Archive for category Chapter Reveal
Evie Cole. She’s the one person I can’t figure out.
People say they love you, but what they really mean is that they love how you make them feel about themselves, or what they can take from you.
I can’t leave her on the streets, so I make her a deal she can’t refuse. It buys me the time I need to figure out whether Evie is the real deal or just another gold-digger.
The day Evie graduates, she breaks all contact with me, which proves that she was only in it for the money.
At least, that’s what I think, until random payments are made to my bank account.
Rhett Daniels. My hero, who saved me from a life on the street. My unrequited love, who will sleep with every girl but me.
His playful smile and humorous façade might fool others, but not me. I see myself in his eyes.
He only has one rule.
He’ll pay for my education, giving me a chance to become independent. All I have to do is keep my clothes on which also means no dating.
I hate being his charity case, but I tell myself it will only be until I graduate. I will find a way to pay him back.
The worst part is that I fell in love with him.
Hoping to forget the one man I can never have, I move to the other side of the country. I’m determined to make it on my own, but things don’t always work out the way we want them to.
Rhett Daniels & Evie Cole ~ Book 5 in the Enemies To Lovers Series
This is book #5 in the Enemies To Lovers Series. Each book in the series is about a different couple. To get the full experience of their friendship, I’d recommend that you start with Heartless
(Seventeen years old.)
Having done my chores for the day, I drag my tired body to the bedroom I share with Sandra and Wendy. Sandra will be back from work at three am, and Wendy is already fast asleep. Sandra is two weeks older than me and started working last week when she turned eighteen. She’s moving to Moonlight Ranch tomorrow.
Just thinking about what the future holds for me sends a shiver of disgust rippling through me. I only have one week left before I have to start working at that hellhole, as well.
Eric and Charlotte are cunning and deceitful. They’ve mastered the art of fooling welfare services whenever they come to do an inspection. The house is always neat, and they make sure that no business takes place on the premises. Everything happens at the ranch, and only at night. During the day it functions as just another cattle ranch. Most of the boys who come to live here are lucky as they get to work on the ranch during the day. Although, the attractive ones get handpicked by Charlotte to work at night alongside all the girls.
From the outside, everything looks normal. Eric and Charlotte regularly donate and are respected by the community. I’ve learned that money can buy a lot of things. Hell, they even had me fooled when I first came to live with them. I thought I was one of the lucky ones when I got placed with the Williams family. I was only thirteen and still held onto hope that I would find a family I could call my own.
Instead of a family, I found monsters who use us for cheap labor, and once you turn eighteen, you’re forced to become a sex worker.
Eric and Charlotte can sweet talk anyone into believing they’re saints. They’re smart, never letting their perverted clients touch any of the underage girls. But once we turn eighteen, all bets are off. You either start working for them, or you’re out on the cold street without a second thought. It still surprises me how many girls choose to stay.
Even though I’m tired, I can’t fall asleep. Since Sandra starting working, I’ve been spending my nights worrying about my eighteenth birthday.
I’m planning to run away. It’s all I can do to save myself from a life as a prostitute. I shudder with revulsion just thinking about some perverted old man touching me.
So far I’ve managed to hide some food behind the washing machine. Once I’m living on the street, I know the food won’t last long, but right now my biggest concern is where I’ll live. I’m scared to death of being homeless, but it’s nothing compared to the fear of having countless men use my body any way they want to for the rest of my life.
I have no other choice but to run away.
Feeling hopeless and terrified of what my future holds in store for me, I curl into a small bundle.
Alienated. It’s the only word which describes how I feel. Unloved and disregarded by life, I wonder why I was born if I’m meant to be snubbed by everyone? People either look right through me or glare at me with disdain.
My first week on the streets I was too scared to even sleep. Every person that crossed my path was a potential threat. Up until a few weeks ago, being raped was my biggest fear. I was wrong. Loneliness has become my greatest fear by far. I was never close to any of the other children who were taken in by Eric and Charlotte, but at least I wasn’t alone while I lived there.
There’s not a single person who cares about me. I could disappear from the face of the planet, and no one would notice.
I might as well not exist. The realization is devastating. It’s been hitting me with one crippling blow after another when I least expect it. The thought will wake me minutes after I’ve drifted off, or slam into me while I’m walking down the street.
The only reminder I have that I’m alive is my aching stomach. I can’t remember the last decent meal I ate. The food I stole before I ran away was taken on my second day out here. I had hidden it behind a dumpster while I was looking for work. When I returned to the alley where I thought I’d be able to stay until I managed to find a job, two men were going through my things, dividing it all among themselves. They were much bigger than me, and fearing for my life, I had no choice but to leave with only the bag I had with me, and run.
Desperation shudders through me and for a moment I think about searching through the dumpsters near restaurants, but then I remember the beating I got when I accidentally trespassed on another homeless man’s area. That’s another thing I quickly learned. Deprivation makes savages of people. On the streets, you’ll be ripped apart if you so much as look at another person.
I hunch forward, hugging my arms around my waist as I try and fight off the chill. I tried to sneak into the library’s bathroom, but security caught me. I was thrown out with a harsh warning. It could’ve been worse. I was lucky they didn’t have me arrested. I also tried to walk up and down the aisles of shops that stayed open during the night, but it became unbearable. Seeing all that food and not being able to eat it was pure torture.
I’ve thought about going back to Eric and Charlotte, but when I think of what I’ll be going back to, I’d rather die. Being at the mercy of a pimp and his whore, I only had two options. Either I get busy spreading my legs to earn my keep, or I leave. I’ve always known that day was coming, but nothing prepared me for how dangerous it is living on the streets is.
I look up at the sign that reads Double D’s Cleaning Services. Saying a silent prayer, I open the door and walk into the reception area. If I don’t get a job soon, I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m reaching the point where I’m so desperate that I’ll even take a job as a stripper.
Michelle Horst is a Bestselling Romance Author who likes her books hot, dirty, and with a touch of darkness. She loves an alpha hero who is not scared to fight for his woman.
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Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.
But you did notice.
We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.
I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.
But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.
To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.
Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.
Maritza the Waitress
PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.
“Welcome to Brentwood Pancake and Coffee. I’m Maritza and I’ll be your server,” I greet my millionth customer of the morning with the same old spiel. This one, a raven-haired, honey-eyed Adonis, waited over seventy minutes for a table by a window, though I suppose in LA time that’s the blink of an eye.
He doesn’t so much as acknowledge me.
“Just you today?” I ask, eyeing the empty chair across from him. The breakfast rush is about to end, and lucky for him, I only have one other table right now.
He doesn’t answer, but maybe he doesn’t hear me?
“Coffee?” I ask another obvious question. I mean, the diner is called Brentwood Pancake and Coffee for crying out loud. Everyone comes here for the coffee and plate-sized pancakes, and it’s considered a Class-D felony to order anything else.
Placing his mug right side up on his saucer, he pushes it toward me and I begin to pour. Waving his hand, he stops me when the cup is three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he adds two creams and one half of a sugar packet, but the way he moves is methodical, rigid. With intention.
“Ma’am, this really can’t be that interesting,” he says under his breath, his spoon clinking against the sides of the porcelain mug after he stirs.
“You’re standing here watching me,” he says. Giving the spoon two final taps against the rim of the mug, he then rests it on the saucer before settling his intense amber gaze in my direction. “Isn’t there another table that needs you?”
His eyes are warm like honey but his stare is cold, piercing. Unrelenting.
“You’re right. There is.” I clear my throat and snap out of it. If I was lingering, it wasn’t my intention, but this I’m-sexy-and-I-know-it asshole didn’t need to call me out on it. Sue me for being a little distracted. “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute, okay?”
With that, I leave him alone with his menu and his coffee and his foul mood and his brooding gaze … and his broad shoulders … and his full lips … and I get back to work, stopping at table four to see if Mr. and Mrs. Carnavale need refills on their house blend decafs.
By the time I top them off, I draw in a cleansing breath and head back to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Douche-y, forcing a smile on my face.
“We ready to order?” I ask, pulling my pen from behind my ear and my notepad from my Kelly-green apron.
He folds his menu, offering it to me despite the fact that my hands are full, but I manage to slip it under my arm without dropping anything.
“Two pancakes,” he says. “Eggs. Scrambled. Rye toast. Butter. Not margarine.”
“I’m so sorry.” I point to a sign above the cash register that clearly reads ONE PANCAKE PER PATRON – NO EXCEPTIONS.
He squints, his expression calcifying when he reads it.
“So that’s one pancake, scrambled eggs, and buttered rye toast then,” I recite his order.
“What kind of bullshit rule is that?” He checks his watch, like he has somewhere to be.
Or like he doesn’t have the time for a rule that I entirely agree is pure bullshit.
“These pancakes are huge. I promise one will be more than enough.” I try to deescalate the situation before it gets out of hand because it’s never pretty when management has to get involved. The owners of the diner are strict as hell on this policy and their day shift manager is even more so. She’ll happily inform any and all disgruntled customers there’s a reason the “pancake” in Brentwood Pancake and Coffee is singular and not plural.
I’ve seen many a diner walk out of here and never return over this stupid policy and our Yelp review average is in the dumps, but somehow it never seems to be bad for business. The line is perpetually out the door and down the block every weekend morning without fail, and sometimes even on weekdays. These pancakes are admittedly as delicious and more than own up to their reputation, but that stupid rule is nothing more than clever marketing designed to inflate demand.
“And what if I’m still hungry?” he asks. “Can I order a second?”
Wincing, I shake my head.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He sits up a little, jaw clenching. “It’s a goddamned pancake for fuck’s sake.”
“Not just any pancake,” I say with a practiced smile. “It’s a Brentwood pancake.”
