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Blog Tour with Review: One More Night by Sarah O’Rourke

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Crenshaw Jacobson met the woman of his dreams…and he was determined to spend every night possible with her. But Waverlee Armstrong was leery of commitment, having been abandoned by her family at an early age. She knew that she loved Shaw…but can she learn to trust him and spend just one more night?

Instalove *** Novella *** Standalone

Written as part of Fiona Davenport’s Sex, Vows & Babies Kindle World!

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Shivering against him as she parted her lips to speak, Waverlee moaned as his tongue swept forward, stealing the opportunity to deepen their kiss. And holy moly, the man could kiss. And not just any old kiss either. It was the-steal-your-breath-I-can’t-live-without-his-touch-because-nothing-else-in-the-world-matters kind of kiss a girl spends her life dreaming about. Their tongues danced together for long minutes as everything else faded away. The people. The noise. Everything took a backseat to the fierce passion Shaw created with a simple touch of his mouth to hers.

Forcing herself to find her voice when Shaw lifted his mouth from hers to take a deep breath, Waverlee flashed a furtive glance up at his darkened eyes. “Wow,” she breathed shakily, clutching handfuls of his light blue dress shirt in her fists as the world seemed to spin at warp speed, “I..I…don’t think I’ve ever felt anything like that before,” she whispered, the words catching in her throat as his finger swept against her lower lip.

“Then you best hold on real tight to me, baby, ‘cause I’m just getting started,” he replied, dropping his head to steal another deep, wet kiss from her lips as he curved one big hand around her neck, wrapping her silky hair around his fist and tugging gently.

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“He couldn’t exactly explain the change that had come over him. It was as if his heart had instantly recognized its mate.”

“My soul knows yours, sweet girl, because yours is the missing piece to mine.”

Told from dual points of view, One More Night follows the story of Shaw and Waverlee. From the moment Shaw laid eyes on Waverlee, he knew he had to have her. There was an in-explainable connection between them, and he would stop at nothing to win Waverlee over. Waverlee has never known what love is. Her family life was far from perfect and she learned at a young age that they only person she could count on in her life, was herself. Never wanting to depend on anyone else, Waverlee worked hard to get the things that she wanted in life, never taking a moment for herself. She never saw Shaw coming, but he was a force to be reckoned with. She never stood a chance and if fate had anything to say about it, one night would never be enough…

Since this story is a novella, you know I gotta keep it short and sweet, so I don’t give anything away. Overall, I thought this book was a good read. It was fun. It was sexy. I easily read this book in just a few hours. This is definitely a story with insta-love, but the characters have a lot of heart and such great chemistry that it works well for their story. This story is very light on the drama. There are a few intense moments, but nothing crazy or over the top.

If you’re a fan of insta-love/insta-romance and are looking for a quick and sexy read, this might just be the book for you.

*I was provided an ARC copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review*

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Click HERE to buy One More Night by Sarah O’Rourke on Kindle!

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What is the Sex, Vows, and Babies Kindle World?

From sexy stories with married couples fighting against outside forces to keep their happily ever after in the Sex & Vows series to unexpected pregnancies that lead to happy marriages in the Yeah, Baby series… the Sex, Vows & Babies world is full of over the top alphas, sassy heroines, insta-love, wedding bells, and growing families. Although the wide cast of characters in both series have managed to find the loves of their lives, there’s bound to be plenty more out there who could use Sex, Vows & Babies in their lives. A creation of the fabulous Fiona Davenport, the Sex, Vows & Babies Kindle World is filled with creative stories from amazing authors who pay homage to the original books!

Click HERE to check out all of the books in the Sex, Vows, and Babies Kindle World!
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Sarah O’Rourke is actually TWO besties who live three states apart and write at all hours of the day and night! Born and raised in the Southern United States, they are overly attached to their one-click accounts, can’t make it through the day without copious doses of caffeine, and spend way too much time on the phone with each other.

Between them, they have four children and twenty-four years of marriage. They hate empty chocolate wrappers and writer’s block, love to talk to readers…and oh, by the way, they write about strong, kick-ass women and hot alpha heroes!

Contact Sarah today….she loves to chat!

Buy One More Night today! Click here!

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Release Blitz with Review: An Act of Courage (Acts of Honor #4) by K.C. Lynn

Title: An Act of Courage (Acts of Honor Series – Book 4)
Author: KC Lynn
Release Date: March 20, 2017
TBR Link: Goodreads
Purchase Links
ibooks: pending
B&N: Pending
Kobo: Pending
Synopsis
She’s the light from his past.
He’s the one her heart has always longed for. 
Trained by the best, Christopher Walker has fought hard for his country and even harder to forget the only girl he’s ever loved. He spent countless nights submerged in death and destruction only to find himself clinging to the memories of her when the darkness crept in. 
When her life is threatened, Christopher will stop at nothing to protect her. Even if it means having to confront his past.
Alissa Malone never thought she would find herself face-to-face again with the only boy she’s ever loved. But she soon realizes Christopher is not the same man he once was. 
His touch is still electrifying—his voice still earth shattering. But there’s a darkness about him that wasn’t there before. A pain he harbors so deep that she can feel it all the way to her soul. 
One fateful moment destroyed his very existence, and only one person will be able to make him realize that what he considers an act of dishonor was truly an act of courage.
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This is Book Four in the Acts Of Honor series, the spin-off series to Men Of Honor. It is not necessary to read all of the other books in the series. However, I do highly recommend that you at least read Resisting Temptation, the third book in the Men of Honor series, since this is where these Characters story began.

