To Die For by Caitlyn Willows

 

ToDieFor

 

TO DIE FOR
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense – Novel
June 2017
Totally Bound
ISBN – 978-1-78651-155-3

The sound of her voice saved a cop’s life…and put a target on her back.

Zoe White’s got a voice to die for and the full-figured body to match it. Sad that it’s taken another officer’s near tragedy to spur Detective Frank Ludwig into finally making his move. Now that he has, Frank’s determined to be Zoe’s hero when her unselfish act skylines her to a killer. It doesn’t take him long to realize Zoe doesn’t need a hero. She’s a survivor, perfectly able to defend herself…and Frank, too, when the chips are down.

What’s a guy to do when his woman “man’s up” before he does?

Then he learns just how much Zoe has sacrificed to recover from past demons, and how determined those same demons are to destroy her again. He realizes there’s more to being a hero than fighting bad guys. A true hero helps the woman he loves retrieve the final fragments of her shattered life. Yes, Zoe can clearly defend herself. Now he’s depending on her staying alive long enough so he can be the hero she needs.

BUY LINKS:

Totally Bound

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo Books

Google Play

Publisher’s Note: This book has previously been released elsewhere. It has been revised and re-edited for re-release with Totally Bound Publishing.

EXCERPT:

Fear clawed at Zoe’s gut, fighting its way to the surface. Prickles of the monster she’d buried zinged beneath her skin, searching for a way out.

People. She had to be around people. If she went home, another monster might be waiting. Zoe wouldn’t risk it—not until she had control firmly in her hands, not until she could face whatever hell awaited her with dignity and strength. Having her .38 in ready reach wouldn’t be bad either.

Gun trumped knife every time. Too bad she’d gotten out of the habit of carrying the weapon. Zoe would rectify that once she got home. Being without threat had made her careless. If she wasn’t diligent…

Dead. She’d be dead.

No. That was why she had the black belt—to protect herself.

Could she keep her wits about her and remember how to use those skills? Besides, all the martial arts moves in the world couldn’t win over a gun. She needed that weapon in her possession.

Zoe gasped for breath, fighting hyperventilation.

Burt’s Diner. That was where she could go. Open all night. Always someone there. A favorite place for cops. She’d grab a bite and order her thoughts—make a game plan.

Zoe scanned the jumble of signs, looking for that familiar red one. Have I passed it? She’d been so upset that she barely remembered leaving the station. Where the hell am I? Certainly not pointed toward home. She nearly wept with relief when she spied her beacon a block ahead. A Holiday Inn Express was across the street from it. That was an option she hadn’t considered. She’d check in for a night—maybe two—get a room on the top floor and hole up until this was over.

She snorted at her foolishness. This was never going to be over—not until one of them was dead. Zoe didn’t plan on that being her.

She eased into the parking lot and found a spot next to the restaurant. Maybe luck was on her side tonight. Pulling in slow breaths to calm her shattered nerves, she cut the engine. Xavier didn’t know where she lived. Chances were slim he’d recognize her on the street—as long as she kept her mouth shut. The encounter had been an isolated incident. Why would Xavier care? He was rattling her to show he was a big man, nothing more. Old fears ran deep, though. Too deep.

He knows where you work now.

True. Zoe wondered if her subconscious had steered her to take an alternate route home.

Silly. The shooting was across town. There’s no way he could—

She cut off the thought. There was always a way for a determined person, and he’d sounded damned determined. Thank goodness, her parents were vacationing in Maui and her sister visiting friends in New York. They were safe from him. Xavier couldn’t have picked a better time to make his move. For another panicked moment, Zoe wondered if he’d planned this. Just as quickly, she dismissed the idea. Xavier never planned anything. He was volatile, driven by rage and a very short temper.

Damn it all. She’d thought this was in the past. Now she’d inadvertently crossed paths with him. His threat wasn’t an idle one. Xavier would hunt her down. It was only a matter of time.

Not if the cops get him first.

Zoe was counting on that. Talk about determination. Xavier had killed a police officer tonight, seriously wounding another. He was a marked man. She prayed they got to him before he got to her.

Athorough look around the parking lot confirmed her safety. Still, she didn’t let her gaze or attention wander as she looped her purse strap over her shoulder, clutched the hobo bag against her side and stepped from her F-150 truck. Her rubber-soled ankle boots thunked on the sidewalk. Zoe wasted little time getting inside. Once the doors closed behind her, she let the hostess’s smile scatter the dark shadows lingering in her mind…at least for the moment. The woman’s nametag identified her as Jennifer.

“One?” she asked.

“Yes, just one,” Zoe said.

Jennifer plucked a menu from the box attached to the pedestal behind her. “Table or booth?”

Under normal circumstances, her answer would be ‘table,’ but Zoe didn’t want to be that exposed tonight. “Booth. Away from the window.” Her back against the wall with a clear view of the entrance.

“Right this way.” Jennifer led her down the aisle, nodding to other diners as she took Zoe into the bowels of the restaurant.

Zoe saw the men and women too late. Twelve police officers and detectives occupied a large section of tables in the back room where Jennifer intended to seat her. Zoe plucked at the woman’s long white sleeve in a vain effort to subtly catch her attention. Again, too late. One by one, the men and women stopped what they were doing, all gazes latching on to Zoe. Chairs slid over the carpet as they stood and applauded her.

She wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. The only thing that kept her feet rooted in place was the pride on Frank Ludwig’s face. Zoe’s heartbeat triple-timed.

“Come join us.” Officer Joanie Robertson yanked over a chair from a nearby table, while Frank’s partner, Theo Garcia, waved Zoe toward them.

Only that morning, Robertson had gone out of her way to avoid her. Zoe was their hero tonight. Tomorrow, things would go back to how they had been. Zoe didn’t want to muddy the waters by socializing.

She’d heard what some of her coworkers said behind her back. A few even said it to her face. Some of them meant well, but others didn’t. Zoe’d learned to live with scathing remarks, dirty looks and kindhearted suggestions. After all, she had only herself to blame for the way she looked. She wasn’t a small girl. But Frank—hot Frank who shared her bed in Zoe’s nightly fantasies—accepted her with no questions, no attempts to change her. Their friendship was unconditional.

“No, thank you.” She combined her refusal with a polite smile she didn’t truly feel. “It’s been a long shift. I need to decompress.”

Jennifer motioned to a booth just inside the room. “How’s this?”

“Perfect.” She could sit with her back to them and still have a clear view of the front door. She slid onto the narrow seat and accepted the menu from Jennifer.

“Anything to drink?”

A bottle of your cheapest wine—and put a straw in it. “Iced tea, no lemon.”

“Coming right up.”

Zoe stared at the menu. Conversation behind her fell to whispers. Words swam before her eyes. Damn. She was going to start bawling right here. A shadow blocked the light. The second she glanced up, Frank slid in beside her.

“Scoot over.” He butted his hip against hers.

“What are you doing?” Zoe refused to budge.

“I’m sitting with you. What does it look like?”

She flicked her fingers toward the opposite seat. “Then sit there.”

“You know I can’t sit with my back to the door.”

“It looked to me like that’s what you were doing over there.” She motioned to the party behind them.

Frank shrugged. “I lost the toss. Only fair way to determine seating when you have a table of cops.” He nudged again. “Scoot.”

It occurred to Zoe that she could move to the other seat, but that meant depriving herself of the brief joy of having Frank next to her. The man made her feel all kinds of crazy happy inside—safe and sheltered, small and feminine. Worry and fear didn’t dare bother her with Frank by her side. His sheer personality warned them away. She wanted to lean into his solid body and cry her heart out.

“How nice you ran into your husband.” Jennifer put down a tall glass of iced tea.

Reality slapped Zoe’s daydreams to bits. “Oh, he’s not my husband.”

Frank plopped his hand over hers and squeezed. “Not yet.”

Jennifer’s smile drained the power grid. “When’s the wedding?”

“We’re not engaged, either.” Zoe slipped her hand from under his and grabbed her straw.

“Not yet.” Frank dropped his hand to her thigh, shocking Zoe senseless. Her clit cheered at how near he was to it. Juices flowed in anticipation of more. “I’m still trying to get her to notice me.”

Jennifer’s gaze ping-ponged between them. Her smile dimmed while she probably pondered a response—or planned how she could get Frank for herself. Although he was a bit old for her. Hell, he was a bit old for Zoe, too, but that didn’t stop her from lusting after him. She’d calculated around a ten-year age gap. Her fantasies of him pressing her to the nearest wall and fucking her senseless didn’t care. A thread of jealousy twined its way to the surface. If Jennifer started flirting—

“Then I’m guessing this will all be on one ticket?” Jennifer finally asked.

