Available TODAY from Cobblestone Press
The greatest treasure in the Superstition Mountains isn't gold.
Mica Hawke tipped his hat over his eyes and feigned sleep.
When he had awakened from his dream a week ago, the phone had been ringing by his bedside. Upon answering it, a woman’s nasally voice introduced herself as Sue Ellen Mateo, Mica’s long-lost cousin. The story she had told him about uncovering the map in an old family Bible sounded far-fetched enough to be true. But was it? Well, there was only one way to find out. He would have to go to Arizona and have a look at the map.
The van hit a bump, and he shifted position so he could study the other occupants of the shuttle van from the airport. Sitting across from him, an attractive couple pored over a hand-drawn map and talked about gold. He knew who they were, Sue Ellen and her husband Jason. At the moment, they didn’t have any idea who he was, and he wanted to keep it that way for a bit longer. The map looked authentic enough, and the couple certainly treated it as if they believed it was genuine. It lent credibility to Sue Ellen’s story but didn’t rule out the chance the couple was perpetrating a hoax directed at Fool’s Gold. As a forensic document examiner, he’d seen more than his fair share of authentic-looking forgeries and interviewed con men and women who were better actors than any Hollywood star. Still, his gut feel was this was the map, and his fingers itched to hold it.
The man sitting behind the couple did nothing to hide his interest in the map. He sat high in his seat peering over their shoulders. Hawke didn’t like the speculative gleam in the older man’s eyes. Gold lust was something many men caught and some killed over.
The shuttle driver was giving a dissertation on the story of Joe Waltz and the Lost Dutchman Mine. The driver’s voice was monotonous, but Mica listened anyway. The subject was more than appropriate since the van’s destination was a place called Fool’s Gold in the town of Stallion Springs. There, for an ungodly sum of money, he was going to take an uncomfortable three-day horseback ride into the mountains. All because of a dream.
He wasn’t sure who was the biggest fool—him or the treasure hunters who’d gone before him.
“Are you sure we can convince her to let us follow the map?” The woman asked in a high, nasal whine. She was pretty in a blonde vapid sort of way, but her voice put his teeth on edge. The man sitting beside her didn’t seem fazed by it at all. Mica bit back a grin and questioned whether it was because the man didn’t mind or because he wasn’t listening.
“Of course she will,” the man said. When the woman shot him a dubious look, he quickly added. “Well, I was married to her once, you know.”
“So, you’ve told me.”
“Besides, after what happened in Iraq, I’m sure she’ll do anything to get her hands on some money. The VA is notoriously cheap about paying for prosthetics. She also got burned. I’m sure she has some horrific scars she’d like to have fixed.”
“I don’t want to talk about her anymore.” The woman tossed her hair over her shoulder. “So, what is the price of gold?”
“About six hundred dollars.”
“A pound?” The woman asked.
“No, an ounce.”
“Oh!” The woman gave a sexy shiver, and her blue eyes sparkled.
The brakes on the bus hissed as they pulled up in front of a low adobe building.
“Welcome to Stallion Springs,” the driver said.
Mica tipped up his hat, reached down for his duffle bag, then stared out the window. Oh, God, it was her!
In a flash, he was back in college. He’d had a hard-on for the pretty brunette from the first time he saw her in chemistry class. It was an open lecture so, over the next few weeks, he timed his arrival so he could walk behind her into class just to watch the sexy twitch of her ass. All semester he tried to work up the nerve to ask her out and failed. Rae Morgan. Even her name made his heart beat faster. If he closed his eyes, he could almost remember how her lips felt under his when he’d kissed her. Despite his shyness, he had managed to kiss her…once.
He had been passing her dorm on Sunday morning when he saw her come out the front door. It was the day after graduation, and everyone one else seemed to be packing up cars and vans with their belongings. All she carried was a duffle bag. He followed her on a whim and had been disconcerted when they ended up at the bus terminal. He watched her buy a ticket with his heart frozen like a stone in his chest. She was leaving! He didn’t have a clue what to do, but he knew he couldn’t just walk away…so he had kissed her. Did she even remember after all these years?
He took a deep breath and prepared to step out of the van. She hadn’t seen him yet. There was an air of seriousness about her as she stood at the foot of the van steps with a clipboard in her hand. Her long black hair had been cut short and now swung around her shoulders with a sassy flip at the ends. Taking a closer look at her, he realized she’d filled out in all the right places. She had large breasts, a trim waist, and flat stomach. Did she still walk with a tantalizing twitch of her ass? He’d definitely be watching to find out. Her eyes were still the same deep blue he remembered, but they weren’t wide and innocent anymore.
She’d grown from a girl to a woman. Well, he’d grown, too. No longer shy and awkward, he made a vow. This time he’d get more than just her name and one measly kiss.
End of Excerpt
by Ericka Scott
Trapped inside a tree eons ago and cursed to move from tree to tree, losing any powers she’s gained when the tree is cut down, Deidre’s in a foul mood when Casey thinks her current home will make the perfect Christmas tree. She curses him with the one thing she knows is guaranteed to bring misery and sorrow: love.
Even when Casey meets Brietta, the woman of his dreams, and gets happier instead of sad, Deidre knows just how to fix him. Make him fall in love, then make sure Brietta never will. She’ll make him pay for all of men’s crimes.
But Casey and Brietta feel the pull of true passion, and between dizzying sex and dazzling love, they’ll turn her curses into a miracle of Christmas romance.
“It’s like it has a mind of its own.” He shook his head, rubbing his arm. “Damn tree.”
A ball fell off and popped him on the top of his head.
Brietta laughed more as he rubbed the spot where the ornament hit. “It does seem to have its own ideas.” He’d bent down to search for ornaments so she approached him, putting her hands on either side of his head to kiss the spot without needing him to bend down. “There. That better?”
“Only maybe?” She arched a brow.
“I have another spot that hurts.” He poked his lip out slightly in a playful pout. Kiss me.
She didn’t take the bait, apparently not a mind reader. Cocking her head to the side, she eyed him. “Where at?”
He pointed to the center of his lips. “There.”
“Oh.” She leaned down again to plant a kiss where he’d pointed. “How’s that?”
“I think they need more TLC. They were hurting a lot.”
Stooping, she kissed him more deeply.
“That’s getting there. Still need more.”
