COMING SOON: Take Me With You (Mercury Folds #2)

Coming Sunday September 19th

(Contemporary Romance)

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What happens when the five members of Mercury Folds, the most popular boy band from twenty years ago finally find the true meaning of a happily ever after with their soul mate….

Video yoga instructor, and owner of the popular Meow Mew Cat Café, Jenna Oakes is trying to make a name for herself as an on-line sensation. She gets more than she bargains for in the sensational department, when during a rain storm, a tall, dark and handsome man rushes into her café with a stray cat he found in his fancy Corvette. Before she can figure out who he is, he leaves behind the feline, and a very generous donation as a thank you. Her mysterious visitor doesn’t stay that for long because during an alumni career day at her old high school, she’s shocked to meet him again. This time she recognizes him as Keegan Knowles the mega star actor who was once a teen heartthrob member of the former, world-famous boy band Mercury Folds.

Keegan has made quite the impression on Jenna, which leads to what she believes is a quick fling. But when he asks her to come back with him to California for an amazing opportunity that could skyrocket her online career, she has to decide if she’s willing to accept the dream he’s offering. He tempts her in ways she has never imagined, even though their hot and heavy love affair could suddenly end once he returns to the celebrity world of Hollywood he’s so comfortable with, and one she may never fit into.

Excerpt:

As co-owner of the Meow Mew Cat Café, I opened two Sundays a month and had since the café had launched. Using part of my inheritance from my parents who died in a plane crash when I was thirteen, I started the café with my best friend Dinah, who was a huge animal lover. I was a big cat aficionado even though I never had any pets—cats or otherwise—until I was on my own. But my real calling was yoga. Meow Mew was more of a hobby but a fulfilling one.

I wished I could say I was fulfilled now, but, from the moment I left my apartment, things had not gone my way. Because of the rain, my usual curly hair was a frizzy mess. I put it into a puffy bun, making my honey-brown eyes look too round, which they were, but at least when I kept my hair down, people’s attention strayed from my too-round and too-spaced-apart eyes that accentuated my “pert” nose. The pert description was from my older sister Bette who was being kind.

Skittles always joined me the days I worked at the café, and she was very whiny this morning, meowing nonstop on the ten-minute car ride. She was not a fan of the rain, either. Instead of baking and setting up the expresso machine, I cleaned out the litter boxes first. For some reason, the ten cats in the hygienic glass sanctuary had used the litter boxes more than usual during the night. Cleaning out litter boxes full of cat poop added to my frustration. And what was worse, I couldn’t even wake up properly because I didn’t drink coffee or espresso. The irony that I hated the taste of coffee but worked around it twenty-five hours a week wasn’t lost on me.

I finished scooping out the dirty litter from the boxes when there was a loud banging on the front door, causing me to drop the too-heavy garbage bag, which tore on the bottom. Clumps of shitty cat litter covered the entrance to the backroom where the cats had become very vocal for their breakfast.

I should have taken some deep breaths, but I cursed loudly. Skittles, lying on the counter where she shouldn’t be but I allowed, yawned in response.

There was more banging on the front door, from what looked to be a man in a hoodie covering his head, hunched under the awning, holding something to his chest. His head was down, so I couldn’t get a good look at his face, either.

If this guy thought I was going to open the door for him, he was in for a big surprise.

“We don’t open for another forty-five minutes!” I shouted, surrounded by shitty spilled cat litter.

“It’s an emergency.” His voice was muffled through the rain. He then unzipped his hoodie halfway down, and a tabby cat’s head popped out.

Ohmygoodness! I rushed to the door and unlocked it. I knew self-defense, so if he was a serial killer who used cats to get to his victims, I would take him out. A sweep to the leg would do it.

He entered, not as soaked as I’d expected but damp enough that I found myself shivering even in my baby-blue fleece sweatsuit. With his head still down and covered by the hoodie, he handed me the black and orange striped cat.

I lifted the meowing cat to my face, and it licked my nose, making me smile.

My hope he wasn’t a serial killer visitor pulled his hoodie off his head, showing an arresting, tanned face that made me snuggle the cat. This man who had invaded my morning was very easy on the eyes. He had a rugged handsomeness with more than a few lines on his face, but it added to his appeal. Also, his brown eyes that reminded me of dark chocolate were hypnotic.

“Do we know each other? You look familiar, but I don’t think you’re from around here.”

