“What’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?” he asks and presses his nose to mine briefly causing my breath to hitch before he pulls away.
“Your suit reminds me that you are the governor,” I say and I know it sounds weird, but somehow in my head on the last few dates, I tried to convince myself that he was just a regular guy.
He chuckles, and again I wish I knew the sound of his laughter. “I’m still the same guy whether I’m in a suit and tie or a pair of jeans,” he replies. I want to tell him that he looks hot as sin in his suit but something tells me that his ego is inflated enough.
“Isn’t the governor’s mansion in Springfield? Why are you always in Chicago?” I ask, knowing this because I also teach history and the governor’s mansion has been in use since 1855.
“Yes, the governor’s mansion is in Springfield, and I do occupy it in a way, but I hate it there. It’s big and empty. I much prefer my apartment here in the city. Truth is since I met you I’ve been spending more time in Chicago than I have in Springfield,” he says, and his blue eyes blaze as he makes the admission. My chest turns warm and saliva pools in the back of my throat. Fuck! I am so turned on by him.
“Oh,” is the only word I can formulate right now.
He walks toward me at such a slow pace, and I feel like someone has pressed a slow-motion button. I take a large gulp as he closes the distance between us. He pushes a stray strand of hair off my face. “I’ve been thinking about kissing the hell out of you all day,” he says. My knees buckle, at least they feel like they do because the next thing I know his lips are on mine, hot and wanting. He kisses softly at first before his tongue begs entrance into my mouth. His taste is as intoxicating as I remembered. Our lips meshed together in a way that tells me, we fit. This is more than perfect. This kiss is everything.
R.C. Stephens was born in Toronto, Canada. She graduated from York University with a master’s Degree in Political Science.
R.C. is an avid reader, so when she isn’t cooking for her clan or on her laptop writing, she’s snuggled tight with her Kindle devouring any romance novel she can. Okay, with the exception of Thursday nights. She makes time for Scandal and Vampire Diaries. She’s a fan of drama and suspense but she’s also a sucker for a happy ending.
Her husband was her first teenage love. They live together with their three children in Toronto. Loving Canadian winters she could never think of living anywhere else.
Wells Lemiere knew the moment he saw Matty Haverbrooke, he had to have him. Matty was quiet, he was talented, he was beautiful, and Wells couldn’t stay away.
As the youngest and most talented son of the NHL Commissioner, Matty had found the burden of family expectations almost too heavy to carry on even his broad shoulders. He had no intention of getting involved in a relationship with Wells. But the heart he’d given up for dead had other ideas.
Their affair was intense and overwhelming, but when Matty couldn’t bring himself to come out and admit he wanted a public future with the man he loved, Wells had no choice but to honor his vow to live openly…and leave Matty behind.
But then he learns Wells is marrying another, and Matty knows he can’t let that happen. Can he throw down his gloves and embrace his future with both hands? Or will he pull the door to his closet shut once more?
Stretching in the bed, Matty extended the motion from his fingertips to his toes. It was a great stretch, but shit, what time was it? With his eyes still shut, he reached for his phone on the nightstand, bringing it to his face, blinking to see it was close to six a.m. Why in the hell was he awake? This was a vacation, he needed to fucking sleep, especially with how much all these people talked. Wells’s family was nice, he liked them just fine, but damn, they talked all the time. And picked on each other! He wasn’t a stranger to razzing, but for fuck’s sake, he wasn’t sure there was a moment someone wasn’t picking on someone else.
It was very entertaining.
But very new.
Or maybe that was just his fucked-up upbringing. Because in the Haverbrooke household, no one really joked or laughed for no reason when he was growing up. Or, hell, even now. Everyone was in their own rooms, doing their own thing. The only time he saw his mother and father was either at dinner or at a hockey game. They never once put him on the bus or made him breakfast; the nanny did that. That didn’t mean he didn’t love his parents. He did, very much, but they were always busy. So were his older brothers, and all he had was Avery. Until he ruined that too.
When he realized the bed was empty, he looked around the room to see that, like his teenage years, he was very alone.
Where was Wells?
Pushing off the blankets, he got out of bed, naked. The windows were open, letting in the salty air. Anyone could look in, but he wasn’t worried about that. When he looked out at the beach, he saw Wells standing in the water, his arms above his head, the muscles in his back taut and undeniably sexy. Reaching for a pair of running shorts, Matty watched Wells while he put them on before going out the front door, shutting it behind him. “Hey.”
Wells looked over his shoulder, his eyes softening at the sight of Matty. “Hey yourself, lazy ass.”
Matty sputtered with laughter as he walked to the shore, the water running up on his feet. “Shit, that’s cold!”
Wells rolled his eyes. “You’re such a baby. It’s great. Especially after running for an hour.”
As Wells turned, coming toward him, a grin moved across Matty’s face. Running did Wells’s body so fucking good. His torso was cut and defined, his pecs thick and mouthwatering, but those shoulders? Yeah, they had Matty’s cock hard within seconds. “Fuck, you’re hot.”
Wells smirked. “I know.”
Rolling his eyes as Wells reached for him, pulling his body against him, Matty let out a little sound of distress. “Dude, it’s cold!”
“No, it’s not. Come here, I’ll keep you warm.”
About the Author:
My name is Toni Aleo and I’m a total dork. I am a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic. I am the biggest Shea Weber fan ever, and can be found during hockey season with my nose pressed against the Bridgestone Arena’s glass, watching my Nashville Predators play! When my nose isn’t pressed against the glass, I enjoy going to my husband and son’s hockey games, my daughter’s dance competition, hanging with my best friends, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and reading the latest romance novel. I have a slight Disney and Harry Potter obsession, I love things that sparkle, I love the color pink, I might have been a Disney Princess in a past life… probably Belle. … and did I mention I love hockey?
I never looked back after skipping out on my own wedding, even if it did leave me estranged from most of my family. Eight years later, I have the life I’ve always wanted. As an advertising account executive, my world is damn near perfect.
Until I come face-to-face with my past. With the man I once loved. The man who holds my future in his hands. The man who’s hell-bent on getting even with me for leaving him at the altar.
Even with all the unfinished business between us, I still love Knox Montgomery. The only problem?
He loves me…KNOT.
“BLESS HER HEART.”
This—the quintessential Southern phrase “bless her heart”—is the ultimate kiss of death.
The irony isn’t lost on me since I just avoided my own kiss of death, figuratively speaking. Instead of walking down the aisle, I’m trudging along the Pensacola Beach boardwalk in my wedding dress.
With tear-stained cheeks.
Two elderly women peer at me, blatant curiosity etched across their features, and one turns to the other to hiss, “I wonder if the groom left her.”
“Would you blame him?” the other woman responds, disdain dripping from her tone. “She’s got a”—she utters the next words much like they’re absolutely scandalous—“nose piercing.”
The dark glare I direct at them is concealed by my sunglasses, so with a dismissive huff, I continue plodding along, swiping a hand across my tear-streaked cheeks. Judging by the black smudges on my fingers, my waterproof mascara clearly lied.
Damn jackass mascara.
Damn jackass groom. I’m starting to see a trend here…
The longer I walk, the more stares I get. One little girl in a tutu bathing suit points to the top of my head and squeals with joy, “Look! A princess!”
Damn jackass tiara and veil my mother insisted I wear.
I march over to a large trash bin and—without any finesse whatsoever—begin tugging the pins holding this awful tiara-veil combo in place. As I’m attempting to remove it, agitation takes over due to my sad lack of progress. I bunch the veil in my fists and give it a firm tug from my elaborate up-do. Bobby pins shoot and ping in various directions, and I distractedly pray no one gets too close and loses an eye. Shoving the obscene length of fabric in the trash, I feel a bit lighter.
The June sun beats down on me as I stand on the stamped cement of the boardwalk, the heat radiating through the soles of my favorite flip-flops. My eyes flutter closed as I inhale a deep breath of the salty Gulf of Mexico air.
God, I love this beach. It’s always been one of my favorites, especially since it takes just under an hour to drive here from Mobile. The water is a gorgeous shade of blue-green, and the sand is perfectly white and free of pesky shells. Any other time, I’d be kicking off my flip-flops and running toward the surf. Now, though, I have different priorities: a stiff drink. Or ten.
The challenge is finding a place where I might not draw attention—er, as much attention. I slowly survey the nearby choices of bars and restaurants lined up along the boardwalk; I scan and dismiss them one by one.
Wait a minute.
One particular sign snags my eye. It has an outline of two men standing back to back, their forms filled with a swirl of rainbows and the name Be-Bob’s written in script-like font beneath it.
A gay bar.
With my key ring clipped to my small wristlet, I stalk over to the bar, doing my best to ignore the startled looks and gawking from other beachgoers. Tugging open the heavy door, I step over the threshold and into the brisk air conditioning.
Into a place where I might find slightly more acceptance.
I slide my sunglasses to rest atop my head and take a moment to allow my eyes to adjust to the dimmer light. There are only about eight people scattered about, chatting over drinks. When I don’t earn more than a brief glance before they return to their own conversations, I breathe my first sigh of relief. Most of the patrons are likely indulging in the great weather and enjoying a Saturday at the beach, not looking for refuge and hiding out like I am.
