“The Contract of Seven Days’ Service is now open.”
When Lady Sophia Parsons reads the notice in the window of the haberdashery at Devon’s Mill, she has no choice other than to answer the summons. She is expected. Indeed, Lord Albion Rayment will have no other, for Sophia’s family is deeply in his debt, and he has loved her from afar for years. But Lord Albion is no longer merely the suitor her father turned away. He is Master, and she is only Patience. Before the week is over, the once and future lady of Scrivenshire will learn to be his maid-of-all-things, and much, much more.
In a world that prohibits women any say in their destinies, “Patience” must find courage and independence for the first time in her life—while Albion, if he has his way, will tear down the twisted traditions of his fathers and earn Sophia’s love.
Be Warned: BDSM, spanking, public exhibition, anal sex, m/m and f/f scenes, flogging, paddling
“Have you never been punished this way before?” he asked. “Your mother, perhaps? A schoolmaster or mistress? Answer without speaking.”
I shook my head, sniffling.
He walked around to my left flank, the riding crop in hand. To my further humiliation, without Lord Sculsbury impeding my sight, I could now see myself in the wall mirror. My face was livid pink, the blush extending over my shoulders. I looked down to where the contract had been. I saw only the table, nothing more.
“Keep your head up and your eyes open,” he said, tapping the crop over the wood next to my splayed fingers. “I want you to see the effect this experience is having on you. I want you to remember it, Patience.”
I obeyed. I watched myself, hair down in twin curtains at either side of my face, tremble before him.
“I would never do this without reason,” he said, running the flat leather slap pad of the crop down my spine, taking his time, starting at the back of my exposed neck, tracing the raised flesh at the center of my back in a slow line. “You have called upon the house of a gentleman without an escort. More than once, you have spoken out of turn. Do you agree that these charges are both accurate and fair?”
I nodded, miserable and afraid.
“Tap the table with your fingers for yes. Rap with your knuckles for no.”
I tapped once, using all four fingers. My back muscles clenched, a quick spasm under the caress of the crop. I whimpered.
“Have you any defense? If so, I shall allow you to make your case.”
I had none. I rapped the table. I was guilty.
“You’ll note that I, myself, have not touched you—only the crop touches you.”
He passed it under me, stroking my belly with it, causing me to draw in breath deep.
You never use it on your horses, I thought, desperate with dread. Why must you use it on me? I’ll do whatever you say. Let me repeat the promise. Please, allow me to appeal to your better nature. I’ll be good.
But I tapped the oakwood with my fingers, acknowledging his adherence to his own rules—and, in the mirror, saw my mouth open in a thoroughly horrified O as he brushed the thing under my breasts, then passed it over my erect nipples.
“Your father has never had the strength to properly correct you, dearest Patience. But I do. And you have the strength to bear it.”
I’m not beautiful or skinny. I’m hated. Always second best.
I was given to Slavik Ivanov, a deadly, fearsome man in the Volkov Bratva. Married into the world of the Bratva, I have to learn to survive. My husband doesn’t pay me attention, but the longer he ignores me, the longer I’ll live.
Trouble is brewing in the Volkov Bratva. It’s dangerous, and I know it’s only a matter of time before I’m killed because I’m the stranger. The enemy.
Slavik doesn’t love me. I’m nothing more than a duty to him. I’m an obligation, but when he finally notices me, his touches set me on fire.
Does he know I’m loyal to him? Or will he believe the orchestrated lies and finally get rid of the wife he never wanted?
My life is in his hands, and I fear I will never be the same again.
I was already heading toward the pool. In the elevator, I rubbed at my temple. I hadn’t slept in two days so far. Sleep rarely came to me. I had no trust in anyone around me, and right now between Cara’s problem, and now the Italian one, there was no way I was going to relax.
You were killed if you let down your guard, and that was the last thing I was going to do.
The elevator went down to the level with the gym and the pool. I saw the sign posted, stating the pool was closed for the time being.
As I entered, I caught sight of my wife wearing a one-piece swimsuit. She had her arms crossed over the edge of the pool, and Sergei, as far as I was concerned, looked a little too cozy with my wife, which pissed me off.
We’d been married a little over five months, and as I watched them, I didn’t like how close they seemed. Anger worked up my body as I stepped into view. The moment I did, the smile on Aurora’s lips fell and Sergei stood.
He bowed his head to me. “Sir.”
“You can leave,” I said.
He nodded. Without another look at my wife, he left the room. Alone with my wife, I saw Aurora move back into the water. We looked at each other.
She wasn’t a stunning beauty, but there was a beauty there. I’d had my fair share of fake beauty. There was something about Aurora that called to me.
“I didn’t know you were coming home,” she said.
“You never do.”
Again, small talk wasn’t my strong suit.
“It would be wise of you not to flirt with my men.”
This had her frowning. “I wasn’t flirting.”
“You think I didn’t see what you were doing?”
She looked to where Sergei had left. “We were just talking. Not everything between a man and a woman has to be about … sex.”
My cock twitched. I hadn’t gotten the pleasure of enjoying my wife. She’d moved toward the edge of the pool, and as she grabbed the side, I watched as she pulled herself out. I admired the curves of her body. The fullness of her ass. She grabbed a towel.
