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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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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“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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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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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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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.”

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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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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.”

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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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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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Pre-order your copy today!

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2GEt63s

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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

 

Add to Goodreads:
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For a chance to win a Kindle Paperwhite and a $50 Gift Card
(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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Chapter Reveal: Unlocking Lies by Kennedy Layne

We’re a little over a week away from the release of UNLOCKING LIES by Kennedy Layne – but you don’t have to wait! You can read the first chapter now. Check it out and be sure to preorder your copy!

About UNLOCKING LIES

A grim discovery in Lance Kendall’s home proved one thing—the residents of Blyth Lake had a serial killer in their midst. Now Lance had unintentionally put a target on his back. Worst yet, he’s made the only woman he ever loved known to a murderer.

A trip down memory lane with the man who’d broken Brynn Mercer’s heart wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done in her life, but their reunion was a slow burn of temptation that she couldn’t ignore.

Together, they will only have one chance to correct the past. Will the hidden secrets he uncovered threaten their love or solidify it for a future that has always been out of their reach?

Add UNLOCKING LIES to your Goodreads list here!

UNLOCKING LIES releases May 22nd, 2018 – preorder your copy now!

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Read the First Chapter of UNLOCKING LIES:

CHAPTER ONE

Twelve years ago…

Lightning streaked across the sky in multiple jagged forks overhead. The waning flash eventually morphed into an ominous rumble of thunder, creating a malevolent omen as it continued to sing its song throughout the collapsing resonance.

Emma Irwin bit back the sob that threatened to escape her throat, causing her breath to hitch.

She didn’t want to die today.

The hulking man standing in front of her abruptly lunged forward, causing her to cry out in alarm. She instinctively stumbled backwards and somehow managed to twist around without falling.

Emma ran for her life, and she didn’t look back.

There was only one path she could take that would lead her to safety. Under normal circumstances, she would have been able to navigate these woods like the back of her hand. Now? Terror flooded her bloodstream, making it nearly impossible for her to formulate a plan.

The thunderstorm above all but descended the forest into darkness after each flash. Without night vision, the footing amongst the roots crisscrossing the forest floor became treacherous. She had to keep an arm raised as she ran through the trees to prevent the low hanging branches from slamming into her face. Her hands were already bleeding from her previous fall, but fortunately, there was no pain as a result of the endorphins.

She couldn’t afford the distraction her pain would cause.

How could this be happening?

Emma wanted to stop and scream at him at the top of her lungs. She’d known him her whole life. She had trusted him, and yet she didn’t doubt that he would kill her with no more remorse than he would experience by putting down a game animal.

All she needed to do was make it to Seventh Street. If she could reach the edge of town, someone would help her.

Would anyone believe her? Was any of this even remotely plausible? She was a teenager. It was her word against…

Light!

The streetlamp was barely visible, but it was there ahead of her just up the gradual slope. The blazing beacon provided her hope.

The drizzling rain became more of a steadier stream the closer she got to the edge of the woods. Unadulterated fear kept up her forward momentum until her ankle boot slipped on a small pile of loose leaves.

Emma hit the ground so hard that her lungs emptied of any air that may have been left in her body after running so far at such a fast pace. She opened her mouth to drag in what oxygen she could, but her lungs seemed incapable of working. Her brain was screaming at her to get up and move or else she would die.

This was it.

She was going to die here, because she couldn’t overcome the fear.

Little by little, her straining muscles relaxed to the point where she was able to suck in a small measure of oxygen. It was enough to stop the flashing lights that had started to circulate in her line of vision. In their place, images of her sister began to materialize.

Would Shae miss her?

Emma didn’t want their last words to be those of hate. She’d said some awful things to her sister this afternoon all because Shae had gotten the car tonight.

“It’s not fair!” Emma screamed at her mom, stomping out of the kitchen and wishing there was a door to slam. All she wanted to do was hit something or someone. It didn’t help that Shae was coming down the staircase with an amused smirk on her face. “Why did you have to be the older one? How come you always get to be first?”

“I don’t know why you’re so upset.” Shae shrugged as if this night was no big deal. Emma bit her tongue as she passed her sister on the steps. Their mother was most likely listening to them in the kitchen, and the last thing Emma needed was to get grounded before the biggest bonfire of the year. “You get the car all week long while I’m at college. Besides, you got to use it last weekend.”