My Review

“Mama says there’s always something to smile about, you just have to find it.”

“Whether it was playing the drums or strumming the guitar, he always took me to a sacred place with him. A place he never shared with anyone else but me.”

“The taste of her burns within my blood, reminding me of our past. One we shared. One I lost. And everything I want to take back.”

“Even heroes have the right to bleed.”

Read it with tissues, a glass of wine and a box of chocolate they said. But, even that warning could not prepare my heart for the story it was about to read.

As I sit here trying to put all my thoughts and feelings for Christopher and Alissa’s story,  I realize that sometimes books just speak for themselves. Sometimes there are stories that are so beautiful, so heartbreaking that they just rock you to your core and leave you utterly speechless. Sometimes, the only thing you can say is stop everything you are doing, run and buy this book, read and absorb every painful and beautiful moment.

I’ve been a fan of KC Lynn for many years now and with each book, I set the bar higher. I wonder how she can possibly beat the last book and with each new release, she blows me away.

Christopher’s story slayed me and kept me utterly captivated. It left me breathless and had my heart racing. It is a story about choices and mistakes. It is a story about living and reclaiming the love that you were meant to have. It is a story about family and second chances.

Christopher’s story is the reason why I love to read romance. It is a story that my heart never saw coming and one that I know I will never forget. It was just incredible and is easily one of my top reads of 2017.

*I was provided an ARC copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review*

Excerpt

One minute I’m drumming to a beat I could never play on my own then the next I’m flipped around to face him, his fingers digging into my hips possessively. I gasp, my breath racing as I stare back at him.

Something passes between us.

A decision.

A choice.

No more fighting this.

“Fuck complicated.” His earlier words fall past his lips then our mouths become one.

The connection slams into me, sending my heart reeling. Our tongues duel in a beautiful battle, the sound of our passion filling the air as our past ignites.

A growl erupts from him, vibrating against my lips. “You taste as good as I remember.”

I want to tell him the same thing but can’t. All I can think about is his mouth never leaving mine, not even for a second, or it might kill me.

At this moment, I’m not even sure how I survived so long without it—without him.

He slides the stool closer to the drum set before his hand moves between us and presses on my chest. I seize the opportunity to suck in air and let him guide me to my back, my shoulders resting against the musical cylinders.

His hands move to mine and it’s then I realize I still have the drumsticks gripped tightly in my fists. With a sexy smirk, he pries them both from me, throwing one on the floor but keeps hold of the other.

His dark eyes never sever from mine as he unbuttons the shirt I’m wearing, exposing me to his stare. The cool air whispers over my heated flesh, my nipples straining for his touch.

                “So fucking pretty.” The wild lust in his eyes triggers an intense desire in me.
                 I bite my lip to keep from moaning but all silent caution is thrown out the window the moment he takes the stick and brushes the tip of it over one aching bud.
                Another gasp parts my lips, a fiery whimper purging from me at the cool, hard feel. My back arches, the small touch igniting an inferno in my body.
                “Remember the things I used to do to your body, Alissa? How wet you would get when you’d hear me sing?” he murmurs, dragging the smooth wood down my tummy. “You’d beg me to take your ache away. Remember?”
                “Yes. Do you?” I ask. I’m dying to know. Has he thought of me as much as I have him?
                “Yeah, baby. There isn’t a moment of our time together that I’ve ever forgotten.” 
                His admission has my throat burning and heart aching. Aching at the loss of him, of what we could have had. 
                What we did have. 
                “The good,” he whispers. “The bad.” He slips the stick in my panties. “And the fucking beautiful.” 
                “Oh, god, Christopher.” His name spills past my lips on a cry of pleasure as he glides the stick through my wet flesh, slowly working it against my swollen clit. 
                He plays my body like he plays every instrument. With skilled perfection and grace. Keeping his momentum, he leans down just enough to suck a hard nipple into his mouth. His teeth graze it with a pressure that borders on a beautiful pain and it’s enough to send me over the edge.
                Blissful cries rip from my throat as I’m swept up into an intense storm of pleasure. 

                “Good girl, scream for me, Alissa. Let me have your pleasure because next it’s going to be my cock working this hot little pussy.”

Purchase Links
ibooks: pending
B&N: Pending
Kobo: Pending
*****
About the Author
K.C. Lynn is a small town girl living in Western Canada. She married her high school sweetheart and they have four amazing children: two lovely girls and a set of handsome twin boys. It was her love for romance books that gave K.C. the courage to sit down and write her own novel. When she is not in her writing cave, pounding out new characters and stories, she can be found living between the pages of a book, meeting new tattooed, hot alpha males with very big…Hearts.
Follow KC

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Book Tour: Endurance by Amy Daws

He rejected her. She loathes him. Now they have to fool everyone and pretend they actually like each other.

Endurance is NOW LIVE & Free on Kindle Unlimited!

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Full Blurb

He rejected her. She loathes him. Now they have to fool everyone and pretend they actually like each other.

Tanner Harris has been busy shagging his way through the ladies of east London, but getting caught by the paparazzi buck-naked with his trouser snake in his hands means he’s sowed his last wild oat.

Dr. Belle Ryan once thought Tanner Harris was the perfect kind of bearded bad boy she needed to relieve a bit of stress after her intense job as a surgical fellow, but an icy cold rejection from London’s sluttiest footballer puts the two at each other’s throats.

Fate and a favour conspire to put Tanner and Belle back in each other’s paths and they’re forced to do a lot more than get along to save face and their careers.