“Are you trying to be cute with me, ma’am?” he asks, directing his attention at me, though he isn’t flirting. His nostrils flare a little and I can’t help but let my mind wander the tiniest bit about how sexy he looks when he’s angry—despite the fact that I would never so much as entertain the idea of getting down and dirty with an asshole like this.
He’s hot AF but I don’t do jerks. Plain and simple.
I’d have to be drunk. Like, really drunk. And I’d have to be desperate. And even then … I don’t know. He’s got some kind of chip on his shoulder, and no amount of sexiness would be able to distract me from that.
“Let me put your order in, okay?” I ask with a smile so forced my cheeks hurt. They say good moods are contagious, but I’m starting to think this guy might be immune.
“As long as it’s the full order, ma’am,” he says, lips pressing flat as he exhales. I don’t know why he keeps calling me “ma’am” when I’m clearly younger than he is. Hell, I couldn’t legally drink until three years ago.
I am not a “ma’am.”
“The cook won’t make two,” I say with an apologetic tone before biting my bottom lip. If I play it coy and helpless maybe he’ll back down a little? It works. Sometimes.
“Then it’s for my guest,” he points to the empty seat across from him. His opposite hand is balled into a fist, and I can’t help but notice his watch is programmed in military time, “who happens to be showing up later.”
“We don’t serve guests until they’re physically here,” I say. Yet another one of the restaurant’s strict policies. Too many patrons have tried to use that loophole over the years, so they had to close it. But they didn’t just close it—they battened the hatches with hurricane-proof glass by way of a giant security monitor in the kitchen. They even make the cooks check the screen before preparing orders, just to make sure no one’s breaking the rules.
The man drags his hand through his dark hair, which I’m realizing now is a “regulation cut.”
I bet he’s military.
Has to be. The hair. The watch. The constant swearing juxtaposed with the overuse of the word “ma’am.” He reminds me of my cousin Eli who spent ten years in the U.S. army, and if he’s anything else like Eli, he’s not going to let up about this.
Exhaling, I place my palm gently on his shoulder despite the fact that we’re not supposed to put hands on the guests for any reason, but this guy is tense and his muscled shoulders are just begging for a gentle touch.
“Just … bear with me, okay?” I ask. “I’ll see what I can do.”
The man serves our country. He fights for our freedom. Despite the fact that he’s unquestionably a giant asshole, he at least deserves a second pancake.
I’m going to have to get creative.
Heading back to the kitchen, I put his order in and check on the Carnavales one more time. On my way to the galley to refill my coffee pot, I pass a table full of screaming children, one of which has just shoved his giant pancake on the floor, much to his gasping mother’s dismay.
Bending, I retrieve the sticky circle from the floor and place it back on his plate.
“Would you like the kitchen to fix another?” I ask. They’re lucky. This is the only time they’ll make an exception, and I’ll have to present the dirty pancake as proof.
The child screams and I can barely hear what the mother is trying to say. Glancing around the table, I spot five little minions under the age of eight, all of them dressed in Burberry, Gucci, and Dior. The inflated-lipped mother sports a shimmering, oversized rock on her left ring finger and the father has his nose buried in his phone.
But I’m not one to judge.
LA is lacking child-friendly restaurants of the quality variety, and it’s not like Mr. Chow or The Ivy would welcome their noisy litter with open arms. I don’t even think they have high chairs there.
“I don’t want a pancake!” The oldest of the tanned, flaxen-haired gremlins screams in his mother’s face, turning her flawless complexion a shade of crimson that almost matches her pristine Birkin bag.
“Just … just take it away,” she says, flustered, her palm sprawling her glassy, Botoxed forehead.
Nodding, I take the ‘cake back to the kitchen, only I stop when I reach the galley, grabbing a stack of cloth napkins and hiding the plate beneath it. As soon as my military patron finishes his first pancake, I’ll run this back to the kitchen and claim he accidentally dropped it on the floor.
“Order up!” one of the line guys calls from the window, and I head over to see my military man’s breakfast is hot and ready—though I may have accidentally moved it to the front of the ticket line when no one was looking because I don’t have the energy to deal with him freaking out if his breakfast is taking too long.
Grabbing his plate, I rush it out to him, delivering it with a smile and a sweet, “Can I get you anything else right now?”
His gaze drops to his food and then lifts to me.
“I know,” I say, palm up. “Just … trust me. I’ll take care of you.”
I wink, partially disgusted with myself. He has no idea how difficult it is for me to be accommodating to him when he’s treating me like this. I’d love nothing more than to pour a steaming hot pitcher of coffee into his lap, but out of respect and appreciation—and only respect and appreciation—for his service, I won’t resort to such a thing.
Plus, I work for tips. I kind of have to be accommodating. And lord knows I need this job. I may be living in my grandmother’s gorgeous guesthouse, but believe me, she charges rent.
Free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.
He peers down his straight nose, stabbing the tines of his polished fork into a chunk of fluffy scrambled egg.
He doesn’t say thank you—not surprising—and I tell him I’ll be back to check on him in a little while before making my way to the galley where another server, Rachael, is also seeking respite.
“That table with the screaming kids,” I ask, “that yours?”
She blows her blonde bangs off her forehead and rolls her eyes. “Yup.”
“Better you than me,” I tease. Rachael’s got three of her own at home. She’s good with kids and she always seems to know the right thing to say to distract them or thwart a total meltdown.
“I’ll trade you,” she says. “The family for the dimples at table four.”
“He has dimples?” I peek my head out, staring toward my military man.
“Oh, God, yes,” she says. “Deep ones. Killer smile, too. Thought maybe he was some model or actor or something, but he said he was an army corporal.”
“We can’t be talking about the same guy. He hasn’t so much as half-smiled at me and he’s already told you what he does for a living?”
“Huh.” Rachael lifts a thin red brow, like she’s wondering if we’re talking about two different people. “He asked me how I was doing earlier and smiled. Thought he was real friendly.”
“That one. Right there. Dark hair? Golden eyes? Muscles bulging out of his gray t-shirt?” I do a quick point before retracting my finger.
She takes another look. “Yeah. That’s him. You don’t forget a face like that. Or biceps like that …”
“Weird.” I fold my arms, staring his way and wondering if maybe he has a thing against girls like me. Though I’m pretty ordinary compared to most girls out here. Average height. Average weight. Brown hair. Brown eyes.
Maybe I remind him of an ex?
I’m mid-thought when out of nowhere he turns around, our eyes catching like he knew I was watching. Reaching for a hand towel in front of me, I glance down and try to act busy by wiping up a melted ice cube on the galley counter.
“Busted.” Rachael elbows me before heading out to check on the Designer family. I swat her on the arm as she passes, and then I give myself a second to regain my composure. As soon as the warmth has left my cheeks, I head out to check on him, relieved to find his pancake demolished, not a single, spongey scrap left behind. In fact, his entire meal is finished … coffee and all.
Reaching for his plate, he stops me, his hand covering mine, and then our eyes lock.
“Why were you staring at me over there?” he asks. The way he looks at me is equal parts invasive and intriguing, like he’s studying me, forming a hard and fast opinion, but also like he’s checking me out which makes zero sense because his annoyance with me practically oozes out of his perfect, tawny physique.
“I’m sorry?” I play dumb.
“I saw you. Answer the question.”
Oh, god. He’s not going to let this go. Something tells me I should’ve taken Rachael up on her offer to trade tables. This one’s been nothing but trouble since the moment I poured his coffee.
My mouth falls and I’m not sure what to say. Half of me knows I should probably utter some kind of nonsense most likely to appease him so he doesn’t complain to my manager, but the other half of me is tired of being nice to a man who has the decency to ask another waitress how her day is going and can’t even bring himself to treat his own server like a human being.
“You were talking about me with that other waitress,” he says. His hand still covers mine, preventing me from exiting this conversation.
Exhaling, I say, “She wanted to trade tables.”
His dark brow arches and he studies my face.
“And then she said you had dimples,” I expand. “She said you smiled at her earlier … I was just thinking about why you’d be so polite to her and not me.”
He releases me and I stand up straight, tugging my apron into place before smoothing my hands down the front.
“She handed me a newspaper while I waited. She didn’t have to do that,” he says, lips pressing flat. “Give me something to smile about and I’ll smile at you.”
The audacity of this man.
The heat in my ears and the clench in my jaw tells me I should walk away now if I want to preserve my esteemed position as morning server here at Brentwood Pancake and Coffee, but it’s guys like him …
I try to say something, but all the thoughts in my head are temporarily nonsensical and flavored with a hint of rage. A second later, I manage a simple yet gritted, “Would you like me to grab your check, sir?”
“No,” he says without pause. “I’m not finished with my breakfast yet.”
We both glance at his empty plates.
“More eggs?” I ask.
I can’t believe I’m about to do this for him, but at this point, the sooner I get him out of here, the better. I mean, at this point I’m doing it for myself, let’s be real.
“One moment.” I take his empty dishes to the kitchen before sneaking into the galley and grabbing that kid’s dirty pancake. My pulse whooshes in my ears and my body is lit, but I forge ahead, returning to the pick-up window and telling one of the cooks that my customer at table twelve dropped his ‘cake on the floor.
He glances at the plate, then to the security monitor, then back to me before taking it out of my hands and exchanging it for a fresh one. It’s a verifiable assembly line back there, just a bunch of guys in hairnets and aprons standing around a twenty-foot griddle, spatulas in each hand.
“Thanks, Brad,” I say. Making my way back to my guy, I stop to check on the Carnavales, only their table is already being bussed and Rachael tells me she took care of their check because they were in a hurry.
“Here you are.” I place the plate in front of my guy.
He glances up at me, honeyed eyes squinting for a moment. I wink, praying he doesn’t ask questions.
“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” I ask, wishing I could add, “just don’t ask for another pancake because I’ll be damned if I risk my job for an ingrate like you ever again.”
