#ChapterReveal “The Girl in the Closet (Southern Heroes #2)” by Michelle Heard

 

 

 

 

BIRDIE

Escaping an unthinkable nightmare, I’m given a second chance at life. Cole Trenton is the first person to look past the broken girl. But the moment I give him my heart he leaves.Secrets never stay buried, and mine returns with a vengeance.
Cole walks back into my life when I need him most. He shows me how to be strong, that monsters only have the power you give them.

But my biggest fear remains.
How do I silence the girl in the closet before I lose Cole again?


COLE

 
I always knew Birdie Liles was different, but that didn’t stop me from falling for her.
After years of being away, I return home to bury my best friend,
only to learn that Birdie’s in trouble.If I had known about the monster from her past, I never would’ve left.
I went to fight someone else’s war while I left the woman I love unprotected.

But I’m here now, and I’m ready to send Birdie’s demon right back to hell.

 

 

PROLOGUE

‘rattle them bones’


BIRDIE


Since grandma died Daddy’s been smoking more, and it’s stinking up the trailer we live in.
Knowing I’ll be in trouble if he finds out, I steal his lighter while he’s in the bathroom. I run outside and quickly bury the lighter in the patch of sand behind the trailer. With a pounding heart, I glance over my shoulder and hearing the toilet flush, I begin to panic. If Daddy finds out what I’ve done, he’ll give me a beating.
As fast as I can, I dig up the lighter, but when I try to make it work there’s not even a spark. Scared of how angry Daddy will be, I shove it back into the hole and cover it with dirt. Not wanting to be caught, I run back into the trailer and hearing him whistling in the bathroom, I quickly rush into the bedroom. Frantically, I look for a place to hide, and when I hear the bathroom door creak open, I duck under the bed. Dust motes tickle my nose, and I place a hand over my face so I won’t sneeze.
“Where the fuck’s my lighter?” Daddy roars, and it scares me so badly I crawl further under the bed until I press against the wall. Seeing an old suitcase, I pry it open and squeeze myself inside it. Curling into a small ball so I can close the lid, I try to slow my breaths so he won’t hear me.
As the minutes tick by, my fear grows. Daddy’s gonna be so mad.
After a long time of hiding, I drift off to sleep, but when the suitcase moves, it startles me awake. The lid gets thrown open, and Daddy glares down at me with a mean look.
“You little fuckin’ cunt,” he hisses angrily. Grabbing hold of my arm, he hauls me out of my hiding place. “’Cause you like small spaces you can live in the fuckin’ closet.”
I start to shake my head and pull back against Daddy’s hold on me. My heart’s beating hard in my chest, and it makes my body tremble.
“No, Daddy. I’m sorry.”
He yanks the closet door open and forcefully shoves me inside. The smell of old shoes and dirty clothes fill the air. He slams the door shut and locks it, leaving me in the tiny, dark closet.
“Fuckin’ stuck with the kid ’cause the ole’ bitch croaked,” Daddy grumbles from the other side of the door. He slams his hand against the closet, then growls, “I’m gonna make you a skeleton like your momma ’cause you killed her. Fuckin’ evil little bitch.”
The words are scary, and I crawl to the corner of the closet. Shoes dig into my body, but as I hear him moving outside the door, I’m too scared to shove them away from me.
“Yeah, the evil cunt deserves to stay in the closet,” he chuckles darkly.
There are a few minutes of silence, and I strain my ears to hear where Daddy is when music comes from somewhere in the house.
The song is creepy, and I pinch my eyes shut, wondering when Daddy’s gonna give me a beating for being naughty.
There are different shades to black. There’s normal black, then there’s the kind where it’s so dark you see things.
Things children shouldn’t see.
You see the Boogeyman. It’s the one Daddy whispers about through the door. “Here comes the Boogeyman. The Boogeyman’s comin’ to get you.”
It’s so dark you see monsters in every speck of dust.
The Boogeyman’s real.
The Boogeyman’s my daddy, and every day he sings to me, “I’ve got a skeleton in the closet and she ain’t ever comin’ out.”



