“You’re my muse, you know.” My thumb rubs her lips. Her eyes close as if my words are too painful for her to hear, but she was honest, so I’m gonna give her my truths. Trust her.
“Open your eyes, Brat,” I growl into her mouth. She does, and all I need is in her eyes. My hands tighten on her hair, and I take
her lips. I want to be gentle, to cherish her. But the moment her mouth opens, and my tongue finds hers, I’m lost.
I know what I want.
So when opportunity knocked, I took it. I grabbed my shot, willing to do anything to make it happen.
From the beginning, I knew I was destined to be with the six-foot-four, bourbon-eyed Rock God.
Only back in the early days he wasn’t a god.
Rhys Granger was my brother’s friend, the boy next door who wrote verses and played his guitar in our garage. He was talented. Exciting. Damaged. The kind of guy who made all the girls cry…
Except for me. I thought I was special. Turns out I’m not.
And now… I despise him.
He’s the lead singer of the Stuffed Muffins, one of the biggest bands in the world, with dark hair, full lips, and a body to die for.
Unfortunately, he’s a dick.
Not, that I care anymore. I have my own career. I’m successful in my own right. So, when offered another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I turn it down.
But the universe has other plans, and I’m forced back into the savagely glamorous world of rock ‘n’ roll. Thrust into battling his seductive smile, his dangerous kisses, and my own addictive needs.
He might be a Rock God, but he’s also a man. And I’m the woman he never saw coming.
About the Author:
Cassandra Robbins is a USA Today, Amazon Top 100, KDP All-star and International bestselling author. She threatened to write a romance novel for years. Robbins finally let the voices take over with her debut novel, The Entitled. She’s a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic driven to create obsessive, angst-filled characters who have to fight for their happily ever after. Cassandra resides in Los Angeles with her hot husband, two beautiful children, and a fluffy Samoyed, Stanley. Her family and friends are her lifeline but writing is her passion.
A Single-Dad, Enemies-to-Lovers Romance from A.L. Jackson
Coming August 30th
“Speaking of hot guys…” She angled her head in the direction of a white Porsche Panamera that pulled into the parent pick-up line on the other side of the wrought-iron fence. “There he is.”
And I wondered if I was seeing things.
If this was some kind of cruel, sick joke or if I’d just done something really terrible in another life and this was my punishment.
Because there was no mistaking the smoldering eyes staring me down through the windshield where he came to a stop at the curb.
The way shock blanched his unbearably gorgeous face before his jaw clenched in what appeared hatred.
Or maybe glee.
With the man, I was sure they were one and the same.
My hand tightened on the child’s.
A gut reaction to protect him.
Shivers raced. This unsettled feeling that something was coming. Something I didn’t understand, but something I should fear.
The man climbed from the driver’s seat of the flashy car that I wouldn’t have thought would fit him at all but somehow right then looked like the perfect accent piece.
He straightened to his full, menacing height.
“There he is! There he is!” The child started jumping up and down and waving his hand in the air. “Hi, Dad, hi! Over here!”
That seething intensity flashed through the air. My head spun and my knees knocked, my mouth going dry.
Trent Lawson strode toward the gate, all dark swagger and don’t-give-a-shit attitude, even though there were at least fifteen signs asking parents to stay in their cars and their children would be escorted out.
I got the sense the man wasn’t exactly one to follow the rules.
Because there he was, dressed a lot like he’d been last night, black jeans and a black v-neck tee and black boots that were unlaced. All that exposed, inked flesh somehow appeared obscene.
I had the urge to wrap the child up and take him into hiding. Run to the rest of the children and usher them to safety.
But I just stood there.
Finally, I mumbled, “That’s your dad?”
This really was some cruel, sick joke, and I was the very brunt of it.
“Yep! That’s him.” Gage was jumping and pointing. “Tell him I got an A, Miss Murphy! He’s gonna be so proud!”
Trent Lawson strode toward the gate with the clear intention of barging in.
Finally, I found my voice, calling out before he made it through the barrier. “Sir, you need to wait in your car. School isn’t over for a couple minutes, and we will bring your child to you. Parents aren’t allowed in this area without signing in at the office first.”
With his hand on the gate latch, he paused, an arrogant smirk ticking up like a threat at the corner of that plush mouth. “That so?”
I lifted my chin, still clutching his son’s hand. “Yes.”
He eyed me as if I were the enemy. “So, let me get this straight. I pay an ungodly amount of money for my son to come here, and you get to tell me when I can and cannot pick him up?”
“You’re paying for your child’s education, Sir, not for me to order you around.”
“Huh…would have been mistaken.”
My chin lifted higher. “It seems you are very, very mistaken.”
A war waged in the exchange. That same tension that had existed last night clear and present, his outright animosity unchanged. But there was something else lining it, too.
As if I’d gained some sort of power as we stared each other down.
“You’ve got to wait, Dad! I told you I got to get all the As, and you’re gonna ruin it by not followin’ the rules. Sheesh.”
Tessa giggled beside me.
One second later, the bell rang. It jarred me out of the trance the man held me under, my entire being jolted with the sound, as if time had been set to pause and it’d begun to speed to catch back up.
Children screeched their excitement and ran to grab their bags that were lined up against the wall.
“Please remain in your car tomorrow,” I called out, the words roughened shards as I reluctantly released Gage’s hand.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he returned, just as smug and cocky and infuriating as he’d been last night.
Gage went running that way, that giant backpack bouncing all over. He glanced at me, running backward for two steps, nothing but grins and belief. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back to see you tomorrow, Miss Murphy!”
When the child made it to him, Trent stretched out a hand for Gage to take.
For a flash, his entire demeanor shifted when he looked down at the child and the child smiled up at him.
Soft. Kind. Protective.
I had to be seeing things.
Then he turned to leave on those ridiculous boots, but not before he tossed out from over his shoulder, “See ya soon, Kitten.”
Anger rushed, my cheeks hot and my pulse wild and that irrational rage taking hold.
All mixed up with that feeling.
They walked back to the Porsche, and I remained rooted to the spot as he helped Gage into the backseat and into a booster before he rounded the front of the car and slipped into the driver’s seat.
The man glared at me before he tossed his car back into drive and pulled from the curb.
Fingernails curled into my upper arm. “Holy shit, Eden Jasmine Murphy,” Tessa hissed. “What was that? And you better fess it up now, because I can already feel your denial coming on, and there is no denying whatever the heck that was.”
She waved a turbulent hand through the air as if she could capture that feeling.
Something unattainable but real.
“That?” I let my eyes follow the car that whipped out of the drive far too fast. “That was my new boss.”
A.L. Jackson is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. She writes emotional, sexy, heart-filled stories about boys who usually like to be a little bit bad.
