Black Skies Riviera by Catherine Wiltcher




Title: Black Skies Riviera
Author: Catherine Wiltcher
Genre: Mafia Romance
Release Date: July 28, 2020



Blurb

They call this place the Billionaires’ Playground.
I, Aiden Knight, staked my claim the minute I arrived.
I crossed every line.
I painted their Rococo ceilings with blood. 
Now my casino is the hottest church in town,
And vice is the only confession required.
My house.
My rules.
Until the past comes calling with an offer I can’t refuse:
One week to seduce and break her.
All this for the name of the man who killed my father.

Issa Dubov is the queen of cloudy diamonds:
She’s a hard truth concealed beneath a pall of lies.
I’m an Armani black suit of spades:
Determined to bury both her and my demons.
I never asked to see the shape of her heart.
I never asked for her to fill the blank spaces of mine.  

But the mafia wants her secrets. 
I wasn’t the first she betrayed.
And Issa? Sweet, not-so-innocent Issa?
She’s gone and left me with a debt no sinner can pay.







Pre-order Links

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU





Chapter

Have you ever noticed how the mesh bits in lace look like the intersecting bars of a prison cell?
I did. Five minutes ago. As I was sat on the edge of a strange bed in a strange room, in a strange wedding dress, with a strange perfume smothering my senses like a designer rag.
My fingers won’t stop playing with the delicate trim on the bodice. It’s as if I’m trying to find a weakness in the yarn so I can plan my escape.
It’s beautiful.
Beautifully oppressive.
It’s a Dorian Gray mirror gone askew. The material is stupidly fussy and over-detailed, and it makes me look about twenty years older than I am. Still, at least it covers the bruises…
“Come, Ielena. The car is waiting for you.”
Marie enters the room clapping briskly, as if the force and sound will unchain my heavy heart from the bed and propel me to my feet. Her face is a painted mask of encouragement, but it reminds me of a colombina I bought in Venice once. The initial dazzle concealed the flaws. The cracks in the porcelain grew wider and more obvious as the truth clawed its way to the surface.
That was the day I learned that nothing is what it seems.
Marie’s claps grow louder in my ears. “Up! Up, lazy girl! What are you waiting for?”
A knight on a white horse?
A miracle?
Reluctantly, I stand for her inspection. I’m not sure when or how Marie first entered my father’s life, but her presence is more front-and-center than my mother’s these days.
I loathe her.
She’s brittle and calculating, and our relationship is a Ping-Pong match of mutual hostility. Unfortunately, since Karina disappeared, Marie’s winning most of the shots. She’s subtle about it, though. Her words are well-fed piranhas. They’ll take tiny bites here and there, leaving me stung and permanently unsettled.
She stops in front of me, a smoky swirl of coral-pink chiffon, and I brace myself for more teeth.
“Oh dear.” She casts a critical eye over my wedding dress. “Oh dear, oh dear… Still, it’s the best I could do at such short notice. You have no idea the strings I had to pull to get you something suitable in time.”
If she expects me to thank her for it, I’d rather choke on the lace.
Her assessment moves up to my face and she tuts out even more disapproval. “Good grief. Your make-up is abysmal. Antoinette!” Her maid appears in the doorway like a dutiful pet. “She needs less rouge on her cheeks. And that red lipstick is wrong. She looks like a whore, not a virgin bride.”
There goes my one shot at individuality.
Is this really happening? Has it really only been twenty-four hours since Papa announced I was to marry a man I’d never even met? A one-minute, formally worded deposition slotted in between his business meetings. He takes longer to peruse menus in restaurants.
Come to think of it, it’s the longest conversation we’ve ever had.
“Dressing table,” barks Marie, giving me a not so gentle shove in that direction.
Gritting my teeth, I allow myself to be ‘de-whored,’ by Antoinette. On the plus side, marriage means leaving Marie behind. Even she wouldn’t dare disrespect the wife of Luca Zaccaria…
 I should have known she wouldn’t go out without a fanfare, though.
“I don’t see why we’re bothering with this charade,” she mutters, driving an extra pin into the base of my chignon and scraping my scalp on purpose.
“What do you mean?” I catch her eye in the mirror, instantly wary of the cruel green glint that I find there. “This is what my father expects of me.”
I’m rewarded with a cold smile for my curiosity. “I mean why go to so much trouble to look the part when the ceremony room will be empty.”
“But Signor Zaccaria’s family will be in attendance.”
I’ve read all about mafia families and the eight billion aunts, uncles and associated offspring who get wheeled out for occasions such as these. Kind of like a Bratva wedding when a sibling’s disgrace hasn’t double-booked the venue.
Her eyes widen for a beat, and then the chill in her smile drops a couple of hundred degrees. “What makes you think you’re marrying into La Famiglia, child? What makes you think you’re good enough for one of Zaccaria’s precious sons? Your sister has polluted you, like she’s polluted your father’s reputation, and today you will pay the price for her disgrace and his resurrection.”
My stomach lurches. She’s right. My father never actually confirmed who my groom was.
I assumed.
I just assumed.
“Who am I supposed to be marrying?” I whisper.
She shrugs, as if the detail is insignificant. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
“I don’t believe you! He wouldn’t do this! Where’s Papa?” I rise to my feet, but her bony fingers clamp around my upper arm to stop me.
“Sit down, stupid girl.” I wince as her grip tightens; her coral pink nails digging crescents into my skin. “Your father has no desire to see you. He left for Paris an hour ago.”
My mouth snaps shut when I realize I’m gaping at her. “But he’s walking me down the aisle! I’m playing the role of the good Bratva daughter for him… The least he can do is guide me through the scene.”
“Be quiet!” Her mask cracks, just like my colombina did, but this time spite comes pouring out. “The only things accompanying you to that altar, child, are shame and solitude. You are all alone in this world now, Ielena. Your sister has deserted you, and your stupid mother is soaking your memory in gin.”
I have Maxim.
Please tell me I still have Maxim.
“Let go of me, Marie!” 
All alone,” she mouths back.
Shrugging her off, I sit back down at the dressing table. My hands are shaking as Antoinette pats away the last of the red Chanel before smoothing on a dash of Vaseline, and then painting my lips a pale mauve.
Even that seems wrong. I need a shot of color confidence to bring my fair skin and frozen expression back from the brink, not something that’ll fade me out even more.
I’m only a half-measure, remember?
An image from yesterday slams into my mind, one with raging battlements of contempt in his eyes.
Aiden Knight.
The man I couldn’t stop thinking about all of last night. The beautiful cruel memory who tempted my fingers between my thighs at the break of dawn.
What was it he said about me again?
“Stupid rich, bored, empty, unemployable, unsalvageable…”
I am not my mother.
I am not my mother.
Karina’s voice is in my head suddenly, telling me to hold on to my rainbow, no matter what. We made promises to each other the night she left. The kind you cross your hearts with, schoolgirl style, and keep until you die die die.
“Are you finished?” I catch Marie’s eye in the mirror and hold it. Screw her. Screw my father. They could marry me off to a beggar on the street and I’d still find a way to paint us gold.
She scoffs and nods.
“Good,” I say, firing back a Ping-Pong shot of my own.
I was right to feel that sense of satisfaction earlier. I’m not some little girl she can push around anymore. My new groom may not be Luca Zaccaria, but my father’s choice for me would have been tactical. He’ll be a man of standing in the criminal world.
“Good?” she mocks. “You won’t be saying that in an hour’s time.”
“Aren’t you going to wish me luck?”
Without waiting for an answer, I rise to my feet and sashay from the room as elegantly as my badly fitted shoes—thanks again, Marie—will allow.
Heart pounding, I make my way down the elegant marble staircase, feeling like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, but with the whole world, not Rhett Butler, declaring that they don’t give a damn about me anymore.
I reach the lobby to find the tall, stoic figure of my father’s Brigadier waiting for me. There’s another man standing there, too. He has his back turned, his black-suited shoulders blocking out most of the light from a nearby window. I’m so relieved to see Maxim I barely glance at him.
 “You’re here!” I take the last couple of steps too fast and nearly lose my footing.
I knew he wouldn’t abandon me as well.
He turns at my voice—eyes hooded, expression bleak. “Issa.” He catches me as I stumble into his arms. “Careful, zvezda moya.” He sets me right before sweeping his gaze downward. “Why, you look beautiful.”
“You’re the sweetest liar.” I step back to break his embrace, embarrassed by my lack of poise. What’s worse, there’s a masculine scent in the air that’s aiding and abetting that emotion, whipping up memories I’d rather forget. “Marie chose the dress so you can draw your own conclusions from that.”
“Tsch, Issa,” he chides. “She chose well.”
“Liar, twice over,” I say with a shy smile.
“She’s right, it’s hideous,” drawls a deep voice in perfect Russian. “But it’s nothing a bottle of Saint-Émilion couldn’t fix.”
Colors.
All the damn colors.
The same man from the bar and my late night fantasies is smirking down at me, his cerulean-blue oceans churning with the same derision. My lungs stutter and lose function as I finally place the scent in the air.
“You,” I gasp out.
“Me,” he says flatly. 
“W-what are you doing here?”
“My presence was requested so it’s a good job I had another suit to wear.”
I can’t seem to process his words. It’s not just the size of him that’s throwing me off kilter. Those oceans are shark-infested, and I’m the bloody bait. 
My head swings to Maxim for answers, but the scars on his face offer me nothing so I find it swinging back to him. It’s magnetic. I couldn’t stop it if I tried.
“Monsieur Knight,” I say, pulling myself together. “How lovely it is to see you again.”
He barks out a rough laugh. “You could strip paint with the acid in your voice, princess. Your insincerity is corrosive.”
“Who knew a gentleman could be so vulgar,” I counter quietly.
“Who knew you had the brains to come to that conclusion all by yourself.”
“Have you two met before?” Maxim looks confused, trapped here in our blazing crossfire.
Aiden Knight cocks his handsome head and grins at me, but his eyes are like chips of ice. “Let’s just say we had a difference of opinion over some home truths and a bottle of red yesterday.”
Instantly, my heart is a drum and bass beat inside my chest. I hate how British men have the whole archetypal bastard thing down to a fine art. His accent is a poisoned arrow with a fin-shaped fletching of contempt. He’s dressed in black Armani again today, though he’s swapped the black dress shirt for white.
Colors. Colors. He wears them like a warning.  
His necktie is a brilliant crimson, the same red as the lipstick I chose for myself until Marie instructed Antoinette to scrub it off. He’s stolen it. How dare he! I find myself hating him more for that than I do for his insults.
“Is it true Papa left for Paris an hour ago?”
I mean to direct it at Maxim, but I can’t seem to tear my gaze away from my nemesis. He’s coolness personified, with the kind of hard arrogance that hazardous men exude. I don’t like the way he’s looking at me either, as if I’m a cornered fox and he’s the Master of the Hunt.
“Why? Are you worried he took his credit card with him?”
“That’s enough, Knight!” growls Maxim.
I blush right to my roots as my father’s confidante proceeds to curse in both French and Russian at my English invasion. It’s a bi-language of reproach, but Knight just shrugs it off. Clearly, his ninety-nine problems don’t include Bratva Brigadiers who’d be more than happy to use his head as target practice.
Is this man completely impenetrable or just plain indifferent?
“Jesus, you talk a lot of shit, Maxim,” he says in a bored voice, cutting him off mid-flow. “If you’re quite finished, her chariot awaits.”
Her?
I watch him stalk through the open front door, down the stone steps and into one of the waiting Escalades without so much as a backward glance at me.
Who is this vile, rude, arrogant man?
I meet Maxim’s heavy stare with unspoken questions in my eyes. “Marie told me I’m not betrothed to Luca Zaccaria anymore.”
“No, zvezda moya.”
“Then, who?”
“Issa—”
“Please, Maxim,” I beg. “If our friendship means anything, I need you to be straight with me. Who the hell am I marrying today?”
My only ally in this world curses and swipes a hand across his jaw. It’s as if he’s disinfecting his next words for an unclean revelation. I then watch in mounting, escalating, soul-crushing horror as his gaze shifts to the vehicles outside. Or rather, to one in particular…
Please.
God.
No.

