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Excerpt Reveal: Truly, Madly, Whiskey by Melissa Foster

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Melissa Foster has a sexy new standalone, Truly, Madly, Whiskey coming out April 10th. Check out the excerpt she’s sharing with us and preorder your copy today!

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Title: Truly, Madly, Whiskey

Autor: Melissa Foster

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Release Day: April 10th

About Truly, Madly, Whiskey:

A new, emotionally riveting, sexy standalone romance by New York Times bestselling author Melissa Foster. Watch mysteriously sexy Bear Whiskey claw his way to his happily ever after with sassy, rebellious Crystal Moon. In TRULY, MADLY, WHISKEY… Eight months is a long damn time to have the hots for a woman who keeps a guy at arm’s length. But Crystal Moon is no ordinary woman. She’s a sinfully sexy, sass-mouthed badass, and the subject of Bear Whiskey’s midnight fantasies. She’s also one of his closest friends. Just when Crystal thinks she has her life under control, scorching-hot, possessive, aggressive, and fiercely loyal Bear pushes all her sexual buttons, relentless in his pursuit to make her his. The more Bear pushes, the hotter their passion burns, unearthing memories for Crystal that are best kept buried. But there’s no stopping the collision of her past and present, catapulting the two lovers down an emotional and sexually charged road that has them questioning all they thought they knew about themselves.

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Exclusive Excerpt:

CRYSTAL FLEW THROUGH Truman and Gemma’s front door like wildfire, eating up everything in her path. Her raven mane was soaking wet, framing her beautiful, scowling face as she stormed into the living room. Her black hoodie hung open over a Rolling Stones T-shirt, and her piercing baby blues threw daggers. Her skintight black jeans had tears along her thighs and beneath her knees, revealing flashes of her tanned skin. Skin he’d like to touch and taste and have wrapped around him.

She stopped a few feet from Bear and set her hand on her hip. “Give me a paintbrush, or a roller, or a goddamn gun for all I care. Just give me something and get out of my way.”

They’d finished painting ten minutes ago. Bear chuckled at her vehemence. She was sexy as sin no matter what mood she was in, but this tigress before him made him want to comfort her and fuck her at once.

“Hard night, sugar?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Not hard enough. And I’m not your sugar. I need to work out my frustrations.” She thrust out a hand, obviously waiting for a paintbrush.

He grabbed that delicate little hand and hauled her against him. His entire body flamed. Several months of playing cat and mouse was way too long. Her eyes darkened and her breathing shallowed. Bear was done messing around. This brazen beauty not only wanted him, but she needed him. She just didn’t know it yet.

“What do you think you’re doing?” She spoke in a low voice and probably meant it to sound threatening, but she sounded sultry and hard to resist.

He cupped her chin, brushing his thumb over her lower lip, and the air rushed from her lungs. His hand slid over her hip. She had the sleek, sexy curves of a ’61 Harley-Davidson Duo-Glide, and he couldn’t wait to rev her up and make her purr. “Giving you what you need. A wild Whiskey night is the perfect remedy for your frustrations.”

“Uncle Be-ah!” Three-year-old Kennedy ran into the room wearing a Dora the Explorer nightgown and clutching the Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed toy Bear’s younger sister, Dixie, had given her. She squeezed between them. Truman had rescued his younger siblings, Kennedy and Lincoln, from a crack house after their mother overdosed. He and Gemma were raising them as their own.

Crystal smirked at Bear and arched a brow.

He reluctantly released her. Cockblocked by a three-year-old.

“Hi, pretty girl.” Crystal gave Bear a snarky look as she crouched and hugged Kennedy. “This cuteness is all I need after a frustrating evening.”

“Why are you fwustrated, Auntie Cwystal?” Kennedy still had a hard time pronouncing r’s, and the way she spoke turned Bear’s insides to mush.

“I’m not anymore, thanks to you.”

“I came to kiss you and Beah good night.” She gave Crystal a tight hug and kiss, then reached her spindly arms up to Bear and went up on her toes.

He lifted her up, and she wound her arms around his neck.

“Thank you for letting me help you paint.” Kennedy yawned and rested her head on his shoulder. “The house will be pwetty for Mommy and Tooman’s—I mean Daddy’s—wedding.” Although Kennedy and Lincoln were Truman’s siblings, when Lincoln had begun talking, he’d called Truman Dada, and Kennedy had said she wanted to call him that, too. Sometimes she forgot and called him Tooman.

Bear ran his hand down her back. It was hard to believe it had been less than a year since Truman had found them. Kennedy had gone from a rail-thin, frightened little girl to a healthy, happy member of not just Truman’s family, but Bear’s, too.

“You’re the best painter around, sweetheart. Thank you for helping me.” He lifted his eyes, catching Crystal watching him with a warm—interested?—look in her eyes. He liked that a whole lot.