He ran his palms over his pointed chin that had a good dusting of scruff. “I guess I have a face people can trust.”

“I never said you have a face I trusted.” I winced as the cat’s claws jabbed my arm. I did a quick inspection to see what gender the poor kitty was then set her on the table next to me.

“Ouch.” He smirked but not in an egotistical way, but more…awkward cute. This guy had to be near forty or thereabouts. For some reason, even under the strange circumstances, I thought him cute.

“What’s the deal with this cat, and why did you bang on my door during the wicked rain storm? Even though this is a cat café, we don’t accept cats off the street.” I waved at the sanctuary.

He scanned the area as if he didn’t have a clue what type of business he had invaded. “I saw the light on and the cats through the glass, and I thought it was best to bring my unwanted guest here. No vet is open, and I have a breakfast meeting in a half hour.”

“This isn’t your cat?” The calico sniffed the top of the desk and hopped to the floor.

“I found the cat in the backseat of my rental Corvette. I guess the furball wanted a warmer place to sleep in the parking garage and jumped in the ’Vette because I left the top down. It’s a good thing you’re right around the corner from the Hotel Belmont, where I’m staying.” He glanced over his shoulder as the wind rattled the glass and the rain intensified.

“You’re driving a Corvette as a rental? Did you get a discount?” This guy must have a sweet job to rent a luxury car.

He shrugged. “I prefer to drive in style, even if it’s to visit Keansbury.”

He said it so matter-of-fact and lacking snobbery that I stopped from making some droll comment.

“Looks like she’ll fit in here.” He pointed at the cat batting the glass of the sanctuary.

“I can’t take her. She has to go to the vet first.” I cursed when I saw the spilled litter.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m not having a good morning, and it’s not because of your sudden visit. Want to sweep up some day-old kitty litter spilled on the floor?” I ran my hands through my hair, forgetting I had pulled it back. My hair fell around my shoulders.

“Wow,” my visitor, who I had yet to ask his name, said in what sounded like awe.

“Huh?” I turned around, blinking as a sudden wave of exhaustion hit me. Maybe I should hold my nose and down a shot of expresso…

“Ah, never mind.” He took out his cell and nodded. “I have to go.”

“Wait, sir.” I grabbed his sleeve. “We’re not done here.”

“My brother Austin is waiting for me… Shit.” He removed my hand but squeezed it for some reason.

“You brother is waiting for you in your car?” Skittles must have become curious because she meowed in tandem with the new cat.

“You have no clue who I am?” He chuckled. “Austin is going to get a kick out of this.”

“Austin?” I was more confused than ever. “Is this some kind of joke, Mister? Am I being filmed—”

A cat screeched, followed by a growl behind me. Skittles jumped off the counter and chased the calico into the back room where more cats cried out.

“Crap!” I booked it back there to stop the possible kitty carnage that might occur between Skittles and the new cat.

I defused the situation quickly by grabbing Skittles, who settled in my arms, while the new feline hopped on my desk to sleep. Aww, she really was a cutie for a stray. Suddenly remembering the mysterious, hot, not-a-serial-killer guy, I hurried to the front, but he was gone. All that remained of him was a stack of bills on a table that, when I finished counting, equaled to one-thousand dollars.

I sat, mystified at what had happened. This might be the start to possibly the strangest week of my life.

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Reckless Devil (Mercury Folds #1)

(Contemporary Romance)

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What happens when the five members of Mercury Folds, the most popular boy band from twenty years ago finally find the true meaning of a happily ever after with their soul mate….

Holly is living her dream as a romance novelist, who also works at her aunt’s bookstore in her hometown of Keansbury, New York. As single, career-minded woman who’s a few years away from forty, she hasn’t been looking for love. But when her high school sweetheart, Austin Knowles, the lead singer of the once popular boy band Mercury Folds ends up signing his new autobiography at her bookstore, he turns her life upside down.

Austin hasn’t just returned to his hometown as stop on his book tour, but to reconnect with Holly after leaving her behind for fame and fortune. He’ll try to convince her to give him another chance after so many years apart. And why wouldn’t she since he was the inspiration for the hero in her first book that made a name for herself? He may have once been a reckless devil but after so many years of living the rock star lifestyle, he wants to settle down with the one woman who always held his heart.

Excerpt:

His touch was more comforting than sexual. I rarely talked about my situation with Nolan, not even with my mother or with Aunt Madeline. When I was younger, they would ask about the men I dated, including Nolan who they assumed I was serious with. But I always blew them off because the likelihood of me marrying was low. I blamed it on my head being in the clouds when it came to romance and love, which fueled my writing. I refused to settle.