© Catherine Wiltcher 2020






Author Bio


Catherine Wiltcher is a bestselling author of ten dark romance novels, a former TV producer, and a self-confessed alpha addict. Her writing is best described as sinfully sexy, and her characters always fall hard and deep for one another.

She lives in the UK with her husband and two young daughters. If she ever found herself stranded on a desert island, she’d like a large pink gin to keep her company. Cillian Murphy wouldn’t be a bad shout either…

For book and blog updates, please visit www.catherinewiltcher.com


Author Links




Darkness Lies Waiting by Mercer Scott

Title: Darkness Lies Waiting
Series: Raven Island Series
Author: Mercer Scott
Genre: Single Parent (mom); Alpha Hero; Small-town romance; mafia romance, woman in peril (abusive ex); romantic suspense
Release Date: June 1, 2020
A standalone, contemporary romance in the Raven Island Series.
What do you do when the man who betrayed you is already dead? If you’re ruthless gang leader Jacob Cole, you find a distraction from your fury… like the beautiful, single mother without a past who just moved to town.
JACOB
Fueled by rage, Jacob only has himself to blame for the death of his lieutenant. He trusted the wrong man. With nowhere to focus his rage, Jacob grows restless – and when Jacob Cole is restless cities burn. As soon as Jacob sees Laurel Wells, he knows that she’s the perfect distraction from his need for revenge. But Laurel becomes more than just a distraction, and Jacob is never going to let her go…
Can one monster be your salvation from another?
LAUREL
Single mother, Laurel Wells, ran away from her abusive husband to the last place anyone would look for her – the idyllic Raven Island.
Laurel’s quiet life becomes complicated when the Pacific Northwest’s most notorious gangster decides that he wants her for himself. Jacob Cole is exactly the kind of trouble Laurel needs to avoid, but she can’t deny her attraction to the beautiful, tattooed gangster.
It’s only a matter of time until Laurel’s past catches up with her, and she has to leave Raven Island. But this time will she be running from Jacob Cole, too?
PROLOGUE
Laurel
Only selfish girls get everything they’ve ever wanted and then want more. 
That’s what Eric said to me before he left for work this morning. It’s not the first time he’s said it. And I know it won’t be the last. But it’s how I know things are going to be bad when he gets home tonight. 
I’ve spent every minute of the day since he left dreading my husband coming home from work. I cleaned the entire house. I made sure that every room is perfect. Every picture frame is hanging perfectly level. Every pillow is perfectly fluffed. You could take a white glove to any inch of this house, and you wouldn’t find a speck of dust. 
It probably won’t make a difference. But it’s worth a try. Maybe it will help? Maybe it won’t get so bad if everything is perfect when Eric gets home? But I know better than that. I hate the part of me that still hopes. I know by now exactly how bad it’s going to be. 
Dinner is in the oven. Everything will be ready right when Eric gets home in an hour. I made Eric a roast and all the fixings. I’m a vegetarian. I hate touching meat, but Eric won’t be happy unless he gets his meat. I let Riley watch videos on his tablet while I made dinner. And I’m going to let him keep watching videos. I can’t risk him making any messes before Eric gets home. I know that he won’t mean to, but Riley’s only four. Mess follows him around like a shadow. 
That means I have an hour to myself until Eric comes home. I’m so anxious that I need to distract myself. There’s nothing left to do. Nothing left to clean. So, I slip into my makeshift studio to paint until it’s time to serve dinner. It’s not a studio, exactly. But it’s a little space that I carved out for myself to paint. In this giant house with six bedrooms and only three people living in it, Eric insisted there was no room for me to have a studio. So, I paint in the laundry room. The light is actually really pretty in here. And Eric would never come anywhere near the laundry room, so it’s all mine. That’s what matters.
My thoughts flow freely as my hand automatically sweeps my brush over the canvas. Painting is where I feel at home. Where I feel at peace. My body knows what to do when I have a brush in my hand, even if feel completely helpless the rest of the time. I wasn’t always helpless like this. I used to be normal and fun. I used to have a life outside the luxury home that’s become my prison. 
Eric Wellington was everything I ever wanted. He was exactly what every girl is taught she’s supposed to want. Eric was tall and strong. His sandy, blonde hair shone like a golden crown. He had piercing, light blue eyes. He came from a wealthy family, but he chose to become a police officer because he wanted to help people.
He was the prince from a storybook. 
And somehow, he wanted me. I couldn’t believe it the first time that Eric asked me out. I couldn’t believe it the second time or the time after that. I couldn’t even believe it when he proposed to me two months later.
Eric was perfect. My friends from university all pretended not to be surprised that he was interested in me. But I could tell they thought he was out of my league. I did too. My hair was always in a messy bun and paint could perennially be found under my short, practical, artist’s fingernails. I was the exact opposite of the type of woman that a man like Eric Wellington should marry.
I didn’t need to think about it when he proposed. Eric was exactly what I had always hoped for. He was my happily ever after.
Our wedding was a fairytale.
Our marriage became my nightmare.
Eric didn’t even make it through our honeymoon before he started hitting me. Something changed in him like a light switch once we said our vows. Or maybe it was always there, and I just didn’t see it. But once Eric started hitting me, he never really stopped. Eric was always careful not to hit my face, so no one could see the bruises. No one could know about how he punished me. That was just between him and me. 
I didn’t want to get pregnant. But Eric decided after we’d been married for two years that it was time for a baby. He didn’t want people to start talking about why we didn’t have children. He hated the idea that people might think it was his fault. He told me that it was time I provided him with a son. 
Once he decided it was time to start trying, Eric wouldn’t let me take birth control anymore. And I was afraid of how he would punish me if he found out that I defied him. But I tried everything I could find online to stop myself from getting pregnant. But everything I tried didn’t work.
When I was pregnant with Riley, Eric made sure to never hit my stomach. He made sure I never fell on my stomach when he punched me hard enough to make me fall to the ground. But everything else was fair game. It was all fair to him. He was punishing me. He had the right to punish me. He told me that every day. I heard it so often that I started to believe it.
Eric wanted a child so badly. He wanted a boy that took after him. A boy he could raise to be just like his daddy. Once I got pregnant, I prayed for a girl who looked nothing like him. I got half of what I wanted. A boy who looks just like me. Riley has my green eyes, my same cute little nose, and my heart-shaped face. He’s a beautiful child, and he’s going to be a beautiful man. But he looks nothing like his father.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Riley calls out from the door of the laundry room. 
That’s when I hear the beeping. Beep! Beep! Beep!
The smoke alarm’s ringing loudly in my ears. I don’t know how I didn’t hear it. Shit! Dinner!
“It’s okay, baby!” I cry out to reassure him, before I’ve even turned around.
I start running towards the door and back to the kitchen, but I jerk to a stop when I see Riley standing in front of me.
“Let’s go, Mommy. We need to go,” Riley tells me.
He looks so serious. He’s wearing his little backpack and he has his little suitcase he likes to stuff with dress-up clothes. Both are covered in sea turtles. Riley is obsessed with sea turtles.
I kneel in front of him, ignoring the screeching smoke alarm in the kitchen, as it drills into my head.
“Sweetie, it’s just the smoke alarm. Everything’s okay,” I promise him. “Why do you have your suitcase?”
“We need to go, Mommy,” Riley says again. “So, Daddy doesn’t hurt you.”
Riley’s little lip quivers as he says it. And my heart shatters into a million tiny pieces.
He doesn’t know. He can’t know. I’ve been hiding it from him. I’ve been protecting him. I’ve been protecting him from all this. From the bruises. The fighting. The sound of Eric punching me. 
But he knows. My baby knows
I wonder what it does to a child to grow up in a home where what Eric does to me is normal.  And as the smoke alarm screeches at me again, I know something more certainly than I’ve ever known anything in my entire life. 
I’m not going to stay and find out.
Chapter One
Jacob
Four months later.
I’m restless. My morning runs are getting longer and longer. I can’t sit still. No matter how much I run, I can’t get my anger in check. Part of me doesn’t even want to. It’s been three months since I helped my brother dispose of Danny Jones’ body. 
Danny Johnson’s body.
I have to keep reminding myself that he was Danny Johnson, not Danny Jones.
I trusted the wrong man. I brought him into the Black Ravens. And he betrayed me. Danny Johnson lied to my face every day for three years, pretending to be one of us while he was out for revenge against us the whole time. I don’t know how I fucking missed it. I can never make a mistake like that again. When I make mistakes, people die.
Dean Joras is dead. My best friend for twenty-five years. And Danny Johnson killed him to get back at me, or get back at my brother, Silas. It doesn’t fucking matter. The effect was the same. 
Dean is dead. He left behind a widow and two teenage sons. They’re my responsibility now. I have to watch out for Delilah and the boys like they were my own.
Dean paid the price for what Silas and I did seventeen years ago. But haven’t we already paid enough for Sabrina Johnson’s death? My brother spent ten years in prison. He walked away from the Black Ravens – the gang we started in high school. He walked away from me. 
How many lives need to be ruined in exchange for the life of one innocent girl? We didn’t mean to kill her. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and, she got caught in the cross-fire. Shit happens. We can try to minimize the risk, but it’s always there. People get hurt when there’s this much money and power at stake. It’s inevitable. And I would choose that risk every fucking time.
Silas may have been the one to go to prison, but we all suffered. My brother likes to think of himself as the great martyr for taking a plea deal and going to prison for manslaughter. He asked me to walk away from the Black Ravens back then, too. 
I refused. I’m a Raven. I’ll always be a Raven. My blood runs black.
Danny Jones may be dead. But I’m not the one who killed him. And I needed to be the one who fucking killed him. My men want answers. They want justice. But all I have are two dead Ravens and no answers to give the Ravens they left behind. Or at least none that I’m willing to give them.
The cops are still circling my brother for Dean’s murder. Danny framed Silas for killing Dean, and the cops are too stupid to figure out that it was a set-up. There’ve been a few rumblings from my enemies questioning whether the Ravens are weak now with the loss of two members and no retaliation.
I usually don’t see the point of violence for violence’s sake. It’s a means to an end. And an effective one. I can be as violent and as brutal as I need to be to get the job done. But there’s no target now. Danny Jones is dead. And none of my rivals have come for me in years. I made sure of that. I’ve instilled enough fear in them to make me untouchable. They can rumble all they like. There’s no real threat. They wouldn’t dare rise up against me. They value their lives too much.
There’s no target for my rage. I want to burn, kill, destroy – but who? The man who deserves my wrath is already dead at my brother’s hand. Until I figure out where to aim my fury, I need a fucking distraction. And I have one in mind. My brother hired a new server at his diner. She’s been on my island for a month or two. And I can’t get her out of my head. I’ve started frequenting my brother’s diner almost daily just to see her.
I’m happy enough to see my brother. Our relationship is less murderous these days than it’s been for seventeen years. But I’m there to see her. Fucking her will be the perfect distraction from thinking about Danny Jones’ – Danny Johnson’s – betrayal and what I’m going to do about it. 
Her name’s Laurel. Laurel Wells. I already know everything about her – well everything there is to know about someone who’s only existed for two months. I had my private investigator in Vancouver look into her. I have him look into everyone who crosses my path because I don’t like surprises. In my line of work, surprises get you killed. 
My investigator couldn’t find any trace of Laurel Wells before two months ago, shortly before she arrived on Raven Island. Pretty, single mothers don’t just miraculously appear on this little, out-of-the way island off Canada’s west coast out of thin air. But this one did. She’s running from something. Finding out she had something to hide only made me want her more. I want to unravel every single one of her secrets and find out what she’s hiding from me.
Silas may have hired her, but I don’t think he has any idea that she’s not who she says she is. I didn’t tell him. I don’t want her to get spooked and run again. Not before I get what I want from her. Not before I taste her. Before I’m inside her. 
As soon as I get back from my run, I shower and change. I’m headed for the diner without even deciding to go there. Something about her just keeps pulling me back. 
I don’t even talk to her when I’m there. Not really. I just watch her. That ends today. I’ve waited long enough. It’s time to make Laurel Wells my distraction.
I see her the minute I walk into my brother’s diner. She’s carrying a tray of food, and she stops dead in her tracks when she lays eyes on me. 
Good. I like that I make her nervous.
That piece of shit, Tommy Watkins, is here. Raven Island PD’s finest. I can feel his eyes on me as soon as I set foot in the diner. Tommy’s hated me since high school. Part of me wishes he would just fucking come for me. I’d be happy to end him. At least then I wouldn’t have to see his fucking ugly face walking around my town. 
And this is my town. My island. It’s my fucking coast. I’ve run organized crime in the Pacific Northwest since my brother and I weren’t all that organized. We were just two angry kids looking to take back some power from those who had it. And we fucking did. All that power is mine now.
I walk over to my usual booth in the corner, and wait for her to come over and take my order. I’ve been coming to the Raven’s Claw diner so often since Laurel started working here that I have the damn menu memorized. So, I bide my time just watching her. She’s small. She can’t be more than five-foot-two. She’s tiny at the waist and has gentle curves at her hips and tits. Her breasts are full for how small she is. Maybe not quite a handful, but I bet they’re close. I mean to find out. 
Her blonde hair falls just past her shoulders. As much as I want her body, it’s her face that keeps me up at night. She has a heart-shaped face with green eyes and full, pink lips. She doesn’t wear a lot of make-up to wait tables. Her hair is always either up in a ponytail or hanging loose around her shoulders. I want to see her all dressed up for me in something tight and sexy. And then I want to tear off her clothes off and taste everything she’s hiding underneath. 
Soon, Laurel. But not soon enough. 
Mercer Scott always wanted to be a writer. One day she discovered that life is too f*cking short, so she wrote down her stories and sent them out into the world. She hoped that one day someone like her would find her stories and read them. Mercer Scott lives in the Pacific Northwest and spends her days pursuing pleasure… in all its forms.
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Never Lost by TL Mayhew

