No Holds Barred – Caitlyn Willows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell shrugged off his conscience’s reproach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad’s laughter carried over the crowd noise.

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

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

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

“History?” Conrad asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isn’t it all the same thing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s lying, Valerie.”

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

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

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

“Now step away, and let me leave.”

“You’ve been drinking.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Flames From Ashes by Caitlyn Willows

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

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

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

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

Related stories are:
Wrapped In Flame
Flames From Ashes

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EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that son of a bitch snuffed it out.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi,” she answered.

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

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

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

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

“Me too.”

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

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

“Why aren’t you at work?”

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

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

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

“I’ll meet you there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hungry?”

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

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

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

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

“Sounds wonderful.” Another smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine. But I won’t be put off again.”

“You won’t be. I promise.”

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

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

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

“Not for long,” she said.

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

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

“Kiss me,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Ribbons by Caitlyn Willows

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

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

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

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

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REVIEWS:

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

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The woman is mine.”

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

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

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

Lani shivered at the memory.

Greg stirred and rolled her way. “Cold?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You make me feel like a woman. Your woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re killing me,” he gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lies That Bind by Caitlyn Willows

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LIES THAT BIND

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

2015_EBook_WINNER-sm

REVIEWS:

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

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

EXCERPT:

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

She glanced out the cockpit at her destination below.

Rustlers Retreat, an experience you’ll always remember.

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

God knew, she’d tried.

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

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

Had they missed her as much as she missed them?

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

“You all right?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Precaution?”

“Avoidance is more like it,” she countered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You never said how he died.”

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

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

“Earth to Tessa. Earth to Tessa.”

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

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

“Nice spread.”

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

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

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

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

“Is that aviary your design?”

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

“Outstanding. She must have loved it.”

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

“Damn.”

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

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

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

“Derek Ford is his son?” he asked.

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

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

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

“It always is, isn’t it?”

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

“I’ve got this.”

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

“Here we go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you fit into the picture?”

Very nicely right between them.

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

“Your landing sucks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you weren’t?” She snickered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know, Tess. You tell me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God, I’ve missed you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your lover of the moment?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buddy System by Caitlyn Willows

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BUDDY SYSTEM
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Romantic Suspense
November 2006
Cover Artist – S.L. Carpenter

What started out as just sex has now shifted to love, but admitting that publicly awakens the jealous beast, one who isn’t afraid to kill to keep what he or she considers “MINE.”

Declan Trent and Pam Donaldson are both divorced and neither is anxious to become entangled in another romantic relationship. But then there’s the sex angle. How can they obtain satisfying sexual liaisons without the entanglements that go with it? The answer is simple—they will become sex buddies.

It’s an arrangement that works exceedingly well. In fact, it sizzles. Never has either met a person they were more sexually compatible with—trust, adventure, play, and soul-screaming fulfillment. Do they dare take the step they swore they’d always avoid? Why not?

Then the murders begin. One by one Declan’s patients are being eliminated. How far will their trust of each other go now? As the pieces of the puzzle come together, they realize someone else has an agenda. Someone who will do anything, kill anyone, to keep Declan.

BUY LINKS:

DUE TO PUBLISHER CLOSING, THIS STORY ISN’T AVAILABLE AT THIS TIME. IT WILL BE RE-RELEASED SOON.

REVIEWS:

FIVE HEARTS! What a fantastic suspenseful book! The emotions the characters experience are artfully written and make the reader understand what motivates their actions. The author has written several twists into the plot to keep you guessing as to who the murderer really is. Overall, this is a fantastic suspenseful book with lots of hot, spicy sex scattered throughout. ~Lisa Freeman, The Romance Studio

FOUR STARS! This riveting, emotional book expertly blends highly developed characters with murder and romance. The romance is based on a strong, enduring friendship, and love scenes vary from playful to hot and sensual. Readers will not be disappointed by this complex tale of passion, betrayal, trust and frienship. ~Keitha Hart, Romantic Times

Caitlyn Willows pens a thrilling, roller coaster ride of a story with BUDDY SYSTEM. Declan and Pam are perfect for one another both in bed and out. And both fear rejection so therefore, they keep their true feelings bottled up inside. The sex is highly explosive and beautifully written with emotion and spiciness. I so love stories where the hero and heroine start out as friends and then progress to the next level. Both characters are multifaceted with each layer uncovered, revealing a little more about the inner person. Secondary characters include Pam’s partner and best friend, Gloria, who is about to marry District Attorney Remy Sanchez; Pam’s ex-husband, Hank, Declan’s ex-wife Connie, and Declan’s friend and colleague, Mark Roberts. Quite a menagerie of people, some open and honest while others have a hidden agenda. Interesting if I do say so myself. Suspenseful, erotic, and enthralling are words this reviewer uses to describe Caitlyn Willows’ BUDDY SYSTEM. Her in-depth characterization, and steamy sex scenes make this one hot read. ~Sinclair Reid, Romance Reviews Today

