DOWN WE’LL COME, BABY by Carrie Aarons – Chapter Reveal

🖤 HAPPY TEASER TUESDAY 🖤

Down We’ll Come, Baby releases this Sunday, January 27, and to celebrate, Carrie Aarons is sharing the entire first chapter with you!

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Down We’ll Come Baby by Carrie Aarons

Releasing January 27

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Book Blurb:

Imogen 

There is no way we can still love and cherish one and other.

When I married Theo Walsh, the rough, bearded townie who worked construction on my family’s summer house, I’d found my happily ever after.

That was before the fighting.
Before the jealousy.
Before the infertility.

We’ll be divorced long before death does us part.

But to secure my place in the family dynasty, there is just one more hoop I have to jump through. And I need him to do it.

Faking the marriage we once thrived in will gut me.
Especially with the secret I’m carrying.

Theo 

I would have sacrificed for her until the end of time.

My job.
My home.
My happiness.

I’d given it all up to marry her. That’s how much I loved Imogen Weston, the daughter to one of the world’s richest families.

From the day we met, I’d done nothing but try to live up to the man she expected to be with. And now, I was done.

Sure, I’d complete this one final ask of hers, even if it destroyed me.

But I’ve made her promise the one thing that might save me. She swore that after she got everything she ever wanted, she wouldn’t look back.

I made my wife vow to leave me forever.

Chapter 1

Theo

I slept with my wife on our first date.

I’m not revealing this to brag or boast, or for you to infer anything from either of our personalities. It was just the simple fact that I knew from that first chance meeting, deep in my bones, that she would be the woman I’d spend the rest of my life with.

Honestly, I was never the kind of guy to get naked with a woman that quickly. If I were going for romance, which in Imogen Weston’s, the future Imogen Walsh, case I should have been … I would have laid out the red carpet. Flowers, picnics on the beach, candles, and gazing at the stars … my definition of dating was something out of a Nicholas Sparks’ novel. It’s just how you did things if you wanted to impress a woman.

To read the rest of the first chapter, click here: bit.ly/2AY06l1

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AUTHOR INFORMATION:

Author of romance novels such as Red Card and Privileged, Carrie Aarons writes books that are just as swoon-worthy as they are sarcastic. A former journalist, she prefers the stories she dreams up, and the yoga pant dress code, much better.

When she isn’t writing, Carrie is busy binging reality TV, having a love/hate relationship with cardio, and trying not to burn dinner. She lives in the suburbs of New Jersey with her husband, daughter and dog.

 

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Chapter Reveal: DUCHESS OF DECEPTION by Marie Force

Today we are sharing a chapter reveal from DUCHESS OF DECEPTION by Marie Force. This is Marie’s first historical romance title and is part of the Gilded series. It releases January 29th. Read chapter one from the book below.

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DUCHESS BY DECEPTION by Marie Force

Coming January 29!

Book Blurb:

In New York Times bestselling author Marie Force’s dazzling historical romance debut, the clock is ticking for a wealthy Duke who must marry by his thirtieth birthday—or lose his title…

Derek Eagan, the dashing Duke of Westwood, is well aware of his looming deadline. But weary of tiresome debutantes, he seeks a respite at his country home in Essex—and encounters a man digging on his property. Except he’s not a man. He’s a very lovely woman. Who suddenly faints at his feet.

Catherine McCabe’s disdain for the aristocracy has already led her to flee an arranged marriage with a boorish Viscount. The last thing she wants is to be waylaid in a Duke’s home. Yet, she is compelled to stay by the handsome, thoughtful man who introduces himself as the Duke’s estate manager.

Derek realizes two things immediately: he is captivated by her delicate beauty, and to figure out what she was up to, Catherine must not know he is the Duke. But as they fall passionately in love, Derek’s lie spins out of control. Will their bond survive his deception, not to mention the scorned Viscount’s pursuit? Most important, can Catherine fall in love all over again—this time with the Duke?

“…Force has crafted a masterpiece with the perfect amount of romance.” —Starred Review from Publisher’s Weekly

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AUDIO: Sample  |   Audible US  |  Audible UK  |  Audible AU

Chapter 1

London, May 5, 1902

“I cannot bear another minute of this charade,” Derek Eagan, the seventh Duke of Westwood, declared to his cohorts as they watched a simpering group of debutantes work the gilded ballroom. He tugged impatiently at his starched attachable collar and wished he could remove it and the tie that choked him without sending yet another tedious scandal rippling through the ton.

“What charade?” asked Lord Justin Enderly, his smile dripping with the charm that had endeared him to many a mother. “Watching nubile young things flit about with love and marriage on their minds?” As the second son of an earl, Enderly was much less desirable to the simpering debs than Derek, once again considered the Season’s top prize—and Enderly knew it, of course.

“All of it.” Derek gestured to the glittering scene before them in the Earl of Chadwick’s enormous ballroom. Surely half the aristocracy was in attendance at one of the Season’s most anticipated balls. Women in frothy gowns made of the finest silks and satins, dripping in exquisite gems. Men in their most dashing evening wear. “The balls, the gowns, the dance cards, the ludicrous conversations, the desperate mothers. I’ve grown so weary of it, I could spit.”

Aubrey Nelson, the American-born industrialist who’d humored his English-born mother with a second Season, nodded in agreement. “The pomp, the ceremony, the rules.” He shook his head. “I’ll be back in New York—or banished from polite society—long before I master them all.”

Unlike Nelson, Derek had been raised for the charade, but many of the rules escaped him, as well. “Utter drivel,” Derek murmured. “I’ve half a mind to compromise a willing young maiden and be done with the whole nightmare.”

“What’s stopping you?” Enderly asked, crooking a wicked eyebrow.

“I’d have to attempt to converse with her for the rest of my days,” Derek grumbled. His friends and the hangers-on surrounding them howled with laughter. “I’ve talked to every one of them and haven’t found one who interests me enough to pursue anything further.”

“Same as last year,” Enderly said.

“And the year before, and the year before that,” Derek said, the despair creeping in once again. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to find a wife. He would love nothing more than to have one person in the world who belonged only to him and vice versa. Not to mention he needed a wife, albeit for altogether different reasons. Yet he wasn’t willing to settle.

Each year he approached the Season with a new sense of hope, and each year, as the young women got younger and he got older, the disappointment afterward became more intense and longer lasting. This year, however, the bloody deadline loomed large, coloring his view of the Season’s limited options.

“This year’s group seems particularly young,” Enderly noted.

“Or perhaps we’re just getting particularly old,” Derek said morosely.

“No doubt,” Enderly said. As a second son he was under much less pressure to marry than Derek and enjoyed his bachelor life far too much to give it up before he absolutely had to. For that matter, everyone was under less pressure to marry than Derek, thanks to the damned deadline.

“Is there one among them who cares about something other than her hair or her gown or her slippers?” Derek asked. Was there one among them, he wanted to ask, who looked at him and saw anything other than his title, his rank, his wealth or the looming deadline that had filled the betting books all over town?

“They all care about their dance cards,” Nelson said dryly.

“Too true,” Derek concurred. “Speaking only for myself, I’ve had enough. I’m returning to Westwood Hall in the morning.”

“But the Season still has weeks left to go,” Enderly said in obvious distress. “You can’t go yet, Your Grace. What of your deadline? What will Lord Anthony say?”

“He would hardly care. He’s practically salivating, hoping I fail to marry in time.”

“Whatever could your ancestor have been thinking, with such an utterly daft provision?” Nelson asked. “Enter into a ‘suitable state of matrimony’— whatever that is—by thirty or abdicate your title? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Of course, he hadn’t, Derek mused. The colonists had left such barbaric practices behind in England. “I suppose he was out to ensure the bloodline. Instead, he placed a matrimonial pox upon each succeeding generation.”

“Is it even legal?” Justin asked.

“Probably not, but the previous dukes married young so it was never an issue for them, and I chose not to contest it with Anthony waiting in the wings drooling all over the duchy.”

“What happens if you don’t marry in time?” Nelson asked.

“The title and all accompanying holdings transfer to my uncle and then later to Simon, who, as the heir, would also be required to marry post haste. That would truly be a travesty.” If anyone was less suited to a life of marriage, responsibility and duty, it was Derek’s happy-go-lucky first cousin and dear friend.

“Have any of your ancestors missed the deadline?” Nelson asked, seeming genuinely intrigued by the drama of it all whereas Derek was just weary—from thinking about it, dreading it and from imagining being married to a nameless, faceless woman just to preserve his title. He shuddered at the thought of shackles and chains.

“Not so far, and I have no desire to be the first. However, I refuse to pick just anyone in order to keep my title.” His ancestor’s efforts to ensure the dukedom had put Derek in a serious quandary. His thirtieth birthday was now mere days away without a female prospect in sight who sparked anything in him other than utter apathy, not to mention despair at the idea of having to actually talk to her for the rest of his life.

Naturally, the entire haute ton was captivated by Derek’s plight, but not a one of them gave a fig about his happiness or well-being. He would almost prefer to surrender the title than be shackled for life to a “suitable” woman who did nothing else for him but ensure his place in the aristocracy.

Almost.

With his deadline the talk of the Season, every available young maiden had been marched before him—more than once. Judging his prospects by what he’d seen of the Season’s available crop, he was in no danger of imminent betrothal. “What’s the point of hanging around when I already know that none of them suit me?”

“They don’t have to suit you, your Grace,” Enderly reminded him. “You only need one with the proper equipment to provide an heir—and a spare if you’re feeling particularly randy.”

“And you need her to say, ‘I do,’ by the sixteenth of May,” Nelson added with a wry grin.

“Don’t remind me,” Derek grumbled. Was it just him, or was it exceedingly warm tonight? Or was it the reminder of his coming birthday that had him sweating? Perhaps it was the rampant wagering that had him on edge. He’d lost track of whom among his so-called peers and “friends” was betting for or against the likelihood of his securing a suitable marriage before his birthday.

Derek never would’ve chosen the title he’d inherited at the tender age of six when his parents were killed in a carriage accident. Over the years since his majority, however, he’d grown into his role as one of the most powerful and influential men in England. He didn’t relish the idea of turning over his title and holdings to an arrogant, greedy, overly ambitious uncle who would care far more about how he was judged in polite society than he ever would about ensuring that their tenants had adequate roofs over their heads. Nor did Derek wish to see his cousin constrained by a life he had no interest in. Too many people depended on the dukedom to see it end up in the hands of someone who couldn’t care less about it.

A vexing debate for sure, especially since Derek often dreamed of shedding his responsibilities and taking off to see the world as he’d always wanted to do. But then he thought, as he often did, of his late parents. Since their deaths, he’d aimed to live his life in a manner and fashion that would’ve made them proud. Losing his title, especially to an uncle his father had despised, would not make them proud, so Derek would do what was expected of him because that was what he’d always done—no matter what it might’ve cost him.

“What of all your meetings?” Enderly asked.

“I had the last of them today with the Newcastle upon Tyne Electric Supply Company to pump some capital into their Neptune Bank Power Station. They’re doing some intriguing work with three-phase electrical power distribution.” The blank looks on the faces of his friends tampered his enthusiasm. Where he would absorb such information with obsessive attention to detail, he’d come to realize that others were less interested in the how of electrical lighting and other innovations. They were far more than content to fully luxuriate in modern conveniences without bothering themselves with the details. Electricity was making its way into wealthy homes and public buildings in town, but it would be a while yet before it made its way to the country.

“Wasn’t there another one?” Justin asked. “Something with brothers?”

Derek nodded. “I’ll be providing emergency financing to the brothers from America who believe they’ve found the secret to manned flight.”

“You can’t be serious,” Nelson said. “The Wright brothers?”

Derek nodded, used to his peers finding his investment decisions questionable at best. They couldn’t, however, argue with his results.

“Has everyone in America finally said no to them?” Nelson asked.

“I didn’t ask that. I simply wish to be a part of what they’re doing. I believe they will attain success, perhaps before the end of the decade.”

Nelson rolled his eyes. “It’s your money to throw away.”

“What’s next?” Enderly asked, his tone tinged with sarcasm. “Motorcars?”

“As a matter of fact, due to my involvement in Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company, I was asked to back a venture with Lord Austin and his brother that will bring production of motorcars to England in the foreseeable future.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Enderly asked with a smile.

One of the most annoying of that year’s debutantes, Lady Charlotte something or other, flashed Derek a suggestive smile full of invitation. As he’d learned early in his first Season, he didn’t make eye contact unless he wished to encourage attention, which he most assuredly did not.

“All you’d have to do is snap your fingers, and Lady Charlotte would say ‘I do,’” Enderly said.

Derek could have been mistaken, but it seemed as if his friend was enjoying baiting him. “If I’m going to shackle myself to a woman for life, she’s got to have more than the proper plumbing.” Derek tugged again on the collar that poked at his neck and the strangling tie. His valet Gregory had been rather rigid in his knot tying that night, as if he too were out to constrain Derek to his husbandly fate.

“What is it exactly that you seek, Your Grace?” Nelson asked with a kind smile.

“Damned if I know. I just hope I’ll recognize it when I see it, and I hope I’ll see it soon.” She was out there somewhere. He had no doubt of that. If only he knew where to look.

“You’re holding out for a love match then?” Enderly asked.

“I don’t necessarily yearn for the mess that accompanies a love match, but is it too much to hope for some intelligent conversation with my after-dinner port?” The utter despair of his situation came crashing down as he viewed the gay scene before him. “What in the world would I talk about to any of them?”

Apparently, neither of his friends could supply a satisfactory answer.

Enderly shifted with discomfort from one foot to the other. “What are your plans, Westy?” he asked softly, reverting to Derek’s nickname from their years together at Eton.

“I need to spend some time riding Hercules and thinking. I can’t think here. Just a few days, and then I’ll come back and bite the proverbial bullet.” He’d have no other option but to choose one of the young women flitting before him unless he wanted everything he had to slip through his fingers to an uncle who didn’t deserve it. But the thought of being stuck with a wife who didn’t suit him made him ill.

“You’ll be the talk of the ton,” Enderly declared, scandalized.

“Let them talk. I won’t hear it in Essex.”

“But it won’t be any fun without you, Your Grace,” Nelson said mournfully.

Enderly nodded in agreement. “Nor will the ladies flock about us with quite the same . . . ”

Desperation?” Derek asked with a grin. His friends laughed. As usual, they had kept this dreadful experience from being a total loss.

“Lady Patience will wish to visit,” Enderly said with an evil grin. “She’s apt to follow you to the country.”

“She won’t gain an audience with me even if she does give chase,” Derek said of the Duke of Devonshire’s daughter, who had pursued him with relentless determination. “She holds even less appeal than the others.”

“Why is that?” Nelson asked.

“She brays like a donkey when she laughs.”

“Ouch,” Enderly said, chuckling.

“I quite fear that no woman will meet the discriminating requirements of our dear, distinguished friend,” Nelson said to Enderly.

“That’s just fine with me,” Derek said, happier than he’d been in weeks now that a decision had been made. “I’d rather be a lonely commoner than be shackled for life to a ‘suitable’ braying donkey.”

***

Lord Anthony Eagan, son of a duke, brother of a duke and uncle to the current duke, reclined on a red velvet chaise and took a sip from his glass of port. Always on the outside looking in, just barely on the fringes of tremendous wealth and power. Thankfully, all three dukes had provided handsomely for him, allowing him the freedom to pursue his own interests.

But what interested Anthony, what seduced him more than anything else ever could, was the power of the title. When the Duke of Westwood entered a room, people noticed. Society noticed. No one paid much heed, on the other hand, to the duke’s second son, his brother, or his uncle. In the fifteen years he’d served as his nephew’s guardian, he had sampled a generous helping of power. Having to cede it to a boy just barely out of leading strings had been demoralizing, to say the least. The subsequent years had reduced Anthony once again to the fringes. He didn’t much care for the fringes, and he never had.

While Derek had stepped nobly and with infuriating independence into the position he’d been born to, Anthony had been relegated to watching and seething and planning. Now, on the eve of Derek’s thirtieth birthday, came opportunity. If Derek failed to marry by the sixteenth of May, the title would revert to Anthony, and he would finally be the Duke of Westwood. The way it always should have been.

And while he had come to grudgingly respect his nephew’s acumen with finance and his bearing among the haute ton, he disdained the boy’s inner softness. That softness, Anthony mused, would be his downfall, just as it had been his father’s. Perhaps it was because Derek had lost his parents at such a tender age or maybe it was the guilt that came from being the twin who’d survived the journey into this world. Regardless of the cause, Derek lacked the inner fortitude that Anthony possessed in spades.