Crystal’s eyes skittered away. “Hey, Ken? Where’s Mommy?”

“She’s giving Lincoln a baf.”

Crystal smiled. “Want me to take you up to bed?”

“Yes,” Bear and Kennedy said at once.

Crystal rolled her eyes at Bear and reached for Kennedy.

Bear put an arm around Crystal’s waist, ignoring her glare. “I’m escorting two of my favorite girls upstairs. Deal with it.” He guided her toward the stairs, where they ran into Truman on his way down.

Truman stood eye to eye with Bear, his dark eyes moving between the two of them. His lips curved up and he shook his head. He must have read the annoyed expression on Crystal’s face, because he reached for Kennedy. “I think I’ll intervene. Thanks, guys.”

After he went upstairs, Crystal said, “You can let go of me now.”

“No thanks.” He kept ahold of her as she stalked back to the living room. “Want to tell me what happened tonight?”

“No. I want to paint.” She squirmed out of his grip and he tugged her back.

“If you think I’ll let this go, you’re wrong. Talk to me. What’s got you so irritated?”

“Jesus, Bear,” she snapped. “I’m not yours. You don’t have to protect me.”

He ignored her comment because she knew damn well how things worked with the Whiskeys. More importantly, she knew him well enough to know he’d never sit idly by and let her get hurt. If someone had pissed her off, he’d straighten them out.

“You’re not mine yet,” he conceded.

“God, you’re so arrogant and handsy and…Ugh!” She pushed away. “I just had a rough visit with my mom, that’s all.”

“What happened?” Her not wanting to go into specifics didn’t surprise him. She’d always been cagey about her parents.

She grabbed the ladder and dragged it toward the far wall. He took it from her, and she glared at him again. She was the most stubborn woman he’d ever known. She was also sharp, confident, and possibly the most sensitive person he knew, though she’d never admit to it. Those were just a few of the things he found utterly entrancing about her.

Her arms were crossed, and he was pretty sure if it were possible she’d have steam coming out of her ears. “Can we just paint?”

“Sorry, sugar, but we’re done for the night.”

“Seriously?” She looked around the room, and her stomach growled. Her lips curved up at the edges as she spread a hand over her belly.

Perfect. He whipped out his phone, texting Tru and telling him he was taking Crystal out for a bite to eat. “Grab your bag. We’re going out to eat.” He draped his arm over her shoulder and headed for the front door.

“I’m not hungry.”

He gave her his best deadpan stare.

Challenge rose in her beautiful eyes. “You don’t tell me what to do.”

“All right. Your stomach’s growling. Obviously you’re hungry. Let’s go grab something to eat.”

She folded her arms over her chest. “That’s telling.”

“Christ, woman.” She had no idea how much he adored this side of her. They’d never been on an official date, but they’d gone to grab a bite to eat spur-of-the-moment like this plenty of times. “Are you hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“Great,” he said. “Let’s go.”

“Oh my God. Really? Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to ask a woman if she’d like to go out to eat?”

“Are you telling me to ask you out on a date?” He slid his arm around her waist again and waggled his brows.

“No.” She laughed.

He loved her laugh. It was brazen and loud, like her. “Damn. Thought I got lucky. Crystal Moon, would you like to grab a burger with me?”

She picked up her bag from the floor. “Fine. But I need to tell Gemma. You’re so bossy.”

“You totally dig bossy, and I already texted Tru and told him.”

“Presumptive and bossy.”

 

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About Melissa Foster:

Melissa Foster

Melissa Foster is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling and award-winning author. She writes sexy and heartwarming contemporary romance, new adult romance (M/F, M/M, F/F), romantic suspense, thrillers, and historical fiction with emotionally compelling characters that stay with you long after you turn the last page. Melissa’s emotional journeys are lovingly erotic and always family oriented. Her books have been recommended by USA Today’s book blog, Hagerstown Magazine, The Patriot, and several other print venues. She is the founder of the World Literary Café. When she’s not writing, Melissa helps authors navigate the publishing industry through her author training programs on Fostering Success.

Melissa has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Her interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping others see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod.

Melissa is available to chat with book clubs and welcomes comments and emails from her readers. Visit Melissa on Facebook or her personal website.

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Excerpt Reveal: Dirty Filthy Rich Men by Laurelin Paige

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Dirty Filthy Rich Men, an all-new contemporary romance from NYT Bestseller Laurelin Paige is coming March 27th!

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Dirty Filthy Rich Men by Laurelin Paige
Publication Date: March 27th, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

From NYT Bestselling author Laurelin Paige, discover a whole new world filled with sex, love, power, romance and dirty, filthy rich men.

When I met Donovan Kincaid, I knew he was rich. I didn’t know he was filthy. Truth be told, I was only trying to get his best friend to notice me.