“Absolutely.” This time Frank draped his arm around Zoe’s shoulders and squeezed.

Zoe steeled herself against the rush of emotion. What the hell is he up to? She was going to have to stock up on batteries before she went home tonight—if she went home—and she just might send the bill to Frank.

“We still need a few minutes,” he told Jennifer.

“I’ll make sure your server knows.”

Zoe waited until Jennifer’s back was turned then shrugged his arm away. “Quit joking. I’m not in the mood to be played with.”

A lie. Most nights, she wanted nothing more than for Frank to play with her. She stabbed her straw amid the ice cubes then took a long sip. Although at the rate her horniness was building, dumping the glass into her lap might be a better idea.

Frank rested his forearms on the table, body half-turned her way—which was quite a feat since he took up as much space as Zoe. “I’m not joking or playing. Consider this our first date.”

She stirred the ice, refusing to meet the gaze burning a hole through the side of her face. Tolliver’s death was going to have long-term repercussions. “Look. It’s been a long day. I know how grateful you are that—”

“It’s got nothing to do with gratitude.” He leaned closer, his warmth surrounding her. “Open your eyes, honey.”

She was clueless and didn’t feel like dancing around whatever he was hinting at, so she let her silence build a wall between them.

Frank eased away, taking that warmth with him. Zoe’s heart cried for the loss.

“I don’t think she could’ve seated us at a smaller booth.” Frank planted his feet on the floor and pushed the booth back. “That’s better.”

“Is that even allowed?” she whispered.

“What’s she going to do? Lock me up? I’m the poe-lease.” He thumbed his chest.

Zoe snickered. She knew she shouldn’t encourage him, especially when she was still displeased over his previous antics. She pretended her tea held more interest, which earned her his body bracketing hers once more. This was how it’d feel if they had sex—Frank looming over her, taking charge of their pleasure. God, she ached.

“Sure you don’t want something a little stronger than tea?” he asked.

“Driving.” Zoe drew her finger through the moisture beading her glass.

“I’ll see you get home safe and sound. After what you did today, you deserve a drink…or two.” His arm brushed hers. She’d rather have it around her again, even if he’d meant it as a joke.

“My truck—”

“I’ll either make sure it gets to your house or I’ll pick you up in the morning.” He traced his long fingers over hers. “You’re shaking.”

Fear coupled with a looming adrenaline crash does that to a person.

“What can I get you two cuddlebugs tonight?”

Zoe and Frank jumped at the server’s appearance. Norma hovered at the table, pad in hand, gray hair combed back in a tight ponytail that dangled in its mesh bag, making it resemble something pulled from a bathroom-sink drain. Zoe didn’t bother to correct Norma’s assumption they were a couple. What harm could come from pretending?

“The lady would like a glass of merlot. We’ll have patty melts with fries.” He glanced at Zoe for confirmation. At her nod, he told their server, “And an order of onion rings.”

“Coming right up.” Norma shot off.

Zoe had never seen anyone move so fast.

“I’m going to need the wine to scrub my veins from this high cholesterol meal.” She pushed her tea aside.

Frank took it for himself. “It’s comfort food, and we damn well deserve it—you, especially. We’re alive. It’s time we started taking advantage of that.”

He’d closed her in again, his body nearly surrounding her. Zoe didn’t give an inch. This was what it felt like to be near the man. She soaked it all in for her fantasies later.

“You saved a man’s life tonight, Zoe. That sweet voice of yours gave DiCarlo hope to hang on. Because of you, he’ll see his wife and kids again. There isn’t a cop on the force who hasn’t heard about it or listened to it play out over the radio.”

Did they also hear Tolliver’s last gasping breath? She hadn’t been able to save him. It had been a miracle she’d stopped Xavier when she had—a quirk of fate. Him hearing her voice had intrigued him enough to spare DiCarlo…and made her his new target.

Ay, chicasuch a pretty voice, like an angel in the night. Maybe I come see you, eh? Clip those wings again. Your friend here… He ain’t gonna last. I cut him deep. Try, bitch. You’re next, and I’m gonna make it hurt.’

“I’ll bet the sound clip’s already gone viral,” Frank said. “You know the newshounds have glommed on to it.”

Yes, they’d already started swarming the station for information as I was leaving work.

Zoe grabbed the merlot when the glass appeared and gulped down half.

“Easy, honey.” Frank put his arm around her, fingers tracing soothing circles on her shoulder. “The guys are on it. They’ll figure out who this asshole is and put him behind bars.”

Oh God. “They don’t know who he is?” A drop of wine splashed on the back of her hand. She was shaking, but she couldn’t loosen her death grip on the glass.

“Not yet. He wore gloves, had on a ski mask. Took the knife with him. Left no trace.”

Shit. Now what? She stared at that drop of wine, frozen on her skin as if time itself had stopped waiting for her to woman-up.

“I… I know who he is.” Zoe barely heard the words herself, so surely Frank hadn’t. She wasn’t sure she could dredge the courage to say them again.

“What? How?”

Her pride took a nosedive, but it was a small price to pay for taking a cop killer off the streets.

“Xavier Sanchez. We lived together years ago. I’m the reason he was sent to prison in the first place. That threat he made to me over the radio was real.” She drained the glass and signaled Norma for another.

 

 

Heartbreakers by Caitlyn Willows

Heartbreakers

 

HEARTBREAKERS
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotica – Contemporary (BDSM, Menage)
April 2017
Cover Art – Scott Carpenter
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN – 978-1-68252-383-4

Talented, good-looking, and wildly successful, they’re the rockers every girl wants and every man craves to be. But success comes with its own price. Everyone wants a piece of the Tristan brothers but Brian, Paul, Caz, and Nick stick tight to guard themselves from the vagaries of the world. Who better to sneak under their defenses than four little heartbreakers made just for them?

What About Love? – A secret weekend, a loved denied—secrets of the heart are hard to bear alone.

Brian Tristan and Lexy Claremont parted by mutual agreement after a hot and heavy weekend neither would ever forget. An agreement each regretted the moment it was made. Imagine their shock when they learn they are still married, a revelation made on the heels of an announcement Lexy never wanted to hear, one that has both of them asking, “What about love?” and discovering someone else had a secret agenda of their own by keeping them apart.

Crazy On You – Soon after Paul Tristan laid eyes on Ceci Powers, he knew she was the one. Too bad she was his brother’s girlfriend. A good brother steps aside, and Paul always does the right thing even if it kills him.

The fire between Ceci Powers and Brian Tristan died as quickly as it was lit. In its place was a wanting so fierce, a love so intense, she could barely stand the ache. How can she leave one brother for another?

It takes a little bit of fate and a bawdy challenge to get Mr. Missionary and Ms. Vanilla moving. But a hard nudge is sometimes all someone needs to “go crazy on you.”

If Looks Could Kill – Caz Tristan and Brooke Hansen have made no secret of the fact they rub each other the wrong way. All the world knows if looks could kill, they would have done each other in years ago. Unfortunately for Caz, his brothers have out-voted him in their bid to hire Brooke as the new manager for Mesquite. Now, forced to work together, Caz admits he lacks control where Brooke is concerned, and if there’s one thing Caz prides himself on, it’s his control.

As a power player in a man’s world Brooke learned long ago she had to have bigger brass ones than the big boys with whom she was forced to play ball. Control was never more important and she’s taken the motto “Never Let Them See You Sweat” to heart in the boardroom. But in the bedroom it’s a completely different matter. Behind closed doors Brooke would love nothing more than to give complete control over to a trusted lover. Never did she realize the one man who could do all that and more for her is the very man she’s shared daggers with over the years.

Yes…if looks could kill… But then, looks can be deceiving.

How Can I Refuse – The concept was simple—go undercover to a sex club to find a killer. The execution was a bit trickier for Gaby Keating. She turned to the one person who could help her—her father, attorney Marvin Keating, one of the “movers and shakers” in that community. His refusal falls on deaf ears as they both knew it would. Gaby didn’t get to be where she is as a police officer by playing it safe. But that’s just what Marvin intends she do. His world, his rules, his associates who will prepare Gaby for the assignment…and go with her.

Nick Tristan’s voice has always been magic to her ears. Gaby can’t count the times she’s rocked out listening to Mesquite. But never in her wildest imagination did she ever except to find magic in his fingers or between the bodies of two gorgeous men. In fact…how could she possible refuse?

Note: The stories in Heartbreakers were previously released as standalone titles but have been combined in a convenient set.

