P.S. I Miss You by Winter Renshaw ~ COVER 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.

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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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SALT by Mara White ~ Chapter Reveal

Salana Livingston did everything right, from taking her multi-vitamin to kneeling before bed to say her prayers every night. She followed the path her parents had planned before she was born, never questioned the role until the day a bus-load of sweaty kids from the Bronx got dropped at her parent’s horse farm.

Tiago Alcazar knew a life of hard knocks. An incarcerated father, a missing and strung-out mother who left him to rely on his aged grandmother for most of his life.

Tiago runs the mean streets of the neighborhood that raised him, living hand-to-mouth, everyday a gift, if he can just make it.

Burdened by a world that only wants to see her as perfect, Salana finds her greatest confidant in a boy society has labeled as worthless. Their paths cross too many times for their stubborn hearts to deny the connection, but can the delinquent and the debutant defy the odds and overcome the social constructs that condemn them?

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
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CHAPTER ONE

Tiago

“I’m telling you, homie! As soon as this bitch-ass arm heals we’re going back to Connecticut. You got the code for the garage, we roll out a Lamborghini and we’re set for life mother fucker!” They were sitting in Chico’s living room. The air was hot and sticky circulated by only a lazy ceiling fan that was covered in years of greasy dust and the dangling remnants of some bygone party streamers. They’d ordered a pizza and demolished the whole thing. Chico was only gaining more of gut rendered immobile by his collarbone break. He had pizza sauce on his tank top. A real gem. A catch—this kid. But the horse ranch trip, the fall, and Tiago’s ride home from the princess were still high on their list of the most exciting things to happen that summer. They rehashed it all, spilling the details to their friends.
“I don’t want to steal her car. I liked that chick,” Tiago said in weak protest. He flipped through the channels now that Chico’s mom had gone out to get groceries and relieved them from endless Telemundo. He left the television on a basketball game and did his best slam dunk swoosh leaping up from the couch.
“Mano, we won’t be stealing from her really if you think about it. That’s her parent’s car—not hers. And what the fuck would she care, she’s got so much money anyway? We’d be doing them a favor taking one of those off their hands.”
“That’s pushing it, Chico. Why don’t we just steal a different car from someone else in the same neighborhood?”
“Cause you got the code for her garage fuck face! Jesus Christ!” Chico hit his forehead exaggeratedly. “How many cars can one family even drive?”
“What you don’t have the guts to break in?”
“Neither do you, bitch. Can you help me take my shirt off so I can take a shower?”
“Fucking baby, you are on your own for that shit cause you stink. Check you later. I gotta go home and check on my Ma anyway.”
“I’d help you if it was the other way around!”
“Never will be, cause I ain’t fucking stupid, bro!” Tiago punched Chico hard in the arm that wasn’t in a sling. He got up and threw the remote at Chico’s belly. “I’ll fucking go if you park that shit downtown and the fuck away from my building. I’ll drive it, but I don’t want to sell it.”
“Deal!” Chico said, smiling triumphantly. Tiago wasn’t giving him a bath. He had to draw the line somewhere.

