Treasure Hunters by Caitlyn Willows

TreasureHunters

 

TREASURE HUNTERS
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense
Copyrright 2005, 2017

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

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

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

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

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REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPT

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

Her eyes brightened. “What about your work?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Want me to get that?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*          *          *

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

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

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

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

“Ryan’s here.”

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

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

“Thanks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t give up easily, do you?”

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

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

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

“How can you prove—”

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

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

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

“Are you there?” he asked.

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

“Is the door locked?”

“Yes.”

“No chance of interruptions?”

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

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

Rika gasped. “I—”

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

She sank to her knees. “My bra—”

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

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

“Tell me how it feels, sweetheart.”

“Soft, hot. It…it wants your mouth.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who makes you wet?”

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

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

“I’m close. I’m so close.”

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

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

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

“I love you, Ryan, so much. But—”

“No buts, sweetheart. Time. Please.”

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

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

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

“I’m crushed you’d ask that.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet. I’m on my way.”

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

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Another Chance, Another Time by Catherine Snodgrass

AnotherChance

ANOTHER CHANCE, ANOTHER TIME
by Catherine Snodgrass
Paranormal Romance (Reincarnation)
December 2002

He has spent an eternity trying to protect and provide for the love of his life. Each time he has failed…miserably. Now fate has given them another chance. Will Alec Edwards and Dani Morgan learn from the mistakes of their past or repeat them all over again?

Winner for Best Romance – Independent Publishers Award
Winner – 2002 Dream Realm Award – Speculative Fiction – Romance
3d Place – Paranormal – 2003 Laurel Wreath Award
Finalist for Best Paranormal – Golden Quill Award
Silver Chalice Award Nominee (Best Fantasy and Best Overall Paranormal)
4th Annual Orange Rose Award Finalist

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REVIEWS:

FALLEN ANGEL RECOMMENDED READ! FIVE ANGELS! …a bitter-sweet romance about love and reincarnation. …a story that is just captivating. …very thought provoking and I enjoyed that with this book. The story stays with you, long after you’ve finished the book. ~Jaymi, Fallen Angel Reviews

FOUR CUPS!!! [A] well written, twisting tale of love lost and gained throughout the ages. ~Charissa, Coffee Time Romance

[A]n engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable story that challenges traditional beliefs and brings rise to the question of life, love, and hatred after death. Whether our lives are predestined to travel the paths that have been tread before, or whether we choose our own path, is a wonderful journey that this book takes us on. With a romance and passion that spans even time itself, I found every minute and every twist and turn of this unexpected plot a great read! ~Cassidy, Joyfully Reviewed

A romantic and suspenseful tale that will have you asking if reincarnation is possible. A fast read that reels you in, a story that keeps you turning the pages. A classic plot with several new twists. A fine book with which to pass away the nice spring-like days. ~Diana Risso, Romance Reviews Today.

FOUR STARS!!! A cleverly written reincarnation romance with an absorbing mystery. Readers will be enthralled as the story unfolds along tightly written prose. ~Susan Mobley, Romantic Times.

Truly a seamless plot with believable characters and enough suspense, danger and romance to keep the reader interested until the very end. ~Moni Draper, PNR Reviews

An Intriguing Tale of Mystery and Fate. Ms. Snodgrass does a wonderful job of pulling together the mystery, suspense, and romance as Alec and Dani fight to break the tragic pattern of the past and the dreadful fate that awaits them should they fail to discover the killer’s identity in time. This tale is complex, full of ironic twists, and a villain is so crafty that the reader will be stunned at the lengths he or she will go to get Dani out of the way. With enough red herrings thrown in, I doubt if anyone will realize the killer’s identity until it is revealed. Indeed this gripping plot will keep the reader on the edge of their seat until the last word is read. ~Leslie Tramposch, PNR Reviews

ANOTHER CHANCE, ANOTHER TIME is a complex reincarnation romance that sub-genre fans will fully enjoy as the delightful lead couple research their past (via hypnosis), confront their present, and pray for their future together. Though the flashbacks are cleverly interwoven into he plot to give substance to the eerie multiple life, some readers might find that disruptive. Still with a powerful story line starring two giving individuals (past and present), the paranormal audience will want to read this tale and seek future works by Catherine Snodgrass. ~Harriet Klausner

A heart warming read about two loves who have just never gotten it quite right. Alec and Dani`s love for each other is so powerfully portrayed that reaches out and tugs at the reader`s heart strings. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel that was full of witty characters, paranormal events, and a really great bad guy that you love to hate. If you like time travel, paranormal, or just a really great romance then read this book! ~Jen, A Romance Review

