When David found Delaney sleeping in his bed, he never thought they’d be more than friends. But as time passes, he quickly discovers that the smallest spark leads to possibilities he never expected. Readers who enjoy spicy romances will devour Defeat by Evelyn Sola, a steamy, friends with benefits romance.
“ I loved this book from beginning to end! Max and Summer were such a sexy couple. Summer was such a poised young woman. An old soul. The way Max loved Summer…whew!”- Amazon Review for Downfall
A self-proclaimed bachelor, content on his own. A runaway bride, searching for her freedom.
They may seem like they’ve got nothing in common, but the tiniest sparks make the biggest flames.
Delaney Lewis is desperate for her freedom. From her controlling mother and the man she left standing at the altar.
Her best friend is more than happy to help her escape and sets Delaney up at her soon to be brother-in-law’s house while he’s out of town, confident that when David comes home—he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Delaney safe from her crazy family.
David Sutton finds the surprise of a lifetime when he discovers a woman sleeping soundly in his bed. When she explains how she ended up there, David’s heart and mind slowly open, leading to a permanent place to stay, a job, and best of all, a new outlook.
The woman who was much like a stranger before, slowly becomes his friend…with a few intimate perks and before they know it, real sparks start to fly.
She holds up her hand and says, “Fine. Be a confirmed bachelor, David. There is nothing worse than being in a relationship when you don’t want to be. I get that. Go and live your best life, and I’ll do the same.” She turns her back and starts toward the glass door. I take her elbow and keep her in place. “So, you’re just going to walk away from me?” I ask. “When we agreed to just sex. Those were the terms, remember? I was going to see someone else, and I let you know. You agreed to it. You don’t get to agree and throw a hissy fit.” I want to bite my own tongue. That’s not what I came here to say, but her dismissive attitude is infuriating. “So, you want to talk about rules?” She yanks her elbow from me but turns to face me. “What else did you say? No sleeping in your bed. No cuddling. No dates. Remember that? And only fucking. No lovemaking. Guess what, David? You broke every single rule. I haven’t spent a night out of your bed. Not only that, I sleep in your arms. You took me out on dates where you fed me lobster, made me laugh, and made me feel like I was the most beautiful woman who ever lived. You told me about your past. You promised to be my protector. You made love to me time after time. So, to hell with you and your rules.” She shoves my chest, but it has no impact. She does it again, and I wrap my hands around her wrists. “You’re right. I freaked out—”
About Evelyn Sola
A Boston native, wife, mother, and wine enthusiast. If she’s not writing, thinking about writing, you will find Evelyn with a book in her hands. While a new publisher, she’s been writing for years, and she will continue to write for many years to come.
Evelyn is obsessed with assertive and confident men who will stop at nothing to get their woman. Her stories are filled with love, passion, and humor.
She currently lives in Chicago, IL with her husband and two daughters.
DEATH WATCH is a dark satire of consumer culture gone awry, where a devious ad campaign persuades customers to buy a luxury watch that might kill them.
Son of a legendary adman, Coe Vessel has selling in his blood. To win a plum account for his struggling NYC agency, Coe travels to Tokyo to pitch the artist-provocateur Watanabe, who is unveiling his latest creation—a mysterious watch called Cassius Seven. Coe spends a week courting the enigmatic Watanabe, who claims the watch can kill its wearer. Reassured by the artist’s son that Cassius Seven (AKA Death Watch) is a high-art hoax, Coe straps a prototype watch around his wrist to show solidarity with Watanabe and win the lucrative account.
Back in New York, Coe and his team of renegade creatives work furiously to create a campaign to convince the world that Death Watch is the must-have accessory for end-time capitalism.
Thanks to the team’s inventive campaign, Death Watch finds eager buyers among the brazenly cocky, thoroughly disillusioned, and silently suicidal. Death Watch soon becomes a cultural phenomenon, harbinger of a new nihilism, and a target for moral outrage—exactly what Watanabe envisioned. But his hoax turns horrific when the watches start going off, killing their wearers.
Appalled, Coe and his team reverse course and work feverishly to alert potential buyers. But can they stop Death Watch, the juggernaut they set in motion?