Title: Never Lost
Series: The Dirty Heroes Collection
Author: TL Mayhew
Genre: Dark Romance
Release Date: May 11, 2020
Shadows are formed by objects blocking rays of light.
Just not mine.
Its darkness is ever-present, taunting me, tricking me into doing things a man should never do, but I’ve learned to embrace it.
Will she?
Lost in dreams of a life anywhere but here, she’s ignorant to the danger perched just outside the window.
Taking her will be easy.
But can I teach her to fly?
Chapter 1
Winsley
The French maid costume glides easily against my bare skin, puckering my nipples as he lifts it over my head. 
Role-playing was his idea. Being an actor, he’s the perfect teacher and he’s more than happy to coach me along, but not because of what he does for a living, instead it’s because tonight, I’ll call him Sir. 
Once the costume is in a puddle on the floor, he raises his hands and cups my face. Nothing could have prepared me for this moment. 
His lips inches from mine. 
His warm breath caressing my skin. 
When our lips finally connect, the kiss weakens my knees both figuratively and literally, and now, I’m looking up from my place at his feet. 
Larger than life, he towers over me with crossed arms and a stare only the devil could have created. Our eyes lock, he gives me an approving nod and I make quick work of loosening his belt and unfastening his pants. They drop to the floor with a light thud. 
What lies beneath is long, thick, and intimidating but not beyond my abilities. “No pain, no gain. Isn’t that what they say?” I mutter before relaxing my jaw, opening my mouth as wide as it will go, and… 
“He’s hot, isn’t he?” Jennifer asks, ripping the daydream from my mind like duct tape from skin. 
The magazine falls to the floor and my face tints red. I shrug in response. “Eh, he’s okay.”
“Liar! You’re totally into him, look at your face.” When she realizes just how much, her lips form a giant O. “Wait, look at your face. What in God’s name were you thinking about?”
“Nothing,” I mutter, secretly eyeing the sexy smile shining back up at me from the floor. 
“You’re so full of shit. Tell me.”
Picking the magazine up and tossing it back on the rack, I push the shopping cart forward and begin placing items on the rubber belt, ignoring her pressing look. If I don’t, the daydream will surely gush out on a waterfall of words.
I’ve known Jennifer since we were in elementary school. 
We both ended up in Los Angeles for different reasons, hers was an agent. Discovered at the tender age of nine, her acting career began early. Starring in commercials and kid shows she was an instant hit. Mine, was my mother. 
Seeing Jennifer’s success, my mother was insistent on me following in my best friend’s footsteps. Which meant picking up and moving across the country. Unfortunately for her, it never interested me as much as it did my best friend. 
Until now.
“Okay, I guess I won’t tell you about the open casting calls for extras on his next film A Taste of Yesteryear,” she retorts. 
One sentence and I’m frozen in place. Did she say what I think she did? She couldn’t have because it’s not possible my luck could be this good. Being on the set of his movie could mean a chance at meeting the infamous Preston Pace, in actual fucking person. 
“You’re joking…right?” I ask, turning to face her. “Because if you are, I will strangle the life out of you right here in this store.” My fingers circle around her neck, but she brushes me off with little effort. 
Pointing a finger in my face, she confirms, “So you do like him. I knew it.”  
“Jennifer…” I warn. 
Her grin goes wider. “I’m not joking, but I’m also not telling you any details until you tell me what you were fantasizing about with Mr. Six Pack Abs here,” she says, slapping a cover with the back of her hand.  
“Seriously? You’re incorrigible.” 
“Seriously,” she replies, crossing her arms. 
It’s a sign I’m not getting any further until I spill my thoughts. I could lie, give her some fluffy tale about picket fences and a family with two point three kids, but when you’ve been friends for as long as we have, she’d know I’m not being honest, so I tell her the truth. “I was thinking about him ripping off my French maid costume from Halloween last year. If you must know.”
“Girl…I knew you were dirty, but damn. You’ve been reading too many romance novels.” 
Or watching too many Preston movies, I think to myself.  
“Maybe I shouldn’t say anything you might end up…”
“Will you just fucking tell me?” I whisper-shout. 
“Ma’am?” a male voice sounds in the back of my mind.
“Okay, don’t get your panties in a wad.” She glances to the right and then back at me. “The casting site said Thursday at 6:00 a.m. I’m planning on trying out for one of the costars.” 
“That’s in two days! When were you going to tell me?” I ask her, with a hand on my hip.
“Ma’am?” The voice again. 
On a huff I look around Jennifer, where a heavy-set man leans against the handle of his cart. “You’re holding up the line,” he says flatly.
 Jennifer laughs and nods behind me. 
When I turn, I’m met with a bored stare from the cashier. My cheeks tint red for the second time this morning. I don’t know what is wrong with me; I haven’t blushed this much in a single day—ever. After apologizing profusely, first, to the man behind us and then to the cashier, I move forward.  
She’s indifferent about my very existence, picking at her nails while she reads off the total. “Forty-six seventy-three.” 
Once I’ve paid, and placed all our things in the cart, we head for the door. “So, like were you going to just keep this to yourself?” 
“I was waiting for the right time. When I saw you eye fucking the magazine, that’s when I knew…it was the right time.” She chuckles. 
“Very funny, but seriously though?” I encourage, placing the items in the car.  
She doesn’t readily respond, instead she grabs the empty cart and pushes it into a bay. I suspect tempting me with the suspense of what exciting things she has to say.   
Once we’re both back in the car, I twist in the seat and demand all the details. “Tell me everything.”
The time of secrecy is over, and she’s more than happy to fill me in, clapping her hands excitedly. “Yes! Okay, so my agent told me there were these casting calls online. She said I should visit the site, check out the story lines, and if I liked any, I could put my name in. That’s when I saw it, the post for extras. They’re only looking for a limited number, like ten or something, and it’s a restaurant scene, so you’d be inside. Not out in the elements. And you might be fake eating with some handsome actor, but that doesn’t matter because you’ll get to meet Mr. Preston Pace.” She takes a breath then starts again, “You just have to do this Winsley, please.”
“I don’t know, Jen. I love you, and the thought of meeting him raises chill bumps all over my body, but it’s been so long since I’ve done any acting,” I explain, but the words coming out don’t match what I’m feeling. My answer should be an immediate yes. Any chance at meeting Preston is one I shouldn’t hesitate in taking, but I’m not sure I’m ready to live outside of my fantasy quite yet. 
In my world, he ticks all the boxes of the perfect man: respectful, funny, smart, and sexy. But what if we meet and he’s a total asshole? I know it’s not how they portray him in the media. It’s a given they’ll say whatever they’re told and then some. All it takes is a good PR rep and a few good words. I’m just not ready my dreams to be shattered yet.    
“You eat, don’t you?”
“Yeah…” I answer with creased brows, wondering where she’s going with this. 
“And you know how to converse with others, right?” she asks, somehow with a straight face. 
I roll my eyes.  
“That my lovely, lovely friend is all the acting you’ll need to do.” She takes my hand in hers and flutters long lashes over big brown eyes. “Please.”
On a deep sigh, I drop my head back to the seat. “Don’t make me regret this.”
Without warning, she leans over and kisses me on the cheek. “Girl, we are going to have so much fun!”
HOSTED BY:

Killian Ryan Michele


#PreOrderNow  Killian (The Fearless Few Series) Book 1→ by Ryan Michele is releasing April 22 → #Available for preorder #OneClickToday at your favorite retailer.
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WAITING FOR MY QUEEN by Georgia Cates

🔥🔥 CHAPTER REVEAL 🔥🔥 Are you dying to get your hands on Waiting for my Queen by Georgia Cates?! You are in for a treat. We have a chapter reveal to hold you over until release day, March 3rd!

