Archive for February, 2017
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They call me RIP.
I’m a killer. A murderer. A psychopath.
In the eyes of the righteous, I’m a monster, born of sin and depravity.
I want to protect her, but I’m not a good man.
I want to love her, but I no longer feel.
She gets under my skin, though, and has awakened something inside of me.
Something I’d kill for.
I’m not her savior—not even close. In fact, I’m worse than the hell she’s already suffered.
I’m her vengeance. Tit for tat, as they say.
And if she’s not careful, I’ll be her ruin.
For months, I’ve watched him.
I’ve fantasized him as my savior, my lover. My ticket out of the hell I’ve lived in for the last six years.
I never dreamed he’d be my nightmare.
Had I known what he really is, I’d have never gotten in the car that night, but life is full of cause and effect.
And sometimes the choice on offer isn’t a choice at all.
It’s the result of something already in motion, and we’re merely left to survive the ripple effect.
*This is an erotic suspense/erotic romance not recommended for readers under the age of 18 due to graphic violence and sex.
I stare down at the tiny white egg, wedged between the ashtray filled with cigarette butts and the empty bottle of Jack Daniels on the balcony. Hardly broken in two halves, the busted center reveals an underdeveloped bird inside, nearly devoured by the bugs that crawl in and out of the shell. I can just make out one bulbous eyeball, surprisingly intact, staring back at me. Mourning Dove, I’d bet. They seem to flock to this shithole every year, for whatever reason.
The nest teeters on the edge of the eave somewhere above me, as if the mother intentionally chose this most dangerous spot to lay her egg then up and abandoned it. Left to the careful watch of carnivores.
Poor little bird.
A tickle hits my arm and I slap a hand to my skin, before scratching at the spot just below a black monarch butterfly tattoo, digging my nails into the place where I’m certain I felt something crawling over me. I hate when my long wisps of hair skim across the surface like a translucent web dancing over my skin. Insects give me the willies. Well, except for butterflies, I don’t mind them so much. My therapist put a name on it once, said I had ento-something-phobia—a fear of bugs. It’s not really the bugs themselves I fear, though. It’s the idea that something could breach the barriers of my skin, and infest, just like the shell that housed that bird. Sometimes I have dreams about them, crawling over me, nesting inside of me.
The very thought casts a shiver down my spine, and I’m grateful for the pane of glass that separates me from the macabre outside my window.
Wind rattles the glass in its frame, the tendrils of late winter snaking their way beneath the thin afghan wrapped around my shoulders. It’s been mild, unseasonably warm enough for bugs and early blooms, but that Chicago wind carries the vestiges of a brutal winter.
The fog of my pills is lifting, making me more aware of the cold, but I’m holding off for something stronger. I’ll need it tonight.
From below, the mumbled shouts of Lady Ortiz, as I call her, push their way through the rotted wood planks that separate our balcony from hers. She and Mr. Ortiz are fighting again, their voices escalating into the crash of broken glass. The Yorkie, three floors below, barks an incessant plea to take a piss outside, and I wonder if his owner, Mrs. Silvia, has finally kicked the bucket. The lady’s pushing ninety, and the pungent reek of ammonia that fills her apartment seeps through the heating ducts of this place sometimes.
Oddly enough, in spite of the noise, the smells, and the crawling bugs, this is my moment of peace. Escape. Freedom.
I must be the only teenage girl on the planet who longs for quiet moments without the gossip, the socializing, and all the damn noise. In a generation of selfies and the desperate need for validation, sometimes I like to slip onto the other side of the mirror and simply watch.
Fringed by the glow of my bedroom light, I study the broken shell, eyeing an ant that marches away with a chunk of something far too big for its size, and I’m reminded that the world takes what it wants even after death.
That’s how I got here, this shithole apartment smack in the middle of Chicago. Just like insects, after my father’s death, the bank took our house, the creditors took our cars, and shame stole our pride as we bounced from shelter to shelter, my mom and me. I was nine years old when he died, and as innocent and vulnerable as a baby bird trapped inside a fragile shell.
Because he committed suicide, my dad’s insurance policy was considered null, and we were left without a pot to piss in. For a while, though, we got by. My mom landed a job dancing, and as a veteran’s widow, qualified for something like Section Eight housing. I was left home alone most nights, but it worked. We survived. Things were okay for a while.
I can’t even remember the moment life changed for us.
Feels like it happened in the span of a year, but I know it only took one fleeting second in time, when she didn’t have to worry about me, when the weight bearing down on her lifted and she felt high as the clouds.
