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Friday, July 24, 2015

A Haunted Romance by Sindra Van Yssel


Blurb

Chelsea moves out to her deceased aunt’s house in the country for some peace and quiet. It seems like the perfect spot for a mystery writer to hole up and be away from people. She doesn’t believe her brother’s claim that her aunt’s old house is haunted, it’s just in need of some good care. With two helpful and handsome neighbors in Trent and Dalton, she thinks she’s in pretty good shape, even if the two men don’t get along very well. But there’s something going wrong in the house -- strange sounds, slamming doors, falling objects. She’s got a mystery of her own to solve, and she’s determined not to leave until she solves it -- and until she figures out if the man who pleases her body is worthy of her heart as well.

When she finds the erotic writings of Minerva, a frustrated resident of the house from a century ago, she thinks she has an idea of who might be haunting the house, but why is the ghost so dangerous? And which of her neighbors can she trust?


Excerpt

Chelsea Krakowski drove her yellow Volkswagen Jetta up the steep and muddy gravel driveway. She sighed with relief once she reached the end of it and parked. Her Aunt Pat’s old house loomed off to the right, built two stories tall despite the expanse of the land, the paint peeling from its wooden shingles. On the driver’s side, thick green brush grew wild wherever the rocky hillside had allowed it purchase, a marked contrast with the deep red of the leaves that were still on the trees.

She’d been warned the house was not in the best of shape. Then again, her sister-in-law, Jacey, had even claimed the place was haunted. Under the terms of her aunt’s will, the house would have belonged to her brother if he had lived there for one year. Arnold and Jacey had lasted a week and come running back to the suburbs, at which point, by the will, the house became Chelsea’s, but it had been several months before she’d been able to get the key and the deed. After Jacey’s story about the ghost, dutifully backed up by Arnold and both of their “high-spirited” children, Chelsea figured they’d have told her pretty much anything to dissuade her from taking possession. But she didn’t need to live in the house to own it; Pat’s will didn’t have any such provision for the property once it reverted to her. She could even sell it if she wanted to, but she had looked forward to the idea of living in a pastoral setting, writing in blessed solitude.

She was beginning to have second thoughts.

She stepped out of the car, breathed in the fresh air, and the second thoughts were briefly dispelled. She grabbed her jacket from the shotgun seat. It was cooler out in the foothills of the Blue Ridge than it was in the DC suburbs, just enough so to make a difference. Still, it was a relatively warm day for early November, a nice break after a couple of days of cold rain.

She tromped around to the back of the house and surveyed her property. What once had been Pat’s farm had a year’s growth of weeds on it. She could still make out the depressions marking the place where rows of crops--corn, soy?--once stood. She had no idea. She didn’t know much about farming. She did know she’d inherited a hell of a backyard to mow. She’d have to get one of those tractor mowers or pay someone to take care of it for her once she’d gotten rid of the weeds and planted grass seed. There was a shed too to investigate later. What looked like it might be a bed frame leaned against it. Jacey had told her the shed was full of black widows and brown recluses, but then again Jacey had told her the house was haunted.

Chelsea walked back to the front, congratulating herself on having had the good foresight to wear hiking boots instead of her usual tennis shoes, even though they looked particularly clunky with her midlength blue flower print dress. Jeans would have been more practical, but she hated how she looked in jeans, and she wanted to make a good first impression with the neighbors. She needn’t have worried. From out back, she could see a few neighboring farms built on the flat, and any neighboring dwellings were blocked from view by trees. Privacy, just like she wanted.

She noticed with slight annoyance the splatters of mud on the recently washed Jetta and marched up the steps with determination. She wasn’t backing down just because of a few inconveniences. She’d drink sweet tea during the day on the big front porch, typing away on her laptop, and celebrate the better days with a peach julep in the evening.

They creaked. Loudly. But the porch itself was solid enough. It just needed a fresh coat of white paint. The house was old, she knew, built sometime in the nineteenth century. The porch was made of wood and fit nicely, but she presumed it wasn’t that old. How long did a wooden porch last? She’d find out the house’s history if she could. Those kinds of things fascinated her. Maybe there was a local paper with a back file to go through, or perhaps it would take a trip to the county historical society.

She tried the key in the lock, and it didn’t fit. For a moment she thought perhaps Arnold had given her the wrong key on purpose, but then she remembered she had two, and one of them supposedly went to the shed out back. She tried the other one. It turned perfectly.

It looked gloomy inside, but with the curtains shut and no lights on, that wasn’t too surprising. She walked inside and over to the large window in front and pulled open the curtains, strands of dust from them falling onto her hair and shoulders. She coughed a couple times and then smiled. The window let in a fair amount of natural light, enough to read by if she put a couch near it.

She scanned the room. It was completely bare. The floors were good--solid oak, she thought--and the inside walls were hard plaster. But the terms of the will had been quite clear--“the house and everything in it”--and somehow she rather doubted that Aunt Pat had lived her life completely without furniture. Given that the windows were in good shape, and a thief probably wouldn’t bother to lock the door behind himself, it seemed her brother and his wife had taken the chance to make some quick money.

This was the first time she’d been to her aunt’s house; her parents had never gone to visit, although she’d been taken to other relatives more distant both in relation and geography. Chelsea felt bad she hadn’t gone once she’d become an adult either. She’d met her aunt three times--twice at family reunions, and once at Chelsea’s own wedding. The last event was the only one she was sure Pat had been invited to--and what a disaster that had been. Actually the wedding had gone off without a hitch; the disaster was the next ten months until the divorce. Ralph had a law degree and had actually attempted to get alimony from her when they broke up, as if he couldn’t earn plenty if he’d been willing to work. She earned enough money from writing the Cat Connors mysteries to support herself but not any extra to spare for a lazy ex-husband.

He hadn’t even been any good in bed. He’d been good-looking and charming, and that was about it.

Something smelled up ahead, and she had a bad feeling about it. Sure enough, it was coming from the kitchen. An open pizza box sat on top of the range. It had probably been there for months. Ugh. She looked for the light switch and flicked it on. To her surprise, the bulb lit up nicely. She’d called ahead to get the electricity turned on, but given the living room, she’d half expected to find the bulbs missing or burned out. At least one worked. There weren’t a ton of insects running around either, although a little blur of white scurried for cover in a crack between the oven and the wall. She’d take mice over cockroaches any day. Hopefully she could find some humane traps in the local hardware store, wherever that was.

She decided she wasn’t feeling quite up to checking out the refrigerator. She had the essentials--milk, cheese, butter--on ice in her car, and they’d certainly last a few more hours out there.

