Chapter One of The Nullifier!

In honor of THE FIXER (The Criminals 2) coming sometime in February, I wanted to share Chapter One of THE NULLIFIER and possibly tease you into buying the first book of The Criminals. Enjoy!

Buy links: EvernightAmazonBookStrandSmashwords – Kobo – iBooksBarnes & Noble

Gay Romance, Suspense, Erotic Romance, Lawless, May/Dec
Word Count: 44,225
Heat Level: 4
Published By: Evernight Publishing

Contract killer Felix Zamaro isn’t looking for love—at his age, all he wants to do is retire. When he interrupts a robbery-in-progress, he stumbles into a mess: Nick Banner is in town to help his sister kick her loser boyfriend to the curb.
Nick never thought he’d meet a hot-as-hell assassin in the middle of a random coffee run, but watching Felix take down a couple of thieves in a crappy gas station has him questioning his rule against playing with straight guys.
When Felix’s next mark turns out to be none other than the boyfriend of Nick’s sister, all hell breaks loose. When Nick moves into the house next door to Felix, both men think fate is messing with them. However, it’s Nick’s unexpected career choice that really throws Felix off his game, and for a killer, that could be a fatal mistake.

Chapter One Excerpt:

“I’m too old for this shit,” Felix Zamaro muttered, setting down his binoculars. He rubbed his eyes, wishing he’d managed more than four hours of sleep last night. He peered through the open window tiredly. His target loitered at an outdoor café across the street drinking his sixth cup of coffee, two floors below the apartment building in which Felix currently sat. How the hell could one guy drink so much caffeine? Felix didn’t get it. If he did that, he’d be fucking pissing every half hour.

He picked up his binoculars and resumed staring at the man currently on the top of his to-off list. He hated this part of the job— the constant surveillance really fucked with his mood these days. Didn’t matter if it was sunny or rainy or fucking three below. The boredom really got to him. It hadn’t always been this bad. He wasn’t a man given to strong emotions, but he remembered enjoying the chase just a bit more when he’d first gotten into this business. That sense of satisfaction had long worn off. Now it was just a job, and a tedious one, at that.

The guy finally waved down a waiter for his check, and Felix breathed out a sigh of relief. “Fucking finally.” He had no idea why the contract stipulated the man had to be taken out at this particular café, and he didn’t much care as long as the money went into his account in a timely fashion. He squinted down at the mark. The guy’s hair had fluffed up in the slight breeze. He’d have to take the wind into consideration when shooting, but that was nothing new.

He exchanged his binoculars for his Ruger M77. He’d been using this type of rifle for so long, he didn’t even have to think about

what to do with his hands. It slid into position on his shoulder almost automatically, and when he squeezed the trigger, his target went down in a fraction of a second. Felix stood up and stepped back from the peeling windowsill, already shoving the rifle into its soft case. He scanned the room for any stray speck of evidence, then grunted in satisfaction. As per his usual, the place held no sign of his presence. The occupants of this grimy apartment would never even know he’d been here.

At least not until the police come knocking on their door, looking for a killer, he thought, resetting their deadbolt with his lockpicks. He walked down the hall of the apartment building at a normal pace. He felt no guilt over what they’d go through. There was enough drug paraphernalia in their nasty little place to choke a horse and his rider. The people that lived there deserved everything that would happen to them. He looked at the elevator, then decided to take the stairs. He needed the physical exertion after all the sitting around. He pushed open the door, then peeled off his gloves and shoved them into his pockets. When he reached the ground floor, he opened the outer door with his hip, careful not to touch anything with his bare hands.

“And that’s three frigging days of my life I’ll never get back,” he said under his breath, readjusting his bag on his shoulder. He spared a glance for the commotion across the street, ducking his head so the security camera on the corner wouldn’t get a good bead on him. The bullet they’d find in the guy’s head would be completely unremarkable: it was one of the most common rounds used worldwide. His rifle wasn’t expensive, either, and could be easily replaced, and therefore not easily traced. In fact, he’d replaced it several times over the past twenty years. He didn’t get attached to his equipment, not like some people did. No sense in it.

Two and a half hours later, after traveling out of the city and dropping off his gear at his storage unit, he entered the small mini mart near his latest house rental, looking for something quick and easy to eat for dinner. They had decent sandwiches and coffee. He’d only lived here six months, and he’d be moving on soon, but even so, he recognized the cashier. She smiled at him, and he nodded, friendly and unassuming. It wouldn’t do to get pegged as a loner creep. Two shoppers on their way out, an old lady and her husband, took no note of him as he walked through the store, which was just how he liked it.

He decided to fill up the tank on his pickup while he was there, and headed toward the rear refrigerators to get his dinner first. The rattle of the bell over the door told him some new people had entered, and he automatically checked the exits at the rear of the store. It wouldn’t do to get lazy. When he turned around, hands full of turkey salad on rye, he cursed under his breath. A stupid young punk had a gun pointed at the forehead of the girl behind the counter.

“Empty the drawer and no one gets hurt.” The guy looked around nervously, hoodie falling half off his head. He shoved it back up impatiently, red shot eyes bright with adrenaline and some other illegal substance.

Felix put his sandwich down on the shelf holding bright rows of chip bags. He didn’t have any weapons on him except his pocketknife. He didn’t like to carry when he wasn’t working because men with guns had a tendency to use them, and he didn’t need the temptation or the hassle. He eased forward. The idiot with the pistol couldn’t see him from this angle. Just as he reached the end of the row of snack foods, he noticed another guy with a shotgun. Felix’s stomach growled, and he pressed his lips together. He wanted his dinner. He wanted to fill up his damn gas tank. He did not want to be dicking around with two loser punks in a mini mart. What a clusterfuck, he thought, irritated.

“Hurry up,” the one with the shotgun growled, swinging it around. “We don’t got all night.”

Felix narrowed his eyes. Mr. Shotgun didn’t have a fucking clue what he was doing with his equipment. Didn’t even have the safety off. He wasn’t sure if he felt more annoyed at the lack of professionalism, or at the amount of time it was going to take to deal with this bullshit. He edged forward, eyes on the robber with the shotgun. The moment he rounded the end cap, the guy would see him, so he’d have to act fast. Sobs from the cashier told him that she wasn’t too happy at the way her night was going, either. He paused and centered himself, pushing away the fatigue of a long, boring day. Just as he was about to crouch down and take out shotgun guy, the front door opened.

“Fuck.” His options suddenly narrowed, Felix rushed forward, grabbing the shotgun and wrestling it out of the man’s grip. He reversed it, then clubbed the asshole over the head. The guy staggered, but didn’t go down. “Stupid ox.” He tossed the shotgun

down the aisle, and it skittered under the rear refrigerators as he blocked a wild throw to his face. From the corner of his eye, he saw the man who’d opened the front door freeze, eyes wide. “Gonna be collateral fucking damage if he doesn’t move,” Felix muttered, grunting when Mr. Shotgun managed to land a punch on his hip. “Stupid.” Twisting, he swung cupped hands at the man’s head, and Mr. Shotgun screamed as his eardrums burst. He went down, writhing in pain.

A shot rang out and glass shattered, but Felix was already moving. He grabbed the guy with the smoking handgun in one swift move. Two seconds later the robber had a fractured wrist, and Felix was breaking down the gun into pieces. He put them on the counter in front of the sobbing cashier. Mr. Handgun slumped to the floor, holding his wrist and moaning.

“Jesus. Shut the fuck up. You’re not dead,” Felix said, shoving at the punk’s thigh with the tip of his boot. “It’s just a simple fracture.”

The guy blinked, but he shut his mouth once he got a good look at the annoyance on Felix’s face.

“Oh my God,” the cashier said, trembling and staring at man on the floor. “Oh my God.” She gripped the counter as if that was the only thing holding her upright.

And maybe it is, Felix thought, exasperated. “You’re all right. It’s all over,” he told her, tossing the magazine of the robber’s weapon onto the counter. “Call nine-one-one,” he told the girl, and then he turned to the front door. The man coming in hadn’t moved. Felix let his eyes catalogue the guy: jeans, a soft pullover sweater, keys in hand. No weapons. Shaggy blond hair falling across his forehead, blue eyes. Broken glass all around him. Good looking. Not a threat.

Felix turned back to the cashier. “Did you call the cops?”

She hiccupped, shaking her head. “What?” Mascara ran down her face in thick black streaks.

Felix inhaled deeply, then let it out again slowly. He couldn’t afford to lose his cool. Not now. Not ever. “Call nine-one-one,” he said again, more gently this time. The girl picked up the phone near the register with shaky hands.

“All I wanted was some damned coffee,” the blond guy near the door said, staring at the carnage. He held his right hand over his

left shoulder. Blood dripped down through his fingers. “Shit.” He grimaced.

Felix sighed and strode over. He was really fucking hungry, but he knew he wouldn’t be eating anytime soon. “Let me see.”

The blond frowned at him.

Felix impatiently pulled the man’s hand away and inspected the wound. “Grazed you. Might need stitches.” He craned his head, then nodded in satisfaction when he saw the round stuck in the column just outside the door. “It’s a clean in and out. You’ll live.”

The guy blinked. “I never thought I wouldn’t.”

Felix put the man’s hand back over the wound. “Steady pressure.” He paused, more than a little surprised by how irritated he was that the bullet had hurt an innocent bystander. The guy didn’t deserve it, but it wasn’t like Felix gave a shit. He didn’t dwell on random bullshit much. “Sorry. I had to deal with the shotgun first, or we would’ve had a bigger mess in here,” he offered, not sure why he was talking to the man.

The blond guy stared at him. “I’m not angry with you.”

Felix stepped back, inexplicably distracted. The blue sweater the guy wore was a perfect match for his eyes. “Good.” He turned as the punk with the broken wrist tried to struggle to his feet. “Stay down, dumbass.” Felix walked over and loomed over him. The other robber was still on the floor, hands over his ears. Felix knew how much burst eardrums hurt, so he wasn’t surprised that guy wasn’t trying to get up.

“Fuck you,” the guy at Felix’s feet said, glaring.

Felix sighed, then put his boot on the man’s thigh. “I can break your knee, too.”

The man’s eyes went wide with rage, but he went still. “Asshole,” he muttered.

Felix shrugged. “Yeah. Yeah, I am. So, don’t push me. I’m already in a bad fucking mood.” He looked towards the door as the sound of sirens in the distance grew louder. “You doing okay?” He asked the guy with the arm injury. “Not feeling dizzy?”

The blond shrugged, then winced. He’d slumped against the doorjamb, and looked tired. “I’m fine.”

Felix glanced at the cashier. She nodded at him, phone still against her ear. He looked back down at the jerk at his feet, tempted to break the man’s knee just because. He really just wanted a fucking

sandwich. And then he wanted to go home and crack open a cold beer while he checked to make sure all the money he was owed went into the proper accounts.

“We’re going to be here a while, aren’t we?” the blond guy asked.

Felix stepped back from the man on the floor, taking himself away from temptation. The cops were already going to be all over him for breaking the guy’s wrist. “Yeah,” he said, resigned to going hungry for at least a few hours. “We are.”

****
Nick Banner’s left arm throbbed, even after the shot of

anesthetic the EMT had given him before she’d sewn him up. He hadn’t wanted to go to the hospital, so she’d stitched him up and told him to get himself to his doctor for antibiotics. Now, he sat on the curb outside the mini mart, waiting for the cop grilling his hero to stop being an asshole.

“I told you, I saw the guy with the pistol first. When the guy with the shotgun tackled me, I grabbed it and hit him over the head with it. He kept coming. My training kicked in. End of story,” the man was explaining. Again.

Nick watched the expression on the guy’s face grow increasingly colder as the idiot cop repeated the same questions for the fifth time, as if that would get him a different answer. Nick needed his caffeine fix. And he desperately wanted to be the hell away from here, preferably with tall, dark, and handsome joining him. The guy was just his type: thick, dark hair a man could grab onto, and a beard that highlighted the dude’s excellent jaw line. Piercing hazel eyes held a multitude of secrets. Nick shook his head. He had to stop staring, or the guy would catch on to how badly he wanted in his pants, and he was almost one hundred percent sure the man was straight. And if Nick had one rule it was this one: don’t fuck straight guys. That was a good way to get your heart broken.

And very possibly my face, too, he thought, remembering that one time in college and the black eye it’d taken weeks to heal. He wasn’t likely to lose a fight these days, but he still preferred to avoid confrontations if he could. He was more of a silent but deadly type than a showman.

“Look, I’m done here. You have my info.” The guy walked away in the middle of the cop’s question.

Damn. Guy’s got balls to spare, Nick thought, amused. When the man neared him, he struggled to his feet, trying to ignore the pain in his bicep. “Hey,” he said. His voice cracked. The guy stood at least four inches taller than he did. He cleared his throat. “Thanks for saving my life.” He held out his right hand.

The guy frowned at him. “I didn’t save your life.”

Nick persisted. “Okay, but you probably saved the cashier’s life. That guy looked seriously tweaked out on something.” He kept his hand extended. He wanted to see what the man did. Nick was an excellent judge of character, especially when he had the opportunity to interact with a person. “I’m Nick. Nice to meet you.”

Slowly, the man reached out and shook his hand. “Felix.”

Nick smiled. Felix’s hand was warm and slightly calloused, as if the guy did a fair amount of work with some sort of tool. Golf? Weights? A shovel? he wondered, making sure to not clasp the guy’s hand for too long. Nope. Probably military something or other, with those moves he pulled on the robbers. He resisted the urge to ask the man out for dinner. He hadn’t moved back to his hometown to start dating. He was here to help his sister for a few months, and then he’d be gone again, long before the homophobic gossips could start anything. “Anyway, thanks, man.” Before Felix could respond, the cop that had been questioning him interrupted.

“Mr. Cooper, we aren’t done speaking with you yet.” The policeman grabbed Felix’s arm and hauled him around.

Nick could barely believe the fat policeman had the strength to budge the guy. He glanced at the cop’s partner slowly stepping closer. She had the sense to look nervous in the face of so much muscular testosterone. She took a deep breath and marched over determinedly.

“Arnold,” she said, clearly working to keep her tone calm. The cop ignored her. She glanced at Nick.

He shrugged, then immediately wished he hadn’t when the wound in his arm throbbed, even with the numbing medicine.

“You didn’t answer all of my questions,” Fat Cop said to Felix, as if his partner wasn’t even there. He thrust his chin out belligerently.

Nick watched anger flash across Felix’s face, but almost immediately, his expression smoothed into a perfectly controlled mask. Interesting. That’s some impressive self-control there.

