Pricked by Winter Renshaw ~ CHAPTER REVEAL

He said it would only hurt a little …

On her sixteenth birthday, Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. On my twenty-second, I pricked mine on the needle of a tattoo machine wielded by a beautifully complicated man who would go on to become my ruin.

Madden Ransom was everything I was never allowed to be: unfeeling, opinionated, rebellious … free.

He was also everything I was never allowed to be with.

And while Sleeping Beauty fell into a peaceful slumber as she awaited true love’s kiss, I fell into something else entirely—my heart in the hands of a man who’d never given nor received anything remotely like love.

It turns out when Madden told me it would only hurt a little … he didn’t mean the tattoo.

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Brighton

“I can’t help but notice you don’t have any tattoos.” At least none that I can see beyond his white tank top and ripped jeans. I scan the smooth, tanned arms and the arch of his muscled shoulders as he concentrates on my bare flesh. “Why is that? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“I’m going to need you to stop shaking.” The raven-haired man with bronze skin ignores my questions and quiets the buzz of his tattoo machine. He forces a hard breath through his nostrils like he doesn’t have time for this, resting his forearms on the tops of his thighs as he studies me. “You want this to be crooked?”

“It’s a little chilly in here.” And I might be the tiniest bit anxious. If I could stop myself from shaking, believe me, I’d have done it by now.

A cool draft of air from the AC kisses the bare skin of my exposed abdomen, and a rush of goose bumps spray across my flesh.

His full lips press together as he studies the custom drawing he sketched and stenciled on me a little while ago, and I can’t help but wonder if he always looks this serious. I figured the owner of a tattoo parlor would be more on the laidback side, but Madden Ransom hasn’t so much as smiled since I got here, and every time our eyes meet—little bursts at a time here and there—there’s a kind of heaviness in his stare that I’ve never seen on anyone else before.

“A lot of people come in here saying they don’t have a thing about needles, and then as soon I get started—”

“—I don’t have a thing about needles.” I clear my throat, my fingertips tucked under the hem of my shirt, which is lifted just enough to cover the lowermost part of my bra. “I’m pre-med actually.”

I offer a nervous chuckle and, in this moment, I detest how much I sound like my mother, casually and nonchalantly working humble brags into conversations. Only despite the way it might seem, I’m not bragging, I’m simply trying to prove a point.

“Good for you.” He doesn’t look up, doesn’t seem to care in the slightest. His needle returns to my skin, the buzz filling my ear, and my body tenses. “The pain okay?” His voice is monotone, disingenuous. I suppose if a person does this job long enough, their sympathy eventually wears off. “You need a break?”

Madden stops.

“No … keep going.” Dragging in a hard breath, I let it linger in my chest as I brace myself against the hard bed beneath me.
He readjusts his black latex gloves before switching the machine on again. And that’s what it’s called—a machine. According to the research I did before coming here, tattooists hate when you call it a “gun.” I wanted to make sure I knew the vernacular before I wandered in here like a lost child off the street (or an overprotected, naive, Park Terrace princess who’s rarely allowed to venture outside her castle).

“So, why don’t you have any tattoos?” Once more I ask the question that’s been bothering me since I walked through the doors of Madd Inkk a half hour ago. A ribbed tank top made of bleached cotton hugs his sinewy torso, and I couldn’t help but notice when he took me back to his station that there wasn’t so much as a hint of ink on his perfect skin.

The man at the next station over gives a puff of a laugh, his full chest rising as he shakes his head.

“Madd’s got commitment issues for days,” he says, turning his crystalline blue focus back to his client and filling in a geometric pattern with ink the color of midnight.

The sturdy-shouldered man in his chair doesn’t so much as flinch as the needle pricks his skin. He just keeps scrolling his thumb along his phone like it doesn’t feel like a thousand tiny kittens are scratching his flesh.

“Can’t commit to a woman, a car, or a tat,” the artist adds.

“Fuck off, Pierce.” Madden returns a gloved hand to my ribcage and starts the machine once more. A moment later, the needle peppers tiny specks of ink into my skin. Every so often, he wipes the area clean and starts again. “About half done.”

He said it would only hurt a little, and that it wouldn’t take long, but the past eight minutes have all but dripped by, like morphine into saline, tiny drop by tiny drop.

“Seriously though, why don’t you have any?” I ask.

I’m not letting this go because it’s a valid question given his profession as both an artist and the sole proprietor of this shop.
Plus, I’m curious.

And I need a distraction to get me through the rest of this. The front of the shop is covered in wall to wall “flash.” Drawings and renderings. Hundreds if not thousands of them. Back here the walls are less interesting. There are certificates. State licenses. A few framed photos. And a privacy curtain.

I don’t expect some lengthy, personal response. I’ve spent maybe a half hour with this man and he’s said all of fifty words to me. A simple answer would suffice.

The needle drags against my ribcage and his mouth flattens into a hard line. “Guess I haven’t found the right one yet.”

I don’t buy it. And I’m pretty sure he’s giving me an answer just to shut me up, but it’s not like I can call him a liar. I don’t even know him.

“It’s ink, bro. Not a woman.” The artist at the next chair—Pierce—says without so much as glancing in our direction.

“No fucking shit, bro,” Madden snaps back at him, and I can’t tell if he’s joking or not. His expression hasn’t changed since the moment I first laid eyes on him.

I lift my gaze to a hand-written sign across the room, hanging behind the cash register.
NO TRIBALS
NO CHINESE SYMBOLS
NO INFINITY SYMBOLS
NO TRAMP STAMPS

The distractingly pretty, lavender-haired girl working the front snaps her gum as she hunches over the glass counter, her face colored with boredom as she thumbs through her phone. The shop isn’t as busy as I thought it would be, but then again, it’s the middle of the day on a Wednesday. It’s not exactly peak hours around here.

“I think you’re going to like this.” He wipes a damp rag across my stinging flesh, his inky brown eyes resting on his work. Madden sniffs, though it isn’t quite a laugh. “Shit. You better. It’s forever.”

He looked at me sideways when I told him I wanted him to choose the design. I didn’t come prepared. I didn’t bring screenshots or Pinterest pins or any other kind of inspiration. To be perfectly honest, this isn’t about the tattoo so much as it is about getting the tattoo.

“I trust you,” I told him as his dark brows knitted together, and then I added, “I just want it somewhere hidden.”
A moment later, I was handed a clipboard and a small stack of forms to complete, trying my hardest to steady my breathing as he prepped his station.

When he brought me back, Madden suggested the side of my ribcage, in an area easily hidden by bras and bikini tops, and he didn’t once ask me why I’d take the time to have this done if I wasn’t going to show it to anyone. His one and only caveat was that I never ask him what it means.

Ever.

He was adamant.

“Not even on your deathbed,” he said. One of his colleagues overheard him and called him a “heartless bastard,” offering a laugh that was more amusement than anything else, and for a split moment, I felt like the butt of some inside joke.

And then I wondered if he was gaslighting me. I know what people see when they look at me.

Privileged.
Naive.
Innocent.
Gullible.
Easily had.

“Still doing all right?” he asks, not glancing up.

I nod even if he isn’t looking at me right now. “Yes.”

The muscles of his forearm flex as his left palm splays across my skin. A moment later, our fingers brush when he pushes the fallen hem of my top out of the way.

In the strangest way, this feels like a dream.

The icy-cold air on my bare flesh …
The sterile scent of alcohol wipes and powdered gloves …
The vibrating sting of the needle against my skin …
The heavy metal playing on speakers in the back …
The shaved heads, “sleeved” arms, Harleys parked out front, and the girls in half-shirts and mini-skirts all work together to form an ambiance foreign to any I’ve ever known …

I try not to stare too much, but this must be what Alice felt like when she first arrived in Wonderland.

“There.” Madden shuts off the machine when he’s finished, and then he cleans the tattoo one more time before dabbing on a finger-sized scoop of ointment.

“Can I see it first?” I ask when he reaches for a bandage.

He stops, turning to face me, his shoulders slumping like I’m asking the world of him. “Right. Go ahead.”

Sitting up, I contort myself until I can almost see the beginning of a black and blue outline against warm pink skin.

“Here.” Madden shoves a handheld mirror toward me.

It’s a butterfly. Small. Not much bigger than a silver dollar. Brilliant blue with black veining.

“You done now? We good?”

I place the mirror aside and let him patch me up. Tattoos are flesh wounds, I know that. And I’ve already read up on the aftercare. I say nothing as he hands me a set of instructions printed on yellow paper.

Madden cleans up his station before yanking off his gloves and tossing them in the trash. “Missy will check you out up front.”

“Oh.” I’m not sure why I expected him to walk me up. He’s not a hairstylist or aesthetician. People don’t come here because of the service.

Sliding off the client bed, I tug my shirt into place and locate my bag. My skin throbs from beneath the bandage, but it’s tolerable and not as bad as I expected.

“Thank you,” I say, turning to him before I make my way to the front. My gaze falls to his right hand for some reason—as if my subconscious was expecting a freaking handshake—and he definitely notices.

Awkward.

