Risk-Reward by Caitlyn Willows

RiskReward-NoLogo

RISK-REWARD
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense- BDSM
November 2016
Cover Artist – Valerie Tibbs

What Casey Sullivan wants Casey Sullivan gets. And she wants David Deacon back. But how can she convince the hard-charging district attorney that they are better together than they are apart? How can she convince him that they have the life experience now to overcome their past demons? Easy. By offering him a reward for every risk he dares to take.

Wanting her had to be a sin. Having her could mean her death. It was why Dave had walked away all those years ago, and why he’d avoided her since. Yet the universe clearly had plans of its own. Plans that pushed them together more and more as their respective careers soared. upping the game when that lure failed to tempt him by constantly throwing him in her path. He couldn’t resist any longer. A one-night stand to get her out of his system, that was his plan, until Casey grabbed him by the heart and reminded Dave that for every risk there is a reward.

But the demons of the past linger, reminding them both of a risk neither has ever been able to face. It’s hard to see a reward when all that exists is a fear that all the life experience in the world can’t seem to banish.

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Excerpt:

Casey woke to an erection poking against her backside, David’s lips nibbling her neck, his hand wrapped around her breast, and his thumb flicking her nipple. Sunlight trickled through a part in the drapes. The bedside clock proclaimed it to be nine o’clock. Late for her, even on a Sunday morning. Her phone next to the clock agreed. It flashed a rainbow of colors announcing missed calls, texts, and messages. But she hadn’t fallen asleep until five, and not because of her lascivious bedmate.

“I presume you have a plan for my morning breath?” she mumbled. His smelled minty fresh. Cheater.

“I do.”

He rolled her facedown, pulled her to all fours, and plunged his cock inside her.

“Your foreplay is a little lacking. But I’ll allow it.” Casey wiggled her hips. “Make it quick. I need coffee.”

David nipped her shoulder. “And I need you.”

Hot fingers brushed over her belly and stopped over her swelling clit. She nestled her cheek into her pillow, riding his strokes to a quick, sweet orgasm that left them both out of breath. He dotted kisses down her spine before rolling free.

“Let me get rid of this thing, and the bathroom’s all yours.” He kissed her and left the bed. “There’s a carafe of coffee over there.” He pointed to the table and chairs across the room.

“You could have led with that when you woke me.” She crawled out of bed and stumbled for the coffee.

“I didn’t want you to come that quickly. Pour a cup for me, would you?”

“My pleasure.” Casey leaned over the table and filled the two mugs. The sweet ambrosia of coffee filled her senses. David had even remembered she liked half-and-half.

“All yours.”

She glanced up to find him knotting the belt on the white robe she’d given him downstairs. “What? No breakfast pastry?”

David laughed and landed a solid swat against her backside as he sank into the chair. She let out a yelp and jerked upright.

“You do know how to live dangerously, don’t you? Don’t start something you can’t finish.”

“Oh, I can finish it. After I’ve had my coffee.” He winked and blew the steam off his mug.

“We’ll see about that, mister.” Casey placed her palms on the armrests and leaned in. “I’d be willing to bet you don’t even realize what you have started.”

“You might be surprised.”

That lift to his eyebrow challenged her. “Indeed.” She pushed away and headed off to take care of her own needs.

Behind closed doors, her thoughts intruded. David had slept without issue, deeply and soundly. For all her talk about being able to protect herself, she’d been hypervigilant to his every sound and move. She’d pushed to have him back in her life, thinking it wouldn’t matter, that she had a handle on what had happened. Fear ruled the great and powerful Casey Sullivan instead. She was supposed to be the strong one. Hell, she was the strong one. Not this time. That she was vulnerable and human knocked her down more than a few pegs.

That long-ago night had played in her mind over and over. It had happened so fast. One minute she’d been sound asleep. His scream had awakened her a second before his hand had clamped around her throat. She’d clawed for freedom and thrashed around for a weapon—the bedside landline—and hit him as hard as she could. David had jolted awake on a “What the fuck?” Casey had rolled away and turned on the lights. Terror had filled his eyes. They’d fallen into each other’s arms, sobbing.

She glanced in the mirror and found tears trickling down her cheeks. David couldn’t see her like this. It would involve too much explaining. Telling him would cause her to lose him all over again, and that was the last thing she wanted. But to live like this, with this constant fear? Now she knew how David felt. He’d lived with it openly all this time while she’d buried her head in the sand.

“Goddamn it,” she muttered, frantically flicking away tears. “Stop your fucking crying. Casey Sullivan does not cry.” Apparently this Casey Sullivan did and was making up for lost time.

She spun away from the mirror and charged into the shower stall. The glass door banged closed behind her. She twisted on the double showerheads and sank onto the marble bench set in the wall between them. Palms pressed into her eyes, she doubled over and let her agony out. Her dreams of a happily-ever-after with David taunted her. She’d been so cocky and sure of herself, never for one second imagining she was vulnerable.

“Oh, baby, what’s wrong?”

Casey jerked her head up. David shrugged off the robe and stepped into the shower. He reached for her, or she reached for him, or… Hell, she didn’t know. She’d been so lost in her agony she hadn’t even heard him walk in. Now that he was here, she didn’t want to let go. Ever.

David took the seat and cradled her on his lap. He soothed her with soft words and gentle caresses. It made her cry all the more. Not once did he press her for information. Maybe on some level, he already knew.

“Come on.” He kissed her forehead. “Let’s get you cleaned up and out of here before the hot water runs out.”

There was little chance of that. Still, she let him care for her—washing her and her hair, turning the water off, towel drying her, even combing the tangles from her hair. Her love. Her man. Her heart and soul. And the one thing that scared her half to death. She’d been a fine one to talk counseling when she hadn’t done the same for herself. She hadn’t thought it mattered. She was wrong.

“Into the robe.”

David guided her arms through the sleeves, tied the rob shut, and then put his own robe back on before scooping her into his arms and carrying her back to the seating area. After sitting in his chair, he cradled her on his lap and handed her the mug of coffee. “If it’s too cold, I’ll dump it and pour you a new one.”

Casey sipped. It was too cold. “No, it’s perfect.” You’re perfect. I’ve missed you so much. I love you.

“Did I hurt you last night?” He brushed his hand over her thigh.

“No. You slept very well.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No.”

“Because you were afraid I’d attack you.”

“Yes.” Damn, she couldn’t look him in the eye. This wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have. It would mean they were truly over. He’d never be back. Everything was lost.

Under the circumstances, isn’t that for the best?

Her heart screamed no while logic said yes.

“I guess even having kick-ass martial-art skills isn’t enough to chase the fear away, is it?” He reached for his mug.

Casey used the distraction to slip into the chair next to him. “I wasn’t expecting it,” she freely admitted.

“I can understand that. We talk about having control, but the fear is always in control. At least that’s how it is for me.”

She drained her mug and reached over him to set it on the table. “What do we do about it?”

David put his mug aside as well and pulled her astride his lap. “I don’t know.”

At least he hadn’t said I told you so. He brushed his thumbs against her sides. Judging from that worry line between his eyebrows, his thoughts were elsewhere. She could feel his walls going up and didn’t know how to stop that, or if she wanted to.

“I hate doubting my instincts.” Casey curled her fingers over his shoulders.

“Which ones? The ones that insisted you lure me to your bed, or the ones telling you that you’ve put yourself in a potentially lethal situation? Before you answer”—he pressed his index finger over her lips—“I have a war inside me too right now. One part of me says this was a big mistake. The other one…” He cupped her head to his shoulder. “I need time to think. You need some sleep.”

In other words, he was leaving. It tore her heart into itty-bitty pieces. She raised her head and kissed him, long and sweet, saying good-bye and begging him to stay at the same time. When their lips parted, he patted her on the butt and lifted her from his lap and onto the cushion.

“Take the Cherokee.” She tucked her feet under her and poured another mug of coffee. “I’ll arrange to get it later.”

“Thanks.”

He dressed quietly and efficiently. Casey drank her fill of him while she could. She felt like a coward, letting him go this way. Another alien concept. She was the one in charge, the one with the answers, the one who made everything all right.

David’s last act was to drape his jacket and tie over his arm. All told, it had taken him less than five minutes to prepare to walk out of her life again. He looked devastatingly handsome with his white shirt open at the collar. Temptation urged her to lick the hollow of his throat. That would lead to her unbuttoning the shirt, exploring his chest, cupping his crotch, dragging him back to bed. It was David who took action, though, bracing his hands on the armrests as he leaned in to kiss her good-bye. It started as a gentle touch of lips, then he thrust his tongue inside and deepened the kiss.

Casey bunched her robe in her fist and fought the moan welling up in her throat. He pulled away on a sharp gasp and butted his forehead to hers.

“I’ll call you. Okay?”

Somehow she managed to nod. He drew in a sigh as he stood, stared into her eyes for a couple of heartbeats, then walked away. Casey strained her ears for his passage through the house but heard nothing. The place was acoustically perfect. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen.

Finally she unfolded herself from her nest. Her phone rested on the nightstand. She’d lose herself in work, practice schooling her expression to neutral the next time their paths crossed in the course of business. Crawling into bed, she scrolled through the list of missed calls first. Connie, of course. They spoke at least twice a day. He’d called five times and left a CALL ME RIGHT NOW! text. She didn’t know whether to be alarmed or annoyed. Annoyed won out. Conrad Baxter might be a killer in the boardroom and dripping money, but he could also be one hell of a drama queen. Casey didn’t think she had the patience to deal with it right now. She had her own problems.

She heaved a sigh. Who better to tell her troubles to than Connie? He’d laid the world at her feet, helped her be all she was, and she him. He and Seth were her best friends and confidantes. Whatever meltdown he was having, he could damn well wait while she dumped her stuff on him for a change.

“Well, well, well,” he chortled when she called.

“Long night, angel?” Seth added.

Damn it all, they had her on speaker.

“You called?” she replied.

Laughter burst over the phone.

“Distant and snotty,” Connie said. “I love it.”

“Don’t play coy with us.”

She could almost see Seth wagging his finger.

“You and lover boy made the paper,” Seth said.

“Political section. Lovely night shot. A hot embrace. Captioned Lawyers In Love?” Connie added.

Fuck! “In the Times?”

“Oh yes,” they replied.

“Is he still there? Have we overstepped? Was it all you—”

“Stop it, Connie. Everything is all fucked up!” Her tears welled up again.

“Then spill all, darling. Need us there? We’ll head out right now.”

Suddenly, she was too spent emotionally to share confidences. “Not now. I’ve got work to do.” And a newspaper to grab from the driveway. She’d have to call David and warn him. There’d be fallout of some kind, even if it was only teasing. The district attorney hooking up with the people’s advocate was big gossip.

“I want to meet him,” Connie said, all humor vacant from his voice. “And if he doesn’t already know about us, you need to tell him before someone else does.”

He didn’t know. Enlightening him now was unnecessary. It was over. Even if David was able to overcome his fear, he wouldn’t be able to overcome hers. “Please. He hasn’t bothered to check on me in all these years, he certainly doesn’t need to be privy to our secrets now. It was a one-night stand, nothing more.”

“The picture says differently, angel,” Seth softly replied. “I’ll send you a snap of it.”

“Heat of the moment,” she snapped. “The moment’s over.”

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Teamwork by Caitlyn Willows

Teamwork-NoLogo

TEAMWORK
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Romantic Suspense (BDSM, menage)
October 2016
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter

FBI Special Agents Matt Oliver and Allie Quinn have a reputation for doing whatever it takes to stay alive and get the job done. It’s an added plus that part of their undercover assignment includes unfettered sex. Little do they realize what doing anything will involve when they come together for what is supposed to be a simple job…or how distracting that “anything” will be.

A short vacation keeps those sparks flying, but as they reassume their fake identities, each wonders if they can maintain that do-anything reputation now that love is barreling their way. Doing whatever it takes to complete an undercover mission holds new meaning to a man in love with his partner—a partner he now has to share with another man.

Bonus Story – Never Too Late: Simon Petrocelli and Emily Keating lost everything dear to them, including each other. Will Fate grant them another chance or is it too late?

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REVIEW:

4-1/2 STARS!!! Scorching BDSM, ménage and voyeuristic sex scenes combine with a continuing love story to fill the pages as only Willows can do…proving this erotica author has staying power. – Lisa Kelly, Romantic Times

EXCERPT:

Matt Oliver sank into the chair in his closet of a room and scrubbed his hand down his face. Holy shit, she was a hot woman. And one hell of an agent on top of that.

He’d worked with a lot of agents over the years—male and female. They all did what they had to in order to get the job done and stay alive. But this one? She was his other half, crazy as that sounded. She not only did whatever it took, lived the part she was playing, but she made him believe it too. They’d played off each other, instinctively trusting and knowing what the other was aiming for. No signals. No prearranged scenario. Just going for it.

Gordie wasn’t lying when he’d said she was a looker. Matt’s dick had noticed her walk in the second his eyes did. That long, gold-brown hair tumbled around her shoulders, the slight sway of her hips as she walked toward the cluster of chairs, that flash of her tits. God, he wanted to see them, suck her nipples until they were puckered and hard, knead them over and…

He rubbed the back of his neck. Twice he’d fucked her and still he had a raging hard-on. She was in his blood from the second he’d thrust his cock into her. But he really knew he was lost when he’d knelt between her thighs to hide the flash drive in her pussy. The taste of her he’d taken wasn’t just for Sumner’s cameras. All Matt had wanted to do was bury his face in her juices and feast. He wanted to feel what it was like to love her without spectators, to stretch out in a bed and lose himself in the heat of her body, to hear her cry out his real name, to have her clutch him and come over and over again.

Sumner was right. She was a very big distraction. Matt couldn’t think straight. The way she’d wrapped herself around him when he’d nailed her against the wall. The way she’d taken the punishment Sumner decreed like she enjoyed every bit of it. He sucked in a sharp breath and tried to squeeze his erection into submission. He’d love to have her in a big bed, them loving each other until they collapsed from exhaustion, only to wake up and do it all over again. No worries but him and her.

Matt jumped up and started to pace. He had to think, to somehow force his craving for her aside and focus. Gordie and his wife were dead if he didn’t think of something to save them. One thing Sumner liked was the complete submission of another person. The threat of punishment followed by anal sex kept his men in line. Gordie and Eva Kidwell were screwed, literally.

