Chapter Reveal

Chapter Reveal : Cougar From Hell by Marika Ray

Title: Cougar From Hell
Series: Hellman Brothers Series
Author: Marika Ray
Genre: Romantic Comedy/Small Town Romance
Release Date: January 12, 2023
Cover Design: Jennifer Olson


Daxon gently pulling my hand away from my face was what woke me up. I let out a soft groan that had absolutely nothing to do with the pain radiating from my forehead and everything to do with the beast of a man sitting right beside me, taking care of me like he was my personal nursemaid instead of the biggest irritant in my life at the moment. Sadly, he’d put a fresh shirt on at some point while I slept.

“Please tell me you haven’t been sitting there watching me sleep like some creep,” I croaked. Man, he hadn’t been kidding about the adrenaline crash.

Daxon snorted and let go of my hand, more’s the pity. “No, of course not. But you were snoring so loudly you interrupted my work. Figured I’d wake you up and make you lunch. Anything to stop that incessant racket.”

I shoved myself up to sitting, ignoring the way that made my head pulse painfully. “I don’t snore. Just admit you have a protective streak a mile wide.”

The side of Daxon’s mouth threatened to pull up into a smile. “I do not.”

While he was in such a good mood—normally he’d be crossing his arms over his massive chest and snapping at me by now—I wanted to address the thing that had been bothering me.

“Daxon, I have to clear up something.”

He stilled, his expression instantly guarded. “You hate that ridiculous G-wagon too?”

I slapped his arm, mostly just to have a reason to touch him. “No! I love that car.”

He looked on the verge of smiling again, which might have been a record for almost-smiles in a conversation with him. “I always thought you had much better taste.”

“My late husband and I had a business arrangement.”

Welp, that wasn’t how I meant to address things, just blurting it out like that.

Daxon blinked, his jaw hardening. Clearly he didn’t want to discuss this, but I had to get it all out. I couldn’t have him believing that I’d cheated on my husband. That Daxon was just a convenient male. Like I did that sort of thing all the time. Like what happened between us meant nothing to me.

“We were never in love. We married as a business deal, agreeing that it would be an open marriage. He was always discreet and respectful about it, which I appreciated, especially after Ruby was born. We became friends, building a life together, but also separately. The night I slept with you was the day after he went into hospice care and we knew it was just a matter of time before he was gone. My world was being flipped upside down and I just needed to feel something other than lost.”

Daxon sat there staring at me, his face devoid of any emotion. I could feel waves of tension pouring off his body. I wanted to explain more while also snatching back every word I’d already said. This didn’t appear to be helping things between us. By being truthful, I’d somehow made things worse.

“We didn’t sleep together.”

I…was not expecting that response. “No? I could have sworn we did.”

“We fucked, kitten. There’s a big difference,” Daxon growled. 

He stood abruptly, the movement of the couch cushions jarring my head. I swung my legs off the couch and tried to stand too. The room got fuzzy around the edges and I sagged backward.

With a bit-back curse, Daxon grabbed my arms and guided me back to sitting. He followed, settling next to me on the couch with at least a foot of space between us.

“For fuck’s sake. Take it slow. You know what, let’s take you to urgent care. You probably have a concussion.”

I waited until the black dots faded from my vision. “I don’t have a concussion. Callan already ran me through some tests for that and said I was all clear.”

Daxon frowned harder. “He could be wrong.”

I huffed. This man was infuriating. One minute he’s sweet and protective. The next he’s growling at me, demeaning that night two years ago. The same one that had stayed with me through the hard months that followed.

“I just haven’t eaten anything yet. My bagel is back in the car at the base of my driveway.”

More curses flowed as he stood again. “Stay there.”

I rolled my eyes. He sure loved barking orders. But he still didn’t get what I was trying to say. Maybe I didn’t even know what I was trying to say.

“I’ve only slept with two people in my whole life, so I’m sorry if I use the wrong terms.” Apparently I’d become a blurter. The blurtiest of blurters.

Daxon froze. Every single muscle the man possessed—and good gravy did Mother Nature gift him with so much of it—locked tight. I lifted my hand to pull him back, but left it there hovering in the air between us. For half a second I had the fanciful thought that if I touched him, he’d surely break.

He spun around finally, ignoring my hand in the air. His eyes were snapping, devouring my face. “You what?”

Oh, so now he wanted to have this conversation.

I pulled my hand back in my lap so quickly it sounded like I clapped for his ridiculously short question. “I slept with Anthony once. It was not long after we got married. We both thought we’d try it out and see if there was any chemistry there.” I grimaced. “There was not. We went back to being friends immediately, putting that little experiment behind us. And then…then there was you.”

Daxon scrubbed both his hands over his face. I wanted to reach up and smooth the dark slashes of eyebrows back down. Why did he have to look like a male model posing as a lumberjack? It was an unfair advantage when a woman was trying to think around him.

“I don’t understand any of this. You’ve had two one-night stands in your whole life? You were married, but kind of not really?”

I wobbled my head back and forth. That was about right. Crazy and crazier. That had been my life, which was why I’d sought out a small town I could sink into with Ruby. A place I could be normal for once. “Will you sit down for a second and just let me explain?”

He sighed and moved to sit back down.

“And not bark one-word questions at me?”

“I don’t do that.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I— You know what? I’m just going to sit here and let you talk. How about that?” Daxon leaned sideways against the armrest, about as far away from me as he could get and still be on the same piece of furniture.

“Thank you,” I said with no small measure of sarcasm. “I know our marriage wasn’t conventional, but it worked for us. I was a small-town girl with absolutely no money but a stubborn insistence that I’d make it in a big city. Anthony needed someone to go to awards shows with and business dinners. Our pairing made more sense than most Hollywood marriages. He was my friend, and I grieved when he died.”

I hadn’t meant for my voice to shake when I got to that last part, but I hadn’t been able to talk about Anthony’s death. I’d tried to be there for Ruby, but no one had been there for me.

Daxon reached across the couch cushions and grabbed my hands where they’d been twisting the blanket. His hand was warm, fully enveloping both of mine. He gave me a squeeze and held on.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, his voice scraping across the inches that separated us. “Thank you for explaining. I, uh, have a bit of a hang-up about married women.”

I tried not to smile too hard. “I could tell. You looked ready to find your nail gun and nail my toes to the foundation.”

“Definitely wanted to nail you…”

My gaze shot over to his. “Are you flirting with me, Daxon?”

“I’m hurt it was subtle enough you had to ask.” His lips were doing that thing again. What would it take to make the man smile fully?

“It’s not you, it’s me.”

Daxon winced. “Ouch. That’s even worse. The pity excuse.”

I talked around the giggle. “No, it’s true. I’ve slept with two men, had one orgasm, and somehow mother a preteen with more attitude than me. I wouldn’t recognize flirting if the dick pic slapped me in the face.”

Daxon huffed what could have been the start of a laugh. “First of all, a dick pic is not part of flirting. And secondly, one orgasm? I’ll be forever wounded if you say that one wasn’t from me.”

Was it getting hot in here? Or maybe it was the low blood sugar combined with the blow to the head making me woozy. “It was definitely you.”

“Of course it was,” he said smugly.

I tried to pull my hands out from under his. “Jeez, ego much, Daxon?”

He held on tighter, somehow inching closer to me on the couch. “Not ego. Confidence. Maybe you need a refresher?” 

He was so close I could pick up on the soap he used and the smell of wood. That combination would forever make my stomach swoop. And not because I was hungry. “Daxon!”

He shrugged, his thumb sweeping out a rhythm against the back of my hand. I could feel that touch everywhere. I really was pathetic, finding a simple thumb touch a source of pleasure.

“Would it be so bad? At least you wouldn’t be married this time.”

I was shaking my head before I’d even catalogued all the ways that would be a very bad move to make. Without even putting sex on the table, I was overwhelmed by this man. I could barely be around him without tripping, or putting my foot in my mouth, or having to come home and seek out my trusty vibrator. One drunken encounter in a dirty bathroom had made me obsessed with him for months. Sober, intentional sex might break me.

“Absolutely not. No. Nuh-uh.”

Daxon smiled then, the kind of slow smile you feel across your skin. Like the sun rising over the mountains and heating up your whole body inch by inch. “So what you’re saying is you’ll think about it?”

“No!” I shook my head so hard it started being a heartbeat again along my cut. “That’s not at all what I’m saying!”

Good God, the man could smile. I could be ruined by that smile.