An odd dichotomy, heroin—the way it rolls off the tongue as two completely opposite things—a selfless and courageous woman, and a selfish agent of destruction.
My mom gave up one for the other and that began our descent into some of the darkest days of my life.
My stomach twists, and I curl into myself, bringing my knees tighter to my body.
Two silhouettes hit my periphery, and I turn toward the mouth of the alley, where they move abruptly, limbs flailing, as if they’re in the thick of a fight. I focus on them for a moment, spotting the sag of his slacks just below his un-tucked shirt, and realize they’re not fighting at all. They’re fucking. A prostitute and her John pressed against the dirty bricks of the building, beside the overflowing dumpster. Her dark skin is hard to make out, but his crisp white shirt stands out like a beacon of debauchery.
This alley is a constant stream of slum life stories.
Staring at them drudges a memory of sitting tucked beside a line of garbage cans in the back alley of a bar, watching a rat pick at a maggot-infested chicken leg lying in a toxic pool of wastewater, while the sounds of my mother’s animalistic grunts and moans drifted from the other side. Nothing but meat and the stench of rot taunting my gag reflex. Through a small gap between the wall and garbage, I could just make out a man’s naked ass slamming into her, his dirty fingers curled around her bony thigh. Even then, no more than eleven years old, I knew what she’d become before the word was brutally carved into her skin. Whore. Junkie. A prostitute, always searching for the next high.
The two in the alley stop moving. Only that they’ve begun to pull their clothes back on tells me one of them must’ve climaxed. There is no big finale, or magical moment of ecstasy in the underbelly. It’s all quick and quiet fucks, while breathing in the fog and reek of stale sex and damp garbage. He tugs his slacks over his hips and holds up an object, which I’m guessing is a thin wad of cash. She reaches for it and the guy strikes her with the back of his hand, the echoing smack that kicks her head to the side is the first sound I’ve heard between them.
He’s probably her pimp. If she fights him, she’ll have to drag her ass across the city looking for an unclaimed street corner, and pray some crazy lunatic doesn’t pick her up and turn her into a human skin rug with her head mounted on his wall.
At seventeen, I know more about organizational hierarchy and job security than the average middle-aged CEO, and just like the corporate world, success depends on how many people get fucked.
Wolves and sheep.
For those of us in the flock, survival comes down to how well we manipulate, because a predator’s eyes are naturally drawn to the most innocent. So when my mom’s John started giving me that carnal look, I began carrying a pocketknife, and at thirteen, I once held it to the junkie’s throat, threatening to slice out his voice box if he ever touched me again.
Sometimes the sheep can be cunning, though.
My mom once tried to make me pickpocket—a lesson that landed us in the back of a cop car. Took ten minutes with the cop before we were released with a warning, and it was then I learned a valuable lesson in life: even at a woman’s weakest, sex could be her most powerful weapon.
I glance back at Charlie, my stark white Dogo Argentino, stolen from one of my mother’s back alley conquests. If not for her, I wouldn’t be sitting here, letting the blood-sucking insects feed off of me, after my mother spiraled straight to her grave.
Charlie gives me purpose. If there is a God, I truly believe he put her in my life to keep me from doing stupid shit. That, or to give me a weakness, because Lord knows I’d probably go psycho bitch crazy and end up in a padded cell if anything ever happened to my beloved dog.
Because of her, my heart is a tenderer piece of meat for the insects to tear apart.
At the opposite side of the room is another bed that belongs to my eight-year-old foster sister, Layla. Well, for now anyway. She won’t be here long. This place is a revolving door for foster girls, most only staying a couple months max. I don’t know where they go, and honestly, I don’t care. There’s no point getting to know them. In the time I’ve lived with the Westpricks, at least two-dozen girls have been in and out of here. In some ways, I resent them, getting out and moving on to something else. Maybe somewhere better.
I’m the only one who ever stays. The constant in this hellhole.
Since I was nine years old, I’ve been bounced around from house to house, wishing and hoping for things that just don’t happen to kids where I come from. For six of those years I’ve been lost. The forgotten. The unwanted. I’ve been hurt in ways that have forever changed my landscape and numbed me to future pain.
But now I have Charlie, who’s a reminder that good things can come from bad situations, and that even a beast can penetrate the hardest of hearts.
Charlie makes me think of my mother more than I care to. Perhaps because it was my mother who stole her for me, unwittingly gifting me my own personal guardian angel.