CHAPTER 1

‘oh, rattle them bones’

BIRDIE

(17 years old.)
“You almost ready, dear?” Mom calls.
“Yeah, just a second.” Sitting on the floor with my back against the side of the bed, I don’t miss the flash of sadness as Mom takes in the sweater I’m wearing.
“You sure you wanna wear that? It’s hot out. Why don’t you wear one of those pretty t-shirts we got you last week?” she tries again.
I know she’s looking out for me, and I love her for it, but I wish she’d let it go. This is what I want to wear, and it makes me feel better knowing my scars aren’t visible for the whole world to see.
It’s been twelve years since I was rescued and adopted by Pastor and Mrs. Liles, and even though my father is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence, the memory of him still haunts me every night.
“Nope, I’m good,” I mumble while sticking a picture on the page I’m busy with. I have a weird hobby of writing out the lyrics to every song I like then surrounding them with matching pictures. Today’s song is Cross That Line by Joshua Radin, and I’ve just finished sticking a picture of Cole Trenton next to it.
Ever since the day Cole stood up for me, I’ve had a crush on him. Grayson Chambers was just being his usual mean self and had me cornered against my locker. Cole yanked him back and told him to leave me be.
Yeah, that was the day I knew for sure I was in love with Cole. One look at his icy blue eyes and chocolate brown hair, and I was a goner. He’s the only one who’s able to stir a happy feeling inside of me.
“Good, let’s go then. We don’t want to keep the people waitin’,” Mom says, yanking me out of my thoughts.
I slip the page into a plastic sleeve and place it on my desk before running after Mom.
Usually, Clay and I take turns accompanying Dad and Mom when they go to visit one of the families from the church. I know Clay hates it so most of the time I end up going along. I can’t let them down after everything they’ve done for me. They took me in without asking for anything in return.
Personally, I feel Clay should make more of an effort. When his father went to jail for selling drugs, the Liles’ took him in. He was only nine and had nowhere else to go. Clay’s momma died when he was still a baby, and apparently, they couldn’t find anybody on his momma’s side to take him. That’s how he ended up under the Liles’ care. It was the same with me. My momma died when I was still a baby, and there’s no one left on her side of the family.
As I step out onto the porch, Dad gives me an encouraging smile. He knows I don’t like going along for the visits, but he appreciates it.
“Thanks, Kiddo. I owe you one,” he says as we walk toward the car. The only thing keeping the station wagon together is a ton of rust.
“I get to choose the next movie,” I say while getting into the back.
“It’s a deal,” he laughs.
Most of the town calls him Pastor Doug and loves him. I know I got lucky when they adopted me.
A few minutes later when Dad turns up the street Cole lives on, my heart begins to beat faster. Automatically, I start counting down the houses until we reach his, but instead of driving by, the car slows down.
Oh my gosh, we’re visiting the Trenton’s?
I’m not sure whether I should be excited or anxious. The mixture of feelings makes me clench my hands on my lap as my stomach tightens with nerves.
Most of the time I see Cole at school. This will be the first time I’ll actually be inside his house.
“The Trenton’s? We’re comin’ to the Trenton’s?” I ask from the back.
“Yes, and the Mason’s will also be here. You know the boys, don’t you, dear? They’re seniors from your school,” Mom replies, unaware of the mini nervous breakdown I’m about to have in the backseat.
“Yeah, they’re friends with Clay. I hardly ever talk to Cole and Hunter.”
A simple ‘hi’ is the most I’ve ever said to either of the boys. But it’s one thing to admire Cole at school where we’re surrounded by other people. It’s a different ball game when I have to be around him with no one to hide behind.
It’s not that I’m scared of being around Cole. Not at all. It’s just… what would I even say to him?
Ugh, I’ll probably only make a fool of myself.
“You’ll have fun. The evenings you never plan are the ones you enjoy most,” Dad says.
I love his sayings, but tonight they’re not going to be of much help. Maybe I can slip away when no one’s watching?
The front door opens, and Mr. Trenton steps out onto the porch.
When we’re out of the car and walking toward the front door, I peek out from where I’m hiding behind Mom, but the second I see Cole standing next to his dad, I quickly duck back.
I can’t hear anything above the blood rushing through my ears. Sucking in deep breaths, I try to calm my racing heart.
“Pastor Doug, thank you so much for comin’,” Mr. Trenton greets warmly.
Mom and Dad walk inside the house, and I have to force my feet forward. Climbing the stairs to the porch, I glance up and lose my breath when I see Cole waiting to close the door behind me.
Breathe, Birdie. Act calm.
“Hi, Birdie.” Cole shuts the door, and as he turns back to me with a crooked smile on his face, my mouth dries up.
“Hi.” It pretty much sounds like I sucked on a balloon filled with helium.
Following everyone to the living room, I’m incredibly aware of Cole walking right behind me. Glancing around the room, I notice the Mason’s sitting on a comfy looking couch. Mrs. Tenton gets up to greet us.
Before I can go to Mom’s side, Mr. Trenton says, “Cole, why don’t you show Bridget the entertainment area?”
My lips part and I stand frozen like a deer in oncoming traffic.
“Sure,” Cole says, then he places his hand on my lower back and my heart all but stops beating. “This way, Birdie.”
It’s a miracle when I manage to take a step without falling flat on my face.
Cole’s touching me.
I immediately feel self-conscious about the scars on the right side of my body, even though I know he can’t see them. Folding my right arm around my waist, I cover it with my left.
A chaotic mess of emotions spreads through me. I’m elated that Cole is touching me, but at the same time, I feel on edge because of the scars.
