Hired Hand by Caitlyn Willows

HiredHand

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

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

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

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

 

BUY LINKS

REVIEWS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you all just—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

“Because I gave my word.”

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

“What if she doesn’t make the cut?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Advertisements

Rough Cut by Caitlyn Willows

RoughCut-NoLogo

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

A little before noon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to square one, and time was running out.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But?”

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

They waited while the waiter cleared their plates.

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

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

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

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

“What does he do?”

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

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

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

“Of what? Of falling in love?”

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

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

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

“Until now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, let him be available.

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

“Tony?”

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

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

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

“I am. How did you—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RoughCut.jpg

Forbidden Fruit by Caitlyn Willows

ForbiddenFruit

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

 

REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

“Mom and Dad with you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you left.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nodded and pushed to her feet as he stood.

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

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

“So, your room or mine?” she asked.

“Have you eaten?”

“No, but…”

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

“But, I thought…”

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

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

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

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

He was going to make sure of that.

 

Thief of Hearts by Caitlyn Willows

ThiefHearts

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

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

BUY LINKS

REVIEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPT

California

May 1849

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you?” her aunt asked.

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

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

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

“And never made the effort to do so.”

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

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

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

“Oh my!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Across A Sea Of Stars by Caitlyn Willows

AcrossSeaStars

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

REVIEWS

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

EXCERPT

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

“Ready to call it a night, Peggy?”

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

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

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

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

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

Peggy glowed with anticipation. “Your plans?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s…celestial.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah? And who’s gonna make us?”

Anne saw the flash of metal.

“He’s got a knife!”

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

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

“Are you all right, miss?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have a cell phone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Salvation by Caitlyn Willows

MySalvation_medium

MY SALVATION
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotica – Short Paranormal
April 2014 (previously released in November 2006)
Cover Art © Lacey Savage

A traffic accident took away Aaron’s salvation, his fiancée Melinda. Lost and grief-stricken, he plunged back into his former days, drowning his grief in mindless parties and drunken debauchery, until a random accident of his own threatens his very soul. Trapped at the crossroads of heaven and hell, he finds himself in limbo, waiting for the Powers That Be to determine his fate. Now, as his soul hovers between eternal bliss and endless damnation, Melinda returns from the grave to help him earn his salvation once more.

BUY LINKS

REVIEWS

FIVE HEARTS! Beautiful, amazing, enthralling-I cannot think of enough words to describe this magnificent short story! I found myself intrigued and aroused-my, oh my Melinda and Aaron had erotic sex. They pulled me along with them in their graphic sex. Then there were the parts of plot where I just wanted to cry. Ms. Willows has an unbelievable ability to wring emotion out of her readers. Melinda, who is dead and Aaron, who wishes to be dead are surprisingly well described for a short story. The plot flows absolutely seamlessly, even when twists come in the story. I cannot remember a story ending which I have enjoyed more. Brava, Ms. Willows! ~Marcy Arbitman, The Romance Studio

4.5 BLUE RIBBONS! Caitlyn Willows takes us on a fascinating journey of self-discovery with this short tale. I could have easily cried for Aaron, his beloved Melinda and the life that they should have had together. It’s very easy to understand his disappointment and how simple it would be to slip into his old ways after such a loss. At the same time, you get the feeling that Melinda may have physically died but she never truly left him in spirit. Ms. Willows brings us the life after death experience in a beautiful heart-touching way that readers won’t soon forget. ~Chrissy Dionne, Romance Junkies

[A] heart-wrenching story that is sure to pull heavily on your emotions. There were moments where I was teary eyed, instances where I shook my head in shame and times where my spine was tingling with heated passion. My Salvation was so engrossing that I read it in one setting. I could easily see the love shared between Melinda and Aaron. Their chemistry was very passionate and expanded across time. There is not much more I can say without giving away the plot; however, I took great pleasure in reading Melinda and Aaron’s story and I am sure once you discover My Salvation you will enjoy it also. ~Nikita Steele, Joyfully Reviewed

EXCERPT

Aaron Crane hoisted the bottle of Absolut to his lips and chugged it. He’d passed the buzz-stage quite some time ago, yet he still maintained a death grip around the neck. The vodka dulled the pain in his heart, filled the void in his soul, and faded the memories that assaulted him even in his dreams.

