excerpt, Upcoming release

Excerpt: I’ve Got This (Joy Universe Book 1)

IveGotThisFS_v1I just can’t help it—I sing loudly to myself and the cars around me as I drive to work. Well, considering the speed traffic is moving at, it’s unlikely anyone in those cars can hear me, but I like to think that maybe I’m brightening someone’s morning with my off-key warbling along to the radio. Everyone should be as happy to face the morning as I am.

Admittedly, I have a pretty great life. I’m thirty-seven and have great parents who live far enough away that I don’t have to see them too often. I’m also financially independent, with friends around the country—the world, actually, thanks to my employer’s propensity for hiring talented people from around the globe—and generally get along with everyone. I can recognize the good things about myself—and the not-so-good things, but why would I want to tell you about those?  Let’s call it confidence. I’m confident in myself. And that means that most mornings I wake up happy to face the day.

Some people hate their jobs. Not me. I’ve worked damned hard since graduating college, and now I’m in the enviable position of being an assistant director at the second-largest entertainment complex in the world—the youngest ever assistant director. For those of you who don’t know, that’s Joy Universe, a resort and theme park complex in southern Georgia , not far from the Florida  state line. JU has four theme parks, twenty-six resorts and three campgrounds, and a shopping and entertainment village that rivals anything on offer anywhere else.

The downside? The complex is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, except for the town that was established to provide housing and services for staff. It’s called Joyville, and is now a thriving small city, actually beginning to attract residents who don’t have any connection to JU—although, as a long-term resident myself, I don’t know why. Still, the University of Georgia  recently decided to build a campus in Joyville, so I guess it’ll keep on growing.

I’m just turning in the entrance of the JU complex when my phone rings, cutting off the musical talents of whatever pop star the radio was playing. I flick a glance at the in-dash display.

Fuck.

It’s Dimi, my assistant. He’s an ambitious overachiever, so he usually beats me to the office, despite the fact that I get there at seven thirty and he’s not required to start work until eight. The point is, he knows exactly when I’m due to arrive, so the only reason for him to call is if there’s an emergency.

I’m just about to hit the button to accept the call when sirens shatter the morning calm.   peek in the rearview mirror shows two police cars, lights flashing, tearing around the corner from the highway. They zip past me as I answer. “Are those sirens for us?”

“Murder at Tiki,”  Dimi says tersely.

Double fuck.

A horn blares through the speaker, and Dimi swears. He’s in his car, probably headed from the office to the resort. We don’t get deaths too often, let alone murder—on average less than five deaths a year in the whole of JU, which considering how many million people visit each year is pretty amazing. Most of the deaths are from natural causes—like heart attacks—or accidents because people don’t follow safety instructions. Only twice in the history of the complex, which is fifty-seven years, has the fault for a death been found to lie with JU. Murder is even less common—in the last ten years that I’ve been working here, we’ve had one. Our security in the parks and the village is intense, and in the public areas of the resorts too, but there’s only so much we can do in the guest rooms.

“I’m five minutes away,” I tell him, hanging a U-turn. It’s a lie, or would be normally, since Tiki Island Resort is halfway across the complex from where I am now, but I don’t plan to adhere to the posted speed limit. Thank God it’s early and there’s not too much traffic on the complex roads. “Tell me what you know.”

“Not much, sorry, Derek,” he says. “Resort housekeeping got a call about thirty minutes ago from one of the deluxe bungalows, requesting a linen change, so they sent a housekeeper over. We’re not entirely sure of the details from that point, because the night manager says she’s hysterical, but apparently there’s blood everywhere, a dismembered body on the bed, and another guest acting like nothing’s wrong.”

Fuck fuck fuck. Could this get any worse? Our housekeepers for the deluxe bungalows are pretty unshakable. They see a lot of weird shit, because those rooms go for over a thousand bucks a night and rich people can be eccentric—hence the reason nobody batted an eye at the request for a linen change before seven in the morning. But a dismembered body… yeah, that could freak out even the most jaded housekeeper.

“Is the situation contained?” The road is completely clear, so I press down on the accelerator. Our security team actually monitors the roads for speeding drivers, since guest safety is one of our highest priorities, but security should already be aware that we have a grisly murder on our hands and will likely not stop me from getting there as soon as fucking possible.

“As much as it can be. The housekeeper hit her panic button and got the hell out of there. Security found her about twenty feet away, hiding behind a tree. They say she was pretty composed when they first got there, but then fell apart. They’ve got eyes on the door and have quietly evacuated the guests on either side—thank God it wasn’t a standard room.”

Hell, yes. Standard rooms at Tiki are in long buildings and share walls with each other, whereas the deluxe bungalows are completely separate and actually have about fifteen feet of space between them. If this had happened in a standard room, JU policy dictates that security would have had to evacuate the entire building—fifty rooms, and up to two hundred guests. A nightmare.

I turn down the side road that leads to Tiki and one of my other resorts. Dimi’s car is about a hundred feet ahead. “I’m behind you,” I tell him. “See you soon.” I disconnect the call.

So what exactly do I do that I love so much, even on a day that starts with a murder? Well, JU is divided into five administrative districts, four of which include parks and a bunch of resorts. The fifth also has resorts, but instead of a park, it includes the village—which is officially called Joy Village, but we just call it the village. We’re real creative like that. Each district is managed by a JU assistant director—that’s me. They tell us the districts are of equal importance to JU, but that’s bullshit. Mine, I’m happy to tell you, is the most profitable. I look after six resorts and Planet Joy itself, home to Joy Bear, the space-traveling cartoon bear that started the whole Joy Incorporated crazy journey. Joy and her zany spacefaring  friends can be seen every day at Planet Joy, along with a variety of other characters and experiences Joy In . has developed over the last fifty years.

That’s what the marketing brochures say, and my team and I do our damndest  to make it true. Especially when shit goes wrong.

My phone rings again.

Quadruple fuck.

The director.

I answer immediately. “I’m about a minute from the resort, Ken,” I tell him, because of course he knows what’s going on. Anytime the police are called, an alert is sent to his assistant. Calling the cops because of murder would have had her interrupting him no matter what time it was or what he was doing, even if it was his sacrosanct weekly golf game—which thankfully isn’t today.

“What do you know?” he demands. He doesn’t like negative headlines associated with the complex, and murder tends to be the most negative of all.

I run down the situation quickly, finishing just as I turn into the Tiki driveway with a little too much speed and pull the car to a stop right behind Dimi and the police cars in the forecourt. “I’m at the resort—I’ll call you back as soon as I have more information.” That isn’t exactly the truth. I’m planning to call him back when I can tell him the situation has been resolved. Hopefully that will be soon, or else he’ll be calling me again.

He hangs up without answering—such charming manners—and I leave my car, tossing the keys to the valet because I know there’s a busload of guests due from the airport soon. I wonder if the cops will let us move their cars? I catch up to Dimi quickly, and we stride together into the lobby, where we’re met by the assistant manager, Carol, who looks a bit frazzled. She’s technically not even supposed to be on shift yet—hell of a way to start the workday.

“Derek, thank God! This way.” She races toward the north door, and Dimi and I jog along with her.

“Do we have the guest information?” I ask, and she fumbles in a pocket and pulls out a sheet of paper. I frown, because I was expecting her to say it had been sent to my virtual inbox. The JU staff app on my smartphone means that all information can be flagged for my urgent attention right from any computer terminal hooked up to the intranet—which is all of them.

Dimi takes the paper and flashes me a glance that clearly says he’s on it. We’ve worked together long enough that he knows I’m thinking about staff refreshers on properly using all the tools available to us.

He reads aloud from the paper as we run past the main pool. At this time of morning the lifeguard is not yet on duty, so it’s pretty much deserted. “Peter and Kylie Rutherford, married, repeat guests, and members of the Forever Joy vacation club. There’s no past incidents on file. Both late forties, in on April 20 and due to check out tomorrow. Deluxe dining plan for both of them, and they’ve charged several bottles of high-end wine to their account, as well as a considerable number of purchases in the parks and the village.”