“If you continue to flirt with Sergei and give him the wrong message, I will kill him.”
She glared at him. “I wasn’t flirting with him. He’s my … friend.”
This made me laugh. I couldn’t help it. Sergei wasn’t a friend. None of my men were her friends, and if given the order, they would turn on her at a moment’s notice.
What I didn’t expect was the slap to the face. I captured her hand and pulled her against me. She began to wriggle, and with how close her body was, I had no problem with it. Not that I’d force her. Rape wasn’t something I wanted to ever experience.
Staring into her eyes, I restrained her, making her pause with a single hand on her ass. I gripped her tightly, and tears filled her eyes.
“Don’t ever fucking do that again.”
“I don’t like being hit. I tend to hit back.”
“Then don’t accuse me of doing something I never did. I don’t flirt. I wouldn’t even know how.”
“My men know the rules. You’re a job to them, nothing more.”
She wore a good mask, but I saw my words had struck her hard. “You think I don’t know that? It’s all I do know. I’m a job. It’s why I don’t flirt. Now let me go, or is there something else you want from me?”
Her lips looked really tempting, but my anger was not in a good place. I released her, and without a backward glance, she left. The curves of her ass just begged for me to call her back and show her what real sex was all about. The two times I’d fucked her hadn’t been real. It had been mechanical, a necessity and then a release. I wanted her again, but not tonight. I never allowed my hormones to take charge. I was the one who held control over myself, no one else.
Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Romantic Suspense / MC Romance, Ex-Con Romance, Steamy Romance (can be read as a standalone romance)
Release date: August 4, 2020
Publisher: Vixen Publishing
Cover Design: Sly Fox Cover Designs
Sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit…
Nick Sobolev is finally a free man. After wrongfully serving five years behind bars, all Nick wants to do is keep his head down and his nose clean. But when he meets the mysterious and very beautiful Alexis Cross, he finds himself being drawn back into the life that landed him in prison in the first place.
Hiding dangerous secrets and lies…
Alexis Cross is trying hard to escape her father and his influence, but in a city like Detroit, there’s no way to avoid either. When her past violently collides with her present, it shatters her long-held belief that she’s finally gaining her independence, plunging her into a dangerous game with equally deadly consequences.
“Alex, you didn’t tell me you were bringing someone with you,” she said, clearly fishing for information.
“Yeah, Shelby, it was a last-minute thing.” Alex cleared her throat. “Shelby, this is Nick. Nick, meet Shelby Price.”
I held out my hand to Shelby, but she bypassed the more common and socially acceptable greeting for acquaintances and went in for a hug. I gritted my teeth when I felt her running her hands over my shoulders and down my back, getting precariously close to my ass.
I stepped away, a tight smile on my face. “Nice to meet you, Shelby. Hey, Alex?” I drew her closer, leaning in to kiss her on the side of the neck. I inhaled as I did, drawing in the faint smell of grease, engine oil, and something floral. Perfume maybe? She tasted of sweat, but the combination of her scent and her taste was heady. I pulled away when she stiffened. I’d lingered too long, but I hoped she understood what I was doing. “I’ll meet you outside, baby.”
Her brows lifted in silent question, but then a spark lit her eyes, a lazy grin forming on her mouth. “Sure thing, Pandaboo.”
I was stunned for a moment. She wasn’t just playing along; she’d picked up the script and began re-writing it. Before I broke out into a fit of laughter, I excused myself from the room. I only had to wait a few minutes before she was beside me, her bag slung over her shoulder, both mats sticking out.
“What was that about?” she asked, her face still a little flushed. I hoped it was from the kiss and not the exercise we’d just done.
“Shelby was getting a little…what’s the word…grabby? Yeah, grabby just about sums it up. I didn’t want her getting the wrong idea.”
“And us being a couple is the right idea?” she shot back.
I gave her my best good-old-boy grin. “It’s a better idea than I’m a slab of meat looking for someone to rub up on.”
She studied me for a moment before shaking her head.
“What?” I asked, gesturing for her bag. Slowly, she passed the thing over to me. I slung it over my shoulder and started walking back in the direction of her apartment.
She fell into step beside me. “You’re just a decent guy, you know that?”
“You make me sound like a unicorn.”
I glanced at her, smiling a little at the look of consternation on her face. “Yeah, like I’m some sort of mythical creature.”
“Believe me, finding a decent man anywhere is quite a feat.”
Kally Ash is a USA Today Bestselling Author whose passions include curling up with a good book, devouring chocolate and getting kitty cuddles. Tempt Me is her debut novel, and the first book in a three book series.
Some of her unicorn authors include Sawyer Bennett, Elizabeth Hayley and Haley Jenner.
All Erabus ever wanted was to stay out of his brother’s way, to let him become king after their father, and spend his life hunting in the forest outside the kingdom. That all changes when he uncovers the plot to kill his father. Erabus will do whatever it takes to save him, even forming an alliance with a strange ally named Xicuz—an incredibly gorgeous satyr he met in the forest.
If things aren’t complicated enough, Erabus soon finds himself tangled up in a deal with a devil that puts the lives of the people closest to him in danger. He learns that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire and makes a deal of his own—one that will save the love of his life, but forfeit half of his own to do so.