The flash drive with all the information on Sumner’s activities was now with—God, what was her real name? It was going to drive him crazy until he found out.

He prayed he hadn’t hurt her during any of this. He’d pulled back on the paddle as much as he could. But then she’d started wiggling that sweet ass of hers. Careful as Matt had tried to be, he’d be the first to admit it had turned him on big time. They were lucky Sumner gave her to him, instead of taking her for himself. The man would have shown no mercy, especially believing she was a hooker.

Thank God he’d managed to think fast enough to give her that cover. He hid his smile from Sumner’s ever-watching camera. She thought as quickly as he did. When this was over…

Matt stopped in mid-stride. Fuck! He’d forgotten to pay her for services and she didn’t ask. Thanks to Eva, Sumner would be extra diligent and notice the lapse.

Think!

The train came to a full stop. He had to act now. Maybe there was a way to end all of this now.

He whipped open the door and stormed for the nearest exit. The conductor scowled when he pushed by.

“I’ll catch up at another stop. I’ve got unfinished business with a certain lady. Long light brown hair, short skirt, killer body.”

The conductor pointed her direction. Matt took off in hot pursuit. His actions and the story should appease Sumner. If everything went well, there wouldn’t be a party to rejoin.

There wasn’t a sight of the woman, but that was fine. He wasn’t looking for her. He was searching for something more elusive. A fucking pay phone. One that couldn’t be seen from the train.

He took the stairs to the street two at a time and found his objective. A quick call to 911 set things in motion. He’d wait long enough to make sure all went according to his plan and prayed it was in time to save the Kidwells. Then and only then would he pursue his next objective—to find her. And nothing was going to stand in his way.

* * * *

Allie slid the flash drive across the desk to Herb. All she wanted was to duck her tired body under a hot shower and wash the day away. She’d spent the trip back to the office worried about Matteo and Gordie. Eva too, although she couldn’t help feeling the bitch got what she deserved. Much as she wanted to find a way to help them, she knew her primary goal—her only goal—was to get that drive back to headquarters. Knowing that still didn’t make the job any easier.

“Good job.” Herb returned her badge and weapon to her.

Allie tucked both into the hidden pocket at the bottom of her tote. “I don’t think Gordie made it. There was a major complication.”

“Would that have anything to do with the bomb threat someone called in on that train?”

Her mind blanked. “What?”

“Someone called in a bomb threat. Said gambling was a sin and no charity should be forced to take tainted money. The train was stopped in D.C. and all passengers evacuated. Sumner and his men were arrested on assault charges. Caught in the act. This should help keep them in jail.” He held up the drive. “And, of course, the bomb threat gives us a good excuse to search those railcars with a fine-toothed comb.”

Other evidence would be rolling their way. “And Gordie?”

“He and his ex are in the hospital, but it looks like they’ll be all right,” Herb said.

Damn, Matteo was good. He’d gotten the information out and saved all their lives in the process. She wondered what had happened with him. Had he been arrested with the rest of Sumner’s men? If not, what ploy had he used to get out?

Herb laced his hands behind his bald head and leaned back. “Did you make the call? Sounds like a trick you’d use.”

Allie smiled. “Nope, not this time. Must’ve been that infamous inside man. I’d love to know how he managed it. Any clue who he is?”

“None.”

She thought about the panties lying in the bottom of her tote. His DNA was on them as well as hers. An analysis would give her his name. Somehow it didn’t feel right to do that, especially if it might jeopardize his current situation.

“Do you have a list of who was arrested with Sumner?”

He snapped his chair upright and typed a few words into the computer. “Here you go.” He pointed toward the monitor.

Leaning over the desk, Allie scanned the list. Matteo’s name wasn’t on it. “Was anyone killed or injured during the arrest?”

“Other than Gordie and Eva Kidwell, there was nothing.”

“Damn, he’s good.”

“The inside man?”

“Yeah, first time I’ve ever worked with a fellow agent I was absolutely certain would do whatever it takes to stay alive and protect the mission. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.”

“If it’s more work you’re looking for…”

Laughing, Allie stood. “Later. I’m going on vacation. I really need a break after this one.”

“Intense, was it?”

“You have no idea.”

* * * *

Matt allowed himself a triumphant smile. There she was, the woman who’d haunted his dreams and his cock since he fucked her up against a wall. She lay in the shade of a beach cabana, eyes closed while a masseur slowly rubbed oil over her almost nude body. She wore a scrap of white material that passed for a bikini, and she wore it damn well. Actually, judging from the way the man’s hands skimmed over her, she only wore the bottoms. Two days in the tropical sun had already tanned her skin. He wanted to lick every inch of it.

The second Matt saw his ploy had been successful, he went in search of her. His demands led him to Herb Walker. That was the easy part. Convincing her supervisor to give up her name and present location took…

Matt laughed to himself. It had taken the truth, more or less. One, that he wanted to work with her again. Two, that he wanted to make sure there was no ill-will between them. That had made the man smile. Apparently, she’d indicated a desire to work with him as well. Three, that she was hot as hell and Matt wanted a shot.

Now, here he was, mere feet away from Allie Quinn, nursing a hard-on that he had a hell of a time keeping under control. Anyone and everyone on the beach could see it bulging against his navy blue swim trunks. Let them look. He was proud of every inch of it.

Determined strides carried him to her cabana. The masseur stopped when Matt’s shadow blocked the light from the entrance. Allie hoisted herself onto her elbows a second later, peering over her shoulder to see who had the nerve to interrupt her session. A sultry smile curved her lips when she realized it was him.

“Hi, honey. I see you made it,” she said, settling back down onto the narrow table. “How was work?”

Matt laughed and tossed his beach towel to the vacant lounge chair. “Same old stuff. And you?”

“Another day, another dollar-fifty.”

He slipped the bottle of oil from the masseur’s hand. “Thank you. My lady and I would like some alone time now.”

The man flashed him a knowing smile, tugged the knots free on the ropes holding the canvas door open, and left.

Matt squeezed a little oil on his hands. “Wow, I hardly know where to start.”

“Your real name would be nice.” She groaned when he stroked his hands down her back.

His hard-on throbbed all the more. “Matt Oliver. Walker told me where to find you.”

She grinned. “I did make him aware I wanted to work with that amazing inside man again.”

“So I understand. You’re pretty amazing yourself. Shall I count the ways?”

“No, just lavish your attention and adoration on my body.”

“It would be my pleasure, or should I say our pleasure. I need to lie low for a bit, so I figured—”

“You can lie with me high or low.”

God, he loved her smile.

“I was hoping you’d say that.” He breached her bikini bottoms, smiling when she lifted her hips for him to tug them down. Tan marks clearly defined her creamy butt. Relief poured through him. “I’m glad to see you’re no worse from the incident. You don’t know how badly I felt.”

“It was preferable to a bullet in my head. You were as careful as you could be under the circumstances. I’d say they all got the show of their lives. Judging from the wet spots on their trousers, the memory will probably keep them warm behind prison bars. Besides”—she gave him another naughty smile over her shoulder—“I don’t have a problem with a little discipline every now and then, properly applied, with the skill and precision you seem to possess.”

“Oh, baby, you are a dream come true.”

 

Hired Hand by Caitlyn Willows

HiredHand

HIRED HAND
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Contemporary – Novella
August 2016

Socialite Melissa Brody is beyond livid when she discovers the trust fund she’s been waiting for is tied to a Texas dude ranch. In order to inherit, she has to prove herself worthy. She has to work at the ranch for six months!

Colton Adams has helped his father manage the Double-Trouble Dude Ranch for years. Now comes the cowboy’s biggest challenge—make sure the partner’s granddaughter is ready to take the reins. It’s apparent from the get-go Melissa is in sore need of something, and Colton is just the man to give it to her.

Hired Hand was previously published in 2004. It has been re-edited and re-released for your reading pleasure.

 

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REVIEWS:

5 CUPS!!! Hired Hand is a funny and sexy story of a woman trying to work for the first time in her life. Melissa comes from a privileged background but now must find out how to cope with real life, which she does, marvelously so; meanwhile Colt imagines the hardships to come but in actual fact Melissa surprises him, in a whole heap of ways. This was a fantastic read for me, a story of hope, romance and of course, lots of hot, smoldering sex. ~Sheryl, Coffee Time Romance Reviews

5 STARS!!! A short story with a full plot that keeps your attention to the last page…a satisfying sensual romantic read. ~Patrice Storie, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

FIVE UNICORNS!!! [O]ne of the best short contemporary romances I’ve read in quite awhile… Hired Hand is a well-rounded story that seems to be missing nothing! Hot, erotic love scenes blend flawlessly with characters that you grow to love and an ending for Melissa and Colton that totally satisfies while leaving the reader anxious to have stories for the secondary characters that were introduced. Caitlyn Willows Hired Hand will not disappoint readers of erotic contemporary romance. ~Melissa, Enchanted In Romance

FOUR RIBBONS!!! The sparks fly as soon as Melissa and Colt set eyes on each other and the pages just ignite throughout the rest of the story. Ms. Willows takes the spoiled heiress and shows us that she can work hard for her money and the man of her dreams. HIRED HAND is a story filled with romance and love that will make you sigh and keep you turning the pages. ~Bea Sigman, Romance Junkies

FOUR ANGELS!!! A fresh, erotic read that is sure to entertain. The story is delivered with humor and raw sexuality that makes Melissa and Colton fun characters to get to know. There are moments of outright hilarity that will have readers applauding the style with which Colton tries to prepare Melissa for becoming the newest hired hand. ~Amanda, Fallen Angel Reviews

FIVE HEARTS!!! I have to warn you; the jeans scene is just hilarious. And I just love these two characters; I enjoyed the fact that they fall for each other so easily, that their preconceptions are easily pushed aside with little hindrance, and that they are absolutely made for one other. The lust between the two is instantaneous. For romance readers looking for a perfect relationship story, this one can go right up there will the best. ~Glenda K. Bauerle, The Romance Studio

EXCERPT:

Colton Adams crushed his empty Coke can in his fist. The glorious day they’d all been waiting for was here. Melissa Brody was twenty-five. Whoop-de-do. Little did he realize he was the one who was going to be assigned to babysit her. His father and grandfather stared at him over the supper table. He’d been tag-teamed and he damn sure didn’t like that. Where the hell were his brothers? And the women—they’d scurried out of the dining room like rats deserting a sinking ship.

“Fine,” he finally said. “I’ll pick Miss Priss-Ass up at the airport and bring her here. She can stay out of our way for the next six months, then pick up her prize money and be on her way.”

Granddad dusted his fingers through his sparse, white hair. At least he still had hair. Dad lost his long ago, and it didn’t look hopeful for Colt either. It was just as well. Getting it cut regularly was nothing but a hassle. He’d often thought of shaving himself bald and being done with it.

“I understand how you feel, Colt,” Granddad said. “But I have an obligation to Asher. He and I worked hard to build this place. He didn’t want to give it away to someone who wouldn’t appreciate what it took to earn it.”

“Well, what the fuck do you want me to do?”

Pick that time for Mom to walk in. She tsked and patted his shoulder. “Such language. And here I thought I’d raised gentlemen.” She put a slice of hot apple pie in front each of them, then left.

Colt pushed his aside. His stomach was too soured now to enjoy it. He turned to his father, hoping to get him to see some sense. “Dad, she’s going to get in the way. We’ve got a business to run. I don’t have time to—”

“We’re always needing an extra hand around here. From what Dan says, it isn’t going to hurt Melissa to work for a change. While he and her mother understood the value of hard work, her stepmother has spoiled her from the start. Dan felt so guilty over the child losing her mother he let it go. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late.”

“So we’re supposed to help him fix it.”

“Don’t raise your voice, dear,” his grandmother said from behind him. “It’s unbecoming.” She scooped vanilla ice cream onto the pie slices and left.

They were in cahoots, all of them. He couldn’t even get a good mad going without someone yanking him to a stop. “Why me? Why can’t Wes do it?”

“With a baby on the way, he’s got enough to worry about.”

“If he’d kept it in his pants, he wouldn’t have that problem,” Colt grumbled. Sure enough Wes swung through the door and plopped down in the chair beside him. Even had the nerve to steal his apple pie!

“You’re one to talk,” his brother said around a mouthful of food. “Although, maybe if you took it out of your pants more often, you wouldn’t be so damned grouchy.”

He was on the verge of telling Wes to fuck off when his mother placed another piece of pie before him. Grandma was right behind her with the ice cream. Colt threw up his hands and pushed away from the table.

“Will you all just—”

Five sets of brown eyes stared at him, waiting for him to finish. It was no use. He was surrounded. A good man knew when to quit.

“All right. You win. I’ll pick her up at the airport. But”—he lifted his finger—“we’ve got a group going out and another coming in the next morning. I’m not making two trips.”

Dad smacked the table. “Perfect time for her to start learning the ropes.”

Colt swallowed a mumbled complaint, grabbed his pie, and stomped out to the porch swing.

The bunkhouse was just settling down. One by one lights clicked off in the guestrooms. His brother, Trent, would be about done cleaning up the community room where they gathered for meals and other events. After a warm day, a breeze now kicked the stars around. He could hear the horses’ slow gaits in the pasture beyond as they found their places to graze and rest. When it was warm, they let the horses stay out. In the winter, they’d all be in the barn, safe and cozy.

Business boomed at the Double-Trouble Ranch. Tourists couldn’t get enough of playing cowboy. The Adamses gave them what they wanted, and they still kept coming—some from as far away as Japan and Germany. That seemed to be where they got the most out-of-country visitors. From time to time, they’d also host a group from whatever conference was going on in Austin. Most of those were just for the Friday night hay rides or the Saturday night barbecue and dancing. The Adams family ran this place with a precision the military would envy. They had to or it would all go to hell.

Working a ranch was rough enough. Opening it to tourists doubled the work. Adding the oil drilling concession helped fill the coffers. They’d done so well, they could easily hand it over to a staff and the family could sit back in style. But where was the fun in that?

Colt loved the thrill of rounding up the herd, of seeing the birth of a new calf, or any of the other animals for that matter. And nothing tickled him more than to hear the squeal of a child as he rode a horse for the first time. Or the unrepressed giggle of one of the tourists as they roped their dummy bull. Hand it over to someone else? Over his dead body.