“No,” Emma argued, unable to stop herself. She spun around on the second step to face Shae, who had already reached the landing. “I only got to use the car on Friday night. Remember? You went into the city all day on Saturday.”

“I’m in college, Emma. I’m not allowed a vehicle on campus, so I should get the car two nights out of the week. Those days just happen to fall on the weekends.” Shae crossed her arms like she did when she was trying to make a point and look all mature. Just because she was in college didn’t mean that she was an adult. “What’s the big deal, anyway? You can have one of your friends pick you up. It’s safe that way.”

“Brynn’s car is in the shop, and you know that Julie doesn’t have access to one.” Why should Emma have to explain why she wanted the car? “You know what? Take the car. I don’t care anymore.”

“Good, because I am taking it. It’s my turn.”

“I hate you!”

A tear ran down Emma’s right cheek, though the rain washed it away. She didn’t hate her sister. Shae was everything Emma wanted to be.

Lightning lit up the sky overhead, illuminating her surroundings.

He was gone.

He was nowhere to be seen.

Emma was finally breathing again, though her heart was beating hard against her chest. She scrambled to her feet and did a full turn to scan her immediate surroundings. She was alone in the dark, but something told her he would appear out of nowhere her if she didn’t keep moving.

She took off once again for Seventh Street, relief washing over her as she finally reached the paved road. Not once did she think of slowing down her pace, though she did veer to the right so that she could follow the road that would lead her past the cemetery and toward the back end of town. She’d take the shortcut to her house from there.

It was then she saw the silhouette standing on the other side of the road blocking her path.

It was him.

That’s why he hadn’t come upon her when she’d fallen on the leaves. He’d somehow run ahead to cut her off before she could get home.

Emma had no choice but to run back toward the woods. There was no holding back the sobs that had been trying to escape. Why was he doing this to her? What had she done to him?

It was hard to see through her tears, but she ran blindly through the trees nonetheless. She didn’t follow any path, and she certainly never expected two arms to reach out of the darkness to save her. They embraced her warmly, and she even heard the soothing words that everything would be alright.

She was safe.

Emma broke down, holding onto the strong arms so that she wouldn’t sink to the ground.

“H-he’s coming,” Emma managed to say, trying to warn whoever had saved her. Was it Billy? Lance Kendall? Chad Schaeffer? It didn’t matter. “He’s right behind me and—”

Something was wrong.

Emma furiously blinked her tears away and looked up at her savior.

Only she was mistaken.

No one was here to save her.

All hope vanished. She didn’t understand how it happened, but the man she was running from hadn’t been the one standing in the middle of Seventh Street.

He’d been waiting for her in the shadows all along.

 

 

 

About the Keys to Love Series

Their homecoming wasn’t so welcoming. Four brothers and one sister each gave twelve years of their lives to serve their country and fulfill their family’s legacy of service. As each of them return to their home of record, they weren’t prepared for what awaited them—an unforgivable sin that has been hidden for twelve long years. Secrets and lies are concealed in the dark shadows of the very town they were raised in, and the Kendall family will have no choice but to rely on one another to unravel the sinister evil that they all hold the keys to unlock.

 

Missed UNLOCKING FEAR or UNLOCKING SECRETS and want to catch up? You can grab the first two books in the Keys to Love series now!

 

About UNLOCKING FEAR

A chance mishap with a sledgehammer was the sole reason a chilling nightmare was unleashed in Blyth Lake.

Noah Kendall’s grisly discovery left him in the middle of a murder investigation and a neighbor who knew more than she was willing to say. Reese Woodward had returned to town with dark secrets, and he was determined to unravel them. While evil lurks in the darkness, seduction burns between them…only time was their enemy.

Will her secrets destroy what they’ve built, or can he earn her trust before the killer strikes again?

Add UNLOCKING FEAR to your Goodreads list here!

Get your copy of UNLOCKING FEAR now!

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About UNLOCKING SECRETS

A grim discovery in Lance Kendall’s home proved one thing—the residents of Blyth Lake had a serial killer in their midst. Now Lance had unintentionally put a target on his back. Worst yet, he’s made the only woman he ever loved known to a murderer.