Warning: This excerpt may contain sexually explicit material, please proceed at your discretion.
The sun only just began to rise as Erabus made his way through the thick forest, his footfalls inaudible on the damp leaf-carpeted ground. He held his bow with an arrow notched and ready to fire as he navigated around one cluster of trees and then another. The sounds from the other hunters faded into the distance. They made far more noise than they should if they expected to catch anything.
Putting the far less skilled hunters from his mind, he paused to sniff the fresh forest air, filling his nose with the strong scents of pine and moss. He smiled at how the scents calmed him and continued in search of any deer that might have passed through the area recently. Though if the others continued to rustle around and break branches, he doubted they would remain in the vicinity for long. Erabus tuned them out once more as he crouched to the ground and removed debris from an indention in the dirt.
He traced the imperfect print with the pad of his index finger. Deer or perhaps a goat down from the mountain. The print didn’t cause a deep enough indent to tell for sure which. The only thing he was confident about was the freshness of the print. With any luck, the animal would still be nearby, and Erabus was determined to catch it before the others could alert it to their presence. Careful to walk on the pads of his feet to reduce what little noise he made, he followed the prints farther into the forest until he heard the rustling of leaves coming from the other side of a cluster of trees that grew so close together he couldn’t see through them.
He parted the branches as much as he dared, waiting only long enough to spot the horns before carefully releasing the branch and taking aim through the trees. Though his target wasn’t visible from his current position, he knew roughly where the deer stood and took aim to the right and down a bit from where its horns should end. He inhaled as he pulled the string taut and released the arrow at the same time as his breath. The arrow pierced the air with an audible whoosh.
The gentle thud of the arrow striking wood came only a moment before a voice called out in alarm, startling Erabus. He barely caught his bow as he dropped it. Had another hunter made it out farther than I realized? But he’d seen the horns. Confused, he shouldered his bow to investigate when a voice called out, “Watch what you are doing!”
“I’m so sorry, sir. I swear I saw horns,” Erabus insisted as he fell through the thicket. He took a moment to right himself before turning his eyes on the man he came inches from shooting. Only it wasn’t a man standing before him. A foot away from where his arrow struck the tree stood a creature with the body and face of a man but the legs, hooves, tail, and ears of a goat. Most importantly, the horns of one too.
Staring at him in shock, Erabus gave him another once-over, noticing for the first time the loincloth that covered his lower bits from his view. He barely managed to squeak out a stuttered, “You’re…you’re a…” before snapping his lips closed once more when he realized his mind refused to supply him with the words he searched for.
The being before him smirked before offering in a deep, warm voice, “The word you are looking for is a satyr. It’s a good thing you are as bad a shot as you are a speaker.” Erabus glanced from the satyr to where the arrow stood embedded in the tree behind him. He realized just how wrong he was. It was true his arrow missed him, but he had not been the target.
“Look again, sir, my aim was true,” Erabus said, his confidence returning. “If you were a deer, as I first thought, the arrow would have struck between your shoulder blades.” He crossed his arms and gave him a smug look.
The satyr’s silver eyes widened as he looked at the arrow. “It is a good thing I am not an animal then. Though how you ever confused these beauts with deer antlers, I will never know.”
Erabus looked at the satyr’s horns once more. The satyr was right.
Where a deer’s antlers would have been large and branched out in every direction, he had two single arches on either side of his forehead, larger and thicker than a mountain goat’s. There was no excuse for his mistake—he should have looked more carefully before he shot. However, he wasn’t willing to admit it.
“You should be careful, sir. You shouldn’t be wandering around in the human hunting area.” It wasn’t right to blame his mistake on his near victim, but in his embarrassment, Erabus couldn’t stand the thought of shouldering all the blame himself.
“Actually, sir,” the satyr countered, his sir sounding an octave higher than the rest, “you have crossed over into the land designated for the satyrs when our kings met ten years ago. It is you that should be careful.”
It took him a moment to compose himself. Was the satyr threatening him? He doubted it but couldn’t be sure. Erabus opened his mouth to insist he would have known if they crossed the border onto their land, but his words caught in his throat at the sound of the hunters’ voices coming from the other side of the trees. Some bragged about the game they caught others complaining about, being unlucky in their hunt.
One called out for him, no doubt wanting his help to carry back their game as opposed to being worried about his absence. The hunters would soon overtake them, and they would not react well to finding a satyr on “their” land.
Erabus slapped a hand over the satyr’s mouth and pushed him back against a tree, hiding the two of them in the shadows. He pressed his lips close to the satyr’s pointed goat-like ear that twitched as Erabus’s breath tickled it with each whispered word. “Do not make a sound unless you want the hunters to find you.” Erabus glanced over his shoulder, barely able to make out the hunters as they made their way passed their hiding spot.
Erabus sighed in relief once the last of them disappeared back into the forest, heading toward home. He waited another moment to be sure before he turned back to the satyr and found his face an inch or two from his own. Erabus swallowed hard when he realized how close his lips were to his own, with only his hand separating them.