“I guess it’s sad I’m two years away from forty and never thought of marriage or….” My face warmed in embarrassment.

“Hey, I’m here to listen, not judge.” He set his hand on my nape and massaged it.

“I’ve never been in a serious relationship or had a boyfriend. I’ve dated, but nothing stuck. Nolan is…or was a lover.” I tried to smile, but my lips were numb.

He drew me under his arm, and I settled in his side. He played with the tips of my hair falling out of my braid. “You probably know I was engaged once because it was all over the Internet and in every entertainment magazine and tabloid imaginable.”

“I was honest when I said I didn’t always keep tabs on your career or your private life,” I mumbled, ashamed for not keeping track of his life just because I was once offended and hurt for him leaving me behind. It was better to pretend he didn’t exist, but every so often I would read or hear a piece of news about him and the hurt came roaring back.

“It’s probably best you didn’t. The last few years I was in Mercury Folds were ugly because of my partying. After rehab, I still needed a crutch to keep me from falling back to destructive forces.”

“Like sex?” I meant to come across as teasing, but he must have taken me seriously. He faced me, his expression showing a bleakness that cut straight to my heart.

“I wanted intimacy but not the type I had with groupies or one-night stands like during my Mercury Folds years. I made the mistake of getting involved with another singer, who was in a former girl band. Her name is Lola Ionesco.”

“Now that’s a singer I know. Isn’t her father the owner of Ion Records?”

“Yup. My record label.” He took my hand. “We had history before we became a couple. She was also in rehab for the same type of issues I had. We bonded over our experience and were together for four years. When we got engaged, we both were trying to make it as solo artists. She was acting also, and became more high profile than me. But things grew rocky when my solo album got nominated for the Grammys, and hers didn’t. Some of her movies didn’t do well at the box office, and she was spending too much money. She became addicted to shopping and wouldn’t stop. It all came to a head when I told her I wanted a pre-nup.” He snorted and then released a hollow laugh. “We fought over it, among other things. We had some blow-ups. She then ended up cheating on me with another big-name singer.”

“That singer got her pregnant, and they’re married now.” I may not be up on all my pop culture celebrity gossip, but I did know about the situation because of all the parties involved. There were too many rumors flying around about Austin that I didn’t know what to believe.

“Yup. She’s been married five years, and she’s pregnant again, with twins this time.” The hollowness in his voice made me want to hug him tight. He rested his cheek on top of my head and sighed.

“Do you mention her in your book?”

“Yeah. I had to because she was such a big part of it, but….” He exhaled. “I didn’t want to bash her in the book. I tried for a…I don’t know, respectful approach. My anger at what she did to me is gone, but the sadness over what I shared with her and lost still remains.”

“It’s not the same by a long shot, but I also have some sadness.” I shifted back to view the face I longed to kiss. But it would wait. First, I had to get something important off my chest.

“What’s your sadness?” He cupped my cheek.

“I’m disappointed in myself because I held a grudge against you for leaving. It was so childish and pathetic because for too many years I thought you abandoned me.”

He swept his thumb over the edge of my cheek, lulling me into relaxation even though my insides swirled with anxiety. The tenderness he gave me made me want to sob.

“I don’t think you’re pathetic. I’ve been upset at other people for ridiculous reasons. Although, I don’t think I can forgive you for not liking my music.”

I pinched him under his ear, making him flinch. He then grabbed my hand, and the next thing I knew, I lay prone on the couch with him over me.

Welp, this escalated quickly.

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Her Determined Prospect

(Lesbian Romantic Thriller with Erotic elements. Formerly titled 50 Shades of Pink from 2015. **Revised and re-edited**)

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Working at Virago, one of the most successful women’s magazines in the nation is a dream come true for Lindsay Pinke. After five years of being overworked and underpaid in the research department, she’s finally noticed by Colette Duarte, the provocative executive editor of the magazine. She offers Lindsay the coveted role as her personal assistant, but first she must prove she’s worthy of the position. Lindsay must interview Victoria Nox, the elusive and extremely private CEO of Nox Media Holdings. If Lindsay succeeds, Colette promises her great things for her publishing career. If Lindsay fails, her chance as a respected writer will be cut short.

