Chapter Reveal

Fighter’s Best Friend by A. Rivers




Title: Fighter’s Best Friend
Series: Crown MMA Romance #2
Author: A. Rivers
Genre: Sports Romance
Release Date: March 18, 2021


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He’s my best friend. Emotionally unavailable. Falling in love with him is the worst idea ever but try telling that to my heart.

As a doctor who aced her way through medical school, I should be too smart to fall for Gabe Mendoza, a man who’s married to his MMA career.
For years, I’ve patched his wounds and cheered him on, but I’m tired of hoping he’ll wake up and see what’s right in front of him. I’m ready to find someone who will put me first.

The last thing I expect is for Gabe to scare off my dates and tell me all the dirty things he wants to do to me. He asks for a chance, but with the fight of his life on the horizon, his attention is divided, and I’m scared that when push comes to shove, I’ll be left alone and heartbroken.

Can I trust Gabe enough to fight for our happily ever after? Or was our end written before it even began?



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CHAPTER 1

Sydney

He’s not coming.
I’m starving, and exhausted from a twelve-hour shift at the hospital. The mouthwatering aroma of Italian cuisine surrounds me, but I’ve held off for fifty-eight minutes, waiting for Gabe to show up. At this point, I’m pretty sure he won’t. It’s not the first time he’s become caught up in training and forgotten about me. Probably won’t be the last, either. But I’ll give him two more minutes. Maybe he’ll text or call to say he can’t make it. That’s not too much to ask, surely?
My phone pings. Heart in my throat, I glance down, but it’s Lena. My stomach plummets. I like Lena perfectly fine. In fact, she’s one of my closest friends these days, but she isn’t Gabe. Moreover, she has a man who’s crazy about her, which only serves to remind me that I’m being stood up by the only man in my life. Again. And yeah, technically Gabe is my best friend and not my boyfriend, but we’ve known each other for most of our lives and have always been closer than many people are comfortable with. Deep down, I’m a little bit in love with him. Not that I’ll ever admit as much.
Gabe trains out of the same MMA gym as Lena’s boyfriend, Jase, and they’re both professional fighters. But while Lena is apparently—according to her message—eating Mexican takeout and about to have mind-blowing sex, I’m sitting alone in a booth like a pathetic loser, hung up on a guy who barely manages to return my calls anymore. Is it too much to ask for a bit of respect? Or at least to be treated like my time matters? Like I matter?
My glumness grows and becomes hotter. More angry. I’m sick of this. Sick of being alone at a restaurant after spending a day in the ER, waiting for someone who might never show. I don’t want to be achingly lonely. I dedicate far too much emotional energy to Gabe, and just-a-friend or not, I deserve more than that. There was a time when he’d do anything for me. Hell, the first time we met, he saved me from a bully who was pulling on my braids. But our relationship doesn’t go two ways anymore. It’s always me giving and him taking. How much longer until I have nothing left to give?
I summon the waiter, Marcel, who gives me a sympathetic look. “Can I get the pumpkin ravioli to go, please?”
“No problem, Syd.” He makes a note, then asks, “I take it Gabe is a no-show?”
“Seems that way.”
He pats my shoulder. “Sorry, sweetheart.”
This isn’t the first time Marcel and I have had this talk. It’s not even the first time this month. Moretti’s is a favorite place for Gabe and me to eat, but lately I’ve been studying the checkered wallpaper and chatting with the staff more than eating.
Scrubbing a hand over my carefully restrained hair, I close my eyes and picture the future stretching out before me, a series of evenings spent by myself, slowly becoming more bitter and disappointed by life. God, I don’t want that. I’m only twenty-six, I should be out partying and kissing dozens of frogs before I find my Mr. Right.
I can’t let things carry on this way, but if I don’t get over my fixation with Gabe, nothing will ever change. I need to let him go and go after what I want: a person who will always be there for me. Always put me first. Never leave me waiting and wondering.
Checking my phone, I see he’s an hour and five minutes late. As soon as my food comes, I’m out of here. I’m not even going to text to remind him he missed out. I’m tired of his stumbling apologies and complete lack of awareness of my feelings. I love him, but enough is enough.
The restaurant door opens, and a cold breeze blows through. I glance up. There he is. All six feet three inches and 200 pounds of Gabriel Mendoza. He’s not smiling—he rarely does—but his eyes crinkle at the corners when they land on me. I don’t smile back, even though he steals my breath. It’s unfair how hot he is, with thick, dark hair, melting brown eyes and golden skin, courtesy of his Argentinian parents. Some would call his face brutal, with sharp cheekbones and a nose that’s been broken more than once, but to me, it’s fascinating.
“Sorry I’m late,” he says, sliding into the seat opposite me. “You ready to order?”
That’s it?
He’s over an hour late, and all I get is one half-ass “sorry”?
No, I don’t think so. I deserve better than his casual thoughtlessness.
“I’ve already ordered,” I tell him. “For myself. Takeout.” In case he’s unclear about how pissed I am, I add, “You’re an hour late.”
He winces. “Yeah, sorry about that. The Ruby Knuckles fight is coming up in a few weeks and I needed to get in some extra rounds on the pads.”
The Ruby Knuckles event is a big deal for Gabe. He’ll face off against Leo “The Lion” Delaney, another scion of boxing royalty. But the opponent isn’t what makes it so important. The Ruby Knuckles is an elite mixed martial arts elimination tournament, and it famously marked the end of Gabe’s dad’s career when he was knocked out in the last round of the finals. Gabe is determined to win where his dad—now manager—failed. He’s defeated five other fighters to get to the finals, and now he’s really feeling the pressure. I get that. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s no excuse not to take twenty seconds to send me a message.
I cock my head. “So Seth asked you to stay later?”
Seth Isles is his coach, and the owner of Crown MMA Gym, where he trains. It’s one of the best martial arts gyms in Las Vegas, if not the best.
“Uh, no. He didn’t.” He scratches the back of his neck. “Dad did.”
“Gabe.”
He holds up a hand. “I know, I know. Seth is in charge of training. Dad is supposed to butt out and manage the other stuff, but you know how he is. I couldn’t say no. I’m here now though, and I’m hungry as fuck.”
A sharp pain pricks my heart. I understand how hard it is to let a parent down—I feel like my life is one great big let-down to my mom—but does he actually think so little of me that it didn’t cross his mind to, say, get his dad to text me while he was busy training? And does he not see how unacceptable that is? If he respected my time and feelings at all, I’d be at home in bed. My stomach growls, cuing my anger higher.
Oblivious to my hurt, he continues, “Give me a minute to order and we can take it back to your place.”
I stand. “You know what? Don’t bother. I had a busy shift, I’m tired, and I just want to go home.”
He stands, too. “We could watch a movie and blob out on the couch.”
I shake my head. He isn’t getting it. “Gabe,” I say, heart heavy, “I just want to be alone.”