“Are you taking a leak or what?” Joe Sanchez hollered back.

“Keep your panties on,” Aaron yelled back.

He heard the other three snicker in response, most probably because Aaron had used the word “panties” rather than for the insult he’d intended. God, they really were an immature bunch. None of them had evolved beyond the mentality of a college freshman. Fun was belching contests, seeing who could piss the farthest, and laying down quarter bets of whatever game was on TV, while they scratched their balls and scarfed pizza. Aaron was the only one of the bunch who held a steady job. If he kept partying with these guys, he’d be standing behind them in the unemployment line, and he knew it. Insurance companies liked their claims adjusters alert and attentive, not to mention timely, and he’d been none of those lately. Hungover, emaciated, and perpetually tardy were more likely descriptions.

And yet, in his grief, Aaron had chosen to return to this comfort zone rather than setting out on his own. The more time he spent with these four, the more he disliked them…and himself. But then, he’d hated life and himself since the night Melinda died. The only thing he wanted was to be dead, too. That’s how he felt inside—dead.

He tossed back another drink. Who the hell got the bright idea to stop off in the middle of the desert? They were halfway to Vegas. Why the fucking side-trip?

“Screw it.”

Aaron sank to the nearest boulder and stared across a landscape silvered with the light of a full moon. A warm breeze washed over him. They’d made love under a moon like this once, with only the wind as their blanket. Melinda had wrapped her legs around his. They’d clutched each other as closely as two people could as they soared to the stars watching over them.

He’d loved everything about her from the moment they’d met—her beauty, her goodness, her laughter, her mind. Melinda made him want to be a better person. Hell, he had become a better person, shrugging off his errant ways to be the man she’d want. She was his salvation. Everything he’d dreamed of had seemed to fall in his lap once she’d beamed her smile over him. Paths Aaron never knew existed opened. The world, the future, was golden.

The day he proposed they’d scoured the Internet for the perfect honeymoon spot. There was really only one choice—Desirata. Melinda had read about the idyllic island chain in a travel magazine; a tropical paradise where all a person’s needs were met. It was off the beaten tourist path, exclusive, private—visitation was granted on a person’s needs, not their wealth. Melinda filled out the application, her eyes shining the whole time.

“I know they’ll accept us,” she’d said.

Aaron didn’t care where they went. As long as they were together, he’d give her the world if he could. What better place to start than on a white sand beach perched on the edge of a crystal blue-green ocean?

And just like that…she was ripped away from him. All because some fool blabbering on a cell phone ran a stop light at sixty miles per hour. She’d died clutching the envelope containing the Desirata application.

Grief had torn him in two. He’d tried so hard and for what? To bury the woman he loved? It was all for nothing. In the end, that’s all he had…nothing.

Aaron had quickly reverted to his previous ways, hoping to drown out the unrelenting pain that haunted him day and night. He hated life, hated the four rowdy friends who couldn’t wait to pull him back into their fold. Where once he’d found some measure of joy in the constant partying, now it was merely an escape from the horrors of an unjust world.

He closed his eyes as the breeze brushed over him, lifting the hairs on his arms. His mind drifted with the sensation, imagining Melinda was here with him, gently dancing her fingers against his skin. She’d kiss her way down his throat, while she toyed his nipples into hard dots meant for suckling. While her lips played there, her hands would wander to his cock, stroking, kneading…

Aaron clutched at the erection that burst to life. “Not now…please.”