Rage turns to passion and tempers run sizzling hot when they realise they aren’t just falling for each other—they’re jumping head first. And neither have the endurance to keep their hands to themselves.

EXCERPT

I cheers my beer with hers and chug the rest down. I drop the bottle and begin swirling Indie around in a childish spin that sends us both flying in different directions and crashing to the ground. Hot, sweaty hands wrap around me and pull me to my feet.

“Thank you, Good Samaritan,” I slur, turning to face my gallant saviour.

When my eyes glance up and focus, I’m stunned by the bearded vision before me. “You look like a guy I know!”

He clutches his hands firmly around my waist and holds me to him. “You look like a girl I want to know.”

I laugh half-heartedly and try to pull away.

“Are you trying to leave me, lass?” he slurs into my ear.

I frown and my head bobbles. “How could I leave you, Jesus? You’re God’s son…You’re everywhere.” I throw my hands out wide to punctuate my “everywhere” and attempt to stumble away.

He grabs me again, this time his hands dipping lower to my arse. My good mood evaporates instantly. “Hey!” I shout. “Watch your fucking hands!”

I attempt to shove him away, but he feels like one of those doors that you push when you’re supposed to pull. He doesn’t budge. He leans in close and whispers in my ear, “I’d like to put my hands on your tight little—”

Right when I’m about ready to punch the wank stain in his vile mouth, I nearly fall over as a strange momentum spins me away. The man’s hands are no longer groping me. They are now pinned deftly behind his back by no other than—

“Tanner?” I utter with a gasp, my hands covering my mouth at the shock of the scene before me.

“Shove the fuck off, you disgusting prat, before I turn your wrist into a pretzel.” Tanner pushes him into a nearby table, and the man almost topples over but catches himself before scurrying away without a look back.

Blue, angry eyes swerve to me. “Ryan,” Tanner growls, slicing a hand through his hair to get it off of his face. “I’ve texted you like twenty times.”

“I…I…I haven’t looked at my mobile in a while.”

“No fucking shit.” His bearded jaw is taut with anger. “I’m taking you home.”

He reaches out for my arm but I yank it away from him.

“No, you’re not.”

His shoulders rise and fall with a deep breath. “I’m taking you home. You’re completely pissed.”

My eyes narrow. “Of course I am. It’s Tequila Sunrise night.”

“I don’t give a fuck,” he snaps. “Let’s go.”

I shoot him a murderous look when a voice interrupts us. “I’ve got mine. You got yours?” I turn to see Camden holding a sleepy-looking Indie against his body.

Determination slices through Tanner’s voice. “I’ve got her.”

I turn to face him, stumbling a bit as I wag my finger in his face. “Hey, I am not yours!” Suddenly, Tanner bends over and I’m airborne for a second, landing heavily on top of his shoulder. “Are you fucking kidding me, Harris?” I begin pounding on his back but it’s to no avail. “I’m in a dress. My arse is hanging out for all of England!”

“Your arse was hanging out when you spread out on the floor a minute ago. I’m taking you home, Ryan. Even if you’re kicking and screaming.”

“You’re such an arrogant arsehole!” My hands stop their assault on Tanner’s backside in favour of covering my rump. This is mortifying. I hang my head and let my hair cover my face, praying like fuck I don’t see anyone I know. “I can’t believe this is happening.”

“Believe it, woman.” Tanner pauses at the door and turns his body so my head is facing a different direction. “Now, tell this nice man I’m not a rapist.”

A bouncer-looking bloke turns his head upside down to make eye contact with me. I mumble, “He’s not a rapist. Just a walking dead man.” I straighten a bit with my crescendoed scream. The bouncer lets out a hearty laugh that dumps hot coals into the pit of my belly. So not the reaction I was looking for.

He moves to let us pass and then Tanner drops me down in front of a cab. I ball up my fists and wallop him a few times. “I’m not a petulant child, you animal.”

He doesn’t even flinch.

I exhale in concession and fold myself in behind Indie and Camden. When we’re all in the cab and it begins moving, Tanner breaks the silence with a surprisingly jovial tone. “Well, did you all have a fun night?”

Meet “the other” Harris TWIN  in Challenge!

NOW AVAILABLE & Free on Kindle Unlimited (Standalone)

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About the Author

Amy Daws is a lover of all things British and her London-based love stories bring the incredible city to life on every page. Read all about hot British men, hilarious heroines, and unforgettable and original ensemble casts that pull out all the feels. For more of Amy’s work, visit www.amydawsauthor.com

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Book Tour with Review: The Play Mate (Roommates #2) by Kendall Ryan

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the-play-mate-kendall-ryanSmith Hamilton has it all—he’s smart, good-looking and loaded. But he remembers a time when he had nothing and no one, so he’s not about to mess up, especially with his best friend’s little sister. That means keeping Evie at arm’s length … even though the once pesky little girl is now a buxom bombshell. A sexy blonde who pushes his self-control to the limit the night she crawls into bed with him.

Evie Reed knows she’s blessed—with an exclusive education, a family who loves her, and a new job managing social media for her family’s lingerie company. But she wants more, like a reason to wear the sexy lingerie herself. She has just the man in mind to help with that. She’s crushed on Smith forever. Surely tricking her way into his bed will force him to see her in a new, adult way.

Except that when Evie’s plan leads to disaster, she and Smith must decide—ignore the attraction sizzling between them, or become play mates and risk it all.

Kindle | iBooks | Nook | Kobo | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Amazon CA

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My Review

“Like a key fitting into a lock. The last of the darkness faded away, and the loneliness that had become the norm for me lifted, leaving behind a happiness I hadn’t felt in years.”

