Chapter Reveal + Pre-Order: Falling For Her by Monica Murphy

We are excited to share this chapter reveal from FALLING FOR HER by author Monica Murphy!

 

I sort of hate how good looking he is. And then again, I sort of love it.

 

Falling for Her by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Monica Murphy is coming June 2, 2020!

Cover Designer: Hang Le

Photographer: Wander Aguiar

Model: Lucas L.

 

Jake Callahan. Prince of the popular crowd.

My mortal enemy.

Gorgeous. All the girls want him.

Quarterback. All the boys want to be his friend. He’s the most popular boy in the senior class.

And he hates me.

Or so I thought.

What I mistook for hatred turns out to be…interest. There’s that thin line, right? It makes me crazy. I can’t stand it. Attraction, chemistry, whatever it is, I also can’t resist it.

And neither can he.

Together, we make no sense. The odds are against us. His friends definitely don’t approve. I’m not a part of their crowd. Not one of the cool kids. I don’t fit in, or so they say.

But that doesn’t stop him from falling for me.

And it won’t stop me from fighting for him.

 

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Chapter One

Jake

“How about that one?”

We all snicker when we see who Diego’s discreetly pointing at as we walk past her in the hallway. Some freshman who looks about ten, with big blue eyes and a mouth full of metal. She’s cute enough, but way too young.

“I don’t think so,” I tell my friends as we stride toward the quad.

It’s lunchtime. Our senior year. We’re able to drive off campus now, but not today. Coach wants us to watch game film of the team we’re playing tomorrow night. So we have about fifteen minutes to grab food before we all meet in the team room to study our opponents. Learn their weak spots, their strengths. See if they’re better defensively or offensively.

When I say Coach, I’m talking about my dad. I just try to keep that shit separate. It’s easier that way.

“Check her out,” says Diego—one of my best friends—nudging me in the shoulder and now not-so-discreetly pointing at a group of girls sitting at a nearby picnic table.

“Which one?” Again, they’re young. Maybe sophomores? I don’t really recognize any of them. If they’re a couple of years younger than me and not friends with my sister Ava, who’s a junior, or on the football team, I don’t bother getting to know them.

That makes me sound like an asshole, but I don’t have the time. I have my circle of friends. I even have my circle of acquaintances. This year, my last year in high school, I don’t need to add to either group. I’m perfectly content with what I have.

“Any of them.” Diego slaps me on the back, a giant grin on his face. “You need to find  someone, bro. This single, I-don’t-bother-with-any-girl business is getting old.”

I don’t bother with any girls anymore because when I do, they tend to take my heart and rip it to shreds. It’s ridiculous, but when I fall, I tend to fall hard.

Sophomore year I got my heart broken twice, once by Cami Lockhart. We got back together the beginning of junior year only for her to cheat on me—and I found out via Snapchat.

That sucked.

I’ve never bothered with a girl again. Fuck ’em. I’d rather focus on football and my friends and school, exactly in that order.

“Too young,” I tell Diego, and Caleb, my other best friend, bursts out laughing.

“Oh come on. She’s cute. I’d bet she’s down,” he says with a smirk.

Caleb is an actual asshole. He hooks up with an endless stream of girls, yet most of them don’t complain. It’s like they’re proud to be a Caleb fan girl.

“Find him a senior then,” Diego says, stopping in the direct center of the crowded quad. He settles his hands on his hips and turns in a slow circle, scanning the area with a narrowed gaze. Diego has a girl and they’re supposedly madly in love. I mean, good for him. They seem totally into each other—for the most part. They’ve been together for over a year, and Jocelyn treats him like a god, while she’s his princess, as he calls her. I’m pretty sure they’ve talked about getting married, which is just…insane if you ask me.

“Her.”

We all swivel our heads to see Tony—our quietest friend—inclining his head toward a table to the left of where we’re standing.

There’s a girl sitting there, her back to us. Alone. She’s wearing a black T-shirt, her reddish-blonde hair spilling down her back in loose waves. Her elbow’s propped on the table and she’s resting her cheek on her fist, an open book in front of her. Like she’s reading. For fun.

What the hell?

“No way,” Diego says with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Jake’s not into smart girls.”

I’m immediately offended. “Who says?”

“You, with the choices you’ve made in the past,” Diego points out.

He’s got me there. Cami wasn’t that smart. None of the girls I’ve dated were. Not really.

“I like her hair,” Tony says, his tone, his entire demeanor impassive, like we’re talking about the weather. “She’s cute.”

“You should go for her then,” Caleb suggests to Tony.

“Nah. Not my type.” Tony’s gaze meets mine and he tilts his head, like he’s giving me permission to talk to her.

Huh.

“How do you know she’s a smart girl?” I study her, taking in her narrow shoulders, the elegant slope of her back. She brushes her hair back from her face, tucking the strands behind her ear and offering me a glimpse of her profile. She’s pretty in an understated way, I guess. Upturned nose. Pale skin. Freckles.

I don’t recognize her at all.

“Because she’s reading a book, dumbass.” Caleb sounds enormously pissed off, though I know he’s not. That’s just how he always sounds. “If you don’t ask her to wear your jersey, I think I’ll ask her instead.”

Yes, this is what we’re doing on a Thursday afternoon during lunch. Trying to find a girl for me to ask to wear my jersey on game day. It’s a big deal at our high school, and so far during my reign as the varsity team’s quarterback, I’ve only had one girl ever wear my jersey, and for only one time. It was Cami Lockhart, right at the beginning of our junior year, when I thought there was a possible chance we could work shit out and be a couple again.

But then someone sent me her private story off Snapchat—a video of her making out with motherfucking Eli Bennett, the quarterback for our rival school’s team, and I was done. Finished.

For some reason, this year my boys want to see me make a claim. Find a girl. They tell me I’m too grumpy. That maybe if I’m getting some on the regular, that’ll mellow me out. Some of them even complain I’m too focused, which I don’t get. Why wouldn’t they want me focused?

Focused wins games. I’ve had that drilled into my head over the years by my dad.

“No way,” I tell Caleb when he acts like he’s going to approach the mystery girl sitting at the table. “I’ll do it.”

I don’t know why I’m bothering with this. I don’t know her, but I’m guessing she knows me. Most girls would probably be flattered if I asked, but I’m not that sure if she’s into football, or if she even goes to the games. But it would be cool to see her wear my number around school all day.

Maybe I could make it a thing. Give it to a different girl every week. They’d start fighting for their chance. It could turn into a contest. Maybe it would go viral…

“Go ask her.” Diego gives me a shove in the girl’s direction, his hand right in the center of my back. “Before you chicken out.”

Okay, that shit’s annoying. And it’s just the incentive I need to make it happen. Glancing over my shoulder, I glare at my three best friends, but all they do is make clucking noises at me in return like they’re a bunch of chickens.

Assholes.

Slowly I approach the table, wondering what I should say first. I don’t have a problem talking to girls. I never really have. I almost wonder if this is because I grew up in a household full of women. Don’t get me wrong, Dad is a strong personality and is a big influence on me, but he wasn’t around much when I was little. He was busy working all the time.

Growing up, I was always with Mom, my older sister Autumn and my younger sister Ava. Our little brother Beck didn’t come along until years later, and by then I was resigned with the idea that I’d never even have a brother.

So I was constantly surrounded by girls. Autumn and Ava used to fight like cats and dogs. Now that Autumn’s gone, away at college in Santa Barbara, we don’t see her that much. Ava is happier with Autumn gone, I think. Having an older sister trying to boss you around all the time gets old.

I know I got tired of Autumn’s bullshit. Now, I miss her. Not that I’d ever tell her that.

Deciding I need to approach this mystery girl straight on, I walk around the table, keeping a wide berth so she doesn’t get suspicious or think I’m a stalker. And once I’m facing the table, I take a good, long look at her.

She’s vaguely familiar, so I’m assuming she’s a senior like me, or maybe a junior. Our school is small, so most of the time I feel like I know everyone, but I can’t place her. I don’t remember her name. Her hair is this burnished, reddish-gold color and her eyes are big and blue. Her features delicate—except for her mouth. Full, bee-stung lips that fill my head with dirty images.

Every one of them involves my dick.

Not that I’m actually interested in this girl. I don’t even know her. But as far as my first choice to wear my jersey this week, it’s not a bad one.

Not a bad one at all.

One of my friends, I’m not sure who, makes a bok-bok noise and I send them all a menacing look before I march right up the table and clear my throat. “Hey.”

The girl lifts her head, sky-blue eyes meeting mine, her expression open. Friendly.

Until she keeps looking at me, her gaze narrowing, that open, friendly expression disappearing within seconds. Almost as if she realized who she’s looking at and doesn’t like what she sees.

Damn.

When she still hasn’t said anything, I decide to keep talking. “What’s your name?”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “You don’t know my name?”

I know this sounds weird, but I like the sound of her voice. A lot. “Should I?”

“I know yours.” She sniffs, shutting the book she was reading. “Jacob Callahan.”

Ah, see? She knows me. She’ll totally agree to wear my jersey. “You have the advantage then.”

“Because you still don’t remember my name?”

I shrug helplessly and flash her a smile that’s hopefully equal parts bashful yet charming. “Guilty.”

She rolls her eyes, resting her arms on top of the table. “Did you have a question or something?”

Her tone is short. Dismissive. This girl is totally trying to get rid of me. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do have a question for you.”

“I’m waiting on pins and needles,” she says, her voice going up a notch, those blue eyes of hers extra wide.

They’re pretty, I’ll give her that. She’s pretty. There’s a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose and she has very white teeth.

“I was wondering if you wanted…” I let my voice drift and I glance down at my shoes, kicking at the base of the picnic bench. I’m trying to up the anticipation a notch. Going for the golly, gee bashful vibe. Girls seem to like it.

“Wanted what?”

Huh. Guess she’s not one for anticipation.

“If you wanted to wear my jersey tomorrow.” I lift my head, my gaze meeting hers straight on, and I see the surprise in her eyes. I’ve shocked her with my request.

Come on, I can see why. I’m me and she’s…whoever she is.

She studies me for a while, and now it’s my turn to wait with anticipation. Her full lips part, like she’s about to say something, but instead, she looks away from me, grabs her things and starts shoving them into her backpack.

As if she’s about to leave.

When she shoots me an irritated glare, slides off the picnic bench and walks away without another word, I chase her, surprised by how quick she is. My friends are laughing, I can hear them as I follow after this chick—still don’t know her name—but I can’t worry about them right now.