There’s a crowd around one of the deluxe bungalows up ahead. What looks like most of the resort’s security team, the night manager, the not-yet-on-duty resort manager, and four cops. We skid  to a halt among them.

“Gentlemen, you can’t be here,” one of the cops says, but Link, my manager, looks so relieved to see me, he’s on the verge of tears.

“This is our assistant director,” he tells the cop.

“Derek Bryer.” I offer a hand. “What are we doing here?”

“Officer Higgins,” the cop says, shaking my hand briefly. “The plan is to break through the door and neutralize whoever’s on the other side. Do you have the guest information? The assistant manager was going to get it.”

I frown again, because any of the security or management employees standing around would have been able to access the guest profile from their JU-issued tablets. The cops shouldn’t have had to wait. Dimi hands Officer Higgins the printout Carol gave us, then pulls out his tablet and taps at the screen, probably making notes about the staff training I’m going to insist on. I turn to Link.

“Where’s the housekeeper who found the body?” The answer had better be that she’s in the staff room with one of our staff EMTs, and a doctor and a counselor on the way. “Oh, and what’s her name?”

“It’s Maya. She’s over there.” He points about fifty yards away, where a middle-aged woman in a housekeeping uniform is sitting on one of the benches the resort has scattered around for guests to sit and enjoy the scenery. I mentally add management training to my list. Sure, Link’s shaken up, but dealing with a crisis is something he’s been trained for, and there’s a process for a reason. At least there’s an EMT with her.

“Do you need me here, or can I go talk to her?” I ask the cop, and he shakes his head.

“She’s pretty shaken up. We couldn’t get anything out of her,” he warns me, but I wave him off and shoot Dimi a look. He nods, and I know he’ll monitor the situation and call me over before any action can take place.

I approach the bench slowly, making sure to make noise as I walk. No way do I want to scare a woman who just found a dismembered body. Also, no way do I want to be dealing with a lawsuit because of her trauma. JU is going to do everything possible to make sure she can sleep at night.

The EMT looks up. “Derek’s here,” he tells the woman softly, and she turns her head to look at me. She’s shaking, and her eyes are red-rimmed and puffy.

“Hey, Maya,” I say, speaking just as softly as the EMT, whose name tag says Pat. “Shit start to the day?” I hold my breath, wondering if maybe that was crossing a line, but she huffs a watery laugh. “Can I sit?” I give her the control in this situation—something I learned in one of the many management seminars I’ve been on.

She nods, and I perch on the bench beside her. “Is there anything I can get you?” I start, raising an eyebrow at Pat. He shakes his head slightly, telling me that Maya’s basically okay and doesn’t need to be taken to the hospital. Maya is looking at her hands in her lap, but she answers me.

“I just want to go home.”

“Yes,” I assure her. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to drive, though, so we’re going to have a car take you, and someone will bring your car back to you. First, I’d really like it if you let the doctor see you—she should be here soon.” She’d better be here soon. If it turns out that Link and his team haven’t called her, there is going to be a serious management reshuffle at the Tiki Island Resort.

“I spoke to her on my way here,” Pat says. “She’ll be here any moment.”

“Well, in that case, why don’t you and Maya head back to the staff room? You’ll probably meet her in the lobby. As soon as she’s seen you, you can head home. Take the rest of the week off, with pay, and we’ll have a chat with you later about when you think you want to come back to work.”

Maya sniffles, then nods. “Thank you,” she whispers.

I reach out to pat her hand, but stop, hovering midair. Who knows if she wants to be touched right now? “Don’t thank me. I’m so sorry this happened to you. We’re going to do anything you need to make you feel comfortable at work again.”

She grabs my hand and holds on tight, giving me a tearful look. I squeeze her hand. This has to be so hard for her—I mean, a dismembered body? Really?

Crap. The cops are going to want to talk to her.

“Maya,” I begin hesitantly, “the police are going to have questions for you.” Her grip tightens, threatening to bruise. “I’m going to tell them you’ve left, whether you’re still here or not.” The pressure on my hand lessens, and blood rushes back to my fingers. “Hopefully they’ll be so busy today they won’t come to you at home, but they will eventually want to talk to you. They don’t know anything about what’s happened.” Yeah, pretty sure that was crossing a line, but probably not as much as what I’m about to say. “Is there anything you can tell me that I can pass along, maybe get you a reprieve?”

Her nails are digging into my skin, but I figure I deserve it. She takes a deep, shaking breath.

“She opened the door in her nightie,” Maya whispers, her voice shaking. “I couldn’t see into the room, but it was dark. She told me she needed the bed changed, then went into the bathroom. I walked into the room and went to turn on the bedside lamp. It was… sticky.” Her voice breaks, and Pat frowns.

“Maya, you don’t have to say anything else,” I assure her. The rest seems pretty self-explanatory, really. She nods again, and I tip my head at Pat.

“Come on, Maya, let’s head back to the staff room. I’ll make you a nice cup of tea while we wait for the doctor.” He helps her up, and I squeeze her hand one last time before I let go.

“I’ll check in with you later in the week, Maya, but if there’s anything you need, just call.” I pull a card from my wallet, one of the ones with my cell number on it. “Call me direct.” She takes it and clutches it to her chest, and Pat leads her away toward the main building.

I watch them go for a moment, then jog back over to where the cops seem to be preparing to break into the bungalow. They’ve been joined by a few more of their colleagues, which I assume is the reason this is taking so long.

“Did she say anything useful?” Officer Higgins demands. I don’t love his tone, but I guess he needs to know.

“She’s been deeply traumatized, Officer.” I keep my voice level. “The door was opened by a woman, I assume Mrs. Rutherford, who asked Maya to change the bed and then went into the bathroom. The lights weren’t on when Maya went in, but she turned on a bedside lamp—she said it was sticky, I assume with blood. I don’t know if the lamp is still on.”

The officer grunts, and I make a mental note of it. I’m not that impressed with him—for one thing, I just sent his only witness away, and he doesn’t even seem to have noticed. Dimi taps at his tablet, probably making an actual note. It’s kind of scary the way he and I think so much alike. I probably won’t be able to keep him as my assistant for too much longer—he needs to be promoted soon, or he’ll be headhunted away from JU. Losing him will be hell.

The officer sighs and looks at his watch. “We wanted to wait for the detective to arrive, but he said not to, so I guess we better get in there.”

Yeah. Definitely not impressed.

Things move pretty quickly after that. I’m glad, because the later it gets, the more guests will be wandering around. Carol has pulled herself together enough to go and get a master key for the bungalow, so the cops don’t have to actually break down the door. They stand there in all their gear, counting down with their fingers, and then swipe the card. The lock disengages, they shove the door open, and they’re bursting into the room with shouts of “Police!” and “Hands up!” I wince and glance around to see if the noise attracted any guests.

Within a few minutes they have Kylie Rutherford in handcuffs and are escorting her out to the cars in front, while yet more cops arrive, one who quickly takes charge, and some with tackle boxes full of equipment. Someone is here from the medical examiner’s office, too, I guess to remove the body parts, since it’s pretty clear Mr. Rutherford is dead. Unlike the suites in the main hotel building, the bungalows are open-plan, and I manage to sneak a peek through the door before the cops usher me away. It’s gruesome, and I wish I’d managed to restrain my curiosity. Even though I knew he was dismembered, I was still expecting to see a body. I’m not going to be able to look at raw meat for a while—just thinking about it turns my stomach.

Dimi is totally on top of things, as usual, and has given orders to the valets to direct the cops to the resort’s west parking lot, which is not only closer to the bungalow and more convenient for them, it’s also not at the front entrance of the resort. It’s very bad for business when guests arrive and see a half dozen police cars parked out front. He’s also talking to HR about getting Maya whatever services she needs—a counselor, for one thing.

I gather Link and Carol together. I’ve already sent the night manager home with a reminder to schedule a session with one of our staff psychologists. “Right,” I tell them. “Today is going to be a shit day. Do I need to call people in to cover for you?”