I miss her sometimes, though.
The memories of her are like bent photographs that I pull from my back pocket from time to time, wishing I could set them out on a shelf someday. But life’s too short, particularly in this part of the city, to dwell on what will never be again.
My mom wasted away before I even hit middle school. Police told me it was an overdose, but I think she got a hold of a tainted batch of heroin.
And I’ve been caught up in the system ever since.
A few places worked out okay. They let me keep my dog, which was cool, but people tend to give up on kids who don’t love as easily as others. I acted out. Punched my first foster mother in the face and broke her nose. Didn’t even have a good reason, really, except that she was the first person I had to deal with after my mom died.
Lucky for me, my caseworker managed to track down my mom’s sister, Chanel, and her long-time boyfriend, Randy. I’d never met her before, never even knew my mom had a sister. Aside from the fact that Chanel treats Layla and me like her favorite Barbie dolls, the two of them can’t stand us most of the time.
Doesn’t matter, though.
Two more months and I’ll be out on my own.
I close my eyes so tight they ache. Two more months. That’s when I graduate and can get the hell out of this shithole, and away from the shady foster system that threw me into the hands of Randy Westprick, as I like to call him, and my flighty aunt. In a few weeks I turn eighteen and no one will own me anymore. No one.
I could run away now, ditch school and hit the streets, but that would put me on the same path as my mother and I’d rather die in this hellish place than repeat her mistakes.
The neon sign across the alley blinks a mesmerizing repetition of lost hopes that reflects off the patches of water along the pavement.
A shadow slips along my periphery, and I lift my gaze as a dark figure stalks down the alley toward the old fashioned-looking diner that sits across the narrow cross section on the corner. A place that reminds me of the Boulevard of Broken Dreams painting I once saw at the mall.
Head to toe in black, the stranger’s tall frame remains concealed in the leather coat he always wears. I flip open the dull brass pocket watch, the only remnant left of my real dad, and check the time. Ten o’clock, as usual. Churning in my stomach has me hugging my mid-section.
Every Friday I watch the stranger enter the diner, choosing the corner booth beside the window, where he orders a burger and drink. It’s only Friday he orders a burger. Some nights he’ll come in, grab carry-out, and leave. But not on Fridays. On those nights, he stays and sits alone, never seems to make small talk with the waitress—the same lady who waits on him every time he ventures in. Their interactions are brief and as cold as I’d imagine from a man like him. In spite of that, the sight of him makes me dream things. I don’t know who he is, but I fantasize that he’s a deft killer by the way he carries himself with such lethal grace. If he is, then this is the side his victims never get to see—his vulnerability, choosing the same place, the same seat, the same time every Friday night. It’s a sadness that speaks to me, because without fail, I find myself settling in by my window at the very same time.
Occasionally, he goes at different times, on different days, some weeks not at all, which might seem erratic to some, but I’ve watched him long enough to know there’s a pattern. One that I’ve picked up on, because that one week he’s not there, is repeated precisely four weeks later. Perhaps it’s mindless on his part, maybe his visits correspond to events in his life that I’m not privy to, but I’m a creature of patterns, and I’ve memorized his.
From as high as my window, I can see he’s big. A man, not a boy, at least ten years my senior. His bulky frame fills the creases of the leather coat he wears, and he reminds me of something straight out of a comic book—not the hero, but the menacing antihero, the bad guy no one expects to be good.
No, in my fantasy, he’s bigger. Meaner. Stronger. A man who kills on instinct.
Beneath the cover of my blanket, I sneak my hand down inside my shirt, closing my eyes the moment my fingertip makes contact with my hardened nipple. I imagine his lips closing over it, the scratch of his day-old scruff against my skin and his strong hands holding me in place, the gruff in his voice as he says my name like a fervent prayer. I imagine he smells good, not like stale beer and the putrid mix of body odor and bacon grease, but something deliciously masculine.
I shouldn’t want for a grown man this way, but I do, and I don’t even know him.
For months, I’ve held this invisible rendezvous with him, staring down from my perch, imagining him stealing me from this cage. Turning me into whatever he is. Killer? Criminal? I don’t even care, so long as it’s tougher, more wicked than Randy Westprick.
I fault him for my lack of interest in the boys at school. Not that I’m allowed to date them anyway, but I’m certainly not touching myself to any of the guys my age.
Sometimes he stares out the window and I swear his gaze scans up to my balcony. However, if he sees me, he never makes it known. Perhaps to a man like that, I’m nothing but a young girl, hardly a threat for noticing him.
