THE THINGS WE NEED to SAY by Rachel Burton Cover & First Chapter Reveal #HQ Digital, @bookish_yogi, @rararesources

The Things We Need to Say

by Rachel Burton



Sometimes the things we never say are the most important.

Fran loves Will with all her heart. They had a whirlwind romance, a perfect marriage and a wonderful life. Until everything changed. Now Fran needs to find her way again and teaching a yoga retreat in Spain offers her just that. Leaving behind a broken marriage she has some very important decisions to make.

Will needs his wife, he needs her to open up to him if they’re to ever return to the ways things once were. But he may have damaged any possibility he had of mending their relationship and now Fran is in Spain and Will is alone.

As both Fran and Will begin to let go of a life that could have been, fate may just find a way of bringing them back together.

Perfect for fans of Katie Marsh, Amanda Prowse and Sheila O’Flanagan

Pre-order on Amazon UK

Publication Day – 11th May 2018



It started at the party. His hands on my hips, my forehead against his shoulder. He asked me to dance but he didn’t know how. We stood together at the edge of the dance floor shaking with laughter at his two left feet. I don’t know how long we stood there. I don’t know if anybody noticed.

He’d waited for me, sitting with my friends, not sure if I’d turn up or not. I wasn’t in the habit of going to work Christmas parties; I only went in the end because he said he would be there, because he said he would wait for me. I arrived just as the main course was being served. I slipped into the seat next to him. His hand brushed against my thigh as I sat down. He held my gaze for longer than he should have done.

I fell in love with him that night as we stood on the dance floor laughing, my hands on his waist, feeling the muscles of his back, the warmth of his body, through his dress shirt, the press of him against my hip.

That was where it began. I sometimes wonder if that should have been where it ended.

But later that evening, as I got out of his car, and I said those words I should have kept to myself, we both knew there was no going back.


JULY 2016


She wakes up in the same position in which she fell asleep, her husband’s arms around her, their hands entwined on her stomach. Neither of them have slept that deeply for months. Fran remembers something: a hotel room on a Greek island, a feeling of hope, of new beginnings. She doesn’t allow the memory to linger. This is what they have now. They can be happy again if they allow themselves to be.

The hot, humid weather has broken in the night and she listens to the sound of summer rain on the roof. Will moves gently against her, pulling her closer. She feels his breath against her neck and the sensation of hot liquid in her stomach, a combination of desire and need. This is their second chance – she can’t let it pass her by.

‘I love you,’ Will says sleepily.

‘I love you too,’ she replies. It feels good to be saying it to each other again. She’s never stopped loving him; she just forgot how to tell him for a while.

‘Do you want me to go and make coffee?’ Will asks, nuzzling her neck.

‘Not just yet,’ she replies, turning around to look at him. His brown eyes are dark, impenetrable pools. His hair is pushed back off his face. Sometimes she forgets how much all of this has affected him too. Sometimes she forgets everything except her own pain. She feels his warmth against her, his strength. She feels as though the gulf that had been threatening to open up between them for the last year is slowly closing. She realises they have so much life ahead of them. So much time to learn to be happy again.

‘I thought I’d lost you,’ Will says quietly, reaching up to stroke her face. ‘I thought you’d gone, but recently I feel as though you’ve come back to me.’

She smiles softly. ‘I thought I’d lost you too,’ she says. ‘This last year has been …’ She doesn’t finish. She can’t finish.

She watches as a shadow of anguish crosses his face, as his brow furrows, as his jaw tightens. She recognises that look, recognises the pain he is trying to hide. She hears the shudder of his breath. His eyes flick away for a moment; he pauses for a fraction too long.

‘No,’ he says. ‘You never lost me. I’ll always be here.’

She kisses him gently then, and feels his hand drift down the bones of her spine.

Later, showered and dressed, they finally appear in the kitchen; Will’s younger brother, Jamie, is already sitting at the table drinking coffee. Will and Fran are hardly able to stop touching each other.

Jamie smiles at them, raising an eyebrow. ‘You’re up late,’ he says. Fran feels herself blushing, her stomach flipping over, and turns away towards the toaster.

‘Thanks for last night,’ Jamie goes on. ‘I needed that.’ Recently separated from his wife, living apart from his children, Jamie is lonely. Last night wasn’t the first Saturday night he’d spent with them. Fran knows Will has been throwing himself into cheering his brother up. She doesn’t mind. Jamie makes Will smile and it’s good to see him smile again.

As Will and Jamie start talking about the cricket, she feels her husband’s hand on her thigh, the warm, solid sensation of him right there next to her. They have been given a second chance, and they have grabbed it with both hands. She isn’t naive enough to think everything is going to go back to the way it used to be, but she knows that they can move on; they can talk and heal together. They can take another chance on living, find a new kind of normal.

Will stretches, draining his coffee cup. ‘This weather isn’t going to let up is it?’ he says looking out of the window where the rain is rattling against the frames like beads in a jar. ‘I’m going to have to cancel the cricket.’ As captain of the village team it is up to him to reschedule this afternoon’s match. Fran is quietly delighted that the weather means she doesn’t have to spend her last afternoon with her husband before she goes away watching him play cricket. Will gets up and walks into his study, shutting the door behind him.

‘How are you feeling about tomorrow?’ Jamie asks.

‘Nervous,’ Fran replies. ‘It’s the first time I’ve been on a plane on my own, which is pathetic at my age, I know.’

‘It’s OK to be nervous.’

‘It’s the first time Will and I have been apart since …’ She trails off. Jamie knows what she’s talking about. ‘I’m worried about him too.’

Jamie smiles. ‘I’ll look after him,’ he says.

After a moment Jamie gets up and follows Will into his study. He doesn’t knock; he just opens the door and walks in. As Fran starts to clear the breakfast dishes she hears raised voices but can’t quite make out what they are saying. She rolls her eyes to herself. As an only child she has long since given up on understanding Will and Jamie’s relationship: best friends one minute, bickering the next. She just hopes Jamie doesn’t stay too long – she wants her husband to herself for the day.



It rains all day, the sky grey and waterlogged and heavy with cloud. After Jamie leaves, Will pulls Fran towards him, his hands at the back of her head where her skull meets her neck, where her hair is cut so short.

‘No cricket,’ he says. ‘I’m all yours.’

She smiles, standing on tiptoe to kiss him.

‘Can we just watch a film or something?’ she says. ‘I’m tired and I have to pack for Spain later.’ His stomach drops at the thought of her going away. He wishes he’d never encouraged her to do it.

‘I’d forgotten about Spain,’ he says.

‘No you hadn’t. It’s the only thing we’ve talked about for ages.’

Will had watched Fran spend the last few weeks flipping back and forth between excitement and terror at the thought of going to Spain on her own. He knew she was strong enough to do it; he knew she was stronger than anyone realised. But he also knew that she wondered if she was ready. When she first mentioned Spain to him he had seen it as a perfect opportunity to help her begin to put herself back together again after what had been the worst year of both their lives. He tried to believe that everything life threw at him was an opportunity.

Fran had been teaching at a studio in central Cambridge for six years and had been asked to teach for a week on a retreat in Spain. Will had always supported her teaching, always tried to put her career on a level par with his own and had done everything he could to help her find the strength to go back to work in January. None of it had felt as though it was enough. None of it would make up for the last year, the things he had said, the things he had done. Suddenly he is terrified about being on his own. Neither of them have been alone for months.

‘What do you want to watch?’ he asks, squatting down in front of the TV.

‘Can we watch Some Like it Hot?’ Fran replies.

Will rolls his eyes. He must have seen it a hundred times, but puts it in the DVD player anyway and goes to settle himself on the sofa. ‘Come here,’ he says, and she sits with him, leaning back against his chest.

‘Are you OK about Spain?’ he asks quietly.

‘I think so,’ she says. ‘I’m nervous, but I’m excited as well.’

‘Elizabeth will be there with you, won’t she?’

‘Yes, and Constance. In fact, I already know most of the other people who are going. I’ll be fine.’ She pauses. ‘Are you going to be OK?’ she asks quietly.

‘I’m going to miss you,’ he says, lying back on the sofa, wrapping his arms around her. He doesn’t know how to answer the question. He wants to tell her everything but knows that now is not the right time.

‘I’m going to miss you too,’ she replies.

He kisses the top of her head as she presses ‘play’ on the remote control. He watches her as she watches her favourite film, her lips moving along with the characters – she still knows every word by heart. They used to spend rainy Sundays like this when they were younger, when life seemed easier.

Halfway through the film he realises that Fran is crying – fat, salty tears running down her cheeks.

‘Fran?’ he asks quietly, pressing pause on the remote.

Fran doesn’t reply, she just turns around and he takes her in his arms. He feels her body against his. She clings to him as though her life depends on it and he holds her close as she cries and cries. He can’t remember the last time he saw her cry like this. They had both done their grieving in private over the last year but to Will it feels as though Fran has been holding all this in for months, shutting herself down. He’s relieved that she finally seems ready to let go.

‘I want my old life back,’ she sobs. ‘I want to be happy again.’

‘So do I,’ Will whispers. ‘And we will, in time. I promise.’

‘I wish we’d never bought this house – we had so much hope.’

‘Shhh …’ Will says softly, stroking her hair as she weeps against him.


Rachel Burton has been making up stories since she first learned to talk. After many false starts she finally made one up that was worth writing down.

After graduating with a degree in Classics and another in English, she didn’t really know what to do when she grew up. She has worked as a waitress, a paralegal and a yoga teacher.

She has spent most of her life between Cambridge and London but now lives in Leeds with her boyfriend and three cats. The main loves of her life are The Beatles and very tall romantic heroes.

Her debut, The Many Colours of Us, was an Amazon Kindle bestseller. Her second novel, The Things We Need to to Say, is released on 11 May 2018. She is currently working on her third novel in which the heroine follows the love of her life to live in a city in northern England. It has no autobiographical elements at all…..maybe.

Find her on Twitter & Instagram as @bookish_yogi or search Facebook for Rachel Burton Author. She is always happy to talk books, writing, music, cats and how the weather in Yorkshire is rubbish. She is mostly dreaming of her next holiday….

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Sliding Down the Sky Chapter Reveal @AmandaDick @ArdentPRose

Sliding Down the Sky

by Amanda Dick

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Release Date April 11th

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About the Book

Callum Ferguson has grown up in the shadow of the sins of his father. The worst moment of his life came not at the age of sixteen, when he threw his father out of the house, but later in life, when he realised he was just like him. With a predilection for alcohol and violence, he sees his destiny every time he looks in the mirror.

Sass Hathaway, hell-raiser and successful musician, thrived in the limelight – until one night she lost it all. Drowning in an ocean of uncertainty, nursing a crippling case of self-loathing, her brother offers her a chance to find herself again.

His idea of salvation is a dilapidated bar. His proposal; she help him and his wife renovate and run it. However, when she and Callum cross paths, they both discover that salvation comes in many forms.

You can’t escape your past, you can only come to terms with it so that you can move on – but accepting your past is only the beginning. Then you must decide whether you’re strong enough to follow your heart.

(This can be read as a stand-alone, but reading ‘Absolution’ is recommended in order to get the most out of this story).   



“The sense of loss is such a tricky one, because we always feel like our worth is tied up into stuff that we have, not that our worth can grow with things we are willing to lose.” – Tori Amos


I spent a good part of my life hating my father. I hated the booze, I hated the way he treated my mother, and I hated the way he looked at me. I hated the man he was. I was as scared of him as I was ashamed of him. Then came that day, the day everything changed.