“Coffee, ma’am. I’d like another cup of coffee.” He reaches for his glass syrup carafe, pouring sticky sweet, imported-from-Vermont goodness all over his steaming pancake, and I try not to watch as he forms an “x” and then a circle.
Striding away, I grab a fresh carafe of coffee and return to top him off, stopping at three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he glances up at me, his full lips pulling up at the sides, revealing the most perfect pair of dimples I’ve ever seen … as if the past twenty minutes have all been some kind of joke and he was only busting my chops by being the world’s biggest douche lord.
But just like that, it disappears.
His pearly, dimpled smirk is gone before I get the chance to fully appreciate how kind of a soul he appears to be when he’s not all tense and surly.
“Glad I finally gave you a reason to smile.” I’m teasing. Sort of. And I gently rub his shoulder, which is still tight as hell. “Anything else I can get you?”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take my check.”
I can’t get it fast enough. Within a minute, I’ve punched my staff ID into the system, printed his ticket, shoved it into a check presenter, and rushed it to his table. His debit card rests on the edge when I arrive, as if I’d taken too long and he grew tired of holding it in his hand.
He’s just as anxious to leave as I am to get him out of here. Guess that marks the one and only thing that puts us on the same page.
“I’ll be right back with this,” I tell him. His card—plain navy plastic with the VISA logo in the lower corner and NAVY ARMY CREDIT UNION along the top—bears the name “Isaiah Torres.”
When I return, I hand him a neon purple gel pen from my pocket and gather his empty dishes.
“Thank you for the …” he points at the sticky plate in my hand as he signs his check. “For that.”
“Of course,” I say, avoiding eye contact because the sooner I can pretend he’s already gone, the better. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Glancing up, I spot our hostess, Maddie, flagging me down and mouthing that I have three new tables. Great. Thanks to this charmer, I’ve disappointed the Carnavales, risked my job, and kept several tables waiting all within the span of a half hour.
Isaiah signs his check, closes the leather binder, and slides out of his booth. When he stands, he towers over me, peering down his nose and holding my gaze captive for what feels like a single, endless second.
For a moment, I’m so blinded by his chiseled jaw and full lips, that my heart misses a couple of beats and I almost forget our little exchange.
“Ma’am, if you’ll kindly excuse me,” he says as I realize I’m blocking his path.
I step aside, and as he passes, his arm brushes against mine and the scent of fresh soap and spicy aftershave fills my lungs. Shoving the check presenter in my apron, I tend to my new tables before rushing back to start filling drinks.
Glancing toward the exit, I catch him stopping in the doorway before slowly turning to steal one last look at me for reasons I’ll never know, and it isn’t until an hour later that I finally get a chance to check his ticket. Maybe I’d been dreading it, maybe I’d purposely placed it in the back of my mind, knowing full well he was going to leave me some lousy, slap-in-the-face tip after everything I’d done for him. Or worse: nothing at all.
But I stand corrected.
“Maritza, what is it?” Rachael asks, stopping short in front of me, hands full of strategically stacked dirty dishes.
I shake my head. “That guy … he left me a hundred-dollar tip.”
Her nose wrinkles. “What? Let me see. Maybe it’s a typo?”
I show her the tab and the very clearly one and two zeroes on the tip line. The total confirms that the tip was no typo.
“I don’t understand. He was such an ass,” I say under my breath. “This is like, what, five hundred percent?”
“Maybe he grew a conscience at the last minute?” Her lips jut forward.
I roll my eyes. “Whatever it was, I just hope he never comes here again. And if he does, you get him. There isn’t enough tip money in the world that would make me want to serve that arrogant prick again. I don’t care how hot he is.”
“Gladly.” Her mouth pulls wide. “I have this thing for generous pricks with dashing good looks.”
“I know,” I say. “I met your last two exes.”
Rachael sticks her tongue out before prancing off, and I steal one last look at Isaiah’s tip. It’s not like he’s the first person ever to bestow me with such plentiful gratuity—this is a city where cash basically grows on trees—it’s just that it doesn’t make sense and I’ll probably never get a chance to ask him why.
Exhaling, I get back to work.
I’ve worked way too damn hard to un-complicate my life lately, and I’m not about to waste another thought on some complicated man I’m never going to see ever again.
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A bottle of tequila
10 lime wedges
1 sexy blonde
Add in a crazy Vegas weekend
Lick and Swallow.
What do you get? A recipe for disaster.
Last night I got married.
I’m not exactly sure.
I was drunk off my ass, so it’s not exactly crystal clear.
But, I woke up with a ring on my finger, a marriage certificate, and a sneaking suspicion I had a wild wedding night.
Oh, and a bride who is long gone.
Apparently, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay here. Sometimes it takes off running.
But a runaway bride is the least of my problems.
Now I’m chasing after my runaway bride with divorce on my mind.
What could go wrong?
This is book 3 in the series, but is self-contained and can be read as a standalone.
HEA inside and absolutely no cheating of any kind.
I whimper when the damn ping of my phone won’t hush. I squint, opening one eye—and one eye only.
Sweet Jesus on a turnip truck, I drank way too much last night. I warned Hope I didn’t do weddings. I hate them. She was in Vegas, everyone knows you do the deed at a quicky drive-thru chapel somewhere and get it done—if you are ever crazy enough to say “I do.”
I won’t… ever.
Slowly the room begins to come into a focus… it’s a blurry focus, but still.
The first thing I notice is everything hurts.
Even my hair.
Definitely had too much to drink. The second thing I notice is I’m not in my one-room apartment, lying on my broken-down, never comfortable, probably ruining my back forever, futon.
I’m in a bed. A really soft bed. I’m also in what appears to be a very fancy room. A room with entirely too much sunshine coming in through the windows. My gaze immediately goes to the open glass doors that lead out to a balcony. When I look around I can see I’m not only in a strange hotel room, I’m in one that costs bank.
Lots of bank.
Then, I just happen to notice the crumpled wedding dress on the concrete floor of the balcony.
That’s when panic begins, as memories flood through my mind.
Memories of the night before.
Of course, it might not be the crumpled dress that brings those back quite as much as the huge leg—not that leg—wrapped over mine, the arm currently wrapped across my stomach and the third leg—yes, that “leg”—pushing against my ass.
I look down at the milk chocolate beast of an arm and I swear the female bits between my legs tingle as memories of the night before flood through me. Memories of… Titan. I have the strongest urge to wiggle against the semi-aroused cock pressing against my ass, but I don’t. I hold myself really still.
Because I’m in the middle of the biggest panic attack ever.
I can’t remember all of what I did last night. It’s a blur of devil’s juice, eating the worm—disgusting, by the way, and I may never drink tequila again—and sex… so much sex.
Sex everywhere. Bed, floor, shower, closet—don’t ask—and against the wall. Sex against the floor-to-ceiling window with my ass mooning the strip, but… sex on that balcony after I was stripped of my wedding dress is the one that sticks in my mind. Sex where I hung over the concrete balcony screaming, “Fuck me, harder, Big Daddy,” while Titan did indeed fuck me harder for everyone and anyone to see. There are other balconies close by. I can’t be entirely sure who saw us… or who we may have scarred forever.
Because, let’s face it, sex in real life is never like the porn movies.
I slide out of the bed an inch at a time—panic making my heart slam against my chest so loud I want to cry, because my head hurts like hell. Titan grumbles but flops over on his back, still asleep. I stand there looking down at him and I can’t move.
He’s that beautiful.
His arms are slung out on each side of him, his head turned to the side, his well-trimmed goatee and beautiful, thick lips making my knees weak. The sheet is tangled in his feet and his dick is obviously alert, even if the rest of him isn’t.
The sight of his dick makes me glad I was drunk last night.
Lord have mercy on me, a poor sinner girl… He’s huge. I take a step toward it before I can stop myself. It’s bobbing up in the air like it’s nodding at me. It’s wide, as in—thick as hell. How many women has this man sent running from the room in fear—that kind of thick. I’ve seen a few dicks—I’m not a whore or anything—not counting last night—but I have, and this one is in a class all by itself. And he’s long. I don’t have a tape measure on hand, and I wouldn’t risk waking Titan up for it, but this man could be the pink unicorn of dicks. He could actually be a foot long. He might not be, but it would not surprise me. I back away when Titan grunts in his sleep. Each step I take hurts, only adding credence to Titan’s dick. Damn, I might not walk right for a month.
I run bare-ass naked to the balcony. It’s early, the sun is shining, but the Vegas heat hasn’t raised its evil head yet. I’m definitely going to have to soak my poor abused body soon, however. I can feel where Titan has drilled—so to speak—with each step. I grab the wedding dress and step into it, trying to remain bent over so I cover my body. I might not have been shy last night in my tequila haze, but I don’t have that luxury today. I shove my hands through the dress, rising up so I can zip it—when I hear a throat clearing. I look behind me and see a man standing on a balcony behind me, grinning.
He’s older, as in probably Uncle Jansen’s age, and he’s wearing a cowboy hat. He’s sexy, but not my style.
“Morning,” he smirks, his Texan accent strong.
I give him a tight smile over my shoulder and then reach behind me to zip up the dress and hide my ass from the guy—even if it is a little too late. Walking back into the room, I look around for my shoes. I see some empty condom wrappers—thank you Jesus! I also see an empty bottle of tequila and Titan’s clothes.
Titan Marsh… pro football player, a hell of a good time in bed, and … my husband.
That last part makes me cringe. I don’t want a husband. He didn’t want a wife. We discussed that numerous times while drinking tequila and gambling the night away. How we ended up in that all-night Elvis wedding chapel, I don’t remember exactly. But I clearly remember saying “I do” and twirling my hips like Elvis when he proclaimed us husband and wife. I also remember turning to Titan and demanding—in my best Meg Ryan voice—to take me to bed or lose me forever.