I knew poor scholarship girls like me didn’t stand a chance against guys like Weston King and Donovan Kincaid, but I was in love with his world, their world, of parties and sex and power. I knew what I wanted—I knew who I wanted—until one night, their world tried to bite me back and Donovan saved me. He saved me, and then Weston finally noticed me, and I finally learned what it was to be in their world.

And then what it was like to lose it.

Ten years later, I’ve found my way back. Back to their world. Back to him.

This time, I’m ready. I’ve been down this road before, and I know all the dirty, filthy ways Donovan will try and wreck me.

But it’s hard to resist. Especially when I know how much I’ll like it.

Excerpt:

After she was gone, I walked over to the windows and drank in the scene. The Town Center was high enough that it had an unblocked view of downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, and beyond.

Giddiness surged through me, starting like a pinprick at my center and moving out through my veins in all directions until even my fingers and toes felt warm.

I was really here.

I made it.

It wasn’t the way I thought it would be, but in the end, it still came out of my time at Harvard. I’d always known that connections made the difference in a career, and here I was. Finally. At the top of the world, looking out.

I couldn’t stop grinning.

“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” a male voice came from behind me.

Still smiling, I glanced up and caught his reflection in the window.

And everything disappeared.

The world that had buzzed below, the beautiful scene, the excitement that had unfurled through my body—all of it evaporated and all that existed in its place was a pale, hollow shell of myself and the man in the perfectly tailored suit behind me.

I turned to look at him directly. Our gazes smashed together, and my legs nearly fell out from under me.

“Donovan,” I rasped. It was a miracle that I managed to find enough voice to say that much.

And there was so much more that had to be said. So much more that I hadn’t prepared for. Which was ridiculous since I’d talked to him so many times in my head over the years, practiced so many conversations, but never did he show up out of the blue looking so dastardly handsome in a dark gray three-piece suit, his face rugged with scruff, his eyes hazel and earnest despite the playful smirk on his lips.

I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. I wasn’t even sure how to breathe anymore.

He broke our gaze to nod out the window at the skyline, walking toward me as he said, “I’m sure you found the Empire.”

Though his focus was now on the scenery, I didn’t take my eyes off him as he approached. He didn’t stop until he was right beside me. So close our shoulders would touch if I coughed. Tension ran off him like foam spilling over from a mug of beer. Good tension. Bad tension. I wasn’t sure if there was a difference when it came to Donovan.

Which was why I was screwed if he was here.

Why the hell was he here?

“I thought you were in Tokyo.” I couldn’t stop staring at him. He’d gotten more refined with age, and rougher at the same time. His hair was short and his curls gone, giving him a polished look he lacked before. The lines by his eyes were more defined and his expression seemed harder than I’d remembered. It made him sexier.

As if he was a man who needed to be sexier than the one I knew.

“I came back two months ago,” he said offhandedly. “That’s it right there.” He leaned his face in close to mine as he pointed to the famous structure. “Do you see it?”

Fuck if I cared about the Empire. I was in Donovan Kincaid’s orbit. What else was there in the world?

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About the Author:

USA Today and New York Times Bestselling Author Laurelin Paige is a sucker for a good romance and gets giddy anytime there’s kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters. Her husband doesn’t seem to complain, however. When she isn’t reading or writing sexy stories, she’s probably singing, watching Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, or dreaming of Michael Fassbender. She’s also a proud member of Mensa International though she doesn’t do anything with the organization except use it as material for her bio. She is represented by Rebecca Friedman.

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Excerpt Reveal: His to Seduce by Stacey Lynn

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His to Seduce by Stacey Lynn
Publication Date: March 21st, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Loveswept

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Synopsis:

An honorable man who’s lost his way . . . A career woman who hides behind her button-up suits . . . Unexpected romance is the specialty at the Fireside Grill as Stacey Lynn’s captivating series comes full circle.

Becoming an ER doctor had been David McGregor’s mission ever since he could remember. But after tragedy strikes at his hospital in Chicago, David runs away from the guilt—all the way back to Latham Hills, Michigan, where he takes a job tending bar at his childhood friend’s restaurant. That’s how he meets Camden Reed, and the way Camden refuses to give him the time of day should be a turnoff. Instead, he’s drawn to her tough, tightly wound exterior, and soon David realizes that he has a new mission: to see her tightly wound beneath him.

Camden’s fighting tooth and nail to resist the desire she feels for David. Growing up dirt-poor, raised by a single mother, she worked twice as hard to get where she is today, and she doesn’t have any patience for the kind of guy who’d give up a decent paycheck to sling drinks. But when the sexual tension finally combusts between the sheets, Camden discovers that people aren’t always what they seem. As David pushes her past her limits, Camden begins to loosen up—and to trust that, when she falls, there will be someone waiting to catch her.