BUY LINKS:

Loose Id

Amazon

Kobo Books

EXCERPT

Paul held Ceci as close as he dared, rubbing what he hoped were soothing circles on her back, muttering words of comfort. She clung to him, head against his shoulder. He’d envisioned her in his arms for too long. His cock responded accordingly. Paul tried his best not to let her feel his erection. She might not be with Brian anymore, but she was still hands-off to him because of that previous relationship. A good brother didn’t sleep with his brother’s ex. It wasn’t done. While his brain understood that, his heart and body firmly disagreed. He’d betrayed Brian simply by lusting after her. It was the guilt he’d carried around since he first realized how much he wanted her eight months before.

They’d bonded over plans for decorating this beautiful house. His brothers couldn’t have cared less about the place. Paul loved it at first sight. He and Ceci had fallen into an easy rapport over plans. He couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment his feelings latched onto her. Maybe it was the scent of her as they’d leaned over each other’s shoulder looking at fabric. Or that time they’d touched hands when picking out drapes. Or any of a hundred situations that put them within each other’s grasp. He’d thought touring would get her out of his system. Wrong. It made him crave her all the more. And she belonged to Brian. Or had…until today. Now she was free—a decision mutually agreed upon by her and Brian. Still the brother code kept him from going after her. And if it didn’t put some distance between him and Ceci right now, Paul was going to violate that code big time.

He focused instead on this latest news—that Brian had married someone years ago and never bothered to tell them. Talk about breaking the brother code. How could Brian not have mentioned her? Their parents were going to freak. It was a wonder they hadn’t called yet.

“Damn him!” The words exploded from his mouth.

Ceci lifted her head from his shoulder, fingers flexed against his chest. A little closer and her palms would cup his nipples. A little lower and her fingers would be able to toy with his hard flesh. The knowledge shot down to his groin, adding more substance to the cock already hard beyond capacity. An erection swelled down one leg of his jeans. That was what he got for going commando. He placed his hands over hers, intending to move them. Instead, he pressed them flat, stealing the sensation he longed for and trying not to show how much it devastated him that he couldn’t have it honestly.

Tears glistened in her sea-green eyes and spiked her long lashes. Mouth parted, lips moist and full. It mystified him again why Brian could not be all over her all the time. How Brian could drift away from her the way he had, when Paul ached for a glimpse of her, held his breath for the sound of her voice, the kiss of her constant laughter, the light in her eyes.

“Don’t,” she said. “You heard him. He thought Howie had handled all the paperwork for the annulment. It was a wild, crazy weekend ten years ago.”

“But he didn’t tell us.”

“Do you tell him every detail of your sex life?”

Ceci had him there. They weren’t teenagers anymore. Sharing sex tales had ended in high school. But it pissed him off that Ceci was defending Brian. Where was her outrage, her fury? True, she had broken the engagement, indicating she’d made that decision before news of Brian’s marriage had come out. Maybe she was relieved. If so, why had she let him pull her into his arms to comfort her? Why was she crying?

She pressed closer, angling her hips a whisper away from his. Too close for Paul’s fragile control. Her body heat poured over his pelvis. His cock pulsed with a life all its own, demanding he thrust forward and cover those last few millimeters between them.

“Paul, I…”

He braced his hands on her hips and gently set some distance between them before he gave in to the urge to grind his cock against her. All he wanted to do was yank her back and kiss her, haul that cute black-and-white sundress to her waist and wedge her against the nearest wall while he showed her what loving a woman was all about.

She slid her hands over his shoulders, reclaiming the distance he needed. Paul’s resolve started to crumble. It would be so easy to take advantage of the moment, so easy to swoop in and have her, to know what it felt like to be wrapped in her arms and buried in her heat. And lose her completely because of it. Because if he made love to her once, Paul knew it would never be enough. One of them would have to go, and since he’d be the one at fault…

He grabbed her fingers and took a small step away, holding her hands between them for a shield against his emotions and the aching cock that so wanted to throw caution to the wind and go for it.

“Women like Alexandria Claremont are a dime a dozen. I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to ride the Mesquite gravy train long before now.” He snorted. “She obviously didn’t realize their marriage was still valid or she would have. Ms. Claremont won’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. I swear to you I’m going to find out everything I can about that woman. This is one fight Alexandria Claremont won’t want.”

Ceci held on tight when he tried to walk away. “Paul, don’t do this. Let Brian handle it. It’s a relief actually. We both agreed. You heard that.”

“You’re crying your eyes out and you call that relief?”

Ceci’s eyes widened at his shout. Paul bit back an apology. If it helped keep them apart, that could only be a good thing at this point. Right?

“I’m going to fix it this. I swear it, or die trying.”

He strode into the house before he caved, before he spread her on the nearest chaise lounge and made his dreams come true. Before he told her how very much he loved her.

* * * *

The chaise’s padded cushion whistled with Ceci’s weight as she sank into it. Normally, that sound resulted in bawdy fart jokes from the Tristan brothers. No one was laughing today, especially her. How in the world had she let things go this far?

What little fire she and Brian had between them had fizzled after two months. She should have ended it then but didn’t because doing so meant stepping away from their lives and returning to the shadows to do the redecorating job she’d been hired to do. She couldn’t bear the idea of never being able to hang out with them. Worse, she wouldn’t be able to see Paul.

Ceci buried her face in her hands. Paul’s was the face she searched for, the smile she sought, the one whose presence she missed the most when the guys were gone. The more time she let lapse, the bigger the hole she’d dug for herself grew. All because her stupid heart wanted a man she couldn’t have. Or rather, shouldn’t have. How could she explain to Paul that her tears had nothing to do with Brian? She cried for the loss of Paul from her life.

The guys were tight. They had that all-for-one sibling code—blood-thicker-than-water stuff. Which was great for a family, great for them as a group. That unity had helped them weather all the crazy ups and downs in this business. It sucked for her. Tristans always stuck together. No one ever came between the brothers, especially a woman. Hell, they’d even bought this huge house together—a place she and Paul had spent hours working on.

Ceci jerked her head up at the slam of the studio door. It was most likely Paul. She’d never seen any of the guys this upset before, but then a secret wife would do that. She prayed it wouldn’t drive a wedge between the brothers.

No, that was what she was doing, more or less. Her agony now was a result of her silence. Of not breaking it off with Brian when she realized two months in that nothing more than friendship and sometimes nice sex could exist between them. She’d stayed with him for the wrong reasons. Had she acted then, perhaps time and distance would have gotten her the man she really wanted.

She swiped the tears from her cheeks. Her makeup was a mess. She didn’t need a mirror to tell her that.

Ceci pushed herself to her feet and hurried inside. She’d dumped her purse somewhere between the front door and the den—the brothers’ favorite room in this sprawling house, after the recording studio behind the pool house. She retraced her steps and found her black hobo purse right where she’d left it just inside the den. Luck was with her. Caz and Nick weren’t in the room. It looked like Howie had taken off too, which was just as well since the brothers were furious with the man.

She snagged her purse and sank into Paul’s big recliner. His scent wafted around her, wrapping her in the comfort she longed to feel in his arms. She tucked her legs under her and nestled deep into the soft blue cushion. There were dozens of other things she should be doing instead of wallowing in self-pity. After all, she had a job to finish. Or would she even have that now that she and Brian had mutually decided to end it? Oh hell, she hadn’t considered that. She’d been too worried that she’d never see Paul again.

Ceci plunged her hand into the depths of the bag to find her cell phone. She needed to make sure she and Brian were still good, still friends.

Nerves crawled over her skin. Hope deflated when the call went to voice mail. He would have flown to Vegas and had the device turned off. Fine. She’d wait him out, providing he’d return her call and not delete the voice mail unheard. If that happened, she’d keep trying until he finally answered. She burrowed deeper and swiped the last remnants of tears from her face. Mascara and eyeliner blackened her fingers. God, Paul had seen her like this. Great image. Too late to unring that bell.

Ceci hopped to her feet and hurried to the nearest bathroom down the hall. The silence in the house haunted her. As if the place were holding its breath for what would happen next. That was how she felt, locked in perpetual wait mode, afraid to think beyond what she needed to do next. If she thought further than that, Ceci would start dwelling on the ramifications of her actions—never seeing Paul again. Those fears had stymied her in the past. She couldn’t allow them to do so again.

She shut herself in the bathroom and leaned against the door to steady her nerves. The brothers had designated this as her bathroom. Shades of black-and-pink Victorian designs embellished the room. No Tristan male dared cross the threshold. Makeup, curling iron and rollers, blower dryer, and various other necessities of feminine life filled the drawers in the vanity. Plush towels were stacked in the linen closet. Bath oils, bubbles, and soaps lined the shelf around a tub made for relaxing. Magazines and paperbacks were within easy reach. Her place, her nest. Her sanctuary in a household overrun with testosterone.

