October 14th, 2014

New Release Spotlight: Mack’s Witness by Myla Jackson

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A red-hot fling leads to peril on the Emerald Isle…

Hearts & Heroes, Book 2

Tired of eating sand and dodging bullets, Marine Captain Mack Magnus is ready to relax and enjoy his brother’s Dublin wedding. If that involves a few pints in a quaint Irish pub and getting laid by a pretty Irish lass, all the better.

Instead he winds up getting ordered around by the cousin of the bride. Fed up with her mouthy attitude, he kisses her to shut her up. Now he has a new mission: get into the sexy redhead’s panties.

Busy international model Deirdre Darcy knows the six-foot-four Marine’s type: hit-and-run sex and off to the next port. Fall into bed with an arrogant bastard like Mack? No thanks. When she stumbles upon a couple of Irish gypsies leaving a murder scene, she must go into hiding or become their next victim.

His protective instincts kicking into high gear, Mack whisks Deirdre away to a small town where it’s easier to keep her safe. Except there’s no escape from their growing attraction—or from the one thing neither of them thought they wanted. Love.

Product Warnings: Battle-hardened, ready-to-cut-loose Marine teams up with a stunning Irish lass who thinks she can handle him. You’ll need the luck of the Irish to hang onto your seat for this sexy, suspenseful race across the Emerald Isle.

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Copyright © 2014 Myla Jackson
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

“Do you believe in love at first sight?”

Mack stared down at Deirdre for a long moment.

The fire in his eyes made her blood rush through her veins and her core tighten.

“I don’t know about love at first sight. You captured my attention from the moment you first stepped through the door of the airport terminal.”

“I did?”

“Yes. But then I pegged you as an ice queen, dressed in white, hiding behind a scarf and sunglasses, your body ramrod straight.”

Deirdre stiffened.

Mack laughed. “Just like that.” When she tried to step out of his arms, he tightened them around her. “Then I kissed you and I realized how deceiving looks can be. Beneath the outer shell was a fiery, passionate women.” His words ended in a whisper, his head lowering, his mouth sweeping down to claim hers.

As though caught in a time warp, Deirdre couldn’t move. Nor did she want to. Since he’d kissed her in the airport, she’d thought of little else. She lifted her face to his and met him, her mouth opening to accept his tongue, her own coming out to sweep across his.

It was as if the world stopped turning and time stood still. Even the music ceased to beat against her ears.

“Hey the song’s over, you two.” Ronin bumped against Mack’s shoulder. “Come on. I think we’re about to start the serious drinking, and I believe you have to get it going with a toast.”

Mack broke away from Deirdre, his dark eyes nearly black, his lips wet from hers. He shook his head and focused on the room around him. “Toast? I thought we only did that after the wedding.”

“We need more reasons to piss the night away.” Sam shoved a mug of beer into Mack’s hand and one in Deirdre’s as well.

“I didn’t think my brothers or any Irishman needed a reason to drink,” Mack grumbled. He lifted his mug toward the ceiling. “To my brother, Wyatt and his bride-to-be, Fiona. I wish you all the love your hearts can hold and long, healthy lives together.”

The mugs rose in the air to a hearty “Here, here!”

Deirdre raised her mug and drank a long, healthy swallow. She hadn’t had a whole mug of beer in the ten years she’d been working as a model. After the first swallow, she tipped the mug and drank it all.

“Hey, slow down there or you’ll be crawling under the table before the end of the night.” Mack chuckled and took the empty mug from her, setting it on the table.

“That’s the first beer I’ve had since I was a teenager.”

“I thought the Irish loved their beer. Why have you waited so long to have another?”

She snorted and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, feeling a little buzz creeping up on her. “Do you know how many calories there are in one bottle of beer?”

“No, I don’t know, but I’m sure you do.”

“Sadly, I do—” A hiccup escaped her mouth and she clapped a hand over her lips, her cheeks heating. “Excuse me.”

“Here, have another.” Sam handed Deirdre another mug full of beer. Before she could think to say no, she was raising it in the air. “To my beautiful cousin Fiona and her fiancé Wyatt, may you both live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live!”

The roar of approval shook the rafters of the old pub.

A slow, sweet melody filled the room. Paddy O’Connell held the microphone and sang with only a guitar as accompaniment. Fiona and Wyatt came together in a tight embrace, swaying to the music.

At the sight of the couple so in love, Deirdre’s heart squeezed so tightly that breathing became difficult. She downed half the mug of beer before Mack took it from her hand and set it on the bar.

“Dance with me,” he commanded. His voice low, heated and sexy as hell, combined with the effects of the beer, made her completely powerless to resist.

The music and Mack’s arms wrapped around her. Deirdre leaned against him, resting her cheek against the side of his neck, the stubble on his chin rasping against her temple. He smelled of soap and male musk, a heady combination, more potent than the alcohol she’d consumed.

A moment later, or so it seemed, the song ended and the O’Connell brothers broke into the Irish song “Finnegan’s Wake”. The Irish guests all joined in and helped the others who didn’t know the words to sing along.

When Deirdre made a move to step out of Mack’s embrace, he slipped an arm around her waist and tugged her up against his side.

She didn’t argue or try to pull away.

As the noise swelled in the pub, Deirdre longed for the quiet.

“Wanna make a break for it?” Mack asked.

Her heart skipped a couple beats and raced to catch up. “Yes.”

Mack clapped his brother Wyatt on the back. “I’m going back to the hotel. Sleep well your last night as a bachelor.” He leaned over and kissed Fiona on the cheek. “Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?”

She nodded. “I do.”

“Did you hear that?” Sam laughed. “She’s already practicing to get the words right.” He punched Wyatt in the ribs. “You should too.”

While his brothers poked fun at Wyatt, Mack gripped Deirdre’s hand and he guided her through the crowd to the exit.

She had every chance she needed to tell Mack she wasn’t ready to leave, especially with him. The trouble was, she wanted to leave with him. And she didn’t want the night to end. Not yet. That first kiss was nothing compared to the one they’d shared during the dance. That one liquefied every bone in her body.

No man had ever inspired such a complete meltdown before. Like a cat was drawn to catnip, she couldn’t resist him and followed him willingly, frustrated at the amount of time it took to get through the crush of people in the pub.

At the door, he snagged her jacket from a hook on the wall and held it for her to slide her arms in.

When at last they spilled out into the street, she sucked in a deep breath of chilled, misty air, hoping to cool the heat building inside.

As they started toward the hotel, the mist thickened into rain.

“Come on!” Mack’s hand tightened on hers, and they ran to the end of the block and turned. The hotel was only a short distance and they ran hand-in-hand, arriving in the lobby of the hotel, wet and laughing.

Mack didn’t stop there, dragging her into the lift, closing the door before anyone else could get in with them. He punched the button for his floor and immediately pulled her into his arms, his mouth crashing down on hers.

