Always Faithful (Book 1 – Rules of Engagement) by Caitlyn Willows

AlwaysFaithful

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS:

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EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sarcasm, Laura? How unlike you.”

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

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

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

“Irrelevant. Forensics evidence proved their story.”

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

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

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

He leveled a frosty stare her way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is she to you?”

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

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

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

* * * *

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

Fools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Secrets We Keep by Caitlyn Willows

SecretsWeKeep

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

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

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

Ah…but those secrets.

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

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

BUY LINKS:

Loose Id

Amazon

Kobo

iBooks

EXCERPT:

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

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

“No cuffs.”

Susan’s eyebrow lifted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One…two…three steps and they were outside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything. It is my pleasure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I presume you have a name?”

“Does is really matter?” she replied.

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

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

“Susan.”

Goddamnit, baby. Not your real name.

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

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

 

Teamwork by Caitlyn Willows

teamwork

TEAMWORK
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Romantic Suspense (BDSM, menage)
October 2016
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN: 978-1-68252-228-8

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

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

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

NOTE: Re-release, re-edited and better than ever!

BUY LINKS:

Loose Id

Amazon

REVIEW:

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

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think!

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

Her mind blanked. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Damn, he’s good.”

“The inside man?”

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

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

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

“Intense, was it?”

“You have no idea.”

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Another day, another dollar-fifty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can lie with me high or low.”

God, he loved her smile.

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

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

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

 

Rough Cut by Caitlyn Willows

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy links:

Loose Id

Amazon

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

A little before noon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, so good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to square one, and time was running out.

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But?”

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

They waited while the waiter cleared their plates.

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

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

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

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

“What does he do?”

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

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

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

“Of what? Of falling in love?”

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

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

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

“Until now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, let him be available.

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

“Tony?”

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

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

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

“I am. How did you—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

No Holds Barred – Caitlyn Willows

NoHoldsBarred

NO HOLDS BARRED
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense- BDSM
March 2016
Cover Artist – Valerie Tibbs
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-68252-079-6

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 link:

Loose Id

Amazon

Kobo Books

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

FLAMES FROM ASHES
by Caitlyn Willows
Contemporary – Erotic Suspense Romance
February 2016
Cover Artist – Scott Carpenter
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-68252-050-5

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

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

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

Related stories are:
Wrapped In Flame
Flames From Ashes

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EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that son of a bitch snuffed it out.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hi,” she answered.

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

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

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

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

“Me too.”

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

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

“Why aren’t you at work?”

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

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

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

“I’ll meet you there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

“Hungry?”

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

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

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

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

“Sounds wonderful.” Another smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine. But I won’t be put off again.”

“You won’t be. I promise.”

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

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

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

“Not for long,” she said.

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

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

“Kiss me,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow Ribbons by Caitlyn Willows

YellowRibbons

YELLOW RIBBONS
by Caitlyn Willows
Romantic Suspense – Military – Erotic Romance – BDSM
November 2011
Cover Artist – April Martinez
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-61118-580-5 (ebook)
ISBN 978-1-61118-826-4 (print)

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

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

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

BUY LINKS:

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REVIEWS:

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

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The woman is mine.”

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

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

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

Lani shivered at the memory.

Greg stirred and rolled her way. “Cold?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You make me feel like a woman. Your woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re killing me,” he gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lies That Bind by Caitlyn Willows

LiesThatBind

LIES THAT BIND

by Caitlyn W

illows
Contemporary – Erotic Romance – Menage – BDSM
March 2014
Cover Artist – Dar Albert
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-62300-706-5

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

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

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

BUY LINKS:

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2015_EBook_WINNER-sm

REVIEWS:

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

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

EXCERPT:

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

She glanced out the cockpit at her destination below.

Rustlers Retreat, an experience you’ll always remember.

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

God knew, she’d tried.

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

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

Had they missed her as much as she missed them?

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

“You all right?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Precaution?”

“Avoidance is more like it,” she countered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You never said how he died.”

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

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

“Earth to Tessa. Earth to Tessa.”

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

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

“Nice spread.”

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

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

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

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

“Is that aviary your design?”

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

“Outstanding. She must have loved it.”

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

“Damn.”

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

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

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

“Derek Ford is his son?” he asked.

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

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

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

“It always is, isn’t it?”

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

“I’ve got this.”

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

“Here we go.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you fit into the picture?”

Very nicely right between them.

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

“Your landing sucks.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you weren’t?” She snickered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know, Tess. You tell me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“God, I’ve missed you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your lover of the moment?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buddy System by Caitlyn Willows

BuddySystem

BUDDY SYSTEM
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Romantic Suspense
November 2006
Cover Artist – S.L. Carpenter
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-59632-288-2

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

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

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

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

BUY LINKS:

Loose Id

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Kobo Books

REVIEWS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXCERPT:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, doctor?”