The tickets for the metro north just about cleaned them out. There must have been irony in the deal, spend all your money on transportation to go steal something that could help you get around and then sell it to make money. Tiago was so nervous his sweat stunk, Chico however, was riding on cloud nine, already ticking off the list of things he was going to buy in his head. Tiago would buy a washing machine for his grandmother, so she wouldn’t have to lug laundry down to the corner, or wash it in the tub with her arthritic hands like she sometimes did.
“’Mijo, there was no laundromat when I was growing up. My mother scrubbed the clothes on a board in the yard, hung it to dry on a line between two trees.”
“Look at your hands, Ma. You not even sixty but your hands are eighty. That’s why.” He kissed her on the cheek and grabbed his book bag off the back of the chair. “I’ll be home late, don’t wait up.”
Tiago had spent countless hours in school daydreaming about being able to provide for his grandmother. Visions of washing machines with a red bow on top, a new refrigerator that didn’t drip or smell. He never imagined what he’d get for himself, just fantasize about the amenities that would make her life easier.  
“Shit, this train is huge. The seats look like couches!” Chico couldn’t play it cool to save his life. The kid was green as fuck, not a seasoned car thief. The only thing Chico was good at was remembering stats on baseball cards and eating everyone under the table.
“Bro, we’re trying to not call attention to ourselves, you hear me?” Tiago sat down by the window, the uneasy feeling creeping through his belly. They stuck out like sore thumbs with the evening commuters. Everyone in suits and blazers, reading newspapers, scrolling through stocks on their phones. How could they pull off a car theft with so many witnesses? Every single one of these jerks would remember them. Nobody who looked like them was on their way to Connecticut. Tiago’s gut felt heavier with each mile gained toward their destination. How fucked up was it that they were gonna go after the girl who’d been so kind to them? Rip her off in return? No wonder people branded them as thugs, maybe that’s what they were.
They filed off the train with a million commuters, it was nearing dark when they arrived and everyone rushed to the park and ride lot to get home to their families. Must be nice, Tiago thought. A house and a car, back yard and people acting happy you came home, a jumping dog, kids with spelling tests to show you. Probably a fucking pool to swim in. He’d seen it in the movies and on TV. That wasn’t what happened in his neighborhood. Broken families were the norm, functional ones, the exception. At least half of his friends were being raised by their grandparents. A parent in jail, addicted to drugs, never made it to the States, was plain old down-on-their-luck, were the stories he heard on his block. Domestic violence, child abuse, neglect—those were the cuts that tore families apart.
The park and ride lot emptied just as fast as the train to leave Tiago and Chico standing under the bright sweep of street light looking caught in the headlights. Tiago started walking toward the street and Chico followed him. He had a good sense of direction and he knew Salana’s house, her estate, was walking distance from the train station. Walking distance in a town where nobody walked. Again they stuck out like strobe lights ambling along the side of a residential street with no fucking sidewalk.
“These people probably gonna call the police on us just because of how we look. Probably got cameras set up.”
They walked for twenty minutes, the houses bordering the streets becoming more and more opulent, the gates taller, the security tighter. Tiago recognized Salana’s house as soon as they neared. Not because he’d cased the place to steal, but because he’d wanted to see her again, to return to the spot under different circumstances. He’d imagined himself as her boyfriend countless times in his head.
“It’s this one up here with the all the lights on. How we gonna stay hidden when they got that place lit up like a stadium?”
“We crawl on the border and then stand up and sprint to get to the garage.” Chico flicked his cigarette and the cherry bounced on the street and spewed sparks. The kid had watched too many action flicks.
“Bet the fucking gate is wired,” Tiago said. He was getting cold feet.
“We move fast. That way if we trigger the gate, by the time they get there to check it out, we’re basically already in the garage with our pick of cars.” Tiago thought Chico was being unrealistically optimistic. Grand Theft Auto had inflated his ego to carjacker extraordinaire, when in reality the most he’d ever stolen was a handful of cash out of the collection plate at church. Their luck peaked in the unexpected arrival of a car, it’s lights looming larger out of the darkness. The driver signaled and pulled into Salana’s driveway. A young man stuck his head out and said something into the intercom. He smiled like a million bucks and Tiago already hated him. Fucking Hitler haircut, first car—a Tesla. But what really made him want to smash the guy’s head in was the idea of him touching Salana, her laughing at his jokes. Tiago would fight with bloody fists for her, that douche would throw his money in the air as a distraction and start crying before someone even hit him.  
The boys crouched and ran, slipped through the gates right before they closed. As they approached the house, it became apparent they’d crashed some kind of party. The half-moon driveway was crowded with parked cars, not a Ford or a Toyota in sight. The sickest cars Tiago and Chico had ever seen. They stared openly, the lighted up mansion, the driveway turned car showroom. Drake was sounding from a top of the line stereo reverberating through the walls and bursting forth into the still night and the silence of the suburbs. They were slow to process that this was real life. Sure they’d seen it in music videos and placed themselves in the role of protagonist in plenty of daydreams, why not? Honey’s with string bikinis, pouring out label Champagne into the hot tub, the ice and gold, the cars, the clothes, the sunglasses that cost as much as their family’s annual food budget. But that was fantasy and this was someone’s real life.
“Salt is a fucking pimp, bro. She’s straight up balling that bitch,” Chico said, jaw on the floor.
“Good. They won’t even miss the car,” Tiago said. His voice was full of rancor. He felt jealously swim in his bloodstream—toxic—like the sewage that overflowed into the Hudson during a rainstorm. He strutted across the brightly lit, meticulously manicured lawns like a boss, pimp limp fired, repping the dignity of who he was in the face of this great wealth.
“Yo, Tiago, wait up!” Chico yelled. Chico’s ambling limp was real on account of his one arm still braced in a sling and useless. They were a ramshackle crew. No guns, knives or experience, just hood attitude bolstered by the accomplishment of seeing the task this far through—they’d made it to Connecticut, it was worth something.
Tiago’s hair stood on end and nerves seesawed in his stomach. He wasn’t afraid, but rather on high alert, excited, reckless and ruthless, ready to take someone down just for looking at him the wrong way. A car door slammed and Chico and Tiago both froze. A tall blond guy in a sweater vest looked at them inquisitively.
“Who the fuck are you?” he asked. The guy threw his joint to the ground. Tiago could smell the sweet burn of weed, but to his seasoned nose he could also tell it wasn’t good. Not like the premium he could get these rich kids. Sell it for more, take them all for a ride and then roll around in cash like a dog in mud from the profits.
How the hell would they pull off taking a car now? Tiago didn’t even know what they were there for anymore. What if they missed the last train back to the city? Would they sleep in the station like bums? And what if they got arrested? His grandmother wasn’t capable of making a trip all the way to Connecticut to bail him out for trespassing.
“Salana around?” Tiago asked the guy staring them down. The way the words took a bite out of his heart made him realize stealing cars was pretense all along. He’d only wanted to see her, to stroke her blonde hair, to rub his nose against her little one and have his insides turned out. But if he had to break the law to see her, he would.
“It’s her fucking party. She know you’re coming?”
The guy was wearing loafers. He had to answer to a guy wearing loafers and a sweater vest. A fucking asshole Mr. Rogers was what he was.
“Dude, what are you doing?” Chico screeched at him. Tiago’s pants felt heavy, his kicks impossibly clunky, he couldn’t remember if he’s put on cologne or deodorant for that matter. His shirt was clean, but it was old and suddenly felt so cheap to have Billionaire Boy’s Club emblazoned across the front of his chest, when he was in the presence of the real Billionaire’s Club. It didn’t help that the guy stared at them like unsavory rats that had wandered across his clean pasture.
“Can you get Salana for us? Tell her we’re in the garage when she gets a chance?”
“Why don’t you wait here,” the guy said quickly texting on his phone. Tiago walked toward the garage anyway; he couldn’t stand to be scrutinized by the judgmental mother fucker anymore.
“Ti, bro. I swear to fucking God you lost your mind!” Chico said as Santiago disabled the alarm on the garage. There were cameras, two he could see plainly right over the door. “Let’s bounce. This is crazy,” Chico said. He didn’t want to go to jail he liked his mother’s cooking too much. He loved sitting in the sun and playing basketball in the park for twenty-three hours a day as opposed to one. “I’m out!” Chico said, turned on a dime and ran.
“Ditch me, why don’t you, when the going gets tough?” Tiago wanted to scream, Unleash the hounds! But he wasn’t so mean he’d want his friend to pee his pants.
Tiago decided to go through the motions. He chose the Rover for the resale ease and value. It was unlocked and the door opened smooth like honey. All the keys were in the lockbox by the door, just as they had been when Salana did it all in front of him. Like a temptress, like an invitation to take one.
Here’s the big red juicy apple. I know you’re starving. Bite it!
There was something about the feel and smell of brand new that was extraordinarily pleasing, that gave an air of authority and power without doing a thing. Wealth and pipe dreams of attaining it could be as addictive as a drug and probably just as dangerous. He was about to slide into the driver’s seat when someone grabbed him from behind. He cursed, angry at himself for having let his guard down. One held him back against the car, while the other, the blond, knocked his fist into Tiago’s face, hitting him just below the nose. Not a trained fighter, just beginner’s luck that he made contact. It was a weak punch but it landed and stung like a bitch. Tiago heaved his shoulders forward to throw off the one he couldn’t see. The taste of blood in his mouth made him vicious and he landed a punch right in Vest and Loafer’s gut that promptly knocked the wind out of him. Tiago was used to fighting dirty and street. He’d been in scuffles on the corner since first grade. The boys in Connecticut had never taken a real beating.
“Call the police!” the guy shouted at his friend.
“Don’t fucking call the police!” Tiago responded almost casually. “Why call the cops? Because we hit each other? Come on! Don’t be a pussy.”
“Then get the fuck out of here right now! Leave!” Loafer’s feathers were ruffled, his face was red and his hair disheveled.
“Did you tell Salana like I told you too, bitch?”
“I’m right here,” she said. Salana walked into the garage and put her hand on Loafer’s arm.
“I just wanted to talk to you,” Tiago said. “Alone.”
He wiped his hand across his mouth, it felt warm and burned. There was blood on the back of his hand and he spat blood on the floor gaining a look of fury from the handsome boys.
“Brandt, just go. It’s fine, I know him.”
“If you fucking touch her, you’re a dead man,” Brandt pointed his finger at Santiago like his threat carried weight. Tiago spat again. “Piece of shit, thug,” Brandt muttered as he turned to go.
Once alone, the silence between them rose up and expanded like leavened bread in an oven, filling even the dark corners and the ceiling above them. They stood ten feet away from one another and took the other in. Tiago clenched his fists and Salana watched blood drip from his split lip. She cut across the space first and grabbed his chin so as to better inspect his face.
“You’re bleeding,” she said. “Come inside, we can put something on it.”
“Give me a minute to cool down so I don’t kill your friend, Salt.”
“Why did you come here, Tiago? You should have at least called.”
“To steal a car. You let me see that code. It was an invitation I couldn’t resist.”
She crossed her arms across her chest and looked relatively unaffected by what he said.
“Take one if you want, but I’m sure there will be repercussions.”
“Naw, when I got here, I realized what I really wanted was to steal you instead.”
He saw her pupils dilate. He heard how her breath caught in her chest. He felt tingly all over like he might pass the fuck out at her feet after one bitchass punch.
“Come on, let’s get your face cleaned up.” She took his hand and led him around the side of the huge estate.
“We’ll just go downstairs and that way we can avoid Brandt and the others.” Salana punched in another code and allowed Tiago to see it. He felt like he had to memorize those numbers because they were symbolic of her letting him in. Seeing those numbers meant something. Code for: trust. Cipher for: I accept you just as you are.
He followed her down a sweeping staircase and into what looked like a basement entertainment room. A pool table, leather couches, a full bar and a fireplace. Basically a space he and his friends would sacrifice their left nuts for. Salana flicked on stained-glass low hanging lights in the basement room which was bigger than his entire apartment.
“The bathroom is right there, I’ll grab the first aid kit.”
The lights rose by themselves as he stepped into the bathroom, a room so spotless and sparkling it nearly strained his eyes. Salana’s life looked like a Hollywood set whereas his looked like a public service announcement for the dangers of drug use. He ran his hand underwater to wash off the blood.
“Sit up here,” Salana said, patting the counter sink. She ran a white washcloth under warm water and brought it to his lip. “I’m sorry he punched you,” she whispered as she dapped at the gash.
“Probably deserved it,” he said through the towel. “What’s the occasion for the party?”
Salana squirted some ointment on her finger and brought it to his upper lip.
“Oh, my friend Justine’s birthday. She’s upstairs. My parents are in Europe so everyone decided to come here.” She tried to touch the bleeding gash and Tiago grabbed her wrist. She stopped and made eye contact.
“You’re so fucking fine, Salt. I can’t stop thinking about you. I wouldn’t steal from you. I just wanted to see you.” His grip on her wrist was tight, because his confession felt important. He usually let a girl know he was into her with body language, lingering hands and soft words in her ear, but with Salana he told her as if he were in the confessional. “I like you and I don’t know what the fuck to do about it.”
Who knew honesty could feel like getting run over by a steam roller. Cracking your head open and letting the rabid butterflies escape to fly upwards in a swarm. It was almost too much for him. Butterflies? They were bats and he was a goner.
Her lips were parted and she stared intently at his face. Her blue eyes flared with emotion and his searched her face for even a hint of reciprocation. “I know it ain’t even possible. I just wanted to let you know how I felt, and shit.”
“I—” was all she could get out
“You can go back to your party, back to Branch. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.”
Salana blinked and her eyes were filling with tears. She closed them and leaned into Tiago. He caught her face in his hands and his lips found hers. The kiss was so soft and ghostly like a whisper—almost nothing—until it wasn’t and then, it was real, it was perfect, it was fucking everything.
She gasped when he took her whole mouth, prying open the seam of her lips with his tongue. Tiago kissed like a carnivore. Wolf-mouth. No rich-pansy orthodontist’s dream. He came from real life. His cut was the ghetto. He kissed projects and food stamps and lives that were cut short. He kissed give.it.all.to.me.now because punk-ass-bitches steal what doesn’t belong to them. His hands went to her hair, soft like silk and cool like the flip side of a pillow. He wanted to eat her, make a meal out of her flesh and touch the raw center of her heart after he’d consumed her.
“Fuck,” he whispered into her mouth. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
His dick was already hard, pressing against his jeans with an urgency that was painful. He’d blow his load from her tongue alone like a fucking kid looking at a Hustler under the covers with a flashlight.
“God, I want you so bad,” he lamented. Was he kissing for the first time? No, but it fucking felt like it.
His fingers speared through her hair cupping her ears and the back of her skull as he devoured her mouth and pulled her to him, registering nothing, only desperate for more. Tiago hopped down from the counter, scooped Salana up and placed her where he’d been. Jerking her forward by the hips he brought her flush with his erection. Salana opened her eyes wide suddenly, the blue piercing right through him. Her eye contact sent a surge of power to his groin. He leaned into her again and thumbed her nipples through her white cotton shirt. Salana tipped her head back and mewled. The heat coming from her center made him lose control. He couldn’t stand how erotic she looked, head thrown back, nipples tipped to the ceiling and her long hair almost touching the sink behind her. His blood smeared on her full lips made his stomach muscles clench with something forbidden and primal.
“Stop,” she said still kissing him. “Stop!” she pushed at his chest this time and he backed all the way up to the wall.
“Fuck, I’m sorry. Shit, Salana. I’m sorry, I lost control.” His longing was so fierce that kissing her felt like survival. He was the hunter, she was the doe. He didn’t want to kill her, but he wanted to make the damn shot even if it killed him in the process.
She shook her head and wiped at her mouth with her fingers.
His chest heaved like he’d been running, but he was standing there in her bathroom, palms upturned like a fucking idiot. That kiss meant the world to him.
“I’ll show myself out. I shouldn’t have come.”