Link gulps and looks me in the eye. I hope he knows that if he tells me he’s not up for dealing with this, I won’t fire him. Maybe give him a less stressful job, though. My resort managers need to be able to deal with anything, and it’s not like he was the one to walk into that room.

“I’m fine,” he says. “I can work today. We’ve already relocated the guests who were in the nearest bungalows. They’ve been upgraded to executive suites in the main building, and their stay has been comped.”

I nod approvingly. True, those guests really haven’t been inconvenienced, but we want them telling their friends how amazing their stay was, not that they were roused from sleep because someone was murdered.

“I’ll call in one of the off-duty concierges to act as liaison with the police and ensure they have everything they need,” he goes on. “And make sure that security set up a manned barrier around this area. I’ll put on more staff to deal with guest questions, too, and… and… and all the guests will receive a free drink at the resort bar tonight.”

I clap him on the shoulder. “Good idea. Make sure all the staff know not to talk about this—the official line, whether to a guest, their family, their friends, and especially to the media, is that there was a situation, the police were called, and any questions are to be directed to them or the media office. Got it?” Fuck, the media will be all over this. I can’t believe they’re not here already—how am I so lucky?

Link and Carol nod, and I decide they can probably handle things. “Call me if you have any questions or anything comes up that might possibly become a problem later. We need to stay on top of this. The bungalow will probably be a crime scene for a while, so have someone rearrange reservations if necessary—no guests are to stay in this area until you have my go-ahead.” I smile, although it’s the last thing I want to do. We may end up having to tear down this bungalow. People can be weird about rooms that were the scene of grisly murders—and other people don’t want to stay in them.

Link and Carol nod, seemingly buoyed up and ready to take on the challenge of the day. As they head back toward the main building, talking quietly, I pull out my phone and call Ken.

“Derek, you’d better have damn good news after making me wait so long,” he tells me, and I take a breath.

“The police have arrested one of our guests, who has allegedly murdered her husband.” I rush on, not wanting him to dwell on that. “The scene is secure, and not too many guests have realized yet that anything is going on. The cops will be here for a while, though, and we’ve taken steps to ensure guests are disturbed as little as possible.” What else does he need to know?

“Is this going to look bad for us?” he demands.

“No.” At least, I hope not. “I don’t know why she killed her husband, but at this stage it looks to be something between the two of them. We were just unlucky that she chose the resort as the scene of the crime. The staff have been very thorough in ensuring all guests are happy.” That’s true, anyway. Well, except for Peter Rutherford, poor bastard. And Ken really doesn’t need to know that my staff need refresher training on how to cope with an emergency. That’s for me to take care of.

“Okay. Kim is waiting for your call. I want a full report by noon, and updates until this is resolved.”

By “resolved” he means when JU is completely freed of any connection to the police or the murder—which will be a while, with the way legal proceedings go. He won’t actually read the reports, anyway—his assistant might, but in general anytime Ken requests shit like this, it’s because he wants to cover his own ass. But that “okay” is the important part. The rest is just routine boss douchery.

“No problem.” I make sure to smile so it will show in my voice. He hangs up. Yeah, that’s how he always ends calls—total douche, right?

I call Kim, the chief media liaison, next. There are a few alerts on the JU app, indicating my attention is needed, but no red flags, thank God. The rest can wait—it’s not like my morning isn’t completely fucked, anyway.

“Derek, talk to me.” Kim is one of my favorite people at JU. She’s no bullshit, no-nonsense, and because my district rarely causes any problems for her to deal with, she’s always happy to go out of her way to help me. With her backing, we’ve had some really spectacular media coverage of events at Planet Joy and my resorts.

“Babe, I got a dead man who was chopped up by his wife, and a housekeeper who’s gonna have PTSD,” I tell her bluntly, trying not to dwell on what my words actually mean. Work first.

She sucks in a breath. “They said murder, but… what do you mean, chopped up? You’re exaggerating, right?”

I deliberately don’t close my eyes, not wanting to see that image again. “Kim, I wish I was. I got a look into that room, and I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have to bulldoze it, because there’s blood everywhere. The dead man was in pieces, piled up on the bed. I’m gonna be sleeping with the light on for weeks, and I knew what to expect.”

“Right.” She shifts directly into superhero mode. “No one talks about this—not to their spouses, friends, priests, and sure as hell not the media.”

“Done. I’ve reminded the manager, but I’ll have Dimi send a memo to all staff and nudge the manager to reiterate it in the morning meeting.” Speaking of Dimi, he’s coming toward me, moving fast and with an oh shit look on his face.

How many fucks am I up to now? Oh, right. Quintuple fuck.

“Great. I’m calling the police now to see what they’ll tell me, and I’ll talk to legal too, see if someone there knows anyone they can lean on. If anybody gets anything out of the cops on site, pass it along ASAP, yeah?”

“Got it,” I tell her, now slightly distracted.

“As soon as the cops give me the all clear, I’ll issue a statement to the press. It won’t say much. In the meantime, do you have the resort guests under control?”

“Yes. Management here is on it, and I’ll be overseeing things personally.” I hope. Unless whatever has Dimi so freaked is going to take over.

“And HR is looking after the housekeeper?”

“Yeah, Dimi spoke to them already, and I’ll follow up in a bit. I’ll also check in with her.” Dimi comes to a stop beside me.

“Emergency,” he says quietly.

Sextuple fuck. What could be more of an emergency than this? “Kim, I gotta go. Something’s come up. We keep each other in the loop, yeah?”

“You bet. Talk later.” She ends the call, presumably off to work her magic, and I turn my full attention to Dimi.

“What?”

He sucks in a deep breath. “We have no performers for Planet Joy today.”

Fuuuuuuuuuuck.

 

Release date: September 24, 2019

All retailers: https://books2read.com/u/3npOLK

excerpt, Promo

Excerpt: The Athlete and The Aristocrat

1539759739

Sometimes love takes balls.

Newly retired championship footballer Simon Wood is taking on his next challenge. His plan for a charity to provide funding for underprivileged children to pursue football as a career has passed its first hurdle: he has backers and an executive consultant. Now it’s time to get the ball rolling.

Lucien Morel, heir to the multibillion-euro Morel Corporation, is shocked—and thrilled—to learn his father has volunteered him as consultant to a fledgling football charity. Better yet, the brains behind it all is heartthrob Simon Wood, his teenage idol and crush.

Although Simon and Lucien get off on the wrong foot, it’s not long before they’re getting along like a house on fire—sparks included. But with the charity under public scrutiny, can their romance thrive?

Excerpt:

NOT FIDGETING was hard.

That’s stupid, he told himself. He was Simon Wood, for fuck’s sake, a championship professional athlete. He’d been in more high-pressure situations than most people would care to even imagine—on the pitch, in the locker room, in the media spotlight. He was used to being nervous, and not since he was nineteen had he felt the urge to fidget.

This was more important than anything else he’d done, however, although he’d never say so to the millions of football fans around the world, many of whom either idolized or loathed him. But it was. As much as he’d always loved playing football, his career as an athlete was never going to be forever, and while it brought entertainment and pleasure to many, ultimately that had been fleeting. This, though… this could last a long time and benefit a lot of young people.

So Si made a concerted effort not to tap his fingers on the chair arms as he sat in the executive reception of the Morel Corporation in Paris. It was a fantastic coup to have even gotten this appointment with Édouard Morel—most applications for charitable funds went through the Morel Foundation’s director—but once Si had retired and made the decision that this was what he wanted to do next, he’d called in just about every favor he’d ever been owed and leaned on a few contacts he’d made in his playing years just to get this meeting. The Morel Corporation had been his top pick when he’d been compiling a list of possible backers because Édouard Morel was known for following through on promises to charities and for generosity. He needed the older man’s full backing, including his contacts and influence, not just to be one of many charities on the Foundation’s list.

“Monsieur Wood?” Si looked up as the extremely elegant executive receptionist came toward him, her professional smile just that tiny bit more than it should be. He was used to that, of course, from both women and men, and any other time he may have considered signaling that he was open to her offer, but not today. Not here. He would do nothing to bollocks up this meeting.