* * *

Gabe

Dread creeps up my spine. Sydney never wants to be alone. She lives for contact with people—both physical and emotional. It’s what makes her such a great doctor—well, that and her brilliant mind. Something is seriously wrong. Perhaps something happened at work today. She’s in an emergency room rotation, and it can’t be easy seeing some of the things she does.
“Bad day at work?” I ask.
“You’re an hour late,” she repeats through clenched teeth.
Uh-oh. This isn’t good. Her attitude is directed straight at me, but I’m not sure exactly why she’s reacting this way. I mean, yeah I’m late, but I’ve been late before. I have the fight of my life coming up, and time gets away from me. Usually, if I tell her I’m sorry and offer food or to spend time with her, she doesn’t make a big deal of it. But I can tell from the stubborn set of her mouth that she’s willing to make a fuss this time.
“You’re angry.” I state the obvious.
“No shit, Sherlock.” She sighs and runs a hand over her tightly-bound black curls. “I just can’t do this tonight. I need some time alone.”
“You want to be alone,” I repeat dumbly. Something feels different about this. Different and wrong. Like if I don’t say what she wants to hear, I could be in trouble. I don’t know how to handle her when she’s like this. She’s typically so easygoing and eager to hang out that I’m confused and wary of what to do or say next. Should I try to sweet talk her so she comes around? I’m not really a sweet guy, but I can give it a try.
“What about if I buy us dessert on the way to your place?” I suggest. “That brownie you love from the cafe near your apartment?”
She just looks at me, her dark features solemn. “They’ll be closed. So no, thank you. I’m not in the mood, anyway.”
I wince. From Sydney, this is practically a slap in the face. She doesn’t know how to be mean, but she’s being distant and snarky, and that’s almost worse. She’s supposed to be my best friend. The person I get to see once or twice a week, and who always, always makes me feel better and brings a smile to my face. She’s the person I most look forward to seeing. Now I deflate, beginning to realize I’m not going to get my dose of Sydney today.
Marcel arrives, and hands her a package that smells amazing. He sends me a look, and it’s not friendly. “That all, sweetheart?”
“Yes, thanks, Marcel.” Without a word to me, she pays him and heads to the exit. I follow, both because I’m not willing to let her leave without talking this through, and because the neighborhood around her apartment isn’t the best and I need to make sure she gets home safely.
Outside, she whirls to face me. “What are you doing?”
Shrugging, I shove my hands in my hoodie pocket. “Walking you home.”
“No, you’re not.” She clutches her takeout to her middle like it’s a guard between us. Man, I hate that. Since when has she needed protection from me? “I already told you—”
“I’m just keeping you safe, Syd.”
To my astonishment, she rolls her eyes. Usually a statement like that would have earned a soft smile.
“I don’t need a guard.”
She continues walking, and I fall into step beside her. She speeds up, but despite her sensible work shoes, her legs are significantly shorter than mine and there’s no way she can out-pace me. She’s determined though, so I drop back and slink along behind her like a fucking stalker because she clearly doesn’t want me next to her.
My gaze falls onto her lush, rounded ass. Bad mistake. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do to grab fistfuls of that butt. Except hurt her. And therein lies the reason I haven’t made a move on her in many wonderfully torturous years of being friends—I would hurt her. It would just be a matter of when.
My dick stirs in my pants. It likes Sydney’s curves a little too much. I’ve fantasized about running one hand over her lush hips while gripping her ebony hair in my other hand and kissing a path down the column of her throat. Tearing my attention from her ass, I toss a nasty scowl at a guy in a stylish jacket who looks at her for too damn long. He glances away rapidly. Wimp.
I dog her footsteps all the way to her apartment building, giving myself permission to be fascinated by the tendril of hair that caresses the bronze skin of her shoulder.
When we arrive, she gives me the first hint she knows or cares I’m there, calling over her shoulder, “I’m safe, you can go now.”
Isn’t she going to invite me in? I’d been sure she’d cool off and change her mind on the way over. Sydney doesn’t have a temper, which means I was right: something is seriously wrong. I’m beginning to think I’ve screwed up. I should have tried harder not to be late. Even if I couldn’t take a break because Dad was spurring me on from the sidelines, I should have got Jase or Devon—my training buddies and the closest thing I have to brothers—to send her a text. But surely she isn’t like this just because I was running behind for dinner?
“Syd…” I trail off when she doesn’t look around. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah? Well, so am I.” With that, she enters the building and shuts the door behind her. The click of the lock is soft but it echoes like a gunshot in the night. Like a fucking moron, I stare at the door for a good long moment before processing what it means. She’s angry at me, and I won’t be seeing any more of her tonight. Brooding over what to do next, not accustomed to being cut off like this, I backtrack to the diner and approach Marcel.
“Gabe,” he mutters when he sees me.
“Did something bad happen to Syd?” I demand, desperate to understand what’s going on, and furious at the thought of anything upsetting her. “Was someone rude or unpleasant to her?”
Marcel rests his forearms on the counter and looks me in the eye. He’s one of the few people who’s not afraid to do that, because he’s known me since I was a kid. “Nothing happened,” he says. “Except that she sat there for an hour looking miserable and lonely.” He shakes his head. “You’re a good guy, but I’m sick of seeing her wait on you. A girl like that should be cherished.”
Cherished? Yeah, she fucking should be. But not by me.
“We’re not a couple.”
Marcel raises a brow. “If you want it to stay that way, you’re going about things right.”