Her bestselling series include THE REGRET SERIES, CLOSER TO YOU, BLEEDING STARS, FIGHT FOR ME, CONFESSIONS OF THE HEART, and FALLING STARS novels. Watch out for her upcoming stand-alone, GIVE ME A REASON, releasing August 30th!
If she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the pool with her family, sipping cocktails with her friends, or of course with her nose buried in a book.
Be sure not to miss new releases and sales from A.L. Jackson – Sign up to receive her newsletter http://smarturl.it/NewsFromALJackson or text “aljackson” to 33222 to receive short but sweet updates on all the important news.
A brotherhood of murderers whose nature compels them to kill. But guided by their leader, Gabriel, the Fallen have learned to use their urges to rid the world of those it is better off without.
Control. Diel has spent his entire life under it. His childhood years were spent in the sadistic captivity of the Brethren. Now the Fallen are free, but the monster that lives inside Diel is not—can not be. The darkness within is curbed by an electric collar, the only thing that stops Diel from killing everyone in his path.
Diel’s monster yearns for freedom—the freedom to tear apart Brethren priests, as many as possible, one after the other in a frenzied, liberating spree. When Diel is granted a taste of that freedom, he expects bloodlust, violence, death.
He didn’t expect to find her.
The Fallen are not the only ones chasing the destruction of the Brethren. They were not the only ones to suffer at the priests’ hands. This Diel discovers when he stumbles upon Noa, second in command of the Coven, a group of women who are intent on bringing the Brethren down.
From the second they collide, Noa seems to understand Diel in a way that no one ever has before. She is unafraid of his rage, the bloodthirsty monster that dwells within him.
Because there is a darkness inside Noa too, and it recognises the one in Diel as if it is the missing half of her soul. For years she has tried to suppress it, but as she is inescapably drawn to the fury-filled man in the collar, she starts to wonder if she can keep up the fight.
She starts to wonder if she even should…
Dark contemporary romance. Contains sexual situations, violence, sensitive and taboo subjects, offensive language, and topics some may find triggering. Recommended for age 18 years and up.
Diel opened his eyes, his hazy gaze traveling down the damp gray stone wall around him. His cheek was cold as it pressed against the freezing floor. His neck ached, the throbbing ghost of numbness snaking over his bare shoulders and the top of his spine. His head twitched, and he flitted his eyes to the iron bars that trapped him inside the cage.
The cage he knew all too well.
The monster within him rippled under his skin, waking from the forced sleep it had been plunged into. A spear of anger soared through Diel’s veins, overriding the aches and numbness and the lethargy of his muscles. Again. They had grounded him again. Lamed his monster again.
Jaw clenched and hands fisted, Diel used his waning strength to lift his torso off the slick ground and sat up. His pulse thudded faster and faster at the fact that he was in the fucking cage. But his pulse had no sooner started to race than the metal collar around his neck crackled against his already scarred and scalded skin. The electricity sizzled its warning, a sharp-fanged serpent, ready to strike the minute he lost control of his senses.
Diel breathed deeply and forced his body to still, the darkness within him to rest. Every inch of him became a statue, and the hiss of the collar lessened to a low-grade hum.
He fucking hated the collar. It was the bane of his existence. But it was a necessity.
Diel closed his eyes and thought back to how he’d got to the cage in the first place—a dream. Another fucking dream that had ripped him from sleep and had seen him racing through the manor looking for someone to tear apart, to sate the bloodlust of the monster living inside him.
No. Not just someone. His monster yearned for some very specific someones.
The Brethren. The motherfucking Brethren that he and his brothers had recently destroyed after they’d captured Maria, Raphael’s woman. The Fallen had headed to Holy Innocents, the school that had robbed them of their childhoods and fucked with their bodies and minds. They had descended, for the final time, to Purgatory, the place where they had been held as kids.
And they had burned it to hell.
The flames may have destroyed Diel’s childhood tormentors, but the rage following the inferno remained. The monster that lived inside him, seeking blood and pain and death, only grew stronger, thirstier, more intolerant of the collar that wrapped around his neck like a leash, denying both of them what they craved—death. Such beautiful, sadistic deaths by their hands.
Diel heard the sound of a pencil scratching on paper and turned his head to see Sela sitting on a chair at the side of the Tomb. He was sketching on a pad of paper, eyes fixed on whatever he was creating.
“Upper hallway, left wing,” Sela said, without taking his eyes off the pad. His long dark hair curtained his face as he concentrated on whatever picture he was purging from his creative brain onto the page. “Gabriel had us bring you down here until you awoke.”
The tendons in Diel’s neck corded. The darkness inside was more than pissed at being handled in such a pathetic way. He ground his jaw so hard that the sound of teeth on teeth made Sela lift his eyes and meet his stare.
Sela’s pencil stilled. “Third time this week.”
Diel inhaled deeply through his nose and exhaled slowly. He mentally wrestled the monster back until its presence was a dull ache at the back of his head, throbbing like the very worst of migraines. Diel sat back on his ass and laid his arms over his bent knees. His head twitched as he fought the everlasting battle to keep his anger in check.
“The Brethren,” Diel said, voice raspy with exhaustion. Sela twirled the pencil in his fingers as he listened to his best friend, the stick of wood and charcoal practically an extension of his artistic hand.
Diel’s eyes lost focus as he bathed in the memory of his collar being turned off in Purgatory. Anger had filled his veins, and Diel and the monster he kept at arm’s length had become one, united in violence and death, twin dark souls synced and, for once in their lives, calm and at peace as they plunged their twenty-inch blades into the men that had destroyed their childhoods.
Destroyed every single part of them.
“D?” Sela said, pulling Diel from his stupor.
His temples throbbed, his ever-present migraine pounding like iron bars being slammed into his brain over and over again. His migraines had always been bad, the monster never sleeping long enough to grant a reprieve. It was constantly pacing at the back of his mind, desperate to finally be freed of the collar’s stringent control.
Diel rubbed the back of his neck. “I keep replaying that night in Purgatory.” Memories of killing the Brethren flashed like a highlight reel in his mind. “When the collar was off and we finally got to end them …” His cock stirred as he recalled the feel of his blades slicing into flesh, of hitting bone when they plunged too deep. But his excitement misted away to vapor when he remembered the familiar buzz of the collar being reignited and his monster being lashed and gagged once again. “And then Gabe switched it back on.” It had been like a junkie getting his fix, the most hedonistic drug cocktail of his life, only to be abruptly forced to go cold turkey afterward.
Diel’s head twitched again as his pulse began to race at just the memory of smelling the Brethren’s blood on his skin—the sweetest perfume. His hands flexed as he felt the phantom necks that had snapped under his fingers.
The collar buzzed and sent warning volts soaring through his body. His muscles tensed as he absorbed the pain, as it hissed at the monster inside to retreat. To get the fuck back. Sweat beaded on his forehead; a single drop ran down his spine.