What little breath she’d gathered after their mad dash was stolen away in his kiss. It wasn’t nearly enough. Before they reached Mack’s floor, Deirdre was pushing his jacket from his shoulders and fumbling with the buttons on his shirt.

Tearing her mouth away from his, she pressed a kiss to the side of his throat and to his chest through the gap in his shirt.

The elevator bell rang and the door slid open.

Deirdre grabbed his hand and ran out into the hall. “Which one?”

He pulled his key card from his pocket, kissed her hard on the lips and hurried toward a room near the end of the hall. In seconds he had the door open and they fell through, ripping at each other’s clothes.

Mack pushed her jacket off her shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. He unwound the scarf from her neck, tossing it to the side.

Deirdre finished unbuttoning his shirt and shoved it down his arms. She turned, presenting her back and the zipper to her dress to him. “Hurry,” she said.

His hands dropped onto her shoulders and he pulled her back against his warm front. “Are you sure?”

She nodded, afraid that if she thought too long, she’d sober up and talk herself out of making love to him.

His fingers moved to the zipper and slid it down her back to the swell of her bottom. “We can stop at the kiss,” he said.

“No, we can’t.” She stepped away from him and turned, sliding the straps of the dress off her shoulders. The garment dropped to the floor at her feet and she stepped out of it. Wearing nothing but black, lace panties and her high heels, she stood in front of him, her chest rising and falling, her breathing ragged.

When he didn’t make a move to take her into his arms, she froze, afraid she’d gone too far. Afraid he didn’t find her attractive. Afraid of this man’s rejection.

Was she insane for throwing herself at him?



 



September 29th, 2014

Cafe Spotlight: Captivated by You by Sylvia Day

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Gideon calls me his angel, but he’s the miracle in my life. My gorgeous, wounded warrior, so determined to slay my demons while refusing to face his own.

The vows we’d exchanged should have bound us tighter than blood and flesh. Instead they opened old wounds, exposed pain and insecurities, and lured bitter enemies out of the shadows. I felt him slipping from my grasp, my greatest fears becoming my reality, my love tested in ways I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to bear.

At the brightest time in our lives, the darkness of his past encroached and threatened everything we’d worked so hard for. We faced a terrible choice: the familiar safety of the lives we’d had before each other or the fight for a future that suddenly seemed an impossible and hopeless dream…

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Gideon hadn’t called. Hadn’t sent me a text after the flirtatious one promising me a steamy night. Hadn’t come to me, even if only to sleep next door. Gideon didn’t like being away from me.

Except when he was hurting. And ashamed.

The elevator doors slid open and pounding, screaming heavy metal music poured in. I cringed and covered my ears, the volume of the ceiling-mounted speakers so loud it hurt to hear them.

Pain. Fury. The raging violence of the music crashed over me. I ached deep in my chest. I knew. I understood. The song was an audible manifestation of what Gideon felt inside himself and couldn’t let out.

He was too controlled. Contained. His emotions so tightly leashed, along with his memories.

I dug into my purse for my phone and ended up dropping the whole bag, spilling the contents onto the elevator car floor and across the checkerboard foyer. I left it all where it fell except for my smartphone, which I picked up and swiped through to get to the app that controlled the surround sound. I synced it to softer music, lowered the volume, and hit enter.

The penthouse fell silent for an endless moment, and then the gentle chords of “Collide” by Howie Day began to play.

I felt Gideon approaching before I saw him, the air crackling with the violent energy of an impending summer storm. He rounded the corner from the hallway leading to the bedrooms. I lost my breath.

He was shirtless and barefooted, his hair a silky tousled mane that brushed his shoulders. Black sweats clung to the lowest point of his hips, underlining the tight lacing of his abs. He was bruised on his ribs and up by his shoulder, the signs of battle only strengthening the impression of rage and ferocity tightly leashed.

My choice of music clashed with the emotion seething from him. My beautiful, savagely elegant warrior. The love of my life. So tormented that the sight of him brought hot, stinging tears to my eyes.

He jerked to a halt when he saw me, his hands clenching and releasing at his sides, his eyes wild and nostrils flaring.

My phone slid out of my hand and hit the floor. “Gideon.”

He sucked in a breath at the sound of my voice. It changed him. I watched the shift come over him, like a door slamming shut. One moment, he was bristling with emotion. The next, he was cool as ice, his surface as smooth as glass.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, his voice dangerously even.

“Finding you.” Because he was lost.

“I’m not fit company now.”

“I can deal with it.”

He was too still, as if he were afraid to move. “You should go. It’s not safe for you here.”

My pulse leaped. Awareness sizzled across my senses. I felt the heat of him from across the room. His need. The demand. I was suddenly melting in my jacket. “I’m safer with you than anywhere else on earth.”



 



September 12th, 2014

Cafe Spotlight & Giveaway: Levi’s Ultimatum by Eliza Gayle

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Levi’s Ultimatum is book 2 in the Purgatory Masters series, Book 1 is Tucker’s Fall and is available now.

In search of someplace to belong…

Levi Hawkins was a typical fun loving, hard partying college student with his whole life in front of him — until one tragic night ripped his world apart and left him adrift with no home or family to return to. After a soul crushing stint in Afghanistan, he spent a decade wandering the globe searching for something or someone to make him whole again. Weary of regret and consumed by loneliness, he puts his heart on the line and turns to the only people still connected to him by blood.

He found an obsession…

A chance encounter at a lakeside café puts single mother Tori Ford directly in Levi’s path and he’s ready to stake a claim. She wants to keep her life simple. Work hard, raise her daughter, save some money and one day open the pie shop she’s always dreamed of. She doesn’t need complicated and she certainly doesn’t need a wickedly hot Dominant to take control of her future. Except when he touches her she yearns for the pleasure and passion of submission. But Tori can’t take another heartbreak and she can never trust Levi with her heart or her daughter if he won’t open up about the darkness slowly consuming him.

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By reading any further, you are stating that you are at least 18 years of age. If you are under the age of 18, it is necessary to exit this site.

An Excerpt From: Levi’s Ultimatum

Copyright © Eliza Gayle, 2013

All Rights Reserved, Gypsy Ink Books

Tori backed away from the door Gabe had left ajar and pushed her back against the wall. Curiosity had driven her to follow behind her boss after he left his office, although she shuddered to think what he’d do to her if she were caught. The rumors of his need to discipline were spread far and wide and employees were often given a choice of the door or the bench. But whatever Levi had started down in the club wasn’t going to get dropped, and if they were going to discuss her she wanted to know. Now she’d overheard more than she bargained for and she didn’t know how to process it. A chance encounter at Nina’s cafe this morning had left her out of sorts and unsettled all day long. Enough that she’d called Gabe and offered to work tonight in the club. A job she had no business taking in this frame of mind. Her only hope had been to work out whatever the hell Levi’s sudden presence had done to her and regain her focus.