Stona Fitch is the founder of Concord Free Press, a non-profit publisher that has been called a grand experiment in subversive altruism. His seven novels, which include Give + Take and Senseless, have been praised by critics and readers, published widely throughout the world, and produced as feature films. He lives with his family in Concord, Massachusetts.
When Viviana Spataro’s best friend was murdered, revenge became her number one focus and ten years later, her mission for vengeance is almost complete. The only obstacle standing in her way is the son of the man she wants to destroy, the sexy and lethal, Nazario Vaccaro. Fans of dark romances will devour Deadly Intentions by Anise Storm, a sexy enemies-to-lovers, mafia romance.
Viviana Spataro had dreams and ambitions until the murder of her best friend in a New York City alley changed everything. Overcome with grief, her dreams soon changed. Instead of wanting to heal others as a doctor, she now wants to annihilate the one person responsible.
Ten years later, she finally has her chance. As a mistress to one of the most notorious Mafia Dons in Italy, Stefano’s days are now numbered. Her mission of vengeance is almost complete, or it will be once she can get past the only thing standing in her way. That obstacle is her attraction to the sexy, and equally as lethal, son of the man she’s determined to destroy.
Nazario Vaccaro is well aware of his father’s sins, and he’s hellbent on exacting payback of his own. Viviana doesn’t know the levels of depravity his father is capable of so she has no idea the real danger she is in. He does, and he is determined to protect her, even from herself.
Will he be able to seduce her into heeding his warning as he prepares to take his rightful place upon his father’s throne? Or, will she become collateral damage in a deadly game of betrayal, sex, and secrets?
My mind was stronger than my flesh and bones. I let those men hurt me in so many unimaginable ways, but I knew they did it with love even during those times when there was no mercy shown. It was never something I’d begged for, and it wouldn’t have been given even if I had. No amount of physical or psychological pain mattered when thinking about Stefano’s miserable life being cut short at my hands. It actually got me off in ways I never knew I could. Now, that motivation was gone, but like father, like son. Nazario had robbed me of my destiny and stolen my future. One day, I’d steal his life and we’d finally be even.
I knew he was distrustful of me. No matter how many times we fucked, his suspicions never waned. I was like a damn machine. I moaned, cried, and came on command, so he’d never be the wiser. All of that was a front, though. When alone with my thoughts like I was now, there was a vulnerability I despised, yet couldn’t ever completely shake. The last two weeks had been spent in a daze. The days blurred together, and I found myself lacking a reason to live any longer.
“Why are you keeping me here?” I asked aloud to myself.
I knew Nazario didn’t love me. The only things that man could love were money, power, violence, and the thrill of the chase. It was all good because the only things I lived for were vengeance and sex, and with the former mostly done, I could only cling to the latter. At least, Nazario’s touch made me come, without having to think of other men. Damn, the things that man did to my body. My hands moved to my robe and I cupped my breasts through the silk material.
“You’re fucking mine now,” he’d told me hours after his father’s murder.
“Am I?” I’d asked, and he’d spent the next several hours bringing me to so many orgasms that I’d forgotten what I had even wanted to know.
Tonight, he seemed a bit possessive, too. I knew it was more for the crowd than anything else. He needed everyone to recognize him as the man in charge; and his father’s mistress being his was like the icing on the cake. I loved that dominant side of him. He exuded power, and now he had an unlimited amount of it. What would he do to me now? Would he drop me off and leave without so much as a damn word?
I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t just stay in this fucking fortress day and night, playing the dutiful wife. I needed to get out of here. Some fresh air would be nice. I grabbed my phone just in case I got lost on this massive estate, and I headed outside. I started to walk through the gardens. Stefano had told me once his first wife loved flowers. He’d also told me how painful they were to see each and every day after she was violently murdered.
“You never told me you’d arranged the entire thing,” I muttered as I walked along the stone pathway. It was dark, so the type of plants and foliage were hard to identify. I’d taken this same walk many times in the light and I could understand why he would want to hold on to something so beautiful.