I can’t get out of there fast enough, and as I trot to the front in my pink Chanel flats, I’m not sure if all eyes are actually on me or if I’m imagining it. I’m sure to them, I’m an alien—a strange sight. I even heard one of them say, “They don’t make ‘em like that in Olwine,” when I first arrived.

If they only knew how much I’d rather be like them than like … me.

I envy their freedom more than they could ever know.

As soon as I pay—$150 cash plus a twenty-five percent tip—I step lightly toward the door and eye my little white Volvo parked on the corner, but the closer I get, the more I realize something looks … off.

“Oh, my God.” I clap my hand over my mouth when I see it—the boot. “No. No, no, no.”

A sign a few feet back says: NO PARKING 4-6 PM MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY, and I check the time on my phone.

4:07 PM.

“Seriously?” I talk under my breath, a habit my mother detests. But if she knew I drove to Olwine today to get a tattoo, she’d detest that even more.

I grab the ticket off the window and dial the number on back, which goes to voicemail after a few rings.

Great.

Taking a seat on the curb, I hold the ticket in one hand and my phone in the other and try, try again.
And again.
And again.

I just need the jerk who did this to take it off so I can get home before my mother marches down to the police station and tries to file a Missing Persons’ report—which she’s done before when I was forty minutes late coming home from the library once.

True story.

“You, uh, need help?”

Following the sound of a man’s voice, I twist around and shield my eyes from the afternoon sun.

Madden.

Rising, I tug my shirt into place and exhale. “Seven minutes past and they put a boot on my car.”

“Probably just did it to be a dick.” He almost smiles. Almost. It’s more of a smirk.

“Really?”

“Probably thought you were some yuppie, suburban soccer mom with that Volvo.”

I wish I could tell him that I didn’t choose that car, that I didn’t even want it, but my parents insisted because they wanted the safest, most reliable car they could find for their “precious cargo.”

Digging into his pocket, he retrieves his phone and thumbs through his contacts. A moment later, he lifts it to his ear and paces a few steps away. The sound of traffic and revving motorcycles drowns out his words, but when he returns, he slides his phone away and rests his hands on his hips, studying me.

“He’s on his way,” Madden says.

“Who’s on their way?”

“Dusty. Works for the city. You’re lucky he owes me a huge fucking favor.” His gaze grazes over my shoulder before returning. “You can wait inside if you want.”

“Thank you,” I say, taking careful measures not to look at his hand this time. “I really appreciate this. This has never happened before. I don’t know what I’d have done if—”

Madden gives a nod before strutting off while I’m still mid-sentence, almost like a silent way of telling me to shut it.

No one’s ever done that to me—walked away while I was speaking to them.

I watch him stride down the block, stopping next to a black muscle car with two white racing stripes—I think my brother had a model of something like that many years ago—and when he climbs inside, I catch him glancing at me for a single fleeting second.

Fumbling with my keys, I get into my own car and crank the air. It was kind of him—at least I think he was being kind—to offer for me to hang out and wait in his shop, but I think I’m going to ride out the storm in my own little UFO, counting down the minutes until I’m en route to my home planet of Park Terrace.

I kill some time on my phone and pretend not to notice when Madden drives by, his engine rumbling with the kind of contradictory unruffled intensity that almost matches his personality perfectly.

Twenty-six minutes later, a white-and-yellow City of Olwine truck pulls up behind me and a little gold light on its roof begins to flash. A minute later, a man in a gray uniform steps out, grabbing an oversized wrench of some kind from the back and waddling toward me.
I roll my window down. “Thanks for coming. I tried calling the number on the ticket, but I couldn’t reach anyone.”

Dusty, as the name on his shirt reads, doesn’t look up from what he’s doing, crouched next to the front tire on my side.

“You’re lucky you’re friends with Ransom,” he says when he stands, his face red and his breaths shallow. The wrench hangs in one hand, the boot in the other.

Free at last.

“Ransom?” I ask before remembering that it’s Madden’s last name.

“Madden,” he says. “I was on break. You’re lucky I answered for the bastard.”

An elaborate “piece” runs down his left arm, intricate and filled with bold greens and reds and purples, and barely hidden by the cuffed, long-sleeved button down the city forces him to wear even in June.

“Oh. Right. He was just helping me out. We’re not actually friends.”

Dusty snorts, his squinting eyes scanning the length of my car. “Yeah. Of course you’re not.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Right.” He begins to walk away.

Climbing out of the car, I yell for him to wait. “Do I need to pay the ticket?”

He hoists the wrench in the back of his truck, the metal hitting metal with a hard clunk, and then he waves his hand.

“So is that a ‘no’?” I ask, just to be sure.

Dusty gives me a thumb’s up before squeezing back into his truck.

I swear, it’s like I don’t even speak the language here.

The tattoo hidden beneath layers of bandages begins to throb just enough to grab my attention, and I return to my idling five-star-safety-rated princess carriage. Pressing the “home” button on my GPS, I head back to Park Terrace, back to Charles and Temple Karrington’s castle-like manse complete with iron gates, a staff of seven, and a million security cameras.

You can make a prison beautiful but at the end of the day, that doesn’t make it any less of a prison.

But I’m making plans to break out.

And this tattoo? It’s only the beginning.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

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Pricked by Winter Renshaw ~ Sarah A’s Review

He said it would only hurt a little …

On her sixteenth birthday, Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. On my twenty-second, I pricked mine on the needle of a tattoo machine wielded by a beautifully complicated man who would go on to become my ruin.

Madden Ransom was everything I was never allowed to be: unfeeling, opinionated, rebellious … free.

He was also everything I was never allowed to be with.

And while Sleeping Beauty fell into a peaceful slumber as she awaited true love’s kiss, I fell into something else entirely—my heart in the hands of a man who’d never given nor received anything remotely like love.

It turns out when Madden told me it would only hurt a little … he didn’t mean the tattoo.

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
Amazon

I loved the premise of Pricked, the intrigue, the secrets, the rich girl/poor boy aesthetic. Pricked was different than I expected. I was sure it was going to be a bad boy alpha romance, but it was so much more than that. Madden was better than I could have anticipated. He was fascinating – and not because he was a reformed bad boy – in a way that tugged at my heart and made me feel a kinship with him. Once I learned his secrets, I understood a good portion of the reason why.

When I read the blurb and started this book, I was sure Pricked was going to be an opposites-attract novel. And it was, on the surface. Once we got to know Brighton and Madden more fully it was obvious, they were both very hurt – in different ways – and only showed the world the façade they’d built to protect themselves. They were both also looking for someone to love them, to give them a soft spot to land, and to show them their worth. Their hearts and souls were so similar; it was no wonder they found each other and fell into such an easy relationship.

The only thing I wish about Pricked was that the ending not be so rushed. I felt like we were going full-steam ahead and were going to get some real answers and closure, then BOOM, flash forward epilogue. Sure, everything was tied up in a neat little bow in the epilogue, but I would have loved to have seen how it all played out, rather than recapped. I know tons of readers are just in it for the love story, and that felt (mostly) complete to me, but there were a few other storylines that deserved better treatment than they got.

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

Goodreads | Facebook | Amazon

NEW RELEASE!! Pricked by Winter Renshaw

He said it would only hurt a little …

On her sixteenth birthday, Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. On my twenty-second, I pricked mine on the needle of a tattoo machine wielded by a beautifully complicated man who would go on to become my ruin.

Madden Ransom was everything I was never allowed to be: unfeeling, opinionated, rebellious … free.

He was also everything I was never allowed to be with.

And while Sleeping Beauty fell into a peaceful slumber as she awaited true love’s kiss, I fell into something else entirely—my heart in the hands of a man who’d never given nor received anything remotely like love.

It turns out when Madden told me it would only hurt a little … he didn’t mean the tattoo.

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
Amazon

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

Goodreads | Facebook | Amazon

Fool Me Once by Nicole Williams ~ Sarah A’s Review

Second chances are for kids, diets, and shelter pets—not for relationships. Especially not one like Chase and Emma’s.

Before he was writing chart-topping hits and smashing record sales, Chase Lawson was Emma’s childhood friend and first love. They promised each other forever, but forever expired at eighteen, when he landed a major record deal and left Emma and their hometown behind.

Ten years later, he shows up at their high school reunion with a proposition she can’t refuse. Six months. Seven figures. He gets a chance to clean up his reputation, and she gets the means to restore the old family farmhouse. It’s only for show—hold hands in public, kiss for the cameras—but boundaries blur behind closed doors.

It isn’t long before Emma feels her resolve slipping, crushed by the shadow of the boy she grew to love in the man selling out stadiums of present. Can Emma resist one of the most irresistible bachelors in the world? Or will she fall for the same man twice?