With my bottom lip caught between my teeth, I succumb to the visuals toying with my mind and the soft moan that escapes me has me stealing a furtive glance back at Layla to make sure she’s still asleep.
He takes his usual seat, filling the booth with his bulky frame. Some nights I picture sliding into his lap, his body crushing me against that table, as I straddle his thighs. I imagine his massive arms enveloping me. His tongue across my skin and in my mouth. Sweat dripping down my back, along my spine where the palm of his hand holds me in place. How he’d feel without the pills denying me the sensation of his cock filling me. The edge of the table beating into my back with every punishing drive of his hips, and the tight clench of his jaw in that reckless moment when he finishes inside of me.
My lips part at the vivid imagery, and my belly tightens while I circle my nipple with the pad of my finger.
If anyone were after him, he’d be hard to miss in those bright lights, the way he stands out like a splotch of black paint on a stark white canvas. He hasn’t looked this way once tonight, which allows me to study him intently, admiring his virile features.
He’s beautiful. A sad, but beautiful man.
The click of the doorknob sends a knot straight to my throat and my stomach sinks like bricks in a murky river. The sound alerts my dog, who I can hear rustling in her bed, and a low growl rumbles in her chest.
I slip my hand out of my shirt, straightening myself beneath the afghan.
A beam of new light invades the soft glow of the Christmas lights I’ve strung around the room for Layla, and as my nightmare enters, Charlie’s growl dies to a whimper.
The thud of his boots across the floor sound like the hooves of the devil coming to claim my soul. A scuffling tells me he’s stumbled, but not even that prompts me to turn around.
The moment I caught him hunkered down in front of the television with a six-pack, I knew he’d come for me. I don’t want to look at him. I hate him. The smell of him makes me sick, like a walking deep fryer.
If not for Charlie, I’d climb over the railing of the balcony, spread my arms, and fly. The police would find a broken shell of me. They’d study me, the same way I studied the baby bird, while the world dissects pieces of my story to suit their curiosities, leaving nothing but a picked over carcass.
All because my mother abandoned her nest.
They’ll never know it was he who gave the final push, and it won’t even matter. Once he injects the drugs, I’ll fall into dissociative bliss, tucked away in the same fog that kept my mother oblivious of the world around her, on rose-colored clouds, and a never-ending dream.
The darkness behind my eyelids is my only refuge from the hell around me, and I’ll willingly climb inside, burrowing myself in that place where no one can touch me. While my body’s propped on the cold metal of the washing machine, I’ll be miles away, fallen deep into the rabbit hole. No one can find me there. Not Randy, nor the men who see the photographs of me that he takes in the dingy laundry room of this apartment complex.
Although he never violates me himself, for whatever reason, he likes objects. The more common they are, the more he gets off. He once had me masturbate the end of a vibrating toothbrush and used it for months after—smiling at me every time he brushed his teeth.
I’ve been defiled in every sense short of rape, stripped and purged of innocence, feeding his disgusting obsession with me.
I often wonder what Chanel’s like when she’s not hopped up on pain pills. If she’d be jealous and accuse me of fucking her man, or if she’d take pleasure in watching him do it. I once tried to tell her about him taking me down there and snapping pictures of me. She offered me one of her pills and asked if I liked the boots her friend had handed down to me.
I can’t blame her too much, though. Randy likes to use her as his personal punching bag, and most days, she’s sporting a bruise somewhere. Even if it’s not always visible. He’s hit me a few times, but unlike Chanel, I hit him back, even at the risk of more pain, because I believe once you show weakness, it’s easier to fall prey to it.
A tug at my elbow and I glance to the side, swatting at his arm. “Don’t touch me.”
Sometimes Randy offers gifts—small tokens that come with his usual pep talk about how it’s not abuse because he never actually penetrates me and the photos don’t show my face. That’s a lie. I once swiped his phone when he passed out on the couch and deleted a good few dozen pictures of me—his little mementos. I couldn’t stand to look at my own face—droopy eyes singed with the apathy toward whatever he forced me to do. I’d hoped to see shame in those photos, but it seemed buried too far beneath the effects of the drugs.
He’s threatened to circulate them throughout the school if I say a word about any of this. Send them to all my classmates on Facebook, as if they’d come from me. Like he’d ever let me have my own account. As far as the world is concerned, I don’t exist.
“C’mon,” is all he says, before walking out of the bedroom.
