Friday, May 29, 2015

RELEASE BLITZ & GIVEAWAY: Afraid to Fly by S.L. Jennings



Meet Dirty Dom in this fantastic stand-alone!

AVAILABLE NOW!

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I’d like to tell you that I’m ok.

That the meaningless sex with countless women has somehow numbed the pain. That it’s deciphered the constant confusion in my head. Eased the self-hatred that sinks into my gut every time I look in the mirror.

I’d like to tell you that time heals all wounds.

That we evolve and grow into well-adjusted, stable adults, set on a path to right the world’s wrongs. That we are not our past…we are not our pain.

I want to tell you all those things. Hell, I want to believe all those things. But I’d be lying. I’m good at that. Living a lie is the only way I truly know how to survive.
But the day I saw her, I stopped surviving. I stopped existing. And for the first time in 24 years, I started living.

She brought me back to life. Set me free and sent my soul soaring. Made this useless shell of a man feel like…something. Something whole and real and good.

She saved me.
Although she believes I wasn’t even worth saving.

This story chronicles the journey of Dominic Trevino, a character from Fear of Falling. However, it can be read as a standalone.





EXCERPT

I approached her slowly, letting my eyes take in her soft, feminine curves. That’s what I loved the most about women—their softness, their delicateness. It made them appear breakable, just like me. And it made me appreciate that vulnerability, in hopes that someone could—and would—one day, appreciate mine.

That’s why even though I never offered more than a few hours of toe-curling pleasure, I assured each second was spent tending to their sexual desires and making them feel treasured. Just because I was a whore, it didn’t make me callous or uncaring. If anything, it made me more aware of my humanity.

I pushed it all away, trading my own hang-ups and idiosyncrasies for the mental numbness that sex could provide and did what I do best: Fuck. I was good at this part—touching, kissing, licking. And when we were both ready—too ravenous with desire to consider my aversions—I drove into her slowly, all the way to the hilt. Until her body completely covered mine and soothed the ache of loneliness with wet warmth. This was the feeling I had been chasing since I was just a child, barely a man. That sweet oblivion that only mindless sex could provide. I was made whole by emptying myself into another, and for the barest of moments, I became separate from my pain and anger. I became the type of man that could look himself in the mirror and not see the horror of his past standing behind him, its razor sharp claws cutting into the skin of his shoulders while it smiled in that sinister way that still made my skin crawl.

I had seen that malevolence in my dreams every day since as long as I could remember. Sometimes it was in the form of a smile, a laugh. Sometimes it wore the face of ecstasy and passion. But it was always terrifying.

I lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling long after Alyssa had passed out in blissful exhaustion. She came twice, once by my tongue, the other with her ankles on my shoulders. She was a screamer, and I kept wondering if Angel would bust in here, wondering if I was fucking or killing the girl. Then, if Alyssa was up for it, she’d join, like she had just this past weekend with Cherri. It wasn’t that we wanted each other in that way—oh hell no. We were just better…together. It made it even easier to get out of our heads and lost in the movement of our bodies.

It was co-dependent like a motherfucker. And unhealthy. And unconventional. But it was all we knew.


Fear of Falling (A Fearless Novel) 
ON SALE FOR $0.99

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1LpE7Qt


S.L. Jennings is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary and paranormal romance, reality TV junkie, obsessive coffee drinker and collector of crazy.

Website | Facebook | Twitter |Goodreads



a Rafflecopter giveaway

COVER REVEAL & SCAVENGER HUNT: Dare to Run (Sons of Steel Row #1) by Jen McLaughlin

dare to run comps_final.indd

Today we are celebrating the release of the DARE TO RUN cover! DARE TO RUN is a gritty, super sexy, adult title coming out on February 2, 2016 from Jen McLaughlin and published by Penguin (NAL Signet). To celebrate, we are having a scavenger hunt! 

There are 8 clues scattered around groups of bloggers hosting this feature. All you have to do is find all 8 clues and figure out the scrambled word.

To make it easy for you, we will tell you where you can find Clue #1. 

In order to find the groups of bloggers posting, go to Jen McLaughlin's blog and she will have the lists so you can check out each group and find the remaining 7 clues.

For this site, the clue is listed below, along with the rafflecopter.

DTR_SHunt_Clue5  


a Rafflecopter giveaway
 

DARE TO RUN Summary:

The New York times bestselling author of the Out of Line Novels takes readers to Boston where one gang of criminals knows how being bad can be so good… 

She knows what he’s like on Boston’s mean streets. Now she’s going to find out if he’s got some heart.

Lucas Donahue is not ashamed of his criminal past, but after a brief stint in prison, he’s ready to go legit and live a normal life. The problem is, no one leaves the gang without permission—even if he is one of the boss’s top men. Plus someone’s placed a hit on him. And then there’s that feisty little bartender who’s going to cause him even more trouble.

Heidi Greene knows to keep her distance from a ladies’ man like Lucas—even if she can’t keep her eyes off him. When he rescues her from an attack in the alley outside her bar, she’s forced to stay by his side for safety. But the longer she spends time with him, the greater her chances are for getting hurt in more ways than one.