He did take me to bed, but he didn’t get the whole Top Gun reference. I get the feeling Titan isn’t a big movie buff.
I look around for a few more minutes and pick up my veil, looking at the white converse tennis shoes and frowning. I wore tennis shoes to my wedding?
I put them on and lace them up quickly. Just as I’m heading out the door, I find a blue flowered garter. It’s on the entry table. I pick it up and start to stuff it into my pocket, but the dress doesn’t have pockets.
I look back at Titan and then down to the gold band on my hand. I walk back toward him, still feeling him between my legs with each step I make. I clutch the garter tightly in my hand. As I look down at the sleeping man, with the dick that apparently never sleeps, I only know one thing. I don’t want to be married.
He’s damn good in bed, though.
Decision made, I toss my garter toward his dick. It snags on the wide head, and lands at an angle. Titan’s hand comes down and he cups his balls before scratching them. I watch, my mouth falling open and my eyes widening in shock.
When the garter decides to fall down the long shaft of his dick I have to fight back a giggle. Then I hightail it out of the room. I don’t stop to think, I don’t stop to take in the strange stares I’m getting from the people in the elevator or in the lobby. I head straight for the door.
A QUIRKY WRITER GOING WHERE THE VOICES TAKE HER.
USA Today Best Selling Author Jordan Marie, is just a simple small town country girl who is haunted by Alpha Men who talk in her head 24 hours a day.
She currently has 14 books out including 2 that she wrote under the pen name Baylee Rose.
She likes to create a book that takes you on an emotional journey whether tears, laughter (or both) or just steamy hot fun (or all 3). She loves to connect with readers and interacting with them through social media, signings or even old fashioned email.
ONLY BOUNDLESS LOVE CAN SILENCE THE WHISPERS OF THE PAST . . .
A broken woman.
A damaged man.
A free spirit intent on saving them both.
Elysia ‘Sia’ Willis lives a solitary life. The only person in it is her big brother, Ky, vice-president of the infamous Hades Hangmen. She loves him, but she has absolutely no love for the outlaw MC he belongs to.
Raised in secret by her mother, Sia grew up separated from her brother and distant father. No one knew she even existed.
After the tragic murder of her mother, Sia spiraled into a rebellion against the rules of the Hangmen. A rebellion with dire consequences that now, years later, she still can’t escape.
As she lives once again in secret, happy on her own at her secluded ranch, a devil from her past comes calling. A devil who wants to possess her once again and take her from the simple life she never wants to lose.
And he will stop at nothing to collect what he believes is his: her.
Valan ‘Hush’ Durand and Aubin ‘Cowboy’ Breaux have finally found a home in the mother chapter of the Hangmen. The notoriously private Cajun twosome have, for now, put aside what chased them from their beloved Louisiana. But as threats toward the club build, Hush and Cowboy are given a task—protect Elysia Willis at all costs. Cowboy welcomes the job of watching over the blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty.
Hush fights against it.
Scarred by events from his past and a secret that plagues his everyday life, Hush refuses to let anyone else get close. Only Cowboy knows the real him. Until a certain sister of the club’s VP begins to slowly knock down his defenses, shattering the heavily built walls that guard his damaged soul . . . with his best friend leading the charge.
As lost and open hearts begin to meld, taking each other from indescribable pain to the never-before felt relief of peace, the newly-mended threesome must first endure one more rocky path.
Only then will they finally shake free of the shackles of their pasts.
Only then will they shed the bonds that have for too long held their happiness captive.
And there is only one way to survive that path . . . together.
Dark Contemporary MFM Romance. Contains scenes of violence and explicit sexual situations. Over 18’s only.
High Ranch, Austin, Texas
“Steady . . . steady . . .”
Sandy’s ears flicked back and forth as she heard me soothe her from my place in the center of the ring. I kept my newest mare’s training rein loose as she trotted on the sand. Her coat was lathered with sweat; so was my forehead. The sun was burning a hole in my jean-clad ass.
“Okay, enough for today,” I announced, both to Sandy and myself.
I had just fed her with hay and water and locked her stall door when I heard the all too familiar sound of motorcycles roaring in the distance.
Frowning, I headed out of the barn. I walked to the front of my house and spotted two Harleys as they approached my door.
Styx and Ky, I realized, giving them a surprised wave.
They didn’t wave back.
I perched on the top step of my porch as they pulled to a stop and flicked out their kickstands. Ky smoothed back his long hair and strode toward me. I got to my feet. “What y’all doing here?”
I hugged Ky. He held on a little too long. It was weird. I pulled back, curious, only for him to look out to the distance, checking around my ranch. I was about to ask him what was up when Styx came toward me and gave me a brief one-armed hug.
“Hey, Styx. How’re Mae and Bump?” A flicker of a smile graced Styx’s lips.
“Good,” he signed, but my attention snapped back to Ky when my brother said, “Get inside, sis. We need to talk.”
He grabbed my elbow and guided me forcefully up the porch steps. “Hey!” I said. He pulled harder, not releasing my arm. “Hey! Dickhead!” I wrenched my arm back. I turned on my heel to meet my brother’s moody-ass face. “What the hell are you doing?”
“For once in your fucking life, will you just do as I say, Sia?” Ky said, exasperated. His face was red . . . in fact, so were his eyes.
I crossed my arms across my chest. “What’s wrong? Why are your eyes all bloodshot? Why do you look like shit?” I shook my head. “And more to the point, why are you handling me like a damn child?”
Ky sighed. His eyes closed, and he opened his mouth to speak. But then he didn’t . . .
Styx cleared his throat. “Been a stressful time lately.”
“Why?” I asked, immediately panicked. “Is Lilah okay? Grace?” I quickly checked my brother over for wounds, or . . . hell, I didn’t know what else. What the hell trouble bikers could get into. “Are you okay?”
My heart started pounding, some weird sense of dread seeping through my body like a poison. Ky opened his eyes and nodded. “Everyone’s fine.” But I could see through his pretense. I was just about to call bullshit when Ky blurted, “Garcia’s back.”
I was sure the warm wind was blowing, because I saw strands of my blond hair floating in front of my eyes, but I didn’t feel it. Ky’s mouth was working, saying something I was meant to hear, yet to my ears, he made no sound. I was lost to the memory of heavy footsteps on creaking floorboards as they approached my room. Memories of screams and barked orders scourged my mind . . . and his touch, his fingers running down my back, his lips nipping at my ear as he caressed my burned flesh. As—
“Sia!” Ky was holding my arms, shaking me from my stupor. I blinked, but a suffocating lump clogged my throat. I blinked fast to rid the flood of tears from my eyes. “Sia,” he repeated, softer this time. I stared at my brother, wordlessly. “Get inside.”
I let him lead me into my home and to the couch. A glass of whiskey appeared in my hand a second later, courtesy of Styx. I knocked it back in one, relishing the burning feeling that filled my chest. I shakily placed the glass on the coffee table and turned to look at Ky.
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s . . . he’s found me?” My voice was choked. I couldn’t have hidden my fear even if I’d wanted to.
“Not yet,” Ky assured me. He got to his feet and began to pace. “Some club shit went down a while ago, and Garcia was involved. Fucker saw me and Styx.” Ky met Styx’s eyes. Styx nodded. Ky removed an envelope from the pocket of his cut. He placed it before me. I stared at the obviously expensive stationery on the table. My hands shook as I slowly reached forward and opened it. A Polaroid picture peeped out. When I finally pulled the picture out and turned it to face me, every ounce of blood in my veins seemed to drain to my feet.
A single black rose.
A black rose, on a bed I recognized so well.
There was no note. No explanation. But I didn’t need one. This image spoke more than a thousand words ever could.
“Mi rosa negra,” the echo of his voice whispered in my mind. His heavy Mexican accent sliding around the words like a delicate silk scarf wrapped around a thorn-studded vine.
All of the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. “Where . . .?” I cleared my throat. “Where was this sent to?”
“The club.” Ky slumped to sit beside me. “Don’t like the cryptic shit”—he pointed to the Polaroid—“but I know that it’s his brand or something, yeah? The one he forced on you? On the girls he traffics?” I instinctively ran my hand over the plaid shirt covering my shoulder, where the small black rose tattoo had once desecrated my skin. I could still feel the scar under my fingertips, out of sight but never gone. And if I ever dared show my bare skin to the sun, a white outline would form as the area around it tanned. Erased, yet forever seared into my very flesh.
Worse still, the longer I stared at that picture, the more someone else flickered to my mind, a face I reflexively recalled several times a day. Brief images of what might have happened to her. But only ever enough to taunt me; I didn’t know how to mentally unlock the rest. Where she was—
“Sia!” Ky called. I blinked into focus. My brother kneeled in front of me. “You’re coming home with me.”
I shook my head. “No.” My arms wrapped over my chest, a shield to fend off the thought of leaving. “I don’t want to.” I swept my eyes around my home. The only place I now ever felt safe in. “You know I can’t leave.” Ky went to speak, but I cut in before he could. “I know I went to y’all’s weddings. I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. But I can’t leave here for too long. I . . . I . . .” I searched for more of an explanation, to put into words the vapid stream of anxiety forming in my stomach like a black pit, stealing all of my courage, my reason, my sanity, my very being.
It was ironic: when I was a teen, I made a vow to leave Austin and stop all contact with the Hangmen.
Then, one escape . . .
That was all it took to make me wish I had never set foot outta Texas. Never cut all ties with the Hangmen.
And one man . . .
One man, named Garcia, to make me long for the lazy Texas days and the sound of horses’ hooves padding on the grass outside of my old bedroom window.
“I don’t give a shit if you wanna come or not, Sia. You’re coming, and that’s that.”