I scan the framed photos that adorn the walls featuring local drag queens and scantily clad male models before striding over to the bar. I hoist myself up onto a worn leather bar stool, and catch the eye of the only bartender behind the counter. He appears to be taking inventory of the liquor, if his clipboard is anything to go by.
When he turns around and gets the full visual of me, his expression is priceless, his eyebrows nearly hitting his hairline. I’d laugh if I had it in me, but I’m emotionally spent.
As he regards what’s visible to him from the top of the bar on up to my hair, his light brown eyes soften and the corners of his mouth tip up slightly. Without batting an eye, he reaches below the counter and produces a wet wipe. I gratefully accept it and he rests his forearms upon the lacquered surface, regarding me with interest as I rid my cheeks of the dark mascara streaks.
The bartender waits until I’m finished and then accepts the wipe from me before tossing it into the trash.
“Well, I can’t say I’ve ever served a runaway bride before.” My makeup-fail savior appears to gauge me, as if expecting me to burst into a river of tears.
Funny enough, the drive here has expended me of those and I’m firmly entrenched in the anger stage of my fiancé’s betrayal.
I prop an elbow on the bar, rest my chin on my palm, and offer what I know is the weakest excuse for a smile. “There’s a first time for everything, right?”
He doesn’t immediately answer, eyeing me curiously until his lips stretch into an easy smile. His eyes do that little crinkly thing at the corners and he has what I call “kind eyes.”
Then again, I remind myself, what the hell do I know?
I’m clearly not the best judge of people. That much has become all too evident.
The bartender reaches out a hand. “Casey.”
I grasp his hand, noting his impressive manicure. This guy’s cuticles are better than mine and I love the shade of metallic gray polish on his nails. “Nice to meet you, Casey. I’m Emma Jane.”
He reaches beneath the bar and I hear a clinking as he scoops ice, before he brings a cup into view. Then he works his magic, and pours in a bit of this and that from one bottle to the next. Finally, with flourish—and a maraschino cherry tossed in—he slides the plastic cup across the smooth surface.
“It’s my special, secret mix. I call it”—he leans in toward me and lowers his voice, his eyes dancing with mischief—“the Panty Dropper.”
One of my brows arches as I stare back at him with dismayed skepticism. “I hardly think I’m a prime panty-dropping candidate right now.”
Casey lifts a shoulder in a half shrug, his eyes flickering over my shoulder before returning to me. His smile grows wider. “You never can tell.”
With a tiny laugh, I shake my head and wrap my lips around the straw to take a sip of the concoction he’s made me. Just as I swallow the sweet drink, I both feel and smell a person sidle up next to me at the bar.
Hell. The reason I came here was because I thought for sure my chances of getting hit on would be slim to none. But, as I glance at him from the corner of my eye, I observe strong, muscled forearms, tanned and sprinkled with dark hair. The scent of him is appealing and masculine, a cologne that doesn’t overpower. Just the sight of those arms alone, however, makes me incredibly wary to see the rest of him.
Casey doesn’t address the newcomer, his focus still on me. “I’m all ears, Emma Jane. Been told I’m a great listener.”
Good Lord. Where do I even start?
Before I can answer, the man speaks up, his deep voice booming. “Are you cheating on me, Case?” He makes what sounds like a gasp of exaggerated indignation. “I can’t believe you’d betray me like this.”
I glance up to see Casey’s expression full of mirth, and he rolls his eyes. “You know better. I’m still waiting on you to switch over.”
A husky laugh greets my ears and it sounds far too male—far too appealing—which is why I refuse to turn and look at the man beside me.
“I might switch if you’d agree to root for my team.”
“Not gonna happen,” Casey scoffs before his gaze meets mine. “Isn’t that drink exactly what the doctor ordered?”
I muster up a smile because he seems like a sweet guy. “It is.” With a start, I realize I haven’t given him my card to pay or at least start a tab. I reach for my wristlet. “What do I owe you?”
He waves me off. “Honey, that one’s on me as long as you promise to dish before we get slammed in a few hours.”
A loud exhale spills past my lips. “It’s a pathetic story, really.”
“Let me guess.” Mr. Forearms’s husky voice is a deep timbre, amusement threaded in his tone. “You caught him with your maid of honor.”
I let out a harsh laugh and fiddle with my straw, using it to move around the ice cubes in my drink. “Nope.” If only it were that simple, I muse internally.
“Caught him with his best man?”
This time, his suggestion drags a lighter sounding laugh from me. “Not even.”
“Well, you know I can’t leave here without hearing the story. I’m intrigued.”
This guy is something else, that’s for sure. His voice is the epitome of sexy, and yet, even with all that’s transpired, I have zero interest.
Finally, I drag my attention from my drink and my eyes travel up those muscled forearms, over the bulging biceps stretching the short sleeves of a dark-blue polo shirt and up to the face that—
My breath catches in my throat as recognition floods me, my eyes widening as I take in the man beside me.
Becket Jones, the quarterback for the NFL team in Jacksonville, Florida. He’s a two-time Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida and had been the second overall draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Adding to that impressive resumé, he’s been recently voted MVP and is also a Lombardi Trophy recipient. His face is in commercials and on billboards everywhere. Living in Mobile, Alabama, and in a state without a pro football team, most of us either gravitate toward the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints, or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
I don’t follow NFL as closely as college football, but I’d have to live under a rock to not recognize Becket and his pretty-boy face. Even beneath the brim of the ball cap, which curls under at the edges and draws shadows over his eyes, I’d recognize that wide charming smile of his anywhere. He’s slouching against the bar but I know he pushes well over six feet.
His features cloud as he observes my response, his large hand reaching up to tug his cap lower. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to sell some seedy story about seeing me in a gay bar to a stupid gossip rag.”
“Of course not. I’m just…” I falter for a moment, “surprised.”
His chin lifts, gesturing to a couple of guys standing nearby a jukebox, laughing and talking. One of them is wearing a shirt with bright pink flamingos printed on it, along with a yellow feather boa draped around his neck.
“I’m with my brother, Brantley—the one who insisted on that crazy getup—and his roommate, Vonn, whose birthday we’re celebrating.” His eyes flicker to them briefly, obvious affection in his gaze, before returning to me. “I drove in from Jacksonville late last night to join them.”
I nod politely, not sure what to say. “Well, I hope you guys have a great night.” I turn back to my drink and studiously take another sip of the dangerous concoction while acknowledging Casey and Becket’s attention is fixed on me with unfettered curiosity. This drink is deliciously sweet and I know it’s masking the copious amount of liquor Casey put in it. And I can’t get hammered. I should—and I really want to—but I can’t. I have bigger fish to fry.
Like figuring out my freaking life.
With a long sigh, I unzip my wristlet and withdraw my cell phone—whose ring had been silenced—to face the “music” I know is about to blare at me.
Let this be noted as mistake number one. Because I’m certain my phone is going to overheat from the number of text messages and missed calls I’ve received already. Mainly, the ones from my father.
Dad: You’d better get back here now, young lady.
I continue scrolling past all of his other messages until I get to the last one, time stamped from about five minutes ago.
Dad: Consider yourself disowned. Don’t even think of coming back to this house after the way you’ve embarrassed everyone.
Huh. Well, thank heavens I’d already thought of that and had made a quick stop at the house before driving here. I’d scooped up the items I’d need most, knowing my father’s reaction would be extreme. Maybe I was delusional, but I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this.
Just as I’m about to place my phone back in my wristlet and avoid the remainder of the painful messages sure to come, another one comes in.
Dad: Forget your job at the magazine. It’s done. You’re done. You did this, Emma Jane.
My chest tightens and my stomach churns sickly. I knew it was coming but it doesn’t make it any less devastating. I’d worked my ass off for Southern Charm Lifestyle magazine at their new location in Mobile. I know I have the potential to rise up in the ranks.
But now it’s gone. Poof. All because of my father. The one and only Davis Haywood, city councilman, owner of the local newspaper and the city’s largest magazine, and commercial developer galore. He has the money and power to make things happen in Mobile.
I just never thought he’d use that money and power against his own daughter one day.
“So.” Becket startles me, so caught up in my own drama-filled thoughts. “You might not know this about me, but I was brought up to be a gentleman.”
I regard him warily, unsure where he’s going with this. “O-kay,” I drag out the word slowly.
“This means I can’t leave you sitting at this bar, staring down at your phone, looking like your puppy just died.”
I shoot him a hard glare that would normally cause people to rear back…but then I recall that this man faces the risk of being tackled by two-hundred-plus-pound men on any given game day.
So, as much as my dangerously narrowed eyes might flare with the “Don’t even go there” vibe, my glare does nothing.
He looks around first before slipping his ball cap around on his head, the brim now at the back. And honestly, on any other grown man, it would look juvenile. On Becket Jones, however, it actually looks cute.
Casey slides a bottle of water to him, which Becket uncaps before downing half of it. Resting his arms on the bar, he playfully nudges me with his shoulder.
“Go ahead. Spill.”
Exhaling loudly, I peer up at him skeptically. “You really want—”
“To hear all the sordid details?” He grins at me, nearly blinding me with his pearly white teeth. “Absolutely.”