“I told you I was done answering questions,” Felix said,

shrugging off the cop’s grip.
The fat cop’s face reddened. “Now, see here—”
“Is he under arrest?” Nick asked, opening his mouth to insert

his foot. What the hell am I doing? No drama, remember? That’s your motto, he told himself, even as he continued talking. “I mean, this guy saved us from those losers.” He gestured to the cop car where the two robbers sat handcuffed in the back. Total amateurs, he thought, disgusted. They were due to head to the hospital, but since neither man’s injuries was life-threatening, the police had opted to question the witnesses before driving the men to the emergency room. “You’re questioning the wrong guy. You should be asking them why they thought robbing a mini mart and terrorizing the poor girl who works here was a good idea.”

“I don’t need any advice on how to do my job.” The cop turned to Nick, scowling. “We already have your statement.”

Nick blinked at this example of utter stupidity. “Yes. I know. Are you going to answer my question?”

The female officer intervened again, this time putting a hand on her partner’s arm. “I think we’re done here, right, Arnold? If Mr. Cooper or Mr. Banner—” She nodded at Nick. “—have any more information, they’ll call us. Right?”

Not even if all the pigs in New Jersey learn to fly, Nick thought, but he nodded, eager to not be involved in some random clusterfuck with the cops. “Of course.” He stepped back before Fat Cop could get any ideas about his involvement in the situation.

Felix didn’t nod. He didn’t retreat. He just stared steely eyed and controlled right at Fat Cop’s face until the moron backed up, readjusting his utility belt as if that gave him some sort of authority. His face had turned red with anger or embarrassment, or possibly some unsavory combination of the two emotions. Nick didn’t much care. He was busy enjoying the way Felix loomed.

Fat Cop doesn’t have a chance. Nick bit back a smile.

“Don’t leave town,” Fat Cop warned, then pivoted and stalked away, handcuffs jingling from his belt.

His partner sighed. “Thanks for your patience,” she said, and then she followed her partner back to the patrol car.

Nick rolled his eyes, amused. “I didn’t know I was going to end up as a sidekick in a bad cop movie when I woke up this morning.”

To his surprise, Felix laughed. “You never know when a situation is going to go sideways.”

Nick blinked. The smile had transformed Felix’s face from handsome to stunning. He swallowed, willing his dick to behave. “Truth, man.”

Felix rolled his shoulders. “All I wanted was a damned sandwich.”

“I just wanted a coffee.” Nick grinned. Suddenly, Felix didn’t seem so unapproachable. “Shit happens.”

“That it does.” Felix nodded at him, then turned back towards the mini mart. “Take care.” He strode away before Nick could respond.

Well damn. He sure knows how to end a conversation. Nick watched him head inside and grab some food, drop a few bills on the counter, and head out to a black pickup in under five minutes. On his way out of the parking lot, Felix tapped his forehead in a rough salute to Nick from the open window of his truck, and then he drove off down the road.

“And there goes any chance at ever asking out the man of my dreams,” Nick said under his breath, half smiling.

“What did you say?” Fat Cop asked him.

Nick startled, not realizing the cop had walked back over to him. Shit. Pay attention to your surroundings, Nick. You know better than that, he told himself. “Was just wondering if there’s anywhere else I could get a coffee around here. It looks like the cashier isn’t going to be able to take my order anytime soon.” He nodded to the girl still quietly sobbing on the back of the ambulance rig. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in town.”

Fat Cop frowned. “Try Daisy’s. That’s where I go.” He held out a small business card. “Call me if you remember anything more from today.”

Nick took the card and pocketed it without looking at it. Given his line of work, it’d be a cold day in hell before he’d call the police, but there was no need to be rude about it. “Daisy’s. Got it.” He’d been there before. In fact, he’d been there plenty of times, all throughout high school. He remembered the old red and white checked tile and the shiny leather booths quite well. He remembered that one winter when he’d come home on break from college, boyfriend in tow, eager to show his new guy his favorite childhood places. And he also

remembered being thrown out of the diner, bits of egg literally stuck to his face, when his buddies from high school had discovered he was gay. Yeah, nope. Not a fucking chance am I going to set foot in that place.

Fat Cop nodded. “Take care, Mr. Banner.” He walked back to his patrol vehicle and got in on the driver’s side.

Nick stared at the cop car as it pulled away, remembering how the local officers had done absolutely nothing to help him when he’d tried to file assault charges all those years ago. “Good times,” he muttered, abruptly feeling a lot less optimistic about the next few months.

Captive Fire Chapter One #excerpt!

Do you like dragons? Strong shifters? Conflict? This might be the story you’ve always wanted…

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – ARe – Bookstrand – Smashwords – Barnes & Noble – iTunes – Kobo

captivefire1l  epeditorsesal1s  amazon-bestseller-icon   BestsellerIcon100X100

Contemporary, Gay Erotic Romance (MM), Romantic Suspense, Sci-Fi, Shifters, Paranormal
Word Count: 27,000
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

 

Prince Ryuu hates his father, Emperor Midian. When he’s forced to buy a slave, he defiantly chooses Drakon instead of a woman. Because he’s determined to overthrow his father’s empire, he can’t afford to show vulnerability, but Drakon is more compelling than he’d anticipated. For an Arethuza warrior, affection is a weakness that can lead to death.

Drakon isn’t really a slave—he’s a black dragon, considered cursed by everyone. Despite his people’s distrust, he will do anything to keep them safe, even submit to an Arethuza prince. He never expected to find love, and that complication could ruin his plans to sabotage the emperor’s war campaign. Though Ryuu is his fated mate, their fledgling bond is a secret too dangerous for Drakon to reveal.

Will their duty tear them apart? Can honor prevail in a war that might be too violent for even the strongest dragon warrior?

 

Chapter One Excerpt!

The scarlet awning snapped in the desert wind like a broken sensor—incessant and impossible to ignore. Prince Ryuu looked away as flecks of sand scoured his face. The Dragon’s Teeth Mountains loomed far to the east of the encampment, dark and serene. He wished he were there, amongst the peaked cliffs that formed the spine of the continent. He wished he were anywhere else but here.

“Pay attention, my son,” his father, Emperor Midian, said harshly. “You must choose your servant this day. My patience has run out.”

Ryuu composed his face and turned back to the slave auction, carefully hiding his distaste. It had been four centuries since his people had abolished slavery, yet here he stood, about to choose one for his personal use. It had only taken a few years for his father to dismantle the old laws of their nation and reinstitute the barbarism he enjoyed so much, though admittedly, the market for slaves was quite small. Most of the Arethuza found the practice distasteful. Even so, Ryuu didn’t know how much longer he could keep up the charade of being a loyal son. Soon he would have to make his move and break away from his father’s rule. His duty to his people was more important than his duty to his sire.

“Ryuu!”

“Yes, Father,” he said, bowing slightly to appease the man. His gaze flicked to the mountains once more before he wrestled himself under control. Freedom was not an option he had the luxury to indulge. “I am merely contemplating my choices.”

The emperor grunted. “Enough. You are a grown man. A warrior. This hesitance is unbecoming.” He pointed. “Take that female, sitting next to the pole. She is beautiful and seems healthy.” He adjusted his polished leather armor and tucked his red cape over his shoulder.

The color of the cape clashed with the scarlet of the awning, but Ryuu knew his father didn’t care. He liked red. The color of blood. Ryuu wore black armor, for mourning. The color drove his mother to tears at times, but it suited his mood, most days.

“I need heirs. It is time for you to give them to me,” the emperor said.

Ryuu suppressed a sigh as he looked out over the bodies arranged on the ground beneath the tattered canvas that sheltered them from the harsh light of their sun. No silk fabric for them, he thought, pretending to consider the people being bought and sold like furniture. Truth was, he’d decided thirty minutes ago which man would be coming home with him. His father wouldn’t like it, but it was his decision to make.

“I will take the man with the dark hair. Near the center,” he said to the slave master. The man he chose couldn’t hear him over the wind, but Ryuu had a feeling the slave already knew he wouldn’t be at the auction long. As he watched, the wind whipped the man’s long, dark hair over his face, exposing fresh lash marks decorating the skin of his back. No, he will either escape, or die trying, Ryuu thought, frowning slightly. If only he could convince the man to work with him, instead of against him. If only he had the time…

The portly auctioneer stared at Ryuu, then looked to the emperor. Sweat ran down his round face, but he made no move to wipe it away from his shaved head and temples. Ryuu knew the man didn’t want to get embroiled in the midst of a royal argument. That way lay death.

Ryuu’s father scowled at his son. “You would take a man?”

Ryuu shrugged. “It is my choice. I have no need for a woman.”

Midian glared at his son, then turned away. “I am done with this. Choose as you like, and accept the consequences.” He shifted his sword against his hip. “I can breed other sons. I will have heirs from another woman, if you will not serve me in that manner.” With that extraordinary statement, he strode away, toward the flitter that waited next to the iron-barred goods warehouse.

Ryuu concealed a flinch. His father planned to abandon Ryuu’s mother? Because of his refusal to serve as a royal stud bull? The emperor’s cruelty still surprised him, even after growing up in the cesspool that was his father’s fortress and headquarters, the citadel. He’d need to find his mother and warn her the moment he returned. He pressed his lips together tightly, trying to hide his dismay.

“Prince?” The auctioneer bowed tentatively. “That slave is very difficult to control. Why, just this morning he damaged one of the other males and had to be whipped.”

Ryuu scowled, releasing his pent-up temper on the auctioneer. “And you think that I will have trouble with a mere slave?” He subtly fingered the row of knives that ran diagonally across his chest. He’d carefully nurtured a reputation for savagery with them—better to scare people with rumors than with actual blood. Many of his people believed him to be as bloodthirsty as the emperor and that protected him somewhat from his father’s personal warriors. If only the emperor understood the power of words instead of war, but his father had never been interested in peace. He enjoyed torture.

“No, Sire, of course not,” the man stammered, bowing lower. “It is just that he is not very…” He paused, clearly struggling to find words to describe a slave who still believed himself to be a man, and entitled to freedom.

Ryuu didn’t care about the auctioneer’s philosophical dilemma. He knew exactly what he was buying. “Chain him and bring him to my flitter,” he commanded. Then he turned on his heel and strode away.

****

Discouraged, Drakon watched the prince leave the buyer’s booth from the corner of his eye. If he believed in a deity, he would be praying with all his strength that Prince Ryuu would be the one who’d purchase him, but after seeing the man’s indifferent pose toward the slaves, he no longer harbored such a dream. The best he could hope for was if one of the emperor’s administrators bought him. Perhaps I’ll even end up in the citadel, he mused, digging his fingers into the sand beneath him. He could work from there to sabotage Emperor Midian’s bloodthirsty war campaign. Lost in thought, he resisted when the auctioneer suddenly strode over and tried to yank him to his feet by the chains around his wrists. Since Drakon was at least a foot taller and much stronger than the slave master, the pudgy man couldn’t budge him.

“None of that!” The bald man slapped his quirt against Drakon’s flank, hard enough to draw blood. “Prince Ryuu owns you now.” He frowned. “You will go quietly and respectfully, or he will slice the rebellion out of your skin in long strips. He’s a demon with those knives of his. They call him the Bearer of Blades.” The auctioneer smiled cruelly.

Drakon scrambled to his feet, dazed by his good fortune. The auctioneer, mistaking his surprise for recalcitrance, hit him again. Drakon ground his teeth together, reminding himself yet again that he’d chosen this course of action of his own free will.

“Do you want to be flayed?” the auctioneer demanded.

Drakon shook himself. Dust from his loincloth puffed into the hot air. “No.” From the rumors that circulated among the slaves, his mighty highness, Prince Ryuu, could strip most of the skin from a man’s body without killing him. Although, I have yet to speak to anyone who has witnessed Ryuu’s prowess with those blades. Sometimes rumors are more effective than true action, he mused, stumbling as the auctioneer pulled on his chains.

“The prince is leaving within the hour. You will obey him in all things,” the bald man said, absently dragging Drakon through the crowds of the market. They’d left the slave pens behind and Drakon could smell the savory scent of roasting meat. His mouth watered. He hadn’t eaten in four days.

“There will be none of your defiance, when you are in his custody. Is that clear?”

Drakon stared at the back of the creature’s fat head as he was dragged toward the fenced landing site. Damned if he was going to answer that statement. He was a man, not a child.

The auctioneer yanked on his chains viciously, nearly tripping Drakon. The metal bit into his wrists and he knew there would be fresh blood beneath the shackles.

“I expect a response!”

Drakon raised an eyebrow, willing the man to damage him further. He might need to play the part of a slave for now, but he was a free man. He deserved respect. Courtesy. You’re fooling yourself, a small voice at the back of his mind told him. You had no respect when you were back home, in your father’s household. Why would you think you deserve it now? Drakon shoved those thoughts down, refusing to give in to the despair that had dogged him all his life. I am a man. A warrior of my people, he reminded himself. I passed the test of the dragon and own my true form. And I am the only one of my generation to do so. Remember that.

The auctioneer raised his quirt again. Just as he was about to strike Drakon across the face, a voice interrupted.

“Halt! You dare to damage my property?”

The auctioneer pivoted, then immediately went to his knees. He pulled on Drakon’s bonds, forcing him down to the ground. Drakon broke his fall with his elbows, but the slave master tightened his grip on the chains, dragging him down further. He struggled to breathe as his cheek pressed into the packed sand.

“Forgive me, Sire,” the auctioneer said, trembling.

Drakon turned his head to the side just in time to see black armored boots stop less than a foot from his face. Swirls of dust decorated the insteps of Prince Ryuu’s footwear, and Drakon’s eyes wandered to a set of curious indentations in the front soles, where tiny blades no doubt resided. He shivered, wondering what sort of man would hide so many secret weapons on his body. Weren’t the ones on his chest harness enough?

“Give me the bonds,” Prince Ryuu said.

The auctioneer bowed lower. “Yes, Sire.” He lifted his arms, hauling on Drakon’s chains painfully.

Prince Ryuu took them and gently tugged. “On your feet,” he said softly.

Drakon licked his dry lips, suddenly afraid. The prince’s low voice sent a flicker of arousal through him, against all rational expectation. No. You can’t let your proclivities rule you, not now of all times, he thought desperately. He wanted this more than anything. He’d hoped all along for a place in the royal household, while knowing the chance that he might be purchased by one of Emperor Midian’s family members or a royal retainer was slim. That Prince Ryuu himself had bought him surpassed all his expectations. Control yourself, or you will ruin everything.

“Come on, then,” Prince Ryuu said, again tugging at the chains.