Mara White is a contemporary romance and erotica writer who laces forbidden love stories with hard issues, such as race, gender and inequality. She holds an Ivy League degree but has also worked in more strip clubs than even she can remember. She is not a former Mexican telenovela star contrary to what the tabloids might say, but she is a former ballerina and will always remain one in her heart. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children and yes, when she’s not writing you can find her on the playground.

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SALT by Mara White ~ Sarah A’s Review

Salana Livingston did everything right, from taking her multi-vitamin to kneeling before bed to say her prayers every night. She followed the path her parents had planned before she was born, never questioned the role until the day a bus-load of sweaty kids from the Bronx got dropped at her parent’s horse farm.

Tiago Alcazar knew a life of hard knocks. An incarcerated father, a missing and strung-out mother who left him to rely on his aged grandmother for most of his life.

Tiago runs the mean streets of the neighborhood that raised him, living hand-to-mouth, everyday a gift, if he can just make it.

Burdened by a world that only wants to see her as perfect, Salana finds her greatest confidant in a boy society has labeled as worthless. Their paths cross too many times for their stubborn hearts to deny the connection, but can the delinquent and the debutant defy the odds and overcome the social constructs that condemn them?

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
Amazon

Have you ever read a book and absolutely loved it while you were reading, but then when asked what you liked about it you couldn’t really say?  That’s how I feel about SALT.  I was obsessed with Salana and Tiago’s story while I was in the muck and mire with them, but then looking back it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why this novel worked for me.

I was surprised by how emotional this reading experience was.  More than a few times I felt myself tearing up.  When I finished reading I was left with this aching tightness in my chest because of the crazy emotional roller coaster I went on with Salana and Tiago.  My feelings ran the gamut on this one, and while there were times I was pissed and frustrated with everything, I know this is a story that is going to stick with me for a long time.

I love the rich girl/bad boy trope – I don’t know if it’s extensive enough to be a trope, but I do seem to read a lot of books with that premise.  SALT delivered to my preferences in a big way.  I especially appreciated how Ms. White so effortlessly demonstrated how having nothing and having everything can both be so confining and lonely.  Salana and Tiago were both so entangled in the worlds their parents had brought them into neither could see a way out and as soon as they saw the respite, they could give one another an impenetrable bond was formed.

I found both Salana and Tiago to be highly frustrating.  They both wanted out of the lives they’d been born into, yet for most of the book, it felt like they were doing their level best to stay firmly ensconced in the roles society had set forth for them.  Every time I felt like there was a glimpse of hope for one of them they quickly regressed back to the nice little molds they’d been born from.  When they each found the strength to destroy their self-imposed prisons I was ecstatic.

I feel like I didn’t know either character that well.  Now, I know that sounds bizarre because it is.  However, the book covers a pretty extensive time span with little snapshots of their lives together and apart throughout those years.  They both grew and changed so much with each time jump; it was almost like getting to know new people over and over again.  I loved their growth arcs, and they were important and wonderful. However, I almost wish this book had been a series because there was so much more to their stories – alone and together – that we barely glossed over since everything was covered in one book.

I’ve meant to read Mara White’s books for ages.  I know that her stories are right up my alley and have heard great things from some of my most trusted reading companions, after finishing SALT I know I was missing out by not moving her forward on my TBR.  Her writing was enchanting and addictive; once I started reading I literally could not put this book down, I carried my kindle with me everywhere I went until I finished reading.  The emotional impact she had on me would have won me over if her writing hadn’t.  Ms. White is the complete package, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to a romance author.