He kept his smile as neutral as possible as he stood. “Yes?”

“If you come this way, Monsieur Morel will see you now.” Her manner slipped back to purely professional. His message had obviously been received.

Taking a deep breath and trying not to be obvious about it, Si followed her down a hallway. At the end was a set of double doors, and with each step closer, his heart pounded a tiny bit louder in his ears. Relax, Si. You can do this.

They reached the doors, and the woman—she’d told him her name earlier, but he couldn’t for the life of him remember it—knocked once before opening one and poking her head in. A moment later she opened both doors wide and stepped back, motioning for him to enter.

“Thank you,” he said, his throat suddenly dry, and walked past her. He heard the doors close behind him, but his focus was on the man rising from a fancy chair behind the big desk across the room. “Monsieur Morel, I’m so pleased to meet you,” Si said as he crossed the space between them, hand outstretched. “I’m Simon Wood.” He knew the man spoke English, which was a great relief since his French was not good and mainly limited to the sort of slurs that could be used against opponents during a football match.

“I recognize you,” Édouard Morel replied, smiling broadly. “I am not so great a sports fan as my son, but even I could not fail to know who you are.” He shook Si’s hand and gestured for him to sit, while Si wondered if the comment about not being a great sports fan meant he was screwed.

Only one way to find out.

“I must confess, I am very curious about this new venture you wanted to speak about. I am not in the habit of funding new businesses, but several people insisted I must see you.”

Oh, bloody hell. It sounded like Morel was setting up for a refusal already, and Si had only introduced himself!

“It’s not exactly a new business,” Si said, forcing the words through his suddenly too-tight throat. Morel raised an eyebrow, his expression skeptical… and just like that, Si was in his zone. The nerves fell away, the worry disappeared, and he was hyperfocused, completely intent on the end goal.

He knew he was speaking, knew he’d taken out the business plan and was making his presentation, but he wasn’t sure exactly what he said. He felt confident, though, sure of every word and action, could judge Morel’s reactions and change tack as required.

And those reactions weren’t always positive. “I do not spend charitable funds on games,” had very nearly pulled Si out of his focused state.

Finally he sat back in his chair, awareness widening again as Morel flipped once more through the business plan for the program. He’d made his pitch. Now to see if it had worked.

Morel looked up, and Si’s gut clenched. “You have secured 25 percent of the funding required for startup and the first year?”

Si nodded. “Yes. There are various grant organizations across Europe that have indicated they would be happy to support the program. I can’t officially apply for them until we’re up and running, of course, but I’ve been assured the funds will be allocated when I do. That will account for 5 percent. The other twenty is coming from me.”

Morel seemed impressed by that. “Really? Twenty percent?”

“I was very good at my job, monsieur, and not as foolish with money as some might assume footballers are. I strongly believe that this program can do a lot of good, and I’d be an idiot not to put my money where my mouth is before looking for funding.” Was that too aggressive? Maybe he should have just shut up.

“Very well.” Morel put the business plan down and sat back in his superfancy chair. “I will not lie—I have never been inclined to support sports charities. I believe money is better used on basic necessities and education.” Si’s stomach sank. “However, you have made a very good point that sometimes young people have different priorities and that life cannot just be about necessities. Pleasure is important too. So here is what I propose. You have 25 percent of funding already secured. The Morel Corporation—not the Foundation—will fund an additional 60 percent of what you need for the first five years of the program, with an option to review then.”

Si wanted to leap up and scream in victory. Sixty percent was more—heaps more—than what he’d hoped for from Morel, and a five-year commitment? Outstanding! Instead, he smiled broadly. “That’s very generous of you, sir. Thank you. You won’t regret this.”

Morel held up a hand. “I am not finished. You have an MBA and an excellent understanding of football and the needs of young players, but I believe no actual experience with running a business or charitable endeavor?”

Where’s he going with this? “That’s correct, sir, and why the plan”—he nodded to the bound document on the desk—“allows for the hire of an experienced business manager.”

“But surely those funds can be put to better use? Let me instead propose this. My son, Lucien, will consult on the setup of the program, train you to run it, and oversee operations for the first five years. His time and expertise will be an additional part of the Morel Corporation’s contribution.”

There was a roaring sound in Si’s ears. Morel was giving him an executive consultant? Si couldn’t claim to be current on who all the movers and shakers of the business world were, but Lucien Morel appeared in the business news almost as often as his father. Having his knowledge and expertise attached to the program would be…. Si couldn’t even think of a word to describe how good.

Belatedly, he realized Morel was still speaking.

“… and so I will personally provide the final 15 percent of funding that you require.”

Si blinked. “I…. Sorry, could you repeat that?” He knew it was less than professional, but he needed to hear the words again.

Morel smiled. “I said, I am aware that it may prove difficult to obtain funding from other organizations with a Morel representative overseeing operations, so I will personally provide the additional funds. No insult to you, but with the size of the contribution the Morel Corporation is making, I would feel more comfortable to have Lucien involved, and if that requires an additional contribution from me….” He shrugged, a very Gallic gesture, and Si nodded. Christ, was it Christmas? His birthday? Every good day he’d ever experienced rolled into one? There could be no other explanation for the level of good fortune he was in receipt of today.

He stood when Morel did. “I will have Lucien’s assistant contact you to arrange an appointment, but here is his information. His name is Paul.” Si took the offered business card, feeling rather numb, shook the man’s hand, and left the office. He walked down the hall, nodded to the receptionist, rode the lift down thirty floors, and left the building. It wasn’t until he was out on the busy Paris street, faced with several hours before he needed to be at the airport for his flight home, that it hit him.

He’d done it.

Twenty years of wondering, of wishing, of thinking maybe one day. The scrupulous efforts to put money aside during his early playing days, when teammates his age were blowing thousands—sometimes millions—on posh houses and cars, holidays abroad, and designer gear. The years of scraping out time to study for his degrees in addition to his grueling training, match, and publicity schedules.

It was all paying off. He’d had the business plan, and now he had the funding too.

And an executive consultant of the like he could never have dreamed of hiring.

Si laughed out loud as he walked down the street, everything seeming bolder, brighter, happier.

He loved Paris.

 

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Title: Wild Hearts

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: March 10, 2018
Cover Designer: Claire Smith
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This sexy cowboy is out of his element. He doesn’t want commitment, but Jodie Ellison is a force of nature who can’t be ignored.
 
Jodie Ellison loves wild parties, chaotic fun, and spontaneity in her hometown of Ocean City, Maryland. With her writing career and waitressing job not quite paying the bills, Jodie desperately needs a new roommate and finds herself in a nightmarish situation when her roomie turns out to be a disastrous choice.
 