The lack of furniture in the living room had surprised her to the point where she hadn’t really felt like she was inside. A sequence of muddy boot tracks on her oak floor showed her otherwise. She took the boots off in the kitchen and decided the tile was actually a better place for them than inside the front doorway. She’d walk them over when she went back to the car to get her stuff. Her thick socks, she decided, would be enough to protect her from any surprises the rest of Aunt Pat’s house held.

My house.

Well, my house wouldn’t have an old pizza lying around.

She grabbed the box, wondering how much of a meal had been left for the mice by her relatives, and half crushed, half folded it into a shape that would fit in the trash can.

Opening the trash can was a mistake; it smelled worse than the pizza box. But there was a plastic bag in it, so Chelsea pinched the bag closed over the box and tied it shut. Behind the kitchen was a little pantry, thankfully devoid of ancient food, and through that was a back door. She opened the back door and tossed the bag out of the house into the weeds. She’d have to find out when garbage got picked up--they did pick up garbage out here, didn’t they? She couldn’t see any larger, outdoor trash cans, but she’d do some searching later. Right now, that bag needed to be out of the house because a gas mask was not one of the things she’d packed her Jetta full of.

Shutting the door between her and the bag, she took a deep breath. The air definitely wasn’t fresh, but it was at least marginally better. As much as her instincts told her otherwise, she knew the bag wasn’t going to march right back into the house on its own, so she opened the pantry door again. The place needed to air out, badly. The mustiness was getting to her.

She opened the front door too.

Ah. Much better.

There was one other room to explore on the first level. The dining room table, a bare butcher-block kind of affair, was still there. It bore a few stains, and the corners were rounded more from wear than design, but it had thick legs and looked very sturdy. It must weigh a ton, thought Chelsea. And probably has no resale value, which was why it was still there. Nonetheless it was very serviceable and would even look nice once she had a tablecloth on it. There was a cabinet for dishes as well--empty, no big surprise there. Some built-in shelves that might have held knickknacks were bare. She didn’t know whether Aunt Pat’s things had been sold off or simply dumped to be replaced with Jacey’s stuff when her brother’s family had moved in. She shrugged. Her aunt had always been a bit of a mystery, and Chelsea would have liked to have known more.

A loud thump and a crash interrupted Chelsea’s thoughts. The sound came from upstairs. What or who was making that kind of noise?

She froze, unsure of what to do next. Cat Connors would never have hesitated, she thought.

Against her better judgment, Chelsea went to investigate. She’d have called someone to go with her if she’d known anyone, but since the house clearly hadn’t been entered for a while, she decided she’d be safe enough alone, even though she didn’t feel safe.

The upper floor had some furniture, although there wasn’t a bed in any of the bedrooms so her sleeping bag was definitely going to come in handy. Even if there’d been a bed, she wouldn’t have used it with all the dust. Her allergies were going to be in enough trouble as it was, until she got Pat's house cleaned up. Some of the plaster in what had probably been the children’s room for a week looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to it, and she wouldn’t have been surprised if that was exactly what had happened. Chunks of white were still on the floor, along with a fine white dust. She didn’t see anything that would explain the crash, however, until she got to the master bedroom.

A canvas in a dark wooden frame lay facedown on the floor. A tarnished wire was strung across the back, and a hook was in the wall above it. Why it had chosen to fall down right when she was in the house, she didn’t know. Maybe something she had done downstairs had shaken the walls just enough. She shrugged. That didn’t make sense to her, but she didn’t have a better explanation.

She bent down to pick it up when she noticed something else. The dust was disturbed on the floor in a little line leading from the closet door, which was ajar. More mice? There weren’t little footprints, though, and the tracks looked really fresh. More like something had been dragged. Something, say, the thickness of the picture frame.

Chelsea gave a nervous chuckle, which she cut off when the laugh sounded a bit too eerie in the silence. There were no footprints of a picture frame dragger. Cat would know just what to make of it, but she wasn’t Cat. She propped the picture up against the plaster wall, took a look, and raised her eyebrows.

The picture was done in the pre-Raphaelite style. The lush greenery of an idyllic garden surrounded two women, both of whom were naked, although their arms and the scenery were strategically placed to avoid the glimpse of a nipple. One of the women was sitting on a marble bench, her body twisted to look at the other, who was standing behind a wall that came to her waist, leaning forward so that her lips almost touched the lips of the other woman. It was well done--and the sort of thing that would offend the hell out of her homophobic brother Arnold, who was convinced that every time a woman held hands with another they were lesbians and needed to get a room. If he’d sold the living room furniture, he certainly could have found a market for the painting. She couldn’t imagine him leaving it hanging in the bedroom.

She lifted it up and put it back in place. A little bit of nudging and the hook in the wall found a worn spot in the wire where it balanced just right. Brother or no brother, the picture certainly belonged there. Had it been her aunt’s? It wasn’t really Chelsea’s sort of thing, but if it were Pat’s, she’d leave it there for a while.

There was a sound below that echoed--she couldn’t quite make out what it was. She listened. This time it was clearer; a man yelling, “Hello.” She hurried downstairs.

She didn’t know what the man was doing there, but his shoulders sure did fill the doorway nicely. She stared at him for a while, taking in random details. Tanned skin. Long, silky dark brown hair well past his shoulders. No man should have hair like that. But he most definitely wasn’t a girl. The top two buttons on his brown flannel shirt were unbuttoned, and his cuffs were rolled up above his elbows. His hands were big. His forearms were thick. She decided she better say something when she found herself wondering if he was big and thick all over.

“Hello?” It turned into a question because she’d totally lost track of what she should say.

“Trent Johnston, ma’am.” His voice was slow and twangy. To her ear he did sound a bit thick, and not in the way she’d briefly fantasized about. He didn’t enter but did put out his hand, which meant that she had to get off the stairs and cross the living room floor. He just held it there until she was ready to take it and give it a shake. He had a good, firm handshake--he didn’t baby her hand but didn’t move any bones around inside it either.

“Chelsea Krakowski,” she told him.

He nodded, apparently satisfied to hear the name. “Pat’s niece.” Pat was her mother’s older sister and had never married, so she had been a Palmer, but Chelsea shared her brother’s last name. She doubted Pat had ever mentioned her name, so that must be how he figured it out. The fact that he was on a first-name basis with her aunt caught her interest, though.

“I was just checkin’ up. I was afraid you were a squatter. Glad to see you belong.” His gaze swept the living room and then looked back up at her. “You’ve got mud on her floor.”

My floor, she thought, but she didn’t really feel it. “Yeah. I’m going to clean it up real soon, I just--well, there was this smell coming from the kitchen, and I kinda forgot myself.”