A trip down memory lane with the man who’d broken Brynn Mercer’s heart wasn’t the smartest thing she’d ever done in her life, but their reunion was a slow burn of temptation that she couldn’t ignore.

Together, they will only have one chance to correct the past. Will the hidden secrets he uncovered threaten their love or solidify it for a future that has always been out of their reach?

 

Add UNLOCKING SECRETS to your Goodreads list here!

Get your copy of UNLOCKING SECRETS now!

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About Kennedy Layne

Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.

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Chapter Reveal + Pre-Order: Fallen Ink by Carrie Ann Ryan

We’re less than a week away from the release of FALLEN INK by Carrie Ann Ryan – and you can read the first chapter now! Read it below!

 

About FALLEN INK

Releases April 17, 2018

The Montgomery Ink series continues with a spin-off in Colorado Springs, where a familiar Montgomery finds her place in a new tattoo shop, and in the arms of her best friend.

Adrienne Montgomery is finally living her dreams. She’s opened a tattoo shop with her brother, Shep, and two of her cousins from Denver and she’s ready to take the city by storm with her art—as long as she can handle the pressure. When her new neighbors decide her shop isn’t a great fit for the community, however, she’ll have to lean on the one person she didn’t expect to fall for along the way…her best friend.

Mace Knight takes pride in two things: his art and his daughter. He knows he’s taking a risk by starting over in a new shop with the Montgomerys, but the stakes are even higher when he finds himself wanting Adrienne more than he thought possible.

The two fall fast and hard but they know the rules; they can’t risk their friendship, no matter how hot it is between the sheets and how many people try to stand in their way.

FALLEN INK releases April 17th, 2018 – preorder your copy now!

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Read the First Chapter of FALLEN INK

Adrienne Montgomery wasn’t going to throw up, but it would probably be a close call. It wasn’t that she was a nervous person, but today of all days was bound to test her patience and nerves, and she wasn’t sure if all those years of growing a spine of steel would be enough.

Maybe she should have worked on forming a steel-lined gut while she was at it—perhaps even a platinum one.

“You’re looking pretty pale over there,” Mace said, leaning down low to whisper in her ear.

She shivered involuntarily as his breath slid across her neck, and she looked up into her best friend’s hazel gaze. The damn man was far too handsome for his own good, and he knew she was ticklish, so he constantly spoke in her ear so she shivered like that.

She figured he’d gotten a haircut the day before because the sides were close-cut so you could see the white in his salt-and-pepper hair. He’d let the top grow out, and he had it brushed to the side so it actually looked a little fashionable rather than messy and just hanging in his eyes like most days. Knowing Mace, he’d done it by accident that morning, rather than making it a point to do so. Her best friend was around her age, in his thirties, but had gone salt-and-pepper in his late twenties. While some men might have started dying their hair, Mace had made it work with his ink and piercings—and the ladies liked it.

Well, at least that’s what Adrienne figured. It wasn’t as if she were one of his following. Not in that way, at least.

“Yo, Adrienne, you okay?”

She glowered, hearing the familiar refrain that had been the bane of her existence since she was in kindergarten and one of the fathers there had shouted it like the boxer from that movie she now hated.

“What did I say about using that phrase?” She crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot. She was at least six inches shorter than her best friend, but since she was wearing her heeled boots, she could at least try to look intimidating.

Mace being Mace just shrugged and winked, giving her that smolder that he’d practiced in the mirror after seeing Tangled with her years ago. Yeah, he was that guy, the one who liked to make her smile and knew she had a crush on the animated Flynn Rider.

“You know you like it.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gave her a tight squeeze. “Now, are you okay? Really? Because you honestly look like you’re about to throw up, and with the place all new and shiny, I don’t know if vomit really sets the tone.”

Thinking about the reason the place—her place—was all new and shiny sent her stomach into another roll, and she let out a long breath.

“I’m fine.”

Mace just stared at her, and she kicked his shoe. Mature, that was her name. “Try it with a little more enthusiasm, because while I’d like to believe you, the panic in your eyes doesn’t really portray the right confidence.”

“I’ll be fine. How’s that?” she asked and gave him a wide smile. It must have looked a little manic, though, since he winced. But he gave her a thumbs up.

“Okay, then. Let’s get out of this office and go out into your brand new tattoo shop to meet the horde.”

There went her stomach again.