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Releasing June 24

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A. Rivers writes romance with strong heroes and heroines who kick butt and take names. She loves MMA fighters, cops, military men, bodyguards, and the protective guy next door who isn’t afraid to fight the odds for love.


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Chapter Reveal

The Mountain Man’s Runaway Bride by L. Nicole




Title: The Mountain Man’s Runaway Bride
Series: Matrimony Alaska #2
Author: L. Nicole
Genre: Contemporary New Adult Romance
Release Date: December 30, 2020


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Running away from her wedding seemed like the perfect option, until the best man decides to chase her. 


When Ash Grayson agreed to stand in as best man at his friend’s wedding, he was only doing it to get a glimpse at the single women in the crowd.

He never thought that the one catching his eye would be the bride to be.

Dixie Sutton was beautiful—long flowing black hair, huge doe eyes, with curves a man could drive for miles.

And those are just a few of the things that Ash likes.

Ash’s friend might be mad as hell when Dixie stops the wedding, but Ash?

He’s determined to chase down the runaway bride and make sure she stays in Alaska with a ring on her finger.

His ring.

Welcome back to the town of Matrimony, Alaska. A town full of Mountain Men looking for the women of their dreams. I’m bringing you back in town just in time for the New Year. Ash has plans to ring out 2020 happily ever after style.

Please note this book is a standalone, safe, drama free, and tied up in a pretty bow.







