Treasure Hunters by Caitlyn Willows

TreasureHunters

 

TREASURE HUNTERS
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense
Copyrright 2005, 2017

Crushed by the emotional and financial burden as guardian of five children, newspaper reporter Rika Kiley struggles to make ends meet. And just when she’d met the most incredible man.

Ryan Fletcher isn’t about to let anything come between him and the woman of his dreams. He’ll do whatever is necessary to help keep Rika’s family together. Why can’t Rika realize and accept what he’s offering?

A two-million-dollar sailing race is the answer to Rika’s problems. But it is the real deal or a scam? With Ryan right by her side, she is determined to find out. Now all they have to do is survive a grueling race when someone else is just as determined to see them dead.

Author Note: This is updated version of a story originally released in 2005.

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REVIEWS

FIVE BLUE RIBBONS!!!A truly magnificent story… It pulled at my heart strings when Ryan lets Rika know that he is her partner in all ways, even facing the responsibilities of raising her family. No matter the dangers or challenges Ryan and Rica face their love just seems to grow stronger. I could not wait to turn the page to see how their unconditional love and devotion to each other would help them face their next challenge. This story is so fantastic I cannot wait to see what Ms. Willows comes up with next. ~Briana Burress, Romance Junkies

FIVE STARS!!! [A] scorching contemporary erotic romance…. The sex is hotter than the sands on a Florida beach in August. The scenes are beautiful to read, there are a lot of them and you will be reaching for every toy you own. Treasure Hunters is a fully developed book with great characters and really sizzling lusty sex. ~Julie Esparza, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

RECOMMENDED READ!!! FIVE ANGELS!!! Ms. Willows has given us another great book to sink our teeth into. The suspense will keep the reader on the edge of their seat, biting their nails, and waiting to see what happens next. The sex between these two is so hot and steamy that the reader will be looking for the first snow bank they can find. Rika and Ryan are both strong and loving characters that readers will have an easy time identifying with them. If you love a good romance with suspense, then this is the book I highly recommend you read. ~Donna, Fallen Angel Reviews

FOUR STARS!!! The chemistry between Rika and Ryan is hot from the beginning to end. TREASURE HUNTERS is fast moving and entertaining story with its passion and suspense. ~Cassandra Buckles, Coffee Time Romance

FOUR UNICORNS!!! This story was a really good read. The story keeps you on your toes wondering what was going to happen next. This author out did herself with this book. It has it all, hot sex, love and oh yeah Hot sex again. ~Nicole, Enchanted In Romance

EXCERPT

Ryan brushed his thumb over her silky cheek. “Suppose you can wrangle a week’s vacation out of that editor of yours? There are a couple of beaches in Hawaii with our names on them.”

Her eyes brightened. “What about your work?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “Man can’t work day and night, especially if he has a beautiful woman waiting for him.” He danced his other hand up her ribs. “Besides, I was thinking a weekend back here at least once month might be in order. I hate the idea of being away from you for six months.”

Rika laced her fingers around his neck. “I’d like that very much. Who knows? Maybe I can manage a long weekend every month too. I’ve got a little tucked away, and there’s always plastic.”

Ryan wanted to cheer. They were on the same page. Not that he liked the idea of her going into debt for him. He’d see she didn’t. But—damn—she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her. This was it. She was the one.

“Why don’t you grab our wine and we can plan.” She dropped kisses along his jaw.

Ryan captured her lips in a deep kiss, then pulled away. “Be right back.” He kissed her all the way down her body.

After tossing the spent condom in the trash can beside her dresser, Ryan walked on to the kitchen. The telephone blasted out a ring, startling him.

“Want me to get that?” he asked.

“No, let it go. It’s probably Mom about going shopping tomorrow. Mom can truly shop till she drops.”

He grabbed the bottle of wine and their glasses, listening as the answering machine picked up. There was a choked sound, then a man’s voice.

“Damn it, Rika. Where the hell are you? It’s Andy. Mom and Dad…” He smothered what sounded like a sob. “Becky…Dan… There was a car wreck. They’re dead, Rika. They’re all dead.”

Ryan stared in dumbstruck silence for what seemed like hours, searching for the words to tell the woman he was falling in love with news no one should have to hear.

“What’s taking so long?” she called out. “Are you talking to my mom?”

He wanted to cry. Setting the wine aside, he returned to the bedroom. Rika sat up the second she saw him. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Ryan sat beside her, pulling her hand into his, forcing himself to meet her gaze. “Honey, that was Andy…”

*          *          *

Rika sat on the edge of her parents’ bed and fingered the diamond solitaire necklace at her throat—a Christmas gift from Ryan. More guilt. She hadn’t gotten him a thing. It was all she could do to make sure the kids had what they needed for Christmas. He’d brushed it off by saying she’d had much more important things to worry about, like five children who were suddenly under her guardianship. If only he knew how bad things really were.

She blinked back tears. That was something she was determined to hide from him. Knowing Ryan as she now did, he’d try to fix it all. That was hardly fair to him.

He’d been a godsend to her these last two weeks—helping her with funeral arrangements, dealing with the parade of people and sympathetic phone calls, sitting by her side in court while she got guardianship of her sister, youngest brother, nephew, and two nieces. He’d even had their Christmas dinner catered by Fletcher’s. Everywhere she went, everything she had to do, all she needed was to turn and his shoulder was there.

Ryan loved her. He didn’t have to say it, Rika knew. She loved him too. That’s why it made this so much harder to do. She had no choice.

“Ryan’s here.”

Rika glanced up at her twenty-one-year-old brother. People didn’t believe she and Andy were related. His hair was golden brown, his eyes a brown that merely hinted at green depths. The only other sibling who’d had red hair was Becky, and Becky was gone. She hadn’t even passed that trait on to her three children. Rika was the odd one now. All the rest looked like Andy.

She had to protect him too. He deserved the same opportunities Rika and Becky had had in life. He didn’t need to know Rika had spent every dime, and then some, on hospital bills and the funerals. The fools hadn’t even had health insurance and forget life insurance.

“Thanks.”

“You’re going to do something stupid, aren’t you?”

She wanted to laugh. God knew, she wanted to laugh. The truth hurt too much. “Yes, I probably am.”

“Then maybe you need to do it at his place. I can watch things here.”

Rika shook her head. She’d made her decision, painful though it was. It was best to get it over with. She forced herself to stand, then prayed her legs would hold her. “I’ll talk to him on the patio.”

Andy muttered something under his breath. Rika strongly suspected he was calling her an idiot and lacing a few curse words in there as well. If he only knew how much this was breaking her heart.

Blinking back tears, she walked into a living room sprawled with bodies. Ryan sat in her father’s recliner, flanked by her young nieces. Kristi and Amy adored him. What child wouldn’t? He talked to them on their level, paid attention to what they had to say. She’d never in a million years forget how they’d cuddled under his arms after the funeral, telling him their fears, crying until they’d fallen asleep.

Yep, she was stupid all right. But how fair was it to ask him to take on this burden?

He smiled when she entered the room. That smile faltered when he saw the look on her face. He knew. Rika buried her face in her hands and started to cry. In an instant, his arms were around her. He kissed the top of her head and drew her out the back door.

“You’re scaring the hell out of me, honey. Please don’t say what I think you’re going to say.”

That made her cry all the more. “I have to, Ryan. Relationships take time and work—”

“But I—”

“Please don’t say it. Don’t make this harder than it is.” She burrowed deeper into his arms, weeping against his chest. “I’ve got five children to take care of. How do I possibly find time for…”

“I’m here for you, Rika. I can help. We can do this.”

She glanced up at the pain in his eyes and damned the light from the kitchen window. “You’ll be in Hawaii for six months. I’ll be here. I can’t just pick up and go. This can’t work.”

“And I say it can. Damn it, I don’t want this to end. I need you. I want you. I l—”

She clamped her fingers over his lips. “Please don’t. It’s not fair to you to ask you to take a backseat. It’s not fair to you to ask you to put up with all of this.”

He kissed her fingers and pulled her hand into his. “Even if I want to?”

“It won’t work. Even the best of established relationships would have a hell of a time. You’ll be gone for six months. It’s best to end it now.”

“Just like that.”

She forced herself to nod. “It kills me to say it, but…yes.”

“This isn’t over, Rika. It can work. It will work.”

If he kept this up, she’d cave. Why couldn’t he understand it was better to get this over rather than drag the heartache out?

“Give me a chance. Give us a chance.” He kissed the curve of her neck at that spot he knew weakened her resolve. Desire welled up with her sigh. “Matt or Kevin can take over the job in Hawaii.”

Rika forced her senses back in order. “You leave tomorrow. How is that fair to them to have them uproot their lives and families at the last minute?” Reluctantly, she stepped from the warmth of his arms. “You have responsibilities just like I do, and people who’ve depended on you a lot longer than I have. Please…just go.”

She reached to unclasp the necklace. His hands stopped her.

“Don’t. There’s enough pain in my heart right now without you doing that.”

Tears drifted down her face. Ryan kissed her lips, then brushed by her and left. Rika waited until she heard his Cherokee start up, then sank to the patio chair and cried what was left of her heart out.

She didn’t know how long she sat there in the cool night air—long after Andy and their next younger sister, Robyn, had put the little ones to bed. She didn’t have the will to move. Her heart had walked out the door with Ryan. Yes, it was her doing, but that made it all the worse—not only had she broken her own heart, but that of a wonderful man. She heard the back door open and half prayed he stood there. It was Robyn instead.

A clear match to Andy, the seventeen-year-old held out the cordless. “Ryan’s on the phone. Apparently, you’re not answering your cell.”

Rika’s shaking fingers wrapped around it. Robyn ducked back inside.

“You don’t give up easily, do you?”

“Not when there’s every reason not to. We’re good together.”

He was so right about that. “With everything the way it is, I don’t see how we can survive the time and distance…for one thing. For the other—”

“Let me prove to you we can weather this. Every relationship has its tests. Ours just came a little sooner than we might have liked.”

“How can you prove—”

“Find a private room. Go in it and lock the door.”

He was going to wear down what little resistance she had left by talking. She should hang up now and end it. It seemed too cruel an act. Ryan deserved better than that.