Now the princess herself was coming. As far as he was concerned, she could take her money and leave. Obviously, he wasn’t going to get his way on that. It had always frosted him that a portion of the ranch earnings always wound up in her trust account. She’d never had to do a thing for it, except be born. There might be some sweet justice here in seeing her dirty her lily-white hands. They should have bought out her share long ago, but Granddad refused to even consider it, and Dad backed him up.

The screen door squeaked open. Granddad joined him on the swing. They sat there watching the stars while Colt finished his pie. Then he set the plate aside and leaned back.

“You’re too quiet, Granddad. You got something on your mind. Pissed about her coming?”

“Nope,” he said with a sigh. “Just praying I can live up to my word to do right by her. I don’t want her leaving here without us having done everything we can to make her live up to her potential. If there’s going to be a failure, let it be hers, not ours.”

“Why?”

“Because I gave my word.”

Noble to a fault, but then weren’t all the Adamses?

“What if she doesn’t make the cut?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “Guess we keep trying until she does. She won’t get that trust or any further money from it until she can prove herself. Guess it’ll be up to her to decide when she comes back.”

And operations would be interrupted each time she did. It was best to get this over with now. “I’ll do everything I can, Granddad.”

“Going to have to do more than that, Colt.” He rubbed his knees as he leaned forward. “I know it’s not your nature, but I want you to ride her hard. I want you dogging her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I want her broke and tamed. I don’t want anyone saying we didn’t do everything in our power to bring her around to understand there’s nothing more rewarding than a good day’s work.”

“And you’re willing to sacrifice your first-born grandson to do so.” Colt feigned hurt.

His grandfather chuckled and clapped him on the back. “Wes and Andrea have the baby coming. Trent is too swayed by a pretty face. So, yes, the vote for you was unanimous. Just remember to guard your jewels. Some of them fillies kick pretty hard.”

 

 

 

Rough Cut by Caitlyn Willows

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ROUGH CUT
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Romantic Suspense
August 2016
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter

The only thing six months of undercover work have gotten FBI Agent Tony Driscoll is a chronic case of the hots for Blythe Smithers—an itch he definitely decides needs scratching.

Blythe’s been waiting for Mr. Right, but what harm is there in a little fling with the sexy massage therapist while biding her time?

A tryst turns into teamwork as Tony and Blythe search for smuggled diamonds—a fortune someone is willing to kill to possess. As love nudges lust aside, can Tony and Blythe live long enough to enjoy it?

NOTES: Re-release, previously titled Undercover Lover, re-edited and better than ever!

Finalist-2006 Golden Quill Award
Finalist-2005 HOLT Medallion
Finalist-2006 EPPIE Award

BUY LINKS

Excerpt:

Tony left the building as he’d arrived—through alleys, side streets, and many blocks between it and where he’d parked. Massage clients waited.

He passed the morning working absentmindedly, longing for the day when he could put this undercover assignment behind him. Most of his clientele were rich, pasty white, and overweight. The only bright spot in this whole business had been Blythe, and she had been from the start. His problem now was how to hang on to her once his work here was done.

More guilt tweaked him. He was using her now to get to the Cambridges, and he sure didn’t feel good about that. Plus, once the Cambridges were behind bars, she’d be out of a job. He didn’t feel good about that either and knew he definitely wouldn’t be one of her favorite people after that happened. Hell, she didn’t even know his real name. Somehow he had to find a way to tell her what was going on. Trent would have a fit, thinking he’d compromised the investigation. But Tony’s instincts told him he could trust Blythe. With her close connection to the Cambridges, she might be able to help. That also meant putting her at risk, so she had the right to be fully informed.

Tony kneaded a roll of fat on the middle-aged woman before him. She grunted like a pig. With every day that passed, he hated this work more and more. Trent wasn’t the only one who was impatient for results. Right now, the only woman he wanted to lay hands on in any manner was Blythe.

“Okay, Mrs. Powell, all done for today.” He wiped his hands on a length of toweling while he gave her wide berth.

She tucked the sheet around her. “So soon? Feels like you just started.”

Felt like hours to him. Tony forced a smile he didn’t feel. “I know what you mean. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

A little before noon.

Just enough time to get to Stephanie’s office building before Blythe left. If he hurried. He reached the place with no time to spare. Watching from the far side of the parking lot, his breath caught when Blythe walked out. A raging hard-on shot to life seconds later. Blythe was dressed in hot pink capri pants with a matching floral camp shirt. White sandals graced her slender feet. Sunglasses covered her eyes.

He shifted in his seat as he palmed his erection, trying to find a more comfortable position that simply didn’t exist. Blythe always had that effect on him. In the months before, he’d been able to handle it. But now that he’d had her? Misery. It was all he could do to stay in the truck and not rush her.

The image of him dragging her to the truck, throwing her in the backseat, and fucking her until the struts cracked under the pressure was sweet. Something to put on their to-do list—when it was dark and not in a public place. Although forbidden sex and the danger of being caught would certainly make things hotter. He bet he wouldn’t have to do much talking to convince Blythe.

He pulled his wandering thoughts to a screeching halt and tried to focus on the job.

After a quick look in both directions, she crossed the street. Now all he had to do was get past the security guard, who was what had made entering at night impossible. Blythe’s presence during the day had hindered Tony’s chance to search Stephanie’s office.

He waited until he saw Blythe’s cherry-red Sentra turn the corner, then strode into the building like he did every weekday—ready to give Stephanie her daily massage. The guard never challenged him, and building security didn’t require anyone to sign in. It was almost as if the guard was there for show, a visual deterrent to anyone coming in who shouldn’t. Tony nodded a greeting the man’s way and continued on.

So far, so good.

The hallway was deserted. Like all the other times he’d been here. In less time than it took to think about it, he had the lock picked and was in.

Tony stowed his table and bag near the door. Where in the hell should he start? He had one hour to hit pay dirt. A sign on Blythe’s desk invited customers to ring the bell because she was in back.

He glanced that way. Light from an open closet door caught his eye. He edged toward it, scanning piles of papers, files, and samples as he went. Nothing looked promising.

He pushed the door open wider and smiled. It wasn’t a closet after all. It was a huge workroom cluttered with furniture in various stages of upholstery. Rolling steel doors covered the delivery entrance. It wasn’t the safest place to hide diamonds, but Stephanie sure didn’t lack for niches to do so.

Tony aimed for the workbench against the wall. His foot hit something hard in his haste. Metal skittered across the tile—a tack hammer. He glanced around and saw a black Naugahyde sofa. Each seam was edged in sparkling gems.

It’s too simple. Too obvious. And perfect. No one would ever guess they were diamonds. The smuggled gems were supposed to be rough. There was nothing to say they hadn’t been polished. Stephanie did have acquaintances in the jewelry business. Someone could be convinced to do her a favor, for the right amount of money.

He retrieved a jeweler’s loupe from his duffel bag of tricks, then hurried back for a closer look. Damn. Rhinestones, every single one of them. Even the ones in the bowl holding the supply.

Back to square one, and time was running out.

* * * *

Blythe pushed her lettuce around her plate. She’d been unable to concentrate for most of the morning. At least at the office she could mindlessly do finish work on the Caplin sofa while every other thought focused on Tony.

She missed him, couldn’t wait to see him again, craved him more than the richest chocolate. Silly, when they’d only been involved less than a day. After watching him all these months, trying to avoid him now was useless. He was every fantasy come true and then some.

Fling, my ass. She was already stuck on the guy. For all she knew, she had been all along.

Blythe cursed herself a thousand times over. He wasn’t what she wanted. Yet the idea of ending it tore her in two. She didn’t know what the hell to do.

“I swear you haven’t heard a word I’ve said.”

She looked Eileen Cronkite’s way. A frown had pulled her perfectly arched eyebrows together. Frustration darkened her blue eyes as she flicked back a wayward strand on her long, black hair. They went to lunch once a month, jabbering the hour away. Eileen sure got a raw deal this time.

“Something’s on your mind. Give it up.”

They’d known each other since high school and had always shared their darkest secrets and desires. Why should this be any different?

Blythe set her fork aside. It was different. It felt too private, too special to share. “All right. I’ve met someone. No. I’ve met the someone. We are absolutely, positively sexually compatible in every single way. He’s charming, considerate, funny, great looking.”

“But?”

God love her, at least Eileen didn’t cheer. “He’s lacking on the career issue.”

They waited while the waiter cleared their plates.

“He sounds like everything you’ve ever wanted.” Eileen’s voice was low, for Blythe’s ears only.

She nodded. The memory of him set her body thrumming for attention, and not just for the sex. Their camaraderie over breakfast kept tugging at her heart.

“Is his job so important?” Eileen’s question was softly spoken.

Blythe had been asking herself the same question all morning. She laughed lightly. “I guess I wanted someone with a little more ambition.”

“What does he do?”

“He’s a masseur. Door-to-door. Like a salesman.”

Eileen shrugged. “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any ambition. They can make good money. His way means little overhead. Maybe it’s what makes him happy. Isn’t a happy sex god more important than a self-centered, power-hungry maniac?”

She had a point. “I’m afraid, Eileen.”

“Of what? Of falling in love?”

She nodded. “Of being hurt. Of making a mistake. Of having a broken heart. You name it.”

“Of living?” Eileen stirred her straw through her iced tea. “You’ve never mentioned any man before. Obviously, this is someone you’ve just met. Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?”

“I’ve known him for about six months. I’ve just avoided him.”

“Until now.”

“Yeah. I caved. I couldn’t help it. I was like a time bomb ready to explode. And he…” Blythe couldn’t put it into words.

“Tell me about him.” Eileen flicked her long fingers through the air. “Besides the sex stuff.”

Blythe had always admired her friend’s hands—smooth, long fingers with perfect nails. Eileen took care of them too, sometimes to obsession, changing the polish every day or several times in one day. Even during tax season, when she worked hellacious hours.

Blythe pulled in a breath as she struggled for the words to explain Tony. How she wasn’t afraid in his arms. The comfort and warmth she felt curled beside him at night. How thoughtful he was to have coffee ready. His consideration and respect in not rushing out, in wanting to date. She was offering free sex, and he wasn’t biting. Damn it, Tony seemed to want more. But the only thing she could tell Eileen was, “His kisses make me want to melt.”

Eileen rolled her blue eyes. “Oh boy, you’ve got it bad.”

“I told him I don’t want him to kiss me anymore.”

Eileen laughed so hard heads turned their way. “And you think that’s going to help?”

Blythe covered her eyes with one hand. It sounded ridiculous, even to her ears, even knowing how one kiss destroyed her senses. “What am I going to do?”

“Why try to analyze it? Why not take what comes? Enjoy the great sex, the princess treatment I assume he’s offering you, and let nature take care of the rest.”

Easier said than done. It wasn’t Eileen’s heart they were talking about here.

“It could also be that you’re so horny, anything will get you going. It’s been forever since you’ve gotten any.”

Blythe removed her hand and shrugged. “No one’s caught my interest.”

“Well, I’d say you’re plenty caught right now. Take advantage of it before the next long dry spell. If there is one.”

Sound advice. Maybe she was overanalyzing this. It was just that Tony was so different from what she’d expected. She’d seriously misjudged the man. Every bad thing she thought about him was wrong. He was caring, funny, charming, attentive, and right now, she sorely regretted having blown him off for lunch.

Blythe laughed to herself. There’s an image for you. She should have “blown him off” for lunch. It sounded much more intriguing than picking apart a relationship that might or might not exist. This was new, fun, exciting. He was everything sexual she craved in a man and had never found. And here she was, missing out on a great nooner to complain to Eileen.

With any luck, she might just be able to catch him before his next client. Surely Stephanie had his phone number somewhere.

She tossed some bills on the table. “Sorry, Eileen, gotta run.”

“I bet I can guess what you’re about to do.”

She smiled. “I’ll leave that to your imagination.” Luck was with her. Every light was green on the way back to the office. Excitement pushed the accelerator just beyond the speed limit. Once she arrived, it was all Blythe could do to keep from running into the building. She nodded a greeting to the guard and hurried down the hallway.

Please, let him be available.

She shoved the key into the lock, ducked inside, and froze. His massage table and bag were propped against the wall.

“Tony?”

SHIT. HE WAS caught. He glanced at his watch. She was back way early. He had to think of something fast.

Tony grabbed a length of drapery tassel. “I’m in the back. Are you alone?”

He looped the ends over brackets in the wall, then twisted his wrists through the silken cord and waited for her like a sacrifice.

“I am. How did you—”

Blythe stopped short of the door. Her smile was quick as she raked her gaze over him. “I’m liking this.”

“I stopped by on the off chance you might’ve changed your mind. The door was unlocked.”

“Really? Odd. I’ll be right back. I need to make sure that door is locked this time.”

By the time she returned, Tony’s hard-on pulsed for freedom.

Smiling, she knotted his wrists to the brackets. A flick of her fingers opened the button on his jeans and sliced his zipper down.

“Now, Mr. Blake, about that blowjob. You are about to have the best one of your life.”

 

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Forbidden Fruit by Caitlyn Willows

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FORBIDDEN FRUIT
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Contemporary – Novella
July 2016

Abby Strickland has always had crush on Richard Braddock, her best friend’s father…her father’s best friend. With Richard’s divorce six years before, that crush turned to longing, longing to love. If only Richard knew. At Melanie Braddock’s wedding, Abby decides it’s time to get this out of her system. No matter how forbidden, Abby knows she’ll regret it more if she never tries.

Richard Braddock hasn’t seen Abby Strickland in six years, and he blesses the distance those years have given him. Not only can he see the beauty in the woman she’s become, he can also fully appreciate it…and want her more than he’s ever wanted a woman. And while Richard knows he risks the wrath of their families if he acts on his feelings, he also knows he cannot resist a taste of forbidden fruit this sweet.