Drakon gathered his wits and stood up, trying to keep his thoughts to himself. Expressionless silver eyes met his. Ryuu’s shoulder-length blond hair had silver beads woven into the temples, breaking up the unrelieved black of the rest of his clothing and armor. Drakon’s fingers twitched. He would have liked to find out if the prince’s hair was as soft as it looked, but he remembered his status before he gave himself away. He lowered his eyes. Surprisingly, the prince was his height, unusual for the Arethuza. The hardships of their desert life usually prevented them from growing as tall as Drakon’s people.

“We leave now,” the prince said, pivoting abruptly and pulling Drakon to the gleaming silver flitter that waited just beyond the fencing.

When he reached the flitter, he touched a finger to a hidden stud. Light flashed, reading his genetic signature, and the canopy slid back, revealing the four seats within.

“Sit in the copilot’s seat,” Prince Ryuu told him, to Drakon’s surprise.

The prince wants me to sit next to him? It was unusual for an owner to trust a slave with such close proximity.

Prince Ryuu glanced at Drakon’s wrists and his face tightened before he dropped the heavy steel chains. The ends dragged in the sand. “You must carry your own bonds, like all of us.” He laughed shortly and climbed into the driver’s seat.

Drakon stared at the shackles, then looked into the flitter, confused. Ryuu’s behavior didn’t match the rumors of his cruelty. He picked up his chains and swallowed, hard, as Ryuu pressed buttons on the console, seemingly unconcerned with his new slave’s lack of confinement. The prince didn’t even glance at Drakon.

I could flee so easily, he thought, his gaze going to the mountains in the distance. Of course, if he ran now, he would not be able to complete his task. And, too, the flitter Prince Ryuu piloted could easily run a man down and fry him into ash. Only a dragon would have any hope of escaping the clutches of the Arethuza Empire. He sighed, then climbed into the vehicle.

“Glad you could join me,” Ryuu said sardonically.

Drakon pressed his lips together as the canopy slid closed above his head. Now was not the time to lose his temper. The leather seats and fresh air that immediately filtered into the small compartment was more luxury than he’d experienced in years. He tried not to feel bitter about what Prince Ryuu’s father had done to his people, the Soutx, but it was difficult.

“Do you have a name?”

Drakon looked at his captor, still silent.

Ryuu frowned. “I can simply call you, ‘Slave,’ if you wish.” His silver eyes appeared darker within the filtered light of the flitter.

“Drakon,” he blurted out before he could stop himself. His face burned and he once again fought down anger. The Soutx, the People of the Dragon, weren’t slaves. Drakon would never truly be any man’s property, regardless of the chains and whippings he might endure.

“Ah,” Ryuu said mildly, just when Drakon thought the prince would rebuke him for his tone.

The flitter lifted from the sand and sped to the west, toward the crystal fields. Drakon stared through the glass, wondering what torment he’d brought upon himself.

Rock Star Baby #ChapterOne #Excerpt

ROCK STAR BABY is an Amazon and ARe BESTSELLER and a BookStrand Featured Title!

In celebration, I’m posting all of chapter one for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – AReBookStrand – Smashwords – iBooks – Kobo –  Barnes & Noble

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Gay Romance, Shifters, Paranormal, Erotic Romance
Word Count: 51,595
Heat Level: 4
Published By: Evernight Publishing

 

Ryan Oakley, lead singer of Bad Oak and heartthrob extraordinaire, isn’t looking for a girlfriend. He’s definitely not looking for a boyfriend, but after the explosive encounter he has with a guy he meets backstage, he realizes he’s more flexisexual than he’d thought. Of course, suddenly being able to shift into a wolf is an unexpected side effect he didn’t expect and can barely control.

Bardulf Forst is Alpha-Heir to his pack, but he can’t resist his little sister when she begs him to meet Ryan Oakley. When he realizes the sexy singer is his mate, he can’t deny instinct. He claims the famous rock star even though he knows his father won’t approve: heirs are supposed to have children and two males can’t reproduce.

Little do they know that they’re about to experience an ancient shifter biological imperative: when two male Alphas mate, unexpected miracles sometimes happen.

***MPREG***

Chapter One Excerpt

“You did what?” Bardulf asked his little sister, trying to make sense of what she’d just told him. Her silky blonde hair slid over her shoulder and across her cheeks as she made a pouty face at him. Bardulf resisted the urge to tuck it behind her ears. She was sixteen now and would probably bite him if he tried it. Sometimes he forgot she was growing up. And sometimes I want to pretend she’s still that little girl with the pigtails who drove me crazy when I was a teenager. Her being grown up makes me feel old. He pushed his mug of coffee toward the center of the old wooden table. The caffeine he’d already drunk sloshed in his stomach uncomfortably.

“Well, Dad went all Alpha on me and wouldn’t let me go to the concert, so I put your name on the prize form instead,” Faylen said, bouncing a little on her heels. “He said I didn’t have enough control of my wolf form yet to not lose it if I get excited.” She rolled her eyes. “As if I’d shift in front of humans! In an arena! Ugh. Dad can be such a fossil.” She flung herself down into the chair next to him and tossed the envelope she’d carried into the room on the table. “He’s been impossible lately. I heard him yelling at Mom this morning. Again.”

Bardulf rubbed his forehead. When that didn’t ease his newly blooming tension headache, he gave her a stern look, not that it would do much good. For such a small person, she certainly knew how to create giant problems. “You want me to kiss Ryan Oakley, lead singer of Bad Oak, because you won some fan club contest? At a concert? In front of a thousand people? Are you crazy?”

“It’s backstage, not in front of the audience, Bardulf.” Faylen poked at his arm. “And if I can’t go, you’re the next best thing. You’re gay, so you won’t mind kissing a guy. Plus, you’re Alpha-Heir, so Dad can’t forbid you to go.”

Bardulf choked back an incredulous laugh. “Dad is still pack leader. If he says jump, I jump. Doesn’t matter if I’m heir, little wolf.” He ran his hands through his short hair, then rubbed his face again.

“Don’t call me that,” she grumbled.

“That’s what your name means,” he said, hoping that the change of subject would work. No such luck, he realized as his sister opened her mouth again.

“Yeah, well yours means ‘bright wolf’, but you don’t see me calling you stupid names, even if your hair is super-blond.” She poked him in the arm again, harder this time.

Bardulf winced and grabbed her fingers. “Stop that.”

She ignored him, pulling away from his grasp. “It sucks that you got the pretty hair, and I got this ordinary light-brown stuff.” She lifted a shining strand from her shoulder and wound it around her finger. “Also, don’t think I can’t tell you’re trying to change the subject.”

Bardulf shook his head. “I’m not going to a Bad Oak concert. And your hair is gorgeous and you know it. It’s only a little darker than mine. Stop fishing for compliments.”

Faylen dropped her hair and grabbed the manila envelope from the kitchen table. Obviously, she’d decided to cut to the chase. “Yes, you are going.” She shoved the paper against his chest. The corner poked through his sweater into his skin, and Bardulf shifted his weight irritably. His inner wolf was beginning to take notice of Faylen’s antics, and he wasn’t amused.

Predictably, his sister brushed off his growing annoyance. “The itinerary is all there. You just have to show up at the back door.” She grinned widely. “Ryan Oakley is super hot. Kissing him will be awesome, and you know it. The only reason you don’t want to go is because you’re getting old and crotchety.”

“I’m only twenty-three, Faylen. Give me a break,” Bardulf growled, automatically catching the papers when she let go. “I hate New York. It’s smelly. And there are too many people there. Too many humans. It makes me want to bite things.”

“It’s only a couple hours from us, sheesh. Stop being such a baby.” Faylen rolled her eyes at him.

He glared at her, tipping back in his chair. “I can’t drop everything just because you won a silly contest.”

Faylen’s lips pulled back, and she growled low in her throat. “It’s not silly. I’ve wanted to meet Ryan Oakley since, like, forever, and I can’t go because Dad is being stupid.” She crossed her arms and glared sulkily at him.

Bardulf cocked his head, keeping a firm rein on his instincts. His wolf wanted to smack the petulance from his younger sister, but his human side could tell she was truly upset about not being able to go. She just covered it up well with bravado. “Why is it so important to you that I go in your place? I’m sure one of your friends would jump at the chance,” he said gently.

She stared at him, then suddenly turned away. “It would kill me if Martha or Susie got to go instead of me. It’s my ticket. I won it, and I don’t want them to have it. They’d talk about it for months!”

He sighed, then put a hand on her thin shoulder and tugged. For all her physical maturity she was still very young inside, especially for a werewolf. “In case you forgot, I’m a male. Ryan Oakley might not appreciate having to kiss a dude, you know.”

She let him pull her into an awkward hug, and that calmed his inner beast. From the way her shoulders relaxed, the closeness calmed hers, too. Family units were very tight in the pack. He stroked her hair and let their wilder instincts settle down.

“It doesn’t say anything about the kisser having to be a girl,” she mumbled into his chest after a minute.

He wrinkled his nose. “You could just send a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ note. There’s no real reason for me to go to the city.”

Faylen pulled back. “Uh-uh. No way. You need to get away from the house anyway. I can smell your wolf getting more and more restless as the months go by. This will be good for you.” She tapped at the envelope they’d crushed between them. “This is your ticket out of here,” she said melodramatically.

Bardulf grimaced. “That doesn’t mean I should take off for the biggest city on the east coast.” He stood up and put the envelope back on the table in front of her. “I can always go for a run,” he murmured, thinking about how good it would feel to slip out of his human skin for a few hours. He walked to the window. Twilight had come and gone since they’d begun talking, and now the meadow beyond the kitchen was dark. Alluring. His wolf pushed at the inside of his skull, wanting him to go out into the wilderness. He needed to shift. He needed to run.

“You need to find your mate, Bardulf,” Faylen said softly.

His spine went tense. “You know that the likelihood of my finding a compatible gay werewolf is almost zero, Faylen. And Dad isn’t going to appreciate me bringing home a stray male. He wants heirs, remember? You need to stop provoking him, sis. Dad’s got a lot on his plate with the Council meeting this year.” Bardulf didn’t want to talk about this. He knew she worried about him. Hell, he could feel the entire pack’s worry, but it wasn’t like he could do a damn thing about it. He was gay. He was alpha. Most likely he would go mad from trying to lead the pack when his father stepped down while ignoring his own nature, but if that was the price he had to pay to keep his wolves safe, he would gladly do so. He shook his head, dismissing that train of thought. He just needed some fresh air. He began to strip out of his clothes. “I need to run.”

“You’re going to be Alpha, brother. You don’t need a run, you need a mate.” She stepped up to the window and tapped on the glass. “And you won’t find one out in the woods.”

****

Ryan Oakley frowned at his band’s manager and publicist. “Wait, what? The girl who won backed out of the ‘Win a Kiss’ contest?” He shook his head, confused. This had never happened before, not since they’d begun doing the kissing promo a few years ago. His band, Bad Oak, usually had to fight off fans everywhere they went. Having a legitimate contest winner cancel a meet-and-greet, especially when it involved a kiss, was unheard of. “Is she sick?”

Charlie shrugged. “She said her father wouldn’t let her come, so she’s sending her older brother in her place.” He shifted closer to the wall as three men rolled equipment out to the stage, and Ryan moved with him. The noise level was slowly increasing as the arena filled with fans. They had one more show here tonight, and then they headed for New York to do their special acoustic show in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Ryan was looking forward to it. He loved touring and he loved their regular shows, but once in a while it felt good to quiet things down and show the critics that Bad Oak had more to offer than wailing guitars and massive percussion. Not that there’s anything wrong with wailing guitars and huge drumbeats, he thought.

“His name is Bardulf Forst,” Charlie continued, reading information off of his cell phone. “Huh. Says here he’s blond, blue-eyed, and available, as if we need to know that information.” He laughed. “The girl told us she’d make him wear a red shirt so he’d be easy to pick out. Sounds like she’s got her older brother wrapped around her little finger.” He looked up, grinning. “That’s cute.”

“See, this is where I get really confused. She’s sending her brother? Not her sister or a girlfriend?” Ryan rubbed his eyes, wishing he’d gotten more sleep last night. He was too tired to make sense of this. He slumped against the painted cinderblock wall and let the hard edges dig into his shoulder blades. Maybe the pain would wake him up.

“Well, you always insisted that the contest should be an equal opportunity promo event,” Charlie said, tucking his cell into his pocket.

Ryan rolled his eyes. “I meant it shouldn’t have an age limit. I seriously didn’t think any dudes would want to kiss me.” He scratched at the stubble on his cheek.

Charlie grinned wider. “Really? You are so naïve, which is hilarious for a rock star. You have a ton of gay fans.”

Ryan shrugged. “Yeah, but this contest mainly draws teenage girls.” He glanced down the hallway. He had to wrap this up if he wanted to have any time to warm up his voice.

“Doesn’t matter. The entry is still valid. In two nights’ time, you’ll be kissing Mr. Forst.” Charlie smirked. “I can’t wait.”

“Can’t Josh do it this time?” Ryan asked, not sure why he felt so uneasy. It was just a silly little kiss. Yeah, he was straight, but one kiss wasn’t going to kill him. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t fooled around with guys before. He’d even gone so far as to exchange blowjobs with a groupie a couple of years ago, so it wasn’t like he was squeamish about dudes or anything. And you swore off random hookups last year, remember? This will mean nothing. 

“It’s your turn, Ryan,” Josh said, holding his two guitars over his head so they wouldn’t bang into anything. “I did the kiss thing last time, remember? And it was that sixty-year-old grandma who insisted on Frenchingme, dear God. I was traumatized for weeks. So, no weaseling out of this. It’s bad for our image, big brother.”

Ryan sighed and gave in. “Yeah, okay. Whatever. Set it up, Charlie.” He clapped their manager on his back and headed to his dressing room. He didn’t have the energy to worry about what might happen two days from now. He had a show to do in twenty minutes.

buy links: Evernight – Amazon – ARe – BookStrand – Smashwords

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DUSK releases tomorrow! #FirstChapterExcerpt

DUSK releases November 11, 2014!

In celebration, here’s a little gift: scroll down to read Chapter One!

And don’t forget, DARK is on sale right now at Amazon and ARe! Get the first Stronghold book for $0.99!

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dusk  epeditorsesal1s

Erotic Romance (MF), May/Dec, New Adult, Rubenesque, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Suspense
Word Count: 38,326
Heat Level: 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

 

Lucy Soren never expected to live through an alien attack. Months later, her nightmares won’t let her forget the pain she suffered, or her strange attraction to the man who saved her from certain death.