I remember that moment as if it were yesterday. Like all the moments in my life that shaped me into the man I am, they linger. They burn through my veins like neon, lighting me up from within. It doesn’t matter how deeply I try to bury them, I know they’re there. They carve scars deep into my heart and soul. Much like my tongue might caress the gap where a tooth used to be, my brain goes over and over these moments until they finally become part of my history. I don’t realise it at the time, but I will never be the same again.

Life can be stripped down to a few critical moments. We rarely recognise these moments as they’re happening. It’s not until much later, when the storm has passed, and with the benefit of hindsight, that we finally see them for what they are.

I was just like him.

The realisation itself was a dye, tainting everything. It leaked into my actions, my moods, the very essence of who I thought I was, until there was no point fighting it anymore. The situation I now found myself in was simply a culmination of all of that.

Jail cells had a particular smell, and this one was no different. A unique blend of vomit, urine and misery, overlaid with the not-so-delicate scent of bleach.

So far I’d managed to keep the booze down. I should’ve eaten, but that would’ve been counter-productive. My goal, if I’d been thinking clearly enough to have one, was to get rip-snorting, memory-erasing, coma-inducing drunk – drunk enough to forget about everything – but I couldn’t even manage to do that right. I should’ve been disappointed in myself, but I couldn’t even muster up the necessary disgust anymore.

The room seemed to tilt and I leaned forward to keep up with it, my head in my hands. I tried not to think. I didn’t want to think, but even when you don’t want to think, it happens anyway. Just like when your heart hurts so much, you convince yourself that this is it – it can’t get any worse. Then someone twists a knife and you find a new level of pain.

That’s what had happened to me tonight. I’d found a new level of pain, and it was cutting me to ribbons.

I swallowed back a combination of vomit and tears, my nostrils twitching as I fought against the impulse. I was not going to throw up or cry. I just wasn’t. I wished I had my phone. How many calls had I missed? What was going on out there?

I was in the cell with a couple of other guys, one much older, sleeping it off on the bench that ran across the opposite wall. The other guy was younger than me. I looked up at him out of the corner of my eye. He’d barely moved in the hour since I’d been thrown in here, and he hadn’t uttered a word. He was like me – the strong, stupid type. He just sat there, his back to the wall, watching everything. He didn’t look drunk, but then some of us hid it well. Instead, he looked like a simmering volcano. That look in his eye was all too familiar.

Like me.

Like Dad.

Only, my anger was waning. Teetering on the brink for so long, I could feel it burning away, taking with it the soul-destroying sense of betrayal and even the confusion. Now, I was just broken. Broken, and drunk, and too exhausted to search for a way out of this mess.

I sank my fists into my hair and pulled tight. It was pure distraction, like stomping on my foot to take my mind off a sore thumb. Maybe, if I ripped my hair out by the roots, it’d take my mind off the ache in my chest.

Self-preservation kicked in though, and I let go, choking back a sob that sounded more like a gasp. I wanted to sink into a deep ocean of self-pity, allowing the water to swallow me up without a trace, but I didn’t have that luxury.

I was wasting time. I had to get out of there. I had to get the hell out of there and see her, before it was too late.

I lurched to my feet, the floor leaning sideways as I hurled myself at the bars.

“Hey!” I shouted. “I need my phone call!”


“Can anyone hear me?”

“You’re wasting your time.”

I turned, still hanging on to the bars to keep my balance. The younger guy regarded me from across the cell, his eyes narrowing as if I was something he’d just scraped off his shoe.

“I need my phone call,” I said again.

“You have to wait, just like the rest of us. They’ll be back.”

He was right. I should’ve known that. This wasn’t my first rodeo. My heart sank and the despair was instant and absolute, wrapping cold arms around me and squeezing so tight, I had trouble breathing.

While I sat there, suffocating in self-pity, she could be dying.

She could be dying, and I wasn’t there.

About the Author

Amanda Dick is a night-owl, coffee addict, movie buff and music lover. She loves to do DIY (if it’s not bolted down, she’ll probably paint it, re-cover it or otherwise decorate it) and has tried almost every craft known to man/womankind. She has two sewing machines and an over-locker she can’t remember how to thread. She crochets (but can’t follow a pattern), knits (badly) and refrains from both as a public service.

She believes in love at first sight, in women’s intuition and in following your heart. She is rather partial to dark chocolate and believes in the power of a good vanilla latte.

What lights her fire is writing stories about real people in trying situations. Her passion is finding characters who are forced to test their boundaries. She is insanely curious about how we, as human beings, react when pushed to the edge. Most of all, she enjoys writing about human behaviour – love, loss, joy, grief, friendship and the complexity of relationships in general.

After living in Scotland for five years, she has now settled back home in New Zealand, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Her debut novel, “Absolution”, was released on 29 October 2013 (with the second edition releasing on 6 January 2015). Her second novel, “Between Before and After”, was released in May 2014. Her third novel, “Into the Void”, is scheduled to release in July 2015.

Connect With the Author

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Promise Chapter Reveal @ddwyattauthor @ArdentPRose


By Dani Wyatt


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Release Date March 24th


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About the Book

Flames stole his childhood. Scorched his family. Scarred his face. Beckett Fitzgerald assimilated his hatred and his pain and gave it to the government. They trained him to kill and his life was set. Or so he thought.

Promise Henderson lives in quiet desperation. Her art is her solace, her brother her world. Only the State of Ohio has control over him and her only purpose left in life is to save Jordan from the same horrors she suffered. When the scarred face of a dark haired man with Monet blue eyes and a warrior’s countenance walks into her life everything changes.

When Beckett sees her, he knows this is his last chance. The little girl from the courtroom ten years ago is standing in front of him and he knows he cannot fail her again. One moment — one choice he made altered the course of her life forever. He must decide to go back to the only life that made sense to him, or tear down her walls and settle the debts of the past.




Chapter One


{Eight Years Later}

I’ve got my hand over Denise’s mouth.

She’s the loudest woman I’ve ever f*cked. Not that I’ve f*cked that many, I have to be honest, but enough to know that Denise is loud.

Her dime store, blue eyeshadow and the ever present snapping piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint didn’t deter my cock from being seduced by my landlord.

She’s Mrs. Robinson with red hair and a tramp stamp.

Her thirty-something body is twisted under me like a pretzel, the crooks of her elbows locked around the bend of her knees, holding herself high and wide. It’s how she likes it, and it sets my dick coal-miner deep, so win-win.

I’m in fifth gear. The sound of wet flesh slapping and the bed denting the plaster wall must be heard in all seven bedrooms plus the kitchen of this makeshift boarding house on the low rent end of Cleveland’s ass. Denise is letting loose, bucking like we’re in a damn rodeo while I try to muffle her crazy-ass screams with my hand.

I mean, come on. All that noise is distracting as f*ck. I like to know the chick taking it from me is getting off, but I don’t need the whole f*cking zip code to know.

She’s about to toss us both off the mattress when I realize the sheet is tangled around my foot. If we don’t finish this up, I may end up in the ER with a snapped ankle and a story to tell. I’m trying to kick the twisted linen off and not miss a beat. This is the second round with her this morning, and I should be enjoying myself, right?

But, I can’t keep my eyes off the clock.

7:41 AM.

Wrap it up, Mrs. Robinson.

I take my hand off her mouth. Her dilated, red-rimmed, emerald eyes widen then she gasps.

“Oh gawwwddddd— oh god!”

She starts right up with the f*cking noise, so I slap my palm back onto her mouth.

I tip my hips, grinding down into her until her eyes roll to white, and I feel the tightness start to grab my dick. Then, I feel a warm rush as she gushes and from the way she’s flouncing and quivering, I’m hoping she’s done.

The muscles in my back spasm when Denise let’s go and her ankles lock behind my ass. I knock the last thrust home, and my chin falls to my chest. I cum along with her. It’s a sense of relief, but that’s about it.

A minute later, I’m off the bed, the discarded latex already taking a spin into the sewer and the shower heating up.

“You…” She points to me, making that single word sound like an accusation.

Denise is propped up on the threadbare floral pillows, checking her manicure and snapping on a fresh piece of Wrigley’s. Her tits are motionless, silicone coconuts standing unnaturally high on her torso.

Personally, I prefer whatever size Mother Nature designed. I’ll take a double A true-blue over triple D fakery any day.

“You’re gonna get me in trouble, you know that? I shoulda never rented you that room.”

A touch of her Brooklyn roots comes through.

“How are you in trouble?” I put one hand on my forehead and one on my chin and jerk my head around. The twist and the pop pop pop as much a part of my morning routine as taking a piss.

I blow out a breath, feeling the momentary pressure-release the neck cracking gives. I’ll do that twenty times today. I have to.

No. Of course not. But someone’s gonna catch on. And, I don’t even want to talk about Leon. If he finds out, we’re both dead. That lady in that back bedroom looks like a bible thumper. She might stick her nose where it doesn’t belong.” Denise’s shrill voice rakes on my nerves. She is so much more appealing when my damn dick is in charge.

I want to tell her if she didn’t howl like a f*cking hyena on a fresh carcass, maybe half the neighborhood wouldn’t know she was letting the resident who rents room 4B bone her twice a day and three times on Saturday.

Why I don’t have a better sense of self-preservation, I’m not sure. I should. I‘ve seen enough shit to last me seven lifetimes.

She’s right about Leon. He would probably kill me first, then kill her with my dead body.

“How would Leon find out? Huh? You said he got picked up last night, right?” I have to yell over the rush of the shower as I stick my hand in to check the temperature.

The steam is hanging in clouds and beginning to mist the mirror that is cracked like an old road map. Whoever mounted it must have been on their knees or ten years old. All I can see in it is the bottom of the shiny, textured skin on my left shoulder and the cut of my abs… along with the shadows of my ribs.

I need some groceries.

I like this mirror. My face is not my best feature.

I step into the shower trying to keep my thoughts about the day in check.

“Yep, he got picked up at the Diablo’s.  That biker bar on 2nd.” I hear the faint squeak of the bed springs just when I lean back into the steaming water, squirting shampoo into my hand.

Denise’s sharp voice makes me jump as she pokes her head around the shower curtain, her eyes shamelessly settling down below my waist with a wicked grin.

Not again, crazy. I’ve got real life happening today.

“He’s in holding at county.” She glances up over my chest, avoiding my face, then back down. “Two warrants and he won’t see the judge ‘til Monday.” She’s snapping her gum, and each time she does it my neck twitches.

My twitching is nothing new, but she’s not helping. Today isn’t just another day. It’s when a judge decides what I already know. That I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself without help from the State of Ohio.

Don’t climb in here with me, please.

I lay my head back into the stream of hot water and close my eyes. Luckily, when I look again, her face is gone.

I throw on the one dress shirt I own and a worn pair of khakis. It’s the best I’ve got, and it’s been my standard uniform for the many days I’ve found myself visiting the fifth district court over the years.

One swipe of my fingers through my hair and I’m ready. I can’t see myself in the damn mirror without bending down, but I’m sure I’m as presentable as need be. I grab my backpack, double check my files and sketchbook are inside, then deep breath, and I’m on my way. My hand is on the door, my mind already halfway down the street.

“Do you even know how old I am?” I spin my head around to see Denise sitting on the edge of the bed, the sheets still twisted in a heap.

I grit my teeth until my jaw pops.