A chance meeting with Victoria at a high class function puts into motion a series of events that leaves Lindsay blindsided by her strong physical reaction to the magnetic woman. When she unwittingly falls into Victoria’s world of dark temptations and complex entanglements, she learns the shocking truth Victoria hides about Colette that rocks Lindsay to her very core.

Now that Lindsay has become a balm for Victoria’s soul, is she strong enough to help Victoria confront her shameful past, and stop one woman’s sick games once and for all?

Excerpt:

The woman standing in the middle of the room was the only vibrant and colorful addition. Victoria wore a tight, cherry-red A-line dress and matching heels, accessorized with the same pearl necklace and bracelet on as Friday night. Her hair lay in waves over her shoulders. She didn’t appear a hard-nosed businesswoman, or the rude and almost condescending one I had met three days prior. But I still found her intimidating. Something sharp stirred deep within my belly, causing my pulse to speed up.

“Good morning, Miss Pinke.” She walked toward me.

“You may call me Lindsay.” I swallowed hard.

Her eyes dropped to my chest, and the corner of her mouth twitched. “An interesting way to spell your name. Some type of nickname?”

I covered my name tag instead of shaking her hand. “Security misspelled my first name.”

“But they spelled your last name right.” She dropped her arm at her side. “Do you always wear some type of pink to go along with your name?”

“Not usually.” I wore the pink blouse because I thought it looked nice with my suit, and not because I was trying to be clever.

I couldn’t say if she believed me or not. A shuttered expression covered her face. “I like the color red, as you can see from my dress.”

“But not in your office?” The room felt clinical and cold, although it was spacious with floor-to-ceiling windows on one side. Black-and-white photos of city landscapes hung on the opposite wall, which was an understated beige. Even the carpet was a bland color.

“I’m in the process of redecorating. New carpeting and furniture should arrive next week. Let’s sit near the windows. The light is perfect there.” She moved in that direction.

“You don’t want to sit at your desk?” I’d assumed she’d want to show her power by sitting behind the wide desk while I sat across from her in a smaller chair. The glass table near the windows would be personal and intimate.

“I sit behind my desk almost every day for more hours than I can count. My chair has a permanent indentation of my ass imbedded in the seat.”

A laugh erupted from my mouth. “Oh my god, I can’t believe you said that.”

With more refinement than I would ever have, she sat down on one of the chairs facing the room. “Why?”

“Because you’re being too nice to me,” I blurted, wincing. Ugh, me and my stupid mouth!

Her eyes widened and she sputtered…or maybe it was a snort. Whatever it was, she held back laughter.

“I’m nice most of the time. I’m leery of you because of who you work for.”

“You mean Colette?” I sat and extracted my notepad and recorder from my bag.

She crossed her legs. “Has she told you about her connection to my family?”

“She said she was once friends with your aunt and uncle, and she met you when you moved in with them after your parents’ death. She said she was like your big sister, but you lost touch after you moved to England.”

“Big sister?” Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the chair arms.

“You see it differently?” I cleared my throat, wishing I had changed the direction of the conversation away from Colette. I started to press the button on the recorder, but she set it aside.

“Before we begin, I’m going to establish some rules. Any questions about my former relationship with Colette are off limits. You can ask me anything about my company and my position as CEO, as well as some personal questions about my likes and dislikes and mundane things like that. But the years prior to me living in England are something I won’t talk about.”

“Is it because your parents’ death still hurts to talk about?” It was hard to ignore the shift in the air. The easygoing atmosphere had been replaced with a stifling tension.

She loosened her grip and folded her hands on her lap. She kept her gaze on my face. “The events surrounding my parents’ death, and the outcome of my life after are common knowledge. If you respect my wishes, I’ll give you new information that should interest your audience.”

“I appreciate that, in light of your…turbulent relationship with Co—”

“We don’t have a relationship to speak of. She knows why, and using you to find out what I think of her won’t help her cause.”

“Cause? What do you mean?” I tried not to squirm in my seat.

“You can’t think you’re the first sweet young thing she has thrown at me.” She leaned forward with a brittle smile. “Why do you think she sent you to me?”

I refused to back down or submit to this woman with the massive chip on her shoulder. She’d learn I wasn’t a pushover or some silly twit. “She believes in me and wants me to prove I’m worthy—”

She slapped her hands on the table and jumped up from her seat. I jerked back as she leaned in close enough for me to smell her coffee-scented breath. “She’s not testing you. She’s testing me, Miss Pinke.” She flicked the tip of my nose and then went to the windows and stared out of them.