Her tattoo shop.

She couldn’t quite believe it. After years of working for others in Colorado Springs instead of going up north to Denver to work at her cousins’ shop, or even south to New Orleans and her brother’s former shop, she was now part-owner of Montgomery Ink Too, the first offshoot of the main shop in downtown Denver.

Yep, she was going to be sick.

“It’s mostly family. Not quite a horde.” Sort of, at least. Even three people felt like a lot at this point since they’d all be there…waiting for her to say something, do something, be someone. And that was enough of that, or she really wouldn’t make it out of the office that day.

“True, since most of your family didn’t come. The entire Montgomery clan would probably fill four buildings at this point.”

“You’re not wrong. Only Austin and Maya came down from Denver since Shep and I asked the others to stay home. It would be a little too much for our small building if everyone showed up.”

“But your sisters and parents are here, plus Shep and his wife, of course, and I’m pretty sure I saw their baby Livvy out there, too. And then Ryan, since you hired him.” Mace stuffed his hands into his pockets. “It’s one big, happy family, who happen to be waiting for you to go out there and possibly start a tattoo a bit later for your first client.”

After what had seemed like months of paperwork and construction, today was opening day for Montgomery Ink Too—MIT for short. Ryan and Mace had called it that one day, and the nickname had stuck. There was nothing she could do now but go with it, weirdness and all. There had been delays and weather issues, but finally, the shop was open. Now, she needed to be an adult and go out into the main room to socialize.

And there went her stomach again.

Mace’s strong arms came around her, and she rested her head on his chest, tucking herself under his chin. He had to lift his head a bit so she could fit since she wasn’t that short, but it was a familiar position for them. No matter what anyone said about Mace, he gave great hugs.

“You’re going to be fine.” His voice rumbled over her, and she could feel the vibrations through his chest and against her cheek.

“You say that now, but what if everything tumbles down and I end up with no clients and ruin the fact that Austin and Maya trusted me with their first satellite shop.”

Austin and Maya were two of her numerous Denver cousins. There were eight freaking siblings in that family, and all of them had married off—with Maya having two husbands even—so it added up to way too many people for her to count. Maya and Austin owned and operated Montgomery Ink in downtown Denver—what was now the flagship shop it seemed.

Her cousins had come to her over a year ago, saying they were interested in expanding the business. Since real estate was sparse off the 16th Street Mall where Montgomery Ink was located, they’d come up with the idea of opening a new tattoo shop in a different city. And wasn’t it nice that they had two other artists in the family so close? Well, Shep hadn’t actually been close at the time since he was still living in New Orleans where he’d met his wife and started his family, but now her big brother was back in Colorado Springs and was here to stay.

Maya and Austin were still the main owners of the business and CEOs of the corporation they’d formed in order to add on, but Shep and Adrienne had bought into the franchise and were now partial owners and managers of Montgomery Ink Too.

That was a lot of responsibility on her shoulders, but she knew she could do it. She just had to buck up and actually walk into the tattoo shop.

“Stop freaking out, Addi. I wouldn’t have come with you on this journey if I didn’t believe in you.” He pulled away and met her gaze, the intensity so great that she had to blink a few times so she could catch her breath.

He was right. He’d given up a lot for her. Though, in the end, the whole arrangement might work out better for him. Hopefully. He’d left a steady job at their old shop to come and work with her. The trust in that action was staggering, and it gave Adrienne the final bit of strength she needed to do this—whatever this was.

“Okay, let’s do this.”

He held out his hand, and she took it, giving it a squeeze before letting go. It wasn’t as if she needed to brace herself against him again or hold his hand as they made their way into the shop. Enough people already wondered just what went on behind closed doors between the two of them. She didn’t need to add fuel to the fire.

Mace was just her best friend, nothing more—though certainly nothing less.

He was at her back as she walked through her office door and into the main room, the heat of him keeping her steady. The shop in Colorado Springs matched the one up north in layout, with only a few minor changes. Each station had its own cubicle area, but once people made it past the front section of the shop where onlookers couldn’t peep in, it was almost all open. There were two private rooms in the back for those who wanted tattoos that required a little less clothing, as well as folding panels that could be placed in each of the artist’s areas so they could be sectioned off easily. Most people didn’t mind having other artists and clients watch them while they got a tattoo, and it usually added to the overall experience. As the licensed piercer in residence, Adrienne could do that part of her job in either of the rooms in the back, as well.