In his present state, relief wouldn’t be possible. He was too drunk. The fact he had a hard-on at all was a shock. But with memories of Melinda assaulting him, his dick refused to obey the rules. All he could think about was how great her lips felt around him, how tight her hot pussy felt when he was inside, and how painfully lonely the world was with her gone.

Emotion clogged Aaron’s throat. Tears welled up behind his eyelids. Hand shaking, he lifted the bottle to his lips. A sudden gust of wind knocked him off-balance. Arms flailing, he toppled backward. The vodka bottle shattered against the boulder.

Aaron sat on the hard cushion of sand. Moonlight glinted off the shards of glass. Fear welled up inside him. He needed the forgetfulness in that bottle. The pain in his heart was too much to bear without it.

He hugged his knees to his chest. That’s when he noticed the blood. His hand was cut and he hadn’t—still didn’t—felt a thing. Heartache was more than he could bear, but a cut like this…nothing. It was really bleeding, too.

Wonder if it needs stitches? In his fogged brain he tried to calculate the distance to the nearest hospital. A coyote’s howl nearby snapped him upright. He was just pondering whether they could scent blood like a shark when he heard Joe stomping back his way.

“What the fuck, man. You comin’ or not?”

“I fell. Jesus, cut me some fuckin’ slack.”

Aaron shoved himself to his feet. He staggered there for a second or two, then followed Joe. At least the hard-on was gone. He glanced down to make sure and stumbled over his feet, nearly plowing into the other man.

Joe caught his shoulder to steady him. “You okay? Jeez, what happened to your hand?”

Aaron pulled away when he reached for it. “Bottle broke. It’s just a cut. It’ll stop bleeding soon. What was so all-fired important that we had to stop in the middle of nowhere?”

“Check it out.” He motioned to where the other three stood, just beyond a sign that read, “Government Facility. Restricted Area. No Trespassing.”

What little morality Aaron had remaining reared its head. He pulled Joe back. “Are you nuts? This is a restricted area. You’re going to have us thrown in jail.”

“Like we’re gonna get caught way out here. And since when did a little something like rules stop you?” He trudged onward.

Aaron followed reluctantly behind. God only knew where they were. Visions of Area 51 gendarmes swooping down on them filled his head. They weren’t in that area, were they? He’d paid no attention to the direction in which Joe had driven. His only interest had been in reaching the bottom of the bottle.

“What is it?” he asked as he crept forward. Please don’t let it be an alien, his drunken brain whined.

“Take a look.” Joe pointed to six rectangular boxes. They looked like—

“Are those caskets?” Aaron asked.

“Sure enough.” He actually sounded proud of the discovery. “I found them the last time I came through. I was looking for a place to take a leak and there they were. Suppose it’s a desert cemetery someone dug up?”

Aaron frowned. They were old coffins, nothing more than pine boxes. But they didn’t have the aged look he would have associated with a desert cemetery. Still…it was night. “Where are the bodies that were inside?”

“Ewww…” Joe adopted a spooky voice. “Maybe it’s a vampire lair.”

“Shut the fuck up, idiot. Let’s get out of here.” He turned to go.

“Scaredy-cat. I’ll pay you fifty bucks to lay down in one.”

The other three snickered—their comment on everything.

So, that’s what this was all about. Aaron tossed up his hands. “Whatever. I’ll play your stupid game.” Anything to get out of here and on the road. The bleeding hadn’t stopped. He really needed to find a hospital.

He staggered over to the nearest coffin. A wave of dizziness overwhelmed him. Shaking his head to clear it, Aaron hoisted himself inside and stretched out.

“Satisfied?” he asked. “Pay up.” But he couldn’t move. Weakness overwhelmed him.

I’ll just close my eyes for a minute.

His mind slipped into the limbo stage of twilight sleep. Soon the nightmares would take him and there was nothing Aaron could do to stop them. He drifted on a sea of nothingness. Two tunnels lay ahead—one dark, one light—and there he hovered, waiting…waiting…waiting.