Excerpt:

“Please,” I whispered, and leaned into his palm now cupping my cheek. His hands were strong. Long, tanned fingers that had made me think of naughty things like this for months.

In the darkness, I saw a flash of his white teeth. “I like it when you beg. When you need me.”

Tonight’s need was selfish. A moment to forget the loneliness. A moment to take what I’d been too chicken to go after for months even though it was right in front of me.

He’d been right before my eyes, flirting relentlessly and trying to break me down. Tonight, I was tired of fighting the pull I’d felt for him despite how wrong I knew he was for me. This was one night. A moment of wildness I didn’t usually indulge in, but who didn’t enjoy getting laid at a friend’s wedding? It was almost a requirement.

His hands dropped to my knees, spreading them wide so he could step in between them.

His fingers teased my thighs, running up and down my bare flesh until I shivered from the softness of his touch.

My eyes were half-lidded when I forced myself to look at him. I saw only his lust for me, and my heart rioted against my rib cage.

Damn . . . he wanted me. It was as thrilling as it was terrifying.

One of his hands left my leg and cupped the back of my neck. He pulled me to him until our foreheads touched.

“I want this,” he said, his voice thick and gruff. “Tell me you want this.”

“I want it.”

“Tell me you want me.”

I couldn’t. A long time ago I swore to myself I’d never be vulnerable again. I certainly wasn’t about to make that admission when all I currently wanted was a night of pretending and forgetting.

“Camden, I want you to know that when I sink into you, when I push your panties to the side and run my fingers through your wetness, this isn’t a one-time thing for us. This is the beginning.”

I shivered again. From his words, his promise—something I so desperately craved but was too terrified to take hold of.

I shifted my hips, pulling him to me until his erection brushed against my center.

“Tonight.” I gasped as he rubbed against me in the perfect spot. “It’s all I can promise.”

He chuckled, moving his mouth against my cheek, down to my jaw and my throat. “We’ll see about that.”

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Check out the other books in the series:

His to Cherish, Book 3:

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His to Love, Book 1:

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About the Author

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Stacey Lynn currently lives in Minnesota with her husband and four children. When she’s not conquering mountains of laundry and fighting a war against dust bunnies and cracker crumbs, you can find her playing with her children, curled up on the couch with a good book, or on the boat with her family enjoying Minnesota’s beautiful, yet too short, summer.

She lives off her daily pot of coffee, can only write with a bowlful of Skittles nearby, and has been in love with romance novels since before she could drive herself to the library.

If you would like to know more about Stacey Lynn, follow her here:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/staceylynnbooks
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Website: http://www.staceylynnbooks.com
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Prologue Reveal: Catching Carly by Emma Hart

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00027]My name is Carly Porter… And I’m really good at bad decisions.

How do I know this, exactly? Well, not including the time I accidentally bleached my eyebrows or sprained my ankle changing a lightbulb…

I had sex with my best friend’s brother.

Zeke Elliott has been a thorn in my side for eleven years. A very sexy, very tempting, very freaking annoying one. With big…hands.

And now my clitoris has a crush on the guy.

Seriously. I can’t look at him without my vagina performing accidental kegels. Which would be fine, but he’s Cain’s brother. I hate him. He’s off limits, right?

Right.

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“This never happened.”

Zeke raises an eyebrow. “Nothing has happened.”

I put my hands on my hips and glare at him. “Don’t be a dick. You know what I mean. This is only going to happen because I’m a little drunk.”

“I thought you said it never happened.”

“You’re being a dick.”

His grin is wide and a little cocky. “So right now it’s happening because you’re a little drunk, but tomorrow it won’t have happened.”

I nod. “That’s right. You and I will forget it ever happened.”

His blue-green eyes sweep the length of my body before he meets my gaze, his lips dropping into a self-sure smirk. “Trust me, Carly, you won’t be forgetting this when I’m through with you.”

“Through with me? What am I? A naughty child awaiting punishment?”

“Look, if you want me to spank you, I’m good with that.” He raises his hands in front of his body. “In fact, I’m more than good with that.”

I blink at him. It really doesn’t help that he has his hands up like that. He has big, rough hands that would feel pretty good across my ass…

Good lord, Carly. Focus.

Wait. Does that count as focusing? I think it might.

Hmm…

“We’ll see,” I finally say, clearing my head of that momentary fog. “The point is, whether your ego insists I’ll remember this tomorrow—”

“You will.”

“—Or not,” I continue, ignoring him. “As far as everyone else is concerned, it never has and never will happen. Are we clear?”

“Crystal. Now, are you going to shut the hell up?”

“No. As a rule, I don’t shut up. Ever.”