While some shops had closed-off rooms for each artist because the building was a converted home or office building, the Montgomerys hadn’t wanted that. There was privacy when needed and socialization when desired. It was a great setup, and one Adrienne had been jealous of when she was working at her old place on the other side of the city.

“About time you made your way back here,” Maya said dryly, her eyebrow ring glinting under the overhead light.

Adrienne flipped her cousin off then grinned as Maya did the same back. Of all her cousins, she and Maya looked the most alike. They each had long, dark hair, were average height, and had just the right amount of curves to make finding jeans difficult. Of course, Maya had birthed two kids, while Adrienne’s butt came from her love of cookies…but that was neither here nor there.

Everyone stood around talking to one another, cups of water or coffee or tea in their hands as they looked around the place. As they weren’t opening up for tattoos until later in the day, they were able to easily socialize in the main entry area. Their new hire, Ryan, stood off to the side, and Mace went over to him so they would be out of the way. They were really the only two non-Montgomerys, and she could only imagine how they felt.

“The location is pretty damn perfect,” Shep said with a grin. His wife Shea stood by his side, their daughter Livvy bouncing between them. How her niece had gotten so big, Adrienne had no idea. Apparently, time flew when you had your head down, working. “We’re the only tattoo shop around here, which will be good for business.” They were located in a strip mall off the busiest road in their area—other than I-25, of course. That’s how most of the businesses around were set up, with only the large market chains and restaurants having actual acreage behind them.

Adrienne nodded, though her stomach didn’t quite agree. Most of the shops like hers were farther south, near the older parts of downtown. There were trendier places there, and a lot more people who looked like they did with ink and piercings. Up north, on North Academy Blvd, every building was the same: cream or tan-colored, and fit in almost like a bedroom community around the Air Force Academy.

Shep and Adrienne wanted not only the cadets but also everyone who lived in the sprawling neighborhood who wanted ink to find them and come back for more. Beginning something new was always difficult, but starting something new in an area of town that, from the outside at least, didn’t look as if they’d fit in wouldn’t make it any easier.

She knew that a lot of the prejudices about tattoo shops had faded away over time as the art became far more popular and almost normal, but she could still feel people’s eyes on her when they noticed her ink.

“It’s right next to a tea shop, a deli, a spice shop, Thea’s bakery, and a few fancy shopping areas. I think you fit in nicely,” Austin said, his arms folded over his chest as he looked around the place. “You almost have a little version of what we have up north. You just need a bookstore and a café where you can hang out.”

“You’re just spoiled because you don’t even have to walk outside into the cold to get coffee or baked goods,” Adrienne said dryly.

“That is true,” Austin said with a laugh. “Adding in that side door that connects the two businesses was the best decision I ever made.”

“I’ll be sure to mention that to your wife,” Shep said and ducked as Austin’s arm shot out. The two men were nearly forty years old but fought like they were teens. Shea picked up Livvy and laughed before heading over to Maya. Adrienne didn’t actually know her sister-in-law all that well since she hadn’t seen her much, but now that the family had relocated, she knew that would change.

“They’re going to break something,” Thea said with a small laugh as she watched the two play-fight. She was the middle girl of the family but tended to act as if she were the eldest. When the retail spot three doors down from Thea’s bakery had opened up, her sister had stopped at nothing to make sure Adrienne could move in. That was Thea, taking care of her family no matter what.

“Then they’ll deserve it,” Roxie, Adrienne’s other sister said, shaking her head. “As long as they don’t ruin something in the shop, of course,” she added quickly after Adrienne shot her a look. “I meant break something on themselves.” Roxie was the youngest of their immediate family, and often the quietest. None of them were truly quiet since they were Montgomerys, but Roxie sometimes fit the bill.

“Thanks for thinking of my shop that hasn’t even had its first client yet.” Adrienne wrapped her arm around Roxie’s waist for a hug. “Where’s Carter? I thought he said he’d be here.”

Roxie and Carter had gotten married a few months ago, and Adrienne loved her brother-in-law, though she didn’t know him all that well either. He worked long hours, and the couple tended to be very insular since they were still newlyweds.