Even though they’re total assholes for laughing at me.

“Hey!” I call out, but it’s like my voice only spurs her on. She’s practically in a full jog as she heads toward Adams Hall, and I wonder if her plan is to duck into a classroom and hide from me.

Putting a little speed behind my step, I catch up with her easily, hooking my fingers around her upper arm and stopping her escape. She turns to face me, the look on her face so full of disgust I immediately release her and take a step back.

“Why are you chasing me?” she asks breathlessly. Her cheeks are pink, and she’s practically panting. I get the sense that maybe she doesn’t exercise much? I mean, I’m not even winded.

“You never answered my question.”

She lifts her chin. Blows out an exaggerated breath, like what I’m asking is too damn much. After enduring the last five minutes with this chick, I don’t even want her to wear my jersey now. She’s making way too big a deal about this.

But for some weird reason, I have to know what her answer is.

“My name is Hannah,” she finally says, and it all hits me at once. I do know her. Barely. Hannah Walsh. Senior. Moves in a completely different crowd. As in, she doesn’t really move with any crowd. I’ve never had a class with her ever, because she takes all the advanced courses. My friends were right.

She’s a smart girl.

“Right. Hannah.” I nod and smile. “I know you.”

She smiles in return, though it doesn’t quite reach her sky-blue eyes. “Uh huh. Sure you do.”

“I do. You’re friends with…” My voice drifts. I don’t know who she’s friends with. I can see their faces, but at the moment, I can’t recall their names.

“Please.” She reaches out, settling her hand on my forearm, and it’s like a spark of electricity between us the moment our skin makes contact. She snatches her hand away like I burned her. “Stop trying so hard.”

I almost want to laugh. This girl is telling me to stop trying so hard? Does she even know who she’s dealing with? The power I wield at this school? I’m the most popular guy in the senior class—maybe in all the classes. This is my year to shine. My year to reign.

And this Hannah nobody is telling me to stop trying so hard?

Get the fuck out of here.

Can’t back out now, though. I’m fully committed.

“So what do you say, Hannah? Are you in? Do you want to wear my jersey tomorrow?” Not like I want her to anymore. She’s been rude from the moment I started talking to her.

“Gee, I sure appreciate the offer, but…” She scowls at me, her lush lips pursed. “No.”  

Meet Monica:

Monica Murphy is a New York Times, USA Today,  and international bestselling romance author. Her books have been translated in almost a dozen languages and have sold over two million copies worldwide. Both a traditionally published and independently published author, she writes young adult, new adult and contemporary romance. She’s also known as USA Today bestselling author Karen Erickson.

A native Californian, she lives on fourteen acres in the middle of nowhere with her husband, two kids, one dog, and four cats. When she’s not writing, she’s an assistant coach for her daughter’s high school cheer team, which is a two season sport. Meaning, she’s at practice with a bunch of teenage girls all the time. Or she’s at a football game. Or a basketball game. Maybe someday, she’ll even write about this experience.

Connect with Monica:

Facebook: http://bit.ly/MonicaMurphyFB

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/MonicaMurphyGR

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1YUl0Vm

Website: http://monicamurphyauthor.com Newsletter: https://www.monicamurphyauthor.com/newsletter

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Twitter: http://bit.ly/MonicaMurphyTW

Chapter Reveal: On The Corner Of Love And Hate by Nina Bocci – Hopeless Romantics Series – Book 1

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On The Corner Of Love And Hate

Hopeless Romantics Series – Book 1

By Nina Bocci

Release Date: August 20, 2019

Pre-Order: Amazon

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Blurb:

For fans of Christina Lauren and Lauren Layne comes a delightfully sassy and sexy romance about a campaign manager who reluctantly works with the local Lothario to help revamp his image for the upcoming mayoral elections, only to discover that he’s hiding something that can turn both their lives upside down.

What’s a campaign manager’s worst nightmare? A smooth-talking charmer who’s never met a scandal that he didn’t like.

When Emmanuelle Peroni’s father—and mayor of her town—asks her to help rehab Cooper Endicott’s image, she’s horrified. Cooper drives her crazy in every way possible. But he’s also her father’s protégé, and she can’t say no to him without him finding out the reason why: Cooper and her have a messy past. So Emmanuelle reluctantly launches her father’s grand plan to get this Casanova someone to settle down with and help him lose his lothario reputation.

Cooper Endicott wanted to run for Mayor, but he never wanted the drama that went with it. Now that he’s on the political hamster wheel, the other candidates are digging up everything from his past. Even though he’s doing all the right things, his colorful love life is the sticking point for many of the conservative voters. He wants to win, badly, and he knows that if he wants any chance of getting a vote from the female population, he needs to change his image. The only problem? He might just be falling in love with the one person he promised not to pursue: the Mayor’s off-limits daughter.

A perfect blend of humor and heart, On the Corner of Love and Hate is the first in a new series from USA TODAY bestselling author Nina Bocci.

OTC good enough

Chapter Reveal

Thud. Whoosh. Slap.
Thud. Whoosh. Slap.
The trio of irksome sounds repeated another half-dozen times. My eyes darted upward, a silent prayer falling from my lips.

Dear God, please give me the strength not to shove that tennis ball somewhere that would require surgery. Amen.

My coworker casually leaned back in his chair, his long legs out- stretched and crossed at the ankles on the shiny surface of the con- ference room table. Beneath his brown leather loafers sat a report.

His unfinished-yet-due-tomorrow report.

I marveled at his ability to multitask. It would have been more appropriate if he had been, say, working. Instead, he was tossing a ball against the conference room wall with one hand while texting with the other. Even though he didn’t take his eyes off his phone screen, he caught the ball every single time. If I hadn’t been so annoyed, I would have actually been impressed.

The clock ticked against the pale yellow wall above his head. With each passing tick, the ball struck with a thwack to its right. “Cooper, could you please stop?” I finally said, rubbing my

temples to ease the headache that was forming.

Thud. Whoosh. Slap.

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2 NINA BOCCI

“Cooper,” I repeated, glancing up from my laptop. “Hello?” Thud, whoosh, slap was the only response I got.
Sliding back my chair, I stood up and walked around the long

maple conference table. It was only when I got close enough to see the scantily clad woman in his text window that I noticed the wireless earbuds that were blasting music into his ears. As the ball left his hand, I touched his shoulder.

Startled, he lost his grip on the ball, sending it sailing behind him. “What’s up?” he sputtered, quickly pulling his earbuds out. I didn’t miss his hand sliding his phone into his pocket. He looked every bit like a teenager caught red-handed by the principal.

“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed. “You’ve had music on this entire time? I read nearly two pages of the brewery expansion proposal out loud to you twenty minutes ago!”

At least he had the decency to look remorseful. “I thought you were talking to yourself, so I”—he motioned to the black Beats— “figured I’d give you your privacy while I caught up on work.”

My eyebrows must have reached my hairline, because with a mildly guilty expression he pulled his legs down from the table.

I snorted. “Yes, I start all sentences with, ‘Cooper, what do you think about’ when I’m talking to myself. Were you just smiling and nodding for my health?” Shifting in his seat, he straightened. I huffed.

The small laugh lines around his mouth became more pro- nounced, an indication that he was fighting back a smile. “Em- manuelle,” he purred smoothly.

“Don’t Emmanuelle me,” I clapped back. “That tone may work on your fan club, but not me.”

He held his arms up in a defensive position. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. What did I miss?” He grabbed for the papers in my hand.

Holding them back against my chest, I scowled. “Hope Lake Brewing Company. Expansion. Asking for input before it goes to the town council for approval.”

He whistled and rocked back in his chair. “Council is going

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ON THE CORNER OF LOVE AND HATE 3

to reject anything that comes across their desk from them. They hate the ‘vibe’ the brew house brings, and the addition would make the council’s heads explode.”

I nodded. “Yep, which is why the guys asked us for help. To try and edit the proposal to appeal to them. It’s also why I booked us the conference room for this meeting that you just Tindered your way through.”

“That’s not a word, and I wasn’t—” he began, patting his pocket absently. Probably making sure the evidence was tucked away safely.

I held up my hand. “Save it. I don’t care what or who you’re doing. Just that you’re not paying attention. Again.”

When the owners of HLBC, Drew and Luke Griffin, first came to our department, Cooper and I had championed their proposal to build a brewing company, tasting room, and outdoor entertainment space just along the lakefront. It was one of the first projects Cooper and I had worked on together, and it was just what we’d needed in town back then—a fun, innovative business that catered to every age. Now, six years later, HLBC was one of Hope Lake’s most popular spots, and the brothers were looking to expand their space to include rooms for private events and a small restaurant. Cooper and I were supposed to be discussing how to approach the town council about it.

Looked like I’d just been talking to myself instead. “I’m going back to my office, where I can work in peace,” I said. Exasperated, I started gathering up my stuff.

After a few seconds of awkward silence, he cleared his throat. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Let’s go over it. Again.”

I stacked my files, feeling my blood starting to boil. Having to repeat myself irked me, but I needed his input whether I liked it or not.

Glancing up, I noticed Cooper readying to say something else when our shared assistant, Nancy, hurried in with the main office calendar and a fistful of Sharpies clutched in her hand.

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4 NINA BOCCI

“I’ve been searching for you two everywhere,” she said, looking wide-eyed at each of us in turn. The conference table, at least on my side, was covered in charts, graphs, and photos of the lake- front. On Cooper’s side—well, there was a lot of polished maple visible.

“Did you discuss the project?” she asked hopefully, her face falling when I shook my head. “Okay, well, I guess you’ll handle that, uh, later. I’m sure.” She gave me a look. “I hope,” she mouthed, then cleared her throat and pulled out the head chair of the confer- ence table and sat down with the main office calendar in front of her. “It’s time for the afternoon rundown—are you ready?”

Cooper groaned. Not at Nancy but at the calendar she had opened. It had been on my desk this morning when I’d filled it with upcoming appointments and meetings. By the looks of it, Nancy had managed to fill almost every empty space that remained.

We kept it old school at our office. Instead of using Google calendar or iCal, we used a large paper desk calendar with a color-coded legend, labels, and tabs to keep our government of- fice running like clockwork. It’s not as though we hadn’t tried to modernize, but some of the, ahem, older department staff were frosty toward change.