He’d annoyed her, that’s for sure. Even road grime several inches thick and an obvious need of a hot bath with a gallon of soap had not detracted from his good looks. And now that he’d cleaned up he’d turned downright lethal in that department. Her stomach still jolted at the memory of her first good look at Levi in the club. She’d damn near swallowed her tongue. All six foot something of him had exuded a level of innate power she’d felt clear to her bones. It had been so strong she’d glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed.

They had.

Amidst a sea of people in every shape, size and orientation he’d still stood out. Tall and broad shouldered, with dark wavy hair that looked like he’d done nothing more than run his fingers through it with amazing results. He’d trimmed his scruffy beard several inches without removing it altogether and the first thought through her mind had been how would it feel to have that sexy facial hair scratch across her belly or against the inside of her thighs as he…

Damn. When exactly had beards become so sexy?

The moment his piercing blue gaze had met hers across the scarred counter at Nina’s, that’s when. The appearance of a scruffy stranger sitting with her daughter and coloring together had initially alarmed her. The early warning bells had gone off and her need to protect had taken center stage. Then Hannah had drawn a smile from him that looked both sweet and tortured. The unexpected combination had shaken her to her core.

“Thanks. It’s good to be back. I think.” She heard Levi’s voice just as the door swung open next to her.

Crap. She’d gotten lost in her thoughts and hadn’t heard the men approach. Now she was about to get busted for eavesdropping. She swiveled on her ridiculous heels a little too fast and stumbled on the carpet. She reached for the wall and righted herself but not fast enough.

“Stop.” The stranger’s command came on a low growl far closer than she’d like.

Compelled by his deep voice, she halted in mid-step.

“Come to me,” he ordered in a deep dark unholy tone that made her nearly melt on the spot.

“Levi, not a good idea,” Gabe warned behind her.

She held her breath. Gabe was the top dog at Purgatory and her boss. Levi would have to defer to him. He’d save her.

“Gabe, I respect your authority here, but in this case I’m going to insist.”

Tori sucked in air and waited–and hoped Gabe wasn’t about to turn her over to this–this stranger. When the heavy sigh of defeat met her ears she cringed. What the hell?

“Please consider she’s one of my best employees. I’d like to keep her.” With that Gabe swept past her and descended down the staircase without looking back, leaving her alone with an angry Dom. The word Dom slid sinuously through her system and heated her between her legs.

With her only chance at being saved gone, the silence stretched between them. He’d issued his command and likely wouldn’t again. Like most Doms she knew he’d expect for his order to be followed and would wait for the response he sought. She considered her options. Turn around and face the music or flee and probably lose her job.

Her heart beat furiously as she made the only decision she could. Job or no job she was not a coward. She turned and gasped when she discovered him only inches away from her.

When had he moved and how had she not heard him?

“I half expected you to run,” he commented.

She lifted her chin. “Then you don’t know me very well at all. I don’t scare that easily.”

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September 11th, 2014

Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy Giveaway: ROPED IN by Lorelei James

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Don’t Forget!

If you’re an author who writes western romances and would like for us to PIMP your book on Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy, which occurs every Thursday, drop us a line with the information shown below including the cover at [email protected] and we’ll hook you up.

With that being said…our author on deck this week is Lorelei James’ ROPED IN: A Blacktop Cowboys® Novella

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Exclusively on Amazon for 90 days!

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Roped In: A Blacktop Cowboys® Novella

Ambition has always been his biggest downfall…until he meets her.

World champion bulldogger Sutton Grant works hard on the road, but his quiet charm has earned the nickname “The Saint” because he’s never been the love ‘em and leave ‘em type with the ladies. When he’s sidelined by an injury, he needs help keeping his horse in competition shape, but he fears trying to sweet-talk premier horse trainer London Gradsky is a losing proposition–because the woman sorta despises him.

London is humiliated when her boyfriend dumps her for a rodeo queen. What makes the situation worse? She’s forced to see the lovebirds on the rodeo circuit every weekend. In an attempt to save face, London agrees to assist the notoriously mild, but ruggedly handsome Sutton Grant with his horse training problem on one condition: Sutton has to pretend to be her new boyfriend.

But make believe doesn’t last long between the sassy cowgirl and the laid-back bulldogger. When the attraction between them ignites, London learns that sexy Sutton is no Saint when that bedroom door closes; he’s the red-hot lover she’s always dreamed of.

The more time they spend together, the more Sutton realizes he wouldn’t mind being roped and tied to the rough and tumble cowgirl for real…

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London was hot and tired, but exhilarated after six hours of working with horses and their riders. About three quarters of her clientele were kids under fourteen. It was gratifying, proving to novice equestrians that their animal was under their control. Contrary to belief, she picked up very few new regular clients at fairs and rodeos. The problems she helped with were rider related rather than horse related. The horse issues would take more than a thirty minute fix.

She checked her sign-up list, surprised to see her last opening had been filled. Weird name. D.L. A-ride. No gender or age listed. Was it a joke? D.L. A-ride. She watched the gate for a horse and rider to approach.

After two minutes she closed her eyes, breathing in the familiar scents of hot dirt and manure and livestock, with the occasional whiff of diesel fuel and something sugary like cotton candy or funnel cakes or Bavarian almonds.

“Excuse me,” a deep voice said behind her. “I’m looking for London Gradsky?”

London pushed off the fence and turned around, the you found her response dried on her tongue. Holy balls was this man hot. Like off the charts hot. Two days’ worth of dark scruff couldn’t hide the sharp angles of his face. Strong, almost square jaw, ridiculously full lips. The guy wore a ball cap and dark shades. A short-sleeved polo in ocean blue accentuated the breadth of his shoulders, the contours of his chest and… Holy smoking double barrels, welcome to the gun show; his biceps were huge. His forearms appeared to have been carved out of marble. She stopped herself from dropping her gaze to his crotch. Had Mel sent this man her way?

“I’m London. Do I know you?” Please don’t tell me you’re a long lost cousin or something.

“Yeah. We met a while back.” He paused. “I signed up for the last class slot because I needed to talk to you.”

Needed. Not wanted. Her skepticism reared its snappish head. “Who are you?”

He encroached on her space, completely throwing her body into shadow and tumult. Then she waited, breath trapped in her lungs for the moment when he tore off his sunglasses.

Eyes as blue as the Caribbean stared back at her.

Fuck me. She knew those eyes. She’d dreamt of those eyes. Although last time she’d seen them up close she’d wanted to spit in them. “Sutton Grant.”

“I reckon a once-over like that is better than the fiery look of hatred I expected.” He grinned.

That grin? With the damn dimples in his cheeks and in his chin? Not fair. She was such a sucker for a devil’s smile boosted by pearly whites. But she’d considered him devil’s spawn after his dealings with her family. In her mind she’d attributed cloven hooves, demon horns, and a forked tongue and tail to him.