Daxon squeezed my hands one last time and let go, getting to his feet. “Let’s go make some lunch and then we need to get Ruby from school.”

I stood, taking slow deep breaths this time so I didn’t pass out. “I can get her on my own. I just need you to drop me off at my car.”

Daxon led the way to his tiny kitchen. “Can’t.”

I sighed, trying to keep myself from eyeing his backside. He had a really lovely backside. “There you go with the one-word answers again.”

He stopped at the refrigerator and pulled it open to peer inside. “Can’t take you to your car because it’s already been towed to the shop. I texted Clyde while you were sleeping, in case you were worried all I did was watch you sleep.”

Well, shit. There he went again, doing something nice. “I assume Clyde is a tow truck driver and not a car thief?”

Daxon shot me a deadpan glare. 

“In that case, thank you. Maybe you could drop me off at a car rental place so I can get a loaner?”

“Can’t.”

I threw my hands out to the side. “For fuck’s sake, Daxon!”

And that’s when I heard it.

A real live laugh from Daxon Hellman.

And it was everything I’d hoped it would be and more.






I have my fresh start in a new town, this time a widow with a preteen daughter who rolls her eyes enough to make them stay that way. Too bad my past mistake is also here to greet me.

Daxon Hellman. Town a-hole. Hot young contractor hired to build my house in the woods.

It’s only when I’m face-to-face with him for the first time that I realize he’s the mystery man from two years ago. It’s a long story of too many drinks, grief that made me resort to acting out, and an encounter in the dirty bathroom of a bar. Try as I might, I can’t forget that night. And now I have a name to go with that hot body.

Daxon growls at me…I irritate him with my constant social media posting. He orders me to do things…I trample all over his ridiculous commands with a smile and a choice finger in the air. He builds my house with that tool belt slung low on his hips and my cat steals his construction plans. We fit together like rain and exposed drywall.

Between insults and hot stolen kisses, Daxon and I reach a truce: to let our bodies do the talking and keep our hearts locked down. I’m older than him, which means I’m smart enough to keep a clear head. Until I realize when it comes to love, age and common sense do not go hand in hand.

This crazy town has more surprises up its sleeve to drive us apart, which makes me think this might not be our forever home after all…




 


Marika Ray is a USA Today bestselling author of steamy and sweet RomComs, spending her time behind a computer crafting stories, walking any beach she can find, and making healthy food for her kids and husband whether they like it or not. Prior to writing novels, Marika held various jobs in the finance industry, with private start-up companies, and then in health & fitness. Cats may have nine lives, but Marika believes everyone should have nine careers to keep things spicy. All her books come with a money-back guarantee that you’ll smile at least once with every book.

More information can be found at www.marikaray.com



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Chapter Reveal

Chapter Reveal – Perfectly Wild by Leesa Bow


 ⭐️ 𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗣𝗧𝗘𝗥 𝗥𝗘𝗩𝗘𝗔𝗟 ⭐️

Perfectly Wild (Beautifully Wild #3) by Leesa Bow is releasing in THREE DAYS!
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𝗣𝗿𝗲𝗢𝗿𝗱𝗲𝗿 → https://books2read.com/u/bwrg5G
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𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗼 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗲𝗰𝘁 →
🌴Running out of time love
🌴 Opposites attract
🌴Forbidden love
🌴A tortured hero
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🌴Grumpy/sunshine banter you’ll love.
🌴A story that will hit you straight in the feels.
⭐️𝗜𝗡 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗦𝗘𝗥𝗜𝗘𝗦 – 𝗞𝗜𝗡𝗗𝗟𝗘 𝗨𝗡𝗟𝗜𝗠𝗜𝗧𝗘𝗗⭐️
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Chapter Reveal

Chapter Reveal High Impact (High Mountain Trackers, #4) By Freya Barker

Title: High Impact (High Mountain Trackers, #4) Author: Freya Barker Genre: Romantic Suspense Release Date: December 6, 2022 Cover Designer: Freya Barker Hosted by: Buoni Amici Press, LLC.

Manager for Hart’s Horse Rescue, Lucy Lenoir, finally feels she has a handle on life after having worked hard to leave her old one behind. So hard, there are times she almost forgets what she escaped. Memories which suddenly come flooding back when she catches a glimpse of a familiar horseman in town.

What’s worse, he’s in the company of the unlikely cowboy she’s only just beginning to trust.

High Mountain Tracker, Bo Rivera, tries hard never to repeat his mistakes. A huge one changed the course of his life and made him particularly cautious, especially around women. So much so, he almost passed up on the best thing to ever walk into his life; the compact, blonde ballbuster in need of a gentle hand.

However, the more he learns about her, the more he realizes a soft touch alone won’t keep her demons at bay. Those will need a firmer hand…to keep the gun steady.

AMAZON | APPLE BOOKS | NOOK | KOBO |

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USA Today bestselling author Freya Barker loves writing about ordinary people with extraordinary stories. With forty-plus books already published, she continues to create characters who are perhaps less than perfect, each struggling to find their own slice of happy. Recipient of the ReadFREE.ly 2019 Best Book We’ve Read All Year Award for “Covering Ollie, the 2015 RomCon “Reader’s Choice” Award for Best First Book, “Slim To None”, Finalist for the 2017 Kindle Book Award with “From Dust”, and Finalist for the 2020 Kindle Book Award with “When Hope Ends”, Freya spins story after story with an endless supply of bruised and dented characters, vying for attention!



Purchase/Pre Order the rest of the series!!

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Chapter Reveal

Chapter Reveal: Wanting the Fight by LP Dover


 𝙁𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙉𝙚𝙬 𝙔𝙤𝙧𝙠 𝙏𝙞𝙢𝙚𝙨 𝙗𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙨𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙧 𝙇.𝙋. 𝘿𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙨 𝙖 𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙧𝙮 𝙤𝙛 𝙥𝙖𝙨𝙨𝙞𝙤𝙣, 𝙧𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙣𝙜𝙚, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙬𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙥𝙪𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣.

🥊🥊 𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗣𝗧𝗘𝗥 𝗥𝗘𝗩𝗘𝗔𝗟 🥊🥊𝗪𝗮𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁: 𝗮 𝗚𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗢𝗳𝗳 – 𝗡𝗲𝘅𝘁 𝗚𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗡𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗹 by LP Dover is releasing October 25th!PreOrder today ➜ https://books2read.com/WantingTheFightRead the Chapter ➜ https://bit.ly/3ROKhBC🚨 𝐁𝐋𝐎𝐆𝐆𝐄𝐑𝐒 – 𝐁𝐎𝐎𝐊𝐒𝐓𝐀𝐆𝐑𝐀𝐌𝐌𝐄𝐑𝐒 – 𝐓𝐈𝐊𝐓𝐎𝐊𝐄𝐑𝐒Help promote LP Dover today ⬇️https://forms.gle/xGJZJPJe63CiJ5aA6👀 𝗔𝗟𝗦𝗢 𝗔𝗩𝗔𝗜𝗟𝗔𝗕𝗟𝗘 – 𝗦𝗧𝗔𝗡𝗗 𝗔𝗟𝗢𝗡𝗘𝗖𝗿𝗮𝘃𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁: 𝗮 𝗚𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗢𝗳𝗳 – 𝗡𝗲𝘅𝘁 𝗚𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗡𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗹➜ https://books2read.com/CravingTheFight𝗧𝗮𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗙𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁: 𝗮 𝗚𝗹𝗼𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗢𝗳𝗳 – 𝗡𝗲𝘅𝘁 𝗚𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗡𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗹➜ https://books2read.com/TakingTheFight#WantingTheFightChapterReveal #WantingTheFightLPDover #ChapterReveal #ComingSoon #OctoberRelease #PreOrder #GlovesOffNextGeneration #SportsRomance #RomanticSuspense #LPDoverAuthor #Romance #MustRead #FriendsToLovers #SecretPregnancy #Mafia #OneNightStand #MMAFighters #EnticingJourneyHosted by Enticing Journey Book Promotions
Chapter Reveal

Chapter Reveal Blast: Wilder Presley Says He Loves Me by Winter Travers


 💗 𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗣𝗧𝗘𝗥 𝗥𝗘𝗩𝗘𝗔𝗟 💗

Wilder Presley Says He Loves Me by Winter Travers
𝗥𝗲𝗮𝗱 𝗖𝗛𝗔𝗣𝗧𝗘𝗥 𝗢𝗡𝗘 ⬇
𝐏𝐫𝐞𝐎𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐨𝐝𝐚𝐲 – Releasing October 1st
𝙁𝙧𝙤𝙢 𝙒𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙎𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙚𝙩 𝙅𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙣𝙖𝙡 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙐𝙎𝘼 𝙏𝙤𝙙𝙖𝙮 𝘽𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙨𝙚𝙡𝙡𝙚𝙧 𝙒𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙧 𝙏𝙧𝙖𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙨 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙨 𝙖 𝙨𝙢𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙩𝙤𝙬𝙣 𝙧𝙤𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙘 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙙𝙮 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙡𝙖𝙪𝙜𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙬𝙤𝙤𝙣𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙖𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙖𝙢𝙚 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚.
Goodreads TBR → https://bit.ly/3DhX8sF
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Chapter Reveal

From Salt to Skye by Adriane Leigh




Title: From Salt to Skye
A Legends and Lovers Series Standalone
Author: Adriane Leigh
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Design: Maria Kusel, Steamy Reads
Release Date: January 25, 2022


BLURB

From USA Today bestselling author Adriane Leigh comes a novel woven with madness, revenge, tragedy, and the everlasting spirit of love.