Nancy, Cooper, and I worked at the Hope Lake Community Development Office on the top floor of Borough Building. In a small town like Hope Lake, my department was sort of the home base for everything. From simple things such as parade permits to more detailed ventures—for example, helping to secure funding for business owners like HLBC—the CDO, as we tended to call it, had its hand in pretty much everything. It wasn’t big, but what we lacked in size and staff we made up for in energy and results.

“The upcoming week is brutal,” Nancy apologized, looking at Cooper, who, not surprisingly, was on his phone again. “Emma, I’m afraid you’re a bit overscheduled.” She tapped a Sharpie on the table.

I waved a dismissive hand. “It can’t be any worse than that

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ON THE CORNER OF LOVE AND HATE 5

week the staff came down with the flu.” I had practically run the office that week even though I was heavily medicated myself.

“It’s close.” She held up two fingers barely an inch apart. “You’re back-to-back Monday. There is a pocket of time during the event this weekend with the future Mr. Mayor here and his opponent.”

Cooper perked up then. He knocked twice on the wooden table. “Don’t jinx me.”

Oh, sure, you’re paying attention now.

“You’re a shoo-in. People love you, Cooper. And with the mayor already behind you, how can you not be?” Nancy assured him.

Nancy wasn’t blowing smoke. Cooper had decided to run for office this year, and his magnetic personality made him the per- fect political candidate. He was brilliant, liked by the majority of the town, and had confidence to spare because he knew he was the best choice for the job. Even I could admit that, and we were often at odds.

“Emma, I know you wanted to have a sit-down with Drew and Luke from the brewing company about the proposed expansion before they go to the council, but I don’t see how it’s going to happen.”

Nancy jotted a note onto the calendar. Over the years, we’d gotten our system down to a science: orange for me, blue for Cooper, hot pink for our department administrative assistant, green for Nancy, and red for the mayor, because red was my dad’s favorite color. Blue, not surprisingly, was the color least vis- ible on the entire calendar. It was sporadically used, even from my vantage point, which meant that Cooper had a light schedule this week.

Shocking.

I chewed the pen cap, irritated. Nancy continued reading off meeting after meeting throughout the week.

“These two on Thursday—I can probably sit in on them to give you a break, Emma,” she offered.

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6 NINA BOCCI

Looking over Nancy’s shoulder, I marveled at the Technicolor scheduling system. It might have been old-fashioned, but at least it looked good.

Shaking my head, I pointed at the partially torn yellow Post-it stuck on the edge of the frame. That was how my father added mayoral meetings to the calendar. Stickies. He was nothing if not professional. “No can do, my friend. You’re going to be at a ribbon cutting with Mayor Dad.”

She looked up, her lips a thin, flat line. “I am? He didn’t tell me.”

Sighing, she jotted the information down. “I wish he’d told me I was supposed to go, too!”

She took her calendar duties very seriously. I for one appreci- ated it, and I knew my father did, too, even if he did use his own odd system to add to it. It kept all of us in line.

Together, Nancy and I figured out the rest of the week, Coo- per staying silent and, surprise surprise, on his phone. We looked over the days, pointing and crossing out, trying in vain to find somewhere to squeeze in a last sit-down. “It’s not going to work,” I lamented, sinking into the chair beside her.

“Well, someone from the department needs to at least show their face at the city events meeting,” she urged, looking point- edly at Cooper. A notebook was now on his lap, his hand moving swiftly over the page. He didn’t look up when she said his name or when she repeated it a few seconds later. He was too deeply invested in whatever he was doing.

At least he’s off the phone.

Tearing the Post-it off the calendar and balling it up in her fist, Nancy lobbed it at him. “Cooper!” she shouted, snapping her fingers as if she were telling a dog to sit.

Fitting.

He smiled at her. “I’m listening.”

“Uh-huh, we need you to take a meeting or two on Thursday so Emma can head down to the lake to meet Drew and Luke. Unless you’d rather take the HLBC meeting.”

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“Thursday?” he repeated, sliding his phone out from behind the notebook.

When did he take that out? He was stealthy like a teen texting in class.

With a shrug, he shook his head. “Sorry, I’m booked all day and I’ve got a campaign publicity debrief at noon. That’s taking up most of the afternoon.”

“Doesn’t that just mean you and Henry are meeting at the diner to play on Facebook and Twitter together?” I scoffed, feeling the blood rushing to my face.

Henry was one of my and Cooper’s oldest friends. As a teacher, he had limited time to meet up with Cooper, so I understood Cooper’s reticence to reschedule, but—

Then it hit me. “Wait . . . why are you having mayoral meet- ings during work and school? How’s Henry getting out of class to meet you?”

Setting his phone down, he stood and straightened his tie. “I’ll have you know, I’m meeting him at the high school. I wish I could help, but alas—”

“You can’t,” I finished, sliding out of my chair to stand myself.

With Cooper running for mayor of Hope Lake, the brunt of his work at the CDO was taking a backseat. I noticed, the staff noticed, and the mayor noticed. If it had been anyone else, they probably would have been fired, but Cooper was Hope Lake’s golden boy. Once he was elected, we could hire someone new to replace him. But until that happened, it fell to us to pick up his slack.

Cooper walked toward the door, leaving his phone—aka his most prized possession—on the conference table. Surely he would be back in for it the second he realized it wasn’t attached to his hand.

“Wait, you can’t leave!” Nancy called after him. “I need the theater proposal paperwork. You guys have that meeting with the council on Monday and the mayor wants the weekend to review

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8 NINA BOCCI

the specs. Cooper, it has to be before end of day since you have the debate tomorrow! Everything is done, right? Please tell me it’s done.” “It’s handled,” Cooper said smoothly over his shoulder, tap- ping his temple. “And it’s not a debate. It’s a photo op, remember?

Pose, smile, shake hands. You know, the usual.”
“Thank God. I don’t have time today to do it if you didn’t,” she

said, pretend wiping her brow.
Smiling broadly, he clapped his hands together. “Oh, come on,

Nance. Have I ever left you hanging?”
Her silence spoke volumes. If she’d had the time, and the

inclination, she could have created a depressing list of how often that had happened.

Looking uncomfortable at Nancy’s lack of response, Cooper disappeared through the door, only to reappear two seconds later. “That would have been bad!” he said with a tight smile, jogging in to grab the iPhone.

“Cooper, are you sure you can’t reschedule your Thursday plans with Henry until after work so Emma isn’t pulled in nine- teen directions?” Nancy said quickly. “It’s just about the local sports participation in the Thanksgiving parade. They’re looking for guidance with the floats and theming—it won’t exactly take up all your brain space. The other is an initial meeting to see if the CDO can finally purchase the old bank.” Nancy already had a blue Sharpie at the ready, clutched between her fingers. “Or if you wanted to switch with Emma, you could meet with Drew and Luke and Emma could handle the parade instead. You’d probably get some free beer out of it.”

For a moment, he looked like he was going to agree. His jawline ticked anxiously, a habit he’d had since we were kids. It appeared whenever he struggled with a decision. Reluctantly, I admitted to myself that it was happening more often than not.

“I’m really sorry, I can’t,” he finally said. “You know how im- portant these meetings are for the core of my campaign. I’ve got to run. I’m late.”

7P_Bocci_CornerLoveHate_WB.indd 8 6/17/19 4:21 PM

ON THE CORNER OF LOVE AND HATE 9

I glanced at the clock. “It’s barely four.”
“I have a thing.”
“You came in at ten because of a ‘thing.’” I air-quoted it be-

cause although he said those things were for the mayoral cam- paign, I didn’t believe him. Call it years of experience or just a gut feeling. “Cooper, I need you to focus. You’re all over the place, and things are going to start falling through the cracks here. We can’t afford any missteps. Not when we’re under a microscope. The council is looking for any reason to put the screws in this department.”

Cooper’s opponent, Kirby Rogers, had been on the town coun- cil for the past few years. He had made it his mission to strip the CDO—funding, staff, all of it gone.

With nothing but a grimace, Cooper left, leaving no opening for discussion. I shook my head at his retreating form.

“Forget him, I’ll figure it out,” I said, glancing between the cal- endar with the work appointments and my nearly empty personal calendar. “I can pop over to the brewery and see Drew and Luke on my way home Tuesday or Friday night. They owe me dinner, anyway,” I said with a weak laugh, an attempt at loosening the anxiety-ridden ball in my stomach. How am I going to accom- plish all of this? “Just see when they’re free.” I tapped away on my phone. Making a note, I double-checked my iPhone’s calendar as Nancy read off the rest of the upcoming schedule.

“Emma,” she said with a heavy sigh, “I don’t want you to over- work yourself.”

“I’m fine. It’s an adjustment we’re going to have to get used to since we’re going to be picking up all the Cooper slack,” I insisted, knowing that she was always worried about me in a big-sisterly sort of way. “Promise,” I said after seeing her frown.

Months ago, before he had decided to run for mayor and before he had become so distracted by the election, Cooper had been an asset. I longed for those days. He had a gift, an ability to coax the very best of ideas out of you, and he transformed them into solid

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10 NINA BOCCI

plans that we then presented to Mayor Dad and the town council. His undivided input would have been valuable here.

That part of Cooper I respected and enjoyed working with. Pre-candidate Cooper. Except lately, so much had changed. I missed the focused Cooper. The guy who would pull together a presentation in just a few hours. The guy I could count on to bring the best ideas out of me when I thought I had hit a wall. Or even the guy who got his work done on time. I hated myself a little bit because I was missing that coworking partnership. We did make a good team when we weren’t arguing.

“Not for anything, but you’d think he’d want to head over to Hope Lake Brewing Company to see the guys.”

“His head was so buried in his phone, he probably didn’t hear you mention them.”

Nancy nodded. “What do you think? Is this going to get better or worse as the campaign progresses?” She packed up her Sharp- ies and hoisted the large calendar off the table, mindful not to drop any of the Post-its and papers tacked to it.

I slung my arm over her shoulder. “Worse. So much worse.”

__________________________________

Author Bio

14164319Nina Bocci is a novelist, publicist, eternal optimist, unabashed lipgloss enthusiast, constant apologist, and a hopeless romanticist. She has too many college degrees that she’s not using, and a Lego addiction that she blames on her son.