Gasping for air, Diel submitted to the monster’s sudden surge of power to snarl, “I want this fucking collar off. I want to be who I was fucking born to be without the restraints.” Diel tensed and threw the monster back from taking control. The monster retreated, but its anger-tipped words echoed around Diel’s head like they were being blasted through speakers. Diel’s stomach turned and a fissure of panic slithered across his fractured soul at that thought. The thought off actually being free from the collar … of what that would look like, feel like …
Diel knew his monster could never be freed. He knew the collar could never come off. It would consume Diel. It would eradicate every part of who he was.
About the author
Tillie Cole hails from a small town in the North-East of England. She grew up on a farm with her English mother, Scottish father and older sister and a multitude of rescue animals. As soon as she could, Tillie left her rural roots for the bright lights of the big city.
After graduating from Newcastle University with a BA Hons in Religious Studies, Tillie followed her Professional Rugby player husband around the world for a decade, becoming a teacher in between and thoroughly enjoyed teaching High School students Social Studies before putting pen to paper, and finishing her first novel.
After several years living in Italy, Canada and the USA, Tillie has now settled back in her hometown in England, with her husband and new son.
Tillie is both an independent and traditionally published author, and writes many genres including: Contemporary Romance, Dark Romance, Young Adult and New Adult novels.
When she is not writing, Tillie enjoys nothing more than spending time with her little family, curling up on her couch watching movies, drinking far too much coffee, and convincing herself that she really doesn’t need that last square of chocolate.
Wild North, an all-new standalone romance with a broody and swoon-worthy mountain man from New York Times bestselling author JB Salsbury, is coming May 18th and we have the first look!
The temperature is the first thing I recognize as I wake up in a strange place. I blink open my eyes, grateful to see more clearly as I stare at the horizontal logs of a ceiling. Heat blazes from my left side. I cautiously turn my head to see a fire through the soot-stained glass of a woodstove. Everything is quiet except for the distant sound of wind and rain. Heavy weight presses down on me from my toes to my throat, and the musky scent of wet animal hangs heavy in the air. I wiggle my fingers on my stomach and realize I’m wearing nothing but my long underwear. I tilt my chin to see layers of weighted blankets covering me—no, not blankets. Animal hides.
I work my mouth and clear my dry throat. My lips are rough and cracked as I lick them with a parched tongue. I try to think back. To remember how I ended up here. Did I manage to crawl here on my own? Is this heaven? Hell?
I try to swivel my head slowly, taking in as much of the space as I can with only the muted light from the fire to expose my surroundings. Everything outside the fire’s glow is black. I need to sit up and get to my feet. As I take a deep breath to gather my strength, my ribcage roars in protest.
“Ow, fuck.” A moan works its way up my throat as I lie helplessly on my back. Tears spring to my eyes. Shallowly breathing, I lift my head then try to wedge my elbow underneath. I cry out in pain and drop my head back.
“Don’t move.” The deep, booming command comes from somewhere in the dark.
“Who are you?” My voice is weak and shaky and doesn’t sound like my own. A rush of energy fuels my muscles, and I attempt to move again. Gritting my teeth through the pain, I roll to my side toward the heat source.
“I wouldn’t do that,” the masculine voice says in a tone so deep it’s almost hard to hear.
Sweat breaks on my brow. My teeth clench until my jaw aches. I breathe through my nose, waiting for the pain to subside. That’s when I see a large mason jar filled with what looks like water sitting within arm’s reach. I scramble for it and slosh some over the rim while sloppily bringing it to my mouth. With greedy gulps, I down the glass, and water streams down my neck to my chest because of the odd angle. With a blissful sigh, I ease to my back with relief.
“Can I have more water, please?” My voice already sounds better, stronger.
He doesn’t answer.
“Hello?” I stare blindly at the roof of what I’ve gathered to be a log cabin. “Did you bring me here?”
“Where am I?”
He’s so quiet in the dark, I wonder if he’s disappeared.
“Do you have a phone? A car? I need a hospital. I slipped and fell. I remember tumbling and—” I gingerly reach up and touch my shoulder, moving my fingers over it, and press on the tender muscles. “I think I landed in a ditch or something. I blacked out. I don’t remember how long…” Was I lying there, dying, for days? “What day is it?”
My questions are met with more silence.
“Are you there—”
The sound of wood scraping on wood echoes around me, and I feel the air in the room shift. We must be in a small space because I can hear every step he takes. Wood creaks under his weight, and in the dim light of the fire, I see the faint outline of a large man, the yellow light glinting off his tan, bare torso as he climbs a ladder and disappears into more darkness.
The rustling of blankets is my only response.
“Why won’t you answer me—”
“Go to sleep.” Another growled, irritated command.
A flutter of panic works its way to my chest. Who is this guy? And what does he plan to do with me?
The question sends a ripple of fear through me. I’m completely helpless at the mercy of what could be a deranged outsider living like a wild animal in the mountains.
Not exactly the kind of thoughts that usher in sleep.
A woman in my fucking space. And the only person I have to blame for this royal shitstorm is myself.
But what should I have done? Left her out there to die? And she would surely have died. She was nearly hypothermic when I found her, and that was before the temperature dropped and the storm rolled in.
Goddammit, how unlucky can one son of a bitch be?
My answer lies in the form of a woman injured and obnoxiously curious on my cabin floor.
After a sleepless night, I feel her eyes on me before my foot hits the last rung of the ladder from my sleeping platform. My grip on the wood tightens, and I rein in my frustration at her intrusion. When I turn around, I’m surprised to see her sitting up, her back to the wall, still mostly covered in deer hides. Her fiery gray eyes are unflinching as I scowl back at her.
Yeah, I can ask questions, too. Like, how the hell is she sitting up with what I’m guessing is at least one broken rib? And how utterly stupid does a person have to be to wonder the Adirondack Mountains alone and untrained in survival? And furthermore, why the hell is she looking at me like I’m the one who pushed her off that ridge rather than the man who saved her life?
I rip my gaze from hers, not because she wins, but because my guess is she’ll be glaring at me all day, and I have more important shit to do than play the blinking game with this unwelcome pain in the ass.
After tossing more wood into the fire, I pull back the rustic shutters on the window to check the weather. “Shit,” I mumble to myself as I become aware of the grim truth.
An ice storm holds me prisoner inside my own cabin with a woman who irritates the fuck out of me by simply breathing. And it’s my fault she’s still breathing.
I go about making my breakfast, uncomfortably aware of her watching my every move. The kettle on the woodstove is already steaming, and I pull out my single bowl as well as a mason jar and add instant oatmeal. I pull out my instant coffee and grind my molars when I consider having to share my limited resources with my unwanted guest.
“Hello,” she says behind me. “Can you at least look at me when I’m talking to you?”
My hands freeze on the mason jar. An old memory nips at my nerves, causing an internal storm to simmer with a threat to rage. Abandoning breakfast, I grab my coat, slip on my boots, and throw open the front door, sending a gust of freezing ice inside.