Intro
Tiago


Fresh Air Fund, New York City 2008

Santiago had never left the city, unless you counted New Jersey. The school bus was sweltering and the chaperones hollered every time somebody cracked a window. Luckily, he and Chico were in the very last seat so there were too many infractions to bother with—the adults couldn’t even make it all the way to the back to reprimand them. Chico expertly spat sunflower seed shells out their very open window. He had silver braces and gold chains, a fade haircut and a perpetual pubescent mustache that he had yet to devirginize with a Bic razor.
Tiago shaved even though he didn’t need to; he was the man of the house. His pops had been locked up for years, even before he passed away, and Tiago had inherited his menagerie of grooming supplies and jewelry: a gold crucifix and bracelet, an old watch, a wallet-size laminated card of La Altagracia from the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, his social security card, a can of Barbasol, a shoebox full of faded photos where some of the faces were scratched out with a pin, and a couple hundred dollars in cash. A legacy that didn’t even fill up half a box, but a reputation bad enough to declare Tiago a menace by the time he was four. He wore and used all of his inheritance, not only to feel closer to his father, but to approximate the manhood he was forced into too early.
​Chico had an iPod and headphones he’d snuck along on the trip; the kid didn’t go anywhere without music, constantly sang radio songs in Spanish. He’d sometimes do hilarious impressions that made Tiago lose his shit. He and Chico took turns murmuring the lyrics to reggaetón songs that narrated the kind of life they both lived. Being raised off and on by their grandmothers wasn’t the only thing they had in common. Parents incarcerated, living in the projects, no plausible out for their lives except dreams of professional baseball or rapper stardom. Chico always said he’d join the Marines, while Tiago instead dreamed of seeing the world on his own terms, maybe by backpacking or hitchhiking to California for starters. Money was always tight, food was scarce, and new clothes were a miracle from God el santísimo, himself. Chico and Tiago would sometimes rotate jeans just to freshen up their clothing game, which was pretty much already in the toilet. If Tiago ever got to see the world, he’d want to do it in some badass kicks. He’d rob a fucking bank if he had to someday to get himself some sneakers that were worth getting a beat-down trying to defend.
​Tiago wore his Yankees cap and an unbuttoned baseball jersey over a white tank top. His father’s watch and gold bracelet, a chain with a crucifix that dangled between his pecs. Cubic zirconia studs in his ears, which had been pierced by his mother when he was only three years old. His skin was dark and his maternal grandmother blamed it on his Dominican father. She said he would have been born with beautiful light skin had his deadbeat mother married a decent Puerto Rican or even a “gringuito,” if she were smart instead of una maldita, desgraciada, verguenza, or whatever insult of the day she felt the need to toss at her. She was old school, fell for that Caribbean obsession with whitening the race. Tiago didn’t pay much mind to the crazy shit she spouted. He liked his skin; it was dark in the summer, lighter in the New York City long-ass, dirty rain, gray skied winter. His drug addict mom was just as bad as his lying, cheating, stealing Dominican father, regardless of their skin colors, but he wasn’t keeping score. He wasn’t a saint, he’d be the first to admit—but he wasn’t taking no bad rap for something his pops did before he even took his first breath. His grandmother was the only consistent adult in his life who stayed out of trouble. So he let her complain; at least she kept him in food and underwear with a roof over his head and a mattress to fall on. Which was more than he could say for his mom and dad. They’d had him too young. They didn’t finish school. His dad got fired for the wrong reasons and it wasn’t his mother’s fault she’d gotten hooked on the bad shit and started turning tricks to feed her habit. He’d heard all the excuses. Tiago felt like people do the shit they gotta do in fucked-up situations. He didn’t judge, thought he probably wouldn’t have handled it any better if he were in their shoes. His hermano Chico’s family was similar, but he had two sisters and his mother took off and left with some guy who promised her a house with a pool in Vegas. What the fuck they gonna do? They were both sixteen years old. Stick it out. No sweat. Just chill. There were thousands of kids in the city who had it even worse off than they did.
But it was thanks to their paltry existence that they got into so many city-run programs. Their Fresh Air Fund trip today wasn’t being footed by their parents. Free trip to ride horses, lunch and snacks and on the way back to the Bronx, a stop-off at a local water park—all paid for by the city. Tiago and Chico made tiny paper airplanes out of the brochure for the Equestrian Farm they’d been given when they boarded the bus. They threw them into the back of an afro belonging to a kid sitting a few rows up. So far they’d each lodged one without the kid noticing and they laughed until they had tears in their eyes, the sound of their joy completely covered by the din of fifty excited kids and the wind rushing in the open windows as they tore south down 95.
​“Did you eat that girl Angelica’s pussy the other night?” he asked Chico as he tore paper for another plane.
​“Fuck yeah I did, and I couldn’t barely even get in her bra. Dumb bitch. But she shoved her cunt in my face like it was the all-you-can-eat buffet at the mall.”
​“You like her, you stupid fuck. You blush when you talk about her,” Tiago said. Chico punched his bicep hard and Tiago knew it would burn bright red. He also knew Chico was whipped and he was jealous. They’d bagged chicks before, bagged at their age meaning hit all the bases, but this thing with Angelica was getting serious. Chico had seen her at least a dozen times. He was afraid of losing his friend.
​“You gonna get pubes stuck in your braces if you eat so much pussy. Did she suck your dick yet?” Tiago asked. He knew it was a sore subject. Good. Helping himself to Chico’s seeds, he spilled half of them in the dip of the pleather seat between them.
​“No, but she jerked me off after I showed her how. She thought spit was gross so she used Ponds cold cream and my dick smelled like my grandma through at least three showers.”
Chico falling in love was disgusting, barely tolerable. Tiago elbowed him hard in the ribs. He wanted a girlfriend badly, but he would never let one of his boys know it if he’d gotten whipped. He knew how to treat girls so that they wouldn’t take advantage of you. Even his grandmother told him all women were gold diggers and they’d try to get pregnant just so they could spend a whole lifetime milking you for money. Grandma never told him not to have sex, she was practical and sharp, she told him to get his dick out before he got her pregnant and he still felt short of one hundred percent clear on how all that worked. He knew about condoms from Louie in his building who ripped them off from the drugstores. He once gave Tiago a lesson on how to put one on in the elevator, over a plantain from the bag which Tiago had bought for his grandmother at the bodega on the corner.
​“Pinch the end, so your jizz has some place to go. And if the pussy smells fishy, don’t put your dick in there in the first place. Best bet is in her mouth, or go in the back door if you don’t mind a little bit of clean-up. Give her the line about keeping her virginity and she’ll let you around the back, you’ll see.”
Tiago had been only twelve and although he thought most of the things Louie was telling him were suspect, he was still a rapt and captive audience. Louie then proceeded to tell him about gay men and to steer clear unless he wanted to volverse puto, as he put it. Tiago wasn’t positive, but it didn’t sound very plausible—then again, what did he know about gay men or buttholes? He didn’t have a dad or a big brother around to tell him how to get from A to B or even how to stay out of trouble. Louie drank forties all day, had two gold front teeth and could sing Guajira like nobody else. He lived alone but for a whole flock of pet birds, parrots, cockatoos, parakeets—you name it, it was screeching up in a cage in his apartment.
His grandmother sometimes made him bring the guy a plate of food. Louie would peel back the foil and inhale, salivate and smile. He’d jerk his chin for Santiago to come in. The floorboards were uneven but shiny as fuck. Louie kept a pretty neat apartment, considering he was a bachelor and always half drunk. Louie had a futon couch and it wasn’t covered by plastic, but it was covered in bird shit and Tiago always sat on it perched like a girl in Sunday school. It was over mouthfuls of beans and rice, with much gesturing from his fork, that Louie explained the ins and outs, the birds and bees, and most of the sexual education Tiago would get in his lifetime. The pretense was that he would stay and take the plate back up when Louie finished, and by that time he’d be halfway hard from imaging the things that Louie would lay out for him in graphic detail.
He’d lost his virginity when he was thirteen, to a friend of his mother’s. The lady had come by looking for his mom when Tiago and his grandmother hadn’t seen her in months. When his grandmother asked him to see her out, they took a short detour. She was drunk, gave him a beer and then sucked him off in the basement. He tore his nails gripping the over-painted, bumpy cement wall while he thrust into her pink lipstick-painted mouth. Her teeth were yellow and her breath smelled like cigarettes. But she was queen of the universe when she swallowed his cum, so much so that he almost wanted to kiss her. She didn’t know much about teenage boys and jerking off, because she thought after his first blowjob he’d be out for the night. But he was hard again before she’d wiped the saliva off of her lips.
“I want to stick it in you,” he’d said to her, his face open and curious.
She obliged him over a folding chair and the sagging dejected look of her vagina repulsed him—however, not quite enough to kill his boner. He’d desperately shoved himself in and out of her, with no rhythm or love, just lusty preteen madness and the story already buzzing past his lips to fly out on tomorrow’s school yard.
She’d groaned as the chair squeaked and Tiago wasn’t sure if the sounds meant pleasure or pain, but he couldn’t stop, he wouldn’t stop and he baptized her pale and pancaked ass with another shot of his tender boyhood semen. His introduction to love hadn’t been the least bit romantic or even sensual, but it was a rush of panic and adrenaline unlike anything he’d ever experienced. He felt like a man as he pulled up his jeans and did his belt buckle. His pearly essence dripped into her butt crack and he felt like he’d accomplished something rather monumental. Maybe his father would be proud? Maybe not?
But none of that changed the fact that he’d never had a real girlfriend, or the fact that Chico did—his face was busted, but he still got one first, go figure.  And not to mention, he was whipped and he liked it. Tiago couldn’t even imagine what sex would be like if you were into the person doing the giving or receiving. But Jesucristo, he wanted to find out. He’d take the baddest bitch in the Heights. He wouldn’t even care if she were ugly. He needed somebody to talk to.

Mara White is a contemporary romance and erotica writer who laces forbidden love stories with hard issues, such as race, gender and inequality. She holds an Ivy League degree but has also worked in more strip clubs than even she can remember. She is not a former Mexican telenovela star contrary to what the tabloids might say, but she is a former ballerina and will always remain one in her heart. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children and yes, when she’s not writing you can find her on the playground.

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NOW LIVE!! Salt by Mara White

Salana Livingston did everything right, from taking her multi-vitamin to kneeling before bed to say her prayers every night. She followed the path her parents had planned before she was born, never questioned the role until the day a bus-load of sweaty kids from the Bronx got dropped at her parent’s horse farm.

Tiago Alcazar knew a life of hard knocks. An incarcerated father, a missing and strung-out mother who left him to rely on his aged grandmother for most of his life.

Tiago runs the mean streets of the neighborhood that raised him, living hand-to-mouth, everyday a gift, if he can just make it.

Burdened by a world that only wants to see her as perfect, Salana finds her greatest confidant in a boy society has labeled as worthless. Their paths cross too many times for their stubborn hearts to deny the connection, but can the delinquent and the debutant defy the odds and overcome the social constructs that condemn them?

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
Amazon

Mara White is a contemporary romance and erotica writer who laces forbidden love stories with hard issues, such as race, gender and inequality. She holds an Ivy League degree but has also worked in more strip clubs than even she can remember. She is not a former Mexican telenovela star contrary to what the tabloids might say, but she is a former ballerina and will always remain one in her heart. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children and yes, when she’s not writing you can find her on the playground.

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Salt by Mara White ~ COVER REVEAL

Salana Livingston did everything right, from taking her multi-vitamin to kneeling before bed to say her prayers every night. She followed the path her parents had planned before she was born, never questioned the role until the day a bus-load of sweaty kids from the Bronx got dropped at her parent’s horse farm.