 

Website ~ Facebook ~ Twitter  ~ Goodreads

Chapter Reveal: Handle With Care by Helena Hunting – Shacking Up Series – Book 5

Handle With Care cover

Handle With Care

Shacking Up Series – Book 5

By Helena Hunting

Release Date: 8/27/2019

Blurb:

HE WANTS TO LOSE CONTROL.
Between his parents’ messed up marriage and his narcissistic younger brother, Lincoln Moorehead has spent the majority of his life avoiding his family. After the death of his father, Lincoln finds himself in the middle of the drama. To top it all off, he’s been named CEO of Moorehead Media, much to his brother’s chagrin. But Lincoln’s bad attitude softens when he meets the no-nonsense, gorgeous woman who has been given the task of transforming him from the gruff, wilderness guy to a suave businessman

SHE’S TRYING TO HOLD IT TOGETHER.
Wren Sterling has been working double time to keep the indiscretions at Moorehead Media at bay, so when she’s presented with a new contract, with new responsibilities and additional incentives, she agrees. Working with the reclusive oldest son of a ridiculously entitled family is worth the hassle if it means she’s that much closer to pursuing her own dreams. What Wren doesn’t expect is to find herself attracted to him, or for it to be mutual. And she certainly doesn’t expect to fall for Lincoln. But when a shocking new Moorehead scandal comes to light, she’s forced to choose between her own family and the broody, cynical CEO.

 

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CHAPTER 1

WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?

WREN

I slip onto the empty bar stool beside the lumberjack mountain man who looks like he tried to squeeze him- self into a suit two sizes too small. He’s intimidatingly broad and thick, with long dark hair that’s been pulled up into a haphazard man bun thing. His beard is a hip- ster’s wet dream. His scowl, however, makes him about as approachable as a rabid porcupine. And yet, here I am, sidling up next to him.

He glances at me, eyes bleary and not really tracking. He quickly focuses on his half-empty glass again. Based on the slump of his shoulders and the uncoordinated way he picks up his glass and tips it toward his mouth, I’m guessing he’s pretty hammered. I order a sparkling water with a dash of cranberry juice and a lime.

What I could really use is a cup of lavender-mint tea and my bed, but instead, I’m sitting next to a drunk man in his thirties. My life is extra glamorous, obviously. And no, I’m not an escort, but at the moment I feel like my morals are on the same kind of slippery slope.

 

“Rough day?” I ask, nodding to the bottle that’s miss- ing more than half its contents. It was full when he sat down at the bar an hour ago. Yes, I’ve been watching him the entire time, waiting for an opportunity to make my move. While he’s been sitting here, he’s turned down two women, one in a dress that could’ve doubled as a disco ball and the other in a top so low-cut, I could almost see her navel.

“You could say that,” he slurs. He props his cheek on his fist, eyes almost slits. I can still make out the vibrant blue hue despite them almost being closed. They move over me, assessing. I’m wearing a conservative black dress with a high neckline and a hem that falls below my knees. Definitely not nearly as provocative as Disco Ball or Navel Lady.

“That solving your problems?” I give him a wry grin and tip my chin in the direction of his bottle of Johnnie. His gaze swings slowly to the bottle. It gives me a chance to really look at him. Or what I can see of hisface under his beard, anyway.
“Nah, but it helps quiet down all the noise up here.”He taps his temple and blurts, “My dad died.”
I put a hand on his forearm. It feels awkward, and creepy on my part since its half-genuine, half-contrivedcomfort. “I’m so sorry.”
He glances at my hand, which I quickly remove, and refocuses on his drink. “I should be sorry too, but I think he was mostly an asshole, so the world might be better off without him.” He attempts to fill his glass again, but his aim is off, and he pours it on the bar instead. I rush to lift my purse and grab a handful of napkins to mop up the mess.

“I’m drunk,” he mumbles.
“Well, I’m thinking that might’ve been the plan, con-sidering the way you’re sucking that bottle back. I’m actually surprised you didn’t ask for a straw in the first place. Might be a good idea to throw a spacer in there if you want tomorrow morning to suck less.” I push my drink toward him, hoping he doesn’t send me pack- ing like he did the other women who approached him earlier.

 

He narrows his eyes at my glass, suspicious, maybe. “What is that?”

“Cranberry and soda.”
“No booze?”
“No booze. Go ahead. You’ll thank me in the morning.”
He picks up the glass and pauses when it’s an inch from his mouth. His eyes crinkle, telling me he’s smil- ing under that beard. “Does that mean Imma wake up with you beside me?”

I cock a brow. “Are you propositioning me?”

“Shit, sorry.” He chugs the contents of my glass. “I was joking. Besides, I’m so wasted, I can barely remem- ber my name. Pretty sure I’d be useless in bed tonight. I should stop talkin’.” He scrubs a hand over his face and then motions to me. “I wouldn’t proposition you.”

I’m not sure how to respond. I go with semi-affronted, since it seems like somewhat of an insult. “Good to know.”

“Dammit. I mean, I think you might be hot. You look hot. I mean attractive. I think you’re pretty.” He tips his head to the side and blinks a few times. “You have nice eyes, all four of them are lovely.”

This time I laugh—for real—and point to the bottle. “I think you might want to tell your date you’re done for the night.”

He blows out a breath and nods. “You might be right.”

 

He makes an attempt to stand, but as soon as his feet hit the floor, he stumbles into me and grabs my shoulders to steady himself. “Whoa. Sorry. Yup, I’m definitely drunk.” His face is inches from mine, breath smelling strongly of alcohol. Beyond that, I get a whiff of fresh soap and a hint of aftershave. He lets go of my shoul- ders and takes an unsteady step back. “I don’t usually do this.” He motions sloppily to the bottle. “Mostly I’m a three drink max guy.”

“I think losing your father makes this condonable.” I slide off my stool. Despite being tall for a woman, and wearing heels, he still manages to be close to a head taller than me.

“Yeah, maybe, but I still think I might regret it tomor- row.” He’s incredibly unsteady, swaying while standing in place. I take the opportunity for what it is and thread my arm through his, leading him away from the bar. “Come on, let’s get you to the elevator before you pass out right here.”

He nods, then wobbles a bit, like moving his head has set him off balance. “That’s probably a good idea.”

He leans into me as we weave through the bar and stumbles on the two stairs leading to the foyer. There’s no way I’ll be able to stop him if he goes down, but I drape one of his huge arms over my shoulder anyway, and slip my own around his waist, guiding him in a mostly straight line to the elevators.

“Which floor are you on?” I ask.

“Penthouse.” He drops his arm from my shoulder and flings it out, pointing to the black doors at the end of the hall. “Jesus, I feel like I’m on a boat.”

“It’s probably all the alcohol sloshing around in your brain.” I take his elbow again, helping him stagger the last twenty feet to the dedicated penthouse elevator.

 

He stares at the keypad for a few seconds, brow pulling into a furrow. “I can’t remember the code. It’s thumbprint activated though too.” He stumbles forward and presses his forehead against the wall, then tries to line up his thumb with the sensor, but his aim is horren- dous and he keeps missing.

I settle a hand on his very firm forearm. This man is built like a tank. Or a superhero. For a moment, I recon- sider what I’m about to do, but he seems pretty harm- less and ridiculously hammered, so he shouldn’t pose a threat. I’m also trained in self-defense, which would fall under the by any means necessary umbrella. “Can I help?”

He rolls his head, eyes slits as they bounce around my face. “Please.”

I take his hand between mine. The first thing I notice is how clammy it is. But beyond that, his knuckles are rough, littered with tiny scars and a few scabs, and his nails are jagged.

“Your hands are small,” he observes as I line his thumb up with the sensor pad and press down.

“Maybe yours are abnormally big,” I reply. They are rather large. Like basketball player hands.

“You know what they say about big hands.”

I fight not to roll my eyes, but for a brief moment, I wonder if what’s in his pants actually matches the rest of him. And if he’s unkempt everywhere, not just on his face. I cut that visual quickly because it makes me want to gag. “And what do they say?”

His eyes crinkle again, and he slaps his own chest. “Something about big hands, big heart.”

I bite back my own smile. “Pretty sure you’re mixing that up with cold hands, warm heart.”

His brow furrows. “There’s a good chance.”

 

The elevator doors slide open. He pushes off the wall with some effort and practically tumbles inside. He catches himself on the rail and sags against the wall as I follow him in. I honestly can’t believe I’m doing this right now.

He doesn’t have to press a button since the elevator only goes to the penthouse floor. As soon as we start moving, he groans and his shoulders curl in. “I don’t feel so good.”

Please don’t let him be sick in here. If there’s one thing I can’t deal with, it’s vomit. “You should sit.”

He slides down the wall, massive shoulders rolling forward as he rests his forehead on his knees. “Tomor- row is going to suck.”

I stay on the other side of the elevator, in case he tosses his cookies. “Probably.”

It’s the longest elevator ride in the history of the world. Or at least it feels that way, mostly because I’m terrified he’s going to yak. Thankfully, we make it to the penthouse floor incident-free. On the down side, now that he’s in a sitting position, getting him to stand again is a challenge. I have to press the open door button three times before I can finally coax him to his feet.

In the time between leaving the bar and making it to the penthouse floor, the effects of the alcohol seems to have compounded. He’s beyond sloppy, using the wall and me for support as we make our way to his door. There are two penthouse apartments up here. One on either side of the foyer.

He leans against the doorjamb, once again fighting to find the coordination to get his thumb to the sensor pad. I don’t ask if he needs my assistance this time since it’s quite clear he does. Once again I take his clammy hand in mine.

 

“Your hands are really soft,” he mumbles.
“Thanks.”
The pad flashes green, and I turn the handle. “Okay,here we go. Home sweet home.”
“This isn’t my home,” he slurs. “My cousin’s family owns this building. I’m crashing here until I can get the fuck out of New York.”

I scan the penthouse. It an eclectic combination of odd art and modern furniture, like two different tastes crashed together and this is the result. Aside from that, it’s clean to the point of looking almost like a show home.

The only sign that someone is staying here is the lone coffee cup on the table in the living room and the blan- ket lolling like a tongue over the edge of the couch. I’m still standing in the doorway while he sways unsteadily.

He tries to shove his hand in his pants pocket, but all he succeeds in doing is setting himself off-balance. He nearly stumbles into the wall.

“Thanks for your help,” he says.

He’s back in his penthouse, which means my job is technically done. However, I’m worried he’s going to hurt himself, or worse, asphyxiate on his own vomit in the middle of the night, and I’ll be the one catching heat if that happens. I’ll also feel bad if something happens to him. I blow out a breath, annoyed that this is how my night is ending.

I heave his arm over my shoulder and slip mine around his waist again, leading him through the living room toward what seems to be the kitchen. There’s a sheet of paper on the island, but otherwise it’s spotless.

“What’re you doing?” he asks.