Lots of romance and some suspense to make a thought-provoking story from the pen of Catherine Snodgrass.~Marilyn Heyman, The Road to Romance

Another Chance, Another Time was an exceptionally well- written book. The language was rich, the characters interesting and instantly compelling, the plotline beautifully thought out. The notion of a pair of lovers, who repetitively come together, with a secret nemesis that forever interferes, has never been done better. This is the first of Ms. Snodgrass’s books that I’ve read, and I’m now a complete fan. She is a wonderful writer.~Janet Miller, PNR Reviews

FIVE HEARTS!!! This is a wonderful book about reincarnation, about lovers who are destined to live again and again until they can get it right and get together. It takes that feeling that we get when we meet someone the first time, but feel like we have known them forever and gives us a reason why that is possible – a remembrance of a relationship we’ve had before. I very much recommend this book as it has everything you could want – love, sex, suspense. Lisa Wine, The Romance Studio

EXCERPT

Alec Edwards stared into the blinding rain. Traffic crawled along Interstate 10. Typical Los Angeles traffic. At this rate he’d never make it to the fund-raising dinner, and that was fine with him. As Alec left the hospital that evening, Walt Rushmore let it slip that his daughter Andrea would be joining them.

Somehow Alec managed to keep from wincing. The Rushmores were playing matchmaker. As far as Alec was concerned, it would be a match made in hell. An abortive relationship with Andrea four months ago proved that. For some reason, the Rushmores and Andrea couldn’t understand Alec just wasn’t interested. Tonight was going to be pure agony. The weather seemed to agree.

Traffic slowed, cars wedged bumper to bumper, horns blared from all directions to no avail—nothing was going to move this traffic along. They were stuck here for God knew how long.

Alec smiled. Maybe there was justice in the world after all. The hospital already had his money for the benefit tonight and now he wouldn’t have to bear Andrea’s company.

As he thought that, the crawl of cars ground to a halt. Headlights from on-coming cars zoomed by and bathed him in eerie yellow light. They moved a little too quickly for Alec’s comfort. He blessed the concrete divider that stood between him and the eastbound lane. Still, his gaze remained riveted to those mesmerizing lights.

Through a sheet of rain, Alec watched in horror as a car broke free from those coming in the opposite direction. It careened off the center divider and sailed through the air.

Alec snapped open his seat belt and dove for the passenger side.

It was silent except for the beating rain, and then came the explosion of metal and glass.

When silence descended once more, Alec eased up, looking for damage. He was safe. The car behind him was a shambles. He shoved his shoulder into the door and sprinted to the wreckage.

Others did the same. A patrolman from the eastbound lane squealed to a stop, leaped the divider, and ran forward.

“There’s a medical bag in my car! Get it!” Alec pointed to his car.

Relief washed over the young officer’s face.

Alec stared at the tangled heap of vehicles and wondered if there was any hope someone was still alive. The first car, a beat up Colt, had plowed headlong into the windshield of the second, a late model Cougar.

Crawling up, he wrenched open the door on the Colt. The stench of liquor took his breath away. A pair of gaping, vacant eyes stared back at him. Nevertheless, Alec felt for the man’s pulse. Nothing.

He jumped down, expecting the same from the Cougar. The door groaned in protest as he forced it open. A woman was behind the wheel, her face, neck, and chest sliced by shards of metal and glass. The Colt’s bumper had missed decapitating her by mere inches. He gingerly felt for a pulse and then sighed in relief. She was still alive.

Her eyes fluttered open and focused on him. There was a catch in her breath, an awareness in those deep brown eyes of hers. She grappled for his hand and then curled her bloodied fingers around it.

“It’s…you.” Her voice was no more than a whisper. “God, how I have missed you.” She braced her cheek against the seat and drifted off, a touch of a smile on her lips.

Alec stared at her hand still nestled in his. Warmth radiated up his arm until his body was engulfed. Not even the chilling rain could diminish the heat pulsing through him. Who was she? He racked his brain trying to place her. They had never met, had they?

“Here’s your bag.” The policeman set the black satchel near the open door.

Alec turned to thank him. Shock paralyzed the other man.

“She’s going to make it.” His tone warned the officer to say nothing to the contrary.

Finally, the man forced himself to nod. “And the other one?”

“He’s already gone.”

The officer glanced around. “The paramedics are on the way, but with this rain and traffic it might take a while.”

“Some butterfly kisses will hold her in place until—”

“Kisses?”

