NOW AVAILABLE!! Overcome by AK Evans

It only took a matter of moments for Lexi Townsend’s life to change. Her power was taken, her trust lost. Her bubbly personality was smothered by the depressing weight of shame and guilt.

Four years later, Lexi yearns to get back to the former version of herself. A stronger version. One who is no longer afraid to share her story, her body, and her trust. When Private Investigator Cruz Cunningham comes into her life, he proves he’s a man that’s deserving of her trust.

When multiple women in Windsor go missing, it launches Cruz and the Cunningham Security team into action. As Cruz digs deeper into the investigation, he’s torn between finding the missing women and protecting the woman he loves. Putting her faith in Cruz, Lexi never imagines that this case could destroy everything she’s worked so hard to overcome.

WARNING: This novel contains references to rape and sexual assault and may trigger discomfort in some readers.

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“Do you want to come in for a while?” I asked.

Cruz stepped just inside the door and closed it, but answered, “We both have a long week ahead of us and you’ve had a very busy weekend.  I probably shouldn’t stay.”

I put my hands to Cruz’s chest and shared, “I had a really great time tonight, Cruz.  Thank you for giving this to me.”

“Happy to give it to you.”

“Can I give you something now in return?”

I felt Cruz’s fingertips dig in slightly at my hips before his hands moved around my waist and pulled me into his body.  

“All I want is to know that you had a good time tonight,” he began.  “I don’t expect nor do I want you to do anything for me in return.”

Disappointed, I dropped my gaze from his and stared at his throat.  

“Why do you look like I’ve just crushed all your hopes and dreams?” Cruz asked.

I shook my head, feeling frustrated.

Cruz squeezed me a little tighter.  “Look at me, Lex.”

I did as he asked.

Then, I felt the back of his knuckles brush along my cheek as he urged, “Tell me why you’re sad.”

“I feel pretty tonight,” I started.  “For the first time in a very long time, I feel sexy and confident.  All I wanted to do was kiss you before you left.”

I barely got the words out when Cruz’s mouth came crashing down on mine.  With his lips pressed to mine, I slid my hands up his chest and around his neck.  As our mouths opened and our tongues began to taste each other, my body melted further into his.  One of Cruz’s arms stayed wrapped tight around the upper part of my back, but the other one…oh, the other one.  It dipped lower and lower until it slid down over the curve of my ass.

I loved it, so I gave him a moan as encouragement.  

He gave me a gentle squeeze.

I really loved that.

After a bit more squeezing, kissing, and moaning, Cruz tore his mouth from mine.  His forehead resting on mine, we both fought to catch our breath.

Cruz did it arguably faster than me because he started speaking.  “Don’t keep it in, Lexi.”

“What?”

Pulling his head back from mine, he instructed, “With me, you don’t have to hide anything.  Give in to what you feel, Princess, no matter what it is. Scared, sexy, or anything in between.  It doesn’t matter what it is; if it’s in me to see you through that, I will.”

And of everything he did for me in the last few minutes, what he had just said was what I loved most.  

“I feel like I’m dreaming, Cruz.  Are you even real?”

“It’s time to wake up, warrior.  I’m as real as it gets.”

Once those words slipped out of his mouth, he pressed a kiss to the tip of my nose and declared, “I’m going to head out now.”

I let the disappointment of that wash over me for about two seconds before Cruz added, “I had a fantastic time tonight.  And you were, by far, the most beautiful woman in the restaurant. Don’t think I’m leaving because I don’t like what I see.  This wasn’t about me and what I want. Tonight was about giving you what you needed…giving you what someone took from you. I hope you got that back.”

Warmth spread through me.  “I did, Cruz. I got that and so much more.”

cropped shot of couple embracing in bed in morning

A.K. Evans is a married mother of two boys residing in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. After graduating from Lafayette College in 2004 with two degrees (one in English and one in Economics & Business), she pursued a career in the insurance and financial services industry. Not long after, Evans realized the career was not for her. She went on to manage her husband’s performance automotive business and drive the shop race cars for the next thirteen years. While the business afforded her freedoms she wouldn’t necessarily have had in a typical 9-5 job, after eleven years she was no longer receiving personal fulfillment from her chosen career path. Following many discussions, lots of thought, and tons of encouragement, Andrea decided to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.

Between her day job, writing, and homeschooling her two boys, Evans is left with very little free time. When she finds scraps of spare time, she enjoys reading, doing yoga, watching NY Rangers hockey, dancing, and vacationing with her family. Andrea, her husband, and her children are currently working on taking road trips to visit all 50 states (though, Alaska and Hawaii might require flights).

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Tattered by Devney Perry ~ EXCERPT REVEAL

Thea Landry has always known her place in modern-day society. It’s somewhere just above the trash can her mother dumped her in as a newborn but below the class where much comes easy. With her tattered shoes and bargain-bin clothes, her life has never been full of glamour.

So when a rich and charismatic man takes interest, she doesn’t fool herself into thinking their encounter is anything more than a one-night stand. Months later, she’s kicking herself for not getting his phone number. Or his last name. She’s given up hope of seeing him ever again.

Until one day, years later, Logan Kendrick waltzes into her life once more and turns everything she’s built upside down. This time around, she won’t make the same mistake. She’s going to fight to keep him in her life—not for herself.

But for their daughter.

***  PREORDER NOW ~ June 19, 2018  ***
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“Yes!” My arms shot in the air. I punched the air a couple of times before clapping and shouting, “Way to go, Charlie! Nice save!”