We pause when we reach the threshold. “Which way is your bedroom?”

 

He looks slowly from right to left. “Not that way.” He points to the kitchen. It’s very state of the art.

I guide him in the opposite direction down the hall, until he stumbles through a doorway, into a large but simply furnished bedroom. Once we reach the edge of the bed, he drops his arm, spins around—it’s drunkenly graceful—and falls back on the bed, arms spread wide as if he’s planning on making snow angels. “The room is spinning.”

“Would you like me to get you a glass of water and possibly a painkiller for the headache you’ll likely have in the morning?” I’m already heading for the bathroom.

“Might be a good idea,” he mumbles.

I find a glass on the edge of bathroom vanity—which is clean, apart from a brand new toothbrush and tube of toothpaste. I run the tap, wishing I had a plastic tumbler, because I’m not sure he’s in any state to deal with break- able objects. I check the medicine cabinet, find the pills I need, shake out two tablets, and return to the bedroom.

He’s right where I left him; sprawled out faceup on a massive king-size bed, legs hanging off the end, one shoe on the floor beside him. I cross over and set the water and the pills on the nightstand.

I make a quick trip back to the bathroom and grab the empty wastebasket from beside the toilet in case his night is a lot rougher than he expects.

I tap his knee, crossing my fingers he’ll be easy to rouse. “Hey, I have painkillers for you.”

He makes a noise, but doesn’t move otherwise.

I tap his knee again. “Lincoln, you need to wake up long enough to take these.” I cringe. I called him by name, and he didn’t offer it to me while we were down at the bar. Here’s hoping he’s too drunk to notice or re- member. His name is Lincoln Moorehead, heir to the Moorehead Media fortune and all the crap that comes with it. And there’s a lot of it.

 

One eye becomes a slit. “Every time I open my eyes, the room starts spinning again.”

“If you drink this and take these, it might help.” I hold up the glass of water and the pills.

“’Kay.” It takes three tries for him to sit up. He tries to pick the pills up out of my palm, but keeps missing my hand.

“Just open your mouth.”

He lifts his head. “How do I know you’re not trying to roofie me?”

I hold up the tablet in front of his face. “They don’t say roofie, so you’re safe.”

He tries to focus on the pill and then my face. I have my doubts he’s successful at either.

His tongue peeks out to drag across his bottom lip. “The cameras in the hall will catch you if you steal my wallet.”

I laugh at that. “I’m not going to steal your wallet, I’m going to put you to bed.”

“Hmm.” He nods slowly and opens his mouth.

I drop the pills on his tongue and hand him the glass, which he drains in three long swallows. “Would you like me to refill that?”

“That’d be nice.” He holds out the glass, but when I try to pull away, he covers my hands with his. His shockingly blue eyes meet mine, and for a moment they’re clear and compelling. Despite how out of it he is, and how much he resembles a mountain man, or maybe because of it, I have a hard time looking away. “I really wish I wasn’t this messed up. You smell nice. I bet your hair is pretty when it’s not pulled up like that.” He flops a hand toward my bun. “Not that it’s not pretty like that, but I bet if you took it down, it would be wavy and soft. The kind of hair you want to bury your face in and run your fingers through.” He exhales a long breath. “I haven’t had sex in a really long time, but I feel like I would have zero finesse if I tried right now.”

 

I smile and turn away. In the time it takes for me to refill his glass, he’s managed to get one arm out of his suit jacket. He’s made it most of the way onto the bed, feet still hanging off the end, but he’s on his back, which is not ideal.

I set the glass on his nightstand, along with a second set of painkillers, which I’m assuming he’ll need in the morning, and give him another nudge. “Hey.”

This time I get nothing in the way of a response. I poke him twice more, but still nothing. He can’t sleep on his back with how drunk he is. He needs to be on his side or his stomach with a wastebasket close by.

I can’t in good conscience leave him like this. My options are limited. I shake my head as I kick off my shoes and climb up onto the bed with him. This is not at all what I expected to be doing when I brought him back up here.

I stare down at his sleeping form. His lips are parted, they’re nice lips, full and plump, even though they’re mostly obscured by his overgrown beard. His hair has started to unravel from its man bun, wisps hanging in his face. He has long lashes, really long actually, and they’re thick and dark, the kind women pay a lot of money for. His nose is straight and his cheekbones— what I can see of them—are high. With a haircut, a beard trim or complete shave, and a new suit that actu- ally fits, I can imagine how refined he’ll look. More like a Moorehead than a mountain man lumberjack. I shake my head. “I need you to roll onto your side, please,” I say loudly.

 

Nothing. Not even a grunt.

I pull on his shoulder, but he’s dead weight. Leaning over him, I make a fist and give him a light jab approxi- mately where his kidney is. “Lincoln, roll over.”

And roll he does, knocking me down and turn- ing over so he’s right on top of me. We’re face-to-face. Good God, he’s heavy. His bones must be made of lead. He shifts, one leg coming over both of mine. I push at his knee, but his arm swings out and he wraps himself around me on a low groan, pinning my arm to my side. He’s like a giant human blanket.

“How did this become my life?” I say to the ceiling, because the man lying on top of me is apparently out cold.

I try to wriggle free, I even yell his name a bunch of time before I give up and wait for him to roll off me. And while I wait for that to happen, I replay the con- versation with his mother, Gwendolyn Moorehead, that took place forty-eight hours ago and put me in this awk- ward position underneath her drunk son.

I’d been standing in Fredrick’s office, still digesting the fact that he was dead. It was shocking that a mas- sive heart attack had taken him, since he was always so healthy and full of life.

Gwendolyn, his wife—now a widow—stood stoic behind his desk, papers stacked neatly in the center.

“I’m so very for your loss, Gwendolyn. If there’s any- thing I can do. Whatever you need.” The words poured out, typical condolences, but sincerely meant because I couldn’t imagine how my mother and I would feel if we lost my father.

 

Gwendolyn’s fingers danced at her throat as she cleared it. “Thank you,” she whispered brokenly and dabbed at her eyes. “I appreciate your kindness, Wren.”

“Let me know what you want me to handle, and I’ll take care of it.”

She took a deep breath, composing herself before she lifted her gaze to mine. “I need your help.”

“Of course, what can I do?”

“My oldest son, Lincoln, will be returning to New York for the funeral, and he’ll be staying to help run the company.”

A hot feeling crept up my spine. I’d heard very little about Lincoln. Everything from Armstrong’s mouth was scathing, Fredrick’s passing references had been with fondness, and my interactions with Gwendolyn had been minimal as it was Fredrick himself who hired me, so this was first I’ve heard of Lincoln through her. “I see. And how can I help with that?” I could only imag- ine how difficult Armstrong would be if he had to share the attention with someone else, particularly his brother.

“Transitioning Lincoln.” Gwendolyn rounded her desk. “You’ve managed to turn around Armstrong’s rep- utation in the media during the time you’ve been here. I know it hasn’t been easy, and Armstrong can be difficult to manage.”

Difficult to manage is the understatement of the entire century where Armstrong is concerned. He’s a cocksucker of epic proportions. He’s also a misogynis- tic, narcissistic bastard that I’ve had to deal with for the past eight months on a nearly daily basis—sometimes even on weekends.

My job as his “handler” has been to reshape his horrendous reputation after his involvement in several scandalous events became very public. It wasn’t a job I

necessarily wanted, and I was prepared to politely reject the offer, but my mother asked me to take the position as a favor to her since she’s a friend of Gwendolyn.

Beyond that, my relationship with my mother has been strained for the past decade. When I was a teen- ager, I discovered information that changed our rela- tionship forever. Taking the job at Moorehead was in part, my way of trying to help repair our fractured bond. The financial compensation, which was ridiculously high, also didn’t hurt. Besides, Gwendolyn is on nearly every single charitable foundation committee in the city, and since that’s where my interests lie, it seemed like a smart career move.

“Since you’re already working with Armstrong and things seem to be settled there for the most part, I felt it would make sense to keep you on here at Moorehead to work with Lincoln. He’s been away from civilized society for several years. He’s nothing like his brother, very altruistic and focused on his job, rather than recre- ational pursuits, so he should be easier to manage.”

I fought a scoff at the last bit, since “recreational pursuits” was a reference to the fact that Armstrong couldn’t seem to keep his pants zipped when it came to women.

Gwendolyn pushed a set of papers toward me. “It would only be for another six months. And of course, your salary would reflect the double work load, since you’ll still have to maintain Armstrong in some capac- ity while you assist Lincoln in transitioning into his role here.”

“I’m sorry, what—”

Gwendolyn pulled me into an awkward hug, hold- ing onto my shoulders when she stepped back. Her eyes were glassy and red-rimmed. “You have no idea how much I appreciate your willingness to take this on. As soon as your contract is fulfilled, you have my word that I’ll give you a glowing recommendation to whichever organization you’d like. Your mother told me you’re in- terested in starting your own foundation. I’ll certainly help you in any way I’m able if you’ll stay on a little longer for me.” She dabbed at her corner of her eyes and sniffed, then tapped the papers on the desk. “I already have an agreement ready and an NDA, of course. Every- thing is tabbed for signing.”

 

I’m pulled back into the present when Lincoln shifts and one of his huge hands slides up my side and lands on my breast. At the same time, he pushes his nose against my neck, beard tickling my collarbone. He mut- ters something unintelligible against my skin.

I’m momentarily frozen in shock. Under any other circumstances, I would knee him in the balls. However, he’s not conscious or even semi-aware that he’s fondling me. Thankfully, now that he’s moved, I have some wig- gle room.

I elbow him in the ribs, which probably hurts me more than it does him. At least it gets him to move away enough that I can slip out from under him. I roll off the bed and pop back up, smoothing out my now-wrinkled dress. My stupid nipples are perky, thanks to the atten- tion the right one just got. Probably because it’s the most action I’ve seen since I started working for the Moore- heads eight months ago.

I hit the lights on the way out of the bedroom, pause in the kitchen to grab a glass of water and check out the sheet of paper on the counter. It’s a list of important de- tails regarding the penthouse, including the entry code. I nab my purse, snap a pic, and head for the elevators.

I have a feeling this is going to be a long six months.

_________________________________________________

 

About the Author:

Helena HuntingNYT and USA Today Bestselling author, Helena Hunting lives outside of Toronto with her amazing family and her two awesome cats, who think the best place to sleep is her keyboard. Helena writes everything from contemporary romance with all the feels to romantic comedies that will have you laughing until you cry.