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REVIEWS

FIVE ANGELS! Caitlyn Willows has written a very moving and sexy story. Forbidden Fruit is a book that you will want to read over and over. The story is very moving and shows that love can conquer about anything. Ms Willows is a very talented author and she can write some very hot and sexy love scenes. They just keep getting hotter and hotter. Forbidden Fruit will leave you hot. ~Moonluster, Fallen Angel Reviews

FIVE STARS! Both Abby and Richard Braddock are wonderful and sexy characters. Ms. Willows does a fantastic job as always in bringing together a wonderful story full of heat, interesting and dynamic characters whose sex appeal leaps off the pages, and a believable plot. In this instance Ms. Willow tackles the difficult topic of falling in love with a much older and sexy man who also happens to be a family friend and neighbor. There is also a suspense subplot that is woven into the story to keep readers on the edge of their seats. All these elements continue to make this book one captivating read…a true winner. ~Aggie Tsirikas, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

4.5 BLUE RIBBONS! FORBIDDEN FRUIT is an awesome read. Love knows no boundaries regardless of age. Caitlyn Willows did a perfect job of portraying these two characters; it’s almost as if she took a page from my life. This is a book I will be recommending to everyone I know. ~Shayla, Romance Junkies

FOUR HEARTS! Caitlyn Willows has penned an adventurous and explosive erotic romance with Forbidden Fruit! Abby and Richard’s growing bond is very beautiful and very sensual. Ms. Willows has once again captured my attention with this heartwarming and truly romantic story of a timeless love, ready to be explored at any and all ages. ~Sarah W., The Romance Studio

4 CUPS! This is fabulous romantic tale, with real life situations and complications. The characters have depth first and you are kept entertained by the secondary characters as Richard and Abby discover each other, and on your toes as danger is involved. A fast paced romance with plenty of action and hot spicy sex scenes. Wateena, Coffee Time Romance

I loved that this was not a typical older man/younger woman story; there was a certain history, and more happiness at stake than just Abby’s and Richard’s. Sometimes the best things in life start out forbidden. ~Cerise, Joyfully Reviewed

EXCERPT

Make this right, Richard reminded himself when he finally found Abby at the Golden Nugget. She was hunched over one of the quarter slots. Even from where he stood Richard could see the machine was paying out. Abby was raking up credits big time. The wins didn’t translate to her face. She looked sad, lost. All he wanted to do was wrap his arms around her. That roused the beast in his pants. As it hardened he also stiffened his resolve and took the seat next to her.

“You look like you’re doing very well.”

Abby snapped her head his way. A second later she gave him a smile so bright her whole body glowed. “This is a nice surprise.”

At least she wasn’t upset. In fact, she twisted around to face him more fully.

“Mom and Dad with you?”

“They went to see Lance Burton.” He pointed to the machine. “You’re up to a two thousand credits.”

Abby glanced at the digital display. “So I am. I hadn’t noticed.”

Lovely as this innocent conversation was, it didn’t solve the problem. Richard didn’t know if Abby was still mad and just making nice or what. It didn’t matter. It was time to fix this. “I’m glad I found you. Actually, I was looking for you.”

She cocked her head to one side. “Really?”

Richard reached for her hand, then pulled back. Touching her would really mess everything up at this point. “I wanted to apologize for earlier.”

Abby curled her fingers over his arm, much in the same way he’d seen Erin do to Ron earlier. He wondered if it had the same effect on his friend as it did on him—a conduit of electricity straight to his cock.

“It was my fault. I shouldn’t have baited Pam.”

“No, no.” He took a chance and placed his hand on top of hers. “Not Pam, me. I wanted to apologize for my… Look, Abby, you’re a beautiful woman. I haven’t seen you in six years. I can’t control how my body reacted, but I never should have—”

Her soft fingers against his lips cut off his words. “You think you insulted me? No.” She shook her head, locking her gaze onto his. “Trust me, you have no idea how thrilled I was to find you interested. I’ve wanted you for so long.”

The last came out on a whisper. Richard struggled for something coherent to say. Nothing would come out. All he could do was stare into her sparkling brown eyes.

“The only reason I came to the wedding was to see you.” She traced her finger against his chin. “I had to know if you looked as great and tempting as I remembered. You look better, by the way, and more tempting than ever. I didn’t know what to say, how to tell you.”

She dusted the other hand along his thigh, sending tiny shock waves to his groin.

“Then you wrapped your arms around me and I felt you.”

She started to drift upward to his crotch, then stopped.

“I thought it was just a reaction, but your thumbs… I knew then. You want me too.” Abby laughed lightly and eased away. “I had this grand seduction scheme in my head. As I was sitting at the table, I thought of how upset the families would be if they found out. So I told myself I was stupid to consider it in the first place. That hurt too.”

“So you left.”

Abby nodded and glanced down. “I’ve been sitting here calling myself a fool for that too. Then you showed up.”

He lifted her chin on the pads of his fingers. “Our families don’t need to know. This is our business.”

A sigh loosened the tension in her shoulders. Dropping his hands to her knees, Richard bunched up the dress slowly until he could reach bare skin. It was silky, warm. A hint of her arousal drifted to him, urging him to take what she offered—as if he needed encouragement. He circled his thumbs against her thighs, stopping halfway to his goal.

“I want to love you, Abby,” he said softly. “I want to take you upstairs and feel you quiver beneath my touch when I make you come. I want to love you as a woman was meant to be loved—thoroughly. I want to bury myself in your heat and lose myself in the wonder of your beautiful soul.”

“I want that too,” she breathlessly replied. “Just one night, Richard. I don’t want to tie you down or make you promise forever to me. Just one night to fulfill my dreams.”

“Then let’s make it a night we’ll never forget.”

She nodded and pushed to her feet as he stood.

“Are you forgetting something?” Smiling, he pointed to her winnings.

Abby giggled and punched the “cash out” button. The machine made the sound of coins dropping. When that show was over, it printed her receipt. She smiled. “Five hundred dollars. Not too shabby from one twenty dollar bill.” She stepped up to the redemption machine nearby and in less time than it took to think about it, she was holding her cash.

“So, your room or mine?” she asked.

“Have you eaten?”

“No, but…”

“Dinner first. I didn’t eat much either.”

“But, I thought…”

Richard leaned forward, his mouth close to her ear. “Relax, sweetheart. There are many ways to make love that have nothing to do with sex. This is our night. Let’s explore them.”

“On one condition… My treat and we splurge.” She shoved half of the money deep into his front pocket, setting his cock on definite overload.

“Your wish is my command, ma’am. I know just the place.”

She rewarded him with a smile. “Lead the way. I’m all yours.”

He was going to make sure of that.

 

High Roller by Caitlyn Willows

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HIGH ROLLER
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – SciFi/Futuristic – Short Story
April 2014 (previously released February 2006)
Cover Art ©Lacey Savage

When Nikos Dirvan’s spaceship crashes to Earth near Las Vegas, he is thrust into a world he’s only read about. One thing he does know is how a woman should be treated. Carla Fletcher needs two things–to escape her manipulative husband and to heal her soul. Can this strange high roller help her as he’s promised?

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REVIEWS

FIVE HEARTS! Caitlyn Willows pens a fascinating story with characters for whom the reader feels an immediate empathy. Nikos and Carla are both endearing characters, poised against the backdrop of that hateful villain Drake and his father, and this reviewer found herself cheering for the couple from the very beginning. This was my introduction to the stories of Ms. Willows and she has moved to my must-read-authors list. ~Annie, The Romance Studio

FOUR RIBBONS! HIGH ROLLER will take you on a breathtaking ride as you read through the pages as quickly as you can, because you can’t wait to see what happens next! Will love ultimately conquer all? Love, not only for another person, but love for oneself as well? You’ll have to read HIGH ROLLER to find out! I can’t wait to see what Ms. Willows has in store for us next! ~Kimberly, Romance Junkies

FOUR ANGELS! Caitlyn Willows has written an imaginative short story that might not end exactly how readers envision at the beginning. However, the conclusion is quite sweet and well deserved. Nikos learns more things in Las Vegas then he imagined he would. Carla finds something in Nikos that she never expected. With touching passion, Carla and Nikos offer readers a wonderful connection that will leave a smile on their face. High Roller is a quick read, but one that is pleasurable and worth spending an hour curled up with. 4 Angels! ~Shayley, Fallen Angel Reviews

EXCERPT

Nikos Dirvan fought the controls of his star runner, silently willing stealth mode to stay on-line. The small ship shot through the moonless night like a meteorite. If he lost invisibility, it sure wouldn’t look like one, though. Earth’s military forces would be on him before he knew it, if that happened. He’d be captured, his recon mission compromised, and…well…he’d sure never see his home world again.

Rumors abounded of how vessels had been confiscated and pulled apart by Earthmen. Their captains and crews were imprisoned like animals to be studied copiously, then horribly dissected at their demise and kept locked for all eternity in a vault to be constantly evaluated. Those souls never knew the peace of a final resting place…or so it was said.

But the Talorian government never fell prey to rumor. They lived for facts. Hence this fact-finder project. For years Nikos’ people had been quietly monitoring those on Earth, gathering information under the cloak of invisibility. Occasionally, Talorians would filter into mainstream society for more in-depth analysis. The wealth of data they’d collected was staggering. The rumors had never been confirmed or denied, but Nikos’ coworkers were careful not to be detected. So far, so good…until tonight.

He’d hit a dense patch of polluted air over an area called Los Angeles minutes before, clogging the star runner’s intake manifolds. Nikos had lost power in seconds. He’d barely had the time to switch command control into the sub-unit generator before the small ship started hurtling to earth. Banking hard, he’d managed to keep aloft, gliding on the thermal currents while the sub-unit kept the cloaking shield in place. That safeguard wasn’t going to last long. Already, the violet warning light flashed in a frantic plea for immediate attention. Any minute now…

“Warning. Shield integrity at critical low. Evasive action necessary to avoid detection.”

The computer voice synthesizer mimicked the panic this moment decreed. The designers had felt weaving emotion into the program would provide solace to captains on long, lonely flights. But at this moment, the voice was a definite irritant, digging beneath his skin like the shrill cry of a rashuka searching for its covey, who were likely only mere yards away.

Nikos liked animals as much as the next person, but rashukas had to be the stupidest avians ever created. Their nests consisted of a couple twigs tossed precariously on the low-hanging limbs of the whisper tree, where they were prey to everything taller than knee height. They were horribly nearsighted, perching on anything and anyone. But they were a beautiful breed boasting colors of turquoise, lavender, and crimson among their feathers. They were devoted parents, friends, and they mated for life. Those qualities made their annoyances worth bearing…most of the time.

“Warning. Shield integrity—”

Nikos punched off the screech. He needed focus, not distraction. If Command wanted to provide solace for their captains, they could have reinstated the soft Companion Comfort beds that gave pleasure on command. Now there was a benefit he could stand. Though not as sweet as plugging his cock into a real woman, the simulation would have given him much needed relief on these long flights.

Unfortunately, one previous captain had spent too much time in the bed and little on his mission. Word filtered through the ranks the man had actually managed to short-circuit the device from overuse. More tales indicated he’d been engaged in his favorite pastime and was nearly detected. Nikos didn’t know what of it was true, if any. The story could very well have been conjured so Command would have an excuse to remove the beds. They wanted their pilots alert and on edge. Nikos was certainly that—alert and on edge.

The small craft shuddered. It was time to find a safe haven. The desolate patch of desert below looked perfect. He pointed the bow downward, fighting gravity to glide to a soft landing. Gravity won. Fanning the air brakes, Nikos managed to level out, but he was still closing the parallel distance fast. He saw the outcropping of rock too late. One smack tumbled the runner nose over tail. Sand, rock, and other debris flew by the viewing port. A final tumble landed his craft upright. It skidded to a stop in the cradle of brush perched on the bank of a dry wash.

Nikos slowly peeled his fingers from the steering column and dared a breath as he assessed any damage to himself. Other than shaken nerves and a desperate urge to relieve himself, he seemed fine. A green flicker caught his eye through the viewport, a clear sign the shield was failing.

“Re-route all systems to shield integrity,” he told the computer as he unsnapped his seatbelt and punched the audio back on.

“Shield integrity holding,” the computer calmly replied.

“How long will the sub-unit generator keep the shield intact?”

“Twenty-hour Earth hours.”

Normally, that would be enough time to clear the intake manifolds, but with the landing he’d just had…

“Computer, damage report.”

“Ruptured fuel line. Fuel dissipating rapidly. Other damage is cosmetic and will not interfere with flight. Generator is charged for twenty-four Earth hours. Using stored power in the mobile pack will give an additional six hours.”

“How much fuel is gone?”

There was a moment of silence. “Fuel tanks are now empty.”

Nikos closed his eyes and leaned into the headrest. “Is the rupture repairable?”

“Affirmative. A laser torch will fuse the edges.”

Then it was probably a good thing the tanks were empty; he would have had to purge them anyway to avoid a fire. As long as he hugged the ship, the shielding would also hide his presence and repair efforts.

He shoved to his feet and snagged the laser torch from its lock-hold on the toolbar as he walked to the hatch. There he paused at the door, hand poised over the access panel. His first taste of Earth air. Nikos wished he could be happier about it, wished he could explore and indulge his curiosity. If he made it back to port after this trip, maybe he could convince Command to promote him out of Overflights and into Contacts.

He pushed the panel and inhaled the fresh scent that drifted through the open portal before hurrying to his task. A dark patch in the sand spread out from his vessel, a telltale sign of leakage. The warmth from Earth’s sun would evaporate it come daylight. Running his fingers on the underside of the hull, Nikos quickly found the breach and sealed it.

Now to refuel.

He slipped inside the ship, returning the torch to its designated spot. “Computer, please scan for the nearest source for fuel.”

“Nearest source is fifty miles northeast. City of Las Vegas. Scanners reveal a profusion of rich fuel transportable in multiple containers. However, acquisition must be made with Earth coinage and in heavily populated areas. Protocols call for—”

“Acknowledged.” Nikos knew the directive by heart—assume Earth attire, identity, and mannerisms. Hopefully, the monetary denominations his predecessors had acquired would be sufficient to purchase his fuel and be on his way.

He retrieved the Earth clothing, so much more binding than his pasfa-soft flight suit. At least the colors were similar—midnight blue. He tucked the cap on his head wondering what the significance was of the image on the front—a pirate from early Earth days named “Raiders.” The white shoes were comfortable enough and were called “Nike.” Earthlings seemed to be fond of naming their clothing. The shirt had a symbol over the heart. The pants were named Dockers. A strange custom, but who was he to judge?

Nikos looped the thin, webbed mobile pack around his waist, tucking the laser torch into his pocket. It could make an effective weapon if necessary. He prayed it wouldn’t be.

“Warning,” the computer nagged. “Use of mobile pack will diminish energy reserves.”

“Note to Command,” Nikos replied. “Mobile pack needed to acquire fuel. Assuming Earth protocol to do so. Computer, if the sub-unit generator should fail before my return, your instructions are to notify Command and self-destruct. Acknowledged?”

“Affirmative, Captain Dirvan. This vessel will self-destruct in twenty-three hours, thirty minutes.”