Alec blinked. Where was his head? “Sorry, I meant stitches.” When he tried to extricate his hand, her hold tightened. He leaned closer, cupping his free hand over both of theirs. “It’s all right. I need to help you. I’m right here. I won’t leave.”

“Yes, you will. You are never there when I need you most.” A sigh heaved her chest and her hand slipped free.

“Not this time.” Alec had no idea who she thought he was, but he knew whoever it was, she had to have faith that person would help. It was up to him.

He decided against paper stitches and used gauze instead to bind her injuries until he could get her to a hospital. At this point with all the blood, it was hard to tell the extent of her wounds. Around him he was conscious of the officer directing traffic and the pounding rain, but that was all. Every sense was focused on the woman before him. It was only the two of them, as if the world spinning around them had ceased to exist.

Each time he recalled those brown eyes upon him, Alec shivered. She knew him, trusted him. And he would swear he had never met her in his life. Now he was her lifeline, and although Alec had never been one to assign himself god-like qualities, he knew in his heart he was the only person who could save her now.

Another patrol car pulled up. Minutes later, the officer sidled up to him.

“How is she?”

“Fine. She’s going to be just fine.”

“Paramedics are almost here.” He ducked away.

Alec bent over his patient once more to examine his handiwork. He smoothed back her blood-matted brown hair and felt a bump just above her forehead. A possible concussion was added to the list of injuries. That would explain her confusion when she saw him and her unconsciousness now. There was little more he could do for now.

Reaching over to the other seat, he snagged her purse. Her driver’s license listed her as Danielle Morgan, age thirty, height five-three, weight one-twenty. She was smiling. Her hair brushed her shoulders in a feather-like embrace. A pink dot on the license indicated she was an organ donor.

Alec gritted his teeth. He refused to allow it to come to that. He shifted through the contents of her purse once more and found a passport where another bright smile shined from her photograph. A plane ticket with itinerary was nestled inside the passport. Alec took a peek and didn’t know whether to smile or cry for her.

She had been on her way to LAX to catch a flight to Europe. That would be his vacation of choice. Trouble was, he had never taken the time to do it, and never found anyone he wanted to go with. Whoever was waiting for her at the airport was probably frantic.

He waved one of the officers over and shoved the ticket into his hand. “Better call the airline and let them know what happened. They can notify anyone waiting for her there. Any word on that rescue unit?”

“They’re about a mile away. I can see the lights from here.”

Alec looked in the direction he pointed. Flashing red lights wove along the median toward them. He squatted down and picked up the woman’s limp hand. This time, she didn’t stir. Her pulse was thready. They were running out of time.

“Hang on, Danielle.” No, that wasn’t right. He didn’t care what her driver’s license said. “Dani, hang on.”

Alec thought he felt the slightest pressure as she squeezed his hand in response. Impossible. It was his imagination wanting her to be all right.

The sirens ground to a halt in front of the cars. Footsteps beat a hasty path to reach the victim. For now, Alec was in the way. His job would begin again once they got her to the hospital.

He watched the firefighters cut her out of the car with the Jaws of Life. Then the paramedics eased her onto the gurney.

“Coming, Doc?” one asked.

“We’ll get your car to you,” the officer said as he gathered Dani’s possessions.

They didn’t have to ask him twice. He slipped the officer his keys. Then with the right afforded his occupation, he crawled into the rescue squad beside her.

“Radio ahead. I’m going to need X-rays, blood typing, and a surgical team.”

“Got it.” The paramedic radioed the instructions to the hospital.

Everything was in place by the time the ambulance reached the emergency room doors. The hospital staff wheeled Dani Morgan away to prep her for surgery, X-ray for broken bones, and run necessary blood work. Then it would be up to Alec, and he was going to be good to no one unless he calmed down.

He stopped long enough to slug down a cup of water, before marching off to scrub up. Dr. Kevin Samuels was already there, stripping from his street clothes into surgical scrubs. The rain tightened his red hair to clumps of curls. His blue eyes danced with mischief when he saw Alec.

“If I’d known this was a formal occasion, I would have dressed in something better than jeans.”

Normally Alec would have come back with a jibe of his own. Tonight he just wasn’t in the mood. He threw his damp suit into a wad at the bottom of the locker. Kevin had the good sense to let it go.

“I was on my way home when you arrived. Thought I’d stay and help.” He jerked his head toward the operating room. “She’s a mess. Damn fine thing you were there. I understand it was over an hour before the paramedics could get to the scene.”

An hour? Had they really been there that long?