I was so damn proud. I hoped she could hear me yelling. Her success felt better than any I’d ever had personally, and I’d known her for just a couple days.

Parental pride was incredible.

And I wasn’t alone in my feelings. When I stopped cheering for my daughter, I looked to my side to see that Thea had gotten off the blanket and was cheering too. Her smile was beaming, brighter than any I’d seen before.

“Couldn’t stay seated?” I nudged her elbow with mine.

“Quiet, gorgeous.”

Gorgeous.

I’d been given nicknames in the past by women. My girlfriend in high school had called me Lo-Lo. Emmeline used to call me darling. Alice had annoyed the fuck out of me by whispering stud in my ear. I hadn’t really liked any of them, not even Emmeline’s.

But Thea’s gorgeous was hot as hell.

Mostly because she said it with that smile.

She could call me an asshole or a douchebag with that smile and I wouldn’t care.

Devney lives in Montana with her husband and two children. After working in the technology industry for nearly a decade, she abandoned conference calls and project schedules to enjoy a slower pace at home with her kids. She loves reading and, after consuming hundreds of books, decided to share her own stories.

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NEW RELEASE!! Folsom by Fisher & Aster ~ Sarah A’s Review

The nation as we know it is a thing of the past.

With the male species on the verge of extinction, a society called the End Men is formed to save the world. Folsom Donahue is one of twelve men whose sole purpose is to repopulate the Regions. The endless days spent having sex with strangers leaves Folsom with an emptiness no amount of women, money, or status can fill.

Until Gwen.

Gwen has wanted a child for as long as she can remember, but when she finally gets a chance to have her own, she uncovers a long hidden truth. The injustice she sees moves her to help save the men whom no one else believes need saving.

A forbidden love, grown in a time of despair, ignites a revolution.

Folsom and Gwen, torn between their love for each other and their sense of duty, must make a choice. But some will stop at nothing to destroy them.

Folsom is book one of the End of Men series.

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
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Folsom was MADDENING, in the best way possible.  As I was reading I was left with anger burning so deeply in my belly; I’m not sure anything could slake it.  A book that can bring out that intensity of emotion, that can stoke a fire so deeply in my soul is a must-read in my book.  I don’t read many dystopian novels, but the themes of Folsom – so similar to that of the Hunger Games – struck a chord with me and forced me to take notice of things we all take for granted.

This is a plot unlike any other I’ve read.  While the idea of a world predominantly devoid of men isn’t a new one – I’ve had conversations about how amazing it would be and how we’d need very few men – the humanity of what that world might look like never occurred to me.  Folsom lent a blinding light on how absurd a position women could put a man in if forced to do nothing but father children with willing women.  It was a gut-punch to see how quickly we could make them nothing but another commodity to be traded.

Gwen was everything.  I wasn’t sure of her in the first chapter; there seemed to be something too soft, too timid about her, she quickly dispelled those fears.  Her unique intelligence and ability to look beyond the propaganda she’d been served her entire life gave her a thorny kind of strength, she refused to let anyone close enough to her to sway her from her convictions; any time someone tried to repress her ideologies she struck back with no apologies.  Her desire to bring a revolution to the complacency she’d lived with her entire life was awe-inspiring and a picture of the significance of true feminism.

I was surprised by how much empathy I felt for the End Men.  Two days ago, I would have easily told you that I would implement the exact system that existed in this book.  Today, I would tear down the walls trying to prevent something like that from ever happening.  To people who think that romance isn’t an intellectual genre, that it has nothing to offer the world, you’re wrong and this book, this dystopian romance that expands on a society we’ve all postulated about, exemplifies just how much romance has to teach the world.

I have read several books from both Tarryn Fisher and Willow Aster, some I’ve loved and some I’ve absolutely hated.  And for that, I find them both to be must-read inkslingers, anyone who can make me feel so profoundly after reading the words they’ve put on paper is doing something incredible.  I have never left a book by either author without feeling their stories deep in my soul and, to me, that is the surest sign of a superb author.  This book joins a long list of their books that go beyond a story to become an experience.

If you were to ask me what I would remember most about Gwen ten years from now I’d tell you that it’s not her wild looking hair, or her exotic cat eyes, or her perfect breasts and their rosy nipples which balance perfectly in my hands … it would be her reckless defiance, which she displays any time she’s angry. And though she doesn’t get angry often, when she does there are always casualties.

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Tarryn Fisher is the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author of nine novels. Born a sun hater, she currently makes her home in Seattle, Washington with her children, husband, and psychotic husky. Tarryn writes about villains.

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Willow Aster is the author of True Love Story, In the Fields, Maybe Maby, Fade to Red, and Lilith. Willow loves nothing more than writing the day away—anywhere will do. Her husband and two children graciously put up with her endless daydreaming and make fun of her for reading while cooking.

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Perfect Love Story by Natasha Madison ~ Sarah A’s Review & Excerpt

When one man’s death exposes a complex web of lies, three couples discover the true meaning of love, loss, and redemption.

Hailey

What do you do when you find out your whole life was a lie?

That your husband really wasn’t your husband but someone else’s.

That the vows you made to each other were simply empty promises.

You pick up and move to the country to start fresh.

When life hands you limes, you make sure you have tequila because your life is about to get stirred up.

Jensen

Married to my high school sweetheart, the best thing she gave me was my baby girl.