“All right.” Back inside, she debated on whether to use the bathroom or her parents’ room. With only one bathroom for all of them, the bedroom was the better option for a few minutes of privacy. Ignoring Andy and Robyn, she walked inside, then shut and locked the door behind her.

“Are you there?” he asked.

“Yes.” Her voice came out on a ragged sigh.

“Is the door locked?”

“Yes.”

“No chance of interruptions?”

“The children are asleep. Andy and Robyn are still up.”

“Good. Touch your breasts for me, honey.”

Rika gasped. “I—”

“Close your eyes and touch them. Pretend your hands are mine. Pretend my lips are around your nipples.”

She sank to her knees. “My bra—”

“Unhook it. You know how you love my hands on your tits.”

“I do,” she breathlessly replied. One hand shook as she released the hook. Once free, she closed her eyes and cupped her breast.

“Tell me how it feels, sweetheart.”

“Soft, hot. It…it wants your mouth.”

“And it’s there, wrapped around your nipple.” He sucked in a breath. “God, I love how it gets hard under my tongue. I love how you arch into my mouth, begging for more with those sweet sounds you make.”

Rika swallowed her shyness. “And your dick feels so hard against my…against my…”

“Say it, sweetheart. Say how much your pussy wants my cock.”

“Is it in your hand? Are you stroking it slowly?”

“Just like you would, honey. Touch your clit. Play with it. Tell me how sweet and swollen it is.”

Rika shoved her hand into her jeans. “I’m so wet.”

“Who makes you wet?”

She sucked in a breath as she slowly massaged her clit. “You, Ryan. You make me wet and horny. I want you fucking me all the time. Are you hard for me?”

“Always. I’m going to come fast, honey. That’s what you do for me. But I want to wait for you. I want to hear you come. I want us to come together.”

“I’m close. I’m so close.”

“Do it, sweetheart. Give your pussy what it wants.”

Her fingers swirled faster. “I’m going to come.” The moment exploded on her. Rika bit back the urge to cry out. Hearing him come on the other end of the line heightened her release. The feeling subsided by small degrees.

“I love you, Rika,” he said through pants of breath. “I love you and I’m not going to let you go. Give us time, honey. Please.”

“I love you, Ryan, so much. But—”

“No buts, sweetheart. Time. Please.”

She found herself nodding, then realized he couldn’t see. “Time…okay.”

“I think I’ll see about getting us headsets.”

She laughed lightly. Maybe they could get beyond this. Ryan being gone might work to her benefit. She’d be able to get things under control without him seeing her implode. “I should come over and give you a proper send off. Think you’re up to it?”

“I’m crushed you’d ask that.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet. I’m on my way.”

Rika punched the off key and stared at the phone. A lot could happen in six months. She was panicked, that’s all. There was no reason to drag Ryan down with her. She could handle this just fine. He’d never need to know.

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Have Mercy by Caitlyn Willows

HaveMercy

HAVE MERCY
by Caitlyn Willows
Contemporary Erotic Romance (BDSM, menage)
December 2017
Cover Artist – Trace Edward Zaber

Ike expects a lot from a woman. Someone who can match his own unique needs and then some. He’s been lusting after Mercy for months. It’s time to make his move or move on.

Past relationship disasters have made Mercedes damn scared to date. This time she’s playing for keeps, she’s playing for Ike, and he’s going to know upfront she plays hard.

His response to the news…Have Mercy! And she’s going to have him right back because she is one lady who can give as good as she gets.

NOTE: This is a reissue of a previously released story.

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Ike Campbell winced with every sour note that came out of Dottie Sullivan’s mouth. The DJ should have stuck with playing music and letting people dance under the strobe of colored lights twirling overhead. Karaoke was never a good idea when people were sober. Offering it after a couple of drinks was excruciating. At a party that was supposed to commemorate the merger of Sullivan Advertising and Byers Promotional Support…

Ike shook his head, and not for the first time. The joining of ad giants Sullivan and Byers was a big deal, but it seemed a little over the top to have the event happen on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t a marriage. It was a business venture. Still, everyone had been on edge waiting for the final papers to go through. The party was the bosses’ way of letting the employees blow off a little steam, have fun, and bond—Sullivan Advertising in Los Angeles, Byers Promotional Support in New York City. The problem was, most of them were overcompensating while they waited for the stroke of midnight on the east coast when the merger became final. Nerves, he supposed.

Despite that, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Awful as the singing was, Ike had to admire those brave enough to risk humiliation and get up there. He sure as hell understood the need to cut loose.

Since he’d transferred to the Los Angeles office six months before, he’d been one hundred percent focused on work. There were still boxes around his house that needed to be unpacked. The stress was starting to show. Not so much outwardly—he really didn’t like taking his frustration out on others—but he felt it crawling inside.

He’d been missing New York a lot lately. The visit to the family at Christmas had been just that, a visit. He hadn’t had any time to slip away to his favorite club and indulge his needs. He sure as hell hadn’t had any time to research any clubs locally. The offer he couldn’t refuse to transfer to Sullivan had started to feel like a prison sentence. No one was more relieved than Ike that the merger was finally complete. Come this weekend…

That made him smile. That’s exactly what he’d planned to do—come until his balls collapsed. All he needed was a place…and a partner…or partners. One particular lady came to mind.

Ike’s body tightened at the thought of having Mercedes Suazo over his lap, her sweet ass bared. He’d been mesmerized by her from the second he’d arrived at Sullivan Advertising, one of the largest and best ad agencies in the Los Angeles area. There was an aura about her that hinted of something more. At least, that’s what Ike’s testosterone-laden mind wanted to believe. Though they worked in separate departments, he’d done his best to see their paths crossed often. Working twenty-four seven made hooking up impossible. The best he’d been able to accomplish was wolfing down a quick lunch with her…and their coworkers. But the work was over. He was taking that shot…if he could find her again.

He craned his neck scanning the crowded room. again. He’d seen her when he’d arrived, looking so hot every cock in the place probably lifted its head in appreciation. After flashing him a smile he interrupted as let’s play, she’d disappeared into a group of women on the far side of the room, and he’d been dragged off to sit with the people from his section. He’d waited for her long enough. As soon as everyone toasted the merger, he was going to find her and explore that smoldering heat he’d seen in her deep brown eyes.

Eddie Kohler plopped down beside him. “God, that’s painful. Someone take the mic from Dottie. Please.”

His slurred voice was loud enough to carry over the music. Under normal circumstances, his nose was shoved so far up the boss’s ass that he couldn’t breathe. He was clearly too drunk to realize he’d insulted the boss’s wife…and everyone, including the boss, had heard him.

“Dottie’s having fun. Who’s cares?” Ike shot the man a glare. “If you think you can do any better, you go up there.”

Eddie snorted. “I’m not gonna go up there and make a fool of myself.”

“I can see your point.” Ike smirked. “Why waste the energy when you can sit here and do the same thing?”

Eddie smacked his beer bottle on the table. “You’re an ass.” Nevertheless, he shoved to his feet and staggered through the tables toward the stage. In less time than it had taken for Ike to issue his challenge, Eddie had the microphone in his hand. At least he’d had the presence of mind to wait for Dottie to finish.

“If you thought that was off-key, wait until you hear this. I guarantee I’d win any worst singer contest.” He snapped his finger at the DJ, and the music started—Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like A Woman! Any ill will Eddie’s previous comment had created dissipated in the explosion of laughter that followed.

“Now that’s painful.” Mercedes Suazo’s voice sank into Ike’s veins like warm honey.

Goose bumps rained over his neck and trickled down his body when her breath touched his ear. He’d been fantasizing about having her spread naked before him, and here she was. She’d come to him. It was all Ike could do to not grab her and hoist her over his lap. He swore the look in her eyes begged him to do just that.

Message received, baby.

The goddess slipped into the seat Eddie had vacated. The heat from her body radiated to him, scoring a path straight to the hard-on that raged every time he was near her, saw her, or thought about her. And he thought about her a lot.

She was the fantasy he beat-off to in the shower—her bare ass over his lap red from spanking, her standing over his bound body whip in hand. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d come thinking of her. Staring at her now, at her big brown eyes, those full lips that begged to be kissed, that silky fall of dark brown hair…

His cock throbbed for freedom. This was pain—this unrelenting ache of wanting her.

Gypsy Fire by Caitlyn Willows

GypsyFire

 

GYPSY FIRE
by Caitlyn Willows
Paranormal Romance (Short Story)
August 2007
Cover Art ©Lacey Savage

“Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be. Whoever holds gypsy fire holds the key to riches beyond imagination. It is a powerful ally and a dangerous foe.”

That’s the family legend behind a mysterious coin owned by Riley Hathaway’s great-grandmother and left to her. But she felt the fire for attorney Patrick Spencer long before the coin sliced their fingers and mingled their blood. While her sisters fight for ownership of the coin and the riches they know it will bring, Riley learns its true wealth. Only Patrick can stoke true gypsy fire, and only he can quench it.

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Review:

This is a cool story; one with passion, fire, and genuine emotions throughout. The situation the couple finds themselves in only fuels the fire between them and makes them enjoyable. A wonderful quick read that leaves you with some unexpected twists that will delight the reader. Another winner for Ms. Willows. ~Matilda, Coffee Time Romance

EXCERPT

Patrick Spencer watched Riley Hathaway battle the grief threatening to overwhelm her. Even with makeup, pale freckles stood out against her otherwise porcelain skin. Freckles…the curse of every redhead he’d ever known. Of the three he’d had to deal with in the last month, he was ready to throw two of them into the Pacific Ocean with lead boots. The third one? Well, it was hard to believe she was related to the other two. He would have done anything to spare her this pain.

He’d known Fiona Hathaway since he was a boy filing pocket parts in the California Code Annotated at his family’s law office. Who would’ve guessed he’d be the one to handle her estate now? She’d been old then at seventy-five. Now approaching one hundred, her time left was measured in hours. She’d outlived everyone in her family except her three great-granddaughters.

When it came right down to it, her active lifestyle was what had brought her down. One misstep as she rushed out the door a month before had sent Fiona tumbling off her front porch when she hit a spot weakened by termites. Riley had called the exterminators that very day to have the place inspected and fumigated. Fortunately, they caught the infestation at the beginning—only that one spot would need to be replaced.