PRE-ORDER THE BOOK NOW


Jen McLaughlin is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sexy New Adult books. Under her pen name Diane Alberts, she is a multi-published, bestselling author of Contemporary Romance with Entangled Publishing. Her first release as Jen McLaughlin, Out of Line, released September 6 2013, and hit the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal lists. She was mentioned in Forbes alongside E. L. James as one of the breakout independent authors to dominate the bestselling lists. She is represented by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency. Though she lives in the mountains, she really wishes she was surrounded by a hot, sunny beach with crystal-clear water. Though she lives in the mountains, she really wishes she was surrounded by a hot, sunny beach with crystal-clear water. She lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with her four kids, a husband, a schnauzer mutt, and a cat. Her goal is to write so many well-crafted romance books that even a non-romance reader will know her name.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

BLOG TOUR & REVIEW: Chasing the Dragon (Deception Duet #1) by TK Leigh













He’s trying to protect his heart…

She’s a shell of the girl she once was…

Can he chase away the demons threatening to destroy her?

Mackenzie Delano craves control. After tragedy strikes during her freshman year of college, she compensates for the helplessness she felt by micro-managing every aspect of her life, from her business life to her social life…to her love life. But she wasn’t expecting to cross paths with a mysterious man who seems to invade her every thought.

Tyler Burnham has been living his life with one rule in mind…never fall in love. Focusing solely on his career, he is able to remain a detached observer of life…Until a case is dropped in his lap, forcing him to form an intimate relationship with a sharp-tongued woman in order to obtain the location of a man deemed an enemy of the State.

When Tyler finds himself falling for Mackenzie, will he be able push his feelings aside and recover the information he needs? Or will he put the mission and their lives at risk to follow his heart?

Chasing The Dragon is the first installment of a two part series of deception and betrayal where nothing is as it seems. 

***Note - Chasing The Dragon is the first book in a two-book duet and is a spin-off of T.K. Leigh's USA Today Best Selling Beautiful Mess series. It is not necessary to have read that series in order to read this duet, but it will contain a mild spoiler from the third book in the Beautiful Mess series, Gorgeous Chaos.***










“Dance with me, Mackenzie,” he said, holding my hand in his, sensually placing the other just below my hip bone.


“What are you−”

“Shhh…,” he admonished, expertly leading me in our dance, the band playing Cole Porter’s Every Time We Say Goodbye. 

“Just enjoy it and don’t think.”

I simply nodded, turning my head to scan the restaurant.

“Mackenzie, eyes on me. I need to know you’re with me.”

I snapped my eyes back to his, my mouth slightly agape as my heart pounded in my chest. He was warm and spellbinding. The way he held me in his arms comforted me and made me feel as if they were made to hold me.

“Are you with me?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Yes,” I said, my voice soft.

He leaned toward me and the bit of stubble on his chin brushed my skin. “Yes what?” he whispered.

“I’m with you.”

The corners of his lips turned up slightly and there was a spark about him that wasn’t present yesterday. “I like the sound of that, Miss Delano.”

He pulled me closer and I tilted my head to peer into his striking eyes, needing the connection I felt at that moment. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced, all because of a well-placed hand, a sinfully sexy voice, eyes that made me want to melt, and arms that felt like home.

“Who would have thought that the Mackenzie whose lips I couldn’t stop seeing in my dreams last night would turn out to be Mackenzie Delano, proprietor of South Padre’s hottest 
new spot?”

“How did−”

“Shhh,” he said once more. “You think too much. Just enjoy the moment because it’s over once the band plays the final note to this melody.”

I snapped my mouth shut, a strange awareness of loss washing over me at the prospect of this complete stranger walking away from me once the song came to an end, wondering if I would ever see him again.

“You’re a lovely dancer, Miss Delano,” he commented.

“Thank you,” I answered, unsure of whether to say anything further. He seemed to be in complete control of the dance, of his words…and of mine. And, for the first time, I was okay with someone else calling the shots.

“You have a dancer’s body. I’m confident you’ve bewitched quite a few men with the way you can seamlessly navigate the dance floor.” He leaned toward me and whispered, “I must confess… You’ve bewitched me.”

His voice was sweet as it crooned in my ear, and I was left a silent, blubbering mute, the sincerity in his declaration sparking a renewed sense of longing I had ignored for years. My breathing grew ragged, and I was unable to formulate any response. I simply lost myself in the moment of our dance, wanting his sensual words to ring in the recesses of my mind for all eternity. I wished I could have recorded his voice murmuring those endearing words to me so I could replay them over and over again when I needed to feel something I didn’t think I would ever feel again.

He molded my frame to his, our bodies swaying to the classic tune, and began to sing along with the band. I imagined he was singing to me, and me alone. His voice was deep and guttural, but sweet as he leaned toward my neck and crooned the last verse into my ear. I closed my eyes, losing myself in his warmth, his voice, his everything.

All too soon, the final note rang out, silence encompassing the room, but we continued to sway to the music in our heads, our rhythm perfectly in tune to each other. A loud drum kick echoed, startling me, and I opened my eyes, almost expecting it all to be a dream. But it wasn’t, and I was met with my mysterious stranger’s strong face. Time stood still as we simply stared at each other, neither one of us moving. I licked my dry lips, nerves causing my breathing to grow more intense and labored.

He grabbed my hand and brought it to his soft lips, placing a kiss on it. The contact caused a rush of adrenaline to run through me. Before I could ask his name, he was gone, leaving me stunned and alone once more.






My Review

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 


Move over Alexander Burnham. Your brother, Tyler, is the man of the moment. I really liked Tyler in the Beautiful Mess series and I couldn't wait to read his story. But seriously, you're KILLING ME TK!!! But I do take comfort in the fact that this series is only a duet and not a trilogy like Beautiful Mess. I don't think I could handle another cliffhanger going into a third book!  