“Lighting. That’s what it felt like, kissing Evie.”

“Life could be a grind sometimes, but tonight had been a rare gem. An oasis of perfection. No way was I going to ruin it.”

The Play Mate is the second book in the Roommates Series, but can read as a stand alone novel. Told from dual points of view, The Play Mate follows the story of Evie and Smith. For as long as Evie can remember, she’s had a crush on Smith. In her eyes, Smith was the total package. He was smart, sexy and he understood her. Like I said, the total package. Now that Evie is all grown up, she wants to have a do over and she wants Smith to be the man that makes all of her dreams come true between the sheets….Smith loves the life that he lives. He’s intelligent, rich, confident and knows the effect that he has on women. However, there is one woman that he wants more than the air he breaths, but she is off limits to him. You see, Evie is the little sister to Smith’s best friend. He knows he can’t and shouldn’t go there, so he tries his hardest to keep away from her, but that is easier said than done. Even harder now that the two of them will be working together. The chemistry and sparks are intense. Their desire so undeniable that it will only be a matter of time before these two give in…

The Play Mate is the perfect friends to lovers romance with a forbidden romance quality to it. From the moment you meet Evie and Smith, you are pulled into their story and will quickly be swept away. I loved everything about their story. From the forbidden flirtations to the entertaining banter. I could not get enough of these two. Their push and pull was so palpable. You could feel the tension oozing from the pages. Not only did these two have an amazing friendship and unbreakable bond, but the tension between the two of them told you that what they had was the real deal, they just had to be ready to the leap.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It was a fast paced and sexy read. The characters were a ton of fun and so easy to relate to. Their story was fun and engaging. I couldn’t put this book down. The Play Mate had just the right amount of sexiness, forbidden romance, angst and of course a little bit of drama. If you are looking for a fun and sexy read with a bit of forbidden/off limits flare to it, I’d definitely recommend checking this book out.

*I was provided an ARC copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review*

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Kendall Ryan author picA New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of more than two dozen titles, Kendall Ryan has sold over 2 million books and her books have been translated into several languages in countries around the world. Her books have also appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists more than three dozen times. Ryan has been featured in such publications as USA Today, Newsweek, and InTouch Magazine. She lives in Texas with her husband and two sons.

Visit her at: www.kendallryanbooks.com for the latest book news, and fun extras

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Blog Tour: A Limited Engagement by Bethany Michaels

About the Book:

Derek Sawyer, sexiest bad boy on the racing circuit, is about to land a huge sponsor. The only problem is the oil baron’s daughter wants to make Derek part of the deal. Worried he’ll offend the old billionaire if he rejects his daughter, Derek comes up with the perfect plan—pretend he’s already engaged to his friend Lilly.

Lilly Harmon used to daydream about her childhood crush Derek proposing to her…but not like this. Of course, she just lost her boyfriend and her job, so her five-year plan is already smashed to hell. Pretending to be with Derek might help her get her PR career back on track.

But the oil baron’s daughter won’t give up that easily, and Derek’s parents believe the engagement proves he’s become the son they always wanted.

Money. Family. Love. The truth could destroy everything. And to think this engagement was supposed to be the easy way out.

Purchase:Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo

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Excerpt

“Is that the guy?” Derek asked in a low whisper, leaning across the table. “He works fast. Y’all broke up, what, last week?”

Her eyes darted to Derek’s face, so close to hers. Crap. He knew. “What did Shana tell you?”

“Only that you had been messing around with your boss and that’s why you had to leave.” He sat back. “Oh, and something about a beat-down with a telephone.”

She groaned. “It wasn’t that sordid. We were a couple. It was a relationship with long-term potential.” Or so she’d thought. “And it was only the handset, not the whole phone. My hands were a little sweaty and it slipped out of—never mind. Shana wasn’t supposed to tell you.”

“She swore me to secrecy.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you’re not in the CIA.”

His eyes narrowed. Something sparked in them. He swallowed—again with that uncharacteristic nervous tic—and then smiled. “How about I make it up to you?”

“How? Got a three-hole-punch in your wallet you don’t mind me throwing at his face?”

“I left my office supplies in my other pants, but I’ve got a better idea.” That million-dollar grin spread from ear to ear. “We’ll make him jealous.”

Her gaze slid to Richard and the way he was looking at his date. “I’m not sure that’s going to work. He seems pretty wrapped up in his lunch date’s breasts.”

 “Trust me. It’ll work. You’re a beautiful, intelligent, accomplished woman, and he’ll spend the rest of his life kicking himself for letting you get away.”

“Yeah, right.” There was a twinkle in his eye, but Lilly didn’t get the sense he was out-and-out mocking her. And the thought of revenge was tempting. Revenge that didn’t end in security escorting her out of the building was even better.

“What did you have in mind?”

He took her hand across the table and looked deep into her eyes as if she were the most beautiful thing he’d seen in forever, instead of his little sister’s best friend and the perpetual pain in his side growing up. “Just follow my lead. Act like we’re gearing up for a nooner and are totally into each other.”

His hands were large and warm, and the way he was looking at her, even if it was an act, made her squirm in her chair. As a lovesick teen, she’d spent hours imagining what it would be like having him look at her like this. It was everything she thought it would be, and maybe a little more. Only she wasn’t a teen any more. So pathetic. Now she knew a fantasy was just a fantasy.

“A nooner? Seriously?” She sneaked a peek at Richard and caught him staring at her, unblinking, like the giant snake he was. The woman turned to follow his gaze—and Lilly recognized her as the busty receptionist at RSG she’d always had a feeling hated her. Now she knew why.