4½ LIPS! With so many twists and turns, this suspenseful story had me guessing until the very end and I STILL had it wrong. Buddy System is a dynamic story that doesn’t allow the reader a single dull moment. If it wasn’t trying to figure out who was doing the killing, it was reveling in the love and deep connection between Pam and Declan. The manner in which they instinctively knew what to say or do in order to make their mate happy and bring them comfort was refreshing and beautiful. Their chemistry ignited the pages and the love scenes were both sensual and erotic while being sexy and creative. Caitlyn Willows is truly phenomenal and I’ll never look at a necktie the same away again. ~Kerin, Two Lips Reviews

FIVE STARS! Without a doubt, Buddy System was the best-written, well thought out story I have read in a long time. The plot was fast paced and kept you guessing with each twist and turn that Caitlyn Willows threw out. I thought I had the answer and then bam! another piece of the puzzle was revealed and had me second guessing myself. The characters were fascinating, including the secondary cast and the background characters. I could not put this one down until I read the last word, then I hated that it was over. Declan and Pam had a sex life that would put low budget porn movies to shame! There wasn’t much that they were not willing to try with each other, and that gave me some great ideas of my own. Be prepared to squirm while reading this–they love sex and they love to spice it up in ANY room they are in–with any object they had on hand. Anyone reading this story will love the beginning, middle and end-it is that good. ~Stacey Landers, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

FIVE STARS! What an enthralling book! Both Pam and Declan stepped right off the pages and spoke to me. Descriptive and fascinating, these characters as well as the secondary characters are very well-written. Pam and Declan’s graphic sexual relationship has a significant place in the story. The sexual interaction between them is extremely loving, more importantly they pulled me right into their lovemaking. When doubts occur, their lives together stretch, but do not break. There are secondary characters, such as Declan’s secretary and Pam’s former boyfriend who add drama and suspense to this book. Ms. Willows has an amazing facility to plot a story and then allow her characters to tell it. I kept reading, finding myself more confused about “whodone it” all the time. When the denouement came, I had just about figured out the mystery. Ms. Willows wrote an engrossing story and I am incredibly eager to read another of her books. ~Marcy Arbitman, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

Caitlyn Willows impressed me with this one! Buddy System pretty much consumed my entire life for almost six hours as I read a wonderful plot, highly intense sex, and wracked my brain as to who the bad guy was. Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t who I thought it was. It stumped me to the very end and I love when a book does that! I am filing this one under “W” on my keeper shelf! ~ Talia Ricci, Joyfully Reviewed

EXCERPT:

Pam Donaldson scissored her crossed legs while she casually flipped through a three-month-old issue of Good Housekeeping. At least she hoped it looked like she was being casual. Waiting like this fired her up until it was all she could do to sit still. She wondered what Declan Trent’s prim little secretary — oops! admin assistant — would think if she jumped up and started pacing a mean streak back and forth across the burnished-gold carpeting.

Probably call the paramedics to have me hauled away. Pam suspected it wouldn’t take much to freak Trish Wallace out. She’d die on the spot if she knew why Pam was really here.

The woman sat on the edge of her seat, perched over her computer keyboard as if she had a pole up her ass. Hair spray welded every strand of her shoulder-length blond hair in place. No wave, split end, or frizz dared disobey. Her cotton-candy-pink suit was just the right length, just the right size, and just the right shade to match her perfectly manicured nails. Real nails, not acrylics. How many women would kill to have nails that perfect? Pam’s nails were nice, but they weren’t that perfect. With her light blue eyes, Trish looked like a china doll someone would seal behind protective glass, pretty to look at, but nothing you were allowed to touch or, heaven forbid, play with.

Pam wondered if that was a façade Trish showed to the world. If behind the hands-off automaton exterior lay a woman of wild and uninhibited passion. It was hard to reconcile that picture with what Pam saw here.

Trish kept her desk perfectly ordered, not one folder out of place. Pam had been tempted a time or two to link all the paperclips in Trish’s lead crystal bowl together just to see how the woman would react. She certainly had the opportunity. Each time Pam visited, Trish would go to the ladies’ room at precisely eleven-twenty. At heart, she couldn’t be that cruel, no matter how much the woman’s idiosyncrasies grated on her nerves.

So Trish was obsessive-compulsive. Why should Pam care? In fact, she was in the perfect occupation to seek counseling for her problem if she wanted. As psychiatrists go, Declan Trent was one of the best. For all Pam knew, maybe Trish was a patient, especially if two diverse personalities existed in that prim and proper mind of hers. If so, Declan sure had his work cut out for him. Pam had never seen anyone so uptight.