BLURB Emilia— All I’ve ever wanted was to marry for love. But girls like me don’t have that luxury. We are used as pawns in a game we can’t control. The game? It’s called Mafia. I was foolish enough to try to change the rules… and I lost.   Luca— She was promised to me years ago. And he dared to take her from me. Dared to touch what was mine. I put an end to that. I hope he’s enjoying the view from his dirt room.   Emilia— My beloved’s killer placed a ruby ring on my finger and called me his queen. But that red gem symbolizes something different for me. It represents the blood shed by those I love most. Hell was empty the day we wed. Because the devil was standing before me and said “I do.”   Luca— I saw her as a possession. A shiny toy I didn’t want other boys to play with. But she’s so much more. Beautiful and brave and strong and broken all at once. She tastes like everything I’ve ever wanted.   Emilia— Hidden and patient. I wait for the perfect time to seek my revenge. But slowly, I feel him possessing me. His heart is full of darkness… and I still want every inch of him. Hard as I try, I can’t escape loving this beautiful monster.   Luca— I’m waiting patiently because I already know that she’s mine. Mine in a way that no one will ever understand. Even if she hasn’t yet realized it. For love, I’d do anything. For her, I’d do everything.   Add Waiting for My Queen to your Goodreads TBR: http://bit.ly/2QOCCWM PRE-ORDER LINKS Amazon: https://amzn.to/37aEGzA Apple Books: https://apple.co/2NWxfEG Nook: http://bit.ly/2r8hYHG Kobo: http://bit.ly/2qe0xpn Google Play: http://bit.ly/2qrhah9   CHAPTER REVEAL Chapter 5 Luca Rossini New York, 1978 My father’s consigliere, Arrigo, also known as his right-hand man, comes into our conference room where we’re sitting around the table. He’s one of the few people without the last name Rossini who are allowed into this room. “The Bellini women have arrived. They’re waiting for you in the living room.” My father goes to the wet bar and chuckles as he pours six glasses of whiskey. “They came. You know what this means, don’t you?” “It means they have no allies willing to go to battle for them. They’re out of options,” my brother Stephan says. “Exactly. And that means we’ve won the war. The Bellini assets are ours.” And Emilia Bellini is finally mine. Everyone takes a glass of whiskey, even my youngest brother Enzo who is only sixteen. “You should be the one to lead us in this toast, Luca. This is your victory.” I didn’t do this alone. It began with my grandfather’s foresight so many years ago. “From long ago until now, here’s to all of the decisions that led us to this place.” “But mostly your clever decisions, son. Your bravery,” my father says. We click our glasses together and toss back the whiskey. Enzo coughs and sputters much like I did the first time I had a shot of whiskey. “Such a mamma’s boy.” Dante loves ragging on Enzo. I place my hand on top of my baby brother’s head and muss up his hair. “What’s the matter? Can’t handle your liquor?” “I can handle it. It just went down the wrong way.” “Sure, it did, little bro.” I was younger than Enzo when I had my first shot of whiskey. I still remember the way it burned on the way down. I also remember pretending that I could handle it although I wasn’t certain that someone hadn’t swapped the liquor out with lighter fluid. My father slams his glass on the table. “Come on, boys. Time to collect our spoils of war.” This moment has been a long time coming. As I walk to where the women are waiting, it suddenly doesn’t feel real to me. I’m so accustomed to delays that I find myself wondering what the next one will be. But I remind myself that we’re in charge now, and there’ll be no more excuses. Emilia is going home with me tonight. The six Bellini women are seated when we enter the living room, and my eyes bounce back and forth between the daughters seated on each side of their mother. Both are beauties and very similar, but one is much lovelier than the other. I can’t decide which one is Emilia because it’s been too many years since I’ve seen her. “Welcome to our home,” my mother says as she comes into the room. Sofia smiles, but the hostility in her expression isn’t disguised. I don’t fault her for that, though. We’ve earned her hatred a hundred times over. “Your home is as lovely as I remember it.” Her tone is ice cold. “How long has it been since you were last here?” “Many, many years.” “That’s a shame. Looking back on it now, you and I should have spent more time together and raised the children to know each other. Perhaps things would have gone differently if we had.” “Perhaps.” I focus my attention on the girl sitting to Sofia’s left. The more beautiful one. The older-looking one. The more frightened-looking one with tears pooling in her lower lids. Dark brown hair cascading over her shoulders and down her arms, the ends nuzzling against her bare skin like a frightened child clinging to its mother. Almond-shaped deep-caramel eyes surrounded by lush dark lashes. A few scattered freckles across the bridge of her perfectly shaped nose. Plump, glossy coral lips. In my wildest dreams, my betrothed didn’t grow up to be this beautiful. And it annoys the hell out of me because I don’t want to be attracted to her. I want to make her suffer. Sofia Bellini grips the hand of the girl in question. “Please, Marco. Swear to me on your honor that my daughter will be safe with you.” My father chuckles. “Emilia is going to give us babies, heirs to the Rossini empire. There is no safer place for her than with our family. You know that.” Sofia and the girl beside her, my Emilia, embrace one another and sob. Her grandmother and sisters cluster around her, doing the same. It’s pathetic. I would have expected less of a display from Bellinis. Certainly not this spectacle. My betrothed has weaknesses. Those will need to be eliminated before she influences our sons with that nonsense. “That’s more than enough of that,” I tell them. She lifts her chin, and her eyes meet mine for the first time. Inside those deep-caramel orbs, I see something I like very much: rage. There during one heartbeat and gone the next, it was only a fleeting flash. But I saw it and I don’t mistake it for what it is. This girl is going to be so much fun to break. “Come, Emilia. I’m ready to take you home.” “She won’t be living here?” the grandmother asks. “I have my own home. She’ll live there with me.” “You didn’t mention anything about her living outside of the Rossini compound.” “I don’t think we’re obligated to tell you anything more than we wish to tell you, Sofia. In case you’ve forgotten, we have full control,” my father says. Soft murmurs pass back and forth between Emilia and her mother, and I’m unable to decipher what they’re saying. And it pisses me off. Reaching for her upper arm, I tug. “That’ll be all of that.” When she’s on her feet, I realize just how small she is. A dainty little princess to break. That’ll be fun. “Where’s your suitcase?” “The foyer.” “We’ll pick it up on the way out.” There’s an overlapping of goodbyes and I-love-yous as Emilia and I leave, but her mother’s voice bleeds through the noise. “When will I see her again?” It’s never been my intention to keep Emilia from her family. I see no value in separating them, but that’s something I’ll keep to myself for now. Continuing to walk forward, I don’t look back. “You’ll see her when I decide I want you to see her.” I’m pleased when I manage to get her into the back seat of my car without a bunch of carrying on. “Where to?” Sal asks. “Home.” “Yes, sir.” During the drive to my house, I don’t say a word to Emilia. I want her fear to escalate to the highest level possible. And I believe I’m successful as I listen to the sound of her rapid, unsteady breath filtering through the silence. She takes a final deep breath and blows it out slowly through pursed lips when Sal parks the car inside the garage. I’d love to know what’s going through that mind of hers right now. “Welcome home, Emilia.” No response from her. No surprise from me. I fetch her suitcase from the trunk, and she follows me through the house as I lead her upstairs to the bedroom. Our bedroom. “You’ll get the full tour tomorrow. Right now, you and I have some loose ends to tie up.” “What kind of loose ends?” “You’ll see.” I place her suitcase on the bench at the foot of the bed and point at the door to our left. “That’s the bathroom. There’s a pregnancy test waiting for you on the vanity. When you’ve finished, show me the results.” “I don’t know how to take a pregnancy test.” “You can read, can’t you?” “Of course, I can.” “Follow the directions on the box.” “Why are you making me do this?” “I have to be certain that you aren’t pregnant with Moretti’s bastard.” “I’m not pregnant.” “Then take the test and prove it.” “Fine.” There it is again. That flash of anger in her eyes. That’s it. Come out, angry princess. I want to play with you. She marches into the bathroom and shuts the door with a firm thud. A brave little princess she is to do that under my roof. Several minutes tick by and she emerges from the bathroom. “The directions say it takes two hours for the results to appear.” “I’m aware.” Two hours. What shall we do while we wait? She crosses her arms, looking around my bedroom. Avoiding my eyes. “Come and sit next to me. I won’t bite… unless you’re into that kind of thing.” “I’m fine where I am.” “I’m not asking.” I pat the bed. “Sit beside me.” She does as I tell her, but the scowl on her face lets me know that she isn’t pleased about it. “Happy?” “No.” “You’ve gotten everything you wanted. What do you have to be unhappy about?” “Our union should have been a joyous occasion. A beautiful wedding where our friends and families came together to celebrate our marriage.” “A marriage between us was never going to be a joyous occasion.” “It could have been, but you chose to make things difficult and unpleasant. That means I was forced to do things I would have preferred to avoid.” “I know the specifics of how you murdered Nic. You took pleasure in what you did to him.” “Yes. I rather enjoyed it.” “Only someone evil could admit that.” I expected her to bring up Moretti sooner or later, but hearing his name on her lips pisses me off more than I anticipated. “Would you like to know what his last words were?” She looks at me a moment before answering. “No.” “You really don’t want to know what your beloved boy said to me while he was lying there in a pool of his own blood dying?” “I doubt anything you tell me would be the truth. And I know what Nic’s last words were to me. Those are the ones that I’ll always hold dear inside my heart.” There’s my confirmation. Marrying Moretti wasn’t about not marrying me. She truly loved him. “Suit yourself. If you can live without knowing what he said about you, then I can live without telling you.” “I can live with it. The question is how do you live with yourself after brutally taking the life of an innocent man?” “Moretti wasn’t innocent. He tried to take what belonged to me.” “Contrary to what you may believe, I have never belonged to you.” “We were promised to each other by our grandfathers. Betrothed. I was told my entire life that you were to be my wife.” “It’s 1978. A betrothal between us when we were children should never have happened.” “But it did happen. And you will always belong to me whether you like it or not.” One of her brows lifts. “Unless that pregnancy test proves that I’m carrying Nic’s baby? You won’t have me then, will you?” I had hoped that Emilia’s Catholic faith, or maybe Nicolò’s fear of Alessandro, had persuaded them to not have sex. I see now that any hope I had was in vain. The thought of Moretti putting his filthy, inferior hands on my betrothed enrages me. But what’s even worse is that she let him. She wanted him to touch her and he did. Now, she could be pregnant. I can’t handle it. I’m so pissed off that I don’t trust myself to be in the same room with her right now. I get up with the intentions of leaving, but I stop when I hear Emilia’s low chuckle. Moving to stand in front of her, I lean down until we’re so close that I have to blink a few times to focus on her eyes. She doesn’t blink. She doesn’t cower. She stares right back at me. “I’m going to do you a kindness, which is very out of character for me, and I’m going to leave this room. While I’m gone, I’d suggest that you get on those little Catholic knees of yours and pray very hard that the pregnancy test you just took is negative. Or we’re going to have a huge problem on our hands.”   ABOUT THE AUTHOR Georgia resides in rural Mississippi with her wonderful husband, Jeff, and their two beautiful daughters. She spent fourteen years as a labor and delivery nurse before she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an author and hasn’t looked back yet. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing. When she’s being domestic, she’s listening to her music and visualizing scenes for her current work in progress. Every story coming from her always has a song to inspire   AUTHOR LINKS Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaCatesAuthor Facebook Author Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/GeorgiasGems Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeorgiaCates Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorgeorgiacates/ Tumblr: http://authorgeorgiacates.tumblr.com/ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5228869.Georgia_Cates Website: http://georgiacates.com/ Amazon: http://bit.ly/GeorgiaCatesAmazonPage Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/georgia-cates Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/georgiacates1/    

WAITING FOR MY QUEEN by Georgia Cates

🔥🔥 CHAPTER REVEAL 🔥🔥 Are you dying to get your hands on Waiting for my Queen by Georgia Cates?! You are in for a treat. We have a chapter reveal to hold you over until release day, March 3rd!