Anthony wasn’t afraid to use that fortitude to gain what should’ve been his all along. Derek was supposed to have been in that carriage the night his parents had been killed. They had planned to dine as a family at a neighboring estate. No one had bothered to tell Anthony that the boy had been left behind in the nursery when he showed signs of fever.

No one had told him until it was far too late, until he’d been saddled with an orphaned young nephew and vast holdings to “oversee” until that nephew gained his majority.

The holdings were supposed to have been his. Instead, he became the steward rather than the duke. Instead, it was left to him to nurse his grief-stricken nephew through those dreadful months after “the accident.” Since another “accident” so soon after the first would’ve raised suspicions, he had nursed when he’d wanted to strangle. He’d mentored when he wanted to stab. If only the boy had been where he was supposed to be, Anthony would’ve had what was rightfully his for all this time.

Soon, Anthony mused. That softness within Derek wouldn’t permit him to marry for the sake of his title. Like the fool he was, Derek wanted more. The softness would be his downfall. Anthony was betting on it and breathing a bit easier after realizing that none of the Season’s debutantes had caught his discerning nephew’s eye.

Lucy Dexter, one of London’s most accomplished courtesans, crawled from the foot of the chaise to envelop him in soft curves and sweet scent. Silky dark hair cascaded invitingly over his chest.

“What troubles you tonight, my lord?”

“Nothing of any consequence.”

“You ponder the fate of your nephew and the duchy you covet.”

Anthony raised an imperious brow. “It is rather impertinent for you to speak so boldly of things that are none of your concern.”

Lucy’s husky laugh caught the attention of his recently satisfied libido. “How can you say such things are none of my concern when you’ve made them my concern by unburdening yourself to me quite regularly?”

The double entendre wasn’t lost on Anthony. Through the silk dressing gown he had given her, he cupped a bountiful breast and pinched the nipple roughly between his fingers, drawing a surprised gasp from her bow-shaped mouth. “If you speak of my concerns with anyone else, madam, you will quickly discover my less-than-amiable side, which I usually prefer to keep hidden from the fairer sex.”

Her blue eyes hardened with displeasure. “I believe I have proven my allegiance time and again over these many years, my lord. There is no need for threats nor less-than- subtle attempts at intimidation.”

She could quite ruin him. She knew it. He knew it. Power. He had given her far too much, he realized, and that was something he might, at some point, need to contend with. But certainly not right now, not when she was pushing his dressing gown aside to drop soft, open-mouthed kisses on his chest.

Anthony sighed with satisfaction, placed the empty glass on a table and buried his fingers in silky tresses. When she took his cock into the velvety warmth of her mouth, he closed his eyes and let his head fall back in surrender.

Power—the only commodity that truly counted. As she sucked and licked him to explosive fulfillment, it hardly mattered that he had ceded some of his to her for the time being. Before long, he’d have more than he knew what to do with. It was only a matter of time.

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AUTHOR INFORMATION:

Marie Force is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 contemporary romances, including the Gansett Island Series, which has sold more than 3 million books, and the Fatal Series from Harlequin Books, which has sold 1.5 million books. In addition, she is the author of the Butler, Vermont Series, the Green Mountain Series and the erotic romance Quantum Series, written under the slightly modified name of M.S. Force. All together, her books have sold more than 5.5 million copies worldwide!

Her goals in life are simple—to finish raising two happy, healthy, productive young adults, to keep writing books for as long as she possibly can and to never be on a flight that makes the news.
Join Marie’s mailing list for news about new books and upcoming appearances in your area. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @marieforce and on Instagram. Join one of Marie’s many reader groups. Contact Marie at marie@marieforce.com.

 

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DARING THE DETECTIVE by Riley Cole – Chapter Reveal

Today we are sharing chapter 1 from DARING THE DETECTIVE by Riley Cole. This is a historical romance series releasing from Jack’s House Publishing and Daring the Detective is the third book in The Restitution League series. Check out the pre-order links for the book below. It releases January 22nd.

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—Meet the Restitution League—
They’re thieves. They’re rogues. They’re well-armed for adventure.

The crew of the Restitution League fights injustice while wrestling with love and desire and the occasional throwing knife.

One blazing romance at a time…

DARING THE DETECTIVE by Riley Cole – Releasing January 22

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Synopsis:

 

He’s everything she disdains. She’s nothing he admires.

But love has its own delightful logic.

Whether bartering with Barbary pirates or angry Gypsy kings, Zadie Whitlock lives by her wits… and the business end of her parasol.

Detective Caleb Burke lives to right wrongs. He can’t abide Zadie’s daring, impulsive ways, especially after she leaves him bound to a library shelf with his own handcuffs.

Still, he can’t ignore the passion the damned woman ignites.

Nor can Zadie dismiss his smoldering allure. Which is troublesome in the extreme, because Caleb Burke isn’t the man for her. He’s too honorable, too loyal, and far too likely to follow the rules.

Dazzled by her indomitable spirit, Caleb makes a fateful choice that sets the two of them on a hunt for lost Viking treasure. Failure will see his career in ashes, and Zadie on trial for her life.

Pursued by deadly forces, they’ve got the power of the Restitution League on their side… and their own stubborn hearts in the way.

——————–

READ CHAPTER 1

Chapter 1

Restitution League Headquarters, London

September 1882

The moment Meena Crane introduced her to the tall, quiet man in the shadows, Zadie Whitlock’s knees went weak. Her reaction had nothing to do with his glorious physique or those penetrating brown eyes. Unfortunately.

It was the badge pinned to his jacket that sent her spinning. Who would have guessed the League included a blasted detective?

Though her intuition screamed at her to leave, she curled her fingers around the haft of her parasol and allowed her hostess to finish the introductions and shepherd her toward the sitting area at the back of the impressive offices.

If it weren’t for the crusher glowering at her from the corner, she would have been impressed. The League’s offices were even grander than she’d expected. All polished wood and modern business machinery, the space crackled with energy. And the members themselves outshone their workspace. Bright and engaging, Meena Crane and her crew appeared capable of tackling the direst of cases. But despite the favorable impressions, Zadie ached to make her excuses and back straight out of the building.

Zadie smiled at her very pregnant hostess and tried her best to pretend that Caleb Burke didn’t exist, but that was a losing proposition. Lean and powerful, he exuded the cynicism of a man who’d seen every form of deceit. Perhaps if he weren’t watching her like a hawk outwaiting a mouse, her stomach wouldn’t ache so. She’d heard the League was composed of confidence artists and thieves, all reformed now, of course. But she hadn’t expected them to include a man with a badge.

That could change everything.

And the man sensed it. His casual pose didn’t deceive her. He was gathering up every crumb of information she offered. And many she didn’t mean to reveal.

Zadie continued to avoid his gaze, wishing she could dismiss his presence as easily. As if any woman alive could ignore that beautiful mouth, or the broad shoulders stretching his light wool jacket to its limit. But looks aside, it had taken her only seconds to realize he possessed the type of quiet confidence that made a man extraordinarily dangerous. He wouldn’t hesitate to toss her in jail should she give him the least opportunity.

But Aunt Margaret had gone missing, under the worst of circumstances, and Zadie had no idea where to begin searching. She could steal a diamond stickpin straight off a man’s tie, face down the roughest crew of smugglers, or authenticate an Egyptian vase at a glance.

But finding one slender, gray-haired treasure hunter had her at a loss.

As if she could read Zadie’s thoughts, Meena paused, teapot poised above a cup, and smiled reassuringly. “How can we help you, Miss Whitlock?”

It was a simple question, with a simple answer. As with most things in life, though, it was the part in between that was bloody complicated. Zadie returned the woman’s smile, pretending she wasn’t tempted to tear straight out of the building.

With a grace amazing in a woman so obviously increasing, Meena leaned across the table and offered Zadie a cup. She sipped the excellent Darjeeling and nodded slowly, buying a last few seconds before she had to make up her mind about confiding in this Restitution League.

“My aunt has disappeared.” The words rushed out before she could reconsider her course of action. “I have cause to believe she’s in danger.”

Meena stilled. “Surely the police could assist you?”

“They are investigating, but they’re not looking in the right place.” She gestured helplessly. They’d interviewed her several times since the housekeeper had reported her aunt missing. But she hadn’t volunteered anything that would really help. She didn’t dare. And now, with a detective looming over her, she was treading a fine line again.

Edison Sweet, the bear of a man sitting next to the typewriter, flicked a glance at Burke and snorted. “Now we’re getting down to it.”

The pretty blonde at his side, Briar Sweet, punched him in the arm. “Let her speak, you great lout.” Then she gestured at Zadie. “Pardon my brother. He often speaks without consulting his brain first.” She sent him an arch look. “Not that it would help.”

The playful banter eased the tension in Zadie’s shoulders. Still, the question remained: how much should she tell them? Too little information would hamper the search for her aunt. Too much could land her straight in jail.

Spencer Crane, a legendary thief in his own right, took his wife’s hand, twining his fingers with hers as he studied Zadie. “You said she’s in danger. What makes you so certain?”

Pain began to pulse behind her right eye. “It’s all rather complicated.”

Crane grinned wickedly. “Good stories generally are.”

Zadie risked another glance at the detective. His features were carefully schooled, revealing nothing. She sighed. “I came home two nights ago to find the house tossed and my aunt missing. The window in her study was open, and I found this.” She dug in her pocket for the emerald necklace and held it up for the group to see.

The Cranes leaned close, studying the way the gems shifted from light green to dark as they swung in the light.

“They’re exquisite,” Spencer Crane acknowledged. “Worth a small ransom.” He winced. “I beg your pardon. A poor choice of words.”

Zadie waved away his apology. It was nothing but the truth. “A large one, I would think. But their sentimental value is even higher. They were a gift from the love of her life.” She stuffed the piece back into her pocket. “I’ve never seen my aunt without them, but I found them wrapped around the fingers of the skeleton she keeps in the corner of her study. She meant for me to find them. I’m certain of it.”

Nelly, the little office girl, scrunched up her nose. “Wot’s she doin’ with a skeleton?”

“My aunt is a physician. Long retired, but she still sees the occasional patient.”

Briar Sweet straightened the sleeves of her severe black dress. “Whatever happened, she had time to leave you a sign. You said she’s a treasure hunter. Is she after something valuable?”

Zadie rolled her eyes, and immediately wished she hadn’t as a shaft of pain shot through her forehead. “She would say so, but I fear it’s a fantasy. She’s spent the last ten years trying to locate a lost Viking temple, but I doubt it exists. She hasn’t found so much as an old nail.”

Meena nodded thoughtfully. “But if someone else believes she’s on to something valuable…”

She shrugged, acknowledging the unspoken possibility.

Like a great bird suddenly taking wing, Burke pushed away from the wall and swooped toward her before perching on the arm of the other sofa. “But there’s more to the story, isn’t there, Miss Whitlock?”

This time, she met his eye. Determined to ignore the way her head throbbed, she forced herself to take another sip of tea. It was now or never. Take the plunge and hope he’d overlook her recent…activities…or remain silent and hamper the League’s ability to find her aunt.

When she considered it that way, there was no choice.

“Indeed.” She focused on the Cranes. “I suspect whoever took my aunt—or frightened her away—is after me.”

Burke’s warm voice sent a dark shiver down her spine. “And whatever you’ve done isn’t exactly legal, is it? Which means you’ve been less than candid with the police.”

Zadie raised her chin. “I suppose that would depend upon one’s interpretation of legal.”

“How about a magistrate’s interpretation? Would that do?”

Zadie clasped her hands in her lap, all the better to avoid smacking the smug detective across the face.

The rest of the group was quiet now, watching the two of them as if they were opponents in a boxing ring, circling each other, fists raised.

She clamped her teeth together. The thought of all that masculine power took her breath away. Why couldn’t he be a fellow thief? A minor lord? A fishmonger or a chimney sweep? Anything but a bloody crusher.

Burke cut in to her thoughts. “When we got your note yesterday requesting our assistance, we looked into your shop. You don’t sell stolen goods…as far as I can tell.”

“I don’t,” she agreed. “I sell Egyptian décor. Most of it is of modern manufacture, but I also handle antiquities. Only those of known provenance, naturally.”

The detective ignored her assurances. “You just said you believe your aunt was taken to get back at you. I doubt a customer dissatisfied with a reproduction bauble would go to such lengths.”

Briar Sweet thrust her finger against the haft of a fine throwing knife, sending the weapon spinning about on the desktop. “It would have to be someone very angry.”

“Or very desperate,” her brother added.

The weight of Burke’s gaze pressed down on her, but he said nothing, letting the silence stretch until it rang through the room, cold and accusatory.

Zadie stared back, unwilling to let him see the turmoil roiling inside her. She was at the edge of the cliff now. Nothing for it but to jump straight off and let the consequences be what they would. Her aunt’s safety trumped all. She took one last, deep breath. “I retrieve things,” she admitted.

“Ah.” Burke smiled, but it held no warmth. “The more valuable the better, I imagine.”

“Well, that’s no surprise,” Briar pointed out. “Who’d pay to get their dodgy old bric-a-brac back?”

Nelly sparked to life again. “It weren’t in the news, but my friend Angie swears the Templar’s ruby was stolen from ’er employer. Are you the one who got it back?”

Rather than answer, Zadie took a long sip of tea.

Burke crossed his arms over his chest. “I don’t think Miss Whitlock would care to answer that.”

“O’course.” Nelly ducked her head, but not before she sent Zadie an approving wink.

Zadie swallowed, trying to think her way through this tricky pass. If she didn’t admit to any specific crimes, Burke would have no standing to arrest her. Most likely. She cleared her throat. “Companies—legitimate concerns—hire me to retrieve stolen jewelry and art.” The smugglers and crime lords that availed themselves of her services needn’t be discussed.

“Fair enough,” Burke said, but she could tell by his expression he only half believed her. “But legitimate or not, the people you repossessed things from might not be so understanding.”

Zadie nodded miserably. “That is exactly my concern.”

Meena set her cup aside. “Is your aunt involved in your business?”

“No. As far as she is aware, my only source of income is Frobisher and Franks.” Despite the moniker, the shop was all her own. The imaginary male proprietors existed only to reassure the curio-buying public that two upstanding men were behind the venture. Even two years later, she still congratulated herself on the deception from time to time.

“And she disappeared the day before yesterday?”

Zadie nodded. “She was gone when I got home from the store.”

Spencer Crane glanced at the clock on the wall. “So it’s been almost three days.” He looks at the group. “The sooner we get started, the better.”

Burke slapped his thigh. “Miss Whitlock must have enemies scattered about Greater London. Where would you suggest we begin?” He tossed the question at Zadie.

Anger flamed in her chest, overriding her fear. She threw up her hands. “Isn’t that your job, Detective?”

Meena Sweet swirled the last bit of tea in her cup. “If someone absconded with Miss Whitlock’s aunt because they wanted revenge—”

“Or the return of an item she retrieved,” Briar Sweet added.

“Or that,” Meena acknowledged. She locked eyes with Burke. “Hiding a hostage is tricky business. The longer one keeps them, the worse the danger. If someone’s holding her aunt hostage, wouldn’t they have contacted Miss Whitlock by now?”

Burke gave Meena a smile so grand, it made Zadie’s toes curl. “That is an excellent point.” The grin faded as quickly as it bloomed. He turned his attention back to Zadie. “Though I’m not inclined to dismiss the idea completely.”

Though she prided herself on her extraordinary composure, Zadie’s cheeks burned. “Of course not. We should examine every possible avenue.” Even if it meant confessing to theft.

She straightened her spine and met his gaze, willing him to understand just how desperate she was to see her aunt safely home. Though she prayed Meena’s reasoning was correct. If Aunt Margaret’s silly treasure hunt was to blame, her heart could stop aching with guilt.

Meena and Burke traded a long look. She had the sense that her request hung in the balance. By the time Burke nodded, her fingers ached from balling them into fists.

He stood and planted his hands on his lean hips. “We’ll take your case.”

Relief propelled Zadie to her feet. Thank God. They’d help her. And Burke didn’t seem inclined to toss her in jail. Yet.

She nodded to each of the crew. “Thank you. Thank you all.”

Every one of them smiled back, except Burke. He was staring off over her shoulder. “Whether we’re dealing with a mess of your own making or not, I’ll need to examine your aunt’s study.”

“That makes sense. I can take you there now, if you like.”

“Before we begin, I have several conditions,” he said. “They’re nonnegotiable.”

“Of course.” The words tumbled from her lips, but inside, she froze. He wanted her to confess to the thefts she’d hinted at. She squared her shoulders and prepared to pay the price.

“You’re not to leave my sight,” he ordered. “I don’t trust you. I want you at my side for the duration of this case. And second…” He paused. The glint in his eye stole her breath. “You will obey my every order.”