I give one more glance toward the man in the diner, as he stares off, waiting for his food. Maybe one day he’ll look up and see me.
Maybe he’d want to kill Randy Westprick, if he knew that somewhere close by, a girl was forced to do bad things. Very bad things.
For now, the drugs will put up a barrier, separating my mind from the horrors of my reality, much like the pane of glass that separates me from the insect-ravaged bird outside my window.
Maybe it won’t hurt as much this time, knowing that I do this to keep Randy from slaughtering my dog or taking away the pills that have become as necessary as the air I breathe. A vicious cycle of escaping to survive and surviving to escape.
Because sex is power.
And even the hardest shells are made to be cracked.
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Dr. Jaxon Ray has only ever wanted one woman. He’s loved her from afar since their Junior School days, worshiping the ground she walks on, intent on having her for his own when the time is right.
Amber St. George isn’t interested in the trappings that come with her family’s wealth. A simple life as a teacher at an underprivileged school, a comfortable home with her lover, and good friends; that’s all she desires.
Once Jax decides it’s time to take what’s his, Amber finds herself at the mercy of a madman. A sociopath with access to the latest neurological advancements, who possesses the ability to use her own mind to keep her captive. Programmed to forget. Reprogrammed as her captor’s perfect partner. Amber’s left with medically-induced amnesia and no idea that she’s in for the fight of her life.
When the people who know you’re missing aren’t on your side, and the love of your life has been led to believe that you’ve turned your back on him, is rescue possible? When you can’t remember the real you, is escape even on the cards?
“Welcome home.” My mother greets us in a singsong voice. “I trust you’re both feeling relaxed and recharged from your little break?”
Both sets of parents are waiting in the foyer of our house, apparently ready to celebrate our return from our honeymoon. I lean into Jax, close enough so that only he can hear my comment.
“Somebody’s had her Stepford pills today.”
I can feel his low laugh where it rumbles in his chest below my palm. It calms my fears about returning home. During our flight, I was worried that the connection between me and Jax would be lost. He seemed to grow more aloof the closer we got to home. Tension that hadn’t been in his hard frame during our three-week honeymoon became more noticeable by the minute. It diluted the tenderness I felt for him after such an amazing honeymoon, which made me feel guilty, so I’d spent the remainder of the flight trying to find ways to recapture it with small talk and inane observations.
“Seems someone’s missed hers,” Jax replies loud enough for our parents to hear. He takes a step to the side, putting distance between us and causing me to stumble from the unexpected loss of his body. I right myself, bright spots of embarrassment making my face burn. “I have work to do. Amber, you should rest. We have a battery of tests organised for you first thing tomorrow. It’s time to see if you’re able to live up to your end of the bargain.”
Jax strides out of the foyer in the direction of his office, my father and his falling into step with him. Left alone with our mothers, I look between them to see if they’re going to comment on how my husband just acted. They meet my perusal with deliberate blankness, although my mother does seem to be more nervous than usual.
“Is anyone going to tell me what tests he’s talking about?” Their mouths fall open at my belligerent tone. Internally, I shrug it off. They’re lucky I didn’t stomp my damn foot. I certainly want to. “No? No one?”
I give them my back, extending the handle of my biggest suitcase and tilting it so it will roll behind me. I signal the maid to bring the rest of my bags with her. Jax’s luggage can sit in the middle of the entry until the end of time, for all I can. When I reach the curved staircase, I immediately regret my show of defiance. There’s no way I’m going to be able to pull my bag up there.
“Maria.” My mother snaps her fingers at the maid. “Bring some refreshments to the lounge, then have their luggage taken to their room.”
She sniffs when Maria takes too long to move. “Come now, Amber. Tell us about your trip.”
I follow, with reluctance in each step, sitting on the loveseat closest to the window. It’s a beautiful day outside. Bright sunlight and barely a breath of wind. It’s a day that I could spend with my husband, if he wasn’t a workaholic who barely drew a breath before he dived straight back into his job.
“I think you’re mistaken as to how things will run from now on.” Jax’s mother, Elizabeth, speaks first. I run my gaze over her, taking in the perfectly coiffed hair and her straight unnaturally posture with her hands tucked between her knees. Looks like she had her Stepford pills today, as well. “My son is a very busy man. It’s your job to make his life run as effortlessly as possible. There will be no further allowances made for your delicate state.”
She stands, pacing in front of me. I assume that her “delicate state” gibe is a reference to my ongoing amnesia.