Her eyes light on my face then dart away. I’m used to people looking away, but when that person  just came on my dick four times, they should give me the courtesy of looking at me when they talk.

“Well, I’m not telling you.” She flashes me what she thinks is a coy smile, but it comes off as sad. She stands up and takes a step toward me.

Jesus, whatever.

I should tell her she’s beautiful. That’s what she wants. But, I’ve never told anyone that. My mother was beautiful, and I don’t just mean in the physical sense. No woman since has made me think of that word.

“I’m leaving.” I should say something else.

Something nice, less pragmatic.  Something nice.

She still won’t look at me, standing there with her silicone double D’s and a worn, pale green bath towel in one hand.

“Bye.” She chirps going for cute, and I don’t miss her added eye roll.

She knows where I’m going, what I have to do today, and she’s pouting? Why I don’t think with my brain instead of my dick sometimes is beyond me.

I let out the breath I’ve been holding. I shouldn’t be f*cking my landlord anyway, especially since her boyfriend is facing twenty to life.

My neck is aching, and I can’t stop the urge to twist and jerk my head three more times as I pull the door shut behind me.

Half a step down the hall and I hear the click of the bedroom door latch opening.

“Hey.” Denise’s voice is softer.

I turn and see the towel is thankfully around her torso. Her bedroom is on the first floor, and this hallway has three other rented bedrooms. So, it’s common courtesy to at least wear a towel where there may be other eyes — though I’ve lived in plenty of places where the word courtesy is as foreign as proper hygiene.

“Good luck today.” She forces herself to look me in the eyes. I can see her counting silently, trying to maintain eye contact a few seconds longer than makes her comfortable.

“Thanks,” I say.

She looks down at the floor after a few seconds, and I make my way toward the back door.

At the end of the hall, I’m already wondering who I’ll be at the end of the day. Will I feel different? Will there be any relief?

“I could fall in love with you, you know.” Her voice knocks me in the back of the head.

Oh, hell no.

I’m not turning around for that. Not now. Not today.

Small Divider

It is ironic that on a day like today when something big is about to happen, I notice more of the small things.

Dimitri that works the metal detector didn’t shave this morning.

I toss my wallet, keys, and cell phone in the little plastic tray. No one needs to tell me what to do.

I also know exactly how much money I have in my wallet. Exactly zero.

Dimitri gives me a full nod with eye contact this morning.

Even he knows.

We’ve never exchanged much more than a few words here and there over the years. Today, I see something else in the movement of his head, the way he takes a deeper breath as I pass.

I f*cking hate pity.

I step through the X-ray archway.

With any luck, when I walk out of here, I’ll be legit. On my own, according to the great State of Ohio.

Not that I haven’t been on my own for a long freakin’ time already. But, according to the law, I still need supervision. That shit is hilarious.

I grab my wallet and keys after I’m cleared through the metal detector when I look down and see the dark gray, flattened spot of someone’s discarded gum on the marble floor.

What kind of asshole does that?

I guess some asshole that might not like the way things are going for them. This place is ripe with people who think they’re getting the shitty end of the stick. Most of them sharpened the damn stick themselves and went about doing as much damage with it as they could. Then, they’re surprised when their lives turn into an episode of Cops.

You need a license for almost anything, right?

Want to drive? Well, you need to take a class, then a test, and then you have to abide by a f*ck-ton of rules, or they will snatch that precious piece of freedom from you.

You want a dog? Get a license.

You want to burn leaves in the fall? You need a permit.

You want to start a business? Get a shit-ton of licenses, permits, and forms.

You wanna have a kid? Do your thing, nothing else required.

All along the top of the hallway ahead of me, there are slanted white streaks of dusty sunlight filtering through elevated windows. I’ve made this trek so many times.

I see the wide eyes and pinched brows on the people I pass. There is an overwhelming stink of old cigarette smoke when I walk by a forty-something lady with a worn, thick manila envelope clutched in her hand.

It’s not enough that none of the damn windows open in this catacomb of limestone and marble. You add in too many humans and not enough soap, stir that up with lawyers and the sharp scent of whatever they use to polish the floors, and my stomach is ready to reveal my breakfast.

My boots make a thunk-scrape sound with each step. Thunk-scrape, thunk-scrape.

I dip my right shoulder and put more weight on the right step than the left. For some reason, today I notice the uneven cadence.

Miriam at the information desk has a line of irritated people in front of her, yet she still manages to catch my eye, and I wink.

She tugs her lips to the side in an attempt to squash her smile. In her job, it’s important to stay in character. Just as quickly as I pick up on the rare curve of her lips, I see the same look that Dimitri gave me.

Pity and relief.

People pity me either because they know my past or because they can see the evidence of it on my face.

People feel relieved because whatever has happened to me, hasn’t happened to them.

I notice the way kids stare and adults look away. By now, it’s just an observation. I used to get pissed, now I understand.

I get it.

I catch a reflection in the glass that runs along the mile-long hallway outside the courtroom doors. I tower above most people. My hair isn’t unruly, but it does need a cut. Due to budgetary restrictions, a trip to the barber will have to wait.

The wall of glass is on my right, the heavy doors along my left. I hear the sniffles of a girl before I see her. I look down where she stands next to a bored looking woman with a thick file in her hands.

God damn, how hard would it be just to talk to her? Comfort her? Distract her from whatever bullshit is waiting for her today.

She’s probably six years old. I can’t help but notice she has a huge, unkempt knot in her dirty, blonde hair. She’s wearing a ponytail, a messy one, but no one bothered to brush her f*cking hair before she came to court. Really?

On top of that, her socks don’t match, and she’s wearing green sweatpants with a cartoon image of The Hulk on one pant leg. Her oversized, yellow t-shirt hangs off one shoulder, and I can see the jut of her collarbones through her pale skin.

Jesus, my heart breaks looking at her.

Sorry kiddo, life ain’t fair. Get a good armor going.

I try to smile at her, but she won’t meet my eye. I want to scoop her up and tell her I get it. I understand. You can’t trust anyone. Especially the adults.

A blast of cool air hits me as I open the doors to Judge Horace Carmichael’s courtroom. I give my eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light, and I knit my brow straining to see as I step inside.

From behind, Louis’s voice greets me.

“Early as usual.” He has a voice that needs to be on the radio.

I like Louis. He’s the only — and I do mean only — person I’ve met in this bureaucracy that even hints at still retaining some humanity.

And a sense of humor.

That is not easy.

Louis’s barrel chest and dark stare would be intimidating attached to anyone else. He’s a monolith, towering over me by a good three inches. He must get his hair buzzed every day, because, in all the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen it noticeably longer or shorter. A few more silver hairs replace black each year, but that’s the only change I’ve been able to detect.

“Yep. So, everything good? You think we’re good?” I despise the insecurity in my voice.

“Well, you know I’m always honest.” He gives me a reassuring smile. “Yes, I think we’re good. Could it still go sideways? Sure, there’s always that chance.”

“F*ck.” My hands go up and over my head, rubbing back and forth, gaining momentum. I can’t believe we could come this far and have it all fall apart.

I’m not going back. They can hang me by my balls; I’m not going. I will not live another day in another foster home.

“Hey.” Louis senses my rising ire, and he knows that will not work in my favor in front of the judge. “Breathe. I have a good feeling, okay? We’ve got all your bills, school records, recommendations — all the proof you’ve been knocking it out of the park on your own. You are the most organized almost-eighteen-year-old I’ve ever met.” He laughs, but I can still hear that halt of doubt in his voice.

I’m making a sound like a pressure relief valve on a steam engine when Louis lands a solid hand on my shoulder. My neck is twitching like a mother*cker.

After almost a year of taking care of myself under the watchful eye of my current social worker, I get a notice that Child Protective Services wants to place me in yet another foster home.  F*ck that.  I worked my ass off getting them to agree to let me live on my own even though I had just turned seventeen at the time.  They said it was a probationary arrangement, but I hit all my high notes for a year.  I worked, paid my bills, kept my grades in the four-dot-oh range and then this?

So, after I got the letter, I wrangled Louis and my social worker and petitioned the court to release me permanently from the nurturing care of CPS.  I’m just a bump shy of my eighteenth, so f*cking come on already.

Louis gives my shoulder a squeeze, he can feel my tension.  He’s one of the only people I let touch me. I’m not a fan of people in my personal space.

“I’ve got another case coming before Judge Carmichael today. She should be here by now.” He scans the nearly empty courtroom and looks at his watch. “Just wait here, and I’ll be back.”

Louis turns away as I settle into the rearmost row of benches tossing my backpack next to me.

He stops a few steps away. “You bring your notebook?” He sets his eyes on me, raising his eyebrows.

It’s a rhetorical question; he knows I have it. I always have it.

“I want you to start right now. You’ll want to have something about today. I’ve got a feeling things will go your way.”

Over the years, I’ve discovered that sketching and drawing relieves my stress. Whenever I have a court date, I’m sketching faces, writing down thoughts, snippets of things I hear. It’s become a part of me.

Louis is out the door. There are two other people inside with me, huddled together in the kind of hushed whispers you find in the cool darkness of a court of law.

The room feels like a bulkhead, and no one leaves quite the same way they came in.

I unzip the top of my back pack and pull out my files and sketchbook.  I flip it open to a blank page and shift forward on the bench to dig for the pencil in my back pocket. I set pencil to paper. I love the sound of the surfaces meeting, and then making something new from the friction. I start writing.

Let this be the last f*cking time.

I can’t go back.

I won’t go back.

The soft squeak of the hinges on the massive door draws my eye.

The very instant I lay eyes on her, my pencil comes to life.

Louis is guiding a young man a little younger than me inside the courtroom and gets him settled in a bench toward the front.

Right behind him, I see another little girl accompanied by what must be her social worker hustling into the room. Her eyes dart around like a cornered mouse, their color near translucent. Like the crystal clear shallow water of a tropical shore, I want to look away, but I’m mesmerized. Her hair falls to her waist in a tangle of silk the color of antique porcelain. She is as close to a living, breathing china doll as there could ever be.

My eyelids burn when she turns toward me. Her ivory cheek is decorated with an angry purple and red circle. I notice how she crinkles her nose when she looks up at the woman by her side, hoping she will be the one to save her. Because I can see she needs saving.  Then for just a moment, our eyes meet.

This broken, little soul with white hair and skin to match digs her sheer blue eyes into mine so deep, I feel her fear. My heart shatters inside my chest as I see the pain in her eyes and the way she moves so softly, gliding instead of walking.  Her arms around her waist, holding onto herself, hoping for protection that she seems to know will never come.

Someone else was born inside of me that day. Someone that knew she was part of me.


About the Author

AuthorDani Wyatt loves her alpha men; make them military, cowboys, MMA — any über alpha with a wicked possessive streak and an insatiable libido. Receive a free exclusive unpublished title when you join Dani’s private readers group for updates, free chapters and discounts.

She’s a 40 something regular lady who just happens to love bad-ass alpha males who pull your hair and love their women with a lethal passion.

When she’s not writing (which is not often) she is probably laughing about some irony (like A-1 Steak Sauce is vegan), riding her horse, wondering why The Walking Dead can’t have a new episode every night, or looking cross-eyed at some piece of technology sent to ruin her day.