Zadie nodded, but she couldn’t seem to form words. Too many naughty, delightful images were flashing through her brain. His too, if the current of energy crackling between them was any indication. If they weren’t in a crowded room, in the middle of the day… She shook off the enticing possibilities.

Besides, she had a stipulation of her own. “Agreed. But you must promise you won’t arrest me for theft.”

He hesitated so long, she worried she had overplayed her hand, but finally, he shook his head. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, telegraphing his answer. “I’m not interested in your retrieval service. I promise I won’t arrest you for whatever thefts you may have committed.”

The air left her lungs in a great whoosh. She grinned so hard, her cheeks ached. “Good enough.”

Burke ran a hand over his jaw, and suddenly, he looked disconcertingly tired. “I have a murder case I need to follow up on, but I should be able to collect you in a few hours.”

With her husband’s help, Meena struggled to her feet. “You’ll probably be more comfortable waiting at your shop. Briar and Nelly can keep you company. Henry can drive you. Take the clarence.”

The two younger women looked pleased with Meena’s suggestion. Zadie was too. The unexpected support left her lightheaded. And dangerously foolish.

She eyed the rugged detective. She wanted to kiss him. Wanted to know if the skin above the stubble dusting his cheeks was as soft as it appeared.

And why not? Her throat dry, she struggled to swallow. Once they got Aunt Margaret safely home, they’d never cross paths again.

“Thank you,” she said, and before she could talk herself out of it, she leaned in, pressing her lips to his cheek.

It was soft. Delightfully so.

She wanted to kiss him again, but even in her delirious state, she realized that would stretch the bounds of propriety beyond the breaking point.

She pulled away, steeling herself for his reaction. Would it be shock? Distaste? A whisper of disgust?

In the end, his response was far more disturbing. White teeth flashed in a feral, wanting grin that made her knees wobble.

She bit down on a surprised gasp. The man had a wicked, wicked center.

It was a good thing she had pressing plans. Plans that would see her halfway around the world once her aunt was safe. Plans that would occupy her long after thoughts of a certain police detective faded away.

***

Irritated beyond all reason, Caleb stalked into the study Zadie’s aunt used as an office, eager to find whatever clues he could. He needed to solve Dr. Whitlock’s disappearance and get far away from their newest client. Quickly. His sanity demanded it.

The hansom ride to her house had been excruciating. She took up too much space, too much air, too much of his psychical energy. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think.

She was a charlatan, an opportunist, and a stunningly attractive woman who wouldn’t hesitate to wield all the skills at her disposal to flummox any man foolish enough to enter her orbit. He knew the sort. She’d take on any job, with no regard for legalities, or her own safety, as long as the fee was high enough.

But then she’d kissed him. Caleb scratched his cheek. It hadn’t even been a real kiss. But it did make him want another, a deep, breathtaking kiss that would leave both of them gasping for air.

He jerked his head back, startled by the direction his thoughts were taking. He didn’t even like her. And yet that one feather-light kiss had sent him ass over teakettle.

Impatient with his own imaginings, he focused his attention on the room, straining to make sense of the scene. She’d described it accurately. Papers were flung about as if someone had made a hasty search. Before touching a thing, he stood in the center of the space and breathed. He couldn’t have articulated what he was after. It was too ephemeral to name. He only knew he did it at the scene of every crime. He wanted to see it as the criminal, and the victim, might have seen it.

And here, he sensed urgency. There was no blood, no torn draperies or overturned furniture. No indication of a struggle. Either Zadie’s aunt had been threatened with a weapon, or she’d fled of her own accord.

After waiting in the doorway, allowing him space, Zadie joined him in the study, moving close enough that her fragrance radiated over the few inches separating them. Sweet, with a bite of spice, it called to mind exotic locales shimmering with heat.

He clenched his jaw, willing away the distraction, and forced himself to focus on the room itself, soaking in the details, letting his mind imagine the scene. Like the other rooms in the house, it was tastefully furnished. There was the desk, of course, and the chair opposite, where he imagined her aunt’s occasional patients sat. A skeleton stood in the corner, suspended from a black wire stand. The skull regarded him with detached interest.

Zadie pointed at it. “That’s where I found the necklace.”

He stepped around the desk, careful not to tread on the papers littering the floor. She was right to dismiss robbery as a motive. Too many items of value remained in plain sight. Shelves of finely bound volumes lined the wall behind the desk, and a silver ink set and letter opener sat, untouched on an expensive-looking leather blotter.

Zadie scooped a blank paper from the floor and held it out to him. “Here’s something.”

He held it up to the light from the window next to the desk. A dark footprint covered most of the surface.

She picked up another sheet. “Here’s another.”

Caleb compared the two prints. “Same boot.” So they were after a single intruder. The lugs were thick, the heel worn almost away. “Work boots. Large ones.” He examined the rest of the papers but saw no other prints. “Do you have any male servants?”

“No.” She thought for a moment. “I can’t think of the last time a man was in the house, actually.”

He rolled the pages into a tube and stuck them in the inside pocket of his jacket. “Probably our intruder, then.”

“Oh no.” Zadie brushed past him to pick up an ancient book, its pages yellowed with age. “Her treasure map. She kept it in this volume.” She thumbed through the pages, then held the book by its spine and shook it. Eyes wide, she looked up at him. “She must have taken it with her.”

Caleb squinted at the bookcase behind the desk. Old books, new books, thick tomes, and sheaves of journals crowded the shelves. Clearly, only the one volume had been removed. Whoever had grabbed the book knew what they were after.

Zadie was right. Her aunt had probably removed it herself.

But had she been coerced? He refrained from voicing that dark thought, though the prickle between his shoulder blades didn’t bode well. If someone believed the treasure existed, a map could be worth killing over. “You’re certain no one else knew about it? Not the housekeeper or one of the maids?”

Before he’d completed the question, Zadie was shaking her head. “I’m the only person she confided in. She worried that it would put people in danger.” A pained look crossed her face. “I used to laugh at that.”

A pencil poised to roll off the edge of the desk caught his attention. He snatched it up and tapped out a rhythm on the blotter while he let his imagination sift through the evidence at hand. Best to start with what they did know…or could reasonably surmise. Whatever his motives, the intruder had rushed up the steps, kicked in the door, and barreled in. A glance would have told him the front parlor was empty. Less than a second, and he’d have been in her study.

Not enough time for her aunt to remove her necklace, grab a map, and get out.

She’d had some warning. But how?

The window.

The answer smacked him between the eyes. Zadie’s aunt had seen the intruder walking by on the street below.

He inched forward, gaze on the quiet view outside. “It was someone she recognized, or someone—”

“Who didn’t fit,” Zadie chimed in.

“Exactly.” He paced the office, clasping his hands behind his back. “It’s the only way she would have had time to get her map and leave you the necklace.”

Zadie seemed to be thinking through the scenario as well. “That makes sense.”

“But it’s not the only explanation that fits the facts,” he cautioned.

“I know.” She twisted her fingers together. “And it doesn’t explain the intruder’s motives.”

“No, it doesn’t.” He gave her a small smile, trying to ease her guilt. And then he thought of a marvelous distraction. “Are you up for an experiment?”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Let’s assume your aunt was at her desk.” He pointed at the desk chair and pulled the drapes wide. “When you see me walk toward the house, pretend to grab the map, then put the necklace where you found it. I want to see if you can evade me.”

“What makes you think I want to try?”

The heat in those few words was enough to make him hard. Painfully, achingly hard. Despite their dissimilarities, their opposing temperaments and the way she was able to anger him with the smallest shrug, he smiled. Grinned, actually. “You should try, Miss Whitlock. Because when I do catch you, you’ll find yourself in more trouble than you can handle.”

“Doubtful, Detective.”

He laughed. There was no getting the better of her. Not with words, anyway.

He was still laughing as he hurried down the hall and out the door, shutting it behind him. Then he strolled off down the street. Not the way they’d come. He thought he’d try the opposite direction first. Her aunt would have seen them coming sooner from their original direction. He wanted to try this under the worst possible conditions.

The corner would do. He turned on his heel and walked back toward the house, careful to temper his stride. A seasoned criminal wouldn’t move too quickly…or too slowly. He strove to mimic the pace of a man with an agenda, but a man loath to attract attention.

He walked up the front steps at a sedate pace, then kicked softly at the broken door. Even though he barely brushed it, the door swung open hard enough to bang against the wall. He rushed in, taking only the briefest instant to scan the front parlor and the hallway toward the kitchen. It only took three steps to reach the study.

Zadie already had one leg hooked over the windowsill. She smiled at him, relief obvious in the set of her shoulders. “She could have made it.”

“Easily.” He crossed to her and held out a hand to help her back in. “It’s clear she could have—”

A harsh male voice called out from the pavement. “Hold it! Hold it right there.”

Two uniformed officers were rushing toward the house, followed by a dark-suited detective. Avery Pitcairn. The nastiest detective on the South London force.

“Miss Zadie Whitlock?” Pitcairn called out, loud enough to be heard over the cascade of footfalls behind him. “You’re wanted for questioning in the disappearance of Dr. Margaret Whitlock. It’s best for all concerned if you come along quietly.”

Holy blazing hell. He had to stop them. It made no sense, but the feeling was so strong, he couldn’t help himself. He had to prevent them from arresting her.

He yanked her back inside. “Do as I say. Exactly as I say. Trust me,” he whispered.

Her face pale, Zadie nodded.

He couldn’t turn her over. She hadn’t harmed her aunt. He didn’t know how he knew it, but he did. It was simply the way his detective brain worked. Bits and pieces of evidence coalesced into a larger picture. And the picture he had so far convinced him Zadie was innocent. Besides, if he was wrong, he could cart her off to Newgate himself. And he hated Pitcairn. A cruel little weasel of a man, Pitcairn took an outsized pleasure in the misfortune of others. Particularly women.

He couldn’t allow it. Which wouldn’t protect him from the consequences of what he was about to do.

He shoved his misgivings aside and greeted the ginger-haired officer. “You’re too late. I already have Miss Whitlock in custody.”

The shorter detective jerked to a stop halfway into the room, the whiskers of his large mustache quivering. “What?” He squinted at him. “Burke? Thought you worked out of the Yard. What the hell are you doing out here?”

“I am at the Yard. Miss Whitlock is a person of interest in a very sensitive case. I’m to take her there immediately.”

The man huffed. “More important than a possible murder? Her aunt is missing.”

“I’m aware of that.” Caleb pulled his handcuffs from his trouser pocket. “My case takes precedence. Trust me. There are people above me you don’t want to upset, if you know what I mean.”

Pitcairn’s cheeks reddened. “No, I don’t know.”

“Orders from the highest level.” Caleb tried to sound apologetic as he slid his hand down to Zadie’s wrist and snapped on the cuff.

Her gasp filled the room.

The other detective gave her a searing glare. “Did you know Dr. Whitlock’s solicitor dug up her will? Left everything to this baggage here. She’s the woman’s only living relative.”

“What?” Zadie gasped, earning her another angry look from Pitcairn.

His expression was still flat and cold when he turned his attention back to Caleb. “Didn’t mention that, did she?”

He laughed, but the sound held no mirth. “We had a bit of luck with that piece. The housekeeper knows the solicitor. Her sister’s his cook.”

He crossed to the window and squinted out at the street. “Where’s your carriage?”

“The driver’ll be right back,” Caleb lied. “Had to drop Morgan and Fitz at the Limehouse docks. We weren’t expecting Miss Whitlock to be here.”

Nor had he expected her to have such a strong motive to make her aunt disappear. Though the house was modest, it spoke of comfort…and more wealth than many enjoyed. His impassive, police officer’s expression firmly in place, he studied her, checking for any of the telltale signs of a liar. But all he saw was shock.

Pitcairn chewed the ends of his mustache while he ruminated. “Can I have her when you’re done?” he asked finally.

“I don’t see why not. As soon as the toffs running my investigation allow it.” Caleb snapped the handcuffs around her other wrist.

Pitcairn jerked his chin at Zadie. “Good. There’ll be plenty of time for us to chat once you’re locked up. Come on now, lads. Nothing else we can do here.”

Caleb waited until the lot of them had funneled out the door and back into their wagon before he allowed himself to consider what he’d just done.

Ruined his career, most likely.

Zadie turned her back toward him and wiggled her fingers, jangling the chains. “About these? You promised.”

Preoccupied with the weight of his actions, it took a moment for Caleb to process her statement. He eyed the cuffs. “I promised not to arrest you for theft. I never promised not to arrest you for murder.”

“That’s not funny. Take these off.”

It wasn’t. Not in the least. But the sight of her, helpless before him, chest heaving, lips parted, was the most erotic thing he’d ever seen.

He ran a hand over his mouth. Holy hell. He’d just tossed his career in the sewer, and all he could think about was throwing her on the nearest couch and undoing the tiny pearl buttons running down the front of her bodice.

Afraid he’d make good on his imaginings, he turned toward the window and watched the officers depart. “It’s not meant to be funny.” The consequences of what he’d just done certainly wouldn’t be humorous.

“Caleb, please?”

The catch in her voice pricked at his conscience. Whatever disaster he’d just made of his career, torturing her wouldn’t help. Old habit had his fingers around the key in his vest pocket before he’d even realized he’d decided to free her.

She evaded his gaze, but the strong pulse beating at the side of her neck and the way her breasts moved with the rhythm of her breathing suggested she didn’t fully trust him to unlock the things.

Nor did he. He walked behind her and rubbed his thumb over the inside of her wrists, tracing the delicate pulse. The skin of her thighs would be this soft. This warm. “I could renege on my promise.”

She shivered. “You wouldn’t.”

“How do you know? We’ve only just met.”

“I know you’re an honest man.”

Caleb snorted, trying to shake off her sensual spell. “Not all policemen are honest. Far from it.”

“You are.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Oh, but I can.” She tossed her head back, flinging a dark curl out of her eyes. “It’s your friends. The League. They trust you, and I trust them.”

But could he trust himself? Maybe he should steal a kiss before he released her. He considered it, thinking long and hard about how she’d feel in his arms, but propriety and a healthy dose of self-preservation won out. Toying with a woman as bright and sensual as Zadie might leave a scar.

And he had plenty of other things to worry about now. He jabbed the key in the lock. The cuffs fell away, severing the electric connection between them.

She rubbed her wrists. “They’ll be expecting you to bring me in.”

“I know.” He dropped the cuffs back into his pocket.

Something in his tone must have concerned her. She scooted back, just out of reach. “You wouldn’t.”

“Of course not.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But I’ll need to explain why you’re not in custody.”

She strode back and forth across the worn carpet, obviously considering alternatives as well. Outside, the light was fading as afternoon slid into a golden autumn dusk. He’d be expected at the station before long. There wasn’t much time to lose.

And then he had it.

It was an idiotic idea, but it was the best he could come up with. He motioned her to him and spread his legs, bracing himself for what was to come. “Hit me,” he commanded.

She backed up until the bookcases stopped her. “This is no time for jokes.”

“Hit me,” he insisted. “Make it good.”

“I can’t do that.”

He caught her gaze and smiled. “There were a couple of times at the League you would’ve loved to plant me a facer.”

Her delicate earrings swayed as she shook her head. “I was angry then. This…this is cold-blooded.”

Still giddy with panic over what he’d just done, he grinned. “I can make you angry, if you like.”

She rolled her eyes.

He turned the side of his face toward her. “Hurry.” Before he came to his senses. Before he did the reasonable thing and took her to the station himself.

Her lips parted as she drew in a fortifying breath and then, before he had time to steel himself, she balled her hand into a fist and swung.

REJECTING THE ROGUE by Riley Cole

PURCHASE REJECTING THE ROGUE

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SEDUCING THE SCIENTIST by Riley Cole

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———————-

AUTHOR INFORMATION:

 

Riley has a long fascination with all things Victorian. She loves the peculiar mix of science, mysticism and innovation that collided in the Victorian Era.

To say nothing of bustles. Bustles and elaborate hats and parasols. Parasols for rain. Parasols for sun. And parasols that morph into swords…of course. 

Sadly, Riley has little use for umbrellas in the dry foothills of the Eastern Sierra, but she consoles herself with forest hikes and dips in cool mountain lakes. Besides—no matter where one resides—a proper cuppa never comes amiss.

If you enjoy a little high adventure—and a lot of desire—with your historical romance, delve into Riley’s version of late Victorian London.

Thieves, rogues, and love await…

For more information about Riley, please visit her website, “like” Riley on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Sign up for Riley’s newsletter to be notified about upcoming releases. She’s loves hearing from her readers. Email her directly at riley@rileycole.com.