Fable Prescott believes two lies. The first, that she was chosen at random for the summer study abroad program at her university, and the second, that she came to the wind-whipped Isle of Skye to research her family’s mysterious Scottish ancestry. She never expected to find herself embroiled in a cold case that has kept a tiny seaside village on edge for years.

When another woman vanishes into thin air, Fable begins to wonder if there is more to the dark legends that cling to the island like a cold ocean mist. And if her brooding, devastatingly handsome new neighbor, Alder, is the only one that holds the key to her family’s tragic past.

LEGENDS AND LOVERS is a collection of dark legends and star-crossed love stories from twenty bestselling authors. Woven with mystery and magic, love and lore, romance and suspense, this multi-author collaboration promises to make your heart pound and keep you reading late into the night. Discover all the books in the series at legendsandlovers.com.








PRE-ORDER LINKS

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU






TRAILER



CHAPTER

Her skin sparkles under the rare Scottish sunshine. Goose bumps pebble her otherwise unmarred creamy flesh as her chest rises and sinks in shallow breaths.
“I’ve got you,” I hum as I run my thumb along her wrist again to reassure myself that she is real—her pulsing energy vibrating loud and clear.
I wipe the chilly waters of Dunvegan off her forehead and then push my heavy woolen shirt over my shoulders and tuck it around her form. She breathes steadily, eyelids fluttering as she seems to dream feverishly.
Maybe she’s in shock. Maybe I should run up to Leith Hall and tell Keats to call the first responders.
I frown when I realize her left palm, the one nearest to me, is clutching something tightly. I try to ease her fingers off the object, but doing so must be just enough stimulus to jolt her out of her unresponsive state.
“Get away!” She holds the clenched fist with the object at her chest, eyes wild as she takes me in for the first time.
I probably look crazy to her, bent over like I’m ready to feast on her.
“Does that mean thanks for saving my life in America?”
Her eyes widen as I offer her a hand up. “I’m Alder Maclean. I live on the south shore of Dunvegan.”
Her warm golden eyes graze my two-day stubbled jaw, down the wide expanse of my shoulders, and out to my callused palm. She shakes her head once and then brushes her free hand on her wet thigh and pushes herself up from the damp shore.
“It’s just me and Keats on this end of the loch.”
“And me—at least for the summer anyway.”
“’S that so?” The way her front teeth indent her full bottom lip when she speaks causes heat to rise inside me. I blink away the vision of her; even wet and cold, she’s breathtaking. Can she tell the effect she has on me? Or does she think I’m just her creepy neighbor down the shore who was in the right place at the right time to save her?
More like she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Again.
“It’s been raining for days, and the shore is always slick this time of year. What brought you down t’tha loch this time of the day?”
“I didn’t sleep well last night. And I thought I saw something.”
“’S that so?”
She keeps pace with me as I stalk back down the shore path. “Fear and adrenaline can do crazy things to your body and mind,” I say, wanting to steer us back to solid ground.
The one I just ran up to save her life. We pass a stray sheep, and it doesn’t even raise its head to look as we go by. “My family is from Kylemore. That’s why I’m staying at Leith Hall for the summer.”
“Bearin’ any relation ta the folks up at Leith Hall isn’t somethin’ that’s widely esteemed ’round here. Best keep those details to yourself.” I pause where the path turns rocky and forked. “An’ haven’t ya heard ’bout the woods of Kylemore? Dangers lurk in the dark all ’round this loch. All of Skye, actually.”
“Dangers like what?”
I cast a glance over my shoulder to catch her eye. “Dangers of the usual sort.”
She cuts her gaze away from mine. “Oh, is that all?”
“No, it’s not. But it’s a start. Wouldn’t want ta scare ye off Skye so soon. No buses up ta Kylemore on weekends anyway.”
“No buses?”
“Not a one.”
The chalk-white stones of my cottage come into view then. Moss climbs along every available space on the black thatched roof. My little corner of the loch rarely sees sunlight and everything is in need of a new coat of paint, but I like it here as much as anywhere else I’ve lived.
“Everything looks so much…brighter from up at Leith.”
“Usually does.” I think of Keats rambling around with those two old dogs and wonder if his surly presence put her off when she arrived. He puts me off constantly. I can hardly spend time with him, so much empty space that needs filling between us. His words have been sparse for as long as I’ve known him, and that invariably leaves me filling in all the dead silence left in the conversation.
“What’s that way?”
I stop at the threshold of my cottage and turn to look at her. She points past the stand of junipers to a path in the grass that meanders away from the loch and along the tree line.
“Fairies, pixies, fae, kelpie, forest children. Pick your legend.”
She rolls her eyes, folding her arms and then walking the final few steps to me. “Very funny. Everyone fancies themselves a Rabbie Burns around here, aye?”
A crooked grin that I can’t control splits my lips. “Aye, lass. Now you’re learnin’ somethin’.”
Her eyes narrow, but the twitch of a grin yanks at the corner of her lips.
“Are ya one of those Americans who spits out Scottish tea—” my grin deepens “—or do ye swallow?”
She tips her chin in the air, the double meaning in my words not lost on her. My grin finally cracks wide when she purses her lips once and flutters her pinkie finger in the air like she’s well acquainted with drinking tea with the Queen of England herself. “Bottoms up, darling.”
“Well then, hardly fit for the Duchess of Cambridge, but it’s good to see Keats hasn’t rubbed off on you yet. A Scot who doesn’t drink tea is nary a Scot.” I wave her into my cottage, and she follows.
I duck under the low doorway and beeline for the old cooktop, gesturing for her to have a seat at the tiny two-top table with mismatched wooden chairs. My place is small by my standards, but even she looks out of place with her knees pressed up under the seam of the old dining table.
“Lived here long?” she asks.
“Too long,” I reply, catching the teapot right before it whistles and pouring two teacups full. “But not as long as Keats. He’s been up at Leith for as far back as I can remember. Old before his time, that one. He’s the younger of the two of us, but you wouldn’t know it by the sight of him.”
“So, you’re from Kylemore, then? Both of you were raised on Skye?”
“Hebrides is in my blood,” I confirm. “Keats’s too.”
“What’s it like growing up on a small island?”
“Hell, mostly.”
“Mostly?” she presses boldly.
I arch an eyebrow. “Until now.”
“Now?”
I nod, already sick of this line of questioning. “I’ve seen a lot of tragedies come to pass up at Leith and along the shores of Dunvegan. Mostly tourists trying to get the perfect photo, sometimes lonely souls with nowhere else to turn.”
“You mean…” Dark swirls in her warm irises. “The ones who fall?” I nod. “How did you know I wasn’t sinking under the water…intentionally, then?”
“The whirlpools kick up quickly at this end of the loch.” I lean closer to her, examining her eyes. “And you don’t know loneliness like the others. I can tell.”
“The…others? This place must be packed with paranormal activity.” Her eyes search the corners of my cottage, as if she might spy a ghost around any turn.
“Skye is soaked in the supernatural.”
“And just soaked,” she comments, eyes lingering on the fat raindrops now starting to land on the double-paned windows. “That person I saw… It seemed less like a person and more—” she works her lips back and forth as she thinks “—a shadow or a mist with hard edges.”
“Legend goes, the plague doctor haunts the cemetery up at your hall. The local kids like to do séances up in the graveyard come Halloween—”
“Did you just say a plague doctor haunts the graveyard at Leith?”
“Story says he wears the whole medieval getup, cloak and mask that looks like a big bird beak just for dramatic effect. I think it’s Keats messin’ with the high schoolers, myself.”
She watches me carefully before she speaks her next words. “Maybe he’s looking for more patients to help. Trauma leaves an impact that can be felt across time. Energy doesn’t just cease to exist, it’s transferred—a matter of physics.” She stops herself then. “Sorry, I shouldn’t bore you with that stuff. I dated a quantum physics major last year, and the conversations were interesting, to say the least.”
I bring the tea to my lips, my gaze never leaving hers before I finally swallow. “All of Scotland, and Skye especially, is active with the blood of our forefathers.”
She considers my words for a moment. “Do you mind if I quote you on that? I’m taking tons of notes this summer for my thesis on evolutionary biology within a historical context. I have to show proof of my research if this study abroad semester is going to count for my degree. I also have to meet with the town historian, but I can’t seem to get ahold of anyone—”
“The town historian?” I scoff. “Well, you’ve already found him.”
“You?” she asks.
“Hardly. Keats is the man you’re looking for. Old as dirt and never spent more than a few days away from this town in all the miserable years of his life.”
“Keats?” She scrunches her nose with surprise. “How do you know so much about him if you can’t stand him anyway?”
I kick back in my chair as I bring my teacup to my lips. “I should know a thing or two. He is my brother after all.”