If you have read any of TK's books, you know that they aren't your run of the mill romance novels. Sure they have a little bit of the "boy meets girl...they fall in love..they live happily ever after" story line. But her books' story lines are SO MUCH MORE than that. Her characters may get the happy ending we want them to have, but they have to go through A LOT of stuff to get there. Mackenzie and Tyler are no different.

Mackenzie was only ten years old when she and her mother were woken up in the middle of the night to be taken away from the only life they ever knew. From that point on they built a new life, thinking that Mackenzie's father had died. Fast forward sixteen years and Mackenzie is a grown woman about to open up her own restaurant. She has worked hard to get where she is today. She is a planner. She plans her days out to the minute. She can control her schedule. She likes that control. She needs that control. Unfortunately for Mackenzie, she has been receiving threats in the form of phone calls that throw a wrench in her life.

Enter Tyler Burnham, who is about to turn Mackenzie's world upside down! They meet by "chance" at a bar and they both make very interesting first impressions on each other. They continue to run into each other and after the person leaving her threats gets up close and personal at a club, Tyler is there to play her knight in shining armor. When she tells Tyler about the phone calls she has been receiving, he puts the pieces together and realizes that it is related to the reason he is there. They start spending time together and before they know it, Mackenzie and Tyler are in a relationship. Unfortunately for both of them, they are BOTH keeping secrets, that may ultimately cause the end of their relationship. 

I LOVED Tyler and Mackenzie as a couple. They are an extremely HOT couple and they complement each other perfectly. But what starts off as just job for Tyler, quickly turns into something very real and I never once doubted his feelings for Mackenzie. It has been six years since the events at the end of A Gorgeous Chaos and it is clear that Tyler was still holding on to some ties to his past. He hasn't been able to move on, but then he meets Mackenzie. This fact is referenced multiple times throughout the book and everyone in Tyler's life can see that he really does care about her, well almost everyone (but I won't say anymore about that).

We do get a little bit of Alexander and Olivia in this book, which is nice...I do miss them. AND we get to see not one, but BOTH of the Burnham men interact with a toddler. So yeah.....**cue ovary explosion** 

While this book doesn't really end on a cliffhanger, there are a lot of questions that are left unanswered and I can't wait to get those answers. And of course there will also be the love story that is at the heart of this story. Is it time for the next book yet???  











T.K. Leigh, otherwise known as Tracy Leigh Kellam, is the USA Today Best Selling author of the Beautiful Mess series. Originally from New England, she now resides in sunny Southern California with her husband, dog and three cats, all of which she has rescued (including the husband). She always had a knack for writing, but mostly in the legal field. It wasn't until recently that she decided to try her hand at creative writing and is now addicted to creating different characters and new and unique story lines in the Contemporary Romantic Suspense genre.

When she's not planted in front of her computer, writing away, she can be found running and training for her next marathon (of which she has run over fifteen fulls and far too many halfs to recall). Unlike Olivia, the main character in her Beautiful Mess series, she has yet to qualify for the Boston Marathon.








BLOG PROMO: Cactus Creek Series by Violet Duke




"A new must-read series from Violet Duke. Not only will you fall in love with the characters, you'll fall in love with romance." --New York Times Bestselling Author Kathleen Brooks

Cactus Creek's most romantic eligible bachelor, new-to-town and new-to-singlehood chocolatier Luke Bradford believes in old school romance, fighting wars waged over love, and deploying his dimples whenever an impossible-to-resist woman instigates it.  But for once, he's trying not to platter up his heart to get stomped on.  Luckily, he has a brand new hobby to keep him from falling:

...driving the addictively easy to incite beer-brewing beauty next door crazy.

Cactus Creek's feisty brewmaster and town sweetheart Dani Dobson cannot believe how well that maddeningly charming man next door with all his chocolate-covered romantic idealism--the kind her heart has been shattered by before--can push all her buttons.  If she's not careful, he'll sneak right past all her defenses.  Luckily, she has her go-to hobby to keep her mind off him:

...playing her own version of cupid for everyone in town but herself.

When Dani and Luke's inexplicable chemistry escalates their ensuing chocolate and beer feud into so much more, old wounds and new demons surface to bring them face-to-face with exactly what they've been protecting themselves from:

...the kind of love that can break their hearts all over again.


LOVE, CHOCOLATE, AND BEER

99¢ Amazon = http://amzn.to/1zoq6Se



"Guaranteed feel-good, swoon-worthy romance!" -- New York Times Bestselling Author Erin Nicholas
From the author of the New York Times bestselling Can't Resist series, comes a fan-requested surprise addition to the USA Today bestselling Cactus Creek series.

She’s the Self-Proclaimed Wicked ‘Witch’ of the West

Fiercely independent single mom Quinn Christiansen is used to flying solo. She’s been raising her young son and figuring out how to pay his pediatric hospital bills on her own for years now. And truth is, Quinn loves the notorious reputation she’s already gained in town of having a heart too hard for any man to break. Because it is. Two carats too hard, to be exact. Courtesy of the two-carat heirloom she’d had to barter to cover her ex’s debts when he took off after she got pregnant. The day she’d promised herself never again.

So color her pissed when the universe goes and decides to make the one man in Cactus Creek not afraid of her natural ball-busting charm another gambling musician. A ridiculously handsome, wickedly gruff and gritty, pushy one at that.