Trent raised a thick eyebrow. She could never do that--her eyebrows insisted on moving up or down in concert. She found it vaguely annoying. Who was he to judge, anyway? But she really did feel dreadfully sloppy not to have taken her boots off. All Jacey’s talk about hauntings and spiders, and Arnold’s comments about dangerously bad construction had made her feel less like she was entering a house and more like she was exploring. One didn’t go around exploring in one’s socks.

“Mind if I come in?”

She hesitated. It seemed inhospitable to say no. Back home she’d never have let a strange man get her alone in her apartment, but if he posed a threat, she was already in trouble. The house was shielded from the road, and he could walk in whether she said yes or no if he really wanted to.

“Sure.”

He took his boots off first, left them outside. He peeled off his socks too and stuffed them inside the boots.

“You’ll want a mat inside, because your shoes are gonna get muddy a lot.”

She’d figured that out. “Well.”

He looked around. “Pat’s nephew took the furniture?”

“My brother. Yes, I think so. Just some of it.”

“She had nice stuff in her living room, real fine. I think it was mostly Joann’s doing. She liked everything to be nice for guests.”

Joann. The woman who lived with Pat, as she was called in family conversation when anyone talked about her at all. Chelsea had wondered before, but seeing the picture upstairs made her think that Joann had probably been a bit more than just a housemate. “You knew my aunt well?”

Trent shrugged. “I knew ’em, I guess, as well as anyone. They kept to themselves mostly, but they’d have me over for dinner now and then when they wanted some extra help in the yard or somethin’. The last year Pat needed help keepin’ the garden goin’ out back, but she wouldn’t take as much help as she needed. Joann was a bit more practical.” He looked at her, looking a bit uncertain for the first time since she’d seen him. “No offense meant,” he added. He sounded sincere, which in her experience wasn’t usual when people said that.

Chelsea shook her head. “None taken. I never got to meet Joann, and I didn’t know Aunt Pat all that well. It’s...nice to hear from someone who knew them.”

“She hoped you’d come visit someday.”

Chelsea remembered when she was twelve and the one family reunion. Her mother clearly wanted her to have nothing to do with Pat, so of course she’d hung out with her every chance she could. Pat had told her she could come visit any time she wanted, but it hadn’t been true because her mother wouldn’t let her. When she’d gotten older, she’d written letters a few times every year, but Pat had never made the invitation again. The last few years, she’d only managed a Christmas card. She’d pretty much given up writing anyone real letters. Everyone had e-mail.

Perhaps after all the family rejection, the one invitation had been as much as Pat had been up to offering. Shit.

“You look like I just shot your dog. I’m sorry.” He closed the distance between them, putting his hand on her shoulder. He smelled like earth and man, heavy but not unpleasant. Chelsea almost leaned up against him.

He took his hand away. “Your aunt thought the world of you.”

For what? A few letters? Had she been that lonely? Apart from Joann. That last year alone must have been incredibly rough on her.

“She was pretty cool,” Chelsea said. It wasn’t much of a eulogy, but she meant it.

Trent chuckled. “Yeah, she was at that. You have any other questions, just ask ’em, and I’ll be glad to answer.”

She felt like a bitch for asking what she wanted to know. She had no right, really, to expect anything from Aunt Pat, certainly not her house. But it had bugged her for a year. “Why’d she leave the house to my brother first?”

Trent looked at her for a moment and then finally shrugged. “Pat thought the house was haunted and that the ghost would give him a good scare. I’m afraid she didn’t much care for anyone in her family but you. She was a good woman, but...she’d been nursing a desire for revenge for a long time. People are complex.”

Chelsea’s mind whirled. She quickly revised her opinion of Trent--he wasn’t the country bumpkin she thought he was. People are complex indeed. The rest he’d said was hard to take in too, but she finally settled on one thought. “She thought the house was haunted?”

“Yup.”

“But you don’t.”

Trent smiled. “I never saw any sign of it. Pat said she had the ghost housebroken, and she’d kinda smile. Joann believed in it too. They didn’t make up stuff, as a rule. But ghosts?” He shrugged. “I don’t know. I try not to have opinions on stuff I don’t know nothin’ about.”

“Ghosts don’t exist,” Chelsea stated. And they certainly don’t drag paintings across the floor.

Trent just looked at her for a moment, letting her statement hang in the air. When he finally spoke, he changed the subject. “You’ll need some help out back. If it’s okay with you, I’ll come by tomorrow, bright and early.”

“Um, sure. And thank you. I’m, um, not much of a cook, but I’ll manage something.”

“Need help unloading your car?”

She didn’t really want him to leave. The place seemed warmer with him there, or maybe it was just her who felt warmer. Definitely safer, although Cat Connors never needed a man for anything but a little relief, and it was pretty silly to be scared of a house. “No, um, I’m good.”

He stepped back on the porch. “Nice to meet you, ma’am. Chelsea.”

“Nice to meet you too, Trent.”

She watched, feeling a bit awkward, as he pulled his socks and boots back on. He nodded to her once more and turned to go to his truck. His jeans were tight, faded, and worn.

Nice ass, thought Chelsea.

She had some towels out in her car in one of the boxes she’d brought. Cleaning up the mess she’d made was her next priority, and then she’d move her stuff in and make the place more like home.

She’d cleaned up the mud, placed fresh towels in the bathroom, unrolled her sleeping bag in the master bedroom, tossed her suitcase in next to it, shelved a box full of books in the room with the broken plaster, and set up her laptop on an ancient and battered rolltop desk there when she heard a knock. She resolved to sweep in the morning and hoped her sinuses didn’t suffer too much for the procrastination.

She hurried down the stairs.

The man in her doorway this time was thinner than the first one but just as well built. Where Trent was round muscles, this guy was sleek lines. Short hair, almost a buzz cut. Square jaw. Black jeans, newish, and a deep green quick-dry shirt that hugged his torso.

There was a box of chocolates in his hand.

“Good evening, neighbor!”

Was it evening already? It was getting a little dark out--she’d turned the lights on upstairs without really realizing why. Her tummy rumbled to remind her that it was indeed evening, and the cooler and the microwave still hadn’t been brought in. Maybe she’d just eat chocolate.

“Hi.”

“I’m Dalton Cornick. I’m just down the road. Thought I’d welcome you to Selby.” He looked around. “Looks like you just got here.”

“Yep, just moved in today. Um, I’m Chelsea Krakowski.”

“Ah. I met your brother.” His voice was flat, carefully neutral.

“I’m sorry,” she said and laughed.

Dalton chuckled politely, then handed her the box of chocolates. “Well, I don’t want to disturb you.”

“Oh, you’re not disturbing me. And, um, thanks for the sweets. That’s very thoughtful.”

“All part of being a good neighbor. Listen, if you need any help with anything--I know the house has been abandoned for a while, isn’t in the best of shape. I’m handy with plastering, electrical, plumbing. You name it.” He handed her a card with his number on it.