 

High Roller by Caitlyn Willows

HighRoller_medium

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

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

BUY LINKS

REVIEWS

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

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

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

EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Warning. Shield integrity—”

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

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

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

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

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

“Shield integrity holding,” the computer calmly replied.

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

“Twenty-hour Earth hours.”

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

“Computer, damage report.”

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

“How much fuel is gone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to refuel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Instituting Earth Protocol Omega. Dirvan out.”

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

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

Unfettered by Caitlyn Willows

Unfettered-NoLogo

UNFETTERED
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Novella – Supernatural/Paranormal/Fantasy/Witchcraft/Magic/Time Travel/BDSM
April 2016
Cover Art by Dar Albert

Isabelle has long loved and cared for the dilapidated Victorian house on the hill. So when she decides to cast a spell to give her sexual expertise and the perfect mate, what better place to go than her beloved Victorian—a house of dubious reputation. But she learns all too soon that it pays to be specific in spell-casting. Everything she’s asked for is hers…back in 1901. Oh, and one more thing—she forgot to ask to keep them.

The woman of his dreams sifts through Daniel’s grasp like the fine grains of salt sprinkled on his floor. He’s known a few spell-casters in time, but for a cautious man to dare something so…impossible…well, it wouldn’t be the first time his mother considered having him committed. With the help of friends, he sets out to do the impossible—go to Isabelle. A feat seemingly doomed by calendar quirks.

Would the Fates be so cruel to keep them apart—like the Sun who always chases the Moon? Only the mercurial grandfather clock holding court in the Victorian can tell…if anybody would bother to listen…

NOTE: Unfettered was previously released by another publisher. It has been revised and re-edited for this version.

 

BUY LINKS

 

EXCERPT:

Isabelle looked up at the old Victorian house centered on the grassy, oak-shaded hill. She’d always been fascinated by this place. Built post-Civil War, the history surrounding it was sketchy. Rumor had it the original owner was the widow of a wealthy collector who had made the home into a museum in homage to her husband.

She wasn’t so certain, since she’d found no documentation to back up that story. There were plenty of tales of it being haunted as well. Someone always claimed to know someone who knew someone who had experienced ghosts in or around the place. Isabelle had spoken to several old-timers in the area. They all agreed the stories were true, and that they’d heard them from their parents and grandparents.

The moon glinting off a window caught her attention. Isabelle often wondered if the tale of ghosts had been generated by one of the loose ladies of the house during its presumed brothel period and perpetuated by adults since then to keep adventuresome kids away from the property. The brothel rumor held some weight. Ghosts…she wasn’t so sure. She’d experienced no hauntings in all the times she’d been there.

Spanish moss draped among the ancient tree limbs waved a greeting to her on the summer breeze. Its presence helped lend a sense of spookiness to the area, as did the cemetery, whose ravaged marble tombstones no longer bore the names of those buried there.

A winding cobblestone driveway large enough for two cars to pass threaded its way up the sloping rise to the house. A more direct stairway built into the lawn from the road also led straight to the driveway.

Isabelle slung her backpack over her shoulders and took the steps two at a time. She’d planned this night for months, counting the days until school was out and she had no responsibilities to take up her time. And no parents hounding her every step to talk about their “darlings.” Light from the full moon guided her way.

For some reason, upkeep on the property had ceased about twenty-five years ago. She’d toiled to keep the stairs and the driveway accessible, had even hired someone to come by once a week to trim the lawn and someone else for pest control. A house this beautiful deserved care, and she’d been doing that in some fashion for thirteen years now—ever since she was twelve years old.