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CHAPTER

I stroll along the street, grimacing a bit at all the twinkling lights. Matrimony has definitely over-delivered on Christmas. It never fails to happen, every year, as soon as we finish eating turkey, they get busy. Maybe I’m a grinch, but I don’t find anything about it that amazing. If anything, it reminds me of how solitary my life is. If it wasn’t for Birk, his family, and Rowan, I wouldn’t have much human interaction at all. 
Which means the last thing I want is to be surrounded by Christmas. The only consolation I have right now is that I’m not going to be in town for long. I just came into town to grab up supplies at the hardware store to fix a burst pipe. 
I’m not a plumber, but I can get the job done. Here in Alaska, you have to be self-sufficient. The weather is as harsh as you see on the television. There can be months during the winter where you can’t even leave the house due to the weather. I’m usually stocked, but I had to go fix Mrs. Crabtree’s water line a few times this past week. I used what I had stocked up as a result, and I don’t want to find myself completely out in case of an emergency. 
A friend of mine, Fred, is the local plumber. He is usually around to help Mrs. Crabtree and others, but he took his wife on a vacation to Hawaii for their anniversary and aren’t expected back until after the holiday, so I’ve tried to help some of the older residents where I can during my time off. It’s not like I have a family to go home to after working all day in the lumber yard. 
After I stock up on the plumbing supplies, I want to do some errands. I’m determined to pick up a generator for the Crabtrees. Theirs is toast, and I know they live on a tight fixed income. Mr. Crabtree’s medicine probably takes half of what they draw. They don’t realize I pay attention, but I do. 
I’m so caught up in making a mental checklist, that I don’t notice the petite woman coming toward me, until I barrel into her. As soon as I reach out to keep her from falling on her backside, my world changes. It feels like I touch a live electrical wire. Sparks fly and my heart flips in my chest, making all my senses go on high alert. 
Her perfume wraps around me first. It’s a sweet mix of oranges and some type of flower. Immediately I want to breathe more of it in. It’s a reminder of spring, which happens to be my favorite season. I’m overly aware of our proximity, my bigger frame towering over her, the soft curviness of her body, the way she feels when I touch her…. 
I clear my throat as she sputters an apology. If I had trimmed my beard this morning, she would have seen my smirk. But when her eyes meet mine, I know I’m in trouble. Something deep in my gut tells me she is mine. 
It’s an unusual feeling for me. I’d like to say it’s because I’m desperate to find a woman to live my life with, because I do want that. Living in Matrimony means there are definitely more men than women. But it’s not purely that, because even the women in Matrimony that are single hold little appeal for me. Truthfully, I just never knew what I was looking for until just now. Apparently, it was a soft, petite, curvy woman with chestnut hair and beautiful brown eyes. I stand looking at her, completely shell shocked. She brushes her hair back from her face, giving me a view of her soft features. My eyes dart down to her full lips, which are lush, glossy perfection, before traveling back to the beautiful, brown, doe eyes that captured my attention first. 
“Are you alright?” I ask, seeing a slight red mark on her face where she took most of the hit. I have the strongest urge to reach out and touch the spot, and even ache to kiss it. The need is almost so powerful that I do it, but I control myself, barely. I don’t make a habit of scaring tourists, and don’t want to start now. 
“I’m fine, are you okay?” she asks, her voice reminding me of the warmth of the sun, it’s that potent. Then, she smiles. I suck air into my lungs at the hunger that hits me. I never thought an attraction could be this powerful and happen this quickly. My friend Birk said that’s how he felt about his Aggie, but I just laughed, thinking he was over embellishing. 
Clearly I was wrong. 
“Yeah,” I respond with a grin of my own. “Of course, I would be better if you let me take you to dinner. I mean, it’s the least I can do for almost running you over.” I’ve never been accused of being a Casanova, but I’m hoping she says yes. Surely she feels this attraction between us. I can’t be the only one experiencing it… Can I? 
I reach out and touch her again, unable to stop myself. I find myself gently moving her towards the building beside of us, and out of the way of another passerby. There’s this strong urge to protect her and shield her. I can’t explain it, but it feels right. The way she looks up at me as I touch her makes me wonder what she’s thinking. Is she struggling as much as I am? How would she react if she knew I was wondering what she looked like underneath the bulky winter clothes she was wearing? She’s gorgeous, all curves with her soft, wavy hair that was brown, but also looked as if it had been kissed by the sun. Her creamy golden skin beautiful and soft… 
I shove my hands into the pockets of my coat to stop myself from touching her yet again. 
“I’d like that—” she says, and I feel joy push through me so quickly that it steals my breath. Then, a fallen expression comes over her face and she shakes her head no. “Wait, I don’t know what I was thinking just now. I can’t…” The regret that flashes on her pretty face gives me pause. I immediately want to put the smile back on her beautiful lips. 
“Why not?” I ask. A no wasn’t the answer I’d hoped for, and clearly she was going to say yes. She just looks at me, sad, but as if she’s searching for the right words. Just then someone slaps me on the back, making me jump. I was lost to anything and everything around me but this woman. I turn to see Kerry, owner of the bar and restaurant in town. We’re friends. I’m not as close with him as I am Birk and Rowan, but he’s a good guy. I worry about him being around the girl I’m talking to, because he’s been on the hunt for a woman for a while now. He even put the moves on Birk’s Aggie once. 
Kerry’s last woman did him really dirty, but he says he’s not cut out for the single life. Still, I can’t exactly demand he leave me and the girl alone. Plus, he should be safe. He’s getting married next week to some woman he met on the internet. I think he’s even convinced Rowan to try that route. I couldn’t do it. I want sparks to fly between me and the woman I’m going to claim. Sparks like the ones I’m sharing with the girl beside me… 
“I see you had the luck of meeting her first,” Kerry says, smiling at me. 
“Huh?” I ask, confused and feeling like I’m missing something. I turn to look at the girl beside me. I could introduce her to Kerry, mostly so I can finally get her name. She might have changed her mind about dinner, but I’m not giving up. There’s an attraction between us, and I’m positive she feels it too. 
When I turn, she’s dropped her head down, staring at her boots. Her hair has fallen from her hood, and it fans out over her face, sheltering her. My heart hurts when I look at her. God, she’s everything I’ve ever dreamed of in a woman. I feel like the Man upstairs might have been watching me and sent a miracle my way. When she looks back up her gaze goes from Kerry to me. I don’t think it’s my imagination now that the regret is thick on her face, it’s almost as thick as the color on her cheeks as she blushes as if she’s embarrassed. 
“Ash, this is Dixie. Dixie, this is Ash,” Kerry says. I feel my brow crinkle, and I swim in the confusion of Kerry introducing me to the girl of my dreams and then, a second later reality slams into me with the weight of a ton of bricks. 
Dixie. 
Kerry’s mail-order-bride was named DixieIt’s all anyone has been talking about in the bar for the last month. I heard about it whenever me and guys from the lumberyard dropped by for a beer in the evenings. 
“You’re Dixie?” I asked, my throat feeling raw. 
“That’s her,” Kerry responds. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there to meet you, Dixie. I was held up at the bar. Let’s bring this over to the Heifer for a warm drink and some food.” 
I’m not sure why I felt compelled to follow Kerry and Dixie. Maybe I was legitimately suffering from shock. Maybe, I’m just a damn fool. 
Kerry and I each pick up one of Dixie’s bags as she trails wordlessly behind Kerry, looking anywhere but back at me. I watch her though. She needs two steps to Kerry’s one. I slow down, taking her elbow in hand, just in case she slips on the ice. Even the most weathered residents could take a tumble if they weren’t paying attention. I do that because I am an idiot, and I can’t resist. Dixie looks up at me in panic. The confusion on her face is painful to look at. She should be mine. I feel that in my bones. 
But she belongs to Kerry.





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Chapter Reveal

Fighter’s Heart by A. Rivers




Title: Fighter’s Heart
Series: Crowne MMA Romance #1
Author: A. Rivers
Genre: Sports Romance
Release Date: December 7, 2020


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Lena
I never meant to become the go-to P.R. girl for the biggest jerks in professional sports.
Unfortunately, I built a reputation for turning douchebags into superstars, and now I’m stuck.
When I’m assigned to work with a guy accused of hitting his girlfriend, enough is enough.
I know all about men like Jase ‘The Wrangler’ Rawlins, and I have the emotional scars to prove it.
Mouthy, conceited, and hot as f*ck, he’s used to getting his way.
I want nothing to do with him, but my boss makes an offer I can’t refuse.
My dreams are finally within reach, and the more I get to know Jase, the more I wonder if I’ve gotten him completely wrong.
He may be bossy and infuriating, but he’s hiding a heart as massive as his ego.
Can I let go of the past and trust the feelings growing between us when my career is on the line?

Jase
Trouble is nothing new for an MMA bad boy like me, but this time I’m in too deep and can’t get out.
At least, not without help.
That’s where Lena LaFontaine comes in.
All buttoned-up blouses and ass-hugging skirts, she’s a distraction I don’t need, but she’s also the only one who can make my problems go away.
She wants to hate me. I’m not going to let that happen.
I never expect the way I ache to taste her pouty lips and claim her for my own.
My life is on the verge of imploding, and when it does, I’m not sure if I’ll emerge as a champion or be imprisoned for a crime I didn’t commit.
I won’t drag her down with me, but when push comes to shove, I don’t know if I can give her up, either.