She wondered if she should tell Declan that Trish actually raked the footprints out of the plush carpet each time the waiting room was vacant. Pam had caught her in the act shortly after she’d started seeing Declan. That’s when Trish’s little habits started to burrow under Pam’s skin.

Little Miss Perfect. Pam knew from experience the woman was most probably a ticking bomb. She’d seen it too many times in her line of work — women for whom perfection was a lifestyle, a religion. However, it was never enough to keep their husbands from straying or their children out of trouble. Problem after problem pounded against the illusion they’d created, slowly loosening each brick until the foundation crumbled and they were staring down at the blood-splattered butcher knife — or smoking gun — in their shaking hands.

Just the week before, Pam had responded to a homicide at just such a house, an art deco mansion perched back from the winding curves of the Hollywood Hills. The wife made the 9-1-1 call in perfect, orderly fashion. “I’ve just killed my husband and would appreciate it if someone would stop by to remove him.” They’d arrived to find her mopping up the crime scene, rubber gloves and a bucket full of Mr. Clean at her side.

Pam would hate to see Trish turn out that way. She was a good person, pleasant and sociable to all Declan’s clients, and very efficient. All Declan needed to do was think about it, and Trish had it done. Pam wanted to snatch her up by the shoulders and give her a hard snap-out-of-it shake. The last thing she wanted was to arrive at a homicide call and find Trish on her hands and knees cleaning up blood spatter.

She tossed the magazine to the glass-topped table beside her. Trish jumped at the loud smack it made. Then, like clockwork, she pushed away from her desk for her eleven-twenty trek to the ladies’ room.

“I’ll just be a moment, Detective Donaldson,” she said in a smoothly cultured tone that never varied; neither did the words.

Pam gave her a nod as she walked by. Even her shoes were pink.

Just let it go, she told herself. She was here for one reason and one reason only. That should be her focus.

She crossed her arms and slowly rocked her leg back and forth. Without panties, the action gently rubbed her moist labia over her swollen clitoris. Every part of her was primed for her visit with Declan, but if she didn’t pace herself, she’d wind up coming right here.

Pam forced her legs apart. God, she could smell her arousal! Maybe going without panties wasn’t such a good idea. She tugged her black pencil-skirt to her knees, then adjusted the cuffs of her smoke-gray silk blouse. The skirt and the three-inch black heels were a departure from what she normally wore to work, but she considered it more appropriate since she had to testify in court this afternoon — with panties, of course. Besides, she really liked the naughty feeling of coming to see Declan bare-bottomed.

The thought made her smile. What would he do when he found out? A shiver wiggled through her. Trish’s return shattered her reverie. Pam shifted her focus to studying the waiting room.

Cream-colored walls brightened the place. Matching leather chairs cradled visitors in comfort. Watercolors of varying landscapes — rolling hills, seashores, deep forests, mountains — helped create an aura of tranquility. No music flooded the room, just the soft, steady click of Trish’s keyboard.

Pam cocked her head to one side. Maybe that was it. Maybe Trish was part of the illusion of order in the turmoil of some clients’ lives. She’d never thought of it that way. In retrospect, it made perfect sense. Perhaps it was by Declan’s design that Trish behaved as she did. Pam had just let the horrors of her own job spill over. She wouldn’t be the first cop to become jaded by the discouraging vicissitudes of life.

The door to Declan’s office swung inward. “Now remember, Carol, the group session for tomorrow night is cancelled. I’ll be at a conference.”

The buxom redhead glanced up at him with wide brown eyes. “Oh, dear. I’d forgotten.” She draped her fingers over his bare forearm as she stepped into his personal space. “What will I do?”

Declan gave her a soft smile — the one that always turned Pam’s insides to mush — and placed his hand over that of the redhead’s. “You’ll do wonderfully. You’ll see. I wouldn’t go away if I thought otherwise.”

Pam smiled when the woman’s face lit up. That’s one of the things that was great about Declan. He instinctively knew what to say to patients to bolster their self-confidence, or when a gentle touch would ease their concerns and give them hope. Sadly, it was that bedside manner that had ruined his marriage. Connie Trent lived and breathed jealousy and had made Declan’s life a living hell in the process. Despite that, Declan remained friendly and compassionate toward others.

“Yes. Yes, I will be fine. Thanks to you.” Shoulders back, Carol walked to Trish’s desk to schedule her next session.

Pam’s gaze remained riveted on Declan. Even after six months, he still had the power to take her breath away. His dark brown hair scuffed the collar of his white dress shirt. Long fingers smoothed down his blue-striped tie as he raked his gaze over her from head to toe. A smile lifted one corner of his mouth, brightening his golden-brown eyes. She could scarcely breathe. Then he shut the door.

She forced herself to sit still, to wait until Trish called her to go in. Did he realize what he did to her? Of course he did. It was all part of the game.