Connect With the Author

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Flesh and Blood Cover & Chapter Reveal @RayneCynthia @EJBookPromos

Title: Flesh and Blood
Series: A Dixie Mafia Novel #1
Author: Cynthia Rayne
Genre: Mafia Romance
Release: Spring 2016
Sometimes it takes a bad guy to catch a killer…

Annabelle Nunn is a desperate woman. Someone’s following her, watching her. To make matters worse, she was fired six months ago and hasn’t been able to get a job since. Annabelle’s down to her last ten dollars and thirty-three cents and has no idea how she’ll make the rent when she’s abducted by Dixon Wolf’s henchman. Annabelle’s estranged father borrowed money from the Dixie Mafia for his latest get rich quick scheme and…big surprise…he skipped town, leaving her holding the proverbial bag.

Dixon Wolfe is a loan shark and launders dirty Dixie Mafia money. Since his wife died ten years ago, he’s devoted all his time and energy to the organization. And being bad pays pretty damn good. Until he meets Annabelle. Suddenly, his priorities shift and his icy heart is starting to thaw. 

Dix makes Annabelle a job offer her empty wallet won’t allow her to refuse – Mob Mistress. But working for a mobster is dangerous. Doubly so, when a hitman is hot on her tail and she doesn’t know why. Can Dix catch the killer? And will Dix and Anabelle have a real relationship, one that isn’t based on sex and commerce?
Chapter One


Crimson Creek, TX




“Come on, twenty more yards, you can do it, baby. Don’t quit on me now.”




Annabelle Nunn coaxed her aging blue Ford pickup further down Crimson Creek Drive. Crimson Creek was a small town in northern Texas. It was named for the meandering creek in town filled with jagged red volcanic rocks. Belle thought when the creek was high and water flowed over all those scarlet stones, it looked like blood.




“Come on, sweetie. Just a few more feet,” she purred at the steering wheel.




Most days she spoke to the vehicle like a lover, as though her sweet talk could somehow keep it on the road. Maybe it did. So far, it’d kept her up and running…well, chugging along, anyway.




She glanced at the gas gauge which hovered over the red “danger zone” area. She needed Big Blue to make it a bit further into the Lickety Split parking lot, a local gas station and convenience mart.




Belle had moved to the Creek after accepting a job offer from Catherine’s House, a domestic violence shelter in town. They’d come to her college campus recruiting for two new counselors and she’d snagged the third shift position a couple of years ago. She’d minored in women’s studies while she pursued a psych major. Then got her master’s degree in community counseling. Working with domestic violence survivors had been very rewarding.




Until she’d been fired.




Sure enough, Big Blue lumbered into the parking lot and she parked next to gas pump. Next came a humiliating pat down of her pockets as she scrounged for spare change like she’d done as a kid and she’d wanted to buy a candy bar at the store. Anabelle even upended her red purse and picked up the stray change that’d sunk to the bottom. Altogether, she had four dollars and thirty-six cents.




Belle vaulted out of the truck and slunk inside with a palm full of coins. The stores colors were red and white, with a dash of blue. Texas state flag colors. Inside, they had a row of antique gas pumps for decoration and kept an old steel cooler in the front, stocked full of Dr. Pepper and Coke. It had a quaint fifties feel to it.




Lickety Split had a couple shelves full of snack food and other useful items like cold medicine and motor oil. Things a traveler might need. Along with a wall of refrigerators full of drinks and dips. There was also some convenience foods wrinkled red wieners impaled on spikes and Cheetos-orange cheese flecked with red, ready to squirt on tortilla chips.




Normally she’d have turned up her nose at that kind of junk, but it made her stomach rumble. Belle only had a half empty container of peanut butter in the cupboard at home, along with a half-eaten sleeve of saltines. At this minute, she only had ten dollars and thirty-three cents to her name. Not counting the change in her palm.




She handed the coins to the pimply teenager at the cash register with a sheepish smile. “Pump number two,” she said. A man in a flannel shirt stood behind her and from the corner of her eye, she saw him check his wristwatch and let out a breezy sigh.




The cashier rolled his eyes and counted off the change as he plunked it down on the counter. The kid wore a red uniform speckled with Texas stars in white and blue. According to the badge clipped to the lanyard around his neck, his name was Mike.




Tamping down on any vestiges of pride she had left, she asked Mike for the unthinkable. “Do you have any job applications?” After four years of college, three years of graduate school, and a hefty sixty-five thousand dollars in student loan debt, she would take a job working for minimum wage.




But it would keep the wolf from her door.




She’d reached the end of the line. If she didn’t get a job in the next few days, she’d be up shit creek without a paddle, as her father used to say. And now wasn’t the time get picky either. She’d wasted six months pursuing a job in her field and hadn’t gotten past a first interview.




“Uh, yeah.” He finished counting the change and tossed it in the cash register as it opened with a ding! He grabbed one from a clipboard and tossed it to her. And then he looked at Flannel Shirt behind her. “Can I help you, sir?”




Belle scurried out the door and pumped her gas. As she carefully watched the numbers change, she caught sight of a man two lanes over pumping gas into a brand spanking new black F-150. He wasn’t looking at her. But something about him bothered her all the same. Had he been watching her, just before she glanced over? He wore a weathered Carharts jacket, a trucker hat with the brim pulled low over his eyes, a pair of blue jeans, and muddy work boots.




He seemed to be any other blue collar worker, stopping at the Lickety Split on his way home from a construction site or an oil field. Yet, something was different about him. Belle could feel it. Sense it. She couldn’t see his eye or hair color. The only distinguishable feature was a scruffy blond beard which obscured the lower half of his face.




The gas pump stopped and she shook her head to clear it. Or maybe she’d finally lost it. All the months of job hunting and worry had taken its toll on her. Apparently, she was now paranoid in addition to being desperate. Goody.




When Belle pulled out of the gas station, she couldn’t help but glance in the rearview mirror. The creepy man had vanished. Seemingly into thin hair.








As soon as she got in the door, her long-haired tuxedo cat, Quaxo, ran toward her at a gallop. She scooped him up and petted him. He closed his blue eyes in hopeless pleasure and started to purr. If only it were so easy to make her that happy.




She’d named Quaxo after a lyric in the musical, CATS. Belle had been a choir kid in high school and loved Broadway shows and show tunes. She’d listen to the music again and again until she memorized the entire catalog of songs.




Belle slumped down on her secondhand couch and snuggled the cat for comfort. She petted him, relishing his affection. There was something calming about stroking a cat – the soft fur, the low rumbling purr. Right now, he was the only good thing in her life.




How sad was that?




Belle had a one bedroom apartment on the first floor at Blackwood Apartment Homes. It wasn’t much to look at. The space had a seventies feel to it with the popcorn ceilings and burnt orange closet doors. She’d gotten all of her furniture from the Goodwill, so it was a little shabby.




There was another complex in town, Magnolia Arms, but the rent was a couple hundred a month higher and she couldn’t afford it on her tiny social services salary. There was also a rumor going around town that the Arms was owned by the Dixie Mafia.




They had a foothold in Crimson Creek. Why criminals would choose tiny little Crimson Creek for the base of their operation was a topic of much debate among townies. Belle thought the mob probably liked the lack of scrutiny a small town afforded them. The town only had a sheriff and a part-time deputy. From what she saw, the two men spent most of their time ticketing people for speeding.




After a few minutes, Quaxo wiggled out of her grasp and trotted over to his food bowl in the kitchen. He meowed loudly until she filled his stainless steel bowl. She only had a half bag full of kitty kibble left. Last week, she’d run out of the wet food she gave him every morning and he never let her forget it either–yowling his complaints as she stumbled out of bed each day.




Belle washed her hands and pulled six saltines from the package of crackers. She placed them carefully on a paper plate. Then, slathered three of them with peanut butter before topping them with the other crackers, creating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.




She’d had a couple this morning, too, before her interview with Aransas County Behavioral Health. The interview had only lasted twenty minutes…which wasn’t a terrible sign. Actually, none of the interviews she’d had over the past few months had gone well. Belle wondered if her former employers had blackballed her. What if she’d never be able to get another job in mental health in the state of Texas?




That was a sobering thought.




She didn’t have any money left in her savings account to search for a job out of state. So, she put on big girl panties, munched on a peanut butter cracker, and filled out a Lickety Split job application.




And she’d worry about how to live on minimum wage later.








A couple hours later, Belle laid in bed and stared at the ceiling. Quaxo curled up beside her, soundly asleep now that he had a full belly. It was only seven o’clock, but she’d gotten rid of her satellite television a couple months ago as a way to save money. She had books to read, but that’d require using lights. Belle tried not to turn them on once it got dark. Yep, things had gotten that frugal.




Somehow, she’d ended up starring in her very own version of the musical, Rent. Without the hunky co-stars and the peppy dance numbers. With a sigh, she curled up with Quaxo and eventually drifted off to sleep.




Suddenly, there was a loud banging at the door.




Belle sat straight up in bed, blinking as she glanced around her. Quaxo leapt off the bed and scurried beneath it. She wished she could crawl under there with him. Grabbing a ratty robe from the bedpost, she slogged into the living room. She wondered if it could be creepy bearded guy from the convenience store. God, she hoped not.




Peering through the peephole, she saw two men standing outside her door. Neither of them had a beard, so they couldn’t be Trucker Hat from the Lickety Split.




That was good news, at least.




But Belle didn’t recognize them and they looked…intense. The younger man had a leather jacket and she spied a bulge beneath his arm? A gun-shaped bulge. He kept shooting glances at the parking lot behind him. Was he looking for witnesses?




The older man in a suit seemed relaxed, confident. And implacable. While she had no idea why they’d come rapping at her door, it was a safe bet they weren’t here for something innocuous like selling Girl Scout cookies.




Her rent was up to date, for this month anyway. And last time she checked, MasterCard didn’t send men in expensive suits when customers stopped making payments.




So what gives?




Holding her breath, she slowly tiptoed away from the door. The older man leaned against the door, at least she thought it was him. Suity seemed to be the boss. “We can hear you in there, Ms. Nunn. I suggest you open this door. Now. While you still have a choice in the matter.”




Oh God. He knew her name?! How? Belle had never done anything bad in her entire life. Surely nothing that’d been bring what she suspected were two bad guys to her door in the middle of the night.




Her heartbeat picked up, pounding in her chest and her palms began to itch. She wanted to get out of here, but the two of them stood in front of her truck outside. And she wouldn’t get far on foot.




Belle mentally counted down from ten, centering herself. All of her years of counselor training had taught her to remain calm and collected in a crisis situation. This was no different. Only this time, she was the one having a crisis.




“What do you want?” At least her voice didn’t shake when she said it.




“We want to talk to you. Open this door.”




“Who sent you?”




“Dixon Wolf. He has a couple of questions for you.”




Dixon Wolf. She’d heard the name. He was a local business man rumored to be connected with the mafia. In fact, he owned Magnolia Arms and had a huge mansion/compound on the edge of town. What could he possibly want with her?




And here she’d thought her life couldn’t possibly get any worse than it was already. She should know better by the now. The world was a dangerous place and had a way of keeping the hits on coming.




She slipped the chain on the door in place and opened it a scant inch or two to study the older man in the suit. He was tall and broad-shouldered with blond hair and big blue eyes, along with a cocky grin. Belle put his age around mid-thirties judging by the slight lines around his eyes and mouth.




“Well, hello there, Ms. Nunn. Good to finally put a face with a name. What little of you I can see, that is. ” He smirked after he said the name as if he found it amusing. Not that he was first guy to do that. She’d had quite a reputation in school as being a goody two shoes.




“Who are you?”




“I’m Byron Beauregard and my silent partner over there is Rebel Jackson.”




“What does Mr. Wolf want with me?”