Riley’s Jack’s House releases include Rejecting the Rogue and Seducing the Scientist from the Restitution League Series.

CONTACT LINKS:

Jack’s House Author Page |  Website |  Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads  | Newsletter

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Chapter Reveal: FOREVER BROKEN by Carrie Ann Ryan

 The final book in Carrie Ann Ryan’s Talon Pack series releases in less than a week on January 8th! Read the first chapter now and preorder your copy!

About FOREVER BROKEN

Available January 8th, 2019

In the finale to the award-winning Talon Pack series from NYT bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan sets, the final Brentwood must find his mate as the war with the Aspens comes to a close.

Cheyenne Liles has watched all of her friends mate into the Talon Pack and have their lives changed forever, one by one. She’s stood back, helpless to assist in the war with a rival Pack. But just when she thinks her time with the Talons is over and believes she should move on with her human life, the Aspen Pack Alpha takes matters into his own hands, altering her fate far more than a single mate mark ever could.

Max Brentwood used to be the smiling one, the only Brentwood who was somehow able to save his soul during the last Alpha’s reign. But his life was irrevocably changed one fateful day on the battlefield, and he was never the same again. Suddenly, Max is forced to face his future and make a choice when Cheyenne comes into danger: let fate decide, or watch his world crumble around him.

The shifters of this world have fought demons, humans, and themselves. Now, it’s time to find out who they truly are as the war between the Packs ends, and the moon goddess finally takes a stand.

FOREVER BROKEN releases January 8th, 2019 – preorder your copy now!

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Read the first chapter of FOREVER BROKEN:

Blood roared in Cheyenne Lyon’s ears, but she didn’t scream. If she did, he would win. And if he won, then all would be lost. It wasn’t just her life she held back her pain for, but the lives of her friends. The only family she had ever known.

This shouldn’t be how it turned out.

She was supposed to be safe away from the world that had darkened around her, away from the fighting and magic that were so far out of her depth. The things that she, a woman of science, had no hope of truly comprehending.

The man behind her that wasn’t truly a man lowered his head to breathe on her neck, sending chills racing down her spine. These weren’t the chills of anticipation that came from being with a lover. Instead, they represented the dread that came from death, that portended the uncertainty of her own fate.

“It’s almost ready. Soon, you won’t have to wait for what’s to come. Soon, you’ll do your duty, and the next steps will be taken.”

Cheyenne closed her eyes, swallowing the bile that rose in her throat. She didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to know why Blade, the Alpha of the Aspen Pack, wanted her. But she knew she didn’t have a choice.

She was stronger than the tears burning in her eyes, stronger than the need to run and hide from the monsters that lurked in the dark. At least that’s what she’d always told herself when she stood by her friends’ sides as they each found their mates and became part of the Talon Pack; thereby, somehow becoming enemies of the Aspen Pack.

Enemies of Blade.

Cheyenne had fought alongside her friends and their new people, their new wolves and lions and witches, as she tried not to end up bleeding and dead because she was a mere human in the world of the supernatural. She’d kicked and screamed and tried to fight when she been too weak but had prevailed. The others, however, had been far too strong for her to defeat on her own. She’d stabbed and killed when one of the Talons, Max, a man who was now family to her friends, helped her.

He’d helped her.

But he wasn’t here to help her now.

She swallowed hard, aware that Blade still stood behind her, either waiting for her to say something or just wanting to hear himself speak. She had to focus on him, had to concentrate on the present and not what she’d done in the past or who she’d fought alongside.

Cheyenne was a vet, she took care of animals and those who couldn’t take care of themselves. Now, she was surrounded by those who could turn into wolves and other creatures she didn’t know and didn’t want to think about. Her friends had said there might be more out there than wolves, witches, and cat shifters, but she’d tried to put that out of her mind.

She’d always been on the outside looking in. One by one—first Dawn, then Aimee, then Dhani—her friends had found themselves deep in the world of darkness and change. And though Cheyenne had only recently discovered the existence of magic and shifters along with the rest of the human world, somehow, she’d been fully ensconced in it thanks to her friends.

But she wasn’t a shifter, wasn’t a witch. She hadn’t even reacted to the wards like the others had, either feeling the magic too much like Aimee or feeling it differently the way Dhani had. Instead, Cheyenne had felt nothing. She didn’t understand the lure of magic and only liked science and indisputable evidence. And while the world beneath her world, or rather the world that now ran alongside hers intrigued her, she wasn’t part of it.

Her friends would one day move on from her more than they already had. She was still aging, while they were not. They were starting new lives, maybe even beginning families and growing into their new powers, strengths, and matings.

And Cheyenne wasn’t part of any of that.

As the last of her friends mated into the Talon Pack, Cheyenne had told herself she was okay, that she would find a way to move on and stay settled within the human world. She’d convinced herself that she’d be able to fade into memory as her friends physically stayed the same age, and she died a natural, human death.

As Blade breathed down her neck again, standing silently behind her, waiting for something unknown to her, she pulled herself out of those thoughts.

Because there would be nothing natural about her death today.

She didn’t know why Blade held her, and he wasn’t being forthcoming about his reasons. Maybe it was because she was the weakest link when it came to the Talons. She might not be a member, but since she’d fought alongside Max and had close friends within the den, maybe Blade saw those connections and thought she was worth something.

Only she wouldn’t be. She wasn’t a mate to any of the Talons or even the Redwoods—another Pack of shifters with deep ties to the Talons. She wouldn’t be able to fight back because she didn’t have a weapon and, unlike her friends, she wasn’t a weapon herself.

“It’s almost ready,” Blade repeated, then moved to start pacing around the small room he had her in.

She didn’t know what it was, but she knew she likely wouldn’t live when it was ready. She didn’t know how she knew that, other than a feeling deep down that this was the end for her, no matter how hard she fought.

Her head ached, and she swallowed hard, not relaxing because even though Blade was no longer directly behind her, he was still close enough to rip out her throat on a whim. She’d been leaving her vet’s office late, after hours, her back already hurting from an emergency sock removal surgery on a lovable Lab with far too much energy, when someone had come up from behind and put their hand over her mouth.

She’d screamed, kicked, and tried to use her keys to claw herself free like she’d been taught in not only her self-defense classes but also from Kameron, Dhani’s mate. He was the Enforcer of the Talon Pack and had wanted Cheyenne and her friends to know moves to protect themselves. Only her training hadn’t been as thorough as the others’ since she didn’t have claws or fangs to fight back with. Instead, she’d used her body weight to try and throw the man off balance, but it hadn’t worked.

He’d been so much stronger than her, and the more she fought, the harder he pulled and squeezed.

Then, he’d knocked her out with the back of his hand on her face, a shocking slap that had set her ears to ringing and had her teeth practically moving in her gums.

When she woke up, she’d been chained to a chair, a dimly lit bulb flickering above her. She’d been alone, cold, but thankfully still clothed. Her cheek stung, and she knew she probably had a concussion.

None of that mattered though when Blade stepped into the room.

She remembered his face, recalled the look of him as he prowled toward her. She’d seen him on the news, had spotted him in person when she fought by Max’s side, trying to keep both of them alive even though she knew she wasn’t that much help.

Blade was evil incarnate, a true horror in every sense of the word. He’d lost his witch in the last fight, and Cheyenne knew that had cost him. Scarlett had apparently helped him cross the lines of dark magic and move into the area where someone could lose their soul if they weren’t careful. He’d tried to get at the Talons for numerous things over the past few years and had nearly succeeded in wiping them out.

Blade had sent rogues over the boundary lines, willing away their need to survive and instilling in them a need to kill. He’d made those rogues break their bonds with their former Packs and had hurt them, forcing them to do what he wanted. He’d kidnapped and tortured Cheyenne’s friends, attempting to use them much like he might be using her now: as a symbol of how weak he thought the Talons were. He’d attacked the Pack with magic, taunted them, and used the human media to prey on them, as well.

He’d broken so many edicts, yet he was still free because he and those in his Pack were stronger than the Talons and the Redwoods—possibly stronger than any other Pack and the humans put together. According to Cheyenne’s friends, Blade wasn’t afraid to use dark magic and risk the end of the world in order to get what he wanted. And because the Talons couldn’t do that without killing their own like Blade was unafraid to do, they were at a disadvantage.

And just a few days earlier, he’d declared himself the Supreme Alpha of all the other Packs around the world.

Cheyenne had no idea what that meant, only that it wouldn’t be good for her, not with the way Blade had looked at her when he first walked into the small room, and certainly not with the way he stalked toward her now.

Blade had kept her in the chair, the chains loose enough that if she wiggled just right, she might be able to get herself free. But he must have known that when he chained her up. It was all psychological. Because, if she got herself out, she wouldn’t be able to get past him. And if, somehow, he tripped or happened to be looking the other way for just the instant she’d need to get through that door, she then had to hope it was unlocked.

If it weren’t, then Blade would kill her, or wait to murder her until it was ready.

Whatever it was.

Even if she got past that door, she didn’t know what was on the other side. She didn’t know who was out there or where she was. She was probably on Aspen Pack land, but according to the others, not all of the Aspens were on the side of their Alpha. Not all of them agreed with the extent of their Alpha’s depravity. Even the Talon’s contact, the Beta of the Aspens, Audrey, hadn’t been heard from in weeks, making them all worry that Blade had found out about Audrey’s clandestine meetings with the Talons and her true loyalties.

Blade hadn’t taken Cheyenne’s phone, but it was deep in her jacket pocket, and she couldn’t reach it. She didn’t know if he was unaware that she had it because he and his men hadn’t searched her, or if he knew she had it and didn’t care.

Because he knew she had no hope of escape.

No chance of rescue because no one knew she was gone.

How could they? She lived alone, worked late, and no one cared where she was at night. They all assumed that she was safely tucked in bed and far away from the world of the Packs and the war surrounding them.

Only, she wasn’t.

And the idea of hope was getting a little harder to grasp onto with each passing moment.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Blade asked, coming around to face her. His hair was getting a little long, sliding over his forehead and into his eyes. He absently brushed it back as he bent down in front of her. His breath smelled of peppermint, his teeth were perfectly straight, and if he weren’t an egotistical maniac with a homicidal streak bent on world domination, she might have considered him attractive. As it was, he reminded her of what she’d imagine a demon might look like.

Smooth moves, and a slick attitude.

The bearer of death.

“No, I don’t know why I’m here,” she bit out. She wasn’t slurring, and though her head hurt, she didn’t see double, so she didn’t think he’d drugged her. Why would he need to drug her when he could overpower her in an instant?

He glared.

“Why don’t you tell me?” She knew she shouldn’t have an attitude with him, but what did she have to lose? She wasn’t getting out of this room alive. She knew that. There was no amount of magic or prayers to a goddess she wasn’t sure she believed in that could save her.

This was it.

And if she were going down, she would do it with a fight. A fight for her life, and a fight for the woman who Cheyenne was beyond the woman in chains.

Blade grinned, but it didn’t reach his eyes. No, those eyes were dead, evil, and she didn’t know why the media had believed him when he went on air pretending to be a human to put the Talons under fire. There was nothing human about Blade. There was nothing good about him.

“You should know, usually, I’d never turn down a good monologue, but we don’t have a lot of time. I’ve been waiting years for this moment, for the moon to rise at the perfect angle on the one night when the power is the greatest—for the moon goddess to bless me with what is needed.”

Cheyenne had no idea what he was talking about, but whatever it was, she knew it could mean death for the Talons, the end of her friends. That was what this man, this wolf, seemed to want—at least in her opinion.

“You’re going to serve a specific purpose, Cinnamon.”

“It’s Cheyenne,” she bit out.

“Does it matter?”

“It does to me.” She met his gaze and didn’t drop her chin when his wolf came into his eyes. She only knew it was that because the others had told her, and she had seen it with the Talons. A gold rim glowed around his iris, pulsating with power. Blade was not a lower-ranking wolf. He’d become Alpha because of his strength, or at least because of his family line—she wasn’t sure on the mechanics of it all—but she knew an Alpha couldn’t be weak.

And Blade wasn’t weak.

He snorted after a moment, then continued. “I searched for over a century for the artifact and then waited a few decades longer to work out the details. And you’re the final detail.”

He paused, and she swallowed hard, knowing that she wouldn’t like what he had to say next. Of course, she hadn’t liked any of it. And though her pulse raced, and she practically shook in her chains, she listened to every word and knew that if, somehow, by the grace of the goddess, Cheyenne found a way to survive, she’d tell the Talons everything she knew.

Because she might not be a Pack member, might not be a shifter, but she’d die before she let her friends get hurt because of this monster.

“The artifact needs you. Well, it needs blood to activate. And the fact it will be your blood will be killing two birds with a single stone.”

He pulled out a long, thin knife. Cheyenne thought it might be called a stiletto, but she wasn’t sure.

“Actually, a single blade will work.” He winked. “Pun not intended.”

Then he stood up, and she screamed, pulling herself out of her chains as she bent down and wiggled. His eyes widened a fraction, but then he schooled his features and came at her. She screamed again, trying to duck out of his hold, but he was too fast. He was always too quick.

He pulled her by the hair, the stiletto close to her neck. She froze, leaning against his chest as she tried not to rock forward onto the blade.

“Come with me.” He growled the words and tugged her out the door, unlocking it with a key as he did.

She wouldn’t have made it, wouldn’t have escaped, no matter how hard she fought.

She didn’t want to die today.

But it didn’t look like she was going to have a choice.

The moon was just dimming in the sky, the sun about to rise on the horizon. She must have been unconscious for longer than she thought if a new day was about to start.

She wasn’t going to die on a Sunday but a Monday—a thought she’d never thought to have.  Blade pulled her close, the bile in her throat so strong that she was afraid she’d throw up right on his shirt.

“The moon needs to be on her way from the sky and into the darkness, for the light must come.” Blade smiled, and Cheyenne knew tears were falling down her cheeks.

She tugged at his hold, trying to get away, but she couldn’t.

“You will be our salvation. Blood for blood. Blade for flesh. Sacrament for death.”

Then, he slid the blade under her ribs, puncturing her lung but not her heart. She was a vet, had gone to school to learn the anatomy of animals, but she had learned the anatomy of humans, as well.

She knew he’d stabbed her there on purpose so she would bleed out slowly, death taking longer than the seconds or minutes of agony she might have otherwise endured. With her lung punctured, she would lose the ability to breathe, would drown in her own fluids even as her lifeblood left her.

She could already feel her breathing become labored, feel her lungs fighting for oxygen.

Then, she was on her back, blood slowly pooling around her as Blade stood above her. The moon was still overhead, the sun slowly rising behind Blade’s back.

And in his hands, he held a stone, hand-carved and almost brick-shaped, but she couldn’t tell what it was exactly. Power leached from him as he squeezed it, his hands covered in her blood. The hairs on her arms stood on end and it felt as if she were too close to a lightning strike. And though the power had to be coming from the stone and into him, it was as if he had so much in him now, he couldn’t contain it all.

Then she closed her eyes, afraid that this was the end because it hurt to breathe, it hurt to see the power in his hands. Because she wouldn’t be the only one who died for what he held.

When Cheyenne opened her eyes again, Blade was gone, and the only thing she could hear was the wheezing of her breaths. She swallowed hard, slowly reaching into her pocket for her phone. She might not be able to save herself tonight, but maybe she could save her friends.

Her fingers slid over the screen, her blood making it too slippery for her to see the display clearly. She tried to call the last person in her recents, but it scrolled a bit farther and dialed someone she’d only called once—and just so he could have her number.

It had been done in an odd sense of friendship, camaraderie.

Now, she just hoped he answered.

“Cheyenne?” Max growled into the phone. “Where are you?”

“Here,” she wheezed. But she knew it was too late, he wouldn’t be able to hear her. “I’m here.”

She could have sworn she heard a howl as she closed her eyes again, and when she opened them once more, she knew she had to be dreaming.

Max. She didn’t actually say the word, didn’t have the breath in her lungs.

She only knew it was him hovering over her on three legs, blood on his muzzle, and the anger of a thousand suns in his gaze. During the final battle with the rogue humans who had wanted the wolves to die, Max had lost the lower part of his right arm as well as a lot of flesh on his chest. His chest had healed, but his arm hadn’t grown back. Shifter genetics didn’t do that. So, in wolf form, he stood on three legs, strong and fierce, though she knew he didn’t feel that way.

Max growled, and she wondered why he had blood on his muzzle.

Then, she didn’t wonder anymore when he bit into her flesh.

And again.

She didn’t scream, didn’t feel a thing. She didn’t know why she didn’t feel anything, she wasn’t cold enough to be that close to death, not yet.

Something was protecting her.

And she knew Max wasn’t trying to eat her. No, he was attempting to change her, to save her.