She tucked her arms tighter over her chest. Already her nipples were poking their little noses against her bra, making their presence fully known to anyone who’d care to look. God, how they ached! Had it really only been fourteen hours since she’d had sex? It felt like forever.

As Carol left the office, Trish’s intercom link buzzed. She lifted the phone in what felt like slow motion.

“Yes, doctor?”

Jeez, her voice actually sounded like a purr. Pam was definitely more than little over-sexed today. But that’s what being with Declan did to her.

Trish smiled as she replaced the receiver. “Dr. Trent is ready to see you now.”

And Pam was more than ready to see him. She flashed Trish a smile and forced herself to walk, not run, to the connecting door. The knob turned easily under her hand. The door opened on silent hinges. The pale gold, vertical blinds were closed against the California midday sun, but brass candlestick lamps on the white pine tables cast a welcoming glow. Declan sat behind his oak desk, chin resting on the points of his fingers as he quietly perused her from the huge black leather executive chair.

Pam shut the door behind her, then leaned against it as she let her shoulder bag slide to the floor. The soft, black leather landed with a plop. Her heartbeat thudded with the rush of her heated blood. All she could see, all she could think about was him. That half smile lifted one corner of his mouth again. His gaze mentally stripped her clothing away.

“Detective Donaldson.” His voice drifted over her, beckoning, caressing like fingers against her hot skin.

She maintained her position. “Dr. Trent.”

Two could play the waiting game. The rewards were still the same. She twisted the lock closed on the door. The click echoed in the room.

“Are you armed, detective?” he asked.

“Yes. My weapon is holstered and in my bag. And you? Are you armed?”

“Cocked and ready, ma’am.”

Pam tried not to laugh, but the giggle came out anyway. “Oh, really?”

Declan leaned back and tugged the knot loose on his tie. “Yep, I’ve been hard as a rock since I saw your name on the schedule this morning.”

“I couldn’t let you go away to a conference without a proper send-off. And I know how you like surprises.”

“I do.”

“How fortunate you can find room in your schedule to accommodate me.”

“I’m always willing to squeeze in you.”

Pam parked her hands on her hips and laughed. “Stop that. This is supposed to be a seduction. I can’t do the come-hither look and fuck-me walk if you have me laughing.”

He tossed back a laugh of his own. “Sorry. Proceed with the come-hithering and fuck-me stuff.”

“Thank you.” She took a step toward him.

He held up his hand, halting her progress. “No closer, Pam. You know the rules. You know what I want.”

Damn it, he knew how to fire a woman up. “Refresh my memory. Tell me.”

He pressed his lips together, then licked them as he pulled the tie free. It whispered against his shirt, a soft sigh that wiggled deep into her core. He twined the length of silk through his long fingers, tying a knot every inch or so in it as he pondered his next move.

“I see you’re wearing hose today. And I love the heels.”

“A concession for court.”

He tsked. “And here I thought they were for me.”

She mirrored his earlier smile. “Well, the hose are thigh-highs and –” She dropped her tone to a sultry purr. “– I have no panties on.”

That earned her a big grin. “My, aren’t we daring and naughty. That’s almost like begging for a spanking.”

“You have repeatedly assured me your office is soundproof.”

“Indeed it is.” He flicked open his belt buckle. Seconds later the leather hissed through its loops. Declan doubled it over and placed it on his desk, the knotted silk tie beside it.

Pam’s knees quivered. So far they’d never gotten into the spanking thing here; just the threat was enough to turn them both on.

He truly was the best sex she’d ever had. Six months and she still couldn’t get enough of him. If only …

“Undo your blouse … slowly,” he ordered.

One by one, she slipped the tiny pearlized buttons through their holes. With each one Declan’s breath became more labored. She knew what his desk hid — an erection that would have made a horse proud. With the last button freed, Pam shrugged the blouse from her shoulders. It wafted to the floor behind her.

“And now the bra.” His voice had deepened with his lust.

Pam reached behind her and undid the hooks. Rather than let the bra fall as she had the blouse, she looped her fingers around the straps and slowly pulled them down, caressing her flesh as she did so. Fully exposed, she dropped the undergarment and kneaded her breasts, plumping them together to form a deep cleavage.

“You want to fuck my tits, don’t you?” she asked. “Nestle your cock into the warmth and pump away?”

“You’re determined to make me come in my pants, aren’t you?”

Pam laughed and twirled her nipples into elongated beads.

“Damn it, Pam. I am going to spank you.”

“Promises, promises.”

“Enough teasing. Skirt off.”

She sliced the zipper down, wiggled her hips free, and stepped out of the garment.

“Good girl.” He pushed his chair away from the desk. “Leave the heels and hose on and come here. You know what I want.”