They kissed again, their tongues meeting in a duel. She sounded breathless, her mouth swollen. “Let’s see what we can do about that pain here.”
“Might take lots of kisses to fully help it.” Like about a million before he’d ever tire of kissing her.
“Hmmm.” Her tongue continued a gentle exploration of his mouth. Fires simmered, rose up, and crackled inside him. Flame licked his body at every turn.
He pulled her closer, grinding his hard cock into her middle. Damn, how her body tempted him. He wanted inside of her right now.
The soft sweater teased his fingertips resting on her back. He shifted his hand to cup the twin globes of her ass, pulling her tighter against his erection. She moaned sweetly under his assault.
He pulled away slightly to a frustrated protest, which stopped right after he lowered himself to the floor. He tugged on her arm to urge her down with him onto the rug he’d placed around the bottom of the Christmas tree. His hand traced a lazy pattern over her nose and cheeks, memorizing each placement of her freckles as she lay beside him.
Her lashes fluttered down. “I don’t usually do this…sort of thing. On the second date.”
“I don’t.” Her voice tightened.
“Oh, I believe you.” He kissed the tip of her nose, his hands still exploring the wonder that was her face. Her nose was so slim and perky. “I don’t either.” He hadn’t had sex with a woman he’d just met since his younger wild days. But something about her drew him, since the first time he’d seen her in the store. This seemed so much different than wanting a night of sex with a woman he didn’t know. God help him, knowing Brietta had become an obsession.
His lips sipped at hers, tasting a little, reassuring her that all was well. Hell, he was so well, he might explode soon.
The sweater tickled his fingers as his hand rode down her torso to the bottom of it. His hand slipped inside to touch the tender skin of her stomach, eliciting a gasp from her.
“Should I stop?” He pulled away to look deep within her eyes. He wanted this with her, but she had to want it, too.
She nuzzled the bottom of his chin with her head. “No.”
His hand slid higher under her sweater to find a breast. Gently caressing it through the satiny feel of her bra, he took it slow, his hand touching around it. The nipple pebbled through the filmy material.
Sliding her shirt up, his eyes feasted on her exposed stomach. She had creamy skin with several freckles scattered about. Her bra was a blue or green hard to tell in the light and cupped her full breasts tightly.
His head lowered to tease her nipples through the material. First, he’d blow warm and wet, then he’d suck in his breath, rippling cold air along them. She shuddered, her legs extending out fully. God, what they’d feel like wrapped around him. He wanted to be encased in her. Wanted to be inside her so tightly they meshed. He couldn’t hold out much longer. His body had become wrapped too tense with desire.
He slid one hand up those long limbs to explore her hips.
She grasped the bottom of his T-shirt, tugging on it. “Let’s get this off.”
“Not without something of yours coming off.”
Mechele Armstrong aka Lany of Melany Logen
Where sensuality and wonder collide
The future’s never been so sexy
Brigid Kawsantower travels to Ireland with her husband, Gabe, unaware of the true reason for their trip--or her true identity--until she comes to the little town of Carrigclarseach. There she learns of the Terrans, a clandestine group of supernatural beings who struggle to keep the earth in balance.
Brigid is a Terran Water and Fire Keeper--and the daughter of Dagda, a powerful Water Keeper, and at one time the leader of the Terrans of ancient Eire. Retreating before invading forces, he concealed Brigid's spirit until the day when her help is needed to defeat Nimhnach, a maniacal Destroyer, who seeks to gain eternal life and world domination. Can Brigid believe enough in her newfound powers to fulfill her destiny?
Gabe is a Terran Protector with a secret--can he protect Brigid from Nimhnach's plans and his own dark desires?
Irish archeologist, Ethan Clark, is a Terran Singer and Air Keeper. Ages ago he was Dagda's harper and right-hand man. And ages ago, Ethan was Brigid's lover. Should he try to regain her love?
Now they all must work together to vanquish Nimhnach before he unleashes a terror that will enslave the world and destroy Brigid's loves--past, present ... and future.
Gabe held Brigid as she twisted within his arms. Her restlessness diminished and her movements took on a different rhythm as if she were being fucked. He rolled away from her. Let her dream of her unknown lover without him. He’d seek solace in his own visions.
He willed himself to sleep.
* * * *
A week after the wedding, Gabe leaned against the carved wooden headboard and watched Bridge undress, not the least shy of him. But she had always been like that with him. Even their first night together. The soft glow from the fire in the hearth cast a golden light around her.
He could easily see how early humans believed that Terran females were goddesses if they looked like Brigid. The soft glow from the fire in the hearth cast a golden light around her. Her blonde hair floated to her waist. Her blue eyes were like the sky and her figure... A waist small enough to span with his hands. Long, long legs muscled just enough from the dance and martial arts she enjoyed so much. Her arms were powerful from all the swimming competitions in which she participated. He wondered if her Element might be Water; she certainly appeared at home in it. They made love in the shower almost as often as in their bed.
This glorious woman moving toward him with a sexy roll of her hips was his. He loved her so much he knew he’d die if anything should happen to her.
He poured a glass of champagne and sipped it while she strutted over to him.
She stopped and cupped her breasts. “Like what you see...big boy?”
He sputtered, the bubbly fluid spattering his body. And that was another reason he loved her.
She made him laugh.
He set aside his glass on the night table and patted the mattress.
“C’mere, you little tease and I’ll show you how much I like what I see.”
She grinned and took a flying leap into his arms and they tumbled backward onto the bed.
She sat astride him. “I have you at my mercy.”
For the first time, he exerted just a little of his Protector strength and flipped her over on her back. He twined his fingers with hers and brought them above her head.
“Sorry, seems I have you at my mercy, babe.”
She wet her lips. “And are you going to punish me?”
He nodded. “I’m going to make you scream--every time you come.”
“Then do it.”
He lifted her hips and plunged into her creamy pussy. He knew she was ready for him. She always was. He thrust deep and her inner muscles clamped around his dick. She wrapped her legs around his hips and moved against him. His hands pulled and twisted her tender nipples. She whimpered and he pinched just a bit harder. She gasped and her eyes flew open.
He smiled. “Did you like it?”
“I...yeah, I did.”
He moved faster now. Her nails bit into his shoulders as she matched his rhythm. They slid lower and gripped his ass, squeezing his lean muscles.
“Naughty girl. Be good and behave or I won’t let you have your stick of candy afterward.”