Fighter’s Heart is a standalone MMA romance with a cocky alpha hero and a sassy heroine who knows how to keep him in check. It has a HEA, no cheating, and no cliffhanger.







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CHAPTER 1

Lena 
Eight words. That’s all it takes to ruin my day. 
“LaFontaine, I have a special assignment for you.” 
I recognize the voice without looking up from my desk. It’s my prick of a boss, Adrian, and anything he’s terming a “special assignment” will inevitably be a nightmare. That’s all I get these days. The unfixable cases. The spoiled, self-entitled sports stars who screw up so badly, no one else wants them. 
God, one massive win and I become the go-to public relations girl for the biggest jerks-with-abs in Vegas. Why can’t I, just once, get a client who’s a marginalized feminist with a cause? Sighing, I raise my head and meet Adrian’s beady little eyes. This douchebag has my career in his hands, and he knows it. 
“What’s the case?” 
His thin lips curl in a self-satisfied smile. It doesn’t escape my notice that he’s yet to close the door, which makes me wonder if he’s keeping it open as an escape route. 
“Jase Rawlins.” 
Oh. Hell. No. 
“Nuh-uh,” I say. “No freaking way.” 
Jase “The Wrangler” Rawlins is one of the bad boys of MMA. I don’t even have to ask why he needs our services. Anyone who pays attention to the sports industry knows his ex-girlfriend has come forward with allegations of domestic abuse. I’ve seen photos of her bruised cheek and read the story in popular magazines. The guy is violent. But I suppose I shouldn’t expect any different from a cage fighter. 
I know the type. I’ve dated the type. 
“There’s no way I’m working with that asshole. Absolutely not. Find someone else. I’m not aiding and abetting a jackass who thinks he can get away with hitting women.” 
The door opens wider, and Jase Rawlins himself steps into my small, airy office, his gaze immediately drawn to the view out the window, which looks over the business district. I know him on sight, and I’m not even sorry he overheard my comment. He deserves all the condemnation he gets, and more. Fuck him. 
Adrian’s brows draw together, as if he didn’t expect me to argue. “Everything is organized, Lena. The papers are signed. It’s a done deal.” 
My teeth scrape together loud enough I’m surprised no one else hears them. I meet Jase’s eyes, and a jolt runs through me. They’re a strange color. Dark gray, or maybe green, it’s hard to tell, and fringed with the thickest lashes I’ve ever seen. Pretty eyes. Out of place on a man known for choking his opponents into submission. He has high, arrogant cheekbones and plush lips, although the upper one is marred by a thin scar. 
This is a face a woman could study forever—if she wasn’t too caught up in his body. Because holy shit, he has a body. Broad shoulders, tapered hips, and strong legs with muscled calves showing beneath his shorts. Unfortunately, however panty-meltingly hot he is, he’s also a brute, and I’m done with men like him. If I have anything to say about it, I’m not touching another MMA superstar—not with a ten-foot pole. 
Time to shut this shit down. 
“I’m not working with you,” I tell him, and watch for a change in his expression, but his only reaction is a quick flick of his eyes to the right, where a man in an expensive suit has followed him into my office. “This is not a happening thing.” I aim this comment at the suit, and he glowers. I don’t care. There are some jobs even I won’t take, and Adrian wants me to cross a moral line I’m not prepared to. 
“Lena,” Adrian says in a cautioning tone. “Hold on a moment.” 
Crossing my arms over my chest, I stare at him, wondering how far he’s prepared to push. Considering Jase Rawlins is worth seven or eight figures, I’d hazard a guess that dollar signs are flashing in Adrian’s eyes. Too bad. I don’t operate that way. Money isn’t my driver, and he knows it. So what approach will he take? 