Sentry Solomon Dusk never wanted to heal a mortal woman, but he can’t forget Lucy’s bravery or beauty. Even though he vowed to never again fall in love, Lucy attracts him like no other woman ever has before.

When the alien Spiders again slip past the Sentries’ defenses, Solomon’s only thought is to protect the woman he refuses to love. Lucy’s only hope is to run from the danger to her heart. Unfortunately, the fate of the planet rests on their ability to work together. Will their fear of commitment keep them from saving the planet… and each other?

 

DUSK Chapter One Excerpt:

Lucy Soren sat at her desk, absently rubbing her right forearm. Outside, bright gold and red touched the tips of the leaves across the parking lot in preparation for autumn. Inside, her emotions slipped again into grey, jagged anxiety. Last year at this time she was still in college, enjoying her last days as a student, not a worry in the world. This year? Well, this year she spent a large portion of her time pretending to be a grown-up, while feeling anything but.

“If you keep that up, you won’t have any skin left,” Shari said, stacking the files of the next three patients near the printer. She leaned against the counter and crossed her arms. “Stop with the fidgeting and just tell me what’s bothering you.”

Lucy smiled at her friend. “It’s nothing.” She forced her hands down to her lap, eyes flicking to the door. Ever since she’d been injured a few months ago, she’d been unable to keep herself from constantly checking for the closest available exit. Just in case… her mind whispered.

“Yeah, right.” Shari sighed and sat down in the empty chair next to Lucy’s station. “We have approximately ten minutes left on break before patients start piling in here again. Spill, girl. I’m all ears.”

Lucy shook her head. “I’m just tired.”

Shari gave her a look.

“No, really. I haven’t been sleeping well,” Lucy offered.

“Why not?” Shari asked, as if just answering that simple question could solve all the ills in the world.

Lucy stifled a derisive laugh. She liked Shari. She wasn’t angry with her, just… frustrated. “I was in an accident before I started working here.” She shrugged. “Sometimes I still have nightmares.” She hoped that explanation satisfied Shari because she didn’t have the time or energy to explain everything that had happened to her.

Shari’s face melted into sympathy. “Oh, that sucks. I know how you feel. I broke my ankle in a car crash when I was in high school.” She grimaced. “I had nightmares for months. My mother had to bribe me to get back in the car.” She grinned. “I ate a lot of chocolate bars my senior year of high school. Good thing I had a fast metabolism.”

If only what happened to me had been something as simple as a car crash. Lucy forced a smile. “Yeah, it can be hard dealing with that kind of thing.”

Shari nodded. “I’m sure you’ll start to feel better soon. When was your accident?”

“At the beginning of the summer,” Lucy said. She glanced at the clock. “Listen, I have to run to the bathroom. Can I get a rain check on this conversation?”

Shari smiled sympathetically. “Of course! Anytime. I’m happy to listen. Just remember that.” She patted Lucy’s shoulder. “We were so glad when they hired you. We really needed the help. We can’t afford for you to have a nervous breakdown.”

Lucy stood up and shoved her hands in her pockets, trying not to show how much it bothered her when Shari touched her. “Thanks. I really appreciate it,” she said, quickly heading for the door before Shari could say anything more.

I have to get out of here, just for a minute or two. She hurried down the hall and practically shoved her way into the bathroom. She chose the end stall, the one in the most protected corner. She locked the door and sat down, drawing her legs up until she was huddled into a ball. Thank God the doctor’s office where she worked used residential toilets and not those lavatory ones without seats. She put her head down on her knees and gritted her teeth.

I’ve got to get over this, she told herself, taking slow, deep breaths. The smell of fake lavender filled her nostrils. She’d hidden in here so many times she was starting to associate the cleaning scent with her anxiety. Not good. At this rate, I’ll walk past a garden with blooming lavender and have a full-blown panic attack in public. She shuddered, trying to talk herself down. You’re safe. There are no Spiders here. You’re safe…

Her cell phone buzzed, jerking her out of her self-guided paranoid meditation. When she dug the device out of her pocket, she wrinkled her nose, not recognizing the number. She slid her finger across the display.

“Hello?”

“Is this Lucy?” a man’s voice asked.

She frowned. He sounded familiar. “Yes. Who is this?” She heard a faint rustling noise, and then he responded.

“It’s Solomon.”

Lucy’s heart almost stopped. Solomon Dusk? The Sentry who’d saved her life a few months ago? Why was he calling her? Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. The thought of the bug-like aliens attacking Earth had her clutching her phone until it creaked. She couldn’t go through that, not again. “Sentry Dusk, please tell me, is something wrong? It’s not the Spi—” she managed to blurt out before he cut her off.

“No, no. Nothing like that. I’m just calling to see if you are well,” he said calmly. “After your injury and Eva’s pairing with my brother, you must have been very overwhelmed.”

He’s calling to see if I’m okay? That makes no sense, she thought. The Spider attack was months ago. She stared at the stall door, confused.

“Lucy?”

She took a deep breath. “I’m okay. I talked to Eva a couple days ago,” she said, referring to her best friend. Eva was married to Solomon’s brother, Sentry Greyson Dark. Her lips quirked into a half smile. The thought of her best friend married to a Sentry still bemused her.

“Good,” he said, voice smooth and sexy.

Lucy licked her lips. Her mouth was so dry she could barely speak. “Sentry—”

“Call me Solomon.”

Lucy shook her head. “I’m at work.” The more he said, the more worried she grew. After the last Spider attack, the Sentries had given a final press conference about the aliens and then gone silent again. They still protected the planet, but they were very private men. And from what Lucy’s best friend, Eva, had said, they continued to monitor the Spiders as they had always done. So there’s nothing to worry about, she told herself, rubbing her arm lightly.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you at your job,” he said, voice going low. “I’ll leave you to finish your day.”

“No, wait!” Lucy exclaimed, sensing he was about to hang up. “Wait.” She listened to him draw in a breath and hurried to speak before he disconnected. “Solomon. I have to ask you something.” She tried out his name for the first time. It felt weird, to be talking to him as if he were an ordinary human. He wasn’t. He was near-immortal. He was over two centuries older than her. She was twenty, barely an adult, and he was older than everyone.

“I am here. Ask.”

She swallowed, gathering her courage. “We’re safe, aren’t we? I mean there aren’t any more Spiders on Earth, right?” She had to ask. She couldn’t help it, even if she sounded like a little girl. The nightmares came too often for her to ever fully forget what had happened all those months ago. She rubbed at her arm again, then forced herself to stop. When the Spiders attacked her and Eva in early summer, the only thing she clearly remembered in the midst of the blistering pain was Solomon Dusk’s steady gaze. His light brown eyes specked with silver calmed her. He’d held her, wordlessly reassuring her that everything would be all right.

How she she’d been able to see him clearly enough to remember his face, she didn’t know. Eva told her she’d passed out when one of the aliens had burrowed into her arm, hooking onto her nerves and destroying her from the inside out. It’d felt like someone had poured molten lava into her body. She vaguely remembered Eva’s Sentry, Greyson, taking her hand. She could sort of recall him murmuring to her, but Solomon’s eyes staring steadily into hers was what truly kept her sane throughout the entire, wretched experience.

“You are safe, Lucinda,” he said quietly. “I would never allow the Spiders to harm you. Not ever again.”

After that extraordinary statement, the faint click on the line told her he’d hung up. Lucy stared at the phone in her hand, and then slowly tapped the icon to dismiss the call.

How does he know my full name? She shook her head and tucked the phone back into her pocket. She was out of time.

****

“Idiot,” Solomon muttered, staring out the window several hours later. He’d almost called Lucy a half-dozen times since lunch, only to slide his phone back into his pocket. He wanted to try and explain what he’d meant when he said he’d protect her, but even after several hours’ thought, he still had no idea what had made him promise her she would be safe.

He strode to the opposite side of his tower. The view here was no better. Clouds and fog obscured the mountains to the north. “Too late now to take the words back,” he said, smoothing a hand over the stone that formed the side of his tower. “You will only confuse her more if you try.” And he didn’t want her to be afraid. He sighed as he watched the wind strengthen beyond the glass, swirling the white into random patterns. Not for the first time he questioned his wisdom in moving his Stronghold to the top of Mt. Washington several years ago. He’d wanted a better vantage point to keep track of his territory, and preserving the fragile ecology of the mountain had helped him make his decision, but the dreadful weather was a definite drawback. “Not that it matters,” he murmured.

He looked out into the white, angry with himself for calling her at all. I should have kept to myself. Isn’t that why you built your tower here? Away from everyone? He’d constructed it near the original observatory on the summit. Researchers still worked there, but on his terms and with his support. He’d shut down the cog railway except for one month in the summer, when he allowed tourists to visit. The rest of the year, solitude was his only company.

“Which is exactly what you wanted,” he reminded himself. He didn’t like people intruding when he needed to work. He was the Sentries’ scientist, their computer programmer and engineer all in one. Their ability to defend the world from the alien Spiders largely rested on his shoulders through the technology he created.

He trailed his fingers along the stone as he circled the glass-enclosed tower. The fog had rolled in from the west very quickly after the clear skies of this morning. He leaned against the stone, still thinking about Lucy. He wondered what she’d think of his living quarters. He’d brought her here once, several months ago, but she’d slept the entire time as her body replenished the energy it had taken to heal the damage the Spiders had caused.

Right now he stood within the second-highest level, which he used as his living quarters and research station. The stone pillar in the center of the floor was structural and technological—part of the tech bequeathed to him and the other Sentries by the Others. The material mimicked natural stone, but it was actually a complicated matrix of nanotechnology, quantum circuitry, and organic filaments. He used it as a communication viewer, a research computer, and as one of the nodes in the Stronghold quantum network that held together a sensor array that shielded the planet from alien incursions. The top floor he used as his bedroom.

“Which she will never see,” he told himself. He frowned, and turned to the pillar. An indicator glowed, letting him know that Greyson wanted to speak with him. He strode over and passed his hand along the blank surface. The stone wavered, and then his brother’s image appeared, almost as if he were standing in Solomon’s tower. He knew that for Greyson it looked as though he were standing in the heart of his stone house in the woods.

He touched the corner of his eye with his finger and inclined his head. “Greyson.”

“Always dutiful and all-seeing,” Greyson teased, smiling as he returned the gesture. The Sentries used it to show their dedication to duty.

Solomon frowned. “There is no need to mock our customs.”

Greyson lifted a shoulder. “I’m not mocking them. I’m mocking you.”

From somewhere behind Greyson, a light female voice called out. “Greyson, stop picking on your brother. It’s not nice.”

Solomon smiled, despite his irritation. “I see Eva keeps you on your toes.”

Greyson scowled, even as his eyes twinkled. “Women are so tedious.”

“Speak for yourself,” Eva laughed.

Greyson shook his head. “I heard you called Lucy.”

Solomon nodded. “I wished to assure myself of her health.”

Greyson cocked his head. “I’ve told you numerous times that she is fine. Eva sees her almost every week, as do I.”

Solomon firmly suppressed the urge to fidget. “Even so, I wished to check for myself.” He didn’t like the thought of Greyson seeing Lucy every week. It unsettled him. He didn’t want his brother near her. That is irrational, he told himself firmly.

His brother looked at him for a long moment. “You are welcome to come visit. It would be nice to see you again after so long.”

“Tell him I’m cooking dinner on Friday and he’d better be there. I’m making steak,” Eva called out again.

Greyson smiled wryly. “She’s cooking dinner on Friday. You’d better come, or God knows what she’ll do to me.”

“I heard that!” Eva yelled.

Solomon smiled faintly as he looked away from the viewer to the windows. White enshrouded his tower like a tomb. Maybe some fresh air and a clear view would help resolve this unnatural fascination with a mortal woman. “Very well. Thank you for inviting me.”

“Excellent. Five o’clock on Friday,” Greyson said. “Until then.” He touched the side of his face and then the viewer went dark.

Solomon stared at the stone for a moment, then headed to the spiral stairs that led to the upper floor. He climbed them quickly and walked to the dresser nestled against the pillar in the center of the room, set opposite the bed. For a moment, he just stood there, hand hovering over the small drawer tucked between two larger ones, but then he steeled himself and slid it out. He slowly extracted an old wooden box and eased it open. Nestled inside, on frayed velvet, sat a small silver ring. The flat top held an abstract design carved into its face. It was too small to fit on his fingers, but he drew it out anyway, clenching his fist around it.

If you do this, there is no going back, he thought, but then he recalled Lucy’s voice on the phone. The fear she carried around with her had struck him to the bone. Slowly, he unclenched his fist and slid the ring into his pocket.

It’s already too late.

Dark – first chapter #teaser! #NewAdult

The first book in my new series is releasing Wednesday! In celebration, I’m posting the first chapter. Enjoy!

STRONGHOLD Series –> The Sentries are territorial, guarded, and relentless in their duty to defend humanity from a secret, deadly menace. In order to remain vigilant, these semi-immortal men must remain aloof and solitary. No one, not even their true mate, will distract them from their mission to protect Earth from annihilation…

buy links – Evernight – releasing July 30!

  epeditorsesal1s

Erotic Romance (MF), May/Dec, New Adult, Rubenesque, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Suspense
Word Count: 38,070
Heat Level 3
Published By: Evernight Publishing

 

Greyson Dark doesn’t like strangers in his territory.

Eva Waverley doesn’t like being told to keep out.

After her father’s suicide, hiking is the only thing that makes the bullying in Eva’s new school bearable. When Greyson rescues her from a tumble, she falls for him despite his autocratic demeanor. She’s leaving for college soon—what does it matter if she crushes on a man everyone else fears?

Greyson suspects Eva is his true mate, but duty demands he remain aloof. She doesn’t know he’s a long-lived Sentry, sworn to protect Earth from the Spiders, an ancient alien menace. When she leaves for college, he’s relieved, but four years later she comes back, all grown up and more gorgeous than ever.

Greyson can’t afford to care for a mortal woman, no matter how compelling. Hackers are attacking Stronghold, the Sentries’ net, and Spiders are swarming beyond the moon, but when Eva is attacked, he discovers he can’t just let her die…

Be Warned: light BDSM, anal sex.

 

Chapter One Teaser:

Greyson Dark watched the girl hiking through his woods, teeth clenched against the headache itching behind his skull. She shouldn’t be here, he thought, irritated. Her long red hair slid over her shoulders as she looked behind her for a moment, and then, seemingly reassured she was still alone, continued along the barely viable trail. He frowned, silently slipping through the trees in her wake. After two hundred and forty-three years in this forest, he could walk through all of it with his eyes closed and no one would ever hear him. What the hell was she doing here?