She knew everyone thought she was nuts. As the years passed, the comments and the weird looks that came her way died off. Everyone seemed to accept that she’d become obsessed with the place. A few family members, even some friends, had tried to find out who owned the property so she could purchase it. Isabelle sighed. That would have been a dream come true. But the aloof owner—the mysterious Daniel Braddock Estate—wasn’t interested in selling. Odd that her attempts to purchase it never brought him—or her, or them, or any representative thereof—around to investigate her handiwork on the place. She’d always fantasized the owner would be so grateful for her meticulous and loving care that he would have no choice but to grant her the deed. After all, she visited it nearly every day and had yet to see another soul there besides the handyman and exterminator. Even her hope to snatch it up in a tax-lien sale hadn’t come to fruition. The taxes were always paid on time, in full, every year by the estate. She looked around as she crossed the lawn. If they loved it so much, why did they stop taking care of it?

Trying to find out was driving her nuts. What little information she could find only led to more questions. Upon the wealthy widow’s death, the house had passed into the hands of Penelope Marsden, a single woman of presumably ill repute. She’d owned and operated the Victorian around 1880. Upon her death eighteen years later, it had passed into the hands of Thomas Braddock. He seemed to have disappeared around 1900—no record of death, just disappeared. He did, however, have the foresight to deed the house to his younger brother Daniel…who’d also disappeared two years later. That didn’t help the house’s reputation any. Given the house’s scandalous reputation, its lack of repair, absent owners, and the missing prior owners—it all coalesced into tales of murder, mayhem, and all manner of nefarious doings, which added even more grist to the rumor mill.

Isabelle scrunched up her nose as she puzzled through her thoughts. People didn’t disappear without a reason. Although, considering what she’d found in the basement… She shook her head. No. They had moved away, died, procreated. The Daniel Braddock Estate was evidence of that. Someone had obviously planned for something, had an heir or heirs. Someone somewhere had answers, and they were being very tight-lipped about it. She shook her head again to get rid of the rambling thoughts. Her mind needed to be clear tonight, not jumbled with a puzzle that had thwarted her for years.

She paused at the edge of the lawn. Moonlight bathed the three-story house in a wash of silver that was almost magical. She took that as a sign, a blessing for what she was about to do. At night, the wear on the place wasn’t as apparent as it was during daylight. Alas, her expertise and pocketbook only went so far. She could keep the interior clean and pest-free—quite a feat when there was no running water or electricity—but outside, the best she could do was keep the yard up, brush the cobwebs from the shingles, and nail the loose shutters back into place. Oh…and keep the windows sparkling, at least the ones she could reach. She’d even replaced those broken by time and hurled rocks.

Determined, she refused to give up. One day this house would be hers. Her efforts had to win her that right. She refused to entertain the possibility of failure or how illogical her actions might seem. She was desperate. Where else could she turn except to the house she’d loved all these years? She’d cared for it as if it were her very own, loved it as no one else did. Surely that devotion would be returned.

Isabelle crossed the cobblestone drive and retrieved the skeleton key from beneath the garden rock where she’d first found it thirteen years ago. Her parents would have had a fit had they known she’d been inside the house back then. She never told them, although they knew she frequently visited the place. She’d seen them follow her a time or two, but they’d never stopped her visits.

She trotted up the marble steps and, once she stood on the old wooden porch, she paused to look back. In its heyday, she imagined it was quite impressive to see carriages dispelling visitors at these steps. Day or night, it would have been wondrous.

The creak of the slowly rocking swing in the corner of the porch caught her attention. How many lovers had sat there? She could almost imagine their ghostly presence as they watched her. In all the years she’d been coming here, no spirit had ever made its presence known.

Isabelle shoved the key into the lock. The door swung open on well-oiled hinges. Amazing what two cans of WD-40 could do to make the squeals and groans disappear. She wished she could have done something like that about the wooden floors. They creaked with every step she took. But at least they were clean.

Her first visit inside the house had left her a dust-covered, cobweb-draped mess. Every visit left her that way until she’d finally decided to clean it years later. She’d dusted, swept, and polished everything she could. Scrubbed the grime from the windows inside and out. Everything might be threadbare and worn, but it was at least a little cleaner. Well, at least as clean as could be, given twenty-five years of neglect. The rugs, drapes, and upholstery had been too fragile, so she’d left them as is.