“Where are you go—”
Her words are silenced by the door clanging behind me and the roar of the wind in my ears. I push through the waves of stinging ice to the outhouse, where I close myself inside, grateful for the slice of privacy.
If only the weather were clear, I’d have a shot at getting her out of here and back to wherever she came from. But neither of us is going anywhere until the storm moves through.
To me, he was Grizzly. To the world, I would learn, he’s someone else completely.
I should have died on that mountain. But he rescued me.
More animal than man, he’s cold, distant, and fiercely territorial. He seems to hate me for simply breathing, and yet, he brought me back to life.
After my return to the city, I can’t stop thinking about him. His rough hands, intense glare, and the way he cared for me as if I meant something to him.
He tells me he’s dangerous. That I’m not safe around him. I would eventually understand why he warned me away. But by then it’s too late. My heart is his.
About JB Salsbury JB Salsbury, New York Times Best Selling author of The Fighting Series, lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and two kids. She spends the majority of her day lost in a world of battling alphas, budding romance, and impossible obstacles as stories claw away at her subconscious, begging to be released to the page.
Her love of good storytelling led her to earn a degree in Media Communications. With her journalistic background, writing has always been at the forefront, and her love of romance prompted her to write her first novel.
Since 2013 she has published six bestselling novels in The Fighting Series and won a RONE Award.
“I’m gonna grab a beer,” he said. “You want something?” “I’ll take a beer, too.” He chuckled. “Is it bad that I had to think for a second whether you’re legal to drink? It feels wrong giving you alcohol, for some reason.” “You’ve dropped me off at the damn bar! How could you think that?” “I know. It’s fucked-up.” He laughed as he walked backwards into the house. “Be right back.” A minute later, Jace returned with two chilled bottles of Miller Lite. He popped one open and handed it to me. “Thanks.” I took a long sip that felt great going down. We polished off the rest of the food, and by the time I finished the beer, I felt pretty tipsy. Between the soft breeze blowing Jace’s scent my way and the buzz, I was on cloud nine. Jace took it upon himself to clear our wrappers and napkins, stuffing everything into the paper bag. As he went back into the kitchen, he asked, “Want another beer?” “I’d love one.” When he returned, he set the bottle in front of me and sat back down. He put his feet up on an empty chair and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. He sighed. “This is exactly what I needed…to chill at home.” That made me happy. “Give your head a break tonight. You can always worry about work tomorrow.” “Yeah. I think I’m gonna take your advice on that.” While his eyes were closed, I was able to enjoy staring at his profile—his strong, angular jaw and slightly cleft chin, his perfect nose and kissable lips, the way the sun brought out a reddish tone in his otherwise black hair. Jace was even more beautiful with the sun shining on him. I eventually closed my eyes as well, enjoying the breeze that offset a little of the heat. My eyes opened suddenly when I heard his chair skid against the cement. “Fuck it.” He got up. “I’ll be right back.” My heart raced a little. What is he doing? A few minutes later, Jace returned in his swim trunks. They were blue with tiny anchors, a nautical pattern. Not that I was looking closely at his lower half or anything. I’d just started to make my way up to his chest when he dove into the pool, his gorgeous, hard body disappearing under the sky blue water. He emerged and shook his head to clear the water from his hair. “You comin’ in or what?” I got goose bumps. I hadn’t planned to, but I couldn’t resist the invitation. “Sure.” I got up from my seat and unwrapped the towel. Jace watched as I entered the pool. But what was he thinking? I dove in and swam toward him, feeling more comfortable in my bathing suit now that I was submerged in the water. He flashed a mischievous grin. “Wanna race?” I splashed him. “Why? You think you can beat me just cuz your legs are longer?” He cocked a brow. “There’s only one way to find out, right?” Over the next several minutes, Jace and I swam in tandem from one end of the pool to the other. Sometimes he’d beat me to the other side, and a few times, I beat him. Eventually, we got into a water fight. The next thing I knew, he was chasing me, then lifting me up and tossing me in the water. He did that several times. It was the most fun I’d had in a long time. I hadn’t a care in the world. Then he lifted me up again, and I was certain he was going to toss me into the water, just like all of the other times. Instead, though, he just held me. Our eyes locked as my legs wrapped around his waist. He was going to have to drop me, because I sure as hell wasn’t climbing off him willingly. As he continued to hold me, the world seemed to stop. I could see the reflection of the palm trees in his gorgeous eyes, made luminescent by the sun. Those eyes then dropped to my lips. I could see his chest rising and falling. He swallowed hard. Holy shit. Something was happening. My heart was going a mile a minute. And then… “What are you doing?” Jace dropped me like a hot potato at the sound of Nathan’s voice. My body hit the water with a loud splash. What the hell is he doing here? My voice was shaky as I wiped the water from my eyes. “Wha…why are you home? I thought you were driving to meet that girl.” “She canceled on me, so I came back after the job interview.” Nathan’s eyes traveled between Jace and me. He seemed suspicious. “Oh.” I exhaled, moving a strand of hair out of my mouth. “How…how did the interview go?” “It was okay. Too hard to tell if they’re gonna call me back, though.” He looked straight at Jace. “You guys seemed to be having fun. Didn’t realize I was missing out on a…pool party.” Jace was silent. I felt the need to chime in. “Jace decided to take his debut dip in the pool. We were just playing around.” Nathan looked between us again. “I see.” Jace finally spoke. “Well, it’s hot as all hell today. So…” “You guys down if I make some dinner?” Nathan finally asked. “We actually already ate,” I told him. “Jace went to Checkers.” Nathan turned to his friend. “Since when do you eat dinner this early?” Jace cleared his throat. “I was starving.” “We didn’t think you were going to be home,” I said. “Otherwise, we would’ve waited.” “I guess I’ll give you that.” Jace got out of the water and dried himself off. He then laid out on one of the loungers, displaying his gorgeous, tanned body in all of its glistening glory. His feet dangled off the end of the chair. Nathan snapped his fingers in front of my face. “I asked if I got anything in the mail. Earth to Farrah.” Jesus. I hadn’t even heard him the first time.
Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of contemporary romance.
She grew up in Boston with five older brothers and spent most of her twenties as a television news anchor. Penelope resides in Rhode Island with her husband, son, and beautiful daughter with autism.
With over two million books sold, she is a 21-time New York Times bestseller and the author of over twenty novels. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and can be found in bookstores around the world.
A Friends-to-Lovers Rockstar Romance from A.L. Jackson
Coming February 22nd
Beneath the Stars is coming 02/22, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the except blitz. Check out the fire that is coming to you in this friends-to-lovers romance!
“Just how strong are ya, Mag Pie? Think you can sling me on that back and carry me inside?” He managed to only half slur the words.