She stepped on a branch and nearly fell before she recovered—hands gripping a tree an inch from a sprig of poison ivy. She shook her head and muttered something to herself.

Greyson was too far away to hear her words, but he could imagine her berating herself for not being careful. He wanted to yell at her, scare her away from this place, but he never showed himself to anyone, not like his brother Bruno. He couldn’t stand the pain of it.

The girl sighed and rubbed her temples. He moved closer, wondering why her parents hadn’t warned her away from this place. She was clearly young, probably still in high school. Her clear, pale skin held a scattering of freckles that made his fingers twitch. His mother had once let him trace the freckles on her arms, but she’d died so long ago he couldn’t remember her voice anymore. He wished the girl would just turn around and go home.

“Is someone there?” she called suddenly.

He froze.

She whipped her head around, face panicked, then abruptly took off running.

Stupid girl, he thought, keeping pace with her as she pelted through the trees. She’s going to break her neck.

As if he’d willed it to happen, she suddenly went down, twisting her ankle on a root. She cried out as she fell, hands splayed to keep her head from impacting the dirt, but not enough to keep her from wrenching her leg.

Dammit, Greyson thought, frustrated. His headache bloomed into a full-scale assault as the pain of her sprained ankle flared over his empathic gift. This is my fault. He stopped just out of sight and leaned against a tree as he absorbed and controlled the emotions careening into him.

The girl rolled over, her green eyes clouded with fear as she rubbed at her shin. A smudge of dirt marred the perfect skin of her cheek. “Go away, Frank! I told you to leave me alone. You and your so called friends think you’re so funny, but you’re not. You’re a jerk.”

Frank? Greyson rubbed his eyes tiredly. So, she hadn’t been running from him after all. He let his senses spread out, checking the land for intruders. When his internal sight found three boys stomping along the same trail the girl had taken, he growled under his breath. He glanced at the girl, but she seemed stable for the moment, so he left her and took off back the way he’d come. Those boys wouldn’t be on the trail for long.

****

Eva shoved her hair over her shoulders as she tried to figure out what to do. Her ankle hurt like hell and she didn’t have a cell phone, so she couldn’t call for help. No way can I walk out of here, she thought, touching her ankle tentatively. It had swollen so fast she was afraid to take off her boot.

“Drat,” she muttered, swallowing back tears. She would not cry, not again. She could handle this. She could handle anything, even the assholes picking on her at school. After everything she’d been through with her father’s death, and then having to move here with her mom, she knew she could probably survive whatever she had to, not that she’d enjoy it.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, she mused, then laughed bitterly. Or makes you more miserable. She sighed and stretched out on the ground, ignoring the itch of dry leaves against her arms. Above her, the late afternoon sunlight lit the clouds with pink and purple. The trees swayed gently in the breeze and everything looked so Zen she wished she could just relax, but the pain in her ankle wouldn’t let her. The pain in her heart, well, she didn’t think that would ever go away.

“You’re such an idiot,” she told herself aloud. “Frank and the others probably weren’t even behind you.” Not even a half hour ago, she’d run into the woods near the high school after Frank and his gang of losers had cornered her by the tennis courts. He’d grabbed her arms and mashed his lips to hers while his cronies jeered him on. She’d swiftly kneed him in the groin and had watched him go down, all the while thinking: That’s the last thing my dad taught me before he hung himself in the backyard. Before Frank could recover or his friends could do anything, she’d taken off.

“You shouldn’t be here,” a quiet, gruff voice said, scaring her to death.

Eva choked back a gasp and looked up, heart pounding as she tried not to freak out. A man stood over her, frowning. He had dark hair and deep brown eyes shot through with specks of silver. He wore a tight black t-shirt that clung to every muscle in a way that let her know he was not a small man. He was movie-star gorgeous, except for the part where he looked like he wanted to yell at her.

Oh shit, she thought, swallowing hard. I’m in trouble. She tightened her fingers around a rock, not that a puny stone would do much good against this guy. He stared at her for so long, unmoving, she thought maybe he was going to turn around and leave, but then he sighed and dropped to his knees. He reached for her leg and she scooted back, ignoring how much it hurt to move. “Don’t touch me!”

He rested his hands on his thighs. “Those boys are gone now. They won’t be back.”

Eva stared at him. “What do you mean? What boys—” She cut herself off. Dammit. Frank’s friends probably had followed her. She glanced down the trail reflexively and saw nothing but dirt and trees.

The man lifted a shoulder. “Everyone knows not to come into my woods.”

His woods? Great, now I’ve been caught trespassing when all I wanted to do was get away. Her throbbing ankle wrecked her ability to think. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know anyone owned this land.”

“You aren’t from around here,” he said after another long pause.

Eva eyed his hands. He wore a silver ring on his right thumb, etched with some sort of geometric design. He hadn’t moved a muscle since she’d pushed away from him. Maybe he wasn’t going to hurt her. She hoped not.

His thumb twitched.

“My mom and I moved here a couple months ago,” she offered tentatively.

“I assumed as much.” His eyes went to her injured leg. “Will you let me see to your leg?”

She chewed on her lip. She was already screwed. He could do whatever he wanted and she couldn’t stop him. She thought about her dad telling her she was strong and could deal with anything and had to choke back a laugh. Or a sob. She wasn’t sure which. Her dad certainly hadn’t taken his own advice. Whatever. Wasn’t the fact that this guy was asking permission to touch her a good sign? “Yeah, okay,” she muttered.

He leaned closer, then touched his fingers to her shin. He didn’t move her jeans away or try to take off her boot. It was… weird. “What are you doing?” she asked, more confused than frightened, now. “Do you have a phone? I can call my mom. She’ll come get me.”

Shh.” He grimaced, and suddenly he looked a lot older. Forbidding. His fingers went taut, digging in a little.

Eva shivered and almost pulled away, but then warmth tingled through her skin, easing the pain a little. She licked her lips. What was he doing? She looked at his hair, then at his cheekbones. He had a bit of stubble, as if he’d shaved yesterday, but couldn’t be bothered to do it again today. He was really gorgeous. And very much a grown-up. Not like the boys at school. She wished she had the nerve to touch him, but no way was she going to do that. His eyes glittered as he moved his hand in a small circle, as if he was feeling around for something.

“There,” he muttered, sliding his fingers down to her foot. The warmth followed.

Abruptly, Eva realized that the pain was gone. Whoa. “What did you do?” She rolled her foot. It felt fine.

He sat back. “Go home. Don’t come back. These woods are dangerous.”

She stared at him. Was this guy for real?

He held out a hand. “Come on, then.”

Eva put her palm in his and he hauled her up as if she weighed nothing, which couldn’t be further than the truth. Her hips were the bane of her existence. The only thing worse than being the girl whose dad killed himself was thefat girl whose dad killed himself. She took a deep breath and shoved those thoughts away. Her therapist told her she had to stop tormenting herself with negativity or some bullshit like that. And Mr. Gorgeous was looking at her, waiting for her to do something. “I thought I’d broken my ankle,” she said, standing carefully. The last thing she wanted was for her leg to give out again.

He shook his head. “Just a little strain. Don’t go running on it tonight and you’ll be fine.” He stepped back, looking angry again. The silver specks in his eyes flashed. “Go straight home.”

She wrinkled her forehead. He might be handsome, but he was weird. And cranky. “What do you care about where I go?”

“I don’t. I just don’t like people on my property,” he growled.

“Grumpy,” she muttered, vaguely offended.

He turned his back on her. “Ask around. Everyone knows not to come here.”

Eva tentatively put more weight on her ankle. It didn’t hurt at all. “Fine. Whatever.” The only reason she’d come here in the first place was to get away from Frank and his asshole friends. “I’ll try to keep away from your precious trees.”

“Good,” he said calmly, melting into the woods like some kind of ninja assassin.

“Jerk,” she muttered, heading back the way she’d come. She walked slowly this time, not wanting to trip again. So what if he’s gorgeous? she thought. He’s not very nice. And she certainly didn’t need that kind of drama in her life. She’d already had enough to last a lifetime.

****

A week later, Eva walked into the woods again, this time deliberately. She’d had a shitty day at school. Her calc exam had been a disaster. She’d had a terrible morning, too. When she’d come out of her room, her mom had been sitting at the kitchen table nursing a cup of cold coffee, hands on her temples. Eva could tell she was in the middle of one of her migraines again, though her mom tried to hide it. Eva had made her some oatmeal and tried to talk her into taking a sick day, but her mother was nothing if not stubborn.

Which is probably a good thing, since Dad was a total loser, she thought, angry all over again. Neither she nor her mom had any clue why he’d done it, not that it mattered anymore. He’d wrecked their lives. They’d had to move to a completely different town in the middle of Eva’s senior year of high school because her mom couldn’t afford to keep the house on her salary. And don’t forget how everyone at school began to treat you like a leper. Ugh. At least moving to a different town had solved that problem, sort of. Everyone at her new school disliked her because she was moody and strange, not because of her dead father. That was a vast improvement over being pitied.

“So Dad was an asshole, so what,” she said aloud, just to hear the words. She stopped hiking and stared at the root that had tried to eat her foot last week. It wasn’t very big. She kicked it. It didn’t budge. She kicked it harder and kept going until her boot tore a large chunk of bark from the top. That made her feel better. She sat down, breathing heavily.

“I told you not to come back.”

Eva twisted around and looked up, heart knocking on her ribs. There he was: Mr. Tall, Gorgeous, and Grumpy himself. She’d asked about him at school and everyone told her not to go anywhere near the mean old guy in the woods. This man did not look old. She’d also been told that the woods were cursed. She didn’t believe a word of it. Mr. Gorgeous might be cranky, but he’d been mostly decent to her. One of the girls who was becoming sort of a friend had freaked out when Eva had told her she’d gone hiking here, but she’d refused to explain anything. Because everyone in this town is crazy. Truth was, she’d come back here hoping he’d show up again. She’d reasoned that once she saw that he wasn’t as hot as she remembered, she’d be able to stop daydreaming about him all the time. Looking at him now, she knew that her plan wasn’t going to work. He looked great.

“So you did,” she said, finally answering his statement. She wasn’t going to apologize. Instead, she let her eyes take him in. Today he wore another tight shirt, this one grey. It made the silver specks in his eyes stand out even more. His jeans were worn. He even had a rip in the one knee. Most of the adult men she knew wore khakis. Her dad had worn khakis.

He frowned at her. “So why are you here?”

Of course he’d ask. She blinked back sudden tears and looked away. “Because.” What the heck was wrong with her? She had to get a grip. She took a deep breath and told herself to stop being a freak.

“Didn’t they tell you not to come here?”

She snorted. “Yeah. Whatever. What are you going to do, arrest me? You don’t look like a cop.”

He sighed.

She looked up. He’d crossed his arms over his chest, making his muscles bulge like a fitness trainer. It’s kind of weird that he’s a real person. Most guys who look like that are on television.

“You’re not going to leave, are you?” he asked.

She shook her head. No, she wasn’t. Why should she? She liked it here. “What did you do to those guys? Frank hasn’t come near me all week. It’s been awesome, so, thanks for that.”

He tilted his head. “They bothered you a lot?”

She nodded. “Yeah. At school. I just moved here with my mom a couple months ago and they think I’m weird.”

“What did they do?” he growled.

She wrinkled her nose. “The usual. Grabby hands. Nasty words.” She shrugged. “Whatever. I can deal.”

Unexpectedly, he sat down next to her. “They won’t be bothering you again.”

“What did you do to them?” Eva could feel the warmth coming off his skin and shivered. It was a cool night. She should’ve brought her jacket.

“Nothing permanent,” he said gruffly, loosely twining his fingers together.

She stared at his ring. She didn’t care about Frank and his gang, especially not with this guy sitting next to her. “Where did you get that ring?” she asked. “It’s cool.” She barely kept herself from clapping her hand over her mouth. Did she really just ask him such a stupid question? Apparently, close proximity to the monster in the woods turned her into a twit.

He rubbed a finger over the engraving. “It was a gift.”

As if someone else had taken over her body, Eva watched her hand reach out and touch it. The metal was warm and his skin even more so. “It’s pretty.”

He pulled away. “You shouldn’t be here.”

She rolled her eyes. “Don’t you ever say anything else?”

He stood up and walked away. “Go home.”

Eva watched him disappear. “Huh. Story of my life,” she whispered. She stayed until the first stars appeared above the treetops, and then she walked home. Just because.

****

“Why do you keep coming here?”

Eva spun around, not surprised to see him. He showed up every time she ventured into his woods, after all. “I like it here.” She was happy today. Only one week until graduation. Yay.

“Doesn’t your mother worry about you?” He leaned against the tree. So far, he hadn’t yet cracked a smile.

“No. She’s working.”

“On a Saturday?”

Eva shrugged. “Since my dad hung himself she’s had to work more. I have a job, too.” She watched his face as she said the words, wanting to see if he’d react. He didn’t so much as twitch.

“You shouldn’t blame yourself,” he said, unexpectedly.

She went still, her gut clenching. “What do you care?”

“The sins of the father never pass on to the children, no matter what anyone says.” He pushed off the trunk and headed off trail.

“What. The. Fuck,” Eva said, angry. “You’re an asshole!” He disappeared into the trees. She hoped he fell and broke his neck.

****

“You misunderstood me,” he said a week later.

Eva jumped, but didn’t turn around. “I’m not in your stupid woods. This is my own backyard. See?” She waved a hand around the unmown lawn. So what if his damn woods butted up against their rental property? She didn’t care, especially not after he was such a jerk last week. When he put his hand on her shoulder, Eva tried really hard not to care how nice and warm his palm felt on her skin. “And normal people don’t pick up conversations weeks after the last sentence, you know.”

He snorted. “It’s barely been a week. And who said I was normal?”

She spun around. He didn’t look any different. Still annoying. “Maybe I meant I wasn’t normal.”

He let his hand fall. “You didn’t.”

Eva looked away, toward the yard. The house her mom had found for them really needed work. Whole chunks of old paint peeled down the siding near the back door. She rubbed her palms over her arms. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“Happy graduation,” he said, putting something in her palm.

What the—? She looked down. He’d given her a stick? “You’re really weird, you know that?”

He smiled.

Eva’s breath caught, despite her irritation. She’d forgotten how insanely gorgeous he was because he’d pissed her off so badly she’d been thinking of him as that annoying man in her mind. But now, looking at him smiling, she felt like someone had taken a bat to her head.

“Plant it.”