“You’ll take over the running of this house. It is not my place to do so now that he’s married. However, I am happy to provide some tips so that the transition is smooth. The same goes for Jax’s social calendar. That will require close attention so that your influence as the only St. George heir benefits my son from the outset. Once you are with child, Cynthia and I,” Elizabeth indicates my mother with her jutting chin. “will assist you so that you are able to concentrate on your most important duty—providing as many heirs as possible.”
“So, that’s what the tests are for tomorrow?” I slouch in my chair when they both incline their heads in agreement. “Well, I guess I’d better rest then. Wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of my ability to breed.”
“I feel that you would benefit from a lie down.” My sarcasm goes straight over my mother’s head. “It will improve your disposition.”
My feet are in action, removing me from this conversation before I say something I regret. I can’t take this farce, anymore. We’ve been home for less than an hour and my life is already being dictated by the expectations of “society”.
Isn’t that one of the reasons you ran away in the first place?
My stupid heel catches in the corner of the rug when that random thought pops into my head. I stumble, steadying myself with a hand on the back of the settee. Balance regained, my shoulder clashes with the person currently entering the room as I restart my hasty exit.
“My apologies.” I give Seb a ghost-like smile as I pass.
He takes hold of the top of my arm to slow me, a shopping bag dangling from that same hand.
“It’s time. Be ready.”
Mum to two crazy, adorable, and creative kids.
Crohn’s Disease sufferer and awareness campaigner.
She’s also an avid tea drinker, a connoisseur of 80’s/90’s rock music, and is known for lacing everything she says with sarcasm and inappropriate innuendo.
Formerly working in finance, she was forced to reevaluate her plans for her life when severe Crohn’s Disease brought her corporate career to a screeching halt. Restarting her childhood hobbies of writing and reading to alleviate the monotony of being sick and housebound, she found her calling and is enjoying life to the max. A typical day is spent in the “real” world where she hangs out with her awesome family and “book” world where she gets to chill with her fictional characters.
Kylie writes the books she wants to read. A lover of strong men who aren’t perfect and aren’t afraid to admit it, straight talking women who embrace their vulnerabilities, and real life gritty stories, she hopes these themes shine through her writing. An avid reader of all genres, Kylie hopes to release books that keep the reader on the edge of their seat- be it with suspense, heart-stopping thrills, or laughter.
Book Title: The Art of Sage (Cruz Brothers, #2)
Author: Melanie Munton
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: December 28, 2016
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
With death came new life.
She was my new life.
And I would never be able to let her go.
Social work was never an easy job but somebody had to do it. Fortunately for kind-hearted and tattooed Sage Tucker, she wanted to do it. Day in and day out she saw kids who reminded her of her past and she needed to do everything in her power to give them the help that she never received when she was young. The more kids she helped, the more layers she thought she could shed of her dark childhood. But nothing ever worked. She was haunted by her memories, consumed by her anger. She slowly felt herself slipping further down into a hole, one she didn’t know if she would ever escape from.
Art made sense to Mason Cruz. Keeping his hands busy was his therapy. Being able to do both at his auto body shop was his sanctuary. Despite everything he had to overcome in his life, he had finally made something of himself and was where he wanted to be professionally. With every car he painted and every motorcycle he restored, he could keep the demons inside his head at bay. He just wished he was as good at repairing his soul as he was at repairing vintage fenders.
Sage had never felt so exposed than when she was around the smooth and charming Mason. Talking to him made her feel like she was under a microscope, but maybe that was exactly what she needed. Nobody had ever wanted to understand her like he did. Nobody had ever cared enough to ask and she had never cared to share.
And now she knew why.
Because she knew that whenever Mason learned everything about her, heard all of her darkest secrets, he would never want to look at her again.
*This is the second installment in the three-part Cruz Brothers contemporary romance series. Each book can be read as a standalone.
Piercing, light green eyes. Aquiline nose and a steel-like jawline. Light olive skin that spoke to me of mixed ethnicity. And a certain ruggedness to his appearance that said he wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. My kind of man. The fact that he was wearing mechanic’s coveralls that were unzipped and pulled down to his waist with a tight white tank top covering his thick upper body didn’t hurt either. His chest was toned and lean, the spots of grease and paint scattered over his arms only adding to his masculine appeal.
Fuck. And he had tattoos.
If I had one weakness when it came to a man’s appearance, it wasn’t muscles or a mouth-watering smile. It was some well-done, artistic, fucking sexy tattoos. I had quite a few myself, so I appreciated good-quality ink. My brother was also a tattoo artist, so the whole practice was ingrained in me.