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

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

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

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

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

She maintained her position. “Dr. Trent.”

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

“Are you armed, detective?” he asked.

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

“Cocked and ready, ma’am.”

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

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

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

“I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A concession for court.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Undo your blouse … slowly,” he ordered.

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

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

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

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

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

Pam laughed and twirled her nipples into elongated beads.

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

“Promises, promises.”

“Enough teasing. Skirt off.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sucked him hard, yanking the orgasm from him.

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

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

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

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

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

Almost there. Almost … 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want … I want …”

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

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

“Indeed I do.”

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

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

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

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

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

He gasped. “Me, too.”

And in that instant, they did.

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

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

“I owe you a tie,” she said.

“I’ll just send it to the cleaner.”

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

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

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

“Deal.” He stepped away to pee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So I’ll see you then.”

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

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

She blinked. “Yes, of course.”

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

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

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

Into The Lair by Caitlyn Willows

IntoTheLair

INTO THE LAIR
2007 Dream Realm Award
Book 1 – Into The Heart Series
by Caitlyn Willows
Erotic Romance – Paranormal
October 2007
Cover Artist – Marci Gass
Loose Id www.loose-id.com
ISBN 978-1-59632-578-4

Sebastian and Lauren Garner think it’s the chance of a lifetime when they are invited on a unique expedition to search for the secret of long life. But it’s an experience that holds more adventure than they anticipated. It’s a chance of a lifetime, all they have to give up is their souls. Deep in the Yucatan jungle, the Garners are running out of time to save themselves. Does the key to salvation lie in an ancient one who has cast his spell over them, or does he too have an agenda of his own? Who do they trust when all seems lost? What do they chose when the promise of the world and forever is within their grasp?

Buy links:

Loose Id

Amazon

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Barnes & Noble

REVIEWS:

FIVE STARS! [A]n incredible book, with all of my favorite elements; love, sex, mystery, sex, adventure and, oh, did I mention sex? Lauren is a beautiful, intelligent young woman who is desperately in love with both her husband and her career. Sebastian is equally in love with Lauren, equally intelligent and a HUNK! They are having a wonderful time being back in civilization, so that they can have all the sex that they want. My, do they want a lot of sex! They have graphic, kinky, erotic and elaborate sex that they couldn–t have on the dig because there were too many people around them. I felt orgasmic just reading about their sex. Even better, they loved only each other. The many secondary characters help the plot move seamlessly along. The mystery began early in the story and continued on throughout the plot as the adventure continued. I kept thinking that I knew what was going to happen, but Ms. Willows was too good for me and did not allow me to figure out the mystery until the book’s end. Brava, Ms. Willows, you have given us another wonderful read!~Marcy Arbitman, Just Erotic Romance Reviews

FIVE ANGELS! Don’t be fooled into thinking a book about an archeology adventure or mystery will be boring or tame; this is an erotic story! Lauren and Sebastian have sex in every location, position, and opportunity they find. The couple is very creative and this is a sensual tale that will leave you needing a way to cool off as you read! But the book has more than hot sex to appeal to the reader. This is a very imaginative story that includes shape shifters, possession, and an evil plot to steal souls from someone on the expedition. Lauren and Sebastian sense that something is wrong from the beginning but they are not sure who can be trusted and who are the bad guys however, people other than them depend on the funding for their main project so they feel compelled to go and insure the continuation of their life’s work. I loved the characters of Lauren and Sebastian and hope they will appear in the sequel that is the story of two of the secondary characters from this tale. I can’t wait to read book two, titled Into the Night! Ms. Willow’s imagination is so creative and fun that I will watch for other works by her and read them. I hope she plans to write more books for this series! ~Stephanie B, Fallen Angel Reviews

This novel has it all…a loving relationship between the married characters, deceit, betrayal, long held ancient secrets, poisoned darts and deadly villains. The multiple secondary characters give great depth to the piece, helping to keep the plot interesting and suspenseful. As the story progressed, I kept wondering what the Prentices were up to and why, but Ms. Willows well written story kept me guessing until the very end. Good work! ~Pam, My Book Cravings

Oh my! Grab a fan and your man before commencing to read Into The Lair. This is one hot story. I really loved reading about a long-time married couple who were still lusting for each other as much as when they were first wed. The devotion between the two made the novel special. Solid pacing, interesting characters, and an original plot topped it off. If you enjoy erotic romance with a splash of m/f/m interaction, you’ll take pleasure in Into the Lair. ~Chris, Joyfully Reviewed

FOUR STARS! A young couple is swept into a world of danger and betrayal in this creative and entertaining story. Their chemistry is explosive, and the steamy erotic encounters are hotter than the jungle setting. The secondary characters are all well developed and add to the mystery to a plot that will keep you hooked. ~Gail Pruszkowski, Romantic Times

EXCERPT:

Prologue

He watched from the shadows that dusk cast over the land. The cool San Diego night beckoned people to the Prentice Museum in droves. What better way to camouflage one’s actions than in a crowd? The innocent and unwary wound their cars up the hill as the sun set; last rays glinting off the windshields made them look like diamonds.