She grinned as she answered him. “I’m always good and I never behave.”
“Thank God for that!”
And he plunged hard, holding still for a moment as he felt that little shudder within her body that told him she was close to climaxing.
“And he broke, his cum shooting into her welcoming core. After that, he was a madman. The dream Gabe took over where the real Gabe left off.
And he knew he was dreaming. He had to be. He had never...
He took her in so many ways he lost count. And his cock never tired. He continued his need for mastery and tied her hands to the headboard. He blindfolded her and flipped her over on her belly and took her from the rear. He slapped her creamy white behind until it was flaming.
And she loved it.
And begged for more.
And he knew if he gave her what she wanted, he’d hurt her. Badly.
And he wanted to. It was why he hadn’t many lovers before her. If he ever lost control of his need for dominance... He was a Protector with a Protector’s strength. It was why he had been so ashamed of what he had done at the campsite.
But the dream Brigid wanted it. Was begging for it. He could hear her pleading for him to fuck her hard. To smack her bottom.
He raised his hand...
And woke up in a sweat.
By Kris Eton
Available from Cobblestone Press, LLC
When Piper Henderson and her boyfriend join friends for a winter mountain getaway one weekend, little does she know her high school crush, Jacob Townsend, would show up. And he isn't alone.
At first, she fights off her fantasies, but when she and Jacob are trapped after an avalanche, they both discover how strong an old flame can be. Will they give in to their desires?
Piper dumped her heavy suitcase onto the floorboards of the rustic, wood-paneled cabin. “I thought I told you I’m not really the outdoorsy type, Celia.” She brushed a cobweb off of the leg of her jeans.
“Oh, come on. You don’t have to go outside if you don’t want to. Just sit and read by the fire or take a nap.” Celia carried two full bags of groceries into the cabin, her cheeks rosy-red from the biting winter air outside.
“So, where’s everyone else?” This was supposed to be a relaxing weekend with old friends. At least, that was how Celia sold it to her a few weeks ago.
“You mean Matt?”
“Are you going to give me a hard time about him, too?” Piper slammed the door shut.
Celia took the bags into the kitchen. “Your mother’s right, Piper. That guy’s no good for you.”
“I’m just getting back into dating again. Cut me a little slack.”
“Yeah, you’re getting back into dating, so you go back to your high school boyfriend?” Celia appeared in the doorway. “He’s such a weenie.”
“What?” She put her hands in the pockets of her brown corduroys and shrugged. “He is. After being married to Jim, you’d think you’d be a little more discriminating.”
Piper ignored her friend’s comment and rubbed her hands together for warmth. “How do you turn the heat on in this place?”
She looked around the room. Kitchen to the left, living room straight ahead with some comfortable looking couches and a big fireplace. “Do you know anything about building a fire?”
“You were in Girl Scouts. Didn’t they teach you stuff like that?” Celia peeled off her puffy down jacket and hung it in the closet by the front door. “I’ll make some hot chocolate. You get the fire going.”
“Gee, thanks.” Piper pulled off her hat and gloves, and set them on a rickety table in the entryway. Stepping into the living room, she caught her breath at the beautiful wooded scene out the bay window. Several inches of new snow already covered the ground, and the lake was a sheet of sparkling ice under the midday sun. “You should see the view.”
“I told you it was a nice place.”
If it wasn’t for the chilling cold in the room, she probably could have looked out that window all afternoon. She shivered. Next to the fireplace sat a stack of wood, old newspapers, and a box of matches. She could do this. How hard could it be to get a fire going?
She crumpled up a sheet of newspaper and set it under the grate. Then she stacked a couple of pieces of firewood on top.
Striking a match, she held it to the paper and watched in satisfaction as it flared to life. “Fire’s taken care of.”
Celia came around the corner with two mugs of steaming hot chocolate in her hands. “Or not.”
At her friend’s words, Piper made a frown and turned back to look at her handiwork. The newspaper had burned all right, but the wood didn’t catch. “Dang it.”
“Here, drink this. Maybe there’s a thermostat around here somewhere.” Celia handed her a mug then disappeared down the hallway that branched off of the living room. “But keep trying! It’s colder than a witch’s tit in here!”
Piper took a sip of her hot drink then set it down on the brick hearth. Looking at the blackened paper under the logs, she tried to think about how to tackle the task. More paper? Was there lighter fluid anywhere around? Would a shot or two of vodka, which was in those grocery bags, get things going?
She grabbed another newspaper and set to crumpling.
“Who left you in charge of the fire?”
Piper jumped at the masculine voice. Celia’s six-foot-two, dark-haired, green-eyed, sexy-as-hell brother stood just inside the living room, the front door wide open. “Jacob? What are you doing here? Celia didn’t mention you were coming.”
“Why wouldn’t I come? Anders High School. Weekend reunion. Sounds like I fit the bill.”
“Weekend reunion for the class of ’92. You’re class of ’90.”
“Don’t remind me. Are you trying to make me feel old?” He peeked into the kitchen. “Where’s Celia?”
“Would you mind shutting the door? It’s freezing in here.” Her pulse raced. It was so unfair he had that affect on her so many years out of high school.
“I think it’s warmer out there than it is in here.” He closed the door.
“Why do you think I’m building a fire?” To prove how hard she was working, she picked up another piece of newspaper and crumpled it.
“Do you mind if I give it a try?”
“What? You don’t think I can do it?”
“I didn’t say that. I’d just like to have a fire going before we all freeze to death.” He rubbed his hands together and blew on them.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
He left his duffle bag near the front door and stepped into the living room. “First, you put too much paper under there. And these logs? You need something smaller.”
“I was just working with what they gave me here.” She gestured at the wood and newspaper stacked next to the grate.
“There’s some kindling outside on the porch. You pull some of this out of here...” He pointed at the paper. “...and I’ll go bring in some wood we can use.”
Leave it to Jacob to make her feel sixteen again. A goofy, silly, infatuated sixteen. She was pulling out a few half-burned wads of newspaper when Celia came back into the room.
“Found the thermostat in the front bedroom.”
Piper swept bits of ash off the hearth. “So when were you going to tell me about Jacob?”
“What’s that now?” Her friend clutched her mug close to her chest, a finger nervously tapping the ceramic.
“Your brother’s here. You didn’t tell me he was invited.”