Plus, I liked a man who could stand a little pain. Like me.
I said it without even thinking, though I thought it was whispered low enough that no one else heard it.
No such luck.
“Excuse me?” the tattooed beauty asked, amusement creeping across his ruggedly handsome face. “Did you just say ‘jackpot’?”
Panicked, embarrassed, and admittedly turned on, I adamantly shook my head back and forth. “No, I don’t think so. That doesn’t sound like something I would say.”
How is this happening to me right now?
He took a rag from his back pocket and began wiping off his hands, drawing my attention down to his chest, watching his muscles ripple. “You sure about that?” he asked. Before I looked away, both of his pecs flexed at the same time, as if they were winking at me, taunting me.
For some reason, Joey Tribbiani’s “How you doin’?” catch phrase started playing on a loop in my head.
I eventually pulled my gaze back up to his face, eyes narrowing when I saw his cheeky grin. “You did that on purpose.”
“Did what on purpose?” he innocently asked before flexing his pecs again. Dammit, it’s like they were doing a little dance for me.
I knew better than to look down. But I did it again, anyway. “Stop that.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sexy Smartass replied, nonchalantly. “So, how can I help you, Ms…?”
I stuck my hand out, forcing myself to remain cool despite how flustered and disheveled I was. “Tucker. Sage Tucker.”
He shook my hand, squeezing it politely. His touch was casual enough, but his eye contact was unnerving because it never strayed from me. Very intense. “Mason Cruz. Are you needing some work done, Ms. Tucker?”
I stared at him, unblinking, wondering if I had heard him right. He laughed, apparently reading my thoughts. It was a nice laugh I decided. “I meant automobile work.”
My face flushed. Wow, that was stupid. Two for two, Sage. “I’m so sorry,” I replied, chuckling nervously as I averted my eyes. “It’s been a long day.” I glanced up at him to his smile remained in place, though I didn’t get the feeling that he was laughing at me. “Yes, I’m needing some assistance. My car broke down just down the road from here and I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong with it. I was hoping you might be able to take a look for me?”
He looked at me for another second, then down at his watch, then around his shop, as if he were mulling over a decision. Worried that I was going to screw up his entire day since I knew how that went, I rushed to say, “I don’t want to put you out. I can call a tow truck—”
“No, it’s fine,” he answered, his voice low and grating. “I can do that.” The corner of his mouth quirked in a half-grin. “What kind of asshole would I be if I didn’t help a woman in distress?”
My eyebrow shot up. I had a feeling he was just joking, trying to get a rise out of me. But I didn’t care. If looks could castrate, the man would have been walking around dick-less. Which would have been unfortunate because his was probably pretty nice-looking.
Of course, he just chuckled. “Sorry, was that sexist of me?”
Fighting to bite back the string of curses I wanted to release on him, I kept my expression neutral. “Little bit. Do I look like a helpless, distressed woman to you?”
Wrong thing to ask. I knew it as soon as the words left my mouth. Because Mason’s eyes immediately traveled the length of my body, taking his sweet ass—and oh, his ass was sweet—time with his perusal.
“No, you sure as hell don’t,” he rasped, those green eyes darkening. “But I’m still willing to help you out with anything you need.”.
Traveler. Reader. Beach-goer. St. Louis Cardinals fan. Pasta-obsessed. North Carolina resident. Sarcastic. Bit of a nerd.
Author of the Cruz Brothers, Possession and Politics, and Timid Souls series, Melanie loves all things romance, comedies and suspense in particular because it’s boring to only stick to one sub-genre. From light-hearted comedies to sexy thrillers, she likes to mix it up, but loves her some strong alpha males and sassy heroines.
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“Skin in the Game M/M, Cedar Falls #18”
by Shea Balik
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Tahl Pendev had been lusting after Reed since Utopia first opened. He could have easily taken Reed to his bed, but Tahl wanted more than a one-night stand. What he wants–no, demands–is forever, or he won’t have Reed at all.
Reed Bowden doesn’t believe in love, marriage, or even commitment. He was happy with one night stands and no strings weighing him down. But when one of his friends gets shot because of Reed, he starts to wonder if his lifestyle is all it was cracked up to be.
Will Tahl find a way to reach Reed, or will they implode before they have a chance?
Warning: High jinx will ensue as the characters from Cedar Falls try to play matchmaker.