Unfortunately, Fiona had hit her head and broken her hip on the flagstone walkway. At some point pneumonia had set in and refused to leave, despite the regime of antibiotics the doctor had placed her on. She’d been fighting hard but losing fast. Her periods of awareness had been few and she’d been barely coherent during them. Each breath more labored than the one before it.

When his grandfather and father had asked, Patrick didn’t hesitate to take the lead in seeing her affairs ran smoothly during this time. He’d helped Riley settle her at home with a visiting nurse so Fiona could pass in peace in her own bed as she’d wished, and he was at the house almost as much as Riley. Once he realized what opportunistic bitches Heather and Jillian were, Patrick made sure he was always there when Riley was not. No one was going to take advantage of Fiona. He remembered her laughing blue eyes, sharp wit, quick smile, and the peppermint pillow mints she always carried for “good little boys and girls.” Riley had all of those qualities too, right down to the mints in her purse.

Her sisters, however, were a piece of work. Even now they paced the corridors outside Fiona’s bedroom, waiting like vultures for the old girl to draw her last breath. Part of his job was to see they didn’t pick her apart afterward—or rather, her estate. Fiona’s instructions had been clear. He was here to help carry them out.

While Heather and Jillian were greatly inconvenienced by Fiona’s lengthy stay on earth, Riley was heart-sick over her inevitable demise. She spent as many hours as possible by her great-grandmother’s side, holding her hand, tracing the blue veins showing through Fiona’s paper-thin skin, talking and reading to her, kissing her wrinkled cheek, falling asleep in the chair beside her. He’d caught Fiona’s smile focused on Riley more than once. Just as quickly as it appeared, it would fade as her body pulled back inside itself.

Fiona’s eyelids fluttered open, scattering his thoughts. His breath caught in fear that this was her last moment. He wanted to wrap his arms around Riley and shield her from the pain. To bury his face in her thick, red hair while he dealt with his own grief at the passing of one hell of a woman. So far he’d fought the urge to touch Riley in more than a casual manner, trying to keep a professional distance out of respect for her and his family’s business. But Patrick was losing that battle, just as surely as Fiona was losing the one she waged. He wanted to kiss Riley, slow and sweet, easing his way in and then pulling her tight against a body that had been hard as a rock since the second they’d met. He wanted their naked flesh burning against each other’s, fire whirlpooling around as they touched, tasted…

“Hi, Gram,” Riley said softly.

Patrick snapped his thoughts into place. His perpetual erection wasn’t so easily tamed when it came to Riley. He ordered it to physically subside, then did his best to ignore the throbbing monster.

Riley combed her fingers through Fiona’s silver-white hair. She’d kept it brushed and neat for her. Fiona had always been meticulous about her appearance—a trait all her great-granddaughters inherited. Heather and Jillian might be bitches from hell, but they dressed to understated perfection, as Riley did—not too much, not too little, just right for whatever the occasion might be. On this late fall day, when Southern California could be extra warm or cold depending on the minute, that was a thin sweater with slacks for the older sisters, a skirt for Riley. A skirt he desperately wanted to get under.

“Sweetheart, you look so tired.” Fiona’s voice was breathy, hard for her to get out.

She slid her gaze from Riley to him. The sparkle in her blue eyes had dimmed. Patrick admitted not seeing that glint of life scared him.

“You too,” she told him.

Her thin hand shook as she reached for the pendant that rarely left her neck—a silver coin with a silver chain threaded through a hole drilled at the top. She grabbed the coin too tightly, cutting her finger on the thin edge.

“Gram, here, let me help.” Riley’s hand shook as much as Fiona’s. “What are you trying to do?”

“Give to you. Yours now.”

“Oh, Gram.” A tear slipped down her cheek. The pain of her loss—his loss too—knifed through Patrick’s heart.

“Take it,” Fiona told her.

Riley snatched up a tissue from the box on the bedside table and blotted the blood from Fiona’s hand. The injury looked no worse than a bad paper cut. Riley plucked up the necklace and gently turned it around until the clasp was at the front. Her hands still shook too much to unlatch it.

“Here. Let me.” Their fingers brushed in passing. Sensation like liquid warmth slithered up his arm.

He thought he caught the semblance of a smile on Fiona’s lips as he unhooked the clasp. Once it was free, he cupped the pendant in his palm and let the chain slither down on top of it. Blood remained from Fiona’s cut. He watched the small spot settle in his heart-line.

Fiona wrapped her thin fingers around his wrist. Her grip was feather-like. “You’re holding gypsy fire. Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be.” Her chuckle was swallowed by a coughing spell.

He and Riley tried to prop her up to clear her lungs. When the fit had passed, she sagged into the pillows. “Send those other two in here. I want to speak to them alone.”

“Fiona—”

“Alone, Patrick. Riley needs some fresh air. See she gets it.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

He offered a smile and plumped her pillows behind her while Riley smoothed the bedcovers in place. She added a kiss to Fiona’s cheek, blinked away a rush of tears, and let him lead her from the room.

Patrick liked how she fit beside him—the right height at his shoulder, the right pace with his, the right everything, whether she wore flats like now or heels. He’d taken to having that proprietary touch of his hand to her back when he escorted her through doors. She’d never so much as flinched. In fact, he’d swear there were times she leaned into his touch. That action always made him feel omnipotent, as if he could conquer the world.

Her rust-colored sweater was tucked into a matching shin-length skirt, and he couldn’t help wondering if her skin was as soft as the sweater. With every step they took, her skirt brushed against his leg, distracting him all the more. He watched the way her shoulder-length hair kissed her neck and longed to pull it away and do the same, letting his lips memorize every inch.

Her sisters pounced on them when they walked into the hallway. Their gloomy presence could dim a supernova. They dulled the light in this otherwise bright old house. In the month he’d known them, Patrick hadn’t heard Heather or Jillian utter a kind word about anyone…unless it was a man they were interested in impressing. Both had tried over-the-top flirtations with him on that first day—hookers were less bold—then moved on to other fishing grounds when they learned he wanted nothing to do with the bait they tossed out. It didn’t take a genius to see these women were always looking for the easiest way, felt the world owed them a favor, and were out to get anything and everything they could grab. These were not nice women, a fact that detracted from their hot-as-hell looks.

That’s what made it so difficult to believe they shared the same genes as Riley. The older two had already blown through two trust funds and an inheritance and now circled, waiting for more. Riley had gotten a business degree, opened her own craft store, and tucked the rest away for the children she planned to have one day. She took care of Fiona too, making sure she had whatever she needed.

“Gram wants to see you,” Riley told them.

When Heather darted past her to go inside, Riley grabbed her arm and yanked her to a stop.

Don’t upset her.”

Heather’s always-icy blue stare chilled a few more degrees. She didn’t bother with a response, just jerked free and swung open the door. Jillian hurried to catch up.

“That goes for you too,” Riley told her.

Her middle sister ignored her and shut the door in her face.

“Come on.” Hand at her back, Patrick turned her away. “Let’s walk around the garden.”

It gave him peace when he did so, and he was sure it did Riley, since he’d found her there on more than one occasion.

Riley glanced at the door over her shoulder, then placed her hand against his chest, right over his blue-striped tie. Could she feel the thump of his heart beneath it? Could she sense he wanted her hand lower, pressed against yet another erection, just as she pressed against the silk tie? On impulse, he wrapped his fingers around hers and squeezed.

“I need…” She paused, lips parted. She focused on his mouth, then shifted her gaze to their locked hands. He realized he still had Fiona’s necklace in his palm.

“I believe this is intended for you.” Patrick folded the pendant into her hand.

Smiling, Riley closed her fingers around it. “I never thought I’d see the day it came off her neck permanently. She would’ve raised holy hell if she found out the staff had removed it at the hospital when she was admitted. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve it before she regained…” She gave a light laugh. “I guess I can’t say she’s ever fully regained her senses.”

Patrick touched the silver chain that dangled from her hand. “She was aware enough to know it was still around her neck. Imagine her upset if she’d found it gone.”

That brightened her smile. “True.” She rubbed the thin coin between her fingers.

“It was as much a part of her as the peppermints she carried in her purse. When I was a kid, I asked her if it was pirate treasure. She said…” He laughed lightly at the memory. She’d said then what she’d told them minutes before.

“It’s gypsy fire. Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be. Never forget that, young Patrick.”

Riley held the silver up between them. Age had worn the impressions on it to bare visibility and made it blade-thin. “Gypsy fire. That’s what she always called it.”

“I remember.” Patrick touched the surface next to her thumb. “It’s very old.”

“Centuries…if you believe the tale.”

“I don’t think I ever heard that one.”

Though Fiona had spun other stories for him when he visited the law office. She knew how to capture a child’s imagination. Even at the ripe “old age” of thirty-two Patrick still liked to hear them.

Riley’s eyes held some of the mischief he’d seen in Fiona’s. “Ages ago a necklace was forged over a campfire by a gypsy man for his gypsy love—”

“Over a gypsy fire.”

Riley giggled. “Exactly…and don’t forget this was in days of yore.”

He gave her a nod. “Of course. Continue, please.”

“He forged each coin from the finest silver, infused it with love. The hole in this one was drilled by his hand when he drilled the others to link. No one knows how many coins the necklace held, but it’s believed to have been a small fortune. On the night he was to give it to her, he found her ravished by another. He used the necklace as a garrote and strangled the man. It broke, scattering coins everywhere.

“Our lovestruck couple gathered as many as they could find and fled from the kingdom, for to stay meant certain death for one and banishment for the other. No one knows what became of them. Some say they lived happily ever after. Some say evil was attached to the coins once the man was killed. The coins are still found every so often, part of the gypsy fire, for there were so many on the necklace, the couple couldn’t take them all. One thing everyone does agree on is—”

“Once you’ve been kissed by gypsy fire, there’s no turning back. The quicker one accepts their fate, the happier they’ll be.”

“Yes. Gram always told us too, that whoever holds gypsy fire holds the key to riches beyond imagination. It is a powerful ally and a dangerous foe. Choose wisely.” She laughed. “Rather like in an Indiana Jones movie.”