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
Amazon

Some things weren’t meant to be. That’s what I told myself for the thousandth time when I caught sight of my ex with his newest flame.
“You’re too good for him.”
“Way too good for him.”
My childhood friends, Brooke and Sophia, assured me as they circled in tighter.
“I don’t know why I decided to come to this thing,” I muttered before finishing what was left in my champagne glass.
“Maybe because a ten-year high school reunion only happens once in a lifetime?” Brooke spun me around so the happy couple wasn’t in view, while Sophia dashed off to grab another glass of champagne.
“You know what? A hysterectomy is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing too, but I’m not going to sign myself up just because.” I checked the time, my shoulders falling when I did. Barely an hour in and I already felt like this experience had extinguished whatever patience was left in my person.
“Just be thankful you didn’t waste any more time on a guy like that. Chalk it up to experience and move on.”
“And look at the line of men I have to move on with?” I motioned at the area in front of me; it was empty. “I should have been smart like you and Sophia and gotten married young to some nice, hard-working local boy.”
“Would you stop? You’re twenty-eight. It’s not like you’re horizontal and decaying,” Brooke put her hand on her hip, leveling me with a serious look.
“No. I’m decaying vertically”—I tapped the corners of my eyes, where I’d detected the early stages of crow’s feet earlier this summer—“practicing for my future as a cranky old spinster.”
“You girls talking about me behind my back again?” Sophia reappeared with a fresh glass of champagne, practically ramming it into my hand.
“Please. We prefer to direct our insults to your face.” I winked at Sophia as we clinked our glasses.
“That’s a sign of true friendship,” Brooke toasted before we all took a drink.
“Hey, ladies, this isn’t homeroom. Break it up and dance already.” Rob, Brooke’s husband, popped up beside us, ringing his arm around his wife’s neck.
“I hate this song.” My nose curled as I stayed planted in place.
The three of them headed toward the dance floor as Sophia made a face at me and said, “It was eleven years ago. Time to let it go, girl.”
Brady, her husband, joined her for a dance.
“Not likely,” I said under my breath, taking in the party from my spectator seat on the sidelines.
Almost everyone had made their way to the dance floor, singing at the tops of their lungs. I didn’t know how anyone could stand to hear this song after it had been played nonstop on the radio the past four months.
Jesse, another of my good friends, settled beside me. “Do you think he’s going to show?”
“There aren’t any cameras or fancy awards, so unlikely,” I grumbled.
“Ever since the accident, it seems like he’s been keeping a low profile anyway.” Jesse waved the bird at my ex, who was too busy lodging his tongue down his dance partner’s throat to notice. “I still can’t believe Chase was that drunk. I mean, blowing a point two isn’t for the faint of heart, and I don’t remember him drinking at a party even once when the rest of us were being rebellious teenagers.”
I rolled my eyes at my friend, who had this concerned expression as though Chase was the victim. “There was also the bit about him plowing his truck into a parked car and getting arrested.”
“Fame and money really ruin people.” Jesse clucked her tongue. “That’s why I’m so grateful to live paycheck to paycheck and have good friends who babysit for free at the drop of a hat.” Jesse nudged me. “Thank you again for last night. Johnny and I had a really nice night. Adult conversation, dinner that wasn’t some variation of mac n’ cheese, and I got to wear earrings without fear of having them ripped out by grabby baby hands.”
“They were perfect angels for me, as always.” I smiled at her. “And you’re welcome. Any time.”
“How are you?” Before I could even attempt to give the bullshit answer, Jesse added, “For real?”
“I’m okay. Learning to accept I might be happier alone than the alternative.” My eyes had wandered to a certain couple moving in such a way that made clothes seem pointless.
“You haven’t met the right one.”
“Because the right one isn’t out there.” I wound my arm around hers, hoping that would be the end of the conversation.
My friends cared, and that’s why they felt the need to dissect my every relationship-gone-wrong, but the last thing I wanted to do was detail my failures in the romance department. Especially with three friends who were happily married and starting their own families.
“Of course he’s out there. You can’t give up hope.”
I lifted my glass. “In my fourteen years of dating, I’ve been cheated on, lied to, broken up with over a social media messenger, heartbroken, ditched for an eight-figure record deal, and proposed to by seven African princes.” My gaze dropped to my bare left ring finger. “I have just enough hope left to say yes to the next prince who asks for my hand.”
Jesse shook her head. “He’s out there. And when you agree to marry him, it better be me you call to be your maid of honor.”
“Deal.” I clinked my nearly empty glass to hers, which was already empty. “Whatcha drinking? My treat for the relationship counseling.”
“A screwdriver.” She handed me her glass. “Hold the alcohol.”
“Wait. What?” It took me two seconds of confusion before my eyes dropped to her stomach. “Number three?”
Jesse’s hand lowered to her stomach. “All four and a half months of him or her.”
My face lit up before I threw myself at her, winding my arms around her as much as I could with two glasses in my hands. “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you guys.”
“Thanks, friend. I don’t know what I’m going to do with three in diapers, but I guess I’ll figure it out.”
“Are you kidding? You’ll more than figure it out. You are, like, the best mom ever.” I planted a kiss on her cheek before backing toward the bar. “I’m going to get some drinks to celebrate. Virgin screwdrivers coming right up.”
Jesse flashed a rock and roll symbol, biting her tongue. I chuckled before turning around so I didn’t run into someone or something. With the three glasses of champagne I had in my all of five-foot-four frame, it was an Easter miracle I was still upright.
I’d just made it to the bar when a chorus of cheers reverberated through the room. Jason Gallagher had probably stripped to his skivvies and was doing the moonwalk like he used to do every last day of school from the time we hit middle school.
But then I heard a familiar name being called out, practically chanted.
Good god, no. My luck wasn’t that bad.
Oh, wait.
Setting the empty glasses on the counter, I slowly turned around, praying I was mishearing the name still ringing through the reception room.
I saw him right away, as though my eyes were trained to find him in a crowded room. I hated that they still followed that habit.
There he was, Chase Lawson, the legend himself, sauntering into a high school reunion in the same small town he’d waved farewell to eleven years ago.
My stomach knotted as I scanned the nearest exits.
“What can I get you?” The bartender interrupted my mini panic attack.
“Um . . .” I tried to remember a simple drink order. It was difficult with two ex flames in the same crowded room. “Two screwdrivers.” I fumbled with the bills inside my leather clutch. “Two virgin screwdrivers.” I remembered right as he was about to pour in the vodka.
“So two orange juices?” He gave me a look that suggested I was even more unhinged than I thought. He shook his head when I held out a twenty. “On the house.”
“Thanks.”
I grabbed my OJs and hugged the perimeter as I made my way back to where I’d left Jesse. Except she’d been pulled onto the dance floor by her husband and was way too close to Chase and his ever-present following of fawning females for my comfort. Making a last-minute decision, I ducked through the half-open door leading outside.
“I knew I shouldn’t have come,” I said to myself before taking a sip of one of the orange juices. It wasn’t like I’d had to travel or rent a hotel—Jericho High was a whole four miles from my family’s farm—but I doubted I’d feel more inconvenienced if they’d held it on some iceberg in the Arctic.
Following the walkway toward the small pond tucked behind the reception hall, I settled onto the first bench I came across. My feet were killing me thanks to the weapons of torture I’d selected for tonight. My feet were used to boots, not four-inch strappy heels. But according to Sophia, our town’s resident fashion maven, the royal blue heels were exactly what my scarlet cocktail dress was in need of. We’d all felt really high class rolling into Tulsa a couple weekends ago to hit the mall for our reunion digs, but some articles were better suited for hangers than bodies. Mine in particular. I’d never in my life had to work so hard to take a full breath.
Once I’d torn off the shoes I had plans to drop off at Goodwill tomorrow, I sat back, made my best attempt at relaxing, and stared at the sky. It was overcast, but a few stars were popping through the thick clouds. How many times had I stared at that sky as a young woman, spinning plans that would never come to fruition? Dreaming dreams that would never connect with reality?
Too damn many, that’s the closest I could get.
I’d had plans to travel, to visit every continent before I had kids, and I’d barely made it to a handful of bordering states since. The upside was that I wasn’t going to be a mother anytime soon, if ever, so I still had plenty of time to visit those continents.
“Is this where the Anti-Social Club meets?”
I flinched so hard, I wound up with the majority of two cups of juice on my lap. Add the dress to the Goodwill pile. “Turn around. Go away.”
A low-timbered chuckle. “You always had a way with words, Em.”
My head whipped over my shoulder. “Uh-oh. No. You do not get to call me Em.”
Chase flashed one of his infamous smiles, the one that had made him a hit with the ladies before his face had been plastered across billboards, magazines, and screensavers. It was the part-smirk, mostly-smolder grin. Right dimple set. Cobalt eyes flashing. What Celebrity Instagrammers had labeled the underwear-incinerator.
But not these underwear. Chase Lawson had no sway over the condition of my underwear anymore.
“Okay, Emma.” The sound of Chase’s boots connecting with the pavement made my teeth grind together. In a different life, I’d loved the sound of his boots as he moved closer. “Is this seat taken?”
“Yes.” I slammed the empty glasses on the bench, lifting my eyebrow at him.
“Sorry about the dress,” he said when his eyes dipped to the wet circles dotting my stomach.
“Of all the things to apologize for, my dress is not high on the list.”
His smile stretched. “I’ve missed having someone around whose primary language isn’t bullshit.”
“Is that meant as a compliment?”
“Obviously.”
Inhaling, I twisted in my seat so my back was angled toward him. No matter how many pieces of confetti Chase Lawson had diced my heart into when he left me, it wasn’t safe for any red-blooded woman to stare at him face-on at this close of a distance. Not unless she was in the market for a heartbreak.
“How have you been, Em—Emma?” He caught himself, but from his smirk, the slip had probably been intentional.
“Amazing.” I breathed through my mouth when a familiar scent hit my senses. I couldn’t believe he still wore the same cologne. It seemed like I should have had some kind of proprietary right over it since I was the one who got it for him on our first Christmas together.
“How amazing?”
“Amazingly amazing.” When I caught him glancing at my left hand, I tucked my hands beneath my legs.
“Good to hear.”
I bit my cheek, wondering if I could figure out a way to time travel to freshman year when I’d agreed to be Chase Lawson’s date to homecoming. Even the fourteen-year-old version of me had known getting involved with Chase was equivalent to playing a game of Russian Roulette. She hadn’t heeded the warning, but she’d at least acknowledged it.
“If you’re looking for your fans, you’ll find them back in there.” My thumb hitched over my shoulder. “I know you can’t go more than a few minutes without being worshipped or else you risk spontaneous combustion.”
“Please. I can go a good ten minutes without being worshipped now. I’ve matured.” I heard the smile in his voice, but damned if I was going to check for it. That was the one-hundred percent smirk one.
“What are you doing out here?” I asked. “We both know you’re the center-of-the-crowd type, not the wallflower who sneaks off to be alone.”
From the corner of my eyes, I saw him slip his hands into the pockets of his snug jeans. Another Chase Dawson trademark—close-fitting jeans to better emphasize an agreeable rear and an even more agreeable swell around front.
“A person can change,” he said, his shoulders lifting. “A person does change when all day, every day they’re surrounded by people and noise.”
My eyes lifted. “Must be difficult making all of that money from all of those adoring fans.”
“I’m not going to be able to say anything without you twisting it, am I?”
A wave of exhaustion came over me as though twenty-eight years of life had decided to catch up to me all at once. “I don’t want to fight with you.”
“Could have fooled me.”
I chipped away at the fresh pale pink polish on my nails, a nervous habit. It was the first manicure I’d had in years, and it hadn’t survived twelve hours. “Why did you come back?”
His head tipped toward the reception hall. “It was the ten-year reunion.”
A huff escaped from my mouth. “Please, you left this place and haven’t so much as spared a second thought for anything or anyone here. And some lame reunion in the Best Western ballroom is the can’t miss event of the summer?”
He rubbed the back of his neck in a familiar way. Used as a stalling measure when he was trying to figure out what to say and how to say it, it was a display I was all too acquainted with.
“I came back from one reason.” He slowly angled in my direction. When he let out a breath, his gaze all-intentional, my chest seized.
“Me?” I screeched, at the same time choking on a laugh. “You’re out of your damn mind if you think I’ve been waiting here, on pins and needles, for you. Keep on strutting back to that fancy Nashville estate of yours, because the only part of you I still want is the cautionary tale.”
Chase’s hand rubbed his jaw, his smile unmistakable despite his efforts to erase it. “I didn’t come back for you,” he stated, promptly bringing a flush to my face.
Of course he wasn’t there for me. The seventeen-year-old version hadn’t expressed any qualms ditching me as an up-and-comer; the twenty-eight-year-old country icon certainly wasn’t back to rekindle anything.
“Sorry to burst your bubble, even though I can tell you’ll be all torn up knowing that,” he said.
“Good to hear you still have a knack for sarcasm.”
He crouched beside the bench, staring at the dark pond. I was more concerned with checking the shrubs and shadows for any signs of the paparazzi he seemed to attract wherever he went. Literally, everywhere. Some dude had managed to snap a picture of Chase through his Tennessee estate’s bathroom window, fresh from the shower and shaving. The thirst for Chase Lawson had gone from parched to panting in one intimate image.
“I’ve got a new album that just dropped,” he said. “A whirlwind tour kicking off next week. I’ve had a bit of a public image problem this past year, and my PR team assured me that getting back to my roots will help shift that.”
My fingers snapped. “I knew this had something to do with the media. By the way, where is the camera squad tonight?”
“Somewhere. They’re always around.”
“I’m sure you really hate all that attention,” I chided, wondering how much more I had to throw at him before he’d move on.
“I came back because I need to clean up my image and do some damage repair to my reputation.” He went back to rubbing the back of his neck. “Now that I’m here with you, and you sort of accused me of being here for you, a crazy idea popped to mind.”
“I’d like to recommend you keep this idea to yourself,” I suggested, but he was already talking.
“If I had my old high school girlfriend with me on tour—rekindling an old flame with a small-town country girl—how could that not clean up an image?” He motioned at me. “You’re exactly what I need to show fans I’m getting my life back on track. A wholesome, down-to-earth girl who gets up at five to water the horses instead of going to bed at that hour after drinking the town dry.”
My head whipped in his direction, finally looking at him to determine if he was being serious. My god, he was.
“Not a chance in hell,” I said, enunciating each word slowly.
Chase didn’t blink. “Even if that proposition was tied to a sum of money?” When I opened my mouth to argue, he added, “A large sum?”
“My principles aren’t for sale.”
He shuffled a little closer, still kneeling. Damn. He was just as attractive in person from three feet away as he was on the cover of Rolling Stone. My stomach knotted again, but this time for a different reason.
“I don’t want to buy your principles.” One brow lifted. “Just six months of your time.”
For a minute, I sat there silently, part hypnotized by his presence, part contemplating his ridiculous offer. There were few people I disliked more than Chase Lawson, but I also had big plans for my future. Plans that necessitated money.
“How much?”
My head shook when I heard my question out loud. What was I saying? What was I actually contemplating doing?
“One hundred thousand a month,” he replied.
My hand curled around the arm of the bench. “Six hundred thousand dollars?” I shrieked, giving him a look like he was crazy.
“Fine. Six months. One million dollars.” He exhaled. “Final offer.”
My hand was dangerously close to ripping the handle from the bench. “One million dollars.”
My mind raced with everything I could do with that money. Restoring the farmhouse the way I’d dreamed, turning it into a quaint B&B with an agrarian twist. Spoiling my parents with a fancy cruise and a new farm truck. Finally getting to travel to some of the places I’d only imagined through the pictures of a magazine.
All it would take was six months with Chase.
It wasn’t exactly an easy decision, but it wasn’t a hard one. I’d given two years of my life to him already, and it had cost me more than I’d been prepared to pay. This time, he’d be the one paying for it. One million dollars to be exact.
I couldn’t answer quickly enough. “Deal.”

Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.

Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Fool Me Once by Nicole Williams ~ Sarah A’s Review

Second chances are for kids, diets, and shelter pets—not for relationships. Especially not one like Chase and Emma’s.

Before he was writing chart-topping hits and smashing record sales, Chase Lawson was Emma’s childhood friend and first love. They promised each other forever, but forever expired at eighteen, when he landed a major record deal and left Emma and their hometown behind.

Ten years later, he shows up at their high school reunion with a proposition she can’t refuse. Six months. Seven figures. He gets a chance to clean up his reputation, and she gets the means to restore the old family farmhouse. It’s only for show—hold hands in public, kiss for the cameras—but boundaries blur behind closed doors.

It isn’t long before Emma feels her resolve slipping, crushed by the shadow of the boy she grew to love in the man selling out stadiums of present. Can Emma resist one of the most irresistible bachelors in the world? Or will she fall for the same man twice?

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
Amazon

If you’re looking for a feel-good, sweet second-chance romance to fill an afternoon, look no further than Fool Me Once. It was a perfect mix of flirty, fun, and forgiveness: no deep, dirty secrets, no heavy, horrible pasts to be uncovered. Fool Me Once was the epitome of a feel-good romance, and I quite enjoyed the time I spent living in Emma & Chase’s world.

I loved Emma and Chase together. I never, not even for a second, thought they weren’t destined to be together. Emma Might have been a little less sure, but Chase and I – we knew. I am usually not a huge fan of manipulating someone to agree to a relationship – fake or not – for any reason. However, I felt it worked wonderfully in this setting. I’m 100% sure Emma wouldn’t have given Chase the time of day any other way. I didn’t quite buy that she would agree to his arrangement as quickly as he did, but for the sake of moving their story forward, I was happy she did.

Chase was the darling of this book, Emma was sweet too, but I didn’t feel the connection to her I did to Chase. He seemed genuine in his intentions, and never shied away from telling Emma how he felt about her, regardless of if she believed him or not. My heart reached out to him; I could feel how broken he was from his past – even if we never quite knew the details of what he’d gone through. I loved them together and hoped beyond hope that Emma would see the sincerity in Chase’s pleas because I wanted her to give into him so badly.

Fool Me Once was mostly conflict-free, there was a smidge of controversy that was quickly resolved, which resulted in a mostly angst-free novel. There was still plenty going on with Emma and Chase rediscovering their connection and romance, so it moved along quickly in that regard. The climax wasn’t horribly surprising, neither was the resolution, but they felt true to the characters and the story.