Tiago Alcazar knew a life of hard knocks. An incarcerated father, a missing and strung-out mother who left him to rely on his aged grandmother for most of his life.

Tiago runs the mean streets of the neighborhood that raised him, living hand-to-mouth, everyday a gift, if he can just make it.

Burdened by a world that only wants to see her as perfect, Salana finds her greatest confidant in a boy society has labeled as worthless. Their paths cross too many times for their stubborn hearts to deny the connection, but can the delinquent and the debutant defy the odds and overcome the social constructs that condemn them?

Coming June 4th

Mara White is a contemporary romance and erotica writer who laces forbidden love stories with hard issues, such as race, gender and inequality. She holds an Ivy League degree but has also worked in more strip clubs than even she can remember. She is not a former Mexican telenovela star contrary to what the tabloids might say, but she is a former ballerina and will always remain one in her heart. She lives in NYC with her husband and two children and yes, when she’s not writing you can find her on the playground.

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

Dear Isaiah,

Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.

But you did notice.

We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.

I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.

But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.

To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.

Almost.

Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.

Maritza the Waitress

PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.

****  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ****
Amazon

 

Chapter One

Maritza

“Welcome to Brentwood Pancake and Coffee. I’m Maritza and I’ll be your server,” I greet my millionth customer of the morning with the same old spiel. This one, a raven-haired, honey-eyed Adonis, waited over seventy minutes for a table by a window, though I suppose in LA time that’s the blink of an eye.

He doesn’t so much as acknowledge me.

“Just you today?” I ask, eyeing the empty chair across from him. The breakfast rush is about to end, and lucky for him, I only have one other table right now.

He doesn’t answer, but maybe he doesn’t hear me?

“Coffee?” I ask another obvious question. I mean, the diner is called Brentwood Pancake and Coffee for crying out loud. Everyone comes here for the coffee and plate-sized pancakes, and it’s considered a Class-D felony to order anything else.

Placing his mug right side up on his saucer, he pushes it toward me and I begin to pour. Waving his hand, he stops me when the cup is three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he adds two creams and one half of a sugar packet, but the way he moves is methodical, rigid. With intention.

“Ma’am, this really can’t be that interesting,” he says under his breath, his spoon clinking against the sides of the porcelain mug after he stirs.

“Excuse me?”


“You’re standing here watching me,” he says. Giving the spoon two final taps against the rim of the mug, he then rests it on the saucer before settling his intense amber gaze in my direction. “Isn’t there another table that needs you?”

His eyes are warm like honey but his stare is cold, piercing. Unrelenting.

“You’re right. There is.” I clear my throat and snap out of it. If I was lingering, it wasn’t my intention, but this I’m-sexy-and-I-know-it asshole didn’t need to call me out on it. Sue me for being a little distracted. “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute, okay?”

With that, I leave him alone with his menu and his coffee and his foul mood and his brooding gaze … and his broad shoulders … and his full lips … and I get back to work, stopping at table four to see if Mr. and Mrs. Carnavale need refills on their house blend decafs.  

By the time I top them off, I draw in a cleansing breath and head back to Mr. Tall, Dark, and Douche-y, forcing a smile on my face.

“We ready to order?” I ask, pulling my pen from behind my ear and my notepad from my Kelly-green apron.
He folds his menu, offering it to me despite the fact that my hands are full, but I manage to slip it under my arm without dropping anything.

“Two pancakes,” he says. “Eggs. Scrambled. Rye toast. Butter. Not margarine.”

“I’m so sorry.” I point to a sign above the cash register that clearly reads ONE PANCAKE PER PATRON – NO EXCEPTIONS.

He squints, his expression calcifying when he reads it.

“So that’s one pancake, scrambled eggs, and buttered rye toast then,” I recite his order.

“What kind of bullshit rule is that?” He checks his watch, like he has somewhere to be.

Or like he doesn’t have the time for a rule that I entirely agree is pure bullshit.

“These pancakes are huge. I promise one will be more than enough.” I try to deescalate the situation before it gets out of hand because it’s never pretty when management has to get involved. The owners of the diner are strict as hell on this policy and their day shift manager is even more so. She’ll happily inform any and all disgruntled customers there’s a reason the “pancake” in Brentwood Pancake and Coffee is singular and not plural.

I’ve seen many a diner walk out of here and never return over this stupid policy and our Yelp review average is in the dumps, but somehow it never seems to be bad for business. The line is perpetually out the door and down the block every weekend morning without fail, and sometimes even on weekdays. These pancakes are admittedly as delicious and more than own up to their reputation, but that stupid rule is nothing more than clever marketing designed to inflate demand.

“And what if I’m still hungry?” he asks. “Can I order a second?”

Wincing, I shake my head.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” He sits up a little, jaw clenching. “It’s a goddamned pancake for fuck’s sake.”

“Not just any pancake,” I say with a practiced smile. “It’s a Brentwood pancake.”

“Are you trying to be cute with me, ma’am?” he asks, directing his attention at me, though he isn’t flirting. His nostrils flare a little and I can’t help but let my mind wander the tiniest bit about how sexy he looks when he’s angry—despite the fact that I would never so much as entertain the idea of getting down and dirty with an asshole like this.

He’s hot AF but I don’t do jerks. Plain and simple.

I’d have to be drunk. Like, really drunk. And I’d have to be desperate. And even then … I don’t know. He’s got some kind of chip on his shoulder, and no amount of sexiness would be able to distract me from that.  

“Let me put your order in, okay?” I ask with a smile so forced my cheeks hurt. They say good moods are contagious, but I’m starting to think this guy might be immune.

“As long as it’s the full order, ma’am,” he says, lips pressing flat as he exhales. I don’t know why he keeps calling me “ma’am” when I’m clearly younger than he is. Hell, I couldn’t legally drink until three years ago.

I am not a “ma’am.”

“The cook won’t make two,” I say with an apologetic tone before biting my bottom lip. If I play it coy and helpless maybe he’ll back down a little? It works. Sometimes.

“Then it’s for my guest,” he points to the empty seat across from him. His opposite hand is balled into a fist, and I can’t help but notice his watch is programmed in military time, “who happens to be showing up later.”

“We don’t serve guests until they’re physically here,” I say. Yet another one of the restaurant’s strict policies. Too many patrons have tried to use that loophole over the years, so they had to close it. But they didn’t just close it—they battened the hatches with hurricane-proof glass by way of a giant security monitor in the kitchen. They even make the cooks check the screen before preparing orders, just to make sure no one’s breaking the rules.

The man drags his hand through his dark hair, which I’m realizing now is a “regulation cut.”

Military.

I bet he’s military.

Has to be. The hair. The watch. The constant swearing juxtaposed with the overuse of the word “ma’am.” He reminds me of my cousin Eli who spent ten years in the U.S. army, and if he’s anything else like Eli, he’s not going to let up about this.

Exhaling, I place my palm gently on his shoulder despite the fact that we’re not supposed to put hands on the guests for any reason, but this guy is tense and his muscled shoulders are just begging for a gentle touch.

“Just … bear with me, okay?” I ask. “I’ll see what I can do.”

The man serves our country. He fights for our freedom. Despite the fact that he’s unquestionably a giant asshole, he at least deserves a second pancake.

I’m going to have to get creative.

Heading back to the kitchen, I put his order in and check on the Carnavales one more time. On my way to the galley to refill my coffee pot, I pass a table full of screaming children, one of which has just shoved his giant pancake on the floor, much to his gasping mother’s dismay.

Bending, I retrieve the sticky circle from the floor and place it back on his plate.

“Would you like the kitchen to fix another?” I ask. They’re lucky. This is the only time they’ll make an exception, and I’ll have to present the dirty pancake as proof.

The child screams and I can barely hear what the mother is trying to say. Glancing around the table, I spot five little minions under the age of eight, all of them dressed in Burberry, Gucci, and Dior. The inflated-lipped mother sports a shimmering, oversized rock on her left ring finger and the father has his nose buried in his phone.

But I’m not one to judge.

LA is lacking child-friendly restaurants of the quality variety, and it’s not like Mr. Chow or The Ivy would welcome their noisy litter with open arms. I don’t even think they have high chairs there.

“I don’t want a pancake!” The oldest of the tanned, flaxen-haired gremlins screams in his mother’s face, turning her flawless complexion a shade of crimson that almost matches her pristine Birkin bag.

“Just … just take it away,” she says, flustered, her palm sprawling her glassy, Botoxed forehead.