So far, I’ve been lucky, and only Mom and Dad know about my scars, but I know the day will come when I won’t be able to keep my ugly secret buried beneath layers of clothes any longer.
Cole steers me into a room, which looks twice the size of the living room. A pool table stands in the middle, and a TV is mounted on the left wall. On the right side, there is a floor to ceiling window and a sliding door which opens onto a patio, looking out over a big swimming pool.
The entertainment area is right next to the living room which makes me feel a little better, knowing that Mom and Dad are close by.
I remain standing just inside the door as Cole walks to where Hunter is sitting at a bar area.
“Hey, Birdie,” Hunter says, giving me a friendly smile.
I give him a lame wave as I shyly whisper, “Hi.”
For a moment I think about how my best friend, Reece is going to freak out when she hears I spent the night visiting with Cole and Hunter. She’s had a crush on Hunter for the longest time.
With Cole and Hunter graduating soon, next year is going to be very boring at school without them there.
My eyes drift back to Cole’s face, and when our gazes lock, a blush creeps up my neck.
“Would you like somethin’ to drink?” Cole asks.
Feeling awkward, I just shake my head. Interacting with people is really hard, but when it comes to Cole, it’s near impossible.
I freeze when Mrs. Trenton’s voice drifts into the entertainment room. “Bridget’s become quite the beauty under your care.”
Yep, I’m officially dying.
“She was such a tiny thing when she came to Lyman,” Mrs. Mason says.
Knowing Cole and Hunter can also hear what their mothers are saying, makes me feel like I’m spiraling from embarrassment right into a pit of mortification.
It’s no secret the Lyles’ adopted me. It’s what happened before I came to live with them that petrifies me, and I don’t want people talking about it.
“Pastor Doug, I just want to let you know how grateful we are for what you’re doing for the boys,” Mr. Mason says. My shoulders sag with relief, glad that they’re stepping off the topic of my appearance.
I watch as Cole pours a glass of coke, but can’t keep myself from listening in on the adult’s conversation.
“Of course,” Dad says. “It’s nothin’ I wouldn’t do for any of the other kids in the congregation.”
“You’re really the pillar of Lyman,” Mr. Trenton compliments Dad. “If you have any problems with Trevor Slater again, you just say the word, and I’ll sort him out.”
My world stops at hearing my father’s name.
Trevor Slater.
The Boogeyman.
All the blood drains from my face as the walls close in on me.
“Birdie?” I hear Cole’s voice as I turn around and rush towards the front door.
I don’t want to hear anything about my biological father. I’ll never be able to deal with how he tortured me.
I just need to get outside so I can get some fresh air. With every step I take my breathing speeds up, bringing me closer to a panic attack. After all these years, I still haven’t learned how to control the crippling waves of panic. My therapist says it will get better with time. I hope so because these suffocating feelings are awful.
“Birdie,” Dad calls out as I race through the living room. “Let me explain.”
I manage to take a few more steps when Mr. Trenton stands up. “Bridget, you weren’t supposed to hear that. Where’s Cole?”
The fact that Mr. Trenton knows about my father creeps through the anxiety. Why was he talking about my father? What does he know?
My need to know what’s going on overshadows the dreaded fear. I stop and turn back to the adults. “Why were you talkin’ about him?” My voice sounds thin, and I try to breathe faster as the darkness begins to creep up on me.
I can’t have a panic attack here. Not in front of all these people.
Dad takes a step toward me, a concerned look on his face. “It’s nothin’ to worry about, Birdie. He just tried to send you a letter, but we stopped him.”
“He did what?” I whisper horrified. “He knows where I am?”
“He can’t hurt you.” Dad takes another step toward me as terror slams hard into my chest, ripping the air right from my lungs. I turn and run as if I’m running from the devil himself.
He knows where I am. He’ll come for me. He’ll finish what he started all those years back. He’ll kill me this time.
I pull open the front door and take the porch steps in one jump. I race across the lawn to get to the road but only make it half-way when an arm wraps around my waist, and I’m yanked off my feet.
The person swings me around, and I come face to face with Cole, as he jogs towards us.
“I’ll take her, Hunter,” he says just as Hunter sets me back down on my feet.
All the adults follow right behind Cole. They stand on the porch with similar looks of concern on their faces, which only makes me feel more claustrophobic.
Cole’s fingers wrap around my wrist and only then does Hunter let go of me.
I take a step away from them and try to pull my arm free, but Cole doesn’t let go. Instead, he steps right into my personal space, and placing his other arm around my shoulders, he pulls me against his chest. Feeling how muscular and steady Cole’s body is against mine, I realize how badly I’m trembling.
I’m terrified that my father knows where I am but not wanting to have a total meltdown in front of Cole, I close my eyes and suck in deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself.
“I’ll stay outside with Birdie,” Cole calls to the others. “She just needs some air.”
“Birdie, will you be okay?” I hear Mom call.
Just needing some space so I can gain control over my rampant emotions, I nod.
When I hear the front door close, I take a step back from Cole, hating that the first time I got to be in his arms is tainted by my past, even if he was just holding me to comfort me.
Instead of making me go back inside, he says, “Let’s go for that walk.”
Cole reaches for my hand, and when his fingers interlace with mine, a firecracker explodes somewhere between my left lung and my heart, leaving my insides a chaotic mess.