Roxie’s mouth twisted into a grimace before she schooled her features. “He couldn’t get off work. He tried, but two guys called in, and he was up to his neck in carburetors.”

Adrienne kissed her sister’s temple and squeezed her tightly. “It’s okay. It is the middle of the day, after all. I’m surprised any of you were able to take time off for this.”

Tears formed at the backs of her eyes at the fact that everyone had taken the time to be there for her and Shep. She blinked. She looked up from her sisters and tried not to let her emotions get to her, but then she met Mace’s eyes. He gave her a curious look, and she smiled at him, trying to let him know that she was okay—just a little overwhelmed. Mace had a way of knowing what she felt without her saying it, and she didn’t want him to worry. That’s what happened when you were friends with someone as long as they had been.

“I just wish he would have come,” Roxie said with a shrug. “It’s fine. Everything is fine.”

Adrienne met Thea’s gaze, but the two sisters didn’t say anything. If Roxie had something she wanted to share, she would. For now, everyone had other things on their minds. Namely, opening day.

“Shep punched Austin in the shoulder one more time before backing away and grinning. “Okay, okay, I’m too old for this shit.”

“True, you are too old.” Austin winked, and Adrienne pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Great way to show everyone that we’re all so professional and ready to lead with our own shop,” she said, no bite to her tone. This was her family, and she was used to it all. If they weren’t joking around and being loveable, adorable dorks, she’d have thought something was wrong.

“It’s sort of what we signed on for,” Ryan said with a wink. “Right, Mace? I mean, the legendary Montgomery antics are why any tattoo artist worth their salt wants to join up with them.”

Mace gave them all a solemn nod, laughter dancing in his eyes. “It wouldn’t be a Montgomery gathering without someone getting punched. Isn’t that what you taught me, Adrienne?”

She flipped him off, knowing that Livvy’s head was down so she wouldn’t see. She tried not to be too bad of an influence on her niece.

“Okay, party people. Finish your drinks and cake and then let’s clean up. We have three clients scheduled between one and two this afternoon, and Ryan is handling any walk-ins.” Though she wasn’t sure there would be any walk-ins since it was day one and they were doing a slow start. Some of their long-time clients had moved with them, and they already had a waiting list because of it, but that could change on “dime. Having word of mouth would be what made their shop a success, and that meant getting more clients in who weren’t just the same ones from before.

The door opened, and she held back her frown. They weren’t officially open yet, but it wasn’t as if she could tell a potential customer off. The door had been unlocked, after all.

As a man in a nicely cut suit with a frown on his face walked in, Adrienne had a feeling this wouldn’t be a client.

“Hi there, can I help you?” she asked, moving her way through the crowd. “We’re opening in an hour or so, but if you need any information, I’m here.”

The guy’s face pinched, and she was worried that if he kept it up, it would freeze like that. “I’m not here for whatever it is this establishment does.” His gaze traveled over her family’s and friend’s ink and clothing before it rested back on her. “I’m only here to tell you that you shouldn’t finish unpacking.”

“Excuse me?” Shep asked, his tone serious. The others stood back, letting Adrienne and Shep talk, but she knew they were all there if she needed them.

“You heard me.” The man adjusted his tie. “I don’t know how you got through the zoning board, but I can see they made a mistake. We don’t want your kind here in our nice city. We’re a growing community with families. Like I said, don’t unpack. You won’t be here long.”

Before she could say anything in response to the ridiculous statement, the man turned on his heel and walked out of her building, leaving her family and friends standing beside her, all of them with shocked looks on their faces.

“Well, shit,” Mace whispered then winced as he looked behind him to where Livvy was most likely with her mom.”

“We’ll figure out who that was. But, Adrienne, he won’t be able to shut us down or whatever the hell he wants.” Shep turned to her and gave her that big-brother stare. “Don’t stress about him. He means nothing.”

But she could tell from the look in his eyes, and the worried glances passing back and forth between her family members and friends that none of them quite believed that.

She had no idea who the man was, but she had a bad feeling about him. And every single warm feeling that had filled her at the sight of her family and friends coming together to celebrate the new shop fled, replaced by ice water in her veins.

So much for an easy opening day, she thought, and her stomach roiled again. Perhaps she would throw up because she just knew that wasn’t the last time they’d see that man. Not by a long shot.

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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