“You’ll have to ask him that.” And then his Southern gentlemen manners disappeared. “I don’t have all night. Open up.”




Belle shook her head.




Just like that, his friendly blue eyed gaze turned crisp and clear. Like ice. “If you don’t open this door, I’ll plant my foot in the middle of it and snap that chain like it’s a piece of spaghetti and you’ll come with me anyway.”




She gasped. “I’ll call the police.”




“Go right ahead and while you’re at it, tell the sheriff I said hello. Frank and I had lunch just the other day.”




Good God. She was right, the Dixie Mafia had the police in their pocket.




In other words, she was alone in this. Screaming for help was the only other option. Belle lived between an elderly man and a woman raising two little girls by herself. They wouldn’t be much help against two possibly armed men.




Why, oh why hadn’t she bought herself a gun for protection? Everyone else in Texas had one. Hopefully, she’d still be alive to recriminate later.




Belle opened the door.

Cynthia Rayne is the author of the Amazon best-selling Four Horsemen MC series. Her first erotic book was written when she was thirteen. Of course, the most risqué scene involved kissing, but it was the talk of her middle school! She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education and writes whenever she can. In her spare time, she enjoys dating, shopping, reading way too many romance novels, and drinking a truly obscene amount of coffee.


Notes & Roses Chapter Reveal @rozennscott @EJBookPromos

Notes & Roses
Stanford Creek #1
Author: RJ Scott writing as Rozenn Scott
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: February 26, 2016
About the Book

Megan Campbell is horrified when a stranger, covered in blood, collapses in her shop. When that same stranger, wild and angry, abruptly becomes someone very different, it’s not her safety she is worrying about, it’s her heart.

With his stalker behind bars, former boy band singer CJ Taylor is starting a new life. He’s bought a house in a small Vermont town, and taken back the name he was born with. Two years have passed since he was last in the public eye and as Cody Brennan, he’s finally feeling safe. Desperate to find some peace, all he wants is to connect to the music in his head, write new lyrics and forget the tragedy in his past.

What he doesn’t count on is meeting Megan. From her amber eyes to her tempting smile, she is everything he thought he could do without, the very thing he promised himself to avoid. But he’s thrown into her family and her life, and suddenly he’s found a place he wants to stay.

Megan’s first instinct is to tame the powerful attraction she has to this stranger, but very soon desire becomes something more. Between them can they find the words to make things right? And can they stay safe long enough to fall in love?

Chapter One 
Megan Campbell stepped away from the cash register of Notes & Roses and leaned against the back counter. She put her right hand in her jeans pocket and, as carefully and unobtrusively as possible, she removed her cell phone and scrolled to Justin’s name. What should she send to her brother? Help sounded like a good start. Or possibly, there’s a man in my shop and I think he’s drunk or stoned.
Yep, send something like that to Justin, and he would come in, all guns blazing. Then he’d pin the weird guy to the floor and read him his rights. And the man currently staring at a wall didn’t look dangerous, just lost, homeless maybe?
Something more considered then, like, there is a vagrant in here, and he needs help, what should I do? The man moved a little. Away from her side of the store, the ‘roses’ part of the setup, and over to the ‘notes’ side. He was peering at the shelves; a collection of stationery and household bits and pieces like cushions and local crafts. He stumbled a little, turned to the side and looked up at the display of posters on the far wall. Landscapes of Vermont; rivers, small towns and red high-sided barns with gently rolling hills of emerald green.
“That’s wrong,” he said.
“Sorry?” Megan asked, but he didn’t reply.
He’s talking to the wall now. Should she add that to the text as well? This was going to end up being one hell of a lot of typing to explain what he was doing. Despite how odd it all looked, the visitor wasn’t threatening her. Also, Rachel would be back soon, maybe between them they could sort this out?
He hadn’t even spoken to her, but something wasn’t right. Maybe it was the way he’d been standing; his hands in fists at his sides, staring now at the new Valentine wall display of flowers and hearts. Maybe it was the way he was dressed; dark jeans caked in mud, heavy boots that had tracked in the same mud. Not to mention the black hoodie with the hood partially hiding his face from her view.
Or maybe it was the despair in his hunched shoulders, the utter defeat in the way he had to support himself to stand.
Whatever it was, Megan was faced with two options. Talk to the strange man in her shop while she was alone in here, or call in reinforcements in case things went south.
Her visitor moved, not his feet, but his fists, unclenching and bringing his hands up to knuckle his eyes and then cover them. Megan’s cop brother liked to explain these things to her, but she didn’t need his help to recognize when despair in someone turned to anger.
She sent the standard 911 text, startled when she looked up and saw the stranger had stepped closer to her while she’d been distracted.
“Where am I?” he asked, his voice very soft.
“You’re in my shop.”
He shook his head. “I need the music. Someone took it, and I need it.”
Okay, this was so not going the way she wanted it to go. He was incoherent. Maybe he was homeless and just needed a place to get out of the persistent snow that had plagued Stanford Creek the last few days. He’d evidently been somewhere slushy and muddy if his clothes were anything to go by.
“I don’t understand, sir; what music do you need?” she asked, and waited for him to acknowledge her question. Instead, he took another, shaky, step forward, and covered his eyes again. “Hello? Can I help you?” she repeated when he didn’t look at her.
That finally got his attention, and his hands came down, and she got her first clear look at his eyes and face. What she saw had her reaching to send another text. He had blood on him smeared down from his temple into his wild beard, and his blue eyes were bright with something. Drugs maybe? Long dark hair hid some of his features, and he looked like he was about to keel over.
“Where’s the music?” he mumbled, his voice low and urgent. He gripped his temples hard and stumbled back, knocking a display of greeting cards to the floor. The sound was a loud clatter in the otherwise quiet room. “Shit… I didn’t…”
“Sir?” This time, she was within reaching distance as he rounded on her, his lips pulled back in a snarl—or a grimace of pain, she couldn’t be entirely sure. Whatever, it wasn’t the look of someone who wanted to be spoken to. Time to leave. She glanced at the front door, then the fire exit. He was between her and the only possible ways out, and she was trapped. When she focused back on him, all she saw was a situation that could get out of hand. He was a good six inches taller than her five-nine, broad and built, with tattoos curling around his wrist, disappearing up under the sleeve of the hoodie.
Everything about him looked wrong. He didn’t move again, or even acknowledge her; all he did was stare with bright sapphire eyes, focused on a point behind her. Scary and intense and so damned fixated with his expression in that scowl.
“What happened?” he groaned and covered his eyes again. “Call… Zee…”
She texted without looking, only glancing at the screen briefly to make sure she was sending another text to her brother and not some random person on her list. 911. Again. The standard sibling instruction for help me right the hell now, reserved for having one of her brothers rescue her from one of her many dreadful first dates. Garrett wasn’t even in town, so there was little point texting him, and Justin may not even be in the sheriff’s office. She hoped to hell he was, though, and had read her message. She’d know soon enough because the small sheriff’s office was close.
And still the stranger stood there, staring at her. At least, he hadn’t moved any closer.
He closed his eyes and wiped at the blood that was trickling down his face, looking down at his hand and staring at the red that streaked his skin. She thought she heard a sob, but couldn’t be sure. Compassion welled inside her. Vagrant or not, dressed in soiled clothes and with the hood up, he didn’t have to be a criminal.
“Sir? Do you need help?” She held out her hand, but he stepped closer to her and damn it, she may have had self-defense training, but she wasn’t stupid. If the man was hopped up on drugs, she had to stay out of reach. The door opened, and Justin stepped in, all uniform and pissed-off attitude.
“Two 911’s? This had better be good, Megs.”
Megan inclined her head to the man who Justin evidently hadn’t seen in his dramatic entrance. Justin could handle himself, and he had a gun, he’d know what to do.
“What the hell?” Justin said as he assessed the situation, his hand automatically resting on his holstered weapon.
“I think it’s drugs,” she said loud enough for Justin to hear. The man looked at Justin and then to her, before shaking his head a little.
“No.” The voice was raspy, little more than a growl. “Not those.” He appeared to be struggling to talk, and he pressed his hands to each side of his head. “Just the music; Zee will know,” he added, but his voice slurred, and he coughed and doubled over.
Justin pulled his weapon and held it to one side, his other hand held in front of him as he stepped closer. “Sir? Are you hurt?”
Megan saw her brother’s hand on the sidearm, the other placating and suggesting and warning at the same time. She’d seen him stand like this when he broke up the fight at the drugstore. Not that he’d drawn his weapon then; he’d dealt with it by intimidation alone, because everyone involved lived in the town and no one messed with the sheriff. Megan looked at her brother, who teased her, who’d hidden her dolls and pulled her pigtails as a kid, but who was now in a situation that was serious. He was all business.
“What’s your name, sir?” Justin asked.
The stranger stepped back from him, straight into a pile of notebooks this time. The shelf shuddered and some of the display tilted. The movement translated into Justin grabbing the man’s hoodie to stop him falling as he flailed and attempted to stay upright.
He took a swing at Justin, who ducked and swerved. The attempted hit missed Justin by a mile, and the man followed the momentum he had begun, smacked his fist against a shelf edge, and collapsed in a heap on the floor. Then he didn’t move, was absolutely still. Justin holstered his weapon and crouched next to the prone form of the hooded man, checking for a pulse and then talking into his radio.
“Dispatch, 390D, medical assistance required at Notes & Roses.”
Megan didn’t hear the response; she came out from behind the counter and stood next to her brother. The adrenaline that had flooded her to deal with this was beginning to ebb, and she went down in the same crouch. The hood had fallen back and exposed his hair. The stranger was young; maybe the same age as her, and a long cut on his temple oozed fresh blood. Thinking on her feet, she located a clean tea towel from the small kitchen in the back and as an afterthought grabbed the first aid box. There was nothing more than band aids and small bandages in it, but there may be something in there to press against the wound, something sterile.
Justin took the box and the towel and pressed the cloth against the man’s temple.
“Who is he?” Justin asked.
Megan frowned at the unconscious man. “I have no idea.”
“What was he doing in the shop?”
Megan glanced at her brother and resisted the urge to give him a sarcastic sister-type comeback. She needed to be professional.
“He came in and stood in the ‘notes’ side, staring at the wall.”
“And he didn’t say anything?”
“Something about wanting music and the letter Z. And when I asked him if he needed help, he turned and stared at me like he didn’t know where he was.”
“What the hell, Megan? You talked to him?”
“Well, what was I supposed to do? He was a customer, and looked like he needed help.”
“What did I tell you about drug addicts?” Justin snapped.
“The same as attackers, drunks, and anyone else who got anywhere near me, call you. I did that.”
The man on the floor moved, his eyes flickering open and staring up at Justin and Megan. “I don’t feel…” He never finished the sentence, his eyes closing again.
All Megan could think was, whoever he was, he had pretty eyes, the kind of blue that jumped out at you and screamed gorgeous. She couldn’t see much of his face, covered as it was with a bushy beard and blood.
“Should we find his ID or something?”
“SOP is not to go searching in drug addicts’ pockets,” Justin said with exaggerated patience.
“You think he’s a drug addict?”
The door chimed again, but it wasn’t the paramedic yet. Instead her business partner and cousin, Rachel, stood in the door, her jaw dropped and the cold of the rain blustering in behind her.
“Shut the door,” Justin and Megan said at the same time. Rachel closed the door with exaggerated care, and her expression didn’t change.
“Why is there a man lying on the floor of our shop?” she managed. Then she stepped closer, staring down at John Doe, and her eyebrows climbed before she paled and grabbed hold of the nearest display. “Shit, there’s so much blood. Is he dead?” Like he’d heard her speak, the man coughed and curled in on himself on one side, muttering something, and she stumbled backward with a yelp.
“He’s clearly not dead,” Justin said. “Drugs, head wound, we don’t know yet.” Then he spoke into his radio. “Dispatch, do we have an ETA on the paramedics?”
“Three minutes out.”
“10-4, dispatch.”
“Is he bleeding out?” Rachel asked, her hand on her chest and her skin pale. Megan frowned; they really should get Rachel out of here. She’d never liked blood, not since the incident where she’d broken her arm in kindergarten and the bone had pierced the skin.
“Not enough blood for that,” Justin said.
“Do we know who he is?” Rachel asked. “Should we check his wallet or something? He could be here with someone?” She glanced out the shop window as if expecting the man’s friends or family to be searching for him.
“I can’t look for his wallet yet,” Justin explained. “SOP with suspected addicts.”
“SOP?” Rachel half whispered as an aside.
“Standard operating procedure,” Megan whispered back. “The guy could have needles on him.”
“What about the recovery position?” Rachel pointed out. “Should we, at least, move him?”
Justin indicated the unconscious man with a wave of his hand. “Think he already did it himself.”
Then in silence they stood and waited for the paramedics to arrive, and all that time Megan stared down at the stranger, memorizing every bump and scratch on his face. What a waste. He could be so handsome, almost pretty, with those stunning sky eyes and the plump lips. He’d be a killer if he smiled, she thought.
“He doesn’t smell,” Rachel commented, even though she wrinkled her nose. She gestured at him. “And those jeans? They’re an expensive brand you know. So he’s probably not homeless.”
Megan didn’t feel much like discussing the unconscious man. She just wanted the help to get here soon.
The paramedics arrived and in a flurry of motion, they asked rapid questions of Megan, which she couldn’t answer in full. ‘Did he have a fit? Did he choke?’ She answered as best she could and hoped that was enough for them to have some idea what had happened. They checked John Doe’s vitals, hefted him onto a gurney, and left, all without the man regaining consciousness. Justin followed soon after, giving Megan a quick hug and extracting a promise from her to stay safe, and then it was Rachel and Megan alone in the shop.
Rachel looked anywhere except at the blood and Megan knew she had to get her out of the shop. “You go up to Carter’s and get some fresh coffee.”
“You need help,” Rachel began. She looked torn as she gestured at the floor.
“I’ll clear this up. Go.”
“What if someone else comes in?”
“Another vagrant covered in blood?” Megan smiled as she said it. She hoped she’d had her full quota of vagrants for this year.
“You never know,” Rachel said, frowning.
Rachel looked at the door and back at Megan, as if she were expecting another strange man to come in while she was out and was worried about leaving her. Megan went back to the small storage room at the back of the store. She pulled out the mop and bucket and the cleaning supplies and by the time she came back out Rachel had gone. She wasn’t surprised. Evidently alongside her phobia about blood, Rachel had analyzed the situation with her rational, logical approach and had decided Megan could manage another strange man collapsing on their floor if she had to. She cleaned up the smears of scarlet, the tracked in mud, and realigned all the notebooks and stationery on the knocked shelf. While she worked, all she could think was despite the shock and drama of what had happened, the man with the beautiful sapphire eyes hadn’t seemed dangerous to her.
Confused, high or drunk, desperate, traumatized, wet, and muddy, maybe. But certainly not dangerous.
About the Author