BLURB Emilia— All I’ve ever wanted was to marry for love. But girls like me don’t have that luxury. We are used as pawns in a game we can’t control. The game? It’s called Mafia. I was foolish enough to try to change the rules… and I lost.   Luca— She was promised to me years ago. And he dared to take her from me. Dared to touch what was mine. I put an end to that. I hope he’s enjoying the view from his dirt room.   Emilia— My beloved’s killer placed a ruby ring on my finger and called me his queen. But that red gem symbolizes something different for me. It represents the blood shed by those I love most. Hell was empty the day we wed. Because the devil was standing before me and said “I do.”   Luca— I saw her as a possession. A shiny toy I didn’t want other boys to play with. But she’s so much more. Beautiful and brave and strong and broken all at once. She tastes like everything I’ve ever wanted.   Emilia— Hidden and patient. I wait for the perfect time to seek my revenge. But slowly, I feel him possessing me. His heart is full of darkness… and I still want every inch of him. Hard as I try, I can’t escape loving this beautiful monster.   Luca— I’m waiting patiently because I already know that she’s mine. Mine in a way that no one will ever understand. Even if she hasn’t yet realized it. For love, I’d do anything. For her, I’d do everything.   Add Waiting for My Queen to your Goodreads TBR: http://bit.ly/2QOCCWM PRE-ORDER LINKS Amazon: https://amzn.to/37aEGzA Apple Books: https://apple.co/2NWxfEG Nook: http://bit.ly/2r8hYHG Kobo: http://bit.ly/2qe0xpn Google Play: http://bit.ly/2qrhah9   CHAPTER REVEAL Chapter 5 Luca Rossini New York, 1978 My father’s consigliere, Arrigo, also known as his right-hand man, comes into our conference room where we’re sitting around the table. He’s one of the few people without the last name Rossini who are allowed into this room. “The Bellini women have arrived. They’re waiting for you in the living room.” My father goes to the wet bar and chuckles as he pours six glasses of whiskey. “They came. You know what this means, don’t you?” “It means they have no allies willing to go to battle for them. They’re out of options,” my brother Stephan says. “Exactly. And that means we’ve won the war. The Bellini assets are ours.” And Emilia Bellini is finally mine. Everyone takes a glass of whiskey, even my youngest brother Enzo who is only sixteen. “You should be the one to lead us in this toast, Luca. This is your victory.” I didn’t do this alone. It began with my grandfather’s foresight so many years ago. “From long ago until now, here’s to all of the decisions that led us to this place.” “But mostly your clever decisions, son. Your bravery,” my father says. We click our glasses together and toss back the whiskey. Enzo coughs and sputters much like I did the first time I had a shot of whiskey. “Such a mamma’s boy.” Dante loves ragging on Enzo. I place my hand on top of my baby brother’s head and muss up his hair. “What’s the matter? Can’t handle your liquor?” “I can handle it. It just went down the wrong way.” “Sure, it did, little bro.” I was younger than Enzo when I had my first shot of whiskey. I still remember the way it burned on the way down. I also remember pretending that I could handle it although I wasn’t certain that someone hadn’t swapped the liquor out with lighter fluid. My father slams his glass on the table. “Come on, boys. Time to collect our spoils of war.” This moment has been a long time coming. As I walk to where the women are waiting, it suddenly doesn’t feel real to me. I’m so accustomed to delays that I find myself wondering what the next one will be. But I remind myself that we’re in charge now, and there’ll be no more excuses. Emilia is going home with me tonight. The six Bellini women are seated when we enter the living room, and my eyes bounce back and forth between the daughters seated on each side of their mother. Both are beauties and very similar, but one is much lovelier than the other. I can’t decide which one is Emilia because it’s been too many years since I’ve seen her. “Welcome to our home,” my mother says as she comes into the room. Sofia smiles, but the hostility in her expression isn’t disguised. I don’t fault her for that, though. We’ve earned her hatred a hundred times over. “Your home is as lovely as I remember it.” Her tone is ice cold. “How long has it been since you were last here?” “Many, many years.” “That’s a shame. Looking back on it now, you and I should have spent more time together and raised the children to know each other. Perhaps things would have gone differently if we had.” “Perhaps.” I focus my attention on the girl sitting to Sofia’s left. The more beautiful one. The older-looking one. The more frightened-looking one with tears pooling in her lower lids. Dark brown hair cascading over her shoulders and down her arms, the ends nuzzling against her bare skin like a frightened child clinging to its mother. Almond-shaped deep-caramel eyes surrounded by lush dark lashes. A few scattered freckles across the bridge of her perfectly shaped nose. Plump, glossy coral lips. In my wildest dreams, my betrothed didn’t grow up to be this beautiful. And it annoys the hell out of me because I don’t want to be attracted to her. I want to make her suffer. Sofia Bellini grips the hand of the girl in question. “Please, Marco. Swear to me on your honor that my daughter will be safe with you.” My father chuckles. “Emilia is going to give us babies, heirs to the Rossini empire. There is no safer place for her than with our family. You know that.” Sofia and the girl beside her, my Emilia, embrace one another and sob. Her grandmother and sisters cluster around her, doing the same. It’s pathetic. I would have expected less of a display from Bellinis. Certainly not this spectacle. My betrothed has weaknesses. Those will need to be eliminated before she influences our sons with that nonsense. “That’s more than enough of that,” I tell them. She lifts her chin, and her eyes meet mine for the first time. Inside those deep-caramel orbs, I see something I like very much: rage. There during one heartbeat and gone the next, it was only a fleeting flash. But I saw it and I don’t mistake it for what it is. This girl is going to be so much fun to break. “Come, Emilia. I’m ready to take you home.” “She won’t be living here?” the grandmother asks. “I have my own home. She’ll live there with me.” “You didn’t mention anything about her living outside of the Rossini compound.” “I don’t think we’re obligated to tell you anything more than we wish to tell you, Sofia. In case you’ve forgotten, we have full control,” my father says. Soft murmurs pass back and forth between Emilia and her mother, and I’m unable to decipher what they’re saying. And it pisses me off. Reaching for her upper arm, I tug. “That’ll be all of that.” When she’s on her feet, I realize just how small she is. A dainty little princess to break. That’ll be fun. “Where’s your suitcase?” “The foyer.” “We’ll pick it up on the way out.” There’s an overlapping of goodbyes and I-love-yous as Emilia and I leave, but her mother’s voice bleeds through the noise. “When will I see her again?” It’s never been my intention to keep Emilia from her family. I see no value in separating them, but that’s something I’ll keep to myself for now. Continuing to walk forward, I don’t look back. “You’ll see her when I decide I want you to see her.” I’m pleased when I manage to get her into the back seat of my car without a bunch of carrying on. “Where to?” Sal asks. “Home.” “Yes, sir.” During the drive to my house, I don’t say a word to Emilia. I want her fear to escalate to the highest level possible. And I believe I’m successful as I listen to the sound of her rapid, unsteady breath filtering through the silence. She takes a final deep breath and blows it out slowly through pursed lips when Sal parks the car inside the garage. I’d love to know what’s going through that mind of hers right now. “Welcome home, Emilia.” No response from her. No surprise from me. I fetch her suitcase from the trunk, and she follows me through the house as I lead her upstairs to the bedroom. Our bedroom. “You’ll get the full tour tomorrow. Right now, you and I have some loose ends to tie up.” “What kind of loose ends?” “You’ll see.” I place her suitcase on the bench at the foot of the bed and point at the door to our left. “That’s the bathroom. There’s a pregnancy test waiting for you on the vanity. When you’ve finished, show me the results.” “I don’t know how to take a pregnancy test.” “You can read, can’t you?” “Of course, I can.” “Follow the directions on the box.” “Why are you making me do this?” “I have to be certain that you aren’t pregnant with Moretti’s bastard.” “I’m not pregnant.” “Then take the test and prove it.” “Fine.” There it is again. That flash of anger in her eyes. That’s it. Come out, angry princess. I want to play with you. She marches into the bathroom and shuts the door with a firm thud. A brave little princess she is to do that under my roof. Several minutes tick by and she emerges from the bathroom. “The directions say it takes two hours for the results to appear.” “I’m aware.” Two hours. What shall we do while we wait? She crosses her arms, looking around my bedroom. Avoiding my eyes. “Come and sit next to me. I won’t bite… unless you’re into that kind of thing.” “I’m fine where I am.” “I’m not asking.” I pat the bed. “Sit beside me.” She does as I tell her, but the scowl on her face lets me know that she isn’t pleased about it. “Happy?” “No.” “You’ve gotten everything you wanted. What do you have to be unhappy about?” “Our union should have been a joyous occasion. A beautiful wedding where our friends and families came together to celebrate our marriage.” “A marriage between us was never going to be a joyous occasion.” “It could have been, but you chose to make things difficult and unpleasant. That means I was forced to do things I would have preferred to avoid.” “I know the specifics of how you murdered Nic. You took pleasure in what you did to him.” “Yes. I rather enjoyed it.” “Only someone evil could admit that.” I expected her to bring up Moretti sooner or later, but hearing his name on her lips pisses me off more than I anticipated. “Would you like to know what his last words were?” She looks at me a moment before answering. “No.” “You really don’t want to know what your beloved boy said to me while he was lying there in a pool of his own blood dying?” “I doubt anything you tell me would be the truth. And I know what Nic’s last words were to me. Those are the ones that I’ll always hold dear inside my heart.” There’s my confirmation. Marrying Moretti wasn’t about not marrying me. She truly loved him. “Suit yourself. If you can live without knowing what he said about you, then I can live without telling you.” “I can live with it. The question is how do you live with yourself after brutally taking the life of an innocent man?” “Moretti wasn’t innocent. He tried to take what belonged to me.” “Contrary to what you may believe, I have never belonged to you.” “We were promised to each other by our grandfathers. Betrothed. I was told my entire life that you were to be my wife.” “It’s 1978. A betrothal between us when we were children should never have happened.” “But it did happen. And you will always belong to me whether you like it or not.” One of her brows lifts. “Unless that pregnancy test proves that I’m carrying Nic’s baby? You won’t have me then, will you?” I had hoped that Emilia’s Catholic faith, or maybe Nicolò’s fear of Alessandro, had persuaded them to not have sex. I see now that any hope I had was in vain. The thought of Moretti putting his filthy, inferior hands on my betrothed enrages me. But what’s even worse is that she let him. She wanted him to touch her and he did. Now, she could be pregnant. I can’t handle it. I’m so pissed off that I don’t trust myself to be in the same room with her right now. I get up with the intentions of leaving, but I stop when I hear Emilia’s low chuckle. Moving to stand in front of her, I lean down until we’re so close that I have to blink a few times to focus on her eyes. She doesn’t blink. She doesn’t cower. She stares right back at me. “I’m going to do you a kindness, which is very out of character for me, and I’m going to leave this room. While I’m gone, I’d suggest that you get on those little Catholic knees of yours and pray very hard that the pregnancy test you just took is negative. Or we’re going to have a huge problem on our hands.”   ABOUT THE AUTHOR Georgia resides in rural Mississippi with her wonderful husband, Jeff, and their two beautiful daughters. She spent fourteen years as a labor and delivery nurse before she decided to pursue her dream of becoming an author and hasn’t looked back yet. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing. When she’s being domestic, she’s listening to her music and visualizing scenes for her current work in progress. Every story coming from her always has a song to inspire   AUTHOR LINKS Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaCatesAuthor Facebook Author Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/GeorgiasGems Twitter: https://twitter.com/GeorgiaCates Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorgeorgiacates/ Tumblr: http://authorgeorgiacates.tumblr.com/ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5228869.Georgia_Cates Website: http://georgiacates.com/ Amazon: http://bit.ly/GeorgiaCatesAmazonPage Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/georgia-cates Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/georgiacates1/    

While You Were Spying by Stina Lindenblatt




Title: While You Were Spying
Series: Love Undercover #1
Author: Stina Lindenblatt
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Release Date: February 20, 2020



Blurb

She needs a fake husband. He needs to protect his best friend…

Ever since I caught my boyfriend getting hot and steamy with another woman, I’ve thrown myself into my career. But now I’m ready to move from being the super-efficient office manager to an operative with Quade Security and Investigation.