Before he could find the words to assure him it was safe now, something hot and wet dragged across his palm. He jumped back in shock. “You licked my hand!” he accused in disbelief, staring down at the moist spot on his palm.
The satyr smirked. “Would you prefer I licked something else instead?” He licked his lips and looked Erabus up and down.
Was he serious? Erabus began a stuttered reply, but he was saved from having to give an actual answer by a horn blowing in the distance.
The satyr sighed in disappointment before glancing off in the direction of the horn. “Alas, I shall not be able to hear your answer this time, sir.” He gave him a slight yet exaggerated bow before smirking at him again. “Next time then.”
Erabus didn’t know if he said it as a parting or in reference to when he would be getting the answer from him. Before Erabus could respond, the satyr disappeared into the forest.
Hairann is the author of the Outlaw Seven series. She is an out and proud Pan who lives with her amazing family in Montreal. She’s worked as a ghostwriter on Fiverr since 2018 and has an Associate’s degree in early childhood education. She invites you to follow @AuthorHairann on Twitter.
Mark paced. He was dressed, finally, in his coat and tie, his hair tamed. He looked almost the same as he did every day for work, except this was a tux, not just a suit. And it wasn’t black, like the majority of his dress clothes. Luke had picked out a soft brown garment that complemented Mark’s deep tan and his dark brown hair. The tie he wore was the same blue as his eyes. The tie clip, which he hadn’t even known was a thing until Luke produced it, was golden and in the shape of a dragon.
He looked good.
But he longed to rip off all his clothes and go for a swim in the Gulf of Mexico.
Someone knocked on the door to the “groom’s” changing room on the boat he and Luke had rented for their wedding. Mark quit pacing and forced his hands not to shake. “Come in.”
His brother, Jonathan, stepped in and shut the door. “Are you all right?”
Mark scowled. “Why?”
To his surprise, Jonathan didn’t snap right back. “Because I was nervous as hell when I got married to Becca,” he said quietly “And you haven’t known Luke half as long as I knew Becca before I proposed.
“Besides, Mark,” he added, “I know you. Making a change like this is difficult at the best of times and you’ve just been promoted. You’re trying to get your feet under you.”
Mark let out a long sigh. “You’re right, I’m nervous. I love him, I want to be with him for the rest of my life. Why am I so jittery?”
“Like I said, it’s a big change.” Jonathan turned for the door.
“That’s it? You’re going to come in here, confront me about my nerves, and then just walk out?”
“You’re calmer now,” Jonathan pointed out.
Mark huffed a laugh. “I still want to go for a swim in the gulf.”
“As long as you get back here in time to dry yourself off, I don’t see why that’s a problem. It’s almost an hour before…” Jonathan tilted his head and said, “Or maybe Luke’s presence would help.”
Mark’s tension rocketed up from a five all the way to a ten. “Luke?” he squeaked.
Jonathan left the room and Luke stood in the doorway with two tall glasses in his hands. “I know we’re not supposed to see each other before the wedding,” Luke said, sounding apologetic. “But do you mind if I come in?”
Mark took two steps back and gestured his soon-to-be-husband inside. Luke used his magic to close the door without touching it.
“Showoff,” Mark teased weakly.
“Genie prerogative,” Luke answered. He took a sip from the glass in his left hand and offered Mark the other one.
It was a rum and Coke; Mark sensed that even before he could smell the contents. Luke knew what relaxed him. “You could feel my agitation all the way from the other side of the boat, huh?” he asked as he sipped. And then took a little more because Luke just made this particular drink so perfectly.
Luke, being a genie, Mark’s former genie, had a connection to Mark’s emotions. Sort of like the telepathic link Mark had to Luke, although in that case it was because of Mark’s dragon genetics. For Luke, it had everything to do with the rules that governed his species. Or at least that was what he and Mark had decided. Probably, if SearchLight ever chose to study genies more thoroughly, they would find a different, or at least more exact, answer.
Luke nodded, his golden eyebrows drawn together in a worried frown. He set his glass on a handy table and crossed to Mark. “What’s wrong?”
Damn, but Luke looked good. Mark traced the lapel of his lover’s tux. Brown, like Mark’s, but a lighter shade. Luke had really coordinated everything. “You look like a sex god,” Mark murmured.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Carrington is a multipublished author of male/male and transgender erotica. Seeking a world made of equality, she created SearchLight to live out her dreams. But even SearchLight has its problems, and Emily is looking forward to working all of these out with a host of characters from dragons and genies to psychic vampires.
Taelyn: Abandoned by her parents and raised in the uncaring foster system, Taelyn finds out she isn’t truly human when fear triggers her first shift. She finds a temporary home with a pack of gray wolves, but she knows she isn’t truly one of them, either. When she feels the pull of the mate-bond, her world changes forever.
Dylan: Dylan is more at home in the woods than the city. Working for the Forestry Services, he sets out to catalog the endangered grizzly bear population in the Interior of British Columbia. What he didn’t expect was to find his bond-mate running wild with a pack of gray wolves.
Taming Taelyn is a challenge Dylan is determined to win.
Taelyn skidded to a halt, lifting her nose high in the air. A strange scent drifted on the breeze, teased her brain, calling to her in a way she’d never experienced before. Not danger. Not food. Human, but not. Something different.