Isabelle shut and locked the door behind her and set her backpack on the floor. The grandfather clock always greeted her first upon entry, its hands frozen at the twelve o’clock position. She remembered the day she’d polished it until the dark wood gleamed. Fixing it, though, was way beyond her expertise. She’d flirted with the idea of hiring someone to get it working again, but since she didn’t own the place, she wasn’t sure that was a wise move. No one minded that the yard and house were kept in order. That benefited the neighborhood by keeping the rodent population at bay and the yard from being a true eyesore as well as helping resale values in the area. However, openly acknowledging that she’d actually breached the front door—that she had been inside the house on multiple occasions—was a different issue. While the temptation to do so in the hope it would drag the owner out made her consider it, the threat that it might backfire and she’d lose access to the house stayed her hand.

She brushed her hand down the side of the huge clock. Midnight or noon? What momentous event had stopped time? The voices of the past were as silent as those mysterious trustees who held the ownership reins.

Isabelle inhaled. The wild-berry air fresheners she’d placed there three days ago had put a crisp, fresh scent throughout the house. She stood there and absorbed the house’s energy. A feeling of warmth surrounded her. Maybe those voices weren’t so silent after all.

She picked up the box of safety matches from the Queen Anne console across from the clock and lit the new candles in the sconces on the foyer wall. Using them for light, she wandered into the main parlor and lit all the remaining candles there as well. Faded mirrors reflected the golden, flickering flames, adding coziness to the warmth she’d perceived earlier.

It was going to be a wonderful night. She just knew it. By the time she left in the morning, all her needs and most of her wishes would be fulfilled.

Dark, gleaming stairs beckoned her upward when she returned to the foyer. Was that how previous occupants and guests felt? Drawn into the very heart of the house? Or did they prefer to wander into the basement playroom just off the empty wine cellar to engage in harder sex play? She didn’t know much about that aspect of sex but was pretty sure that every bondage toy in existence back in the day was down there.

Isabelle laughed. She’d thought it was a dungeon when she’d first seen the room. Whips, chains, collars, cuffs, tables, and racks—they’d stirred something deep inside her. She’d like to say it was curiosity, but her pounding heart and raised pulse told her it was much more than that. Even as young as she’d been when she’d first stumbled upon them, aspects of the room had inspired her imagination and excited her in ways she’d eventually learned were sexual in nature. That room and its contents had given Isabelle her first taste of adult horny.

She’d spent as much time exploring that naughty basement playroom as she had the rest of the house. She had even indulged and had lain naked on the rack, her arms and legs spread wide and her eyes closed as she’d imagined the flogger being laid across her bare ass.

Her breath quickened at the thought. Her pussy moistened with the throb of her clit. Yes, she’d imagined the fire building in her ass until she couldn’t stand it any longer. Then she’d remove the soft leather strap from its nearby hook—the strap she’d bought to keep there—whip herself with it, then rub it over her clitoris until she came.

How many others had “suffered” such a fate down there? Or maybe upstairs in one of the many lavishly decorated bedrooms with those sturdy four-poster beds?

If the rumors were true, thousands had been pleasured in those bedrooms. Judging from the fact that the basement toys did exist, Isabelle had no reason to doubt those particular tales.

Set away from the main city and protected by the many oak tree sentries around the property, it would have been a popular brothel. Discreet. There were those who claimed Penelope Marsden was a madam who had passed the house into the hands of her nephew—or son, depending on who told the story. Thomas Braddock presumably added to the home’s hedonistic history with grand orgies and parties, where bondage and discipline were as prevalent as the food and wine that freely flowed.