This was the happiest he’d seen her since they’d met a month before. Damn, he wanted to kiss her. Those bright blue eyes so filled with life looked into his right then. Patrick couldn’t breathe, much less think straight. Their fingers were still locked around the coin. Bound, some part of his mind said. Her lips parted—soft, inviting.

Time slowed as he bent toward her. He felt her breath become part of his. He was hot. Gypsy fire.

Their lips touched, froze together. A sigh settled them into the tender caress. Then, in unison, their tongues reached out, became one. The kiss deepened. His mind folded in on itself. He felt the touch of her chest to his, then her pelvis. But the coin locked them as one, not their arms. He deepened the kiss but it was Riley who demanded it of him. He wanted to feel her flesh, the heat of it, the silk of it, inside and out.

The bedroom door whipped open, shattering the moment. Still, they didn’t jerk from the kiss, merely pulled apart.

“Where the hell is it?” Heather demanded. She zeroed in on the coin clasped between their fingers. “Give me that. I’m the oldest. It’s rightfully mine.”

She snatched it away before they could stop her. The edges sliced through Patrick’s fingers like a razor. Riley’s gasp mirrored his. She’d been cut as well. He caught her hand and pressed his wounded fingers over hers while he glared at Heather.

“Fiona gave it to Riley,” he told her.

“Don’t.” Riley lifted her uninjured hand. “It’s not worth fighting over. All that matters is Gram. I have all I could possibly want or need.”

“I don’t.” Heather held up the coin. “But I’m going to.”

“Then I hope you enjoy it.” Riley slipped free of Patrick’s hold and walked away.

Heather’s smirk of triumph led her back to her great-grandmother’s side.

Bring Me To Life by Caitlyn Willows

BringMeToLife

 

BRING ME TO LIFE
by Caitlyn Willows
Short Contemporary
December 2017
Cover Art – Trace Edward Zaber

Amy Thornton felt as if she’d died the night her husband was killed. Now, two years later, she’s ready to starting living again, and she knows just the man to help her do so. All she has to do is get him to admit he wants her as much as she wants him. One call to Colbert Escort and Security Services brings owner Josh Colbert running to her door and with him all the emotions she’d forgotten exist. Little does she realize the power in her hands–to crush Josh’s heart or to bring it to life.

Author note: This is a re-issue of a previously released title.

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Reviews:

FIVE LIPS! Bring Me To Life is a beautiful, sexy, exciting, and absolutely exhilarating love story that you don’t want to miss reading! I chose it because of the superb reputation of Caitlyn Willows as well as the intriguing storyline. I expected good, even great, and was rewarded with fantastic, riveting, delightful, and completely immersing! Josh is amazing. His insecurities are sweet, touching, and very real and Amy’s wants and desires, clear and focused. The way that these two come together is hot as well as poignant and moving. Between the tender emotion and entertaining banter, I loved Bring Me To Life and am confident that you will too! ~Kerin, Two Lips Reviews

FIVE HEARTS! What a wonderful story! Bring Me to Life is a novella with a unique plot and is told in such a manner that it is extremely easy to feel as if you are part of the narrative. The romance is explicit from the very beginning, but it is not so “over the top” that it becomes a tale of nothing but sexual encounters…. an incredibly sexy story about love the second time around and the mistakes made when two people are actually “too close” to the situation to realize the pitfalls which can sabotage their pending relationship. The book is captivating and one worthy to be read more than once. Good job, Ms. Willows! I appreciate the chance to read this and believe that others will be thrilled when they, too, read this book! ~Brenda Talley, The Romance Studio

BRING ME TO LIFE is sexually and emotionally charged. Amy and Josh have deep feelings for one another and it’s time they explored said feelings. Throw off the covers and get ready for some heat when you open up BRING ME TO LIFE. ~Sinclair Reid, Romance Reviews Today

FIVE HEARTS! This is a very touching, emotional story of two people who have held their feelings back, but in one night let everything out. It is a story that will have the reader turning the pages to see how their relationship turns out. The reader will certainly feel the heat between these two multi-dimensional characters as Ms. Willows brings them together very intimately. BRING ME TO LIFE is a very evocative story. This reviewer found this story very emotional. It gave her a warm tingly feeling at the end and made her sigh with content. Caitlyn Willows is a new author for this reviewer and this will certainly not be the last book she reads. Ms. Willows masterfully blends a great romance with emotion and sensual, erotic love scenes. This reviewer will be looking for more! ~Valerie, Love Romances And More

FOUR CUPS! Delightfully sexy and touching. Ms. Willows puts heart into this story as a widow decides to come back to life. Fabulous characters; this couple is perfect for each other and the author makes sure the reader feels it. Set at a steady pace with touching moments and wickedly erotic love scenes, this is truly a romantic romp not to be missed. ~Wateena, Coffee Time Romance

The chemistry between the couple was explosive and erotic in nature. Their love scenes are sure to leave you breathless with desire and panting for more. Enjoy! ~Nikita Steele, Joyfully Reviewed

Bring Me to Life by Caitlyn Willows is one tale that any reader will love from its sexy hero to Amy’s courage to continue going on and become stronger than ever. I loved Amy for here is a woman who has known heartache with a loving man to learn that it is not wise to stay secluded and hidden from life for the past two years. Now if there ever was a man to be her other half that is Josh Colbert. Here is a guy who knows what he wants and that’s Amy. These two are not only sexually compatible but man they heat up the pages even without the love scenes, and only Caitlyn Willows can bring two people like them together in a short story book. ~Lena C., Fallen Angel Reviews

FOUR STARS! [A]n interesting story about the aftermath of death and the start of living again. There are intense and arousing sexual scenes between Amy and Josh (read this out loud with someone you love!) I was amazed and aroused. The sexual encounters are important to the plot, but they also fit perfectly into Amy and Josh’s continuing love story. The characters are well written, including a secondary character that provides comic relief. I have again enjoyed a book written by Ms. Willows! ~Marcy Arbitman, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

BRING ME TO LIFE is a heart-warming story about a second chance at love. Josh and Amy are very interesting and independent characters who need each other in order to feel alive. Caitlyn Willows has written a wonderful story that touched my heart and made me root for these two characters to find the love they deserve. This is a story that should not be missed! ~Robin, My Book Cravings

Excerpt:

Amy Thornton’s hands shook as she read the newspaper ad for the fifth time. She couldn’t believe she was considering this act of desperation. She didn’t know what else to call it. Morning light streaming through the windows of her breakfast nook spilled over the ad. Was it calling her attention to it, or trying to make her see how stupid this was?

Perched on the edge of her chair, she jiggled her legs under the table, trying to expend nervous energy, while she weighed her decision for the thousandth time. She was lonely, sad, and all the sex toys in the world didn’t help ease that deep ache inside. She needed to be held, touched, loved on. With Dan’s death two years ago, she’d died too. She needed someone—anyone—to bring her back to life, and she knew just who that someone was going to be.

She pushed the newspaper back and returned to nibbling her raisin toast. Amy would be the first to admit it had taken her a long time to pull herself out of that pit of shock, grief, despair, and depression. It still strangled her heart each time she recalled that awful night. One minute she and Dan were standing outside Mario’s Trattoria waiting for the valet to bring their car around. The next minute Dan was dead, along with six other people—all victims of a driver who’d fallen asleep at the wheel. Yes, it’d been a very long time to crawl from the pit—eighteen months. But she was out now, ready to breathe in life once more.

Unfortunately, it appeared as though their friends and associates weren’t ready for her to do so. It didn’t take long for Amy to see the sad truth—most everyone respected Dan too much to make a move on his widow. Any men who smiled her way were snagged aside fast and told to back off. While Amy had appreciated that consideration during the first year, it had grown very trying later when she was ready to explore the world that awaited her.

But she was the widow of the sainted Dan Thornton—whose legend seemed to grow each day—and now the head of his multi-million-dollar production company. Her reputation could not be besmirched, or that of the company. A liaison with the wrong man could end in disaster for all, or so she’d been advised by her directors. She wondered if they were more concerned she’d marry and her new husband would attempt to take over the company. Not that anyone had said anything, but she could see worry in their eyes.

It was the same look she got that first day she’d walked into the boardroom and announced she’d be stepping into Dan’s shoes. She’d expected the cool reception they’d given her. It was the same frosty demeanor Dan had received when he’d taken over after his father’s death five years ago. It didn’t take long for him to win them over.

Amy followed his example and didn’t back down. The directors had eventually warmed to her when they realized she wasn’t a ball of fluff and knew what the hell she was doing. Now they guarded her like a queen in a fairy castle. Any white knight attempting to rescue her was drowned in the moat before a single digit touched her drawbridge.

Amy sighed and drew the paper toward her again. She didn’t need rescuing, she needed male contact. She needed to get laid. Was it asking so much? Out of the millions of men in Los Angeles, wasn’t there one with balls enough to scale the battlements and fuck her good and proper?

She buried her head in her hands. It was more than that. She wanted to laugh again, feel the warmth of another body next to hers as she slept, to not be single at a table of couples. She wanted Josh Colbert.

She couldn’t say when she’d realized Josh was the main person responsible for chasing away would-be suitors. She’d noticed it by accident two months before at a party. Some actor had cornered her over a platter of mini-quiches—a nice-looking man, with an interesting smile, who seemed capable of intelligent conversation. Amy had been intrigued. She’d turned away to set her champagne glass on the tray of a passing waiter. When she looked back, the man was gone. Josh had him by the arm, their heads bent in serious conversation. The actor moved on to other prey, studiously ignoring her.

Curiosity had her seek out another male at that same party. Josh wasted no time cutting him off. Then another and another, until Amy was fairly certain she had the answer she was looking for. Josh wanted her for himself. So she’d flashed him what she presumed was a knowing smile over the fresh champagne flute she’d toyed with. His brown eyes had dilated, his nostrils flared while his long fingers tightened around his glass. Her glance down had revealed his tux was considerably tighter across his crotch.

Yes, definitely interested.

Getting him to make a move, however, was a different issue.