“Instituting Earth Protocol Omega. Dirvan out.”

“Acknowledged.” The computer’s console faded to black.

Nikos stepped into the desert night once more, sealing the hatch behind him. He activated the mobile pack, sealing himself from view as he moved away from the vessel. Safely away, he lifted into the sky and aimed for the halo of lights called Las Vegas.

No Holds Barred – Caitlyn Willows

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NO HOLDS BARRED
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense- BDSM
March 2016
Cover Artist – Valerie Tibbs

What happens when lovers face-off in the courtroom? Six months of hell.

Not only has Russell been without his woman, he’s also had to put up with her kicking his ass all over the courtroom. Well, the trial is over.

His woman, his sub, has managed to do what no one else could—beat him. Now it’s time to remind her of who is really in charge.

Valerie’s seen a side of Russell she doesn’t like. Gone is the caring lover and Dom who captured her heart. In his place is a vicious opponent who will stop at nothing to win. If he thinks he can take that attitude with her outside the legal arena, Valerie has news for him. Yeah, she’s missed him, craved him, even while she hated seeing Courtroom Russell, but she refuses to allow him to charge back into her life with that chip on his shoulder.

If all that weren’t enough, someone determines justice will be done, even if that means killing everyone involved in the case.

BUY LINKS

Excerpt:

Russell knew he’d find her here. Fate and the local branch of the American Bar Association had placed his sweetest wet-dream-turned-worst-nightmare across the room.

Who was he kidding? He’d hoped Valerie would be here. Prayed even, while an unrelenting erection had threatened to trip him in his rush to get ready for the event. All the praying in the world wasn’t enough to quell the persistent ache swamping his groin. He’d beaten off twice in a frenzied attempt to quell his penis enough so he could zip his trousers without amputating the sucker. It didn’t stay flaccid long. His dick grew in aching intensity with every mile he put behind him and threatened to charge into the ballroom without him once he arrived at the Suites Hotel. It hurt like a son of a bitch and wasted no time homing in on the object of his frustration, sniffing her out like a wolf did its prey. Need consumed his soul—hungry, dark, feral. If Russell didn’t have her tonight, insanity threatened to eat him alive. She would be his again. She would know who was in charge.

Russell pulled in a deep breath, ordering the craving to cease and desist. He hated these events. No matter how high-profile this event was, the only reason for being here was for her. There were a hell of a lot of better ways to spend a Friday night than schmoozing, and he planned to spend it with her. But Russell played the game. Pasted on a fake smile until his face hurt. Shook hands with people he didn’t like. Ate the too-rare prime rib. And had to listen over and over and over again about the case that had finally ended this morning. He’d waited long enough. It was growing later by the second, and his window of opportunity would be closing soon. It was time to make his move, before he was drawn into yet another discussion.

So far Valerie hadn’t noticed him standing at the bar, his hand wrapped around two fingers of bourbon on ice to give him something other than her on which to focus. It hadn’t worked. It never would. Valerie was ingrained in his bones, a part of his soul. Doing without her these last six months was a hell of its own making. Having her kick his ass all over the courtroom was a frustration beyond belief. Her win over him was the last straw.

He ground his teeth until his jaw hurt. He hadn’t become a deputy district attorney by sitting around with his thumb up his ass. No, he was competitive and appreciated the challenge of a worthy opponent. He knew Valerie would be as good a match in court as they were in bed. On some level, he’d envisioned the battle to come as foreplay for when they were reunited. That was on Day One. Six months later, she’d handed him his ass on a silver platter, doing what no one else had—taken him down.

Valerie had warned him from the start it would be a no-holds-barred attack to win her case. Peers told him she was a tigress in the courtroom, that he’d met his match. But this was his woman. His woman, for crying out loud. Hubris was a harsh mistress.

Not once had Valerie let their private and oh-so-secret relationship spill into the workplace. She never backed down. Never blinked. Never caved on the agreement they’d made to stay away from each other while they battled in court. Damn, he’d missed her, even while she’d pissed him off.

Russell slowly hauled in another breath through his nostrils, as if by doing so, he could taste her scent from across the room. Her thick blonde hair drifted past her shoulders. Gone was the prim French twist she’d worn for courtroom battle. Yet professionalism still oozed from her pores in the obligatory little black dress she wore. High heels stretched her legs to perfection, accentuating the cut of her calves. This was a woman who took care of herself. A woman who excelled at everything she did. It was a fact he didn’t fully appreciate until they’d gone head-to-head.

He set his bourbon aside, untouched. There was no doubt about his next course of action. They’d lost too much time. This damn dry spell would end tonight. He didn’t want any alcohol to cloud his control or obscure his senses. He wanted to feel everything and lose himself in her a thousand times over—after he tossed her over his knee and paddled her bottom for driving him insane these last six months.

He strode toward his objective, confident he was about to get what he wanted. Russell also wasn’t above a bit of coercion either. Hell, he’d drag her off to the nearest restroom and fuck her against the wall if he had to. Satisfaction would be his—theirs—once more. All those lust-filled fantasies that had been spawned since the day they’d stepped into opposing corners would finally be fulfilled. He’d plunge his fingers into her dampness and watch her shudder to orgasm. Feel the clutch of her body around his cock—something he’d craved more than his next meal. Yes, Valerie Oswald was finally going to be his again tonight. This time, he wasn’t going to let go.

She glanced up as he neared, her brown eyes bright and welcoming, a smile perched on her lips. Both dimmed when she realized it was him. Her skin flushed a delicate shade of pink, hard nipples thrust against her black dress, and her breath quickened. He imagined her slick and hot for him, clit hardening with every second that ticked by. Fantasies of him falling to his knees before her and burrowing his face between her legs—right here, right now—overwhelmed him. He flexed his shoulders to shore himself against the image. He was supposed to be in charge, not Valerie. It wouldn’t do to let her know that at this moment, she ruled supreme.

The man by her side, Conrad Anson, turned Russell’s way. They’d known each other for years, often on opposing sides of the courtroom. Now Conrad had the catbird seat of California Superior Court Judge.

“Russell, you made it.” Conrad lifted his highball glass Russell’s way in greeting. His other hand pressed against Valerie’s lower back.

Russell fought the instinct to yank it away. Valerie was his. Well, she had been six months ago. At least in his mind and heart. What if she’d moved on? Found someone else to fulfill her needs? He hadn’t counted on that. She’d need relief from the pressures just as he did. He’d been able to alleviate some of his tension by helping Bev at Renard’s. But he never crossed the line by having sex with those he trained in the lifestyle, despite the pressure to do so. It was Valerie who held his heart, and apparently other parts of him as well at the moment. Valerie who had the true control and had placed it lovingly into his hands. That was what Russell needed to remember, not this quest to show her who was boss. Because with Valerie it wasn’t about who had the power. It was how they exchanged it, shared it, and made it their own. A slight doubt wiggled its way into his mind. What if she no longer felt the same way? What if the trial pressure had been so much to bear, she’d gone elsewhere? What if he’d lost her? To Conrad? Surely not. Conrad was no match for a woman of Valerie’s caliber.

Fear gave way to resentment. Fantasies were one thing, encroaching on another man’s turf quite another. Conrad was a flirt, had little respect for personal space, and everyone knew it was all harmless. But if Conrad didn’t get his hand off Valerie right that second…

“Wouldn’t miss it, Conrad.” Smiling, Russell accepted the greeting with a slight nod while his eyes drank their fill of her. Valerie toyed with her wineglass stem and looked everywhere but at him, casually yet pointedly ignoring him. The diamond earrings he’d given her last Christmas sparkled in the light. Odd, the power that gave him. He deemed it proof that she cared. Why else wear his gift?

Because they’re a damn fine piece of jewelry, idiot.

Russell shrugged off his conscience’s reproach.

“You might want to keep a low profile.” Conrad scanned the room, then leaned in. “Alden Baker’s pissed as hell that defense made her case and won.”

His voice was meant for their ears only, low, conspiratorial. Dread crawled up Russell’s spine. It didn’t bode well to have a superior court judge angry, not to mention prejudiced in the outcome of a case.

“I never knew what the color puce looked like until I saw him afterward,” Conrad continued. “Hilarious as it was to see him in all his states, I thought you both needed to know to watch your backs. He’s been like a bear with a sore ass since his divorce and getting worse the more time passes. It doesn’t take much to set him off anymore. Personally, I thought the two of you did one hell of a job. I was very impressed with your work and professionalism, and I’m not the only one. I see big things in your futures. But then”—he smiled—“I always have.”

It was nice to know some people were still on his side. Russell’s boss was none too happy with the verdict either. Which was an understatement compared to how Russell felt. Valerie had been hell on wheels, presenting a case that had even Russell believing her client was not guilty.

“Thank you, Conrad. I appreciate knowing all that. I hate to tear you away from such lovely company, but I’d like a word with my worthy opponent. We have some business to discuss.”

Conrad straightened and raised his glass again. “Lighten up. It’s supposed to be a social event. Play nice. Save the saber rattling for the courtroom.”

Valerie leveled lusty eyes in Russell’s direction and flashed a smile that both threatened and promised. “Come now, Conrad. Where’s the fun in that?” she asked.

Russell matched her stare. Despite the wordplay, her grip on the wineglass threatened to snap the stem. She caved first. Her gaze drifted downward, submissive. Just the way he wanted her. He watched her pulse flutter at her throat and imagined it beating against his tongue.

She started to take a sip of wine. Russell took the liberty of extracting the glass from her grip. It wouldn’t do to have her inebriated. There would be no excuses of I was drunk and wasn’t in my right mind. No, he wanted her clearheaded and very aware.

Conrad’s laughter carried over the crowd noise.

Valerie’s gaze snapped to the people who surrounded them. Her flush deepened. “Unfortunately, I was just leaving. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

Russell hooked her elbow when she tried to dart away. “It won’t take long. Perhaps we can find someplace more private.” Conrad could think what he wanted of that request.

“In a crowd this large, I doubt that’s possible.” She flexed her arm, subtly removing herself from Russell’s hold. “Perhaps another time. Gentlemen.” A regal nod signaled her departure. She walked away before Russell could stop her. If he followed her now, he’d look like an idiot.

“History?” Conrad asked.

“Something like that.” Russell wasn’t ready to blow Conrad’s mind with the truth. He and Valerie couldn’t take the risk of losing their jobs. For now their relationship—if they still had one—had to remain between the two of them.

He monitored her progress across the room. The second she walked out, purse in hand, he was hot on her heels. Valerie was quicker. He lost her in the parking lot. A hard breeze obscured the sound of footsteps. The beep of car locks disengaging gave away what he hoped was her location. He snapped his head to the right, caught sight of her blonde hair, and jogged toward her, reaching her before she could open the door of her silver Ford Escape.

“You’re still as persistently stubborn as ever,” she said without turning around.

“Determined.” Russell leaned forward, pressing her into the car as he reached for the handle.

Her breath caught, yet she made no move to stop him. “To do what? Bind me for your pleasure, or mine? Or give me the fucking of my life?”

Russell’s erection swelled to life. Hot, hard, and more than ready for action. He could raise her little black dress right now, shove the crotch of her panties to one side, plunge deep inside her, and let her tight muscles do him in.

“Isn’t it all the same thing?”

“It was once.” She opened the driver’s door, subtly forcing him back. “Now I’m not so sure.” Valerie slid into the driver’s seat.

“Like hell.” Being calm took hard-won skill. She was frustrating the devil out of him. This wasn’t how things were supposed to work.

He wedged himself in the opening to keep her from shutting the door. “We have unfinished business.”

“Do we?” She curved one eyebrow his way as she stabbed the key into the ignition. “I would have thought after six months you’d be coming to me for pleasure, not business.”

Russell stumbled over his thoughts, just like he had in the courtroom when she’d challenged him unaware.

“Or have you been taking care of that need on your frequent visits to Renard’s?”

He hovered between denial and defensiveness, choosing a point somewhere between. “How would you know about that if you hadn’t been yourself?”

“That’s a nonanswer if ever I heard one.” She snapped her seat belt into place and started the engine. “Women talk, especially when it’s about a man like you. Teri Trent’s been very informative.”

Little bitch. Teri, not Valerie. First chance he got, Russell would inform Bev. Privacy was paramount for her business. Teri had violated that rule in spades. If she’d blabbed to Valerie, who else could she have told?

He squatted down to Valerie’s level, almost on his knees, a subservient position that went against every dominant gene in his body. God, what the hell had she done to him?

“She’s lying, Valerie.”

He curled his fingers over her knee and slid his hand up her thigh. Her warmth beckoned him. The catch in her breath and taut nipples gave him hope.

She clamped her thighs shut against further invasion. “Red light.”

It was a verbal slap in the face he hadn’t anticipated. He didn’t appreciate being put in his place, even if he did deserve it. Russell obeyed the safeword, though, and pulled his hand free, resuming his stance over her. Despite the dominant position, he’d never felt more vulnerable.

“Now step away, and let me leave.”

“You’ve been drinking.”

“No. You saw to that when you took my glass.”

“You leave when I say so and not a second sooner.” What the hell was wrong with him? He knew the second the words were out that it wasn’t the tone to take with her. Instinct made him clasp his hands in front of his crotch.

Valerie’s gaze narrowed. Lips thinned. “I said ‘red light,’ and I damn well meant it. If you think I’m going to give up my control to a man who can’t even maintain his own… You know what? We’re done here. I don’t need you. I can do much better.”

Stunned, Russell jerked away. Valerie slammed the door shut, eased from the parking slot, and made her way from the lot with a careful pace that felt like another slap in the face. One proving she had the control, not him.

The hell of it was—it was true. He had lost control, almost from the start of all this. He’d told himself it was Valerie who would cave first and come to him. She never had. It had driven him to distraction. Undermined everything he did. She could do better than him, but he couldn’t live without her. It pissed him off. Fault, it seemed, was primarily on his shoulders. The hell of that was—he still wanted her more than he could bear.

 

 

Flames From Ashes by Caitlyn Willows

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FLAMES FROM ASHES
by Caitlyn Willows
Contemporary – Erotic Suspense Romance
February 2016
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter

Sandy knew from the second she laid eyes on Clint from across a crowded bar that he was the man for her. It didn’t take her long to realize that he was a keeper—a really great guy. It’s a fact he reaffirms with every second they are together. He’s there when she needs him most, holding her against the fears that plague her, loving her until they are too exhausted to move.