Shaking my head at him, I take another sip of my drink and toy with my straw, making the ice cubes clink together within my cup. “Fine. But don’t you dare give me a bless your heart that’s chock-full of pity.”
Letting a long sigh loose, I answer, my voice muted and laced with pain. And I hate the way it sounds.
“I’m running from a man who doesn’t really love me.”
About the Author:
RC Boldt is the wife of Mr. Boldt, a retired Navy Chief, mother of Little Miss Boldt, and former teacher of many students. She currently lives on the southeastern coast of North Carolina, enjoys long walks on the beach, running, reading, people watching, and singing karaoke. If you’re in the mood for some killer homemade mojitos, can’t recall the lyrics to a particular 80’s song, or just need to hang around a nonconformist who will do almost anything for a laugh, she’s your girl.
We’re just over a week away from the release of the last book in Kennedy Layne’s Safeguard Series, DEADLY PREMONITIONS! You can get your hands on DEADLY PREMONITIONS on November 14th – and trust us, you don’t want to miss this one! Check out the first chapter below and preorder your copy now!
About DEADLY PREMONITIONS
Available November 14th
USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne brings the Safeguard Series to a stunning conclusion with your favorite characters that will have you staying wide awake until the very last page is turned…
The ominous knock on the front door in the middle of the night should have given Shailyn Doyle fair warning, but she answered it despite her palpable fear. Her past had finally come back to haunt her. It would be nothing more than her worst nightmares come to life.
Townes Calvert had been given a brief glimpse of nirvana before having it ripped from his grasp. He now has a chance to reclaim what was taken from him, but he must first hunt down the man responsible for murdering eighteen women and risk all that he loves.
Townes and Shailyn have no choice but to play a sadistic serial killer’s twisted game in their search to reclaim the love they had once been forced to sacrifice. They both have envisioned what could be…but will they end up with nothing more than deadly premonitions?
Add DEADLY PREMONITIONS to your Goodreads listhere!
DEADLY PREMONITIONS releases November 14th, 2017 – preorder your copy now!
Pain unlike anything she’d ever experienced before radiated throughout her body. There were no tears. She couldn’t manage a single teardrop. A deathlike chill had settled into her bones, chasing away all other bodily functions.
She was paralyzed.
She was unable to move, to scream… or to hide.
She was at his mercy, of which he had none.
Shailyn Doyle gasped as her upper body came off the bed. She couldn’t suck in enough oxygen. Her vision had become blurry. She would certainly die this time.
Panic took hold as its tentacles slithered around her soul, slowly strangling what life was left within her.
Shailyn wrapped her fingers around her throat in desperation. She struggled to draw air into her lungs to the point that even she could hear the whistling rattle of her frantic attempt at breathing. Seconds ticked by until the terrifying nightmare slowly fragmented into bits and pieces, eventually fading into dust as the terror disappeared.
“Two hours,” Shailyn murmured to herself after glancing at the clock on her bedside table. The green illuminated numbers read three fourteen in the morning. “Progress.”
Shailyn tossed the heavy comforter and sheet to the side in acceptance. She wouldn’t get any more sleep tonight. What was noteworthy was the fact that the top sheet was dry. She hadn’t even broken a sweat in her throes of memories best forgotten. It was hard to be proud of that detail when she recognized her reaction for what it was— tolerance.
She swung her legs over the side of the bed. She recalled as a child always believing something or someone would reach out of the darkness and grab her ankles if she kept them dangling there long enough. She missed the days when the monsters had been nothing but a figment of her imagination.
Certain kinds of monsters were very real.
Shailyn automatically reached for the journal she kept on the bedside table, ignoring the slight tremor of her fingers. It was a byproduct of her time spent as a victim with a psychopath as her tormentor. She’d been left with a lot of daily reminders. That particular one didn’t rate high on the scale of her insecurities.
It wasn’t a conscious decision to write in her diary. It was a rote behavior after so many years of psychoanalysis. She didn’t even think twice about sliding the pen off the soft brown leather cover and setting the black ink to paper. Her psychiatrist had explained that keeping detailed notes of her dreams and reactions could render the next night a little easier and maybe even less intense. That had never been the truth as she knew it, but it did give her purpose.
She wrote down every facet of her nightmare underneath her last entry almost twenty hours earlier. There was no need for her to turn on a light considering she never slept in the dark anymore. As a matter of fact, every lamp and overhead light in this one-bedroom house was currently shining bright to keep the obscure shadows at bay.
It gave her a false sense of security. The dark represented the evil that crept in with the night.
She honestly didn’t care that the reassurance was a fabrication. The presence of the lights allowed her to physically walk through the rooms without hesitation.
Shailyn clipped the pen back onto the smooth jacket of her journal before setting both onto the nightstand. It didn’t take her long to cross the room and carefully draw the heavy curtain aside. Her bedroom was located on the main floor of the house, facing toward the front where a heavily armored, black government-plated SUV had been parked ever since Shepherd Moss had escaped from a federal prison.
Shepherd Moss— her own private monster.
He was a very special demon summoned from the depths of hell itself.
He was out there somewhere, biding his time as he savored her soul. Shailyn didn’t doubt that he was looking for her right this very moment.
After all, she was the only one who had ever gotten away.
Technically, that wasn’t true. She had not been able to work her way out of the restraints Moss had her bound in for three days. An Arthurian hero had found her instead, and her shining knight had refused to let her die. She barely recalled him arriving as dark as the night. His armor had been as rough as sackcloth, moving among the shadows as if they held no sway over him. He was the antithesis of her tormenter.
What did astound her was that the torture she’d undergone had only lasted three days.
A mere seventy-two hours.
How was that even possible when her time spent in that hellhole had seemed like an eternity of several lifetimes? Of course, the same thing could almost be said for the years she’d been in the witness protection program. Now those three hundred and sixty-five day spans seemed endless, consisting of nothingness. Was she actually awaiting Moss’ return with the promise of renewed torture?
She supposed she should be grateful. Eighteen women hadn’t been as lucky as her, but then again, what was so fortunate about living this so-called life she’d been given?
Shailyn let the curtain fall back into place, checking to make sure that not even a sliver of darkness was visible before she crossed the bedroom floor in her bare feet. The coolness of the hardwood didn’t bother her all that much, but wearing any type of shoe made her want to rip them off her feet and burn them. The scars on her ankles always became irritated when material rubbed against them for any period of time. She’d tried slip-ons in the past, as well as flip-flops, but those hadn’t worked either due to the damage done to the heels of her feet.
It didn’t take long for her to enter the living room and walk into the kitchen. The layout was simple, just as she liked it. The walls were devoid of pictures, there were no knick-knacks on the shelves or tabletops, and the few simple sticks of Ikea furniture had been rented with the house. It wasn’t like anyone questioned the way she lived, especially considering she never had any guests. No one was permitted to enter her home, though she did make an exception now and then to the U.S. Marshals who had taken up guarding her night and day since Moss had escaped federal prison. Why make any friendships when she would most likely be relocated sooner rather than later?
Groceries were delivered to a drop box on her front porch from the local store. She had access to the small area from inside the house. She could lock the outside access door to the box before ever opening the inside hatch. The delivery service was a special arrangement the grocery store provided for the elderly and shut-ins.
The Marshals vetted the designated delivery man and all the other employees of the friendly retailer. The grocery store tended to substitute their own brand a lot for other brand names, and they also charged a premium for nearly every item available through their service. Privacy apparently came with a price.
Shailyn hit the brew button, having already prepared the coffee maker three hours ago. She shivered slightly when condensation layered the sides of the glass carafe. Her feet were a little colder on the kitchen tile than they had been on the hardwood floor. The memory of a blue torch flame flashed across her mind’s eye.
She crossed into the living room and looked over at the bay window to ensure the drapes were closed like she’d left them. Her need for solitude had nothing to do with the fact that she was wearing a pair of flannel pajamas.
Everything was as it should be. She didn’t miss a step as she continued directly to the wall where her thermostat was positioned a little lower than eye level.
The digital numbers read seventy-two degrees. She didn’t care what digits were displayed and intentionally pressed the up arrow twice. Heat from the furnace had a tendency to rise from the vents, keeping only the upper half of the room warm while leaving the floors far too cold for her sensitive feet. Winters in Maine tended to get rather brisk, and this house wasn’t insulated properly. She honestly didn’t mind her electricity bill being higher. She always kept to her budget. It wasn’t like she spent her money on anything other than rent, utilities, and groceries.
She turned around to make her way back into the kitchen when the sight of her files on the desk caught her eye. The manila folder with ungraded essays sitting on top of the stack was crooked. She stopped walking, allowing her arms to drop to her sides, anticipating the assault.
Her heart stuttered in fear. Not because of death, but what came before it.
Everything on her desk had been perfect when she’d turned in for the couple hours of sleep she barely managed to obtain. She’d gotten into the habit of positioning items in a manner where only she would recognize if they’d been disturbed. And she was one hundred percent positive that the pile of schoolwork she’d been grading last night had been organized squarely in the left-hand corner. Not a millimeter had been out of place.