He’s Everything She’s Sure She Can’t Possibly Want

Rylan Grey isn’t used to getting a woman so worked up…well, not in a bad way, at least. But somehow, his mere existence seems to annoy the guarded and gorgeous Quinn to no end. Surprising, really. A dirt-and-jeans landscaper by day with a regular gig to perform for a packed house by night, Rylan considers himself a decent guy. Sure, he’s made some gambles to get to where he’s at, but they were all of the life variety, with risks as important as the rewards, fate betting as the house, and not a single dollar in play.

While Rylan never wagers anything he’s not willing to lose—namely his heart—he’s more than ready to ante up once he sees past Quinn’s icy defenses. Quick as a firecracker, loyal to a fault, and sweet when no one’s looking, she could be his riskiest gamble yet.

LOVE, DIAMONDS, AND SPADES

99¢ Amazon = http://amzn.to/1ENxC9B




"Heart-melting and guaranteed to make you laugh and cry before you finish the last page." -- New York Times Bestselling Author Sawyer Bennett

He's a better fighter...but she has all the weapons.

After his combat injuries retire him from the military career he wasn't ready to give up, battle-scarred Hudson Reyes now spends his new life as a movie industry fight scene and weapons specialist simply doing what he knows best: surviving.

Until he meets her. The one woman who makes him want to live again.

An antique arms authenticator with a lifetime of martial arts training, Liana Lin has made a living turning the demons of her past into the passions that fuel, and fill, her life. She's a scrappy little thing. A sweet, angel-faced wrecking ball to his good intentions capable of making him laugh, and turning him inside out. Hell's bells, watching her execute that wicked roundhouse kick of hers shouldn't be a turn-on--especially not when his head is the receiving target--but hot damn, it is. She's a fiery, unpredictable paradox who wears her heart on her sleeve, despite the wounds he knows she has hidden as deeply as he hides his own.

Even though she's everything he's told himself he can't have, Hudson can't help but want her. Sure as sin, if one woman could sneak past the barbed wires he's wrapped around his heart, it'd be Lia.

Now if only they could stop sparring long enough to find out...

LOVE, TUSSLES, AND TAKEDOWNS

99¢ Amazon = http://amzn.to/1DUX8WH



He may very well be the perfect ex...

Isaac McKnight has had enough loss in his life to know never to take anything for granted. So when the perfectly-imperfect-woman-for-him puts an end to their relationship out of the blue, it's Isaac that makes sure they remain friends. Now a year later, whether it's at his gym or her brewpub, or the dog park they visit every weekend--though neither of them own a dog--he and Xoey are steadily getting sucked deeper into buddy-zone galaxy, with its dangerous proximity to watch-me-settle-down-with-someone-else abyss. It's a reality he's resigned himself to. That is...until one drunken confession changes everything.

But she's looking for the perfect oh...

For Xoey Montenegro, history has taught her that sometimes, it's Prince Charming who vanishes without a trace. And fairytale love? Highly overrated. Heck, give her a real and perfect 'oh' over that fantasy any day. So as far as rock-solid tequila-fueled plans for her love life go, coming up with a match-finding formula based on the qualities of the men responsible for her three most epic ohs seems brilliant. Except for the fact that one-third of her genius little man-quation is all about her friend Isaac. Actually, more than a third if Xoey were being honest with herself--which she's not. Because full honesty would require thinking not just about how perfect Isaac really is, but also about how perfect the fourth epic oh she's kept buried deep in her past once was. 

An easy enough thing to keep ignoring...until her past isn't past tense anymore.



LOVE, EXES, AND OHS

99¢ Amazon = http://amzn.to/1GHml7z 




NEW YORK TIMES & USA TODAY bestselling author Violet Duke is a former professor of English Education who is ecstatic to now be on the other side of the page writing wickedly fun contemporary romance novels. Her NYT and USA Today bestselling books have been Top 10 bestsellers across the major eretailers both in the US and internationally. When she's not writing or feeding her book-a-day reading addiction, Violet enjoys tackling reno projects with her power tools, trying pretty much anything without reading the directions first, and cooking 'special edition' dishes that laugh in the face of recipes. A born and raised island girl, she spends her days getting into creatively fun trouble in Hawai'i alongside her two cute kids (daughter Violet & son Duke) and similarly adorable husband.

Find the latest on her books and fan giveaways at www.facebook.com/VioletDukeBooks


RELEASE DAY LAUNCH & GIVEAWAY: Getting Played by Mia Storm




Rules of the game:
1) Never underestimate your opponent
2) Avoid personal fouls
3) Score early and often
4) Play or get played

Coach Marcus Leon has always played by the rules…until he meets Addaline Grace, the seventeen-year-old senior transfer on his Oak Crest High water polo team. Addie changes all the rules, mostly because she doesn’t play any games. But as off limits as she is, the more Marcus discovers about Addie, the more he finds himself…and the more he questions whether Addie might just be worth risking everything for.

For Addie, water polo is anger management. She’s driven and focused because it keeps her mind off other things…like the fact she destroyed her family. Her game plan is to keep her head down and graduate so she can leave her father and the crappy town he dragged her to in her wake. But when what starts as friendly completion with Marcus turns into more than a game, Addie has to decide if she’s willing to face down her demons…and possibly ruin the man she may or may not be falling in love with in the process.

What happens when the only thing you need is the one thing you can’t have?

** This is a standalone.**











Chapter 1
Marcus

I stare Caiden Brenner down over my younger sister Blaire’s shoulder. The beating early September sun in the courtyard of Town Hall is roasting me alive in this monkey suit, but I hardly notice. I’m too busy trying to get into my soon-to-be brother-in-law’s head.