“The other driver died on impact. Frankly, I was surprised to find her still alive. You know, she was on her way to the airport. Going to Europe.”

Kevin looked up. “So she was conscious during all this.”

Alex slipped his blue scrubs on. “No. I was searching for identification and found the tickets.”

“So she never spoke at all.”

He straightened. Two strides took him to the sink. “I never said that either.”

Kevin was on his heels and nearly bumped into him when Alec started to scrub up.

“What did she say?”

“What does it matter?”

He shrugged. “I guess it doesn’t if she didn’t say anything about any medical conditions.”

Alec drew in air to steady his nerves. “She didn’t. She just mistook me for someone else.”

“Is that what has you rattled?”

Yes. That was it. The whole thing spooked him. Dani Morgan hadn’t just thought he was someone else, but she knew him, and Alec couldn’t for the life of himself understand how.

“I guess so.”

Kevin’s gaze was sharp, appraising. “Are you going to be all right to do this?”

He had to be. She was depending on him. By some instinct he couldn’t explain, he had to help her. He was the only one who could save her.

“I’m fine. Let’s do it.”

Together they pushed into the operating room. Dani looked pale next to the white sheets that draped her. Shock and blood loss had taken their toll. The rest of the team surrounded her. The anesthesiologist was at her head.

“Is she out?” Alec studied her face, deciding where to start first.

“Almost.”

“Let me know when, Joe. Anything else?”

“No broken bones, Dr. Edwards,” the nurse said. “No Hepatitis. No drugs or alcohol in her blood. But there are more lacerations on her torso.”

“Then we’ll start there.” Alec lifted the sheet and blanched. A deep gash followed the curve of her right breast. He tried not to reprimand himself. Because of the position of the other vehicle, there had been no way to check for other injuries.

That’s no excuse, logic argued. You should have checked her again in the ambulance.

“Ready, Doc.”

“Thanks, Joe. Okay, people. Let’s get to work.”

* * *

Dani Morgan felt herself slip further into that dark place in her mind. She was aware of where she was, what had happened, and that she was very badly hurt. None of that mattered. They couldn’t put her under. They just couldn’t. No one understood what it would mean.

She had gone there once before when she had her tonsils out as a child. It had terrified her ever since, yet she could speak of it to no one. Now she had to. But the words wouldn’t come. Dani couldn’t make them understand.

And slowly she went back to that place. That place where she had died.

A Corner Of My Soul by Caitlyn Willows

CornerSoul

 

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

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

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Reviews:

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, well…what they don’t know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When did you know I was here?”

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

Natalie laughed. “Hard life.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They eyed the darkening sky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She snickered. “Your fishing pole.”

Doug laughed at himself. “Sorry.”

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

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

“Always happy to help.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Menace To Society – Caitlyn Willows

MenaceToSociety-NoLogo

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

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

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

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

Related stories are:
Rough Cut
Menace To Society

 

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EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I am.”

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

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

“I will.”

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

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

“Lance?”

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

“Yeah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Detectives, this is Marshal Dillon.”

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

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

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

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

Marshal,” Dillon said through bared teeth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is Eileen Cronkite?”

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

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

Baldwin nodded slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forewarned is forearmed. On speaker, Detective.”

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

Always Faithful (Rules of Engagement) by Caitlyn Willows

AlwaysFaithful

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sarcasm, Laura? How unlike you.”

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

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

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

“Irrelevant. Forensics evidence proved their story.”

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

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

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

He leveled a frosty stare her way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is she to you?”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

Fools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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:

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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.

 

 

Secrets We Keep by Caitlyn Willows

SecretsWeKeep-NoLogo

SECRETS WE KEEP
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotica – Contemporary (Menage) – Novel
March 2017
Cover Art – Scott Carpenter

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

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.”

 

Risk-Reward by Caitlyn Willows

RiskReward-NoLogo

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

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.”

Teamwork by Caitlyn Willows

Teamwork-NoLogo

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

REVIEW:

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

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think!

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Her mind blanked. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Damn, he’s good.”

“The inside man?”

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

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

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

“Intense, was it?”

“You have no idea.”

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Another day, another dollar-fifty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can lie with me high or low.”

God, he loved her smile.

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

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

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

 

Rough Cut by Caitlyn Willows

RoughCut-NoLogo

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

A little before noon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to square one, and time was running out.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But?”

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

They waited while the waiter cleared their plates.

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

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

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

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

“What does he do?”

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

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

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

“Of what? Of falling in love?”

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

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

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

“Until now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, let him be available.

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

“Tony?”

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

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

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

“I am. How did you—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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