While Fool You Once was a complete story, I think there were a couple of things that could have punched it up and taken it to the next level. One would have been more insight into their pasts. We get enough to have a surface understanding of why he left, but little more than that. I feel like seeing the intensity of their young love would have made their adult love story more vital to the reader. Also, if there were ever a book that was begging for an epilogue, it’s this one. The ending felt incredibly abrupt, and a left me slightly unfulfilled.

“We’ve got to go over something first,” he said, smirking at my efforts to budge his arm.
​“What?” I asked, annoyed.
​“We’re going to be a couple in the public’s eyes. Which means we’re going to have to do certain things that couples do.”
​I blinked at him. “Couples don’t do that in public. At least not the normal ones.”
​He gave a grunt of disbelief. “I’m not talking about sex.”
​“Then what are you talking about?” My voice was rising the more flustered I became. The lack of apparel, the warm water, the way Chase’s brown eyes seemed to melt when he looked at me a certain way . . . I was struggling to keep my composure.
​“Kissing.” He shrugged as though it were obvious. “We’ve had ten years to get rusty. We don’t want to look like a couple of fumbling amateurs when we kiss in public for the first time.”
​My mouth fell open a little as I tried to determine if he was serious. “Kissing is like riding a bike. We don’t need to practice to get it right.”
The corners of Chase’s eyes creased. “It’s more like riding a unicycle. Once you figure it out, with enough consistency, no problem. But if you go a decade without climbing on that unicycle, you’re starting right back at square one.”
I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. “You’re comparing kissing to a unicycle. You’re just as romantic as I remember.”
Chase treaded closer until my legs were brushing against his with each kick. “Come on. One kiss. Practice makes perfect.” His arms drew in, entombing me in his presence. One brow carved into his forehead. “That is, unless you’re scared to kiss me in private, half-naked in a swimming pool, because you still harbor some kind of feelings for me . . .”
I shoved his chest as a snap reaction, realizing too late that I should not touch him when he was this close, when I was this conflicted. “Fame has really gone to your head.”
His shoulders rose above the water before dipping below again. “So? Prove me wrong.”
“Fine.” The word materialized on its own. “But if you even try slipping me tongue, my knee is winding up in your groin.”
He wet his lips, fighting a smile. “When have I ever complained about any part of you nestling down there?”
My hands balled at my sides as I attempted to approach this whole thing like a science experiment. Objectively. Neutrally. Emotionlessly. “Just kiss me and get it over with.”
His smile quirked. “Once you’re finished whispering sweet nothings into my ear.”
When I tried to push him away, his hands circled my wrists. Chase’s eyes found mine, the color of his irises nearly indistinguishable from his pupils. My chest moved quickly when he swam closer, his head angling as his lips aligned with mine.
He hadn’t even kissed me and I’d lost all sense of direction. Up was as good as down in my present state. His breath fanned across my lips as he waited, perfectly at ease having me trapped in the corner of his pool, our mouths a sliver of air apart.
His grip on my wrists relaxed right before his mouth finally connected with mine. My body froze the instant he kissed me, but it didn’t last long, seeming to melt one piece at a time.
I didn’t realize I was sinking until Chase’s arm cinched around me, pulling my shoulders back above the water, his mouth not missing a beat. The last piece of me to unthaw was my lips, but the moment they did, they matched his urgency. My arms wound behind his neck as I drew closer, our bodies tangling beneath the water as he kissed me in a way I hadn’t been kissed in years; in the kind of way that made a girl feel delicate and invincible at the same time.
Chase treaded water, holding us both above the surface, the planes of his chest rising to meet mine with our uneven breaths. Before I knew it, our tongues were tying together, though it wasn’t him who’d broken that rule first. His chest rumbled against mine as my mouth and hands grew more feverish, no longer under the constraint of my better judgment.
​Kissing Chase was exactly as I remembered, yet totally different. The scrape of his calloused fingers against my skin felt the same, yet there was a newfound strength to it. His full lips moved with mine in a dance we’d mastered years ago, but there was a resolve I’d never tasted so deeply before. The way he held me was exactly the same, though the contours of his body had changed.
​When my chest was hammering from breathlessness, Chase broke the kiss, managing to evade my ensuing advances. His eyes remained closed for a minute, droplets of water winding down his face from where my hands had been.
​When his eyes finally opened, the look in them made my head dizzy, even as I reminded myself this had been a practice kiss. Nothing more.
“How was that?” he asked.
I had to look away in order to make my answer seem convincing. My shoulder lifted out of the water as I shaped my most detached expression. “You were right. Like riding a unicycle.”
“No, you were right.” Chase’s hand drifted up my back, his rough fingertips somehow soft against my skin. “Kissing you is like riding a bicycle.”

Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.

Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

P.S. I Dare You by Winter Renshaw ~ Sarah A’s Review

Dear Ms. Keane,

Before this ridiculous little arrangement commences, I’d like to make myself indubitably clear: I know who you are, I know that my father hired you, I know why my father hired you, and lastly, your services aren’t needed.

In fact, I want no part of my father’s billion-dollar empire, and him “gifting” me with one of the “best concierges in the county” won’t change that. He’s wasting his money. You’re wasting your time.

However, seeing as how you foolishly signed an ironclad contract with an Act of God clause and my father has strong-armed me into taking this position, it appears as though we’re stuck together—at least until your contract is up next month.

That said, our time together at WellesTech should be relatively painless but please don’t fool yourself into thinking I don’t notice when that pretty little stare lingers a little too long or the way your breath catches when our hands graze. You’re fascinated by me and it kills you because you can hardly stand to be in the same room as me.

Think I’m a problem worth solving? An impossible riddle worth figuring out? By all means, go ahead and try. Solve for X. Crack the code. It might even be fun (but only for me, not you).

V/r,

Calder Welles, II

P.S. I dare you.

Amazon

While I did enjoy P.S. I Dare You; it didn’t quite stand up to the other books in this series. It was an entertaining, quick little read; I loved Aerin and Calder, and how they complemented one another.

I loved the concept of this book. I’m a little bit of a sucker for office romances, and the situation these two were manipulated into made it all the more intriguing. Add the less than idyllic childhoods – and the effect those childhoods had on Aerin and Calder’s personalities – and P.S. I Dare You was bursting with dysfunction. Aerin and Calder served as a great balance for one another, both in highlighting each other’s strengths and helping to overcome some of their weaknesses.

Aerin and Calder both had a lot of baggage they were dragging around with no idea how to let it go. Watching them, each learn to let go of the pain and find new ways to deal with the lack of true parental concern in their youths, was heartwarming. I loved how much they gave to one another simply by being who they were and allowing the other to have a safe, judgment-free place to fall apart when they needed it.

P.S. I Dare You is the third book in Winter Renshaw’s P.S. series. These books are standalones, with minor character overlap. They do not need to be read in order, nor does the series need to be read in its entirety. P.S. I Dare You is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Aerin and Calder.

My biggest wish for the novel is I would have liked to have seen more of the emotional connection between the character. It seemed like Aerin and Calder were either fighting or connecting physically, with little time spent working on the part of their relationship that would make it last. I felt like the book could have been a little longer and explored that dynamic more and still delivered a sweet enemies-to-lovers romance.