She’d also taken over the walk-in closet across the hall for clothes, shoes, whatever. Paul had moved a chest of drawers in there for her use as well. The place was huge. She could have fit a twin bed in there if she’d wanted. From what she recalled of the Realtor’s rambling accolades about the house, it had once been used as a dressing room for the bathroom opposite it. Ceci had wasted no time claiming it as hers. Crazy that she’d done so. Crazy that they’d let her when Paul suggested it.

Another sigh launched her off the door and to the mirror. The damage to her makeup was worse than Ceci expected. She washed her face and left it at that. God only knew how many more tears she’d shed today. Fear and anxiety were the boss of her today. No makeup was better than smudged and runny.

Somewhat revived, she walked back to the den, kicked off her wedge sandals, and tucked into Paul’s chair once again. It felt like heaven to sink into its depths. The only thing missing was him. She should leave. After all, she’d done what she came here to do—end the engagement. If she couldn’t focus on her work, she had no business remaining, but she couldn’t make herself leave, either.

“So are the three of you just about done dancing around each other?”

Ceci jumped at the sound of Caz’s voice. Instinct made her check to make sure her dress wasn’t gaping. He hovered in the doorway, making the space look insignificant. He was no larger than his brothers at six feet, but his personality always made him seem bigger. He stared at her with those Tristan brown eyes. The brothers could have been quads, they looked so much alike. The difference was in their personalities, and the bear in this brother had been poked.

“What do you mean?” She tucked her dress down over her knees.

Caz stalked toward her. “You know damn well what I mean. Nick and I have watched the three of you play this game for almost a year. It’s ridiculous. Brian avoids you. You avoid Brian. Paul makes cow eyes at you. You giggle over Paul and use every excuse to be near or touch him. You and Brian don’t want to be together, and neither of you had the balls to speak up until today. You and Paul want each other so much I can smell it, and neither of you has the balls to speak up.”

He was over her now, fists braced on the arms of the chair, nailing her in place with his presence, those eyes.

“Paul respects—”

“Bullshit,” he spat out. “He’s chicken. And stupid. The signs are clear enough if he’d open his fucking eyes and look. He can’t see past the fact Brian had you first. It wouldn’t matter to me, sweetheart. If I wanted you, I’d come after you. I thought of it a couple of times just to throw a scare into Paul and get him moving.”

“You did?” Ceci didn’t know how she felt about that news.

“I did,” he said with a smile. “I would have too, if I didn’t find you too vanilla for me.”

Ceci glared up at him. “I am not vanilla.”

Caz’s grin widened. “You are too.”

“Am not.”

He cocked his head to one side. “Really? Prove it.” He jerked his head toward the door. “Go get your man. Someone’s got to make a move. Might as well be you. Do it, sweetheart. Go out there and go crazy on him.”

Heat rushed her from head to toe. Ceci knew a blush went along with it. She stared at Caz, saw the continuing challenge in his eyes, and didn’t know what the hell to do.

“I…I…” She shook her head. “Not until I talk to Brian.”

“Need permission?”

His smirk pissed her off. “No. A clear conscience. The brother code and all.”

“And that, dear Ceci, is why we all love you. Some of us much more than others.” He pushed back and walked away, but only got as far as the door before he looked back. “Don’t dawdle. Nick and I are sick and tired of the facade. We’re prepared to take matters into our own hands if we have to.”

 

Secrets We Keep by Caitlyn Willows

SecretsWeKeep

SECRETS WE KEEP
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotica – Contemporary (Menage) – Novel
March 2017
Cover Art – Scott Carpenter
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-68262-308-7

Secrets we keep from our spouse, our lover, each other…ourselves. Secrets buried inside, some to fester, some to bloom. Secrets on a collision course that can’t be avoided and must breathe the light of day…

Dylan Mitchell is dedicated to two things: his wife and his job. He’s the agent who does whatever it takes to get his man, even if that means literally getting his man. It’s part of the job, his duty. Besides, Dylan gets to hook-up with his hot-as-hell wife, Susan, once a month for a night of unfettered sex. It’s all good. Right?

Ah…but those secrets.

It’s not just a job anymore. Emotions are involved—his, Susan’s, and Cabot Logan’s, the man Dylan is supposed to put behind bars. His two worlds aren’t about to overlap, they’re going to collide. Real world and undercover. Secrets revealed. Secrets Dylan’s kept from himself.

But Susan has a secret of her own. So does Cabot. Those secrets and that of others are on a collision course of their own. And the aftermath will change everything…forever…

BUY LINKS:

Loose Id

Amazon

Kobo

iBooks

EXCERPT:

“Well?” he demanded when Hank answered on the first ring.

“It’s set and in place. Leave through the front door. Take her with you. Gabriel and Sanchez are posing as plainclothes detectives downstairs and waiting to arrest you both for prostitution. That’ll get you off the street and back with us. We’ll take the scenario from there and build up the necessary front once you come in.”

“No cuffs.”

Susan’s eyebrow lifted.

“No booking on the records. No mug shots. No—”

“For someone demanding extraction, you’re being awful picky,” Hank snapped.

“This is my wife. I did trust him, and he sure as hell didn’t deserve it.

The elevators opened on the first floor. Marble tile mirrored every step. The revolving doors were just ahead, ready to spin them back to their lives. Bellmen hovered to escort guests inside. Traffic was light but steady. Taxis would be just out of sight. Valets whisked other vehicles away the minute the drivers stepped out. It was a protected area, away from the public’s prying eyes. Gabriel and Sanchez were most likely waiting for Dylan to step outside. They’d pull up and invite them into the car, after they made it clear to eavesdroppers they were being arrested. No scene. No publicity. No embarrassment for the hotel.

Dylan wished to hell he was armed. He’d had to leave all weapons behind when he went undercover.

They reached the sweep of revolving glass doors. Susan glanced up at him. He offered her what he hoped was a smile of reassurance to go with the squeeze around her waist. They stepped into together.

One…two…three steps and they were outside.

A shiny black limo zipped to a stop at the curb. The back door swung open. Sky blue eyes peeked out from inside. Dread crawled down Dylan’s spine.

Cabot Logan had one paint-splattered sneaker out of the limo. Gabriel and Sanchez were just pulling into the hotel drive and stuck behind three taxis.

“Get in now,” Cabot told him. “Hurry.”

Dylan gently pushed Susan away from him—better to save her than himself—and started for the car.

Cabot’s gaze darted to Susan, widening a bit before he shuttered his expression. “Both of you. Now!”

Dylan braced himself for the rush of bodyguards forcing them inside. Survivor instinct, he supposed, like the muscles bunching to dive if he heard the click of a handgun chambering a round demanding he comply with Cabot’s order. The privacy window between driver and passengers was down. Jorge was behind the wheel. No one else appeared to be inside, only those sky-blue eyes calling him into the vehicle. There was a panicked edge to Cabot’s voice Dylan had never heard before and he couldn’t quite place what it was. Anger would be more appropriate than fear. It was both those…and something more. What the fuck?

Anger swept everything else away. There was only one way Cabot would know about that. Okay, several ways. All of which pointed to the fact the investigation was screwed and Dylan along with it.

If he turned and walked away right now, would he get a bullet in the back for his effort? Should he play again and see what he could salvage? The thought made him laugh at the irony. Minutes ago, he wanted to dump it all and leave. Now he was trying to fix it?

Right now he had a much bigger problem. He had to find a way to leave Susan behind and safe. Gabriel and Sanchez would pull her in as planned and get her home.

“The woman’s not a part of it,” he told Cabot.

His lip curled at the corner, deepening the curve bracketing it. “Oh, she’s very much a part.” He jerked his head toward the car. “In. I’d hate to have a scene. I’ve risked a lot to save your ass tonight.”

Not nearly as much as Dylan risked right now. Both his worlds hadn’t just overlapped, they’d collided. Implosion was imminent.

He pressed his hand against the small of Susan’s back, urging her forward. She moved without question, trusting him when he didn’t deserve it. Soon it would all be over. There wasn’t much Dylan could do to stop the train wreck. Not that he’d be alive to see the aftermath. But she would. He’d make sure of that. He’d rather her live out the remainder of her life hating him than to have her killed for his acts.

Susan ducked into the car. Dylan slid onto the leather seat beside her.

“No”—Cabot sat down and shut the door—“I want her between us.”

It was Susan who moved, crawling over Dylan’s lap, then wiggling into the space between the two men. Dylan shifted so his body turned toward them. It gave Susan room to put some distance between herself and Cabot, and Dylan better positioned to protect her, if necessary. She clutched her small purse with both hands, gaze focused exclusively on Cabot. Dylan considered sliding over to the opposite bench seat, but didn’t want to upset him any further.