Okay. Ninety-nine percent sure, because one of the two U.S. Marshals sitting in the vehicle outside of her house had paid her a visit after noticing one of her two bulbs had burnt out on the porch. He had kindly replaced the lightbulb before rejoining his partner outside in the black sedan.
He could have easily bumped into the edge of her desk, causing the slight misalignment.
How many times had she overreacted over the years? Too many to count, that was for sure.
Shailyn bit her lip as she carefully looked over the living room for any other sign that someone other than the U.S. Marshal had been in her home. She cautiously put one foot in front of the other as she made her way through the entire house, eventually completing her search by returning to her desk after checking every room.
Nothing else was out of place.
“You’re losing your mind, girl.”
It was bound to happen, given the circumstances. She recalled a psychiatrist telling her that the average individual would have been institutionalized after suffering through the ordeal she’d been through. He couldn’t seem to accept that she was nothing extraordinary. She’d switched shrinks after that, going through a long line of men and women who had various opinions on how she should handle her future.
Shailyn gently rested the palm of her right hand underneath her breast on the opposite side. She had been left with a reminder that she would never have a normal life… at least, not the way she’d once envisioned.
The rich aroma of coffee filled the air, prompting her to return to the kitchen. She did stop briefly at the living room window and verify that the ever-present black sedan was still in position. Two silhouettes were easily discernible.
She thought about taking them out a thermos full of coffee, but a couple of things prevented her from doing so. For one, she didn’t go outside of these four walls any more than absolutely necessary. Two, she didn’t even own a thermos.
Shailyn pulled a single brown mug that had seen better days from the cupboard. The eighties-style porcelain dishes came with the rental house, allowing her to travel light when she had to move. Honestly, everything she owned fit in one suitcase and an oversized purse. She was a simple woman, really, even taking her coffee black without any further additions.
She sighed in resignation as she took her steaming coffee into the living room, snatching up the folder of essays that had given her more of a jolt than the caffeine in her coffee could provide. She looked forward to doing some mundane reading from the writing assignments she’d given her students taking the online course she taught to pass the time. It was also a way to make some additional money, though her students knew her as Ms. Rachel Smith.
Her online persona, as detailed in the course curriculum, featured a picture of a random middle-aged spinster freshly returned to the farm after retiring from some teaching position. She sometimes wondered about the identity of the woman in the photograph, considering the lack of a full-fledged backstory. WITSEC wasn’t that original when it came to assigning new identifications to their patrons. Ms. Smith was a retired teacher from Iowa. That was the best they could come up with.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
The essays scattered onto the hardwood floor as the papers fell from her lap, taking the manila folder with them. Each essay was now drenched in coffee as she scrambled to her feet and spilled her hot beverage all over them. Her first thought was that Shepherd Moss wouldn’t knock on her front door to gain entry. He would have just appeared behind her. Her second and most insightful deduction was that trouble had just landed on her front porch.
She quietly stepped over the wet papers and set down her coffee mug on the side table, not stopping until she reached her desk. One of those cheap buy-as-you-go cell phones purchased off the rack at the local drug store was tucked into the top drawer. She always made sure the device was charged and ready to go should she need to leave the property or contact the Marshals. It also came in handy when she needed to call 911… which had never happened in all the years she’d been in WITSEC.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
“Ms. Smith, it’s Deputy U.S. Marshal Sturridge.”
Sturridge was the Marshal who had changed her lightbulb a few hours ago, but she couldn’t fathom why he would need to speak with her at this hour. She quickly opened the top desk drawer and retrieved her phone, pressing in the three numbers without initiating the call. She rested her thumb on the button as she slowly made her way to the door to evaluate the situation further.
“What seems to be the matter, Marshal?” Shailyn asked with concern, but doing her best to keep her fear disguised. She tilted her head so that she could hear Sturridge’s reply through the heavy door. She left off that this wasn’t their usual procedure. Technically, the average WITSEC individual didn’t have two Marshals sitting outside of his or her home on a regular basis. They were all given new identities and then expected to adapt, as if their lives hadn’t been ripped out from underneath them in the most violent way imaginable. “Is everything okay?”
“Ms. Smith, there’s been a development. We need to take you down to the Bureau’s Portland Field Office as soon as possible.”
Shailyn swallowed back the lump of alarm that formed in her throat. Had Moss killed someone else she’d known in her childhood? He’d done that exact thing a couple of months ago, most likely trying to draw her out from under the concealment of her WITSEC identity. The U.S. Marshals Service had been very adamant that she follow their instructions down to the exact letter since Moss had escaped federal custody. She’d complied, but she wasn’t so sure she could continue to do so should he target her friends or family again.
Shailyn rested her forehead against the hard surface of the door and pretended for just a moment that this night was like any other. She’d get close to a couple hours of sleep, work for a couple more on the computer, and then maybe get a half hour rest before her day started with her schedule of online classes. The visual gave her the composure she needed before releasing all three security locks they had installed upon moving her into this house.
“My family?” Shailyn asked hesitantly after opening the door. Sturridge gave her an encouraging smile, though sadness was visible in his soft, brown eyes. He reminded her of those gentle cowboy giants Louis L’Amour had written about when her father had been a young man. She recalled her dad reading her books of the Wild West when she’d been younger, allowing them both to enjoy her bedtime stories. Sometimes she wondered if her father would have preferred a boy. “Are they okay?”
“Yes, ma’am, they’re all fine as far as I’m aware.”
“Then why am I needed at the Portland Field Office in the middle of the night?” Shailyn had once been the spontaneous type, living every second of every day like it was her last when she’d been younger. That day had arrived sooner rather than later, changing her outlook on the simplest of pleasures. “Am I being relocated again?” “
Ms. Smith, you—”
“Please.” The word was just short of a plea. She was only human, and a flawed one at that. “Just tell me.”
“Shepherd Moss killed an agent on the case yesterday.”
Shailyn wasn’t surprised. At least, she shouldn’t have been surprised. Her breathing faltered, though. Moss had targeted someone else, someone unrelated to her. She suspected that it wasn’t with no strings attached. She shouldn’t feel any guilt over the man’s predilection for torturing and killing people, particularly women. She’d done her part by sitting on that witness stand and testifying— no, reliving— every painful cut he’d sliced into her body. That included every burn he branded into her flesh, as well.
“I still don’t understand what that has to do with me, Marshal.”
Shailyn’s mouth had gone dry and she couldn’t even lick her lips to get the words out smoothly. Sturridge was glancing at his watch, as if they should be in a rush to get to the Portland Field Office. Since when had her activities ever been on such a tight timetable?
“Ms. Smith, the agent who was murdered had been assigned to watch over a woman by the name of Brettany Lambert. She was a childhood friend of yours, correct?”
Yes. Brett had been Shailyn’s best friend through elementary and middle school. A memory of them turning up the dial on her old boom box came to mind, along with a made-up game that kept them busy for hours. The first lyric to come through the speaker was what the boy she liked at the time was thinking of her at that very moment. They would each take turns, giggling their weekends away.
Shailyn cleared her throat before nodding her agreement. She would go with Sturridge to the Portland Field Office, believing one hundred percent that she would be on a plane by noon. The U.S. Marshals and the FBI had been very cautious. It was their job to ensure her safety from the monster she’d helped put away. There had only ever been one man who’d truly given her that precious sense of security, and she hadn’t seen him once since the day she entered WITSEC.
This was her life now… being alone with only a suitcase to her name. She often wondered when the hand underneath the bed would finally grab her ankles and pull her into the shadows. What if she were to go into that hiding place voluntarily? Was that how she would find her freedom? Was death her only escape?
Or could she slay the monster before he was able to kill her?
He closed his eyes, reliving every second he spent in the company of Shailyn Doyle. Her unblemished flesh had been a canvas from which he had created something beautiful. He did design his masterpiece on her body, but only she had the pleasure of seeing his work every single day in the mirror.
He wanted her back.
He needed to finish the seminal work he’d begun.
Did the authorities not understand that he was the one in control? Had he not proven his dominance time and time again? His parting gift in Colorado he’d left for Townes Calvert should have gotten his message across.
The only adversary who had ever lived up to his most exacting standards. The man’s personal interest in Shailyn Doyle would only make this game that much sweeter in the end. They would meet again soon, but he wasn’t ready to see his entertainment come to an end. He preferred the long game.
He rocked back on the wooden porch and listened to the crickets and frogs communicate in their harmonious languages. Mother Nature could end their conversations with a mere slap of her hand.
He recalled the enchanting screams that fell from Shailyn’s chapped lips— now that was his favorite melody.
About Kennedy Layne
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.
When she falls in, she starts sinking fast.
Drowning Erin by Elizabeth O’Roark will be here November 9!!!
CHECK OUT THIS SUPER STEAMY EXCERPT!!!
He lifts the champagne high overhead. “Mouth wide,” he warns.
“No, Brendan, it’s going to go everywhere,” I complain. “I can’t swallow it all.”
“That’s what she said,” he answers.
And then we’re both laughing, and he tips the champagne so it seems to explode from the bottle—over my face, my shirt, my shorts—and I laugh even harder. This moment, like so many from the last few weeks, reminds me of biking downhill faster than I should. It feels thrilling and wild and reckless, the danger and the excitement weighted equally. When I compare this moment to the rest of my history, it feels as if I’ve been tethered to the ground my entire life. Right now I finally feel free.