The thought lingered, strange and unfathomable. What did it mean?
The rest of the pack raced on, heading to the caribou grazing grounds in the high range.
There it was again. An irresistible temptation.
The Alpha gave her a cursory glance as she veered off to investigate. The pack was used to her strange methods of doing things. Even the Alpha ignored her peculiar ways, letting her roam at will. As long as she didn’t endanger the pack, he was willing to indulge her for the sake of his mate who had all but adopted her.
She was a wolf, but not. The pack accepted that. They were so much more direct than humans. Their way of life was brutal but fair, and they would fight to the death to protect any one of their packmates no matter what their position was in the pack hierarchy.
Taelyn bounded through the thin undergrowth, sifted the information brought to her on the wind. It was spring and the scent of newly budding flowers and greenery floated on the breeze, nature emerging from its long sleep. But to her keen nose, there was something else as well.
And yet she felt no sense of danger, no urge to run and hide. Every wolf in the pack knew about humans. They were destroyers of the forest, dangerous two-legged creatures who killed from afar using death sticks that spit out fire and metal. They were cruel beings who set traps to capture and torture the creatures of the woods. They were to be feared and avoided. And her childhood in the foster system had given her no reason to dispute that.
And yet the scent said mine.
She slowed her pace, approaching the origin of the scent carefully. Lifting her nose high, Taelyn searched the wind for information. Yes, it was a human. Human male. A sharp tang of metal mixed with his scent. A sure sign of danger. She should leave before he detected her.
Dropping to her belly, she crawled closer. Thick brush at the edge of the clearing marred her view, only allowing glimpses of the human male. Big. Strong.
Something coiled deep inside her, an unsettling desire that she’d never felt before for any of the wolves who’d come sniffing around when she’d entered her first heat cycle. After that, she’d learned to avoid the pack at those times.
She crept closer, belly tight to the ground, ears swiveling in a constant search for any danger. Humans often came in packs as well, although Taelyn could detect no others in the vicinity.
The sharp tang of metal was stronger now, a foreign scent in the forest. Metal never heralded anything good for the wolves. Strong jaws that broke legs. Death sticks. Caves with no exit. Metal was a tool the humans used against the creatures of the forest.
And yet that scent was stronger now.
She felt a slow heat ignite deep inside her, the pull of something ancient and strong.
Uncertainty flickered through Taelyn. A mating bond? Surely not. This was a human male. She was a wolf, albeit one who could become human.
She liked to think there had been a time when life in the human world had been good, when she’d had parents, a family, a home. But she wasn’t sure if it was true or just wishful thinking on her part. Now, Taelyn existed with the pack, or in the little cabin she’d restored for herself deep in the forest. She raised herbs and vegetables that she could sell at the farmer’s market in the small town closest to her home for those things she couldn’t get from nature.
She didn’t want to be human. To be human was to be heartless. To be human was to be cruel and brutal. To be human was to hurt the Mother Earth and the creatures who lived in harmony with her. To be human was to hurt those of your pack who were weaker than you.
Long ago she had lived exclusively in that world and it had not been kind to an orphaned child with no family of her own to protect her. She’d learned to fight out of necessity, and to protect herself at all costs. When she’d discovered the duality of her nature, she’d embraced it fully. Taelyn had started to sneak out at night to run with the wolves. On those nights she found liberty she’d never had, a sheer joy in living. Although she still functioned in the human world, she had the freedom of her wolf to escape to whenever things got too tough. She’d sworn then that she’d never let any human control her destiny ever again.
And yet still the man’s scent called to her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne Kane lives in the beautiful Okanagan Valley with a bouncy little rescue dog whose breed defies description, a cantankerous Himalayan cat, and too many fish to count. She spent many years trying to fit in and act normal, but finally gave up the effort. She started writing romance in 2008, and her fate was sealed when she won a publishing contract with Red Sage Publishing and just a month later Changeling Press accepted her first submission. Since then she has published more than thirty stories in a variety of sub-genres, all with a happily ever after.
She has two handsome sons and six adorable grandchildren and enjoys spending time with them whenever she can. Her hobbies, when she’s not playing with the characters in her head, include kayaking, hiking, swimming, playing guitar, singing and of course, reading.
His Best Man: Chris always knew where he was going and how to get there, but when his wife walked out on him and the girls, he realized not knowing what’s important in his life might be the problem. He’s lost touch with his daughter, his friends, and himself during his marriage. And then Bill — his former best friend — drops back into his life.
Witness to the Wedding: Bill and Chris have never had an easy path, and dealing with the aftermath of Chris’s marriage doesn’t make life easy. With Chris’s soon-to-be ex threatening to take their family from them, Bill’s worried loving Chris and his girls just won’t be enough.
Publisher’s Note: The Right Choice (Duet) contains the previously published novellas His Best Man and Witness to the Wedding.
Antigone Ramsey wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. I wasn’t sure what I’d anticipated, but it hadn’t been someone who greeted me with “My father will make you sorry I’m here.”
She had more of an attitude than her dad used to when he was a kid.