She curled her fingers around the stick. “I’m going away to college at the end of the summer.”

He nodded and began to back away. “Good.”

Eva couldn’t think of anything more to say, so she just stood there, watching him disappear yet again.

****

“I planted your dumb stick. Nothing’s happening,” she said to the empty air around her. The trees rustled in the breeze. She crossed her arms and kicked at the root again. It was definitely looking worse for wear after all her abuse. “I think it’s dead.”

“That root never did anything to you.”

Eva’s heart skipped. There he was, grumpy as ever. Lucy said that everyone was afraid of these woods and that sometimes people didn’t come out. Total bullshit, she thought, staring at him. “It tripped me the first time I came in here.”

He lifted an eyebrow.

Eva blushed and looked away. “So, your stick isn’t growing.”

He chuckled. “Patience.” He walked closer, then put a finger to her cheek. “It’s a willow. They’re known for their toughness and tenacity for life.”

Eva’s breath picked up. Oh my God, is he going to kiss me? she wondered, dazed from his touch. She’d been daydreaming about him for weeks, but never in a million years did she think he’d be interested. She was too fat and he probably thought she was just a kid, but now… He stepped back, his habitual frown reappearing. Her hopes plummeted.

“It will grow. It just needs water and light.” He pivoted on his heel and walked away.

Eva swallowed. He’s way too old for you, anyway.

****

“Are you still letting that girl wander around your woods?” his brother asked with an annoyingly bland tone.

Greyson grunted.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Bruno leaned forward. “You know, you’re going to regret this.”

“Says the man who allows mortals to roam all over his territory,” Greyson growled, irritated.

“I live in the middle of Manhattan, Greyson. It would be weird if I didn’t have other people in my building.” Bruno’s blue eyes glittered, the silver specks barely visible through the viewer screen. “Besides, I like people. The rest of you are crazy, isolating yourselves the way you do.”

Greyson wished he could reach through the communication device and grab his brother by the neck. Choking him to death would amuse him. “I can’t scare her away. I tried.”

“You mean, you won’t scare her.” Bruno chuckled. “You like her.”

“She’s a child. Just out of high school.”

“Not forever, she won’t be,” Bruno said, his voice going quiet.

Greyson knew what he meant. “It’s too dangerous. Remember what happened to our father?”

Bruno rubbed his face. “True.”

“Look, I called you so you would know to keep an eye on her for me. That’s all.”

Bruno gave him a long look. “She’s coming here?”

“For college. And I found out her mother’s moving, too.” Greyson tried not to think about the implications of that. If her mother moved away, she’d never come back. He didn’t want to believe that he might never see her again.

“What’s her name?”

“Eva Waverley. She has red hair. She’s smart and feisty.”

“Of course she is.” Bruno smiled. “I never expected otherwise.”

“Just do it,” Greyson said, frustrated. He knew his brother was on the verge of laughing at him, but it didn’t matter. He needed this favor.

“If she gets caught in the crossfire…” Bruno trailed off.

“She won’t.” Greyson tapped his ring.

Bruno’s eyes widened. “You’re not seriously going to give her that?”

Greyson nodded. “She’ll never know.”

“You’re playing with fire, brother.”

“She will never know,” Greyson said again, more emphatically this time.

Bruno put his hands up. “Fine. Don’t blame me when everything blows up in your face.”

Greyson nodded shortly, not trusting himself to speak.

“I’ll speak to you in six months.” Bruno touched the corner of his eye with his finger.

Greyson did the same. “Six months, brother.” He tapped the control and the viewer went dark.

****

“I’m going away, so you’ll never have to be grouchy about me trespassing again,” Eva called out to the silent woods. Nothing. She sighed, looking around. The breeze mocked her, making her think he was there, but there was nothing but the leaves tricking her with their occasional rustle. “Whatever. I don’t suppose it matters. I’m out of here.” She started walking. It was already getting dark and she needed to finish packing.

“Eva.”

She stopped and took a deep breath, staring at the ground. When she looked up, there he was. Dark. Handsome. Totally unapproachable. It suddenly occurred to her that they’d never introduced themselves. She’d spoken with him more than a dozen times now, and she didn’t know his name. He shouldn’t know hers. “How did you know my name?” she asked.

Instead of answering, he strode forward.

She fought not to step back as her breath caught. She struggled to keep her hands still. She shoved down her attraction for him. He’d never given her the slightest indication that he felt the same. She shouldn’t be doing this to herself, anyway. He had to be at least twenty years older than she was, or more. And she was leaving. It’s just a stupid crush, she told herself.

“I have something for you,” he said, voice low and rumbly.

“I came to say goodbye, but you weren’t here,” she forced out past her frantically beating heart. He’d come close enough for her to feel the warmth radiating off his body. He smelled fresh and musky, like a pine forest just after a hard rain.

“I know.” He touched her cheek lightly, then pulled something out of his pocket.

Eva looked down. His ring lay nestled in his palm with a silver chain strung through it.

“Here.” He undid the clasp, then slid the chain around her neck. “Don’t ever take this off.”

Eva licked her lips, twisting her hands together so they wouldn’t tremble and betray her nerves. “What are you doing?”

“This will keep you safe.”

The chain was long enough to slide down her shirt between her breasts. It tickled.

“I don’t understand,” she said thickly. He’d left his fingers against her neck. She couldn’t breathe with him this close. He felt like a storm: dark and overwhelming. She wanted him, badly, not matter how much he might hurt her.

“Don’t take it off,” he repeated, then he cupped her cheeks with both hands, tilting her face up.

Whoa, she thought, when she finally deciphered the complicated look on his face. He was attracted to her. Shy, overweight, screwed-up Eva. How was this possible? As she tried to understand this miracle, he moved in and lightly touched his lips to hers.

Eva held her breath for a split-second, then her hands drifted up to his biceps and she held on for dear life. He deepened the kiss, tongue sliding inside her mouth. Eva shuddered. He tasted like mint. He felt like danger. He gathered her close and kissed her harder, teeth nicking the outside of her lips. Eva didn’t care. When he finally lifted his head, she thought maybe she was dreaming, but the taste of blood in her mouth told her otherwise.

“Stay safe,” he murmured, then backed away.

Eva touched her lips. “Wait!”

He paused, dark eyes glittering in the deepening twilight.

“I don’t even know your name,” she whispered.

He looked at her, face harsh. “My name is Greyson.” He touched his finger to the outside corner of his eye, then nodded and backed away.

As before, he abruptly disappeared into the forest before she could say another word.

First Chapter FUN! –> Damaged (#PlanetAlpha)!

DAMAGED – Planet Alpha is now available! Would you like to see how the story begins? Scroll down for the first chapter…

buy links: EvernightAmazon – AReBookStrand – Smashwords

damaged  paauthor

Erotic Romance, Menage (MMF), Sci-Fi, Suspense, Futuristic
Word Count: 34,400
Heat Level 4
Published By: Evernight Publishing

Click here to read an excerpt.

Cori knows her Xyran captivity has damaged her ability to trust, but when she meets Reiyn, desire flares despite her fear. He’s clearly hiding something, but when a distress call sends them into space together, passion takes over.

Cori enflames Reiyn like no other female ever has. She threatens his control over his hidden Xyran heritage, but he can’t fight his instincts. When his true nature is exposed during the daring rescue of a dying Xyran captain, will Cori forgive him, or will he continue his life’s work alone?

Captain Kyuk welcomes death when his ship is destroyed. He doesn’t expect to survive, but when Cori and Reiyn find him, instinct pushes him to live. He’s spent years smuggling slaves to freedom—can he now give up his own liberty to bond with Cori and Reiyn? Or is he too damaged to build that kind of emotional connection?

Be Warned: menage sex (MMF), rimming, anal sex, m/m interaction

damagedbanner

 

Chapter One of DAMAGED (Planet Alpha)

Cori angrily kicked at the debris on the floor of the abandoned apartment, ignoring the dust she stirred into the air. She didn’t know why she’d thought she’d be able to find anything here, but when she discovered she’d be meeting her contact so close to her childhood home, she simply couldn’t stay away. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected. It had been years since she’d lived here with her family, and scavengers had long since picked over the place. Even the walls were damaged.

And you’re supposed to be meeting your contact in ten minutes, she told herself, but she didn’t move. She couldn’t go until she checked one last hiding spot.

Five minutes later she sat on the floor of her old bedroom, teeth clenched as she fought back tears. The old floorboards hadn’t been easy to pry up, but she’d managed. On her lap sat a small plastic box, dirty and dented. Reverently, she opened the top and stared at the faded photograph she’d stuffed inside a lifetime ago. How it had survived the flooding, she had no idea. Happy faces smiled up at her from the midst of destruction: her mother, her brother, and her father. Her mom held her as a baby on her hip, grinning at the camera. Cori couldn’t have been more than three years old when the photo was taken. She didn’t remember smiling for the camera or the stuffed bear she clutched in her tiny hand.

“Shit,” she muttered, stuffing the photo into her messenger bag. The next thing in the box was her mother’s diamond engagement ring. She frowned down at it, then shoved it into a pocket. Diamonds were rare on Earth, and she could buy a lot of needed items with that one gem. The rest of the stuff in the box wasn’t valuable at all. A feather she’d found one day at the beach. A rock her brother had kicked at her one time. They’d been playing on the front sidewalk before their mother caught them and shooed them into the back of the building. A dented penny. She closed the box and shoved it back into the floor. She didn’t need those things to remember her family. Her memories already haunted her enough.

Getting up, she stretched out the kinks in her spine and headed away from the bedroom to the front living area. The wall in the dining room had a big hole in it, and she shook her head as she stepped out through it into the sunlight. The apartment building used to hold four units, and water and looters had trashed all of them. There would be nothing useful left inside, and she was out of time for exploring.

“Get to the meet point, Cori-girl,” she told herself, heading east down the cracked sidewalk. Her footsteps made no sound and left no trace. She’d perfected the art of silence a long time ago.

****

Reiyn slipped the brown contact lenses into his eyes and grimaced as the plastic pricked his eyelids. He hated wearing them, but he had no choice, not if he wanted to look human. His Xyran eyes were black and impossible to hide. His skin he could change to look flesh-normal, but his irises? Not a chance. He sighed and checked his reflection in the chipped mirror: dark hair, mild brown eyes, normal-toned complexion. He’d pierced his tongue twice so that the slit would look more like a human-chosen body mod and less like an alien’s anatomical difference. The silver balls on each fork didn’t interfere with his ability to scent the air, and the humans he met never suspected that he was hiding anything.

He slid his small nano-blade into its sheath at his waist and pulled his leather vest down over the handle. He didn’t want to spook his contact. He checked his small pack: food, water, and a few gems for trading. His communicator was taped to his skin. He had no intention of risking the most valuable thing he owned by keeping it out where anyone could see it or steal it. The tape chafed a bit at the gems embedded in his skin, but not enough to bother him. It was the safest place to hide the device.

He checked the dilapidated room for anything he might have forgotten, then left the abandoned motel without another glance.

****

Cori waited impatiently, checking the sun for the third time. It hadn’t moved much, but the longer she stood out in the open, the more dangerous this meet-up became. Scavengers were common, as were slavers. She could take care of herself, but the best way to do that was to avoid attention.

To her left, the giant shell of an old super shopping center loomed like a metal beast with gutted innards. To her right, the parking lot stretched away, hot and weedy. Derelict cars slumped in various positions on the cracked asphalt. The heat made her wish she were anywhere but here. A trickle of sweat dripped down her temple, and she absently wiped it away as she checked her surroundings one last time.

“If he doesn’t show in three minutes, I’m outta here,” she murmured, slowly turning to take in everything. Again. When she ended up where she’d begun, she froze. A man stood ten feet in front of her, empty hands out in the universal sign for “no weapons”.

“Shit,” she said, heart pounding. “Where did you come from?”

He shrugged and walked closer. Cori gripped the handle of her knife, then slowly eased away when he stopped a few feet in front of her, expression neutral. He did not drop his hands. He made no threatening motions.

“I walked in from beneath the freeway,” he replied after a moment, head tilted to indicate the abandoned road just beyond the parking lot.

Cori pursed her lips as she fought to get herself under control. The man was huge. And gorgeous. And you do not need to be checking him out, you idiot, she told herself, scanning him carefully for hidden weapons. You’re not here to hook up with him. You’re here for intel. Her eyes lingered on his full lips, then dropped to his chest. The vest didn’t really cover much, but it certainly highlighted his epic musculature beautifully. Everything about him screamed strongand yum, and her long-suppressed libido had abruptly woken up and taken notice, to her frustration.

“I have information,” he said, brown eyes still neutral. “If you are Corazon, that is. If not, well…” he trailed off.

“Are you Reiyn?”

He nodded.

Cori raised an eyebrow, even as she took note of the silver rings in his ears. They went all the way up. She wondered if he had silver anywhere else. She was a sucker for body mods. “I’m Corazon. What’ve you got for me?” She thought she saw silver flash in his mouth when he spoke and squinted at him, trying to figure out what it was. A tooth? Pierced tongue? He didn’t seem to have any tattoos that she could see.

He moved closer. When she didn’t protest, he slid a hand into his vest pocket and extracted a slip of paper.

“Paper? Are you kidding me?” she scoffed aloud, but inside, relief threaded down her spine. If he’d pulled out anything else, she’d have known he was an imposter. And also you could have just died, if he’d had a weapon in there. He would’ve taken you out, easily. Pay attention. She willed her heart to settle down.

He lifted a shoulder. “I was told you knew the code. If you are not who you say you are, then this is useless.” He flicked the paper with his thumb. “No harm, no foul.”

Cori stared at the muscles in his arms flexing as he moved his fingers, and then she forced a smile. “Truth.” She snatched it out of his hand and checked the symbols. Yup, this is what we needed. The last of Jaxt’s surviving tribe has finally been relocated. Yay. She crumpled it up and shoved it into her pants pocket. “Thank you.”

He inclined his head.

Cori frowned. There was something familiar about him. Something about the way he held himself. When an electronic beep interrupted her silent examination of his stance, she caught her breath and stepped back. She knew what that sound was, and no one on Earth should have one of the devices that made it. Well, no one except Jaxt and Zoen and Sky. And me, Cori thought, hand going to her knife. Her Xyran communicator remained nestled deep inside the inner pocket of her leather jacket. A trickle of sweat ran down between her breasts as she warily watched the man in front of her.

Reiyn’s nostrils flared, as if he noticed her apprehension, and then he put a hand up in entreaty. “Do not be afraid.”