The wild and unruly Levi Creed is a little bit rebel and a whole lot of sexy. When he moves in next door to Jodie, things get a bit tumultuous thanks to a squawking parrot and a dangerous fire pit. It seems like Levi’s adorable Texan drawl and perfect body can’t possibly win over Jodie… or can they?
An undeniable chemistry simmers between the unlikely pair. The beach babe and the sexy cowboy soon find themselves asking: Can they tame their wild hearts and commit to the blossoming romance between them?
Plus, more importantly, I don’t want this flaunty cowboy to think I’m interested or something. I mean, what kind of man walks around Ocean City with an open plaid shirt? What kind of man puts a fire ring in his front yard to cook dinner?
I’ve been down the hot-bod-guy road before, and it didn’t turn out great. He seems nice enough, it’s true. But he’s got that swagger about him, and I’ve seen that before. Something tells me Levi Creed isn’t an innocent Texan boy. Something in his eyes, in his posture, in his everything screams rebel.
True, the last time I fell for a six-pack abs guy was at beach yoga, and the guy wasn’t quite wearing a cowboy hat. But still. I know his type. A hell of a lot of fun… but a hell of a lot of trouble too.
The fire looks nice and inviting, but I’ve been burned before. I have my writing career to focus on. I don’t need to end up in the burning embers again.
“Never mind,” I say, and Levi stays put for a moment before smiling, tipping his hat at me like I’m some southern belle, then heading back into his apartment. He emerges ten minutes later with what looks to be some steaks. He sets up some kind of rack over the fire, and the smell is heavenly. I bury my nose in my computer, though, determined to get some work done.
When he’s done cooking, he ambles back in his apartment, and I figure I won’t see him again.
Fifteen minutes later, though, he comes out with a plate. “I don’t want to distract you, but I had an extra and thought you might be hungry.”
“Smells good. Thanks,” I say, realizing I am actually quite hungry.
“One word of warning. More than one lady has fallen head over heels for me because of my amazing steak cooking skills. Eat at your own risk.”
My mouth opens to spew some witty response, but I’ve got nothing. He winks at me, hands the plate to me, and once I take it, he spins on his boot and walks away, no further questions or comments.
I stare down at the plate, a fork and knife included. There’s a heavenly smelling steak with a salad. Sebastian climbs up on my lap, pawing at the plate, almost choking himself on the harness in the process.
The man might have odd fashion choices, a southern drawl, and a bit of overconfidence, but ten minutes later when the steak’s been devoured, I decide he can definitely cook a damn steak—and maybe Levi Creed as a neighbor has its benefits.
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A high school English teacher, an author, and a fan of anything pink and/or glittery, Lindsay’s the English teacher cliché; she love cats, reading, Shakespeare, and Poe.

She currently lives in her hometown with her husband, Chad (her junior high sweetheart); their cats, Arya, Amelia, Alice, and Bob; and their Mastiff, Henry.
Lindsay’s goal with her writing is to show the power of love and the beauty of life while also instilling a true sense of realism in her work. Some reviewers have noted that her books are not the “typical romance.” With her novels coming from a place of honesty, Lindsay examines the difficult questions, looks at the tough emotions, and paints the pictures that are sometimes difficult to look at. She wants her fiction to resonate with readers as realistic, poetic, and powerful. Lindsay wants women readers to be able to say, “I see myself in that novel.” She wants to speak to the modern woman’s experience while also bringing a twist of something new and exciting. Her aim is for readers to say, “That could happen,” or “I feel like the characters are real.” That’s how she knows she’s done her job.
Lindsay’s hope is that by becoming a published author, she can inspire some of her students and other aspiring writers to pursue their own passions. She wants them to see that any dream can be attained and publishing a novel isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

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Title: Whiskey River
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: February 10, 2018
Cover Designer: RMGraphX
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Within a tough city girl beats the untamed heart of a wild spirit…

Ella Raines may not have the best reputation in New York, but she’s determined to have respect. Knowing she will achieve this in high society, Ella answers an advertisement for a mail-order bride in an up-and-coming Western town, Whiskey River, Wyoming.

Colton Hill is a wandering gunslinger seeking new horizons and is tired of being challenged because he’s the fastest gun around. When he meets Ella, he’s amused by her unusual ambition and agrees to tag along to Whiskey River.

Together, they travel Westward in search of happiness, purpose, and destiny. What they find instead is the spark of something they cannot control.

An educator, writer, mother, and free spirit, Theresa Oliver’s love affair with the written word has spanned decades. An Indiana native, Theresa began the foundation of her writing career as a child. Her love of reading, writing, and creative expression guided her to seek a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications, News Editorial sequence, from the University of Tennessee at Martin; and then continued on to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, Early Childhood Education sequence, from Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Her foundational experiences in childhood led her to want to create meaningful, positive experiences with reading and writing for future generations, and inspire the same love of creative expression that has been such a rewarding force behind her career and life.
Theresa has dedicated her life to the world of writing and the creation of novels that span all levels and genres. First and foremost a mother, her greatest loves are her three beautiful boys, to whom she dedicates the success and longevity of her prolific career. Theresa currently resides in Kissimmee, Florida with her beloved husband and children.
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Title: All of You
Author: Lindsay Detwiler
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 27, 2018
Cover Designer: Soxsational Cover Art
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There’s no such thing as impossible when it comes to saving the one who holds your heart.
A sexy doctor who’s restricted by expectations.
A quirky poet who’s defined by her dark past.
All it takes is Alex Evans saving Marley Jade one fateful night for their futures to be realigned. And when a passion sparks between them, they must decide if they can piece each other back together and make love work.

 

 

I swerved to the side of the road, certain she was gone, the blackness of her hair fluttering behind her and blending into the darkness of the night. Just like so many things in life, one second she was there, hunched into herself under the bright streetlights on the Cedar Bend Bridge, clutching something like it was her lifeblood. And then, in the next second, she was gone, slithered away as if she’d slipped through the cracks of life itself, obliterated from existence.
If I hadn’t been driving by, if I hadn’t seen her disappear with my own eyes, no one would have noticed her descent into darkness, into the lapping waters of the gentle river, or of her almost goodbye.
But I was there. I did see her.
The truth was, looking back, I should’ve seen her even before the fateful night that tossed our lives together.
I should’ve seen her in every goodbye I’d said before her. I should’ve seen her in every wistful dream I’d walked by and didn’t chase. I should’ve seen her in every empty seat beside me for the twenty-six years I didn’t know I was missing her.
She was the lifeblood I waited to uncover. She was the answer to the midnight wish I didn’t know I’d asked for. I wouldn’t know it until long after I first saw her. I couldn’t have known until I met her that I needed her.
Because when I swerved my car to the side of the bridge, chest heaving with adrenaline and fear, I had no idea Marley Jade would eviscerate everything I ever thought I knew about life. I didn’t know I would end up saving her that night and on many nights to come.
Most of all, I didn’t know she would save me from something I didn’t even know I needed saving from.
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A high school English teacher, an author, and a fan of anything pink and/or glittery, Lindsay’s the English teacher cliché; she love cats, reading, Shakespeare, and Poe.

She currently lives in her hometown with her husband, Chad (her junior high sweetheart); their cats, Arya, Amelia, Alice, and Bob; and their Mastiff, Henry.
Lindsay’s goal with her writing is to show the power of love and the beauty of life while also instilling a true sense of realism in her work. Some reviewers have noted that her books are not the “typical romance.” With her novels coming from a place of honesty, Lindsay examines the difficult questions, looks at the tough emotions, and paints the pictures that are sometimes difficult to look at. She wants her fiction to resonate with readers as realistic, poetic, and powerful. Lindsay wants women readers to be able to say, “I see myself in that novel.” She wants to speak to the modern woman’s experience while also bringing a twist of something new and exciting. Her aim is for readers to say, “That could happen,” or “I feel like the characters are real.” That’s how she knows she’s done her job.
Lindsay’s hope is that by becoming a published author, she can inspire some of her students and other aspiring writers to pursue their own passions. She wants them to see that any dream can be attained and publishing a novel isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

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Author: Laura N. Andrews
Title: Hard Fight (Game On Collection)
Genre: Gay Sports Romance
Release Date: November 25, 2017
Cover Designer: Soxsational Cover Art
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Out and proud Riley Anderson is dancing the night away at a private gay club when he first notices him. Dark, broad, and with muscles to drool over, it turns out he is UFC MMA fighter Craig “The Lion” Johnson. Passion quickly flares and neither can fight the chemistry between them.

After a couple of false starts, Riley and Craig set out to try this thing called dating for real, but clashes are imminent. Too many lifestyle differences make their relationship difficult, but for Riley, it’s hard to be kept hidden.

Can he endure being a secret lover? Or will Craig put aside his fears of losing his career and decide what is really worth fighting for?

Riley Anderson’s whole body froze when he first saw him. He was at Midnight Howl, an exclusive gay club located in the heart of Seattle. It was a members-only type of club, and in order to be accepted, a member was required to sign all kinds of privacy and nondisclosure agreements. It was forbidden to disclose any patron’s identity to any nonmember or to divulge the details of any sexual encounters witnessed or taken part in. Sure, Riley had been to a few other clubs around the area, but none came close to the amazing customer service provided at Midnight Howl. Plus the membership wasn’t actually all that expensive and, in Riley’s opinion, the fellow clientele were from a whole other league of good-looking men.