I could have dealt with attitude, but then she mixed it up on me when she sniffled and swiped at her nose with the sleeve of her pink shirt. It was difficult to be a hard-ass when someone looked that pitiful.
I’d be sorry? Hell, I was already sorry.
“Do you want to tell me why you are here?” I hunched a little, trying not to loom. She didn’t look like her dad had at eleven. He’d been small and stocky back then until he grew into some height and shed his puppy fat.
She wasn’t small for a kid her age, but she looked… well, oddly delicate. Like she was too skinny for that body, too fragile for her size. Like maybe she hadn’t been eating right for a while.
I’d heard of kids her age on diets, but — damn… I hoped she wasn’t. The world could screw with a kid’s head way too early. Did she think she needed to be skinny, or was something going on that made her not eat right? Bulimia, anemia, depression…
“I’m here because Miss Dumberson out there made me.” I tried not to snort at the nickname. Sometimes I wasn’t much older than my students. Antigone sniffled again and peeked up at me through her eyelashes, probably deciding what kind of bullshit I’d believe. “It wasn’t my fault.”
Whoa. I’d seen that look on older girls before, and it never meant anything good for the person they directed it at. She sure as hell better not be trying to flirt.
“What wasn’t your fault?”
Her gaze dropped down. “Nothing was.”
I kept quiet and hoped sweat wasn’t dripping down my back. This kid was trouble. Of course Jessica would have singled her out. Because Jessica was a trouble-seeking missile.
And next year both of them would be in my school. Joy. Why did I like this job again?
A sharp, anxious, very familiar voice cut into my thoughts.
“Excuse me. My name is Christian Ramsey, and I was told my daughter would be h –”
He stopped when I looked up at him. I’d been so focused on his daughter that I hadn’t heard his entrance. But here he was, whether or not I was ready. I wasn’t sure what I expected from him either, but it hadn’t been seeing his expression look blank, as if he wasn’t observing what — or who — was right in front of him. Then again, Chris had gotten good at not seeing the obvious over the years.
He blinked and recovered. He smiled as he focused on me. Held his hand out. “Bill. It’s been a long time.”
I shook his hand and then stepped back. Come to think of it, he didn’t look so good either. He had almost as fragile an air as his little girl. What the hell was going on at their place?
“Dad! They kept me here forever!” Antigone began to cry again.
“We barely had time to put away the rubber hoses before you arrived.” I shut my mouth, wishing I had managed to do it before I let that sentence out. Jokes were for the old Chris and Bill, not the father of Antigone Ramsey and a principal who had her in custody.
Even so, for a minute it looked like Chris might smile.
But he didn’t.
“What’s going on?” He glanced at Antigone and then went back to looking at me.
“That’s what Antigone is about to tell us.” I kept my eyes on his kid.
“Annie. Everyone calls me Annie except — except –” She nodded toward her father. “And only when I’m in trouble.”
So she didn’t talk to him directly? Interesting. I said, “All right, Annie. Now. Tell us.”
She mumbled something, and all I caught was “war.” I cleared my throat, and she looked up.
“Try it again. I didn’t catch that.”
“That girl called my mother a war and I hit her in the mouth.” Annie spoke up and then folded her hands primly. But she didn’t stop there. “A few times. Hard. She started it. I told her she better not say that word, and she did it again. It’s a bad word, isn’t it? So she should be in more trouble than me.”
I looked at the swollen knuckles and wondered what the school nurse’s aide would have to say about Jessica’s condition. “You need some ice for that?”
“Yes, please. It hurts.”
“I bet it did.” I almost told her how to hit so it wouldn’t hurt that much and caught myself. Sometimes you shouldn’t teach people what they needed to learn.
“Why the he… ck would some stranger call your mother names?” Trust Chris to fasten on that question.
“Because the teachers asked us who would volunteer for stuff like school trips and things, and I had to say no one.” Annie cleared her throat. “And the kids asked if I was an orphan or something, and I explained, and then that girl laughed at me when I said I wasn’t sure where Mom was, and… then I hit her. Really hard. There was blood.”
“We got that part, Annie.” I made a mental note to have the teachers try for a more private way to wangle volunteers for the bake sales.
“She’s a bitch. I’m not sorry I hit her. I won’t say I’m sorry.” Annie’s chin wobbled a little despite the words.
“I think your lawyer here would advise you to keep quiet now.” I put my hand on her shoulder, hoping she wouldn’t make things any worse. “That’s part of those Miranda rights you asked for. The right to keep silent.”
“All right.” Annie swiped at her nose again and sniffled.
Just like Annie, I realized I wasn’t sure if I should call her father Chris or Christian or Mr. Ramsey in this situation. And like Annie, I decided I could avoid the whole problem by not calling him anything at all. Instead I looked over at my former best friend and said, “I need to talk to you privately. Let’s go to my office.”
He nodded and stood up.
I would have been fine, but I made the mistake of opening the door, and as I did, my hand brushed against his elbow.
And God… it all came back in too-vivid detail.
ABOUT TREVA HARTE
Treva Harte has always been an overachiever. She also collects things. First it was degrees. First a B.A. in English, then she decided to go back for a Master’s degree. Not content with that, she added a J.D. Since then she’s added a husband, also an attorney, and two children to her collection. She’s continuing her ways as an overachiever, writing her wonderfully offbeat tales of passion and possibilities — in her spare time.