Did she ever! She’d never been more in tune with a man. Sex was a wondrous adventure with Declan. Nothing was forbidden as long as they wanted to explore. Trust they’d built during their long-standing friendship had shifted easily over into this facet of their relationship. They were free to explore every sexual fantasy they’d ever had without embarrassment, risk of disease, or pregnancy. Who knew agreeing to be sex buddies would be so rewarding?

His wrinkle-free trousers did little to hide his burgeoning erection. If anything, the light gray color enhanced it. His cock was a long ridge behind his zipper and actually managed to cast a shadow from the lighting.

Hot fingers cupped her ass as she straddled his thighs. As she had her blouse, Pam slowly unbuttoned his shirt. Inch by inch the bronzed plane of his chest appeared. She loved to trace her hands against it, to dust her fingers through the light smattering of dark hair that nose-dived into his trousers.

Declan’s breath was ragged. So was Pam’s. She indulged her need to caress his strong shoulders as she peeled the shirt from him. His scent surrounded her, warm and laced with the hint of Old Spice. She leaned in, pressing her lips against his neck, dancing her tongue across his collarbone while her fingers flicked against his nipples.

His soft groan escaped on a gasp. Pam wiggled lower, grazing her teeth over his nipple while her fingers eased his zipper down. He lifted his hips, helping her tug trousers and shorts down. His erection fell against her breasts. She squeezed them together, cradling him, then bent her head down and lashed her tongue against the salty droplet that awaited her.

Declan cried out. Combing his hands deep into her long hair, he held her head in place, desperately seeking the full comfort of her mouth while he thrust between her breasts. Still she teased with feathery flicks over the slit and around the head.

“If you don’t suck me soon …” A long groan cut off the rest of his words as Pam pulled him deep in her mouth.

He pumped her lips in wild abandon. She looped her fist around the base, giving him that extra squeeze and stroke he loved so well — that touch that said, “I might let you come, but then again, I might not.”

More pre-cum salted her mouth. He was close. She wiggled her free hand between his thighs to massage his sac. It was the final push he needed. She felt the twitch on the underside of his cock that signaled his approaching orgasm. Still, the temptation to taunt him was too much. She gave an extra hard squeeze to the base of his cock.

“Nooo,” he cried out. “I swear I’m going to …”

She sucked him hard, yanking the orgasm from him.

Declan shuddered as the release spurted into her mouth. She milked him until the wave subsided, then slowly released him with dotted kisses as the erection faded.

Panting for breath, he grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her to his desk. “Lie back and relax.”

She watched through hooded eyes as he picked up his knotted tie. Tightening it between his hands, he lowered it to her crotch and raked it over her slit.

Pam arched her hips off the desk as the knots rubbed over her clit. “Oh, God!”

He sawed back and forth, gathering momentum as she climbed higher to the peak. Her fingers flexed spasmodically on the smooth wood surface, desperate to clutch at something, anything to help her ride to the top. All she could do was take it. Each swipe swelled her to the breaking point.

Almost there. Almost … 

Her body was rigid with anticipation. Just when she saw the edge, Declan stopped.

“No!” She smacked her palms against the desk.

He merely laughed and thrust two fingers deep and high into her cunt. Pam reared upward with a gasp. A third finger burrowed into her tight ass. He lashed his tongue over her clit as his fingers pumped into her. She cradled his head with one hand while the other toyed with her nipple, tweaking it hard. Then he sucked her into his mouth.

Fire raced across her skin seconds before Pam’s orgasm struck. She quaked with the release, then collapsed against the desk.

Declan dotted kisses over her inner thighs as he gently pulled his fingers free. She’d never felt more relaxed. He always had that effect on her.

Grasping her hand, he helped her up. At least that’s what she thought. Before Pam realized it, she was facedown over his lap. The tinkle of his belt buckle alerted her to his full intent.

“How many, sweetheart?” He danced the leather over her bare ass. Just the feel was enough to turn her on once more.

“I want … I want …”

“To feel your warm ass the rest of the afternoon? To think about it when you’re sitting outside the courtroom while we wait to testify?” Over and over the soft leather caressed her.

Pam spread her legs a little wider. “You know what I want.” He always knew, just as she knew for him.

“Indeed I do.”

He started slow, warming her for the harder strokes to come. With each smack against her bare bottom, her clit swelled more, begging for attention of its own. She wiggled around until she could ride his knee. Declan pulled her gently back into place, wedging his free hand under and straight to her pussy.

The strokes came harder now, faster, her hips lifting of their own accord for each of them. She came quickly, only to be instantly back at the peak. Pam rode his hand while smack after smack heated her backside, and one orgasm after the other rolled through her.

Declan growled low in his throat and tossed the belt to the floor. Hauling her upright, he pushed her facedown on the desk. She raised her hips high, spreading her thighs as far as she could. A hard thrust seated him deep. He froze there for what felt like forever, the head of his cock plugged into her cervix. His fingers dug into her hips, shaking with the effort to maintain control.