“I do,” Blaire answers when the Justice of the Peace asks if she takes Caiden to be her husband.

I’ve decided Caiden isn’t the devil incarnate—that would be my ex-best friend, Nate—but I’m still struggling with what Caiden did to my sister four years ago, when he was twenty-five and she was barely seventeen.

But Blaire is shining in a way I’ve never seen her shine, and it’s more than the way she looks today—totally gorgeous in her bright blue sundress and black Converse, her long black hair tucked up in a bun on top of her head. It’s that, each time her eyes connect with Caiden’s, I see the visible change in her. All her sharp edges dull and something peaceful softens her face. Not only does she love him, she trusts him. For Blaire, that’s huge.

So maybe I need to trust him too.

I glance at Mom and Dad, seated in the short row of chairs under the small gazebo next to Caiden’s mother. Blaire and Caiden insisted on immediate family only at their civil service. They’re having a barbeque later at Graffiti Park for a few close friends and extended family.

I turn back in time to hear Caiden echo Blaire’s “I do,” then Blaire spins and look expectantly at me.

“What?” I ask.

Her expression turns decidedly more exasperated. “Jesus, Marcus.”

My eyes widen when it hits me what she’s waiting for. I pat my pocket and feel the ring there. I fish it out and hesitate.

Blaire’s glare could melt steel as she holds out her hand for it.

I swallow the acid rising up my throat and slip it into her palm. She’s really going through with this. She’s marrying the man who went to prison for statutory rape.

I’ve been hard on him. I know that. But all Blaire and I have ever had is each other. She’s always had my back, but I let her get hurt twice on my watch—once by Caiden, and then by Nate. It’s just been in the last few months that she’s seemed to find herself again after everything that happened. As much as I wish it were me that brought her back, I know it was Caiden. I need to cut him some slack.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath as they exchanging rings, and when I open them, they’re kissing.

When he finally lets her go, Blaire turns to me. She gives me a wary once over. “Just so you know, you suck as bro of honor.”

I duck my head and rub the sweat off the back of my neck. “You should have picked Zoey.”

Her eyes narrow. “I picked you, Marcus. I wanted you.”

Fuck. I really need to get over myself.

Just as I’m thinking this, Caiden slips to Blaire’s side and holds out his hand to me.

“Thanks for your support, Marcus.”

I split a glance between Caiden’s hand and my sister. Her gaze is unwavering, as usual, but under her hard exterior, I see a deep vulnerability in her eyes.

The moment of truth. Either I accept my new brother-in-law into the family, or break my sister’s heart.

I squeeze Caiden’s hand. Hard. “Welcome to the family. Just know this: You mess with Blaire, I will kill you.”

My compromise.

Blaire gives me her signature smirk, then tugs her groom closer and kisses him. “He messes with me, I’ll kill him.”

Caiden’s face beams as he looks at her. “Of that, I have no doubt.”

“You two are on grill duty at the reception,” she says, poking me in the chest. “And I expect you both to come away un-charred.”

I shake my head. “Can’t make any promises, sis.”

“That was lovely, Blaire,” Mom says, joining our small circle.

I glance around and find Dad already at the door. Social situations are his nightmare. This should be enough to drive him over the edge. But to his credit, he seems sober.

There’s an awkward moment where Blaire and our mother negotiate their way around a brief hug, then Mom backs away. “You said Zoey’s getting everything ready at the park?”

Blaire nods and pulls her phone out of her bra, glancing at the screen. “She says they’re ready anytime we are.”

Mom looks warily toward where Dad is shifting on his feet. “I might need to drop your father off at the house on the way. He’s not feeling well.”

Of course not. He’s already had to say hello to Caiden and his family. The thought of having to interact with more people at the reception is probably making him physically ill.

There’s a glint of disappointment in Blaire’s eyes, but it passes quickly as she thinks about it and comes to the same conclusion I have. “We’ll see you over there,” she says grasping Caiden’s hand and starting toward the parking lot.

#

Despite the “no gifts” decree, a handful of people wait near a pile of wrapped presents on one of the picnic tables under the small shelter when we arrive at Graffiti Park. The shelter has silver and blue streamers twisted around the poles and looped from the eaves, and the five picnic tables underneath are covered in blue paper table clothes with silver balloons tied to the benches. In the center of the middle table is a cake shaped like a penis in between two boobs. Blaire’s best friend Zoey’s contribution, no doubt.

Blaire leaves Caiden and I in the dust, where we’re carrying the gas grill from the back of my pickup truck across the grass to the shelter, and makes a beeline for Zoey. Her face is something between a scowl and a grin as she surveys the cake. “You know I’ll never be able to show my future children pictures of my wedding reception now.”

“But you’ll never forget it,” Zoey answers with a self-satisfied grin, wrapping Blaire in a hug. “Love you, girl.”

Next to me, Caiden’s feet stall and I yank the grill out of his hands when I keep walking. When I look back at him, he’s giving Blaire a stunned stare. But then a grin slowly spreads across his face.

“I guess this works,” I say, straightening out the grill next to the edge of the shelter.

His eyes snap to me as if he’s just remembering I exist. “Oh…sorry.”

I tug off my jacket. “So you guys are doing the whole kid thing?” I ask, tucking my tie inside the royal blue shirt I bought to match my sister’s wedding dress in a show of solidarity.

He glances at Blaire again and bobs a nod. “It appears that way.”