I sat frozen, other than my chest rising with each inhale and exhale I took. My eyes stung with held-back tears. The worst possible thing would be to break down now.

She finally turned back around. The bravado she easily flashed had vanished. “She knows my weaknesses too well. You could end up being one of them.”

“M-me?” My voice came out as a squeak, and my throat tightened.

She rolled her head and walked back to the table. Instead of taking her seat, she stood behind me and dropped her hand on my shoulder. I tensed, watching our reflection in the window, paralyzed in my seat. My heart quickened, and my stomach reeled.

She tugged on my braid and twisted it around her hand. I bit down on my bottom lip, my breath escaping through my mouth in short pants. Heat spread up from legs and along my sides to my torso.

She bent down low, mouth brushing the edge of my ear. “It would be too easy to seduce you right now. But I’m not going to do that.”

Why not? I mouthed, barely swallowing back a moan.

“Unlike the others before you, I believe you’re an innocent. Plus.” She pressed her cheek to mine. “I don’t want to be your downfall and ruin your life. Think of it as my birthday gift to you.”

I spun around in my seat, flinching from her hold on my hair. “Le-let me go.”

She backed away with her hands raised.

Jumping out of my chair, I snagged my bag, flustered and confused. “How did you know it’s my birthday?

“I had you investigated over the weekend, so I knew who I’m dealing with.” She moved behind her desk.

I made my way to the door, trying not to hyperventilate. “You need help.”

She lifted a small remote, and the door behind me buzzed. “It’s best if you go now.”

I wrenched the door open. It banged against the wall. I didn’t run, but I bolted down the hall and toward the door that would lead me to freedom. Annette, typing on her cell, opened the door.

“I’ll take you back to the elevator.” Sympathy lined her voice.

I held a trembling hand to my pounding forehead. “You don’t want to know what happened between me and your boss in her office?”

“Miss Nox’s business is her own and not mine.” She studied my face. “I take it the interview didn’t go as you had planned?”

We reached the elevators, and, with a tap of her badge, the doors opened. I marched inside and shot her a look of disgust. “Your boss is a bitch.” I jabbed the button, and the doors shut on Annette’s disbelieving face.

The tears I’d kept in check fell down my cheeks. I scrubbed them away, angry at myself. I cursed both Colette and Victoria in my head over their sick game I’d been coerced into.

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Shame of It All

Women’s Psychological Thriller

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Revenge is a dish best served cold. But for Mercy Pryce her revenge will scald one’s soul and leave behind a burnt-out husk if she has her way.

Mercy has returned to her hometown of Cartleigh, New York after twenty years. The lakeside community is the perfect location for Yakim Zeldovich, her Russian billionaire employer’s state of the art manufacturing facility. Acting as a consultant for Zeldovich, she’s on an undercover mission, not as an angel of mercy, but one of mischief, deceit and torture. Her ultimate goal is to ruin Cartleigh because of a horrible trauma she suffered in high school. The one responsible for her wrath is Colton Hahn, Cartleigh’s beloved mayor, and the object of her retaliation. The town’s golden boy, who she once adored as an impressionable teenager, brutally raped her and left her for dead at seventeen.

Consumed by years of grief and growing rage, she has targeted Colton, who may also be responsible for the death of her best friend, Marina, his fiancé. She will avenge Marina and finally take down the monster who tried to ruin her life.

Her success may come at a horrible price. But it will all be worth it if she can take away everything Colton holds dear, including him surrendering his heart and soul to her in the process.

Excerpt:

The Grand Oaks was a well-known venue for sophisticated affairs. Valet parking was a given, which Ari didn’t complain about, although he acted a bit embarrassed by his eight-year-old sedan. I didn’t mind because the make and model didn’t prove the worth of the individual driving it. Most of those who drove luxury cars were trying to make up for something they lacked. Yakim had many cars at his disposal, but he always stuck to his Lincoln Navigator, since the car reminded him of his grandfather. His father had the same fondness for that type of car but mainly used chauffeurs to get around.

“You’re probably used to all this glitz and glamour,” Ari said as we walked up the short flight of stairs into the foyer.

“I’ve attended my share of swanky parties and balls but they can be exhausting. Unless you want to, we don’t have to stay until it ends. We could always have a nightcap at one of our houses.”