Clouds in the distance hovered over the Pacific Ocean, teasing with the hint of thunderstorms that had yet to materialize. All they’d gotten during the day was sweltering August heat and humidity. Mother Nature had made up for it with a colorful display of purples, golds, and pinks against the clouds and the kiss of a cool breeze. It didn’t matter. The atmosphere was heavy with desperation and foreboding. He would have felt it in any weather.

His nostrils flared as they arrived. The perfect couple — young, intelligent, beautiful…irresistible. Tonight would be the night they’d be marked. He could smell the hunt hovering in the air. It was woven with the scent of the woman’s pussy, punctuated by the testosterone cloud hovering around the man.

He stroked the erection thrusting up insistently before him….and wanted them…wanted his life back. And they were going to help him achieve all of that.

This time, no mistakes.

Chapter One

Chillbumps dotted Lauren Garner’s skin. Her stomach tightened with the creepy-crawly feeling someone was watching her. She’d felt that way since she and Sebastian had arrived at the Prentice Museum. Which was ridiculous, because they were the guests of honor. Naturally, all attention was on them.

But this…this was different. More like something was watching, not someone.

She clutched her husband’s strong forearm and stretched to her tiptoes. He smiled when her breath caressed his ear.

“I need to go to the ladies room,” she whispered. “Come with me…please.”

He gave her a single nod and lifted his champagne flute to the ladies surrounding them. “If you’d all excuse us for just a minute…” He set the glass on the tray of a passing waiter, cupped Lauren’s elbow, and steered her toward the restrooms down the far corridor beyond their exhibit.

“What’s wrong?” he asked when they’d gotten out of earshot.

“I feel ‘off.’ Nervous. On edge. Like I’m being watched.”

“Of course you’re being watched.” His voice deepened, falling over her like a sensuous caress. “You’re the most beautiful woman in the room. Every man wants you. Every woman wants to be you.”

She turned into him and ran her fingers beneath his tuxedo jacket, felt the hard chest beneath. “Only because those women want you.”

“Mmmm…” He twisted open the door to the handicapped restroom and gently pushed her forward, locking it behind them. “Do you know how much I want to fuck you right now? I’ve had a killer of a hard-on since we walked into the place.”

“Are you sure that’s not just nervous energy?”

He grabbed her hand and placed it on his cock. “Does that feel like nervous energy to you?”

Her pussy clenched with want. Moisture soaked the cotton liner in her pantyhose. That’s what she needed — him. Now!

“I can’t let you go back out there like that, now can I?” Hiking up her silky black dress, she grabbed the waistband and peeled her pantyhose down and off one leg.

Sebastian didn’t hesitate. One hand freed his erection while the other hoisted her bare leg up and around his waist. Lauren braced herself against the sink, gasping when he impaled her. His fucking was raw, hard, fast…and just what she needed. All she could do was hold onto his massive shoulders for dear life.

He reached between them and pushed her clit against his cock. Each stroke raked over it, pulling her tighter and tighter. Orgasm rolled over her sweetly, relaxing those tense muscles, scattering her unease. He seated himself on a hard thrust and grunted with his release. They stood there for long minutes, draped around each other in the wonder of the moment.

“We really need to get back out there.” He squeezed her ass and carefully slid free.

Lauren laughed to herself. The last thing they needed was a semen stain on his dark tux or her dress.

Using wet paper towels, they cleaned up quickly.

“You okay now?” he asked as he tucked in and zipped up.

Lauren smiled and kissed his chin. “More than okay. It was just what I needed. You go on. I need to pee.”

He captured her lips in a kiss, then winked, wiped her lipstick off his mouth, and left.

Lauren locked the door behind him, laughing at that earlier creepy feeling. She was on edge, that was all. Nothing like an orgasm to settle a girl’s nerves.

She took care of her personal needs and fixed her makeup. The biggest night of their lives and she was in the bathroom having sex.

“Mom would be so proud.”