Which pissed her off because the man was a piece of art. A real piece of work, too, if he thought she’d let bygones be bygones just so she could stare slack-jawed at his perfect face, spellbinding eyes and banging body.
“You lied to get a meeting with me?” She snorted. “I see you’re still the same manipulative bastard who follows his own agenda.”

He took another step closer. “I see you’re still the same brat who jumps to conclusions.”

“Yeah? I’m not the one in a piss-poor disguise, douche-nozzle.”

“Douche-nozzle…I don’t even know what that is.”

“Look in the mirror, pal.” Her gaze flicked over him. “A ball cap, a polo shirt, and…no freakin’ way. Are you wearing Mom jeans, Sutton Grant?”

He shot a quick look around and said, “Keep your voice down. No one has recognized me and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“I’ll bet your girlfriend picked this outfit because it is guaranteed to keep you from getting laid. Like ever.”

He scowled. “I don’t have a girlfriend. Now can we skip the insults and cut to the chase? Because I really need to talk to you.”

“You scheduled the time and it ain’t free.” London held out her hand. “Fifty bucks for thirty minutes. The clock starts ticking as soon as you pay up.”

Sutton dug in his front pocket and pulled out a crumpled fifty. “Here.”

“Shoot.”

“It’s about Dial.”

“What did you do to him?”

“It’s more a problem of what I’m not doin’ with him. Due to my injury, he’s been benched the last eight months.”

Now she remembered. Sutton had gotten badly hurt late last fall during his circuit’s last qualifying event for the CRA Finals and ended up with life-threatening internal injuries. “What do you want from me?”

“I’ll hire you to work with Dial, get him back up to speed, since I’m still sidelined.”

“So he’ll be in top condition when you’re back on the circuit?”

A funny look flitted through his eyes and he looked away. “Something like that.”

“Why me?”

“Because we both know the only people who’ve been able to work with him have been you and me.”

She sucked in a few breaths and forced herself to loosen her fists. “This wouldn’t be an issue if you hadn’t browbeaten my folks into selling Dial to you outright. When the breeder owns the horse and a rider goes down, other people are in place to keep the horse conditioned. That responsibility isn’t pushed aside.”

“You think I don’t know that? You think I’m feelin’ good about any of this? Fuck. I hired people to work with him and the stubborn bastard chased them all off. A couple of them literally.”

London smirked. “That’s my boy.”

“Your boy is getting fatter and meaner by the day,” Sutton retorted. “I’m afraid if I let him go too much longer it’ll be too late and he’ll be as worthless as me.”

Worthless? Dude. Look in the mirror much? How could Sutton be out of commission and still look like he’d stepped off the pages of Buff and Beautiful Bulldogger magazine?

“I hope the reason you’re so quiet is because you’re considering my offer.”

London’s gaze zoomed to his. “How do you know you can afford me?”

“I don’t. I get that you’re an expert on this particular horse and I’m willing to pay you for that expertise.” Sutton sidestepped her and rested his big body next to hers—close to hers—against the fence. “I know it’ll sound stupid, but every time I grab the tack and head out to catch Dial to try and work him, even when I’m not supposed to, I feel his frustration that I’m not doin’ more. I ain’t the kind of man that sees a horse—my horse—as just a tool. Your folks knew that about me or they wouldn’t have sold him to me for any amount of money.”

“Yeah. I do know that,” she grudgingly admitted, “but you should also know that I wouldn’t be doin’ this for you or the money, I’d be doin’ it for Dial.”

“That works for me. There’s another reason that I want you. Only you.”

“Which is?”

His unwavering stare unnerved her, as if he was gauging whether he could trust her. Finally he said, “Strictly between us?”

She nodded.

“If it’s decided I’ll never compete again, you’re in the horse world more than I am and you’ll ensure Dial gets where he needs to be.”

London hadn’t been expecting that. Sutton had paid a shit ton for Dial, and he hadn’t suggested she’d help him sell the horse to a proper owner, just that she’d help him find one. In her mind that meant he really had Dial’s best interest at heart. Not that she believed for an instant Sutton Grant intended to retire from steer wrestling. First off, he was barely thirty. Second, rumor had it his drive to win was as wide and deep as the Colorado River.

As she contemplated how to respond, she saw her ex, Stitch, with Princess Paige plastered to his side, meandering their direction.
Dammit. Not now.

After the incident this morning, she’d steered clear of the exhibitor’s hall where the pair had handed out autographs and barf bags. She felt the overwhelming need to escape, but if she booked it across the corral, it’d look like she was running from them.

Screw that. Screw them. She was not in the wrong.

“London? You look ready to commit murder. What’d I say?”

She gazed up at him. The man was too damn good-looking, so normally she wouldn’t have a shot at a man like him. But he did say he’d do anything…

“Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll work with Dial, but you’ve gotta do something for me. Uh, two things actually.”

“Name them.”

How much to tell him? She didn’t want to come off desperate. Still, she opted for the truth. “Backstory: my boyfriend dumped me via text last month because he’d hooked up with a rodeo queen. Because he and I were together when I made my summer schedule, that means I will see them every fucking weekend. All summer.”

“And?”

“And I don’t wanna be known as that poor pathetic London Gradsky pining over her lost love.”

Sutton’s eyes turned shrewd. “Are you pining for him?”

“Mostly I’m just pissed. It needs to look like I’ve moved on. So I realize your nickname is ‘The Saint’ and you don’t—”

“Don’t call me that,” he said crossly. “Tell me what you need.”

“The first thing I’d need is you to play the part of my new boyfriend.”

That shocked him, but he rallied with, “I can do that. When does this start?”

“Right now, ’cause here they come.” London plastered her front to his broad chest and wreathed her arms around his neck. “And make this look like the real deal, bulldogger.”

“Any part of you that’s hands off for me?”

She fought the urge to roll her eyes. Of course “The Saint” would ask first. “Nope.”

Sutton bestowed that fuck-me-now grin. “I can work with that.”

*****

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September 11th, 2014

Cafe Spotlight: Stone At Your Service by Rie Warren

September 25, 2014

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Hell on wheels meets Hell in high heels.

Bad boy mechanic Josh Stone likes to get his hands dirty any way he can—the filthier, the better. Ever since his wife walked out on him and their young son, he’s only had room in his heart for two loves: the kid and cars.

Roped into playing his best buddy’s gay boyfriend during a romance writers convention, the player meets the girl who’s gonna rock his world. Leelee Songchild. Shy, bashful, beautiful Leelee who blushes at the drop of a hat yet writes hardcore smut to rival Josh’s backlist of Penthouse Forum.

The only problem is his hands are tied. Josh can’t stab his old friend/fake lover in the back even though all he wants to do is take luscious Leelee to bed, and maybe, love her. When the truth comes out, all hell breaks loose. Too bad romance is just for books.

WARNING: Uncompromisingly hot sex, hilarious hijinks, and heartfelt romance—STONE is a triple threat.