“We’ll see how the night goes.” He twined our fingers together as we moved toward the banquet hall. “The only type of event I’ve been to that compares to this was my sister’s wedding, and there were a hundred guests, give or take.”

I laughed and rubbed his arm, wishing if only for the next few hours, we were an actual couple. But I wasn’t here to engage in that fantasy for either one of us. I had to find my mark and entice him in more than just conversation.

Most of the men wore tuxedos like Ari’s. The women showed off their attributes with their dresses and hair, much like I had done. The room swelled with so many people, it made me wonder if it was a safety hazard even though the majority of the guests remained at the bars on each side or surrounded servers passing trays of food. A few occupied the small dance floor near the bandstand. Based on attendance, I would say the event was a success. Yakim would be pleased because not everything would be fake when he pulled out of the negotiations. I would be long gone when the deal collapsed and those in this room realizing they had been conned.

“Are your feet hurting? Want to sit down, and I’ll get us some drinks?” Aril led me to a table and pulled out a chair.

“That would be nice.” I accepted the seat and glanced around while he did, finding Karine and her husband nearby, along with Agnes. Not surprising, Colt was next to them. They had formed their own intimate circle near the corner of the bar. I leaned into Ari so I could stare at the group over his shoulder.

“Get me a cabernet.” I kissed his cheek and hugged him at the exact moment Colt turned his face toward me. He stiffened.

“You got it.” He kissed me back and walked to the bar where Colt stood. Ari stopped near two men who shook hands with him. Since he might spend some time talking, I decided to disappear for a few minutes. But before I did, I posed for Colt’s benefit. He moved in my direction, and I backed away and left the room.

I strolled down to the lower level where a sign on the wall pointed me in the direction of another set of restrooms. I glanced behind to see Colt stopped by some people. I kept moving because the only reason anyone would venture here was to use the toilets. He would eventually find me.

I entered the restroom consisting of a small sitting area that led to three stalls and a sink. The light automatically came on when I entered, but it could also be turned off manually. I sat on a love seat and waited all of three minutes before the door opened and Colt entered, shutting it behind him.

He blocked the door but didn’t lock it. I wasn’t worried because for him to attack me again would be monumentally stupid on his part. The camera in the hallway had recorded him entering after me. I could bring it up as an extra layer of protection but only if necessary. Plus, I would be taking control of this situation, not him.

“Nice dress. It suits you.” He leaned on the door with his hands in his coat pocket.

He was dressed in an almost-identical tuxedo to most of the men here. Other than his good looks, nothing would make him stand out in this crowd. But I would be nice and play along with the compliments.

“You look good in a tuxedo, but you already know it.” I stood, laying my clutch on the seat next to me.

“In my line of work, wearing a tux or a suit is a given.” His sad sort of smile didn’t move me in any way.

“Why did you follow me here?” The answer would be obvious, but I wanted to hear him say it.

“You wanted me to.”

The lack of accusation in his voice annoyed me. He was stating a fact, but his words had a huge underlying meaning because of our past. A man accusing a woman of wanting something from him was beyond insulting. Because it was Colt, I assumed it would be sexual in nature. What I would give freely, he would take.

“You assume I want many things from you. Have you thought I just want you to notice me and nothing else? You used to do the same in high school, before and during our hidden affair.” I used air quotes around the word affair and approached him.

“Did you ever tell Ari about us?” He took his hands out of his pocket and lowered his arms to his sides.

“Why would he care about something twenty years ago that doesn’t concern him?” I folded my arms behind back.

“He doesn’t know anything?” He shifted closer.

“What is the anything you’re worried I’ll tell him about?” I tapped my chin with a lacquered nail. “Perhaps the same anything you didn’t share with your dead fiancée?”

He grabbed me by the arms and spun around, shoving me into the door. He breathed heavily, and his grip tightened to the point he might leave marks.

“Have I triggered you without saying the actual words? What if I say them?” I wanted to snarl and hit him but remained impassive, as if he wasn’t manhandling me.

He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose, ending with a short rattle. “I can’t do this with you. It’s…shit.”

I should be impressed I had such power to affect him in such a way he was torn up inside. If only I had the same power when we were teenagers. It was going to be easier than I thought. I relaxed into the door. “You want me.”

He opened his eyes and mouth but didn’t make a sound until he groaned and knelt in front of me and clutched my hips. He pressed his face in my stomach, making me spread my legs open so I wouldn’t join him on the floor.