Cabot leaned toward the driver. “Jorge, could you please take us to the marina?”

“Anything. It is my pleasure.”

“Thank you. Sorry to shut you out, but we need to discuss a few things.”

Cabot closed the privacy window between them as he fished his cell phone from the pocket of his khaki cargo pants, also paint-splattered. He’d been working at one of the houses the Tristan Foundation was renovating. Jorge must have stopped by and offered Cabot a ride.

Wicked tonight. There will be other times.” He ended the call and dropped the phone back into his pocket.

“I wonder if her mother is as interesting as yours seems to be,” he said.

Dylan fought the urge to wrap a protective arm around Susan and pull her closer. He’d given Cabot the excuse he always did during these monthly trysts—that he was visiting his mother. The soft interior lighting didn’t help Dylan read the man. It cast shadows and highlighted the mix of emotions on Cabot’s face. Cabot was more closed off than ever, all walls firmly in place. Dylan didn’t like it, for many reasons. Guilt and fear were at the top of his list, the horrible knowledge he’d hurt this man—this seemingly good man—deeply.

“Here I thought you wearing the tie I’d given you was to impress your mom.” Cabot reached over and hooked his finger under the blue silk.

A whiff of Susan’s juices drifted Dylan’s way. Cabot couldn’t help but smell it too.

His eyebrow lifted while he absorbed that fact. “Clearly, you found other uses for it tonight.” He dropped the tie and leaned back. “When I heard you were going to be arrested for prostitution, I couldn’t believe it. I thought…” He shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t suppose it matters what I thought. This”—he waved his finger at Susan—“explains so much and leaves so many more questions.”

He traced his finger down Susan’s cheek, down her throat, down to the valley of her breasts. Dylan didn’t know whether he wanted to break it or push it more firmly into place. Her nipples hardened, creating little shadows over her breasts in the passing light. Her breath changed to that little quiver she always got when aroused. Dylan’s cock stirred at the thought.

“She’s very beautiful.” Cabot followed the upper curve of her breasts, then wandered to her collarbone and the slight hollow above.

Her fingers flexed around the purse. Dylan watched her pulse flutter along her neck.

“I presume you have a name?”

“Does is really matter?” she replied.

Dylan applauded the fact she could speak and stay in the character she was supposed to be. Then Cabot curled his hand against her jaw and pressed his thumb on the point of her chin.

“Oh, it matters. It matters very much.”

“Susan.”

Goddamnit, baby. Not your real name.

“Wholesome, pure, simple. Not Suzie or Sue?”

She shrugged one shoulder. “Some shorten it to Sue. Some people put nicknames on everyone.”

 

Full Circle by Cassie Stevens

cs_full-circle

FULL CIRCLE
by Cassie Stevens
Contemporary Romance Novella – M/M
January 2017
Cover Art © Dar Albert
ISBN 978-1-68252-246-2

Seth Foster’s biggest mistake wasn’t being in Jason’s arms…it was running from them. After all, running and hiding are what Seth does best. Running down a football field, hiding from the world and himself what he truly feels inside. He thought tearing down the old house would purge the memories. He didn’t realize buying the place would bring Jason Gentry back into his life.

Jason Gentry purged the heartbreak and all the anger that came with it years ago. It comes rushing back at the first sight of Seth standing before the old house. So does ache and want…and Jason’s determination to see the house restored, to show Seth some things are worth saving. It doesn’t take Jason long to realize that the thing that needs restoring the most is Seth. How can Jason give Seth what he most needs without further losing his heart in the process?

Jason has one night to reintroduce Seth to the life he never should have denied. One night to remember forever. If you love someone, let them go…right? Yeah, right…then run the other way before heartbreak catches you.

NOTE: This was previously published as Best Laid Plans with another publisher.

BUY LINKS:

Loose Id

Amazon

EXCERPT:

Jason hadn’t been fully prepared for the impact of seeing Seth face-to-face. Sure he looked just as great in person as he did on ESPN. Faced with reality, Seth appeared haunted. Jason had learned to read people well. Seth was no exception, though Jason wished he were. In the life he’d built, Seth could hide. But not here, not standing before this house, and certainly not standing next to Jason. Vulnerability seeped from his pores. One word, one touch, would tip Seth over the edge. God only knew what would happen then.

It killed Jason not to wrap a hug around him, not to bury his face in Seth’s neck and inhale him. Killed him almost as much to admit that. He’d thought he’d banished all those hurts years ago, written them to death. Yet the moment he’d learned Seth had put a bid on the old Jefferson place, it all came rushing back. Jason wanted him to hurt, even if it was only his wallet. Still that hadn’t satisfied him. He’d needed to come here and taunt. He hadn’t expected to come here and want. But God how he did. Seeing the torment on Seth’s face intensified that want, turning it into a raw, feral need Jason couldn’t deny…and couldn’t fully act on without scaring off his intended target. It didn’t help either that Seth looked so damn good.

You’ve been writing too long. Jason hid a smile. He couldn’t help the grand comparisons. Writing was his life and it colored everything he did, said, and felt.

The bald look definitely worked for Seth. Jason’s dick had agreed the second he’d seen him. Jason wanted to slide his hand over Seth’s head, then ride those shoulder muscles down to his biceps, latch on, and kiss him hard. Aggression might not be a wise course of action. Though Jason still topped Seth by two inches, Seth had bulked up to two hundred twenty pounds of raw muscle and power. He could snap Jason like a pretzel. All the lean muscle Jason built from running and working out wouldn’t protect him. The danger made him want Seth all the more.

His erection raged unabated. Right now Jason didn’t care who noticed. He knew it wouldn’t be Seth. That would be admitting something Seth had spent too many years denying.

Sadness crept into Jason’s heart. To have lived like Seth had, hiding the truth even from himself. Now Seth stood before this house, ready to kill what he considered the beast for the memories Seth couldn’t escape. It would change nothing. Somehow, Jason had to get Seth to see that. No matter how much he’d wished the house gone over the years. Every time he’d looked at it, Jason remembered that night all over again, and all the agony that came after.

He forced happy to the surface. “You’ve got the key. Let’s go.” The gate’s creak echoed against the houses across the street, startling blackbirds and sparrows from the trees. Kids who trespassed knew to hop the fence and go around the back.

Though Seth paused, he slipped his hand into his trouser pocket. Jason shot a glance in that direction, sucking in a soft breath at the sight of Seth’s erection ridging the black trousers that looked custom-made. Jason envied the tailor who’d measured his inseam.

“Don’t,” Seth snapped.

Jason dragged his gaze away. “Sorry. Accident. Saw you dig for keys.” Look at me and you’ll see the same. “Just pretend it was a locker room peek.”

A dark red flushed Seth’s face. “We do not peek at each other in the locker room.” Anger flared his nostrils and shaded his green eyes with gray.

“Wrong. You don’t peek at other men in the locker room.” That’d be leading himself down his forbidden path. “All the etiquette in the world isn’t going to stop an inadvertent peek now and then. It can’t be helped.”

“There was nothing inadvertent about what you were doing. And it sure as hell wasn’t a peek.” Seth yanked his keys from his pocket. “Are we going to do this or not?”

An open-ended question if ever he’d heard one. Jason left it alone. “After you.” He swept his arm, inviting Seth to proceed.

Seth took one step, then stopped. “Me first? So you can ogle my ass?”

Jason couldn’t help laughing. “The thought hadn’t occurred to me. But sure. Why not? It’d be nice to see it in person again, not running down a football field on TV. Though high-def big-screen does have its benefits.”

Seth narrowed his eyes. “You’ve watched my games?”

“You know how much I like football. Why would that change because—”You tore out my heart and flung it into the end zone. “Why would that change?”

Seth jiggled the keys as he seemed to consider Jason’s response. If he was looking for more, Jason couldn’t give it to him. He loved sports. Always had, always would. Their relationship, or lack thereof, wasn’t going to change that.

“I haven’t read any of your books,” Seth said.

That almost sounded like an apology. Jason wouldn’t diminish the confession by clarifying he watched football, not Seth. “Suspense isn’t for everyone.” He shrugged. “I also find it very difficult to read books from those authors I’m close to.”

Seth nodded and stepped through the gate, taking the lead, keys rattling all the way. Jason couldn’t help it. He looked at Seth’s tight ass. The trousers displayed it to perfection.

“You checking out my ass?” Seth asked over his shoulder.

Jason laughed. “Absolutely.”

A hint of a smile tugged up the corner of his mouth. “I figured I’d throw you a bone.”