I jump to my feet, still giggling. “Your pouring skills are legendary.”
He sets the champagne down and moves toward me, closer than he should. I can feel the warmth radiating from him. It makes me want to move closer too. His hand presses to my stomach, and I hold my breath.
“You need to change or you’re gonna freeze out here. You want me to go get you clothes?”
I shake my head. As much as I don’t want to be the voice of reason, and as much I want to remain out here with him, I have just enough common sense to know it’s the last thing I should do.
“We should probably head in. We’ve got to be up in four hours,” I tell him. “But I wish we had more time.” I wish this was a night we could stretch into a week’s worth of hours, or more.
His eyes are brighter right now than I’ve ever seen them. “I wish a lot of things were different, Erin.”
My heart goes triple time, and my breath stills somewhere between my lungs and my throat. The prospect of admitting even a tiny portion of the truth to him is terrifying. “I wish they were different too.”
His hands frame my face, sliding through my hair, and then his mouth is on mine, better even than I remembered. He tastes like champagne, and all of my resolution is forgotten under the force of this, after years of wanting this exact thing only from him.
This kiss reminds me of diving off the rocks yesterday, of the moment when I first plunged into the water—surrounded, disoriented, thrilled, and horrified all at once. In the space of that moment, only as long as it takes us both to swim to the surface and gasp for air, nothing makes sense and nothing else exists—only tangled limbs and warm skin and hearts that beat too fast. My mouth opens under his, and he groans, one hand sliding down around my hip, pulling me into him so that all of his heat is pressed against me, pulsing and ready.
“I’ve wanted this for so fucking long,” he says, his mouth moving to my neck, his hands sliding to the hem of my shirt, grazing my skin.
There are a million reasons why this is a terrible idea, and I don’t care about any of them.
Elizabeth O’Roark is a former medical writer who lives in Washington, DC with her three children. She is an avid runner when able to escape the aforementioned children. She drinks an embarrassing amount of Diet Mountain Dew, and would exist entirely off of candy corn were it socially acceptable to do so.
Love on the Edge of Time, an all-new stand-alone story about a love too great to be bound by time, from Julie A. Richman is coming November 13th!
Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman
Publishing Date: November 13th, 2017
He likes whiskey and wild women
She likes Ben & Jerry’s
He’s about to get kicked out of his own band
She ate her way off the Miss America pageant circuit
What could these two possibly have in common?
A lot of unresolved issues
A whole bunch of shared lifetimes
And a love that is never-ending
As bad boy rocker, Jesse Winslow, and former pageant queen, Kylie Martin, each fight the demons screwing up their lives, the one person who holds the key to healing their ills and reuniting two souls that have searched for one another, lifetime after lifetime, is the only one who knows the whole truth.
And keeping that truth from them may just be in preeminent psychiatrist Dr. Claire Stoddard’s best interests.
Claire has committed the ultimate sin in the medical world. She’s fallen for the one man she’s forbidden to love.
Her patient, Jesse Winslow.
And she’s not about to lose him to Kylie Martin… Again.
I’m at a table in the back-right corner, he texted.
In a cab a few blocks away. See you in 5.
Kylie was running a few minutes late, not rudely late, just fashionably late. She had pulled nearly everything she owned out of her closet, trying to find something that was flattering, yet rock-star cool and ‘Yeah, I know his ex is a top model’. ‘So What’ chic was the look she was trying to pull off. It wasn’t easy. With the recent weight loss, she was between sizes. Her big girl clothes, as she was now referring to them, looked like misshapen potato sacks on her and her pageant days’ wardrobe were nowhere near an option yet, and might not ever be.
She made the decision. It’s New York, seriously, just pick something black. And so black it was. Black legging jeans, black high boots, a thin, black, cashmere V-neck sweater, all topped with a black leather jacket. Twisting her hair, she clipped it up, then pulled a few strands out to frame her face and a few at the base of her neckline. It was messy and sexy.
Standing in front of the mirror, she wondered for whom she was dressing. Jesse? Well, yeah, you don’t want to be seen with a rock star looking like a beast on parade. The paparazzi? Same logic applied as for Jesse. The skinny model ex-girlfriend? Well, not really for her, but for everyone who would make a comparison. For herself? C’mon, he’s Jesse Fucking Winslow. Get real.
As she made her way to the back of the darkened restaurant, Kylie could feel her spine straighten, shoulders fall back, chin up. The only thing missing was the sash as she gracefully floated past tables, the male occupants covertly attempting to sneak an appreciative look without alerting their female companions.
I’ve still got it.
And her confidence soared as she sat down in the chair next to one of the sexiest, most recognizable men on the planet, and he had watched every man in the restaurant check her out.
“You look gorgeous, Toots.”
“Thank you.” It was still surreal that she was sitting here with her new buddy.
“I’m going to have to fight half the guys in the restaurant off you.”
Landry Cole’s life began
when she was nine. Until then the day-to-day turmoil of her early childhood was
the stuff of nightmares. Her father, his wife, and all her aunts and uncles
showed Landry unconditional love, and under their care, she bloomed. But she
never forgot. Fast forward to the fifth year of her surgical residency, and
from the outside, Landry’s got it going on. Inside, loneliness and betrayal
color her life until she meets the outrageous and daring Clashing Swell
drummer, Brody Frost.
THE SHORT TERM
Brody’s life was golden. He surfed every
morning, his band, Clashing Swell, had just signed with RiffRaff records, and
he was free from emotional attachments. Until he met Landry Cole. To say she
took his breath away was an understatement. But she was a princess to rock
royalty, and Brody was no one from no where. Sure, the tour the band was about
to undertake would change all that, but he wanted Landry now. When she told him
they were short term, she wasn’t going to be a tour widow, he thought he’d take
whatever she would give him. Little did he know she was about to give him
As soon as my aunt and uncle turned the corner, Brody
whispered in my ear. “Lucky for you, fun is my specialty.”
I turned to him, smiling despite myself. “Oh yeah?” Clearly,
Brody wasn’t the type of guy that needed to be encouraged. Yet, for some
reason, I couldn’t seem to help myself. I blamed the wine and fresh ocean air
for making me act as crazy as the drummer.
He nodded, his sexy smirk firmly in place. “You wanna see?”
I should have said no. But, then again, maybe Aunt Lo was
right; some fun would do me good. Plus, Brody wasn’t hard on the eyes, not by a
long shot. “Yes.” Before I knew what was happening, he picked me up, threw me
over his shoulder and headed down the long cement and cinder-block hallway.
“What are you doing?” I screeched. “People will see us.”
“All anyone can see right now is your perfect little ass.”
He slapped it lightly.
I never did things like this—ever. The last guy I dated was
a heart surgeon, with an ego the size of Texas, and little to no sense of
humor. He’d asked me out on a date, and it’d taken him four more to get in my
pants. And then he’d cheated on me…so really, I should be happy Brody seemed
like Dr. Douche’s polar opposite. “Where are you taking me, caveman?”
“To have fun, of course.” He turned a corner to the left,
this hallway much darker than the last. Another turn to the right, and suddenly
it was pitch black. He placed me on my feet, and I held onto his arms while the
blood rushed back into my head.
“Are we in a janitor’s closet?” The room smelled vaguely of
“I think so.” He was close, standing right in front of me.
The way he placed his hands on my hips was like we knew each other. Like we had
been seeing each other.
“And this is fun?” I was biting my lip. Standing in a closet
with a complete stranger wasn’t a normal Landry Cole move. It was more of an
old-school Jacks Cole move, if we were naming names.
“Are you excited and slightly terrified?” He was closer now,
his words whispered against my lips.
He put a hand in my hair, his fingers rubbing my scalp.
“Then we are well on our way to real fun, baby cakes.” And then he kissed me.
I had butterflies in my stomach and goosebumps on my skin.
He tasted like the sea air and coconuts; like summer. I ran my hands up his
arms, more than a little surprised at myself. I didn’t know why I wasn’t
pushing him away. Why I wasn’t demanding to be let out. Who was this
woman he’d made me become?
“God, you taste good.” He bent me backward, kissing me
deeper. When he stood up, I climbed him like a damn tree then wrapped my legs
around his waist.
Call me crazy, but I wanted him. I wanted this wild man to
fuck me in a supply closet. I wanted it bad.
He walked forward, pushing my back against another
cinder-block wall. I freed my hands from his messy blond hair, fumbling with
his button and zipper trying to get his pants off. If I was going mental I
might as well go all the way, right?
Tomorrow I would go back to being a responsible
Tomorrow everything would go back to boring. But tonight—tonight I
L.P. Maxa lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, daughter,
3 rescue dogs, 1 cat – the fish died – and one bunny who doesn’t seem to like
them. She loves reading romance novels as much as she love writing them. She
says, inspiration can come from anywhere: a song lyric, a quote, a weekend with
friends. The tiniest things can spark amazing stories. She loves to hear from
I got the call. The dreaded call every child fears. My dad wasn’t well, and the man who had always been my everything needed me.
There was only one thing to do; pack up and head back to my hometown. I had finally made my dream life in the city with the great job and loving boyfriend. But was there really a choice not to go?