You should get the hell out of here, right now, Cori, she thought, worried by his easy reading of her emotions. She should run away, fast, but for some reason, her feet didn’t move.

He slowly slid his hand into his vest, opening it enough for her to see the tape he’d used on his skin just peeking out from the high waist of his leather pants. He peeled a corner of it away, then retrieved a communicator much like hers and silenced its alarm. When he glanced down at it, his face turned to stone. If she’d thought he looked mostly expressionless before, he looked even more so now. For a split second, she thought something red flickered along his skin, but then he turned slightly, reading the information on the device.

“What is that?” she asked, playing dumb.

He glanced at her, then slid it into the pocket of his leather pants. “A communicator.”

“Is there a problem?” She didn’t know what made her ask that. It was none of her business. And the less she knew, the better. Everyone who worked to free slaves along the interstellar smugglers’ route followed that rule. Everyone.No exceptions.

He stared at her for a long moment. “Yes.”

Cori took a deep breath, cursing herself even as she opened her mouth. “What is it?”

“Do you have access to a ship?”

She blinked. He wasn’t serious, was he?

“I received a distress signal. One of our pilots has been stranded,” Reiyn said.

Well, shit, Cori thought. Pilots who were willing to smuggle humans away from the Xyrans were rare. She couldn’t afford to not help. “Shit,” she said, then scrubbed at her face. “Dammit.”

“I take it that means yes, you can help.” He stepped closer, looming over her. “If you can get me a ship, I will pay you handsomely.”

That just pissed her off. “I don’t want your money,” she said tersely. “Shit.”

“You already said that,” he almost growled. “I fail to see how swearing will help.”

She glared at him. “You’re not taking my ship without me in it.”

His face went even tighter, but Cori had grown up rough. She could take anything a human male might do to her. She didn’t back down, not even when he moved close enough for her to feel his body heat against her skin. The nape of her neck prickled when she caught his scent: vanilla with a hint of some wild spice. Shit, he’s gorgeous.

“Time is of the essence. I will give you five one carat diamonds for your ship.”

Cori’s eyes widened as she tipped her head up to meet his gaze. “Five? Are you crazy?”

His eyes went flat at her tone, and she suddenly realized he was wearing contact lenses. She wondered where he’d got his hands on them, but then again, if he had enough gems to fling five diamonds her way, he must be loaded. That many diamonds would buy her three ships and enough fuel cells to last a year. He must be desperate to offer that much. She licked her lips as she stared at his collarbone. Her fingers itched to touch him. She wanted to run her palms down his chest. Instead, she crossed her arms and tried to look like she wasn’t thinking about stripping off his clothes and climbing him like a tree.

Abruptly, he stepped back. “Six. That is my final offer.”

Slowly, she shook her head. “I meant what I said before. I’m coming with you.”

He scowled. “Impossible.”

She pivoted and began walking away. He’d follow. He had to. She knew she was the only person with a ship within a thousand miles. He knew it, too. The eastern part of what had been the United States was a deserted wasteland. No one lived here. Well, almost no one, she mused, smiling to herself when she heard him come after her. I live here.

“Stop.”

She halted, twisting her head around to look at him. “Something you wanted?”

He’d crossed his arms over his chest. “Where is your ship?”

Cori laughed. “You can’t possibly think I’m going to tell you?” She shook her head, still smiling.

He clenched his teeth so hard she could see a muscle in his jaw jump. “Fine. You may come.”

She raised her eyebrows. “So gracious.” She didn’t care if he looked like sex on a stick. She wasn’t in the mood for dramatics. “It’s my ship, not yours. So long as you understand that.”

He inclined his head.

He doesn’t say much, does he? Fine with me. She nodded back, as if what she’d just agreed to wasn’t insane. “Okay. It’s a few hours’ hike from here.” She began walking west. She had just enough daylight to get to the cave and grab the fuel cell that powered her little ship. “Stay close. There are more predators left in the mountains than you think.”

“I can handle myself.”

“Of course you can,” she muttered under her breath, scrambling over the embankment that led into the scrub at the edge of the derelict highway. Louder, she asked, “Where did the distress call come from?”

He kept up with her effortlessly. “Quadrant Four.”

Her heart skipped a beat, and Cori struggled to keep her face expressionless. That was where Sky had rescued her all those years ago. After the floods, after her parents had died in the refugee camp, she’d been sold to the Xyransand shipped off as a sex slave. She’d been too young for pregnancy at first, but when she became a teen, a Xyran had bought her for use as a breeder. Luckily, Sky had been captured and brought onto the same ship before Cori ended up pregnant and miserable. She’d been thirteen. Sky had saved her life and brought her back to Earth. She’d given Cori a reason for living: helping to free captives.

“That’s a busy route,” she simply said, glancing at Reiyn. She didn’t want him knowing her life story.

His long legs made the climb to the trail look easy. “So it is.”

She pursed her lips. “The Xyrans like sailing through there with their contraband humans.” She spat to the side as she found the trailhead. Dust kept getting lodged in her throat.

“Yes.”

She snorted. “Try not to sprain something with your witty conversation.”

He ignored her.

Cori sighed. It was going to be a long afternoon. And an even longer flight.

Lick Is A Four-Letter Word – Chapter One excerpt

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Did you ever find yourself in a situation that was embarrassing, hilarious, AND sensual? If not, read on and prepare to snort your drink all over your lap. I’m posting the first chapter and part of the second for you. At the beginning of Lick Is A Four-Letter Word, Felicity is trapped in a small room with two very naked, very hot men. I giggled the entire time I wrote the scene!

Description:

Josh and Troy aren’t looking for a girlfriend, but a lost bet sends them into a small room with a broken lock. When a beautiful blonde limps in from the connecting bathroom, they end up on their knees trying to make her feel better.

Felicity isn’t looking for love, but she keeps falling into Josh and Troy’s arms. The men can’t control their desire to take care of her. She can’t resist their humor.

Even so, Felicity isn’t sure she wants to date two guys at once, especially when she’s white and they’re not. Josh and Troy aren’t sure their attraction for her and each other is worth the risk.

Will a secret from Felicity’s past push them away before they come together? Will Josh and Troy be able to convince her they’re serious, and that their love is hers for the taking?

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Where to Buy: 

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Chapter One

“This is a bad idea.” Josh fidgeted with the paper sheet thingy spread over his lap. It barely covered his junk. “Seriously.”

“Oh, stop being such a baby,” Troy retorted, adjusting his own paper sheet. “Laura said women like it when you trim the forest. And besides, we lost the bet, remember?”

He doesn’t seem to be having any trouble with his little paper dress, Josh thought bitterly. Troy lounged on his table as though hanging out naked in a small room with his best friend was entirely normal. Which it totally is not. To make matters worse,Troy’s cappuccino-colored skin wasn’t sporting even one goose bump and Josh was shivering. He wished he could bang his head on something. Like a wall. Or Troy’s skull.

“And you listen to my sister when she talks to you about sex?” he asked mulishly.

Troy frowned, looking down at his lollipop thoughtfully. “When you put it like that…”

Josh sighed. “Dude. She’s married to your brother. Your older brother. Who stuffed you in a closet when you were eight, remember? He could kill us both with his little finger.” Josh shifted his weight on the table, wondering once again how he and Troygot themselves into these disasters. His butt was numb from sitting and waiting and he could barely keep himself from shredding the stupid paper drape. I’m going to kill Laura for setting us up for this. This is all her fault.

“Now you’re just being a wuss. If we ganged up on David, we’d be fine,” Troy said and stuck the cherry candy back in his mouth.

Josh glared at his friend. Troy was an idiot. He had been driving Josh crazy since they were kids. “He’s a cop.”

“So?” Troy asked, the side of his cheek sticking out from the round candy.

Josh scowled. Troy’s lips were pulled to one side by the lollipop. His hazel eyes twinkled over his distorted cheek, daring Josh to say something. How he managed to look so put-together while naked and sucking on a lollipop was beyond Josh’s comprehension.

“You’re ridiculous,” he finally said, putting all of the withering contempt he felt for his best friend right now in the words. “Also, my sister would take David’s side. She could kick your ass, too.”

“I’m not afraid of Laura,” Troy declared.

Josh laughed. “I had no idea you turned into a moron when you took your clothes off.”

Troy glared at him and pulled out the candy. “For God’s sake, Josh, man up. You’re twenty-seven years old. You own your own business. You have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.”

“I own half my own company. You own the other half. And my sister has a black belt too, so it cancels mine out. Also, she’s my sister. I haven’t won an argument with her since she turned five, and neither have you.” Josh shifted again, then froze when the paper ripped under his thigh. “Shit.”

Troy snorted. “You can’t even sit still. Pathetic.”

Josh gave him the finger. “I’m freezing.”

Troy licked his lollipop insolently, leaning back on his table. “It’s not my problem if your skinny Korean ass has no insulation.”

“Half-Korean.”

“Whatever.” Troy rolled his eyes.

“That’s like calling you a white boy.” Josh knew that particular statement would get his friend riled up and he grinned in anticipation. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Fuck you,” Troy said, spitting the lollipop out. He was half-smiling. This was an old argument. “I’m half black.”

“Your mom is white and she raised you. And you hate rap music. That’s just weird. That cancels out all your blackness.” Josh leaned back, giving up on the stupid paper. It gaped open over his leg, giving Troy an eyeful of his hip, but he didn’t care anymore. If something poked out, oh well. Not like Troy hasn’t seen a dick before. He’s got one of his own.

“I simply prefer more refined music, like the blues. Or jazz,” Troy stated, nodding his head emphatically. “Unlike you, my tastes are more developed.”

Josh grinned. “At least I have taste.”

Troy sat up. A loud rip signaled the demise of half of his paper drape. “Shitballs.” He stared down at the rip that left him clutching two pieces of paper over his groin. “You did that on purpose.”

“Your lollipop is sticking,” Josh said, pointing.

Troy cursed and pulled it up, ripping the paper even more. A scrap stuck to the candy. “You suck, Josh.”

Josh laughed, watching his friend try to juggle two scraps of paper and a lollipop while trying to keep his cock covered. It was way too late for modesty, though he didn’t tell Troy that. He eyed the line of his friend’s body, admiring the way his muscles moved under the skin, not for the first time. He was careful to look away before Troy caught him. He liked women, but a few years ago he’d had to come to terms with the fact that he seemed to be something less than straight, not that he’d ever acted on it. Not that he ever intended on doing so. He wasn’t afraid to admit that he might be just a bit bisexual, but it wasn’t that big a deal. He liked girls just fine, too. Besides, it was easier to date women.

He watched, amused as Troy cursed again, finally getting the last of the paper off of his lollipop. He licked it triumphantly, flicking the sticky bit he’d picked off toward Josh. Josh ducked, the paper on his lap sliding again. He grabbed it and missed. That’s when the door from the bathroom opened and a small blonde woman walked in wearing nothing but a paper sheet, nerdy glasses, and long, wavy hair.

 

Chapter Two

Felicity stopped dead in her tracks as the door to the bathroom shut behind her with a solid thud.

“Uh—” she said, staring at the display of gorgeous male flesh in front of her. One of the men had his paper sheet clutched to his groin, lollipop dangling precariously from his mouth. He was a warm brown all over. He had the most delicious set of muscles she’d ever seen and eyes that flashed from hazel to gold and back again. His short, light hair was done in small, soft dreadlocks. It looked fluffy. She wanted to run her hands along his head, see if it felt as soft as it looked.

He smiled cheekily at her, licking his lollipop as he readjusted his paper drape. She blushed, tearing her eyes away only to have them land on the other man. His hair was a shiny dark brown, longer in front so that it flopped over his forehead. He stared back at her as he sat there, cupping his hands over his groin, crumpled up paper haphazardly arranged over his hips. He looked just as amazing as the other man: smooth light brown skin, sleek muscles, and exotically tilted brown eyes.

“Oh God,” she muttered, feeling for the doorknob behind her. She curled her toes in her socks and tried to figure out what had just happened. Her bad ankle ached, warning her not to tense up, but it was already too late. She ignored the stab of pain in her foot, used to it after the past few years. She didn’t know where to look that wouldn’t land her in trouble. “I’m sorry, I must have picked the wrong door,” she mumbled, mortified, still fumbling behind her. When her hand closed over the knob, she breathed a sigh of relief. She tried to turn it, wanting to back out of here as quickly and painlessly as possible. It didn’t budge. “Crap,” she muttered, clutching the paper drape closed with her other hand as if her life depended on it. “Double crap,” she said more loudly as she tried again to get the handle to move. It clicked futilely in her hand.

“It’s locked, isn’t it,” the Asian-looking guy said, a resigned note in his voice.

She nodded, making sure her eyes stayed on the floor. She could see his bare toes curling in midair as he sat on the table. He had really attractive feet.

“Locked. Ha. Of course it is,” the other man said, his voice a soft baritone. He was clearly amused.

Felicity closed her eyes and leaned back against the door. “I was in the bathroom changing. I must have gotten turned around.” She desperately wished the floor would swallow her up. She cracked one eye open. Nope, no hole to dive into, dammit.

“No worries. I’ll just go get the attendant. She can go in through the adjoining room and unlock the bathroom,” the deep-voiced man said.

Felicity glanced up just in time to see him hop down, holding the paper sheet he’d mutilated closed over his hips. It barely covered him. She flushed, mortified as she realized that the shadow she was looking at behind the paper was his cock, swinging. Or was that her glasses sending reflections across her eyes?

“You’re going to get the attendant,” the Asian man repeated disbelievingly. “Troy, your butt is hanging out in midair.”

It sure was. She could see it in all its glory. Felicity tried to pretend she was invisible. Or dreaming. Or hallucinating. Anything to get her out of this incredibly embarrassing situation. Sure, she had the opportunity to gawk at a couple of indecently hot men, but her own goods were barely covered. And I never went on that diet I meant to. She felt really, really exposed.

“So? I’ll just poke my head out.” He walked to the door, somehow managing to keep a hand on his candy, the paper, and his dignity… until he tried the handle and it wouldn’t move. “Uh-oh,” he said, not moving.

“What do you mean, ‘uh-oh?’ ‘Uh-oh’ is not cool, Troy.” The other man jumped down and strode over.

Felicity stared. His ass was just as amazing and perfect as his friend’s. She couldn’t help goggling. She was only human, after all. He was slightly shorter than the other man, but that didn’t bother her in the least bit. She swallowed, trying to get a grip on her libido. They were the most handsome men she’d ever seen close up. I didn’t think guys looked like this without photo editing, she mused, eyes lingering on the taller guy’s hips. Their skin color contrasted with each other beautifully. And I did not just think that, did I? she berated herself.