Droplets of giddiness dripped into my chest. A well gathering fast. “You’re asking me if I can lift a Mack truck?”
“Hell, no. Just if you can tackle a stallion.”
He waggled his brows, though it was sloppy and goofy and kind of adorable, and god, how easily I could fall for this man.
Like slipping into quicksand.
“What would you say if I wanted to try?” I whispered, throat so tight it was difficult to speak.
He grunted. “I’d say that sounds like a mistake.”
“I thought you said I needed to make a few mistakes along the way?” I lifted my chin, my eyes searching his face in the darkness.
He forced a grin that felt wholly faked. “Ahhh…a few mistakes are called for. But believe me, baby, you don’t want this kind of tragedy.”
He shook his head to cut me off. “Don’t.”
I glanced back at the house. “I really should get Royce. He can help me get you inside.”
Rhys huffed out a laugh, shoving off the darkness that had gathered around him like a violent storm. He cocked a playful grin. “Think I’ve received my full allotment of death threats from your brother today, thank you very much. I can make it just fine.”
“Let’s just say he made our boundaries very clear.” He gestured at the bare space between us. “Just so you know, we’re already crossin’ them.”
I scowled. “When?”
I huffed a sigh.
“Richard?” I offered instead.
“Nope. Good as new. Can’t keep a good man down.” His words were all slurry and mushed together.
He hopped up like he was going to prove the point.
Only he stumbled three feet to the side.
A goliath who swayed.
I jumped up and rushed to his side. “Whoa there, cowboy. You keep it up, and you’re definitely going down.”
He leaned against me, slinging his arm over my shoulders.
The man heavy and hard and pure masculinity.
He staggered a bit, and I struggled to keep him upright, because holy crap, he was made of brick.
Suddenly, his nose was in my hair. “Why you gotta smell so good, Mags? And this dress.”
My brain was short-circuiting with him this close.
With the words that slipped from his mouth so errantly.
With the way his fingertips grazed over the silky fabric in the barest brush.
A.L. Jackson is the New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of contemporary romance. She writes emotional, sexy, heart-filled stories about boys who usually like to be a little bit bad.
Her bestselling series include THE REGRET SERIES, CLOSER TO YOU, BLEEDING STARS, FIGHT FOR ME, CONFESSIONS OF THE HEART, and FALLING STARS novels. Watch out for her upcoming stand-alone, BENEATH THE STARS, releasing February 22nd.
If she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the pool with her family, sipping cocktails with her friends, or of course with her nose buried in a book.
Be sure not to miss new releases and sales from A.L. Jackson – Sign up to receive her newsletter http://smarturl.it/NewsFromALJackson or text “aljackson” to 33222 to receive short but sweet updates on all the important news.
The Devil comes with baggage, and not the kind you can lose. I was two years old when he saved me. I didn’t understand much at that age, but I remember the pale boy with hair as dark as ink, saving me from two evils. He said he would protect me; I just didn’t know he meant from himself. I was raised in the arms of evil, tailored for the Devil like a custom Armani suit, and every day he wore it like a weapon. Brantley thought by keeping me locked in his manor that it would protect me, and it did.
Until it didn’t.
As I slowly adapt to The Elite Kings Club and the dark, sinister world that exists around the outlaws in suits, I come to learn that the monster everyone fears is the very same one I crave.
Like a prized trophy, I sit on his throne…
Something quite pretty, an object he owns…
She’s a porcelain doll, so shiny, so clean…
Something I want to polish, but to never be seen…
The time has come, I am in his world…
Now his Dea, can be admired by all…
The thing with porcelain is it’s fragile and delicate…
It would only take a second for me to eradicate it…
“She’s a Vitiosis before she’s anything else.”
“A Hayes by blood,” Hector adds, and I can’t help it.
The corner of my mouth curves, flashing straight teeth. “Sure about that?”
About the Author:
Amo Jones is a USA Today & Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author, totally winging this author thing (she’s probably doing it all wrong). She likes cake, loves wine, and her religion is magic (Slytherin). She’s a profound work-a-holic, but when she’s not writing, you can find her chilling with her kids & Husband at the nearest beach, with a cocktail in her hand.
New Zealand is not a state of Australia and rugby is the best sport ever played.
I’ve sworn off hockey players. Until the pregnancy test turns pink.
Noah Scotch is revered in Boston, a veritable god on the ice. I’m a nerdy, newly minted college professor who would rather color code my planner than hit the club scene. Noah shouldn’t look at me twice but when he does, I falter.
Who can blame me?
The sweet talker with the deliciously chiseled abs and sinful chocolate eyes is a force. On and off the ice. One hot and intense night with Noah has me second guessing my lack of a dating life.
Friends with benefits? He offers, I dive in headfirst. Growing up in a hockey family, I know better than to get serious with a player.
But the more time I spend getting to know Noah, the more my intention to keep things casual rings false.
Now, I’ve got a hopeful heart and a baby on the way.
I just need to tell Noah. But when I do, will I end up with everything I never knew I wanted? Or on my own?
Do I tell her? Just lay it all out? Why the hell not? I’ve never been known to mince words before. “I lied to you.” She rears back like I startled her and I curse myself for being such an idiot. “About what?” “I don’t want to be just friends, Indiana. I may be crazy presumptuous right now but the other night…” I trail off, gauging her reaction. “The other night what?” she whispers, her eyes searching mine. “The other night was better than great. It was… I can’t stop thinking about it. About you, in my bed, and I want you there again.”
About the Author:
I’m Gina Azzi, a book-obsessed, coffee-drinking, globetrotting, mama of three! I write sweet with a dash of spicy New Adult and Contemporary Romance full of good men putting in work to win the hearts of even better women.
A total Jersey girl at heart, I struggle with insatiable wanderlust and currently reside in Ontario, Canada with my family. When I’m not dreaming up storylines or writing all the words, you can find me hanging with my littles, attempting to bake, or planning my next adventure.
Blurb: I’m the whispers in the dark you can’t ignore. The bully you can’t run away from.
I’m the tormentor who makes your life a living hell.
The villain you love to hate.
I’m the vicious stepbrother sleeping in the next room.
The one who knows all your secrets.
And I’ll stop at nothing to make you pay.
WARNING: This book is recommended for mature readers due to graphic language, sexual content, and dark elements. It is NOT a safe read.