AUTHOR BIO

Adriane Leigh is an Amazon Top 25 and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and erotic romance. Raised in a snowbank in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she was born with a book in her hand and won her first Young Authors award before the age of ten. She finished her first romance novel at 14, and hasn’t stopped playing with words since. She earned a literature degree, co-founded and organized international book conventions with RARE: Romance Author & Reader Events, and has written more than 45 independent titles under various pen names.

Married to her own Prince Charming, she now lives among the sand dunes of Lake Michigan, and plays mama to two sweet baby girls. She’s a romantic rebel and word junkie that believes wanderlust is life, is part of the #goodvibetribe, and wishes she had more time to read and knit scarves to keep her cozy during the arctic Michigan winters. Yoga pants, puppies, and mac and cheese also help. Never miss a release! Get an alert at: http://www.adrianeleigh.com

Praise for Adriane’s work

“Sizzling chemistry, a glamorous world, plot twists…a perfect combination held together with Adriane Leigh’s addictive writing. I dove into this world, and didn’t want to come up for air. I can’t wait for more!” – Alessandra Torre, Hollywood Dirt

“Adriane Leigh never disappoints with equal amounts of heat and heart with all the sex, suspense and scandal…Leigh’s newest mysterious hero will have you anxiously flipping pages well into the night trying to uncover his secrets.” – Jay Crownover, Marked Men


AUTHOR LINKS


Chapter Reveal

The Wife Breaker by Isabella Starling & Kendall Hawkins




Title: The Wife Breaker
Series: Dark Vows Duet #1
Authors: Isabella Starling & Kendall Hawkins
Genre: Dark Romance
Release Date: September 15, 2021


BLURB

They call him The Wife Breaker, and I’m his next victim.

He’s the man the rich, corrupted members of the cartel send their wives to.

Using cruel, twisted methods to make women obey, the man is as monstrous as the cartel kingpin I was forced to marry.

He’s the mysterious man who breaks and molds women into the perfect meek companions for their husbands.

But I’m not going down without a fight.

It took my husband eight years to realize he couldn’t break me.

There’s no way some stranger who knows nothing about me can get inside my head and twist me into something I’m not.

I’ll never pledge my submission to anyone, let alone a man who prides himself on cruelly breaking others.

The Wife Breaker will never make me obey.

I’d rather die than kneel for him.

The Wife Breaker is the first book of the Dark Vows duet. It is not a standalone book.







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PROLOGUE

HEATH

I never meant to kill her. All I wanted was to see her broken to pieces.
The threads that pull us together and push us apart cannot be tampered with. Every person out there has a story of hardships that broke them, and only some, a story of how they put themselves back together again.
Every person, except her. Because I took that choice away from her. Because I tampered with her strings long enough to change the course of her life. I’m the puppet master. I’m the man that dictates which path she’s going to go on with every step she takes.
Our lives have been intertwined in the darkest ways since we were both children. Promised to one another in blood, our bond was unbreakable from the moment she was born. She was meant to be mine. Not just my wife, not just my partner. She was meant to be a prized possession, property. Something to show off, something to treasure.
But then all of that was ripped away from me. From us.
I stare at the thick, dark stain spreading underneath me. My back is soaked in my own crimson blood, my once crisp white shirt dripping with the evidence of what’s just happened.
He took her away from me.
He ripped her out of my arms and left me for dead just like he did before.
Except this time, I don’t know whether I have it in me to fight the light that’s calling me upwards. To a safe space. A space where my parents have been waiting for years. A world with no pain and no heartbreak.
I’m tempted to let it all go. To say fuck it and leave this world broken by the way my strings were set up.
There’s someone below, a voice calling out, demanding I stay with them. But it’s not her voice, not her hands that are desperately clasped over the gaping wound in my chest, eager to stop the blood from escaping my body in thick, scarlet rivulets.
I try to breathe but blood bubbles on my lips, threatening to choke me with its inky darkness. No oxygen enters my lungs, only more mouthfuls of the red blood that only signifies one thing – the end of my life.
“Fight for her,” the voice tells me. “Fight for your woman, don’t let this happen, don’t leave her, she’s doomed without you.”
And I think of everything that’s led up to this very moment when I’m bleeding out on the tiled floor. All the things I did to keep her tethered to me, to keep her as my toy, my possession, my trophy. Was it all worth it?
Or was it all in vain? My efforts to keep her away from the monster that tore us apart seem to have failed.
The darkness turns into light and my parents call on me to join them, their ethereal hands reaching out for me, long, inviting fingers motioning for me to leave my body here and join them in the spiritual world.
But I can’t leave this world behind just yet.
I cling on to the memory of her. My Goldilocks.
Long, flowing golden hair. Eyes as blue as cornflowers. Pale skin peppered with freckles. She is so beautiful. And no longer mine.
I think of the man who took her then. The man who’s ruined my life too many times to count. He stole from me, took what was rightfully mine. I swore I’d have my revenge but now it seems like he took that opportunity from me, letting me bleed out like a slaughtered pig while he took the only thing that matters to me anymore.
I want to call out for her but my lips are dry and my throat is raspy as fuck. Not a single word tears itself from my cracked, parched lips as I await the help I desperately need. Shapes and colors blend into one blurry image through which I can only discern her – my beautiful captive, my prisoner, the reason I live and breathe, now ripped away from me and leaving me bare and bleeding.
It feels as if my life essence is being drained from my body. Consciousness comes and goes as my eyes fly open then close with the heaviness of my limbs. I’m tired of this world that’s been so fucking evil to me, taking everything I ever had and more.
Maybe it’s all a dream.
Maybe my body isn’t lying on the ground, battered and broken, bleeding out.
Perhaps I’ll wake up in the warm, comfortable bed with silk sheets I paid for in blood. Perhaps I’ll be myself once again.
The tall, cruel, dominant man who in no way resembles the boy I used to be.
My childhood was knocked out of me and I was forced into adulthood. Everything was taken away from me, and now here comes my ultimate test. Can I survive against the odds in a world seeped through with dark blood?
Reality fades into the background and I’m caught in a vast inky dark void where every step feels like an effort, as if I’m trying to pull my leg free from the hold of quicksand around my ankles.
I can’t swim through it. I can’t fight through it. I can merely watch it take me, swallowing, eating me alive until only a gasping mouth remains on the surface, desperately drawing in breath after dying breath.
But I cannot die. Cannot leave this world without her by my side. Cannot let myself breathe my last breath knowing she’s back with him, the man I hate most in the world, the man whose blood I’ve sworn to spill.
I’ll kill him one day, but not today. He won the battle today, and the bullet lodged inside me speaks of it just like the dozen of lifeless bodies littering the tiled floor.
I need to hang on to the last threads of vitality that bind me to this world.
Desperately, I cling to the shreds of life left in my body even as my subconscious tries to force me to go under.
I have to live through this.
I have to get through this darkness, this void filled with everything and nothing at the same time. I cannot allow myself to be swallowed up by his black hole. He took everything from me again. I’ll force myself to live through this just so I can have my revenge.
Because I’ll never let him be the one to kill her.
That is my privilege.
Mine alone.






AVAILABLE NOW


A FREE prequel!

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU






COMING SOON


Releasing September 30

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU






ISABELLA STARLING


USA Today bestselling author Isabella Starling describes her books with three words: dark, dirty and forbidden.