Just as soon as I prove to my boss that I’m kick-ass enough to do the job.

So when my grandmother asks for my help, there’s no way I can say no. Her former love has a mission for Jayden—my hot colleague and best friend—and me. What more could I want?

***
The last thing I want is for Isabelle to be is an operative. Shes my best friend, and I hate the idea of her being in danger. Unfortunately, our boss has other plans.

Isabelle and I go undercover at a resort for happily married couples. But forget moonlight walks and hanging out by the pool. To maintain our cover, we have to participate in activities that would make a nun blush.

Clothes come flying off, and we agree to temporarily be friends-with-benefits while there. No strings attached. No complications. Nothing could be simpler. Right?

Wrong—because there’s another reason we’ve been lured to the resort. A reason that will put our hearts to the test…and our lives on the line.







Pre-order Links

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU





Chapter One

Isabelle

I nod at the jogger heading toward me. Six foot. Maybe six foot one. Marathoner. Early thirties.
Good-looking.
Single.
It’s also possible he has a girlfriend or wife, but she doesn’t like to run with him. Every day, rain or shine. Or as is so often the case during our regular morning runs overlooking the bay and marina…the fog.
He nods back like he does every time he sees me, his long stride effortlessly eating up the distance—the opposite of how the run is for me. My legs and lungs burn, beg me to slow down. Possibly even take a siesta.
Not much farther, I remind them. You can do this. I mentally break out the pom-poms and cheer my legs on while I keep an eye on my surroundings, noting anything unusual for this time of day.
That’s not to say I live in a bad neighborhood and have to watch for thugs and whatnots. But the number one rule of being an operative with Quade Security and Investigations is to be aware of your surroundings. The people, the location, the vehicles. Nothing is ignored. Nothing is considered insignificant.
Truth? I’m not an operative.
I’m the office manager—the person those five hot alpha men couldn’t survive without.
But although I enjoy my job, I have a different career aspiration. I want to be more than just an office manager.
I push myself a little harder and a little further, then slow my pace for the cool down. Even though the temperature isn’t exactly warm, sweat soaks through my T-shirt and running shorts. I can thank the last round of fartlek training—sprints that left my legs burning with resentment and resignation—for that.
I can also thank, with a healthy dose of cursing, Jayden Price.
My best friend. My colleague. And in his mind, my personal trainer.
Who is currently away on a mission, being all dark and dangerous and hot, helping to take down a Russian mafia crime boss.
I power walk across the street to the familiar Victorian-style bungalow, sandwiched between two taller houses. Their exteriors are light blue. Mine is rose pink—the color my grandmother on my mother’s side painted it many moons ago.
When she died five years ago, the house became mine, and I decided to keep the colors as they were: warm and eclectic.
I approach the stairs to the porch. Mojo, the big goofball of Bernese mountain dog, lumbers to his feet. His face shifts into his friendly doggy grin.
“Hey, boy. Anything exciting happen while I was running?” Despite his size, Mojo sucks as a running companion. He doesn’t like to run. At. All. Relaxing is his activity of choice.
Not exactly the dog you would associate with a man like Jayden, Mojo’s owner. You’d expect something big and powerful—and a whole lot of scary—like a German shepherd or a Rottweiler.
Mojo gives me a happy woof.
I laugh. “You don’t say. How about I shower, and then we can head to the office? And maybe the guys will be finished with their mission today.” I untie my sneaker shoelace and remove my front door key from it. Then I unlock the door and let Mojo into my house.
As I walk toward the bathroom, my cell phone rings from the kitchen table. Thinking it might be Jayden, informing me that he and the men are on their way to San Francisco, I make a quick detour to the kitchen and answer the phone without checking who it is.
“Hello?”
“Isabelle, darling,” Grandma Josephine exclaims.
A smile breaks out on my face. “Morning, Grandma.” And because I know she’s on speakerphone, and I know her routine, I add, “Good morning, Liza and Henri.”
I open the kitchen cupboard and remove a glass.
The three eighty-two-year-olds say good morning back to me, their voices more excited than they typically are for this time of day. And normally their voices are pretty damn happy.
“I’m in a bit of a kerfuffle,” Granny says. “Can you come over right away?”
“I have to go to work, but I can visit you afterward.”
“Now would be better. It’s rather urgent.” Her honey-smooth voice, which seduced the trousers off many a man in her younger days, has shifted slightly to the panicked zone.
And panic is not an emotion I associate with my grandmother.
“I just returned from my run, and I’m sweaty. Let me shower first.”
“A woman is never sweaty,” Liza says in a falsely snotty tone. “She only glows.”
“Well, my glow needs to be washed off before I can join you. And just so you know, I have Mojo with me.”
“Oh, is tall, dark, and handsome joining us?” Henri’s tone is more excited than usual.
“Darling,” Granny purrs, “how many times does Isabelle have to tell you Jayden isn’t gay?”
“I know that. Besides, even if he were, I’m old enough to be his father.”
“More like his grandfather,” Liza points out with a snorted laugh.
“No, Jayden won’t be joining me. He’s away on business.”
All three of them release a disappointed sigh.
“Such a shame,” Liza says on another sigh.
“I won’t be long,” I tell them before ending the call.
Forty-five minutes later, I’m in Sausalito, pressing my grandmother’s doorbell. After a heartbeat, her housekeeper opens the door and lets Mojo and me inside.
I hug Juanita, who is more like family to me. She’s been in my grandmother’s employment for as long as I can remember. Because the elegantly furnished estate home is too massive for her to handle on her own at her advanced age, she mostly does the cooking and light cleaning. A gardener and housekeeping company are also on Granny’s payroll.
Juanita fusses over Mojo, who laps up the attention like a paper towel. “Now, don’t you get fur all over the place, young man,” she chastises him with her typical warm and friendly smile.
He whimpers as if to apologize for snoozing on Granny’s couch the last time we were here.
“They’re on the balcony,” she tells me, even though I already know that. Unless it’s cold and rainy, the trio always eats their breakfast outside.
Mojo and I step onto the large deck that overlooks the bay. My stiletto heels click against the light, reddish-brown tiles.
Granny and Liza are seated on the wicker sofa, looking as elegant as always in their designer outfits. Henri sits in a matching armchair.
In front of them, the coffee table is loaded with teacups and an assortment of cut fruit and pastries, including my favorite—strawberry-and-cream filled croissants.
Which Granny only has on hand when she knows I’m coming over.
So, this definitely wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment request for me to join them.
Henri, being the gentleman that he is, stands. Or at least attempts to stand. It takes him a minute to get to his feet, his movements not as spry as they were twenty years ago. He’s wearing an expensive Italian-cut suit, the jacket a checkered camel fabric. He also has on a burgundy tie, dark-brown slacks, a fedora, and leather shoes that are worth a small fortune.
Henri has always had an eye for fashion.
I walk over to him, and he kisses me on both cheeks. “Looking gorgeous as always, Buttercup. I can’t believe you still haven’t found a beau yet. Those men are nothing but fools.”
I laugh because he says that every time.
“There’s nothing wrong with our Isabelle being particular,” Liza says. I lean down and kiss her powdery cheek. She pinches mine in return, with a teasing gleam in her eyes. “Although if she doesn’t hurry up and find herself a man, her eggs will be as old and wrinkly as mine.”
“Darling,” my grandmother says, “your eggs withered away decades ago. As did mine. But Isabelle has no need to worry about that. Thanks to modern technology, she can freeze her eggs now, so they are still youthful for when she’s ready to settle down with Mr. Perfect.”
I kiss her on the cheek and hug her. “I’m not interested in settling down with a man. I’m too busy with my career.”
Okay, that’s not entirely true. My career hasn’t exactly traveled in the direction I had envisioned it would when I obtained my political science degree.
Before attending college, I had planned to be a human rights lawyer and follow in my grandmother’s humanitarian footsteps. She was a popular film and stage actress in the sixties and seventies and then switched to focus on her philanthropic work.
She never went to law school. It was my father who pursued his law degree—corporate, not human rights. It was my father who strongly encouraged me to follow in his footsteps.
Except, being a lawyer wasn’t for me, I eventually realized.
A lifetime of legal talk sounded dull and uninspiring.
“That’s true,” Liza says. “It can’t be easy working for those five hot men.” She fans herself.
“Any luck yet convincing your boss to promote you to an operative?” Granny asks.
“Not yet. I know Liam wants to hire at least one female to join the team. Possibly two. But he’s been too busy to even consider candidates.”
Plus there’s the matter of him wanting experienced individuals, which I’m not. Or at least not experienced at the level he’s looking for.
“What you need to do is prove you’re fully capable of doing the job.”
“I know, but it’s not like I’ve had the opportunity to do that.” Other than some minor tasks, like interviewing persons of interest who were more likely to open up to a woman than a man.
But I want to do more than that. I want to be involved in the dangerous missions. Like when the government hires the team for operations that require outside assistance, beyond what the FBI and CIA can do.
The side of the company that the general public doesn’t know about.
As for the threesome’s original discussion about my love life—or rather, lack of one—I’m not looking to find my own happily ever after. My father cheated on my mother when I was a little kid. Mom never remarried after that. Dad did. Four more times. His marriages tend to last as long as a harvest moon. At most.
But I didn’t let this jade me against relationships. Not at first, anyway. I’ve had boyfriends over the years. But none—except for one—lasted long. Richard was a fellow political science major. The love of my life.
Until I found the love of my life going down on another woman. In our bedroom.
He’d never gone down on me, so my discovery was a double layer in the brick wall of disappointment.
I guess it was my fault for not kicking his sorry ass through the door sooner. Even before the situation with the other woman, I knew deep down that he wasn’t the right man for me.
For one, he hadn’t been a fan of the colored streaks in my hair (they were purple back then). And he preferred that I didn’t speak my mind when I accompanied him to the dinner parties his graduate school professors had thrown.
He even hinted more than once that I should also go to grad school and become a boring academic.
All right, he didn’t use the word boring.
That was all me.
A slight breeze blows a strand of hair into my face. I brush it behind my ear and bite into the yummy croissant. “So what was so urgent that I needed to rush over?”
Last time it was because she needed a fourth opinion on an outfit she was wearing to a gala for the opening of an art gallery. It was exhibiting photos by famous photographers—both alive and dead—that showcased the movie stars of the past—also both alive and dead.
“Urgent” means something entirely different to me than it does for Granny.
She exchanges a glance with Liza and Henri. They both rapidly nod their encouragement. “I’ve got the perfect opportunity for you to prove to your boss that you’ll be a great operative.”
“What opportunity?”
“An ex-boyfriend of mine needs your help.”
“Do I know him?” There have been a string of casual boyfriends since Grandpa’s death.
“No. Bernard Bradshaw and I used to be an item before I became famous. He was a director at the time, waiting for his big break. We dated for a few years, but then he had an offer to work in Europe.”
“Okay, but what kind of help are we talking about?”
Henri picks up his teacup. “The kind of help that you and that tall glass of hot stuff can give him, Buttercup.”
Granny grins. “He means Jayden. You and Jayden would be perfect for this mission. And Bernard agreed with me when I told him about you two.”
“Great, but what exactly does he need help with?”
“Bernard would rather talk to you face-to-face about it—because of the sensitive nature of what happened. But what I can tell you is that some information might’ve been stolen from at least one guest while they were staying at his resort. Bernard has several security guards employed there, but he wanted to hire someone from the outside, in case it was an inside job.”
“What resort?”
“Paradise Springs Resort.”
“It’s in Huntington Beach,” Liza chimes in.
Granny nods. “That’s right. You and Jayden would be staying there. You’ll love the place. The five-star resort is supposed to be incredible.” She’s positively beaming as she tells me this.
“Jayden and the rest of the team are away on a mission,” I inform her. “But I’ll call Bernard, and he and I can discuss what he needs from us.”
“He doesn’t want to talk about it on the phone. He has kind of grown paranoid in his old age. He wants to talk to the two of you in person about the case. He’s willing to fly you both down for the weekend. If not this weekend, then I’m sure he will be happy to wait until Jayden returns home.”
“Jayden’s pretty busy for the next while.” As the firm’s office manager and Jayden’s best friend, I am more than familiar with his schedule. “But I can easily fly down and meet with Bernard.”
She shakes her head. “That won’t do. If you two agree to help him, you will need to go undercover as guests at his resort.”
“Okay, I can do that. And I don’t need Jayden to join me for that.”
Henri chuckles. Liza giggles. “Buttercup, Paradise Springs Resort isn’t the kind of place a single woman goes to, hoping to find her soul mate. It’s a place where married couples go. Together.”
“That’s right. You and Jayden will go undercover as a happily married couple.” For some reason, Granny looks almost pleased by this.
But I can’t imagine why.
“Why Jayden? The other men I work with are just as good at their jobs as he is.” However, like Jayden, they’re also busy with other cases for a while.
“Yes, but from what you’ve told me, Jayden doesn’t want you to advance in your career at the firm. This would be the ideal way to demonstrate to him that you’re more than capable of doing the job. Just think about it. But I really do think you’ll agree that you don’t want to miss out on this golden opportunity to prove yourself to your boss.”
She has a point there.
“But what if Jayden doesn’t want to come with me?” Which is likely the case if he believes the mission is too dangerous—for me.
Liza giggles again, for a reason only she’s privy to.
Or maybe it’s just me who’s clueless about the cause. The other two appear to be in on the joke, their lips pressed together as though stifling laughter.
“I’m sure, Buttercup, you can persuade him,” Henri says with a wink.