Excerpt: Tightening his grip, he escorts me to what appears to be a coat room. “What the hell?” “Let’s get one thing straight,” he snarls, cornering me until my spine meets a row of coats. “Your whore mother marrying my father changes nothing between us.” I almost want to laugh, because I don’t like this new arrangement any more than he does. However, it’s comical just how much it’s ruffling his feathers. “Awe, what’s the matter, Trenton?” I taunt. “Afraid I’ll—” Words die in my throat when one hand slams across my mouth and the other one hovers over my throat, threatening to squeeze. “I’m not afraid of anything, Stray.” He utters the last word with so much venom I nearly wince. Out of all the cruel nicknames Knox has given me over the years, this one hurts the most. Because it’s the truth. Ever since my dad died, I’ve felt lost and abandoned. Like a kitten who lost its way and will never find home because they don’t belong anywhere. He leans in close, his ruthless stare burning a hole right through me. “But you should be.” A shiver runs down my spine, not only because of his threatening words and the hostility they’re laced with…but the lethal way he’s looking at me. As if he’s contemplating the best method to kill me and dispose of my body afterward. I’ve heard all the rumors going around school. His mom was murdered when he was thirteen… And his dad sent him to a mental institution for a year while he covered it up. Because Knox was the one who did it. People weren’t terrified of him just because he was a bully who got off on terrorizing others. They were terrified because he was a legitimate psychopath who was capable of homicide. Until now, I wasn’t sure I believed any of the gossip. At six foot three he towers over my five-four frame, but I force myself to peer up and look him right in the eyes. “Go to hell.” Deep down I’m petrified of the lunatic, but I refuse to let him see that. My breath hitches when he presses his body against mine and the hand looming over my throat constricts. “I live there.” Live? More like ruled because as far as I’m concerned, he’s the devil. My retort falls by the wayside, though, when he leans in and his mouth brushes mine. I’m about to ask what the fuck he’s doing, but a sharp sting shoots through my flesh when his teeth clamp down on my bottom lip and I taste a hint of copper. I try to pull away, but that only makes the pain worse. Thinking quick, I knee him in the balls. With an aggravated grunt, he finally releases his hold. I expect him to be pissed so I brace myself, preparing for another attack, but to my surprise there’s a trace of amusement in his expression. His tongue darts out and I see the glint of metal from his piercing as he swipes the blood gathered on his lip. “Welcome to the family, sis.”
About the Author: Ashley Jade loves to tackle different genres and tropes within romance. Her first loves are New Adult Romance and Romantic Suspense, but she also writes everything in between including: contemporary romance, erotica, and dark romance.
Her characters are flawed and complex, and chances are you will hate them before you fall head over heels in love with them.
She’s a die-hard lover of oxford commas, em dashes, music, coffee, and anything thought provoking…except for math.
Books make her heart beat faster and writing makes her soul come alive. She’s always read books growing up and scribbled stories in her journal, and after having a strange dream one night; she decided to just go for it and publish her first series.
It was the best decision she ever made.
If she’s not paying off student loan debt, working, or writing a novel—you can usually find her listening to music, hanging out with her readers online, and pondering the meaning of life.
Check out her amazon page and Facebook page for future novels. She recently became hip and joined Twitter, so you can find her there, too. She loves connecting with her readers—they make her world go round’.
EXCERPT REVEAL Title: The Invitation Author: Vi Keeland Genre:Standalone Contemporary Romance Release Date: January 18, 2021
Excited about Vi Keeland’s upcoming release, The Invitation? Check out this SNEAK PEEK of CHAPTER 1!
CHAPTER 1 Stella “I can’t do this…” I stopped halfway up the marble staircase. Fisher paused a few steps ahead of me. He walked back down to where I stood. “Sure you can. Remember the time we were in sixth grade and you had to make that presentation about your favorite president? You were a nervous wreck. You thought you were going to forget everything you’d memorized and be standing there with everyone staring at you.” “Yes, what about it?” “Well, this is no different. You got through that, didn’t you?” Fisher had lost his mind. “My fears all came true that day. I got up in front of the blackboard and started to sweat. I couldn’t remember a single word I’d written. Everyone in the class stared, and then you heckled me.” Fisher nodded. “Exactly. Your worst fear came true, and yet you lived to see another day. In fact, that day turned out to be the best day of your life.” I shook my head, bewildered. “How so?” “That was the first time we’d ever been in the same class. I thought you were just another annoying girl like the rest of them. But after school that day, you ripped into me for teasing you while you were trying to do your presentation. That made me realize you weren’t like the other girls. And that very day I decided we were going to be best friends.” I shook my head. “I didn’t speak to you for the rest of the school year.” Fisher shrugged. “Yeah, but I won you over the next year, didn’t I? And right now you feel a little calmer than you did two minutes ago, don’t you?” I sighed. “I guess I do.” He held out his tuxedo-clad elbow. “Shall we go in?” I swallowed. As terrified as I was of what we were about to do, I also couldn’t wait to see what the inside of the library looked like all done up for a wedding. I’d spent countless hours sitting on these steps, wondering about the people walking by. Fisher waited patiently with his elbow out while I debated another minute. Finally, with another loud sigh, I took his arm. “If we wind up in jail, you’re going to have to come up with the bail money for both of us. I’m way too broke.” He flashed his movie-star smile. “Deal.” As we climbed the remaining steps to the doors of the New York Public Library, I went over all of the details we’d discussed in the Uber on the way here. Our names for the evening were Evelyn Whitley and Maximilian Reynard. Max was in real estate—his family owned Reynard Properties—and I’d gotten my MBA at Wharton and recently moved back to the City. We both lived on the Upper East Side—at least that part was true. Two uniformed waiters wearing white gloves stood at the towering entrance doors. One held a tray of champagne flutes, and the other a clipboard. Though my legs somehow kept going, my heart felt like it was trying to escape from my chest and take off in the opposite direction. “Good evening.” The waiter with the clipboard nodded. “May I have your names, please?” Fisher didn’t flinch as he doled out the first of what would be a night full of lies. The man, who I noticed had an earpiece in, scanned his list and nodded. He held a hand out for us to enter, and his partner handed us each bubbly. “Welcome. The ceremony will take place in the rotunda. Seating for the bride is on your left.” “Thank you,” Fisher said. As soon as we were out of earshot, he leaned close. “See? Easy peasy.” He sipped his champagne. “Oooh, this is good.” I had no idea how he was so calm. Then again, I also had no idea how he’d managed to talk me into this insanity. Two months ago, I’d come home from work to find Fisher, who was also my neighbor, raiding my refrigerator for leftovers—a common occurrence. As he ate two-day-old chicken Milanese, I’d sat at the kitchen table sorting through my mail and having a glass of wine. While we talked, I’d sliced open the back of an oversized envelope without checking the address on the