I crouch down to screw the gas line into the grill. “You haven’t talked about it?”

He shrugs as he pulls open a box of frozen Costco burgers. “Not specifically.”

“Kids makes it permanent,” I say in warning.

“Our marriage vows made it permanent,” he counters with more than a little irritation in his tone.

A hand brushes over my back. “Hey, good lookin’.”

I turn at the Texas drawl and find my date, Deanna, standing there in a tiny green dress and killer heels. She’s pretty in the Barbie sense: blond and blue with a heart-shaped face, copper skin, and an amazing body—long and lean with curves in all the right places.

I use the word “date” loosely. She’s the woman who stole my job at Oak Crest High. I know she was teaching in Texas for four years before coming here—the reason the school board cited for hiring her over me. Experience. Which means she’s at least three, maybe four years older than me. But what started as mindless frenemy sex a few weeks back has turned into a regular thing. When she invited herself to my sister’s wedding, it seemed a little heartless to tell her no.

She wraps her arms around my neck and sort of hangs off me. “How was the ceremony?”

I glance at Caiden, where he’s firing up the grill. “It was good.”

Deanna smiles at Caiden and holds out her hand. “I’m sure it was ten yards of romantic. Congratulation.”

He shakes her outstretched hand. “Thank you.”

I watch her walk over to Blaire and introduce herself. Maybe that’s something I should have done, but I feel like this thing is already taking on a life of its own, and her getting all chummy with my sister makes me a little nervous. I busy myself getting everything ready then take up my position next to my new brother-in-law when he starts throwing burgers on the grill.

“Listen, Marcus,” he says, tearing open a package of hot dogs. “I get that I’ve never been your favorite person and I can respect your reasons for that, but I need you to understand that Blaire is my life. I’ve given up everything for her and I’d do it all again if it meant the same result.”

“You can prove it by not fucking this up,” I say with a wave of the barbeque tongs between where Blaire is hugging some Berkeley friends who have just arrived and him.

“I can’t predict the future better than anyone else,” he answers, his eyes raising from the grill to his new bride, “but I can swear to you I’m going to do everything in my power not to.”

We cook and, at Zoey’s direction, people start filing past for burgers and dogs. Once most everyone is served, Caiden grabs a burger off the grill for Blaire and brings it to her. They sit across the picnic table from each other, and even though they’re talking to other people, their eyes keep straying to each other’s.

Deanna and Zoey seem to hit it off and are deep in conversation about shoes when I slip away from the shelter. On autopilot, my legs start up the hill toward the playground where Blaire, Nate, and I used to spend all our time as kids.

As I walk, I loosen my tie and flick open the top button. Near the top of the hill is a bench nestled into the shade of some big oaks. Nate and I carved it up pretty good back in the day. Which makes me wonder about him.

We haven’t spoken since I decked him after he cheated on Blaire. It’s been four years. He came back to town to live with his parents after we graduated college, and since it’s a small place, I saw him here and there, but it’s been a while. With any luck, he’s moved on.

I start toward the bench, but then see it’s occupied. A woman is laying on her back, her knees bent and her head propped on a backpack with a book in her hand.

I shove my hands in my pockets and look farther up the hill, toward the playground. There are a few benches up there, but they’re occupied by parents supervising their kids on the massive wooden play structure. The only free bench is facing into the afternoon sun, about twenty feet across the open, grassy area from the one the woman is occupying. I head over to it and plunk down on the end. I glare through the blinding sun at the woman on my bench before leaning onto my elbows and resting my face in my hands.

If you’d asked me five years ago where I thought I’d be right now, it wouldn’t have been here, coaching girls water polo at my old high school and working at the local gym. This is so not where I saw my life going. After living large for four years of high school and four more at college, I guess I started to feel charmed. But there’s nothing charming about crashing on a friend’s couch for the last six months because it’s all I can afford. I’ve only been out of UCLA for a year and I feel like I’ve already hit a total dead end, but I’ve got no one but myself to blame for that.

As the sun dips behind the tops of the trees surrounding the bench across the way, I sit up straight and look at the woman who stole it. There’s a second I wonder if she’s homeless, because her wardrobe has a definite secondhand vibe—a faded army-green tank with pale pink stripes under a baggy red cardigan, tattered jeans which are probably too short because they’re rolled halfway up her shins, and plaid Vans with no socks.

She rolls her head my direction and catches me staring.

I divert my eyes, but then blow out a disgusted laugh. I never would have done that back in college. She’s hot. I can see that from here. A hot girl makes eye contact, I would have held her gaze. I would have sent the message loud and clear with my eyes that I was interested.

When I glance up, she’s gone back to her book. I shove up off the bench and cram my hands into my pockets as I amble slowly toward her.

She lowers her book and sits up when she sees me, combing a hand through her thick strawberry blond corkscrew curls, and it strikes me that she looks vaguely familiar. Her face is thin and, at the bottom of a smallish nose that curls up slightly at the end are a pair of full, pink lips that tend to curl down. There’s the faintest hint of freckles smattering her cheeks and nose, and it’s kind of a turn-on that she’s comfortable enough in her own skin not to hide them behind layers of makeup. But it’s her charcoal gray eyes that snag all my attention. They’re large and round, but not innocent.

“Nice day,” I say, looking toward the shelter down the hill, wracking my brain trying to place how I know this woman. Maybe from the gym?

She closes her book and nods.

“Mind if I…?” I gesture at the now vacant end of the bench.

She gives me another wary nod.