But we weren’t enough for her. I wasn’t enough for her.

The last thing I expected on my birthday was a Dear John letter, but that’s what I got when she upped and left.

Now, it’s just me and my girl against the world till the new girl moves in next door.

Is there such a thing as a perfect love story?

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Perfect Love Story wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it delivered the goods. I loved Jensen and Hailey, Mila was a doll, and the grandmothers – save one – gave me life. I hope to be as amazing as all of them were when I get to be of a certain age. This book had a little laughter, a lot of heartbreak, and a good helping of healing.

I was hooked from the first scene of Perfect Love Story. It started with such an emotionally taxing scene and then kept building layer upon layer of pain and devastation, I was fully invested in Hailey’s journey to finding herself by the time her Nanny intervened on her wallowing. Hailey was so broken, so blind-sided by who her husband was, her raw and visceral pain oozed from the pages.

The first half of this book was so rich, learning about Hailey’s husband and the fallout from his death, her moving and meeting Jensen’s family – particularly his fabulous grandmother and adorable daughter, finding out what Jensen’s ex-wife had done. I was so enraptured with all of it I didn’t even realize how much I’d read; it was that good.

I kind of loved how antagonistic their relationship was at the beginning and that Hailey didn’t let him get away with his foul behavior. As their affection for one another started making itself known, and they agreed to start over, their chemistry became palpable. They were wonderful together, and I loved how they allowed one another the space and time they needed to reconcile their respective pasts in a healthy way.

My only wish for this book would have been to have more conflict near the end. There was so much that had gone on in the beginning and in Jensen’s past the story didn’t feel lacking, but I felt like the story was lacking a climax.

Perfect Love Story is the first book in Natasha Madison’s Love series. Each book is about a different couple and is interconnected. Despite each book covering a different relationship, I have a feeling reading them all in order is going to make for the best understanding of the dynamics. Perfect Love story is told in present tense in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Hailey and Jensen.

I picked up this novel at the suggestion of one of my favorite authors, Natasha Madison was a complete unknown to me. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The story was engrossing, the characters were well-developed, and the writing was good. I will definitely be reading more of Ms. Madison’s work.

Chapter One
Hailey

“Hello.” Turning down “Glorious” by Macklemore blasting in the background while I washed the kitchen floor with Pine Sol and water, I answer the phone after the first ring.

“It’s me.” I hear my best friend and cousin, Crystal, say from the other end. “Where are you?” I can’t see her face, but I know something is wrong. Even though she’s asked me that question a million times before, this time it’s different. There is no carefree tone. This time, it’s curt and to the point with no laughter in her voice.

“I’m home,” I say, almost whispering as my hand shakes against my ear. My mouth suddenly goes dry, my neck starting to get hot. Something inside my stomach suddenly drops when a slow burn sets in.

“You need to come to the hospital.” Crystal is an emergency room nurse at St. Mary’s, so whatever feeling I was having before has now doubled. “Blake is on his way to get you.” When she mentions my brother, I now know something is gravely wrong. The honk outside doesn’t allow me to question her any further. “You need to get in the car, okay?” she says softly but firmly. “Listen to me, Hailey. Go outside and get here.” My head nods as the hand holding my phone to my ear falls away.

The front door opens, and Blake comes in, looking at me with sorrow and sadness. His brown eyes meet mine briefly, and then he looks down. He doesn’t say anything to me; he simply holds out his hand to me. I put my hand in his, and he leads me out to his truck. He opens the door for me, helping me take that step in.

As I’m looking at him, he pulls the seat belt over my chest and buckles me in. My mind’s still playing the phone call, trying to dissect the conversation. Trying to find one little word that can be the clue. “It’s going to be okay.” His voice breaks through the haze.

I nod my head at him, then he steps back and shuts the door, jogging over to his side. He gets in and puts the truck in drive. I’m on the outside looking in, watching my life fall apart without knowing it.

The only thing I’m certain of is that the sun is shining without a cloud in the sky. As I watch a bird soar through the sky almost in the same direction we are going, I think to myself, Bad things don’t happen when it’s sunny outside, right?

I watch the bird, not even realizing we’ve made it to the hospital. I don’t have a chance to open my door because Blake has it opened before I even think to reach for the handle. “You’re going to be okay,” he assures me as he raises his baseball cap to run his hands through his short dark hair.

“What’s going on?” I have a feeling my entire life is about to change, so I beg him to tell me before we walk through those doors. Blake doesn’t answer. He just reaches down to grab my hand and lead me through the revolving doors.

The harsh smell of antiseptic immediately fills my nose. Voices bombard me, though, none of them are familiar. Glancing around, I take in the hustle and bustle of the emergency room. My heartbeat echoes in my ears as I try in vain to locate a familiar face. I just need to know who we’re here for.

As we silently walk down the corridor, my mind never stops thinking about why we are here. I look up at Blake, asking the one question that makes my heart squeeze with such intense pain, it feels like it might explode.

“Is it Mom? Dad?” I can hear the pleading in my tone. He gives me nothing, continuing to look straight ahead. My eyes go back to the floor, following the tile pattern as we make our way beyond the entrance to the emergency room. The first thing I see is both of my parents, alive and healthy. My mother has tears running down her cheeks, and my father has his arm around her shoulders. They are standing next to the nurses’ station. I look back at Blake in horror. “Is it Nanny?”