In that moment, Riley’s heart beat faster than ever. From the edge of the dance floor, he ran his green eyes up and down the stranger’s form. Dancing in the most hypnotizing way, the man who’d caught Riley’s eye had his head back and eyes closed while he moved, as if he were in another world completely. Riley couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of the stranger. The man was just… so beautiful. Perfect really.

Under the club’s white strobe lights, the man’s dark skin caused him to stand out. African American, and at the height of at least six four, he had the shoulders of a linebacker. This godlike creature mesmerized Riley. Fantasies surfaced at the sight of his muscular arms and broad chest. One persistent image involved Riley gripping them for leverage as the man pounded into him. The exact position was quite immaterial. Against the wall with Riley’s legs wrapped around his waist. On a bed with the stranger on top of him. The list went on. The man’s arms also made Riley want to run his hands—and tongue—along all his dark, flawless skin. Wearing only jeans and shoes, the man was temptation at its best.

A slim five nine himself, Riley couldn’t help but try his luck with the man. He swayed his hips and noticed how the lights did different things to the much fairer skin on his arms. If anything, they emphasized his paleness. Gathering all his courage, Riley made his way over to the man with a few twirls and hip bops, and lightly tapped on the man’s bare shoulder. He hoped and prayed for a positive reaction.

Lowering his head and opening his eyes, the man stared down at Riley. With his face in full view now, Riley took a moment to take in the stranger’s features. He slid his glasses up his nose, amazed at such masculine beauty. His lips parted. The man’s eyes, so dark they could almost be called black, were surrounded by beautifully long eyelashes. A slightly bent nose led down to his full, pinkish lips. Oh, they definitely look yummy enough to nibble on! Although he was sure he’d recall the man if he’d seen him at the club before, there was something familiar about him. Riley was certain he’d seen him somewhere. The man’s thick, yet seemingly manicured, eyebrows furrowed while his dark-as-night eyes scrutinized Riley. Overall he was… “Perfect,” Riley heard himself murmur.

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TWO MINUTES IN THE BOX OR A LIFETIME OUT?
Hockey player Aidan Lefèvre’s professional and personal life is on ice. Recovering from an injury and traded to a new team, Aidan is attempting to prove his viability to his coaches, fans, and teammates. Just when he believes he’s succeeded, another accident during the playoffs threatens to unravel all of his progress.
Having relocated away from family and friends, Aidan turns to his extroverted team captain, Christophe Fontenot, whose jovial nature lifts everyone’s spirits. But when Aidan discovers his attraction for Christophe changes the meaning of “body checking,” Aidan questions more than his hockey skills.
Should he deny what he feels or come out of the “box”?
Canadian born Laura N. Andrews moved to Australia when she was three years old. When she finished high school, she successfully completed her studies in law enforcement. Since then, she’s been working for over five years as a pharmacy assistant. When she’s not working or spending time with family and friends, you can find her either curled up with a book or writing one of her own.

 

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Title: Tamed by Christmas
Genre: Aussie Cowboy Romance
Release Date: November 21, 2017
Cover Designer: Claire Smith
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An Aussie cowboy, his feisty ex, and an unprecedented storm. Jett Wayne’s Christmas becomes complicated.
When Paris loses her job days before Christmas, her world crumbles. She returns to her parents’ home in outback Australia where she plans on eating enough food to fall into a coma and sleep straight until New Year’s. But when she unwittingly bumps into her ex on her way home, old feelings awaken.
Picking up Paris from the airport isn’t on Jett Wayne’s to-do list. Neither is dealing with their history or her cranky mood. Shit happens, like his one mistake that drove them apart. When he sees her again, he remembers the vulnerable girl from his hometown who rode horses bareback, who never backed down from an argument, and who stole his love.
When they find themselves stranded during an unprecedented storm, they’re faced with explosive emotions, secrets, and uncontrollable desires. Will Jett gamble on a second chance before Paris leaves him for good this time?

She spun, with bag in hand, and hoofed it down the room, dodging people left and right. She had to get away from him and fast.

“Paris!” Jett called out. “Wait up.”

Oh geez, because clearly the curse hadn’t finished with her, now it threw Jett in her face? What next? He’d invite her to his wedding and announce his wife-to-be was pregnant with twins. God, she shouldn’t care, but that might kill her. She had no boyfriend to gloat about, no job, and was returning to her parents’ place to hide from the world. Yep, her armoury was empty to battle against Jett. But it was more than just gloating or acting as if she was better than him. He was her first boyfriend, her first lover, her first true love. And she accepted long ago that he would always have a piece of her heart, but she sure as hell didn’t want him flaunting his awesome life in front of her. Bad enough everyone in Yalgoo would ask her a million questions, but Jett was a problem on a whole different plane of existence. She planned to stay in her parents’ house the whole visit to avoid bumping into him in town.

Footfalls closed in, and she glanced behind her to find him marching after her with determination, his brows pinched. With a huff, she stopped and whirled to face him. “What do you want?”

“Where are you off to in such a rush? Last time I saw you run this fast was when Ned’s bull escaped the yard and chased you down the street.” Those crystal eyes, crowned with thick brows, could have melted her on the spot, but she wouldn’t let him affect her. He’d done enough of that to last a lifetime.

“If I remember right, it was you who released the animal.”

He laughed, the sound a feather across her skin. How dare he make her feel good in his company? After what he did, he didn’t deserve a second of her time. “Well, it was great to reminisce with you,” she said. “I’ve got to go.”

“And where are you going exactly?”

Paris stormed off and responded without turning around. “Looking for my lift.”

“You’ve just found him.”

Wait! What? She stopped dead in her tracks and turned around, meeting his devilish grin. Oh, great. Thank you, universe, for topping my wonderful Christmas homecoming.


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Title: Blind Magic

Genre: Rom-com with a twist of magic
Release Date: November 18, 2017
Cover Designer: Claire Smith
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Marcy has never been in love. But when Oliver Dawson walks into her store, she falls head over heels. Unable to shake the feeling that she and Oliver were made for each other, for the first time in her life, the quirky witch considers casting a love spell for herself.
Oliver’s life is turned upside down when he’s shot and almost killed. Even though events haven’t been kind to the sexy police detective, he’s determined to make the best of his situation. But still, nothing could have prepared him for feisty Marcy breaking down his defenses, nor the healing tea that leaves him gagging.
Unconventional and hell-bent on getting her man, the little witch soon weaves her magic and captures his heart. He’s more than willing to give it to her, but when faced with his painful and turbulent past, neither are sure they’ll get their happily ever after.

 

I stood up and walked around the desk, avoiding the corners and the inevitable bruises I always got when around tables, to come and hold on to his arm. My hand went under his elbow and I felt him quiver at my touch. Was that good or bad? His aura was clean, so I guessed good. “I actually met Dory on my way here. She knows I’m your escort today.” Somehow the word escort tickled my funny bone, and I giggled. “Not that kind though.”
Oliver looked at me quizzically at first and then chuckled along with me. We left his office arm in arm and were met with dozens of curious eyes and smiles. Either Oliver was a very popular character in the precinct or these people really liked my quirky looks. Feeling strangely self-conscious, I steered him through the main room out the front door and let out a sigh of relief when the cold air hit me straight in the face.
“Something wrong?” The detective seemed acutely aware of my changing mood.
“We got a lot of strange looks on the way out.” There was no reason to hide it from him. “I’m used to being stared at, but that was unsettling.”
To my surprise, he laughed. “Cops are a protective bunch. Ever since my injury they have been like mother hens watching over me, making sure I have all I need, that I am not depressed… a little overwhelming at times, but they mean well.” He let out a loud chuckle. “It’s a true miracle that I’m not round like a ball with the sheer quantity of donuts and other baked goods they make me eat every day.”
I stared at him, guiltily scanning his fantastic body from head to toe. “You don’t look any worse for the wear.” I bit my tongue but it was too late; it was out.
“Ms. Spellman! Are you checking me out?” For a blind man, he sure could see a bit too well. My lusty tone must have given me away. I blushed and shoved my polka-dot-rimmed glasses up my nose.
Opting for the truth rather than trying to blunder my way out of an embarrassing situation, I squeezed his elbow tighter. “Well, it’s not my fault that you are a fine specimen of the male species.  Shame on you! Making us all swoon over you.”