“Well, so far so good,” said Chelsea. The toilet flushed, the sink ran hot and cold and didn’t leak, and her laptop was charging nicely upstairs. Turning the utilities on ahead of time had worked pretty well.

“A few more months and you’d have had problems with pipes freezing and bursting.”

“Um, yeah.”

“Probably wouldn’t hurt to check them over.”

Dalton sure didn’t sound much like Trent. He sounded, well, more like someone from the city. Maybe he’d been in the army once upon the time, with that haircut. An accent could change with some world travel.

“I’ll run water everywhere,” Chelsea said and then remembered something her dad always did. “And I’ll find the shutoff valves for the pipes that go outside for the hoses.”

Dalton nodded. “I can do that for you if you like.”

Chelsea thought of something else. “And there is a wall that’s a bit messed up, upstairs.”

“Mind if I take a look?”

Dalton was very hard to read. His expression gave nothing away. She wasn’t sure whether that was more annoying than being able to twitch just one eyebrow up or not. If he was offering to do work, however, and she was going to take him up on it, letting him take a look seemed like the right thing to do.

The room with the divot out of the plaster was the same one she’d set her laptop up in. It would make a nice study. In her condo, she did most of her work in the living room, which was great, but it was too easy to decide to crash out on the couch or watch television when she felt uninspired. The upstairs room looked like it had good light, and she intended to keep it free from distractions.

“You have some books in already,” he noted, nodding at the shelves. She’d vainly brought up a collection of her own books, thinking it would make her feel at home. She had Elements of Style and an unabridged dictionary, as well as a few romances and mysteries that were on her to be read list.

“And a computer. Computers are great.” He went over and looked at the wounded wall. “I can fix that. Will take maybe a week after that before I can paint it. You like the color of this room?”

The walls were mauve. “Not especially.”

“What color would you like it?”

“I can handle the painting,” Chelsea said with a smile. I’m not completely helpless.

Dalton shrugged. “Suit yourself. I can be over tomorrow sometime to fix your wall. The sooner I patch it, the sooner you can paint.”

Tomorrow. Trent was coming over tomorrow. Part of her thought it would be awfully nice to have Trent all to herself. For that matter, Dalton was something of a looker too, even if a bit distant. Distance could change. Staggering them had its possibilities.

She shook her head. She hadn’t had sex in a long time, and now she was planning to screw half the town? It was probably safest to have both men around at the same time, actually. “Tomorrow would be good.”

“I’ll come over after lunch, then?”

“Sure.”

He smiled. “Excellent.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets but didn’t make any move to go.

In the awkward silence, her tummy reminded her uncomfortably that she was hungry. She could offer him one of her microwave meals, but she only had enough to last her for a couple days, and she didn’t even know where the grocery store was yet. There was so much to do.

The silence was broken by a shriek.

---

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Julian's Forever by AJ Jarrett. A Warriors of the Light Novel




Blurb

Daniel Young is battling terminal cancer and using what time he has left to find answers to who killed his best friend, no matter what danger it puts him in. With nothing left to live for what does Daniel have to lose?

Julian Salva joined the Warriors of the Light to help put a stop to the evil trying to take over the world and to find his nephew. Never in a million years did he expect to meet a fearless human on his latest mission. The man infuriates Julian with his lack of caution and inability to follow an order. For reasons unknown to Julian he’s falling for the human. If only Daniel was his mate.

Nothing is ever as it seems but there’s no time to find out all the answers. With Daniel’s life hanging in the balance Julian will risk everything for a man he barely knows. Julian prays that this time, time is on his side.


Excerpt


Daniel pulled away and Julian arched an eyebrow in question. “Are you okay?” Julian really wanted this, wanted to have Daniel squirming underneath him in pleasure, but he wouldn’t force the man.

“Yeah, I just…” Daniel popped the button on Julian’s pants and pulled down the zipper, parting the material. “I want to taste you.”

Julian nodded his head, at a loss for words. He wanted that, too.

Daniel went to his knees and, with cool, nimble fingers, pulled down Julian’s pants, taking his boxer briefs along with them. His hard cock sprang forth, the tip glistening with pre-cum.

“God, you’re big everywhere.” Daniel smiled up at him.

“Are you complaining, my little human?” Julian ran his hand over Daniel’s hair, the soft, brown strands tickling against his palm.

“Nope.” Daniel stuck out his tongue and licked over the weeping head. He closed his eyes and hummed, as if savoring Julian’s flavor. “I can’t wait to feel this”—Daniel fisted his hand around Julian’s hard shaft and stroked up then back down the thick length—“in my mouth, then in my ass.”

Julian groaned as he stared down at Daniel tonguing his cock. His breath whooshed out of his lungs as Daniel’s mouth engulfed his veiny length, swallowing him down only about halfway. Julian was impressed. His nine-inch cock wasn’t easy for most men to take. Besides being long, he was also thick, like a beer can. Julian couldn’t wait to feel Daniel stretched tight around him, begging for more.

Daniel hollowed out his cheeks and sucked down even more of Julian’s cock. The wet, hot suction was becoming too much. His orgasm swam right at the surface, threatening to explode if he allowed Daniel to continue his oral exploration.

Julian ran his hand through Daniel’s shaggy brown hair, then fisted his fingers, pulling Daniel’s head back. Big blue eyes stared up at him. Julian gasped at the sight of the pure innocence in those swimming pools of sapphire with the pink lips stretched thin around his arousal. Julian couldn’t wait another moment. He used his other hand to grab under Daniel’s arm, pulling him to his feet. He dove in for a greedy kiss, forcing his tongue past the seam, tasting himself on Daniel’s tongue.

“We can do slow later,” Julian said as he pulled away.

“Yeah, slow later,” Daniel repeated, as if in a trance.

Julian grinned down at Daniel, then gave a light shove to his shoulder. Daniel fell backward, and when his back hit the mattress, he went for the fastening on his jeans, yanking then downward. Julian admired his excitement.

Once Daniel’s clothes had all been removed, Julian stared down in awe of this human. Daniel may have been thin, but his body consisted of lean, corded muscle that wrapped around his short frame. The pale skin made Julian’s mouth water, and he wanted to lick every inch of the man.

Julian shucked off his pants, letting them fall to the floor. He spread Daniel’s legs further apart, then crawled up on the bed. He ran his hands up Daniel’s thighs, and goose bumps pebbled the hairless skin. Daniel’s eager cock stood straight into the air, jerking with every move of Julian’s hand. Julian loved how responsive Daniel was to him. It really was a shame they weren’t mates.

“So beautiful.” Julian bent down and kissed the inside of Daniel’s thigh, moving upward to bury his nose into his ball sack. The strong, bitter smell that seemed to surround Daniel was strong there, but so was his sweaty skin. Julian flicked out his tongue to tease and taste. “And so delicious.”