I also remembered the things Nazario had told me, including how Donna had died. God, how I wanted to drive a stake through his cold, cold heart. I almost had my fondest wish come true. My blade was sharpened and already coated in his blood. If I would’ve bypassed tormenting him and just fucking did it, this would’ve been over.
“Aren’t we done here?” I’d asked Nazario that day.
He’d smirked. “We’ll never be done, and if I’m wrong, you won’t be able to survive without me?”
I took that as a challenge, and it was now the only motivation I had to even wake up in the morning. As easy as it was to imagine Stefano’s demise, his son was a harder task because all my body needed was his touch. He set me aflame like no one else ever had, including my friends in Sicily. This had to be fate’s way of sticking up its middle finger at me.
I tightened my robe around me and continued to walk. As the night sky grew even blacker, the only thing illuminating it was the lightning off in the distance. There were barely any stars above this wasteland, and that realization made me smile. It stayed on my face until a loud boom of thunder overhead made me jump. God, I hated storms and they seemed to be a lot more frequent nowadays. I stopped and turned to see how far I had walked away from the house and it seemed to be a lot farther than I had thought.
My gaze then scanned the horizon. There was nowhere to go if the skies opened up beside… My eyes zeroed in on the mausoleum where Stefano and others in the Vaccaro family lay at rest. It was mere feet away from me, while the house was a good half of mile or more. Another loud rumble made my decision for me. Hurrying over to the large burial place, I managed to get the door open just before the skies opened up.
Once inside, I shuddered at how dark it was. I slapped my hand against the cold stone until I located the light. The bulb flickered once or twice when I turned it on, and I decided to light the candles near the tombs in case the electricity went out. I grabbed the book of matches and inhaled the sulfur smell as I lit one and proceeded to move up and down the walls, lighting the wicks in each candle. When done, I held the flame in front of my face.
Donna’s funeral flashed in my head. It had been so beautiful, but tragic at the same time. When I’d held up the flame that fateful day and lit a candle for her, I had decided then and there that I would make sure all those responsible for her demise would pay. I later learned the one with a death sentence was none other than a dangerous and feared man. I wasn’t afraid to die. I was only afraid of one thing and that was…
My eyes flew open. No, I wouldn’t allow that to happen. I couldn’t. I would never live a normal life again, because the man in the farthest tomb from me had made that impossible. I ignored the loud rumbling and scary flashes of light right outside of this building and moved down to where Stefano lay. His body was there, but his soul was in hell, where he belonged.
“Are you suffering,” I asked him as I traced the letters of his name.
God, how I hoped he was. I needed to believe that even if I didn’t believe anything else. I covered the match with my hand, extinguishing the flame. The slight burn was barely felt. I tossed the stick onto the floor and moved to the stone casket, which would one day house Nazario’s body. I couldn’t take out the father, but maybe I’d fare better with his son.
About Anise Storm
Anise Storm is a USA Today Bestselling author of Contemporary and Dark Romance. A Southern transplant, Anise is married with children. She has a love of football, shoes, and tall, dark heroes. When not spending time with family or traveling, she can be found either curled up with a good book or writing.
A panic overcomes me as I frantically scramble to take the tubes out of his mouth and nose.
“Ms. Huxley! Stop.”
But I will not.
The doctors and nurses don’t know my son better than me. He was born a fighter. He doesn’t die this way.
Strong arms pull me away, but I am stronger and fight with all my might. I may be slender, but that’s never stopped me in the past. I kick, scream and bite, but in the end, I am yanked away from Misha as doctors and nurses attempt to restrain me in a brown leather chair.
Spittle dribbles from my chin as I am a rabid momma protecting her cub.
Dr. Sterling crouches low as I thrash wildly. “I know this is very painful for you. I can’t even begin to imagine your pain. But we have a match for Misha’s…heart. Don’t let his death be in vain. Your son can live on by saving the life of another. Please, Ms. Huxley, honor your son as I know he would want.”
Vomit rises and I turn my face, expelling nothing but bile onto the polished linoleum.
“You want to take his…heart?”I ask, horrified, my voice quaking when I can construct a coherent sentence. “You monster!”