Derek dropped her hand and scooted his chair out, about to get up. “Or I could just walk over there and punch him in his ugly cheating face.”

Meet the Author:

Bethany Michaels is the author of over a dozen contemporary novels and novellas as well as a handful of Regency-set historicals and light paranormal romances. The first book in her Nashville country music series, Nashville Heat, was an RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee.

When not working on her next book, Bethany enjoys movies, traveling, camping, hiking, and volunteering with her kids’ scout troops. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four teens.

Connect: Site | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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Blog Tour: Ripple Effect, Episode One by Keri Lake

Ripley

They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.

Dylan

For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.

*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex.

 My Review

“Ripple effect: noun 1. a spreading effect or series of consequences caused by a single action or event.”

“I’m a man of simple pleasures: The hunt. The capture. And the kill.”

Wow! Wow! Wow! Episode One of Ripple Effect starts off with one heck of bang and just hits the ground running. This story is told in a novella/serial series style, and is told from dual points of view. This story is dark. It is intense. It is shocking and filled with surprises. So much happens in just a few chapters. You will be riveted and intrigued. You will be on the edge waiting to see what will happen next. Before you know it, you will have reached the end and will be dying to get your hands on the next episode.

I think this new series is off to an exciting start and I can’t wait to see what will happen to our characters next.

*I was provided an ARC copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review*

