Across A Sea Of Stars by Caitlyn Willows

AcrossSeaStars

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

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

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

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

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REVIEWS

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

EXCERPT

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

“Ready to call it a night, Peggy?”

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

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

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

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

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

Peggy glowed with anticipation. “Your plans?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s…celestial.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah? And who’s gonna make us?”

Anne saw the flash of metal.

“He’s got a knife!”

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

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

“Are you all right, miss?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you have a cell phone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:

Loose Id

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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…

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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.

Wrapped In Flame by Caitlyn Willows

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

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

BUY LINKS

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

One problem at a time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trish huffed. “Where are you now?”

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

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

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

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

“Erica?”

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

“I’m in the bedroom. Be right—”

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

“I was expecting Trish.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me about it.”

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

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

“Then why—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Both of us?”

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

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

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

Why didn’t he make it?

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

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

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

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

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

How she wished that were true.