Celia cleared her throat and tucked a strand of long, dark hair behind one ear. “Yeah, well, he wasn’t doing anything this weekend, and I thought that maybe you two...”
“I can’t believe you!”
“Well, you’ve had a crush on him forever. I thought, now that you’re divorced and all, why not?”
“I’m dating Matt Duncan, remember?”
“Matt Duncan?” Jacob came bursting through the front door looking like the Brawny man, a pile of kindling stacked high in his arms. “You’re going out with that weenie again?”
“See? I told you,” whispered Celia.
Jacob made his way toward the fireplace to unload the wood.
“He’s not a weenie. That was ages ago. Can’t you just let the past go?”
Celia sat down in the leather armchair next to the fireplace. “Don’t worry, Jacob. It won’t last.”
Jacob knelt next to her in front of the hearth. Piper could smell his cologne. Musky. A little bit spicy. Her insides squirmed. He was so close to her, she itched to reach out and run her fingers through his hair. And then he would turn to look at her. He would close in for a kiss, and then...
“Are you feeling all right?” Jacob asked.
Piper had let her thoughts drift a little too much toward fantasy land. “Um, yeah. Just a little cold. Are you going to get this fire going, or what?” She sneaked a glance at Celia who had an eyebrow raised.
“Why don’t we start dinner while he works on the fire?” Celia said a little too loudly. “The rest of the gang will be here in a few hours.”
Piper hopped up. “Sounds like a plan.”
“That’s how I like it. Keep the women in the kitchen. Leave the real work to the men.” He winked at Piper and laid the kindling in the grate.
“Oh, my Lord. No wonder you’re still single.” Celia grabbed Piper by the hand and practically dragged her into the kitchen.
“Who would take on a project like that?”
Jacob yelled after them, “Hey, can I help it if I’m too much for any woman to handle?”
The minute the two friends were in the kitchen together, Celia threw orders rapid-fire at her. “Okay, Matt won’t be here until seven. Plenty of time for a little one-on-one time with the hermano. I can start dinner. Then I’ll say something about forgetting the milk. You go take a shower and put on anything red. Jacob loves red. And then—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. What in the hell, Celia? Are you insane?”
“One might call my deviousness insanity, but there is also something brilliant in my scheming. Admit it.” She pulled a package of celery out of one of the grocery bags and opened the refrigerator.
“I’m dating someone.” Piper handed her the milk.
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am. We’ve already talked about this.”
“Matt is nobody, Piper. He’s your rebound man. Someone safe from your past. I get it. Jim hurt you. You needed somewhere soft to land, and Matt, even though he’s an idiot, was pretty darn safe. And now it’s time to move on.”
“When did you figure this all out? When did you suddenly decide I needed to seduce your brother?” Even though outside she was emanating outrage, her insides were a mass of conflicting emotions.
“What?” The first bag was empty. She crumpled it up and tossed it toward the trash bin by the back door.
“God, I tried so hard to get the two of you together in high school.”
“You did not.”
Celia rolled her eyes. “Oh, my God, Piper. You really were that stupid.”
“I had you all wrong. I knew you had this crush on him but thought maybe you didn’t think he was smart enough for you or something. I mean, I gave you plenty of opportunities to throw yourself at him sophomore year.”
“What did you do?” Piper narrowed her eyes at her friend.
“You really didn’t know?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Let’s see. Labor Day weekend you came with us to my aunt’s house—”
“And you got sick.”
“I pretended to be sick. Didn’t you ever watch E.T.? Thermometer by the light bulb? Works every time.”
“You tricked me?” Piper pulled a bag of apples out of the second grocery bag.
“Tricked you into going alone with Jacob on that hayride? Heck, yeah. And then there was the homecoming dance and the case of the missing date.” Celia opened a cupboard and rooted around for a minute before discovering a frying pan.
“You sabotaged my date?” She dumped the apples, red-cheeked and shiny, into an empty glass bowl.
“That one almost worked. I saw the two of you. Alone. In that dark corner. Jacob’s hands all over you.”
“He was consoling me. I was crying because I thought my date stood me up, and he was nice enough to talk to me.” She picked up the bowl and carried it toward the small table across from the stove.
“Success!” Jacob appeared in the doorway and gave a little bow. “I have created fire, my ladies. Please, no applause.” He smiled, grabbed an apple out of the bowl in her hands, and took a bite of the crisp, white flesh.
“Piper’s going to take a shower.” Celia banged some pans around on the stove and avoided her friend’s eyes.
Jacob gave Piper a quick glance. There was a familiar heaviness in her chest when those green eyes turned on her. His gaze flicked quickly to her mouth then back up to her eyes. “Wanna look nice for Duncan, huh?”
A blush crept up her neck. She set the bowl on the counter and ducked past him. She scooped up her bags still sitting inside the door, and headed down the hall to any empty room she could find. Behind her, she could hear Celia say to her brother, “Darn it. I forgot to bring milk. I’ll just go run out to the store.”
Piper shut the door behind her and leaned against it. She took a breath. What was she doing? Why was she going through with Celia’s crazy plan? This was nuts.
By Loribelle Hunt
Available From Cobblestone Press, LLC
The world was going to hell and determined to drag her along with it. As soon as the shooting started, Calista ducked into an alley. She wasn’t stupid—it was never safe to stand in the middle of flying bullets. She risked a peek out to see if it was anyone she cared to assist. Meaning they could pay for her trouble. Hey, altruism only went so far and a girl had to eat.
Dust flew through the air as the north end of New Peachtree filled with Union soldiers. On the south side of the road, rebels took cover in doorways and behind carts through the haze. Sighing, she backed up far out of view and straightened, hands instinctively resting on the heels of her revolvers. She turned around, looking for an exit.
Wouldn’t you know I’d get stuck in a dead end alley?
There was a door at the back of one of the buildings near the alley’s rear wall and she headed for it. She wanted to get clear before the opposing forces started lobbing dynamite each other.
Crap! The door had no knob. Did she risk being heard banging on it? A soft thud had her whirling, hands on the butts of her pistols again. If she had drawn as she turned, she might have had the advantage, but she was too slow. The blue-eyed devil before her had much quicker reflexes, speed, and strength. Werewolves put a real crimp in her style.
“What do you want, Kane?” she asked, seriously considering that door now.