Shells are made to be cracked.
I stare down at the tiny white egg, wedged between the ashtray filled with cigarette butts and the empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the balcony.  Hardly broken in two halves, the busted center reveals an underdeveloped bird inside, nearly devoured by the bugs that crawl in and out of the shell.  I can just make out one bulbous eyeball, surprisingly intact, staring back at me.  Mourning Dove, I’d bet.  They seem to flock to this shithole every year, for whatever reason.
The nest teeters on the edge of the eave somewhere above me, as if the mother intentionally chose this most dangerous spot to lay her egg then up and abandoned it.  Left to the careful watch of carnivores.
Poor little bird.
A tickle hits my arm and I slap a hand to my skin, before scratching at the spot just below a black monarch butterfly tattoo, digging my nails into the place where I’m certain I felt something crawling over me.  I hate when my long wisps of hair skim across the surface like a translucent web dancing over my skin.  Insects give me the willies.  Well, except for butterflies, I don’t mind them so much.  My therapist put a name on it once, said I had ento-something-phobia—a fear of bugs.  It’s not really the bugs themselves I fear, though.  It’s the idea that something could breach the barriers of my skin, and infest, just like the shell that housed that bird.  Sometimes I have dreams about them, crawling over me, nesting inside of me.  
The very thought casts a shiver down my spine, and I’m grateful for the pane of glass that separates me from the macabre outside my window.  
Wind rattles the glass in its frame, the tendrils of late winter snaking their way beneath the thin afghan wrapped around my shoulders.  It’s been mild, unseasonably warm enough for bugs and early blooms, but that Chicago wind carries the vestiges of a brutal winter.
The fog of my pills is lifting, making me more aware of the cold, but I’m holding off for something stronger.  I’ll need it tonight.
From below, the mumbled shouts of Lady Ortiz, as I call her, push their way through the rotted wood planks that separate our balcony from hers.  She and Mr. Ortiz are fighting again, their voices escalating into the crash of broken glass.   The Yorkie, three floors below, barks an incessant plea to take a piss outside, and I wonder if his owner, Mrs. Silvia, has finally kicked the bucket.  The lady’s pushing ninety, and the pungent reek of ammonia that fills her apartment seeps through the heating ducts of this place sometimes.
Oddly enough, in spite of the noise, the smells, and the crawling bugs, this is my moment of peace. Escape.  Freedom.  
I must be the only teenage girl on the planet who longs for quiet moments without the gossip, the socializing, and all the damn noise.  In a generation of selfies and the desperate need for validation, sometimes I like to slip onto the other side of the mirror and simply watch.
Fringed by the glow of my bedroom light, I study the broken shell, eyeing an ant that marches away with a chunk of something far too big for its size, and I’m reminded that the world takes what it wants even after death.
That’s how I got here, this shithole apartment smack in the middle of Chicago.  Just like insects, after my father’s death, the bank took our house, the creditors took our cars, and shame stole our pride as we bounced from shelter to shelter, my mom and me.  I was nine years old when he died, and as innocent and vulnerable as a baby bird trapped inside a fragile shell.
Because he committed suicide, my dad’s insurance policy was considered null, and we were left without a pot to piss in.  For a while, though, we got by.  My mom landed a job dancing, and as a veteran’s widow, qualified for something like Section Eight housing.  I was left home alone most nights, but it worked.  We survived. Things were okay for a while.
I can’t even remember the moment life changed for us.  
Feels like it happened in the span of a year, but I know it only took one fleeting second in time, when she didn’t have to worry about me, when the weight bearing down on her lifted and she felt high as the clouds.
An odd dichotomy, heroin—the way it rolls off the tongue as two completely opposite things—a selfless and courageous woman, and a selfish agent of destruction.  
My mom gave up one for the other and that began our descent into some of the darkest days of my life.
My stomach twists, and I curl into myself, bringing my knees tighter to my body.  
Almost time.
Two silhouettes hit my periphery, and I turn toward the mouth of the alley, where they move abruptly, limbs flailing, as if they’re in the thick of a fight.  I focus on them for a moment, spotting the sag of his slacks just below his un-tucked shirt, and realize they’re not fighting at all. They’re fucking.  A prostitute and her John pressed against the dirty bricks of the building, beside the overflowing dumpster. Her dark skin is hard to make out, but his crisp white shirt stands out like a beacon of debauchery.
This alley is a constant stream of slum life stories.
Staring at them drudges a memory of sitting tucked beside a line of garbage cans in the back alley of a bar, watching a rat pick at a maggot-infested chicken leg lying in a toxic pool of wastewater, while the sounds of my mother’s animalistic grunts and moans drifted from the other side.  Nothing but meat and the stench of rot taunting my gag reflex.  Through a small gap between the wall and garbage, I could just make out a man’s naked ass slamming into her, his dirty fingers curled around her bony thigh.  Even then, no more than eleven years old, I knew what she’d become before the word was brutally carved into her skin. Whore.  Junkie.  A prostitute, always searching for the next high.
The two in the alley stop moving.  Only that they’ve begun to pull their clothes back on tells me one of them must’ve climaxed.  There is no big finale, or magical moment of ecstasy in the underbelly.  It’s all quick and quiet fucks, while breathing in the fog and reek of stale sex and damp garbage.  He tugs his slacks over his hips and holds up an object, which I’m guessing is a thin wad of cash.  She reaches for it and the guy strikes her with the back of his hand, the echoing smack that kicks her head to the side is the first sound I’ve heard between them.  
He’s probably her pimp.  If she fights him, she’ll have to drag her ass across the city looking for an unclaimed street corner, and pray some crazy lunatic doesn’t pick her up and turn her into a human skin rug with her head mounted on his wall.
At seventeen, I know more about organizational hierarchy and job security than the average middle-aged CEO, and just like the corporate world, success depends on how many people get fucked.  
Wolves and sheep.
For those of us in the flock, survival comes down to how well we manipulate, because a predator’s eyes are naturally drawn to the most innocent.  So when my mom’s John started giving me that carnal look, I began carrying a pocketknife, and at thirteen, I once held it to the junkie’s throat, threatening to slice out his voice box if he ever touched me again.
Sometimes the sheep can be cunning, though.
My mom once tried to make me pickpocket—a lesson that landed us in the back of a cop car.  Took ten minutes with the cop before we were released with a warning, and it was then I learned a valuable lesson in life:  even at a woman’s weakest, sex could be her most powerful weapon.
I glance back at Charlie, my stark white Dogo Argentino, stolen from one of my mother’s back alley conquests.  If not for her, I wouldn’t be sitting here, letting the blood-sucking insects feed off of me, after my mother spiraled straight to her grave.  
Charlie gives me purpose.  If there is a God, I truly believe he put her in my life to keep me from doing stupid shit.  That, or to give me a weakness, because Lord knows I’d probably go psycho bitch crazy and end up in a padded cell if anything ever happened to my beloved dog.
Because of her, my heart is a tenderer piece of meat for the insects to tear apart.
At the opposite side of the room is another bed that belongs to my eight-year-old foster sister, Layla.  Well, for now anyway.  She won’t be here long.  This place is a revolving door for foster girls, most only staying a couple months max.  I don’t know where they go, and honestly, I don’t care.  There’s no point getting to know them.  In the time I’ve lived with the Westpricks, at least two-dozen girls have been in and out of here.  In some ways, I resent them, getting out and moving on to something else.  Maybe somewhere better.
I’m the only one who ever stays.  The constant in this hellhole.
Since I was nine years old, I’ve been bounced around from house to house, wishing and hoping for things that just don’t happen to kids where I come from.  For six of those years I’ve been lost.  The forgotten.  The unwanted.  I’ve been hurt in ways that have forever changed my landscape and numbed me to future pain.  
But now I have Charlie, who’s a reminder that good things can come from bad situations, and that even a beast can penetrate the hardest of hearts.  
Charlie makes me think of my mother more than I care to.  Perhaps because it was my mother who stole her for me, unwittingly gifting me my own personal guardian angel.  
I miss her sometimes, though.
The memories of her are like bent photographs that I pull from my back pocket from time to time, wishing I could set them out on a shelf someday.  But life’s too short, particularly in this part of the city, to dwell on what will never be again.
My mom wasted away before I even hit middle school. Police told me it was an overdose, but I think she got a hold of a tainted batch of heroin.  
And I’ve been caught up in the system ever since.
A few places worked out okay.  They let me keep my dog, which was cool, but people tend to give up on kids who don’t love as easily as others.  I acted out.  Punched my first foster mother in the face and broke her nose.  Didn’t even have a good reason, really, except that she was the first person I had to deal with after my mom died.
Lucky for me, my caseworker managed to track down my mom’s sister, Chanel, and her long-time boyfriend, Randy.  I’d never met her before, never even knew my mom had a sister. Aside from the fact that Chanel treats Layla and me like her favorite Barbie dolls, the two of them can’t stand us most of the time.
Doesn’t matter, though.
Two more months and I’ll be out on my own.  