He doesn’t have time to answer because Crystal comes out from behind the nurses’ station in her everyday uniform of blue scrubs and Crocs, wearing a stethoscope around her neck.

With one glance at her face, I stop my feet in their tracks. My feet are stuck to the floor as if someone crazy glued them to that spot. I can see the hurt and tears in her eyes. She looks at me with her head tilted sideways, her bottom lip trembling. My body blocks any movements I try to make. I try to advance to Crystal, but I can’t. My knees start to give out, and a horrible shrieking sound comes from somewhere.

I try turning my head to see where the yelling is coming from, but I can’t. I’m on my hands and knees in the hospital corridor. It isn’t until the coldness seeps through my hands that I realize I’m the one screaming. That wretched sound is coming from me. Me. My throat raw, my eyes burning, and my heart irrevocably broken. No words need to be said. No confirmation given. I don’t need them to bring me to a place where we can “talk quietly.” It’s at that moment I finally know what everyone else knows.

My husband is dead.

The Love Series is coming.

When one man’s death exposes a complex web of lies, three couples discover the true meaning of love, loss, and redemption.

Three couples, three different stories!

***  PREORDER NOW ~ RELEASES June 5,2018  ***
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 Broken Love Story ~ Cover Reveal June 29, 2018
***  PREORDER NOW ~ Releases July 10, 2018  ***
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When her nose isn’t buried in a book, or her fingers flying across a keyboard writing, she’s in the kitchen creating gourmet meals. You can find her, in four-inch heels no less, in the car chauffeuring kids, or possibly with her husband scheduling his business trips. It’s a good thing her characters do what she says because even her Labrador doesn’t listen to her…

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Lie to Me by Natasha Preston ~ Sarah A’s Review

At nineteen, Savannah Dean escaped her family, leaving behind a note and the people who caused her so much pain.

Now, she lives on her own and keeps to herself.

At nineteen, Kent Lawson’s girlfriend betrayed him, leaving him behind with a broken heart and a whole lot of mistrust in women.

Now, he lives on his own and shares himself with nearly every pretty thing that walks by but only for one night.

When Savannah and Kent meet, they can’t stand each other.

Kent knows she’s hiding something, and he despises liars.

And Savannah has nothing but secrets.

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Lie to Me had highs and lows.  Some parts were so poignant I could feel the emotion as if I were experiencing it with the characters and other moments seemed so ridiculously overblown I had a hard time reconciling them with the rest of the story.

Once I got rolling with the story I was hooked, I wanted to know more about what had happened to Savannah and her family, Kent’s previous relationship intrigued me, and I loved everyone in Kent’s life.  Kent and Savannah’s back and forth, their contemptuous interactions were highly entertaining.  On more than one occasion I found myself chuckling at how ridiculous they were being.  And their chemistry?  I totally felt it; it oozed off the pages even before they really acknowledged there was more than physical attraction between them.

Lie to Me is a tiny bit insta-lovey, but sometimes, when you know you know.  Despite the expediency of Savannah and Kent’s relationship, it felt real.  The vulnerability they demonstrated, how they felt like they were themselves again, it all screamed trust and love.  Savannah and Kent had a connection that went beyond a physical connection, it was a soul-deep connection, and I loved witnessing them explore it.

My first struggle with Lie to Me came as soon as I opened the book.  It was obvious it took the author some effort getting this book off the ground.  The writing felt forced – there was a lot of strange over-explanations and awkward telling-not-showing moments.  To the point I nearly DNF’d the book before I had really given it a chance, the writing was that off-putting.  Fortunately, I had the foresight to look farther into the book to see if the writing improved, because so much of this book was terrific.  If Ms. Preston could get some help refining the first few chapters, it would make a world of difference.

My final struggles with this book all came around the same time.  There were a couple different climaxes in this book, and I struggled with both of them.  The first felt too overblown, regardless of any history of any character the reaction demonstrated didn’t feel realistic, especially given the circumstances, for the reaction.  I just didn’t buy it.  The second, more significant climax was a little better, but again, I didn’t understand the motivation.  The secondary character who was at the apex of that scene needed more fleshing out for me to get on board with his actions.

Lie to Me is a standalone novel.  I would love to see another couple books in this world, as some of the secondary characters were so intriguing.  It is written in dual first-person perspective, narrated by Savannah and Kent.

Natasha Preston is a new to me author, and I can see that she has promise.  I feel like she could be a phenomenal writer with a little more practice and a bit more concentration on fleshing out the motivations of her characters.  Having a little more backstory would have gone lightyears for me to have really bought into the entirety of the story.

Wednesday rolls around way too fast. I have a whole evening with Savannah. It’s been really nice these past four days that she’s been out of my life. Yet, the whole time, I’ve been craving the way we snip at each other.

I need help.

I cut my engine outside her building and look up. Apparently, she lives up on the first floor and faces out toward the road.

Is she looking at me right now?

Why I feel the need to get out and buzz her apartment, I don’t know, but somehow, I find myself getting out of the car and walking toward the building. I stop at the front door, realising that Heidi told me what floor Savannah is on but not the number. Or she might have told me, and I just didn’t listen.

This is a great start.

I’m about to call my sister when I see Savannah through the glass, walking down the stairs to ground level.

Fuck me.

Has she always looked like that?

She’s wearing a pair of dark blue skinny jeans and a grey off-the-shoulder shirt, but she looks sexier than any other woman I’ve ever seen in a little dress.

Why don’t I like her again?