The doctor doesn’t take offense. “Only with your approval.”
I know protocol is that the hospital can proceed even over family objection, and I am objecting very damn hard. But Dr. Sterling is trying to reason with me. She wants me to see this is the right thing to do.
But there is no right.
Why does this person deserve to live while Misha dies?
He walks around with the heart that is as much a part of me as it is my son’s. No, that isn’t fair. That is a cruel reminder that I will never get back the only person who I ever loved in this world.
“Think if it was me, Mom. If I had the chance to live…” Misha’s words ring loudly and I cover my ears, blocking out what I know is the truth.
“If I do that, that means you d-die,” I whimper, squeezing my eyes shut.
“Who are you talking to?” Joy asks, her concern clear. “I’m already gone. But I can live on. Every beat of my heart helps another live.”
Misha has always been selfless, and it seems even in death, it’s no different.
But how do I say yes? How can I live knowing I said yes to ending my son’s life so another can live?
“We don’t have much time,” the doctor says softly.
“Who is it?”
“We are not at liberty to—”
“If I am giving you my son’s fucking heart, then I want to know it’s going to someone who deserves it!” I remove my hands and blink back my tears.
The doctor peers around the room to ensure no one can hear. “It’s a young man, a little older than your son, and I can assure you…he will look after Misha’s heart.”
“What’s his n-name?”
The doctor appears torn whether to reveal this information to me, but she knows this will make all the difference. If I can humanize this match as not merely a number but a person, she knows I will say yes.
“What sort of name is that?”I ask abruptly, sniffing away my tears.
“It’s a unique name for a very unique man. He will honor Misha because his heart is theirs. It’s because of Misha that Dutch can live. Please.”
Peering over at Misha, I can’t help but think he would actually like Dutch’s strange name because Misha never judged. He accepted everyone.
I watch the rise and fall of his chest and memorize every single breath. But this won’t be the last memory I have of my son.
I come to a shaky stand and forget where I am as I climb onto the hospital bed and press my ear to Misha’s chest. I listen to the tender rhythm of his heart, the heart which was always too big for this world.
Wrapping my arms around him, I sob quietly. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of tears. “I’m sorry, Misha. I’m so sorry. You don’t deserve this. You deserve to live. If I could give you my life, I would, because I am nothing without you. Please forgive me. This is my fault.”
Clutching Misha, I remember his smell, the softness of his skin. I remember that no matter what happens, in life or death, he will always, always be my son.
“Okay,”I whisper, choking back my tears. “You can have his heart because mine is fucking broken.”
And those are the last words uttered as I succumb to the darkness, wishing to never see the light again.
For More Information on Monica James’s books and where to contact her, visit her website:
For Jolie and Jace, timing is everything. It’s also complicated, and they can’t seem to get it right. They enter a decade-long cycle of passion, heartbreak, bad timing, and, ultimately, self-discovery. Will time, for once, ever be on their side? Fans of Josie Silver and David Nicholls will fall in love with Time for Once by Jes Smyth, an adult, coming-of-age, second chance, love triangle, Women’s Fiction novel.
If I had met this person as who I am now, instead of who I was then, would it have changed anything?
For fans of Rebecca Serle and Josie Silver.
Two people. Ten years. One winding love story.
Time, for Jolie, is the worst. It moves too slowly when she needs it to speed up; too fast when she wishes she could just bring everything to a halt. But for her and Jace, timing is everything. And they can’t seem to get it right.
Time, for Jace, is simple. The plan is obvious and the outcome is inevitable: earn a degree, get a job, make a life. All in due time. But for him and Jolie, timing is complicated. And they have a habit of falling out of sync.
As they navigate the tides of their relationship amid the uncertainties of life after graduation, Jolie and Jace enter a decade-long cycle of passion, heartbreak, bad timing, and, ultimately, self-discovery. All in pursuit of an answer to the inescapable question: Will time, for once, ever be on their side?
Time for Once is an adult coming-of-age story about love, acceptance, and the mistakes we all make in the messy but crucial process of growth.