Years of marriage had taught her a lot about male pride. She couldn’t come right out and confront Josh with how he felt, not when she couldn’t be sure how he’d react. Now that her eyes had been opened to the possibilities, she wanted him in her arms, not running the other way screaming denial.

Josh and Dan had been friends for a long time. Dan had given Josh part of the start-up money to help get the Los Angeles franchise of Colbert Escort and Security Services going. It had turned out to be a good investment. Dan had recouped his investment and then some in less than six months. Josh had been more than grateful for the help.

Amy needed to make sure that elephant was banished completely. Josh had to admit he wanted her because that’s what he wanted, not out of any feeling that he owed Dan, or, heaven forbid, that he had to protect Amy from all the men in the world, even himself.

Josh wasn’t inclined to let other men near her. He wasn’t inclined to approach her either. Someone needed a little prodding. She’d been alone long enough. They were going to resolve this. Either Josh would step up to the plate and admit his feelings, or he would step away and let Amy move on. Although doing the latter felt akin to another death all over again. Her heart and body were set on him.

Since that party she hadn’t been able to get Josh out of her mind. His smile, his laugh, the light in his eyes, the way the edges of his brown hair curled ever-so slightly against his collar. She’d seem him dressed to the nines and stripped down to swim trunks. His looks could devastate a woman’s senses no matter what he wore. Amy could almost feel herself tucked against that hard body as they danced. Could easily imagine his weight bearing her into the mattress as she wrapped her legs around him. Could almost taste his lips as they merged with hers.

Damn his stubbornness. The man needed a serious wake-up call.

It seemed like hiring an escort from his company was as good a place to start as any. Perhaps that would open his eyes.

Her palms sweated as she reached for her cell phone. She wiped them on her white shorts. There’d be no tennis with the girls today if this worked according to plan. The privacy of her home was a good place for a trial run. Her friends often teased her, but Amy was really glad now that she and Dan had never had live-in staff. The cleaning, landscaping, and pool maintenance services all came once a week. If she had a large gathering, which hadn’t happened since before Dan’s passing, she hired a caterer. It was one of the smartest moves she’d ever made. The one she was about to make remained to be seen.

She punched in the number before her courage failed her. A woman picked up on the second ring, answering in smooth, cultured tones. “Colbert Escort and Security Services, how can we help you today?”

You can get Josh Colbert’s tight buns over here.

“I’d like a dinner escort for this evening. I’d like to inquire about your special services and rates.”

That ought to get his attention. Colbert wasn’t a front for prostitution. Their agreements were very specific about the services they provided, and especially those they did not provide. But many of the escorts were trained massage therapists. The prospect of Amy nude with a man’s hands roaming her body ought to give him pause.

“Excellent. I’m Nancy and I’ll be more than happy to make the arrangements.” Her confidence boosted Amy’s. This ploy really might work. “Let’s start with the basics.”

That involved Amy’s name, address, phone number, billing information. They progressed to the evening’s date—where she wanted to go, if she wanted limo service. She opted for a quiet dinner in a romantic restaurant and no limo.

“Excellent.” She heard the keyboard tap out the information through the phone. “Now for our special service… Do you want male or female? Before or after the date, or for an extended period of time?”

Amy’s confidence faltered. What if this didn’t work? Suddenly being naked, even under innocuous circumstances with a strange man didn’t feel so enticing. The last thing she wanted was to set up a schedule for massages when she already had one.

“Let’s forget about that one.”

“Gone. If there should be a need, please know your escort is fully trained in all the arts.”

She resisted the urge to ask which ones. Getting Josh’s attention was one thing, making veiled innuendoes about his business was another. She wanted him in her bed, not pissed off.

“Now, what type of man would you like? Being as specific as possible will help us match your wishes.”

“Well, I’d like for him to not look like he’s fifteen.” She and Josh had frequently joked about how young everyone was starting to look to them.

Nancy’s soft laughter filtered back. “Boy, do I know what you mean. Lately, they’re all starting to look like high school students to me. Our boss teases me about that all the time.”

Amy smiled. She’d bet some of their older clientele liked them looking on the young side. Maybe she should really rattle Josh’s cage and pick the youngest escort she could find. No, this had to be believable if she was going to pull it off.

“No baby faces,” Nancy said, and Amy heard the click of the keyboard as the woman typed in the information. “What else?”

“No taller than six feet. No shorter than five-ten. More muscle than lean but not overweight. I also want him fit, not muscle bound. Brown hair and eyes. Strong hands, a good sense of humor, well read, a gentleman, punctual, and…” Laughter swallowed the rest of her list. “I guess I was a little too specific.” She’d pretty much described Josh.

“Not at all,” Nancy quickly assured her. “We want you to have a good time. You won’t be able to do that if you’re focused on some facet you find distressing. Anything else?”

“No, that’s all I can think of.”

“Excellent, give me a few seconds to access our files to see who’s available. Ah, here we are. Brian Ross. In fact, he just walked in and is nodding his acceptance as we speak. Would you like to talk to him?”

“No. That won’t be necessary. I’ll see him tonight.” Unless she missed her guess, Brian Ross wouldn’t get within five miles of her house.

“Good. Six it is. One of our representatives will be by shortly with paperwork for you to sign. We have to ensure you’re completely aware of the services you’ve requested, and of the ones we cannot provide. You’ll also have our nondisclosure agreement. We want nothing to distract from the evening. This gets it all out of the way before then to help keep the night enjoyable.”

“Wonderful.” Perfect, in fact. “Thank you. I appreciate your attention to the small details.”

“Thank you so much for calling Colbert Escort and Security Services.”

Amy set the phone down. Phase One complete. Now for Phase Two—wait for Josh to show up and pray her minimal acting skills held up.

A Corner Of My Soul by Caitlyn Willows

CornerSoul

 

A CORNER OF MY SOUL
by Caitlyn Willows
Short Paranormal Suspense
April 2008
Cover Art – Trace Edward Zaber

Natalie Gray has lived in a corner of Doug Carlyle’s soul since the day they met. She’s his light in a dark world, the good that cuts through the evil his mind too often sees. She’s his anchor, his heart, his future. The world and all its horrors can wait. This is the time for them. He wasn’t anticipating someone else had a different agenda. He won’t be caught unaware again. Natalie’s become a part of his mind. Now he has to shut her out to save their lives. That alone is a tricky balance that could cost him the love he holds so dear.

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Reviews:

5 STARS! This new offering from Caitlyn Willows is unlike anything I’ve ever read from her. While reading her work is usually a guaranteed substitute for foreplay, this dramatic story of suspense and intrigue left me feeling nauseous from the tension at times as well as breathless with the passion at others. I loved Doug for wanting to get to know Natalie, to woo and court her before he fell into the sack with her even though he knew from the beginning how she felt about him. I loved him even more when he read in Natalie’s mind that she’d come to protect him and he felt humble gratitude. I could identify with Natalie’s belief that she was best for the job because, to save someone she loves, she would fight harder than anyone else. She wouldn’t give up before there was no breath left in her body. I was also thrilled that when I thought I had everything figured out, there was another twist that surprised me. With the building sexual tension and the wonderfully escalating danger, by the end I felt my emotions had been manipulated by a master. Don’t miss A Corner of My Soul. ~ Karen Haas, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

FOUR ANGELS! [A]n exciting, erotic adventure from beginning to end. Doug and Natalie have great chemistry and are both delightful, intriguing characters that were fun to get to know and easy to like. I really enjoy Ms. Willows’ smooth, comfortable writing style and the heat she adds to every story. A Corner of My Soul is a fast-paced romp with sensual, sexy encounters that are sure to excite and delight readers. ~Tammy, Fallen Angel Reviews

FOUR HEARTS! The climax is chilling and satisfying. [A] spooky and engrossing novella. ~Lynn Bushey, The Romance Studio

Excerpt:

Doug Carlyle reeled his fishing line across the water, hoping to entice a bluegill into grabbing the fly. It was all about patience. He’d learned that from the cradle up, right here at the family cabin every summer. The lesson had served him well in life, so had the hours perched on his dad’s knee—or grandfather’s or uncle’s. When work was especially tough, Doug wrapped himself in the love of his family, if only in his mind. Here on the lip of this beautiful freshwater lake, he could recharge from the horrors work thrust his way. Sunlight glinted off the blue-green surface like a million stars at night. The breeze sifted through the towering trees and calmed his soul.

It was especially nice to be here when summer heat melted a person to nothing in the city and all the crazies came out. Although, with late afternoon thunderstorms starting to move into the mountains, it might wind up being colder than Doug preferred. If the rain got too bad, he’d not only be stuck inside the cabin, he’d be stranded when the roads washed out. Just him and the thoughts and voices of others that crept into his mind.

He sighed and cast his line again. He had books, beer, supplies, blankets, and extra jackets in the closet if the walls closed in and he needed to walk it off. He’d manage. He always did.

Doug couldn’t remember when he’d realized he was different from other children. In his family his ability was a given. Doug was glad for that. They had the “sight,” as his grandmother called it. They’d shown him how to use it wisely, how to deal with some of the things he saw that weren’t so nice, how to protect himself. Still, no one was happy when he’d decided to go into profiling. The discipline involved with that work helped him hone his gift and have it mean something.

The family respected his need to make a difference, but they worried. He’d seen it in their minds. They helped him stay grounded despite their concerns, giving him distance when he needed, wrapping him in love when he needed that too. Without that he risked overload. It had happened to his older cousin with near lethal results—another reason the family didn’t want Doug involved in police work of any kind. At that point it was a little too late. Doug had made the commitment and wouldn’t back away from it. He monitored himself daily, sometimes hourly, to keep in check and notice the internal signals telling him it was time to clear his head of the garbage collected from other people.

So he lounged in one of the two Adirondack chairs on the dock built by his maternal grandfather, cold beer and bottled water in a cooler by his side. The cabin, with the wooden steps Doug and his father had built the year before were a mere stone’s throw away. The motorboat tied next to him bobbed as if begging to be taken out for a spin. His family had left the day before, giving Doug a few days to cleanse his mind before heading back to work. He missed them, but he also treasured this quiet time. No one’s thoughts to intrude on his. No having to put up his blocks. At least no one in his general vicinity.