“On behalf of gay men everywhere, I thank you.” Yes, he’d been out for years and was damn proud of it.

He drew up beside Seth on the narrow brick path. Grass choked the edges, replacing any mortar that once held it together.

“Dandelions have taken over the front yard.” Seth waved a pointed finger toward them as he stepped onto the first step. The weathered wood groaned under his weight.

“Buttercups have taken over the back.” Jason tried to put a positive spin on what was a landscaping nightmare. He waited to see if the steps would hold Seth, then dared to trot ahead and open what remained of the screen door. It fell off the hinges and would have knocked him in the head if not for Seth’s quick reflexes.

“I’ll add that to the list of things that need to be done.” Jason set the door against the side of the house.

Seth shot him a look from the corner of his eye. “It’d be a shorter list if you wrote down what doesn’t need to be done.” He thrust the ancient key into the rusted lock and twisted. “Feels weird to go in the front.” The lock didn’t budge. “No wonder no one’s tried to go this way.”

Jason leaned against the house, grimacing when splinters pierced his shoulder. “You could bust through. You’ve faced bigger obstacles on the field.”

“And ruin the one thing that works? This is oak. It’s not going anywhere.” He grimaced and turned the key harder. Nothing. Then metal clunked into place. Odd how exciting that little victory felt.

“How long since you were in here?” Seth asked.

“Can’t remember.” A lie. Jason had returned here all too often. He’d go to the room where he and Seth had crossed the line from friendship to lovers, lovers to… He didn’t know how to describe that. He’d stand in that second-floor bedroom and weep for his loss, then go home and beat off to the memory of them entwined on the sleeping bags they’d thrown over the old bed. College and adulthood had given him some reason, that and the spent condoms he’d found from others’ liaisons. Though the temptation to jerk off in the house was hard to fight.

He pressed his hand against Seth’s back. Muscle flexed beneath his palm, but Seth didn’t shake him off.

“Go on,” Jason urged. “Open her up.”

Copyright © Cassie Stevens

Risk-Reward by Caitlyn Willows

riskreward

RISK-REWARD
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense- BDSM
November 2016
Cover Artist – Valerie Tibbs
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-68252-237-0

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.

Buy Links:

Loose Id

Amazon

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.”

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.

BUY LINK:

Amazon

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

 

ROUGH CUT
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Romantic Suspense
August 2016
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN: 978-1-68252-182-9

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:

Loose Id

Amazon

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.”

 

Forbidden Fruit by Caitlyn Willows

ForbiddenFruit

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.

Buy link:

Amazon

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.

 

Thief of Hearts by Caitlyn Willows

ThiefHearts

THIEF OF HEARTS
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Historical Novella
July 2016
Cover Art – Trace Edward Zaber

Rafael Ortega and Pilar Duran have been betrothed since the cradle, a fact that hasn’t exactly pleased them. Little did they realize what a difference a two year separation could make. During the trip from port to the families’ ranchos, they are watchful for the thief who’s been plundering the countryside. But Pilar knows a greater threat–one to her heart. Tell that to her traitorous body. Little does she realize how close she truly is to the thief. And this one is definitely out to steal her heart.

Buy link:

Amazon

REVIEWS

FIVE ANGELS! I always like to read a book by Caitlyn Willows. She has a way of weaving robust and vital characters that make the read most enjoyable. Even the well-blended secondary cast added a good addition to the story. Thief of Hearts is not only well-written but flows beautifully, adding such in-depth scenery that just opens up like a lovely garden springing to life. Could Pilar and Raphael get any sexier? I love the way her Aunt Beatriz wishes to protect her young and how Raphael notices how she is quick to safeguard Pilar. The scenes were often mixed with wit and added a great blend to the story. I found this entertaining read filled with romance, passion, a bit of intrigue and wonderful characters that leaped from the pages. ~Linda L., Fallen Angel Reviews

FIVE MAGICAL WANDS! Another sure-fire hit from Ms Willows, I really enjoyed this hot, steamy tale of love and lust set in a time when a woman’s purity and honour were paramount. This short novella was full of sensual detail and exciting characters. Aunt Beatriz, the girls’ chaperone, was especially good. With some sizzling sex scenes and a great deal of tender love, this story comes well recommended. ~Audiotalo, Enchanted Ramblings

FIVE FLAGS! Thief of Hearts is a charming story and poor Aunt Beatriz is hilarious! The sexual tension between Rafael and Pilar sizzles and the love that they have for each other is beautiful. Thief of Hearts has all three H’s – history, humor and heat (not necessarily in that order)! This book was one delightful surprise after another – I really enjoyed it and strongly encourage you to read it. Now…to get to work on perfecting the silent orgasm… ~Kerin, Euro-Reviews

FOUR STARS! I enjoyed reading this delightfully sweet, romantic love story as well as the mystery and intrigue in this action adventure. I was also thrilled by the surprise ending that was especially satisfying. Thief of Hearts by Caitlyn Willows is romantic dynamite. I loved watching Pilar’s love for Rafael grow in stages as he charmed her and sexually devastated her senses. I enjoyed their adventurous spirits in sneaking time and discovering unusual places to make wild passionate illicit love together. I thought the escapades funny and delightfully inventive. I was impressed with Pilar’s resourcefulness in finding ways to pleasure herself, no matter where she was, even in public. If I were to sum up this story in one word, the word would be entertaining. From beginning to end I was pleasantly entertained. I highly recommend this book for everyone who enjoys an entertaining, steamy, passionate read. I know you’ll love it as much as I did. ~Karen H., Just Erotic Romance Reviews

FOUR CUPS! This is the author’s version of the tale of Zorro with an incredibly erotic twist. The sensuality and seduction that rises off each page is as hot as a California summer day. Pilar and Raphael’s attraction to each other sizzles on nearly every page. Adding in Raphael’s secret life only spices things up more. This was a savory, steamy read. ~Charissa, Coffee Time Romance

This is a very short yet satisfying read. Ms. Willows weaves a great deal of sensual detail into the interaction between Pilar and Rafael. The added historical context brought a certain perspective and depth to the story. The character development and pace was wonderful; one could not help but get caught up in the drama. Overall this book was a great read and something I would recommend to anyone looking for an entertaining book. ~Vianna Renaud, TCM Reviews

Caitlyn Willows always manages to capture my attention. Thief of Hearts is an enjoyable read with intense feelings from the characters. Pilar dreaded her reunion with the boy who used to drive her crazy but once she sees him again, she realizes that Rafael still drives her crazy… only in a different way now! Even while they are on constant watch for a local thief on the way to their families’ rancheros, they somehow manage to get to know each other. The sexual tension mounts quickly but it is the development of their feelings for each other that really makes Thief of Hearts interesting. Caitlyn Willows fans will not be disappointed and neither will anyone looking for a quick, hot read. ~Georgia, Joyfully Reviewed.

EXCERPT

California

May 1849

Pilar Duran had always known what her duty was. Every woman in Alta California knew her place. That didn’t mean she had to like it. And it certainly didn’t mean she had to embrace it as her sister did. Oh, she’d do her duty to her family. It was, after all, the only true way to ensure their rancho remained theirs. But she definitely would not submit willingly.

She glanced at Florencia from the corner of her eye. Her older sister leaned so far over the railing of the ship one bump from behind might send her tumbling headfirst into the harbor water below. She’d already lost her lace rebozo. The onshore breeze had caught the scarf and sent it aloft. Florencia had been too absorbed in watching the bustle of men on the docks to catch it in time and merely laughed when it happened. In fact, she hadn’t stopped laughing since they’d left Mexico.

Pilar didn’t fault her for the excitement. Her sister had been in love with Luis Ortega since the cradle. They’d not seen each other for over two years. But the correspondence had flown between them as if delivered on the wind—enough to fill a chest with his letters. A chest Florencia had insisted must come with her on this, their final trip home.

Florencia had been inconsolable when their parents shipped the sisters off to Mexico once war broke out. Luis was just as devastated. But their safety and the perpetuation of the family lines was at stake. The women had to be safe in order to beget the hoards of grandchildren the Durans and Ortegas wanted.

At the time it was all Pilar could do to remain silent. One needed a man to beget those children. How was saving the women of any benefit if the men were to remain behind? She’d somehow managed to keep the retort to herself. After all, the last thing she wanted was to have Rafael Ortega come with her to Mexico. That would have meant marriage immediately. Pilar wanted to avoid it as long as possible.

She closed her eyes and inhaled the ocean air. At least they were finally on land. Pilar didn’t travel so well onboard the ship. The rolling ship made her queasy more times than not, and her aunt’s raucous snores made sleeping at night impossible.