I found a wonderful job, a quaint house to rent, my boyfriend was working on joining me in Binghamton, and my favorite pizza place was only miles away. Life was good.
Until I met my neighbor.
It’s been three years since I’d seen Aaron Walters, and my God is he all kinds of sexy gorgeous. Figures. He was supposed to be my forever, the man I grew old with, but he had different plans. How can a man who ripped my heart apart still trip me up? How can he make me still want him now more than ever?
I’m tempted, I’m drawn toward him, I’m completely and utterly unaware that I’m dating his biological brother.
Now two men own my heart. The question is, which brother will I choose?
She doesn’t get out of her car right away, so I give her a second but then realize maybe she’s not exiting the vehicle because I have the key to the house and she has nowhere to go.
Wanting to make a good impression and seem approachable since I’m the property manager, I run my hand through my hair and adjust my jeans. I’m not wearing any fancy shit, but at least I don’t have holes in or paint stains on my clothes. I hop off my front porch and make my way toward her car, slowly, not wanting to scare her.
There is muffling coming from her car, voices I can’t quite hear, but I get the idea she’s finishing up a conversation, so I slow my pace drastically. That’s when I see her tilt her head down and look at me. From the reflection of the light off her windows, I can’t make out her features. I can only see a silhouette.
I lift a friendly hand in her direction to let her know I come in peace and make my way to her driveway. There is no wave back, but I do hear the telltale sound of her opening her car door. She steps out and when I round the vehicle, I catch the sun off her driver’s side window, temporarily blinding me.
Blinking my eyes a few times to calm my retinas, I bring her into focus.
“Aaron . . .”
Every hair on my body sticks straight up and my body goes still from that voice, that unmistakably sultry voice.
When she finally comes into view, I am met with a pair of hazel eyes I haven’t been able to get out of my head since the day she left town for bigger and better things.
“Amelia.” I clear my throat and take a step forward. “Wow, I uh . . .” Tongue-tied, that’s exactly what I am right now. “Didn’t expect to see you get out of that car.” I laugh nervously while I pull on the back of my neck, trying to comprehend what’s going on. I point with my thumb toward the house and ask, “You’re the new tenant?”
She nods and looks me over, taking her time with her perusal, her eyes burning a hole right through my clothes like they used to. When her eyes meet mine again, she asks, “You’re the property manager?”
I nod and swallow hard. “And neighbor.”
She presses her lips together, thinning them out. “What are the chances?” She laughs nervously.
“Yeah, especially since I thought your life was in the city.” I didn’t mean for that to come out rude, but it did. Gentling my voice, I ask, “What brings you back home?”
Staring at the ground, clutching her purse to her side, she says, “My dad. He’s, uh, not doing well.” Duh, Mrs. Ferguson mentioned something like that. I’m so damn overwhelmed and shocked right now though, that entire conversation I had with Mrs. Ferguson is not registering in my mind.
“Oh no.” My brow pinches together in concern. “What happened?”
She waves me off. “Nothing you need to worry about.” And just like that she shuts me down. Honestly, I’m surprised she said that much to me after how we ended things between us.
Yes, there was an us, a perfectly beautiful, love-filled us. Amelia Santos was the best thing to ever happen to me, and yet, she was also the worst. During a time where my heart broke from every uncaring glance from my mom, Amelia resurrected me from the ashes I would have otherwise drowned in. She was my rock, the one solid feature in my life.
She was also my downfall.
She was going places, and I wasn’t. She had opportunity, and I had none. She wanted me to move with her, and I couldn’t, but no way in hell would I hold her back. I barely made it out of my mom’s house. There were many days when I tried hard to earn a buck so I could find a place to live other than the homeless shelter where I spent many lonely nights. Amelia deserved better than that, so I pushed her away to achieve her dreams. Little did I know, breaking up with her would send me in the biggest downward spiral of my life. The only reason I’m the man I am today is because after hitting rock bottom, I knew things needed to change, and it was up to me to make something of myself. So I worked my ass off. And now at thirty, I can say proudly that I’m a co-owner of an up-and-coming construction company as well as the proud owner of a house in the heart of Hillcrest, a beautiful two-story house. I’m doing well for myself . . . at least that’s what I thought until Amelia stepped out of her car.
Now I’m questioning every little thing about my life leading to this point.
Born in New York and raised in Southern California, Meghan has grown into a sassy, peanut butter eating, blonde haired swearing, animal hoarding lady. She is known to bust out and dance if “It’s Raining Men” starts beating through the air and heaven forbid you get a margarita in her, protect your legs because they may be humped.
Once she started commuting for an hour and twenty minutes every day to work for three years, she began to have conversations play in her head, real life, deep male voices and dainty lady coos kind of conversations. Perturbed and confused, she decided to either see a therapist about the hot and steamy voices running through her head or start writing them down. She decided to go with the cheaper option and started writing… enter her first novel, Caught Looking.
Now you can find the spicy, most definitely on the border of lunacy, kind of crazy lady residing in Colorado with the love of her life and her five, furry four legged children, hiking a trail or hiding behind shelves at grocery stores, wondering what kind of lube the nervous stranger will bring home to his wife. Oh and she loves a good boob squeeze!
We’re less than a week away from the release of INKED MEMORIES – but you don’t have to wait to read the first chapter! Check it out and preorder your copy below. You don’t want to miss meeting the dirtiest Montgomery yet.
About INKED MEMORIES
The Montgomery Ink series by NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan continues when the final Denver Montgomery sibling refuses to fall for his brother’s former flame—the company’s new plumber.
Wes Montgomery watched his entire family fall in love, and now finds himself ready to settle down. Except the one person he seems to find chemistry with is not only his twin’s ex, she also works for Montgomery Inc. But when the two find themselves in one compromising situation after another, Wes realizes he’s having second thoughts about the dynamic woman who’s burst her way into his life. Sure she sets off his temper, but she also makes him hot in every other way possible.
Jillian Reid never loved her best friend like everyone thought she should, so she pushed him away so he could have his future. Now, despite fighting it, she finds herself attracted to the one man she shouldn’t. When her father’s health takes a turn for the worse, and a danger no one saw coming show its face, she’s forced to turn to Wes for help. The two of them have fought off their attraction long enough, and each cave to the desire. But this enemies-to-lovers tale might have an ending no one ever dreamed of.
INKED MEMORIES releases October 31st, 2017 – preorder your copy now!
Wes Montgomery was ready for a cold beer and a willing woman. Okay, maybe just the cold beer since he didn’t exactly have a woman to go home to like the other men in his family and inner circle. But he had damn good beer at home.
He rubbed the back of his neck and squinted down at his agenda for the rest of the afternoon. He probably should have written it down in a notebook to carry with him down to the jobsite, but he lived and breathed through his tablet. It connected to his phone, laptop, and computer and was constantly backed up in two places. Why would he risk his very detailed organization with something that could blow away on a windy day when they were in the middle of tearing down walls and putting in plumbing?
As soon as he thought about the wind, a hard breeze slid across his skin, and he looked up at the nearly clear-blue sky. Since they were in Denver, the weather could shift at any moment, but for now, there were only a few white and fluffy clouds in the sky, and most of them surrounded the tall and jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. He couldn’t help but smile at the grand scenery that not only reminded him how small some of his worries were in the grand scheme of things but also told him what direction west was at all times. Seriously, he had no idea how people outside the area ever knew where to drive without a GPS if they didn’t have the long line of mountains and foothills telling them where to go.
“So, you’re daydreaming in the middle of the day now? Did you put that in your planner?”
Wes lowered his head and flipped off his twin as Storm strolled in. He narrowed his eyes though once he saw that the other man was in work boots and his usual threadbare flannel shirt—as if Storm were planning to work onsite today. Considering that he’d just recovered from a near fatal accident, Wes hoped that wasn’t the case.
He didn’t want to have to beat his brother’s ass for stupidity.
The two of them weren’t identical, but of the eight Montgomery kids in their immediate family, they looked the most alike, at least according to everyone else. They each had the same shade of chestnut brown hair that the rest of the family had, along with their bright blue eyes. But what made them look the most alike was probably their square jawlines and smiles—though Storm hadn’t smiled much before he finally gave in and fell in love.
The two of them were Montgomerys through and through, though. Most of the guys had big beards—though Wes tended to shave his when meeting with clients these days— and all of them had ink. Even his sisters had tons of ink, with Maya having more than almost anyone in the family. But considering she and their eldest brother Austin owned a tattoo shop called Montgomery Ink, that only made sense.
And while Wes and Storm had the ink and even some of the piercings his family tended to lean toward, they didn’t work in the family tattoo shop. Instead, they owned and operated Montgomery Inc., a construction company that their parents had started before handing the reins over. Wes ran the books and was pretty much the lead in charge at all times. Storm was their architect and a god at figuring out how to make things work in a renovation or a new build.
Over time, others had come into the company that their parents had created and slaved over. Now that he was in charge, the weight of that responsibility was never lost on Wes.
“What the hell are you doing onsite in what looks to be your gear?” Wes demanded once Storm came closer. He didn’t want to yell too loudly in case any of their workers were around. Never good to act like a toddler instead of the boss, as his mother would say. And his father for that matter. “You’re supposed to be in bed while Everly and the boys comfort you.”