KENDALL HAWKINS


Kendall Hawkins is an emerging author of heart-twisting romance.

Embracing her dark side brought Kendall to write dark romance that leaves you breathless. Since she was a little girl, Kendall has cheered for the villain to get the girl, loved the dark side and adored shocking plot twists. Now, her love of enticing stories fills her days with villainous heroes and the passionate women they love.

Kendall spends her time writing, sculpting and creating in any way she can. Addicted to art, Kendall continues to pour her talents out on any medium available – be it a blank page, a canvas or modelling clay.



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Chapter Reveal

Tate
















Amazon 





























There’s a spy in my Clan…


She’s threatening to put my entire family in danger.


When I find the lass, I will break her.

Punish her.

Make her rue the day she endangered the Cowen Clan.


But when one lie unearths another,

And our enemies are at our heels…


Our spy may be our only chance of survival.






















CHAPTER ONE



Tate



I walk along the icy dirt road, my hands shoved in my pockets. I don’t bloody know where I’m going or why, but sometimes when I need to clear my head, nothing works better than a good, brisk walk where the clouds meet the sky, and the mountain air makes everything seem clearer.

Leith wants me to prioritize a job I never expected him to assign me. He wants me to find the writer of the Clan Chronicles, and he wants me to find her now. His words from an earlier conversation still play in a continual loop.

“No doubt she’s a woman, Tate, and she thinks we can be fucking toyed with. But she’s a spy, and a dangerous one at that. Find her.”

Bailey, our resident dog, trots dutifully beside me. He’s my sister-in-law Cairstina’s, but he likes to hang around with the rest of us, and as soon as he sees me putting on my boots, his ears perk up and he gives me puppy dog eyes. I’m grateful for the company just now.

I like that he keeps up with my brisk strides and isn’t deterred when the icy wind picks up. He faces it bravely, and when snow begins to fall, he gives me a friendly look and laps at the falling flakes. Makes me smile, before I sigh and continue my walk.

I’ve got other things on my mind, too.

Today’s the anniversary of when we found our eldest brother, Tavish Cowen, was gone. I don’t like to remember the details, but none of us can forget Mum’s cry, or the way she collapsed against Dad when she heard the news. It’s the worst memory I have, one I wish I could eviscerate forever.

I don’t allow myself to forget it, though. I force myself to dwell on the memory sometimes, when I need to remember who I am and what my purpose is.

I’m second-in-command of the most powerful mob in Scotland. The name Cowen inspires both fear and respect to anyone who hears it. I can’t afford to go soft. I can’t fucking afford it.

Mum gets a bit melancholy around now, but it helps having little ones about. Cairstina and Leith’s wee bairn’s started toddling around, and Mac’s wife Bryn’s expecting their first in a few months.

Mum loves having bairns in her lap, and it seems half the time I find her in the library reading a book, it’s a dog-eared board book and she’s got the wee one nestled in her lap.

She’s preoccupied, though. I know she is. And today I need to find out why. I’d like to give her some space to grieve, for a little while.

I loop around the cave that flanks the side of the mountain, the furthest spot away from the rest of the homes that surround our main lodge. Deep in the Scottish Highlands, we’re hidden from the view of most people, the large lodge the epicenter of our entire Clan, surrounded by our wee, privately owned chalets that encircle it. The inner members of our Clan live nearby, dozens nearly within arm’s reach. Hidden, though. Even from where I’m standing, the only telltale sign of civilization is the chimney smoke rising high in the air.

The moon’s beginning to rise, the sky around us a bluish hue as the sun settles below the mountain peaks. Suddenly, without warning, a woman’s high-pitched scream pierces the night air.

I’m instantly alert. Bailey freezes and meets my eyes, his body tense, nose pointed in the air. Adrenaline surges through me.

“Where the bloody hell is that coming from?” I mutter, whipping my head to the left, then right. Between the mountains and the wind, it’s impossible to tell the location of the scream, when a second scream follows the first.

“Find her, Bailey,” I tell him. “Go, boy.” Fully trained, he’s off at a run before I’ve finished my sentence, heading toward a barren, desolate spot on the side of the mountain.

I watch my footing, as the terrain’s rocky and icy, but Bailey doesn’t wait. He races ahead, intent on finding whoever’s in distress, so I focus on following him.

Who is it? It’s hard to tell from a woman’s scream who she is, but it could be anyone. My two sisters, my brothers’ wives, my mother, and grandmother all live here. Not to mention the occasional visitor from the McCarthy Clan in Ireland.

Bailey takes a sharp turn, and I keep up with difficulty. Suddenly, the trees give way to a clearing, and I can see everything. I freeze, heaving from the effort of sprinting in the frigid air at Bailey’s pace, and it takes me a minute to process the scene before me.

Bloody hell.

Looks like every damn one of the girls is bundled in fluffy coats, with hats, gloves, scarves and boots, taking turns sledding down the mountainside into a valley below. I can’t even identify them all from here, but I can make out my sister-in-law Cairstina, and my sisters Islan and Paisley. Two more girls are apart from the rest, at the top of the hill, preparing to go sledding down.

The three girls standing at the top of the hill quickly turn to look our way.

“Jaysus,” I mutter as I approach, trying to quelch my rising anger. Did they even bother to think about the impact a scream might have on one of us? I try to keep my voice light but fail. “You shouldn’t scream like that.”

Paisley’s eyes glance up at me, and her mittened hand comes to cover her mouth, her blue eyes a bit worried. The youngest of the lot, she’s a bit timid but quick to smile.

“Sorry, Tate,” she says apologetically. She doesn’t like upsetting any of us and looks genuinely repentant. “We didn’t think anyone else was out here.”

Islan grins. “Fancy a jaunt yourself?”

I grunt in reply, and the lass standing next to her—my brother Leith’s wife, Cairstina—giggles with the lot of them. “You look” —she giggles— “like you’ve just come running to save someone.”

“Ha. Ha.” I shove my hands back in my pockets and roll my eyes. “Just out for a stroll.”

“Oh, Tate,” Paisley says, as it suddenly dawns on her. “You heard us screaming and thought someone was hurt, didn’t you?”

“I bloody well thought—”

The sled with the other two takes off, and the girl in the front shrieks, as Bailey throws his head back and howls. The sled takes flight and careens down the hill with building momentum.

We watch, and it becomes evident within seconds they’ve gone off course. A patch of ice derailed them, and they’re no longer heading down the trail that leads to a large, open path below, but toward a thick swath of snow-covered pines. Their screams get louder, and everything seems as if it plays out in slow-motion. I take off at a run, prepared for the worst, but I won’t get there in time to help them. The girls scream behind me as the sled collides with a massive, unyielding pine. The screams from the sled come to an instant, eerie stop.

I’m the first one there. It’s a fucking bloody mess of snow and ice and scarves and hats, as I fall to my knees beside the girls. One I recognize immediately as Mac’s wife Bryn. She looks stricken but otherwise unharmed.

“Fran, Tate. She’s hurt, oh God—”

Bloody hell.

No.

Fran.

Anyone but fucking Fran.

I reach for her. She’s covered in snow and clearly passed out, blood below her hat trickling down her face into her eyes.

“We lost control,” Bryn sobs, scrambling through the snow toward Fran. “Oh, God.”

Paisley and Islan arrive at the same time, breathless and panting. They fall into the snow beside Fran. Paisley’s crying along with Bryn now, but Islan glares, as if her anger could prevent injury. “Bloody hell. Bloody fucking hell,” she mutters.

“Is she alright?” Paisley sobs.

I don’t answer. I’m lifting Fran gently out of the sled, brushing piles of snow off of her.

A chill goes through me at the stark sight of crimson blood against the whiteness of the snow. I kneel, laying her across my lap so I can inspect her.

“She’s out cold,” I mutter, inspecting her carefully. If she injured her neck, I can’t move her too quickly.

The lodge is yards away from us. I can’t risk putting her back in the sled to take her back, not if anything’s broken, or worse.

“She’s hurt her head,” I tell them. At the very fucking least. I jerk my head at Islan. “Call the doctor, have them prepare. I’ll carry her back. It’s the safest way to keep her still.”

In recent years, with Dad’s declining health, we’ve boarded a Clan doctor. It comes in handy in times of emergency. Like now.

It’s a somber affair, all of us walking back to the house. Islan manages to get a signal on her mobile and runs ahead of us. She’s trained hard in the workout room in the main house, running and weightlifting, and she’s got a good lead on the rest of us.