Nothing bothered her sister. Love and anticipation had kept Florencia alert and well, just as dread and doom had conspired with the other maladies to bring Pilar down. She remembered Rafael as the boy who’d pull her hair and tease her. Their marriage had been planned since her birth. He never wasted a moment holding their future status over her head.

“You must do as I say, Pilar. I am to be your husband.” Doing as he said might involve anything from climbing a dangerously high cottonwood tree, to not being allowed to dance with any other boy at festivas.

“I am older than you.” As if two months’ difference gave him special status.

And the equally annoying, “Females cannot do as males can. Return to your woman’s work.” Of course, she always had to prove him wrong by doing exactly as he did, no matter how unladylike.

In hindsight, Pilar often wondered if his taunts weren’t said for that purpose—to get her to do what he really wished. How unfortunate she hadn’t realized it at the time. As things were, she had to grudgingly—and secretly—thank him for her riding skills, not to mention shooting, roping, and fencing skills. Not that those had helped her so far, but a lady never knew what she might need for survival.

He’d attempted to steal a kiss from her only once. Pilar thwarted him with her fist to his chin. She didn’t know who was more shocked—Rafael or herself. He’d merely stared down at her, then smiled and walked away…after he’d said the strangest thing. “Nicely done, querida.”

She wanted to throw back that she was not his querida. But the words wouldn’t move past her suddenly choked throat. The whole episode had rattled Pilar in ways she couldn’t describe. It still gave her odd chills whenever she recalled how the endearment had rolled off his tongue. She and her sister had left for Mexico a week later, and she was glad of it.

Pilar rubbed the bridge of her nose against the sudden rush of tears. What was she to do? He wasn’t even what one called attractive. He towered over her like a menacing giant—a skinny one at that. He’d always been wiry, with a mop of dark brown hair that refused to be tamed. As a child he was always dirty, whether that be from play or work. She’d never seen a more active person. She might have even respected that trait, if he hadn’t been so annoying.

“They are here! They are here!” Florencia sounded like a seagull gone mad.

At least someone was getting a love match out of this. Her gleaming dark hair bounced against her back with each little jump. She hoisted her blue satin skirts in one hand and made ready to dash for the gangplank.

“Hold, mija.” Aunt Beatriz hoisted her bulk from the shaded bench against the ship’s staterooms.

The look Florencia flashed at the woman screamed of betrayal. Still, she remained in place as their aunt waddled over.

“It is not good to let him see you so anxious.” She wagged a scolding finger with her tsk.

Florencia’s laughter drifted over the breeze. “Auntie, after all this time, I do not think my feelings are a mystery to the man.”

Aunt Beatriz’s massive bosom quivered with the breath she exhaled. “Go,” she said, lifting her hand in dismissal.

Pilar’s sister took off like a bullet shot from a rifle.

“And you?” her aunt asked.

Pilar retreated to the shade her aunt had vacated. “The meeting will come soon enough. Rafael knows where to find me should he wish to.”

Again there was that tsk. “I cannot say who is more foolish. Florencia for wearing her heart on her sleeve, or you for denying yours.”

Pilar plucked at her yellow skirt, smoothing the folds until the butternut colored inner panel was perfectly aligned. Then she adjusted the lace cuffs on her matching gloves—gloves she’d tatted herself. Now there was a skill Rafael could not boast of having. “There is nothing to deny. I have never cared for Rafael.”

“And never made the effort to do so.”

She pulled up her chin in a defiant stare. “There is no need to fear, Auntie. I know my place and will do my duty, as would any good daughter.”

“But you are not above creating a little misery for all those in the process either, I suspect. Remember, mija, marriage is forever. Forever is a long time to be in misery.”

Her parents should have thought of that before arranging the unions. All they cared about was—

“Oh my!”

Aunt Beatriz’s gasp pulled Pilar back to the rail. The gangplank rattled with Florencia’s blind run. Sailors and dockhands turned to smile. But no smile was greater than that of the man weaving through the throng to reach her. Impossible as it seemed, Luis Ortega had become more handsome in the last two years. Black hair was the perfect complement to his brown skin. Broad shoulders filled out his short jacket of gray broadcloth. His smile was as bright as his eyes—both were focused on Florencia. He reached her before her toes could officially touch land, swinging her into his arms in a tight hug while they laughed. The affection brought smiles from everyone around, and another tsk from Aunt Beatriz.

“It is good the wedding is so soon. Still, they will bear much watching until that time.”

No one could argue that point. A pity no one had considered the possibility before their departure two years ago. As it was, Aunt Beatriz guarded a treasure long since plundered.

Hiding her smile, Pilar watched Luis set Florencia at arm’s length. One hand remained at her waist. The other pointed in the direction from which he’d run. Pilar glanced that way. Wagons were lined along the cobbled street on which supplies from just-arrived vessels were being loaded. She spied their black leather trunks among them. A man with a sheaf of papers clutched in his hand directed the trunks to two of the wagons, then he moved on to the next stack of goods. He dwarfed the smaller man hurrying to keep up with his strides. His muscled thighs flexed beneath his tan breeches.

By his height alone this could be no one else. But Pilar could hardly call Rafael Ortega wiry any longer. Years of work in the sun had darkened his skin to a rich hue and added muscle to his once scrawny frame. No longer did his clothes hang loosely. Each inch of fabric was filled. Confidence poured from him as he directed the loading of goods. The men deferred to him without hesitation.

Pilar passed a leisurely gaze down his body. His upper torso was a perfect V, punctuated by a round backside she found herself itching to cup. A flush of heat surged over her at the thought, stealing her breath away. Then, as if sensing her gaze upon him, Rafael glanced up. Pilar jolted from the impact.

A semblance of a smile touched his lips. He passed the papers on to the smaller man, then started toward the ship. Not once did he take his gaze from hers, not as he weaved through the crush of dock workers, not as he passed Luis and Florencia, not when his slow, measured step took him up the gangplank.

Pilar felt her body quiver with each shaky breath she drew. She turned as he approached, staring at him as he did her. Then he was before her, making her feel small and vulnerable, and very needy.

“Rafael.” His name came out in breathless wonder.

“Pilar.” Dark brown eyes glistened, eyes that smiled a lot, judging from the crinkles in the corners. He slipped her right hand in his and drew it to his lips. Then he slowly peeled back her glove and planted a lingering kiss to her bared flesh.

Her knees quaked, threatening to topple her to the deck. That troublesome spot between her thighs pulsed and moistened.

“The years have been generous to you. A beautiful woman has replaced the willful child.”

Willful child? How dare he! If only she could think of an appropriate retort. If only her body would stop trying to lean toward him.

“As I recall, Rafael, you were a bit willful yourself,” she somehow managed to say.

His smile washed over her. “Indeed the years have matured me as well. I hope you can forgive the transgressions of a boy.”

She inclined a nod his way and forced herself to take a small step away from his heat. Pulling in a deep breath, Rafael did the same. He turned to Aunt Beatriz.

Doña Beatriz.” As he had done with Pilar, Rafael lifted her aunt’s gloved hand to his lips. This time the glove stayed in place. “You haven’t changed, except perhaps to look younger.” He followed up with a devilish smile that set her aunt to giggling.

“And I see you’ve learned the gentlemanly art of flattery since we last met.” She gave him a playful shove. “Watch this one, Pilar. He might very well manage to steal your heart after all.”

Rafael’s gaze slid over Pilar. She swallowed down a throat gone dry. She’d been counting on hating him, on him being as reprehensible as she recalled. Her aunt could very well be right. This Rafael bore watching, as did her traitorous body.

 

Across A Sea Of Stars by Caitlyn Willows

AcrossSeaStars

ACROSS A SEA OF STARS
by Caitlyn Willows
Sci-Fi/Fantasy Romance
June 2016
Cover Art by Trace Edward Zaber

A night of debauchery has made Kes realize how much he’s wasted his life. Fate delivers him a chance to turn things around. All he has to do is retrieve a stolen Planet Skipper and deliver the culprits responsible for its theft. Once the task is accomplished, his entry into the Interplanetary Commission is guaranteed. But the Universe has another plan—Anne Sherwood.

Anne has always believed that everything happens for a reason. She prides herself on being open-minded. A world of possibility and wonder lay open to those who were willing to accept. But even she has her doubts when she learns the hot-as-heck man she’s spent the night with reveals he’s from another planet.

Through Kes, Anne discovers a power of her own she’d never imagined—the ability to control energy. It’s a power that’s growing by the minute. A power that could get out of control if she allowed it to do so. Now someone from Kes’s past is aware of it, too. And he wants it for himself.