Storm raised a brow. “We’re in my fiancée’s bookstore, dumbass, of course I’m going to be here.”
“And he’s not going to lift a thing,” Everly said as she made her way to them. Storm’s woman mock glared before coming to stand beside them. Her long, ash-blond hair was up in a loose bun on the top of her head with tendrils spiraling down. He knew she’d probably thrown it up like that during her busy morning of dealing with twin toddlers, a puppy, and a grumpy Storm, yet Wes couldn’t help but think that Storm was one lucky man.
Not that Wes wanted Everly in that way, but having someone, anyone to come home to might be a nice thing once in a while. Jesus, he was starting to sound morose.
“I’m not going to lift anything,” Storm repeated. “I promise. I’m just here to oversee and answer questions. These are just my comfy clothes for any work.” He slowly wrapped an arm around Everly’s shoulders, and she leaned into him, though Wes noted she was careful not to put any weight on him. Storm had hurt his back pretty severely and was lucky to even be walking right then, but he was allowed and encouraged to get exercise and stretch out.
“We’ll find you a chair and a station to set up, then,” Wes said. “We’re not taking any unnecessary chances.”
Storm sighed, but the corner of his mouth lifted up into a smile. “No worries. I’m not about to start dancing a jig or lift even a single box. I promised the boys I’d watch them play in the pool that we set up in the backyard this afternoon, and I’m not about to break that vow.”
Everly’s boys were from her previous marriage, but Storm had been in their lives from day one since he’d been friends with Everly and her late husband. Now, Storm was in the process of adopting the twins and marrying Everly.
Wes couldn’t believe how quickly things had changed, but hell, in the past few years, everything had changed so much he could barely keep up.
His eldest brother, Austin, had married the girl next door, Sierra, and they now had two children—though the eldest was from a previous relationship. Leif was a teenager now, God help them all. Wes’s youngest sister, Miranda, was married to their friend Decker, who also happened to work with Storm and Wes at Montgomery Inc. and Decker and Miranda also had a child. How his younger sister had grown up so quickly, he didn’t know. One minute, he was putting a princess bandage on her knee; and the next, she was holding her own child in her arms. Meghan, the oldest of the Montgomery girls though still younger than Wes, had married her best friend, Luc, and they were raising their three
kids. The two of them even worked with Wes every day with Meghan operating the landscaping arm of the company and Luc as their lead electrician.
Their company was a family business through and through, and it seemed it kept growing with each passing month—just like the family itself.
His younger brother, Griffin, had married his personal assistant, though Wes wasn’t sure she filled that role any longer and he didn’t intend to ask. Autumn always blushed like crazy whenever Wes mentioned it, and he really didn’t want to know what she and his brother did together once the office door was shut.
Maya, the middle Montgomery girl, had not only married her best friend but his ex- boyfriend, as well. Legally, she was only married to one of them, but to everyone close to the family, they knew the truth. Maya, Jake, and Border had had a baby the same time as Meghan and Miranda had theirs, and the three sisters were now raising their kids together. So, like Wes and his siblings, they’d have a huge family to grow up with even though they were cousins and not brothers or sisters. Though for all Wes knew, everyone was gearing up for the next additions to their broods. For a while there, everywhere he turned, someone was turning up pregnant. Thankfully—since he wasn’t in a serious relationship and hadn’t been since he and Sophia broke up—it wasn’t him.
And, finally, there was Alex. Wes rubbed his chest just thinking about his youngest brother. Alex had been through hell and back, and Wes was only now learning the details. But in the end, Alex had come out stronger and was in love with Wes’s admin, Tabby. For a while there, most of the family thought that Wes and Tabby would end up together, but Wes couldn’t help but cringe at that thought. She was like one of his little sisters, nothing more, and he knew Tabby felt the same way about him. Just because the two of them shared a love of planners and organization didn’t mean they were meant for each other. Clearly, she’d been made for his brother. Not him.
And that left him all by himself these days. Alone. Womanless. And if that wasn’t a depressing thought, he didn’t know what was. “You’re daydreaming again,” Storm said softly. “You okay, Wes? You seem off
today.” Wes shook himself out of his thoughts and gave his brother a grin that he actually
felt. He might not have a woman in his life, but he wasn’t unhappy. He had a job he loved, and a family that cared for him. And for once, everyone seemed healthy. That was saying something, considering they had been in hospital waiting areas far more than any family should, especially recently. They should just name the damn emergency room the Montgomery Wing at this point.
“I’m fine. Just thinking about how big the Montgomerys have gotten.” That was the truth, or at least part of it, so he went with it.
“We’re doubling each month it seems.” Storm wrapped his arm around Everly’s shoulder. “But I don’t mind.”
Everly rolled her eyes. “Considering the boys and I took over your house? I would hope not.”
“Well, Randy had already tried taking over, and I think the twins are helping their puppy along with that.”
Wes just looked between the couple and shook his head as they bantered. The two of them had been good friends before Everly’s husband passed away. Then, for some reason, they’d pushed each other away though they’d stayed in touch for the boys’ sake.
Now, they were engaged and ready to build their new family as well as rebuild Everly’s bookshop.
Wes wanted that, damn it. He’d come close once, and it had gone to shit for many reasons, one being that he’d known Sophia wasn’t the one for him. Now, he didn’t have any prospects.
He ignored the needling thought in his mind telling him that there was a person he was beyond attracted to, but he’d be damned if he gave in to that particular urge.
And as if the gods themselves had called the siren with her own song, she walked into the building.
Jillian Reid. Storm’s ex friends-with-benefits, and Montgomery Inc.’s current lead plumber.
She strolled in wearing her normal cargo pants and a cotton shirt bearing the Montgomery Inc. logo—the MI iris that was a circle enclosing the letters with a flower on the side. Each of the adult Montgomerys—including those that had married in—had one tattooed on them. It was a rite of passage for their family, and he knew Everly was getting hers soon.
His thoughts went back to the woman walking toward them as Jillian set down her tool kit and stretched her back. The action pressed her breasts right up to the thin cotton of her shirt. He swallowed hard and pulled his gaze up to the blue of her eyes. She worked for him, damn it. He needed to get his act together and not be a freaking lecher.
Of course, it helped to remember that the two of them actively hated each other.
Regardless of how hard he got whenever she was near, he always, always fought with her. And he had no idea why they’d started out fighting, only that they kept irritating the hell out of each other.
“Hey, boss,” Jillian said with a sigh. She glanced at Wes and raised a brow. “Make that bosses. I checked out the bathroom on the first floor, and it’s going to have to be completely gutted. There’s no way I can save the pipes or anything there.” She gave Everly a small smile. “I’m sorry, hon. I know that sucks, but insurance will cover it for sure. The thing is, with these old buildings in downtown Denver, you’d have had to get them replaced sooner or later anyway.”
Everly shrugged before pulling away from Storm to give Jillian a one-armed hug. It would have boggled Wes’s mind that the two women could become so close in such a short amount of time, but Everly was a sweet and open woman who cared about those close to her with a fierce intensity.
“Thanks for looking,” Everly said with a smile. “And I’d hug you more, but since you just came from digging around toilets…”
Jillian batted her eyelashes. “That’s me. Toilets and clogs. It’s no wonder the men are chasing after me.”
Storm snorted and gently tugged Everly back to his side. “Sounds about right. If they only knew what covered your boots right now.”
Wes narrowed his eyes and looked down at the work boots she wore. “What is on your boots that you’re tracking through my jobsite?” He held back a wince at the harshness of his tone. He never meant to sound like an ass, but Jillian brought out the worst in him.
Storm sighed under his breath, and Everly muttered something he didn’t quite catch. Jillian, however, just raised that brow of hers and snorted.
“Don’t worry, Wesley, I wore booties when I was in there. I wouldn’t demean myself by daring to dirty your precious floors.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Storm pull Everly away toward the back of the building. His twin was probably getting sick and tired of being the middle of Jillian’s and Wes’s tiffs. Frankly, Wes was tired of it too, but there was just something about her that got under his skin and made him lash out like a man half his age.
“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”
“Whatever.” She brushed him off. “I’m just doing my job. Something you pay me to do, right? I need to head over to the Anderson house, by the way, to do the final check on my end of things so you can sign off. Is there anything you need me here for today?” She sounded so professional, but beneath the words, he heard the annoyance in her tone.
“There’s some plumbing I’d like her to check, if you know what I mean,” one of the guys working on the demo muttered under his breath as he walked by.
Jillian froze for an instant, her face paling before she tightened her jaw and dashes of red covered her cheekbones—from anger or embarrassment, Wes didn’t know.
Either way, he was pissed.
Jillian reached out and grabbed his arm as he turned to yell at the guy. “Don’t. It’s not worth it,” she whispered under her breath. “Just let it go.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “This isn’t the first time he’s said something. Is it?” She raised her chin. “It doesn’t matter. Just let it go,” she repeated. “Sorry, no can do.” He pulled away from her, annoyed that her touch left a heated
trail on his skin. He went to Jeff’s side and tapped him on the shoulder. The guy looked surprised for a moment before scowling.