Her steely eyes, looking even more prominent with the colour of her top, warily eye me. Our last encounter wasn’t exactly pleasant.

She opens the door and smiles. “Hi, Kent.”

My back stiffens. “Savannah.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind taking me tonight? I can Uber.”

And there it is. This is why she fucking bothers me so much. I feel like telling her to call a fucking Uber then. She always sounds so unsure of herself, like every tiny thing a person does for her is some massive inconvenience. Why?

“It’s fine,” I spit.

She folds her arms, carefully because her fractured arm hasn’t healed. It does take away a little of the dramatic flair she was going for. “Do you need to take a nap before we go?”

“What?”

“You’re cranky.”

“You’re too polite.”

“Being polite is a bad thing?”

I flex my jaw. “Yes.”

“Fine. Get in the car, and take me.”

The intent behind her words is clear; however, I hear it completely different and laugh.

She rolls her eyes. “Don’t be a knobhead, Kent. Take me to your parents’ house, I mean.”

“Knobhead. I’ve not heard that one in a while.”

Savannah takes another long breath. “I really don’t know why I thought accepting a lift from you would be a good idea. In fact, I didn’t. I still think it’s a bad idea.”

“You always follow through with bad ideas?”

“Tonight, I am.”

Fuck yeah. I love this fighting side of her. It’s like, when I rile her up enough, the cover slips, revealing the real Savannah. I’m not sure if she’s hiding something the way Freya was.

“You should work on that. I don’t do anything I don’t want to.”

She tilts her head to the side, fire and determination in her eyes. “Oh, you wanted me to come tonight? And you wanted to be the one to pick me up?”

“You’re hot when you’re angry, Savannah.”

Actually, she’s hot all the time. It’s just, right now, she’s the whole package.

“You always use bullshit like that to deflect from someone calling you out?”

“You’re the first woman to call me out.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” she mutters.

“Do you want to argue on your doorstep all night or get to my parents’ for dinner? I’m cool with either, just checking to see which way you’re leaning.”

She drops her arms, one still bound tightly in a splint. “I’m hungry.”

“Excellent, let’s go then.”

UK native Natasha Preston grew up in small villages and towns. She discovered her love of writing when she stumbled across an amateur writing site and uploaded her first story and hasn’t looked back since.

She enjoys writing contemporary romance, gritty Young Adult thrillers and, of course, the occasional serial killer.

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NOW AVAILABLE: Burn So Good by JH Croix

Ella

Life isn’t fair. I know that lesson well.

I said goodbye to Caleb ten years ago.

The boy I once loved is man now—a rugged, s*xy as h*ll man.

As a hotshot firefighter, he’s all about saving others.

Life ripped us apart, stealing more than I could’ve imagined.

Time didn’t heal all of my wounds, and time never let me forget what we once had.

Once again, he comes to my rescue.

This time, I’m running from a different set of demons.

Maybe this time we have a second chance.

 

Caleb

Fire burns hot and bright. It can destroy everything.

Just like it destroyed what I had with Ella.

What comes out of the ashes is stronger than ever.

Ella meant everything to me once upon a time.

We were young and foolish when tragedy tore us apart.

She went running, and I was too torn up to chase after her and make it right.

They say time heals all wounds.

Some things never die, and the fire between us burns hotter than ever.

I’ll do anything to keep her safe, to make her mine.

***  AVAILABLE IN KINDLE UNLIMITED  ***
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Caleb

My heart kicked up a notch just being close to her. It had been five years since I’d seen Ella. She looked up at me through the rain, her green eyes bright in the gray light. I felt as if I was spinning back in time—emotions jostling against each other in the process. I’d loved Ella fiercely once upon a time.

“I think so. Dana said I just need a few stitches, right?” she asked, her gaze swinging to Dana Halloran, one of the EMT’s on the scene.

Dana nodded from where she stood, turning back to Ella, her eyes bouncing between us briefly. She squirted disinfectant on a cotton ball, carefully dabbing at the cut on the side of Ella’s forehead. “That looks like all you’ll need. I’ll just clean this up and we’ll get going. They’ll take care of the stitches at the hospital.”

Ella looked back at me. “See, just a few stitches.”

“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” I said as Dana carefully taped a piece of gauze over the cut.

“You don’t need to do that,” Ella replied.

Dana stepped away and spoke to the ambulance driver. I focused on Ella. “I’ll meet you there,” I repeated.

“Caleb, you don’t have to take care of me. I’m…”

A flash of anger rose inside. I might not have been thinking too clearly, but for God’s sake. Ella had once meant everything to me. Then, everything went to hell.

“Ella, you just had a car accident. Is it absolutely necessary to act like we mean nothing to each other?”

 

Ella

We stared at each other again. Oh God. It felt so good to be close to him. For the first time in years, I felt like I could relax. I wanted to wrap myself in Caleb and stay there forever.

My next words startled me. “I miss you.” The moment those words escaped, I wanted to grab them and stuff them back inside. I didn’t need to blurt out all kinds of crazy, emotional stuff. This wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

Caleb stared at me, the hand circling on my back finally pausing. He swallowed, the sound audible in the room. My awareness of him was so heightened the hair on the back of my neck stood up. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed you,” he nearly growled.

Emotion was rushing through me, mingling with desire that should’ve seemed out of place given everything that had happened, but it didn’t. Wanting Caleb came as easily as breathing to me. It always had. I’d forgotten how powerful the draw was. Raw joy rose through the scrum of tattered regret and lingering pain, striking against that desire like flint to stone.