Buy link:

Amazon

REVIEWS

“Five Shooting Stars! When a jaded space traveler meets a starry eye romantic they get a beautiful love story. I loved Across the Sea of Stars by Caitlyn Willows. It is a great love story that made me smile and really have a lot of aww moments too. Plenty of heat between the characters too to keep me reading.Kestral he is tired of one night stands that mean nothing. He wants his life to have more meaning than that. He blocks out his fears and disappointments in life by having sex with random strangers. He has one last chance to prove he can follow his dreams. He is going to change his life and take that chance. He knows this is it for him all or nothing and he is willing to gamble it all to win.Anne she is from Earth. She is upbeat, optimistic, dreamer. She sees a shooting star she loves watching the night sky. When she is attacked in the parking lot by a group of drunk men, Kestral saves her.They hit it off right from the start. But Kestral wonders if Anne can handle who he really is and will pursuing her cost him his dream job or not.Over all this is one sweet story I couldn’t stop reading. I will have this one on my keeper shelf.” – Redz World Reviews.

EXCERPT

Anne Sherwood sorted her tips by denomination. Two hundred dollars! A great night! But then, paydays for the military community normally were. She stuffed the wad of money deep into her big black leather tote and smiled up at her coworker.

“Ready to call it a night, Peggy?”

“I’ll say.” She tucked a strand of her platinum blonde hair back into place in its braid. “My feet are killing me.”

“They did keep us running tonight. But it was a good night.”

“Little Miss Mary Sunshine as always.” Peggy laughed lightly. “I swear, if a customer left you a quarter, you’d still think it was a good night. You even dealt with that problem table wearing a smile.”

Anne couldn’t help it. It was so much easier being happy than sad. If a person looked hard enough, they could always find something good in a situation.

She steered Peggy toward the door. “You need to get home to that man of yours. That’ll put a smile on your face.”

Peggy glowed with anticipation. “Your plans?”

“I’m off for groceries, then home to my menagerie.” She swung open the glass door and stepped into the late summer night.

“Damn it to hell,” Peggy muttered. “The streetlight’s out again. Find some good in that.”

A flash across the sky caught Anne’s eye. “Look.” She jerked her hand toward the disintegrating meteorite. “A shooting star.”

Peggy merely shrugged. “Is there a night when you don’t see one?”

Eyes wide, Anne scanned the heavens for more. “Hardly. I love watching them, wondering where they came from, how old they are. There’s going to be one heck of a shower tonight. Are you going to stay up to watch?”

“At one in the morning? Are you crazy?”

Anne glanced at her friend. Peggy’s eyebrows had shot up to her hairline, or close to it.

“Life’s too short to spend it sleeping. This is an event.”

“Yes, and it happens every year. So what’s the big deal?”

“It’s…celestial.”

The awe with which she’d said the word earned Peggy’s laughter. “Yes, and magic, too. Like the comets.” Peggy tossed a hug around her shoulders. “See you Tuesday. Enjoy your weekend. We’re spending ours in Vegas.” She walked on to the parking lot.

“Enjoy.” Anne lifted her hand in a wave the other woman didn’t see, while she scanned the sky again. Two more meteorites shot across a star-kissed field of black. It was going to be a spectacular show later on. She couldn’t wait.

“Well, well, well. Look what we got here.”

The deep voice drifted to Anne from the shadows of the building. Three men stepped from the inky depths. Fear crawled through her body. She shot her gaze to the parking lot. Peggy was already gone. If Anne hurried, she might be able to make the safety of the restaurant. Two deputy sheriffs were finishing up dinner inside.

As if anticipating her move, the men surrounded her, chortling with glee. They were the problem table she’d dealt with earlier. They’d been drunk then and were worse now. She ticked off identifying characteristics—white males, slender, early twenties, baggy jeans and sports jerseys, black knit caps.

“It’s our cheery little waitress,” one said.

“Wonder how friendly she really is,” said another.

“Come on, sweet thang.” The man in front of her gestured toward her tote. “We could use a little sumpin, sumpin. Gonna give it up without a fight?”

Anne sucked in a breath, ready to scream her lungs out. A big hand clamped over her mouth from behind. The man reeked of french fries, stale beer, and cigarettes. He clamped his arm around her waist, while his friend tried to peel her fingers away from the purse straps.

“Yeah, fight, baby. That’s the way I likes it. Fight it hard.”

A green glow lit them like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Anne clicked her gaze skyward. A meteorite zoomed low overhead, shooting green flames as it traveled from east to west. It was a truly phenomenal event.

The hand over her mouth loosened. Anne saw her chance. Pulling power from deep within her gut, she prepared to unleash a blood-curdling scream.

“I think you’d better let the lady go.” Another man stepped into their circle. His voice was low, firm, and music to her ears. Help was here. Judging from his stance, he wasn’t going to put up with any shit.

Anne watched the green ball slowly disappear over the horizon. Its remnants highlighted the gold and red in the man’s tousled brown hair. He wore light-colored khakis and a pullover shirt she swore matched the fading meteorite.

“Yeah? And who’s gonna make us?”

Anne saw the flash of metal.

“He’s got a knife!”

They charged him as one. The man crouched low and snapped out his palms. With a muttered oof, two were hurled against the brick wall. Gasps for breath followed. Her savior whipped a fist around to their partner.

Anne had to blink twice. She swore she saw light pulse as he made contact. The mugger tumbled backward, hitting the ground hard. Eyes wide, he scrambled to his feet and took off. His friends wasted no time following. Anne listened to their footsteps beating a path to safety.

“Are you all right, miss?”

Long fingers curled around her upper arm. What she could only describe as energy coursed through her, lifting every baby-fine hair she possessed. Deep brown eyes studied her. His eyebrows tugged together as he waited for her response.

Anne was mesmerized by his sharp, angled features—the long, straight nose, the squared jaw, the hint of shadow carved just under his cheekbones, his full lips. What was his smile like? Were his teeth white and perfect? She wanted to stretch to her toes and kiss him, to wrap her arms around his waist and nestle her head against his broad chest. His touch, his nearness made her feel safe, protected. Desire overwhelmed her. Nothing was a more powerful aphrodisiac than heroics. But this felt like so much more than about sex. Yes, his nearness made her thrum, but there was safety and calmness that said things she’d never imagined. Things she’d believed existed only in stories. Trust, love, forever. Words like the one, love at first sight, and happily ever after danced on the edges of her mind.

“I’m fine, thanks to you,” she finally managed to say.

“Fortunately, I just happened to be in the area.”

He caressed his thumb over her arm in slow circles. Anne’s blood thrummed with each round. She imagined the calloused digit on her nipple, flicking it back and forth until it was hard. Then he’d wrap his full lips around it. His breath would be hot, his tongue wet, his touch…

“We should probably call the police.” He dropped his arm, breaking the sensual spell, but not the connection she felt.

Anne hugged herself against the sensations and tried to focus on the attack. Nothing was stolen, she wasn’t hurt, and they were long gone by now, so why bother? Her conscience intruded. If they did this once, they’d do it again. She had to notify the deputy sheriffs.

She glanced at her watch. What about her groceries? It was getting late. Her animals needed her.

“Do you have a cell phone?”

His question cut through her thoughts. “Yes, but there are two deputies eating inside. I could report the incident to them. But…”

Head tilted slightly, he waited for her to continue, then prompted her with a, “Yes?”

Anne looked up at him again. His eyebrows were still inched close. “I have to get to the store before it closes. My animals need me and food. Reports take forever to fill out.”

Worry faded with his bright smile. Anne’s legs wobbled. The man was gorgeous!

“These creeps need to be reported. I’ll go to the store for you, Anne. Just give me a list.”

She narrowed her eyes. “How did you know my name?”

Light laughter swirled around her, caressing her skin into goose bumps. “Your name tag.” He tapped the plastic badge.

Feeling foolish, she laughed. “Of course. Anne Sherwood.” She extended her hand to his.

“Kestral Dermot. It’s a family name. Friends call me Kes.” His hand wrapped around hers. Warmth spread up her arm, through her body. Her breathing quickened. “I’ll be glad to go to the store for you while you file your report. A list and some cash is all I need.”

Was it an underhanded trick to take her money and run, or a genuine desire to help her? Her instincts and heart screamed trust. Logic be damned.

A spate of shooting stars burst over his head. An omen to back up those instincts. The stars had yet to fail her when she searched them.

“Thank you. I do want these men stopped before they hurt someone.” She dug through her tote for the list, then handed it and her hard-earned tips to him. “It’s probably more than you need—”

“Then you’ll get a receipt and change back. Mind if I borrow your car? Mine’s down. I was headed to a pay phone when I saw you. My cell phone’s dead.”

Anne slipped him her keys, her trust, and her heart.