Full time romance writer Rozenn Scott creates passionate love stories with a guaranteed happy ever after. 

Her series of novels, set in the beautiful Vermont town of Stanford Creek, focus on strong, independent women who find love. 

Writing as RJ Scott, she is the author of over ninety bestselling gay romance novels and has never met a bottle of wine she can’t defeat.
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Before Him Comes Me Chapter & Teaser Reveal @AlexandriaSure

Before Him Comes Me
Author: Alexandria Sure
Genre: NA Contemporary Romance
Faced with an unexpected choice, a simple nod is all it will take to change the course of Zara’s life.
Bound to a life predetermined by the restrictive traditions of her community, Zara is offered a glimmer of hope by a complete stranger, a man selected for her. She can choose to walk away from the life she has been trained for.
Make new friends and lose her best friend.
Explore new places and lose her home.
Find herself and lose herself.
Will Zara nod and risk everything she knows to discover who she is meant to be?

Alexandria Sure is an avid reader and has written her first novel as homage to fans of the genre she loves. She hopes others will appreciate her novel as much as she enjoyed writing it.

Sure follows the work of several authors and feels she has benefited from reading and commenting on their author pages on Facebook. This has given her the opportunity to get to know the people behind the characters she has grown to love. She hopes her readers will check out her Facebook page so she can get to know them and pay it forward.