* * * 

Jase 
Sometimes, I wish it was legal to put someone in a chokehold outside of the cage. Like this uppity image specialist, for instance. Yeah, she may look like a schoolboy’s wet dream in an ass-hugging pencil skirt and V-necked blouse, but it’s obvious from the second she opens her mouth that she’s already judged me and found me wanting. Nothing I’m not used to, but it still stings. 
Maybe it’s the fact my dick has some really great ideas about what he’d like to do with those gorgeous red lips, which are currently set in a sulky pout, or maybe it’s her instant dismissal, but I want to rile her. To ruffle up her silky feathers and find out just how mouthy she can get. 
I step forward before her boss can intervene, and raise a hand. As expected, everyone falls silent, which only seems to piss the redhead off more. Fuck, we haven’t even gotten as far as exchanging names before she’s mentally convicted me. That’s the shitty part of being in the public spotlight. Everyone thinks they know me. They believe every stupid lie anyone tells. 
Well, guess what? This girl doesn’t know a goddamn thing. 
“Calm down, cutie pie.” I love it when her eyes chill to an icy blue, silently threatening to cut my balls off. Yeah, I knew she’d hate the pet name. Considering what she thinks of me, I don’t give a crap. “Turns out, I don’t want to work with you either.” I raise a brow at Nick, my manager, and ask, “Is this really the best you could do?” 
The redhead gasps, and I want to check whether she’s crossed her arms tighter over her chest, plumping her little tits up, but I resist the urge to look. 
“We can go somewhere else,” Nick says. “I was told these guys are the best for miracles, but I’m sure we can find someone else just as good.” 
“Now, wait a minute,” the stuffed shirt interjects. I wasn’t listening when he introduced himself so I didn’t catch his name. “Lena is the best there is. You won’t find anyone else.” 
Finally, I succumb to the desire to glance at her and see how she’s taking this. I catch the tail end of an eye-roll, and it makes me soften toward her a little. She’s not drinking up the flattery the way some might. 
Lena. I try her name out. It suits her. Pretty, bordering on pretentious but not overstepping the mark. 
“Whatever puppy dog stunts Lena”—I emphasize her name now that I know it—“wants to pull, they aren’t going to do jack.” I address Nick. “I still don’t get why we’re here. Give it a couple of days; Erin will decide she doesn’t want to act on her threats, and the hubbub will die down.” 
Lena’s face twists into a sneer. “Die down?” she demands. “The only way this shit-nado is dying down is if someone gets proactive about putting out your fires, and fast. Also, have a little respect for your girlfriend.” 
Ex-girlfriend.” 
“Whatever.” She says it like the “ex” part doesn’t matter. As if Erin and I didn’t break up more than two months ago now. “She’s not some problem that will disappear if you ignore her. Domestic violence is a serious crime, and you can’t just hand-wave it away.” Her nose crinkles like she smells something bad. “It disgusts me that you’re callous enough to think otherwise.” 
Callous? Me? 
I count to five in my head and remind myself she doesn’t know me. Her perception of me is based on what she’s seen in the news, and I have to admit, it’s damning. It also isn’t true, but I don’t bother saying that because this woman isn’t going to believe me. Stuffing my hands in my pockets, I decide the best way to deal with her is to call her bluff. 
“Okay, so you say the problem isn’t going away on its own. What did you have in mind to fix it?” 
“I… I…” She flounders, and I can’t stop the smile that tugs at my lips. She’s all bluster and no bite. 
“That’s what I thought.” I turn to leave, but her smarmy boss lays a hand on my arm. When I stare at it, he snaps it back like he’s been stung, his cheeks going pale. This guy is even worse than Lena. At least she has the balls to say what she thinks to my face. He’s the type who’ll pretend to be on my side, but all the while he’s secretly fucking terrified of me. 
“Wait, wait, wait,” he says. “Give me two minutes to speak to Lena in private and talk her around. I promise you won’t regret it.” 
Lena looks like she wants to bash him over the head with a paperweight, and I don’t blame her. He’s a condescending little shit. “Adrian—” she says. 
“My office.” He snaps his fingers, like he’s ordering a dog to heel. “Now.” 
They leave, her trailing behind, practically dragging her feet, and Nick gives a low laugh. “Good old Jase. Always charming the ladies.” 
I jerk a thumb at the door. “Can we go? I’ve had enough of this.” 
He sighs, his expression regretful. “I wish we could, but what she said is true. Whether you want to believe it or not, this situation has the potential to derail your career.” 
“How can it, when I have the championship bout so soon? I’ll blow Karson out of the water, and everything will be fine.” 
Nick ums and ahs. “That’s if you don’t get arrested before the fight.” 
“Pfft.” I shake my head. “Not gonna happen. Erin is full of hot air.” 
“She also has a taste for the spotlight, and she’ll keep spouting this bullshit as long as the cameras are rolling.” Damn, he’s right, and he must sense he has the winning hand because he powers on. “Not to mention, you promised Seth you’d take this seriously and do whatever you could not to tarnish the reputation of Crown MMA gym.” 
Ouch. Low blow. Nick knows I’d go to war for Seth if he asked. My trainer gave me everything. He had faith in me, took a chance on me, and he had no way of knowing I’d pan out to be a good investment. I was just a kid from a poor neighborhood with a mother of a chip on my shoulder and a willingness to shed blood to escape. 
“Fine,” I concede, not surprising either of us. “I’ll hear them out.” 
But I have a bad feeling about this, and my gut doesn’t often lie to me.






COMING SOON


Releasing March 18

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU






AUTHOR BIO


A. Rivers writes romance with strong heroes and heroines who kick butt and take names. She loves MMA fighters, cops, military men, bodyguards, and the protective guy next door who isn’t afraid to fight the odds for love.