“Oh god!” Daniel cried out, his back arching as Julian licked a path up his straining length.

Julian smiled around the cock in his mouth and went down deeper. Daniel’s cock wasn’t nearly as long as his own, and it was easy for Julian to swallow his lover whole. The tangy, salty pre-cum flowed from the tip, making Julian hunger for even move.

Julian let his drool slide down Daniel’s shaft to drip down to his balls. Julian swiped up the wetness and used it to tease at Daniel’s clenching hole. The rippled flesh pulsed against Julian’s finger. Julian sat back and pushed Daniel’s left leg up and toward his chest, opening him up. In between the white, hairless crack sat the most gorgeous pink pucker Julian had ever seen, Small and a light, pale rose. Julian looked up at Daniel as he pushed his finger past the outer ring.

“Fuck,” Daniel groaned, his neck arching as his body tightened around the invasion.

“So tight.” Julian pushed in further, the smooth channel sucking him in further. Julian began fucking his finger in and out of Daniel’s tight heat.

“It’s been a while.” Daniel smiled up at Julian as he reached for his cock and pumped his fist on the bright red shaft.

“No touching.” Julian pulled Daniel’s hand off his cock and moved his hand to the side. “I want you so turned on you’re begging for my cock.” Julian added a second finger and Daniel whimpered.

“You keep doing that, it won’t be much longer.” Daniel lifted his other leg, grabbing underneath his knees, then spreading his thighs apart. “Please, Julian. Fuck me hard.”

“God damn.” Julian yanked his fingers free from Daniel’s ass. He spit in his hand and rubbed the wetness over his sensitive cock. He was wound so tight he damn near came in his hand.

Julian walked forward on his knees and placed the swollen tip of his cock at Daniel’s stretched opening. He stared down into Daniel’s eyes as he pressed forward. Daniel’s face scrunched up in pain and his chest heaved up and down. Julian reached out to stroke Daniel’s prick with his other hand. With Daniel distracted with the pleasure of Julian’s hand on his cock, Julian inched in further, not stopping until his balls were pressed up against Daniel’s ass.

---



Monday, July 20, 2015

Artistic Endeavor by Whitley Gray; Campus Cravings Higher Learnings


Blurb


When friends ask one-night stand connoisseur Michael Esteban to introduce college professor and virgin Cobey Miller to the joys of sex, Michael balks. Lust is his thing, not leading a twenty-five year old novice. But shy Cobey has problems meeting men, and their introduction fuels Michael’s decision to help Cobey become a gay-sex-loving guy. It’ll all be fun and games—unless someone falls in love.


Excerpt

In the dimly lit bar, Michael drummed his fingers on the table. “Maybe you should have let me meet him somewhere without you two along as chaperones.”

Eli chuckled. “It took me a week to convince him to meet you. He’d never go for the blind date thing.”

“Well, he’s late. Sure he’ll show?”

“Relax.” Burke massaged Eli’s neck. “He’ll be here.”

Ordinarily Michael looked forward to sizing up a new man. In fact, he’d already taken stock of every guy in the room. If Cobey didn’t show, the bartender looked like a good prospect. Prolonged eye contact, a big grin, and a wink when serving Michael’s beer. Yep, good prospect. Someone new.

Of course, Cobey would be new. Too new. Michael sighed. How was he supposed to introduce himself? Hello. I’m the guy our mutual friends have asked to be your sex instructor. How’s it hangin’?  Yippee.

“There.” Eli nodded at the entrance. “Just coming in.”

For a moment it was too crowded to see much, but the herd of patrons parted. Michael licked his lips. Well, well, well. The picture hadn’t done Cobey justice. Nicely wide shoulders, narrow hips, hair a man could get a grip on. Dark eyes. A perfect mouth—full but not too full. How was it possible this gorgeous male specimen had never been intimate with another guy? And Michael had the opportunity to be the first one.

I can certainly sacrifice myself for the greater good by teaching him.

-----

Buy Link: 

Amazon-  http://www.amazon.com/Artistic-Endeavor-Whitley-Gray-ebook/dp/B00RNE48XQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1420932020&sr=1-1&keywords=whitley+gray



----

Author Links on the Web:

Website: Stop by www.whitleygray.com and feed your fix for heat between the sheets with erotica and M/M romance.


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/whitley.gray


Blog: www.whitleygray.blogspot.com


Twitter: https://twitter.com/whitleygray

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Fae in Fort Worth by Amy Armstrong. Book Two in The Huntress Chronicles




Blurb

The attraction between vampire hunters Ashley and Mitch is evident from the moment they meet, but if they are to have a future together they’ll have to make it through a mission which might just cost them their lives.

Being born blonde, short and petite meant that vampire huntress Ashley Monroe was never taken seriously. She always had to train twice as hard as her fellow slayers to prove she is just as capable of getting the job done. About to begin a mission to find one of the lost grimoires, Ashley fears she might actually be out of her depth. The last thing she needs is a relationship to complicate her life further. Enter Mitch Rakowski.

Tattooed badass and one time vampire slayer Mitch Rakowski has never played by the rules. When old friend Raven calls in a debt, Mitch is forced to pick up his stake for one last time. The minute he and Ashley meet, sparks fly. Mitch makes it clear he wants the feisty slayer, but Ashley fights him at every turn. The attraction which simmers between them soon intensifies, but before they can form any kind of relationship, they have a run-in with the Fai in Fort Worth. The encounter forces them to visit the Fairy Realm―a mission which might just cost them their lives.


Excerpt

“Well?” Roland stared at me expectantly, his brown, overly bushy eyebrows raised high in query. “Do you think you’re up to this?”

I tried not to glare at him but failed miserably. Just because at five foot five I was a lot shorter than the other hunters, with bouncy blonde curls and a petite frame, I often got treated like I was weaker than them—fragile even. It had been the same way my entire life and I was tired of it. I was just as capable if not more so than the majority of the hunters I’d trained with, both women and men. I worked damn hard to make sure I was always in shape and that my skills were honed to perfection. I’d killed a lot of vampires and there was nothing I detested more than people like Roland—my new handler at the Hunters’ Council—underestimating me.

Just like my parents before me and their parents before them, I’d been born a slayer. It was in my blood. I hadn’t chosen my profession on a whim and I resented Roland’s question. Why wouldn’t I be up to the task? It was my job. I did it every single day without fail, and I excelled at it.

“Just give me the details,” I said through gritted teeth, amazed I’d refrained from calling him an asshole.

Roland chewed on his bottom lip as he studied me. He must have seen something in my expression that swayed him because he sighed heavily then nodded his head. “Fair enough. Though I do need to warn you, this job is…unusual.”