Suzie — I’m the youngest grad student at MIT, and to say other students resent me for it is an understatement. To top it all off, I miss my Stunner. He’s been with me through the darkest moments of my life, helping me pull myself back together. He’s seen me at my worst — I want him to see me at my best. If he’d just return my calls, I might be able to get myself around the mean girls (and boys) at school.
Stunner — To say I’ve got skeletons in my closet is the understatement of the century. Suzie deserves a man more suited to her station than me, and she definitely deserves a man who’s not a stone-cold killer. I have my uses. Protecting her body, heart, and soul is one of those. I just never expected to fall for the woman after the girl grew up.
Now not only has she run into a foul and vindictive bastard, my past has caught up to me, and there may be no way to keep from being swept back up into the madness. All I truly know is I won’t let any of it touch Suzie — even if it means giving her up. Forever.
WARNING: Explicit violence which could be triggers for some readers. Explicit sex that might offend some readers. As always, you can expect a HEA with no cheating.
Stunner bared his teeth at Pig. The fucking bastard had opened his fucking mouth for the last fucking time. The alarm had been sounded the second Pig had uttered the words “girl’s a fuckin’ pussy,” in reference to Suzie and how she avoided the Boneyard when she was home.
The call to arms went out over the bar from the recently patched member, Kickstand. Despite being friends with Pig, Kickstand had turned out to be a loyal member of Bones and a good guy if a little shy in the brains department. Like how he continued to be friends with this motherfucker.
Good thing the warning had gone out, because Stunner had had all he was taking from the stupid pissant. Stunner was out of his chair and had the former prospect for Bones by the throat. By the time everyone realized where the fight was, Stunner had slammed Pig against the wall three times, not taking care with his head. If he beat the fucker to death, he’d get rid of the body where no one would ever find it.
“Back the fuck off, Stunner!” Bohannon, the club’s enforcer, tried to pry Stunner’s fingers from around Pig’s throat. Stunner didn’t take his eyes from Pig’s. If he killed the man, he was going to look into his eyes while he did it. He stopped beating Pig’s head against the wall, but only because it was wood and gave just enough to prevent him from splitting the other man’s skull. So he resorted to squeezing the life out of him. Less mess that way. Not like anyone would miss the fucker. The club had been trying to get rid of him for a couple of years now. This seemed like as good a time as any.
“I know we want rid of him, Stunner, but not like this! We don’t kill without a good reason.” Bohannon was still freeing Pig from Stunner. “Let him go!”
Had he spoken out loud? Just as well. If they knew his intention, they could get anyone out of the bar who wasn’t Bones, and he could finish this business where he should have started it. In private.
“He’s gonna kill the fucker this time.” That was Kickstand. Kid sounded distressed. Like Stunner gave a good Goddamn. If the kid was stupid enough to think Pig was worth saving, he deserved the heartache. “I tried to tell him to back off, Cain. Told him he didn’t want to poke Stunner, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Stunner turned to look at the Bones president. Unable to stop himself, he growled at the other man. No way he was taking away his kill. Not this time. Cain raised an eyebrow and glanced at someone beside him.
“Don’t look at me. He might be my sister’s kid, but I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout killin’ the stupid cunt my own damned self.”
“Well, he can’t do it here, Arkham,” Cain said, sounding annoyed. “Not with half the bar seein’ the start of the fuckin’ fight.”
Arkham sighed. “Fine. But this happens again, you’re on your own.”
All that registered in the back of Stunner’s mind, but his real focus was on watching Pig slowly lose consciousness. It wouldn’t be long after that until he died. Satisfaction filled Stunner, and he took a deep breath, relishing the thought he’d was about to choke the life out of the fucker.
Pig’s face was now a satisfying shade of purple, and Stunner thought he might just finish the job before Cain could get enough people together to pull him off. Next thing he knew, several hands tugged at him and arms wrapped around him, pulling him off his prey. One fucker had his arm around Stunner’s neck, but he wasn’t concerned about someone choking him. He was pissed he might miss the moment Pig died. No way that was happening.
“No!” Stunner was desperate to hang on to Pig. They’d have to pry his fingers off the fucker’s neck. After they cut off his arm, Goddammit. There was no way he was letting go voluntarily.
“What the fuck did Pig say to set Stunner off like this?” Cain sounded equal parts pissed and exasperated. There might have been a touch of worry in there for some fucking reason.
“Get Stunner off him and the two of you go across the room,” Kickstand said. “Then I’ll think about tellin’ ya.”
“Stunner, let that fucker go, NOW!” Cain’s voice was hard with authority. Normally, Stunner would have done what the president told him immediately when he used that voice. Hell, he’d only ever heard it a couple of times since he’d been with Bones, and it had made him cringe even when it wasn’t directed at him. Now, though, well. It was going to take more than a true hardass to keep him from making this kill. Not even Cain was going to stop this.