“How about we give him two more minutes?” Alix said. “If he’s not out by then, we can assume he left through the front and you won’t—” Alix stopped talking as the lecture door swung open. Jolie’s back straightened. He was done. And walking. Right past the bench. His messenger bag was slung over one shoulder, and his stride purposeful—like he couldn’t wait to get out of the building. Jolie stood up, trance-like. Her heart beating a sprinter’s pace. Go catch up, it would say if hearts had mouths. But her feet had turned to puddles, followed by her calves and then her knees. All she could do was stand still as her body dripped into a puddle across the tile. Alix glanced at her. “Jolie, what are you doing?” “I… I can’t.” Jolie’s voice shook. Alix remained quiet. The significance of what Jolie had set out to do, and that she couldn’t see it through, didn’t need highlighting. “You never know,” Alix whispered while Jolie’s eyes tracked his legs moving him further away. “He might come through the Union again and I can give him your number or something.” “That happened once. In three months. Those odds are not favorable.” Jolie watched him stop in front of the exit. Inevitably, he would walk out those doors and the “Where’s Waldo?” of her college years would continue. It seemed where she was frequent on this campus, he was elusive. Not a single random, or even not-so-random, run-in outside of class. Yet, there he stood, mere steps away. The end of the beginning was within her grasp. All she had to do was go up to him and say what she’d lost so much sleep rehearsing. Hello. Time was running out. “You’ve put way too much pressure on yourself, and on this person you don’t even know. And—Why is he just standing there?” Alix’s voice sounded far away. The loud, rhythmic ticking from the lobby clock directly over his head had replaced the sound of his retreating footsteps now that he’d come to a stop. Tick. Jace was staring out the window. She noticed his headphones were pulled down around his neck. Tick. Jolie was standing only a few paces away from him. Tick. She could do this. She had to do this. Go catch up. Jolie clutched onto Alix’s arm. Her expression, she imagined, was wild. Her face was an oven. Alix rolled her eyes. “I’m going to use the bathroom,” she said and mouthed, Go. Reason took over emotion and Jolie launched herself forward.
About Jes Smyth
Jes Smyth is a writer at heart, a poet by accident, and the author of contemporary women’s fiction. With a background in psychology, and a lifetime stuck in her own head, Jes uniquely explores the often misunderstood emotions of change and growth in her debut Time for Once. You can find her on instagram or at jessmyth.com
My thoughts drifted away as my eyes connected with rich amber ones. Everything inside me clenched, and my heartbeat accelerated.
The man I couldn’t have. The man I couldn’t let go.
The pain, the need, the longing of the last few weeks roared to life.
God. He took my breath away.
Where his brothers gave the edge of danger when they polished up, telling the world they were outsiders among them, Samir King was the actual dangerous one, the most ruthless, the one who seamlessly blended in. His chiseled good looks and tailored clothing gave him an aura of refined elegance. Then, when someone looked deeper into those mesmerizing eyes, there was no mistaking the intelligence taking in every detail of every situation.
The desperate need to touch him pulled at every fiber of my being. The ache, almost visceral and unexplainable, burned in my chest. It had been like this from the beginning with us.
No matter where we were in a room, the draw made us seek each other out.
Sam continued to stare at me. The pulse of energy between us charged deep into my soul. Logic screamed for me to look away. Too much teetered on the edge.
As sense finally penetrated my mind, I refocused on Neil. “What was I saying?”
“You were about to call what we are doing incest.”
I released a deep breath as I realized everything that had passed between Sam and me had happened within mere seconds.
“You have to admit it’s a bit messed up.”
“Yeah, well, we shouldn’t have joined the circus if we didn’t want to have weird shit happen to us.”
My phone beeped, saving me from responding and giving me the cue to move to the hotel lounge to pick up some microchips from my favorite hacker.
“Time to go powder my nose and grab a new shade of lipstick.”