As for the man himself, no one seemed to know what had become of Thomas or his successor. Daniel Braddock simply disappeared one night in the early 1900s. Some said he ran off with the daughter of a wealthy banker. Some thought he might have met with an untimely end, perhaps while strapped to the very rack Isabelle indulged herself on. Some hinted that he’d gone into service during World War I and either died or met a French bride and stayed in Europe. Maybe both men had served in the war, and their stories had become entangled over the years. Maybe that explained why the house still remained with the estate—perhaps a descendant had kept the place for sentimental reasons. That was so much more pleasing than to think the heirs battled over the old place. If only that person would come here, could see how much she loved this house…

Her rambling thoughts had distracted her again. At this rate, she’d never get to the point of her visit. She needed to hurry so that she could take advantage of every second that still remained.

Isabelle retrieved the backpack and returned to the parlor. Candlelight reflected off the mirrors around the room, brightening it as well as electricity would. Out of the whole house, this was her favorite room. Threadbare gold brocade flecked with splashes of red covered the chairs and the love seat, while remnants of matching curtains flanked the windows. A black-marbled fireplace veined with gold dominated the far wall. She’d love to see it alive with a toasty fire. She pictured herself entwined in the arms of a lover before it. A good lover, one who knew how to stoke a woman’s desires. Not like the men she’d known thus far.

She glanced up at the portrait hanging above the mantel. Now there was a woman who knew what good loving was about. Black hair tumbled down her back, revealing a glimpse of creamy white skin beneath. Her face was turned away, barely visible from the shadows of whatever blocked the light. But it was obvious from the arch of her body that she was in the throes of pleasure. She stretched on the red covering that draped over her breast and one hip. Isabelle had found the remnant of what she thought was the covering upstairs.

The woman in the painting had been real.

That was what Isabelle wanted—intense pleasure at the hands of another. She’d even let her own black hair grow into a cascade of curls, hoping to somehow channel the woman’s spirit. Her long hair had definitely gotten her male attention, but none had possessed the skill her body craved.

With any luck, that would change after tonight. She’d have not only the knowledge but also the experience to get what she needed in the bedroom. A little luck wouldn’t hurt either. Or a lot of magic.

The alarm on her watch alerted Isabelle that midnight was fast approaching. She had little time to prepare. Everything had to be ready, so she could execute the spell when the full moon was at its zenith.

Isabelle unzipped the backpack and started to lay out her materials. She’d done a little preparation the day before—moving furniture, rolling up the rugs she’d prayed wouldn’t fall apart—and had exposed a large section of the bare wooden floor. She wanted to do this spell before the fireplace with the woman’s portrait in full view. Her desire was simple—to increase the sexual quality of her life and find the perfect match for her. What better way to draw that to her than by appealing to the notorious qualities of this house?

The spell was sure to work. In fact, she was sure it would. Madam Delores at the New Age shop where she’d purchased the spell kit was more than adamant of its success as long as Isabelle followed the directions.

She’d written down everything she wished for and had committed the words to memory. Madam Delores had also insisted that Isabelle give her the words to write down along with the instructions.

“Things happen in the heat of the moment, in the rush of the mystic vortex,” she’d explained.

As Isabelle placed her white votive candles in a wide circle, she repeated the words again in her mind.

 

 

No Holds Barred – Caitlyn Willows

NoHoldsBarred-NoLogo

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell shrugged off his conscience’s reproach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conrad’s laughter carried over the crowd noise.

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

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

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

“History?” Conrad asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Isn’t it all the same thing?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She’s lying, Valerie.”

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

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

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

“Now step away, and let me leave.”

“You’ve been drinking.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Flames From Ashes by Caitlyn Willows

FlamesFromAshes-NoLogo

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

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

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

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

Related stories are:
Wrapped In Flame
Flames From Ashes

BUY LINKS

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that son of a bitch snuffed it out.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi,” she answered.

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

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

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

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

“Me too.”

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

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

“Why aren’t you at work?”

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

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

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

“I’ll meet you there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hungry?”

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

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

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

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

“Sounds wonderful.” Another smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine. But I won’t be put off again.”

“You won’t be. I promise.”

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

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

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

“Not for long,” she said.

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

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

“Kiss me,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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