She might look killer-hot, but she felt like a freaking Barbie doll. And these pantyhose were smothering her.

“Screw it.” She peeled them off and tossed them into the trash. Of course, that also meant she was now bare-bottomed.

Wearing panties might have helped. It was one of her greatest conundrums. Panties with pantyhose? She’d always considered it redundant. If they were pantyhose, why wear panties? Out of all the things she’d ever discussed with girlfriends, the topic had never come up. Sebastian was worthless on the subject. The fewer clothes she had on, the better he liked it.

“Like anyone will notice.” The focus was supposed to be on the artifacts on display.

Clutching her tiny purse, she swung open the door and left. At the end of the corridor, she felt the first trickle make its way down her thigh. She did an abrupt about-face back to the ladies room to sop up the remnants.

Sebastian’s knowing smirk greeted her when she finally returned to the exhibit wing. He lifted his glass in a private toast. Lauren snagged a crystal champagne flute from the tray of a passing waiter and followed suit, giving him a knowing smile of her own.

Content once more, Lauren sipped her golden champagne. It was light with a hint of sweet, not too dry; the perfect complement to what she hoped would be a perfect event.

She twirled the glass between thumb and forefinger and wandered toward her favorite of all the Maya artifacts she and Sebastian had unearthed in the last two years. Restored and on display in all its glory, the blue-green jade idol gleamed as it had when first carved. The phallus was an eye-popping ten inches long and three inches in circumference, jutting out from the proud figurine that bore it — the envy of every woman at the exhibit.

The artist had shown intricate attention to detail, using the stone to its full potential. Veins of gold naturally running through it became veins of the idol’s penis. There was a slit in the glans with precum at the tip and no hint of foreskin, which made it extra unique considering its age. The scrotum was wrinkled and full, close to the body. Fingernails and toenails were present, musculature well defined, as were eyes, ears, nose, and the sloped Maya forehead prevalent for the culture at that time. The artist had even managed to capture the male’s grimace of pre-orgasmic pleasure.

The idol was made for grasping. Inspection had revealed ancient fingerprints over it, which they’d meticulously documented before cleaning. Lauren could appreciate its being well used. Once in the place it was intended, the idol looked guaranteed to provide extreme pleasure. The hilt would nudge a woman in just the right spot. A skilled lover could manipulate it to perfection, or the lady could ride the sucker like a horny cowgirl and get herself off easily.

Lauren would be lying if she’d said she wasn’t tempted to try it out — no matter how many thousands of years old it was. At those times when she thought no other members of her archaeological team were looking, she’d unwrap the statue from its protective nesting of straw and caress the bulbous head, stroke the massive erection…and wonder.

She drew in another sip and studied the gathering. Clumps of people crowded around the Maya artifacts, oohing and ahhing over it all. There was still a wealth of material trapped beneath the Yucatán soil. The problem was finding enough capital to continue the dig, and then getting back to the site before poachers took it all. Hence the exhibit of what they’d found to date.

It’d come as a surprise to them that funding was an issue. Until now the Braden Institute had been known and revered for its deep, never-ending pockets. To discover otherwise was a bit…unsettling. When the digging season ended in the Yucatán, she and Sebastian were informed there would be a showing of their discoveries to date. That was six months ago, and they’d been working nonstop in preparation for it since then. At some point money was mentioned, and the exhibit became a fund-raiser while the rest of their team waited, bags packed and ready, to return to the site and continue. And the clock was ticking. She and Sebastian felt more pressure than ever. Their dig crew was depending on them.

Considering the crowd milling about, Lauren had to admit the exhibit seemed a rousing success. Barry Page darted through the guests like a cartoon ferret OD’d on espresso.

She bit back a laugh. Barry did look like a cartoon ferret — dark hair slicked back, pointed nose leading the way, bug eyes never still as they searched out the next target. No one pursued funding for the Braden Institute more aggressively than Barry. But with each day that passed, he became a bigger pain in the ass. If she heard him say, “It takes money to make money,” one more time, she’d pop his head off.

From the beginning, she’d been more than reluctant to do this fund-raiser. Barry’s aggressive pursuit of contributions made her more so. She didn’t like crowds, and she didn’t like being the center of attention. Plus, the mere thought of leaving the quiet haven of field work made her nervous. She hadn’t worn a dress, much less high heels, since she married Sebastian five years before. And dressing up for Sebastian meant Dockers and a pullover shirt.

But, man oh man, look at him tonight.

In his black tux he looked good enough to eat. Lauren wasn’t sure who got more attention — Sebastian or her well-endowed jade friend. Considering some of the obvious touching going on, Lauren wondered if Sebastian shouldn’t have been sealed in security glass like the artifacts. Other than their dash to the restrooms, neither of them had spent a second alone since they walked into the exhibit wing. Everyone wanted to press hands with the couple who’d made the discovery — archaeology’s new rising stars.