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I PULLED UP SHORT when I entered Leelee’s room. Holy shit. The place looked like a tornado had touched down inside and, after that, maybe a hurricane. Suitcases exploded with clothing. Every available surface was crammed with books, paper, pamphlets, paraphernalia. It was worse than the sort of destruction the kid could easily cook up in less than ten minutes.

Leelee was a slob. Either that or she had some kind of personality disorder where she needed to see all of her belongings at once. I thought about Stone’s, which was orderly and shipshape even if my employees were a bunch of boneheads.

I hesitated on the edge of the bomb site. “Uh, you need a minute to tidy up?”

From inside the depths of Hell, Leelee glanced around the room and shrugged her shoulders. Grabbing an armload from one bed, she tossed it onto the mountain of clothes and shoes on the spare one. Something slipped from her fingers, and I sauntered over to pick it up off the floor.

It was lacey. It was silky. It was some kind of shimmery green that matched the color of her eyes. Oh Christ. Panties. Holding the scrap between both hands, I inspected them while her back was turned. Tiny, with bows at the sides, and—fuckin’ A—there were two little heart cutouts that would probably sit over each hipbone.

“All set.” Leelee whirled around.

I was not a creeper-stalker-lurker-perv so I pushed the panties into her hands and rubbed the back of my neck. “Um, those were on the floor.”

“Thanks.” When I looked up, her cheeks wore the most fetching shade of pink. But she met my stare with a wink, placing the miniature piece of Heaven on the bed. “I’ve got several more just like those in different colors.”

I couldn’t think of a thing to say because all my brain cells had simultaneously skyrocketed through the roof of my head, and I wondered if my cock had ripped through my pants yet.

Leelee probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway, not with all the other shit she had going on in here. And her all set clean up had consisted of moving one pile to another pile, clearing off the quilt and pillows of the bed she apparently slept in. The fact that the mess didn’t bother her at all might be a deal breaker.

As if.

I’d sleep in a freakin’ pig sty if I had to, as long as I was with her.

Plucking a few items from the overspill of clothing, she glanced at me. “I’m just gonna go change. Sit tight, I won’t be a second.”

She headed for the bathroom, and I watched her ass all the way. I grabbed at my hair and took a minute to reconsider what I was doing. The moment fled as soon as I smelled a tantalizing whiff of her perfume. Leelee stripping down in the next room got me hot enough, but when I paced to the far end of the bed, the full-sized mirror on the closet door reflected a sliver of the bathroom. A sliver of her hourglass waist to the swell of her hips and a generous slice of backside.

Lush Leelee. She had the kind of pin-up body men salivated over. Curves big enough to fill my hands from her tits to her ass to her hips. All topped by that sweetheart face, the red rosebud lips, the dewy eyes. Not to mention the strawberry blond hair I’d never seen all the way down. Yet. That was gonna get remedied tonight.

I turned my back unless I got carried away and simply barged into the bathroom, bent her over the counter, and fucked her there and then. Facing the clutter and chaos of her room, I was tempted to tidy up a bit more, but I didn’t want to get caught pawing through her underthings like I’d been caught pawing at my cock. Heaps of silky, frilly panties and bras and—was that a goddamn corset?—teased me. I stuffed my hands into my pockets. Or I tried to. Damned leathers were too tight.

When the door squeaked open, I turned, and Leelee appeared.

She brushed a hand down her front. “I hope you don’t mind. It’s been a long day.”

Then she blushed, and that was so adorable I was one step away from jumping her bones. I couldn’t have replied even if all my motor skills hadn’t just taken a back seat to primal male urges. Leelee in the feminine dresses hinting at her sexy body, the heels that made me want to start at her ankles and head north, all of that did it for me. But this? My fingers itched to touch her, my breath turned ragged. All because of a pair of loose white sweats she’d cut off mid-calf, her fresh clean face, and the fact she was swinging free underneath an off-the shoulder LSU Tigers sweatshirt.

“Leelee.” My voice rasped, deep and husky. “Christ, stop blushing. You’re making it hard for me to think.”

Sexual tension arced through the air, drawing her gaze to mine.

Her fingers slipped against her lips, and Jesus goddamn Christ, her tongue slid out to wet them. “Josh, that kiss earlier? Did you mean what you said about you and Nicky?”

Hypnotized by her shiny lips, I chewed briefly on my own. “Yeah. It’s over. This is our last hurrah. It’s not what you think anyway. There’s so much I wanna tell you, but I can’t—”

Before I could finish, she was in front of me, fingertips pressed to my mouth. “Just kiss me. Kiss me again.” Her arms wound around my neck. Her fingers lacing into my hair, she pulled me down.

This time I wouldn’t be stopped by phone calls or fake maids or my false conscience. Barely half an inch remained between my mouth and her upturned lips, but I held it. The feel of her breath racing with mine, the sight of her eyelashes lowered, I didn’t want to forget this moment.

Trapping her in my arms, I forced her the last bit forward . . . and “Bohemian Rhapsody” went off.

Her lips slanted against mine, moist and ready. “Queen, Josh? Really?”

I pulled back with a muffled curse. “I have to take this. It’s the kid.”

Swinging away, I put the cell to my ear.

Ma started right in. “He had a bad dream, Joshy. Woke up sweatin’ and cryin’. I just couldn’t talk him down. He needs his daddy.”

My throat closed in until it was hard to breath. I shut my eyes against the sting of tears. “Put ’im on.”

Sinking to the edge of Leelee’s bed, I motioned for her to sit beside me. I curled my hand over hers, grateful for her presence while I tried to keep it together for kid. I’d never had anyone beside me before, not like this.

I heard the sleepy-slow pat-pat-pat of his bare feet on the old oak floors. I imagined JJ’s funny cowlick standing straight up as he sucked his index finger, wearing his favorite-for-the-month Hobbit pj’s . . . and the shiny vinyl blue Superman cape.

“Hi, Daddy.”

I swiped a hand beneath my eyes with his little tremulous voice in my ears. “Baby boy, it’s late.”

His hiccupping breaths hit the line, the kind that broke me in two. Leelee nestled against my shoulder. I tightened my hold on her as I listened.

“I had a wightware, Daddy. You didn’t come back from L’Ana . . .”

“I’m always coming home to you, kid. Always.” I swallowed down a salty wash of tears I didn’t let fall.



 



September 5th, 2014

Cafe Spotlight & Giveaway: Hard Rock Improv by Ava Lore

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Rose Alton had her future all planned out: excel at her career, find love, make a family and get rich. Then she got fired. Now after years of 90-hour work weeks she’s living out of her car and struggling to hold it together. Convinced she’ll turn it around any day now, keeping up appearances is her highest priority, but when Manny Reyes, her sister’s friend and drummer of the band The Lonely Kings, discovers her deception her secret is out… or so she thinks.