AUTHOR LINKS




Chapter Reveal

Daddy Dom by Isabella Starling

Title: Daddy Dom
Author: Isabella Starling
Genre: Dark Romance Standalone
Release Date: September 1, 2020
A brand new, standalone dark romance with a Daddy theme from USA Today bestselling author Isabella Starling is finally here!
I’m your new Daddy, little doll.
And it’s a doll’s purpose to give Daddy what he wants.
What I want is to own you.
I’ll put you in chains and I’ll never take them off.
I’ll make you kneel for me.
I’ll make you beg for more.
And I’ll never, ever let you leave me.
You’re property now.
You don’t have a choice.
*
Contains dark scenes throughout. This is a STANDALONE, full-length novel.
Chapter 1
Cliff
I can smell her. Sweet strawberries. A scent strong enough to overcome the stench of bodies pressed together. It’s pure and addicting like a good, expensive cognac. She is a precious, exotic flower in mud. My next victim.
I tell myself to ignore her. I do my best to pretend the scent isn’t there.
I tell myself I’m not the kind of man who seeks out his prey.
I’m the kind of man the women come to, begging and pleading for attention. I don’t fight for pussy. I don’t even work for it. It just falls in my lap. And that’s the way I like it.
But it doesn’t escape me. She is all I can feel.
I search for her above the dancing bodies when I enter the club. I lose her somewhere midway across the dancefloor. I turn around, but I can’t sense her anymore, can’t feel her presence. She was there, the faintest hint, when I walked into the club through the private entrance. But now the scent is gone.
Muttering a curse word, I make my way out of the club through the back exit and press my back against the brick wall outside. I can’t smell her anymore.
I light a cigarette and inhale deeply. The smoke fills my lungs, giving me the relief I need. I exhale, allowing the tingle and burn of the cigarette to take over.
“Got a light?”
My eyes go to the little creature standing before me. Her eyes are wide and hopeful. She belongs here with her tiny dress and pouty lips, ready to be used. I know that’s what she wants, but I’m not going to give it to her. She’s not the one I smelled before. But she’s so petite I could throw her over my shoulder and carry her right back to my place, fill up all her holes.
I take a step closer. She doesn’t move, staring up at me. I inhale her scent.
Sweet fruit.
It’s not her, not the sweet scent I can still remember, the taste of it like syrup on my tongue. But she does smell good. Like an overripe, juicy peach, so close to bursting you can almost taste it before you sink your teeth in.
“Got a cigarette?” I return the question. She shrugs.
“Thought you could take care of me,” she suggests making me smirk at her. She looks like she wants a wild night with an older man, but I’m not letting her have it. Not tonight.
“Better luck next time, kid.”
She pouts, crossing her arms as she stalks off behind her group of friends. Her annoyance doesn’t stop her from looking over her shoulder, making sure I’m not watching her leave. 
I don’t call out after her. I stand there alone, contemplating whether I’ve just made a mistake. But I don’t touch pussy as young as that. Barely legal hookups are not something I seek out.
No, I like a certain type of woman – the kind who knows what she wants. Strong, confident, a rockstar in her career, and fiercely single. Those types of women are the best to break. 
And yet something tells me it’s so very different from the scent that assaulted my nostrils tonight. The owner of the scent didn’t strike me as confident. Her perfume screamed of innocence. Of something… forbidden. Off limits.
I shake my head to get the thought out, forcing another memory to take its place. I smile fondly at the memory of last night, trying to force my mind elsewhere. Sierra, a coworker from the office, bent over my desk and shouting my name over and over again as I pushed her body against the wood. She came so much she left a puddle on the floor. I made her beg for my cock. Beg to be filled when I was balls deep inside her. 
And just like every other time we’d done this, on Monday she’d pretend nothing had happened.
I crush the cigarette under my polished leather shoes and head back inside the club. Ignoring the stares of women on the dancefloor, I head straight for the bar and order myself a double Scotch. I shouldn’t have come out tonight. I should be taking the night off. But it was as if something inside me wouldn’t let me stay at home. And as soon as the scent came back, assaulting my nostrils with its flirty innocence, I knew I’d made the right decision by coming to Crash.
This time, I don’t lose the trail. I zero in on the promises that hang thickly in the air. I push past groups of people, girls, women, couples. I’m focused on one thing only and I don’t notice anything or anyone in my way. I make my way to the exit.
“Mr. Hearst! Mr. Hearst!”
Knitting my brows together, I follow the sound of the voice to a group of younger women standing in front of the velvet rope. Right there, at the front, is little Dove Chastain. And the scent is overwhelming now.
My accountant’s daughter. The little girl who used to follow me like a shadow.
I groan inwardly, pretending to ignore her pleas for attention, but the girl won’t give up. She calls my name again and I take a step forward, glaring at her and her group of friends. All of them look too young to be here.
The scent. The fucking scent. It’s so overwhelming.
“Mr. Hearst!” the girl speaks up again from behind the velvet rope. “It’s me, Dove. Do you remember me?”
I grit my teeth together. “Aren’t you a little young to be here?”
She leans forward and whispers, “Please, Mr. Hearst. It’s my birthday. I just turned eighteen. You know that’s the legal drinking age in Europe, right?”
I mutter a curse, pulling back. 
The fucking scent won’t leave my head alone. Sweet, pure, innocent, fucking sex on legs. But it can’t be Dove. There’s no way. 
But who else would it be? I smelled her outside first. I lost her in the club. When I walked in, the hint was there, and now that I’m standing closer to her, it’s fucking overwhelming. It’s her. It has to be her.
Dove, the office kid, the cute and timid girl that sat through some of our meetings in the beginning, when the company was just starting and her father couldn’t find a sitter.
“Go home, Dove,” I tell her firmly. “Don’t make me call your father.”
“Please.” She grabs my shirt sleeve, tugging. I turn to face her pleading expression. “Dad said you own this club. We won’t make a scene… We just want to have some fun. Please, Mr. Hearst?”
I glance behind her shoulder at the group of other four girls. “They are eighteen, right?”
“Yes,” she nods eagerly. “I’m the youngest…”
“When’s your birthday?”
“What do you mean?” she laughs, nervous.
“Today or at midnight?” I hiss. The scent is oppressive at this point, assaulting my nostrils and demanding I pay attention to its forbidden call. 
“Midnight,” she admits, flushing. “Why?” 
I glance at my clock. “No reason.” 
I nod at the bouncer, and he holds up the rope. Dove and her girlfriends squeal with delight, but I can’t bear to watch it. I walk away, leaving them to explore the club by themselves.
Locking myself up in my office, I start working on my second Scotch of the night as I go through some numbers for the club. I need to resist this temptation. I need to busy myself with mundane tasks to forget about this. Forget about her.
My business exploded years ago, my app taking off and earning me more money than I could spend in a lifetime. The club is just one of my many investments, one Dove Chastain had been smart enough to look up before showing up on the doorstep.
I shake my head to get the thought of her out. I can’t think about her. Won’t let myself see her in any other light than the kid I remember.