front. The most stunning wedding invitation had been inside—black and white with raised gold leaf. It was like a gilded work of art. And the wedding was at the New York Public Library, of all places—right near my old office and where I’d often sat and had my lunch on the iconic stairs. I hadn’t visited in at least a year, so I was seriously pumped to get to go to a wedding there. Though I’d had no idea whose wedding it was—a distant relative I’d forgotten, maybe? The names weren’t even vaguely familiar. When I turned the envelope over, I quickly realized why. I’d opened my ex-roommate’s mail. Ugh. That figured. It wasn’t me who was invited to a fairytale wedding at one of my favorite places in the world. But after a couple of glasses of wine, Fisher had convinced me it should be me going, and not Evelyn. It was the least my deadbeat ex-roommate could do for me, he’d said. After all, she’d snuck out in the middle of the night, taken some of my favorite shoes with her, and the check she’d left behind for the two months of back rent she owed had bounced. At a minimum, I ought to get to attend a ritzy, thousand-dollars-a-plate wedding, rather than her. Lord knew none of my friends were ever getting married at a venue like that. By the time we’d polished off the second bottle of merlot, Fisher had decided we would go in Evelyn’s place—crash the wedding for a fun night out, compliments of my no-good former roomie. Fisher had even filled out the response card, writing that two guests would attend, and slipped it into his back pocket to mail the next day. I’d honestly forgotten all about our drunken plans until two weeks ago when Fisher came home with a tuxedo he’d borrowed from a friend for the upcoming nuptials. I’d balked and told him I wasn’t going to crash some expensive wedding for people I didn’t know, and he’d done what he always did: gotten me to think his bad idea wasn’t really that bad. Until now. I stood in the middle of the sprawling lobby of what was probably a two-hundred-thousand-dollar wedding and felt like I might literally pee my pants. “Drink your champagne,” Fisher said. “It’ll help you relax a bit and put some color back in your cheeks. You look like you’re about to attempt to tell the class why you like John Quincy Adams so much.” I squinted at Fisher, though he smiled back, undeterred. I was certain nothing was going to help me loosen up. But nevertheless, I gulped back the contents of my glass. Fisher tucked one hand casually into his trouser pocket and looked around with his head held high, like he didn’t have a fear in the world. “I haven’t seen my old friend party animal Stella in a long time,” he said. “Might she come out to play tonight?” I handed him my empty champagne flute. “Shut up and go find me another glass before I bolt.” He chuckled. “No problem, Evelyn. You just sit tight and try not to blow our cover before we even get to see the beautiful bride.” “Beautiful? You don’t even know what she looks like.” “All brides look beautiful. That’s why they wear a veil—so you can’t see the ugly ones, and everything is magical on their special day.” “That’s so romantic.” Fisher winked. “Not everyone can be as pretty as me.” Three glasses of champagne helped calm me enough to sit through the wedding ceremony. And the bride definitely didn’t need a veil. Olivia Rothschild—or Olivia Royce, as she would be now—was gorgeous. I got a little teary eyed watching the groom say his vows. It was a shame the happy couple weren’t really my friends, because one of their groomsmen was insanely attractive. I might’ve daydreamed that Livi—that’s what I called her in my head—would fix me up with her new hubby’s buddy. But alas, tonight was a ruse, and I was no Cinderella story. The cocktail hour took place in a beautiful room I’d never been in. I studied the artwork on the ceiling as I waited at the bar for my drink. Fisher had told me he needed to use the restroom, but I had a feeling he’d really snuck off to talk to the handsome waiter who had been eyeing him since we’d walked in. “Here you go, miss.” The bartender slid a drink over to me. “Thank you.” I took a quick look around to see if anyone was paying attention before dipping my nose inside the glass and taking a deep sniff. Definitely not what I ordered. “Ummm, excuse me. Is it possible you made this with Beefeater gin and not Hendricks?” The bartender frowned. “I don’t think so.” I sniffed a second time, now certain he’d made it wrong. A man’s voice to my left caught me off guard. “You didn’t even taste it, yet you think he poured the wrong gin?” I smiled politely. “Beefeater is made with juniper, orange peels, bitter almond, and blended teas, which produces a licorice taste. Hendricks is made of juniper, rose, and cucumber. There’s a different smell to each.” “Are you drinking it straight or on the rocks?” “Neither. It’s a gin martini, so it has vermouth.” “But you think you can smell that he used the wrong gin, without even tasting it?” The guy’s voice made it clear he didn’t think I could. “I have a very good sense of smell.” The man looked over my shoulder. “Hey, Hudson, I got a hundred bucks that says she can’t tell the difference between the two gins if we line them up.” A second man’s voice came from my right, this one behind my shoulder a bit. The sound was deep, yet velvety and smooth—sort of like the gin the bartender should’ve used to make my drink. “Make it two hundred, and you’re on.” Turning to get a look at the man willing to wager on my abilities, I felt my eyes widen. Oh. Wow. The gorgeous guy from the bridal party. I’d stared at him during most of the wedding. He was handsome from afar, but up close he was breathtaking in a way that made my belly flutter—dark hair, tanned skin, a chiseled jawline, and luscious, full lips. The way his hair was styled—slicked back and parted to the side—reminded me of an old-time movie star. What I hadn’t been able to see from the back row during the ceremony was the intensity of his ocean blue eyes. Those were currently scanning my face like I was a book. I cleared my throat. “You’re going to bet two-hundred dollars that I can identify gin?” The gorgeous man stepped forward, and my olfactory sense perked up. Now that smells better than any gin. I wasn’t sure if it was his cologne or some sort of a body wash, but whatever it was, it took everything in my power to not lean toward him and take a deep whiff. The sinfully sexy man smelled as good as he looked. That pairing was my kryptonite. There was a hint of amusement in his voice. “Are you telling me it’s a bad bet?” I shook my head and turned back to speak to his friend. “I’ll play along with your little bet, but I’m in for two hundred, too.” When my eyes returned to the handsome man on my right, the corner of his lip twitched just slightly. “Nice.” He lifted his chin to his friend. “Tell the bartender to pour a shot of Beefeater and a shot of Hendricks. Line ’em up in front of her, and don’t let us know which is which.” A minute later, I lifted the first shot glass and sniffed. It honestly wasn’t even necessary for me to smell the other, though I did it anyway, just to be safe. Damn… I should’ve bet more. This was too easy, like taking candy from a baby. I slid one shot glass forward and spoke to the waiting bartender. “This one is the Hendricks.” The bartender looked impressed. “She’s right.” “Damn it,” the guy who had started this game huffed. He dug into his front pocket, pulled out an impressive billfold, and peeled off four hundred-dollar bills. Tossing them in our direction on top of the bar, he shook his head. “I’ll win it back by Monday.” Gorgeous Guy smiled at me as he collected his cash. Once I took mine, he lowered his head to whisper in my ear. “Nice job.” Oh my. His hot breath sent a shiver down my spine. It had been way too long since I’d had contact with a man. Sadly, my knees felt a little weak. But I forced myself to ignore it. “Thank you.” He reached around me to the bar and lifted one of the shots. Bringing