To her surprise, Manny offers to keep her secret and invites her to Kauai, where he grew up and where the band is shooting their latest video. Rose hates to be anyone’s charity case, but with nowhere else to go and needing a vacation she reluctantly accepts and is whisked away to the island paradise.

Rose soon discovers Manny isn’t like anyone she has ever met, rock star or not, Instead of preferring lavish hotels, fine dining, and parties until the break of dawn, when not on the set Manny prefers eating Spam, playing for change, and smoking out with the local hobos on the beach.

But there’s a dark secret lurking on the island, one that plagues Manny, even when he’s on the other side of the ocean. As the heat between Rose and Manny builds, Rose begins to realize that there are some times when you need to break the rules…and that the only thing you can’t plan for is falling in love…

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I was finally sobering up by the time the sun started to set and the rest of the band, with attendant significant others, came stumbling through the front door.

“Jesus shit,” Carter said, alerting Sonya and me to their presence. I turned and looked over the back of the couch to see him stagger across the marbled entryway. He collapsed just at the border of the living room, his long legs stretched across the white tiles behind him, his arms outstretched, and his pretty, boyish face planted firmly against the floorboards as he closed his eyes and appeared to hug the beach house. A huge sigh escaped him. “I thought we would never get done.”

“We probably would have been done sooner if you hadn’t decided you wanted to get a new tattoo during lunch,” Kent said drily as he stepped over his brother’s limp body. “That sort of thing can put a kink in continuity, you know.”

“Continuity, schmontinuity,” Carter replied. “A video is for five hundred million hits on YouTube. A tattoo is forever.”

Next to me, Sonya scoffed. “YouTube will probably still be around after you’re dead and I sell your tattooed skin for a line of fine leather purses,” she said. “I’ll be rich.”

Carter turned one bloodshot eye toward her. “And old,” he said.

“And rich. Rich can buy a lot of young. Especially in the form of pool boys.”

Connected Books: The Lonely Kings Series


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September 3rd, 2014

Man Love Day Presents: Binding Robbie by A.C. Katt

Don’t Forget!

If you’re a GLBT author and would like for us to PIMP your book on Man-Love-Day which occurs every Wednesday, drop us a line with the information shown below including the cover at [email protected] and we’ll hook you up.

With that being said…our author on deck this week is A.C. Katts’ Binding Robbie

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Coming Soon!

September 25, 2014

Author: A.C. Katt

Genre: M/M, GLBT, BDSM

MLR Press

Tom Martino is curious. All of the Doms and their subs are protecting Robbie Bailey, a street kid Danny and Gary found in a Trenton snow drift. It seems that at one time Robby took a beating meant for Danny Donovan. When Danny’s Brother Caden came to rescue Danny from the streets, they looked for Robby and couldn’t find him. Now that they have, all of the Doms and their subs are determined to help him because he helped one of their own. Tom wants to help Robby too, but for a different reason. After getting to know the young man, Tom is in love. But one problem remains; Robby says he isn’t a sub.

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Danny and Gary stepped out of DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies into two feet of dirty snow that was pushed to the edge of the sidewalk. Danny’s breath looked like smoke coming from his nose, as his mouth and lungs protested the inhalation of the sub zero air. The sidewalk was icy and Gary grabbed at Danny so he wouldn’t slip. Danny glanced across the street and saw a small figure, huddled near a pile of snow against the aged brick façade of the old Roebling building. A cardboard box with a plaid blanket hanging out the end sat next to the snowdrift elevated from the sidewalk by discarded wooden pallets.

Danny shivered in sympathy. He remembered his two months on the street after his parents threw him out for being gay. He was lucky it was spring time and although it was chilly at night it was relatively easy to keep warm. He had a part-time job at McDonald’s and a membership at the Y that kept him clean and fed while he finished high school. It was two months before his brother Caden came home from Afghanistan for his graduation, found him on the streets, and got him an apartment and a good job. Just the memory of being homeless and scared gave Danny shivers that didn’t come from the cold.

Sir, would you mind if I go across the street and give that man money for a room tonight?”

“You can’t save the world, baby, but if it makes you feel better, go ahead.” Gary removed his leather gloves and pulled his wallet from the inside pocket of his tailored topcoat. He took out five twenty dollar bills and passed them to Danny.

“I’m going across the street with you. I don’t want you in danger.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Danny crossed the street quickly with Gary on his heels.

Danny leaned over the huddled figure and immediately noticed the shock of dark red hair sticking out of the battered knit cap on his head. Danny’s mouth opened in surprise and joy. He leaned over and shook the sleeping figure. “Robbie, wake up, it’s Danny.”

“You know this boy?” Gary asked.

The boy was lethargic; he barely stirred when Danny said his name. “Please Sir, we have to help Robbie. I wouldn’t have survived the two months I spent on the street if Robbie hadn’t taken me under his wing.”

“Let me look. Robbie…” Gary knelt and placed his hand on the head of the boy lying on the cardboard box. Danny stood behind him. The boy turned his head to Gary as if in slow motion.

“Danny?”

Gary stood making a quick decision. “The Navigator [K1] is up the street. He may have hypothermia. Let him hold onto you. I’ll bring the car up and we’ll get him into it and take him to Greg at St. Mary’s. Cisco said he was pulling a shift tonight.” Gary ran up the dark street to get the SUV.

****

Danny helped Robbie get to his feet. “Danny, is that really you?” Danny saw the hope flare brightly in Robbie’s eyes for a moment, then extinguish.

Robbie dropped his lids avoiding Danny’s face. “Don’t…don’t let me mess you up. You found someone. Leave me here.” Robbie stopped talking as a long spate of coughing rendered him unable to speak.

He rasped, “Don’t screw up by getting involved with me.” He tried to control his constant shivers as tears ran in rivulets from his eyes freezing on his cheeks.

The Navigator pulled up. “Don’t worry, come with me, everything is going to be fine. It’s my turn to take care of you.” Robbie attempted to resist but obviously didn’t have the strength.

Gary pulled up and got out of the huge blue SUV and with his help, Danny half carried and half dragged Robbie into the door pushing him up and onto the beige leather back seat. Gary jumped back into the driver’s seat and turned on the heat to the highest setting, while Danny got into the car beside his friend with an old stadium blanket he retrieved from the rear of the Navigator. He pulled the blanket over both of them to try to warm Robbie by sharing his body heat.

“I can’t afford a hospital,” Robbie said in a barely audible voice.

Danny shushed his friend and pulled Robbie closer as he buckled him in the seatbelt.

Gary turned and asked, “Ready?” Danny nodded his head.

Gary took off into the night. On the way to St Mary’s he called Cisco. Through the rearview mirror Gary watched as the boy violently shivered in the warm car crying out in pain as the chilblains hit. Danny whispered reassurances. Gary sped through the Trenton streets. The ten minute ride to the hospital took less than five minutes.