“Looks like you got trouble.”
He grinned. Why did her heart have to flutter in response?
“Not me. Them.” She jerked her head toward the street and shrugged. “Nothing to do with me.”
“’Cept you’d rather not get caught in the middle of it.”
She nodded absently, turning to examine the wall. Maybe she could scale it. Her stomach spasmed at the height. It had to be at least nine feet tall and as smooth as she imagined a baby’s bottom would be. No handholds. No toeholds.
“Need a hand up?”
She scowled at him. What was his game this time? Kane was a competitor. Sometimes an ally, sometimes an enemy. Sometimes a lover. They shared a motto—nothing is free. His help would come with a price.
Out on the street the shooting started again, and he smirked at her. A cat ate the canary grin. It made her immediately suspicious. She blinked and he moved closer. So close she had to crane her neck back to see him. He knew that pissed her off.
“What’s it going to be, Calista?” he asked, a husky timbre to his voice. “Do I stay? Or do I go?”
Frustration riding her hard, she stepped away and faced the end of the alley, putting her hands on her hips. There weren’t any sounds of retreat from the street. She could settle in for a long wait or accept Kane’s help.
“Oh, hell,” she muttered. What choice did she have?
Turning to face him, she nodded acceptance and stepped up to the wall. She expected him to give her a boost, so when his hands settled on her hips she didn’t have enough warning to repress a flinch. As usual, even his most casual touch left her feeling like she was in free fall, the bottom dropping out of her belly and her head spinning. She clenched her fists and tried to step back, but he held on, his fingers gripping the flesh of her backside. She liked his roughness, liked his ragged breath across her ear as he whispered to her, knew it was a sign she made him lose control just as much as he made her lose control.
“Invite me to stay tonight,” he said softly, not allowing his voice to carry in the sudden silence that reigned from the street.
Oh, hell, no. She reminded herself of all the good reasons she had for staying away from Kane. He messed up her focus. He was jealous and possessive. He stole her business. That thought almost cooled her body enough to reconnect to her brain. She had two sisters to take care of. She couldn’t afford to lose any income. And, yes, she had an independent streak a mile wide too. If she weren’t careful, he would steal away her freedom like a thief in the night. She pulled free of his grasp and glared at his relaxed pose. The interlude seemed to mean nothing to him, while her body was still raring to go.
“Just get me out of here. You can get your slap and tickle somewhere else,” she grumbled, unwilling to admit she was jealous as hell over whoever’s bed he’d spent the last few months in.
He pushed a lose strand of hair over her ear, the tender gesture at odds with the intense gleam in his eyes. Meshing his hands together to form a step, he moved closer. She set her foot on his palms, felt the power gathering through his body as he prepared to lift her up.
“Wait for me at the top,” he said.
Then he pushed her up, almost catapulting her over the top. Fast. Too fast. The speed of her assent took her by surprise and she barely remembered to grab onto the ledge of the wall. She got it just in time, leveraging her upper body high enough to fling one leg over and sit up. She glanced down to where Kane waited and her belly dived again, this vertigo not unlike her one experience of riding in one of the newfangled hot air balloons. Wrenching her gaze away from the ground she focused on the wall she sat on, wishing Kane would get his butt moving. The longer she sat up here, the heavier her breathing and her panic grew. She’d learned the hard way years ago that everyone had weaknesses. This just happened to be one of hers. Man—and woman—kind were not meant to be feet off the ground. Well, unless they were one of the new breeds. But she was one hundred percent human, and her feet were meant to be firmly planted on the dirt. The air whooshed around her as Kane jumped up to join her on the ledge, and she tilted her head back up to meet his worried gaze. He would know. The bastard.
“You’re going to have jump to me, Calista.”
She cringed, knowing her eyes widened like saucers when she looked at him. It hadn’t occurred to her how she would get down. Hell and damnation. Her nod was jerky. She’d close her eyes and bite her lip as she dropped if she had to, but she sure as hell wasn’t staying up here all night. Kane didn’t wait for further discussion, instead lifting his leg over the side of the ledge and leaping off. In less than a second he stood on the ground waiting for her, and she decided she just couldn’t do it. She’d sit here forever.
“Come on, sweetheart. You can do this. You know I won’t let you fall,” he crooned.
Her hackles rose. So she didn’t like heights. Didn’t mean he needed to talk to her like she was a child. She swung her leg over the side and perched there, eyes focused on the ground. If he didn’t catch her, it was going to hurt like hell. Then she would have to retaliate, of course. She spent a minute ruminating over ways to torture Kane and her thoughts turned carnal—they always did with him—recalling a set of silk scarves Daphne had recently given her.
“Calista, darling, we don’t have all night here.”
She jerked back to the present when she heard the tension in his voice. She’d accepted his senses were much sharper than hers long ago. They’d saved her ass more than once and something had him on edge now. Closing her eyes, she sent up a quick prayer and jumped. She dropped so fast the fall didn’t even register before his arms closed around her, cradling her close to his chest as he took off in a run down the new alley.
They burst onto the street and she struggled to look around. It had been dusk when she’d been trapped in the alley, but now it was dark, the night black with no moon out. Boom! The ground shook. Kane staggered, nearly falling before he righted himself. Her heart thundered in her chest and her ears rang. Lifting her head, she opened her mouth to speak, but he shook his head. His expression was grim enough to make her rethink, the demand for answers sticking to her tongue.
After several blocks, his pace slowed to a fast walk, and he began navigating his way back around to the other side of the city where her house was.
“You can let me down now,” she grumbled against his chest.
He grunted, making no move to release her. When he responded his voice was so low she was unsure of his words. “Not yet. That was too close.”
They came around a corner and right into a waiting crowd. She recognized New Peachtree and Gardenia under the dim gaslights, then heard the rumble of an approaching steam car. Kane lowered her until her feet hit the ground, but he kept a tight grip on her hand, pulling her farther into the crowd. The car zoomed past, and she craned her head to see. The contraptions were new enough to still be a novelty, and the crowd oohed and ahhed over its passing. Calista was amazed there were people wealthy enough in New Atlanta for such an extravagance, but the habits and expenditures of the super rich had always confounded her. Her work kept them comfortable, but far from rich, super or otherwise.