People occasionally occupied other cabins dotting the lakeshore. The closest at the moment was at the farthest end a mile down, and Doug could tune the honeymooners out. It wasn’t easy when their passion poured his way. With his family gone and without the distraction they’d provided, sexuality from the couple seeped into Doug’s head, adding to the agony of being away from the woman of his dreams. He felt like a voyeur beating off each time to give himself relief, imagining himself sliding into Natalie Gray while he did so.

Oh, well…what they don’t know…

Smiling, he cast his line again. That’s when he felt the presence of another drift into his head, and not just any other person. Natalie was driving up the road.

He parked his fishing rod in the bracket and stretched to his feet to face the arrival. Nothing the honeymooners could project would equal the feeling of seeing Natalie pull her Ford Escape to a stop before the cabin, right behind his Jeep Cherokee. She’d lived in a corner of his soul from the first time they’d met the previous year. At the time they’d both been involved with other people. He’d known the instant he’d seen her that she was the one…and he hadn’t been able to do a thing about it, except be patient and wait until the time was right.

He’d ended his own relationship right away. Doug couldn’t continue being with Bette when he knew she was out there. It wasn’t fair. He liked Bette too much to use her. Two months later, Bette met the love of her life. Now they were married with a baby on the way. It hadn’t take long for Natalie to be single once more either. Still he waited for that perfect moment, wanting her more than anything else, yet content to get to know each other better.

He’d felt a nudge from the universe that last time they’d had coffee. It wasn’t the most opportune time since he was leaving for the cabin within hours. Once she was finally in his arms, Doug knew he’d never want to let her go. All he could do was sow a seed for when he returned—a subtle touch up her arm, along with a promise to see her when he got back. The warmth that had pulsed from her when he’d done so had made it doubly hard to leave. He’d missed her like crazy every day since, took her image with him to bed each night in the crowded cabin. No wonder he’d caved so quickly from the honeymooners. Now Natalie was here, firing up his libido, wiggling into his heart all the more.

Doug opened his mind and probed hers. She was here on business, but he also felt joy overlaid on the dark news she had to deliver. Happiness rippled through her when she waved and flashed him a smile. He waved and smiled back, heartbeat racing in time with hers. His erection rivaled the size of the pine trees around them. He shoved the tips of his fingers in his jeans pocket and watched her pick her way down the wooden steps toward him, wanting her more with every inch that brought her closer.

She’d gone casual for her visit wearing jeans, sneakers, and a dark green T-shirt that came a hair shy of clinging to her torso. Her long brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail that dangled to her shoulders. Sunlight filtering through the treetops and dark clouds glinted off the red highlights. When left loose, her hair shone like treasure. Doug knew it would feel like thick strands of silk running through his fingers. He wanted to drown in the smell of her, that combination of scents unique to Natalie alone.

“I should have known better than to try to sneak up on you.”

Who needed the sun when there was a smile like that beaming on him?

“When did you know I was here?”

Doug shrugged. “Probably when you turned down the road. It’s hard to tell. I was fishing, pondering the lint in my navel, and wondering when the newlyweds on the other side of the lake were going to go at it again.”

Natalie laughed. “Hard life.”

He grinned. “Very hard when they’re hot and heavy.” And I want you so bad I can taste it.

She’d reached the bottom step. Her brown eyes sparkled with humor. She was genuinely glad to see him, despite her original reason for seeking him out. Doug wanted to delay that discussion as long as possible.

“It was a long drive for you. Would you like a beer or a bottle of water?” He reached for the small cooler between the chairs, already knowing her selection.

“Sure.” Obviously she knew he knew. Doug liked that. Natalie had always accepted him for what he was. Not once had she questioned anything.

Her long fingers brushed his as she took the water. A tingle zipped up his arm and he felt the jolt of impact in her head. Perhaps putting up some walls would be polite.

“I would have called, but someone’s cell phone seems to be off.” Natalie twisted the cap off and took a long drink.

Doug’s gaze locked onto the slender column of her neck as she swallowed. The image of her lips wrapped his cock, sucking him down doubled his agony. “What can I say?” He shrugged a shoulder and motioned her to one of the chairs. “Spotty service. Forgot to bring the charger. I’m on vacation.”

“The dog ate my homework. The sun was in my eyes. My shoelace was untied.” Natalie eased into the low-slung chair with a contented sigh. “God, it’s beautiful up here. I haven’t been to the mountains in ages. I could fall asleep right here, right now.”

“Go ahead. I’ll wake you in an hour…if the storm doesn’t open up first.”

They eyed the darkening sky.

“It looks like the clouds might win that race.”

“You realize if it starts to rain we’ll be stuck here for a bit. You don’t want to be on those roads in a storm. Flash floods, mudslides…”

Natalie took another sip of water and stared at the lake, now turned gray-green and choppy from the approaching storm. “I can think of worse fates than being stuck in a mountain cabin with you.”

Doug grinned like he’d hit the jackpot. As a matter of fact, maybe he had.

She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “Your pole’s bent.”

Thinking of the erection swelling his jeans, Doug started to glance down.

She snickered. “Your fishing pole.”

Doug laughed at himself. “Sorry.”

“No, you’re not.” She winked and polished off the water.

“You caught me.” He pulled the rod from its brace and reeled in a bluegill. “Looks like you’re my good luck charm. This is my first bite since I’ve been here.”

“Always happy to help.”

“Stay the night, and I’ll be happy to cook you dinner as your reward.”

Natalie eyed the sky, then cast him another sidelong glance. “Now that’s an offer I can’t refuse.”

“Great.” He unhooked the fish and placed it in the second cooler of ice. As much as Doug wanted her, there was that nasty business that had brought her here. “Now that we’ve had foreplay, want to tell me why you’re really here?”

All trace of humor faded. Doug was damn glad he’d put his walls up. He didn’t want to see the darkness in her mind. She was going to share it soon enough.

Natalie closed her eyes, rested her head against the back of the chair, and folded her fingers over her stomach. “Give me a bit. I’d like to soak up a few more minutes of peace.”

“Take as long as you need.” Doug tossed out his line. Anything to keep the world’s darkness at bay. Anything to keep her with him as long as possible.

Menace To Society – Caitlyn Willows

MenaceToSociety-NoLogo

Menace To Society
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense- BDSM
October 2017
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter

Eileen thought Lance had run out on her, only to find him inadvertently bound for their mutual pleasure. Who knew they’d have so very much in common? The two make one heck of a team in bed and out of it. But there are secrets and then there are secrets.

Lance feels Eileen is his gift for finally getting his life back in order. Sharing his past will only destroy what they’ve got going on between them. But it isn’t his past Lance needs to worry about–its Eileen’s and the twin sister she doesn’t remember. A twin who brings murder, mystery, and the promise of a legacy with her.

If she’s to have any future at all–especially one with Lance–Eileen must face a legacy she wants no part of. A legacy that’s too much a reminder to Lance of his own failings. A legacy that comes with parents she must defeat in order for her, Lance, and her sister to survive.

Related stories are:
Rough Cut
Menace To Society

 

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EXCERPT:

“It hurts my heart, Lance,” she called out. “All that time I was told Tildy was nothing more than an imaginary friend. I might have only been five, but I remember crying myself to sleep in Mom’s arms, the frustration that no one believed me, being so confused, then finally accepting what everyone was telling me. I felt…lost.”

She walked his way as she slipped her arms into a fluffy pink robe, then tied it shut.

“Now I feel betrayed, then guilty because I know my parents had my best interests at heart. I want it all to go away.”

“Do you really?” He tucked his shirt into his trousers and zipped up. “This is new and a shock, but what about a year from now? We might not have known each other long, but I think I know you well.” Her emotions were written all over her body in every movement and expression. “You can want her gone from your life, but she will always exist. At some point you’re going to want answers. You’re going to want to compare notes with her. As hard as it is, this is your chance to get off on the right foot with her.”

She sighed heavily. “I’ll get your coffee ready.”

End of discussion. He finished dressing, then grabbed the evidence bag and walked into her kitchen. Eileen leaned against the counter, coffee mug in one hand, brownie in the other.

“Don’t worry. I put a couple in a bag for you.” She jerked her chin to the travel mug and plastic baggie on the table.

“I’m thinking I might have to keep you around for a while.” He braced his palms on the counter on each side of her, kissed her quickly, then turned his attention to the envelope with the key. “Sure about this?”

“I am.”

He put it in the evidence bag, noted the information on the label, then tucked it into his jacket and picked up his breakfast.

“If your lunch plans fall through, call me.”

“I will.”

Another longer kiss said what he couldn’t find the words to express. That he couldn’t wait to see her again. That he’d play hell focusing on work because he knew he’d be thinking of her. That if he didn’t leave right this very second, he’d be buried so deep inside her…

“I’ll see you later.” He gave her tight ass a final squeeze and walked off.

“Lance?”

Fingers wrapped around the doorknob, he looked her way. She stood in the kitchen doorway, arms tucked under her breasts.

“Yeah?”

“I want you to know that I really, really like you a lot.”

He swore his grin split his face. “I really, really like you a lot too.”

Her returning smile washed over him in warm waves. Not once in his career had he ever put pleasure before duty. Not even when he was married. Eileen might be the exception.

“Want me to flash you before you walk out the door?” Mischief danced in her eyes.

Lance laughed and motioned to his crotch. “I’ve got enough going on down here already. Are you trying to kill me?”

“Never.” She winked. “Talk to you later.”

When she ducked back into the kitchen, he hurried out the door.

Happiness put a bounce in his step. Lance couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt this high on life. He was falling hard, and he was falling fast. There was no sense wondering about where this would lead. Living in the here and now was all that mattered. For the first time in forever, Lance felt like he was living rather than merely existing.

His feel-good lasted through commuter traffic, morning greetings and bullshit at the station’s coffeepot, and his partner’s scowl.

“Where is my partner, and what did you do with him?”

Rick growled over the rim of his coffee mug. He’d never been a morning person.