Pam kept herself as still as possible, wanting the moment to be as supreme for him as it was for her. Finally, he pulled back, then in again. He shifted his fingers back to her clit. She rocked in rhythm with him, taking and giving back each thrust with equal fervor. Contractions rippled along the steel inside her.

“I’m going to come, Dec,” she panted out.

He gasped. “Me, too.”

And in that instant, they did.

They sagged together in the aftermath, both lazy and sated. Then, reluctantly, they pulled apart and wandered into his adjoining bathroom to clean up.

The tiny room was designed for function — sink with mirror, toilet, tiny black-and-white tile — definitely not for two people. Nevertheless, sharing the bathroom was part of their after-sex routine. Somehow, this snippet of bonding had slipped under their “rules” radar, along with cuddling. So far, neither had brought that violation to the other’s attention.

“I owe you a tie,” she said.

“I’ll just send it to the cleaner.”

Eyes wide, she jerked up her head and locked gazes with him in the mirror over the sink. “Don’t you dare!” she said with a laugh. “They’ll want to know what they’re pre-spotting and …”

His laughter cut her off. Tugging her against him, he dotted kisses along her shoulder. “I’ll seal it in a brown paper bag and toss it in a Dumpster five miles away.”

“After you burn it and stir the ashes. Better yet, I’ll take it and destroy the evidence.”

“Deal.” He stepped away to pee.

She plucked several paper towels from the receptacle, wet them, and cleaned away the evidence of sex.

“You’ll be gone the rest of the week?” How could she begin to tell him how much she was going to miss him during that time? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They’d set rules. And yet …

“Yeah, I’ll be back late Friday. Want me to call or just come over?”

Pam smiled as his reflection reappeared in the mirror. “Coming over is fine. Doesn’t matter how late.” She didn’t have plans. Hell, she hadn’t had plans since they’d started up.

“Good. I’ll come right over, then. Stinky from the drive and everything.” He smiled back and patted her butt as he slipped the wet towels from her fingers to use on himself.

That’s what she called bonding. “And I’ll have a hot shower and a hot woman waiting for you.”

“Every guy’s dream come true.” He bent forward as if to kiss her, then pulled back. “Sorry. I almost forgot.”

Pam wished he had forgotten and kissed her. That was one of the rules they’d agreed on when they decided to be sex buddies — no kissing. Where the hell had her head been? It seemed a great idea at the time: no kissing, no dating, no spending the night. How in the world could she have possibly thought she could have great sex with a man and not have emotional involvement? Her hormones had obviously been running her life then. And now?

Well, they were still running her life, but her heart was demanding some equal attention. Which left her with quite a problem. Did she risk what they had going and tell Declan she’d made a mistake? That she wanted to move up to the next level and actually have a romantic relationship as well?

They’d been adamant, both of them. Once badly burned, twice shy. Bad marriages had that effect on people. But that was then, when they were both so horny they couldn’t bear it. When teaming up with a trusted friend for sex seemed a better solution than throwing themselves into the treacherous world of dating where your heart was sure to be trampled on.

“So I’ll see you then.”

Pam snapped her thoughts back to the present. “Yes, Friday.”

Declan laughed. God, she loved his laugh. “Well, yes, Friday, but I was talking about this afternoon at the courthouse.”

She blinked. “Yes, of course.”

“Were you a thousand miles away just then?” He wrapped his arm around her waist and hugged her against him.

Pam forced a smile she suddenly didn’t feel. “Looks like.”

She didn’t have the courage to tell him. They had a good thing going. Why risk it by telling him that at some point during the last six months, her heart had ignored the sex buddy rules and fallen truly, madly, deeply in love with him?

Wrapped In Flame by Caitlyn Willows

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WRAPPED IN FLAME
by Caitlyn Willows
Contemporary – Erotic Suspense Romance
April 2015
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter
Shed of the biggest mistake of her life, Erica is looking forward to starting over. Who better to help her explore her options than the man who’s been front and center in her fantasies. Mike thought hell was wanting Erica and knowing she belonged to another man. That hell was knowing the other man was a worthless son of a bitch who didn’t deserve her. Now she’s all his and he’s not wasting a single second. Nothing like being suspected of her ex’s death to destroy unfettered bliss.

Mike would to anything to keep her safe, to have her in his life now that she’s free, even if that means letting go when he wants to hang on tight. Erica’s determined to stop the monster preying on others. Giving over control isn’t so easy when you know doing so could very well cost the woman you love her life.

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Excerpt:

“Let’s face it, Erica. I didn’t marry you for your looks.”