 

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Author of We Will Always Have the Closet, Desert Jewel, and Loved You Always, Natalina wrote her first romance in collaboration with her best friend at the age of 13. Since then she has ventured into other genres, but romance is first and foremost in almost everything she writes.After earning a degree in tourism and foreign languages, she worked as a tourist guide in her native Portugal for a short time before moving to the United States. She lived in three continents and a few islands, and her knack for languages and linguistics led her to a master’s degree in education. She lives in Virginia where she has taught English as a Second Language to elementary school children for more years than she cares to admit.

Natalina doesn’t believe you can have too many books or too much coffee. Art and dance make her happy and she is pretty sure she could survive on lobster and bananas alone. When she is not writing or stressing over lesson plans, she shares her life with her husband and two adult sons.

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  Available now!  
All other links: books2read.com/devoted1
~~~
Author: Gen Ryan
Title: When We Were Young
Series: Hopelessly Devoted #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
When she fell in love with her high school sweetheart, Rainey Matthews thought it’d be forever. But life has a habit of sneaking up and throwing a sucker punch when you least expect it.
Parker’s military career has become his top priority, leaving Rainey behind while he pursues his dreams. A combination of Parker’s PTSD and his actions threaten to tear Rainey’s heart right open, and she can no longer keep it together.
Then an unexpected lifeline appears and shows Rainey what it’s like to be cared for and loved. She finds herself happy for the first time in a while, but those sneaky sucker punches aren’t done, and keeping happiness will be an uphill battle.
Disclosure: Cliff-hanger ending. Part 2 Releases January 13th 2018 
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It was a feeling I’d never wish on my worst enemy: heartache. It felt like being dangled over the edge of a cliff and knowing if the person let go, you’d fall to your death. The anticipation, though, the hanging and waiting for them to release you, that was the worst part. The unknown, the fear. That’s what heartache was like. There was never a thought that someone else could come along and make me forget about my love for Parker. I never so much as thought of another guy. I put my all into our marriage, with the hope that maybe the person I loved would realize what he had in front of him.
Reality was, I was alone.
Always.
Despite my anger with Parker for signing up for another deployment, we worked as a team tonight, packing up his duffle bags and footlocker, filling it with his life. Sad thing was, his life fit in those bags and footlockers. It was filled with clothes, army gear, and whatever other items meant something to him. As I folded another green T-shirt, I let the tears fall. Despite everything, I was sad to see him go, but for the first time, I realized I wasn’t his life. Maybe I never had been.
“Babe.” Parker wrapped his arms around me and rested his chin on my head. “It’s going to be all right.” I looked up at him as I often did, my eyes pleading with him to understand me. Every time I looked at Parker, I was transported back to the first day I saw him at the diner. I held on to that memory. It kept me going; it gave me hope. Looking up at him now, all I saw was loneliness, a lifetime of me hoping he would choose me, settle down and start a family. I would never ask him to give up what he loved for me, though. I couldn’t help but think if he loved me, he would have already chosen me and I wouldn’t even have to ask.
>>COMING SOON<<
BOOK 2
Releases January 13, 2018
 Preorder for 99c 
All other links: books2read.com/devoted2


You can find Gen curled up reading paranormal romance and romantic thrillers or frantically typing her stories on her laptop.

Forensic psychology is her trade by day, teaching and molding the minds of college students. Her interest in psychology can be seen in her books, each including many psychological undertones. Although she loves teaching, her passion, her true love, lies in the stories that roam around in her head. Yes, they all come from her mind–the good, the bad, and the totally insane.Gen Ryan is an international best-selling author in multiple sub genres within romance. She lives in Massachusetts–no, not Boston–with her husband, daughter, and American Eskimo dog named Chewbacca. With each story she shares, she hopes her love for writing and storytelling seeps through, encompassing the reader and leaving them wanting more.

 

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Title: Spirited Away
Genre: Romantic Mystery
Release Date: October 31, 2017
Cover Designer: Claire Smith
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What happens when the legend of the old west becomes the new reality? In Mary Billiter’s fun novel of investigating the unknown and navigating love, a drop-dead sexy cop and a fiery redhead are linked by a mysterious haunting and the unsolved crime of passion behind it all.

When Reese Pemberton relocates from the Golden State to the Cowboy State for a corporate promotion, she discovers a different state of mind. From the hustle and bustle mayhem of the Bay Area to the slow and easy meanderings of Wyoming, Reese welcomes the change in pace as the hotel’s new general manager. However, she shuts the door on the notion that her hotel is haunted.

But when a series of mishaps introduces the fiery redhead to the hotel’s legendary cowboy ghost, she begins to question the events surrounding his demise.

Reese and Cheyenne police detective Cody Pring join forces to put to rest the spirit that haunts the hotel. In the process, they discover long-buried secrets. Can the two solve a decades-old mystery or are some things better left with the dead?

When I locked gazes with her, her hazel eyes looked a little sleepy. I knew she wasn’t ready for a nap, but she was ready for bed. She had a restful, dreamy look about her that craved naked escapism, and I wasn’t about to disappoint.
I carefully tore apart the two Velcro straps that held her knee brace in place. The brace fell to the floor and her fishnet-covered knee bent toward me. It wasn’t as badly swollen as before. Still, I gently massaged it as my hand slowly made its way along the inside of her thigh.
I stopped short and raised my brows. “Are you wearing a garter?”
She gazed downward at me through her long, dark lashes. Her come-hither look sent a signal straight to my cock, which pulsed hard.
She slowly inched off her skirt, and beneath the lace was more lace. Sexy. Red silky straps held her fishnet stockings attached to a high-waist, lacy, scallop-edged garter. A tiny pair of panties barely covered her patch. I couldn’t tell if she had hardwood, full carpet, or a landing strip. I was hoping for hardwood. Something about a naked pussy drove me nuts. My hand reached behind her and dug into her fleshy ass.
“A thong and garter. You’re the best-kept secret at this hotel.”
The corners of her mouth turned upward into a beautiful smile. “Thank you, Private. And perhaps you could help?” She turned, revealing the back of her corset. A row of tiny buttons traced her spine. I slowly began unbuttoning her. When the final button was unfastened, she turned back to me and slowly pulled away the corset.
Her breasts were instantly exposed. Plump breasts with erect cherry-red nipples were cradled on the cups of her bra. She slowly stood, and in a garter and thong, with full, supple breasts poking out, everything about her teased and tantalized. She looked like a showgirl. She pushed off my jacket and slid her hands beneath my T-shirt, feeling my chest. Her hand warmed me. I pulled off my T-shirt, and she pressed her tits against me.
I held her plump ass and slowly slid my finger along the thong that rode between her cheeks. Her body responded, and she wrapped her leg around mine and pressed into me. My cock rose to meet her. I unhooked my gun belt and laid it on the table beside the couch. She fumbled with the button on my wool pants. I held her wrist, unhooked my pants with one hand, and let them fall as far as they would. My cock stopped most of the progress. I released her and bent down to unbuckle my boots and toss them aside. My pants fell to the floor, and I kicked them off. But before I could straighten, her red heel rose and planted itself on my thigh. She gently pressed into me, and my desire heightened. As I knelt with my arms stretched toward her, I felt like Atlas, and she was my world.
I didn’t know what it was about this redhead, but being with her didn’t feel like I was running away. It actually felt like I was running toward something. But I had to be sure.
“I don’t want just a random hookup.” The words blurted from my mouth.
She gazed down at me and grinned. “Private Pring, is that all you think this is?”