Before Lance could reply, their lieutenant barked at them to come to his office. The tone of his voice didn’t mean good news. Lance’s instincts went on high alert, shoving his joy aside. He and Rick grabbed their coffee and walked into what had to be certain doom. Sure enough, a US marshal was standing to one side in their commander’s office, dressed to crisp perfection in a pinstriped suit, white shirt, and a gray tie. Lance wondered if he’d been pulled off courtroom duty to be here and how that affected him.

Lieutenant Baldwin sat behind his desk, hands laced together so tightly on his desk blotter, it turned his dark-brown knuckles a shade of caramel.

“Detectives, this is Marshal Dillon.”

Rick spewed coffee. Lance pressed his lips together to keep from laughing.

“Save it,” Dillon told them. “I’ve heard it a thousand times. And my first name’s not Matt, nor do I know anyone named Kitty.”

Lance didn’t feel sorry for him. He’d heard Sir Lancelot too many times in his lifetime.

Baldwin jerked his head toward him. “Mr. Dillon—”

Marshal,” Dillon said through bared teeth.

So the lieutenant was pissed Dillon was here. Good. They were on the same side. Not that it would matter.

“We’re to stand down from the murder at Store It Now. Marshals Service is taking over,” Baldwin said.

“Why?” he and Rick asked at the same time.

“Not your concern,” Dillon replied. “We’ve got it from here. I want all your evidence immediately.”

“Then you’re in the wrong place to get it.” Rick slurped his coffee, loud and long.

Dillon cringed. “I’m well aware of that. This was a courtesy call. We finished here, Lieutenant?”

“No, but you are, Marshal Dillon. A patrolman is waiting up front to escort you out. I’m sure you can find your way to the crime lab. I’d warn them of your arrival, but I suspect they’ve already been made aware through official channels.”

Which was how they should have been notified as well. The only reason Lance could see for Dillon coming here personally was to flex his muscles.

“Thank you for your time.” Dillon shot glares at Lance and Rick, then stormed off.

“What the fuck’s going on, Lieutenant?” Several theories were running through his head, and Lance didn’t like any of them.

Baldwin leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled under his chin. “All I managed to get from the chief was that your shooting victim was a US marshal.”

It had to be a witness-protection issue. Something in that storage unit would expose whoever was in WITSEC. Why else would Carter tell Tildy to leave it alone? But according to Eileen’s father, there were only family pictures and albums. Or that’s all that had been in there twenty-five years ago. Things could have been added over the years. The unit could be empty now, for all they knew. Or it would be soon. The marshals wouldn’t leave evidence like that behind.

“I recognize the look in your eyes, Driscoll,” Baldwin said. “We are off this case. There’s not a damn thing we can do.”

“Not regarding the murder,” he replied slowly. “But all things considered, wouldn’t you agree that Miss Moore might be in some measure of danger and need of protection? She’s clearly stumbled upon something of which she was unaware. We cleared the crime scene last night. Once the facility is open, she’ll want to retrieve the items inside. Already she’s been threatened. Do we want to take the chance that will happen again with fatal results?”

Standing beside him, Rick tapped his finger against his mug but said nothing. Neither did Baldwin.

“The least we can do is give her protection while she gets her things.” They had to move fast. There was no doubt in his mind that unit would be Dillon’s next target.

Baldwin leaned forward. His steady gaze pierced through Lance’s.

“Who is Eileen Cronkite?”

Fuck. So much for that little secret. Damn patrolman had blabbed about his misstep at the scene—confusing Tildy for Eileen. Word trickled up the chain fast. Baldwin hadn’t gotten where he was without having an ear to everything around him.

“My girlfriend.” Lying wasn’t going to get him anywhere, and there was no way in hell he was going to deny his relationship with Eileen. He was damn proud of it. Damn proud of having her in his life. “Eileen and Miss Moore are twins. They were adopted out when they were five. Eileen knew nothing about any of it until last night. You can imagine her shock.”

Baldwin nodded slowly.

“You know this has to be a WITSEC issue,” Rick said. “Though I can’t for the life of me understand why the girls were split up and adopted out.”

“For their own protection, according to Eileen’s father. Because when Eileen’s parents learned there was a twin, they tried very hard to get her as well and were refused for that reason,” Lance told them.

Baldwin sighed and rubbed his wrinkled forehead. “Could be their parents were found and killed.”

“Maybe by now, but not when the girls were adopted. According to Miss Moore, their mother gave them keys for the unit with instructions to use them when they were thirty. Tildy had hers. Eileen didn’t.” He wasn’t about to reveal he had her key tucked in his pocket.

Baldwin’s eyebrows met. “She remembers this from when she was five? And kept it all these years?”

Lance raised his palms. “I agree it’s far-fetched. I’m around kids enough to know they can’t find anything even if it’s only two feet in front of them. And I’d call her on it if it wasn’t for the fact that Eileen’s father had her key. He brought it over last night after she confronted her mother about the adoption. Even better, he was in the unit twenty-five years ago and indicates it held only photo albums and baby pictures. Nothing more. He took the baby pictures of Eileen and left the rest.”

“Odd that he was able to get into the unit without being challenged,” Rick said. “I would have thought, if anything, that the items would have been more protected back then.”

“I didn’t say it made sense. But if the women were separated for their own protection, and now one of them is in the middle of a murder—”

“All right.” Baldwin slapped his palm on the desk. “I agree. It’s logical to presume that under the circumstances, they’re in danger once more.”

Rick snorted. “But not enough for the Marshals Service to take watch over them.”

“We’re not investigating the crime,” Lance said. “We’re merely providing protection while the ladies retrieve their property.”

“Set it up.” Baldwin stood. “I want them there when the place opens. I’m going with you too. Make your calls to them in here.”

“Yes, sir.” Now to convince Eileen. He pulled his phone from his pocket.

“Put it on speaker. I want to hear these women so I can get a read on them.”

Oh, hell no. “With all due respect, Lieutenant. You might have a death wish, but I don’t.”

“Then blame me. I need a handle on this situation, and the best way for me to get that is by hearing their reactions.”

“You’ll be able to judge when you see them.”

“Forewarned is forearmed. On speaker, Detective.”

“Remember, you asked for it.” There was no telling what would come out of Eileen’s mouth. Lance looked forward to the exchange and the men’s reactions.

Always Faithful (Rules of Engagement) by Caitlyn Willows

AlwaysFaithful

 

ALWAYS FAITHFUL
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romantic Suspense
September 2017
Totally Bound
ISBN 978-1-78686-244-0

They hunt a killer who will stop at nothing to protect his identity, even if that means threatening the one link between them—their son.

When Staff Sergeant Rowan McKinley is charged with murder, she wants the best defense counsel the Marine Corps has to offer—Captain Phillip Stuart. Seeking his help means opening old wounds. It’s a risk she must take to save herself.

Phillip swore he’d never have anything to do with the one woman who had not only broken his heart but had crushed it. Helping her was personal suicide. But professionally, it could be the coup de grace of his career—that next rung on the ladder, the next challenge he was looking for.

The love and passion each thought gone sparks to life—only now it is forbidden by military law. Knowing the rules and adhering to them are very different matters. But who should make the sacrifice when both are destined to soar to the top of their ranks?

The choice might be taken from their hands. There is a killer with just as much to lose who will stop at nothing to protect his identity, even if that means threatening the one link between Phillip and Rowan—the son Phillip never knew he had.

Note: This book has previously been released elsewhere and has been revised and re-edited for re-release.

BUY LINKS:

Totally Bound

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EXCERPT:

Always faithful. Semper Fi. Captain Phillip Stuart shook his head at the term. ‘Faithful’ didn’t include forcing yourself on young girls or stealing cash out of a platoon buddy’s locker when they were out to sea on a training mission.

What has the Marine Corps come to? Thieves, murderers and rapists? The lot of them should be taken out and shot.

Of course, doing so would put military lawyers out of a job. Heaven forbid the little slime balls didn’t get a fair trial. Phillip was eternally grateful he no longer dealt with defense cases.

Shifting slightly on the hard courtroom chair, he straightened his papers and listened to the continuing drone of the defense attorney’s voice as she pled her client’s case. He didn’t know why she bothered. The look on the jurors’ faces indicated they had already found him guilty. It didn’t matter what extenuating or mitigating matters she threw out. Her client would go to jail for a very long time. He shifted again and let the squeaking wooden chair show his annoyance.

Laura Cushing shot him a glare from where she stood before the members. Good. He’d broken her concentration. Not easy to do. She was a tough opponent. But this long, drawn-out trial was stretching all their nerves to the breaking point.

After a few closing words, Laura sat, looking satisfied with herself. She was good. He was better.

Phillip stretched to his full six-four height and flexed his shoulders. With all the stealth of a jaguar stalking its prey, he approached the center of the courtroom.

Intimidate the witness. Impress the members. That was half the battle. A deep breath, a casual glance toward his opponent’s table, then…

He attacked, going straight to the heart of the case. He dissected Laura’s defense point by point, pulling apart the pieces with the precision of a surgeon. He let his words drift into the minds of those military members seated as the jury. Then, with the same lack of speed, he resumed his seat. The chair groaned under his weight.

Phillip sliced a glance at the defense table. The accused sat there, a fresh-faced young man all of nineteen. His big hands were clasped before him as if in prayer. It set Phillip’s teeth on edge. What right does he have to pray? Those young girls had begged and prayed before he’d forced himself on them. Had he listened?

Laura snapped to her feet and marched forward to take his place. It was no use. All the golden words she summoned could not save her client. Phillip knew it and so did she. After thirty minutes of deliberation, the members of the jury and the rest of the courtroom had realized it, too.

Phillip listened to the sentence with smug satisfaction. Twenty-five years at Leavenworth. That was what he called justice, although castration might not be a bad idea either.

In the back of the courtroom, one set of parents cried while the others—those of the victims—sighed with relief. The accused—the guilty—let his head drop. It was the only display of emotion he showed. No tears. No regrets. He didn’t flinch. Phillip fought the urge to demand to know if the man felt remorse for anyone but himself.

Once the judge had left the courtroom, the prisoner escort came in. Then the young Marine started bawling. Yeah, he had regrets—that he’d been caught. His father refused to look his way while his mother rushed to his side. She wrapped her arms around him in a hug he refused to return.