I close my eyes so tight they ache.  Two more months.  That’s when I graduate and can get the hell out of this shithole, and away from the shady foster system that threw me into the hands of Randy Westprick, as I like to call him, and my flighty aunt.  In a few weeks I turn eighteen and no one will own me anymore.  No one.
I could run away now, ditch school and hit the streets, but that would put me on the same path as my mother and I’d rather die in this hellish place than repeat her mistakes.
The neon sign across the alley blinks a mesmerizing repetition of lost hopes that reflects off the patches of water along the pavement.
A shadow slips along my periphery, and I lift my gaze as a dark figure stalks down the alley toward the old fashioned-looking diner that sits across the narrow cross section on the corner.  A place that reminds me of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams painting I once saw at the mall.
It’s him.
Head to toe in black, the stranger’s tall frame remains concealed in the leather coat he always wears.  I flip open the dull brass pocket watch, the only remnant left of my real dad, and check the time.  Ten o’clock, as usual.  Churning in my stomach has me hugging my mid-section.  
Almost time.
Every Friday I watch the stranger enter the diner, choosing the corner booth beside the window, where he orders a burger and drink.  It’s only Friday he orders a burger.  Some nights he’ll come in, grab carry-out, and leave. But not on Fridays.  On those nights, he stays and sits alone, never seems to make small talk with the waitress—the same lady who waits on him every time he ventures in.  Their interactions are brief and as cold as I’d imagine from a man like him.  In spite of that, the sight of him makes me dream things.  I don’t know who he is, but I fantasize that he’s a deft killer by the way he carries himself with such lethal grace.  If he is, then this is the side his victims never get to see—his vulnerability, choosing the same place, the same seat, the same time every Friday night.  It’s a sadness that speaks to me, because without fail, I find myself settling in by my window at the very same time.  
Occasionally, he goes at different times, on different days, some weeks not at all, which might seem erratic to some, but I’ve watched him long enough to know there’s a pattern.  One that I’ve picked up on, because that one week he’s not there, is repeated precisely four weeks later.  Perhaps it’s mindless on his part, maybe his visits correspond to events in his life that I’m not privy to, but I’m a creature of patterns, and I’ve memorized his.
From as high as my window, I can see he’s big.  A man, not a boy, at least ten years my senior.  His bulky frame fills the creases of the leather coat he wears, and he reminds me of something straight out of a comic book—not the hero, but the menacing antihero, the bad guy no one expects to be good.
No, in my fantasy, he’s bigger.  Meaner.  Stronger.  A man who kills on instinct.
Beneath the cover of my blanket, I sneak my hand down inside my shirt, closing my eyes the moment my fingertip makes contact with my hardened nipple.  I imagine his lips closing over it, the scratch of his day-old scruff against my skin and his strong hands holding me in place, the gruff in his voice as he says my name like a fervent prayer.  I imagine he smells good, not like stale beer and the putrid mix of body odor and bacon grease, but something deliciously masculine.
I shouldn’t want for a grown man this way, but I do, and I don’t even know him.  
For months, I’ve held this invisible rendezvous with him, staring down from my perch, imagining him stealing me from this cage.  Turning me into whatever he is.  Killer?  Criminal?  I don’t even care, so long as it’s tougher, more wicked than Randy Westprick.
I fault him for my lack of interest in the boys at school.  Not that I’m allowed to date them anyway, but I’m certainly not touching myself to any of the guys my age.
Sometimes he stares out the window and I swear his gaze scans up to my balcony. However, if he sees me, he never makes it known.  Perhaps to a man like that, I’m nothing but a young girl, hardly a threat for noticing him.
With my bottom lip caught between my teeth, I succumb to the visuals toying with my mind and the soft moan that escapes me has me stealing a furtive glance back at Layla to make sure she’s still asleep.
He takes his usual seat, filling the booth with his bulky frame.  Some nights I picture sliding into his lap, his body crushing me against that table, as I straddle his thighs.  I imagine his massive arms enveloping me.  His tongue across my skin and in my mouth.  Sweat dripping down my back, along my spine where the palm of his hand holds me in place.  How he’d feel without the pills denying me the sensation of his cock filling me.  The edge of the table beating into my back with every punishing drive of his hips, and the tight clench of his jaw in that reckless moment when he finishes inside of me.
My lips part at the vivid imagery, and my belly tightens while I circle my nipple with the pad of my finger.
If anyone were after him, he’d be hard to miss in those bright lights, the way he stands out like a splotch of black paint on a stark white canvas. He hasn’t looked this way once tonight, which allows me to study him intently, admiring his virile features.
He’s beautiful.  A sad, but beautiful man.
The click of the doorknob sends a knot straight to my throat and my stomach sinks like bricks in a murky river. The sound alerts my dog, who I can hear rustling in her bed, and a low growl rumbles in her chest.  
I slip my hand out of my shirt, straightening myself beneath the afghan.  
A beam of new light invades the soft glow of the Christmas lights I’ve strung around the room for Layla, and as my nightmare enters, Charlie’s growl dies to a whimper.
The thud of his boots across the floor sound like the hooves of the devil coming to claim my soul.  A scuffling tells me he’s stumbled, but not even that prompts me to turn around.  
Drunk again.
The moment I caught him hunkered down in front of the television with a six-pack, I knew he’d come for me.  I don’t want to look at him.  I hate him.  The smell of him makes me sick, like a walking deep fryer.  
If not for Charlie, I’d climb over the railing of the balcony, spread my arms, and fly.  The police would find a broken shell of me.  They’d study me, the same way I studied the baby bird, while the world dissects pieces of my story to suit their curiosities, leaving nothing but a picked over carcass.
All because my mother abandoned her nest.
They’ll never know it was he who gave the final push, and it won’t even matter.  Once he injects the drugs, I’ll fall into dissociative bliss, tucked away in the same fog that kept my mother oblivious of the world around her, on rose-colored clouds, and a never-ending dream.  
The darkness behind my eyelids is my only refuge from the hell around me, and I’ll willingly climb inside, burrowing myself in that place where no one can touch me.  While my body’s propped on the cold metal of the washing machine, I’ll be miles away, fallen deep into the rabbit hole.  No one can find me there.  Not Randy, nor the men who see the photographs of me that he takes in the dingy laundry room of this apartment complex.  
Although he never violates me himself, for whatever reason, he likes objects.  The more common they are, the more he gets off.  He once had me masturbate the end of a vibrating toothbrush and used it for months after—smiling at me every time he brushed his teeth.  
I’ve been defiled in every sense short of rape, stripped and purged of innocence, feeding his disgusting obsession with me.  
I often wonder what Chanel’s like when she’s not hopped up on pain pills.  If she’d be jealous and accuse me of fucking her man, or if she’d take pleasure in watching him do it.  I once tried to tell her about him taking me down there and snapping pictures of me.  She offered me one of her pills and asked if I liked the boots her friend had handed down to me.  
I can’t blame her too much, though.  Randy likes to use her as his personal punching bag, and most days, she’s sporting a bruise somewhere.  Even if it’s not always visible.  He’s hit me a few times, but unlike Chanel, I hit him back, even at the risk of more pain, because I believe once you show weakness, it’s easier to fall prey to it.
A tug at my elbow and I glance to the side, swatting at his arm.  “Don’t touch me.”
Sometimes Randy offers gifts—small tokens that come with his usual pep talk about how it’s not abuse because he never actually penetrates me and the photos don’t show my face.  That’s a lie.  I once swiped his phone when he passed out on the couch and deleted a good few dozen pictures of me—his little mementos.  I couldn’t stand to look at my own face—droopy eyes singed with the apathy toward whatever he forced me to do. I’d hoped to see shame in those photos, but it seemed buried too far beneath the effects of the drugs.
He’s threatened to circulate them throughout the school if I say a word about any of this.  Send them to all my classmates on Facebook, as if they’d come from me.  Like he’d ever let me have my own account.  As far as the world is concerned, I don’t exist.
“C’mon,” is all he says, before walking out of the bedroom.
I give one more glance toward the man in the diner, as he stares off, waiting for his food.  Maybe one day he’ll look up and see me.  
Maybe he’d want to kill Randy Westprick, if he knew that somewhere close by, a girl was forced to do bad things.  Very bad things.
For now, the drugs will put up a barrier, separating my mind from the horrors of my reality, much like the pane of glass that separates me from the insect-ravaged bird outside my window.
Maybe it won’t hurt as much this time, knowing that I do this to keep Randy from slaughtering my dog or taking away the pills that have become as necessary as the air I breathe.  A vicious cycle of escaping to survive and surviving to escape.
Because sex is power.
And even the hardest shells are made to be cracked.
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Keri Lake is a married mother of two living in Michigan. By day, she tries to make use of the degrees she’s earned in science. By night, she writes dark contemporary, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Though novels tend to be her focus, she also writes short stories and flash fiction on the many occasions distraction sucks her into the Land of Shiny Things.

