seeing. But now it seemed like it was too late. I stayed, planted where I was, watching, waiting.

“Chase, you can’t…” Trace shook her head. “You can’t be like this. We can’t do this!”

“We aren’t doing anything,” Chase said in low tones, reaching for Trace’s hand. “Don’t you?” He looked directly at me, although all he saw was a shadow. I knew I was well hidden. “Don’t you feel the same way?”

Trace jerked her hand away from Chase’s. “It doesn’t matter what I feel. It’s not about me, Chase.”

“But it is.” Chase reached for her again. This time her hand grasped his in such an intimate embrace I thought I was going to vomit all over the ground. The outside air was cold as hell as little pieces of ice tried to find their way into my wool coat.

“It isn’t.” Trace sighed. “It never was.”

Chase jerked her toward him. She fell against his chest and looked up into his eyes. “What are you doing?”

Chase sighed. “What I should have done a long time ago.” He grabbed the back of her head and pulled her in for a kiss. Their lips touched.

I had to look away.

The only sound in the night was that of my soft footsteps as I walked away… leaving my heart in broken pieces where I’d last stood. She was lost to me; it wasn’t even the Sicilians that had taken her, but my best friend.

A gunshot rang out loud and clear in the night air. I turned back around just in time to see Trace collapse into Chase’s arms.

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