Rather than watch the guy be hauled away in shackles, Phillip celebrated his victory with a cigar on the back steps of the military justice building. How many times had he reflected on past and future glories in such a way? Lately, though, the battles left his stomach sour, more often than not.

There wasn’t much he hadn’t heard over his career. Most of it sickened rather than shocked him. Now, prosecuting the rabble of the Marine Corps tired him. Time to reach for the next rung on the ladder.

After graduating law school, he’d thought the way had shone clear, focused, his career path set. He shook his head. His goals had been regimented at the time. They had been all he’d had—a means to forget.

Unfortunately, they were still all he had. Phillip wasn’t sure he wanted those same goals anymore.

The door opened behind him. A rush of cool air brushed over his shoulders and back then stopped when the door closed. Phillip knew without looking that it was Laura. He could smell her perfume—an elusive scent that evoked memories of a long-ago time and someone else he wished he could forget.

She dusted off the step and eased down beside him, careful not to snag her hose on the concrete. Resting her forearms on her knees, she stared ahead.

“Congratulations. Another victory for the great and powerful Phillip Stuart.”

He chewed on his cigar and absorbed the view of the gray mountains surrounding Camp Pendleton.

“Sarcasm, Laura? How unlike you.”

“Cut the crap. That boy didn’t deserve twenty-five years in prison and you know it.”

“Please save me the she-asked-for-it speech. You didn’t have to listen to the sobs each and every time those girls told their stories before trial. Don’t tell me it was faked every time. I know better.”

She tilted her head his way. “Come on, Phillip. He’s only nineteen, still a teenager himself. It was consensual. Daddy caught them and she cried rape. If that girl shed tears, it was only because she got caught. This has been nothing but a witch hunt with an excellent cast of performers. The girl’s past conduct showed that.”

“Irrelevant. Forensics evidence proved their story.”

“It proved they had sex. There was no evidence to support assault of any kind.”

“We’re not talking about one girl here. We’re talking about six. There’s no way you’re ever going to convince anyone all six of them were lying. Get your bleeding-heart head out of the sand, Laura. We’ve had this discussion before. It’s over. Case closed.”

“Obviously, but have you asked yourself this? When you were nineteen, can you honestly say you could resist the charms of a willing sixteen-year-old?”

He leveled a frosty stare her way.

Laura gave an exaggerated wince. “What was I thinking? How dare I suggest you would be less than perfect?” She slowly shook her head and gave a soft, humorless laugh. “You are the most handsome man I’ve ever met—Mister Perfect, aristocratic features, golden hair. Poster Marine all the way. But you’re dead inside. You have no feelings, no compassion. Your eyes are the coldest gray I’ve ever seen—like a frozen pond in the dead of winter. I pity the woman who winds up with you.”

He blew a puff of smoke into the air. “I take it then that you’re saying it’s really over between us?”

She gave a small, bitter laugh. “Don’t flatter yourself and don’t play that game with me. It’s been over for quite some time now. It was never anything more than an occasional dinner with a friend, as far as I’m concerned.”

But the remorse in her eyes told a different story. He had regrets, too. He’d wanted her to be the one to erase the memory of another, to make him love and care and see goodness in the world once more. In the end she, like the few other women he’d dated over the last nine years, fell short of that need. She had been a stand-in, nothing more. Comparing Laura to—

No. Don’t go there. It hurt too much. It always did. If he lived to be a hundred, he doubted the pain and bitterness would ever die.

Phillip looked away to give her some shred of dignity. Or was it to hide the guilt seeping to the surface like a festering wound?

Laura pushed to her feet and slipped quietly inside the building.

He ground out his cigar on the cement steps and returned to his office. Victory no longer tasted sweet. Behind his gray metal desk, some stability returned.

His gaze drifted around his office, taking in the mementos of his career with the Marine Corps—his Amphibious Warfare School awards, the jump school medals in their rosewood frame, a souvenir shirt commemorating his time served in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Boxer. If there was an opportunity, he’d taken it. Anything to further his career. Somehow it still wasn’t enough. Even though his career was flourishing, he felt an emptiness he could not define.

The small picture of his family shoved into the corner of his desk caught his eye. The four Stuarts stood together at his graduation from Naval Justice School, looking uncomfortable. His father exuding aristocratic disapproval. His mother and sister Claudia smiled uncertainly as the camera caught them in such an atypical family moment.

They’d never understood why he’d had to do it—why he’d turned his back on the Stuart fortune. Phillip hadn’t bothered to explain. The year before, Claudia had come to the same realizations he had. Like her brother, it had taken a broken heart to open her eyes.

He turned the picture face down. On second thought, he shoved it into his drawer under a pile of paperwork. With everything else going through his mind, the last thing he needed to resurrect was his relationship with his family—particularly his father.

“Excuse me, sir?” His clerk stuck his head in through the office door. “There’s a package for you. It just arrived from the Commanding General at Twentynine Palms. Must be important because they made sure I signed for it.”

Phillip tore his gaze from the closed drawer. “Thanks, Corporal.”

He shut his mind to his family and accepted the bulky envelope. Once the door closed, he rummaged through the desk for his platinum letter opener, a concession gift from his father upon graduation from law school. Phillip kept hoping someone would steal it.

Then why keep the damn thing? The answer came too quickly. It was a trophy—a reminder of what his father was and what Phillip prayed he would never be.

With a flick of his wrist, he sliced open the envelope. The contents slid out onto the desktop and bold type near the middle of the page leaped out at him.

The accused, Staff Sergeant Rowan A. McKinley, requests your presence as independent military counsel…

Phillip’s face drained of color. His gut twisted. Breathing was out of the question.

Odd, when he had been thinking of her only minutes before. But then, when didn’t he think of her?

Beautiful, talented Rowan McKinley… The one woman he held up against the others. The one who hadn’t bothered to return his heart before she’d walked out of his life.

What the hell is she doing in the Marine Corps? More importantly, what had she done to need the services of a Marine defense attorney?

Time stopped as he grappled for the stack of papers—or maybe it took a giant step back. In either event, Phillip couldn’t put two coherent thoughts together. Before he could read on, the door to his office flew open. The tan, inquiring face of his best friend and fellow attorney, Captain Zachary Taylor, poked around the doorjamb.

“I got a call from a friend of mine at the base in Twentynine Palms. There’s been a murder involving a staff sergeant, some woman by the name of—”

“McKinley,” Phillip muttered. Afraid Zach would see the true depth of his feelings, he kept his gaze locked on the papers. “The case has been offered to me.”

Zach lunged for the papers, snatching them out of Phillip’s grasp. “Well, aren’t you Mr. Popularity. Let’s have a look-see.”

He scanned the request form, eyes widening. “Why you? You’re not a defense counsel. This staff sergeant could have any military attorney at that base or even a civilian lawyer, providing she could afford one.”

Zach glanced up before Phillip could mask his feelings. The teasing stopped as Zach’s deep brown eyes narrowed with suspicion. He knew Phillip too well. A definite downfall in having a best friend.

“What is she to you?”

“What was she, you mean.” Phillip met Zach’s steady gaze with one of his own. “She was once the most important person in my life.” His mouth twisted and he whispered, “The bitch.”

Zach tossed the papers back to the desk. “That’s funny. I’ve known you for over eight years and you’ve never mentioned her.” He dropped into the chair across from Phillip, resting his feet on the edge of the desk. “Why the big secret? What’s the story?”

Phillip sighed and copied his friend’s position. Zach’s ability to focus on and unearth information was uncanny. Now those relentless abilities were focused in his direction. He forced a deep breath and sketched out his turbulent history with Rowan McKinley.

* * * *

Rowan drew her knees up against her chest and wrapped her arms around them in an effort to control her shaking. Nine hours of confinement in this tiny cell and she still hadn’t been allowed to speak with or see anyone—not that they would listen to her, anyway.

Fools.

She took pride in her work. Her record reflected that. Legal administration might not be the blood and guts of the Corps, but it was important. Every separation, every investigative report that crossed her desk was dissected until nothing was left in question. So why would her word be doubted when she suspected foul play in the Lava training area?

Imagining things. That was what Rowan had been told over and over again, despite the five seemingly unrelated incidents that had come across her desk in the last month. Only Charlie would listen and now he was dead.

She was sure the command would see she was right, but the finger of blame was now pointed in her direction.

Rowan rested her head on her knees then winced as the bruised and swollen side of her face protested at the contact. Rocking back and forth on the metal-framed cot, she tried to quell the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. It was so close in the holding cell and she was so alone.

“Stop it!” She pushed the words through clenched teeth. “This isn’t going to help you at all.”

She flicked her gaze to the camera mounted in the corner of the room on the other side of the cell partition. Its baleful eye watched her every motion, allowing her no privacy. This portion of the room was small, too small. The cell’s dimensions barely spanned ten feet across. Even the dim light in the hallway didn’t help.

Rowan closed her eyes. Breathe. Take deep breaths. No hyperventilating.

Phillip was her only chance at getting out of this. She had to be strong—strong enough to endure the claustrophobia closing in, strong enough to face him again.

Phillip. She had forgotten nothing about him. How could she when she lived with his image every day? The way the sun gleamed off his golden head, the ready smile and his eyes.

God, those eyes! They could burn like quicksilver when his temper flared or glow a soft, satiny gray when they made love.

She was probably a fool for contacting him after all these years. But there was no doubt she needed his help and she would accept whatever consequences resulted from having him back in her life. Only Phillip could save her now. That was, if he accepted her request for his services.

The hallway door opened. The roar of the evaporative coolers lessened. A military policeman walked in and glared at her through the bars. “Your request for counsel has been expedited. They’re waiting for the captain to either accept or decline the case.”

“How long will that take?” Rowan fought in vain to keep the quiver from her voice. “When will I be able to contact my family?”

“You work in legal. You tell me.” He lowered his voice. “Frankly, I hope you get what you deserve. He was a friend of mine, murderer.”

He slammed the door in his exit, putting pressure back on the cooler. The roar this time was nothing compared to the pulse of blood in her ears.

“Yeah, he was a friend of mine, too,” Rowan replied to no one.

She tucked herself into the farthest corner of the cot, her despair as smothering as the walls surrounding her.