Jeff turned around and frowned before setting down his stuff. The man was around Wes’s age but looked far older since he drank and partied hard when he wasn’t working. He sneered over at Jillian before seeming to think better of it and turning again to Wes. They were out of earshot of others, but Wes had a feeling if the man started yelling, there was no way to hide it.
“First, apologize for that sexist and poor comment. You’re opening yourself—and our company—up to sexual harassment lawsuits because you’re an asshole. Second, pack your bags and get off our site. You’re fired.”
“You’re fucking kidding me, right? For this bitch? I’ve been working for this company for years. Hell, your daddy is the one who hired me. You have no right.”
Wes’s hand tightened on his tablet, and he blew out a breath so he wouldn’t hit the man. “I have every right. You never treat anyone like you just did. You hear me?”
“Fuck this shit. And fuck you. Must be great having that nice ass to bang when you’re not living in your high castle.”
He stormed off, and Wes stood there, his chest heaving. There was no way the others hadn’t heard that, even though he’d tried to keep the conversation private. But there was no damn way he was going to let that man work for Montgomery Inc. if he treated his coworkers—or hell, any woman—like that.
Wes stepped around the corner, and the others got back to work quickly, acting as if they hadn’t been listening. Storm and Everly were nowhere to be seen, but he knew they’d hear about it soon.
Jillian, however, stood exactly where she’d been, her arms folded across her chest and her face red.
“Jillian—” “Thanks for that. I guess. But from now on, I can handle things myself.” He clenched his jaw, anger spilling out with his words. “No. This is my company.
My family’s company. No one gets to treat you like that. Or anyone else for that matter. If you have a problem with the way I run things, then you can get the hell out of here, too.” He didn’t mean the last part, but he was pissed off that anyone would say shit like that to her. And, apparently, this wasn’t the first time.
She raised her chin once more, her nostrils flaring. “Whatever, Wesley.” And with that, she picked up her things and walked out of the building, leaving him standing there like an idiot.
“My name’s not fucking Wesley,” he growled, knowing no one was listening to him. Or, at least, that’s what he thought.
“Just fucking ask her out already,” Decker mumbled as he passed by. “Seriously.”
“He’s right, you know,” Meghan singsonged. Apparently, the two of them hadn’t heard what had happened with Jeff yet or they’d be singing another tune.
“Just shut up,” Wes snarled and turned on his heel. He had things to do today, and none of them included growling over a woman he didn’t want to want.
He didn’t know much about what his future would bring, but he did know one thing for sure—Jillian Reid was not for him. Ever.
See the INKED MEMORIES trailer:
About Carrie Ann Ryan
Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.
From USA Today bestselling author, Rebecca Shea, comes a new, heartbreakingly beautiful standalone romance, FAULT LINES. Don’t miss the stunning and captivating excerpt below, and pre-order your copy today!
About FAULT LINES:
At eleven he was my first crush. At sixteen he became mine. At nineteen he broke my heart and destroyed me. That was ten years ago and the last time I saw Cole Ryan.
They say you never get over your first love…I beg to differ. I left my shattered heart buried in a town I never expected to return to. I erased every thought of him and buried the memories never to be found.
I moved on…now ten years later I have the perfect life, the perfect fiancé, the perfect career. Everything I ever wanted until I’m forced to go back and face my past and the man that destroyed me.
He won’t stop until I know the truth no matter how hard I fight it. In the end, lies will be uncovered, hearts will be broken, and my life as I’ve come to know it destroyed.
FAULT LINES is coming October 30, 2017! Pre-order your copy today!
My fingers dig into the brown dirt between the patches of dead grass that used to once be a lush front yard. A jagged stone cuts into the soft flesh of my knee as I try to get control of the involuntary lurching of my stomach, which has me crippled on all fours.
Tears fall in streams, and I gasp for air as I hear the sound of heavy footsteps near me.
“Get away from me!” I scream at the soft voice.
“I said get the hell away from me!” My stomach clenches against another wave of nausea as I hear her footprints begin to move away. “Goooooo!” I shout at her again.
I manage to look over my shoulder and see Whitney Carson’s long blonde hair swaying as she walks quickly back across the cul-de-sac to her piss yellow, beat-to-hell Mustang. I barely make out the swell of her belly as she slides into the driver’s seat and slams the door behind her. The roar of the engine tells me she’s leaving.
One last heave and there is nothing left for my stomach to expel, leaving me with only my tears. My throat burns, my breaths coming in small gasps when I feel soft arms around my shoulders.
I hear the creak of the old screen door and my mama’s worn shoes come into sight just before I feel her arms around me. “Baby girl, what’s wrong? We weren’t expecting you home from school until tomorrow…” Her voice is quiet, yet panicked as she kneels next to me, her white uniform dress getting dirty.
I finished my finals early so that I could come home early and surprise Cole and my mom, but the surprise was all mine. “Mama,” I cry between ragged breaths. “I came home early to surprise you and—”
“Stop,” she cuts me off, looking over my shoulder behind me. “Let’s get you inside. If this has anything to do with that girl that’s been coming around, he’s not worth your tears. You’re going to put your chin up and enjoy your summer.” She tugs at my arm in hopes to get me to budge.
I shake my head back and forth violently. “No. I can’t stay here,” I manage through my tears. I can’t stay and watch this happen. I can’t stay and watch them.
“What do you mean? Where would you go?” Her voice grows with concern.
“I don’t know, but I can’t stay here.” The hot summer air hangs heavy around us, and sweat beads along my forehead at my hairline. The thought of Cole touching Whitney Carson causes my stomach to flip again, and I dry heave as I pinch my eyes closed.
Mom rubs her hand over my arm as I try to gain my composure and move from all fours to sitting on the dirt. “Well, come inside until we figure this out.” Her voice is soft and sad. “I’ve always told you he was—”
“Please, stop—” I cut her off now, not wanting to talk about Cole with her.
I hear her deep sigh. “Come on. I’ll run you a hot bath. We need to get you cleaned up.”
The tears still fall in waves as my heart breaks with each step I take toward our house and away from Cole Ryan. As I think about it, the last few months begin to make sense. I sensed Cole pulling away from me. He’d become distant, not returning my calls or answering text messages. Mama called me and had told me about the rumors she’d heard, but we chose to chalk them up to small town gossip. Crescent Ridge is just that, a small town where no one has anything else to do but talk about other people and spread rumors.
Suddenly, realization hits me that the one person I trusted more than anyone in the world betrayed me. He’s been my best friend since I was eleven, my first crush, my first love, my first everything. No other person will ever etch himself so boldly into my history as Cole Ryan did. No other person held the cards to destroy me like Cole Ryan did. And did he ever.
I bite my tongue, tasting the slightest hint of blood as Mama walks me up the raggedy old front porch of our house. “Keep walking, baby girl.” She guides me through the front door. “Keep your chin held high,” she says quietly, the screen door slamming hard behind us.
She looks at me with sympathetic eyes and her voice cracks as she speaks. “Now you can fall apart, Frances. Don’t ever let him see you crumble; don’t give him that control. He is not worth your tears.”
And crumble is what I do as I sink to the faded wood floors of our living room, Mama rocking me in her lap, her fingers stroking my hair and wiping my tears. I cry and scream for the love I believed in, for the boy who owned my heart, and the loss of the one person I long for—the one person I had planned to spend my last breath with.
Mama holds me for hours as my tears come and go. At the first hints of the morning sunlight, I peel myself from Mama’s lap, my head pounding from the hours of crying. I pull my cell phone from my back pocket and press the name of the only other friend I have.
“Ash.” My voice breaks and I barely make out what she’s saying, but one thing is certain. I’m getting the hell out of Crescent Ridge and never looking back. “I’m coming,” I tell her.
Between my tears and gasping breaths, I disconnect my call and see Mama swipe at the tears on her aging cheeks. She sat here all night comforting me as I lay helpless in her lap. In the end, she’s the one person who believes in me and has loved me unconditionally, and here I am about to leave her behind. Leave everything I know and love behind, without a second thought. For good.
I know that when I drive away from here today, I’ll never be back—I can’t come back. I’m leaving my broken heart behind, along with the only man I’ve ever loved.
I toss my bag and one small box of belongings from my childhood bedroom in the trunk of my car and slide into the driver’s seat of my old Honda. Without a second thought, I put the car in drive and glance just once out my rearview mirror as I pull away. The last thing I see is Cole Ryan, hunched over the paint-chipped railing of his front porch as I drive away from Crescent Ridge, leaving him, my past, and my mama behind.
About Rebecca Shea:
Rebecca Shea is the USA Today Bestselling author of the Unbreakable series (Unbreakable, Undone, and Unforgiven) and the Bound and Broken series (Broken by Lies and Bound by Lies). She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her family. From the time Rebecca could read she has had a passion for books. Rebecca spends her days working and her nights writing, bringing stories to life. Born and raised in Minnesota, Rebecca moved to Arizona in 1999 to escape the bitter winters. When not working or writing, she can be found on the sidelines of her sons’ football games, or watching her daughter at ballet class. Rebecca is fueled by insane amounts of coffee, margaritas, Laffy Taffy (except the banana ones), and happily ever afters.