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Handle With Care cover

 

Chapter Reveal: Making Up by Helena Hunting

Making Up, an all-new laugh-out-loud romantic comedy standalone from New York Times bestselling author Helena Hunting is coming July 16th and we have a sneak peek!

Making Up_ebook.jpg

Cosy Felton is great at her job—she knows just how to handle the awkwardness that comes with working at an adult toy store. So when the hottest guy she’s ever seen walks into the shop looking completely overwhelmed, she’s more than happy to turn on the charm and help him purchase all of the items on his list.

Griffin Mills is using his business trip in Las Vegas as a chance to escape the broken pieces of his life in New York City. The last thing he wants is to be put in charge of buying gag gifts for his friend’s bachelor party. Despite being totally out of his element, and mortified by the whole experience, Griffin is pleasantly surprised when he finds himself attracted to the sales girl that helped him.

As skeptical as Cosy may be of Griffin’s motivations, there’s something about him that intrigues her. But sometimes what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas and when real life gets in the way, all bets are off. Filled with hilariously awkward situations and enough sexual chemistry to power Sin City, Making Up is the next standalone in the Shacking Up world.

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Excerpt from Chapter One

Sexy Suit

Cosy

Working in an adult toy store is the opposite of glamorous. Sure, I get a fifty-percent discount, which is a real perk, but it doesn’t offset some of the weirdness I have to deal with. Such as Eugene, one of the locals who frequents the shop on a regular basis. He came in this morning and handled all the display toys. He’s mostly harmless, but the silicone fondling is pretty high on the creepy factor. Eventually I told him I had to close up for a few minutes so I could grab lunch. The deli across the street has the best daily specials.

While I wait for my chicken shawarma, I make a mental list of all the things I need to do this afternoon: check the magazines to make sure the pages aren’t stuck together, restock the flavored lube, and wipe down everything Eugene molested with toy cleaner. Once I’ve tackled those less-than-fun chores, I can work on my assignment for my hospitality class, provided I don’t have real customers.

I glance out the window, checking to make sure Eugene isn’t loitering around in front of the store, waiting to be let back in. Sometimes he’ll stop by more than once during my shift. He’s not there—thank God—but there’s a black sports car parked in the lot. It looks nice and possibly expensive, which might mean an actual customer who will spend money.

Loki, the cashier at the deli, hands me my drinks and shawarma.

“Thanks! Have a great day!”

“You too,” Loki says to my chest.

As I leave the store, I see a man in a suit reading the sign I taped to the door. I don’t want to miss a potential customer, so I take a deep breath and mentally shift gears, putting on my best sales-person mask. I have to pretend to be a completely different person when I deal with customers, so I can get through what would otherwise be a fairly embarrassing event. Discussing the ins and outs of sex toys with strangers is not something I particularly enjoy, but it’s a paycheck, so I’ve learned to roll with it.

My root beer foams and drips down the straw while my coffee sloshes onto my hand—the lids never fit right—and my chicken shawarma dangles perilously between my pinkie and ring finger as I cross the street.

The suit doesn’t look creepy like Eugene, but then, suits can be deceiving. Half the time they think they can proposition me like a sex worker. Or they pretend the weird stuff they’re buying is a gift and not for them. Pfft. I know better.

Suit turns and heads for his car, so I call out, “Hey! You in the suit, hold on!”

His shoulders hunch, as if he’s trying to be smaller, which is physically impossible. Based on the size of him, he probably played college football. Or he has Marvel comic hero blood relatives. Either way, he’s a big dude.

He stops walking, though, which is good. I could use some sales today. The commission boost is always a plus to the shitty minimum wage. Rent is due next week, and judging by his car, he has money to burn.

My heels are skyscrapers, and everything I’m wearing is either too short or too tight to facilitate running—the Sex Toy Warehouse uniform is supposed to be sexy, aka revealing—so I awkwardly jog the rest of the way while trying to get the key to the shop out of my pocket and not drop my shawarma. The manager gave me my own set since I frequently open the store.

“Sorry to keep you waiting; plastic dicks don’t quite cut it for lunch.” Inwardly I cringe, because seriously, why did I say that?

“I would imagine they’re not all that satisfying,” he replies in a deep voice that would probably sound good whispering naughty things in my ear.

I’m not sure if he meant that suggestively or not. Regardless, I walked right into that one.

I finally look up. Dear sweet Jesus on a cloud of marshmallows, this is my lucky day. The suit is gorgeous. Like the kind of hotness that sucks the breath right out of your lungs and sends all the blood in your body rushing between your legs. It’s a good thing clits don’t react like penises, otherwise mine would be hanging out of the bottom of my shorts with excitement. I’m thankful my physical reaction is limited to damp underwear and tingles.

His dark hair is straight and cut short, parted at the side and neatly styled. He’s a cross between a mobster, and a fifties movie star. Capone and Ward Cleaver rolled together and dipped in lust. His nose is straight, lips are full, and he’s got a chin that looks like it could cut glass. His features are strong, but he somehow manages to be boyish even though everything about him screams pure, undiluted masculinity.

His tongue drags across his pillowy bottom lip and his throat bobs. I lift my gaze and meet his eyes. They’re a strange color. Not brown, not green, but some kind of honey-lemon color, ringed in emerald. Like a cat maybe.

Read the rest of Chapter One: http://bit.ly/2KO3Mf6

About the Author

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of PUCKED, Helena Hunting lives on the outskirts of Toronto with her incredibly tolerant family and two moderately intolerant cats. She’s writes contemporary romance ranging from new adult angst to romantic sports comedy.

 

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Chapter Reveal: Raphael by Tillie Cole – A Deadly Virtues Novel

 

 

 

 

 

They are the Fallen. A brotherhood of murderers whose nature compels them to kill. But guided by their leader, Gabriel, the Fallen have learned to use their urges to rid the world of those it is better off without.

For Raphael, sex and death are intertwined. Where there is one, there must be the other. He is a lust killer, luring his victims with the face of an angel and a body built for sin.

And Raphael lives to sin.

His newest mission takes him into the sadistic underworld of Boston’s secret sex clubs, and puts him face to face with his greatest fantasy made flesh.

Maria is everything he’s ever dreamed of, the kill he’s always longed for. She’s not his target. And he knows he must resist. But the temptation is too strong…

Yet Raphael is not the only one with a mission. Maria is not quite what she seems. And as her secrets and Raphael’s unravel, Maria begins to question everything she thought she knew—about evil, about the place she calls home, and about the beautiful sinner she was sent to destroy.

Dark Contemporary Romance. Contains sexual situations, violence, sensitive and taboo subjects, offensive language and topics some may find triggering. Recommended for age 18 years and up.

 

The Fallen: Genesis a prequel novella in The Deadly Virtues Series and MUST be read before RAPHAEL (DV: book one).

 

 

 

 

The sound of Gabriel’s Gregorian chant music drifted up the Tomb’s steep, winding stairs. Raphael ran his fingertips along the gray stone walls. They were damp underneath his skin, slick with the stagnant water that trickled in from the overflowing lake outside. Forest-green moss crept in through cracks and fractures in the brick, betraying the manor’s age.

With every step he descended into the candlelit darkness, Raphael’s heart began to thunder into a heady velocity. The string that forever sat on his right index finger was so tight he could feel his pulse throbbing in the very tip. He focused on the rhythm of the beat, on the tightness of the string wrapped around and around and around his flesh. A fire of pleasure broke out in his chest and surged through his veins at the tightness, the suffocation, the hedonistic asphyxiation of the digit. It was a denial of blood, of the life his finger needed to survive, to thrive—to exist. Raphael’s lip kicked up in a smirk. He knew the tip of his finger would be blue, starved of the sustenance it needed to function. He hissed out in pleasure when the fire that vision ignited darted straight to his cock. Raphael didn’t care if his brothers heard him moan out loud. They would be caught in their own heads, their own excitement of possibly getting the kill, to care—they never cared.

Raphael felt Michael breathing heavily behind him, affirming his point. He knew Michael would be stroking the vial of blood around his neck while almost coming in his leather pants at the thought of sinking his sharp teeth into a vein and sucking down the blood. Gabriel told them Michael had something called hematolagnia. He had a word for what he claimed “ailed” all of them.

Nothing ailed them.

Gabriel just didn’t understand the way the six of them were, the way they had to be. The six of the Fallen who were nothing like Gabriel. They liked to kill. Needed to as much as they needed to breathe. It wasn’t abnormal to them. Blood and flesh and cries of pain inflicted by their hands didn’t bring repulsion, only satisfaction.

It was simply who they were.

Out of all the brothers, Raphael was closest to Michael. But right now, each of the brothers was completely alone. The Revelation ceremony brought out the utmost selfishness in them.

The chance to bring death consumed them.

Controlled them.

And Raphael wouldn’t have it any other way.

Raphael’s cock grew hard in his jeans at just the thought of taking someone’s last breath. He pushed the heel of his hand against his crotch as the blood rushed to it, but the burst of painful pleasure that spiraled up his spine only made him groan louder. The rubber cage he always wore around his dick constricted his flesh and began to strain, biting into him as the rubber rebelled against his hardening. The BDSM contraption was designed to bring pain. And it was successful; pain it brought. But Raphael didn’t see pain as a punishment. He lived for pain. The more agony he felt, the more pleasure he felt. He basked in the throttling of his penis, relished the choking of his erection as it tried to break free of the rubber constraints.

Raphael lost his footing, his back slamming into the wet wall. He barely even noticed his shirt growing damp as his eyes closed. All Raphael could focus on was the cage’s incessant strangling. His hands curled into fists as the addictive fire ravaged his body.

Flashes of his ultimate fantasy poured into his mind, fueling his ecstasy. He was powerless. He couldn’t stop them if he tried. But why would he? It was what inspired him to get out of bed each day, birthed every single breath his lungs inhaled. What he had waited years for, and would wait a lifetime more to capture. Raphael’s breathing became deep and labored as he imagined the scene—the king-sized bed, the red rose petals thrown on the pure white Egyptian cotton comforter. And her, the one, sprawled out for him on her back, naked, a temptation made true. Her cheeks would be flushed, and her lips would be cherry red. Her skin would be so soft, no blemish in sight, eyes bright and fixed on Raphael, piercing his gaze with nothing but adoration. She would be his, and he would be hers. There would be nobody else for either of them. She would be his one possession that he would have for all of his days.