Zeke steps forward, shutting the distance between us in less than three seconds. He lifts his hand to my chin and cups it, dipping his handsome face down close to mine. “That’s fine. I think I’ll prefer it when you’re screaming for more and calling me God.”

I raise both of my eyebrows. “I’m not going to call you God.”

“I guarantee you’ll feel differently when you’re having the best orgasm of your life.”

“That’s ambitious.” I’ve had some pretty good orgasms. Mostly battery-operated ones, because they can’t cum, so they don’t have to stop.

Zeke circles his strong arm around my waist and yanks me right against him. The force with which my body hits his makes me gasp, something that only makes his smirk a little stronger. “That’s exactly what’s going to happen.”

“Again,” I say, swallowing. “Ambitious.”

“Carly?”

“What?”

He lowers his face so the tip of his nose brushes mine and locks onto me with his gaze. “The next time you talk, you’ll be screaming my name.”

I open my mouth to rebuke that ridiculous—yet hot—statement, but he’s quicker. He drops his mouth to mine and takes my bottom lip between his. His teeth graze over the soft skin, and an uncontrollable shiver rockets down my spine.

Dear god, he’s barely touched me and I want to whimper like a puppy wanting a belly rub.

Except, of course, I want him to rub a whole lot more than my belly.

And do a whole lot more than rubbing
while he’s at it too.This is dumb. I know this. It’s dumber than dumb. It’s the most stupid idea in the history of stupid ideas.

Hell on a Harley Davidson, I’ve lost my goddamn mind.

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By day, New York Times and USA Today bestselling New Adult author Emma Hart dons a cape and calls herself Super Mum to two beautiful little monsters. By night, she drops the cape, pours a glass of whatever she fancies—usually wine—and writes books.

Emma is working on Top Secret projects she will share with her followers and fans at every available opportunity. Naturally, all Top Secret projects involve a dashingly hot guy who likes to forget to wear a shirt, a sprinkling (or several) of hold-onto-your-panties hot scenes, and a whole lotta love.

She likes to be busy—unless busy involves doing the dishes, but that seems to be when all the ideas come to life.

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Excerpt Reveal: What I Need by J. Daniels

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WINFrom New York Times bestselling author, J. Daniels, comes a sexy new STANDALONE novel.

Riley Tennyson has made a huge mistake.

At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself.

Showing up to her brother’s wedding pissed off and newly single, Riley seeks comfort in solitude and an open bar, until the gorgeous and irresistibly charming CJ Tully makes her a better offer―a wild night with the master of smooth-talking where nothing is off limits.

Riley does what any single woman would do, and a connection is made. One neither one of them can ignore. But when she comes home to the boyfriend she no longer thought she had, Riley buries her secret and begs CJ to do the same.
Forget about each other. It was a mistake. That’s all it was… right?

Desires are hidden. Distance is kept. Until one night CJ makes the ultimate sacrifice, and Riley can no longer avoid the man she can’t stop thinking about.

Not with him sleeping down the hall…

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“You Tully?”
I jerk my chin at the guy standing at the security booth after he speaks, then throw a look of appreciation at the bouncer who led me over here before he steps away.

“Name’s Mark. I’m running things tonight. It’s good to have you,” the guy says.

We shake hands.

“Yeah. Don’t mention it,” I reply.

He looks around the venue and gestures. “Packed joint tonight. Shouldn’t get too crazy with this band and the crowd it’s bringing out, but we never wanna risk it. It’s good having backup.”

“How many of us you got?” I ask him over the music when the band starts playing, leaning closer to hear his response.

“You and another guy who’s already here. He’s hanging out up by the stage. Plus a bunch of our guys.” He hooks his thumb at the floor to ceiling windows along the front of the building, adding, “I got some uniforms on the street keeping that shit under control in case people get tossed out.”

I nod, liking what I’m hearing.

The Red Door isn’t the biggest venue I’ve worked security on, but it’s big enough. Managing this shit alone can present a challenge. And by the looks of it, it’s a sold out show.

More eyes we got on the crowd, the better.

“You run into any problems yet?” I ask.
The guy shakes his head. “Nah. Just normal shit. People trying to sneak in their own booze,” he replies, glancing at the door where everyone is filing in. “Confiscated it. No issues. Everything else seems to be running smooth.”

“Good,” I say when I meet his eyes. “I’ll keep near the back since the other guy’s covering the front. I’ll come to you if I run into any problems.”

“Sounds good, man.”

We exchange another hand shake, then I step away and move through the crowd.

I stop near the center of the room and stay to the back like I said so I can have full view of the floor that’s packed with bodies, some keeping position and others moving away from me, pushing to get closer to the stage.

Bringing my arms across my chest, I stand tall and do a sweep of the place. I’ve been here before so I know the layout.