He was doing the only thing he could.

And he hadn’t given her a choice. If she lived through this, she would make sure he understood that she would have said yes to a change. He was breaking the law, and possibly breaking part of himself to do this, and he already had enough on his shoulders.

She didn’t want him to blame himself for this.

But as he bit her again, something snapped inside her. Not physically. But a warmth in her heart spread and seemed to spear outward toward Max. She gasped, suddenly able to breathe as Max quickly changed to his human form—far too fast for him or any other wolf.

Before she could think, he had her in his naked lap and was holding her close, blood covering them both. She couldn’t quite understand it all.

“Mate,” he whispered. “The moon goddess.” He coughed. “Mate.”

And then, she fell into the darkness again, wondering if the word mate was the last thing she’d ever hear.

Because she wasn’t a wolf.

She didn’t know if she was Pack.

But…she was Max Brentwood’s mate.

Somehow.

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 3.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over sixty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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Chapter Reveal: RESTLESS INK by Carrie Ann Ryan

The Montgomerys just got hotter… RESTLESS INK by Carrie Ann Ryan releases September 18th, but you can read part of the first chapter now! Check it out below and preorder your copy now!

 

About RESTLESS INK

Available September 18, 2018

The Montgomery Ink series continues with the so-called sensible sister and the one man she never should have fallen for.

For Thea Montgomery, baking isn’t only therapeutic, it’s also her dream job. She’s worked countless hours keeping her bakery afloat, and now that it’s where she wants it to be, she’s ready to expand and take the next step. When it comes to work and her family, she’s on top of her game. Her personal life, however, is a different story.

When Dimitri Carr isn’t teaching and hiding his ink under long sleeves to keep the bosses happy, he’s trying to be the best brother and friend he can be. After his divorce, he’d thought he would lose Thea from his life forever because she’s his ex-wife’s best friend. But now that he’s free, and the two of them realize they want to keep their friendship. Then he finally sees what he’s been missing all this time.

But there are more problems than the fact that Dimitri is Thea’s best friend’s ex. And when accidental touches and flirtations aren’t enough for either of them, and they’re finally ready to take the next step, they’ll find out exactly what that cost is for crossing that line. And will need to find the strength to face it.

RESTLESS INK releases September 18th – preorder your copy now!

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✦Kobo http://bit.ly/2hiqorn
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✦Amazon Paperback https://amzn.to/2P1YNHl
✦Audiobook https://adbl.co/2P1YP1V

 

Read part of the first chapter of RESTLESS INK!

Thea Montgomery flopped down on the bed and knew that tonight was the first and last time she’d sleep with Roger. She never should have slept with a man name Roger anyway. He was just as dull as his name suggested. She’d gone into date number six thinking that maybe he wasn’t as bad as he seemed and wondering if maybe her standards were set too high. After all, not every Roger could be Roger Federer— the king of Rogers and the court.

She’d liked this Roger, at least she’d assumed she did. She’d thought that if she worked harder, they’d have more than just their small attraction. And because she liked sex, and she thought she liked Roger, she’d slept with him. He let out a pleased sigh beside her, and she held back a sigh of her own— of a very different kind.

This had been a mistake. But not her first, and probably not her last.

Damn it, Thea, get your act together.

Okay, that wasn’t fair. She was the sensible Montgomery. The one that joked about sex with her sisters but rarely had it. She’d been too busy starting her business and far too picky to jump into bed with just anyone. And since it had taken six dates with Roger to get to this stage, she figured she really wasn’t jumping. It was more like a gentle hop.

But there’d been nothing hopping in bed with Roger tonight, and now she hated that she sounded so callous about it. Even to herself. He was sweet. He was nice. And… he had no idea what he was doing with his hands or his tongue. And she had a feeling if she were to tell him something along those lines— even gently— and try to show him what she wanted, he’d be one of those guys that pushed back, blaming it on her.

It had happened once or twice.

Okay, four times, but seriously, some guys needed to watch a little less anal porn and a little more cunnilingus. It wasn’t that hard.

Roger turned over at that moment and reached out to pat her stomach. She winced since that wasn’t the most romantic thing in the world, but then again, nothing about what had just happened could be classified as romance. Ugh, now she felt bad, but there was nothing she could do with her feelings except feel them. Her family had taught her that.

And she really shouldn’t be thinking of family lessons while naked in bed with a man she wasn’t going to see again.

“So… nice, eh?”

Dear God.

“Sure. It was great.” She could hear the false note in her tone, but she wasn’t sure he could. She hated herself just a bit that she hadn’t had any fun, but she’d thought that maybe if she tried hard enough, things would work out.

Apparently, there just wasn’t enough chemistry between them, and she probably should have figured that out before she got into bed with him, but she’d thought there’d been enough.

“I have an early day tomorrow, but I’ll walk you out.”

She barely held back a slow blink. Walk her out? Why didn’t she just leave money on the table on her way to the door?

She sat up, using the sheet to cover herself since she didn’t really feel like baring herself more than she already had and pasted a smile on her face. She’d wanted to leave anyway, but now she felt as though she had to. As if she weren’t good enough for him to even want to talk to beyond patting her on the stomach like a dog who’d learned a new trick and wanted some love.

Hell, she needed to get out of there before she got angry and said something she would regret. Because before this moment, Roger had been nice. Maybe too nice. Perhaps that niceness had covered up his bad sex and selfish ways.

Now, she really needed to get out of there. He sat in bed, looking pleased with himself as she put on her panties while still hiding under the sheet. She slid into her dress, not bothering with her bra since she couldn’t do that one-handed.

And even as she clumsily tried to dress behind the sheet, he lay there. Watching her. Why had she thought he was nice?

Oh, because he had been. But not the kind of nice she needed in her life.

Finally, she dropped the sheet since she now wore her panties and dress. She quickly stuffed her bra into her tiny purse, the straps hanging out, slid her feet into her heels, and wrapped her jacket around herself. She’d dressed up for this date and had thought it might lead to something more.

Boy had she been wrong. “Don’t bother locking the door on your way out. I’ll get up and do it soon. Wore me out, you know?” He winked, and Thea knew she needed a shower— and maybe a bath, too.

A hot one that would take off the first layer of her skin because she was never going to get the feeling of him off her.

What had she been thinking? Roger?

Jesus, she needed to take a hard look at her life and maybe never go on another date with a man because she’d seriously never felt this humiliated. It didn’t matter that she’d taken her time, done her research on him, and had wanted to make sure she liked him before she went to bed with him. It hadn’t been enough.

Men were slime, and Roger was the slimiest.

“Yeah. Sure. Bye.”

“Thanks for tonight, babe. I’ll call you.”

“Don’t bother,” she whispered as she walked away, her middle finger in the air. It was possible he couldn’t see it, but it was still warranted.

“Don’t be that way, babe,” he yelled from the bedroom where he still hadn’t moved, but she ignored him, closing the front door softly behind her. As much as she wanted to slam it, she wouldn’t give him the pleasure of her showing any emotion beyond coldness.

Because she was Thea, the ice bitch who played with icing in her bakery. She knew what her exes had said before, and now Roger would just be another of those who thought her cold or something along those lines.

Whatever, she was done with men.

She got into her car, threw her purse onto the passenger seat, and made her way to the grocery store. She was so freaking mad, she didn’t even want to bake. That’s when she knew that something was wrong, and if she didn’t get some sugar soon, she would break— and that wasn’t something Roger deserved. And because she didn’t want to do something she loved, she knew she was right at the level where she’d start crying in her car, and she refused to do that.

So, she’d go to the store, pick up some ice cream, then eat the whole pint before she went to bed. Alone. Because, of course, she would be alone. Why wouldn’t she be?

“Ugh,” Thea whispered to herself, annoyed at her train of thought. She hated self-pity, but being tossed out after a particularly bad bout of sex had kind of sent her over the edge into the land of meh.

As soon as she parked, she leapt from the car, purse in hand, and made her way into the twenty-four-hour market. Hopefully, she’d be in and out quickly, and no one she knew would see her do her version of a sugar-loaded walk of shame.

Of course, that’s when her heel broke.

Because… of course, it did.

Nothing good ever came from lack of orgasms.

Fuck this night.

Fuck it hard.

Fuck it harder than she’d been fucked.

Though that wouldn’t be hard, because… Roger.

She picked up the broken part of her heel and limped her way to the frozen food section. She’d be damned if she left without her sugar. Now, though, she’d buy five pints because it was just that kind of night.

Thea was just deciding between the low-calorie fake ice cream and the good old-fashioned heavy cream version when a familiar voice called her name. “Thea?”

Why not tonight? Seriously. Why wouldn’t this man be right by her after everything that had happened already? Seemed about right.

She rolled her shoulders back and turned to Dimitri, her best friend’s ex-husband and Thea’s friend, as well. If she were going to meet anyone in a grocery store after what had turned out to be a horrible date while wearing a broken heel, her version of the walk of shame outfit, and messy bedhead hair that tumbled down her shoulders in dark waves, it might as well be him.

“Hey, Dimitri.”

Dimitri. The man had once been in her life just as much as Molly had. Thea had been friends with both of them and had even known the two separately before they started dating. She’d also refused to take sides during the separation and then after the divorce. Of course, it had always been Molly who wanted Thea to take a side. Dimitri stayed quiet, clearly hurting from the breakup at the time and the changes in his life. He’d tried to keep his friendship with Thea soon after the papers had been signed and even a few months following that, but Thea had always felt awkward because of Molly. Now, she had a feeling she’d made the wrong choice because Dimitri was her friend too, and she’d lost him.

She looked over the line of his jaw, the bend on his nose from where he’d broken it in a bar fight in college— a scuffle that had been about protecting a friend and not because of too many drinks. He wore a cotton shirt under his leather jacket that clung to his wide chest, and jeans that molded to his thighs— not that she was looking at his legs. She knew he had a large tattoo on one quad that was part of his family history, words in Cyrillic that she’d never been able to decipher. He also had a grouping of trees on his forearm and wrist that made a half-sleeve that he’d said reminded him of his family’s home. He was a fourth-generation American and had never been to the place his family hailed from, even his last name wasn’t Russian, but he’d always loved his ink.

That much Thea remembered about him, even though she hadn’t set eyes on him in a month— though it felt like far longer. His brow rose as he studied her, his gaze traveling down her dress to her broken heel. It wasn’t like she could hide anything.

“Are you okay?” He didn’t smile as he said it. In fact, he looked angry, really angry. “Do you want me to take you somewhere? To talk?”

She blinked, confused. “What are you talking about? I’m fine.” Well, she would be fine once she had her ice cream and a long bath, but she didn’t need to tell him the details.

Dimitri moved closer and lowered his head so he could whisper in her ear. She ignored the heat of his breath on her neck. Apparently, she was having an off night if she were even thinking about that at all.

“Your dress is on inside out underneath your coat, you have a broken heel, your hair looks tangled, and your bra is in your purse. Are you sure you’re okay? Did someone attack you? I’ll take you out of here right now and do whatever you need. Just let me help.”

Dear. God.

There had to be a better word than mortification for what slid through her right then. If there were a hole opening up anywhere around her, she’d freely jump into it. She’d forgotten about her damn bra and could now clearly remember the straps dangling from her purse. And because she’d been trying to keep the sheet over herself, she’d put on her dress incorrectly, and hadn’t noticed because she just wanted out of Roger’s place.

Could this night get any worse?

She shouldn’t even tempt the fates with that question. She just hoped they hadn’t heard her think it.

 

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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Chapter Reveal: UNLOCKING SHADOWS by Kennedy Layne

Read the first chapter of UNLOCKING SHADOWS by Kennedy Layne before it releases on September 18th!

 

 About UNLOCKING SHADOWS

Coming September 18th

Gwen Kendall spent ten years in the Navy and used the last four to create a life for herself she could be proud of away from the confines of her overprotective family. Being the only woman in the Kendall clan tended to be a bit overwhelming at times.

Chad Schaeffer had been hired on to help restore an old farmhouse for one of the returning Kendall siblings. He’d heard about the trouble the family had encountered and honestly didn’t want to go anywhere near their properties. He had a change of heart when he saw the most recently returned Kendall sibling stepping out of her car with a key in her hand.

Gwen had waited a very long time to have a place to call her own, just as she had waited for the right man to share her life. One night of seduction convinces her she’s found both, but someone wants to take it all away. It’s been said that old houses retain a piece of each person who has lived there, but she never counted on the dark shadows wanting a piece of her.

Add UNLOCKING SHADOWS to your Goodreads list here!

UNLOCKING SHADOWS releases September 18th – preorder your copy now!

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Read the first chapter of UNLOCKING SHADOWS!

Twelve years ago…

Hope.

How could an individual still have such an impractical yearning after facing such a malicious, unrelenting evil?

Emma Irwin still desperately grasped at the prospect that she’d be with her family soon. She’d tell them all about the things that people took for granted, such as how much she loved them. She’d apologize to her older sister for acting so childish and to her mother for not doing the dishes like she’d promised this morning. The simplest acts of kindness weren’t hard to perform, yet she’d never realized how selfish she’d been until just this moment.

Until she’d found herself in a situation that was her father’s worst nightmare.

Emma bit back another sob as the old wooden dock underneath her back jostled her from side to side in time with the storm. The gusting winds from the gale had churned up the lake, and the choppy waves were slamming into the weathered planks. Cold rain was descending from the black sky overhead, washing away her tears as if they never existed.

When a crack of thunder overhead was followed a second later by a streak of lightning, it was a harsh reminder that she was still alive.

Emma shifted so that her bound hands didn’t dig into the small of her back quite as badly. She struggled to free herself from the thick white zip tie secured tightly around her wrists, refusing to accept that she would die at the hands of someone she’d once trusted.

How could he do this to her?

The hard, half-inch wide plastic cut into her skin, a cruel reminder that she was at his mercy.

His muttered curses were drowned out by the torrential downpour, which served her well. He wouldn’t be able to hear what she was doing behind him.

The wooden deck jarred abruptly, providing her the momentum to roll forward. Her cheek scraped against the wet, rough plank as she leveraged herself to her knees. The cold rain had numbed her skin long ago, but that could easily have been from the terror that had flooded her system when she realized that a man she’d known her entire life was a monster.

“I’ll give you a family of your own.”

Emma screamed as he suddenly appeared before her. “Please,” Emma choked out, having strained her voice after he’d all but thrown her into the bed of his truck. “Please don’t do this. You know me. You know my family. I have a family.”

“You were unhappy.”

“I wasn’t,” Emma denied emphatically with a shake of her head, swallowing back the sob that rose in her throat. “I wasn’t unhappy. I love my family. I do. I always have.”

Emma could have continued pleading, but her frantic claims would have fallen on deaf ears. She began crying uncontrollably. He wasn’t hearing anything she said, and he’d even turned away to throw what looked like a pile of chains into a boat that wasn’t even his.

Her mind registered his horrific intentions, and she instinctively managed to scramble to her feet.

She ran as fast as she could despite of her wrists being bound, ignoring the rain pelting her face and the wind attempting to knock her off the deck and into the lake. She’d just learned to swim this past summer, but she’d done so with the use of her hands. She’d most likely drown immediately without being able to move her arms.

Adrenaline kept her moving forward, though she blinked furiously to clear her vision so that she could make it to land.

There!

Up ahead.

Headlights pulled into one of the cabins that Birdie rented out to fishermen or families on vacation. She instinctively began screaming, but the rumbling thunder overhead drowned out her cries for hope.

That didn’t stop her from trying again.

Unfortunately, it was too late.

“No, no, no, no.” He’d grabbed ahold of her wet strands of hair, yanking her back against him with such force that it knocked the air right out of her lungs. She couldn’t scream, and she couldn’t even cry. “I’m taking you home.”

Emma didn’t need to be told that she would die if he got her into that boat. She fought his constricting grip around her upper body, kicking and twisting in an attempt to free herself at all costs.

It was of no use. He was too strong, and the lights she’d seen were no longer there.

The hope she’d been holding onto had been doused by the rain and swallowed by the darkness of his soul.

“I’m taking you home where you belong, Emma.”

 

About the Keys to Love Series

Their homecoming wasn’t so welcoming. Four brothers and one sister each gave twelve years of their lives to serve their country and fulfill their family’s legacy of service. As each of them return to their home of record, they weren’t prepared for what awaited them—an unforgivable sin that has been hidden for twelve long years. Secrets and lies are concealed in the dark shadows of the very town they were raised in, and the Kendall family will have no choice but to rely on one another to unravel the sinister evil that they all hold the keys to unlock.

Missed UNLOCKING FEAR and want to catch up? You can grab the first book in the Keys to Love series for free now!