After several more blocks, they entered the residential area she lived in with her sisters. Kane led her in the back way, and they entered through the garden gate. The house was brightly lit, and she heard her sisters calling to each other inside, though she couldn’t make out the words. She tugged her hand free and opened the backdoor before he could, planning on putting him off and saying goodbye as quickly as possible.
She’d forgotten how fast he was. Spinning her around, he wrapped an arm around her waist and backed them through the open door, kicking it shut behind them with his boot heel. She hoped it didn’t scuff. Daphne would give her hell.
“Not so fast, sweetheart,” he whispered, leaning forward and scraping his teeth along the pulse pounding in her neck. “Don’t I get a kiss for my trouble? Dinner at least?”
His tongue soothed away the sting where he’d just bitten her. “How ‘bout dessert? I’d love to stay for dessert.” His voice dropped even lower, taking on the seductive timbre she well remembered.
He lifted his head, his lips inches from hers, and she knew he was going to kiss her. And she wasn’t going to stop him, wasn’t going to free herself, even though she knew she should. She shouldn’t go down this road again. His eyes flared with knowledge as her body tuned itself to his, subtly turning, pushing, her pelvis pressed against the erection straining his pants. The first touch was feather soft, so light as to be negligible. She waited for more. More pressure, more passion. But he stopped; releasing her so abruptly she almost fell. He steadied her, turned her around and pulled her in front on him just as her sisters came down the hall.
“There you are.” Daphne’s exasperated tone combined with hands thrown in the air made it clear Calista was late. Damn. She’d forgotten all about the party.
“I’m sorry, Daphne,” she said, in an effort to avoid the kind of scene her middle sister was no doubt working up to. Even Isadora had managed to drag herself from her lab to prepare in time. “I’ll be quick.”
She eased past Daphne, feeling her glare as she hurried down the hall to the front stairs and winked as she walked by Izzie. Grabbing the bottom post on the staircase, she spun the corner and sprinted up, then down the hall to her room. She let the door bang open, wincing at the tirade soon to come for that, and unbuckled her pistol belt, dropping it to the bed.
She stripped off her clothes, dropping them to the floor in her haste, and wrapped a robe around her body before hurrying down the hall to the newly installed bathroom. She stepped into the small room and reached behind the curtain to turn on the water spigots, twisting the hot and cold the same amount and praying the contraption actually worked this time. The walls groaned as water rushed through them, and she dropped the robe, stepping over the lip of the big tub and under the spray. She sighed in relief. Soothing warmth, not scorching heat or frigid cold. Modern conveniences would be much more convenient if they worked consistently.
The door creaked open and she ignored it, certain Daphne was lying in wait for her. She untwisted her hair, letting it fall down her back, and reached for the lavender soap sitting on a nearby shelf. The curtain opened behind her and a solid, hard body brushed against hers. She jumped, but was unable to twist around in the confined space.
“Let me help,” Kane whispered, taking the soap from her hands.
She sputtered in protest, but couldn’t find the words or will to kick him out. She felt him behind her, naked, his body hard and pulsing in need, and she fought down a sigh, fought down a sense of contentment that didn’t belong to her. He doesn’t belong to me, she reminded herself. Not really.
He rubbed the lather through her hair, his fingers massaging her scalp as he went, dragging it through the long length. She stopped fighting and relaxed back against him. A deep sound of satisfaction rumbled from his chest, almost like a purr.
“I like it when you go all soft and relaxed and pliant. You should try it more often.”
She snorted her response but didn’t budge. He felt too good, and her pleasures in life were few and far between. She might as well enjoy him while she could.
The Valentine Effect, a Strangers in the Night story, now available at Samhain.
A man whose passionate heart has been torn apart. A woman who’s never risked hers. Can love bring them a new beginning?
Carrie Morrison is resigned to spending another Valentine’s Day alone, but Cupid brings her a surprise—packaged in the hot body of the father of one of her third grade students. When Enrique Torres stops by her classroom to discuss his son, sizzling chemistry erupts between them.
Ric is a widower, father, garage mechanic, and the hottest Latin lover a woman could wish for to fulfill her Valentine fantasies. One hot night with Carrie in his bed leaves him wanting more, but she’s not sure if she’s brave enough for a relationship beyond a one night stand.
But Ric isn’t about to let Carrie go that easily. She has healed his broken heart, and he’s ready for forever.
Since my editor has just received Hidden Fire, which is a sequel to Finding Sarah, I thought I'd present another peek at the first book, where readers meet Randy and Sarah for the first time.
Being robbed at gunpoint wasn’t part of Sarah Tucker’s business plan. Neither was falling in love with the detective who arrived to solve the case. For police detective Randy Detweiler, a routine robbery investigation turns into the biggest challenge of his career when he falls in love with the victim and ends up having to save more than her business.
Sarah Tucker’s hands shook with anger as she fumbled the keys into her gift boutique’s lock. Bad enough the bus driver stopped beside a puddle the size of Crater Lake, which she cleared despite the restrictions of her skirt and pumps, thank you very much. But when that headbanger in the heavy metal-blasting SUV had sped through the muddy water, any satisfaction at her nimble footwork disappeared in a dousing of muddy water.
The cheerful jingle of the door chimes did nothing for her mood. Sarah rushed to her small office behind the glass sales counter and shrugged out of her coat to assess the damage. She dampened some paper towels and daubed at her mud-spattered shoes and stockings. She couldn’t go home and change and the last thing she wanted was to appear at the bank this afternoon looking like she needed a loan. If you needed money, you couldn’t get it, but if you had it, they’d give you whatever you asked for.
Enough negative thoughts. Sarah hung up her keys and tossed her instant soup packet into the basket by her coffeepot. Another gourmet lunch. At a knock on the door, she checked her watch. It wasn’t quite ten, but she’d open for a possible sale. Patting her windblown hair into place, she hurried to the front door.
Christopher Westmoreland stood there, looking impeccable as always. No headbanger would dare splash water on his perfectly creased black trousers. His strawberry blond hair wouldn’t dare blow in the wind.
“Chris. What brings you to town?” She stepped back into the store and toward the register. “I’m getting ready to open, but if you need anything, I’ll be glad to get it for you.” As if he’d actually buy something.
“Not today. I’ve got some appointments over in Salem. Thought I’d say hello before I head out.” He strolled to the counter and leaned over its glass top, close enough for Sarah to smell his sandalwood aftershave and the cinnamon gum he chewed. “You haven’t returned any of my calls. I know things have been tough since David…died. I only want to help. Why won’t you let me? For old times’ sake, if nothing else.”