She stopped in her tracks. No, he hadn’t. That had been clear very early in their marriage, hurling those words at her. Keith had been after her money, not her looks, and not even her. She didn’t have a fortune. She’d worked for every dime, saved pennies, cut corners. Then she’d married him, trusted him, and lost everything in less than six months. Pride had kept her from sharing the outcome of her folly with anyone. Brave face and all that. But the rift between her and Keith was apparent. Anyone who came to their house noticed the separate bedrooms. Trish Delaney had drawn her aside more than once, asking why she didn’t dump his ass. Erica couldn’t tell her how close Keith’s spending had put them toward bankruptcy, how she barely had enough to pay the bills he’d racked up. She couldn’t lie either and say she loved the guy. She didn’t. Looking back, she never had. She’d done this to herself, and it’d been up to her to fix it.

A clean exit needed precise planning and money to survive afterward. If she’d told Trish money was an issue, the crew would have done everything possible to see she had it. Erica couldn’t let that happen. This was her mess to solve. She’d scrimped and saved until the moment was right. Then fate had stepped in with a whopper of a surprise. If Keith ever found out…

Erica shook her head. She’d keep that little secret close to her chest, even from her nearest and dearest friends. They’d eventually learn about it, but by then Keith would be history. Actually, him filing for divorce was perfect. He couldn’t accuse her of pulling a fast one. Well, he could, but…

One problem at a time.

Erica pulled in a much-needed breath and scrolled through the numbers on her cell phone while she paced the empty living room. All it would take was a call to any one of the firefighters, and she’d have all the help she needed to move tomorrow.

Her heart skipped a beat when she came to Mike Barnard’s number—the other reason she knew her marriage to Keith had been a mistake. The man made her blood sizzle in ways she couldn’t describe. She’d met him when she’d met the rest of Keith’s crew. Something had kept drawing her and Mike together that night, like magnets. She should have known, should have realized. Keith proposed that very night after everyone left. Almost as if he felt threatened. Maybe he had. After all, he had an agenda of his own—her money.

Erica shook the memory away. Mike still did things to her that she’d never believed possible, yet he never once crossed the line beyond friendship. Neither had she. He was her friend. If truth be told, her best friend. Logic decreed he be the one she called now. She called Trish instead.

“Hey, you. What’s up?” Trish’s bubbly greeting bolstered Erica’s mood.

“I could use a little muscle tomorrow, moving my things from the house into my new place.”

“Woo-hoo! You finally did it! You left the son of a bitch.”

Erica managed a small laugh. “Yeah, all about the planning. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped.” She gave Trish the rundown of events.

“Bastard. The guys’ll go over there right now—”

“No. I don’t want any trouble.” Nothing could risk her bigger plan. “Keith’s spoiling for a fight. Them going over there won’t go well. He’s on-shift tomorrow. That will be the better time.”

Trish huffed. “Where are you now?”

“In my new place.” Erica gave her the address. “I was getting ready to go for pizza and to find a motel room for the night.”

“Screw that. We’re coming to get you.” Trish disconnected without waiting for a response.

Erica didn’t have the energy to argue with her—suddenly she wasn’t sure she had the energy to move. The luggage in her car disagreed. She had at least fifteen minutes before Trish showed up. Time she could use to start unpacking. An overnight bag would suffice for her stay with the Delaneys.

Anger and adrenaline had helped her carry the suitcases to her car. All Erica had going for her this time was determination, because those suckers were heavy as hell. She wouldn’t put it past Keith to have packed them with rocks. Relief sagged through her when she opened one up and found clothing, complete with hangers. It looked as if he’d grabbed everything from her closet and dumped it in. Fine by me. She discovered a similar disarray in the other three suitcases. She did a quick inventory and found all her clothing and personal effects accounted for. At least he’d done something right. Maybe things weren’t going to be so bad after all.

“Erica?”

Her breath caught at the sound of Mike’s voice echoing through the empty house. Nerves quivered along the surface of her skin.

“I’m in the bedroom. Be right—”

His body filled the doorway before she could finish the sentence. Damn, but he looked fine. His deep-blue eyes settled on her face. At six-four, he made Erica’s five-ten feel petite. It was one of the things she’d liked about him, one of many. Too many. She stood by the closet, her body alive and fully aware this was a real man in front of her. A man she wanted more than she could say.

“I was expecting Trish.”

“She called.” A slow step brought him nearer. “I came right away.” Another step. “Is everything here?” He motioned to the bags. “Clothes, personals, papers, jewelry?”

“Clothes and personals, yes. My valuables are in a safe-deposit box Keith can’t access. I always carry my laptop in the car.”

“Did he hurt you? Hit you?” Mike coiled his fingers coiled into loose fists at his sides, an act that promised retribution if Keith had hurt her.

Erica shook her head. “No. You can put the guns away.” She pointed to his fists.