If he expected me to rub his head and hold him while he was wracked with guilt, he would be horribly disappointed. Any sympathy would be a mockery. Any intimacy acted upon was a means to an end for me. This time, I would have all the power.

“You want me to forgive you for raping me?” Finally saying to him directly what he did to me should have been cathartic, but I wanted to be cruel. I tugged on his hair, making him stare up at me as vindication swept through my body. For the first time since Marina died, I felt so alive.

“I don’t know.” He fell back on his heels. “What I did was wrong but it was so long ago, so if you’re thinking of—”

“Hush.” I tapped his nose and stepped around him to sit on the love seat. “You can make it up to me, and no, I’m not going to blackmail you.” Yet. “What I want from you will be enjoyable for us both.”

I wanted to cackle, not that I had ever done anything like it, but the astonishment on Colt’s face was beyond comedic. He must think I was crazy since it was beyond comprehension his victim would proposition him for some type of sexual act after he violated her violently years ago.

If he had dropped to the floor in shock, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But he remained standing, just staring like one would do if they saw a car accident.

“What do you want from me?” His voice cracked, but the front of his pants tented with his penis.

“You owe me gratification because you took it away from me so long ago.” I hiked up my skirt to my thighs and then checked my watch. “You have less than eight minutes to make me come. I’ve been in here long enough, and Ari will start to worry.”

Either mentioning the time restraint or Ari’s name forced Colt to act. He took a huge step toward me, bent down, and braced his hands behind me. It was the closest we had been to each other since that night at the lake. Back then, I was terrified. Now, I was calm and collected because I held all the power. He couldn’t hurt me even if he wanted to because he was transfixed, under my spell.

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Double or Nothing

(Contemporary Dark Romance with a Tycoon and Mobster vying for the affection of the heroine)

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At twenty-one, Kari Danek fled her home and the dangerous man who forced too much from her in order to save her family. Now at twenty-five, she’s made a wonderful life for herself in Las Vegas as the personal assistant to Xander Wynne, a powerful real estate tycoon. Her work is fulfilling, and her personal feelings for Xander are always present, but she represses them due to the time she spent as a victim to another depraved man obsessed with owning her.

Kari’s world turns upside down when she learns of her brother Eddie’s suicide. With Kari returning home for the funeral, the sadness she feels for her brother’s death is overshadowed by the fear of encountering Gabriel Cavaleri, her former lover, and heir to the family’s illegal crime syndicate in New Jersey.

Now that Kari’s back home, Gabriel will stop short of nothing to keep her for good. Coercion, emotional blackmail, and the knowledge of Kari’s shameful past are just tools in his arsenal against her. Kari’s only savior is Xander, who’s willing to use his own unsettling ways of negotiation to keep her safe.

Overpowered by two ruthless men who refuse to lose, it’s double or nothing for Kari as she tries to keep not only her soul, but her sanity intact.

 

Excerpt:

Gabriel chose the booth opposite from the one I sat in prior. He sat on the edge, facing the entrance with me inside on his right. Trudy came in a few second later with a bottle of wine and two glasses. He thanked her and gave her a hundred-dollar bill along with instructions for her to add whatever his brother and his ‘friends’ drank or ate on his tab. She didn’t engage him in any conversation and just nodded, cutting me a quick look before she left.

He poured the wine and sniffed his before taking a sip. He drank and nodded, pleased. “The Beychevelle is an incredible vintage.”

At one-hundred fifty dollars a bottle it should be. “They know what type of wine you drink?” I asked.

He twirled the glass back and forth. “They always have some bottles in house. Eddie made sure I was well taken care of when I came in for dinner or had a few drinks at the bar. I’m going to miss that kid.”

Eddie and Gabriel were both the same age. He acted like he was older than thirty, or some renaissance man, but he was just a thug in an expensive suit, a well-educated, attractive bully who hid his insecurities well. He had many insecurities, most of which I witnessed.

My cell buzzed in my pocket but I ignored it. It had been going off ever since I hung up on Leah. She must be freaking out or really angry at me to text or call non-stop. I’d give anything to hear her voice, but under the present circumstances it would wait.

“Join me in a glass, sweet.” He tapped his glass to mine.

I hated the word ‘sweet’ with such a passion because of him. When he was especially loving or wanted to be intimate he would revert to Italian and call me Dolceezza. When he said that, I was in trouble because he wouldn’t stop until he was inside of me.

“I rather have water.” I pushed the glass away.