Author Bio


Born in Brighton England, Stina Lindenblatt has lived in a number of countries, including England, the US, Finland, and Canada. This would explain her mixed up accent. She has a kinesiology degree and a MSc in sports biological sciences. In addition to writing fiction, she loves photography, especially the close-up variety, and currently lives in Calgary, Canada, with her husband and three kids.


Author Links

Priceless































































USA Today bestselling author Jane Henry delivers a high-stakes, gritty story of forbidden romance, devastation, and taboo love that knows no bounds.




She’s barely legal.

Under my protection.

Fully off-limits.

But all mine.




Ruthless is a fully stand-alone spin-off from The Wicked Doms series.





Please note: this dark romance contains mild dubious consent, elements of violence, and kinky, sexual scenes. If such subject matters offend you, please do not read.



























I look at the sea of faces in the cramped, humid high-school auditorium.

Cheerful. Youthful. Full of hope and promise and pride.

But I see past every one of them.

I’m not here to observe the masses getting their rolled-up diplomas and marching off to college, holding flowers from grandparents and parents and boyfriends, posting goddamned selfies all over social media. I’ve ignored every word the politicians and speakers said, more intent on the conversation around me than anything. I see every eye that looks at her. Everybody within arm’s reach.

I know each exit in this school, and every few minutes run my thumb along the cold metal I have tucked into my pants and the knife in my boot.

Ever vigilant. Ever watchful. Because this is my job.

I don’t give a shit about anyone else in this place.

The rest are faceless, nameless, my focus on the one girl who stands out from the crowd because of her sheer, vibrant beauty. The belle of the goddamned ball. She’s reckless and impulsive and brilliant.

My charge. My ward. The girl I’ve been commissioned to protect for four years.

The longest fucking years of my life.

Marissa Rykov.

Seventeen years old, just two days away from her eighteenth birthday. On the cusp of legal adulthood.

And the daughter of my father’s best friend.

Off limits, in every fucking sense of the word.

I’ve been Marissa’s bodyguard since she was thirteen years old. I’ve stayed in the background, attempting to give her the freedom a burgeoning teen needs, but honest to fucking God, screw that. I failed on that end. I could count every hair on her head. I could tell you the name, date of birth, location, and history of every single damn person she’s interacted with, and every boyfriend knew exactly who I was. I got to know them, too, and each has a folder on file with detailed background checks. Slightly over the top for teen-aged kids, and the files were admittedly slim, but I have no regrets.

She was just a child when we met, innocent to the ways of The Bratva. Ignorant of the work her father did.

And now, as she prepares to go off to college, it’s my job to keep protecting her.

I’ve kept myself aloof. Detached.

She’s a child.

But as I watch her walk across that stage, her brilliant smile lighting up the whole fucking Northern Hemisphere, my heart squeezes, and I swallow hard. Jesus, I’m proud of that girl. And I’d give fucking anything to keep that smile on her face.

I look away and school my features. I shouldn’t have allowed my admiration to show even for a second. If anyone… anyone suspected how I feel about her…

My phone buzzes, and I ignore it at first, watching as Marissa walks down the stage on death-defying heels she should never have been allowed to wear. I swallow hard as her father embraces her and hands her flowers. She scans the auditorium, as if looking for someone, when her eyes meet mine.

I give her a small nod before I turn away and answer the phone.

“What is it?”

Laina, my younger sister, is on the line.

“Do not take your eyes off of her, Nicolai.”

I’m instantly on guard. I swivel around to look back at Marissa, my pulse racing when I see her father at first, but I don’t see her. She was here a second ago.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I hiss into the phone as I push my way through the crowd to get to her.

“I overheard something I shouldn’t have,” Liana says, her voice shaking.

“Tell me.” My voice comes out in a choked whisper.

Where the fuck is she?

I knock a lady’s bag off her shoulder in my haste to get to her. “Hey!” she says, but I plow on, ignoring the angry crowd I shove out of my way, making my way toward the front of the auditorium.

“I can’t speak freely right now,” she says. “I’ll call you as soon as I can, but listen to me, do not let her out of your sight.”

And then I see Marissa. Bending down to pick something up, then laughing as she adjusts the ridiculous square graduation cap on her head.

I exhale a breath I didn’t know I held.

“You fucking tell me what’s going on, Laina.”

“I’ll call you right back.”

The phone goes dead. Cursing, I shove it in my pocket, keep my head down, and take my place beside Myron, her father. He shoots me a curious look.

I turn my focused gaze on Marissa. She’s walking hand in hand with her motherfucking boyfriend now, and I clench my fist. I hate when he touches her and have had to endure night after night watching her sneak away to be with him. I give her a semblance of privacy. His background’s clean, but Jesus what I wouldn’t give to break his pretty boy nose for coming near her.

He has the fucking balls to shoot me an audacious glare. I glare back, narrowing my eyes on him. He knows I’m watching his every fucking move. The prick swallows hard and visibly pales.

Good.

My phone rings again. I answer on the first ring.

“Yeah.”

“Listen to me.” It’s Laina. “I had to go where no one would hear me. I’m alone but I don’t want anyone to overhear. Do you see Myron?”

“Yes,” I say, my eyes reluctantly moving from Marissa to Myron.

“I went on a walk just now and overheard a talk between two of his men.” Her voice is hushed, shaking. We deal with high stakes in the Bratva, and I know intuitively anything that would send Laina into a panic matters. “He made a deal, Nicolai.”

The blood rushes in my ears so hard and fast it’s hard to hear her. I know the kinds of deals she could be talking about.

“He’s sold her,” she says, her voice breaking. “He’s put her up for auction. One week.”

“Who did?” I want utter clarity.

“Myron,” she breathes into the phone. My hands clench into fists of rage so tightly my knuckles turn white. I could kill him, right here, I could beat his motherfucking body to within an inch of his life before I slit his fucking throat.

This can’t be. Our brotherhood does not deal with human trafficking rings. There are no auctions with us.

What can she possibly be talking about?

“How do you know this?” I demand. This is no small task she’s given me, no small accusation she makes.

“I heard it with my own ears,” she says on a shaky whisper. “You have to take her. There’s no other way.”

Take her? What the fuck is she talking about?

“No,” I whisper into the phone. “I can’t do that. I’ll come home and we—”

“Everything okay, Nicolai?” Myron stands a few feet away, his dark black eyes suddenly looking more menacing than I remember.

Is it my imagination? Or is he really guilty?

Laina would not lie.

“Fine,” I tell him. It takes effort to keep my voice steady. “Are we off to the party?”

He’s rented a large hall. Food will be catered and he’s even hired a live band.

“Yes,” he says, and then he reaches for Marissa. He strokes his hand along her hair with a wistful expression and kisses the top of her head. A fatherly gesture, but in light of what Laina’s told me, his gesture makes my skin crawl.

“Nicolai,” Laina pleads into the phone. “You have to believe me. She’s being taken. Groomed. And put up for auction.”

“Where?” I ask, rage boiling inside me at the very thought of anyone touching Marissa.

“I don’t know,” she whispers. “I have to go. Get her out of there.”

The phone goes dead.

I run my hand through my hair and look wildly around the auditorium.

If Laina is wrong, my father will lose his mind, and I’ll be punished as a Bratva traitor, facing painful, brutal torture and death.

If she’s right…














USA Today Bestselling author Jane has been writing since her early teens, dabbling in short stories and poetry. When she married and began having children, her pen was laid to rest for several years, until the National Novel Writing Challenge (NaNoWriMo) in 2010 awakened in her the desire to write again. That year, she wrote her first novel, and has been writing ever since. With a houseful of children, she finds time to write in the early hours of the morning, squirreled away with a laptop, blanket, and cup of hot coffee. Years ago, she heard the wise advice, “Write the book you want to read,” and has taken it to heart. She sincerely hopes you also enjoy the books she likes to read.









The Seller
































































Being sold is just the beginning.


The best thing that ever happened to me was getting drugged in a nightclub and waking up in the possession of a man twice my age, a man who tells me he is going to train me and then sell me to the highest bidder.


What he doesn’t know is that I’m safer in his cage than I am on the streets.

He’s not the worst man in my life.