The lack of empathy in Ky’s outright order broke through the mental fog that shielded my inner thoughts. A fire ignited the kindling that lived within me. My chin tilted high and my eyes narrowed to stare at my brother. “Don’t you dare speak to me like that, Kyler Willis. Don’t mistake me for a club whore who’ll jump at your command.” Ky’s face reddened. But I wouldn’t be spoken to like this. Right now, my brother resembled the one man who’d treated me like an errant child. A man I blamed for all the shit in my life. “I love Lilah, I truly do. But I am not some meek and submissive woman who’ll accept your orders. I’m your sister, not your fucking lapdog.”
Ky slowly rose to his feet. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.
“Does he know where I live?” I asked my brother. He didn’t answer. “I said, does Garcia know where I am?”
Ky’s eyes snapped open. “It’s only a matter of time.”
I got to my feet, ignoring the shaking of my legs. I boldly met Ky’s eyes. “Then I ain’t leaving my ranch. I’m hidden. I’ve been hidden for years. False identity. False deeds on this place. For Christ’s sake, I live in the fucking boondocks. No one around for miles. He ain’t making me leave my home. I won’t give him that satisfaction.”
“Think again.” Ky stood taller. “Get upstairs and pack a bag, and tell that young bitch we hired to help you that she’ll be taking care of things around here ’til you’re back. Tell her there’s a family emergency or some shit.”
My heart pumped faster. “I. Ain’t. Going. Clara can’t deal with everything herself. We have two mares in foal, two saddle broncs that need training. I’m needed here.”
We argued back and forth, back and forth, voices and tempers rising, until a loud whistle cut through our squabbling. I snapped my eyes to Styx, who was standing before the fireplace. His face was like thunder, and he looked like a fucking Titan, he was so huge. He raised his hands. “Sia, grab your shit. You’re coming with us.” I swallowed, defeat settling over me like an unwelcome rain shower on a sunny day. “Ky, calm the fuck down.” Ky turned and bust out of the front door of my ranch. I watched my brother go. I had an eerie feeling that this—the argument, his shitty mood—wasn’t all down to Garcia.
Styx cleared his throat. “You two are way too fucking similar. Both a pain in my ass.” He paused, then signed, “More going on at the club than you know. So how about you chill the fuck out with all the dramatics. I get enough on the daily with my fucknut brothers without adding you into the mix.” His lips tightened, and I knew I wasn’t gonna get my way. “You’re coming with us. I ain’t giving you an option. You’re Hangmen family. And that fucker is sniffing around. Pack your bag so we can get the fuck gone.”
Feeling like a sulking teen, I stormed past Styx toward my bedroom, shouldering him as I passed. He didn’t even move. “Sometimes I fucking hate the family I’ve been born into. Chauvinistic pricks. Y’all have fucking god complexes.”
Styx didn’t even flinch at my words. “As long as that complex belongs to the Dark Lord holding a noose and an Uzi, I’m fucking all right with owning that shit. It’s the way it is. Ain’t gonna change because you’re pitching a fit,” he signed. “You don’t have to like my orders, but you will obey them.” Then he added, “You’ve got ten minutes,” before he left to go after my brother.
Too angry to even give two shits about what was wrong with Ky—it was probably some “club business” I wouldn’t be allowed to know anyway—I stuffed clothes and toiletries into a bag and called Clara to ask her to watch the ranch while I was gone and get help from the vet if she needed it. He owed me a favor or a million for taking in sick horses when his practice was full.
Ten minutes later, my house was locked up and I was in my truck, following my brothers to the Hangmen compound. With each mile I drove away from the safe haven of my ranch, I felt less and less myself. I heard Garcia’s voice in my head, telling me he was coming for me. Threatening that he’d own me once and for all.
But like Kyler, I was good at covering what was bothering me.
So I’d pull up my big-girl panties and stay at the club for a while. As we passed through downtown Austin, lights from South Congress Avenue illuminating the cab of my truck, I let two images of Hades guide me: his smug face, and a noose, reminding why I ran away all those years ago.
This club was quicksand. A quicksand in which I was hell-bent on not getting stuck.
Tillie Cole hails from a small town in the North-East of England. She grew up on a farm with her English mother, Scottish father and older sister and a multitude of rescue animals. As soon as she could, Tillie left her rural roots for the bright lights of the big city.
After graduating from Newcastle University with a BA Hons in Religious Studies, Tillie followed her Professional Rugby player husband around the world for a decade, becoming a teacher in between and thoroughly enjoyed teaching High School students Social Studies before putting pen to paper, and finishing her first novel.
Tillie has now settled in Austin, Texas, where she is finally able to sit down and write, throwing herself into fantasy worlds and the fabulous minds of her characters.
Tillie is both an independent and traditionally published author, and writes many genres including: Contemporary Romance, Dark Romance, Young Adult and New Adult novels.
When she is not writing, Tillie enjoys nothing more than curling up on her couch watching movies, drinking far too much coffee, while convincing herself that she really doesn’t need that extra square of chocolate.
Payback (Vigilante Justice #1) is on sale for 99¢ this week only!
He carries the burden of protecting an entire town
Being the oldest Kennard brother, I’ve got a centuries-old promise to uphold—run the family business to give the townspeople jobs and the sort of security they can only find in Justice. When a motorcycle club blows that plan apart, I’ll do anything to make them aware that they picked the wrong town to target. As a former Green Beret, I know just how to sabotage an enemy. The only weakness in my armor is my obsession with a five-foot-nothing blonde who unknowingly holds my heart in her hands. My attraction to her could cost me my life, but I’d sacrifice it all to save hers.
She owes a debt that could cost her life
I’ve spent three years hiding out in Justice and paying off a debt to the Soul Suckers, one they’ve decided to collect whether I’m ready to pay or not. When danger lands on my doorstep, one man jumps in to help. Alder Kennard—former Special Forces soldier and current object of all my fantasies. But the Soul Suckers won’t let a debt go unpaid, and with the price on my head rising every day, it’s only a matter of time until they come back for me. Alder would put his life on the line to save mine, which is something I simply can’t afford.
Everyone has a debt to pay, and the only currency I have left is my body. So when the time comes, I’ll trade my life for his.
When not writing good men doing bad things, Kristin can be found writing paranormal romance as Ellis Leigh or co-writing naughty novellas as London Hale.
What’s past, is prologue.
I raided the cupboards for something quick and easy to make and grabbed a package of blueberry Pop-Tarts to throw in the toaster. As I waited for them to finish, I figured I’d broach the topic of the father-daughter dance with Dad. Every year, Northside Prep held its annual dance to raise money for the after-school programs. The dance was the talk of the town as the girls ran out to buy their dresses and make appointments for hair and makeup. Me? I got to wait for the dad who never came. This year, I wanted to be the same as the rest of the girls; I wanted him to choose me.
“Hey, Dad, the dance is this weekend. Can you get away from work for a few hours and go with me?”
He looked up from his laptop, eyebrows drawn and a faraway glaze to his eyes. Aaron and I had dubbed this Dad’s “deep thought” expression. Usually, it ended up with one of us in trouble or disappointed, unfortunately.
“What day is it, Lani Girl?” Dad was the only one to call me Lani Girl. I loathed nicknames, especially the horrendous “Al” Aaron kept insisting on calling me. For Dad, I was always his Lani Girl, no matter how much he loved my name Alana Rose.
“Saturday night. The dance starts at eight o’clock,” I replied, hopeful. Always hopeful.
“I’m sure I can get away, sweetheart. Let’s go.”
“Oh, Daddy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Running around the counter, I gave my dad the biggest hug I could.
“How about I take you to dinner before the dance too. Just the two of us?”
I squeezed him harder. “I’d love that. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you too. I’m sorry I’ve missed so much lately. Saturday night is all yours. Dinner, the dance, anything you want.”
As he planted a kiss on the top of my head, I thanked him once more before grabbing my Pop-Tarts and heading upstairs to get ready.
I turned my iPod on and danced to Fergie’s “London Bridge” as I made my way to my closet to pick out an outfit. I chewed on the last bite of my Pop-Tart as I sorted through my pants until I landed on a pair of dark-blue American Eagle jeans. I completed the outfit with my tan Ralph Lauren boots I’d received a few weeks earlier for my birthday and a burgundy tank top. Styling my hair in a messy bun, I grabbed my book bag and took one last look around my room to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I had a habit of leaving behind my homework almost every time I left my room.
With one more stop in the kitchen, I threw my arms around my dad and kissed his scruffy cheek as I thanked him again for agreeing to go to the dance. Moving on to my mother, I gave her a kiss on the apple of her cheek. Saying goodbye, I popped my earbuds in my ears and let James Blunt serenade me with “You’re Beautiful” as I headed into the direction of Northside Prep. I had to pick up the pace so I wouldn’t miss the first bell. Lost in my own world, I jumped when a heavy hand came down on my shoulder. I turned around to see who it was, thinking it could be Ryan. Instead, a tall man stood in front of me. My five-foot figure was small next to his; he had to be over six feet tall. With wire-framed glasses and dress pants, the man looked harmless enough despite his basketball-player height. He reminded me a lot of our eccentric neighbor, Mr. Edwards. His dark hair blotted out the sun, and his nose, crooked as if had been broken before, caught my attention between steel eyes. He could be hot, but something about him was wrong. Buzzing nerves crept down my arms. Get away from him, Alana. Run.
“Do you have the time?” His gruff voice shocked me to the core. The roughness to it was almost biting.
I offered him the time and backed away. Adrenaline raced through my blood and kicked my heart into a gallop as a cold chill raced down my spine. Continuing my walk to school, I refused to turn and look back, even though I knew his eyes were boring into me. Within a few steps, his hand landed heavily once more on my shoulder, but before I could scream, his other hand came around and covered my face. As the world blurred, I noticed the rag in his hand. The slightly sweet smell filled my nostrils and I swayed, only to be caught before I fell. I was weightless, floating in the air, and then I crashed to the ground and darkness claimed me.