 



September 2nd, 2014

Author Spotlight: Snap by Katie Porter

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Trust is a four-letter word…

Command Force Alpha, Book 2

Captain Laurence Madigan is an anomaly—a levelheaded risk taker who learned the dark side of life in Manchester’s slums. He needed those skills to survive fourteen months as a prisoner of Firebird, a shadowy Russian cartel.

When rescued, he receives less than a hero’s welcome. He’s considered a wild card—or even a double agent. After enduring agony and degradation for Command Force Alpha, he’s determined to clear his name and bring Firebird down…even if it means escaping CFA’s London facility with a very personal hostage.

Oxford-educated psychologist Gemma Calloway should fight her abductor tooth and claw, but loyalty to her old friend wins out. Isolated in a rustic hideaway, she tends his wounds and can’t help staring at his scars and prison tattoos.

Their impromptu safe house becomes a haven of uneasy trust and potent, gathering desires. As they sort present dangers from past affection, Gemma realizes she’s in over her head…and up to her heart with longing for a good man whose last reason for living could be revenge.

Product Warnings: This book contains a sexy British spy whose year-long imprisonment has left him a little…pent-up. And scarred. And possibly untrustworthy. Watch out for fast-and-furious sexuality, dares that cement a friendship against all odds, and oh-so-wrong but oh-so-sexy tattoos.

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Copyright © 2014 Katie Porter
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication

Chapter One

Lawrence Madigan had no shoelaces. He wore moccasin slippers, which meant the lack was no great loss. He wasn’t in his fittest condition, either, so he hadn’t planned to step off for a run any time soon. He could walk. From wall to wall.

That was it.

The door was locked from the outside.

A panel was set in the wall next to the door with a scanner pad the size of a palm. That had changed while he’d been gone. When Laurie had left, Command Force Alpha’s London headquarters had used retina scanners and thumbprints. Maybe they’d finally decided the old method wasn’t secure enough. Or maybe they were afraid he’d snap off an interrogator’s thumb and use it to escape.

From where he sat in a flimsy plastic chair, he stretched out his feet. Considering the length of his legs, his ankles were crossed at a respectable distance. No one had been able to take his bones away. Michail Petronov, his interrogator in Russia, had tried. He’d snapped two of Laurie’s fingers during his hellish year as a detainee. At least Michail had stopped short of playing Dr. Frankenstein and rearranging him, body part by body part.

Reaching toward his toes released locked muscles in his trapezoids and low back. The relief didn’t last long. The door made a nearly silent whoosh as it depressurized. He took a breath, short and shallow, still looking at his shoes. No socks either. He was supposed to be home. The field agents of Command Force Alpha had rescued him but refused to give him socks. Did they believe him so bollocksed up he was likely to hang himself with a slip of cotton?

He’d been offered a noose in Russia.

Perhaps they would send in Mark Fletcher, CFA’s security expert. Laurie might have been wrong in assuming a rescue meant leaving torture behind. After all, he probably deserved as much.

He forced his expression to become impassive, even as a hot flame of righteous anger swelled in his chest.

No time for anger. No time for the rage that had kept him going.

Revenge would come. Soon.

The person on the other side finished the security procedures. The door slid open.

Laurie knew before he lifted his head that Colonel Stafford hadn’t sent Fletch. The subtle scent filling the air was something he hadn’t realized he missed. The most bitter taste of loss was discovered in absences after the fact. The return could be worse than the loss.

“Gemma,” he breathed in the silent way he’d learned. Silence had permitted him the ability to talk to himself during long stretches when his only company was fading hope and s**tty decisions.

He eased up from his stretched position and sat upright. Gemma smiled at him, wistful and wan. Her mouth was full. Lips perpetually quirked at the edges served to round the apples of her cheeks and emphasize the hollows beneath. The gesture accentuated the natural oval shape of her face. Her hair stood out in wild curls. She held a manila folder.

“Laurie.” Her voice was calm, but there was no denying her relief. “By damn, it’s good to see you.”

“Why the hell did they send you?”

Her brows were delicately shaped, with a hint of an arch softening her broad nose and emphasizing her sable eyes. The arch lifted farther. “Colonel Stafford is worried for you.”

Crossing his arms, Laurie leaned back. The leader of Command Force Alpha, a covert, off-the-books espionage unit, didn’t make decisions based on compassion. “You mean he’s worried about me.”

Gemma tilted her head. She didn’t blush at having been caught out. Her tiny smile never slipped. But he’d jabbed her, perhaps even surprised her. Laurie knew her that well.

After all, they’d once been best friends.

“What do you see as the difference?”

“I’m still in prison, Gemma.” The words came out as a snarl. Yet saying her name gave him a glimmer of having been saved. He wanted to get back to the States and Boston in particular—his adopted home. Had CFA assumed him dead and dismantled his duplex in Charlestown? He’d thought himself practically invincible then, living in a safe place and having made his own way to reach it. He had clawed his way up to become a man of importance to his peers. Yes, he’d finally believed himself worthy—above the muck and filth.

He’d been wrong.

“You’re not in prison, Laurie. You’re under observation.”

He pointed at the door, which had shut immediately behind her and pressurized with the finality of an airlock. “Will it open under my palm print?”

“You know it won’t.” She sat in the chair across from him.

The wood table shone with subtle polish under warm yellow lights. That was another difference. The last time he’d been interrogated he had been flat on his back, strapped to a table. The bulb swinging above his eyes had been a burning white. Staring at a light bulb wasn’t the most painful thing…until Mike’s goons had taped his eyes open for nine hours with no blasted other thing to look at.

He glared. “If you don’t mind my saying, observation feels a whole hell of a lot like prison.”

“I’m sorry you’re having a problem making that distinction.” She laced her fingers and leaned toward him, making no move to open the folder. Likely she knew every word of its contents. “We must discuss where you’ve been.”

“A hellhole. You know that.” He lazily twirled two fingers to indicate the windowless holding cell. It wasn’t windowless if one counted the framed, wall-sized mirror, which was something like a window. One for looking in on him. “This place is cleaner.”

“Did they treat you as well as we have?” she managed to ask with a straight face, though Laurie didn’t know how. The idea was laughable.

“Russian jails aren’t the kindest place, even on the up and up.”

“So the place you were detained was not on the up and up.”

“Not nearly close.”

“Tell me about that?” Her inquiry was so gentle, so soft, he battled the brief temptation to give in and open up. A few simple words.

This was Gemma Calloway, a doctor of psychology who specialized in profiling and assessing the mental states of operatives who returned from the field. Two and a half years ago, she’d joined CFA as its first English civilian recruit. Since then, they’d raised a pint together more times than he could count, and had met for coffee every time one of them was in Boston or London. Some nights, they’d laugh until four in the morning, for no good reason other than the fact that the conversation hadn’t ended.

She was his new interrogator.

Laurie stretched his palms flat on the table. He leaned in, intentionally mimicking her body language. “You look so open. So kind. You’re my friend, come to have a little chat. That’s it, is it?”