For More Information on Sienna Snow’’s books and where to contact her, visit her website: https://bit.ly/3uFPaUR
Having sampled the forbidden fruits of her online antics, Savannah wants more. When her relationship with Arcas comes under pressure, Savannah must make a choice. Will she make the right one? Fans of Julia Quinn, Shayla Black, Tessa Dare, and EL James will love Voyeur by Ida Brady, a spicy, seductive, enemies-to-lovers, alpha/virgin, disability, BDSM, erotic romance.
Having sampled the forbidden fruits of her online antics, Savannah wants more. Her penchant for voyeurism unlocks a new dimension in her relationship with Arcas, not to mention a boudoir of new thrills…RPGs, corsets and monsters, oh my!
With the success of her blog, demands from Savannah’s online fans means she can earn money from strangers and satisfy her curiosity.
And all those wicked Regency fantasies offer plenty of material. Namely, what the commanding Duke would do to Emmaline in the confines of the carriage. And the dressing room. And the masquerade ball. Savannah’s imagination knows no bounds, and her appetite for this historical couple is heightened by the arrival of Lady Dewberry and the devilish Lord Walcott.
But when Savannah finds herself targeted by zealots, the ugly truth about her childhood begins to emerge. As her relationship with Arcas comes under pressure, Savannah must make a choice: to conceal the past or finally confront her demons.
With Arcas’ encouragement, Savannah hovers between two worlds, indulging in her new online career and fantasizing about a fictional one she hasn’t had the pleasure of knowing. Yet.
Savannah’s desire always began in her clit. The tell-tale pulsing, the silent rhythmic throbbing captivated her, holding her in its thrall. Spellbound.
She was learning so much about her sexuality, discovering new kinks and fetishes, finding out what it was that aroused her.
A bit of dom/sub action. Super hot.
Pup play. Super not.
But there was no judgment in her exploration. No shame. Nothing off limits.
Arcas was a generous and open-minded lover. Their sex-life in the past three months had been like unlocking some secret level in a game.
Wondrous, new, and a little fucking scary.
Which was why she was eager and yet nervous as she approached the luxurious estate miles away from the city, about to embark on her first orgy.
The ranch-style home was one of many exclusive properties that dotted the Victorian coastline. Arcas had pointed out the sheer number of convertibles and boutique stores as she drove through Somerton, slowing to a crawl every now and then to gawk at the locals. Every person they spotted seemed to be out of some high-end fashion advertisement. Perfect hair, expensive clothes and a decent fake tan. It was odd and yet fascinating but not enough to distract her from the trepidation that danced along her spine.
Savannah drove through the gated security of the estate and along the winding driveway, secured on either side by large hedgerows. She felt simultaneously comforted and claustrophobic.
Until she spotted the house. It sprawled out in front of them, stretching across the paved drive and extending out farther than she could see. If the grandiosity of the home wasn’t enough to make her feel nervous, the sheer newness of this experience did.
She took her time getting out of the car, smoothing down her dress, admiring the plants and flowers. But she couldn’t hang out in the driveway forever. Savannah straightened her spine as they approached the front door.
Arcas waited patiently beside her, giving her a light pat on her butt for encouragement. A hell of a lot had changed in three months, including the spectacular success of her online sex blog, ‘Sexcapades.’ She was fast building up many sexual experiences, which meant a ton of material to write about, not that she could document everything. Lord knew, she tried.
“You know you have to ring the bell to gain entry, right?”
Savannah turned to her boyfriend. His green eyes were bright with mischief.
“I think I’m a little nervous.”
“That’s totally normal.”
“Bec said she’d be coming, right?”
“She did. And that the people who rock up here are legit. It’s exclusive and selective. They know about your blog, and that you’ve got a private channel. It’s all above board.”
The private channel had been created when a few individuals wanted to take her journaling and sexual experiences to a new level. They’d wanted to watch her have sex online. To see her pleasure herself, making requests in the process.
After chatting with Arcas about the safety measures they would put in place, she had set up an exclusive, private group. Which meant that if anyone actually wanted to watch her orgasm, they could. If they paid.
And boy did they pay.
It had been more popular than she had expected. She was still becoming accustomed to this line of work, not to mention the wonderfully liberating nature of exploring her sexuality with strangers.
Savannah nodded. Drawing in a deep breath, she rang the bell. “It’s orgy time.”