“Wakey, wakey, little girl.”
Hot breath hit my face with the whispered words. Disoriented and sick to my stomach, I couldn’t wake up fast enough or bring the world into focus. The loss of my bearings made my stomach pitch.
Where am I?
“Wake up. Wake the fuck up. Open your goddamn eyes!”
I shook my head, attempting to clear the fog, as a smack blazed across my face. A cold trickle of fear rushed up my spine. I recognized the voice. The man in glasses who’d stopped me on my way to school. Afraid to open my eyes, I turned my head away from his voice, but surprise filtered through me with a sharp pain spreading over my cheek as his meaty fist connected again. One tear escaped as I bit my lip and opened my eyes before another hit could come my way. He held my arms viciously, digging his fingers into my biceps, and my breasts were smashed into his chest. I could barely touch the floor on my tip-toes.
“Ah, there she is. Hello, sweet girl.”
His voice was beyond creepy. Refusing to respond or look him in the eye, tears choked me, and my cheek burned from his strike.
“Aren’t you a stubborn little one? But oh, so precious. Look at you, sweet cheeks. You’re sure going to be fun to break in. Those stunning looks of yours must’ve driven the boys crazy, but don’t worry, you’ll never have to worry about them again. You’re mine. All mine.”
Terror shook me to my core, and I whimpered. My heart throbbed, pounding so loudly I knew he must have heard it. Mouth dry, and tongue thick in my mouth, I stared at him. This man was a monster, and Lord knew what he planned to do with me. Against my best judgment, I couldn’t stop the words from pouring out of my mouth.
“I want to go home. Please, please, please let me go home. I won’t tell. I promise I won’t tell. Let me go. Please.” My voice cracked over the last word. I wanted my mom back. My dad. Even my brother. Anyone. I didn’t want to be here.
“Isn’t it the cutest thing? You think you have power here. Well, you don’t. You’re nothing but a slave.”
There was recently an abduction case on the news. The newscaster shared tips from law enforcement on how to deal with being taken. Didn’t the police say to make yourself real to your captor? To get them to feel something? Humanize yourself.
“My name is Alana Masters. I’m only seventeen. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m a normal teenage girl. Please don’t hurt me. Please. Please.”
A change came over him; those must have been the wrong words. Where he looked like a normal man before, his eyes darkened with evil and his face filled with rage.
“Of course you’ve done something wrong, little girl. You’re like the rest of those bitches. Flaunting your ass in front of me. Teasing me but never giving me the time of day. You’re a manipulative little whore. You begged for this. You begged me to take you and make you mine, you fucking bitch. Don’t worry, whore, you’ll learn your place before I’m done with you. I’m going to fuck you up and make you scream. Make you regret turning up your little prim and proper nose at me, cunt.”
His eyes glazed over, lost in his own world. He no longer looked at me. His gaze went through me, and I wondered who he was thinking of. Who did he remember? Frightened more than ever, I wanted to go home. But somehow, I knew the nightmare had only begun. Grabbing my face, the monster brought my face to his. Looking me right in the eyes, he spoke, and every word cut me to the bone.
“You are mine. Your body. Your pussy. All mine. I am going to train you, mold you, and break you. And if you ever, ever dream of escaping me, remember this: You are Alana Masters. Your parents are Alan and Barbara Masters. You live at 3412 West Monroe Street, and you have a younger brother. If you step one foot out of line, little girl, I will kill them all. Their blood will be on your hands.”
When he pushed me away, I landed on the harsh, cold cement. I was in a large cage, maybe about six-by-six, with a mattress full of stains— the smell of urine wafting from it—lying on the floor in one corner and a bucket in another. A loud clang made me spin. He locked me in here. Sweat trickled down my back, and my clammy hands wouldn’t allow me to be fooled into believing this wasn’t real. I had been taken. I’m going to die here. How’d this happen to me? What had I done wrong? I wanted out now. Back with my family, my dad, my mom. But the grit on the ground and the soiled mattress were all I could see through the watery film in my eyes.
“From now on, you will call me Master.” He turned and headed up the darkened staircase, leaving me behind as the tears flowed freely down my face.
“Don’t worry, you’ll eventually have cried so much you won’t be able to cry anymore,” a voice said from the darkness.
“My name is Celia. And I’m you, months from now. Welcome to Purgatory.”
Writing professionally since 2008, LeTeisha Newton’s love of romance novels began long before it should have. After spending years sneaking reads from her grandmother’s stash, she finally decided to pen her own tales. As many will do during their youth, she bounced from fantasy, urban literature, mainstream, interracial, paranormal, heterosexual, and LGBT works until she finally rested in contemporary romance.
LeTeisha is all about deep angst and angry heroes who take a bit more loving to smooth their rough edges. Love comes in many sizes, shapes, and colors, as well as with—or without—absolute beauty and fairy tale sweetness. She writes the darker tales because life is hard … but love is harder.
To be honest, I set fire to her barn, fought with her brothers, then exiled myself to a logging company in the Canadian wilderness.
But a reclusive b@stard can’t hide forever. When my sister got sick, I took in my two young nieces. Now I’m paying rent to Sesame Street, drinking Jack and fruit juice, and reading my chainsaw manual as a bedtime story. I’ve gone from lumberjack to babyjacked, and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
Fortunately, I found a nanny. Five years have passed, and Cassi’s not just my best friends’ little sister anymore. She’s all grown up, dark and beautiful with a smart mouth and a broken heart.
Doesn’t take long before she’s falling for me again, but I can’t shout timber yet.
Cassi can’t forgive the past. And I can’t tell her why I ran.
When a man doesn’t deserve a second chance, he’s just gotta steal her heart.
The first time I saw Remington Marshall, he stole my heart.
The last time I saw Remington Marshall, he’d just burned my family’s barn to the ground.
Arson usually complicated relationships.
Especially afterward, when Rem left our sleepy town of Butterpond in the dead of night without so much as a goodbye. He’d stayed gone for five long years.
Five years with no phone call. No visits. No explanations.
Even worse—no apology.
So, when my brother, Tidus, told me Rem was back in town, I had to make a decision.
Ignore Remington Marshall and forget he’d ever existed…
Or demand an answer for why he’d broken my heart.
I chose the latter, encouraged by the perspective I’d gained over the last couple years. As long as we stayed away from any flammable objects that might’ve torched what remained of my potential happiness, a conversation would bring me some much-needed closure. Besides, all that time had allowed me to douse the last few embers burning in my barn, heart, and loins.
But that still didn’t make confrontation a good idea, despite my brother’s insistence.
He came home to take care of his nieces, Tidus said.
Take him up a box of kids’ toys from storage, he said.
Pick me up a burger from Lou’s on the way home, he said.
Rem wasn’t a man who wanted to be found, even in the tiny town of Butterpond—a small cluster of dreams, prayers, and fatty liver disease. Butterpond was where the trees wanted in, the people wanted out, and my family’s farm accidentally lynch-pinned the whole place together.
To the town, my family was a fixture. The Payne’s farm. The Payne’s charity. The Payne’s pain in the ass boys who rolled over the town’s one streetlight like a plague of locusts. The Payne’s adopted daughter in a family of five boys—bless her heart.
But Rem? He no longer belonged in the town. Men like him kept to themselves, tucked away inside a cabin in the mountains, hidden from society by gravel roads, the occasional tick, and busted suspensions.
As much as I’d once loved Rem, risking Lyme disease and a punctured tire seemed a bad idea.
I did it anyway.
A box of old toys and children’s clothes was jammed in next to my suitcase.
This would be quick. In and out. Hand him the box stuffed with goodies from when my family had foster kids running all over the farm. Wish him well. Make the requisite small talk. And then pretend like my heart wasn’t held together with a roll of scotch tape and a smattering of pride.
I wasn’t about to let Remington Marshall shatter my barely rejuvenated dignity. Besides, the last I’d heard, he was the one crippled with guilt. Rumor had it—and by rumor, I meant the occasional conversation with his sister, Emma—he’d run away to the deepest forests of Canada to join a logging company.
If a heart broke in the forest, did it make a sound? The answer was yes, but it wasn’t a thud. More like the noise a sleepy woman yelped in the middle of the night when she stubbed her toe on the way to the bathroom. Less of a timber! More like son of a—
The box fit snugly against my hip, drawing the hem of my skirt up only an inch. I was fine with that. Showing a little leg would do me good. I’d grown up since the fire. Earned my curves. Managed to fill out my bra without two handfuls of wadded up toilet paper. Things were looking up.
I wound my way over a weed-choked cobblestone path and picked my steps up the rickety porch. The cabin was lost in the woods, and the forest wasn’t happy with the new occupant. The little space was so overgrown with brush and leaves that the trees would be grateful to be cleaned out of the gutters.
My knock clattered against the cabin door—almost loud enough to drown out the very irritated cry of a baby.
The wail might’ve belonged to a child. Could have also been a mountain lion with a toothache. Sometimes it was tough to tell, even with a degree in early education. Money well spent.
The door flung open. I expected Remington. Instead, a bright-eyed, blonde-haired, puffy-cheeked three-year-old peered up at me, scowled, and belted at the top of her precious little lungs to alert all within a square mile of my arrival.
I winced. “Hi. I’m Cassi. Is your Uncle—”
This alerted the baby—the real siren of the household who’d missed her calling as the dive alarm for a German U-Boat.
The chorus of screams rang in my ears. I shushed the three-year-old with a wave of my hand.