Memories of David flooded back. It had been over a year, but the pain lay just beneath the surface, waiting to engulf her. She shoved her emotions back into that metal strongbox in her brain, slammed the lid and turned the key. She was no longer Sarah, David’s wife. Or Sarah the daughter, or Sarah the high school sweetheart. She was Just Plain Sarah.
Sarah met his pale green eyes, the ones she’d found so irresistible in high school. “We’ve been through all this before. I need to do it on my own. I can manage without your money.” Even though he’d promised ”no strings”, Sarah knew if she took a dime from him, she’d be attached with monofilament line. The kind that cut when you tried to break it.
“Are you sure? You look like you haven’t slept in a month. And your hair. Why did you cut it all off?”
“Well, thanks for making my morning.” Sarah fluffed her cropped do-it-yourself haircut. “It’s easier this way.”
“How about dinner tonight? Come on, Sarah. We’re friends, right?” His eyebrows lifted in expectation.
Dinner with Chris or five-for-a-dollar ramen noodles at home? Accepting dinner wouldn’t be selling out, would it? “Maybe. Call me later, okay?”
“Great. See you later, then.” He turned to leave.
“I said, ‘maybe’, remember?” Sarah walked him to the door and flipped the sign from “Closed” to “Open”. She rearranged the crystal in the front window to catch the light and dusted the brightly colored pottery, shifting a pot, turning a vase so its pattern was visible from the street. Once she was satisfied with the effect, she meandered through the shop, adjusting animal carvings and moving a display of stationery to a roll-top desk.
An hour later, Sarah refused to let the lack of customers bother her. Easter was approaching, then Mother’s Day and people would flock to That Special Something in droves to find that perfect gift. Maybe not droves. She’d settle for a trickle right now.
The door chimed. Sarah assessed the well-dressed woman who had entered the shop. Probably in her sixties, with a large designer purse draped over one shoulder. A hat with ribbon trim and black leather gloves made her a bit old-fashioned and out of place for the tiny Oregon town. Sarah gave the woman her biggest smile and stepped out from behind the counter. “Good morning, ma’am. Welcome to That Special Something. Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“My niece is getting married. I thought I might find something out of the ordinary here.” Her voice was clipped, with a touch of sophisticated arrogance that said she was used to getting her way.
“Unique gifts are my specialty.” Sarah motioned to a display of crystal. “Perhaps she’d like these hand-painted wine goblets? Or some of these Egyptian perfume bottles?”
“Thank you. I’ll browse for a while, if you don’t mind.”
“Take your time. I’m Sarah. Feel free to ask any questions.” Fighting the urge to follow her customer around, Sarah retreated and let the woman roam the shop.
The way Chris had referred to David’s death churned through her thoughts. That horrible pause. The same one everyone else used. But Sarah knew it had been an accident. David would never commit suicide. This afternoon, she’d get a loan from the bank and rehire the private investigator or find a better one. The investigator would get the police to reopen the case and they’d find out it wasn’t suicide. Then she’d get the insurance money, which would pay off the loan and the shop would be safe from foreclosure. It all made perfect sense. And maybe it would take away some of the guilt.
Sarah dragged her thoughts to the present, straightened her shoulders and found her professional smile again. Her customer was studying some silver picture frames. Expensive ones. She thought about how hard it had been to get Anjolie to display her work in the shop, that her work was too good for a mere boutique. She telegraphed mental messages to her customer—Please, show Anjolie she was wrong. Buy one. Buy six.
The woman set the frame down and turned away.
Sarah wouldn’t let her disappointment show. “Can I show you something else?”
The woman strolled back and fingered the frames again. “You know, I like this one.” She picked up the most expensive one, the one with the lacy pattern of roses and leaves. “And I think I’ll take the matching vase over there.”
Not good to let a customer see you jumping up and down clapping your hands. Instead, Sarah called up her most professional tone. “Excellent choices, ma’am. Would you like them gift-wrapped?”
“No, thank you. But if you have boxes for them, I would appreciate it.”
Sarah ducked beneath the counter for the boxes, calculating what the sale would mean to her bottom line. When she rose, she stared into a gun barrel.
Sarah’s mouth went dry. Her knees wobbled and she grabbed the edge of the glass, transfixed by the gleaming metal.
“I’m sorry, my dear.” The woman’s voice seemed to come from nowhere. “I’m a bit short at the moment, but I do want these lovely things.” She slid the picture frame into her purse.
“What?” The word came out as a hoarse croak.
“I believe you heard me.” Keeping the gun trained on Sarah, the woman stepped around the counter. “Unlock the register…Sarah, is it? I could use a little spending money.”
Time froze. Sarah glanced toward the street, but saw no one who could have heard her scream, if she’d even been able to get a sound past the tightness in her throat. There was a pair of shears in a drawer, but the woman was standing in front of it. Not that she’d have the nerve to stab someone holding a gun. The woman leaned over Sarah, her breath smelling of peppermint. Sarah felt the press of cold steel against her back.
“Now,” the woman said. “Slowly.”
“I will. Please. Don’t hurt me.” Barely able to get the key into the lock with her trembling fingers, Sarah did as the woman asked. At least there wasn’t much in the drawer. Sarah watched the woman empty the register of all but a single twenty-dollar bill.
“You see, I’m not leaving you penniless.” Without lowering the gun, the woman backed toward the door. “I don’t want to appear greedy, but I think I’ll take a few of these animal carvings, too. Give my compliments to the artist.” Still training the gun on Sarah, she set the vase down on the display table and filled it with the small wooden creatures. “Have a nice day.” She picked up the vase and backed out the door.
And if you enjoy meeting Sarah, visit my website and check out the Free Reads. Haven't you wondered how writers get their characters? We interview them, of course.
Available from Alinar Publishing - currently 25% off!
Despite everything, the first blow was unexpected, and Gabrielle instinctively wanted to reply in kind. The blood trickling from her nose, counterpoint to the sharp pain, roused her demon and she felt her fangs start to elongate. She fought the change, just like she fought the instinct to strike back. And if she closed her hands tight enough that her fingernails drew blood from her palms, she didn’t use her fists to fight back. She parried some blows, but without much conviction.