I drew my eyebrows together while I waited for Roland to elaborate, but when he wasn’t forthcoming, I asked, “Unusual how, exactly?”

As a slayer, it was my job to kill vampires and the odd werewolf who had gone rogue. We rarely got involved in issues with any other supernatural species, however, so Roland’s statement intrigued me.

“Well, there’s this angel,” he began, averting his gaze from mine. “And this demon…”

“Oh, hell no!” I started backing away from his desk as though there was something on it that could bite me. “No way.”

I might have been great at my job, but demons were an entirely different kettle of fish. I’d heard that they could kill you with just a look. In my experience angels weren’t much more accommodating. If this job involved either, then Roland might very well have been right—maybe I wasn’t up to this task.

It was only when Roland’s gaze met mine, his expression challenging, that I realised he’d tricked me. We’d only worked together for a short time, but he was well aware how much I hated people thinking I wasn’t capable, that I couldn’t do the job as well as the other hunters who were bigger and stronger than me. He’d used that fact to his advantage and I was impressed. My face broke out into a wide grin.

“You sneaky son of a bitch!”

Roland puffed out his chest like a damn peacock. “Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment. So, about this demon issue…”

“Fine,” I muttered begrudgingly. “But if I die on this job, I’m coming back to haunt your ass. Count on it.”

Roland turned his back to stare out of the only window in his small office at Council headquarters, but not before I noticed a slow smile spreading across his lips. “You know, I always figured you for a glass-half-full kind of gal.”

I pointed to the back of his head and threw in a glare for good measure. “Roland? Don’t push your luck.”

 * * * *

Standing outside the ranch-style house, I knocked on the door then took in my surroundings as I waited for an answer. Roland had put me in touch with Raven, an old colleague of mine, and when I’d spoken to her on the phone earlier, she’d told me to meet her here. I hadn’t seen her in years so I had no idea what she could be doing in a place like this. It was a nice home in a nice area.

Hunters moved around so often that we didn’t put down roots. We lived out of suitcases in low-rent motels until we hung up our stakes and decided to pop out a few kids who would be trained to be the next generation of hunters. Well, that was what most of my colleagues did. I liked my job too much to ever see myself settling down with a husband and a house full of rug rats.

From what I understood, Raven had been tasked with finding one of twenty-something grimoires which were scattered around the country. Demons had decided to escalate the war against angels which had until recently been contained. The grimoires held secrets on how to raise demons from the Underworld, but the ultimate goal was to raise Lucifer himself. To do this the demons needed to get their hands on the grimoires. This was not good news. My fellow hunters and I had enough problems dealing with all the damn vampires and now we had to deal with demons too.

The book that Raven had been tasked with finding had been in the sights of a demon. Raven had recovered the book, but she’d only barely made it out with her life, so her handler at the Council had called in the help of the other slayers. The race was now on to find the rest of the books before they fell into the hands of demons.

---


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Redeemed by You; Vranthian Vampires Book 3 by K.A. M'Lady




Blurb

In Vranthia, The Wasting has claimed the lives of women, children, and warriors alike; many have fallen to this great plague. No one is safe from its darkness. Recklessness and subterfuge walk hand and hand amongst the Elders, as they seek a means to rule. With ferocity they intend to control the meek, with gluttony they will bleed the docile; destroying all who stand in their way.

But The Wasting can no longer be contained. What began as a dark elixir, stoked in the veins of hatred and revenge, from an enemy long thought dead, has spread beyond the great halls of the Vranthian Kingdom. And no one is certain when or where its darkness will end. Is the mystery and magic of the trion enough to save this great nation?

Kantella Balacjek is a lot of things, but a traitor to his people he is not. He needs to find the source of the darkness to prove his innocence, but the evidence against him grows almost daily. Lies told and enemies made have a way of shielding the truth from the light, even when the truth rages in the blood. Death and her harbinger await him. Will he succumb, or will The Wasting consume them all?

The Darengy grave-warriors have always walked in the shadows. But even they have their outcasts, the creatures that they fear. Onya knows what it is to be different, to be alone with the dying. The shadows and darkness hold their whispers and their pleas. Only she has the power to choose who crosses over. Enslaved by the resistance, she has learned the capacity for evil. Does her blood hold the power to seal the fate of many nations? Does she the courage to change that fate?

Mercenary, loner, wanderer – Traegar is one of the first among the Elders. He is a maker and destroyer of life. Time has jaded him. His people’s level of debauchery and power disgusts him. When the Great Wars ended he chose to walk away and hunt what he despises and loves the most; burying the pieces within him instead. Now his kindred are dying in droves. The Elders have grown unruly, and unstable in their bid for domination. In his dreams the whispers of the ancients fire his blood with the heat of the mating.

Will finding his trion redeem his faith in his people? Will their belief in each other be enough to set them all free? Strong are the Binds of Love, Faith and Magic.


Excerpt

They found her standing at the balcony entry, the golden light of Vranthia’s three moons silhouetting her figure in the shimmering folds of her long, sheer gown. Her room was lit by firelight and moonlight only, the effect stunning against her pale skin and impish figure. When she turned her blue eyes on them, each were lost to her sultry, knowing gaze.

Their twin growls of hunger reached her, and Onya couldn’t help the laugh that escaped.

“You toy with danger unlike you’ve known, my sweet,” Traegar gruffly warned.

“I am braver than you think, mercenary.”

Kantella reached her first, his quick strides and firm strength encompassing her against his length. He folded her against his body, the warm heat of his lips brushing her neck as he whispered, “One of the bravest.”

“Only the bravest to be our mate,” Traegar agreed, tipping her head, stealing her sigh of pleasure with his insistent lips.

Surrounded and encompassed by them, Onya had never felt more safe and secure in her life. Desire burned through her limbs, need quivering in her belly. She clung to Traegar, the wet heat of his tongue delving, tasting, and consuming her. All the while, Kantella wove his own brand of magic against her flesh. His hands cupped her breasts, his erection rubbing against her; pressing her tightly against Traegar’s eager flesh.

They turned her in their arms so that she faced Kantella, making quick work of removing her gown. She stood between them, naked but for her low sandals, her skin glowing in the moonlight. Her long, pale hair flowed to her waist.

“So beautiful,” Kantella rasped, his lips swallowing her gasp.

----

Buy Link:  

Mojocastle Press- http://www.mojocastle.com/romance-book-genres/redeemed-by-you.html#sthash.H3NqP5DV.dpuf

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Half-Ling: Bloody Promises by Allison Grey


Blurb

Newly wed half-vampires Reney and Ahulani have just had their first child, and they couldn’t be happier…if they didn’t live in constant fear of the vampires Jane and Marian. The cousin of the vampire Richard, Marian is a notoriously sadistic intellectual who will stop at nothing to please his lovers. When the half-lings find out Jane will only be satisfied with the murder of their daughter, they must travel to the homeland of the vampires to try and make the first move in a horrifying race to save their daughter.