This was me, this was Caleb. Us. There had never been anyone but him in my heart, and my body knew it. He strummed every chord of my being simply by existing in space and time near me.

With a muttered imprecation, he dipped his head, kissing one corner of my mouth and then the other. Oh geez. I was a sucker for corner kisses, at least when it came to him. Two more kisses dusted at the corners of my mouth and then I sighed. His tongue swiped along the seam of my lips, and I let go with a low moan.

USA Today Bestselling Author J. H. Croix lives in a small town in the historical farmlands of Maine with her husband and two spoiled dogs. Croix writes steamy contemporary romance with strong independent women and rugged alpha men who aren’t afraid to show some emotion. Her love for quirky small-towns and the characters that inhabit them shines through in her writing. Take a walk on the wild side of romance with her bestselling novels!

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Lie to Me by Natasha Preston ~ EXCERPT REVEAL

At nineteen, Savannah Dean escaped her family, leaving behind a note and the people who caused her so much pain.

Now, she lives on her own and keeps to herself.

At nineteen, Kent Lawson’s girlfriend betrayed him, leaving him behind with a broken heart and a whole lot of mistrust in women.

Now, he lives on his own and shares himself with nearly every pretty thing that walks by but only for one night.

When Savannah and Kent meet, they can’t stand each other.

Kent knows she’s hiding something, and he despises liars.

And Savannah has nothing but secrets.

***  PREORDER NOW ~ RELEASES APRIL 23, 2018  ***
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Wednesday rolls around way too fast. I have a whole evening with Savannah. It’s been really nice these past four days that she’s been out of my life. Yet, the whole time, I’ve been craving the way we snip at each other.

I need help.

I cut my engine outside her building and look up. Apparently, she lives up on the first floor and faces out toward the road.

Is she looking at me right now?

Why I feel the need to get out and buzz her apartment, I don’t know, but somehow, I find myself getting out of the car and walking toward the building. I stop at the front door, realising that Heidi told me what floor Savannah is on but not the number. Or she might have told me, and I just didn’t listen.

This is a great start.

I’m about to call my sister when I see Savannah through the glass, walking down the stairs to ground level.

Fuck me.

Has she always looked like that?

She’s wearing a pair of dark blue skinny jeans and a grey off-the-shoulder shirt, but she looks sexier than any other woman I’ve ever seen in a little dress.

Why don’t I like her again?

Her steely eyes, looking even more prominent with the colour of her top, warily eye me. Our last encounter wasn’t exactly pleasant.

She opens the door and smiles. “Hi, Kent.”

My back stiffens. “Savannah.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind taking me tonight? I can Uber.”

And there it is. This is why she fucking bothers me so much. I feel like telling her to call a fucking Uber then. She always sounds so unsure of herself, like every tiny thing a person does for her is some massive inconvenience. Why?

“It’s fine,” I spit.

She folds her arms, carefully because her fractured arm hasn’t healed. It does take away a little of the dramatic flair she was going for. “Do you need to take a nap before we go?”

“What?”

“You’re cranky.”

“You’re too polite.”

“Being polite is a bad thing?”

I flex my jaw. “Yes.”

“Fine. Get in the car, and take me.”

The intent behind her words is clear; however, I hear it completely different and laugh.

She rolls her eyes. “Don’t be a knobhead, Kent. Take me to your parents’ house, I mean.”

“Knobhead. I’ve not heard that one in a while.”

Savannah takes another long breath. “I really don’t know why I thought accepting a lift from you would be a good idea. In fact, I didn’t. I still think it’s a bad idea.”

“You always follow through with bad ideas?”

“Tonight, I am.”

Fuck yeah. I love this fighting side of her. It’s like, when I rile her up enough, the cover slips, revealing the real Savannah. I’m not sure if she’s hiding something the way Freya was.

“You should work on that. I don’t do anything I don’t want to.”

She tilts her head to the side, fire and determination in her eyes. “Oh, you wanted me to come tonight? And you wanted to be the one to pick me up?”

“You’re hot when you’re angry, Savannah.”

Actually, she’s hot all the time. It’s just, right now, she’s the whole package.

“You always use bullshit like that to deflect from someone calling you out?”

“You’re the first woman to call me out.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” she mutters.

“Do you want to argue on your doorstep all night or get to my parents’ for dinner? I’m cool with either, just checking to see which way you’re leaning.”

She drops her arms, one still bound tightly in a splint. “I’m hungry.”

“Excellent, let’s go then.”

UK native Natasha Preston grew up in small villages and towns. She discovered her love of writing when she stumbled across an amateur writing site and uploaded her first story and hasn’t looked back since.

She enjoys writing contemporary romance, gritty Young Adult thrillers and, of course, the occasional serial killer.

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Such Dark Things by Courtney Evan Tate ~ Excerpt & Blog Tour

From New York Times bestseller Courtney Cole, writing as Courtney Evan Tate, comes the psychological thriller that will keep readers up turning pages long into the night, SUCH DARK THINGS! “Written in breathless style, this page-turner relies on quick thrills, surprise twists…[for] readers seeking a fast entertaining tale…”(Publishers Weekly).Grab your copy of SUCH DARK THINGS today!