Lauren wasn’t sure how true that was, but it was definitely a huge career boost for them. And any notoriety that helped them continue their work was fine with her. Obviously, the institute felt that way as well. Once word got out about the artifacts, the Prentice Museum offered to display them and provide the level of security necessary to protect them during their stay. Liam Prentice had spared no expense. Why he didn’t just donate the money to the dig and leave it at that…

She assumed the man had an agenda of his own. Didn’t everyone? Considering tonight’s success, the Prentices would be the talk of the town for months to come, if not years. That talk would generate more visitors to the museum. More visitors meant more money, more investors for him. She couldn’t fault a person for that; after all, wasn’t that exactly what she and Sebastian were doing tonight?

Lauren took another sip of champagne, smiling as Sebastian laughed at something a matronly redhead half his height and twice his width said. Damn, he was handsome. His skin was golden from years in the Yucatán sun. All except his cute, milk white ass. His dark brown hair was trimmed neatly for a change, rather than straggly from one of her field haircuts. Those deep brown eyes sparkled, like he was having the time of his life. No one would guess he was as nervous as she was about all this.

His long fingers cradled the crystal flute. Every so often he’d absentmindedly brush his thumb along the side, reminding her of how often they played against her breast. Need curled into her belly at the thought. After ten years they were still going strong. She prayed they never grew tired of each other.

Sebastian’s gaze shifted her way. His smile deepened into that I’m-going-to-fuck-you-until-we-both-collapse look. She swore he could will her clothes to drop with that hot glance. And they’d just had a quickie!

Wait ’til he finds out I’m bare-bottomed.

Would he scold her for being a “naughty girl” and promise a spanking later? Haul her off to the first available storage closet and give her some more quick and thorough loving? Either and both sounded good to her.

“I can remember when my wife used to watch me with hungry eyes.”

Lauren glanced up at the man beside her. She’d been so absorbed in thought she hadn’t noticed his approach, but she had no trouble recognizing Liam Prentice. Those sky blue eyes alone made him memorable. Silver blended nicely with the blond, making his hair look like precious metals had been spun there. From what she’d heard, he had the personality to back up those distinguished looks, too. He and his wife, Viola, were charming, wealthy, connected, and damned good-looking. Lauren hoped she and Sebastian were as lucky when they hit their fifties.

“Mr. Prentice, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Lauren Garner.” She offered her hand to him.

He didn’t hesitate. A handshake said a lot about a person. His wasn’t a condescending girly squeeze, or a bone crusher. He shook her hand like a colleague, someone he respected.

“Your reputation and that of your husband’s precedes you, Mrs. Garner. Everyone is talking about you.” His gaze never left hers. She wasn’t sure if she appreciated his directness, or found his steady perusal unnerving.

“Lauren…please…and thank you. It’s wonderful to know our work means so much to others.”

“Probably more than you realize. Viola and I had the chance to tour the exhibit privately this afternoon. What amazing discoveries. We’re in awe of your accomplishment.”

Coming from a man of his caliber and deeds, it was quite a compliment. “Thank you, Mr. Prentice. I’m honored you feel that way. I don’t know what to say.”

“First names with us as well, Lauren. Viola and I aren’t much on pretense. We leave the snobbish displays to some of our so-called friends.”

Lauren fanned her fingers at the base of her throat and laughed.

Liam leaned closer, humor dancing in his eyes. “If they only knew what we really thought of them.”

“Somehow I suspect you don’t waste a lot of time with them, though.” And he most probably let others do his dirty work if he was displeased. He struck her as the type of man who would smile in your face, then order your head on a platter behind your back.

“Very perceptive, Lauren.” He tapped her shoulder. “I knew I’d like you the instant I saw you across the crowded room.”

Lauren sipped her champagne as she fought the urge to give him a playful push. “Now, Liam, that almost sounds like the beginning of a very bad pick-up line.”

He tossed back a contagious laugh. “It really does. I’m so sorry. I’ve been watching your and Sebastian’s work for so long, I feel like I know you.”

Lauren was at a loss for words. She and Sebastian knew who the Prentices were — only a hermit living in a time warp wouldn’t — but they hadn’t thought much about the couple until this exhibit.

“Now you’re going to think Viola and I are stalkers.” His eyebrows scrunched together with what looked like regret. “Please don’t. We’ve continued to follow archaeological discoveries after we left the field, even built this museum to help display them. We certainly can’t begin to rival what the Braden Institute offers, but we do like to help fund those few scientists we find to be extraordinary — like you and Sebastian.”