Mike glanced down. The hint of a flush swept his face, then disappeared. He shrugged and advanced again, slow, determined, until mere inches separated them. She stared into his eyes, shaken by the unmistakable fire blazing there. Indignation over her circumstances, or something more?

“Good, because if he did, I would hurt him.”

Erica managed a little laugh. “You wouldn’t have to. I could hurt him myself.”

“So you could.” His grin washed over her. “But still, he’s a sneaky little bastard.”

“Tell me about it.”

“He’s hurt you here.” He pressed the pads of his fingers above her heart, right at the curve of her breast. She wanted to push it into his palm, feel his grip mold around it.

“He definitely shook what little faith I had in him, disappointed me, but my heart was never his to break. If I’m heartbroken at all, it’s because I failed to trust my instincts in the first place and married him anyway. It was wrong from the start and only got worse.”

“Then why—”

“Did I stay with him so long?” A year of her life wasted. There was no harm telling the truth now. She was financially on her feet again. “He robbed me blind. It’s taken me time to recover enough money so that I could leave. I knew he’d never leave or vacate the house.”

“You know any of us would have helped you.”

“My mess. My marriage, such as it was. I retook control I never should have relinquished and worked it out. No sense dragging the rest of you into it. I didn’t want you to have to choose sides.”

“We did that the minute we met you. There isn’t one of us who wouldn’t go to the mat for you, Erica.”

He said that now, and Erica knew he meant every word, but… “You still have to work with the guy.”

His scowl darkened the room. “Don’t remind me. I do my best to make sure we’re not on the same shift. He’s lazy, incompetent, and those are his good qualities. He has no friends at the station. You aren’t the only one he’s screwed.”

“Well, technically speaking, he hasn’t been screwing me.” It was important Mike know that.

There was a hitch in his breath. “Yeah, we’ve noticed the his-and-her rooms. Berto cornered him on that one day.”

Erica could hear Berto. “What the fuck’s up with that, man?”

“Apparently, I snore,” she said. “Or his hours make it easier for him to sleep without me dashing all over the place. Or I twist the covers. Or my body’s too hot.” She lifted her palms. “It was fine with me because at that point the last thing I wanted was him anywhere near me.”

“Keith is an ass. Always was, always will be. I’m glad it’s finally over.”

Mike closed that last bit of distance between them. She rested her hands on the plane of his sculpted chest while he slipped one hand around her waist. Eyes on hers, he slipped his long fingers behind her neck, cradling it, drawing her near.

“I know you had to live it, but we had to watch it. You have no idea how frustrating that was for us to not interfere. It’s been hell watching you—”

He pressed his lips together, rolling them, moistening them, tempting her with a taste. What would he do if she stretched up on her toes and kissed him? There’d never been a hint her attraction to him was reciprocated. He’d never crossed a line, never made a pass, never treated her any differently than anyone else. But then, she’d been taken. Now she wasn’t.

Mike cupped her head and drew it to his shoulder. “Someone needs a hug.”

“You or me?” She slipped her arms around him.

“Both of us?”

Mike did like his hugs. He was always tossing them around. Granted, he never gave hugs this close, but this circumstance was unique. Erica was glad she hadn’t tried to sneak a kiss. She felt silly thinking he’d want her. A man this yummy had his pick of the crop. Women were always trying to cozy up to him. Beautiful women. She’d envied every one of them when he’d cast that dazzling smile in their direction. A smile that promised a night they’d never forget. She’d wanted to draw them aside afterward for a blow-by-blow account. Nothing like living vicariously. But Mike was careful to keep his relationships away from the crew. Few were allowed within the family, as they were called. He never spoke of them either. “Real men don’t need to kiss and tell.” How many times had she heard him say that? And there was no doubt Mike Barnard was a real man.

He slipped his hand her lumbar. There was the barest hint of pressure there, as if he were trying to pull her even closer than they already were. She felt the hardness between them—hot and unmistakable.

She swallowed. Her throat had gone dry. Make a move or ignore it? A mistake now risked ruining their friendship. Erica couldn’t bear that. She’d leave control in his hands, let him make the next move.

Why didn’t he make it?

Her hopes fell. The erection pulsing between them meant nothing. Guys got hard-ons all the time for all manner of reasons. This was no different. She hadn’t expected that knowledge to hurt as badly as it did.

“Let’s face it, Erica. I didn’t marry you for your looks.”

That knife thrust to the heart again, similar to words her own family had uttered time and again. Too tall, too big, too opinionated, too…everything that could be wrong with a person. And she had the nerve to think a man like Mike would want her? She was buddy material, not mating material. How many men had told her that since college?

Tears welled up. She tried her best to fight them. The hurt was too much. Words slashed at her heart. The fantasy she’d carried with her crumbled to ashes around it.

“Oh, sweetheart, it’s okay.” Mike rubbed his big hands over her back. “I’ve got you.”

How she wished that were true.