 

Michelle Heard 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.

Want to be up to date with what’s happening in Michelle’s world? Sign up to receive the latest news on her alpha hero releases, sales, and great giveaways → http://eepurl.com/cUXM_P

 

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#ChapterReveal “Blessed Betrayal” by Livia Grant

She wanted happily ever after.

He thought he had it.

Underneath the perfect exterior of Calista Bennett’s marriage lay an ugly truth that threatens to drown her when she is betrayed.

Across town, Nickolas Mikos isn’t doing much better after his life is plunged into his new reality by his wife’s lies.

Life can change in the blink of an eye. Can Cali and Nick comfort each other’s raw pain enough to allow for a second chance at happiness, or will their fears and anger prevent them from uncovering the blessing in the betrayal?

I’m sorry, Cali. I know it isn’t what you wanted to hear, but the test was negative.”
Her hopeful apprehension morphed to dread. “Are you sure? Should we do another?”
Dr. Galloway smiled indulgently. “That won’t be necessary. The tests are very reliable. I’m sure you took one at home as well, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” Her dejected reply was barely a whisper.
“Then you already know taking it again would just be a waste.” The OBGYN doctor wheeled his rolling stool closer to the exam table to pat Cali’s knee in a fatherly way. “I know you and your husband are anxious to get your family started, but you’re only twenty-four. You have plenty of time. We have a lot of options we haven’t tried yet.”
Cali struggled to hold back her tears. How could she tell her kind doctor how important it was for her to get pregnant?
“I think it’s time for us to do testing on your husband. Since we haven’t found any smoking gun on your side of the equation, it’s time to take a look at Mr. Bennett’s sperm count and mobility. That will help me decide our next steps.”
“I don’t know about that, Dr. Galloway. Kevin is so busy with his job. He joined his father’s law firm last year and is working crazy hours. I doubt he can come in for an appointment.” Cali didn’t know how to tell the good doctor her husband had made it very clear giving him an heir was her responsibility, and the only help he planned contributing to the process was a ‘daily hard fuck.’ The array of bruises scattered across her body were proof he was living up to his hard promise.
Calista trembled as she realized her temporary veil of protection had fallen with the negative test result. Kevin was gentler with her during the weeks of the month she might be in the process of forming a fragile new life. For the last year, each month the results were negative, he not only deemed it his responsibility to punish her for failing him yet again, but he then proceeded to make up for lost time. The next two weeks of her life were going to be hell.
No. She couldn’t tell the kind doctor that.
“What would he have to do?”
“Us men have it pretty easy, to be honest,” the doctor grinned wolfishly. “You poor women get poked and prodded with all kinds of needles and drugs. Your husband just needs to come in and give us a deposit of his sperm. He’ll have a private room and will be able to bring along reading or viewing material he might need to help. All in all, the men have it pretty good in this deal.”
How right he was. “Okay, I’ll talk to him about it.”
“Sounds good. Keep your chin up. We’ve done a lot of tests, and I see no reason why you can’t get pregnant. It’s gonna happen when the time is right and not a minute before.”
“Thanks again, doctor.” She forced a smile to hide her growing sense of dread. “I’ll see you next time.”
As Calista redressed, she said a small prayer that Kevin would be in a good mood when he got home today. He’d been out of town on business the last two days. Since passing the bar exam, he’d been working eighty hours a week or more, and in truth, he was gone so much, it made her life less stressful most of the time. Unfortunately, he still checked in at home often enough to dump his dirty laundry and contribute his duty to operation ‘give me an heir.’
Sitting at a stop light on the drive home, Cali once again questioned why she stayed with her husband. He’d changed so much since they got married almost two years before. He had always been dominant… demanding. The problem was he’d begun to take the definition of dominant to a whole new level. Cali used to think of herself as a submissive. Lately, she felt more like a well-worn doormat.