“Most of it.” She had wide-set eyes and dark lashes. Against her dark complexion, those eyes were shadows to hide her true intentions. “This doesn’t need to be terrible.”

“How much will you report to Nicky?” The colonel knew f**k all about delegation. Colonel Nicholas Stafford trusted his team, but he had his fingers in every pie CFA looked at.

His trust in Laurie hadn’t diminished when it came to infiltrating the Bokun family in Belarus. The colonel’s primary concern was that Laurie would be deep undercover for three months with no backup. Gemma had called it risky. Laurie had decided it was essential. There was no other way to ensure complete integration within the budding crime family.

So he’d gone in alone.

Now, he would deal with Paviel Dashkevic on his own.

“The colonel will want to hear every word.” Her fingers, tipped with subtly manicured nails, tightened on the manila folder. “In point of fact, I might not have need to report anything. He could be on the other side of the viewing window.”

Laurie’s shoulders were so forcefully bunched with tension they hurt. The skin across his back still itched because of the last burn he’d received before Evan Sommers, Alex Faust and Alice “Snow” Weissbourd had busted him out. He’d spent a couple weeks in a hospital bed in Berlin as Dr. Lucy Blomqvist tended the worst of his injuries and packed ten pounds of pure nutrients onto his frame.

“I’m surprised you’d point it out,” he said.

“I wouldn’t condescend to you that way. You should know me better.”

He couldn’t remember Gemma possessing a calculating expression, but she had developed one. A shame. She was one of the liveliest people he’d ever known. He missed the light in her, the energy she harnessed like a leash on a hurricane. Instead, Gemma appeared in a constant state of supreme concentration, layered over with concern he only believed genuine because of their past association. She was good at her job, but she had never been a liar.

“I don’t know anything about you anymore.”

She flinched minutely but otherwise kept her body in check. Her features would never be as calculating as those of Michail Petronov. What sort of man could appear so ordinary and so sinister? “Then go ahead and tell me differently. How soon after stepping into this room had you calculated its every aspect? Furniture, dimensions, potential means of escape—the entire scope of its assets and liabilities.”

“We’re underground,” he replied. “London headquarters.”

“You didn’t answer my question. How quickly? The faster the assessment, the more assumption that you’re under threat.”

“The faster the assessment, the greater likelihood of survival.”

“Now that I think about it, you have yet to answer few of my questions.”

“I said the Russians hadn’t treated me as well as I’m being treated here.” He tipped his chin down and looked at her from under his brow. She watched him right back. There was no escaping her dark, knowing gaze. The hollows of her cheeks were more pronounced now. Her ability to maintain serene amiability never slipped.

“I’ve answered yours,” she said. “You haven’t reciprocated. Is that kind?”

“I don’t feel very kind.”

Her lips tweaked—not a smile, but nothing snide either. “Thank you for answering, Laurie.”

“I used to think I’d never hear a fellow countryman say my name again.” He watched her mouth because it was safer than watching her eyes. “The accent isn’t the same in Russian. Or in Chechen. There were quite a few Chechen nationals in my block. None of them could pronounce my name correctly. Better ‘Laurie’ than their tries at Lawrence, at least.”

“They knew your real name?”

F**king hell, she was quick. And she didn’t have any intention of letting him dodge her.

He wanted out of this little hole in the ground. There was no reason for it, and he had at least half a dozen reasons to leave. He was a member of Command Force Alpha. He had paid the near-ultimate price because he was committed to his team. Operatives knew the dangers. They protected all nations, without prejudice. CFA’s motto was “By Whatever Means”, which suited their prime directive: to disassemble threats the moment an otherwise innocuous or local organization became an international danger.

The Bokun family in Belarus had become such a danger.

Dying in battle might have been kinder than what Laurie had endured. He rubbed the scalpel wounds along the inside of his elbow, thankful CFA security had provided him a long-sleeve shirt. Scars prickled as they healed. Even scars of guilt. Scars born of fear.

Particularly that kind.

He shifted on the damned plastic seat. “All of this fuss says plenty about your being here. It’s clever, really, to send you in to feel me out, despite our friendship. Or because of it.”

“I think it says I’m good at my job.” Her expression was solemn, though her mouth was entirely too lush to thin out. Her smile, however, had flown to better climes. Perhaps she’d decided he wasn’t worth the effort. That would be a first, and a painful one. “Just for the record, you’ve ducked one more question, and I’ve answered one more of yours. Hardly a fair exchange, Laurie.”

“F**k fair.”

“You don’t mean that.”

Her frown was understandable. He had lived for fairness. For equality. He’d struggled to drag himself up from the s**ts of Manchester. Such a long slog. School hadn’t been his way out. Had he studied hard to become a barrister, for example, the taint of his past would still peek through in his accent or creep up behind him in the form of his mother’s record of drug abuse and petty crime. The Army, and then the SAS, had been his escape. He’d accepted work with Nicky Stafford because the colonel was a fair man, and because America made a virtue of working one’s way up. He had done well there.

Laurie had believed in fairness. Now he’d steal cash from the banker’s box during a game of Monopoly. And much, much worse.

Shame at what he’d done to survive stuck like needles that could never be removed from his skin. There was decency…and then there was the man he’d become. There was no way to take it back or undo the damage he hadn’t asked for—hadn’t deserved. Nothing but revenge would assuage what he’d endured.

“Decency and decorum don’t last long when you’ve been where I’ve been,” he said quietly. “A year is a long time, Gemma.”

She leaned forward another inch, renewing his awareness of her spicy-sweet perfume. “There’s decency here. There’s a future here. I just need your cooperation.”

He was fairly disgusted with the way his mouth watered. Glancing down, he wanted to catch a glimpse of her cleavage. He got nothing. She wore a white blouse buttoned up to her thin, elegant throat. A tan leather jacket layered over it, with the sleeves pushed up to display slender forearms. Her jeans were snug but not skintight. If necessary, the layered look could conceal a weapon at the small of her back, although she would’ve undoubtedly handed any pistol to his guards.

She was fiercer than before. She had firmer edges. She could stand up to his aggression, while wearing her infuriatingly calm, studiously concerned expression. That only made him meaner.

He didn’t like the sick places his mind was wandering. Other than Snow and Dr. Blomqvist, he was sitting across from the first female he’d spoken to in nearly a year. He couldn’t restrain how much he wanted and wanted. Not Snow or the doctor. Just Gemma.

There was no time for such desires in his world, not when his mission came first. He would find Paviel Dashkevic—the man who’d discovered his identity and sold him to Firebird—and punish him as no man had ever been punished. Only then would Laurie find a way to slake his violent, pent-up desires.

That wouldn’t have anything to do with Gemma Calloway. Venting a hundred thousand frustrations would create a destructive storm between them. No matter his anger, he could honor their old friendship by sparing her the worst of what he’d become.

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