He’s not even the most dangerous.



He will awaken my desires.

He will mold me into his perfect toy.

He will make me marketable to the rich and twisted.

Then he will sell me,

And I’ll be free.




It’s the perfect plan, as long as I don’t make the one mistake that will ruin everything…

Falling in love.

























Stavros


She’s all limbs, long legs exposed under the insufficient length of what passes for a skirt, curled up against the cold truth of the world. Her face is hidden beneath a curtain of hair which won’t protect her from anything down here.

I saw her lift her head and look around as I was coming down the stairs, but she’s decided it’s better to pretend to not be awake now that I’m standing over her, a man she doesn’t know, and has no reason to trust.

She is lit by a single bare bulb hanging above her head. It casts shadows all around her helpless frame. Those dark depths hold horrors she can’t begin to imagine. This place of captivity will become her world over the next hours and days. Soon, she’ll forget that there is anything outside these walls. She won’t know anyone or anything besides me.

Her helplessness makes me throb with need. She is nineteen years old, almost too old for what I have planned for her, but I think we can make it work.

“Sit up,” I say, crouching down next to her prone form. It puts my face, my hands, my body closer to her, gives me more control and more presence.

She doesn’t move, but I can see her breath quicken in the flaring of her nostrils and the pulse visible at the base of her pale neck. Naughty girl, refusing an order. She’ll soon learn not to do that.

She’s going to learn to obey.

She’s going to become so conditioned to obedience that anything else is literally unthinkable.

That will come in time. Today she will be scared and perhaps even defiant.

I love these first precious hours with a new girl. This is the time in which I learn precisely where her soft spots are, and she discovers that the world is not what she thought it was.

I reach down, let my fingers run through her hair. It is smooth and silky, with just a little grip from the product she used to make it sit so sleekly around her face. My caress brings a whimper to her lips, then a gasp as I tighten my fingers, grabbing her hair down by the roots. I lift her head up. Her upper body follows. As I tilt her head back, she can’t help but look at me with pretty, innocent blue eyes.

She is trembling in my grasp, portraying the kind of fear entirely appropriate for a situation such as this. But that is the word that sticks in my mind. Portraying. I have been there when a hundred different girls have found themselves in this situation, I have seen a hundred frightened expressions and felt the tremors of their terror. There is something superficial about this one. She is afraid, but not as deeply as she should be. I wonder if the drugs are yet to fully wear off.

“Help me,” she whispers as I lift a bottle to her lips.

“I am helping you,” I say, dribbling a little of my sedative-laced water between her lips. She swallows automatically. Good girl.

“I need to call my family.”

“Sshhh,” I say, gentling her with a brief brush of my hand against her temple. “You’re alright.”

She’s not alright. She won’t be, either. With one rash decision, she’s fallen off the radar of safe society, and into the pit which surrounds it on all sides. Most people aren’t even aware how limited their safety is. They have no idea how brutal the chaos which surrounds them on all sides truly can be. This girl is about to find out, and there’s something beautiful in that.

Even if it means death, to have seen the true face of this world we call home just once, is real freedom. So, then, though she is locked away in this basement which is so distant from everything she knows, in some way, I am setting her free.

This girl is young, beautiful, and apparently, impulsive. She’s been taught that she is a person, but down here, in my basement, she is just raw material. We look into one another’s eyes for a long moment. She is trying to understand me, trying to work out if I am a hero who has saved her, or something else. Unfortunately for her, it is the latter.

“Please…” she has a tremor in her voice now. Reality is starting to sink in and she’s starting to get scared. She should be. Nothing good comes of finding yourself down here. This is the place hope comes to die.

“What’s your name?”

“Siri.”

I pause. “You’re named after the app?”

“I was born before the app,” she says, somewhat indignantly. In that moment she forgets her surroundings. She’s pulled back to her original self, and I get a glimpse of the girl who she was before she came down here. There’s something proud about her, something elegant, almost regal. This is a girl who comes from power.

Interesting.

“Who are your parents, Siri?”

She presses her lips together, and I know she’s not going to tell me.

“They’re dead.”

“Are they?”

She gives a quick little nod, tugging her hair against my fingers.

I’m not sure I believe her.

“My father killed my mother when I was four.”

She says it bluntly, matter of factly. It’s not an appeal to my emotion, it’s just information – and it has the ring of truth about it.

“And your father?”

“Died in prison.”

“Tragic,” I murmur.

“Like you give a fuck,” she shoots back, sudden fire emerging from her fragile frame.

“I don’t give a fuck,” I admit. No point pretending that this will be a meeting of emotional beings. I want to know who her parents are, because I want to know what level of heat having her is going to bring down on me. By the sounds of it, she’s a perfect candidate for my little program, an orphan with nobody to notice that she’s missing.

Everything about this girl is superficially made to order. Her personal situation, her appearance, her very bearing. I can feel the aristocracy in her veins. She is European and finely bred with it. She speaks with a hint of an American accent, indicating she’s spent some time in the United States, but she was picked up in Athens, so she’s either on vacation, or she’s returned home.

“You have a boyfriend?”

She presses her lips together again. Oh she has a neat little tell when she doesn’t want to talk.

“Yeah,” she says. “He’s a marine. He’s going to come here and kick your ass.”

“Is that right? Where was he when you were being plied with drinks in the bar?”

Her eyes flash. She doesn’t know that I know absolutely everything about how she was picked up. Nothing was left to chance. I saw a video of her lithe little ass swaying to the music before my man lured her in. She was very much alone, and very much on the prowl.

“You’re going to want to tell me the truth,” I purr softly, pulling her closer to me. “If I find that you’ve lied to me, you’ll be punished. Harshly.”

Her eyes flash defiance before she gives in. “Fine. I don’t have a boyfriend at the moment.”

“You’ll never have a boyfriend again, little one. You’ll have an owner.”

Siri rolls her eyes.

I let out a short laugh, surprised by her reaction. Usually that revelation brings hysterics, but she acts like I just told her to clean her room.

“You do understand what is happening to you, don’t you?”

“I’d have to be an idiot not to,” she says, fresh attitude surfacing. This one is going to test me. I am going to be taking my palm to her ass frequently, I can already tell that much.

I turn my attention away from her attitude and toward her appearance. She’s very pleasing to the eye. I like her hair. It’s long, but we’ll grow it out even longer. Men like long hair on their toys. Her eyes are a very nice shade of blue. I imagine they’ll shine in the sun, if she ever sees light again.

“What do you think is happening?”

“You’re probably going to kill me or something.”

Again, she speaks as if it doesn’t matter, as if my killing her would be a minor inconvenience. I wonder if she’s more damaged than she looks. A violent father, a deceased mother… major losses at a young age leave their marks on people. I should know better than anyone. She may be broken.

“I’m not going to kill you, Siri.”

She shrugs, as if it doesn’t really matter one way or another.

“What do you last remember?”

“Being in a club,” she says. “A guy bought me a drink…”

“Never take drinks from strangers,” I chide gently. “They rarely have good intentions.”

“I know,” she says, looking at me with those strangely calm eyes. “That’s why I drank it.”

Jesus.




Siri

He is handsome, but it is the kind of handsome which is just a veneer for evil. His face is generic in an attractive way. Dark hair, dark eyes, smooth voice. His bone structure is square and well balanced. The worst things come in the most attractive packages in my experience, and he is no exception.

“What’s your name?”

My survival depends on understanding this man. As much as he is trying to work me out, I’m trying to do the same – except I can’t let that show.

“You can call me Stavros.”

I nod.

He is a bad man. He has fucked up intentions. But he hasn’t hurt me, not yet, anyway. That’s good. I was bracing for pain. I thought he might be a sadist. I know he’s a sicko.

“So, why do you have me, Stavros?” I ask a question I already know the answer to.

“This is what I do,” he says, brushing another strand of hair away from my eyes. “I collect fine women, and I train them for service. When you are ready, you will be the pleasure toy of one of the richest men in the world.”

His words sound somehow far away, but I think it’s because I’m not breathing. I can’t believe he just said all of that, and so calmly too. I’m doing my best to stay collected in front of him. I have to toe a fine line. If I’m too calm, he’ll know something is up with me. If I give into my fear, then I’ll be useless to myself.

I’m already fucking this up. When I said the thing about drinking that laced drink, his head shot back like I’d socked him right on the nose. I can’t give into my nihilistic tendencies right now. I have to pretend I’m someone this would matter to.

“But, I have to go back to school. I have two more years… I have…”

“Nothing to worry about except me,” he interjects.

I like the way he speaks. His voice is low and calming. He doesn’t have the hectic energy of a madman, even if he is one. It’s helping keep me together, even as my world falls apart.

“Are you going to hurt me?”

“There is no benefit in hurting you,” he says. “And there’s certainly no point in traumatizing you. Nobody wants their toy to come to them broken.”

“Toys only get broken once they’re opened.”

His eyes light up with something like mirth. “Exactly,” he says without any kind of remorse or concern.

I swallow. There’s no point trying to appeal to his better side. I don’t think he has one. And there’s definitely no point in trying to make him feel sorry for me. He doesn’t care. My mind is racing. What do you say? What do you do? There are no scripts for moments like these. He said he was going to sell me.

“How much am I worth?”

His brow rises. “Why?

“I’m curious. I study economics. How much am I worth?”

“Depends,” he says, running his gaze up and down me with the critical eye of a marketer. “Are you a virgin?”

“No.”

“Less, then.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to discover that people who sell women are misogynistic.

“Although, we could get you hymen surgery and sell you as virginal, you look innocent enough,” he comments thoughtfully.

Everything he says is terrible, but he delivers it in such a way that it sounds nearly pedestrian.

“I mean, ROI, am I right?” I agree blandly.

It’s his turn to look shocked.

“You do understand that I am serious, Siri. You will be trained and sold.”

“Right. Yes.”

“Your life as you know it is over.”

“Yes.”

He shakes his head at me. “This is usually the part where the begging and the crying starts.”

“Does it work?”

“No.”

“Well, I might skip that part, then.”















It’s just as well Loki Renard became an author because other career paths proved disastrous. She was once thrown out of someone’s house for trying to sell them citrus based cleaning product, and her brief brush with corporate life ended when she wrote profiles for her fellow employees likening them to various feral animals then attempted to negotiate the idea of not coming into the office and getting paid anyway. Perhaps if she’d had the dedication to slug herself in the face a la Fight Club, things might have turned out differently.




































































































Being sold is just the beginning.

The best thing that ever happened to me was getting drugged in a nightclub and waking up in the possession of a man twice my age, a man who tells me he is going to train me and then sell me to the highest bidder.

What he doesn’t know is that I’m safer in his cage than I am on the streets.

He’s not the worst man in my life.

He’s not even the most dangerous.

He will awaken my desires.

He will mold me into his perfect toy.

He will make me marketable to the rich and twisted.

Then he will sell me,

And I’ll be free.


It’s the perfect plan, as long as I don’t make the one mistake that will ruin everything…

Falling in love.






















































It’s just as well Loki Renard became an author because other career paths proved disastrous. She was once thrown out of someone’s house for trying to sell them citrus based cleaning product, and her brief brush with corporate life ended when she wrote profiles for her fellow employees likening them to various feral animals then attempted to negotiate the idea of not coming into the office and getting paid anyway. Perhaps if she’d had the dedication to slug herself in the face a la Fight Club, things might have turned out differently.