it to his nose, he sniffed before setting it back down and smelling the other. “I don’t smell anything different.” “That just means you have a normal sense of smell.” “Ah, I see. And yours is…extraordinary?” I smiled. “Why yes, it is.” He looked amused as he passed me one of the shots and held the other up in toast. “To being extraordinary,” he said. I wasn’t generally a shot drinker, but what the hell? I clinked my glass with his before knocking it back. Maybe the alcohol would help settle the nerves this man seemed to have jolted awake. I set my empty shot glass on the bar next to his. “I take it this is something the two of you do on a regular basis, since your friend plans to win it back by Monday?” “Jack’s family and mine have been friends since we were kids. But the betting started when we went to the same college. I’m a Notre Dame fan, and he’s a USC fan. We were broke back then, so we used to bet a Taser zap on games.” “A Taser zap?” “His father was a cop. He gave him a Taser to keep under his car seat just in case. But I don’t think he envisioned his son taking hits of fifty-thousand volts when a last-minute interception made his team lose.” I shook my head. “That’s a little crazy.” “Definitely not our wisest decision. At least I won a lot more than he did. A little brain damage might help explain some of his choices in college.” I laughed. “So today was just a continuation of that pattern, then?” “Pretty much.” He smiled and extended his hand. “I’m Hudson, by the way.” “Nice to meet you. I’m St—” I caught myself in the nick of time. “I’m Evelyn.” “So are you a gin aficionado, Evelyn? Is that why I didn’t smell anything different between the two?” I smiled. “I wouldn’t consider myself an aficionado of gin, no. To be honest, I mostly drink wine. But did I mention my occupation? I’m a fragrance chemist—a perfumist.” “You make perfume?” I nodded. “Among other things. I developed scents for a cosmetics and fragrance company for six years. Sometimes it was a new perfume, other times it was the scent for a wipe that removes makeup, or maybe a cosmetic that needs a more pleasant smell.” “Pretty sure I never met a perfumist before.” I smiled. “Is it as exciting as you’d hoped?” He chuckled. “What exactly is the training for a job like that?” “Well, I have a chemistry degree. But you can have all the education you want, and you still won’t be able to do the job unless you also have hyperosmia.” “And that is…” “An enhanced ability to smell odors, an increased olfactory acuity.” “So you’re good at smelling shit?” I laughed. “Exactly.” A lot of people think they have a good sense of smell, but they don’t really understand how heightened the sense is for someone with hyperosmia. Demonstrating always worked best. Plus, I really wanted to know what cologne he was wearing. So, I leaned in and took a deep inhale of Hudson. Exhaling, I said, “Dove soap.” He didn’t look completely sold. “Yes, but that’s a pretty common soap choice.” I smiled. “You didn’t let me finish. Dove Cool Moisture. It’s got cucumber and green tea in it—also a common ingredient in gins, by the way. And you use L’Oreal Elvive shampoo, same as me. I can smell gardenia tahitensis flower extract, rosa canina flower extract, and a slight hint of coconut oil. Oh, and you use Irish Spring deodorant. I don’t think you’re wearing any cologne, actually.” Hudson’s brows rose. “Now that’s impressive. The wedding party stayed in a hotel last night, and I forgot to pack my cologne.” “Which one do you normally wear?” “Ah… I can’t tell you that. What will we do on our second date for entertainment if we don’t play the sniff test?” “Our second date? I didn’t realize we were going to have a first.” Hudson smiled and held out his hand. “The night’s young, Evelyn. Dance with me?” A knot in the pit of my stomach warned me it was a bad idea. Fisher and I were supposed to stick together and limit contact with other people to minimize our chances of getting caught. But glancing around, my date was nowhere in sight. Plus, this man was seriously magnetic. Somehow, before my brain even finished debating the pros and cons, I found myself putting my hand in his. He led me to the dance floor and wrapped one arm around my waist, leading with the other. Not surprisingly, he knew how to dance. “So, Evelyn with the extraordinary sense of smell, I’ve never seen you before. Are you a guest or a plus one?” He looked around the room. “Is some guy giving me the evil eye behind my back right now? Am I going to need to get Jack’s Taser from the car to ward off a jealous boyfriend?” I laughed. “I am here with someone, but he’s just a friend.” “The poor guy…” I smiled. Hudson’s flirting was over the top, yet I gobbled it up. “Fisher is more interested in the guy who was passing out champagne than me.” Hudson held me a little closer. “I like your date much better than I did thirty seconds ago.” Goose bumps prickled my arms as he lowered his head, and his nose briefly brushed against my neck. “You smell incredible. Are you wearing one of the perfumes you make?” “I am. But it’s not one that can be ordered. I like the idea of having a true signature scent that someone can remember me by.” “I don’t think you need the perfume to be remembered.” He led me around the dance floor with such grace, I wondered if he had taken professional lessons. Most men his age thought slow dancing meant rocking back and forth and grinding an erection against you. “You’re a good dancer,” I said. Hudson responded by twirling us around. “My mother was a professional ballroom dancer. Learning wasn’t an option; it was a requirement if I wanted to be fed.” I laughed. “That’s really cool. Did you ever consider following in her footsteps?” “Absolutely not. I grew up watching her suffer with hip bursitis, stress fractures, torn ligaments—it’s definitely not the glamorous profession they make it out to be on all those dance-contest TV shows. You gotta love what you do for a job like that.” “I think you have to love what you do for any job.” “That’s a very good point.” The song came to an end, and the emcee told everyone to take their seats. “Where are you sitting?” Hudson asked. I pointed to the side of the room where Fisher and I had been seated. “Somewhere over there. Table Sixteen.” He nodded. “I’ll walk you.” We approached the table at the same moment as Fisher, who was coming from the other direction. He looked between Hudson and me, and his face asked the question he didn’t say aloud. “Umm…this is my friend Fisher. Fisher, this is Hudson.” Hudson extended his hand. “Nice to meet you.” After shaking with a silent Fisher, who seemed to have forgotten how to speak, he turned to me and took my hand once again. “I should get back to my table with the rest of the wedding party.” “Okay.” “Save a dance for me later?” I smiled. “I’d love to.” Hudson turned to walk away and then turned back. As he walked backwards, he called, “In case you pull a Cinderella on me and disappear, what’s your last name, Evelyn?” Thankfully, him using my fake name reminded me not to give him my real one as I’d almost done the first time. “It’s Whitley.” “Whitley?” Oh God. Did he know Evelyn? His eyes swept over my face. “Beautiful name. I’ll see you later.” “Uhh…okay, sure.” When Hudson was barely out of earshot, Fisher leaned close to me. “My name’s supposed to be Maximilian, sweetheart.” “Oh my God, Fisher. We have to leave.” “Nah.” He shrugged. “It’s no big deal. We made up Maximilian anyway. I’m your plus one. No one knows the name of the person Evelyn brought. Though I still want to play a real estate tycoon.” “No, it’s not that.” “Then what is it?” “We have to leave because he knows…” ★★★
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Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling author. With millions of books sold, her titles have appeared in over a hundred Bestseller lists and are currently translated in twenty-five languages. She resides in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.