I lower myself onto the spot her feet just occupied, and now I’ve got nothing else to say. I should have stayed on my own fucking bench. I give her a second to bail me out, and when she doesn’t, I gesture to the book. “Good book?”

She lifts the book and shows me the cover. The Metamorphosis. “It’s okay.”

I pull it from her hand and read the description on the back cover. “Pretty dark.”

She almost shrugs, more with her face than her body. “I found a list of the twenty-five most controversial books of all time. Making my way through the ones that interest me.” In the corner of my eye, I see her wave her hand at the book I’m thumbing through. “That’s number ten.”

I look up at her. “What are numbers one through nine?”

“Lolita is number one. I’d already read that, though, as well as number two, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, number four, The Grapes of Wrath, and number nine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

“So, what new books have you picked up because of the list?” I lift The Metamorphosis. “Other than this?”

She looks at the book in my hand rather than me as she ticks off on her fingers. “I skipped American Psycho, which is number three, but I’ve read the rest: And Tango Makes Three, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Tropic of Cancer, and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie…which I have to say was pretty dry.”

“That’s a pretty impressive reading list.” I set the book down on the bench between us. “So, you’re not a Rushdie fan. What did you think of the others?”

“And Tango Makes Three was cute. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was depressing, and The Tropic of Cancer was…” She trails off and gives me that face shrug again. But this time she’s blushing through her freckles.

It’s been a while since I read it, but my recollection is it’s full of graphic sex. She’s embarrassed to talk to me about it, and for some reason that sends a rush through insides that settles in my groin. My gaze trials over the lines of her face, down her long neck, then trickles over her body. She’s on the tall side and athletic, with breasts that are a perfect handful, a flat stomach, and long, toned legs that I’d suddenly kill to have wrapped around my head.

“And what’s the verdict on this one?” I ask, handing back The Metamorphosis.

A shadow passes over her face as she looks at the cover. “It’s…thought provoking.”

“What thoughts is it provoking?” I ask, laying the innuendo on thick and hoping I’m not the only one feeling the attraction.

The thought passes through the back of my mind that hitting on another woman while my date is just down the hill is a pretty skanky thing to do, but there’s something compelling about this girl. The idea that I might never see her again tugs hard at my gut. I can’t let this chance to find out who she is slip by.

“Have you read it?” she asks.

I lean in and shake my head. “Should I?”

“It’s a little out there,” she says with an unsure squint.

“Why don’t you save me the trouble and give me the SparkNotes,” I say, looping my arm behind her and resting it on the back of the bench.

She gives me a curious look, and I feel her body tense under my arm.

I give her my best cocky smile and arch an eyebrow. I intentionally let my fingers brush her shoulder and am rewarded with a shudder. “Unless you’d prefer I leave?”

A sly smile curves her pink lips as she lowers her lashes, and the rush in my groin intensifies.

“The SparkNotes…” she says, picking up the book between us. I take the opportunity to slide closer. “This guy Gregor wakes up one day to find he’s a giant bug…which I get is a little weird, and there’s no explanation as to why, but the upshot is that everyone is pretty grossed out by him and all his family seems to care about is that he can’t do his job anymore, so he can’t contribute to the finances. He can only speak bug, so because they can’t understand him, they assume he can’t understand them when they say they wish he’d just go away. But he can’t leave because he has nowhere to go, and also because his father threw an apple at him and injured him pretty badly, so he hides in his room and eventually just dies.”

“Seriously?” When I take the book back and turn it over to read the jacket copy again, I notice it came from the county library.

“Seriously,” she answers, earnestly.

I lift my eyes to hers. “So a happy ending, then,” I say, my voice full of sarcasm.

“Yeah, right.” Her eyes lower to the book in my hand. “I don’t really understand why it’s the tenth most controversial book of all time, but it’s a pretty true testament to human nature. Gregor is messed up, so instead of trying to help him, people just wish he’d go away.”

There’s no mistaking the mix of disdain and sadness in her tone. I only realize how intently I’m staring at her when she turns her face away. Does she feel that people wish she’d go away? And, if so, who is making her feel that way and why? Is she “messed up?”

The overpowering need to know sweeps through me in a rush that forces a shuddering breath from my lungs.

“So, what’s next on the list?” I ask, handing the book back.

“Brave New World,” she answers, her eyes lifting to mine again.

I cuff a laugh. “That one I have read. Another uplifting story.”

“So I hear.” She glances down the hill in the direction I came from. “So, what’s going on down there, anyway? Someone’s birthday?”

My gaze follows hers. “My sister’s wedding reception.”

“In a public park?” she asks, her eyebrows raising in surprise.

I nod. “Graffiti Park is special. We spent a lot of time here as kids.”

“Graffiti Park? That’s really the name of this place?” she asks, looking around.

“I have no clue what the real name is. That’s just what we’ve always called it.” My thumb brushes over where Nate carved my name into the back of bench we’re sitting on at least ten years ago.

She squints toward the shelter below and shades her eyes from the last of the afternoon sun. “I don’t see a bride.”

I point to Blaire. “The one in the bright blue dress.”

“That sort of flies in the face of tradition, doesn’t it?” she asks, still watching.

“That’s my sister. She’s never cared much about social conventions. If you search YouTube for her valedictory graduation speech from Oak Crest High four years ago, you’ll see what I mean.”

Her eyes snap to mine, wide and curious, and her gaze knocks the wind out of me. “What did she say?”