Cali was just doing a final check of her makeup in the large vanity mirror when she heard the garage door opening one floor below. She had taken extra care in her preparations for tonight’s Bennett, Bennett, and Moore post-holiday party. She knew how important it was to her husband.
She may not have understood why Kevin had singled her out when they’d met during her senior year at the University of Virginia, but she certainly knew now. Cali had been flattered when the president of the university’s most prominent law organization had set his sights on her. As a final year law student, he’d been charming, sweeping her off her feet with gifts, assurances of love, and romantic gestures.
Now, a few years later, she knew what a mistake she had made believing a single word he’d said. He had made it abundantly clear after she had said her ‘I dos,’ she was his showpiece. His grandfather and father were managing partners in one of Washington D.C.’s most prestigious law firms, specializing in international tax law. The fact Kevin had the last name Bennett had assured her husband a top spot at the large firm straight out of law school. It also meant she was married to a man who had unlimited resources to make her life a living hell should she try to leave him. She ought to know. She had tried. Just once, a year ago. She’d learned first-hand as ugly as it was being married to him, trying to leave him was worse.
Cali had been lost in thought, missing his arrival in their master suite. She caught his reflection in the mirror as he stood in the doorway. Her stomach churned at the sight of his predatory glare that reminded her of a hunter, about to pounce on his prey.
“You’re as gorgeous as ever, my dear. I see you took my advice and wore red.” His words may have been complimentary, but they didn’t distract Cali from the danger just under the surface of his handsome exterior. He had proven his mood could change on a dime.
“Of course, I wore red. I didn’t think it was a suggestion, rather an order.”
“Of course, it was an order.” He took deliberate steps closer, never taking his eyes from her reflection. “But an obedient wife wouldn’t be so crass as to point out that distinction. I keep warning you, Calista. You’re being groomed. You’re not going to hear other partner’s wives talking in that tone tonight. You’d do well to watch and learn, my dear.”
He had stepped up behind her as she sat at the make-up mirror, resting his manicured hands on her bare shoulders. His touch was deceptively gentle. She never forgot how hard those hands could turn when he was angered which was why she had made it her new life’s mission to keep him as happy as possible. Just like a good little wife.
“Yes, sir. I’ll remember that.”
“You do that. What a shame. It looks like you’re almost ready. I had hoped to fit in a little exercise before we left for the party.”
She hated to exercise with her husband. It was his code word for delivering her ‘daily hard fuck.’ She had hoped he would delay at least until after the party if she was already dressed.
“I wanted to be ready when you got home. I know how much you hate to be late.”
“How thoughtful of you.” His steely blue eyes were cooling. “And here I was thinking it was because you didn’t want to tell me the results of your appointment this afternoon.”
Cali’s heart was thundering so hard, she felt the pounding in her ears. She froze with panic, made worse as Kevin’s hands slid from her shoulders to circle her throat, slowly constricting until she had to fight for her next breath. She pushed against the marble countertop in a feeble attempt to free herself from his grip, but he pressed her forward, making her thrashing futile. Her husband cut off her airflow until she began to see stars, finally releasing her while leaning down to whisper menacingly into her ear.
“You’re such a disappointment to me, Calista.”
Cali gasped, filling her lungs with precious air, hating the tears streaming down her cheeks from the exertion. Trails of dark mascara marred the reflection of the beautiful woman with long black hair staring back at her from the mirror.
“I only ask one thing of you.” His quiet rage was simmering hotter. “I plucked you out of poverty and gave you the life of a princess. Yet you insist on keeping that ridiculous job teaching other people’s children when what you should be focused on is providing me with the child I need to fulfill the requirements in my grandfather’s will. He hasn’t been well, and I’m going to hold you responsible if the old man kicks it before I have time to claim my share of the pie with an heir.”
Fear helped her fight down the urge to remind him she was trying to create a baby, not an heir. “I was disappointed too, Kevin. I was late this month, and I really did think we had a chance.” Cali should have stopped there. “Dr. Galloway wants you to make an appointment to come in to be tested as well. He needs your test results to decide what the next course of action should be.”