Raphael knew his pupils were dilated beneath his closed lids—oddly colored golden-brown eyes that set him apart from everyone else. His greatest tool, eyes that lured in his victims—meaningless women he would chase for a while, seducing, enticing, making them enamored with everything he pretended to be . . . before he pillaged their lives, fucking them hard as death collected their souls, releasing into their dying bodies as he consumed their final heartbeat and breath with his unyielding hands.

Raphael’s eyes snapped open when he heard the church bell echo around the stone basement—Gabriel’s signal to robe for Revelation. As he descended the final steps, the tight rubber cage around his cock caused pre-cum to leak into his jeans. He lived for the sexual strangulation. He needed it as much as he needed to breathe.

Raphael realized he was late. He raced through the wide wooden door of the Tomb. His brothers were already in robes, the heavy hoods covering their heads as they silently awaited his arrival.

 

Tillie Cole hails from a small town in the North-East of England. She grew up on a farm with her English mother, Scottish father and older sister and a multitude of rescue animals. As soon as she could, Tillie left her rural roots for the bright lights of the big city.

After graduating from Newcastle University with a BA Hons in Religious Studies, Tillie followed her Professional Rugby player husband around the world for a decade, becoming a teacher in between and thoroughly enjoyed teaching High School students Social Studies before putting pen to paper, and finishing her first novel.

Tillie has now settled in Austin, Texas, where she is finally able to sit down and write, throwing herself into fantasy worlds and the fabulous minds of her characters.

Tillie is both an independent and traditionally published author, and writes many genres including: Contemporary Romance, Dark Romance, Young Adult and New Adult novels.

When she is not writing, Tillie enjoys nothing more than curling up on her couch watching movies, drinking far too much coffee, while convincing herself that she really doesn’t need that extra square of chocolate.

Author Links

 

 

 

 

Chapter Reveal + Pre-Order + Giveaway: Satisfaction Guaranteed by Lauren Blakely

 

SATISFACTION GUARANTEED by Lauren Blakely
Release Date: June 10th

 

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(TWO winners will be chosen!!)
ENTER HERE:
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PRE-ORDER TODAY!!
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Blurb:
Look, she started it.

She issued me a challenge I couldn’t back down from. Make her purr like no man has done before.

Fine, she’s my business partner’s daughter. All right, I’m also working in the same damn practice with her. Yes, she happens to be my ex-fling. But that was seven years ago, and it was barely a week-long thing.

Except, Sloane is still the one I can’t stop thinking of — brilliant, sexy, captivating Sloane. Maybe a week of taking her to new heights will get her out of my head.

So what if we spend a few nights on the town too? So what if I romance her across Manhattan? It’s all in the name of scientific pursuit of more magnificent Os.

Until the rules change…

 

 

Chapter Reveal:
“It’s been telling me that you and I are becoming friends,” I say, but my tone isn’t entirely friendly.

Her lips curve up. “Is that so? We’re friends?”

“Feels that way.” But it actually feels like we’re in Tahiti again. And tonight is its own separate night, apart from time and space and reason.

“It does feel that way,” she agrees softly. “Do you think we found that alternate universe you mentioned?”

I inch closer. “I’d like to spend a night in that alternate universe.”

She licks her lips. “Everything’s different there.”

“Nothing’s off-limits there.”

“Maybe that’s where we are.” The words come out a little husky, a lot sexy, and I know what’s changing.

The reminder of who she is, how we’re connected, isn’t keeping me away.

The barrier isn’t strong enough tonight.

No matter how much we talk.

No matter how hard we try to be friends or colleagues or business partners.

The wall can’t hold.

The kind of chemistry we have doesn’t disappear with the snap of your fingers or the flip of a switch.

Yes, I want this newfangled friendship. Yes, I want all our various business arrangements to go swimmingly. And tangoing with someone I work with in close quarters is all kinds of risky.

But hell, this woman and I, we have a lot of unfinished business.

And I want to finish it.

Tonight.

I set a hand on her leg, spreading my palm over the fabric covering her thigh. She trembles under my touch. “There’s something I’ve been wondering,” I say, my fingers playing with her dress.

Her voice is a feather. “What’s that?”

I don’t take my eyes off her. Traveling along her body, I wrap my hand around her hip, tightening my grip. The feel of her is intoxicating.

I’ve definitely had more than one drink. I’ve had a whole bottle.

And I want another.

I move my hand to her face, cupping her cheek, sliding my thumb over her lip. “I can’t stop wondering if you taste like champagne.”

Her eyes are etched with desire, blazing with heat. “Why don’t you find out?”

A voice says Do it.

It’s not a little voice. It’s not Truly’s voice.

It’s in my head, and it’s all mine.

And, honestly, it’s probably connected straight to my libido, since that voice has the tendency to override everything else in moments like this.

Like, for instance, good judgment.

Like warnings from business partners too.

I dip my face to hers, savoring every sliver of a second. Her glossy pink lips part the slightest bit, an invitation.

I take my time, because I want to experience every moment of kissing her again. I dust my thumb over the corner of her lips and seal my mouth to hers, capturing her kiss.

Seven long years unfurl. The moment on the street the other week was a mere snapshot. A five-second trailer to tease the audience, to leave them wanting more. This is the opening credits. The start of the whole story, unfolding on screen.

Her lips part, welcoming me. Roping her arms around my neck, she brings herself closer as I sweep my lips over hers.

Our mouths explore. Touching. Discovering. Tasting.

My brain goes hazy, and as I deepen the kiss, I’m nothing but sensations that overwhelm all else.

It’s sparklers waving, lighting up the darkened sky on a hot summer night.

It’s the exhilarating first dip of a sixty-mile-per-hour roller coaster.

It’s the first sip of a vintage Scotch. A taste that makes you moan. That makes your mouth water and crave so much more.

Kissing Sloane is everything good in the world. She tastes like champagne, and it goes to my head. Her hair smells like vanilla, and it floods my senses. I want to kiss her breathless. Yanking her closer, I grind against her, needing her to feel how much I want her. She groans as she clearly gets my message.

Then she sends her own message, wrapping her hands tighter around my neck. She’s fierce, kissing me harder, rougher.

It’s like past times and it’s like present times, because there’s a brand-new urgency between us.

My pulse spikes and my blood heats. It’s as if a clock is ticking. Hell, time’s speeding up, spinning faster.

I’m vaguely aware we’re in public.

But I don’t care because the woman I’ve wanted for years is rubbing against the outline of my cock. Her fingers dart to my hair, tugging. “Harder, more,” she pants.

Damn, those are two of my favorite words.

I give her a rough, demanding kiss, but soon she breaks it, taking a moment to breathe, to smooth her hair.

“So how are we doing as friends?” she asks, a naughty glint in her lovely brown eyes.

I need a second to recalibrate, since we just went from racing around the track to a leisurely drive.

“I’d say we’re great friends in our alternate universe.” I lower my face and kiss her neck, whispering, “If friends do this . . .”

 

 

About the Author:
A #1 New York Times Bestselling, #1 Wall Street Journal Bestselling, and #1 Audible Bestselling author, Lauren Blakely is known for her contemporary romance style that’ssweet, sexy and witty. Her heroines are strong and smart and her heroes have hearts of gold and fantastic funny bones. With fourteen New York Times bestsellers, her titles have appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists more than 100 times, and she’s sold more than 3 million books.

In June she’ll release SATISFACTION GUARANTEED and in September INSTANT GRATIFICATION.

She’d love to give you a free book today! Check out her web site to grab your free read: laurenblakely.com/one-free-book/

 

 

Connect w/Lauren:
Website: http://www.laurenblakely.com/
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Cover Reveal: Top Secret by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

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TopSecret_finalebook_ebook

Top Secet

By Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

Genre: LGBT- MM Romance

Release Date: May 7th, 2019

****

Goodreads: https://geni.us/TopSecretGoodreads 

Apple: https://geni.us/TopSecretApple 

Kobo: https://geni.us/TopSecretKobo 

Nook: https://geni.us/TopSecretNook 

***

Blurb:

Bestselling authors Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy return with their first Male / Male romance in 3 years.

LobsterShorts, 21

Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

 

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.

 

SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.

 

LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?

 

SinnerThree: All the time. I’m an equal opportunity player. You?

 

LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

 

 

SinnerThree, 21

Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF. 

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?

LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit.

SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries…

LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?

SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me.

LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing…

Studly-Hour-Excerpt

Chapter One

Keaton

“Look,” Annika whispers in my ear. Under the table, her small hand squeezes my thigh, while her cheek gently nudges my chin toward the doorway. “He’s cute.”

“Subtle,” I tease before giving the object of her attention a cursory glance. He’s just a tall guy with brown hair, nothing special as far as I can tell. “How about we save this conversation for later?”

She rolls her eyes. “We both know there won’t be a conversation, Keaton. You like playing along, but you won’t actually go through with it.” This time she forgets to lower her voice.

“Go through with what?” one of my frat brothers asks from across the table. Tanner, Judd, and I had popped into the campus Starbucks for a caffeine fix after practice. Annika’s next class is directly across the street, so she’d come to say hi before class.

“Nothing,” I tell Tanner.

If you can call your girlfriend wanting a threesome with another dude “nothing.”

Yup, my girlfriend wants a threesome. And here I’d thought that, after six years together, Annika couldn’t surprise me anymore.

She and I have been inseparable since junior year of high school. I know every last detail about her, from her food preferences to her pet peeves. I know she gets anxiety in long lines, that she sneezes any time she gets a whiff of cinnamon, that she loves the beach but hates skiing.

What I didn’t know was that my girlfriend fantasizes about threesomes. The first time she brought it up, I thought she was kidding around. Annika Schiffer, heiress to a home-furnishings fortune, wants to bang two guys at the same time? Yeah right.

My girl is the president of her sorority, wears a pearl necklace (and not the fun kind) on a daily basis, and made me wait until we were eighteen to lose our virginities to each other. Don’t get me wrong—she’s not some uptight rich bitch with a stick up her butt. She’s fun and warm and fierce when someone tries to mess with her or her loved ones.

But she’s also… I’ll just say it: vanilla.

I didn’t think she was serious about the threesome thing until last week, when I’d asked her what she wanted for her birthday and she brought up the idea again.

I move my lips to her ear so Tanner and Judd can’t overhear. “Don’t you worry, babe, there’ll be more than just a conversation,” I rasp.