“She basically told the whole world off. But that was because her now husband,” I say with a jut of my chin at the gathering below, “had just been arrested for statutory rape.”

Her eyes widen even more. “Oh my God!”

“She’s always insisted they were in love, and the age difference shouldn’t matter. It was her giant ‘fuck you’ to society.”

Her head cocks to the side as she watches the party below. “I like her already.” She turns back to me. “Won’t they miss you?”

I press myself against her shoulder. “I’m disturbing you?”

A sardonic smile ghosts over her features as she lifts the book. “I was in the middle of reading the thoughts of a dying giant bug-person and not thinking that was at all weird, so I’m obviously already very disturbed.”

I can’t stop staring, because she’s suddenly stunningly beautiful. Her eyes flash, looking momentarily more black then gray, and there’s a long, deep dimple in her right cheek, which is the only one I can see because of the angle of her head. I’m dying to know if there’s a matching one on the other side.

The smile fades under my scrutiny and when she drops her gaze to the book between us, a cascade of strawberry corkscrews hide her face. “Sorry. Stupid joke.”

“No!” Damn. A little too eager there, tiger. I work to lower my voice. “I mean, it wasn’t stupid. It was funny.”

I just forgot to laugh because your smile knocked me senseless for a sec.

She lifts a knee to her chest, hooking the heel of her sneaker on the edge of the bench. Her knee pokes through the long crosswise tear in her jeans. “It’s okay, my sense of humor’s pretty dry. Not too many people get me.”

“Your sense of humor is refreshing,” I say. “And as for people getting you, most people don’t pay enough attention to anyone but themselves to ‘get’ much of anything.”

“Marcus!”

I look down the hill at Deanna’s voice. She’s at the shelter waving her hands over her head to get my attention. There’s a sudden cramp in my stomach at the thought of her coming up here.

“Looks like you have to go.” I’d swear a catch a hint of disappointment in her tone.

“Looks like.” I stand and shove my hands into my pockets. “My name is Marcus, by the way.”

She smiles and something roguish flashes in her eyes. “I know.”

Fuck. I do know her. Everything felt so relaxed and comfortable between us. I hate that I might have just fucked that up. Before it gets totally awkward, I blurt, “I’d be up for maybe getting a burger at Sam Hill sometime, if you’re into that.”

She nods, but that wary glint is back in her eyes. “Yeah…sure.”

I fish my phone from my pocket. “Can I get your number?”

She reels it off and I type it in. “Girl who stole my bench,” is say with a cocky grin as I type it in to contacts. I turn my amusement on her. “Or is there something else I should call you?”

He gives me a questioning tip of her head. “Addie.”

I know that name. Someone I went to high school with, maybe? My brain chugs harder trying to put the pieces together as I type it in. “Got it,” I say, holding up my phone. “I’ll give you a call.”

She squints at me. “Okay.”

I start backing down the path. “Enjoy my bench,” I say with a wink.

She lifts the book in a wave. “See you Monday, Coach.”

Suddenly I see her face under a navy blue swim cap with the Oak Crest Cougar on the side. The jolt of electric panic almost knocks my legs out from under me and I stumble, just catching myself before I go down.

Because she’s on my fucking team.

I ran tryouts Wednesday and Thursday. Practices just started yesterday. I’m still trying to get the new girls’ names. She said Addie, but my roster says Addaline, I think. All I can remember for sure is she’s a senior transfer and mostly keeps to herself.

“Fuck me,” I mutter, then hear myself. I hold up a hand. “I mean…” I trail off in a cringe. “Sorry for the language.” Because I’m not supposed to swear in front of a fucking student.

But fuck. My mind reels, replaying everything I said and did and trying to figure out how to backpedal out of this. “So, we’ll talk about a…team dinner…for bonding and whatever…at practice on Monday.”

Just shoot me now.

She tips her head and bites her lips, fighting a smile. “Sounds good, Coach.”

After what feels like a small eternity, I shake myself loose from her gaze and start down the hill without saying anything else. I can only dig myself deeper at this point. But the whole way, all I can think about is that, as shitty as my life is at the moment, it might have just gotten shittier.




Dirty
A poem by Blaire Leon

If sex is dirty, why would I do it with someone I love?
If sex is dirty, then didn’t we all come from the dirt?
What if I like the dirt?
What if I want to get dirty?
What if I want to roll in the mud until I’m so fucking filthy that I’ll never be clean again?

When twenty-five-year-old graduate assistant Caiden Brenner asked Blaire Leon how old she was, she said she was a senior. He chose to believe she meant in college. They connect over Lord Byron’s Don Juan and, as their conversations become increasingly thicker with sexual innuendo, Caiden finds himself obsessing over a totally off-limits undergrad who’s bold, beautiful, brilliant, and one of the most passionate poets he’s ever met.

But it turns out Blaire hasn't been totally honest. She's the seventeen-year-old valedictorian of her high school class, taking courses at Sierra State while awaiting her acceptance to Stanford.

Will Caiden get too deeply into Blaire to back away before he finds out the truth? Or will their connection be enough to seduce him into risking his entire future on Jail Bait?








About the Author


Mia Storm is a hopeless romantic who is always searching for her happy ending. Sometimes she’s forced to make one up. When that happens, she’s thrilled to be able to share those stories with her readers. She lives in California and spends much of her time in the sun with a book in one hand and a mug of black coffee in the other, or hiking the trails in Yosemite. Connect with her online at MiaStormAuthor.blogspot.com , on Twitter at @MiaStormAuthor, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MiaStormAuthor



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