There’s a bar to the right of where I’m standing, stretching the length of the wall. Restrooms are behind me. Other than the hallway leading to the rooms behind the stage where bands hang out, there’s isn’t much that isn’t visible. Plus, it’s one level, standing room only, so I don’t gotta worry about another floor I need to cover.

Should be an easy gig.

I do shit like this on the side for the extra cash. Venues hosting concerts are always looking for cops who are willing to come out and beef up security. We stay in civilian clothes so we blend in, and unless I’m having to act on something, I typically get out without anyone knowing I’m a cop.
Easy money. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

I look back to the dance floor.

The lights are dimmed. Red and blue strobe lights positioned on the ceiling illuminate the crowd, along with the bright, white lights shining from the stage. Visibility is good.

Another plus. I worked a few of these where it wasn’t and that only presented problems.

But here, I can see faces. Can see other shit going on too if someone’s dumb enough to try something too.

I anticipate it. Events like this always bring out some of the stupidest motherfuckers. Which is exactly why they like having us work these things.

Security can only do so much.

I’m three songs into the set when the beat picks up. The bass vibrates along the floor. I feel it pulsing in my feet.

The faster rhythm stirs the crowd and shifts them around. More bodies gather and move closer to the stage, jumping up with their fists in the air and belting out lyrics, drawing people away from the bar. Others stay toward the back where there’s room to dance.

That’s where I’m looking, and that’s where I see her.

Blonde.
I blink. My eyes refocus. Then I stare at waves the color of sand flowing down the back of a tiny thing swaying to the music.

Shirt tied off at the waist. Lower back showing. Hips shaking in some tight as shit black jeans. Ass looking fucking incredible.

Damn.

She reaches above her, bends her elbows and rakes her fingers through her hair, lifting it off her neck as her body keeps moving in ways I feel straight in my cock, then after letting her arms drop, she looks toward the bar with eyes searching, giving me full view of her profile.

My chest grows motherfucking tight.

I blink again, thinking I’m seeing things.

Riley Tennyson wets her lips.

Fuck.

I’m not seeing things.

Jesus Christ. This is just what I need.

Working this shit, needing to stay focused and eyes alert to all bodies in this room and now I know for damn sure that’s not gonna be happening, meaning this gig just went from easy to really fucking complicated.
There’s only one body I’m interested in keeping eyes on and it’s the one making my dick hard.

Motherfucker.

Riley Tennyson is gonna fucking kill me.

I pull in a deep breath, watching that sweet face get ripped out of view when Riley looks toward the stage again.

She keeps dancing. Keeps shaking that perfect ass and swaying those perfect hips, fingers curling in and lifting those long waves again, also perfect.

Every part of her. Every fucking inch.

Perfection.

And I’m not even considering what she’s got going on in the front. Shouldn’t even be considering it—we’re friends, she’s taken, and I’m not a fucking asshole—but that didn’t stop me all day when I couldn’t keep those spectacular tits off my mind, even going a step further into crazy when I shared that with her through a text.

I need to quit now. Stop this shit.

I can avoid it. I got options.

Switch with the guy hanging up by the stage, hoping Riley keeps her location. Or fuck it. Just pull out of this gig all together. Make up some excuse. I don’t need the cash.

I don’t need to be staring.
I sure as fuck don’t need to be getting hard right now.

I got options. Just need to pick one.

Simple.

Yeah…

Real fucking simple.

I breathe in deep again, letting it out slowly. And I do this staring at her.

Only at her.

And the more staring I do the more I start to notice, like how she seems to be out there dancing alone, not with another person or a group of friends she came with. People around her are keeping to themselves or appearing to be together, throwing their arms around each other or sharing looks. Acting friendly. Just not with her.

Riley isn’t meeting anyone’s eyes. She’s not trying to talk to anyone. She’s in her own little world.

She’s here alone.

He made her come to this shit alone.

Anger fills me. My jaw flexes while the muscles in my arms and shoulders start locking up.
My choice of options just grew by one.

Instead of charging through the crowd which, no lie, is exactly what I want to be doing right now, I reach into the back pocket of my jeans and pull out my phone. I shoot out a quick text.

Me: Tell me he’s here.

Lifting my eyes, I watch as Riley pauses mid ass-shake, slaps her back pocket, tugs out her phone and brings it in front of her. Her head tilts down, then a second later it’s lifting and she’s searching all around where she’s standing, peering around people and standing taller. She finds me when she finally twists around, head first and then body following.

Her lips part. Her blue eyes go round, flames burning me up like they always do.

Riley starts moving my way and my eyes lower, first to her mouth, watching the slow smile twist across it and take shape.

She looks happy to see me. I shouldn’t put stock into that but I do. It’s what I want.

Then my eyes keep dropping and I get full view of her tits. Her full, heavy, perfect fucking tits. Sitting high behind her tight white shirt and bouncing with her steps.