Sure is from Michigan and adores her supportive family, her deaf rescue pup and her mighty Spartans. Her experiences in writing her first novel have revealed the true meaning in Jack Canfield’s quote, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Author Links:
Zara opens her eyes, her bedroom already filled with morning sunlight. Closing her eyes, she lays perfectly still taking inventory of her body, her feelings and her overall state of mind. Turning eighteen has not made Zara feel any different, yet today will be the first day of her new life.
Looking up at Audrey Hepburn in her My Fair Lady poster, Zara takes a deep breath and begins to memorize her belongings that she will never see again. Zara shifts her gaze to the two framed pictures on the nightstand. The first is a picture of her and her best friend Sloane from the first time they went horseback riding. Both of them got the giggles so badly that Sloane’s mother threatened to bring them home if they didn’t pay attention to the lesson.
The second picture, taken eight years ago on Zara’s tenth birthday, is of Fredrik giving Zara a bouquet of daisies. Ever since then, he has given her daisies on her birthday and they have become her favorite flower. This neither pleases nor displeases their father; therefore it continues to occur.
Zara begins to take mental pictures of each object surrounding the frames. The mini stuffed PINK dog from Victoria’s Secret was something she and Sloane each had to have. Convincing both mothers of the need for the PINK dogs was no easy task and the effort alone required the prominent display of their victory. This neither pleases nor displeases her father; therefore it continues to occur.
Next she notices a pink and green polka dotted hair tie. There is nothing special about it, but it was the first of many she and Sloane made over the summer. Their mothers had been looking through craft idea cards in a store when they found one for making easy hair ties. They had spent the longest time picking out fabric for their new project. Zara picks up the hair tie and slips it around her wrist like a rubber band.
Funny… the things I’ll miss.
On the back of Zara’s nightstand is a bottle of cucumber melon lotion that she won in a drawing at the mall. Never believing for a second that she would win, Zara filled out the entry form. Sloane had cautioned, “The Community exists on the fringe of society, Zara. The less direct interaction that we have with outsiders, the better.”
Zara giggles recalling their mixed surprise when she won.
Of course I would win.
Picking up the lotion and popping the top open, Zara takes a big whiff. She quickly closes it and places it back in its home on the nightstand. A chill travels the length of her back as the details of the only night she wore the lotion comes into focus. Zara’s father promptly sent her back to shower off the odor he found offensive and she was forced to listen to a lecture on how it is up to her Dom to pick the scents that please him. Until the time comes for Zara to be handed over to her Dom, there would be no scents worn in this house that were disagreeable to her father. Vanilla… for her father, it is vanilla on her mother and because Zara’s father does not like the smell of cucumber melon, it is not used in his home.
Propping herself up against the headboard, two items stand out. A massive bouquet of daisies from Fredrik sits on her dresser and an equally massive wedding dress for the ceremony is hung on her closet door. She smiles at the flowers. He had given them to her a day early so she could enjoy them one last full day. Zara aches at the reality of not seeing Fredrik or getting her birthday daisies after today.
Concentrating on her breathing to keep the tears from falling, Zara looks up at the ceiling and takes a deep breath. When she regains control, she looks once more at her lovely flowers sitting on a dresser in a bedroom in a house with a family that she will say goodbye to forever, for she follows traditions that go back generation upon generation. Very soon Zara will walk out the door and that will be that.
While most brides pack suitcases of new clothes and take old belongings into their new life, there will be no packing for Zara. It is customary for the father to transfer his daughter into her new life with nothing from her old life. Once she is in the care of her Dom, her family steps away and the Dom is responsible for every aspect of his new submissive’s wellbeing. This includes ingratiating her into the Dom’s family at every level.
The wedding dress hanging in the corner demands Zara embrace the fact that today is her wedding day. Glancing back at the daisies, she wipes the single tear that escapes down her cheek. There will be no daisies for Zara at her wedding. The dress is not of her choosing. The ceremony will be the beginning of a life of no voice and no opinion. The dress is exquisite and the ceremony will be perfect. Zara’s father will be pleased.
Zara begins to move through her normal morning routine, knowing there is nothing normal about this particular morning. Her silky long chestnut hair looks healthy and full of body. Pausing to look at herself in the mirror after her shower, the first signs of cracks in her well-trained armor begin to appear. Her green eyes are a tad puffy and have a hint of red. Raising her hand to her bare neck, she realizes it is only a matter of hours before there is a collar. And a Dom attached to it.
Zara, no thinking about it yet. It is what it is!
Zara walks into her bedroom, sits on the corner of her bed and begins to focus. Using a technique her mother taught her to get through stressful moments like this one, she closes her eyes, inhales deeply… holds her breath… and slowly exhales. So as not to give any indication that the focus is on anything but the here and now, she concentrates straight ahead on a spot on the wall. As she has been trained, deep concentration shifts her away from the overwhelming feelings that are trying to take hold of her.
Zara chooses a memory of riding her horse, Gentlemen, crossing the field at a full gallop, with no one else around… just the two of them. She remembers the feeling of control as she sits deeper in the saddle, her legs wrapped tight around him, pushing him just a bit faster. The air whips through her hair as they cross the open field. The sun beats down making the colors of the sky and field more vivid. It is a feeling of complete, unadulterated freedom.
Three swift, hard knocks on the door jar Zara back to the present.
“Come on in, Fredrik.”
“Ready!” Fredrik throws the door open with a loud clap. “I am taking you to a few of your favorite places to say a final farewell. NOT THE MALL, so do not even ask. We have two hours on our own if we hurry. Mother and the other ladies are going to transport the dress and other wedding stuff for you. But, Zara… this is it.”
Standing slowly, Zara walks around the room that she has lived in for the last eighteen years. It is a room that is down the hallway from the brother that she adores. She touches her dresser and runs her hand over the footboard. It is a relatively simple room, but she loves it. Standing in front of her Monet print, she smiles and then glances at the Hepburn poster.
Stepping over to the chair by the window, she picks up her current read, Little Women, and removes the bookmark. Zara rests it on top of the book and puts the book on the chair. While Fredrik patiently waits, Zara moves the curtain and takes in what a lovely sunny day her last birthday in Chattanooga is turning out to be.
“I guess this is it,” Zara whispers as she walks towards the door. Fredrik steps out of the room to allow his sister one final moment alone with her thoughts. Reaching back in, Zara grabs the cucumber melon lotion and squirts one last pea-size amount into the palm of her hand and replaces the bottle. Then she closes the door of her bedroom and her childhood.
Zara walks quickly past Fredrik and out of the house she can no longer claim as “hers” to Fredrik’s car. Once inside, she rubs the lotion into her hands with a small kernel of satisfaction. Leaning back against the seat, all that is left for Zara to do in this moment is breathe, so she does. Deeply.
After a moment, the driver side door opens and Fredrik slides in. He hands her the travel mug she has used since she began drinking coffee.
“Where are we off to?” Fredrik asks in a surprisingly cheerful voice. Without direction from his sister, he starts the car and begins to drive.
Zara takes a sip of her mother’s blended coffee and stares silently out the window. The taste of home is all she can think of as she tries to stomach another sip. The coffee is perfect, but the vast memories of what she is leaving behind swirl around inside the mug. She pops the top closed and puts it in the drink holder between them.
After a short drive, Frederik pulls the car into a familiar wooded area and turns off the engine. They both open their doors at the same time and start walking in silence up a trail that is barely visible. Zara takes off at a slow jog with her brother following behind, yelling at her.
“ZARA FAITH, if you fall and hurt yourself, we will both be dead! You know that. Father will kill me first and make you watch.” His last statement stops Zara in her tracks.
Fredrik runs into the back of his sister. “Zara!”
They walk the last few yards slowly and cautiously in silence. At the clearing, Zara rushes to the creek’s edge to listen to the sounds of the water rushing by. Sitting upon a boulder, she stares into the churning bubbles. Fredrik sits on the ground next to her and offers her a handful of smooth stones to toss in.
With a light toss, the stones hit the water in a series of lyrical plops. Zara brushes her hand off on her jeans. Not accustomed to wearing anything but shorts or shirts in the southern summer heat, she wanted to wear her favorite jeans on her last day in her home and had dug them out days ago in preparation.
“Hello?” Zara hears Fredrik say as if repeating himself. “Did you hear anything I just said?”
Zara shakes her head and shrugs.
“I asked if you remember the stories Mother used to tell us about Aunt Laura. Do you ever think about that?”
Fredrik realizes Zara is not going to answer so he gets up to gather more stones. “I wonder why she stopped telling us about Aunt Laura. Those were great stories.”
Zara pulls her knees up to her chest and wraps her arms around them, making herself as small as possible. She lays her cheek on her knee. Taking a deep breath and speaking very slowly to control her words, Zara explains to her younger brother, “After one of your doctor visits, I made a comment that I wanted to be a doctor.”
Zara turns and looks at Fredrik. “Mother stopped telling us stories about Aunt Laura because she broke from the Community. She left because she wanted a different life. She secretly took college entrance exams and scored high enough for scholarships. Then one night, she snuck out to start a new life for herself. She got her education and now she has a career doing who knows what or where.
“As soon as I was old enough to connect the dots, Mother sat me down to explain that my future was already decided for me. I was not going to become a doctor. I was not going to get an education. And I was definitely not going to sneak out in the middle of the night.”
Zara turns her head back toward the creek when she finishes speaking.
Fredrik is quiet for a moment. He walks closer and kneels next to her. “Zara, do you wish it was different?”
“It is not different, Fredrik. Not for me. I have known for years that this day was coming. It does not make it any easier. Thank you for bringing me here. This was the perfect place to bring me, my temporary escape. The one place on earth where I can forget who I have to be and can just be. Would you do something for me?”
“I will try. You know that.”
“Would you just talk… about anything? I will miss the sound of your voice and I want to lock it in my memory before we have to go.” Zara forces the words out around the large lump in her throat.
“WOW! Am I on the spot or what? Okay! This is my last opportunity to tell you how much I am in awe of you. You are the strongest person I know. The training that you have had to endure to get you ready for today… learning different positions, serving lessons, mental lessons to deal with whatever situation you have to deal with. I know that I only know portions of what your training entailed because Father did his best to see that I stayed as far away from that as possible.
“But mostly I am sorry that you had to grow up thinking that your opinions and thoughts were not valid or even considered,” Fredrik exclaims firmly as he kicks at something on the ground in front of him.
Zara jumps off the rock and throws her arms around her brother. He wraps his arms around her waist and takes two steps back to prevent them from toppling over into the creek together.
“You have always listened to me, Fredrik. You made me feel heard. All the time we spent talking in my room will be memories that I will keep with me forever.”
Releasing her brother, Zara is surprised to see his eyes are filled with tears.
“Sorry, I know we are not the most affectionate family, but…” Fredrik pulls Zara into another bear hug. He whispers into her hair, “I think you would make a great doctor.”
“That was just a child’s comment. I wanted to be a policeman, banker and jockey that same year. Dreaming is dangerous for the daughters of King Council members. I stopped a while ago.”
After a moment, he releases her and the siblings stand at the edge of the creek in silence. It is Fredrik who bends down and picks up a stone to throw in the creek with a loud plop.
“I remember when we were younger, you would take care of me for hours. You are only two years older… just a kid yourself. You never seemed to mind that I followed you everywhere. You have been the best sister. I am going to miss you like crazy.”
Fredrik turns and walks down the path toward the car. Slowly Zara scans the area creating more mental pictures of a place she will never visit again. She notices the shade of the green leaves on the tall skinny tree growing in from the hills, the clarity and level of the water. Closing her eyes, Zara listens to the sounds the water makes, and the sound of each step on the gravel underfoot as she begins to back away from her favorite spot for the last time.
As they walk back to the car, Zara tells Frederik, “Thank you for today… I will never forget it. Promise.”
Fredrik nods somberly and starts the car.
The drive to the Center is short and silent. As they arrive at the front door, Zara’s mother darts out of the building and up to the car. “You are ten minutes late! We have a schedule to keep. Fredrik, please take care of what I have asked you to. Zara, move… move!”
“Yes, Mother,” Fredrik responds respectfully.
Zara follows one step behind her mother into the Center. The pair walks up the steps and head directly to the Peach Suite. The mothers traditionally use this suite to prepare their daughters for the Circle Ceremony. Front and center, the wedding dress, with its huge princess skirt and layers upon layers of tulle, is the first thing Zara sees as she enters the suite.
The top layer, covered in carefully spaced crystals, adds an extra element to capture the light with every step. The corset bodice is made to fit so tightly that Zara takes a deep breath just looking at it. Once the dress is on, deep breaths will be out of the question.
Zara notices a shoebox on the chair next to the dress and slowly walks over. She reaches to pick it up.
“ZARA FAITH!” Zara’s mother shrieks.
Startled, she places the shoebox back on the chair and rushes to her mother’s side.
“We are in a hurry. Please sit!”
Zara sits immediately and several women descend on her in a flurry to make her Circle Ceremony ready.
Zara holds perfectly still in every position she is placed in as she is processed for her pending walk down the aisle. As the last button is secured on her dress, her mother circles around her to get a full visual. Instructed to get into her presentation position, Zara lowers to her knees, careful to not catch any portion of her dress. Sitting back on her heels, she rests her hands in her lap, one crossed over the other. The ladies apply the final layer of hairspray and insert the last of the hairpins before leaving Zara and her mother alone in the suite.
Back on her feet, Zara struggles to regulate her breathing within the confines of the dress. She gazes into a full-length mirror, alone with her thoughts. A few hours ago, she woke up in her own bed and now she has been prepared for a short walk that will change her life forever.
Her mother steps into the reflection behind her. “You look lovely, Zara Faith. I am very proud of you today. You have taken everything I have taught you and made it your own. You are ready for whatever is placed in front of you.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Zara replies in a hushed whisper.
There is a knock at the door as mother and daughter look at each other one last time. Zara’s gaze returns to her own eyes in the mirror. She squares her shoulders and takes as deep a shallow breath as she can. Her mother turns and takes a couple of steps toward the door leading out of the suite.
“Zara Faith, there is one thing I want you to know before your ceremony. You may not understand, but I love and cherish your father with all of my heart. It will be difficult today. The traditions work. Trust in them.”
Harder knocks at the door end the mother-daughter moment. Zara reaches the door first, but knows not to open it. Stepping aside, she waits as her mother opens it and lowers her gaze. Zara’s father stands on the other side waiting to gather his daughter for the ceremony.
“It is time!”

Keep It Secret Book Tour

Keep It Secret
by Olivia Snow

**Mature Content Warning** Recommended for ages 17+ due to language and sexual content
After the unexpected death of her father, and her mother’s emotional abandonment, Ava Veneziano’s life is turned upside down…
She turns to drugs, sex, and alcohol as a way to cope with all the destruction in her life, inconsequence, she flunks a grade and loses touch with her favorite cousin Vanessa.
Five years later, Ava and her mother are reunited with the family they’d lost touch with and they end up moving into their home.
Enter Vanessa Saint John…
Vanessa is unawarely beautiful, with an overbearing and controlling mother. She’s never been given the opportunity to have a boyfriend or experience life like a normal seventeen year old girl.
However, all of that changes when her cousin Ava moves in, and she finally gets the attention of Gabriel Mason.
The same boy who’s also caught the attention of her beloved cousin.
Get Your Copy Now!

Olivia Snow lives in a lovely town in Colorado, with her wonderful husband and three beautiful but highly energetic children that she can barely keep up with. Her day is devoted to chasing after her three monsters, cleaning, cooking and often times tearing out her hair. 
She loves drinking coffee eating chocolate and c
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Whitney, Gina: Beautiful Lies

Beautiful Lies Banner

Title: Beautiful Lies

Author: Gina Whitney

Genre: Erotic Romance

Reveal Host: Lady Amber’s Tours

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Beautiful LiesEnigmatic Cameron Sterling is quickly rising through the ranks at New York’s most prestigious and corrupt law firm Wotherspoon and Associates. He has willfully avoided any meaningful personal relationships and is content to casually hook up with Becky, a young woman who fancies herself as his actual girlfriend. As a child, Cam witnessed his father murder his mother, and this was the genesis of his relationship-avoidance issue. The only thing he cares about now is becoming a partner at Wotherspoon and Associates. Cam is obsessed with the promotion and will not let anything—or anyone—stand in his way.

But when Cam crosses paths with Lilly Amsel, a fashion model, the edges of his well laid plans begin to fray. At first, Cam is unimpressed by Lilly’s exaggerated effervescence and entitled air. However, he is taken aback by her incredible beauty—legs as long as an Amazon’s, silky honeyed-hair, and blazing body. This undeniable physical attraction disturbs Cam on all levels, leaving him intrigued by Lilly and wanting to get away from her at the same time.

Lilly is strongly aroused by Cam’s moody presence. His dark, erotic looks and heady scent ignite long-dormant embers of wanton desire buried deep within her. Practically hypnotized, she finds her body reacting in the most surprising and carnal of ways. However, the two separate and never expect to see each other again, but somehow they manage to still linger on each other. Lilly’s larger-than-life persona that Cam initially encountered is a sham, though. It is a well-crafted costume that masks deeply rooted insecurity and an unfortunate dependence on prescription drugs. This stems from a horrifically abusive childhood that she is trying desperately, and unsuccessfully, to forget. Her mediocre modeling career was the perfect vehicle for her to escape that tumult and simultaneously receive acceptance and praise. It did not matter to Lilly that the kudos were based on superficial assumptions. She was still almost satisfied with the result and what modeling could not fix, the drugs could.

Enthrallment and lust have other plans, though. Despite their best efforts to stay apart, Cam and Lilly come back together and embark on a tempestuous affair. For both of them, a torrid weekend getaway in the mountains unleashes years of pent-up sexual frustration and destroys inhibitions. Cam has no problem taking charge as he relishes Lilly’s delicious inner nectar. Again and again, Cam delivers Lilly pleasure she has never known before, leaving her trembling as she reclaims the goddess within.