That was … interesting.
I have to admit, I expected her to throw herself at me today. I expected tension so ripe, we’d have no choice but to act on it—especially since we went all of Friday without so much as exchanging a single word thanks to my father hijacking my schedule. But what I got was a girl who showed up, did exactly what I told her to do, and kept her hands to herself.
I’m not used to this—girls with self-restraint.
But it’s for the best.
Over the course of the past week, my life has become unrecognizable. Throwing a few more complications into the mix won’t help anything. And besides, if I fuck my assistant, that makes me no better than the man whose shoes I’m being forced to fill.
I’m better than that.
She’s better than that.
And I meant what I said—I don’t fuck girls I have to see every day.
“Closing up?” the security guard asks, looking up from his Spiderman comic.
I nod, heading back to my father’s office to grab summaries and lock the door. Five minutes later, I hit the pavement, opting to take the long way home. I haven’t been able to run all week and my muscles are screaming from too much sitting. My body wasn’t designed to be this sedentary.
Popping into a little Eastern medicine shop off Houston, I grab this miracle balm one of my Olympic skier friends told me about. I don’t know what the hell is in it, I just know it smells like nothing and works like magic the instant I rub it into my skin.
I leave the shop and hook a left, passing a trendy Japanese eatery across the street called Kaio, where their waitlist spans months because apparently pancakes shaped like sushi is the next hot thing. A small outdoor dining area is filled with patrons, and the benches outside hold even more, all of them patiently waiting, noses buried in their phones.
Crossing the street, I glance back at the restaurant once more when something catches my eye. Seated at a table for two on the patio is Aerin Keane and an exceptionally handsome gentleman in green scrubs.
I watch them long enough to see him smile, her laugh.
She reaches across the table and bats at his hand.
He rolls his eyes.
They look like they’ve known each other forever, completely comfortable in each other’s presence. Her shoulders are relaxed, his legs crossed.
So that’s why she was so adamant about us not sleeping together again—she has a boyfriend.
I smirk, rounding the corner and getting the hell away before I start to care again, only ten steps later, I’m in the presence of an overly excitable blonde with flailing arms running in my direction.
“Oh my God! Calder? Calder Welles, is that you?” Thessaly Thomas, a socialite-turned-reality-TV-star I foolishly stuck my dick into in my early twenties, practically wraps her entire body around me, nearly letting her mint green Birkin fall to the ground in the process. “I can’t believe it’s you! How are you? Ugh. You look so good. It isn’t fair. I swear you look even better than when we were dating and that’s saying a lot because …”
Dating?
We went on five dates.
I’d hardly call that dating.
And the only reason I knew it was five was because she went all out for our “one-month anniversary,” hiring some C-list band to give us a private concert on the rooftop of her father’s pool club in the Meatpacking District.
“What are you up to these days?” she asks, hand on her hip and smile on her face. Her forehead is smooth, glass-like. And her lips are much larger than I remember. “What’s new?”
She asks like it’s any of her business, like she cares. But I see that thirsty look in her eyes. Rejection does something to you. It makes you want the things you shouldn’t have, the things you can’t have.
“You’re looking good. CrossFit?” She smooths a palm down my arm.
Thessaly knows she can’t have me, and God, does she still want me even after all these years.
“I was just telling Raya—you remember Raya, right? About how you took me skiing in Vermont for our third date. Do you still have your plane?” she asks. “A Cessna, was it?”
Her phone chimes twice, and she lifts a finger before reading a quick text and typing back an even quicker response.
“Sorry about that.” She peers up at me through fake lashes the color of midnight, and she’s still wearing that same dopey grin. “I can’t believe I ran into you on Houston of all places. Do you live around here now? I’m still on Lexington.”
She rolls her eyes, like she’s ashamed to live in a two-thousand-square foot classic six bought and paid for by her parents the day she graduated from NYU.
Thessaly is still talking, though I’ve tuned her out. Something about a mutual friend who thought they saw me in Paris over the summer. It’s kind of crazy, but all my mind can think about in this moment is Aerin smiling with that fucking Dr. McDreamy-looking tool. Her hand on his. Her eyes lit. Her body at ease.
God, she’s so easy to be around—even if she hates me with every fiber of her classy little being.
She isn’t like Thessaly or the other women that tend to hurl themselves at me. Those women have desperation in their eyes, insecurity in their smiles, and diffidence in their demeanors.
They just want me to like them.
Aerin doesn’t.
And I’d be lying to myself if I said that didn’t make me feel some kind of way.
“We should do coffee or something sometime,” Thessaly says, her hand swatting at my arm. It’s like she needs every excuse she can get to touch me. “What are you doing right now? You have plans?”
“Yeah, today’s not good for me.”
She pouts her Kylie Jenner lips. “Your number still the same?”
Indeed. “Yeah.”
Her pout transforms and she rises on her toes. “Great. I’ll text you and we can figure something out. It was great running into you, Calder. Glad you’re doing well.”
How would she know? I couldn’t get a word in.
Thessaly runs her hand along my arm one more time before readjusting her Birkin over her left forearm and giving me one of those cutesy girl waves complete with a shoulder shrug.
I wave back before continuing on my way.
Good lord, that was painful.
Almost as painful as seeing Aerin on a date.

Amazon

Amazon

Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

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NEW RELEASE!! P.S. I Dare You by Winter Renshaw

Dear Ms. Keane,

Before this ridiculous little arrangement commences, I’d like to make myself indubitably clear: I know who you are, I know that my father hired you, I know why my father hired you, and lastly, your services aren’t needed.

In fact, I want no part of my father’s billion-dollar empire, and him “gifting” me with one of the “best concierges in the county” won’t change that. He’s wasting his money. You’re wasting your time.

However, seeing as how you foolishly signed an ironclad contract with an Act of God clause and my father has strong-armed me into taking this position, it appears as though we’re stuck together—at least until your contract is up next month.

That said, our time together at WellesTech should be relatively painless but please don’t fool yourself into thinking I don’t notice when that pretty little stare lingers a little too long or the way your breath catches when our hands graze. You’re fascinated by me and it kills you because you can hardly stand to be in the same room as me.

Think I’m a problem worth solving? An impossible riddle worth figuring out? By all means, go ahead and try. Solve for X. Crack the code. It might even be fun (but only for me, not you).

V/r,

Calder Welles, II

P.S. I dare you.

Amazon

What.
The fuck.
Was that?
She’s the woman my father hired? The girl who spilled her coffee down her shirt after bumping into me in the hall?
That’s fucking golden. I can’t even be mad right now.
It makes perfect sense.
He brought on an assistant who happens to have all of the qualities he thinks I lack. She’s civil, tactful, punctual, classy as fuck.
I bet he thinks she’s going to be a good influence on me, like she can fucking domesticate me and turn me into a Corporate American civil servant.
Poor thing. She doesn’t realize she stepped inside the lion’s ring with nothing but a flimsy whip and a barstool. I’m not that easily tamed.
Regardless, I don’t know her name, but already I’m impressed. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself. I like that. If she’d given me a chance to explain, I’d have told her that’s what I meant when I said she was exactly my type.
I’m not a moron. I know she didn’t think I was flirting with her. I know she didn’t come back over because she wanted me. Quite the opposite. I saw the contention in that caramel-brown gaze of hers.
I also sensed a very raw, very real mutual attraction brewing—and that’s why I called it like it was and referred to her as a snack.
It was for the best.
I didn’t come here tonight to get laid. I’ve got bigger, more important things on my mind.
I watch the pretty little brunette with the black sweater grab her bag from her booth and storm out of the bar, her blonde friend in tow, and I toss back the rest of my Hennessy in one swallow.
Slapping some cash on the table, I take off and head back home, this time opting to walk.
Fresh air.
Deep thoughts.
A strong drink coursing through my veins.
If I’m lucky, these things plus a good night’s sleep will work together, helping me come to terms with what I’ve got to do in the morning.
Making my way through a crosswalk, I pass one of those sickeningly sweet couples walking hand-in-hand with that new-in-love look in their shiny eyes.
That kind of thing has never appealed to me, and if I’m being honest, a long-term relationship baked in exclusivity seems like a prison sentence. Who the hell wants someone they have to report to? Someone who has to know where they are at all times? Someone who expects them to be there when they call? Someone who has access to every aspect of their life?
It’s Bridgeforth Academy all over again, only the relationship version.
Pass.

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Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

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NOW LIVE!! Say You Want It by Jenika Snow

Piper

It was supposed to be a summer job, something to help me transition from graduating high school to starting college. But to me this wasn’t just some office cleaning position.

I’d be working for Zane, the one man I’ve loved for longer than I even wanted to admit.

The one person who could make me weak in the knees with just a glance.

My father’s friend who was far too old for me, but sexier than sin.

Zane

I hired Piper to keep her close, to help appease my need for her. But I played it off like I was helping her earn some money before starting college.

I was too old for her.

She was too innocent for me.

She was my friend’s daughter.

Off limits.

But I’d wanted her since she turned legal last summer. I saw the way she watched me, the way she bit her lip, the fact her pulse jumped at the base of her throat when I was near. Did she know how obsessed I was with her, how I’d go to any means to keep any other man away from her?

I could see how much she wanted me and that was dangerous.

Because her need for me made me territorial, desperate.

Everything I was, everything I had, belonged to Piper.

All she had to do was ask and it was hers.

Warning: If you like possessive, territorial, and obsessed men in your stories, this insta-love one is just for you. With an older celibate hero, an innocent virgin heroine, and all the gooey juiciness you love in romance make sure you have something cold to drink as you read this one.

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As he stared at me, I wondered what could’ve been so important that he had to stop the car. But as I looked into his face, I could see what he was about to say was serious. That had me nervous. Was everything okay?
Was this about my father?
Was he about to tell me that he knew how I felt, could sense it, feel it?
Or maybe he was about to tell me how things couldn’t happen between us.
Every “what if” passed through my head and my entire body tightened. I tried to act calm, appear like I had my shit together. The truth was I didn’t. So, all I did was brace myself for the impact.
“I didn’t know how to say this, how to go about even bringing this up,” he finally said, his voice deep with emotion.
He was looking past me as he spoke, as if maybe he couldn’t look me in the eye when he said the words. With every passing second I grew even more convinced he was about to draw the line between us.
“But I can’t stand idly back anymore, Piper. I can’t keep how I feel inside a minute longer. Having you so close, working right beside me, knowing that all I have to do is reach out and touch you, pull you in close, has my self-control on a tightrope.” He looked at me then. “It’s snapped, Piper, and if I don’t tell you how I feel, what I want, I’m going to lose my fucking mind.”
I felt my eyes widen, knew they were probably massive saucers on my face. What Zane had just said was certainly not what I expected to hear. I’d assumed he’d keep us at a distance, break my heart even if he didn’t realize.
But no, what he just told me was my fantasy come to life. The look he gave me, the way I felt when he touched me … all of that had meant more than what was in my head.
It was real.
“Zane…” That was the only word that come out of my mouth that moment. I was so shocked, not even able to think clearly.
“Let me finish, and then you can turn me down.”
My heart stuttered at that confession. Me, turn him down? Was he insane?
“I’ve wanted you since you were eighteen, Piper. It’s wrong, I know. Not just because you’re so much younger than I am, but because you’re Liam’s daughter. This could cause issues between him and me, but I can’t stop myself from wanting you. I can’t hold back my emotions anymore.”
He lifted his hand and rubbed his eyes, as if the conversation drained him. I knew exactly how he felt. My emotions were exhausting, hiding them, trying to fight them. It was to the point where I didn’t even try anymore.
“Maybe if it was just a passing desire, I could control how I felt for you.” He shook his head slowly as he stared into my eyes. “But this isn’t a passing emotion. I love you, Piper. I’m in love with you, and there’s nothing and no one that can—will—ever change that fact.”
We were silent, the air so thick it was like swimming through pudding. I couldn’t breathe, could barely even look at him for how intense this whole situation was.
Zane loved me.
He. Loved. Me.