But the thought is there, and the more I try to force it to the back of my mind, the louder it demands to be heard.
Dove Chastain. She’s all grown up. Another panicked glance at the clock reveals it’s forty minutes to midnight. Less than an hour to go, and I can do it. Maybe even forgive myself for giving in to my sadistic side. 
It’s there, in the darkest corners of my mind, that the idea is born. The thought of her, sweet, innocent Dove, locked up, with nowhere to run. Mine. Mine to use as I wanted. Mine to keep.
I feel sick. The idea lodges itself permanently in my mind, reminding me every few seconds of what I could do. Telling me I have enough power and money to make this happen. I could have her. I could stop living this pretense of a life and just fucking take what I want.
Closing my eyes doesn’t help. The moment I do, I see her there, chained to a collar, under my mercy, begging for the pleasure only I can give her. I imagine giving her pretty things. Going shopping for her. Dressing her up the way I like. Making her food, taking care of her. I imagine fucking her. The thought fills me with dread and yet I can’t push it away. It’s there, right there, at the touch of my fingertips.
I could take her tonight.
I push away from my desk, disgusted with my own thoughts. I pace the room. Down the rest of my drink. Check the time again – still twenty minutes to go. But I can’t stay in my room. I have to go back downstairs. I have to smell her again.
As soon as I arrive back in the club area, I see her. Every pair of eyes in the club is focused on her as she dances, lost in a world of her own. She’s laughing, swaying from side to side. Jealousy twists in the pit of my stomach, demanding I give into my sick mind’s demands. 
Take her.
Hurt her.
Make her yours.
I grit my teeth, rubbing my temples to get the cursed thoughts out, but it’s no use. My mind wants what it wants. My body has its needs. I know now if I don’t give into it, little Dove will haunt me for the rest of my life.
A plan starts slowly forming in my head, despite my best efforts to ignore my hunger. But this is what I am – what I’ve always been. A fucking monster.
I sit down at the bar, waving away the bartender who’s eager to fix me another drink. I’ve had enough for the night, and I can’t afford a distraction right now. I need to think. I need to figure out how I’m going to make this work.
People would look for her. Her father would be devastated. He’d never stop looking. 
My eyes devour Dove on the dance floor. She does look like a doll, with her waist-length blonde hair that falls in pretty waves, her innocent, soft brown eyes, and the tiny body she has that’s built for fucking sin. I want to take advantage so badly my mouth waters, but instead I keep watching her, analyzing her face and body for signs of a weakness I can exploit. The hint of her scent is still heavy in the air. Pure innocence mixed with my own lust for that untouched body. I don’t even notice anybody else, and when women come up to me to flirt, I ignore them. Soon enough, they take the hint and leave, offended. Like I give a shit. All I care about is the virgin on the dance floor.
And she’s a virgin alright. I can tell. My nose doesn’t lie. I can smell her unpopped cherry from the bar, like a sweet little promise to any man. I can tell she’s inexperienced. While I wonder whether she’s even been kissed yet, my nails dig into my palms at the thought of some adolescent boy putting his lips on hers. That’s never going to happen again. I’ll lock her up if I have to. I’ll keep her chained in my basement, never allowing her to see another man.
She’s been oblivious to the attention of the male patrons of the club thus far. They’re surrounding her, closing in on her, but Dove is focused on the music, dancing, loving every second of her life. I watch as another one approaches her, eyes lingering on her curves, hungry for her like I am. 
The thought of her body drives me wild. Those perky, perfectly sized tits would fit so well in the palm of my hand. Her pale skin would bruise easily, so prettily. Her long hair would provide grip for my fingers. I could pull it, gather it in my hand, jerk her head while she choked on my cock. I know for a fact I’m too big for her. A small, frail body like Dove’s wasn’t built for my monster cock. Not that I give a shit. Her holes can be stretched. Her mind can be conditioned to want this. Crave the pain, long for the right man to take away what she holds dearest in her life. 
My hands form fists as I watch the man dance with her. He’s older than her by at least five years. She doesn’t need him. She needs me. I’m fifteen years her senior but I don’t give a shit, even knowing I could be her father. She was made for me. She’ll be mine. 
Fuck. The thoughts are getting out of hand. The monster that lives in the shadowy corners of my mind, locked up and growling abuse at me every time I shut him up, isn’t backing down today. The monster wants a new doll to play with. The problem is, I’m getting more and more eager to give into his demands.
She smiles awkwardly at the man towering above her, doing her best to get away from him, but he doesn’t budge. He follows her to the other end of the dancefloor. She’s not dancing now. The prick’s got her backed up against a wall, closing in on her body, demanding something from her. I watch with budding curiosity. I want to see her response. I want to see how capable little Dove Chastain is of defending herself. After all, I need to know how hard she’ll make it for me.
She’s nervous. I watch her face turn. She’s no longer smiling, she’s trying to get away, and I watch with hungry eyes as the guy keeps making advances on her.
Finally, he reaches for her. My blood boils when his fingers come to rest on her hip bone. He rubs his thumb over her skin, making her shift uncomfortably. She doesn’t want this, but he shows no sign of stopping. Dove doesn’t defend herself. Instead, she just accepts her fate while her panicked eyes search for someone to help her.
Somehow, our eyes meet across the room. Dove conveys her fear in the way she stares at me, begging for me to help. I stare back, my mouth forming a thin line. I don’t move. I’m not here to help little girls get out of trouble. I’m here to turn their pretty lives into a twisted, sick, perverted nightmare.
I can’t look anymore. I get up from my seat and walk away. Let the girl take care of her damn self. Hopefully she’ll develop a self-preservation instinct. A will to fight.
Because that will make it so much sweeter to break her.
I smirk to myself as I head back to my office, my mind already made up.
I’m taking Dove Chastain, no matter the cost.
I’m putting her into my basement into a pretty little cage, with a chastity belt that only I can unlock. I’m going to fuck her holes until she’s screaming for a release. I’m going to feed her nothing but my seed until she swears she’ll never leave. I’m going to exploit, hurt and own her. And I don’t give a flying fuck whether she wants it or not.
That’s the kind of man I am.
USA Today bestselling author Isabella Starling describes her books with three words: dark, dirty and forbidden. If you pick up a Starling book, you can count on a bad-mouthed, bossy man who will dominate his woman with a rough hand. Add just a sprinkle of taboo, a touch of BDSM and a pinch of suspense, and you’re all set for a story you won’t forget.
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Chapter Reveal

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




Chapter Reveal

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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Chapter Reveal

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!”
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Chapter Reveal

Killian Ryan Michele


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Chapter Reveal

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/