Finally, someone managed to pry his fingers from Pig’s throat. Stunner let out a war bellow that promised retaliation. He knew he wasn’t thinking clearly, knew he needed to take a step back and get himself under control, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t think beyond the rage and longing, and emptiness, and loneliness that filled him. In his heart, he knew that, if he killed Pig now it would somehow make him worthy. Of her. Becoming worthy in her eyes was worth any amount of pain later. And Lord knew Cain would dish out the pain if Stunner openly disobeyed him.
“Back the fuck off, Stunner,” Cain said again, getting between him and Pig. Stunner tried to look around the other man, to get a bead on Pig so he could see the best way back to him to finish the job. “Look at me! Eyes on me!”
Reluctantly, Stunner shook his head, knowing Cain wasn’t going to let him kill Pig. Not tonight. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, leashing the madness inside him.
“Eyes on me,” Cain said again. He sounded calmer this time. Not the hardass Stunner knew him to be. “You back with me?”
Stunner paused for several seconds. Was he? Yeah. He had it under control.
ABOUT MARTEEKA KARLAND
Erotic romance author by night, emergency room tech/clerk by day, Marteeka Karland works really hard to drive everyone in her life completely and totally nuts. She has been creating stories from her warped imagination since she was in the third grade. Her love of writing blossomed throughout her teenage years until it developed into the totally unorthodox and irreverent style her English teachers tried so hard to rid her of.
Bad things happen when supos go unchecked. That’s why Abarra needs The Ministry: to keep tabs on royals with powers run amok. Queen Maialen has entrusted the safety of her subjects to her nephew, Prince Xabier, placing the agency in his capable hands.
Only, the Prince would rather spend his days putting his own power to good use in the vineyards than to wither away on the bureaucratic vine. Tired of policing perpetrators and babysitting bean-counters, he schemes to groom his first lieutenant (and second cousin) the Duke of Shrubs. After months spent moving chess pieces, he is poised to convince the Queen to assign his cousin to his post.
But an unlikely pawn still stands in his way: the sexy Zain Otxoa is the pushiest pencil-pusher in all of The Ministry and head of internal affairs. Prince Xabier has plotted to have him fired at least thrice. Zain’s influence over the Queen—his only saving grace—is baffling.
When a master maneuver to have Zain reassigned exposes a shocking imbroglio, Prince Xabier learns The Ministry isn’t what it seems. And Zain isn’t a pawn at all.
Lieutenant Colonel Taylor Martin only wants a place to rest and recover from his injuries in Afghanistan. But an eerie screaming filling the night makes him weary and curious. The one thing the ex Marine can’t abide is a mystery.
Cordelia Snow is a writer — and a changeling — and doesn’t have time for foolish mortals. But when Taylor tries to win her trust with chocolate and baked goods, she can’t resist the tall Marine with the bad limp.
But now that she has him, has shared her own dark past and learned of his own, shared the sensual delights and mysteries of their bodies, how can she ever give him up?
Taylor Martin nearly jumped out of his skin as a wail that could only be described as banshee-like penetrated the walls of his new home. The glass of Riesling he’d just poured cascaded over his fingers as he tried to control his shaking hands. “Alcohol abuse,” he murmured sadly, staring at the puddle of rich, sweet wine at his feet.
But the siren screech of a wail sounded again, and Taylor found himself turning to face the kitchen window. Was somebody murdering cats? Herding peacocks? What the fuck? He grabbed a dishtowel to mop up the spill and winced as the odd sound echoed again. He rose to his feet and made his way to the kitchen window, watching as a mass of night birds took flight away from the darkened house next door as another wail sounded out.
The three-story monstrosity was painted a sedate dark green. There were no gardens to speak of, but the lush, green lawn was well maintained, the circular drive solid and practical.
Taylor, an ex-soldier by trade and now a photographer out of necessity, had been more than stunned to find such a great deal on his own two-story Hudson Bay home. He was beginning to understand why the house had gone up for a short sale.
One more wail sounded, this one not as intense as the others, and then total silence fell.
Shaking his head at his rotten luck, Taylor poured one more glass of wine and retreated to his master bath, where a tub of hot steaming water waited. It was one of the few treats he had promised himself when he landed stateside. Now that the wailing seemed to be over for the night, he was going to take advantage.
He placed his sweet wine on a small table next to the tub and shimmied out of his sweatpants. As he undressed, he looked down at the scars criss-crossing his body and wrinkled his nose at the sight. He was damn lucky he could walk, he reasoned, staring down at the keloidal scars that covered his legs and hips.
ABOUT STEPHANIE BURKE
Stephanie is a USA Today Best Selling, multi published, multi award-winning author, Master Costumer, handicapped, wife and mother of two.
From sex-shifting, shape-shifting dragons to undersea worlds, sexually confused elemental Fey and homo-erotic mysteries, all the way to pastel-challenged urban sprites, Stephanie has done it all, and hopes to do more.
Stephanie is an orator on her favorite subjects of writing and world-building, a sometime teacher when you feed her enough tea and donuts, an anime nut, a costumer, and a frequent guest of various sci-fi and writing cons where she can be found leading panel discussions or researching varied legends and theories to improve her writing skills.
Stephanie is known for her love of the outrageous, strong female characters, believable worlds, male characters filled with depth, and multi-cultural stories that make the reader sit up and take notice.