Only a head vampire stands a chance in a fight with Marian Popescu, and Reney can think of only one with any incentive to assist…. He wants his throne back. Reney wants her life back. But will their worst enemy really team up with them without turning on the half-lings himself?


Excerpt:

He kissed her, and they embraced for a moment before Reney became aroused as her body caressed her lover’s. The pregnancy hadn’t taken much of a toll on Reney’s figure, and the weight had wilted off her tall frame in a matter of a few weeks. Even if it had not, Reney wouldn’t have minded. ‘Olina was everything she had ever dreamed of. The moment her baby was born, an intense and instantaneous love struck. It overtook her so much she found herself in tears at moments. With Ahulani beside her, it was somehow easy to forget all the horrors they

had seen since they had met last year. Richard was the hardest to try and stop thinking about. He was the vampire who had lured Reney to the Hawaii in order to drink the blood of a half-vampire, and Reney hadn’t even known what she was yet. She was a half-ling, a half-vampire, and the blood of her kind was like ambrosia to the full vampires. They had faced him again in Romania. It was there that Reney’s former best friend, Jane, had killed him. The two women had worked together in New York as interns at So Glam magazine. Their cubicles had been side by side, and a close friendship had formed between them. But their entire friendship had been no more than a ruse, a plot to lure Reney into Richard’s hands. Jane was also a half-ling, but had known her entire life. She had been obsessed with Richard. Infatuated to the point of madness. She had killed Richard when she found out about….

Reney shook away the thought. It was all in the past now. A mistake. Jane, now a full vampire after drinking Richard’s blood, hadn’t made contact with them thus far. But Reney had feared retribution from Jane, who became furious when she found out Richard had seduced Reney. This had all taken place while she was with Ahulani, further galling Jane and mortifying Reney to the point of denial. After she had slept with him, Richard revealed to her that a special half-ling like Reney would be unable to resist the charms of a full vampire. He had used it to his advantage, to try to mate with Reney and produce an heir for himself.

It was better that he had died. Reney had been terrified of an attack from Jane while she was pregnant with ‘Olina. The pregnancy had passed peacefully though, if one did not count morning sickness. Reney suspected now that Jane had regretted killing Richard shortly after the fatal staking. Hopefully she had gone too mad with grief to even seek revenge. Jane had never been one for biding her time. Reney took solace that Ahulani’s family, all powerful half-lings, surrounded her. She may be able to raise their daughter in a rather normal, safe environment. At least, she hoped so.

But for now, they had a rare moment together. The first few months of ‘Olina’s life had been constant waking and feedings, and she treasured her private time with Ahulani in a whole new way.  She breathed in Ahulani’s scent. That sweet cinnamon fragrance he seemed to exude from his very pores. Reney kissed her husband, the man who had put a ring on her finger immediately after discovering the pregnancy. It had all been so fast, but Reney was fine with that. She knew in her heart she was meant to be with Ahulani for eternity.

“Kiss me, you fool,” Reney said, and rolled away from him.

He grabbed her by the shoulders and she giggled as he flipped her over.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he smiled.

He pressed his mouth to hers, engulfing Reney in his charming aroma, coveting her. She sighed. Within a few moments, her satin nightgown lay on the floor next to Ahulani’s clothing. Reney moaned, enjoying every touch as his warm hands explored her breasts. He handled her body as if she were a new and fascinating lover every time he was with her.

It was faster than either of them would have liked. Ahulani writhed his warm, soft hips into her own, shaking her insides faster and faster until he ground her pussy into a shuddering orgasm. She bit her lip in an attempt to not wake the baby Her efforts were foiled by a knock on their door. In the middle of the night, it would most certainly be unwelcome news.
 
Ahulani jumped under the covers while Reney struggled to get her nightdress on. She tried her best to pull her hair back into something suitable for company, a smooth style that wouldn’t give away their activities. Olina had awoken, and Reney picked up the squealing infant. She pressed her daughter close to her heart. More than anything, motherhood had come naturally to the half-vampire. The birth of ‘Olina had sealed her bond with Ahulani to the core, bringing new life to their love.  She was surprised to find Ahulani’s father at the door.
 
“Akua,” she said. “What brings you here at this hour?”
 
Akua, who was usually in bed by nine, rarely came by the apartment. He favored meeting in the common area downstairs, as his limbs were stiffening and he found it hard to make it upstairs. He did not partake much in the drinking of animal’s blood with the rest of the family. Akua wished to die at a typical human age, rather than live out the two hundred plus years he might acquire as a half-ling. Reney moved ‘Olina to her other hip in nervousness. If Akua had come up to the apartment, he must have important news for them.

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Buy Link- http://www.evernightpublishing.com/half-ling-bloody-promises-by-allison-grey/

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dangerous Promise by Gwendolyn Cease



Blurb


A frazzled mother of two, Kate Harris does the best she can trying to balance life, but it’s not easy. Her daughters are her focus, but sometimes she wishes there was more. The more being the hottest man she’d ever danced with while out at a club. But that was the club and has nothing to do with real life.

Grimm is an Ancient and a Hunter. His normal prey is blood-addicted vampires, but now he’s got a new target. He met her one time on a dance floor and can't get her out of his mind.

When Kate and Grimm meet again, he promises himself he won't let her go. She doesn’t understand why someone as handsome as him wants to hook up with her. But when their two worlds collide, he’s the only thing standing between her, her children and darkness.


Excerpt

Kate Harris bustled around her small kitchen, cleaning up the dinner dishes. The evening news played low on the television in the living room as the last bit of winter sunlight disappeared. The floodlights she’d installed all around the house clicked on as they sensed the approaching darkness. The house, locked and fully alarmed, was once again ready for night.

None of the occupants looked forward to the night. In fact, each one dreaded the coming of the dark. The dark brought nightmares and terrors and memories. Kate forced her mind away from the sadness and toward the two girls who sat at the kitchen table. Both of them worked on their homework and, outwardly, seemed content. In fact, everyone who knew them in this new city would consider them a typical family—single mom, with two nice young kids, but no dad in the picture. Sometimes, Kate really wanted that to be true. It would have been so much easier than the truth.

The truth was ugly and scary. The truth required Kate to purchase and learn to use a handgun, something she’d never imagined doing before. But murder did that—drove the survivors to do whatever they had to do to feel safe and bring order to a chaotic situation.

Kate closed a cabinet and glanced over at her nieces—now her daughters, since her sister’s murder nearly two years before. Of course, they’d really been hers from birth. Janie had never been able to take care of them. Hell, she could barely take care of herself. Her sister.