Was he saying what she thought? That he was ready to fund their dig? She forced herself to retain some level of professional demeanor and not squeal…or get too far ahead of herself.

“Again you have me at a loss for words.”

“Then I’d say it’s the perfect time for you to tell me firsthand about your discoveries, starting with this intriguing little statue behind you. Although calling it little is definitely a misnomer.”

Lauren felt her cheeks heat. Her comfort level nosedived.

“I’m sorry. I did it again.” He cupped her elbow, gave it a quick squeeze, then swept his arm out. “Come meet Viola. Looks like she’s already waylaid your husband. It’s the perfect time.”

Lauren glanced in Sebastian’s direction. Viola Prentice had his attention, every word and action monitored by the throng growing around them. She matched Liam in looks, though hair dye most probably hid her gray. Both were fit and trim. Her calves looked like she was used to walking, well-defined with no hint of fat. Lauren couldn’t tell if her legs were really suntanned, or if that was merely the color of her pantyhose. In either event, it was too dark a color and the one thing about her that was unbecoming.

She wore a black dress like every other female there — understated elegance in the silk fabric that hugged her slender curves. An omega necklace gleamed around her throat, matching bracelets flashed around her wrists from under her long sleeves. More gold shone from her earlobes. She wore the jewelry like it was an extension of herself, like a queen. It was hard not to compare herself to the older woman. Sebastian’s smile her way told her she measured up just fine.

“Ah, yes, more hungry eyes,” Liam said with a laugh. “If only to be twenty years younger…”

She smiled up at him. “And know what you know now?”

“Exactly.” He added a nod and lifted his hand to his wife. “Viola, dear, quit hogging our good-looking friend and let the Garners give us a detailed tour of everything.”

Viola turned a sultry smile Liam’s way.

“Talk about hungry eyes,” Lauren muttered to him.

“Indeed.” Liam beamed. “Maybe your and Sebastian’s influence is rubbing off on us. One can only hope.”

* * * * *

Damn, Lauren was killer hot tonight in her little black dress and come-fuck-me black heels. Their quickie in the restroom hadn’t kept his erection away long. All he had to do was glance her way, think of those high-heeled legs tossed over his shoulders, and he was hard again. He couldn’t wait to leave this agonizing event and go home.

Though he tried to hide it, Sebastian had never felt more out of his element. He smiled, shook hands, engaged in mindless chit-chat…which he discovered was fairly easy if you could get the other person to talk about themselves. All he had to do then was smile or laugh or nod at intervals, answer a few questions.

While guests crowded him with mindless chatter, Sebastian focused on Lauren’s collarbones. On how her skin would taste when he’d trace his tongue over them. On how she’d sigh with pleasure and stretch her tight body against him. On the brush of her floaty hem against shapely legs. He couldn’t wait to peel her naked and feel her quiver beneath his touch. Couldn’t wait to see her surprise, hear her laughter, when she saw the present he’d had made especially for her.

There wasn’t a woman in the room who compared to Lauren, and Sebastian had seen every one of them close up…with the exception of Viola Prentice.

The Prentices were their benefactors for this event, though they’d never met. The institute arranged everything, with specific instructions that the Garners were to extensively woo them in the hope they’d help fund the dig. Sebastian and Lauren weren’t stupid. They knew a good thing when they saw it, but neither of them appreciated the added pressure. Pressure made more intense when the Prentices weren’t here when the Garners arrived.

Barry Page had nearly had a coronary over their absence. His heaved sigh of relief was a little too obvious when the Prentices made a quiet entrance thirty minutes later. They’d paused for a second, scanning the gathering. Body language said a lot about them, how close the two were — his arm around her back, her standing in the cove of his body. Sebastian liked to see that in a couple who’d been married a long time. It was like a glimpse of what he hoped he and Lauren would have in twenty-five years — still crazy in love, still so hot for one another the kindling could be used to start a fire.

A smile had sent the Prentices on separate paths, weaving into the crowd after they’d snagged champagne flutes from a passing waiter. Barry had wasted no time nailing Sebastian with a look that clearly told him to corner Liam Prentice. Sebastian promptly ignored it.

Barry was great at his job, but there was a time and place, and attacking Prentice the second he walked in the door wasn’t it. Sebastian had too much professional respect for Prentice to do that. After all, Prentice had paid for this event, donated a portion of his museum with extra security, even added the draw of champagne, open bar, and heavy hors d’oeuvres buffet on the patio. He deserved Sebastian’s and Lauren’s thanks, not to be hit up for more money. Sebastian planned to do just that once Lauren finished her quiet perusal of her Mr. Happy idol…and Sebastian could politely slip away from the redhead’s lengthy story of a bout with Montezuma’s Revenge on her one trip to Cabo San Lucas twenty years ago. His brain shut down amid her graphic descriptions of all the barfing and pooping she’d done. His smile frozen in place, all Sebastian could do was nod while he prayed for an opening to excuse himself.