About Ida Brady
Ida Brady writes spicy contemporary and erotic romance that packs all the heat! From humour, to heartbreak, to happily ever after, you’re guaranteed a steamy read with all the tropes. Enemies to lovers, billionaire, virgin, menage…you name it, she writes it!
Ida is a lover of chocolate and thunderstorms. When she isn’t trying to tame her intractable curls, she’s running after her little ones, usually with a book in hand. Ida lives in the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s CBD with her Irish husband and their out of control collection of books. She sometimes daydreams about having a huge library in her home but will settle for stacking novels in the kitchen drawers instead.
In her past life, Ida taught VCE Literature and English to a gaggle of teenagers. While she misses their enthusiasm, she sure as hell doesn’t miss marking papers. You might find her dancing the Argentine tango in her spare time, which isn’t often these days. She loves travelling with her family, observing strangers at cafés and getting lost in a good story.
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Fake Crowne, an all-new fake-relationship, billionaire romance standalone from New York Times bestselling author CD Reiss is available now!
How can I let him destroy everything he’s worked for just to make me happy?
I’m a singer with stage fright who’s famous for…well…nothing yet. And I promised my family if I didn’t make it big by the end of this year, I’d go back to med school.
My agent thinks Colton and I would be a great team both in the studio, and outside of it—especially if label executives think we’re dating.
The rules? We can kiss in public, but not in private.
We can act like we’re doing the deed, as long as we’re not.
And as far as having actual feelings for each other goes…that’s obviously out of the question.
But after so many late nights in the studio and a bunch of stolen kisses, I start to see beyond his party boy facade to something real underneath. And he believes in me–with his coaching and encouragement, I’m finally overcoming my anxiety and giving the best performances of my life.
If only time wasn’t running out so fast.
Then Colton has an idea to keep us together. It’s terrible, but it’s the only way.
How can I let him destroy everything he’s worked for just to make me happy?
I watch him move into the shadows. The lights that line the edge of the walk go on as he passes. My phone buzzes, so I check it before driving off. It’s Liam.
—look what showed up on DMZ—
A photo slides in. It’s screenshot from DMZ and a link. A picture of Colton pushing me against my car and me grabbing his jacket. Everything else is cut out. Liam. Gene. It’s shot from a little above, through a windshield.
The headline under it reads: HAS COLTON CROWNED THE NEXT TAMIKA?
What? I tap the link. The article is short and breathless. Colton Crowne, who “discovered” Tamika in Memphis and who was “viciously” cut from credit or royalties by Gavin McCormick, may be nursing the next baby star into the sky.
They don’t even know I’m a musician.
I could be a lawyer or an accountant.
But that wouldn’t get clicks. No one cares about that story.
Liam follows with a text.
Colton is on the chat. I look at the driveway. The path lights have gone dark, but I can see him standing there, looking down with the screen glowing on his face.
“Fuck!” he barks, moving enough to turn on the lights.
That’s when I know he’s seen Liam’s messages. He looks at me and, seeing I haven’t moved, jogs over while his brother’s texts ding.
—This is gold-plated—
—A gift from the gods—
—We’re on second base before we even get to the plate—
Colton stops. Types into his phone.
—What are you talking about?—
—You guys together in public coronates Skye—
This feels more real than when Liam mentioned it before.
I don’t have long to do something…anything…or I have to fulfill my promise to my mother and take up last year’s deferment to University of Michigan Medical School. Being coronated, as Liam calls it, makes that possible. Without an electric shock to the process, I don’t have a chance. I’m dead in the water. Pursuing a music career and med school at the same time isn’t possible without a clone.
But I want clarity, so I text the chat.
—You mean you really want us to pretend we’re fucking?—
I hit Send before I rethink the word fucking to describe what I’m not doing with Colton, who answers from halfway back to the car.
—That’s what he means—
He could have told me that himself. Instead he stands there as Liam’s message comes in.
—That’s what I mean—
I’m about to text that I’m in. I’ll do it. I’m thrilled actually. But it’s not just about me, so I wait for Colton to come to me. I open the passenger window. He doesn’t come. Instead, he sends a message.