Jesus Christ.

My new friend has tits like that. And by the looks of it, she didn’t bother putting on a bra either.

What the fuck did I do in a previous life to deserve this kind of torture?
“Hey. I didn’t know you were coming to this,” Riley says all sweet sounding when she reaches me, stopping close and offering me a smile. Sweat gathers on her brow and in the hollow dip in her throat. She shoves her phone away and questions, “Why are you standing all the way back here? Don’t you wanna get closer so you can see the band?”

“Working,” I tell her, lifting my eyes before I punch a hole through my jeans. I tuck my phone into my back pocket, adding, “Trust me. I can see plenty from where I’m standing.”

Ain’t that the fucking truth.

Riley blinks, then looks to my chest. “You’re not wearing your uniform,” she observes.

I squint at her mouth.

I got what she said, but I can barely hear her over the music. I don’t like that.

I want to hear her.

“Come on.” Grabbing her elbow, I pull Riley with me to the back corner of the room, stopping beside the hallway that leads to the restrooms and crowding the wall.

It’s as far from the speakers as I can get her unless I take her outside, and I’m not sure I want to do that.

Only `cause I know I’ll want to leave with her. Meaning I absolutely want to do that.
Shoulder pressing to the wall, I release her elbow after tugging Riley close. I pull my arms across my chest. “Not typically something I wanna advertise when I’m staying undercover,” I say in response to her observation.

“Oh.” She looks up at me, smiling and lifting her shoulders with a jerk. “Cool,” she says.

I can see Riley better where we’re standing now. The hallway light is shining on her, making her skin glow.

I look her over.

She wearing more makeup than I’ve ever seen her in. Black lines her eyes and her lashes are darker. Thicker too.

I like that.

Her cheeks are flushed from the dancing she was doing. That combined with the whatever she’s got on her face is hiding her freckles from me.

I don’t like that. But I don’t tell Riley. I keep looking.

Red lips, full and shiny. Cock sucking lips. I know that from experience.

Shit. Don’t go there. I focus on her eyes again.

Blue and black, fading out to grey. Like a storm coming…

“You totally still look like a cop,” Riley shares, jarring my focus. The corner of her mouth twitches. “You’re not fooling anyone, CJ Tully.”
My brows raise. “Yeah?”

She nods, laughing. “You look scary and pissed off. Smile a little.”

I don’t smile. Not even when she amps hers up and gives it to me, pairing it with another soft giggle.

I get straight to the point with her because getting off point with Riley is gonna lead to this shit getting even more complicated, and fuck, I’ve looked enough tonight to run the risk of major fucking complications.

Plus, she’s laughing. Smiling. Looking like she’s thinking the same things I’m thinking.

Get to the fucking point, Tully.

“You gonna answer my question?” I ask.

Her brow furrows. “What question?”

“I asked you if he was here,” I remind her.

“Oh.” Nodding, Riley looks behind her in the direction of the bar, then meets my eyes again. “Yeah, he went to get a drink. He doesn’t really want to be here. I kinda dragged him out.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why’d you need to drag him out?”
Riley tilts her head. “Because… he doesn’t really want to be here?” she repeats slowly, looking puzzled. “I just told you. He doesn’t like The Killers.”

“So?”

“So?”

“Yeah, babe. So.”

She straightens her head, but her eyes narrow as if she’s thinking hard. “You’ve lost me,” she shares.

“Forget it,” I mumble, looking away, knowing I got no business getting up in her shit the way I’m doing. I need to back off.

“No. What? Tell me.” Riley reaches out and places her hand on my forearm.

I look down and watch her black painted fingers wrap around and curl under. I feel them squeeze.

Our eyes lock.

“Tell me,” she pleads, looking close to begging for this.

My blood starts running hot. Scorching. Hot.

Fuck it.

I’m getting up in her shit.
“I’m here because I’m working for extra cash, not because I’m digging the music,” I share, staring into her eyes and seeing hers staring back, like what I’m revealing is something she needs to hear, not just something she’s curious about. “Don’t hate it. I listen to stuff like this on occasion but it ain’t something I’d pay money to see. That being said, my woman wants to come to a show like this, crowd this size, booze flowing, other shit possibly going on, she ain’t coming alone. No discussion needed. I could hate this music to the point it makes my fucking ears bleed and I’m still going with her.”

“Why?” Riley asks. “To protect her?”

“That.” I jerk my chin. “And `cause she’s mine and a real man can deal with shitty music for a few hours if it means putting in time with his woman.”

Riley drags her teeth along her bottom lip. Her chest starts working harder, moving stricter with her breaths.

I should stop now. The way she’s looking at me…

I should stop.

I don’t.