I focus on my job, moving as quickly as I possibly can without jostling or hurting Fran, but when I nearly trip, she comes to with a cry.

“Where am I? Oh, God, what happened?” She hisses in a breath, and I’m sure it’s from pain, poor lass.

“You’ll be alright,” I mutter. “Be still and quiet now, we’re taking you to see a doctor. You’ve injured yourself and can’t risk a sudden movement.”

She doesn’t listen, though, of bloody course, but begins to panic.

“My arm hurts. Is it broken?”

“We’ll find out soon. Stay still, Fran. You don’t want to risk further injury.”

I’m only paces away from the main house when someone flicks a light on, and Fran blinks her eyes from the brightness. She whimpers, then quickly stifles it.

“You’ll be alright,” I tell her, but my tone is gruff. It angers me they were out doing something so fucking dangerous. If she wasn’t fucking injured, I’d shake her. “Shouldn’t have fuckin’ been out there at twilight with the ice over the snow like that, dammit. Do you have a death wish?”

“Save the bloody lecture.” She winces. “Looks like Mother Nature already chastised me.”

I close my mouth but still glare.

“Am I too heavy?” she asks softly.

Until then, I’d made myself focus on my mission, on keeping her still and moving swiftly. I didn’t think about who I held. I didn’t think about how she affects me. I have one job to do: bring her to safety. But at her question, I look down at her in surprise. I don’t answer right away.

Bloody hell.

Tears and snowflakes dot her thick black lashes like gleaming diamonds. Even injured and bloodied, the woman’s gorgeous. Her deep brown eyes, like crushed velvet, look up at me, and for one startling moment, I’m afraid I might kiss her.

Until recently, Fran was married. Off limits. But now…

Jesus, I’m carrying the woman to the doctor and have to get my damn act together.

“Too heavy? You girls are out of your bloody minds. Always worrying about being too heavy, like I can’t bloody carry you.” I roll my eyes. “Didn’t even get winded.”

She opens her mouth to protest, then winces.

“Lie still and stop troubling your damn head,” I mutter. Concern’s made me irritable as fuck.

I try to think of this as a job, like Fran is one of my sisters I’ve been bound in duty to protect.

She isn’t my bloody sister, though, dammit.

We dated once—so briefly it hardly even counts, but I’ve had my eye on her ever since.

She married last year, and I fucking hated that she did something so stupid. Met her ex-husband online, married him a week after they met in person, and caught him cheating on their wedding night.

You’d think it bloody ended there, but it fucking didn’t.

I shove the memory away and keep going. It only makes me angrier.

Islan’s ahead of us, and she opens the door.

“As luck would have it, the doctor’s nearby,” she says. “He said to bring her into the study, since the light’s good in there and you can lay her on the chaise.”

I walk in through the kitchen, the entire staff watching us as I traipse through. A fire burns in the hearth, and someone stirs food at the stove, but I walk past and go straight to the study.

Leith’s waiting for me when I arrive, watching me somberly.

“What happened?” he asks Islan, who quickly tells him. I’m assuming his wife Cairstina filled him in before we got here.

“Jesus,” he mutters. “Knew we should’ve cut that damn tree down when they started sledding down that bloody hill.”

Islan snorts. “Leave it to you to level a damn tree like we’re children that need protecting.”

He scowls.

Fran opens her mouth as if to say something, then winces, closes her eyes, and doesn’t say a word. I imagine the pain’s intense.

Bright lights shine, as the Clan doctor waits.

“Rest her here, Tate,” he says. I put her down with reluctance, as gently as I can.

I liked holding her. When I held her, I knew that she was safe, almost like I could control this. Control… something.

“Ooh, got a right good gash on your head, there, lass.”

“Ah, is that what the throbbing is? Thought I hit the Jameson a bit too hard last night.” Fran smiles wanly, and even injured and in pain, she’s bloody beautiful.

She looks up quickly at me and winces from the sudden movement. “No need to growl, Tate, you did enough of that on the way back.”

I didn’t even know I was bloody growling. Did I?

I grunt in reply, as the doctor examines her. A moment later, he sits back and shakes his head. “You’re awfully lucky it wasn’t worse, lass,” he says gently. “An inch or so to the left and you’d have injured an eye, likely beyond repair.”

Her jaw drops, and she looks down at her hand. “And my arm?”

“Doesn’t look broken, but it would be best if we had an x-ray. I don’t have the proper equipment here. I’ll put a brace on to keep it steady, but you’ll need that seen with a specialist first thing tomorrow and time off, days or even weeks.”

She winces. “I have to work tomorrow,” she says with a sigh. “I have no vacation time left. If I don’t get to work…” Her voice trails off. She works at the little bookstore in town, in Inverness Centre.

“Sorry, lassie,” he says, shaking his head. “You have to. You could risk something so much worse if this isn’t properly treated.”

He hands her a few white pills. “Here, take these. It’ll help with the pain.”

Fran sighs, pops the pills, then drinks down a glass of water. He continues inspecting her with a frown, meticulous and thorough. We hired him because he’s the best there is.

“Why so long for a head injury?” Fran asks.

“Head injuries are bloody dangerous,” I tell her. “Don’t you know what could’ve happened? You could’ve gotten fuckin’ brain damage, or worse.”

Islan rolls her eyes but Fran just blinks at me in surprise. The doctor continues his examination when a knock sounds at the door.

“Come in,” I say. Mum comes in carrying a plate, laden with soup, bread, and a steaming pot of tea. It’s well past dinner time, but it’s in her nature to feed people when they’re injured. Says it helps with recovery and all that.

“How are you doing, lass?”

“Oh, I’ll be better soon,” Fran says with a self-deprecating laugh. “How’s Bryn?”

“Bryn walked away without a scratch.”

“Thank God for that,” I mutter, and Fran gives me a curious look.

“Just that Mac would lose his bloody mind.”

“Aye, he would,” Islan says. “It’s the way you all are, isn’t it?”

I don’t reply. It is how we all are, but I can’t quite place the look on Fran’s face.

The doctor takes his leave, with strict orders she rest and allow people to help her, followed by Leith and Mum. The other girls have gone off to take care of the children and Bryn, perhaps sensing that Fran doesn’t want a lot of visitors right now. She’s in so much pain, even the bright lights seem to hurt her eyes.

It’s just me, Islan, and Fran now.

I should go. I have work to do. Her best friends are right here, in this very house. Surely they can make sure she’s alright. I’ve got a pressing job Leith wants me to tend to, but I can’t seem to make myself do it.

“We’ll get you situated here for the night,” Islan says. “Not the best accommodations, but I do think it’ll be best for you, give you a little privacy. There’s a toilet nearby the kitchen, and you won’t have to walk upstairs.”

“And it’ll be easy enough to get you to the car to go to get your x-ray in the morning,” I say.

She frowns. “Might be a little hard to drive like this—”

“Of course you bloody well can’t drive,” I snap.

She blinks, then her cheeks flush a little pink. “Excuse me?”

“Now, Fran,” Islan begins, her hands outstretched as if to placate her. “No need to get you riled up.”

“Riled up?” I ask, astounded that that’s even a question. “Of course she bloody well won’t. She’ll lie right there and obey the doctor’s orders.”

Fran pushes herself up to sitting higher on the chaise, as if the adjustment in height gives her an advantage, which it definitely doesn’t, especially because she winces again in pain.

“And… somewhere between me cracking my skull on the side of your tree, and you playing the hero carrying me back up to the house like some sort of… Tarzan or something,” she spits out the word as if it’s distasteful, “you got the idea you have some say in this?”

“I do,” I tell her. “I’ve got an errand in town tomorrow and will take you.” I want her to feel obliged to me, though I wouldn’t admit that out loud.

I can’t keep the irritation out of my voice.

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” she says, fuming. “No need to trouble yourself, clearly.” She rolls her eyes. “Honest to God, I’m no concern of yours.”

Is that what she thinks?

Islan rolls her eyes. “You’ve nearly grown up here, Fran, you know how they all are.”

She purses her lips and narrows her eyes, and I half expect her to wise off with her smart mouth again, when her head suddenly lolls to the side a little like she’s tipsy. She blinks, then blinks again. What the fuck?

“Y’alright?” Islan asks.

“Just feel a bit… a bit…” Fran giggles. “Can you hear those words, or is it in my head?”

Islan turns to me. “Oh, dear.”

Is she… high?

I look at Fran in puzzlement. She shakes her head as if to clear her thoughts. “Was just saying, I can’t bloody well skip work tomorrow. No way.”