Instantly Reed’s hackles went up, but for an entirely different reason than they had with Alcott. Tahl had a way of pissing Reed off just by existing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Reed lied.
Tahl was the only man Reed had ever met that was better looking than Reed. Midnight black hair that shimmered blue under the right lights accentuated his deep blue eyes perfectly. High cheekbones, strong chin, and firm lips that just begged to be kissed all added to the man’s allure.
But his good looks didn’t stop there. His body was a chiseled masterpiece that spoke of years of dedication and training in the gym. Add to all of that, the man’s cocky attitude of knowing just how fucking gorgeous he was and ability to mesmerize anyone with just a look, and Tahl could have any man he wanted.
Including Reed. Except Tahl hadn’t been interested. The man hadn’t even flirted with Reed. It was as if Reed didn’t exist, well, unless Tahl was giving him a lecture on dating casino staff. There were no smiles from those firm lips, just a disapproving frown that never seemed to waiver.
“Really?” That frown was there, along with one eyebrow raised, telling Reed Tahl not only didn’t believe his lie but was disappointed, as usual, that Reed had bothered to tell it. “Because I believe it is you Alcott came here to see, and since he created a scene that involved Jesse, Ethan, Flynn, and”—Crow hesitated as he glanced over at Kale—“Danton. I would think you would have discouraged him from coming here again.”
Kale’s smile instantly turned icy as he was reminded about the Christmas fiasco that led to all the men mentioned being banned from the New Year’s Eve party. It had been a disaster of epic proportions. One that had nearly gotten Reed fired, the casino closed down, and three innocent bystanders sent to the hospital for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After Aidan, the property’s manager had banned Alcott for sixty days. Reed had hoped the man would have given up chasing him. Evidently, he was wrong. “It’s not like I invited him here,” he told Tahl belligerently.
“Apparently he didn’t get the memo,” Tahl said dryly. “Have you thought about telling him you don’t want to see him again?”
Reed wanted nothing more than to smash his fist into that smug face. “Look, you pompous jerk, I have told him, over and over again. It’s not my fault if he ignores me.”
A muscle along Tahl’s jaw jumped, but otherwise, he didn’t react to Reed’s insults. His so-called friends, on the other hand, couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
“I think I hear Stone calling me,” Kale said. “I better get moving.”
“Yeah,” Crow followed. “I’m pretty sure he was calling for me, too.”
Reed stared after them, shocked they would just abandon him when they knew he couldn’t stand Tahl. Then again, if the roles were reversed, he was pretty sure he would have gotten out of there as fast as he could, too.
“Looks like your friends are smarter than you, Reed.” There was something in Tahl’s tone that had Reed’s teeth clenching in irritation.
He couldn’t pinpoint it exactly, but the way Tahl talked to him was like a schoolmarm talking to a five-year-old who’d been naughty. He was sick and tired of being treated as if he didn’t know how to behave. No, that wasn’t it. Everyone treated him that way. It was only Tahl he resented doing it.
What he hated was Tahl believing he had the right to tell him what to do. Who the fuck was this guy anyway? “Look, we are not friends, nor do I want to be your friend, so stop thinking you can order me around.”
The moment the words were out, Reed knew them for the mistake they were. Tahl grew still, too still. Those deep blue eyes blazed with fire that trapped Reed in place. Tahl was like a snake about to strike. Just as the thought left Reed’s head, Tahl moved, crowding Reed to the wall not more than ten feet from them.
He had been a Marine for eight fucking years, training with some of the toughest sons-of-bitches he’d ever known, yet Reed had no idea how Tahl had moved that fast or managed to pin him to the wall so he couldn’t move.
He owed Stone an apology for not taking hand-to-hand combat more seriously. Maybe if he’d paid more attention in class, he wouldn’t be in this predicament.
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Simple, concise, and easy to understand! Doesn’t get much better than this! 😉
Writing dialogue is messy. Am I right?
It has so many rules, it makes me wish I’d gone with my original plan in life. I’d intended to become an all-in-one supermodel-psychologist/part-time medical researcher. What? I thought I wanted to save people, discover things, and change the world wearing a tiara and killer heels. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just wanted to sit on my couch drinking coffee and writing all day while wearing no pants.
Plus, apparently my status as a supermodel got cut short (no pun intended) by my lack of height. And love of cake. Also, had I continued studying psychology, I’d have been forced to stop listening to the voices in my head . . . and that was SO not cool. The thing was . . . I didn’t know how to properly punctuate any of my internal…
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