 

 About UNLOCKING FEAR

A chance mishap with a sledgehammer was the sole reason a chilling nightmare was unleashed in Blyth Lake.

Noah Kendall’s grisly discovery left him in the middle of a murder investigation and a neighbor who knew more than she was willing to say. Reese Woodward had returned to town with dark secrets, and he was determined to unravel them. While evil lurks in the darkness, seduction burns between them…only time was their enemy.

Will her secrets destroy what they’ve built, or can he earn her trust before the killer strikes again?

Add UNLOCKING FEAR to your Goodreads list here!

Get your copy of UNLOCKING FEAR now!

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About Kennedy Layne

Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.

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Chapter Reveal: OPPORTUNITY by Kennedy Layne

The final book in Kennedy Layne’s Office Roulette trilogy, OPPORTUNITY, releases August 14th! You can read the first chapter below!

 

 About OPPORTUNITY (Office Roulette #3)

Available August 14th

USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne brings you the thrilling conclusion to the Office Roulette trilogy…

Gareth Nicollet had been born into wealth, but he’d learned at an early age that money wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be.  Regrettably, he’d made a meaningful choice early on in his life that now threatened his future with the woman he loved.

Cynthia Ellsworth valued many things, but trust and loyalty were at the top of her list.  She’d always known the man who shared her bed had secrets, but she never thought in a million years that he had the ability to destroy her career and her heart with a single blow.

Someone once said that greed was balanced by fear, but that wasn’t entirely true when there was nothing left to lose.  Unfortunately, Gareth’s secret is the very reason the roulette wheel is spinning and Cynthia’s life hangs in the balance.

OPPORTUNITY releases August 14th – preorder your copy now!

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Read the first chapter of OPPORTUNITY

 

“Steve, you can’t order this gift for the client.”

Cynthia Ellsworth made her way across the trading room floor with her favorite pair of black high heels clicking precisely the way she wanted. She’d purposefully pulled them out of the back of her closet for this purpose. The designer shoes were like battle gear to her, and she needed all the ammunition she could get, today of all days.

“Why?”

“Did you really just have the audacity to ask me that?” Cynthia’s steel tone got Steve Lewis to turn around in his desk chair. She understood that he was busy and in the middle of the stock market’s opening, but that didn’t mean she would allow him to cut corners. The last thing this firm needed was to raise another red flag. “I can actually see those little black squirrels in your head running a million miles an hour on that treadmill. You’ve got less than zero chance of putting one over on me. You know the SEC rules regarding gifts, as well as our own compliance regulations. You’ll have to choose another gift with a lesser value.”

 

“The gift is only a few dollars over the usual acceptable tolerance.” Steve went back to monitoring his screens, as if her role here at Manon Investments wasn’t as esteemed as his. She’d already had a hell of a morning. This situation was something she could nip in the bud, which she fully intended to do. “Jerry and Darla are getting married next month. I’m sure you can figure out a way to skirt the rules.”

“Oh, really?” Cynthia asked, tacking on a bit of syrupy inference to her words. She was quicker than he was when it came to answering one of the many ringing lines. He came up short when she leaned down and managed to set the palm of her hand over the receiver before him. “I’m glad to see I now have your attention, Steve. In case you’ve forgotten, my role here as compliance officer is to protect the firm— unfortunately, that includes protecting you from yourself. So, you are going to pick another gift to give Jerry and his future wife or you’re going to pay for it out of your own pocket like any true friend would do under normal circumstances.”

Cynthia didn’t wait for Steve to acknowledge her request as she walked away.

Okay, it wasn’t a request, but she didn’t have the patience to draw out a heated debate knowing full well she would win in the end. Besides, she’d spent the past hour taking care of smaller issues that had risen this morning. She had more important things on her to-do list.

It was finally time for her to focus on the issue that had kept her up most of the night.

“Cynthia?” Marilyn called out from her seat behind the reception desk, preventing Cynthia from walking to her office. The older woman was in her sixties and the glue that held this company together. “Paul called in and said to tell you that he’s running a few minutes late.”

Of course.

Why wouldn’t Paul be running late today of all days?

The universe had been conspiring against Cynthia for the past eight months. She hadn’t known about that bit of treachery until yesterday, but it had been there all the same.

“Thank you, Marilyn.” Cynthia managed a smile, not wanting to take her bad mood out on the older woman. Steve had been another matter altogether. “Would you please let me know when Paul comes in?”

Marilyn nodded her response, but it was clear that she had something else to say. She leaned forward so that her words didn’t carry outside the large foyer. Cynthia’s stomach knotted, because now wasn’t the time for the mother hen to smooth over ruffled feathers. She was wasting her time.

Nothing could be said or done to ease Cynthia’s pride at being duped by a man she’d thought was better than the rest.

Gareth Nicollet had pretty much brought her to her knees, and she’d been the one to give him that power on a silver platter. Apparently, she’d even tied a bow around the fucking thing.

Why was it that the most important lessons were always the hardest to learn?

“You know that Steve is having a hard time.” Marilyn gave a rather sad smile, conveying the remorse that most of the employees were dealing with at the moment. Was it wrong that Cynthia didn’t care about any of them when her own heart had all but been ripped to shreds? “He’s just trying to—”

“Steve had an affair with his boss’ ex-wife, lied to his former colleague and friend, and then attempted to taint my reputation in front of the entire staff not even three weeks past.” Cynthia could go on and on about Steve’s behavior over the last month, but it would have been a useless endeavor. She was just grateful for the sliver of anger that pushed aside the hurt. “Look, you and I both know that Steve is most likely moving to London to work with his brother-in-law when Manon investments closes its doors. So save the drama. Honestly, I think that’s the wisest choice, but that doesn’t mean he gets a free pass to do as he pleases until that eventuality.”

Cynthia was saved from another lecture delivered by Marilyn when Laurel Calanthe and Grace Dorrance breezed through the glass entry doors from the elevator bank. Her two best friends must have gone downstairs to the café to caffeinate themselves, because Laurel was holding a smoothie in her left hand that clearly wasn’t hers. The woman was a coffee drinker through and through. She’d have an IV installed if it were medically possible.

“Looks like we’re just in time,” Laurel said with a tentative smile that was meant for Marilyn. “Cynthia hasn’t had her protein smoothie this morning. You know how she gets.”

“I’m standing right here in front of you,” Cynthia responded wryly, not wanting to get dragged into Laurel’s office for a pep talk that was only going to make things worse. “Remind me why we’re friends?”

“Because you have the keys to the gates of hell,” Grace called out without hesitation as she continued to walk toward Laurel’s office. “We wouldn’t want to be left standing out in the cold.”

“Come on,” Laurel encouraged as she handed over the smoothie. Cynthia’s stomach revolted, but she took the cold beverage anyway. “Let’s go into my office and walk through what you’re going to say to Gareth.”

“Marilyn, I’ll be in Laurel’s office. Please let me know the moment Paul walks through those doors.” Cynthia fell into step beside Laurel as they both slowly followed Grace down the corridor. “Laurel, I’ve already decided not to say anything to Gareth, and I don’t want to argue about it anymore. I’m dumping this entire situation into Paul’s lap later this morning before washing my hands of it. Then I can finally move on with my life.”

Cynthia didn’t miss Laurel’s quick glance toward the corner office door at the end of the hallway, so she most likely hadn’t heard a word that was said. Her friend’s revolted shudder was more than evident, but Cynthia couldn’t blame her after what had taken place.

“It’s probably a good thing we’re moving offices at the beginning of the year.” Cynthia hated that Laurel had to continually see the place where she’d found their boss— Brad Manon— murdered with his throat cut a little over three weeks ago. It couldn’t have been healthy to look at that view numerous times a day. “A fresh start is exactly what we all need.”

“What you need is to find out why Gareth Nicollet didn’t tell you the truth about being Brad Manon’s brother,” Grace interjected from her seat on Laurel’s credenza as she waited for them to cross the threshold. “None of us believe that Gareth is capable of murder, but he obviously kept his family relationship with Brad a secret for a reason. You need to find out why exactly that is.”

“No, I don’t.” Cynthia ignored the throbbing pain in her chest. She was a business professional. She had known better than to mix business with pleasure, but she’d done it anyway. Now it was time to pay the piper. “As I was just telling Laurel, I’m meeting with Paul the moment he sees fit to get his ass into the office today. He can make any decisions that need to be made regarding Gareth. I’m out.”

Cynthia reluctantly took a seat in one of Laurel’s guest chairs, crossing her legs and smoothing the material of her black skirt. When was the last time any of them had a conversation that didn’t involve any one of them or their colleagues going to prison?

Far too damn long, that’s when.

It was all Laurel’s fault. She just had to come into the office three weeks ago at some ungodly hour to grab some stupid files. Leave it to her to stumble upon Brad’s dead body and unknowingly set all their lives on a collision course for the deepest pit of hell.

It was times like these that unfortunate secrets were revealed and lives were ruined.

These days, it seemed like everyone and their uncle had something to hide.

The police certainly weren’t lacking for suspects in Brad’s murder. Almost every employee had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the gruesome act according to the record thus far. The changes in Brad’s personality over the years hadn’t gone unnoticed by many, and the man had basically become isolated in that corner office as a result of his own actions.

It only seemed fitting that he’d died there in a cell of his making, but Cynthia wasn’t known for her tact. She told it like it was, and she didn’t harbor any regrets.

Well, sometimes.

Very few.

Other colleagues weren’t so blunt, and that was part of the problem. It was hard to tell where people stood in the grand scheme of things. Not that they had to declare their allegiances, for fuck’s sake.

Take Paul Slater, for instance. He’d been Brad’s best friend and business partner. Over the years, Paul had spent more of his time out of the office persuading high net worth individuals to invest their money in Manon Investments than he had in the office dealing with Brad’s insolence over minor issues that could be mitigated by others.

Then there was Steve Lewis, the head trader she’d had to deal with a few minutes ago. He’d been having an affair with Meredith Manon and keeping that little secret from his best friend and colleagues, not that it was technically any of their business. Normally, no one cared who was sleeping with who, but when it involved the ex-wife of the once beloved boss… well, people tended to get their hackles up in situations like that.

Speaking of the recent ex-widow, it wasn’t like she was inheriting a fortune, considering Brad had been in massive debt at the time of his death. Still, the police always seemed to suspect the spouse… or ex-spouse, in cases like these.

Then there were the conflicting motives of Vern Roberts, Blair Holmes, Phil Colbert, Joshua Green, Marilyn Kent, Smith Gallo, the two ladies currently in this office, and quite a few others. As a matter of fact, all of those individuals were just some of the employees who met all three of the criteria to commit murder.

“You’ve been seeing Gareth Nicollet on and off for close to a year,” Laurel said, taking a seat in her desk chair as she set a sympathizing gaze on Cynthia. She didn’t bother to correct her friend by saying it had only been eight months. Her speaking would only drag out this conversation, but it did take all her effort not to snap at her friend. Both Laurel and Grace were only trying to help. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could ease the pain of betrayal Cynthia was currently suffering at the glaring omission manifested by the man she’d fallen in love with. “Your instincts are better than both of ours. You can’t tell us that you think Gareth is capable of murder.”

“I never dreamed he would deceive me, either,” Cynthia countered sharply, wincing when her anger slipped through her composure. She was fully aware that the employees of Manon Investments weren’t the only suspects the police had on their rather large list. And now it was she who was liable for adding another name to the catalog of suspects. “Look, I appreciate what you two are trying to do right now. I really do, but nothing can erase the fact that Gareth kept the truth from me from the very start.”

Cynthia didn’t even bother to bring Brad into the equation. Hell, the police were likely to include her name in the pool after discovering that Brad hadn’t seen fit to tell her that he was related to Gareth— a client, for that matter.

It was now official.

The throbbing in her temples had now become a full-fledged headache.

“In case you forgot, I was falsely accused of murdering Brad,” Grace said while sharing a concerned glance with Laurel. “Detective Nielsen arrested me in front of all my friends and colleagues. It was beyond humiliating. You coming clean about Gareth’s connection to Brad might very well lead the police to you. Don’t you realize your own situation? It gives both of you motive.”

Cynthia’s hands had been cold since yesterday, when she’d discovered Gareth’s lie in Brad’s personnel file. She must have stared in horror at that seemingly inconsequential piece of information for at least ten minutes before she’d accepted it as truth. As it stood, she didn’t need the added chill from the smoothie, so she set the plastic cup on Laurel’s desk before curling her fingers into her palms.

“I know exactly what Gareth’s omission has done to the both of us, but covering up for someone is exactly what got you arrested in the first place.”

None of them had been overlooked by Detective Nielsen.

Laurel was the first to be questioned, and not just for the reason that she’d found Brad dead in his office. She’d been having an affair with Smith Gallo, another employee and the man with whom she’d been competing in regard to partnership at the firm. Both of them had been under scrutiny, especially when the police discovered that Smith had been planning to leave Manon Investments in order to open his own hedge fund.

Neither Cynthia nor Laurel had known at the time that Grace had given a false alibi for the timeframe of Brad’s death. She’d lied to protect the man she was seeing— Rye Marshall— who just happened to be Manon Investments’ largest competitor.

The killer had obviously discovered Grace’s attempt to protect Rye, because a knife had been planted inside of her vehicle. An anonymous call had led the police straight to Grace’s doorstep— or in this case, to the offices of Manon Investments.

Whoever was responsible for Brad’s death was connected to all of them in some way or another, giving that individual the advantage. That specific detail told her that this wasn’t a circumstance to be trifled with, which was why she was washing her hands of the entire situation.

“Grace isn’t saying that you should lie.” That was exactly what their friend was suggesting, but Laurel ignored the obvious. “Having been in similar situations, we’re suggesting that speaking with Gareth before you talk to anyone else might be in both your best interests.”

“Similar situations?” Cynthia slowly stood, not wanting to take her anger out on the two people who had her back in this cutthroat business. She fully understood that her friends were trying their best to help her deal with the fallout of a relationship that never should have begun in the first place, but they were going about it the wrong way. “You seem to be forgetting something rather important, ladies. The men in your lives never lied to you about who they were. Now as I stated earlier, I’m dumping this police matter into Paul’s inbox and washing my hands of this whole problem.”

Cynthia sensed Gareth’s presence before either of her friends glanced toward the doorway in shock. She wasn’t sure how to explain it, but a blanket of warmth always came over her when he was in the vicinity. The fact that he could still have that effect on her after what he’d done gave her the internal fortitude to compose herself.

Hell would freeze over before she ever showed Gareth Nicollet that he still had the power to destroy her heart. Bracing herself, she straightened her shoulders before turning on the heels that had gotten her through many power struggles. Unfortunately, he gained the upper hand when he spoke first.

“Do you think it’s going to be that easy to get rid of me, Cyn?”
 

Missed MEANS (Office Roulette #1) and need to catch up? Get your hands on it now!

 

 About MEANS (Office Roulette #1)

From USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne comes a sexy trilogy that involves greed, power, and the desire to do it all over again…

Smith Gallo has everything a man could ever want at the tip of his fingertips, except of course the woman he loves.  To what lengths will he be willing to go to make his ambitions come true?

Laurel Calanthe is one successful stock pick away from making partner when she finds herself in desperate need of an alibi.  There’s only one problem.  The man who can save her from being arrested is her only competitor and the one who now holds her fate in his hands.

Greed is a powerful motivator in the game of making money, but desire can overcome even the strongest motive.

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 About MOTIVE (Office Roulette #2)

The Office Roulette trilogy continues with an epic battle between blame and forgiveness…

Rye Marshall had it all—wealth, prominence, and the love of his life.  But nothing lasts forever, and his perfect world came crashing down around him.  When the dust settled, he found himself alone and starting from a clean slate.

Grace Dorrance had made many mistakes in her life, but one stood out above the rest—an epic ending to a complex and passionate relationship.  She left her former lover’s life in complete ruins and tried her best never to look back at the wreckage.

Seconds chances are hard to come by, but even more difficult when Grace is arrested for a murder she didn’t commit.  This gives Rye the perfect motive to forgive and forget, allowing for new beginnings.  Unfortunately, someone’s playing a game of office roulette with everyone’s lives.

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About Kennedy Layne

Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.

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Excerpt Reveal: MOTIVE by Kennedy Layne

The next book in Kennedy Layne’s Office Roulette series, MOTIVE, releases July 17th! You can read part of the first chapter below!

 

 

 About MOTIVE (Office Roulette #2)

Available July 17th

The Office Roulette trilogy continues with an epic battle between blame and forgiveness…

Rye Marshall had it all—wealth, prominence, and the love of his life.  But nothing lasts forever, and his perfect world came crashing down around him.  When the dust settled, he found himself alone and starting from a clean slate.