“I’m not a stranger—I’m a…” Was friend the right word? “I know your Uncle Rem…well, not know know. We grew up together. I mean, he grew up with my brother—I grew up later. But we were…I’d see him a lot—”
I cringed and went to Plan B. The box dropped to the porch. I debated on running, but the tape had loosened enough for me to rip the flaps. An old baby doll rested on a folded pile of clothes. I offered it as a sacrifice to appease the child.
“It’s for you!” My frantic words shushed her. “It’s PJ Sparkles. All the little girls loved PJ Sparkles!”
The child quieted. She bit her lip, scratched her leg with a foot clad in mismatched socks, and reached for the doll. She jumped as a husky voice caught her in the act.
“What do we have here?”
His voice was a blend of sticky marshmallow and crumbling graham cracker, and I melted like a chocolate bar squished near the fire.
I knew better than to get burned by Remington Marshall, but even the wisest girl sometimes took a big bite before blowing on it.
And, believe me, Rem would go to his grave wishing I had blown him.
Rem leaned against the door frame. His broad shoulders were clad in a warm, red flannel shirt. He scratched a wild, thick beard, and might have teased a smile. I couldn’t tell. Five years of isolation had obscured his face in dark hair.
A one-year-old baby wailed in his arms.
“Never expected to see you here, Cassia Payne.” He grunted as the three-year-old bashed the doll’s plastic head into a part of him that regretted meeting PJ Sparkles. He stepped aside and let her go play, but his stare pinned me in place. “Lost in the woods, little girl?”
What had happened to my Remington Marshall?
Gone was the teenage bad boy, strong enough to win his fights but lean enough to make a quick escape once Sherriff Samson flashed his lights. Now, Rem had become a terrifying beast of rugged strength. A lumberjack. A man like him could have punched down a tree. The Canadian forests never stood a chance.
Muscles packed on muscles. And the beard…oh, the beard. I didn’t know if he belonged in an ice fishing cabin or on a Harley, but this wasn’t the boy who’d left me behind.
This was a man.
And he was in trouble.
Rem struggled to bounce the little bundle of pink in his arms. The baby fussed, red-faced and probably wishing her Uncle hadn’t given her diaper a wedgie while rocking her. The three-year-old dropped the doll and instead raced over, around, and on top of his feet, tugging on his jeans with an urgent need to tinkle. She tripped over one of the four stuffed garbage bags piled in the entryway. One had already blown open, spilling dresses, shoes, socks, and toys into the cabin.
The three-year-old was wearing two shirts. The baby needed a pair of pants. Rem’s own belongings had tumbled into the hall—duffel bags and mountain boots.
Tidus wasn’t lying. Rem must have come home only hours before to take care of the kids.
The older girl somersaulted around his feet, somehow summoning and then spilling a glass of water. The TV blared cartoons from the den. The baby cried just to be louder than the show. Behind him, every chair had been toppled in the dining room. The cushions stripped off the couch. Something slimy dripped from the sink.
Chaos had descended upon a three-square-foot area of his life…
And a part of me really enjoyed the struggle.
“Everyone said you ran away to become a lumberjack,” I said. “But apparently you joined a circus.”
Rem was a great liar. I’d learned that long ago. He attempted to soothe the baby and accidentally smooshed her face into the wall of muscle that was his shoulder. His wink wasn’t fooling anyone.
“Brought the circus home too.” He reached down and lifted the little girl to her feet before she somersaulted into the wall. “Got my acrobat tumbling her way into preschool, and the prepubescent bearded lady doing shows before and after naptime.”
Cute. “And what’s your talent?”
“World’s sexiest uncle.”
“Ain’t no one buying tickets for that.”
The three-year-old demanded cookies. The baby, blood. I shook my head. “Guess again.”
He wished. I crossed my arms. “Better get a shovel. I think you’re mucking out stalls and diapers.”
Rem grinned, but that was a charmer’s smile, part of his bag of tricks. He’d always been the type to sweet-talk his way out of handcuffs just to use them in bed. But maybe he had changed. Maybe the wilderness had straightened him out? Perhaps…the hard work taught him responsibility? Was it possible the time apart had made him as miserable as it had me?
Or maybe that smile meant I should’ve left the box on the porch and ran.
“Do I have to charge admission, or are you coming inside?” he asked.
Dangerous question. “Depends. Got an elephant under this big top?”
“Nah. He’s on break. I’m standing in.”
“And what are you?”
Fair enough. I offered him the box. “This is some stuff from the farm—back when we had all the foster kids. Tidus said you could probably use it. Clothes and toys.”
Rem easily balanced the baby on his shoulder and the box in his arms. He left the door open. Inviting the little ones to escape or beckoning me inside?
I spoke from the entryway, a promise to myself. “Only for a minute.”
“Want something to drink?” he asked.
“That would take longer than a minute.”
“Good. I don’t have much to offer.”
The three-year-old circled the sofa with the doll, tripped over the logs that were once stacked neatly by a stone fireplace, and plummeted onto the hardwood. She whimpered, rolled, and revealed a scraped knee. The crying began anew.
Rem brushed his hands through his shaggy, collar length dark hair and sighed.
“Are you bleeding? Again? Really?” He fumbled through a couple drawers. “All right. Here. No band-aids, but…”
Oh, this was a disaster.
Rem ripped a piece of electrical tape between his teeth, juggled the baby from one arm to the other, and slapped the silver strip over the girl’s knee.
“Good job,” I said. “Now she’s patched up, and she won’t conduct electricity.”
“She’ll be fine.” He patted the girl’s head. “Mellie, say hi to Cassi. Cas, this is Melanie. And this…” He flipped the baby outwards, finally letting her look around the room. She instantly stopped crying. The chubby cheeks and sniffling nose gave way to an adorable smile with three little white teeth poking out. “This is Tabitha—Tabby. They’re Emma’s kids.”
They looked like his sister—blonde and perky with the right amount of sass that got her in as much trouble as Rem.
I hated to ask the question, but a man like Rem wouldn’t volunteer to babysit without a genuine crisis. “What happened to Emma?”
Rem turned somber—a dark, serious glance broken with a forced shrug. “She’s…sick. Needed some help.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah. Just needs time. I came home to wrangle the kids.”
“I’m surprised to see you.” No harm in the truth.
“It’s been a while.”
I looked away. Somehow, under the heavy flannel, bushy beard, and shaggy hair was the Remington Marshall that still made my chest flutter. My options were to escape or find a defibrillator. My heart was broken, but it could still stop if he whispered the right words.
I shuffled towards the door, but Mellie plucked at the electrical tape banding her knee. The garbage bags of clothes, the injured child, and the quarter inch of dust over the cabin didn’t bode well.
“Are you sure you know…” How to phrase it without insulting him or completely terrifying the kids. “I had no idea you liked children.”
“They’re all right.”
“And…they’re still alive. So you must be doing…okay?”
Rem snorted. “They’re kids, Cas. I can handle ‘em.”
Right. “And…how long have you had them?”
Rem checked his watch. “It’s been five hours, and I haven’t lost my mind yet.”
Yet. “And you’re happy to babysit?”
“For how long?”
“As long as she needs.” Rem sounded confident. Or foolish. Probably foolish. “Don’t worry. It’s temporary. A week or two at the most. Shouldn’t be too hard. Keep an eye on them until Emma’s good, and then I’ll head back to the logging company.”
I laughed. Sweet Jesus, he was serious. I covered my mouth. “You…you’re keeping them here?”
“I was going to let them out at night like a cat, but I figured they’d rather get the lay of the land first.” He plopped the baby on the ground within range of both the wall outlet, fire place, and his penknife on the coffee table. “How hard can it be?”
And that was all I needed to hear.
I did not need to get involved.
Did not need to warm at his smile.
Did not need to wonder why my skin tingled in his presence.
Rem was a good-looking boy when we were kids, but at twenty-seven, he was absolutely gorgeous. A hard jaw from hard work. Toughened voice from a tough life. A strong back strengthened through manual labor. He might’ve tussled with a baby hell-bent on toddling into the fireplace, but he hadn’t left the wilds in the forest.
Rem looked as out of place in his own home as the kids did in the middle of the woods.
I had to help him.
Maybe I made this bad decision because it had been so long since I last saw him. Maybe I let my heart lead because the beard disguised him in a dark, tempting mystery. Or maybe I took pity on him because five years ago I had been hopelessly in love with our small town’s baddest bad boy.
Rem wasn’t a trouble-maker anymore, but he was still in trouble. Especially now that Butterpond had changed so much. We had cell phone reception. Community events. A giant Facebook group where all the busybodies kept in touch. Butterpond wouldn’t let him hunker down in the forest and hide forever.
And it must’ve terrified him.
“How’s the farm?” Even his words were jagged, briars in his throat. Either he was out of practice with small talk or he knew he shouldn’t have asked.
“It’s a warzone,” I said. “but no fires at least.”
“Is he ever?” I smirked. “Tidus hates this town as much as me.”
“What about everyone else?”
Well, they wouldn’t be happy to hear that Rem came back home. “Julian is…Julian. Trying to rebuild the farm like he has any idea how to manage it. Marius is overseas still—he can’t tell us where, and he likes it that way. Varius hasn’t been the same since the tornado. Quint…God only knows. Runs around like a puppy, but turns rabid the instant any of my brothers look his way.”
Rem rummaged through his fridge and offered me a beer. I shook my head. He popped the cap off but didn’t drink.
“About your dad…” he said.
So was everyone, but I still nodded and accepted the thoughts, prayers, and Bundt cakes.
“We knew it was coming,” I said. “His heart was bad.”
“Doesn’t mean it hurts any less.”
I’d done a fantastic job of smooshing that pain deep, deep down and suppressing the memories of the past few months when I’d taken care of him. My brothers understood, but it felt different for me—the one adopted girl in the family of biological sons.