“They’ll be fine,” Islan says with conviction. “Or I could cover for you. Your boss is so bloody distracted, she wouldn’t even notice the difference.”

I look from Fran to Islan, then back again. Islan’s tall and willowy and blonde, and Fran’s all lush brown hair and buxom curves.

“Are you fuckin’ legally blind?”

Fran gives me a reproachful look, then begins to giggle. It’s… adorable.

Islan rolls her eyes. “Oh, whatever,” she says. “I just mean I could go in and be a sort of temp for the day or something.” Leith’s said for a while the girls have been spoiled and honest to God, I didn’t see it until now. I always kind of took the girls’ side when it came to his overbearing tendencies.

I shake my head. “Leith would say no, and I’d agree with him. For Christ’s sake, you’re making one stupid decision after another.” Islan’s brows snap together, but I’m not finished. “First, you decide sledding down that hill is something fun to do, even though you could’ve killed yourself. Second, now you want to go take a job in the city centre, knowing full well who you are and how that puts you in danger? Are you out of your bloody mind?”

“I see what you mean,” Fran mutters, giving Islan a sympathetic look.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask.

“Oh, nothing,” she says airily, and I swear her eyes look a bit unfocused. The doctor’s given her some heavy pain relievers, and it looks as if they’ve kicked in. “Only your sisters may have mentioned once or twenty times that you boys are all a bit overprotective, and I think she has a point.” For some reason, she finds this outrageously funny, and the next thing I know, her head falls back and she snorts with laughter. Literally snorts, so loudly Islan jumps. She looks at me in alarm.

“What’d he bloody give her?”

I shrug. “Dinnae. Reckon it was something strong?”

Fran’s giggling so hard she’s tipped over to the side, tears streaming down her face. What’s so funny? I don’t bloody well know what to do with her.

“Oh, no,” Islan whispers to me. “Tate, I think she’s high off her nut with the meds the doc gave her, isn’t she?”

I look back at her, and she’s giggling something fierce.

“I think you’re right,” I mutter. “Jesus.”

“The look on your face!” Fran says, as she erupts into peals of laughter again.

“Mine?” I ask.

“Och, aye,” she mutters, deepening her voice and wagging a wobbly finger at the two of us. Her accent’s thick, like a Scottish caricature, as she mocks me. “Are you out of yer bloody moind?”

“What’s she doing?” Islan whispers.

“Doing a right good job of pissin’ me off,” I whisper back.

“Oi’m the head of the fuckin’ mafia!” she howls, wagging her finger in the air. She reminds me of a man I once saw in a pub in the city centre, drunk, running his mouth so loudly in the pub he got a personal escort out. “Or one ‘a the heads of the fuckin’ mafia, whatever and all! And I swear to fuckin’ God, if ye don’t know what’s right for thee, you’d do what yer bloody told or I’ll send you swimmin’ with the bloody fishes!”

Islan snorts and covers her mouth to hide her laughter even as her eyes swing back with concern to me.

“Ought to fuckin’ gag ‘er,” I mutter. “She’s fuckin’ stoned.”

“And oye don’t make mistakes, so don’t even question me! There are two infallible people in the world and one sits in Vatican City, the other right ‘ere in Scotland.”

“Fran!” Islan hisses, doubling over with laughter. “Oh my God, stop!”

“Need to speak with…” But her voice is muffled and I can’t make out what she says. Someone’s name, though?

Islan looks at me in an absolute panic, no more laughing. Her eyes are wide and she’s totally sober.

“Did you hear that?” she asks.

“Hear fuckin what?” I shake my head. “All I hear is her going on and on about bloody nothing.”

“Oh,” Islan says with a laugh. “It’s nothing, nothing at all. She just mentioned… Paisley. Sounded like Paisley?”

What the fuck is she hiding?

I look sharply back to Fran, but she’s passed out. Her hand falls to the side, and she’s softly snoring.

“I’ll stay with her,” Islan says. “Poor thing. She might wake up in pain.” She’s adjusting the blankets and pillows around Fran, tucking them all around her to make her comfortable. “We didn’t even get a chance to help her change out of her clothes.”

I look around the room. There’s no comfortable place for her to stay.

“Islan, you can’t stay here, lass. There’s nowhere for you to sleep, and you’ve got school to go to tomorrow.” I frown at her. “Yet another reason why you can’t go to the bloody bookstore.”

She rolls her eyes. “Oh, Tate, I wasn’t really going to. Her boss will understand, of course. I was just trying to get her to relax.”

“Alright, then, fine. But you can’t stay down here. You won’t get a wink of sleep, and you’ve got to be prepared for your classes.”

She sighs. “Aye, that’s true, isn’t it?” She worries her lip. “She can’t be alone, though.”

I grunt. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”

She looks at me sharply. “Don’t even think of any funny stuff with my mate.”

“Funny stuff? Are you out of your fuckin’ mind? You think I’ve got a bloody somno kink?”

She makes a disgusted face. “Oh, ew ew ew, what does that even mean. Do I want to Google?”

“What do you think it means?”

I can’t help but crack a smile at her look of utter disgust. She actually wipes her hands on her clothes as if to physically rid herself of the memory of what I said.

“I’m literally going to go shower now, thanks to you.”

“Good. Stay the bloody hell away and get some sleep already.”

“Aww, love you, too,” she quips, rolling her eyes again. Jesus, that girl better hook up with a man that can handle the likes of her. The door shuts with a bang, and Fran jumps up, startled, and blinks at me.

“Go to sleep.”

She rolls over and snores loud enough to rouse a deaf man, probably the first bloody time she’s ever done what she’s told without backtalk. Not that she really meant to even this time.

I sigh and try to get comfortable on the tiny excuse for a sofa across from where she lies. It’ll be a long bloody night.



















USA Today bestselling author Jane Henry pens stern but loving alpha heroes, feisty heroines, and emotion-driven happily-ever-afters. She writes what she loves to read: kink with a tender touch. Jane is a hopeless romantic who lives on the East Coast with a houseful of children and her very own Prince Charming.


Connect with Jane at http://janehenryromance.com

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Chapter Reveal

Moment Too Late by Rachael Brownell

Title: A Moment Too Late Author: Rachel Brownell

second-chance romance

Falling in love can happen in the blink of an eye.

  Falling in love can happen in the blink of an eye. I fell for Jay the moment I laid eyes on him. Was drawn to him in a way I’d never been drawn to a man before. He was everything I wanted. The man I dreamed about at night and looked for everywhere I turned just for a glimpse of his perfection. But I couldn’t have him. It was against the rules. Forbidden. He was my best friend’s boyfriend. I would never do that to her. Then she died. Looking at him became painful, bringing back memories of the reason we couldn’t be together. The reason I never pursued him. I had to move on and vowed never to look back in an attempt to escape him and the devastation in my heart. Yet here I stand, five years later, staring into the eyes of the man I still want. In the place I swore I’d never return to. With memories assaulting me from every angle. He’s still the picture of perfection in my eyes, making our attraction even more dangerous than it once was. The only difference… No one is standing in our way this time.