Sandy’s his gift for finally getting his life in order. Clint’s the one who keeps her calm, safe, and settled. Admittedly, both come with baggage. Now it’s time to help each other unpack. That’s when the skeletons of the past come out to threaten them.

It takes a really great guy man to love a strong woman. A man who isn’t afraid to let his woman be the hero. A man who isn’t afraid to unleash his dark side and take down anyone who dares to harm her. There’s little Sandy can’t do all by herself…including fighting for the man she loves—a really great guy whose arms feel like heaven.

Related stories are:
Wrapped In Flame
Flames From Ashes

BUY LINKS

EXCERPT:

Clint rasped his fingers over his morning whiskers. A wise man would have walked away and said to hell with it. But no one had ever accused him of being a genius. Few things were stupider than lying in wait outside a woman’s workplace, hoping for…

Hell, he didn’t know at this point. He sighed. Sandy Freeman didn’t owe him any explanations. In two months of dating, they hadn’t progressed beyond kisses and him feeling her up, despite the fact they’d spent every available moment together. Not that it mattered. He’d appreciated the buildup, and the kisses were hot enough to melt his brain. He knew they’d set fire to the sheets when they were finally together. At some point, his goal had shifted from wanting to get in her pants to wanting to keep her in his life. Now he knew the reason she was cautious, the reason why she’d put up shields two weeks into their fledgling relationship, and why sex had been off the table.

He wanted to kill the son of a bitch who’d hurt her.

All this time, Clint had wondered if he’d done something wrong. If only it’d been that simple. Instead, she’d been suffering and never said a word. No, he’d had to hear about it on the morning news. A gut punch had lesser impact.

Clint wanted to blame himself for not understanding the signs. But why would he, when the truth was so far-reaching, it never occurred to him that she’d been raped? The times when she was the most distant, he’d worried instead that old rumors from his past had resurfaced to turn her away from him.

He laughed at the irony. Here he was, pissed that Sandy didn’t talk to him, and yet he hadn’t bothered to talk to her, even though he knew one day he’d have to do so if their relationship developed as he wanted it to. He wanted time. Life in a bubble of bliss before the world intruded. He wanted Sandy in his arms, his bed, and his life. He wanted nothing to intrude. He wanted that slow build and the bonding that went with it.

It appeared that dream had been doomed before it really started. Six weeks of wondering why the light in her eyes had dimmed. Weeks of agony each time she pulled away from him and said good night, and he’d been left to beat off to the fantasy of what might have been.

If it were any other woman, Clint would have been out the door long before now. But he’d known from the second he saw her across the bar, shooting pool with her girlfriends while she sucked down 7UP and bitters, that Sandy Freeman wasn’t just any woman. There was a vitality about her that pulsed in waves to everyone who came into her orbit.

And that son of a bitch snuffed it out.

Clint did want to kill him, slowly and painfully. It was a wonder the other firefighters she worked with hadn’t done so already. That’s when he’d realized—Sandy hadn’t told them either. If she had, the man wouldn’t have still been working at the fire station. How could she have done it—continued to work with the bastard? Maybe she hadn’t. Maybe she’d changed her shifts. He shook his head. It didn’t matter. The son of a bitch was dead now. A victim of a house fire. Clint could see why the police considered the entire fire department persons of interest. They all had motive to see Keith Randall dead. It’d been all over the news too. The talk of their small town. And if Clint had known about Keith Randall’s attack on Sandy before this morning, he would have been a suspect as well. Proudly.

The thought of all she’d endured made him sick inside. His vibrant lady—because she was his lady even if they’d yet to seal the deal—had suffered in silence. Now this double whammy. This time he was making a stand. She would not deal with this alone, and he intended to make it very clear he wasn’t doing this as a friend. Sandy had friends—not that he’d met them or she his or even each other’s family. They’d been wrapped up in that bubble—private, happy, and building toward something awesome—until the real world burst it. He was doing this now as a man, one who wanted her beyond reason, one who planned to fight for whatever that something was that had drawn them together in the first place. She’d felt it too. Despite everything she’d endured, Sandy hadn’t completely shut him out. Yet. He’d been dancing around her for two months. No more. Pushing her now could very well blow up in his face. So be it. At least he would have tried, and that was a hell of a lot better to live with than sitting on the sidelines, waiting for life to happen.

All he had to do was get to her. He looked out his truck window. Hard to do when she was at work.

Clint studied the circus of reporters crowding the street across from the fire station. Going in guns blazing would be all over the news in seconds, followed by Clint getting his ass kicked out of said fire station if the firefighters perceived him to be a threat.

He pulled his phone from the console between the front seats and hit the speed-dial number designated for Sandy. She’d had the number-one spot since their second date, moving his best friend Danny down to two. Doubt flickered when three rings passed without a pickup. His rational side argued that she was at work. Just because the trucks were in the bays didn’t mean the firefighters weren’t busy. She’d given him a rundown of daily tasks that boggled his—

“Hi,” she answered.

“Hey.” Surely he could do better than that. “We need to talk. I don’t want to wait until you get off-shift.” It was day one of a three-day shift. Her schedule was posted on his calendar. He hated the long shifts. Hell, he hated any shift that put her out of his reach for twenty-four hours.

“Gina took my shift today. I’m not doing so good.”

“I know. I saw.” And heard and felt his heart rip from his chest. How the hell were they going to get past this?

“I’m sorry you had to find out that way.” Her voice trembled.

“Me too.”

“I couldn’t… I didn’t…” She sniffed. “My stomach has settled, and I was about to leave but saw the reporters were still out there. I can’t deal with them.”

“I’m right outside. I’ll pull up to the side door, and you can hop right in. I’ll take you away from all this. We can come back for your car later. Surely they would’ve found something better than this to chew on by then.”

“Why aren’t you at work?”

“You were more important.” Now to make her understand that.

“Oh, Clint.” More sniffles. “I have baggage.”

“Don’t we all?” He was no exception. “I’m headed to the side door now. If you need me to come inside and help you—”

“I’ll meet you there.”

They disconnected simultaneously. By the time Clint pulled to a stop outside the side door of the fire station, Sandy was waiting. Her oversize blue-denim tote hung off one shoulder—her go-bag. He swore she could—and did—fit a week’s worth of stuff in the thing. She’d worn pink shorts and a tank top along with her sneakers today, always preferring to change into uniform when she arrived. Normally pink looked great on her. She was one of those dark-haired lookers with ivory skin. Today, though, it highlighted her pallor. She looked like death warmed over—dark circles under her eyes, ivory skin gone sickly pale, sweat spiking the short bangs across her forehead. Clint wanted to kick himself yet again. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen her looking unwell. He’d always passed it off as being tired from a long shift. Experience should have told him something was wrong. He should have asked, pushed her for answers instead of ignoring it. No more.

In one fluid motion, she was safe inside his truck. “My place or yours, or somewhere else?” he asked.

Sandy glanced at the reporters, some of whom were edging toward their news trucks, most likely to follow. “They already know where I live. I’d prefer to keep you out of this.”

“Obviously, since you didn’t bother to tell me in the first place.” He held up his palm when she drew breath to speak. It might be brutal to throw that at her right now, but he had to let her know how he felt. “We’ll deal with that in a bit because number one”—he held up a finger—“I’m pretty pissed about how I found out.” Another finger joined the first. “Two, I’m hurt beyond words.” Tears slipped down her cheeks. Clint put up a third finger. “Three, if he wasn’t dead, I’d find him and kill him, right after I cut off his dick and balls and shoved them down his throat.”

Clint pulled in a breath and cupped her cheek with gentle care, brushing his thumb over the tear tracks. “But right now, all I want is you safe and secure.” He wanted to kiss her so badly, to hold her and never let go, but the media’s presence prevented it. “Them learning where I live isn’t going to cut it. Feel up to a ride through the national park?”

The hint of a smile twitched her lips. She pressed her hand over his. “That would be great.”

“If those cameras weren’t pointed in our direction, you’d be in my arms.”

More tears. She plucked tissues from the box in the console to blot them away and blow her nose. “Just get us out of here.” She snapped her seat belt in place, closed her eyes, and leaned against the headrest.

Cameras followed their departure, but the news trucks didn’t move. He heaved a sigh of relief. As on edge and protective as he felt right now, Clint couldn’t trust his temper not to get him into trouble. The reporters’ very existence threatened Sandy’s peace. Him making a scene wouldn’t help either. He wondered how long it would take them to run his plates.

He glanced Sandy’s way when they arrived at the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park five minutes later. She was sound asleep and didn’t stir when he stopped to pay the entrance fee. More guilt. It wasn’t the first time she’d fallen asleep on him. Chances were she wasn’t sleeping well when alone, if she slept at all.

Idiot.

Clint took his time driving through the national park. It was one of their favorite places to go. A lot of their dates found them hiking the many trails. They’d even discussed signing up for rock-climbing lessons. He loved her strength and stamina, and that she could keep up with him. Of course, in her job, fitness was a priority—one she took seriously. She was solid without the bulk but not skinny. She had the body of a gymnast—well-muscled and tightly packed without an ounce of fat. He loved the feel of her in his arms. Loved the way she coiled against him when they kissed.

He shook off the memories and forced his attention to the scenery instead. Counted off the other trails they’d yet to explore. Wondered if circumstances would allow them to do so or pull them apart forever. Melancholy filtered in. He prayed for the right words and actions to guide him, knowing he had to support her, not judge. Her decision, not his. His heart broke a little more when he realized the turmoil she’d faced alone. No wonder she hadn’t slept. It said a lot about their comfort level that she felt secure enough to do so when she was with him. Humbled him, even. At least they had that. As for the rest, even he didn’t know.

Clint took his time driving through the park, turning a forty-five-minute drive from one entrance to the other into two hours and pissing off a lot of people who didn’t appreciate his leisurely pace. Cars whipped around him like the devil was on their tails. He couldn’t care less. Sandy slept the entire time. She stretched awake when he stopped at the ranger kiosk to check out, then turned a lazy smile his way right before he drove on. A smile he longed to see first thing in the mornings with her next to him. A smile that promised to light up her eyes the way it used to before it happened.

“Morning, bright eyes.” He pulled the truck over to the shoulder and twisted her way, draping his arm as best he could over the back of her seat. “Sleep good?”

“I did.” Her eyes—God, her beautiful, deep-blue eyes—smiled at him. The things that did to his heart.

“Hungry?”

She leaned against his forearm. “I think I am.”

“Anything in particular?” Considering her condition, it had to be her call.

“I’d kill for a cheeseburger, but I can’t stand going into any place to get one. The smell of anything greasy…” She left the obvious unsaid.

“Then let’s grill our own.” Her place or his, Clint didn’t care. He’d take her there, feed her, or tuck her into bed for some more rest—anything she needed.

“Sounds wonderful.” Another smile.

He released his seat belt and leaned over to drop a kiss on her lips. Her breath caught. She cupped his cheek, deepening the kiss and awakening his cock. It never took much. She could rouse him with a look. Clint reluctantly pulled away and reconnected his seat belt.

“We’ll stop at the store on the way home. Your place or mine?”

“Mine, but I’d rather pick up my car first. Suppose you could make a grocery run without me?”

“Whatever you’d like.” He meant it, but he couldn’t keep the hard edge out of his voice. Her sigh told him she’d noticed.

“What about what you’d like, Clint?” she asked softly.

He flexed his fingers around the steering wheel, judging his response. Skirt the issue, or be blunt? There was only so much dancing around a subject a man could do before he lost his breath. His anger built fast from that deep hole the morning news had burned in his gut. Somehow he managed to bank the force of it, to make his words slow and measured.

“I’d like to have you naked against me, to be under the covers and losing ourselves in each other. I’d like you to have told me the truth and not have my world ripped out from under me courtesy of the morning news. I’d like to think I deserved at least that much. I’d like to think I meant something to you after all this time, but—”

“You do.” Sandy touched his arm and leaned his way. “I’m sorry. There’s no excuse I can make. Could we please not do this now in the truck, on the road?”

“Fine. But I won’t be put off again.”

“You won’t be. I promise.”

She pulled her fingers away slowly. Tingles wiggled straight to his balls. He shifted in his seat, trying and failing to find a comfortable position. They said nothing during the twenty-minute ride back to the fire station. Reporters still hovered about. Cameras turned toward his truck when Clint pulled into the parking lot and stopped near her sky-blue Prius.

“I guess if they follow, they follow,” Sandy said with a beleaguered sigh. “They already know where I live, and my car is fairly obvious.” The pretty color made it stand out.

“They probably know where I live by now too.” Most definitely where he worked, since his white FURNITURE FIXERS sign was on both sides and the tailgate of his dark-blue truck. “But there’s nothing to say we have to make it easy for them. Turn south instead of north when you leave. I’ll block their exit. It might throw them off to think you’re headed somewhere other than home.”

“Not for long,” she said.

“Long enough for you to get in your house without being harassed,” he replied.

She nodded, released her belt, and started to open the door.

“Kiss me,” he said.

Sandy looked at him, eyes wide. Her gaze drifted from the reporters to the fire station, then back Clint’s way.

“Fuck them,” he said. “Kiss me, damn it. Kiss me like you mean it. No more of this behind-closed-doors shit. Kiss me like you own me.” Because she did, whether she realized it or not. If they could recover from this hell-of-its-own-making stumbling block. And it was hell, pure and simple.

He pushed his seat back as far as it could go, giving her full access to him. Her gaze dropped to the erection swelling his jeans. He watched her pulse flutter in her neck. It matched the hard beat of his heart. There was hunger in her eyes when she looked up at him, but Clint had seen it before and felt the walls she’d thrown up between them. Knowing why she’d done so had him second-guessing every move he wanted to make. The choice had to be hers. The action had to be hers. Oh, he’d lure and dare her, make her want him enough to work past her fear, tempt and gently push her, even, but in the end, the lead role would be hers. Unless she said otherwise. He prayed for patience.

She shifted in her seat, coming to her knees. He slipped his arm around her waist when she leaned over the console, and cupped her hip. Parted lips took his. Her tongue slid deep, torching his soul. There was another shift, and then she was cradled in his lap. He loved the feel of her in his arms—a strong woman with lean muscles.

Sandy clutched his neck, holding tight as she deepened the kiss, rolling into him. Clint’s heart leaped. He brushed his fingers down her thigh, paused, and eased his hand between her knees but no farther. They were, after all, in public.