I thought I knew him. He thought he knew me. We were both wrong…

Dr. Corinne Cabot is living the American dream. She’s a successful ER physician in Chicago who’s married to a handsome husband. Together they live in a charming house in the suburbs. But appearances can be deceiving—and what no one can see is Corinne’s dark past. Troubling gaps in her memory mean she recalls little about a haunting event in her life years ago that changed everything.

She remembers only being in the house the night two people were found murdered. Her father was there, too. Now her father is in prison; she hasn’t been in contact in years. Repressing that terrifying memory has caused Corinne moments of paranoia and panic. Sometimes she thinks she sees things that aren’t there, hears words that haven’t been spoken. Or have they? She fears she may be losing her mind, unable to determine what’s real and what’s not.

So when she senses her husband’s growing distance, she thinks she’s imagining things. She writes her suspicions off to fatigue, overwork, anything to explain what she can’t accept—that her life really isn’t what it seems.

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I scan through my texts.

None from Corinne. I’m oddly disappointed, even though she never texts me during the day. The ER keeps her too busy. But still. I thought she might text after this morning’s sex.

One from Michel.

How are you doing?

And several from a number I don’t recognize.

Hi there. It’s Zoe from Vilma’s.

Damn it.

I swallow, and I read her other texts.

You left your credit card at the café this morning.

Do you want to meet me so you can have it back ASAP?

I feel a jolt. First, fuck. I left my card someplace? I can’t even remember the last time I did that. How irresponsible. I practically don’t have a credit limit, so a thief could have a field day with it.

Second, how weird that she’s texting me. So weird.

I can just pick it up from Vilma in the morning, I answer. Thanks for letting me know.

I see the three bubbles on my text screen signifying that she is answering. So I wait without putting my phone down. The idea of who is on the other end of the phone gives me a jolt, a thrill, even though my initial thoughts about the girl weren’t flattering. She might have clear daddy issues, but she has an ass you could bounce a quarter off of. It strokes my ego that she’s texting me.

I actually have the card with me. I didn’t want anything to happen to it. I’m in town running errands. I could meet you for lunch?

Another jolt.

She wants to meet for lunch? Is this for real?

What a kind offer, I answer and my heart literally pounds. But I would never impose on you like that. If you’re working tomorrow, I’ll pick it up then.

There are three bubbles. She’s typing.

But nothing comes through.

I wait.

The three bubbles are still there, then they disappear.

Still nothing.

I can’t help but picture her in her overly-tight waitress uniform. The bright blue complemented her skin tone, and her tits were busting out of the top. The skirt was short, and it’s quite possible that she made it that way on purpose.

For a minute, being a red-blooded man, I picture that ass bent over a chair, her uniform skirt hitched up to her hips. Her lacy panties would be shoved to the side…and I think she’d be shaved.

I indulge for just a second, then I push the images out of my head. It’s a fantasy. That’s all.

I’m normal.

I love my wife.

I miss my wife.

Corinne is my world.

I jam my phone into my pocket as my door opens with my next patient.

“Mr. Ford,” I greet the elderly man in front of me, the one with OCD who is at this very moment wiping his feet on the carpet as he walks to wipe away all germs from his shoes. He does it a thousand times a day. “I’m so glad to see you. How have you been?”

He takes a seat in the chair across from me, careful to keep his right foot crossed over the left, and for the next hour, I’m immersed in the world of an obsessive man. This week, his new habit is stepping on a particular stair-step on his porch precisely four times every time he goes home.

We discuss coping mechanisms, and the chemical reasons that OCD could be at play in his brain, and when we’re nearly done, I find him staring at the portrait of Corinne and me sitting on my desk.

“You’re a lucky man,” he tells me, and his cloudy eyes are pensive. “I lost my Helen a decade ago. I haven’t been the same since.”

No, he hasn’t. His OCD emerged that year, when he was lost in grief.

“I am lucky,” I agree. “My wife is a brilliant woman.”

“She’s a looker, too,” Mr. Ford observes, and I try to see the picture through the fresh eyes of a stranger.

Corinne’s eyes are bright and blue, her hair long and blond. She’s thin, she’s trim, she’s tall. Her legs are long, her smile bright.

She is a looker. Sometimes I forget that.

Probably because I haven’t seen her in days and days.

I hide my stress. My patients don’t get to hear my very real and very human problems.

We finish our session and Mr. Ford leaves, and I wrap up my notes. When I’m finished, I’m surprised to realize that it’s lunchtime.

Ginny pokes her head in. “Hey, boss. I’m going out for lunch. Should I bring you something back?”

I could meet you for lunch?

Unbidden, the texted words flash through my mind, and guiltily, I push them away. Fuck, man. Not cool.

“I’m good,” I tell Ginny, and I think my words have a double meaning. I’m good. I don’t have straying thoughts about a woman who isn’t my wife. Not real straying thoughts.

Ginny leaves, and I grab my jacket, and as I do, my phone buzzes, and I think my wife might’ve texted me back.

I’m startled when I see that I’m wrong.

It’s not Corinne.

It’s a picture.

Of Zoe.

I was right. She’s shaved.

My heart thuds as I stare at the nude picture.

Her tits are big and full and her thumb is brushing her nipple, her other hand caressing her shaved vagina. Her eyes are big and turned to the camera in a sultry gaze, and she’s completely and absolutely naked.

Are you freaking kidding me?

I swallow hard, and it’s not like I haven’t been hit on before. I have. But this is different. It’s so blatant, so outrageous, and frankly, in some hidden and shameful spot, it turns me on.

Fuck, man.