Then he saw Liam Prentice approach Lauren. The gaggle of people perpetually gathered around Sebastian parted at the same time. The redhead’s rambling dissertation screeched to a halt the second Viola Prentice stepped forward, her smile open and welcoming. She was a striking woman, gracious in the face of the power she possessed yet didn’t flaunt here.

Sebastian thrust his hand her way. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Prentice.”

She slipped warm fingers into his, grasping them firmly as she edged closer. “The pleasure is mine. Please…first names. It makes life so much more pleasant. I read a story once about an elderly woman named Mary Grant. She was asked if there was anything she missed most, having reached ninety-five years. She responded that no one ever called her by her first name anymore…always ‘Mrs. Grant.’ I never want to be in that position or put others in it.”

Sebastian could appreciate that, though he’d never considered it before. “Then first names it is, Viola.” They dropped hands on a simultaneous nod. “My wife and I would like to express our sincere thanks for all you and your husband have done.”

“We should be thanking you.” She motioned to the displays like Vanna White turning letters. “This is a breathtaking find. Makes me crave to go out in the field for one last hurrah.”

“From what I’ve heard, you and your husband were quite a force thirty years ago, amassing a nice resume of spectacular finds.” Then they’d retired to the estate those discoveries, and an immense inheritance, had built.

“Viola, dear, quit hogging our good-looking friend and let the Garners give us a detailed tour of everything,” Liam called out, interrupting her from any reply she might have made.

“An excellent idea.” She gave her husband a sultry smile, then turned to Sebastian. “Shall we?”

“It would be my honor.” Sebastian offered his arm to escort her. Viola wasted no time looping her hand through it.

“You and your wife make a striking couple,” she said as they strolled in that direction.

He gave a soft laugh. “Thank you. I was thinking the same thing of you and Liam when you walked in.”

Laughter bubbled out of her. “Oh, goodness…it’s nice to know we’ve still got it after all these years. I imagine Lauren was excited for the chance to dress up for a change.”

Her comment nearly brought him to a halt. Viola must have noticed he faltered because she put her other hand over his arm and squeezed.

“Look how breathtaking she is.” Her gaze slowly swept over Lauren, appraising, comparing, judging. If Viola had been a man, Sebastian would have called it lecherous. “She’s probably thinking the same about you, judging from the lust in her eyes. Most men bitch about the monkey suit, but there isn’t a man alive who doesn’t look devastating in a tux. Fires up those juices. Don’t get me wrong…being able to work together day in and day out is wonderful. But being away from the grind, the grit of field work… Well, that sort of thing grows old after awhile, and we women do like a bit…more.”

Sebastian’s feel-good disappeared. Is that what Lauren wanted…more? For the first time in their ten-year history, he wondered if he’d somehow let her down. She never said. In fact, she’d seemed happy to be digging for past civilizations…didn’t she?

He took a mental step back. What had he given her? Other than their professional accolades, they had nothing to speak of. Most of the money they earned was tucked away in savings and investments, hoarded for a rainy day. They had a small apartment that was more for storage than for living. They lived out of suitcases. Correction…backpacks, duffel bags, and crates. He’d had to rent the tux, which was the norm for most men. But Lauren didn’t own pantyhose, much less a nice dress and heels, and she hadn’t been too thrilled with the idea of having to shop for those items.

Sebastian smiled her way. Seeing her killer hot took his breath away. Her long brown hair drifted down her back, gold highlights catching the light. He wanted to comb his fingers through it over and over again, mine it for gold while his cock bored a tunnel into her cunt. Sparkly rhinestones dangled from her ears, begging him to nibble. He found himself wishing he had given her diamonds, instead of a canvas tent in a sweaty jungle.

Odd how Viola’s innocent comment could knock him off-kilter and spark doubt. Now that the seed was planted…

He extended his hand to Liam Prentice as they approached. “Sebastian Garner, it’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” He kept his smile bright, hoping it would dissipate his unease.

“Trust me,” Liam said. “It’s my pleasure. Everything you’ve uncovered…amazing. A lot of hours. A lot of hard work.”

“Definitely.” Viola extended her hand to Lauren. “I feel I know you so well through your work that I should hug you.”

“One can never have enough hugs,” Lauren said with a smile.