Nodding, I take the ‘cake back to the kitchen, only I stop when I reach the galley, grabbing a stack of cloth napkins and hiding the plate beneath it. As soon as my military patron finishes his first pancake, I’ll run this back to the kitchen and claim he accidentally dropped it on the floor.

“Order up!” one of the line guys calls from the window, and I head over to see my military man’s breakfast is hot and ready—though I may have accidentally moved it to the front of the ticket line when no one was looking because I don’t have the energy to deal with him freaking out if his breakfast is taking too long.

Grabbing his plate, I rush it out to him, delivering it with a smile and a sweet, “Can I get you anything else right now?”

His gaze drops to his food and then lifts to me.

“I know,” I say, palm up. “Just … trust me. I’ll take care of you.”

I wink, partially disgusted with myself. He has no idea how difficult it is for me to be accommodating to him when he’s treating me like this. I’d love nothing more than to pour a steaming hot pitcher of coffee into his lap, but out of respect and appreciation—and only respect and appreciation—for his service, I won’t resort to such a thing.

Plus, I work for tips. I kind of have to be accommodating. And lord knows I need this job. I may be living in my grandmother’s gorgeous guesthouse, but believe me, she charges rent.

Free rides aren’t a thing in the Claiborne family.

He peers down his straight nose, stabbing the tines of his polished fork into a chunk of fluffy scrambled egg.

He doesn’t say thank you—not surprising—and I tell him I’ll be back to check on him in a little while before making my way to the galley where another server, Rachael, is also seeking respite.

“That table with the screaming kids,” I ask, “that yours?”

She blows her blonde bangs off her forehead and rolls her eyes. “Yup.”

“Better you than me,” I tease. Rachael’s got three of her own at home. She’s good with kids and she always seems to know the right thing to say to distract them or thwart a total meltdown.

“I’ll trade you,” she says. “The family for the dimples at table four.”

“He has dimples?” I peek my head out, staring toward my military man.

“Oh, God, yes,” she says. “Deep ones. Killer smile, too. Thought maybe he was some model or actor or something, but he said he was an army corporal.”

“We can’t be talking about the same guy. He hasn’t so much as half-smiled at me and he’s already told you what he does for a living?”

“Huh.” Rachael lifts a thin red brow, like she’s wondering if we’re talking about two different people. “He asked me how I was doing earlier and smiled. Thought he was real friendly.”

“That one. Right there. Dark hair? Golden eyes? Muscles bulging out of his gray t-shirt?” I do a quick point before retracting my finger.

She takes another look. “Yeah. That’s him. You don’t forget a face like that. Or biceps like that …”

“Weird.” I fold my arms, staring his way and wondering if maybe he has a thing against girls like me. Though I’m pretty ordinary compared to most girls out here. Average height. Average weight. Brown hair. Brown eyes.

Maybe I remind him of an ex?

I’m mid-thought when out of nowhere he turns around, our eyes catching like he knew I was watching. Reaching for a hand towel in front of me, I glance down and try to act busy by wiping up a melted ice cube on the galley counter.

“Busted.” Rachael elbows me before heading out to check on the Designer family. I swat her on the arm as she passes, and then I give myself a second to regain my composure. As soon as the warmth has left my cheeks, I head out to check on him, relieved to find his pancake demolished, not a single, spongey scrap left behind. In fact, his entire meal is finished … coffee and all.

Reaching for his plate, he stops me, his hand covering mine, and then our eyes lock.

“Why were you staring at me over there?” he asks. The way he looks at me is equal parts invasive and intriguing, like he’s studying me, forming a hard and fast opinion, but also like he’s checking me out which makes zero sense because his annoyance with me practically oozes out of his perfect, tawny physique.

“I’m sorry?” I play dumb.

“I saw you. Answer the question.”

Oh, god. He’s not going to let this go. Something tells me I should’ve taken Rachael up on her offer to trade tables. This one’s been nothing but trouble since the moment I poured his coffee.

My mouth falls and I’m not sure what to say. Half of me knows I should probably utter some kind of nonsense most likely to appease him so he doesn’t complain to my manager, but the other half of me is tired of being nice to a man who has the decency to ask another waitress how her day is going and can’t even bring himself to treat his own server like a human being.

“You were talking about me with that other waitress,” he says. His hand still covers mine, preventing me from exiting this conversation.

Exhaling, I say, “She wanted to trade tables.”

His dark brow arches and he studies my face.

“And then she said you had dimples,” I expand. “She said you smiled at her earlier … I was just thinking about why you’d be so polite to her and not me.”

He releases me and I stand up straight, tugging my apron into place before smoothing my hands down the front.

“She handed me a newspaper while I waited. She didn’t have to do that,” he says, lips pressing flat. “Give me something to smile about and I’ll smile at you.”

The audacity of this man.

The heat in my ears and the clench in my jaw tells me I should walk away now if I want to preserve my esteemed position as morning server here at Brentwood Pancake and Coffee, but it’s guys like him …

I try to say something, but all the thoughts in my head are temporarily nonsensical and flavored with a hint of rage. A second later, I manage a simple yet gritted, “Would you like me to grab your check, sir?”

“No,” he says without pause. “I’m not finished with my breakfast yet.”

We both glance at his empty plates.

“More eggs?” I ask.

“No.”

I can’t believe I’m about to do this for him, but at this point, the sooner I get him out of here, the better. I mean, at this point I’m doing it for myself, let’s be real.

“One moment.” I take his empty dishes to the kitchen before sneaking into the galley and grabbing that kid’s dirty pancake. My pulse whooshes in my ears and my body is lit, but I forge ahead, returning to the pick-up window and telling one of the cooks that my customer at table twelve dropped his ‘cake on the floor.

He glances at the plate, then to the security monitor, then back to me before taking it out of my hands and exchanging it for a fresh one. It’s a verifiable assembly line back there, just a bunch of guys in hairnets and aprons standing around a twenty-foot griddle, spatulas in each hand.

“Thanks, Brad,” I say. Making my way back to my guy, I stop to check on the Carnavales, only their table is already being bussed and Rachael tells me she took care of their check because they were in a hurry.

Shit.

“Here you are.” I place the plate in front of my guy.

He glances up at me, honeyed eyes squinting for a moment. I wink, praying he doesn’t ask questions.

“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” I ask, wishing I could add, “just don’t ask for another pancake because I’ll be damned if I risk my job for an ingrate like you ever again.”

“Coffee, ma’am. I’d like another cup of coffee.” He reaches for his glass syrup carafe, pouring sticky sweet, imported-from-Vermont goodness all over his steaming pancake, and I try not to watch as he forms an “x” and then a circle.

Striding away, I grab a fresh carafe of coffee and return to top him off, stopping at three-quarters of the way full. A second later, he glances up at me, his full lips pulling up at the sides, revealing the most perfect pair of dimples I’ve ever seen … as if the past twenty minutes have all been some kind of joke and he was only busting my chops by being the world’s biggest douche lord.

But just like that, it disappears.

His pearly, dimpled smirk is gone before I get the chance to fully appreciate how kind of a soul he appears to be when he’s not all tense and surly.

“Glad I finally gave you a reason to smile.” I’m teasing. Sort of. And I gently rub his shoulder, which is still tight as hell. “Anything else I can get you?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take my check.”

Thank. God.

I can’t get it fast enough. Within a minute, I’ve punched my staff ID into the system, printed his ticket, shoved it into a check presenter, and rushed it to his table. His debit card rests on the edge when I arrive, as if I’d taken too long and he grew tired of holding it in his hand.

He’s just as anxious to leave as I am to get him out of here. Guess that marks the one and only thing that puts us on the same page.

“I’ll be right back with this,” I tell him. His card—plain navy plastic with the VISA logo in the lower corner and NAVY ARMY CREDIT UNION along the top—bears the name “Isaiah Torres.”

When I return, I hand him a neon purple gel pen from my pocket and gather his empty dishes.

“Thank you for the …” he points at the sticky plate in my hand as he signs his check. “For that.”

“Of course,” I say, avoiding eye contact because the sooner I can pretend he’s already gone, the better. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Asshole.

Glancing up, I spot our hostess, Maddie, flagging me down and mouthing that I have three new tables. Great. Thanks to this charmer, I’ve disappointed the Carnavales, risked my job, and kept several tables waiting all within the span of a half hour.

Isaiah signs his check, closes the leather binder, and slides out of his booth. When he stands, he towers over me, peering down his nose and holding my gaze captive for what feels like a single, endless second.

For a moment, I’m so blinded by his chiseled jaw and full lips, that my heart misses a couple of beats and I almost forget our little exchange.