I’m sorry, I’m married, I reply, typing with shocked wooden fingers.

Because I’m good. The stiffness in my crotch doesn’t count.

Three bubbles.

That’s fine, she answers. Do you want a girlfriend?

Sweet Jesus.

She can’t be serious. Is her generation so blatant and direct?

No, I answer. Sorry.

Three bubbles.

Hmm. We’ll see.

 

Courtney Cole is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist who would eat mythology for breakfast if she could.

She has a degree in Business, but has since discovered that corporate America is not nearly as fun to live in as fictional worlds.

Courtney was born and raised in rural Kansas, but has since migrated south. She now lives in Florida and writes beneath palm trees.

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Rebel Heir by Penelope Ward & Vi Keeland ~ Excerpt Reveal

How to kick off a great summer in the Hamptons:

Snag a gorgeous rental on the beach. Check.

Get a job at a trendy summer haunt. Check.

How to screw up a great summer in the Hamptons:

Fall for the one guy with a dark leather jacket, scruff on his face, and intense eyes that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the tony looking crowd.  A guy you can’t have when you’ll be leaving at the end of the season.

Check. Check. Check.

I should add—especially when the guy is your sexy, tattooed God of a boss.

Especially when he not only owns your place of employment but inherited half of the town.

Especially when he’s mean to you.

Or so I thought.

Until one night when he demanded I get in his car so he could drive me home because he didn’t want me walking in the dark.

That was sort of how it all started with Rush.

And then little by little, some of the walls of this hardass man started to come down.

I never expected that the two of us, seemingly opposites from the outside, would grow so close.

I wasn’t supposed to fall for the rebel heir, especially when he made it clear he didn’t want to cross the line with me.

As the temperature turned cooler, the nights became hotter.  My summer became a lot more interesting—and complicated.

All good things must come to an end, right?

Except our ending was one I didn’t see coming.

Rebel Heir is the first book in the Rush Series Duet.  Book Two, Rebel Heart, will release six weeks later on May, 22, 2018.

***  iBooks EXCLUSIVE EBOOK PREORDER  ***

Rebel Heir: book 1 ~ Releases April 9
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“All done.”  I found Gia in the yard sunbathing.  Of course, she had to be lying on her stomach so I could get a closer look at her ass.  It was fucking phenomenal. Like a chubby, upside-down heart from where I stood. I’d spent the last hour pretend fixing her car and picturing her riding me reverse cowgirl, those ass cheeks jiggling like fucking Jell-O while she rode me hard.  I had to force my eyes to her face and clear my throat to continue. “Here are your keys. Your rotors were shot, too. In the future, don’t ride on bad brakes. It just turns a little problem into a big one.”

She shielded her eyes from the sun and twisted her neck to look up at me, still not flipping over to her stomach.  “Oh. Okay. Thanks. Can I make you some lunch? It’s the least I can do to repay you for hours of working on my car.”

Is that ass on the menu?

“No.  I have to get going.”  

She lifted from flat on her stomach to on her knees in a yoga-like pose, taking her sweet ass time before turning over.

“Are you sure?”  She bit her bottom lip.  “You’ve had to have worked up an appetite.”

Is she fucking with me?  I had an appetite alright.  “I gotta run.”

I sounded like a broken record, yet here I still stood.  My head wanted to get the fuck out of that yard, but my traitorous feet wouldn’t move.  Not even when she stood up, turned around and practically rubbed her ass against me as she held up suntan lotion.  “Could you rub some sunscreen on my back before you go? I don’t want to burn.”

No.  “Sure.”

“Thanks.”

I took the sunscreen and squeezed a glob of creamy white lotion into the palm of my hand.  Swallowing hard, I began to rub it into her back. Her shoulders were warm and soft with the tiniest little layer of fuzz on it.  It reminded me of a peach. My mouth salivated at the thought of biting into her.

“Could you do a little lower?”

My breathing became labored and my cock swelled as I lowered my hands and rubbed into the middle of her back.  I was breaching into dangerous territory.

“Lower” she said.  I knew from her breathy voice that I wasn’t the only one aroused.  

I lowered to just above her bathing suit bottom and rubbed lotion all over.

When I finished, she turned her head so I could see the side of her face and closed her eyes to whisper, “lower.”

Fuck me.  

I couldn’t stop myself.  I reached for the creamy sunscreen and squeezed enough into my hand to cover a large person’s full body and then began to rub it into her ass cheeks.  She had the most unique heart-shaped mole on her left side that was perfectly symmetrical. I ran my fingertips over it. When I trailed a pool of lotion to the top of her ass crack, and slowly rubbed it in tracing the material of her bathing suit in between her cheeks, she let out a low moan.  

More.  Make more sounds like that.

Rebel Heart: book 2 ~ Releases May 22
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Penelope Ward

Penelope Ward is a New York Times, USA Today, and #1 Wall Street Journal Bestselling author of thirteen novels. With over a million books sold, her titles have placed on the New York Times Bestseller list seventeen times. She is the proud mother of a beautiful 12-year-old girl with autism (the inspiration for the character Callie in Gemini) and a 10-year-old boy. Penelope, her husband, and kids reside in Rhode Island.

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 Vi Keeland

Vi Keeland is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestselling author. With more than a million books sold, her titles have appeared in over fifty Bestseller lists and are currently translated in fourteen languages. She lives in New York with her husband and their three children where she is living out her own happily ever after with the boy she met at age six.

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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  ****
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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.

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