“It’s locked. From the outside,” the Asian guy said.

“No shit, Josh,” the darker, taller man replied.

As one, they turned and looked at Felicity.

Why were they looking at her like that? It wasn’t her fault they were stuck here. “Uh, hi? How’s it going?” She waved with her free hand, trying not to let on how disconcerted she felt.

The taller guy laughed, shoulders relaxing. “Yeah. Hi.”

“Oh for God’s sake,” the Asian guy muttered. He straightened his shoulders, one hand hanging onto his paper. The muscles in his arm and chest bulged attractively. “I’m Josh. This is Troy.” He jerked a thumb at his friend.

Felicity blinked and forced herself to smile. “I’m Felicity.”

“Hello, Felicity,” Troy said, leaning back against the door. “Looks like we’re stuck in here.” Lazily, he licked his lollipop again.

Felicity choked back a gasp as his lips closed around the red candy. Jesus, the man is lethal. “Looks like,” she managed, forcing her eyes away from his mouth. Unfortunately, she ended up looking at Josh. He was glaring at his friend, but that didn’t detract one bit from the sharp beauty of his face.

I’m going to either faint or go up in flames, Felicity thought, her gaze  bouncing back and forth from one man to the other.

“So, uh, you’re here for a bikini wax?” Josh said.

And just like that, Felicity remembered that she was naked too. She went hot all over as she tried to figure out how to answer him. “Um—” she began, then gave up when his eyes dropped to her chest. She glanced down, not surprised to see her nipples pebbled against the paper. She was cold and embarrassed—and kind of aroused, a treacherous voice in her head muttered. She shifted to cover her breasts with her hands, but then the bottom gaped open and she grabbed at that part, too, pretzeling her arms. Stupid paper gown, she thought darkly.

Trey elbowed Josh in the ribs. “Dude. You are an idiot.”

Josh thunked his head on the wall, twice, then looked at her sheepishly. “Sorry. It’s none of my business.”

Felicity shrugged, trying to keep the paper gown under control. “My friend bought me a gift certificate for this place.”

“His sister won a bet against us.” Troy pointed at Josh.

Felicity bit her lip, trying not to laugh. “Okay.”

“And we are never playing cards with Laura again, right?” Troy said, jabbing his lollipop at Josh like a weapon.

Josh ducked away from the sticky candy. “I’ve already apologized at least twice. What do you want from me? Blood?”

Troy nodded, eyes mischievous.

Felicity was too busy trying to jimmy the doorknob behind her to notice anything strange until Josh spoke again.

“What are you, a vampire? You’re the wrong color, my friend.” He smirked. “In case it’s escaped your notice.”

The taller man grinned. “You think you’re funny, but you really, really aren’t.”

Felicity watched as his eyes flicked down over Josh’s body, almost too quickly for her to believe it. Josh was mock-frowning and didn’t seem to notice Troy checking him out. Maybe I imagined it? Felicity wondered, fingers wrapped around the cold metal knob. She yanked on it again. It still didn’t budge.

“How are we going to get out of here?” Josh asked.

“Someone will come looking for us,” Troy said, licking his lollipop. Josh sighed, and both men turned their attention on her again.

Felicity swallowed, hoping nothing jiggly was showing as she moved her hand away from the door. “I had an appointment. When the girl who was supposed to work on me doesn’t find me where I’m supposed to be, they’ll come looking.”

Troy leaned against the wall. “Yeah, okay. That’s good.”

Felicity nodded.

The three of them stared at each other in silence for a minute. Felicity tried to imagine the duo without the hair on their chests, but couldn’t do it. They weren’t excessively furry anyway. It would be a shame if they de-haired themselves, she thought sadly. Her gaze lingered on their pecs and then trailed down to their abdomens. Both men were in amazing shape.

“Okay! So, what do you do for a living, Felicity?” Josh asked, sounding desperate.

Was he getting hard? Holy shit. She stared at his groin, wondering if the bulge she saw was what she thought it was. “Um, I’m a copy writer. And I do some IT stuff, too.”

“What does a copy writer do?” Troy asked, moving in front of his friend.

“You know the blurbs you read on ads and on the backs of books? That’s what I write. I do online copywriting, too.” Felicity watched him saunter over to one of the tables. He hopped up on it, the paper gaping for a moment. Oh my God, that is definitely his penis. Her heart stuttered. Damn, the man is well-endowed. And so is his friend. She was no longer cold.

“That sounds interesting,” Josh was saying.

She could tell he was just trying to be polite. She struggled to focus on what he was saying and not on his assets. “Yeah, not. It’s actually kind of boring,” she said, forcing her eyes back to the floor. The floor was safe.

“I can’t believe we left our cell phones in the damn bathroom,” Troy said.

“How long do you think we’ll have to wait before someone comes looking for us?” Josh asked.

Felicity was about to answer when someone knocked on the door.

“Yes, come in!” Troy yelled, hopping down again from the table.

Whoever was at the door tried to turn the knob… and couldn’t.

“Oh shit,” Josh said, staring at the door.

Felicity stifled a crazy urge to laugh hysterically. They heard muffled talk from the other side of the wall as Josh walked over.

“We didn’t lock it,” he called out. More muffled sounds followed. Josh bent his head, then tried the knob from his side. A rattling noise came from inside the lock. “I think it’s jammed.” He pressed his face against the door, listening.

Felicity tried not to panic. She was stuck in a room with two strange men and they were all naked. Or close enough to it that it didn’t matter. She rearranged her paper gown, wishing there was more of it to cover her.

“They said they have to get a locksmith. Apparently they’ve been having trouble with this door for a while now.” Josh said, coming back over. He leaned against the table next to Troy.

“Why can’t they just let us out through the bathroom?” Troy asked, waving his lollipop around. “You know, go in through that door, enter the connecting bathroom, and voila.”

Josh pinched the bridge of his nose. “They said there’s a session going on in the room next door and they can’t interrupt it.”

“What? That’s stupid,” Felicity said, eyeing his legs. They were strong and lean and when he caught her staring, she whipped her eyes away. “How long? Do they know?”

“Maybe an hour? Two? They really have no idea.” Josh sighed, leaning his elbows on the table. “And yeah, it’s totally stupid that they can’t just go in and unlock it. The woman said something about a ‘very important client.’” He used air quotes to emphasize his disgust. “This place sucks.”

“Well, damn,” Troy said, disgruntled. “What are we going to do in here for an hour?” He popped his lollipop back in his mouth and poked Josh. “After all this, I am so not getting any damn thing waxed. If your sister asks us about it, we will lie. Got it? We will lie, and we will lie well. And you will not burst out laughing in the middle of the lie, either.”

Josh nodded tiredly. “Yeah, yeah. I hear you.” Both men lapsed into silence, nearly identical grumpy expressions on their faces. Felicity watched them, wondering if she should say something. Josh was tapping a finger on the edge of the table in a complicated rhythm. Troy occupied himself by licking his lollipop. His full lips were stained pink. Instead of finding it repulsive, she just wanted to lick the sweetness off of his mouth.

I bet he tastes really sweet, she thought. She looked away again, inspecting the rest of the room as she tried to distract herself from the two men. They were hot, and really nice, but she didn’t want to let herself get interested. She was just fine. She didn’t need a man in her life now that she’d finally figured out how to be happy on her own.

“Your feet are probably aching by now. Why don’t you sit on the other table?” Josh hopped up on the one he was leaning against. “Troy and I can share this one.”

Troy nodded. “Yeah, you should sit down. You can’t stand over there the whole time.”

Felicity felt her face go hot as her extremely vivid imagination supplied her with an image of the two of them sharing the table. Naked. “That’s okay. I’m fine here,” she squeaked.

“No, Josh is right. Come on. I can tell you’re uncomfortable.” Troy pointed at her feet with the lollipop. “You keep curling your toes.”

“You’ve been looking at my toes?” Felicity curled them nervously.

“Seemed like the safest place to look.” Troy grinned. “Not that I don’t want to stare at the rest of you, believe me.”

“Oh God,” she muttered. She wished she could put her hands over her cheeks, hide her blush, but she couldn’t let go of the paper.

“Come on,” Josh said, patting the table. “It’s not soft, but it’s better than standing.”

Troy walked over to her.

Felicity pressed back against the door as he stopped in front of her. Up close, his pecs looked even more amazing. He was big. Really big. And warm. He was close enough she could feel his body heat radiating from him. She licked her lips nervously, wishing she could push her glasses up, but her hands were occupied.

Unexpectedly, he tugged on her arm. “Come on. Your feet look cold.”

She jumped when he touched her, but the shock of his warm fingers on her skin derailed her objections. He towed her over to the table. Awkwardly, she climbed up on it, sure that she was flashing them. The paper gown crinkled as she arranged herself. Thankfully, neither man leered at her as she finally settled down, though Troy didn’t budge from his spot next to her table. He’d managed to tuck his paper gown thingie around his waist somehow, leaving both of his hands free.

When did he do that? she wondered.

“Give me your feet,” he said.

Felicity blinked. “What?”

“Your feet.” He stuck his lollipop in his mouth and wiggled his fingers at her. “I do a mean foot massage.”

She didn’t understand what was happening. “Why would you want to give me a foot massage?”

Josh hopped down and walked over. Just like Troy, he looked even better up close than he did across the room. Felicity clutched her paper sheet with both hands, hoping they couldn’t tell how overwhelmed she felt.

“You were limping.” He frowned down at her legs.

Felicity hid her left foot behind her right one. “So?”

Josh looked up at her, brown eyes warm. “You hurt your foot sometime, right?”

How the hell did he know that? Was he psychic?

“Don’t push her, Josh,” Troy said around his candy.

“You’re the one who offered a massage,” Josh retorted.

The two of them bicker like little boys. It was impossible to keep feeling intimidated when they were acting like this. Felicity giggled, the tension fading a little from her spine. Little boys with amazing, grown-up bodies, she thought.

At the sound, the men left off arguing.

“I broke my ankle a few years ago,” she explained, shrugging. “I had to have a few surgeries, and it didn’t heal perfectly.” Such a simple explanation for the event that changed my life forever, she thought bitterly. “I can walk, though.” It seemed important to mention that.

“Oh, that sucks,” Troy said, going to his knees easily.

Felicity blinked.

He snapped his fingers. “Gimme your foot.”

She squeaked as he reached out and put a hand on her ankle. He was serious? Did she really want to let him do this? “I’m not sure—” she began to say, then he slid his warm hands around the joint, massaging gently. She shivered. “Oh God, that feels so good.”

Troy grinned up at her. “Yeah? Excellent.” He kept the pressure gentle.

When Josh went to his knees right next to his friend, she had to swallow, hard. Two hot men on their knees in front of her? No one was going to believe this one. She didn’t really believe this was happening.

He picked up her right ankle, the good one, and began massaging her foot. “This okay?”

She nodded jerkily. He smiled at her and bent to his task, dark hair sliding over his face. Troy sucked on his lollipop as he ran his thumbs over her arch, then down to her toes. Felicity concentrated on keeping her knees carefully shut so the men wouldn’t get an eyeful, but she couldn’t help moaning at the amazing sensations their hands wrung out of her body.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Troy murmured, hands busy.

Felicity’s legs relaxed a little. “Yeah,” she breathed, amazed at how much residual pain his touch soothed away.

“I bet this joint hurts you all the time,” Troy said around his lollipop. It was small enough now he’d tucked it into his cheek.

She shrugged. “Sometimes it’s worse than others.”

Josh nodded. “Troy broke his wrist a few years ago. He still gets weird nerve spasms. The only thing that helps them go away is a massage.”

“Oh,” Felicity said, faintly, imagining Josh rubbing Troy’s arm.

“I got pretty good at it,” Josh continued, running his fingers over her good ankle.

Felicity’s womanly instincts sat up and wagged their tails at her. What else did Josh massage?

He looked up at her and she felt a little light-headed when his eyes met hers. God, he was gorgeous. He let his hand slide up her leg to her knee. She gasped. No man had touched her there in years, not since her husband had died in the same car crash that had screwed up her ankle.

“Sorry,” he murmured, eyes hot as he slid his hand back down. He curled his warm palm around her instep.

She swallowed, not knowing what to say. She wasn’t upset, not exactly. She wasn’t entirely comfortable, either. “It’s okay.”

“Does that feel better?” Troy asked.

She glanced over at him. He’d stopped rubbing her sock-clad foot.

“Yeah,” she said, fiddling with her glasses so they couldn’t tell how turned-on she was.

Very deliberately he held her gaze and slid his hand up to curve around her calf. “How about that? Still okay?”

She gulped, and bit her lip. Clearly neither man wanted to hurt her or they would have already. And every time they touched her, they asked permission. Did she want to accept what he seemed to be offering? She found herself nodding. “Yeah,” she whispered.

Troy glanced at Josh, his expression complicated. Josh nodded minutely and slid his hands back up to her knee. They were very warm. Felicity’s breath quickened.

“What—” She had to stop and clear her throat. “What are you doing?”

They turned their faces up to her. Felicity gripped the table as though her life depended on it. These kinds of things did not happen to her. Never. Not ever. She was nerdy and bookish and introverted. The only reason she’d ever been married was because she and Pete had been friends in school. Her husband had been just as nerdy and introverted as her. When she’d lost him, she’d had to relearn how to function by herself.

“I want to kiss you,” Troy said. He reached up and took out the stick he’d tucked into his mouth. The lollipop was gone. “May I?”

She stared at him. “You want to kiss me?”

He smiled. “Yeah.” He tossed the stick onto the paper-covered table.

She licked her lips. “Really?”

He laughed and stood up. “Yeah, really. Why wouldn’t I? You’re pretty and sweet and you seem nice.”

She blinked. “Guys don’t usually want to kiss me.”

Josh stood up too, frowning. “Clearly you’ve been hanging around with really dumb guys, then.”

Felicity bit her lip, nerves getting the better of her. “I’m a nerd,” she blurted out.

Troy chuckled. “What, because of these?” He flicked a finger at her glasses.

She nodded. “And I can’t walk very well.”

Josh rolled his eyes. “Really, really dumb guys.” And before she could protest, he leaned in and kissed her.

Felicity gasped, not expecting it. Troy had been the one who’d asked, but Josh was the one whose lips teased at hers, demanding she open up. He rubbed his mouth against hers, lips clinging, and she realized that the reason he looked so handsome wasn’t just because of his eyes—it was because his upper lip had a delicious curl in it. She could feel it against her mouth.

He put a hand on her cheek. “Open up for me, Felicity.”