Grace Dorrance had made many mistakes in her life, but one stood out above the rest—an epic ending to a complex and passionate relationship.  She left her former lover’s life in complete ruins and tried her best never to look back at the wreckage.

Seconds chances are hard to come by, but even more difficult when Grace is arrested for a murder she didn’t commit.  This gives Rye the perfect motive to forgive and forget, allowing for new beginnings.  Unfortunately, someone’s playing a game of office roulette with everyone’s lives.

MOTIVE releases July 17th – preorder your copy now!

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Read an excerpt from MOTIVE

“Grace Dorrance? Please sign inside the box.”

The police officer behind the security window slid a manila envelope through the slot. It contained her jewelry, though some pieces were expensive and some not. It was all she’d had on her person, besides the designer clothes on her back and the clip in her hair, when Detective Fred Nielsen had arrested her for murder in front of all her colleagues.

One would think that would have been the most humiliating moment of the past twenty-four hours.

Not even close.

What came while being processed for committing said murder was mortifying and had the ability to crush an individual’s resolve. At least, for those who were innocent of the offense for which she had been charged.

She was innocent… or had been, depending on a person’s outlook.

Grace had not taken a knife and slit the throat of her boss, no matter how many times she might have imagined doing away with him during her employment at Manon Investments.

“The box,” the officer directed again rather abruptly when she’d hovered the pen over the blank space, deep in thought. “Stay inside the box.”

There was no imaginary place where Grace could cover up the fact that her hands were still trembling with fear as she scrawled her signature inside the highlighted area.

Okay, so she was more than scared. She was downright terrified she’d spend the rest of her life in prison for a crime she didn’t commit.

She’d been placed in a cell with other women who could have easily taken on the prison staff. They had created a dynamic where those minimum wage guards seemed like complete amateurs ignoring the fact of who was actually running the place.

It had been downright chilling.

Some of her fellow so-called bunkies had muscles in places she wasn’t sure was possible. She’d done her best to be invisible by sitting in a corner and minding her own business.

“Thank you,” Grace managed to say after clearing her throat of the frog lodged there. She might be horrified and on the brink of a full-blown panic attack on the inside, but damned if she’d let that show to anyone outside her own inner circle. A part of her felt disconnected, drifting on a rapid river current all alone. It was easier to go through the motions without a single defined emotion crushing the unusual fragile state she’d found herself in at the moment. “Is there anything else I need to do, Officer?”

“No,” the uniformed functionary replied curtly as he took the clipboard and set it just inside the window, preparing for the next individual who made bail. Somehow, she’d been redefined as a hardened criminal in the matter of a few hours. “You’re free to go.”

Grace automatically turned on the heels she would have gladly given up to Bertha the Bulldog, one of the women with whom she’d shared her cell, but they had thankfully been the wrong size.

Bertha the Bulldog had eventually lost interest.

“Are you okay?” Laurel Calanthe asked as she wrapped her arms tightly around Grace, pulling her close. It was all she could do to hold back the tears that had threatened to fall ever since those cold steel handcuffs had been slapped on her wrists. It was good to have her friends close by to remind her that she could get through this with her head held high. “All that matters right now is that you made bail. We’ll worry about the details soon enough, once you’ve had a shower and a good night’s sleep.”

“She wasn’t granted bail.” Justin Monroe, the criminal defense attorney who had been brought in to represent Grace, stood off to the side with his briefcase in hand. He couldn’t have been much older than herself, yet he had a reputation of being one of the best peer-rated lawyers in the city. She was just happy he’d done a good job dispelling the charges against her, no matter what outrageous hourly rate he’d most likely include in his invoice. “Grace, the police were provided with proof via the parking garage’s video CCTV footage that someone else had placed the bloody knife in the back of your vehicle. All charges have been dropped. You are free to go.”

Grace wasn’t sure she’d heard Justin correctly, but the round of cheers that came from her small group of friends told her otherwise. It seemed they’d all missed the catch he’d so eloquently hidden in the middle of his speech.

Had Justin just made the accusation that someone had tried to frame her for murder?

As the shock of that stark realization settled over her, Grace thought back to this morning when she’d been arrested on charges of killing her boss even though she’d supplied the police with a completely solid alibi.

Well, she’d actually fabricated that story, but Detective Nielsen didn’t need to know the specifics at the moment.

All the police had to do was concentrate on the fact that Brad Manon had been killed in his office and that the person responsible was currently running around the streets of Minneapolis a free man or woman trying to frame innocent people.

What had been the motive to kill the portfolio manager of Manon Investments?

Who could have possibly benefited from his death?

Grace certainly hadn’t profited from Brad’s death. In her opinion, the fact that Brad had been found dead at his desk with his throat slit symbolized to her that his demise was personal. There were numerous suspects according to the police, but no one had been arrested… until today, that is.

Who would have had the audacity to try and frame her?

Better yet, who else knew that she’d lied to the police about that fateful night?

 

Missed MEANS (Office Roulette #1) and need to catch up? Get your hands on it now!

 

 About MEANS (Office Roulette #1)

From USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne comes a sexy trilogy that involves greed, power, and the desire to do it all over again…

Smith Gallo has everything a man could ever want at the tip of his fingertips, except of course the woman he loves.  To what lengths will he be willing to go to make his ambitions come true?

Laurel Calanthe is one successful stock pick away from making partner when she finds herself in desperate need of an alibi.  There’s only one problem.  The man who can save her from being arrested is her only competitor and the one who now holds her fate in his hands.

Greed is a powerful motivator in the game of making money, but desire can overcome even the strongest motive.

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About Kennedy Layne

Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers–find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.

Website Twitter | Facebook | Newsletter | Instagram 

Chapter Reveal: STRENGTH ENDURING by Carrie Ann Ryan

The Talon Pack continues… STRENGTH ENDURING by Carrie Ann Ryan releases in less than a week! Read the first chapter below and preorder your copy now!

 

About STRENGTH ENDURING

Available July 17, 2018

In the penultimate novel of the Talon Pack series from NYT Bestselling Author Carrie Ann Ryan, an Enforcer must make the ultimate choice when it comes to a human woman with a secret she doesn’t know she holds.

Kameron Brentwood has only one thing on his mind: defeating the enemy. He doesn’t have time for a human woman who sets his teeth on edge and makes his wolf prowl. It shouldn’t matter that she’s his mate because he’s always thought that mating is a distraction. Yet as soon as he gets to know the woman, he figures out that there’s no hiding from the attraction he feels for her.

Dhanielle Coburn has always been on the outside looking in when it comes to the Talon Pack, but she’s not about to let fate and the moon goddess decide her path for her. If and when she takes Kameron as a mate, it will be her choice. Yet when she suddenly finds herself in the Pack’s inner sanctum, deeper than she ever thought possible, she has to fight not only her need for the man in front of her but also a hidden secret about her family she didn’t even know she had.

When the choice is pulled from both of their hands, the two will need to learn who they are apart, and who they can be together. Because there’s more to mating than a mark and a prophecy that has come back to haunt them. And even though they may be fated, the ultimate sacrifice just might take them both in the end.

STRENGTH ENDURING releases July 17th – preorder your copy now!

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Read the First Chapter of STRENGTH ENDURING

Kameron Brentwood’s fist smashed into the rogue’s face, the bones in the wolf’s cheek cracking beneath his clenched fingers as he gritted his teeth, his own bones aching at the contact. This wolf, this man, had once been part of another Pack on the other side of the world, had once been a functioning member of society. Then the world, the Pack’s bonds, and the rogue’s own wolf had all become too tangled in a web of strain and panic, and the man had lost control of the wolf entirely.

It was Kameron’s job to take care of the rogues near the Talon Pack wards. At least the ones that didn’t come to the Pack looking to take out the Alpha. Those, Gideon— his brother and Alpha— had to deal with himself. The leader couldn’t ignore a challenge according to Pack law.

Because this particular wolf had gone too far and had not only killed his family but also a human along the way, there was no hope for redemption. No way for a life to continue under the continued watch of the world and their own needs as wolves.

The rogue in human form stumbled to the ground, his eyes all wolf, no longer able to shift fully because he’d broken far beyond redemption.

And with one quick movement, Kameron reached out and snapped the rogue’s neck, the sound echoing through the trees.

Now, Kameron was alone in the forest, only the sound of his own heartbeat filling his ears as the animals around them had gone silent in the presence of two predators. He slowly let the man who had once been an honored and strong member of his Pack fall to the ground, with Kam’s hand under the other man’s head so he wouldn’t land too hard. There may not be pain anymore, but that didn’t mean Kameron would let the man end without dignity. The other Alpha had let Kameron and his people know that this rogue might be on the way as they’d been trying to track his movements for over a year now. Somehow, even without control, the broken wolf had been able to evade them all. Except Kameron.

Because Kameron was the Enforcer of the Talon Pack. One of the strongest wolves in the area, and one of the best Enforcers in the world.

And he’d just killed a man because of his duty.

He let out a breath, running a hand over his face before growling. He looked down at his bruised knuckles. Little blood covered his hands visibly, but he could still see the invisible, red trails on the tan of his skin.

He’d barely broken a sweat taking out the rogue, and as he called his people to help clean up the mess, he knew he’d have to run out the rest of his energy or he’d end up hurting someone in practice later on. That was the problem when his emotions ran high like this. The Pack and his family thought him the man of ice, the man of such control that he felt nothing. He never let others see his emotions, never let them feel them through the Pack bonds, but they were there.

And he hated every damn one.

Once his crew came in to take the body so they could send him back to his Pack for a proper burial, Kameron went around the perimeter again to ensure that the den was still safe. The war with the humans was over, and thanks to new treaties and laws, their land was safe from satellites and prying eyes— at least for the time being— but that wasn’t the only thing he was checking for. The Aspens had been quiet for too long, and Kameron hadn’t been able to get ahold of their contact, Audrey, who was also the Aspen Pack’s Beta.

He’d known as soon as she helped his brother and sister-in-law, betraying the secrets of her Pack in the process, that things wouldn’t end well, but he still felt responsible for what happened to her.

Even as he thought that, it wasn’t Audrey that drifted through his mind. No, it was another woman, a human with a sweet and delectable scent that refused to leave his thoughts. He didn’t want to think about Dhani and what that scent meant, so he wouldn’t. The more he did, the less focused he would be. And with yet another war on the horizon, he had to be sure he was strong enough to lead his team and follow his brother, his Alpha, onto the battlefield.

A human with a sharp tongue and a delectable scent would only complicate matters.

His wolf pawed at him, annoyed that he was ignoring what was right in his face, but it wasn’t as if he could stop what he was doing and follow the promise of a connection that could turn out to be nothing. He’d seen the way losing focus could hurt a Pack, and the Talons relied on him for their protection. He couldn’t let his attention wander to something sweeter— not with the Aspens and their insane Alpha, Blade, hiding so close somewhere in their woods.

He couldn’t scent them, and knew they weren’t there at the moment, but they’d be back. Watching. They always were. And when they came back again, Kameron would take them out. He wouldn’t allow anyone to hurt what was his. Not again.

And even if it took all he was, even if he had to push away anything that could have been another connection, he’d do it. Because saving his Pack and keeping Blade and his ilk away was all that mattered.

He let out a growl when his wolf huffed at him, annoyed by his train of thoughts. His wolf would just have to get over whatever it was currently feeling. Kameron had, after all. Or at least he was trying.

He knew he wasn’t being fair and was most likely being so pigheaded that he was going to get himself in trouble, but it wasn’t as if he could change the way he’d thought his whole life. Especially not because of one scent that wouldn’t leave his mind.

It would be safer for everyone if he focused on the threat at hand and then saw if fate were truly testing him when it came to a certain woman. That wasn’t how it worked for most wolves, but Kameron wasn’t most wolves. He knew his other half and could control it better than most of the Pack could with theirs, and that meant they’d come to an understanding. And when the time came, and if Dhani truly were his mate, he’d try to figure out the next step. Dhani was smart and would understand why he had to stay away in order to keep his focus on the enemy and not be distracted by something that could change the way he thought and fought.

And, once again, he knew he wasn’t as convincing as he needed to be. But he couldn’t change his plans now.

“I’m an idiot,” he growled, then went back to his patrol. He needed to go back inside the den wards soon to have dinner with his family, and that meant he only had an hour or so left of being on high-alert and trying to get that scent and what it meant out of his mind. At the moment, he was still on Pack land, meaning there shouldn’t be anyone who wasn’t Talon or a guest of the Talons anywhere near. The fact that there had been a rogue wolf earlier just set his own wolf on edge. He knew the night wasn’t over. The warded area of the den was what hid their people from view. The wards themselves didn’t stretch out across the entire Pack land, as that would be far too vast and taxing on the witches and magic that held the wards in place. So that meant there were layers of patrols on each section of the perimeter, ensuring that they were doing their best to keep their land safe.

He stalked around for a few more minutes until an unfamiliar and very human scent drifted to him. He held back a growl. He knew of only three humans— one of them not so human anymore— who were allowed on Pack land, and this scent didn’t belong to any of them.

Kameron didn’t let his claws slide through his fingertips like his wolf wanted him to do since this human could just be a lost hiker or some other crap like that. The last thing his Pack needed right then was the bad publicity of having a scared, lost human come up on a wolf in human form yet with claws out that could draw blood.

His people had to constantly toe the lie of standing up for themselves and showing their strength, and not scaring the humans that thought the shifters were monsters.

Kameron really didn’t care either way, but then again, that’s why he wasn’t part of the Pack’s public persona.

He was the one who hid in the shadows for their protection. They didn’t want him out in the real world, scaring unsuspecting tourists with his sharp fangs.

So he kept his fangs and claws in check but carefully followed the scent, coming up on the human in a short jean skirt, boots, and a top that didn’t cover enough skin to do any good. Considering that the weather up in the mountains and forest wasn’t the warmest, he had no idea what this woman was doing here.

“Lost?” he asked, his voice a growl. He didn’t try to change it, though. She was on Pack territory, and while he wouldn’t try to scare her too much, there were boundaries marked for a reason. They had pups close by, for the goddess’s sake. He wasn’t about to let them come to harm from what looked like a too-curious human.

The woman turned on her heel, almost fell, then righted herself in the next instant. When she got a look at him, her eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed into an almost sultry expression.

Well, fuck. He had a feeling he knew why she was here, and he was not in the mood to deal with her. She wasn’t the first, and with how his day was going, she wouldn’t be the last either.

“Oh, I’m so glad I found you. I was looking for someone just like you.”

Kameron didn’t let his guard down even though she sounded sweet as pie. They’d had problems with humans from a new faction where— man or woman— they came onto Pack land, trying to seduce answers out of wolves in order to figure out how to take them out. Misguidedly, they thought of shifters as messengers of evil.

“You’re trespassing on Talon land. You better have a good reason, or I’m either sending you to the human authorities or somewhere the Pack can deal with you.” He didn’t tell her that he’d take her to the newly built holding facility they now had where they could interrogate trespassers. It was a good way to keep those not Pack away from the den, and keep the Alpha safe in case Gideon had to come and deal with the humans themselves.

Lost hikers, or in this woman’s case, groupies, got sent home right away. Because while he hadn’t known her scent, now that he got a good look at her, he knew her face. One of his men had taken a photo of her the last time she came onto Pack land so the others would know to watch out for her.

Some humans wanted shifters dead simply for being what they called abominations. Others wanted to protect them as if they were an endangered species. Still others desired a world where they could live their lives as if they were normal.

And some, like this woman, wanted to fuck a shifter to say they could.

This was why he hated people. Human, shifter, witch, or whatever else was out there. He hated them all. Hence why people thought him a grouchy asshole. He lived up to that reputation well.

“You’ve been warned before,” he added before she could plead her case. “This is the second warning. We don’t give thirds.”

They had treaties with the human government. Their land was protected, and what happened in their territory in protection of their people was under the shifters’ jurisdiction. Yes, the human faction who wanted all shifters tagged or killed would always have a problem with anything done on Pack land, but as of right then, human laws were on the Pack’s side.

And that meant the human in front of him was on her last free pass.

He’d already had to kill one person today; he didn’t want to make it a second.

She licked her lips, but it did nothing for him. His wolf wanted their human, not this one. Not that he was going to allow his wolf to think of Dhani as theirs again.

“I just wanted to… well, I guess you know what I wanted to see. I’m not harming anyone. There’s no law saying I can’t… flirt with a wolf.”