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My phone has vibrated in the pocket of my dress no less than ten times since class started thirty minutes ago. If I were in a lecture hall with five hundred other people, I’d risk checking to see who was calling at this early hour, but this professor is an asshole. The sight of my phone will set him off. On the first day of class, he made his stance on phones perfectly clear. If he sees one, we all suffer. In our second class, we found out exactly what suffering meant when someone walked in texting. The class hadn’t even started. We weren’t on his time yet. Still, he issued a ten-page paper and only gave us three days to do it. Not a single person has been seen on their phone since. Message received. Loud and clear. My phone starts up again, and instantly the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, a chill running down my spine. Whoever keeps calling, it must be important which worries me. All my friends know all about this professor. I’ve complained about him on more than one occasion, so they know never to call during class. Not to mention they’re probably sound asleep. I’m the only idiot who signed up for classes that start before noon in my final semester of college. I didn’t have much of a choice. This class is required to graduate, and this was the only time it was offered. Sighing, I brush off my concerns and attempt to concentrate on the lecture my professor is droning on about. I’m barely able to keep my eyes open as I listen to his monotone voice go on and on about our final project, due in less than four weeks. I didn’t get back in town until after ten last night, then I overslept, having to forgo stopping for coffee on the way to class so I wasn’t late. Another one of the professor’s pet peeves. Graduation is just around the corner, though. No more early classes. No more asshole professors. Four years of hard work and dedication all come down to the next few weeks. This semester has been mentally challenging. Both on a personal and professional level if you count being a college student by day and waitress by night a profession. My days are long, the nights even longer. The much-needed rest and relaxation I was hoping for while vacationing last week never happened. Sleep eluded me most of spring break. I should have been sunbathing and sipping fruity drinks with little umbrellas in them. I was in paradise with no responsibilities. My days were my own, but they were lonely. That’s not a new concept it seems. I could be in a room surrounded by all my favorite people and I’d still feel lonely these days. I spent the first day crying my eyes out behind large, black sunglasses while my parents went on a day excursion. It was beautiful outside, the water was clear, the light breeze keeping me from overheating. The view was breathtaking. I should have been enjoying it with a smile on my face. Or at the very least, taking a nap and working on my tan. What did I do instead? Once I knew my parents were gone, I went back to my room and curled up under the covers. My eyes were puffy and red. It hurt to keep them open. I was exhausted from my early flight, but aside from being physically tired, I was emotionally drained. My heart was splintering in my chest. Every time I thought about that night, I felt a new fault line appear. It wouldn’t be long before it shattered and there would be nothing left. Because I gave him my heart two years ago. Willingly. Without asking for anything in return. I expected him to treat it with care. To guard it. To keep it safe. What did he do with it? Nothing. That was only my first mistake, though. My second? I didn’t ask if he wanted it. Nope. I ripped it from my chest, shoved it in his hands, and smiled. It happened so fast I didn’t give it a second thought. There was no time to overthink what I was doing because it was over before I knew it even happened. Why was I so reckless? Because there was something there. The moment I saw him I felt it, the connection. It was magnetic, the pull I felt toward him. The way he held me in his arms was heavenly, as if I was meant to be held by him and only him. Love at first sight. I was crazy, right? That never happens in real life. Sure, you read about it in romance novels, but I’ve never heard about it happening to anyone I know. Hell, my mother said it took her two years to get my dad to open his eyes. He says he was just waiting to see if she was worth the effort. Great role models, right? But after twenty-five years of marriage, two petitions for divorce that were eventually withdrawn, and one affair on my father’s part, they seem to be doing okay. That’s a lie. My parents tolerate each other at best. Neither of them are getting any younger, and I think they’re afraid of dying alone. My father turns sixty-one this year, and my mother will be sixty. At that age, who wants to start over? I’d be scared, too. Hell, I’m scared right now. Of the way I feel for him. Of the power he has over me. The power to destroy my heart. Power I gave him without a second though. You’re an idiot, Andrea. Yup. Even my subconscious knows what a big mistake I made. Four more weeks. Then I can leave here and start over. I’ll take what’s left of my heart and pray there’s someone out there who can mend the broken pieces. Someone who’s meant just for me. Shaking away the thoughts, I turn my attention back to my professor. He’s walking my way, his eyes locked on mine. Either I’ve been busted for zoning out or he’s just having a bad day. The scowl on his face gives nothing away. It’s the same expression he’s worn since day one. “You have ten minutes to decide your topic. Please turn them in to Ms. Morris.” He motions to me, and I wave enthusiastically. It’s more for show than anything. Maybe if I smile and pretend to be excited he’ll think I was paying attention after all. “She’ll bring them to my office after class.” Or not. He’s definitely aware I zoned out. This is my punishment. I get to run across campus to drop off topics to him and sprint back in less than fifteen minutes for my next class. It won’t be easy, especially considering I chose to wear a dress and heeled sandals today, but I’ll make it work. At least my next professor isn’t a dick. He probably won’t even notice if I slip in late. Taking the large, manila envelope he’s extended in my direction, I nod in understanding and avert my eyes quickly. I still have to come up with my own topic, and I’ve spent the last forty minutes mentally beating myself up. Didn’t I just do that for the last seven days? Sure did, and it ruined what should have been a perfect vacation in paradise. It’s about time I stop. That’s the thing about guilt. It refuses to let go of the grip it has on your soul. It wraps itself around you and holds on for the ride, laughing the entire time. Look at the wrong person, guilt smacks you across the face. Think about them, guilt’s there to remind you why you shouldn’t. Get close enough to smell their woodsy scent? Throat punch. Guilt is a bitch. The only way to get rid of it is to clear your conscience. Like you have the balls to do that. She’s right. I don’t. Because telling my truth would destroy more lives than my own. And if I’m going to hell, I don’t find it necessary to bring company. Four more weeks. I can survive that long. I’ll just lock myself in my apartment. I’ve been doing it all semester, what’s a few more weeks? Everything is going to be fine. I’ll suffer so she doesn’t have to. I’ll pretend I’m not miserable, that my heart’s not broken, the way I have been the last two years. My heart for hers. By keeping what happened a secret, I’m saving her from the heartbreak. That’s what friends do. They jump in front of a moving car to push you out of the way. They sacrifice themselves, their own happiness, so you can find yours. As soon as the professor is out the door, students crowd my desk, thrusting papers in my face. I slide them all in the envelope one by one and stare down at my blank form. I’m the last one left. Alone. Again. You would think I’d be used to the silence by now. I live alone. Spend my nights locked in my apartment. I’ve pushed my friends away and barely answer my phone. I’m the reason I’m isolated. I’m the one responsible for feeling lonely. I’ve done this to myself and I have no one else to blame. Well, I could start pointing fingers, but at this point, why bother? It won’t change what happened two years ago or three months ago. No one can erase the past. We either learn from it, try to be better, overcome the obstacles, and grow as a person. Or we wallow, allowing ourselves to suffer in silence. It feels like I’m constantly teetering somewhere in the middle. I’d love to say I’ve learned my lesson, but I find myself wallowing more often than not. Attempting to focus, I’m feverishly scribbling when another chill washes over me, this one more pronounced than the last. Goosebumps pebble my exposed legs, a shiver making it’s way up my spine. I’m rubbing them with my free hand when I hear the soft click of the door, followed by the vibration of my phone again. Finally removing it from the confines of my pocket, I find Summer’s face smiling at me. My second mom. The one who adopted me into her family the first day I met her. Who’s shown me more love in the two years I’ve known her than my parents have in my twenty-two years of life. Sliding my finger across the screen to answer, I greet her warmly, a huge smile on my face. I missed seeing her this morning at the Java Bean. Not only did I need the caffeine, but her hugs make everything better. Not feeling well? Get a hug from Summer. Fail an exam? Summer’s hug will make you forget about it. There is no limit to the power of her hugs. Summer’s heart is so big you can feel her love when she hugs you. The way she says my name has alarm bells sounding in my head. I can almost hear the tears streaming down her cheeks, her big, beautiful heart breaking in her chest. And when she finally tells me why she’s calling, I feel the remnants of my already fragile heart shatter. Her words bring tears to my eyes, clouding my vision, my smile fading as the phone falls from my hands. The screen cracks as it hits the floor, but I barely register the sound. Suddenly I’m being pulled out of my chair, my legs wobbling slightly, and into his warm embrace. He’s fresh from a shower, the woodsy scent enveloping me, causing my heart to studder. Home. That’s what it feels like to be wrapped in his arms. But right now, not even he can calm the frantic beat of my heart as it pounds against my rib cage. The thump, thump, thump rattling in my ears is the only indication I’m not dreaming. This can’t be happening. “I’ve got you,” he whispers as his hand runs up and down my back. My fists are tightly gripping the front of his soft T-shirt. I can feel the rapid beating of his heart beneath my hands, whereas mine suddenly feels like it’s come to a complete stop. When my legs give out, he scoops me up and sits with me in his lap. I can’t even bring myself to fight him. Tension and guilt are swirling around me, taunting me, but it’s no match for the devastation that’s pressing on my chest. “Breathe, Drea,” I hear him say as he tucks a piece of stray hair behind my ear. “Just breathe.” In. Out. In. Out. Easy, right? Yet I can’t seem to catch my breath. I’ve never been able to with him this close. “I have to go,” I say, scrambling off his lap, gathering all my things and shoving them in my messenger bag. I’m out the door, his protests cut off when it closes behind me. Four weeks. I can survive four more weeks. Then I’m gone. I’ll leave this place behind me and never look back. There’s nothing left here for me now anyway.  

Rachael Brownell is an award-winning author of contemporary, New Adult, and YA romance. Rachael lives in Michigan with her husband, son, cuddly dog, and hateful cat. She published her first book in 2013 and has since released more than 30 additional titles. Her books have been known to take you on a rollercoaster ride – from sweet to dark and everything in between.

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