“My feeling exactly!” Viola tossed her arms around Lauren’s neck with no further warning.

Sebastian saw Lauren’s eyes widen with surprise. Clearly she wasn’t expecting Viola to carry through with such an exuberant embrace. All she could do was laugh with her and return the affection. As they parted, Lauren gasped and pressed her fingers against the curve of her neck.

“Oh, dear,” Viola tsked, “it looks like the catch on my bracelet scratched you. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay…really.” Lauren glanced at her fingers. It was all Sebastian could do to not pull her hair aside to see the scratch for himself, especially when the smile she gave the other woman didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“See? No blood.” Lauren lifted her fingers to show them as if to back up her words. “If it’s visible, my hair should hide it. No harm, no worries.”

The glance she gave Sebastian begged him to not make a big deal out of it. Though he agreed, giving her a slight nod, he still didn’t like it.

“Still…” Viola unlatched the heavy gold bracelet and shoved it deep into Liam’s trouser pocket. “There…that’s that. Now,” she looped her arm through Lauren’s. “Tell us everything. I want to hear about every speck of dirt you brushed away to find these treasures.”

Liam touched his wife’s shoulder. “Not every speck, dear. I believe they’re ready to open the buffet.”

Viola cast a worried frown toward the double doors leading to the large glass-enclosed patio. “A quick tour then.” She flashed him a smile and turned Lauren toward the exhibits.

Liam gave him a palms-up shrug that said, “What can a guy do?”

Sebastian smiled with his nod, and they fell in step behind the women. Barry tracked every movement. Sebastian hoped to hell he kept his distance. He and Lauren needed this moment, and not for the potential money it would bring. They needed the break from the crowd, to be able to talk quietly about their discoveries and not the mindless garble they’d had to spew since they’d arrived.

Hands clasped behind him, he was content to let Lauren take over the tour. She had a sweet tone to her voice that could mesmerize howler monkeys, squalling children, hysterical females, and rampaging men…all at the same time. One-on-one, Lauren was excellent. She froze up when she had to give group presentations, though. Just the thought of standing behind a podium made her sweat. Teach, yes. Lecture, no.

They’d finished the circuit as the caterers were opening the doors to the patio. Sebastian hated the idea of going back into schmooze mode. Judging from Liam’s resigned sigh, he did, too.

“What’s the term? ‘Into the breach’?”

Viola giggled. “Is it such a burden to be polite?”

“Sometimes,” he said with an overdramatic sigh. “Especially when we’re having such a great talk.”

“Come on.” Viola looped her arm through Liam’s and tugged him toward the patio. “I’m sure we can worm a private table for the four of us from the Mother Hen.”

Sebastian tried his best to cover his laughter with a cough into his fist. It was impossible. The description of Barry was too accurate.

Liam smirked. “Has he made your life a living hell?”

Lauren squeezed her arm around Sebastian’s waist, silently reminding him of his manners. “He’s just doing his job,” she said.

He conceded the point with a nod. “And he does do it very well, no arguing there. But Viola and I know how annoying it can be to be yanked from your element and displayed like show dogs.”

“Well, we won’t lie about that,” Lauren said. “It’s been awkward and tense.”

“And only the beginning, from what we’ve been told,” Sebastian added. “If we want to continue doing what we love.”

Liam pulled in a deep breath through his nose. “What if I were to offer you a solution?”

Sebastian wasn’t sure how to respond to that. It sounded like Liam was saying he was going to fund for the dig. But it couldn’t be as easy as all that?

“What type of solution?”

Liam paused for a sip of champagne, then smacked his lips. “Viola and I are putting together a unique expedition. We’d like you two to join us. We feel you’d mesh well with us and the rest of the potential team.”

“And how would that be a solution?”

He was glad Lauren had asked that question. Sebastian had a dozen more running through his head.

Liam smiled. “Join us for the weekend, and you’ll see. Others will be there, too. Acquaintances of yours, I believe. No strings. I’ll lay out the plan then. You have nothing to lose, and at the very least, you would have had a couple of days to relax away from our friend before returning to your dig.”

Fortunately, Liam didn’t use the spiel “you have everything to gain.” If he had, Sebastian might have walked away.

“I’m…intrigued,” he finally said.

“Hopefully we can keep you that way.” Liam grinned and hoisted his glass. “Come on. Let’s eat before the herd decides to stampede.”

Sebastian tucked his arm around Lauren’s waist as they followed the older couple out. That’s when he realized…

“You’re not wearing your pantyhose,” he whispered against her ear.

A pink flush colored her cheeks. “I’m not wearing any panties either,” she whispered back.

Now he had two intriguing possibilities to think about.