Jenika Snow, a USA Today bestselling author, lives in the northeast with her husband and their children.

She prefers gloomy days, eats the topping off of her pizza first, and prefers to wear socks year round.

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Say You Want It by Jenika Snow ~ COVER REVEAL

Piper

It was supposed to be a summer job, something to help me transition from graduating high school to starting college. But to me this wasn’t just some office cleaning position.

I’d be working for Zane, the one man I’ve loved for longer than I even wanted to admit.

The one person who could make me weak in the knees with just a glance.

My father’s friend who was far too old for me, but sexier than sin.

Zane

I hired Piper to keep her close, to help appease my need for her. But I played it off like I was helping her earn some money before starting college.

I was too old for her.

She was too innocent for me.

She was my friend’s daughter.

Off limits.

But I’d wanted her since she turned legal last summer. I saw the way she watched me, the way she bit her lip, the fact her pulse jumped at the base of her throat when I was near. Did she know how obsessed I was with her, how I’d go to any means to keep any other man away from her?

I could see how much she wanted me and that was dangerous.

Because her need for me made me territorial, desperate.

Everything I was, everything I had, belonged to Piper.

All she had to do was ask and it was hers.

Warning: If you like possessive, territorial, and obsessed men in your stories, this insta-love one is just for you. With an older celibate hero, an innocent virgin heroine, and all the gooey juiciness you love in romance make sure you have something cold to drink as you read this one.

Jenika Snow, a USA Today bestselling author, lives in the northeast with her husband and their children.

She prefers gloomy days, eats the topping off of her pizza first, and prefers to wear socks year round.

Twitter | Facebook | Web | Goodreads | Amazon

P.S. I Miss You by Winter Renshaw ~ Chapter Reveal

Melrose,

The first time I met you, you were a stranger. The second time, you were my roommate. The third time, you made it clear you were about to become the biggest thorn my side had ever known.

You sing way too loud in the shower and use all the hot water.

You’re bossy as hell.

You make my life all kinds of complicated.

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t stop thinking about you.

And truthfully … I can’t stop wanting you.

I was going to tell you this. I was going to sit you down, swallow my pride, hang up my noncommittal ways and show you a side of me you nor anyone else has ever seen before … but then you dropped a game-changing bombshell; a confession so nuclear it stopped me in my tracks.

How I didn’t see this coming, I’ll never know.

Sutter

P.S. I miss you.

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
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Melrose

I’ve been a dog-walker on an episode of Will & Grace.
A bakery shop owner in a Lifetime movie.
Ryan Gosling’s kid sister in an indie flick that never saw the light of day.
Victim #2 in a season eighteen episode of Law & Order: SVU.
But today I’m faced with my most challenging role yet; a camera-less reality show called Girl with Lifelong Crush on Best Guy Friend starring Melrose Claiborne as … Melrose Claiborne.

Standing outside Nick Camden’s Studio City bungalow, I straighten my shoulders, smooth my blonde waves into place, and press my index finger against the doorbell. The heavy thump of my heart suggests it’s going to fall to the floor the second he opens the door—but I’m hopeful the butterflies in my stomach will catch it first.

He has this effect on me.

Every. Single. Time.

And that’s saying something because it takes a lot to make me nervous, to throw me off my game. But my crush on him has only intensified over the years, growing stronger with each unrequited year that passes.

But last night, out of nowhere, Nick called me—which was strange because Nick never calls. He only ever texts. He’s so against calling, in fact, that he has his ringer permanently set to “off’ and his voicemail box has been full for the last six and a half years.

“Mel, I need to talk to you tomorrow,” he’d said, breathless almost. There was a hint of a smile in his tone, giddiness. “It’s really important.”

“Nick, you’re scaring me,” I told him, half wondering if someone slipped something into his drink and he was drugged out of his mind. “Just tell me now.”

“I have to tell you in person. And I have something to ask you, something crazy important,” he said. “Oh my god. This is insane. I’m so damn nervous, Mel. But as soon as you get here tomorrow, I’ll tell you. I’ve been wanting to tell you about this for a long time, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t until now. But now I can. And I can’t fucking wait. This is huge, Mel. This is … oh, God.”

“Nick …” I paced my bedroom floor, my left palm clasped across my forehead. In nearly two decades of friendship, I’d never heard Nick so worked up before. “Can’t you just tell me now?”

“Come over tomorrow. Around three,” he’d said. “This is something that needs to be done in person.”

I ring his doorbell again before checking the time on my phone. Stifling a yawn, I rise on my toes and try to peek inside the glass sidelights of his front door. Knowing Nick, he probably got sidetracked or ran out for burritos and got caught up in conversation with someone he knows.

Then again … he was pretty insistent about talking to me in person at three o’clock about this “major” thing. I can’t imagine he’d space this off.

All night, I tossed and turned, trying to wrap my head around what this could possibly be, how I could know someone for so long and fail miserably trying to get a read on them.

Growing up, Nick lived next door, and the two of us were inseparable from the day he first moved into the neighborhood and I found him by the creek trying to capture bullfrogs—which I promptly forced him to set free. By the end of the day, we both realized our bedroom windows aligned on the second floors of our houses, and by the end of the week, he gave me a walkie-talkie and told me I was his best friend.

When we were ten, he gave me a friendship necklace—like the kind girls usually give to other girls. He gave me the half that said “best” and wore the “friend” half but always tucked it under his shirt so no one would give him any shit—not that anyone would.

Everyone loved Nick.

It wasn’t until the summer after seventh grade that Nick hit a growth spurt and everything changed.
His voice got deeper.
His legs got longer.
Even his features became more chiseled and defined.

It was like he aged several years over the course of a couple of months, and I found myself looking at him in ways I never had before. And when I closed my eyes at night, I found myself thinking about what it’d be like if he kissed me.

Almost overnight, I’d gone from running next door with a messy ponytail to see if he wanted to ride bikes … to slicking on an extra coat of Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers and running a brush through my hair any time I knew I was going to see him.

Suddenly I couldn’t look at him without blushing.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who noticed Nick’s head-turning transformation.

Nick’s door swings open with a quick creak and I don’t have time to realize what’s happening before he sweeps me into his arms and swings me around the front porch of his rented bungalow.

“Melly!” He buries his face into my shoulder, squeezing me so hard I can’t breathe, nearly suffocating the swarm of butterflies in my middle.

I breathe in that perpetual Nick scent, the one that always feels like home. Like the faintest hint of bar smoke and cheap fabric softener and Irish Spring soap.

Growing up in Brentwood, the son of a successful screenwriter and composer, Nick could’ve had it all—materially and professionally. His parents had connections that would put Steven Spielberg to shame.

But all he ever wanted was to be a regular guy who got by on merit, and I adored that about him.

“Look at you,” he says when he puts me down. His hands are threaded in mine as his ocean gaze scans me from head to toe. “I haven’t seen you in months.”

Three months, two weeks, and five days—but who’s counting?

The last time we hung out was on my birthday, and there were so many people at the bar, I barely had a chance to say more than two sentences to him all night. We’d made plans to get together the following weekend, but his band booked a gig in Vegas and I was leaving to film a Lifetime movie in Vancouver the day before he was coming back.

Life’s been consistent that way, always pulling us in separate directions at the most inconvenient of times.

“You find the place all right?” he asks as he leads me inside. The scent of Windex and clean laundry fills my lungs, and a folded blanket rests over the back of a leather chair in the living room.

I chuckle at the thought of Nick tidying up before I got here. He was always a slob growing up. Case in point? One year I tripped over a pair of his Chucks as I entered his bedroom and almost knocked my front teeth out on a messy stack of vinyl records. His empty guitar case caught my fall, but the next day he bought a shoe organizer.

“I did,” I say, glancing around his new digs. Last time I saw him, he was living in some apartment with four roommates in Toluca Lake. The time before that he was shacking up with a fuck buddy-slash-Instagram model named Kadence St. Kilda, but that was short-lived because the girl ultimately wanted exclusivity, and that’s something Nick’s never been able to offer anyone—that I know of. “When did you move here?”