“Ma’am, if you’ll kindly excuse me,” he says as I realize I’m blocking his path.

I step aside, and as he passes, his arm brushes against mine and the scent of fresh soap and spicy aftershave fills my lungs. Shoving the check presenter in my apron, I tend to my new tables before rushing back to start filling drinks.

Glancing toward the exit, I catch him stopping in the doorway before slowly turning to steal one last look at me for reasons I’ll never know, and it isn’t until an hour later that I finally get a chance to check his ticket. Maybe I’d been dreading it, maybe I’d purposely placed it in the back of my mind, knowing full well he was going to leave me some lousy, slap-in-the-face tip after everything I’d done for him. Or worse: nothing at all.

But I stand corrected.

“Maritza, what is it?” Rachael asks, stopping short in front of me, hands full of strategically stacked dirty dishes.

I shake my head. “That guy … he left me a hundred-dollar tip.”

Her nose wrinkles. “What? Let me see. Maybe it’s a typo?”

I show her the tab and the very clearly one and two zeroes on the tip line. The total confirms that the tip was no typo.

“I don’t understand. He was such an ass,” I say under my breath. “This is like, what, five hundred percent?”

“Maybe he grew a conscience at the last minute?” Her lips jut forward.

I roll my eyes. “Whatever it was, I just hope he never comes here again. And if he does, you get him. There isn’t enough tip money in the world that would make me want to serve that arrogant prick again. I don’t care how hot he is.”

“Gladly.” Her mouth pulls wide. “I have this thing for generous pricks with dashing good looks.”

“I know,” I say. “I met your last two exes.”

Rachael sticks her tongue out before prancing off, and I steal one last look at Isaiah’s tip. It’s not like he’s the first person ever to bestow me with such plentiful gratuity—this is a city where cash basically grows on trees—it’s just that it doesn’t make sense and I’ll probably never get a chance to ask him why.

Exhaling, I get back to work.

I’ve worked way too damn hard to un-complicate my life lately, and I’m not about to waste another thought on some complicated man I’m never going to see ever again.

 

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 Hate You by Winter Renshaw ~ Sarah A’s Review

Dear Isaiah,

Eight months ago, you were just a soldier about to be deployed and I was just a waitress, sneaking you free pancakes and hoping you wouldn’t notice that my gaze was lingering a little too long.

But you did notice.

We spent a “week of Saturdays” together before you left, and we said goodbye on day eight, exchanging addresses at the last minute.

I saved every letter you ever sent, your words quickly becoming my religion.

But you went radio silent on me months ago, and then you had the audacity to walk into my diner yesterday and act like you’d never seen me in your life.

To think … I almost loved you and your beautifully complicated soul.

Almost.

Whatever your reason is—I hope it’s a good one.

Maritza the Waitress

PS – I hate you, and this time … I mean it.

****  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ****
Amazon

The second I read the cover copy for P.S. I Hate You I was hooked. Once I started reading the book I couldn’t stop, regardless of what other responsibilities I had waiting for me. Maritza and Isaiah pulled me in with their conflicting personalities, and they kept me hooked with how perfectly they balanced the more extreme parts of one another’s persona.

P.S. I Hate You is a standalone novel, though there will be a spinoff book about Maritza’s cousin, Melrose. The book is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Maritza and Isaiah.

I thought the way Winter Renshaw brought Maritza and Isaiah together was quite clever. The way she had them explore the intricacies of their relationship with a no strings attached, strangers exploring the city together over a week of Saturdays arrangement was unique and ingenious. It helped them both to let down their guards and interact without any preconceived notions. I loved how naturally it seemed to build their relationship and constructed a deep and genuine bond between them.

By the time Isaiah was deployed, I was all in on their relationship; I didn’t care if they were committed to just being friends and keeping the romance out of their relationship, they were better together than tons of couples I read about. They were magic and effortless. Their letters, while sometimes not as truthful as their in-person interactions, were deeply emotional and cemented my affection for them. When everything started falling apart, I was heartbroken, as I felt so much for these characters,

Winter Renshaw has long been on my radar, but this is the first time I’ve read her work, and I’m impressed. She drew me in from the beginning and made me care deeply for her characters with just a few well-placed expressions and precisely chosen words. I loved the unique storyline and how artfully she brought the characters together. I will definitely continue reading her work and can not wait for Melrose’s book, P.S. I Miss You.

There’s no denying something’s there, something that makes my heart trot when he looks at me, something that makes me slick on an extra coat of lip balm or an extra spritz of perfume before dashing out the door to meet him.
And while I’m the one who made the rules—no romance and only honesty at all times—I’m the one who can’t stop thinking about what would happen if we broke one of them.
Only problem is, I have zero idea if he’s thinking what I’m thinking. He’s so even-keeled and emotionally guarded, but they say actions speak louder than words and the fact that he’s here, spending time with me doing stupid shit has to count for something … right?
“Why are you staring like that?” Isaiah asks when he turns around.
My cheeks warm. I’d been spacing off. “No reason.”
“Bullshit. You can’t lie, remember? Tell me what you were thinking about.” His lips draw into a playful smirk, and I can’t decide if I like his mysterious side or his spirited side best. It’s like trying to choose between white chocolate and milk chocolate, which are both delicious in their own ways.
“You don’t want to know.”
And I’m serious. He doesn’t want to know that I’m thinking about him in a way that I was determined not to. Besides, he’s leaving in a few days. There’s no point in ruining the rest of our time together by making this situation unnecessarily complicated.
“Try me,” he says, his stare boring into me. Something tells me he’s not going to let this go.
Giving myself a moment, I gather my thoughts and nibble on my lower lip. “I was just thinking about connections.”
“Connections?” His hands rest on his hips, his shoulders parallel with mine. I have his full, undivided attention.
“I was just thinking about how I hardly know you, but I feel connected to you,” I say, cringing on the inside but fully embracing the discomfiture of this conversation.
He says nothing, which doesn’t make this moment any less awkward for the both of us.
“You asked!” I remind him, throwing my hands up.
Another moment passes, the two of us lingering next to some hairy elephant-looking creature with a long-as-hell scientific name as a group of children runs past us.
“Now I want to know what you’re thinking about.” I nudge his arm. “It’s only fair.”
He smirks, then it fades, and he gazes into the distance. It’s like there’s something on the tip of his tongue, but if I push or prod too much, he’ll never share it.
“Nothing, Maritza. I was thinking about nothing.”
I don’t buy it, but I don’t press any further. I want to burn this awkward moment into a pile of ash and move on.
“Are you going to remember me after this week?” I ask after a bout of silence.
His golden irises glint as his eyes narrow in my direction. “What kind of question is that?”
“A legit one,” I say. “Will you remember me? Or am I always just going to be that waitress girl that you hung out with for a week?”
“Don’t think I could forget you if I tried.” He speaks in such a way that I’m not sure if what he’s saying is a good thing or a bad thing. “Can I be honest right now?”
“You must. It’s a requirement.”
Isaiah’s tongue grazes his full lips for a quick second and he holds my gaze for what feels like forever. “I don’t want to make this any more confusing for either of us, but I feel like kissing you right now.”
I fight a smile. I don’t want to smile. I want to scoff at him and tell him to stop being such a hypocrite.
But that’s only half of me.
The other half of me wants him to kiss me, wants his hands in my hair and his taste on my tongue just one more time because we’ll never have this moment again and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

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

Irish Kiss by Sienna Blake ~ Sarah A’s Review

Saoirse

I wanted him since the day I met him. Long haired, tattooed and tall as an Irish giant. He was more than just handsome, he was drop dead gorgeous. And the only one who ever truly cared. It didn’t matter to him that my father was a criminal and my mother a whore. He saw me, understood me.

I could be anything I wanted, he said.
Except his.
Because I was too young and he was my Juvenile Liaison Officer.

Diarmuid

It’s been years since I last saw her. No longer a girl, she has a body of a woman. When our eyes met again, I saw the only one who ever broke through my asshole mask. She never judged me. She saw me, accepted me.

She could be anything she wanted.
Except mine.
Cause she’s only seventeen and I’m trying my hardest not to fall for her.

If I give in, she will ruin me.

*This is a slow-burn, angsty love story spanning across a seven-year time period with sexual situations and drug-use involving characters under the age of eighteen.
Irish Kiss is a complete standalone novel with a Happily Ever After, but damn, it is going to hurt along the way.*

**  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  **
Amazon

If you read and loved All the Ugly and Wonderful things and loved it, this book is for you. If you hated it or never wanted to read it, then this book may not be one to add to your TBR. It’s not quite as dark or morally questionable as that book was, but it’s darn close, and I loved it for exactly that reason. I love when a book pushes limits without quite crossing the line into something irredeemable.