Yellow Ribbons by Caitlyn Willows

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YELLOW RIBBONS
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense – Military – Erotic Romance – BDSM
November 2011
Cover Artist – April Martinez

He saw her across the room, a beautiful offering strung between the pillars awaiting a master to bring her the rush of bliss. That’s when Greg Landess knew no one was going to have his captain but him.

Lani Hollister didn’t have a clue what release was like until Greg claimed her. Calling it magic didn’t come close. He’d captured more than her body that night, he cradled her heart in his big, wonderful hands.

Their relationship was a secret they kept from the world. Their love a secret they kept from each other. Fraternization between officer and enlisted, between supervisor and subordinate, are strictly forbidden. Neither expected a call to a murder scene would jeopardize their affair and make them the enforcers of the very rules they’ve broken.

BUY LINKS

REVIEWS:

4-1/2 STARS! Everything about Yellow Ribbons exceeds expectations, including a believable military scenario, scorching erotic elements and thrilling suspense. The relationship between Greg and Lani is incredibly emotional, and readers will connect with the conflict of keeping secrets and the turmoil of living lies. Each character has a solid backstory, interactions are well thought out and the pacing is even — all details which strike a perfect balance between erotica and suspense.~Anna Dougherty, RT Book Reviews

EXCERPT:

Lani started awake from a nightmare she couldn’t remember. Strong arms wrapped around her, and Greg swept his hand over her hip, scattering her fears.

“It’s okay,” he mumbled. “I’ve got you. Go back to sleep.”

He was dead to the world a nanosecond later. The man could fall asleep in an instant. She could too, when he was by her side. When he wasn’t, the nights were long, lonely, and cold.

Lani relaxed against him, treasuring the security of his body next to hers and his warmth, her own minifurnace. What a treat in the winter. Come summer, she’d be sweltering next to him and loving every second. If they made it to summer.

God, what a dangerous game they were playing. No, not a game. Lani was very serious about him, and that’s what was going to wind up destroying them both.

She glanced at the bedside alarm — 4:01. They could get another hour and a half of sleep before Greg had to slink away. She missed him already. In the light of day, in public, at work, neither could acknowledge what they truly were to each other. Regulations forbade every aspect of their relationship. It was only going to get worse. In light of tonight’s events, or rather…last night’s, Lani could predict what was going to happen next. She didn’t want to think about what was going to go down at work in less than four hours.

Greg mumbled something in his sleep and rolled to his back. The sheet, blanket, and bedspread were bunched at his hips. Lani turned onto her side to enjoy the view, feeling blessed and cursed at the same time. Lucky to have him, sad it had to be a secret.

Night light from the wall plug rippled over his chest. His pecs looked like desert mesas, the puckered nipples remnants of ancient peaks. Abs resembled rolling valleys, and the dark hair trickling to his navel a shadowed wash. Lani pressed her lips together to try to hold in a gasp. He did that to her — took her breath away. All he had to do was walk into a room. She’d played hell every time fighting her reaction — how her body tightened and sang for his touch.

He knew so much about her. Knew what she needed and when she needed it, and he thoroughly indulged her body’s demands. It was her heart that Lani guarded, that and the biggest secret of all — one even Greg could never know.

She couldn’t pinpoint the moment things shifted. Somewhere in the last six months they’d gone from fulfilling a mutual need for bondage and discipline play into making love. All Lani knew was that Greg held her heart in his big, wonderful hands. Maybe he had from the start, when fate put them both at that private, exclusive event hosted by Oliver Holbrook at his Palm Springs estate. If she lived to be a million years old, Lani would never forget Greg’s words when he saw her there.

“The woman is mine.”

He’d claimed her, his long legs closing the distance between them, chamois flogger dragging the floor by his side. He’d worn soft black pants that rippled over his muscled thighs. The long-sleeved ivory shirt had been open at the throat, loose. He’d looked like Heathcliff stepping off the moors. If she hadn’t been spread between the pillars, Lani still wouldn’t have been able to move. Then he’d reached her side and burrowed his face below her ear, inhaling her soul.

“No one touches my captain but me,” he’d whispered.

He’d ordered her released and taken to a private area where…

Lani shivered at the memory.

Greg stirred and rolled her way. “Cold?”

She should have felt guilty for waking him but didn’t. “No, just…remembering our first time together.”

His penis swelled against her stomach, nudging her belly button. He skimmed his fingers over her ribs and down her spine, then rested them on the curve of her ass. His breath quickened, but he didn’t say a word. She knew the memory danced in his head. God, how she’d wanted him fully that not-so-long-ago night. Well beyond what her body needed from the endorphin bliss. She’d needed him. Wanted him. A month passed before they crossed that line, a month of release at the hands of a true master. Lani didn’t have a clue what release was like until the first time they’d come together outside their roles of Dom and sub. Calling it magic didn’t come close.

Her nipples hardened. She slid her hand over his tight buttock and closed the whisper of space between them.  Greg kneaded his fingers oh-so-gently while he ground his cock into her belly.

“I love waking up to you.” He nuzzled her ear and nipped at her lobe. “Love how you feel in my arms.”

“Mmmm.” Lani arched her neck to his wandering lips. Electricity scored down her body when he crawled his mouth over the tendon under her ear.

Somehow she managed to press her palms against his chest. The barest push urged him to lie back. Greg didn’t hesitate, nor did Lani. She raked the covers to the foot of the bed with her toes. He cupped her cheek, then combed his fingers through her long hair. His lips were parted, eyes half-closed while he waited for her next move.

“You’re mine.” She skidded her hand over his chest, back and forth between his hard nipples. “Just like I was yours that night. God help the woman who steps between us.”

Lani meant it too. Though in reality there was nothing either of them could do about it without giving away the nature of their relationship and facing career-ending courts-martial as a result.

His hand tensed, but his grip on her head remained light. His expression lost the dreamy quality. Something had upset him. Her words?

“And while we’re on that subject… What the hell was that with Jordan last night?”

Her heart alternately ached and cheered at this spark of jealousy from him. “I have no idea.” It was the truth. She and Jordan were coworkers, casual friends. His move last night was…disconcerting. “I didn’t like it,” she admitted. “It threw me off.”

“I was beginning to think I was going to have to throw him off you.” Lani watched as he clenched his jaw, saw his eyes blaze.

You make me feel like a woman. Your woman.

“Frankly, so was I,” she finished in a whisper, lips poised over his nipple.

His tension faded. She stole a gasp from him when she traced a circle around his nipple. Any other man would have tried to shove her head toward his dick. Not Greg. He was always content to let her play, even if it meant permanently wrinkling the sheet in a tight-fisted, sweat-drenched grip.

She plucked his nipple between her lips, loving how it hardened and strained for more. Lani moved to the other one and idly caressed the line of hair running down his chest, stopping just short of the erection waiting for her below. Greg released a shuddered breath and dropped his hand to her hip. His fingers flexed.

“God, you test a man’s control.” His voice was rough, a true testament to the words he’d spoken.

Lani smiled and licked the muscle cut under his pecs. She feathered her fingers downward, skirting his penis to tickle his thighs. Greg spread them, a silent request she couldn’t deny. She moved lower and flashed her tongue over his smooth sac, loving how he shaved there just for her.

“Ga!” He smacked his palms onto the mattress and wadded the sheet.

She slid over him until her shoulders were between his thighs. Greg lifted his knees, then spread them wide onto the bed. Lani sucked one testicle into her mouth, tongue laving circles over it. She pressed her thumbs upward, promising a touch to his erection that she never gave. Greg writhed beneath her. His soft groans made her juices flow, her clit swell. Releasing his sac, she ran the flat of her tongue up his penis.

His hold on the sheet faltered. Fingers flailed to grab her, then fell to her shoulders. He rubbed frantic circles over her skin. Lani flashed her tongue over the tag of flesh near the crown, blew over the tip, sucked in the precum gathered there, and wandered downward once more. Greg whimpered. His sac was harder now, hugging his body. She loved when he got like that, like he couldn’t wait to empty himself in her. She wrapped her hand around the top and tugged his testicles gently downward.

“You’re killing me,” he gasped.

“Am I?” She used her tongue to separate his balls, then sucked the other one into her mouth.

She felt his cock twitch as heat swamped his groin, his body locked. Lani eased away.

“I want you inside me.” She came to her knees and ran her hands over her breasts. Greg’s hands replaced hers, molding around her tits until her nipples were ripe and swollen. God knew her clit was.

She crawled astride his hips and rubbed her pussy over his erection. Greg grabbed his cock with one hand, raking the tip over her clit while his other hand tweaked her nipple. Now she was on the brink, so close to coming, she could taste it. Hands braced on his chest, she rode the oncoming wave.

Greg grabbed her hips and lifted her slightly. “Put it where you want it, sweetheart.” He rubbed his erection over her slit. They found each other at the same time and eased together as one.

“Damn…” He ground into her. “I swear I could fuck you a thousand times and your pussy just keeps getting better and better. So tight. So hot. So wet.” He thumbed her clit. “Ride me. Make us come, baby.”

Her brain shut down, and her body took over. He moved in time with her frantic gyrations, each thrust harder and hotter than the one before.

Lani’s orgasm built, stoked by the relentless drive of his thumb and cock into her, her clenching vaginal muscles. They climaxed at the same time, straining into the force, letting the tension rattle their bones and the blessed release sag their muscles.

Emotion hit her from out of nowhere. A gasp. Her heart squeezed. A sob. Tears.

“Shh, it’s okay.” Greg hugged her close and rolled her beneath him, kissing her, caressing her, soothing as only he could. “I’ve got you, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”

If only he knew how true that statement was. If only she could tell him.

 

Lies That Bind by Caitlyn Willows

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LIES THAT BIND

by Caitlyn Willows
Contemporary – Erotic Romance – Menage – BDSM
March 2014
Cover Artist – Dar Albert

After a year’s absence, Tessa returns to the Texas ranch and two cowboys she left when her life turned inside out. She’s here to bury a friend, cut her ties with this town, that’s all. That may be all that Tessa’s planning, but Rex and Tyler want their woman back and they’re not going to make it easy.

If one good man is hard to find, two are even harder to resist. Tessa’s determination to shut them can’t withstand the fire of their mingled passions. Pretty soon, the fire draws them back to each other. How can she leave when it feels so damned good tucked up nice and tight between them?

It’s not long before Tessa realizes she’d rather bend her pride to be with her men than live the hell of loneliness without them. Also not long before someone else starts threatening their new romance by killing anyone who’ll expose this town’s dirty laundry. Not long before Tessa’s secrets make her a target herself…

BUY LINKS

2015_EBook_WINNER-sm

REVIEWS:

5 out of 5! I was totally hooked several pages into the story. Who doesn’t love a good mystery, romance and toss a bit of kink in as well?! The dynamic between Tessa, Rex and Tyler was great. Wasn’t sure what to expect, but the Dom/sub roles and interchanging between Tessa and Tyler were awesome. Loved how the murder mystery and who did it theme runs through the book in conjunction with the kink. Made for a very easy read, and I couldn’t put the book down. Lots of hints of what happened with Tessa during the year that she was gone from the ranch, would be interested in seeing the secondary characters in a book of their own. Congrats and well done! – Cat, BDSM Reviews.

FOUR STARS! [A] terrific novel by Ms. Willows that combined incredibly hot sex with a cozy little mystery to create a must read for fans of erotic suspense stories. the suspense and mystery in this book were excellent and had me trying to figure out whodunit almost the entire time. I loved the red herrings Ms. Willows throw out there and wound up appreciating the villain more for it. And the sex…seriously. It was out of this world. The reunion scene between Tessa and Tyler and their light BDSM switch roles…OMG, it was fantastic! – Delta, The Romance Reviews.

EXCERPT:

Derek Ford was dead. What that had to do with her, though, was a mystery that dug under Tessa Fairchild’s skin, trumped only by the question of why she’d bothered to come back here in the first place. She’d cut her ties to the ranch and everything that went with it a year ago. The last thing she needed was this haunting sense of déjà vu by returning to the place where it all started. Yet here she was, answering the summons of a dead man. Tessa told herself she was here out of respect. After all, Derek had been as much a victim as she was. Two lives ruined in one fell swoop.

She glanced out the cockpit at her destination below.

Rustlers Retreat, an experience you’ll always remember.

The innocent promotional tagline screamed volumes. She had a wealth of experience from the few years she’d worked on the dude ranch. That one revelation, though, delivered a year ago, had not only erased all the good experiences—it had also chased her away and forever branded her with a horrid reality she’d never be able to forget.

God knew, she’d tried.

Tessa wanted nothing to do with the ranch or the people involved with it. Yet at the sight of the white Suburban pulling away from the large Victorian inn and heading toward the runway, her body trembled and said otherwise. Rex Williams and Tyler Coltrane were coming to greet her.

She hated that she’d missed them so much. Hated herself more for the way she’d left. When she’d cut her ties to Rustlers Retreat, she’d cut her ties to them too. Completely. No harsh words spared.

Had they missed her as much as she missed them?

Not possible. A sudden spate of nerves coiled in her stomach. She wished she’d taken better care in what she’d worn. A threadbare T-shirt from Catalina Island, jeans, and sneakers when she hadn’t seen them, hadn’t had them, in over a year? Tessa laughed at herself and the image that came to mind of her flying the aircraft in fuck-me-now attire. Those nerves broke free of her stomach and trickled over her skin, igniting goose bumps.

“You all right?”

Nate Bridger’s question over the headset—the first words he’d spoken since they’d taken off from Palm Springs—startled her.

“I thought you were still asleep,” she replied, avoiding the question.

He flexed his shoulders. “I heard the landing gear deploy. Appreciate the nap, though. It was a long night.”

For both of them. By rights, flying today wasn’t a good idea. Tessa didn’t care when the only one she had to worry about was herself. Nate had decided to hitch a ride at the last minute. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she didn’t have the energy to fight him. Besides, she had to admit she liked the safety net of having him along. Her pilot’s license wasn’t that old, and going solo wasn’t her favorite thing to do, especially when thunderstorms could and did pop up in the blink of an eye between California and Texas this time of year. Plus, she’d need all the emotional support she could get.

“Not a problem. So why, exactly, did you insist on tagging along?”

“Precaution?”

“Avoidance is more like it,” she countered.

“True enough,” he admitted. “I definitely needed a break while I figure things out.”