He barely resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “No, there isn’t. But there are laws about trespassing on our land. You want to bag a wolf? Go to a shifter bar like all the other people who want to find someone to hook up with or be with or whatever your end game is. Coming here isn’t helping anyone.” Not that there were actually shifter bars. But there were bars in the human world that his people hung out at when they weren’t on duty, and when times were safer for them to be away from the den. It had taken too many years and struggles for them to have that freedom, and it was one of Kameron’s duties to ensure that they were able to keep it.

He also hated the fact that he was having this conversation at all. He didn’t care what this woman did. She was an adult, and the choices she made in life were hers alone. He just hated that she had to come onto Pack land to do it.

“Come on, I’ll walk you back to your car.”

She sighed but didn’t bother trying to flirt with him again. She knew there was no reason to. She wasn’t the first groupie— a term the men and women came up with themselves— and she wouldn’t be the last. Kameron just wanted no part in it.

By the time he silently got her to her car, which she’d parked in a makeshift lot on the edge of their territory, he was running late for the end of his shift and just wanted to go home and not think about stupid people making stupid decisions. Hence why he really wasn’t in the mood for the other car pulling into the dirt parking lot. And, because of that, he was probably going to be more of an asshole than usual.

“You’re going to want to drive back. You’re on the edge of Talon land, and there’s no going forward from here.” The man with the recorder in his hand shook, but he didn’t back away. “I only want a story. To tell the world the truth about all of you. I know you’re good people. I just want to make sure the world sees that.”

Kameron held back a sigh. He knew this could be a trick and would log it in, but he was tired and over all of this shit. The humans didn’t get to hear the truth. They weren’t allowed to know everything. It was for their safety and that of the Pack.

“You know what, man? I’m tired. You know there are avenues if you want to talk to the Pack’s publicity team.” Yes, they had one now. Like they were some sideshow for the public. He hated it, but he had to play along like a good puppy.

“But—”

“No buts. You’re not encroaching on Pack land yet. But you’re close. Go home and get in contact the right way. You’re not going to get any answers stalking around the forest, hoping you come across a wolf.” The fact that the guy had was because Kameron was having a shitty night. But it wasn’t as if this human reporter or truther or whatever the fuck he called himself was going to get any real answers.

There was a script for a reason.

“I want to tell the world who you are.”

Kameron let his wolf into his eyes, the gold rim around his irises glowing. The human male didn’t back away, but he swallowed hard.

“The world saw who we are. We aren’t here for your amusement. You know the laws. Get away from Pack land before you find out what you should be scared of.”

Fuck. He hadn’t meant to say that, and if this human told anyone, Kameron would be fucked. But he watched as the man drove away, raising a cloud of dust behind him, and Kameron knew he had a problem on his hands.

But first, he needed to clean the leftover blood from earlier off them and get to his family dinner.

He was an asshole, but making his Alpha’s mate cry because he didn’t show up again wasn’t something he wanted to deal with. His brother was meaner than he was, after all.

By the time Kameron got to his house, showered, and headed to his brother’s place, he was over an hour late and knew he was going to get his ass kicked. Yeah, he’d been working and dealing with problem after problem, but at any time during the past two hours, he could have called in one of his reinforcements to deal with the two smaller issues. He hadn’t, and now he would be late.

Again.

Of course, as he made his way to the front door, he figured he wasn’t the only late one. His cousin Max was skulking right alongside him, his new perpetual scowl on his face.

“You’re late,” Max said low, not looking at Kameron. From the way his cousin was angled, Kameron couldn’t see any of the scars on his face, or the fact that Max had lost his arm in the last battle they’d fought with the humans before everything changed. His cousin had been the nicest one of the lot, the light to Kameron’s dark, and now it seemed as if the two of them were vying for position.

“Says the man who’s walking in late with me.”

“I told them I’d be late dealing with council things. You, on the other hand…”

Kameron rolled his eyes but didn’t comment. “What council things? Something I should be aware of?” Max, along with others in their family, was part of the council that connected the Redwoods and the Talons. With so many inter-Pack matings, the council’s role had shifted over the past few years. Now, they weren’t only working on ensuring that the treaty for the two Packs was solid but also making sure the subtle changes and having two dominant Alphas in a small area under what was almost one large Pack worked and almost seemed normal.

Kameron had no idea how they did it, but since he worked with Gina— the Redwood Enforcer— and Adam— the prior Redwood Enforcer— weekly, he didn’t mind the cooperation.

Max shook his head as they walked up the stairs of the porch to the front door. “Just normal business, but we had to start late thanks to one of the member’s kids having a birthday. It wasn’t a big deal, but yeah, I’m late.”

Before Kameron could say anything to that, they were inside and confronted with the sound of every Brentwood family member, including mates, children, and close friends of the family. To say it was loud was an understatement. Max immediately went to a corner, grabbing a beer along the way, and watched the room. Kameron knew that others would go to him soon to talk to him, trying to bring him out of his shell. And, one day, Kameron figured it just might work. At least with the right person— namely, Max’s mate. But at least his cousin was trying harder these days by actually showing up to family functions.

Kameron was an asshole, but he didn’t have the kind of pain Max did.

“You’re late, but I heard you had trouble, so I’ll forgive you.” His Alpha’s mate, his sister-in-law, Brie, cupped his cheek, and he went down to kiss her on the forehead. He wasn’t the most emotive, but it was hard not to be with Brie— at least a little bit. The woman had saved his brother, his Pack, and she also happened to be a submissive wolf.

“Long day, but I’m glad I’m here.” And as he said it, he knew it was true. Everyone was talking around him, and though he had acute senses, he did his best to block out most of the topics as it would be too much for his wolf to hear at once. But the crowd seemed happy. His niece and future Alpha, Fallon, was in wolf form, being way too cute for her own good and rolling around with Finn and Brynn’s daughter Mackenzie, and Ryder and Leah’s son Bryson. The adults were watching them while enjoying their evening, and Kameron finally relaxed just a bit.

It was going to be a good night, even if he would rather be at home, trying to forget what he had to deal with that evening.

As soon as he thought that, though, a scent filled his brain, and he held back a growl.

Brie gave him a knowing look, squeezed his forearm, and headed back to Gideon’s side.

Kameron hadn’t known that Dhani would be there. But, of course she was. She was his brother’s mate’s best friend and ended up at most functions lately, but that didn’t mean he had to like it.

Even if his wolf did.

And, of course, because this was Dhani, and his day had already been hell, she strolled right up to him. She was average height, but that was the last average thing about her. Her long, honey-blond hair looked a little darker tonight, but he wasn’t sure if she’d dyed it or if it was just because of the waves she’d put in it rather than it being up like usual. She had bright hazel eyes and sharp cheekbones. Her curves were just right, and it made his wolf claw at him.

Damn it.

She scratched her nose, flipping him off, and he held back a smirk. She was constantly finding ways to flip him off, and he had a feeling it was to try and get a rise out of him. It didn’t mean that he had to show her he actually liked it.

“Kameron.”

“Dhani.”

Yes, he was an asshole. But he knew anything having to do with her would be trouble. And he needed to protect his Pack. If he broke that faith by following the mating urge, he’d not only hurt his people, he’d end up hurting Dhani, too.

That’s what those of his blood did before him, and that’s what he’d end up doing, too.

Since he was now somehow in the corner with her, no one could hear them unless he and Dhani spoke a bit louder. Which was just fine by him since he didn’t want to deal with nosy family members.

“Got a minute?” she asked, one hand on her hip, her voice going even lower until it was almost breathy.

His wolf and his dick perked up.

Fuck.

“Yeah.”

“I know you’re my mate— don’t open your mouth and say I’m human. I have this knowing. Have since Walker and Aimee fixed the mating bonds. So, yes, I know you’re my mate, and that means I’m yours. Why do I know? Who knows, but there it is. When you’re ready to do something about it and face up to what you’re hiding from, I’ll be waiting. What I’ll say once you finally fess up…? Well, we’ll just have to see.”

Then she turned on her heel and sashayed away from him as if she hadn’t just rocked his world and fucked up his plans.

Well, shit.

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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First Chapter: INKED NIGHTS by Carrie Ann Ryan

INKED NIGHTS by Carrie Ann Ryan releases June 26th – but you can read part of the first chapter now! Check it out below!

 

About INKED NIGHTS

Available June 26th

From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Carrie Ann Ryan comes a new story in her Montgomery Ink series…

Tattoo artist, Derek Hawkins knows the rules:
One night a month.
No last names.
No promises.

Olivia Madison has her own rules:
Don’t fall in love.
No commitment.
Never tell Derek the truth.

When their worlds crash into each other however, Derek and Olivia will have to face what they fought to ignore as well as the connection they tried to forget.

**Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you’ll enjoy each one as much as we do.**

INKED NIGHTS releases June 26th – preorder your copy now!

 

See the INKED NIGHTS trailer:

 


 

Read part of the first chapter of INKED NIGHTS

 

Pebbled flesh.

Quick intakes of breath.

Long sighs turning to moans.

That’s what awaited Olivia Madison, and she knew it. She’d always known it. She’d rake her fingernails down his back, arch into him, and let herself be taken in the most primal way. And then she’d walk away again without looking back. They’d have a drink. They’d fuck. They’d keep it to only those details. There would be no last names, no promises. Exactly how they wanted it. And in a month, they’d do it again.

It was her thrill, her deepest secret.

Well, not her deepest, but the only one she could face.

Just one more time. That’s what Olivia had told herself last month, and yet, she knew she would be back for more. She’d always be back for more when it came to him.

Because that was how it was, and she wasn’t sure it would ever change. She wasn’t sure she needed it to change. Wasn’t sure she wanted it to change.

But she was going to push those thoughts from her mind. Because tonight was about one thing. Hot, unadulterated sex. At least that’s what she kept telling herself. Because there was no way that Olivia was going to fall for the man she didn’t know. She might know his body just as much as he knew hers, but that was it.

She didn’t even know what his favorite drink was. She swore he ordered a different one each time they were out together just to throw her off. She’d found herself doing the same, but maybe not for the same reasons. She just liked variety, liked knowing that she didn’t have to commit to something as simple as a drink.

The only commitment she allowed herself was one night a month with a man named D. He knew her as O.

And every time he called her that, there was a little laughter in his eyes because he had indeed given her a few Os along the way.

She mentally rolled her eyes at the horrendous joke and took a sip of her lemon drop martini. Tonight, she’d wanted something extra sweet to get the bitter taste of regret out of her mouth. For some reason, this night felt different than previous months. Maybe she was just getting old, or the fragile relationship she had with her stranger was getting stale, but either way, she felt like this might be the last one. And maybe it needed to be.

Having sex with a stranger with no promises and no strings once a month for as long as it had been going on seemed crazy and a little as if she were playing with fire. She often wondered what the manager or bartender at this hotel thought of them. Because this wasn’t the first time she’d seen the same guy behind the bar, wasn’t even the first time she’d seen the concierge.

Olivia wasn’t the one who booked the hotel room; that had always been the job of the other person in this strange relationship.

She just had to show up at the same time every month, sip her drink, and wait. And the thrill of that set her on edge. She knew it was wrong, knew she was consistently making the same mistakes, but she didn’t care, not when it came to him. And perhaps that was the greatest mistake of all.

“I see we meet again.”

That deep voice went straight to her lady parts, sending shivers down her spine and making her want to arch her back like a cat. She loved that voice, loved that growl. She especially loved it when he was groaning above her as he made both of them slide into sweet ecstasy.

She looked over her shoulder and raised a brow, doing her best to look as sultry as possible. She knew she was sexy, knew she had all the right curves. She’d even learned how to dress those curves and apply just the right amount of makeup to enhance the smokiness of her eyes, the plumpness of her lips, and the angles of her cheekbones. She knew all of that, and had looked up tutorials and gone shopping with her friends to ensure that she knew the rules of this particular game she played.

As soon as she caught the look in D’s eyes, she knew she had played things just right—at least for tonight.

She had chosen a champagne-colored cold-shoulder dress. There was a split in the side of the skirt that showed just the barest bit of thigh that she knew he’d already noticed, twice. She’d put her long, wavy hair up in a sort of twist along the back of her head, only because she loved the way he pulled out the pins and let her hair tumble down her back.

Yes, she dressed for him, and she probably shouldn’t have. But she did.

“You say that as if you’re surprised.” She smiled, not able to help herself. She wasn’t some femme fatale that could act all unaffected, even if she tried. But she liked this man, even if she didn’t know exactly who he was. She liked their game, liked what they had, even if it was just an illusion. She would have tonight, and in the morning, she would wonder why she allowed herself to remain in this situation, but then she would forget again and only remember him.

D gave her a long look before taking the seat next to her at the bar. “I always am. Just as you always seem surprised to see me walking toward you. If only for a moment.”

“I like how you act as if you know me.”

He leaned down closer to her face, his warm breath on her neck. “Sugar, I know you.”

That made her snort. She couldn’t help it. Hence why she wasn’t that femme fatale she tried to dress as.

“Are you laughing at me?” he asked, a clearly fake put-upon look on his face. “You saying I don’t know you?”

She shook her head as the bartender came over to take D’s drink order. Johnny Walker Black this time. Interesting. Talk about smooth and smoky.

“No, I wasn’t laughing at that, but isn’t the whole point of…this, that we don’t know each other?” She held out her hand when he would have answered. She didn’t need to know what he had to say about their arrangement. It was weird enough already, even with how hot it was. “I was snorting at the whole ‘sugar’ thing. I’ve never heard you call me that, and we live in Denver, not the south. I don’t know where you picked that up.”

D shrugged, taking a sip of his drink. “A client said it. I must have subconsciously absorbed it.”

It was on her tongue to ask him what kind of client, but that wasn’t who she and D were to each other. She would do well to remember that. Even D seemed a little annoyed that he’d let that bit of his life slip. But instead of saying more, he took another sip of his scotch, then turned on the stool so his legs were caging hers. She didn’t mind. At this point, she’d use any excuse to get closer to him, to have him touch her, even if it broke her in the end.

Yes, she was an idiot, but she couldn’t help it.

Not with D.

Because she knew his rules, too.

One night a month.

No last names…or firsts for that matter.

No promises.

She let out a deep breath, aware that he was watching her. She needed to stop thinking about what she shouldn’t want and just live in the moment. It was how she’d gone through every other month in the past with D, and it would be how she got through tonight, too.

“I’m glad you made it,” she said, honestly. Probably too honestly, but she was doing her best not to question herself the entire night like she was prone to do. The only time she was able to forget everything was when D helped her, and she knew she couldn’t always rely on that.

He studied her face, and she wondered what he saw. Wondered why she cared.

“I’m glad I did, too.” He held up his glass, and she did the same, knowing their routine was anything but. “To inked nights.”

She grinned. “Always.”

She knew the ink that was hidden under his clothes just as he knew the ink that lay under hers. Inked nights had been a passing comment between the two of them on their first night and had been their toast ever since.

Olivia took a sip of her drink, the sweetness coating her tongue. When he reached out and wiped some of the sugar from her lip, she flicked out her tongue, needing to taste him, as well.

“Sugar,” he said with a wink, and she couldn’t help but smile.

“Indeed.”

They finished their drinks, looking at only each other. For all she knew, there could be hundreds of people around them, and yet he was it for her. And maybe, just maybe, she was it for him. She’d already paid for her martini since she didn’t have a room, and D set out cash next to his drink, not bothering to wait for a bill. They never paid for each other’s drinks, never got close enough to a receipt to see a name. And while he paid for the hotel room, they didn’t bother with gifts or fancy words either.

Their nights were just about the two of them.

When he slid off his stool and took her hand, she knew she would follow, knew she would soon be in a bed they shared but didn’t own. Others might look at them, wonder, or know, but nobody but D mattered in her mind—at least for this moment. They went into the elevator together but weren’t alone. There would be no teases, no touches as they waited to arrive on their floor. Of course, there never were because it was only them when they were within the walls of the hotel room. He never touched her beyond taking her hand or guiding her with his hand on the small of her back.

His presence was foreplay enough for her. There didn’t need to be extra touches or caresses. As soon as the hotel room door closed behind them, however, everything would change.

Just like she wanted, just like she needed it to.

D pressed the key against the sensor, and as soon as the green light lit, she knew this was it. Just the two of them and no one else. When the door closed behind them, her pulse pounded, and she swallowed hard, knowing that it was time.

Finally.

 

About Carrie Ann Ryan

Carrie Ann Ryan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her works include the Montgomery Ink, Redwood Pack, Talon Pack, and Gallagher Brothers series, which have sold over 2.0 million books worldwide. She started writing while in graduate school for her advanced degree in chemistry and hasn’t stopped since. Carrie Ann has written over fifty novels and novellas with more in the works. When she’s not writing about bearded tattooed men or alpha wolves that need to find their mates, she’s reading as much as she can and exploring the world of baking and gourmet cooking.

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