“Saw you dancing and thought you were here alone,” I add, smirking. “Already hate that motherfucker for what he gets to touch every night. I thought I was gonna have to kill him.”

Riley stares up at me. She doesn’t blink. Doesn’t breathe.

“Babe,” I probe.
“You shouldn’t say that,” she says, face serious.

Her hand squeezes tighter. She’s anxious now, maybe. Or pissed. I don’t know.

I decide to ease her mind if it’s nerves getting to her.

“I wouldn’t really kill him.” My smirk grows into a smile. “Mess him up though.”

“No. Not that.” She shakes her head. “The other thing. What he gets to touch. You shouldn’t say that.”

“It’s true.”

“Even so. We’re friends. You shouldn’t say it.”

I bend to get closer. “You might wanna take your hand off me if we’re friends, darlin’.”

I-don't-give-a-damn_torn

logo-rectangle-1-2400-x-1025J.Daniels is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Sweet Addiction series, the Alabama Summer series, and the Dirty Deeds series.

She would rather bake than cook, she listens to music entirely too loud, and loves writing stories her children will never read. Her husband and children are her greatest loves, with cupcakes coming in at a close second.

J grew up in Baltimore and resides in Maryland with her family.

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Chapter Reveal: Ripple Effect by Keri Lake

Coming February 24th
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.
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.
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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Excerpt Reveal: Pucked Off by Helena Hunting

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Pucked Off, an all-new STANDALONE from Helena Hunting is coming February 21st!

Pucked Off by Helena Hunting
Publication Date: February 21st, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

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***A Standalone novel in The Pucked Series***

I’m NHL defenseman Lance Romero, AKA Lance “Romance.”

I’m notorious for parties and excess. I have the most penalty minutes in the league. I get into the most fights. I take the most hits. I’m a player on and off the ice. I’m the one women with no inhibitions want.

Not because I like the notoriety, but because I don’t know how to be any other way.

I have secrets. Ones I shared with the wrong person, and she used them against me. Sometimes she still does. I should cut ties. But she makes it difficult, because she’s the kind of bad I deserve.

At least that’s what I believed until someone from my past gets caught up in my present. She’s all the good things in this world. She lights up my dark.

I shouldn’t want her.

But I do.

I should leave her alone.

But I won’t.

Excerpt:

I’ve agreed to go out with Lance. On a date. Two actually. I don’t even know what to think. I grab my purse and slip into my jacket. As fall settles in and the temperature drops, layers are becoming necessary.

When I return, Lance is standing at the desk, checking his phone. He’s smiling.

“Ready to go,” I say.

He hits a couple of buttons, pockets his phone, and turns that grin on me. “Cool.”

I lock up the clinic, and Lance walks me across the lot. This time he doesn’t leave the usual space between us, and the back of his hand grazes my hip.

I’m nervous when we reach my car. His Hummer is parked right behind my Mini this time. I adjust the strap of my purse and look up at him. Strangely, he looks as nervous as me.

He scans my face and takes a small step closer. I can see his hand lifting in my peripheral vision. My hair is in a ponytail, which is sitting on my shoulder. He fingers the end of it.

“Why do I always want to pull this?”

I don’t have the opportunity to answer, because he drops his head and his lips skim my cheek.

“I want to kiss you.”

“You just did,” I whisper.

“I want do it again, but here.” His thumb touches my bottom lip.

“Oh.”

He’s so close. His lips almost touching mine as he asks, “Can I do that?”

“Yes, please.”

His lids grow heavy, and he kisses the corner of my mouth. Lance strokes my cheek and rests his palm on the side of my neck. The other hand skims the length of my arm until he reaches my fingertips.

He leans back a little, and for a second I think it’s over before it’s even begun, but he takes my hand in his. Uncurling my fingers, he lifts it and presses my palm against his cheek. A full-body tremor runs through him, and his eyes drift closed. He turns his head toward my palm, and I smooth my thumb along the contour of his bottom lip. A deep sound comes from the back of his throat, making my skin prickle and heat blossom in my belly.

When he opens his eyes again, the fire in them matches the heat flooding my entire body. “Can you keep yer hand right here?”

“If you want me to, yes.”

“I definitely do.”

He leans in and brushes his lips over mine again. It’s soft and warm. The next time he takes my bottom lip between his, he releases it slowly, and then does the same with the top one. When his tongue flicks out, I might whimper. Light fingers cup my head, and I tilt it back farther.

I part my lips, and his tongue sweeps my mouth. His groan is low, sending a shiver down my spine. He drops the hand that’s keeping mine pressed against his cheek. His arm winds around my waist, and he pulls me in tight against him.

I expect the kiss to grow in intensity. It doesn’t, though I can feel the heat building inside me. That feeling I’ve been searching for all these years is finally back.

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About the Author:

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

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