“Remember those few bottles of Santa Margherita Chianti I bought when we spent the weekend in Atlantic City?” The back of his hand ran down the side of my face and his finger circled my ear. “We barely left the hotel room. It was one of the best weekends of my life. You bought that teeny tiny bikini to wear that had me salivating. There was no way I was going to let you outside looking like that. Those curves of yours and your long hair had me so hard.” He shifted in closer and his nose brushed my cheek. “Do you remember what we did with the wine?”

I’d never forget that weekend. It was the first time I had gone away with him. He thought by taking me out of my environment and removed from all other influences, I’d accept him and allow him to have me any which way he wanted. I let him do whatever he wanted because it was part of our deal. But he was sophisticated and experienced, and soon enough I was a willing participant. He stole my innocence and then introduced me to a seductive lifestyle of lavish hotels, food and of wine that tasted incredible when licked off another person’s body in the heat of the moment.

The one thing he taught me was my appreciation for wine. You’d think I’d be disgusted by the drink, but it had become my alcohol of choice.

The glass I rejected now called to me to drink. If I did, I wouldn’t stop and he would refill it. Then he’d take me some place where I’d end up naked and under him.

He snapped his fingers in front of my face and I blinked, distracted by my runaway thoughts. I had to keep it together around him or I would be lost.

“I don’t like your hair short,” he muttered and sipped his wine.

Xander does. I jerked in my seat. I couldn’t think of Xander now, not with Gabriel next to me.

He must have thought I was upset or nervous at what he said. He grasped my hand and kissed the side of it. “I’m not going to make you grow your hair or change the color.” The word ‘yet’ hovered unspoken in the air. “I just want to talk.”

“What do you want to talk about?” I wanted to add talking didn’t mean holding hands or breathing on my neck like he was doing. But if I did, he would laugh it off or pull me on his lap or rest his palm high on my leg and rub the inside of my thigh.

He twined his fingers through mine and dropped our hands on the seat in between us. “You. I wanted to make sure you’re doing okay with Eddie’s death.”

I shrugged. There was no way in hell I was going to share my feelings about my brother’s death with him. “I’m worried about my grandmother, Marcela and Annie.”

He tsked and shook his head sadly. “Poor little Annie. I can’t believe Eddie would be so selfish and take his life.”

“He must have felt he didn’t have any other choice.” I spat, not caring if my disgust was prominent.

He acted as if he didn’t hear or care. “There’s always a choice, sweetness.” He squeezed my hand. “Annie is adorable. I bet when you have a daughter she’ll look exactly like your niece.”

I wasn’t going there with him and decided to change the topic. “You talk of choices. What choice did you give Eddie about repaying the one-hundred grand he borrowed from you? You enabled his gambling addiction!”

He released my hand and dropped his arm behind my head on the edge of the booth. He finished his wine and then took my glass and drank. His nostrils flared slightly. I felt proud for causing his irritation. My criticism was also fact. No matter how much he denied it, he couldn’t ignore it.

“Eddie was weak. I did get the word out to block him, but he still found a way to play. He was a grown man. Like last time, he knew the consequences of his actions.”

Pure rage slammed me. How dare he excuse his behavior! I was shaking and didn’t even think as I snagged the glass from him and downed it in one gulp. A haze came over me and I rubbed my damp palms on my legs. It was that or punch him in the face.

“You’re a prick, you know that?” I slid away to leave.

He seized my upper arm. I swung my other arm around to slap him, but he took that also and held both my wrists captive behind my back.

“I love when you’re angry. It’s such a turn on.” He brought me up to him.

“If you think I’m going to play this game again, you’re mistaken. I’m not being your whore like last time. You lost this round.” I found some satisfaction when my spit hit his face.

He licked away a few drops landing on his lips. I peeked at his crotch where his pants tended from his arousal.

I relaxed my arms and waited for him to release me. Using one hand, he continued to hold my wrists. With the other, he sat his palm on my chest, near my heart.

“Your heart is beating very fast. You’re excited like I am,” His face came in closer.

“I’m not excited. I’m angry and frustrated. I-I can’t do this with you again.” My voice cracked. I hated for him to see me helpless and broken.

His drifted mouth near my ear. “I just want to cherish and love you. Why do you fight me? You know you’ll never win.”

I bit my bottom lip and breathed through my nose. He panted heavily in my ear. He was going to kiss me. If he did, I’d be completely undone. Instead I dropped my head and rested my forehead in the middle of his chest.

 

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