Cali knew immediately she had made a grave error. Kevin’s blue eyes had turned to ice, venom flowing from them.
“How dare you blame me for this, you bitch? You have one fucking job in this marriage, and when you can’t get it done, you decide to put the blame on me?”
“No… that’s not… I mean it’s just…” Her voice quavered. “It’s a formality, that’s all. The doctor does this with all couples who have problems conceiving.”
He wasn’t placated. “Like I have time to go in to be poked and prodded. I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn into a pin cushion because you can’t do your job.”
She wanted to scream that everyone knew it took two to create a child, but she wisely kept that retort to herself.
“He promised you wouldn’t be poked or prodded. It’s easy for the men. You’ll just need to give a sperm sample.”
“Ah, is that all? I just need to go jack off behind some lame curtain like a lab rat? Well, no thanks. I provide sperm samples each and every day I fuck you. In fact, I missed a day yesterday. I think you need a reminder of exactly how frequently I have provided sperm samples in this marriage.”
She should have been prepared, but she hadn’t expected things to escalate so quickly. Kevin gripped her biceps in a vice grip and yanked her to her feet just long enough to smash her body forward. She was sprawled across the marble countertop, her forehead smashed against the oversized mirror. Cali squeezed her eyes closed, trying to shut out the vision of her husband’s icy eyes as she felt him flipping the skirt of her dress over her back just before he ripped the lacy underwear from her body. He insisted she wear stockings and garter belts with skirts, so she was now bare.
It only took him a few seconds to fumble with his zipper before she felt his hard erection spring free. It was inside her in one hard thrust. She was grateful she’d been careful to lube both her pussy and ass thoroughly after her shower. She had learned the hard way to make sure her body was prepared at a moment’s notice to take Kevin’s punishing cock.
She tried so hard to hold back the scream but failed miserably. His responding chuckle reminded her she was married to a sadist.
As he set a fast pace, Cali’s fight turned internal. As much as her brain hated what he did to her and how he made her feel, there was no denying her body betrayed her time and again. Kevin liked to use the natural lubrication flowing copiously from her body as proof she actually liked to be treated like his punching bag. Cali may have started to hate her husband, but she hated her own body more.
He fucked her like a machine, pistoning her to her first humiliating climax. She lay limp across the counter, receiving all he gave her, his ridiculing laughter only raising her humiliation. She was too lost in her orgasmic fog to recognize the few second intermission in the action. The piercing pain of his cock shoved balls-deep in her lubed rectum consumed her. She barely made out his grunting words.
“Lucky you lubed yourself. This would have hurt like a bitch if you’d forgotten.”
Cali lay boneless, receiving her hard fuck of the day, knowing it was unfortunately early enough there was a good chance he might go for round two when they got home from the party. She had learned the trick to surviving this particular exercise was to relax into it. Her husband had grabbed her hips, gripping her hard enough, she was sure he was leaving fresh bruises over the faded ones from past exercise sessions.
They were in a race. Her body was beginning to betray her again. She couldn’t fight him, but she went to work, waging war against herself, trying desperately to hold back her orgasm, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of dragging it from her.
He didn’t play fair. He leaned down and pressed his chest to her back. She wasn’t fooled into thinking he wanted the added intimacy of their sweaty skin caressing each other. No. He only did this so he could reach her clit with his left hand. He wasn’t trying to bring her satisfaction, rather humiliation as her body exploded into another strong climax. He joined her a minute later, collapsing on her, almost cutting off her breath again. He added salt to her wounds as she lay recovering.
“That’s the only good thing about you not being pregnant. We have a few weeks before I need to start making deposits in your pussy again. I do love taking this ass of yours. It’s nice and tight, just the way I like it.” He pulled out as abruptly as he had inserted, slapping her ass with his open palm while stepping away from her. “I’m gonna take a shower. Put yourself back together. We’ll leave in thirty minutes.”
He didn’t wait for her answer. He didn’t need to. He knew she was too afraid to do anything but what he asked.