She could easily have struck back; those were only humans around her, and only a handful of them at that. In seconds, she could have killed all of them, or broken a few bones to disable them; neither option would have taken much time or skill. But they had more of a right to hurt her than she did them, and so she stayed there, and waited for one of them to figure out what she was and shove a piece of wood through her heart.
It was far too common, these days, for isolated people to be the victims of attacks as unprovoked as they could be deadly. It was enough to be dressed in clothes that weren’t rags to attract this sort of attention. Enough to look reasonably healthy. To look like you weren’t starving. To look like you had anything worth stealing on your person. Any reason was enough, really; and sometimes, no reasons were needed at all.
Gabrielle remembered days of peace, when this kind of behavior would have been met with swift retaliation from the vampire clan on whose grounds the transgression had occurred. Vampires were protective of what they considered theirs, and humans definitely fell into that category. The pacts didn’t say it in so many words, of course, and the humans would have been offended to even hear it, but as a clan Master, that had always been how Gabrielle saw things. The people she had protected against demons and rogue humans alike and who had offered blood to her and to her clan had been hers. Free to move to other villages, free to do as they pleased, but ultimately hers, just as much as her Childer had been hers. Responsibility and family, all at once.
Now though, vampires were too busy fighting demons to be able to police the humans. And the humans were so scared by everything going on around them that their attempts to police themselves often ended in summary executions.
Gabrielle knew all that. She had tried, for as long as she had been able to, to keep a hold on her territory, to keep her people safe. But without a clan around her, the task was too large, and all she could do was spend her nights patrolling grounds she didn’t dare call hers anymore, and help whatever humans she met. If she heard about demons invading a town or village, she would run there, often arriving too late to do more than mourn and kill a few beasts. The humans who had once looked up to her, sought her help, had for the most part stopped believing in her.
She was glad they had.
Even with the rampant danger, people often stayed in their villages rather than seek refuge in overcrowded towns that weren’t as safe as they claimed to be. The village councils that had survived had gained power, and they organized patrol groups to ward off demons entering their villages and keep human thieves and murderers at bay. If they were lucky enough to have them, young people who knew hardly anything about weapons armed themselves with axes, short swords and spears. Otherwise they used sticks and rocks. Decently armed or not, one thing was common to all of them; they reeked of fear.
Gabrielle had laughed, the first few times she had encountered these groups on her territory; these children were pitiful, not quite believing they could fight yet ready to die trying. Over the years, the laughs had turned into sour anger. The humans had learned to fight, at least enough to get by, and as a group they were often as effective defending their villages as she was alone. Eventually, the anger had faded, leaving only tiredness and regret. Gabrielle was tired of fighting, tired of protecting humans who were as wary of her as they were afraid of demons. More than two centuries of fighting for them on her own were enough to make up for her failings, or so she thought. If whoever passed judgment on these things thought otherwise… well, hell couldn’t possibly be much worse than this.
She had been ready to die, but she had planned to do so standing, and she was almost surprised suddenly to find herself on the ground. The grass was wet against her cheek, she noticed. Wet and sticky. It took her long seconds to realize it was wet with her blood.
Focusing on little, insignificant details helped, it made the pain manageable if not less – oh, no, not less, they had stopped beating her, now, but she could feel each cut, each bruise and a couple of broken bones. She could hear them talk, too. Talk of the need for a stake carved from special wood, talk of beheading, and short swords hidden back in the village that could be fetched in minutes. Tired as she was, she was ready to tell them that any piece of wood, as long as it was pointy enough to pierce her skin, would do the job, and the special wood was a myth. Anything for all of it to end now, and quickly, the physical pain and the mental agony alike.
The talking stopped, and the part of Gabrielle’s brain that wasn’t consumed by pain wondered if she had passed out already. But if she had, she wouldn’t have been aware of it, wouldn’t have questioned herself, wouldn’t still be feeling pain, just as overwhelming as it had been, two hundred and a few years earlier on that cursed morning.
She had knelt, then, broken in mind and body, on a battlefield littered with corpses she couldn’t look at, because each of them wore the face of a friend, of a member of her clan, of a human from her first allied village. Each streak of lightning in the sky had made it all too clear how many bodies lay around her. Most of them should have vanished, should have been reduced to ashes, but the Primal Forces had done something to the vampires they had killed that night, and their bodies had remained intact in death. Gabrielle had knelt, waiting for the sun as she did now, ready to join the fallen fighters she had led to their deaths. She had failed the members of her clan, as she had failed the humans under her protection. And then, she had heard it despite the relentless thunder over her head. A sob. A heart-wrenching sob. The cry of a lost soul who had seen everything, everyone they loved disappear. Just like Gabrielle had.
She had found it in herself to stand, to stumble to the crying man lying with scorched bodies. She had called his name, in vain. Erik had not reacted, too lost in his grief to respond to a simple word. Gabrielle had closed her hand on his shoulder, gradually squeezing hard enough to hurt, because Erik did not look at her until she did that. Dead eyes had stared at her, unseeing, from behind a mask of blood and grime. Gabrielle had heard words fall out of her mouth, comfort that tasted of ashes, courage as bright as a dying flame. Erik had continued to stare at her blankly until Gabrielle had pulled him up and led him to shelter in the ruins that had been their lair. Saved him, like she hadn’t been able to save the others. And then…
A noise – soft steps – pulled Gabrielle back to the present, and she made the effort to open her eyes. At first, she thought that she was still lost in her memories as her gaze met the icy gray eyes of a vampire she hadn’t seen in two hundred years. But when she blinked, the tall shadow only got closer, clearer.
“Have you lost the last sane bits of your brain?” a sneering voice asked, too loud, slightly off. “What the hell is wrong with you? Trying to get yourself dusted?”
Gabrielle’s only answer was a grunt. Closing her eyes again, she mentally wished Erik would go away, leave her alone, to the tender care of the soon to come sunrise, or to that of these humans. Although they seemed to have disappeared. Where had they gone? To get that sword, maybe?
Strong hands grabbed her, and as she yelled in pain Gabrielle was sure Erik was about to finish the job. In a sense, it was fitting.
The pain was excruciating, broken bones moving as no bone should, cracked ribs protesting, bruised skin coming into contact with too strong hands …
Blissful darkness swallowed everything into silence.
Find an entire chapter in the Freebies section on my website.
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