“Last month,” he says. “I’m subletting from my drummer’s cousin.”

The sound of pots and pans clinking in the kitchen tells me we’re not alone, but I’m not surprised. Nick has always had roommates. He’s painfully extroverted. Guy can’t stand to be alone for more than five minutes but not in the clingy, obnoxious sort of way. More in the charismatic, life-of-the-party, always-down-for-a-good-time sort of way.

I follow Nick to the living room, and he points to the middle cushion of a cognac leather sofa before slicking his palms together and pacing the small space.

“Nick.” I laugh. “You’re acting like a crazy person … you know that, right?”

His ocean gaze lands on mine and he stops pacing for a moment. “I’m so fucking nervous.”

“You don’t have to be nervous around me. Ever.”

“This is different.” He stops pacing for a second. “This is something I’ve never told you before.”

Oh god.

My heart flutters, and some long-buried hope makes its way out in the form of a smile on my face, but I bite it away.

I’d never admit this out loud, but last night a very real part of me believed this entire thing centered around Nick wanting to tell me he has feelings for me, that he wants to date me.

The idea is absurd, I know.

Things like this don’t happen out of nowhere.

I’m not naïve and I’m not an idiot. I know the odds of my best friend going months without seeing me and suddenly professing his love for me are slim to none, but I’ve tried to come up with alternate theories, and none of them made sense because Nick’s never been nervous around me for any reason.

Ever.

What else could possibly make him nervous around me other than a heartfelt confession?

Crossing my legs and sitting up straight, I say, “Come on. Spit it out. I don’t have all day.”

He cups his hands over his nose and mouth, releasing a hard breath, and when he lets them fall, I find the dopiest grin on his face.

His eyes water like a teenage girl with a backstage pass to a Harry Styles concert.

Nick tries to speak but he can’t.

Oh my god.

He’s doing it.

He’s actually telling me he likes me …

“Melrose,” he says, pulling in a hard breath before dropping to his knees in front of me. He takes my hands in his, and I swear my vision fades out for a second. “You know when we were kids and we used to tell each other everything?”

“Yeah …”

“There was something I never told you,” he says, eyes locked with mine. “I guess … I guess I was afraid to say it out loud. I was afraid this thing I wanted so bad, this thing I wanted more than anything I’d ever wanted in my life, wasn’t going to come true. And I thought that by admitting it, I was only going to jinx myself. So I kept it to myself, but I can’t anymore. It’s too big. It’s eating away at me and it has been for years. But it’s time. I have to tell you.”

He’s rambling.

Nick never rambles.

His trembling hands squeeze mine and then he rises, taking the spot on the couch beside me. Cupping my face in his hands, he offers a tepid smile that’s soon eaten away by his own anxiety. “This is insane, Melrose. I can’t believe I’m about to tell you this.”

My mouth parts and I’m milliseconds from blurting out something along the lines of “I’ve liked you since we were kids, too …” but I bite my tongue and let him go first.

“You know how I have my band, right?” he asks, referring to Melrose Nights, the band he founded in high school and named after me.

I nod, heart sinking. No … plummeting.

“What about it?” I ask, blinking away the embarrassed burn in my eyes.

“My dream, Mel, was always to hit it big,” he said. “Like, commercially big.”

My brows lift. This is news to me.

He was always about the indie scene, always so against the big music corporations that controlled every song the American people were played on the radio.

“Really?” I tuck my chin against my chest. “Because you always said—”

“I know what I always said,” he cuts me off. “But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought … I just want my songs to be in the ears of as many people as possible. And it’s not even about becoming famous or having money, you know I’m not about any of that. I just want people to know my songs. That’s all.”

I swallow the lump in my throat and glance toward a wood-burning fireplace in the corner where a crushed, empty can of Old Milwaukee—Nick’s signature beverage of choice—rests on the mantel next to what appears to be a crumpled lace bra.

Guess he forgot a few things when he was straightening up …

“Okay, so what are you trying to tell me?” I ask, squinting.

“We got signed …” his mouth pulled so wide, he looks like a bona fide crazy person right now, “… and not only that, but we’re going on tour with Maroon 5.”

I try not to let my rampant disbelief show on my face, but something tells me I’m failing miserably. He reads my expression, searching my eyes, and his silly grin fades.
“You hate Maroon 5,” I say.

“I used to hate Maroon 5,” he corrects me. “Anyway, the act they had fell through last minute, so they got us. We leave next week.”

“Next week? For how long?”

“Six months.” His callused hands smack together. “Six months on the road with one of the biggest music acts in North America.”

He says that last part out loud, like he’s still in disbelief over this entire thing.

Which makes two of us.

“Wow, Nick … that’s … this is huge. You were right. This is some big news,” I say. Everything is sinking. My voice. My heart. My hope. “I’m so happy for you.”

I throw my arms around him, inhale his musky scent, and squeeze him tight. There’s a pang in my chest, a tightness in my middle, like that indescribable sensation that washes over you when you know something’s about to change and things will never be the same again.

But I meant what I said. I am happy for him. I had no idea this was what he wanted, but now that he’s shared this with me, I am thrilled for him. He’s my best friend, my oldest friend, and all I want is for him to be happy.

Plus, he deserves this.

Nick is insanely talented.
Music.
Lyrics.
Singing.
Playing.
Producing.
Mixing.
It all comes natural to him. Keeping it under wraps on some lowdown indie scene would be doing a disservice to the rest of the world.

“I get that this is huge, Nick, but I’m curious … why couldn’t you tell me this over the phone?” I ask. “Why’d you make me drive all the way out here just so you could tell me in person?”

Nick leans back, studying my face as he rakes his palm along his five o’clock shadow. “Because I have a favor to ask you …”

Lifting one brow, I study him right back. He’s never asked me a single favor as long as I’ve known him (excluding those times he wanted me to talk to girls for him in middle school or steal him an extra Italian Ice at lunch).

“See, I’m taking over this guy’s lease,” he says. “I pay fifteen hundred a month for my half of the rent. Plus utilities. You know what a cheap bastard I am, right? I just don’t want to throw that money away over the next several months, and I don’t want to stick Sutter with my half of the rent and everything because that’s just shitty.”

“Sutter?” I ask.

“Sutter Alcott. My roommate,” he says. “Cool guy. Electrician. Owns his own company. You’ll like him. Anyway, I know you’re living in your Gram’s guesthouse, but you’re the only person I know who’s not locked under a lease, so I thought mayyyyybe you might want to help me out for a few months? As a favor? And in return, I’ll … I don’t know. I’ll do something for you. What do you want? You want a backstage pass to a Maroon 5 concert? You want to meet Adam?”

“You’re already on a first name basis with Adam Levine?” I ask, head cocked.

Nick smirks. “Not yet. But I will be.”

“I don’t know …” I pull in a long, slow breath. “What about Murphy?”

“We’ve got a fenced-in yard,” he says, pointing toward the back of the house. “He’ll love it here.”

“What about your roommate? Would he be cool living with a stranger?” I ask.

“Totally.”

“And you’re sure he’s not a serial killer?” I keep my voice low, leaning in.

Nick chokes on his spit. “Uh, yeah, no. He’s not a serial killer. Lady killer? Sure. Serial killer? No way.”

Our eyes hold and I silently straddle the line between staying put and saying yes to this little favor.

My cousin-slash-roommate, Maritza, recently moved out and got a place with her boyfriend, Isaiah, so it’s just Murphy and I in the guesthouse now. It gets quiet sometimes. Lonely too. And Gram’s on this travel-the-world kick lately. One week she’s home, the next week she’s in Bali for twelve days with her best friend Constance or one of the Kennedys.

A change of scenery might be nice …

“I’ll do anything, Mel. Anything.” He clasps his hands together and sticks out his bottom lip, brows raised.

Dork.

“Begging’s not a good look for you. FYI,” I say.

“Okay, then what’s it going to take for you to say yes?” His hands drop to his lap.

I try to speak, but I don’t know what to say.

“See,” Nick says. “You don’t even have a good reason to turn me down.”

He’s right.

I can’t blame it on the location because it isn’t out of the way. I can’t blame it on my dog. I can’t blame it on a lease. I can’t blame it on money because fifteen hundred a month is exactly what Gram charges me for rent, because free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.

But aside from all of that, I know Nick would do this for me if I ever needed him to.

Shrugging, I look him in the eyes and smile. “Fine.”

A second later, I’m captured in his embrace and he’s squeezing me and bouncing like a hyper child. With one word, I’ve unearthed a side of Nick I never knew existed.

“I freaking love you, Mel,” he says, hugging me tighter. “I love you so much.”

I expected to hear those words today … just didn’t think I’d hear them in this context.

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Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon bestselling author Winter Renshaw is a bona fide daydream believer. She lives somewhere in the middle of the USA and can rarely be seen without her trusty Mead notebook and ultra portable laptop. When she’s not writing, she’s living the American dream with her husband, three kids, and the laziest puggle this side of the Mississippi.

And if you’d like to be the first to know when a new book is coming out, please sign up for her private mailing list here —> http://eepurl.com/bfQU2j

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