—You know Gene took this right? From the angle?—
I look back at the photo. Yeah. It was taken from the SUV before Gene got out. Maybe he took it to get evidence in case he’d hit anyone or maybe he was thinking that fast. That’s secondary to the fact that it found its way to a gossip website.
A notification drops over the picture. A text from Colton.
—So, no. Fuck him. No—
Once that comes in, I look at him as he puts the phone in his pocket and starts back my way.
I want to be coronated. I want it to be easy. I need the boost to start before the walls close in.
They’ve been closing in for months. Ever since last year when I applied. Before that, when I took the MCAT without studying. I thought I was so clever, setting myself up for failure. I wasn’t clever enough to get the answers wrong though.
That’s fine. It’s fine. I’m okay with it. Screw the coronation. I can’t make Colton do something he doesn’t want to do. He has every right to refuse. But I’m still reeling from the transition between hope and regret. For a minute, I was in a world where I had a head start and I’m just as suddenly back in the status quo.
He’s coming this way. I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to hear the reasons he thinks it’s a bad idea. Not right now, because he’s probably right and I just want to sit in my disappointment alone.
I shut the door behind me, letting the dark silence of the hallway swallow me. Keeping my steps light, I walk down the hall and toward the elevators. The corridor is quiet, but that’s expected, given the time.
Once inside, I press the S button and head to the surface. Everything here at Corium is state of the art, but even this brand-new, stainless-steel elevator takes twenty-five seconds to get me from deep inside the Alaskan ground to the surface.
As it turns out, twenty-five seconds can stretch into an eternity when you’re chastising yourself. No one has to tell me what I’m doing is wrong.
I know it. Obviously, I’ve had every opportunity to stop this in its tracks. This being the connection I have with Scarlet.
I imagine drug addicts going through this cycle that’s plagued me for months. Telling myself it’s wrong and I need to quit cold turkey. No more clandestine meetings. No more secret glances and hidden smiles. One of us has to be strong. She has no intention of walking away, so it has to be me.
That attitude lasts a few days, maybe even a few weeks. I can push her out of my mind. I might even laugh at myself for ever thinking it’s possible to be free of the pull she has on me.
Then? Something always happens to bring her rushing to the forefront once again. I’ll walk in on a video call she’s having with Q and hear her voice, her soft laughter. It will stir the familiar craving deep in my soul.
I’ll remember the way she whispers my name. The dark thrill of her pleading for my touch. I’ll savor those memories in a frantic attempt at staving off the hunger that begins to grow, to consume me, replaying them in my head while I jerk off. Doing anything I can to keep myself away from her.
Soon, memories aren’t enough, and I need the real thing. She’ll haunt my every waking thought until I’m sure I’ll either die or go insane if I don’t get a taste of her, her scent, her touch—anything, so long as the craving ceases.
My craving is at its peak by the time the elevator doors slide open with a quiet whoosh. It wouldn’t seem so necessary to bask in the warmth of her nearness were she not present in the sprawling castle portion of the structure.
Having her here ratchets my need to unbearable heights. It doesn’t matter how wrong I know this is as I cut down dark halls I know like the back of my hand, always watchful for any sign of Xander Rossi’s presence. Scarlet’s father would cut our little meeting short, no doubt. He’d cut off my balls and dangle them in front of my face before shoving them down my throat.
All is clear when I reach what I know are the rooms the Rossi family takes when they visit. Scarlet is in there, checking the time and plotting her escape. It’s late enough that Xander and Ella might be asleep—well, Ella might be. Xander is most likely working the way he nearly always is. You don’t run an empire as vast as his without putting in plenty of hours.
Either way, it’s unlikely he’d notice his daughter sneaking out, which is what we’re counting on.
I watch, hidden in a recessed doorway a few rooms down from where Scarlet will emerge. My heart’s beating way too fast, and my palms are damp with sweat, which I rub dry on my jeans. River would laugh himself sick if he had the slightest idea what anticipation does to my body as I count the seconds until she appears. My greatest weakness. My obsession.