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Blog Tour with Review: Going Down Hard (Billionaire Bad Boys #3) by Carly Phillips

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Going Down Hard, a sexy new standalone from Carly Phillips is available now!!!

Going Down Hard
by Carly Phillips
Genre: Contemporary Romance

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Billionaire Bad Boys: Rich, Powerful and sexy as hell.

Derek West rose from poverty to take the tech world by storm. He’s sexy, confident and gets any woman he wants. And who he wants is Cassie Storm, the rich girl he’s never been good enough for.

She’s desperate to save her family’s company and there’s only one man who can help. But Derek isn’t interested in helping. He wants to possess both the company and the woman he’s never been able to forget.

His plan? To seduce her out of his head. Except once he’s had a taste of Cassie, he doesn’t want to let her go. Her family remembers where he came from, and they won’t allow it. When the truth about their pasts comes to light, though, it may be Cassie who’s going down hard.

*All Billionaire Bad Boys Novels can be read as standalones.*

My Review

“How do you engage my entire body with a simple kiss?”

“It’s us. This chemistry. It’s unique to us.”

Going Down Hard grabbed me right from the very beginning. From the moment we meet Cassie and Derek, we can’t help but be pulled into their story. Derek came from a less than desirable background, but felt an undeniable connection with Cassie. Cassie was the rich girl who had the world at her feet. Derek knew they were total opposites, but you know the saying, the heart wants what the heart wants. So, when Derek finally makes his move, all it takes is a simple misunderstanding and destroy everything they both wanted. Now, years later, Derek and Cassie will be reunited. Cassie never forgot the man who captured her heart at such a young age. And Derek isn’t sure he can forget and forgive the past. Will these two be able to clear the air and find their happily ever after? There is only one way to find out….

Overall, I thought this was a really great read. I am a sucker for a great second chance romance and was pleased that Going Down Hard does not disappoint. It was fast paced and entertaining. For me, I found the story-line to be a lot of fun and I thought that it was well written. The characters were easy to connect with and they kept you wanting to come back for more. I loved the chemistry between Derek and Cassie. It was very palpable and hard to deny. I loved seeing these two together and really enjoyed seeing them try to navigate their way through their pasts and find their happy ending.

Going Down Hard is a fantastic addition to the Billionaire Bad Boys Series. This is the perfect read to just spend the day getting lost in. Overall a very enjoyable read and I’m excited to see where this series is going to go next.

*I was provided an ARC copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review*

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Read Today!

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Meet Carly Phillips:

Carly Phillips is the N.Y. Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of over 50 sexy contemporary romance novels, including the Indie published, Dare to Love Series. She is happily married to her college sweetheart, the mother of two nearly adult daughters and three crazy dogs. Carly loves social media and is always around to interact with her readers.

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