Dammit, Janie, if only you hadn’t been so flighty and careless and…

She stopped the thoughts. Too late, it was too late. Janie was dead. Murdered by someone who was still out there. The cops had investigated as far as they could, but then nothing. No leads. No one coming forward. Silence. Possible robbery? Possible drug deal gone wrong? Lovers’ fight? They had looked at every angle, but all they’d found were dead ends.

Kate had done everything she could. She’d asked questions and reconnected with people she’d rather forget in an attempt to help the police. Hell, she’d even pointed the police in the direction of the group her sister had joined. Kate refused to call them a church, as Janie had. More like a cult. The cops had questioned them, but, as with every other lead, nothing. Kate knew there was more going on with the group. Her sister had been cagey when discussing what went on at services, though had gone on and on about the preacher who headed the group. How magnetic he was and how he was filled with a secret knowledge he was going to share with her. But the whole time she’d talked, Kate had known there was something wrong. Finally, Janie had asked if she could take the girls with her.

“Maybe for a week,” she’d said. “I’m going to be allowed to move to the next level within the church and I want the girls to go. To see. It’ll be good for them.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Kate said. “You can’t take the girls.”

“They’re my kids!” Janie had yelled, stomping her foot.

“Yes, and I have custody because you can’t take care of them. I’m sorry, Janie, but no. In fact, why don’t you stay with us? Don’t go. Stay here with me and the girls. We’ll relax and go to the movies. It’ll be fun.”

But this time, this last time, Janie had shaken her head. “No, you don’t understand. The church and preacher are helping me. Things are going to be so much better. But I need the girls to go with me.”

Something in her sister’s voice or maybe her face had sent a shiver down Kate’s spine. There was something not quite right. Janie never wanted the girls. She treated them like pretty dolls to be picked up and played with when she could spare the time. Normally, Kate would cheer if her sister wanted to come by and spend time with them, but not this time.

The argument has escalated until Kate had forced her sister from the house. Screaming obscenities and threats, Janie had driven away. That was the last occasion Kate had seen her sister alive. Whatever happened, she hadn’t moved to any next level. Whatever the next level was had gotten her killed. Kate was sure of it. But she hadn’t had the time or energy to put into her sister’s investigation. The girls needed her. Abby had been six and Olivia only four at the time of Janie’s death. The girls’ father had left before Olivia’s birth so there had been no one else.

“I’m done,” Olivia announced, pulling Kate away from her thoughts. “Check me.”

Kate moved over to study the sheet of math problems. “Perfect.”

“Yay for me.” Olivia popped up out of her chair and stuffed the sheet into her Monster High backpack. “Can I listen to my song on the stereo? Please?”

“One time, then you take a bath.”

Kate followed Olivia into the living room and flicked off the television. She turned the stereo on and pushed the play button for the CD. Believe by Cher thumped through the speakers, and the little girl began leaping around the living room, dancing her heart out. Dark hair flopped about as she tossed her head and waved her arms.

Kate backed up and smiled as Olivia pranced and primped through the room to the music. The kid loved Cher and, if it was possible, Kate was sure within her small body lurked the heart of a gay man. When the song ended, Olivia clapped enthusiastically.

“I think I’m going to dance to this for the school talent competition,” Olivia told Kate excitedly. “We need to come up with an outfit for me to wear.”

“You got it.” Kate picked up the little girl and swung her around. “Tomorrow. Right now it’s bath time and then a story before bed.”

“You’re the best, Momma,” Olivia declared, hugging her.

Kate hugged her tight as tears stung her eyes. Olivia had been so little when Janie had died, she didn’t remember her. Kate had told stories about Janie to the girls, but to Olivia, they were just that, stories. Kate was the only mother Olivia had ever known.

“Can I have bubbles?” Olivia asked as Kate carried her into the bathroom.

“Not tonight, but how about tomorrow since it’s Friday?”

Abby poked her head around the door. “Are we going to the bookstore?”

Kate nodded. “Of course, it’s Friday and we always do the bookstore on Friday.”

“Can we get a book?” Olivia asked.

“Don’t you get books every Friday?” Kate asked as she turned on the water to fill the tub.

Both girls nodded with smiles on their faces. They loved going to the bookstore, and Kate loved taking them. It was something they could do together that made both girls happy, which for Abby had taken quite a while. Kate hated having to tell the little girl that her mother wasn’t coming home—it had devastated her. Now, two years later, Abby was finally coming out of her shell and smiling more. If it took going to the bookstore every Friday night, Kate was more than willing to do it. She wanted her niece safe and happy.

“Can we have fun coffee?” Abby asked.

“You can have drinks, but I think we’ll save the coffee until it can’t stunt your growth,” Kate teased.

After baths and stories and more chattering about the next afternoon’s bookstore trip, both girls climbed into bed. Kate tucked and kissed, then did what she always did. She made another sweep of the house, checking to make sure everything was locked up tight and the alarms were set. Once completed, she could finally head to the small desk set up in her bedroom and work. She hadn’t always worked from home or worked during the night, but it had become necessary after the girls had come to live with her.

No, she thought, that was wrong. It wasn’t the girls who had brought about the night time hours. Right after Janie’s death, the cult she had run with had actually contacted Kate about having the girls live with them. The person who’d called had stated that it was what Janie would have wanted. There had then been harassing phone calls and a number of attempted break-ins. She’d gotten a lawyer and contacted the police, but the unease had grown until Kate had packed them all up and moved far away.

She didn’t know what they wanted with the girls. Hell, she hadn’t asked. But Kate didn’t want any of them near her girls. So they’d moved and moved again. After two years, they were settled, but she was wary. If those people had truly murdered Janie, she was not going to let her guard down. Ever. Hence, the state-of-the-art alarm system in the house, and the gun she kept close at hand. She also rarely went out without the girls. She knew that no one would or could protect them as well as she could.

Though, Kate believed, her friend Tori could definitely be trusted. She and Tori had met in high school and became fast friends. They’d attended college together and had roomed all four years so, when it became necessary to find somewhere else to live, the other woman had asked her to come. Kate couldn’t think of a reason not to. She liked the idea of moving to a place where she knew someone, so she and the girls had packed up. Now, they had a fairly normal life, and Kate was even going out occasionally. Tori’s brother, Deacon, stayed with the girls during the brief time they were out. The last time was to the new club where she’d met Grimm or, as Tori called him, Hotness-on-a-Stick. And wow was Tori right—he was hot. But she hadn’t seen him again, not that she’d expected to. A man who looked like that had to have a hundred women hanging off him. He wouldn’t remember her again if he tripped over her. But damn, he certainly inspired some steamy fantasies.

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