She shivers, and then flashes me a dazzling smile. Her face is flawless. Classic features, pouty lips, and smooth skin that’s just the right amount of dewy. She works hard and spends a lot of money for that skin. I’ve been in her bathroom at the sorority house, so I’ve seen all the products she puts on her face to keep it looking so perfect. Not to mention the monthly facials, which require her to fly to New York every month because this little college town we live in doesn’t have a “competent aesthetician”—her words, not mine.

It helps that her father owns a helicopter that can accommodate her monthly treks. I’m not one to judge, though. My dad has his own jet.

“I can’t wait,” she says before hopping off my lap. “Come over tonight after practice, okay, baby? I have to go to class now.”

“I’ll see you later.”

“Bye, boys.” Annika’s hand flutters in a wave on her way to the door.

“Later!” Tanner calls after her. And if I’m not mistaken, he takes a longing look at her ass.

“Dude,” I say. “If you’re going to eye-fuck my girlfriend, you could at least be subtle about it.”

“Why?” Tanner argues. “She’d be flattered. And you should know how good you’ve got it. Besides, I’m harmless.” He flashes me a big smile. “What are we doing this weekend, anyway?” Tanner asks. “The Presidential Dance-off, right?”

I shake my head. “That’s, like, in two weeks, man.”

“Really? Why did I think it was sooner?”

“Because you’re stupid,” Judd offers helpfully.

Tanner gives him the finger, before turning back to me. “Do you know what you’re doing for yours yet?”

I have no clue. And no, dancing isn’t an actual requirement for our fraternity’s presidential race. But it used to be. A few decades ago, the candidates running for frat president decided a dance-off was the only way to decide who was more fit to lead. Hence, the Presidential Dance-off was born. On our living room walls, there are old photos of well-dressed men with slicked-back hair and girls in poodle skirts on their arms.

My fraternity has long-held traditions that began well before the invention of the red Solo cup. But these days, Alpha Delta has evolved. Or devolved, depending who you ask. Instead of perfecting his twist and his mashed potato, the presidential candidate is expected to dazzle the other members by planning a kickass event. I’m talking epic. Monumental. The kind of party that will be remembered for years to come.

Although, like dance moves, I’m not entirely sure that party planning is a solid indicator of what makes a good president. Sure, frats throw a lot of parties, but there’s a social committee for that.

The role of president is actually pretty lame, according to Reedsy, our current prez. He pulled me aside after I threw my name in the race and admitted that it’s a boring gig and that I should reconsider. “So much fucking responsibility on your shoulders, dude,” he’d bemoaned.

For a moment, I’d almost bailed. To be honest, I’m only running because my dad was president of Alpha Delt in his heyday, and my granddad before him. But that’s also the reason I couldn’t bail. My father would lose his shit if the Hayworth legacy ended with me.

So I have ten days to plan a legendary party.

“Maybe I can just hire an event planner?” I suggest.

“No way.” Judd’s response is immediate. “If that fuckhead Bailey finds out, he’ll have you impeached.”

“You can’t impeach someone until he’s elected,” Tanner points out.

Still, I don’t want to be accused of cheating. What a pain in the ass this whole thing is. “We can brainstorm about this on Sunday night. We have a game to win on Saturday.”

“Oh, we’re going to win,” Tanner promises.

But I’m not so sure. Not only am I worried about the Northern Mass offense, I think my father is driving up for the game. So winning isn’t even enough. If the Northern Mass players aren’t crying into their helmets after the fourth quarter, my father will still give me hell at brunch the next day.

And here I thought weekends were meant to be relaxing.

“Fine,” Judd says. “We’ll talk about your campaign after the other meeting on Sunday night.”

“What other meeting?” I search my brain and come up empty.

“Pledge Committee,” he says, gulping the last of his coffee.

Oh, phew. “I don’t have to go to that one. I’m not on PC this year.”

“But I sent you that email?” Judd whines. “I told you I need you there. Initiation night is coming up and my committee is lame.”

“Who’s on it, anyway? What do you have planned?” Note to self: be conveniently unavailable on Sunday night. There is no way I’m sitting on the Pledge Committee again. Dealing with last year’s pledge class was a total pain in the ass.

“There’s Ahmad, who’s smart but boring. Paul, who’s just boring. Owen, who’s fun but not exactly creative. And Paxton, who’s just a tool.” He sighs. “Whatever. At least Bailey isn’t on it this time. Remember what a buzz kill he was last year? I fucking hate that guy.”

No big secret there. Judd’s had it in for Luke Bailey ever since the guy rushed Alpha Delt sophomore year. And say what you will about Judd, but he’s not an asshole unless he feels you’ve given him a reason. He’s a bro to the core—he believes in male bonding, high fives, and, in his mind, a friendship isn’t official unless you’ve bled together, partied together, and nursed your twin hangovers the morning after.

Luke Bailey doesn’t subscribe to this philosophy. The moment he scoffed at Judd’s attempt at a fist bump, he earned himself an enemy in Judd Keller.

Since then, their tumultuous acquaintanceship has only gotten worse. Luke is a cocky ass when he wants to be, and Judd hates feeling like he’s being mocked or judged.

Oh, and then Bailey banged Judd’s ex. So there’s that.

“You exert too much mental energy on that guy,” Tanner informs Judd. Tanner’s a psych major, so he’s constantly dishing out (pretty good) advice that everyone mostly ignores. “Holding onto anger isn’t conducive to robust mental health.”

“First of all, say the word robust one more time and I’ll clock you. You know how I feel about that, bro.” Indignation flashes in Judd eyes. “And second of all, Luke Bailey screwed my girlfriend! I’m never not gonna be angry at that prick.”

Ex-girlfriend,” I hedge, but it earns me a deep scowl from Judd. The two of us are teammates, and I do feel loyalty to him, but I’m also not afraid to call it like it is. “You and Therese were broken up for months.”

“Me and Therese are never broken up. Sure, we take short breaks, a hiatus or two. But she’s my girl,” Judd says tightly. “Everybody knows that.”

“Bailey says he didn’t,” Tanner says.

“That’s bullshit. He’s a liar. And now he’s trying to screw K over!” Judd growls. “He joined the presidential race to get back at me. I just know it.”

“You think?” Tanner looks skeptical. “Because that would be sociopathic lengths to go to just to spite you.”

“Yeah,” I agree with a chuckle. “Bailey’s a prick, but I can’t see him taking on the huge responsibility of running a fraternity just to flip you the metaphorical bird.” Although if I’m being honest, I don’t know why Luke Bailey is running for prez. The guy hasn’t shown much interest in frat activities since he joined us.

“He totally would,” Judd argues.

“Hey, we got class now,” Tanner reminds our sulking buddy. “We should book it over there.”

“Fine.” Judd scrapes his chair back and gets to his feet. His cloudy gaze meets mine again. “I’m serious, man. Bailey is bad news, and we need to kick his ass in this campaign. There’s no way I’m letting him be our president.”

“Don’t worry. He won’t be.”

Once my friends are gone, I let out a tired sigh. I don’t particularly care about Judd’s beef with Bailey at the moment. I have a football game to win, a campaign to plan, and a father to impress.

And a girlfriend to please.

I go up to the counter to get a refill, then settle in my cozy corner of the coffeehouse and open the app I downloaded last night. I hadn’t lied to Annika earlier—her birthday request is in the forefront of my mind. I just need to do some investigating first.

Welcome to Kink!

Add a profile pic.

Add bio.

I’d wanted to fill all this out last night, but my frat brothers suckered me into an epic session of Red Dead Redemption that lasted till three a.m. Now I quickly scroll through the camera roll on my phone until I find a suitable one. It’s of Annika and me, taken in Easthampton last summer. She looks smokin’ hot in a teeny string bikini, and my abs are looking tight, if I do say so myself. I crop out our faces and load the photo.

I skip the bio for now, because I’m feeling impatient. I want to see what this app has to offer more than I want to break my brain thinking of one hundred and forty-five characters to describe how my girlfriend wants to bang two men at the same time.

Actually, that’s pretty much the gist of it.

Still, I’m curious to check out the goods. Kink is more hookup app than dating app, and I’m pleased to discover it lets you search for users who’ve expressed interest in certain arrangements.

I click on the threesome box in the search section. There are an eye-opening number of options, combinations that hadn’t even occurred to me. Annika wants another guy, though, so I ponder the easiest combos.

m/f/m

m/m/f

My finger hovers over the m/f/m button. The other option means the men are allowed to touch, I think. It’s the moment of truth. Some guys would hate this idea. I don’t, though. I’m a scientist. Experimenting is what I do.

I even dreamt about sex with men once. Or twice. I never mentioned that to Annika. But why would I? I’ve also dreamt of meeting a dragon who smoked clove cigarettes. The things my brain invents while I’m sleeping aren’t newsworthy.

But I’d be lying if I said that Annika’s shocking birthday request turns me off. I’ll try anything once. And the app lets you click as many boxes as you want. So after looking over my shoulder once more just to make sure nobody I know is watching, I tap both options and usher in the possibility of taking a walk on the wild side.

The threesome has to be with a stranger, though. I’m certain that any one of my frat brothers would be down to help me give my girl a night to remember. Well, except Dan, who’s only down for dudes. And, well, Bailey, who thinks I’m an ass. I think he’s an ass, too, so I guess we’re even.

But I can’t do this with someone I know. What if the whole night is awkward as fuck? If it’s a brother, I’ll still have to live with him. If it’s a teammate, I’ll still have to see him in the locker room.

And then there’s the opposite scenario. What if it’s not awkward as fuck? What if I like it a whole lot?

Yeah, I don’t want my buddies judging me. A stranger for the win, then.

I lean back in my chair and start swiping.

____________________________________

About The Authors

Sarina Bowen

Sarina BowenSarina Bowen writes steamy, angsty Contemporary Romance and New Adult fiction from the wilds of Vermont.

The Year We Fell Down, Book #1 in The Ivy Years series, began breaking hearts in March 2014. Book #2, The Year We Hid Away, is brand new.

For Harlequin-E, Sarina writes the Gravity series. Coming in From the Cold features an angsty downhill ski racer and one of the most unique plot conflicts in contemporary romance today.

Sarina enjoys skiing, coffee products and a nice glass of wine. She lives with her family, eight chickens and more ski gear and hockey equipment than seems necessary.

She would be honored to connect with you at http://www.sarinabowen.com.

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 Elle Kennedy

Elle-KennedyA USA Today bestselling author, Elle Kennedy grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, Ontario, and holds a BA in English from York University. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be a writer and actively began pursuing that dream when she was a teenager. She loves strong heroines and sexy alpha heroes, and just enough heat and danger to keep things interesting!

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