They’d left me alone on the farm with Dad, and the family slowly tore itself apart. Fight after fight, even during Dad’s last days. Each of my brothers swore they’d never speak to the others again.
At least, until that phone call had to be made.
“The good news…well…news, I guess,” I said. “Everyone is home now. In Dad’s infinite wisdom, he left the farm to everyone. Every decision on the land must be made in unison, in person. No subdividing the farm. No selling our pieces to anyone else. It’s World War Three with pitchforks and chicken coops.”
“Bombs dropping like eggs.”
Tabby attempted to toddle with Rem’s wallet into the bathroom. Mellie giggled from inside. Rem excused himself, swore as the toilet flushed, and returned with a soaking wet wallet. He pitched it into the sink and shooed both kids away.
They stayed glued to him, wrapping their arms around his legs like they hadn’t been hugged in years. Rem knelt down and welcomed them into his thick arms.
It wasn’t a sight I’d expected to see from a man like him.
“So what…” His words mumbled over Tabby’s fingers as she clobbered him in the mouth. “What are you…doing?”
“Anything I can to get out of here.”
Mellie slid from his side and skipped back to her baby doll. He set Tabby on the counter. I rushed forward before he realized that the one-year-old was a bit hyper and likely to take a tumble. She eagerly offered me more of his possessions. I accepted the jingling keys and his cellphone, but I stopped her before she lunged for a sheathed bowie knife tucked inside a stack of paperwork.
Rem leaned against the sink, sipping his beer. “You’re leaving, huh? Where are you planning to go?”
“Been there, Sassy.” The nickname rolled off his tongue, like he’d never stopped using it. “Running doesn’t get you as far as you think.”
“Well, I need to get somewhere. I love my brothers too much to start hating them.”
“You know they need you, especially with your parents gone.”
The guilt was already suffocating me. “Jules says I remind them of Mom.”
“Yeah. I can see the family resemblance.”
As was the gentle joke which passed around the town. I brushed my dark fingers through the bouncing curls I’d swept away with the aid of a bubblegum pink scarf. Didn’t matter if my momma was blonde haired and green eyed or if she shared my mahogany skin and fawn eyes, people in Butterpond knew I was her daughter because she’d taught me how to be a lady.
And how to whoop my brothers into shape if they gave me a hard time.
But mostly how to be a good lady.
Also, a forgiving woman. She never thumped the Bible, only used it to swat our backsides when we acted out. What would she say about this? The man I swore never to forgive…and the kids tumbling around his house.
Mellie climbed the woodpile. Tabby unsuccessfully attempted to roll off the counter, falling into my arms.
And he thought it was going to be easy.
He wouldn’t last the night.
“Do you have everything you need for them?” I asked.
Rem nodded. “I got some of their clothes. They brought toys. I set them up in the spare bedroom.”
“Well, that’s good. But…do you know Tabby’s diaper is on backwards?”
He approached the child, picked her up under the arms, and gave her a quick once over.
“Is that why it keeps leaking?” He whistled in realization. “Thought she was an overachiever.”
Fantastic. “Okay, Rem…there’s like, six things I can see from where I’m standing that will seriously maim the very young children.”
He plopped Tabby on the counter and attempted to twist the diaper to the right position. When that didn’t work, he undid the tabs with so much force ripped the Velcro, removed the diaper, and left her tush on the cold counter. The diaper flipped, but he couldn’t fasten it.
He grabbed his handy electrical tape once more. “There. Now she’s got a racing stripe.”
If only he could feed, bathe, and entertain the kids with tape too. At least it wasn’t a staple gun.
I finally asked the question. “Do you need help, Rem?”
His lazy smile would’ve been cute if Mellie wasn’t heading for the axe he’d set near the backdoor. “You worried about me, Sassy?”
“Worried you’re going to end up on the news…” I pointed to the axe wielding Mellie—one blue ox short of a classic American tall tale. “And now I’ll be an accomplice.”
“Mellie, you chop my house down, you’re building the next one.” He took the axe from her hands and searched for a place to put it. The cabin was a mess, so he shrugged and stuck it on top of the fridge, clattering a couple pots and pans out of the way. “They’re kids. Sure, I need some time to fix the place up…” Rem batted at a spider web over the kitchen window. I cringed as the spider clamored to hide in the dusty curtains. “But they needed me. Emma asked, so here I am. Someone’s gotta help the girls. Just like what your family used to do for all those kids—including me.”
“You’re certain you can handle it?”
“Got no problems here.”
I should have left. The suitcase waited in my car. I had a full-tank of gas. I’d been threatening to head to Ironfield for two weeks now.
Rem had the box of supplies. The kids hadn’t set fire to the cabin yet.
They’d be fine.
But my feet didn’t move. “Do you have food for them?”
Rem took a swig from his beer. A liquid dinner might have suited him, but I doubted Mellie and Tabby wanted to lounge on the couch, knocking back a cold six-pack of Juicy Juice.
“I’ll find something,” he said. “I think it’s cute that you’re worried.”
“I’m not worried.” If I was worried, I’d have to stay. “I’m…making conversation.”
“Could have done that a long time ago,” he said. “Called me up.”
And let him know how twice in the past five years I’d actually tracked down a contact number for him in the middle of the Canadian wilds? No thanks.
“I didn’t hear from you either,” I said. “Not even a hey, sorry about the barn.”
“I am sorry about the barn. Sorry about a lot of things. Sorry I haven’t seen you since then.”
I stomped down a betraying warmth. No need to open that Pandora’s Box. “You were the one who left.”
“You didn’t want me around.”
“I never said that.”
“Cause you were too polite. You’d let Julian’s fist do the talking.”
“He’s quite persuasive.”
“And if he knew you were up here, asking about my dinner plans?”
I smirked. “Asking about the kids’ dinner plans.”
Rem glanced over his shoulder. “Mellie, want some dinner?”
The little girl marched into the kitchen, dragging Rem’s boots on her feet. She stumbled as she walked, but she raised her little chin as if she wore a tiara instead of steel-toed mud buckets.
“I don’t like peas,” she said.
“Me either. See?” He winked. “We’re fine.”
This would be fun. I knelt to her level. “Mellie, what else don’t you like to eat?”
Her words bumbled in and out of intelligibility. “Chicken. Broccoli. Green. Yogurt. Cars. Dragons. Shoes!”
The answer became a rambling story about a kitten, dragon, and a spaghetti noodle, but she illustrated my point.
“Any ideas, Chef?” I asked.
Rem had attempted to memorize her preferences and got lost somewhere around worms and green. “I…have some beef jerky.”
“You’re going to feed beef jerky to some toddlers?”
“Got some trail mix too. A can of soup beans.”
“…How long are you keeping the kids?”
“As long as Emma needs.”
I raised my eyebrows. “How long do you think you can keep them alive?”
“At least through the night.”
Good enough for me. Now it was my turn to leave him. I’d already survived five years without speaking, without resolving anything, without…
Saying those words.
I’d last another five. Maybe by then, he’d be out of jail for child endangerment.
“Start small,” I said. “Do you have milk?”
“Do you want my advice?”
Rem braced himself on the counter, muscles flexing, eyes brightening with a roguish playfulness that made any game unwinnable.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, Cas…I’ll take anything you’re willing to give.”
“Go into town—”
I sighed. “Why not?”
“I’ve gotten real good at avoiding Butterpond.”
“Who’s the real baby here? Get off this mountain. Take the girls into town. Buy some kid-friendly food.”
“Like…chew and whiskey?”
I scolded him. “Battery acid and horseradish.”
He grimaced, finally realizing the girls couldn’t survive on dried meats and wild onions.
“Okay,” he said. “This might be hard to believe, Cas…but I might need some help managing this circus. I mean…” His smile turned wicked. “I can pitch a hell of a tent, but beyond that…”
I didn’t need the visual. It’d taken years for me to stop fantasizing about it. “It won’t be that hard. Just…feed them. Make sure they don’t set themselves or the forest on fire. Put them to bed. Repeat.”
“Go with me,” he said.
“To the store.”
Nope. Nada. Not happening. “It’s right where you left it, Rem.”
“How will I know what to buy? Chicken nuggets or liver and onions? Red jello or red wine?”
“You’ll figure it out.”
He edged a little closer, grabbing Tabby before she tossed his phone against the wall. “Not asking for much, Sassy. Give me a couple pointers.”
“I’m on my way out of town.” And this time, I meant it.
That smile didn’t just slay me—it pinned me against the ropes, powerslammed me to the mat, then grabbed a metal folding chair from the crowd.
“How about one last favor for me?” he asked.
Not a chance. That well had emptied trying to put out the barn fire.
He read my reluctance. “Okay. A favor to the kids?”
Damn it. Tabby gave me a wave of her chubby fingers. Mellie continued to list things she liked, didn’t like, and some sounds the baby particularity enjoyed while shouted at the top of her lungs.
I surrendered. “Tell me you have a car seat.”
“No, the kids rode up here on top of a wild boar. Have a little faith, Cassi.”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “I don’t have much faith left in you.”
“Me either.” Rem’s voice had mellowed with honesty and time. “Just means I can’t disappoint you anymore, huh?”
“You’ve never backed down from a challenge.”
“That settles it.” His amusement thudded my heart like an axe missing a tree and striking a nearby boulder instead. “I got nothing else to lose, Cas.”
“Because I already lost you.”
From marching at the high school homecoming game without her trumpet (a punishment for forgetting the instrument on the band bus), to regretfully tucking her prom dress into the back of her tights before pictures, and even accidentally starting a chemical fire in the college chem lab, Sosie has the market cornered on crazy stories.
But hey, writing is a better outlet than therapy right? 😉
If you want funny, charming, and steamy romances, you’ve found the right author!
Sosie lives in Pittsburgh with her hubby, her two cats, and thrives on a near constant stream of gummy bears.