Irish Kiss is the first book in Sienna Blake’s Irish Kiss series. There was a little glimpse into the lives of the next two heroes in this book, and I’ll tell you, I can’t wait to see what Ms. Blake has in store for us. Irish Kiss is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Saoirse and Diarmuid.

Irish Kiss was an interesting take on a mentor/mentee relationship and how having a person who genuinely cares with no strings attached can lead to a deeper connection than either person was looking for. Both Saoirse and Diarmuid sorely lacked in the kind of devotion a person needs from their family, especially in their formative years. Diarmuid eventually found something akin to that type of love but was still in need of acceptance he hadn’t found elsewhere. Saoirse had never experienced love that didn’t come with expectations, even into adulthood, so when she found the kind of unwavering support and faith Diarmuid offered her, it was inevitable that she’d depend on his steadiness.

I can not properly express how much my heart hurt for these two, both for the things they’d lived through and for the love they both held but couldn’t explore. It was painful to watch them each struggle with the lives they had and the decisions they felt forced to make. The love they had for one another felt so real, so pure, it was hard not to root for them to be together even while it was morally repugnant. The connection between the two of them was visceral, and I ached for them to explore it, regardless of the consequences.

I only have a couple of wishes for this book. The first would have been to see more of Diarmuid’s past. We got small glimpses of it, and know the broad strokes, but he just seemed so interesting. I would have loved to know more about what made him who he was. I also didn’t understand Ava’s motives from the beginning, she didn’t even seem to like Diarmuid, so I had no idea why she was so intent on keeping him. Having her motivations regarding him – from the beginning – would have helped clarify that entire storyline.

I first discovered Sienna Blake when she published Paper Dolls, and I have loved everything she’s written since then. She has a unique voice and writes books about people from all different walks of life. She’s one of few authors who can write about a jaded billionaire with the same accuracy and passion she can write about a destitute child. Her books all have an underlying darkness that I find fascinating. I also love how she uses the locale of her books to help tell her characters’ stories. Honestly, I’m just enamored with her work and can’t wait for whatever she’s working on next.

Diarmuid let out a sigh. “I don’t want to fight.”

“Who’s fighting?” I said through gritted teeth.

“Fine. See you next Friday.”

Inside, I fought the growing swell of inevitability. Diarmuid and I could never be anything. The longer I tried, the harder I tried, the harder my heart would smash when he finally broke it again.

I didn’t think my heart could take being shattered twice.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I said, fighting back tears. “I can’t be around you when everything screams at me that we are meant to be something. And you…you with your fucking cool logic and detached emotion. You’re like a zombie. You don’t feel anything.”

“I feel.” He grabbed my arm, causing my gaze to snap to his. “God dammit, Saoirse, I feel. Too much.”

“Then why don’t you—”

“Feeling something and choosing not to act on it for the greater good, that’s what being an adult is about. Being an adult is not about age, it’s about how you act.”

“Are you’re saying I’m not an adult?”

“No, I’m saying what we want and what we should do are two different things.”

“That’s shit.”

“That’s life.”

I shoved his hand off me, all the old cracks in my heart reappearing. “Leave me alone. You hurt me too much, Diarmuid. You hurt too fucking much.”

I shoved open his door and tumbled out onto the sidewalk. Running for the house, fumbling for my keys, I tried to get some distance from him. I heard him behind me, calling for me to stop.

Why did he have to keep chasing me? Why couldn’t he just leave me alone?

This time I couldn’t let him catch me. I would break if he did.

I tumbled in through the front door.

“Saoirse, stop.”

I did not. He followed me into the house, his footsteps crashing across the old wooden floors. If I could just get to my room, it had a lock inside the door. He grabbed me right as I turned the corner into the short corridor before the stairs.

His hands gripped me around my waist as he slammed me against the wall. His other hand gripped my chin, forcing me to look right into his tortured, burning eyes.

“You think I don’t feel? Dear God, Saoirse,” he sounded furious, “the things I want to do to you… It kills me that I’m not allowed to touch you the way I want. It fucking tears me apart to hold myself back from stripping you naked and worshipping every single fucking inch of you with my tongue. It’s like I’ve become a savage inside. A beast.”

I felt every single one of his words in every single one of my cells, ringing out like bells.

His fingers on my chin became soft, tracing my cheek, his eyes growing tender. “This is what you do to me. No one else. No one. Ever.”

I sucked in a breath and let out a moan. His words were like hands all over my body.

“Please,” I breathed,” touch me.”

Sienna Blake is a storyteller & ink slinger, word spinner of love stories with grit, and alter ego of a USA Today Bestselling Author.

She loves all things that make her heart race — roller coasters, thrillers and rowdy unrestrained sex. She likes to explore the darker side of human nature in her writing.

If she told you who she really was, she’d have to kill you. Because of her passion for crime and forensics, she’d totally get away with your murder.

Sign up for my newsletter and get Paper Dolls, a full-length romantic suspense as a thank you gift. You’ll also be the first to hear about new releases, sales and giveaways ► www.subscribepage.com/SiennaBlake

Sienna also runs a book club (with exclusive giveaways) in her Reader Group ► http://bit.ly/SiennasDarkAngels

Follow Sienna for special deals, freebies, and exclusive giveaways

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NEW RELEASE ~ Irish Kiss by Sienna Blake

Saoirse

I wanted him since the day I met him. Long haired, tattooed and tall as an Irish giant. He was more than just handsome, he was drop dead gorgeous. And the only one who ever truly cared. It didn’t matter to him that my father was a criminal and my mother a whore. He saw me, understood me.

I could be anything I wanted, he said.
Except his.
Because I was too young and he was my Juvenile Liaison Officer.

Diarmuid

It’s been years since I last saw her. No longer a girl, she has a body of a woman. When our eyes met again, I saw the only one who ever broke through my asshole mask. She never judged me. She saw me, accepted me.

She could be anything she wanted.
Except mine.
Cause she’s only seventeen and I’m trying my hardest not to fall for her.

If I give in, she will ruin me.

*This is a slow-burn, angsty love story spanning across a seven-year time period with sexual situations and drug-use involving characters under the age of eighteen.
Irish Kiss is a complete standalone novel with a Happily Ever After, but damn, it is going to hurt along the way.*

**  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  **
Amazon

Sienna Blake is a storyteller & ink slinger, word spinner of love stories with grit, and alter ego of a USA Today Bestselling Author.

She loves all things that make her heart race — roller coasters, thrillers and rowdy unrestrained sex. She likes to explore the darker side of human nature in her writing.

If she told you who she really was, she’d have to kill you. Because of her passion for crime and forensics, she’d totally get away with your murder.

Sign up for my newsletter and get Paper Dolls, a full-length romantic suspense as a thank you gift. You’ll also be the first to hear about new releases, sales and giveaways ► www.subscribepage.com/SiennaBlake

Sienna also runs a book club (with exclusive giveaways) in her Reader Group ► http://bit.ly/SiennasDarkAngels

Follow Sienna for special deals, freebies, and exclusive giveaways

BookBub | Amazon | Instagram | Facebook| Goodreads

Everett by Casey Peeler ~ New Release

 

 

Everett Drake left the small town life and his three brothers behind the day he was old enough to enlist. However, he returned sooner than he had planned with a chip on his shoulder.

Taking a job with the local beer distributor, he makes a living, but when a new bar owner arrives in town, he knows exactly what he wants—Stella.  
Pulling into Barger’s, the sun is shining and so is Seth’s brand new Camaro. Shaking my head, I put the Dodge in park and step toward my future as a beer truck comes barreling out the back entrance, almost running me over. Turning to see who’s driving, I put my hands on my hips and see dark hair and a set of emerald green eyes on the sexiest man I’ve ever seen and when he smiles my way, I try to act mad but it’s no use. Mental note—stay away from whoever that is.

“Sorry about that, ma’am,” he hollers out the window.

“Damn right, you better be,” I say firmly as he laughs, gives a wave and takes off down the two-lane road.
Casey Peeler grew up in North Carolina and still lives there with her husband and daughter.

Growing up Casey wasn’t an avid reader or writer, but after reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston during her senior year of high school, and multiple Nicholas Sparks’ novels, she found a hidden love and appreciation for reading.  That love ignited the passion for writing several years later, and her writing style combines real life scenarios with morals and values teenagers need in their daily lives.

When Casey isn’t writing, you can find her near a body of water listening to country music with a cold beverage and a great book.

Connect with Casey