With her heel pressed into my thigh, I wanted nothing more than to get things going and going good, but something inside me wasn’t convinced. “I don’t know what this is.”
Her eyes softened. “Cody, I usually don’t do this.” She paused. “But I also usually don’t get slammed into by a bar door while I’m jogging, and then get stuck in a boiler room in the same night—and rescued by the same man.”
I felt my face burn with a mixture of embarrassment and pride.
“So, this is new for me too,” she said. “But I thought it was time to break free, have some fun, and you were my first choice.” She giggled. “Truth be told, you were my only choice, so I’m really glad you didn’t refuse me my whimsy.”
“Refuse you? Reese, I could live to be a hundred and I wouldn’t be able to refuse you anything.”
I couldn’t tell if she was shocked in a good or bad way. I opted to shut up, change gears, and nibble on the inside of her thigh while my tongue trailed toward her clit. Heat radiated off her panties when I pushed the silky material aside and tongued her. A small strip of hair made me glad she hadn’t shaved it off. Her hands grabbed the sides of my head and pressed my mouth further into her. The way her lips swelled and the juice flowed so readily was primal. It was a signal to my cock that she wasn’t just ready for me, she wanted me.
But I wasn’t ready. Not until I heard the sweet echo of her orgasm. My tongue did a tango against her clit, moving it back and forth, backing off, and before I gently charged toward it, I reached up and tautly held her nipple. She gasped and then pressed her clit toward my lips. I watched her reaction as I suckled on it. Her mouth opened like she was about to roar. And when I ran my tongue along her swollen lips and dipped inside her sweet wetness, the sound she emitted was raw, primitive, and sexier than anything I’d ever heard.
“Yes. Right. There.”
My hand remained clamped on her nipple, and my tongue continued to play hide-and-seek with her clit. I’d rush it, then back off, then rush it again. It was a pace that sent her to a fevered pitch of euphoria.
“Oh my God,” she cried.
She threw her head back and sweat beaded between her breasts, but I didn’t stop. I wouldn’t, not until she had another orgasm. There was nothing composed about me or what I was doing. I operated from lust, passion, and point of climax. I wanted her to have an eyes-open, screaming orgasm she’d never forget.
I had less than thirty minutes, and I wanted to taste and feel every part of her. I released her nipple, looped my arm under knee, and turned her around.
“Kneel. I mean, if you can.”
“Oh, I can,” she said. And from the look in her eyes, I knew, bum knee or not, she was more than game for adventure.
I brought her arms up and placed them against the wall while she knelt on the couch. I spread her legs apart and frisked every curve, dip, and crevice of her body with my hands. I pressed my shoulder into her back as my hand felt along the seam of her fishnet stockings that stopped short of her ass. I grabbed my Leatherman tool from my belt, flipped it open, and placed the blade against the side of her panty and cut. I did the same with the other side, and her panties dropped between us on the couch. Her red lace garter belt hugged her waist, and nothing stood in my way of what I desired most.
I knelt on the floor in front of the couch and slowly licked her cheeks. Her body tensed. I repeated, increasing my rhythm until she surrendered to the sensation of my tongue on her sensitive skin. I parted her ass and buried my mouth inside her while my finger reached beneath her and fingered her. She dripped with wetness that I slathered on the shaft of my cock.
“Condoms. Where are they?” I kept my tone sharp and direct, and she responded by pointing toward the side table. I opened the drawer, and a large box of Magnum condoms was tucked inside. I grabbed a packet, ripped it open with my teeth, and placed it on my cock.
I stood behind her and placed the tip of my cock between her legs. When she didn’t stop me and instead pushed against me, I moved toward her wetness.
Her hands remained pressed against the wall, and I remained pressed against the edge of entry.
“Am I hurting you?”
She looked over her shoulder, and her eyes were dark with desire. “Fuck me.”
Despite her command and her groans that filled the room, I slowly moved my cock toward her pussy. There was a moment when I either had to push forward or back off.
She turned again, and this time her eyes flashed and her tone was sharp. “Private, are you man enough to fuck me, or do I need to get someone else to do the job for you?”
“No, ma’am.” My response was instinctive to her authority. I wasn’t in charge. Who am I kidding? I may have the cock, but she directed every move I made. And the more she dominated the situation, the more I thought I wanted her to.
“Okay then, Private, take your big cock and fuck me—hard. And if by some miracle you don’t prematurely lose your load, then you can fuck me again. Understood?”
My cock throbbed, and it was a miracle I hadn’t lost my load. Still, I took my time entering her, and as soon as I did, I had to slow my roll or I’d lose it altogether. But she didn’t know slow. She rocked back and forth against my cock.
I had to take charge or face humiliation. I grabbed her hips, thrust into her, and took control. She cooed and practically purred.
“That’s right.”
I moved in and out of her with a burning desire only she could quench. Her cries filled the room. I pulled out and flipped her around so her breasts faced me.
“I want your tits. Your big nipples.” I tugged on one with my teeth, pulling it to the pressure point and then backing off. Taking her to the tipping point was tested when she mounted me. She hopped on my cock, held onto my shoulders, wrapped her legs around me, and rode me like a rented mule. With her nipple between my teeth and her other breast bouncing, she made me feel like a man. And when I was with Reese, I wanted to be that guy. That guy who did the right thing and was man enough to let down his guard so a beautiful woman like this felt safe and secure to open herself to me.  My cock slid in and out of her wetness. I released her nipple and looked at her.
“I’m not sure how much longer I can last,” I said.
The corners of her mouth drooped slightly downward—not a full-on pout, but enough to mimic a frown and inspire me to get a grip. The woman was insatiable. Or maybe she hadn’t ever been properly fucked. Either way, I had to cowboy up and fuck her proper.
But when her breasts continued to bounce, teasing me, taunting me, and her pussy maintained a tight choke hold around my cock, I wasn’t sure I’d last. Everything about her was a perfect fit. I wanted to last forever, but I’d settle for lasting another five minutes.
“I’m sorry you can’t last,” she said. “I thought I picked a man—not a boy.”
She’s good. Her jibe spurred me and hardened my cock until I thought my foreskin would tear. Her nails dug into my shoulders, and her stockinged legs wrapped around my waist. I nipped her nipple with my teeth, and she screamed with delight.
“Hell yes, Private. More. Now!”
I pinched her other nipple and gave a little nip to her tit. I quickly discovered Reese liked a little bit of pain with her pleasure. And as long as I didn’t draw blood, I was down. In turn, her heels dug into my ass, and together the pleasure and pain were in sync. Big time.
Her mouth found mine, and the tip of her tongue played with me, and I imagined it on the head of my cock. This beautiful redhead was driving me crazy with pleasure.
She ground hard on me. Her sexuality was as open as her passion that knew no bounds.
“Cody.”
It was the first time she called my name.
“I want you,” she cooed.
Her voice was a soft directive to my heart. Her desire for pleasure and for me to be in charge brought out my best. I leaned into her, burrowing my cock into her slippery, swollen pussy. She arched, and I held the small of her back. She screamed, and warmth oozed over my cock. That’s three. I no longer had to wait.
“I’ll teach you to sass me.” I pulled out and turned her around. “Grab the back of the couch, spread your legs, and shut. The. Fuck. Up.”
My cock had a full load ready to discharge. I slowly slipped into her pussy, and the tightness from entering her from behind was beyond my ability to maintain control. But I grabbed her hips and got three long, deep, penetrating strokes into her hot, tight little pussy before I erupted deep inside her.
No sooner had I collapsed on top of her than my cell phone buzzed on the end table.
“I think my thirty went into sixty,” I said into her velvety hair.
Her lips found mine and tenderly kissed me. “No regrets.”
“With you?” I said. “Never.”
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Mary Billiter is a weekly newspaper columnist and fiction author. She also has novels published under the pen name, “Pumpkin Spice.”Mary resides in the Cowboy State with her unabashedly bald husband, her four amazing children, two fantastic step-kids, and their runaway dog. She does her best writing (in her head) on her daily runs in wild, romantic, beautiful Wyoming.

 

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