USA Today bestselling author Livia Grant lives in Chicago with her husband and furry rescue dog named Max. She is fortunate to have been able to travel extensively and as much as she loves to visit places around the globe, the Midwest and its changing seasons will always be home. Livia’s readers appreciate her riveting stories filled with deep, character driven plots, often spiced with elements of BDSM.

 

 

 

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#ChapterReveal “Shameless (Enemies to Lovers #5)” by Michelle Horst

RHETT

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.

EVIE

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

EVIE



(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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#ChapterReveal “P.S. I Hate You” by Winter Renshaw

Dear Isaiah,

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.

Almost.

Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.

Maritza the Waitress

PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.

Maritza

“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.
“Excuse me?”
“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.”
Military.
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.
“No.”
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.
Shit.
“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.”
Thank. God.
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.”
Asshole.
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.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

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#ChapterReveal “Taking It Slow (Doing Bad Things Book 3)” by Jordan Marie


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.

Titan

Last night I got married.

I think.

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?

Besides everything.

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.

Faith



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?

Whatever.

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.

#ChapterReveal “Crux Untamed (Hades Hangmen #6)” by Tillie Cole



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.

Sia
High Ranch, Austin, Texas
Present Day

“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.
“You better?”
“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.

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“Payback (Vigilante Justice #1)” by Kristin Harte #Sale

Payback (Vigilante Justice #1) is on sale for 99¢ this week only!

Cover

 

Google Play

 

In Justice, Colorado, the Kennards run everything, including the only big business in the area. Their sawmill employs most of the town, and the Kennard brothers live up to a long family history of keeping their neighbors and coworkers safe—until a motorcycle club comes to town and starts causing trouble. Big trouble. The kind that ends in funerals.

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.
 

 

Kristin Harte started off as a chemistry major in college but somehow ended up writing romances featuring ex-military heroes and the women who knock them to their knees…literally and figuratively. She likes drinking in the shade, snuggling under a warm blanket on a cold evening, and researching how to blow things up. Her children know nothing of what she writes, and her husband just hopes he’s not at their Chicago-ish home the day the government shows up to confront Kristin about her Google search history.
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.