Tessa almost asked what things? But she already had enough on her plate to worry about. When Nate wanted to talk, he knew he could come to her. That was what friends were for, and Nate was one of the best.

“I felt you shouldn’t fly alone.” He rolled the kinks from his neck. “I know how tired you are. You might think you’re fooling everyone, but I saw how you reacted when you heard about your friend.”

Yes, her shock had been real. Fortunately, Tessa had been able to hide the other emotions that roiled through her—anger, despair, hurt—and the bone-deep hunger that had struck her at the sound of Tyler’s voice on the other end of the line.

“We’re there for each other in other ways. This is no exception. You’d do it for me.” He cracked his knuckles. “And wouldn’t take no for an answer either.”

Again, Tessa couldn’t argue. The casino ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiling her latest design hadn’t been the most convenient time or place for the call. But then, was there ever a good time to hear someone you cared about had died? And Tessa did care about Derek. They were friends, and he hadn’t deserved what had happened any more than she did. Nate had kept the hounds at bay last night while she’d dealt with her emotions and tried desperately to get a flight out of Palm Springs. Weekend traffic and weather delays made that impossible. Thank goodness she had the option of using this private plane.

“You never said how he died.”

Because talking about it opened the door to other questions she didn’t want to deal with. Like how she knew him. Why she’d left Rustlers and cut ties with the two men she could barely live without. But then, wouldn’t Nate be asking those questions once he saw Rex and Tyler? Once he saw how much they meant to her? How much she missed them?

Nope, she didn’t want to open those floodgates. And just because she got all fluttery at the thought of Rex and Tyler didn’t mean they fluttered back. After all, a year was a long time to go without. She sure hadn’t. They wouldn’t have either. And while she hadn’t moved on, men like them…

“Earth to Tessa. Earth to Tessa.”

She snapped her attention into focus. “Sorry. He was killed in a fall from his horse, but I don’t have the details,” she finally replied. No one did at this point. “It doesn’t make sense.” Nothing had since the day Mike Ford died, and the life she and Derek had once known died with him. “He was more skilled than that.” But accidents didn’t play favorites. Unless…

Tessa bit off another round of rambling thoughts. She had a plane to land. Focus had to be 100 percent. She flexed her fingers around the controls and focused her attention on landing the aircraft. She watched Nate from the corner of her eye, waiting for him to say something. His silence forced her to glance his way.

“Nice spread.”

She watched as Nate scanned over the acres of prime Texas hill country real estate from behind his dark aviator glasses.

“It is that.” Acres and acres of rolling green dotted with cattle in the distance, a sprawling ranch house, the three-story Victorian-style inn, and the aviary that had brought her to the ranch in the first place three years before. All upwind of the livestock, of course, and a good distance from the runway. It looked like a small community with all the outbuildings and private guest houses spread around the place.

White oyster-shell roads threaded their way through the green fields to each building. Ancient oaks ringed the property and were also scattered throughout the pastures, providing well-needed shade for cattle and a great haven for picnickers…or lovers. Although most of the time, people took refuge in the climate-controlled aviary.

Scattered ponds mirrored blue sky and fluffy clouds. The nearby creek was filled to capacity and running hard, evidence of the heavy storm that had hit the area early yesterday morning. Wind, hail, and tornado warnings had also played havoc with air travel, thwarting her attempts to book a flight because of overflow filling the planes.

“Is that aviary your design?”

“It is. Mike Ford commissioned it on word-of-mouth recommendation. It was my first major job outside of California. I was beyond thrilled.” But her parents weren’t. Now she knew why. “He’d wanted a little oasis for his wife. Inside there’s a small brook, small waterfalls, glades for picnics. Even a large storm shelter beneath it.”

“Outstanding. She must have loved it.”

“She never lived to see it. Cancer took her first.”

“Damn.”

That about summed it up. She hadn’t known Mary very long but had really liked her.

“How close were you to being finished?” Nate asked.

“I had the blueprints, and that was it. Mike still wanted it built.”

“Derek Ford is his son?” he asked.

How to answer that one. “Born and raised here.” That much was the truth. “Mike died a year ago.” Shortly after she’d finished her work.

“I’d like to say it’s nice you were able to maintain a friendship with his son, but somehow, I’m not sensing that from you. So who is Derek to you? Friend, business associate…lover?”

“Friend.” Yes, they were that. “It’s complicated.”

“It always is, isn’t it?”

Nate sounded sad, resigned, and she couldn’t help wondering what had or was complicating his life. Everyone had their secrets. Secrets that sometimes ruined the lives of others. Tessa wished Mike had kept his secrets to himself.

“I’ve got this.”

Nate folded his big hands around the controls, and just like that, he took the plane from her. Relief seeped into her muscles.

“Here we go.”

The wings dipped as he banked into the final turn to approach. Blue sky and fluffy clouds stirred her memory of fresh-cut grass, hot cowboys, a want that grew every second she was with them, and the reality that had ruined it all.

“The welcoming party’s arrived.” Nate’s chuckle reverberated through the headphones. “Oh ho…cowboys. No wonder you wanted to come alone.”

Another jolt of want wiggled through her. Her heartbeat triple-timed. Her nerves tingled. “I didn’t say I wanted to come alone. I said I didn’t expect to be here long.”

Nate leveled out. The runway was dead ahead. Tessa riveted her attention on the white SUV and the two men standing next to it. They grew closer by the second, giving her a view so startling, she swore she could feel the heat of their bodies, smell the sweat on their skin. Both were dressed in dusty boots, well-worn jeans, and long-sleeved western shirts—Rex in chambray blue, Tyler in tan plaid. Tan cowboy hats shielded their faces from the sun. Sunglasses hid their eyes. Six-foot-somethings with shoulders made to cling to and raw muscle no material could ever hide. No matter what the circumstances, they still were and always would be irresistible. The challenge of stripping them bare and having them laid out for her pleasure—or she theirs—churned her blood and raced her heart.

Rex and Tyler gave as good as they got and then some. It was the then some that had played through her mind the last year, making her reach for her toys at all hours of the day and night, or lure a friend—aka Nate—into easing her woes. No, she hadn’t wanted Nate along. Awkward about summed it up.

A shiver coursed through her. Enough of that. Her body didn’t listen. Her mouth watered. Her clit throbbed, parting the flood of juices below. Tessa had a serious weakness for these cowboys and their calloused palms, wide belts, and strong thighs used to long hours in the saddle. Her insides thrummed at the thought of hot cowboy flesh pressed against hers.

“They’re Derek’s partners in Rustlers Retreat, Rex Williams and Tyler Coltrane.” At least that was the plan when she’d hauled ass out of there a year ago—full partnership in the ranch and inn, rather than the inn alone.

“How do you fit into the picture?”

Very nicely right between them.

Nate’s chuckle hinted he knew what she was thinking. The plane bounced with the landing, a deliberate maneuver meant to rattle her, just like his laughter. Tessa didn’t appreciate it in the least.

“Your landing sucks.”

Nate laughed. “Is that the best you can do?”

She kept her mouth closed, eyes riveted on the cowboys monitoring their stop.

Nate cut the engines and shut down the controls. “I have to say, they don’t look too happy.”

No, they didn’t. Rex’s scowl almost broke her heart. She’d done this—deserted them, walked out like they didn’t matter, like what they’d shared in the time she’d been there was nothing. “They just lost their friend. Their business partner.”

“I’m pretty good at reading people, Tess. I’m not seeing grief. One’s pissed, and the other one’s got walls up.”

True enough. Worse were the feelings stirring inside her at the sight of them—not the ones that curled her toes and plummeted her stomach, but rather the ones that forced her to mirror their actions. Yeah, she might have walked out, but if they cared for her as much as they said they did, they’d understand.

“You spoke to one of them yesterday after the lawyer called, and everything seemed fine.”

The richness of Tyler’s voice over the phone had seeped into her veins, triggering so many emotions she’d wanted to weep. The memory of all the good times they’d shared had lingered throughout the night and had helped take the edge off the ordeal to come. Envisioning his tongue tracing idly through her…nether regions sweetened her dreams in what little sleep she’d managed to get.

“Maybe something’s happened since then,” Nate said. “I’m just saying, having your guard up might be a good idea.”

“No problem there.”

Tessa made the mistake of glancing toward them. She bit her bottom lip.

“I don’t think looking like you want to jump their bones is what you were going for.” He chucked her under the chin.

She flashed him a glare. “Maybe I’ll jump yours instead.”

“I’m crushed you’d use me as a substitute for what you really want.” The glint in his eyes said differently.

Tessa unsnapped her seat belt. “That never seemed to bother you before.”

“Aha. Now you admit you were thinking of someone else whenever we were together.”

“And you weren’t?” She snickered.

“Point made. But”—he pulled off the headphones—”that’s what friends are for, right?” He gave her a wink, released his seat belt, and started to stand.

Tessa fisted his T-shirt, holding him in place. “I need you to have your game face on.” That no-nonsense look that scared the piss out of people and made linebackers quake.

“Why? To scare them off so you won’t be tempted? To teach them a lesson?”

He didn’t have to thread that hint of laughter through the words. “Something like that.” Damn, did her cheeks heat with that statement?

“I’ll consider it.” He whipped up his right index finger. “But if there’s any hint they’re gonna beat me up—”

“What’s so intimidating about two cowboys? You could take them.”

“I don’t know, Tess. You tell me.”

Heat definitely flushed her cheeks this time, giving her away.

Nate’s laughter filled the plane. Tessa was fairly certain Rex and Tyler heard it too.

“Well, well, well.” He leaned into her space. “This should be interesting.” He peeled her fingers from his T-shirt but didn’t release her hand. “All right, then. Game face on for the moment. But I’m not getting in the middle of this. Unless you want me to,” he added with a wide grin, his innuendo loud and clear.

Tessa jerked her hand free. “We’re wasting time.”

She pushed from her seat, anxious to put as much distance between them as possible. He’d scrambled her thoughts, churned her emotions, and hadn’t really helped one damn bit. Some friend he turned out to be.

Tessa released her hair from its haphazard ponytail and fluffed out the long strands. She stuffed her scrunchie into her pocket, then grabbed her carry-on and exited the plane. Texas heat and humidity slammed into her full force, making her wish she’d shoved vanity aside and left her hair up.

Sure strides took her toward Rex and Tyler. False bravado but bravado nonetheless. No one needed to know her emotions danced a fine edge. Too many thoughts conspired against her control. Tessa fought every one, only too aware of the man coming up behind her and the two cowboys in front of her.

Her breath hitched. She wanted to run to them, toss her arms around them both, and feel them press her between them, shielding her from the world. Tessa shoved the emotion back where it belonged, behind her walls, and yanked her badass persona to the forefront. It was her protection against the world. The one that made her a formidable and well-respected businesswoman.

Both men relaxed their rigid stance as she neared, making her second-guess herself. A hint of dimples kissed Tyler’s suntanned cheeks. Rex’s square jaw was set but not clenched. Seeing their eyes would have helped her judge them better. She could tell a lot from a person’s eyes, especially theirs.

She pushed her sunglasses up, using them as a headband. Tyler snatched his off, stuffing the stem into his shirt pocket, lowering his defense shields, as it were. Seeing his chocolate-brown eyes and the hint of sparkle in them helped. Maybe things weren’t as they seemed.

It was Tyler who moved first, stepping forward to close the distance between them. Tessa quickened her pace, her arms opening of their own volition. In seconds he’d swooped her into a hug, lifting her sneakered toes off the ground. She held on for dear life, eyes closed, her face burrowed into his neck, inhaling the scent of one of the men she’d loved yet left. Strong, calloused fingers slipped under her T-shirt and spanned her back.

“God, I’ve missed you.”

His voice rumbled in her ear. The swell of his erection against her stomach backed up the words.

“I’ve missed you too,” she whispered. So much.

He kissed her cheek as he eased them apart. All too soon, three feet of space stood between them. The distance killed her. She wanted to grab his face and seal her lips to his.

“Sorry, we’re a little sweaty.” Tyler swept his hand down his flat torso. “We had a tour group arrive this morning.”

Despite the tragedy, it would still be business as usual. Tessa wondered if any of the guests realized one of the owners had died.

“They’re on a trail ride and picnic.” Tyler pointed to a line of oak trees far to the left. “Our in-house guests are—”

“Smart enough to stay inside in the middle of a hot August day.”

Rex’s deep voice rivaled thunder. There’d be no hugs from him. He wasn’t happy to see her. Judging from the scowl he shot over her shoulder, he wasn’t happy to see Nate either.

Tyler squeezed her shoulder—a touch Tessa took as a silent apology for Rex’s behavior—then let go.

She tried to soothe Rex’s ruffled feathers with an introduction. “This is Nate Bridger.”

“Your lover of the moment?”

Jealousy? So he did care. A pity he’d used a snide tone that ruffled her feathers. She stared Rex down. “And it’s your business because…?”

Rex fidgeted enough to let Tessa know she’d won the round. She didn’t gloat. Somehow she suspected it was the first of many. Rex definitely liked to be in charge. Well, so did she. Being at war gave her the distance she needed to stay away.

“I was asking because of accommodations.” Rex braced his hands on his lean hips. “We’ve got a full house at Rustlers. I’d planned to have you stay in my bungalow for the duration of your stay. I’ll bunk at the ranch house.” One eyebrow lifted behind his dark glasses. “Unless you’d prefer to stay there.”

Ah, the ranch house. The scene of the crime. A reminder that her life wasn’t what she thought it was, that she wasn’t who she’d thought she was. He had a lot of nerve. The cut hurt. Words failed her. Her lower lip betrayed her emotion first, quivering. All the willpower in the world wouldn’t stop it. Her carefully erected walls crumbled.

Tears blurred her vision. She reached for her sunglasses to cover her eyes. A tear had the nerve to trickle down her cheek before she could do so. Gaze locked on Rex’s shadowed eyes, she felt the droplet wiggle toward her chin but refused to acknowledge it by wiping it away.

“The ranch house would be perfect.” She slipped her sunglasses into place. “Be a dear and fetch my bags.”

Tessa walked on to the Suburban, knowing at least two men watched her go and that neither of them was Rex. That was fine with her. She didn’t need him to notice she measured every step, using the energy to shore up emotional buttresses, and that one trip would mire her in a wasteland of agony so great, she’d never pull free.

Wasn’t that already the case? Mike Ford had seen to that a year before.