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BL Teaser 2

Chapter One

If I had known then that Lilly Amsel would set such a fierce blaze in my life, I would have taken the next elevator.

​All I wanted that morning was to get a hard run on the treadmill and go to my office to put in some weekend overtime. I arrived at The Equity, the most prestigious gym not only in New York City but in the country, and was checking my work-issued Blackberry as usual. I tended to avoid such pretentious settings, but membership was one of the many perks of my employment at Wotherspoon and Associates. As a law student at Aldensburg University, I had interned at the corporate law firm and had been offered a position after I’d passed the bar five years ago. Aldensburg was not as premier a college when compared to the Ivies; in fact most people have never heard of it. But, like me, it got the job done. And professionally the job I was trying to get done now was making partner. I know it was an ambitious goal, but I had nothing but faith in my skills to make it happen.

For the moment I was there at The Equity in my sagging basketball shorts and stretched-out T-shirt, standing amid chichi air kissers. I was not there to hobnob; I actually had a serious goal. I worked out not only to maintain my body but to keep my mind sharp, focused, and ready at all times. That was what separated me from those people. I was a shark among peacocks.

​The cheerless receptionist with the sucked-in cheeks eyed me as I stepped through the door. I could see her hostile nostrils widen like a bull’s as she feigned a barely polite smile. She knew who I was but played this ridiculous game with me every day. Always pretending not to know me.

“I’m sorry, sir. You must be looking for the gym down the street.”

​That was her way of telling me that my choice of clothing was not up to par, and I might consider some more appropriate attire. I had known plenty of people like her growing up and knew that the best way to handle her was to be in her face every chance I got, to be the proverbial pebble in her shoe. I swiped my security pass card and told her, “See you tomorrow.”

​The Equity was an “it” destination for celebrities and all manner of the rich and powerful. The entry level consisted of a wide, stark-white hallway with electric-blue tube lights lining the walls and ceiling, and filled with the ethereal melody of a string orchestra. This main hallway connected with several more, with the last one ending a spacious, low-lit lounge area. Scattered about were suede couches and glass tables; black-and-white photos of perfectly sculpted body parts hung on the walls. This was where those who came to be seen strategically posed themselves just in case an undercover paparazzo managed to sneak in. The lounge was usually empty in the morning because its denizens could not manage to roll out of bed until well into the afternoon.

I made my way across the rugs to yet another hall that led to a bank of elevators. I pushed the “up” button, eager to start my workout. Then I heard the quick click clack of feminine footsteps come up behind me. I sighed because I knew those shoes—probably high heels—were not made for running. This was just another pampered pest whose idea of working out was getting a massage. I did not even have to turn around to figure this chick out.

Her heavy perfume was layered with the fresh smell of soap and shampoo. Typical of someone who saw the gym as a social occasion rather than a place to exercise. I never had patience with lackadaisical people who were not willing to put in the effort to achieve anything. I wanted so badly to turn around and say, “Why are you even here? Shouldn’t you be having Sunday brunch over at Peacock Alley?”

However, I was not there to judge. I was there to work out. But I was curious as to who was standing behind me. I looked into the stainless-steel door of the elevator to see if I could make out the reflection. The dull surface only revealed that the grayish silhouette behind me was tall and lanky. Not as tall as me at six foot three, but tall nonetheless.

Then a hoard of more click-clacking footsteps arrived, accompanied by raucously shrill voices greeting the first woman. I thought, Oh god. Jersey girls.

“Lilly!” they all screamed in unison.

The first woman, Lilly, chirped back. “Sweetie pies, how are you?”

One nasally voice responded, “Fine if you like your nipples turning into Popsicles. It’s cold as hell out there. What’s on your agenda today? ”

“Pilates with Jean-Paul. Thirty minutes.”

“What is he? A slave driver?” another woman said seriously with a croaky smoker’s voice.

“I know, right?” Lilly agreed. All I could do was roll my eyes at that nonsense.

Lilly had an odd way of speaking that only a discerning ear could pick up. She was trying her best to affect a newscaster accent, that plain Midwestern way of speaking. However, she would occasionally slip into an upward inflection that made every sentence sound like a question. She was definitely a So-Cal transplant. It was beyond me why, in the midst of shudder-inducing Jersey accents, Lilly hid her natural one.

As the elevator numbers slowly ticked down, I noticed in my peripheral vision the number of men passing. They were all doing double takes at Lilly. Either she was gorgeous or hideous beyond measure. Either way, it did not matter to me. I had seen plenty of both and was not swayed by the slop or gloss of anything. An ethics professor a long way back even accused me of being jaded. What he could not understand was that when your life has been a trial by fire, you see things differently from most. The world and all the people in it are just opportunities for you to get what you need. You can’t depend on anyone but yourself. When you have lived in a cushioned bubble like the professor, you just don’t get that. Needless to say I barely passed that class.

The elevator finally arrived, and the herd of new-money cows stampeded past me to get in. I turned back, and Lilly was waiting for me to usher her out like I was the doorman. Sure enough she was decked out in black from head to toe—leggings, turtleneck, and those clacking ankle boots. She had a leather bag brimming with Voss water and vitamin blister packs. She appeared to be in her early twenties, so I was perplexed as to why she needed so many pills.

Still, I must admit that I was taken aback by how beautiful she was. Her hair, pushed back and glossed into a tight bun, reminded me of dark honey, and her graceful, lithe body looked like that of a ballet dancer. And those eyes—they were extraordinarily large orbs of malachite rimmed in chestnut. However, no matter how pouty her dewy lips were, Lilly still acted like an entitled elitist, so pampered that she probably considered Park Slope to be the ghetto.

I watched her standing there looking at me. This woman was used to people fawning all over her, and I was not one to do that. I did not grovel or bow down to anybody. But no matter what I felt about her at the moment, I decided to do the gentlemanly thing.

“Ladies first,” I said.

Lilly sashayed past me and joined her tacky and deeply moneyed crew. As she crossed the threshold of the elevator, she gave me a “thanks” that was nowhere near sincere. I spent the elevator ride to the third floor listening to her companions’ boisterous gossip about other women at the club. Yet I did not hear Lilly utter any comment. I just felt her eyes laser beaming my back. Apparently she was still shocked and pissed that I didn’t think she was the shit.

Teaser 3

“Lilly, you forgot your water,” Jean-Paul yelled out to me. He had been my Pilates instructor for the past six years—my entire time in New York. After I finished my thirty-minute workout with him, I got some fresh acrylics in the spa. I was preparing for an interview with Paramour Life, fashion’s most prominent magazine, later that afternoon. Though I was modeling, the interview was not about me. It was really about my boyfriend of two years, Sig Krok. Sig had come from Sweden twenty years ago and started his own fashion house, Klå. Klå. It quickly became one of the best-selling clothing lines in the world.

This article would be a tribute to Sig. The magazine just wanted my perspective of him and a little insider knowledge of our highly visible yet terribly private relationship.

With discreet sleight of hand, Jean-Paul handed me my property, and it was not really water. It was my bottle of Klonopin.

“I know how important water is,” he said then quickly dismissed himself to his next scheduled client. I watched him for a moment. I was in awe and bewilderment over how he mastered the art of prancing and swaying like a seasoned burlesque dancer. He really had to teach me that sometime.

Realizing I was running out of time before the interview and still had to get my makeup done, I abruptly turned around to leave. And I turned right into Mr. Scowl—the guy at the elevator this morning. Aw, just great, I thought.

“Excuse me,” I said as I started walking away. By then he had put on some more weather-appropriate clothing—jeans and a cable-knit sweater with a white T-shirt underneath. And the creep did not even respond to me, smirking his arrogant mouth instead. Even though he was pompous, he was kind of cute. Though it was the middle of winter, his skin looked sun kissed. He was a giant of a man, well over six feet tall. His luminous, copper eyes seemed like they were always narrowed, like he was annoyed with people because they were merely human and could not withstand his survey.

I headed toward the elevator, and he did the same. When we got there, I started pushing buttons in hopes it would make the elevator come faster. The bell dinged, and he let me on first. I could tell he didn’t want to but was trying to be The Man.

We stood in opposite corners. By then most men would have engaged me in conversation. He hadn’t. Was he gay? No, I had a fairly accurate gaydar. What was wrong with him then? I was becoming increasingly irritated by this man’s presence. I glanced over at him. He was wiping his sweaty brow, and his hand pushed up his cap a bit, exposing his inky hair cut with perfect precision around the edges. The cap was thready and had a large A on the front. He probably had gotten it from some college a while back. I also noticed that on the underside of the cap’s bill, he had written his name in permanent marker: Cam.

Even though he grated on me, I could not help but be distracted by his body. He had Adonis-like shoulders, broad and protective. His thick thighs were agape, his wide stance taking up a good deal of space. This square-jawed man was definitely broody, but even without a smile, I could make out the dimple in his cheek. And I did not even want to get started on the size of his hands and feet. They were enormous.

The air vent was blowing a light, steady stream of air across Cam. I inhaled the heady scent of his newly sweaty body intermingled with a woodsy deodorant. I leaned in his direction. One of my eyes went on autopilot and fluttered—that thing that happens when something is real good. I took another breath and leaned in some more.

Wait! What…the fuck…am I doing? I caught myself right before my nose landed on Cam’s arm. And there he was with the same “what the fuck?” look. He was staring at me going for his pit with my crazy eye. He obviously thought I was about to rape him.

Quick, deflect. I pointed at my ear. “I thought you said something.” I regained my composure and returned my gaze forward.

But he sure did smell good. And boy, was I horny.

WhateverI wasn’t going to say anything else to Cam. He was still nothing but an aloof, smug asshole to me. And I had to endure what seemed like a forever ride to the first floor with him. I turned my face back to the elevator doors with just the sound of the motors and cables to break the silence.

I was so relieved to get out of the elevator, I practically sprinted into the parking garage. I slung my faux fur over my shoulders as I rushed to Sig’s Infiniti QX80. Cam was trailing me, sliding into his leather jacket. And I just knew he was about to ask me for my number despite that fiasco in the elevator. Maybe I hadn’t lost my touch. I was prepared to shoot him down, of course. But he sure was taking his time. I was already at Sig’s SUV.

However, not only did Cam not ask me for my number, he was only walking behind me because he had parked his powerful, black Harley 1200 Custom next to me. He spread his thick legs and straddled it then put on his Aviator sunglasses and revved up his baby. I had to say, that motorcycle…the way it just hung between his legs…looked more like a big, hard dick than anything else.

Cam turned the twist grip like it was his cock and throttled up. The rumble from the motorcycle bounced off the concrete walls of the garage. It was almost deafening. He didn’t care. In fact, if I hadn’t known any better, I would have sworn he’d done it on purpose. I was totally conflicted. Never had I so detested a man and still wanted to fuck the skin off his dick at the same time.

Alas, Cam drove off without even looking in my direction. I let out an audible gasp. No straight male ever looked at me and just turned away.

Hmm…maybe my gaydar was in need of a tune-up. 11497598-vintage-elements-and-borders-set-for-ornate-and-decoration (1)Author Bio:

Gina WhitneyGina Whitney grew up reading Judy Blume, and Nancy Drew books. She was raised in the town of North Valley Stream, New York (Long Island) and attended community college for fashion design. At 19 she opened a boutique. She recently published her first paranormal romance novel Blood Ties. When she’s not writing, she’s hanging with family and friends. She shares a home with her wonderful son’s PJ and Drew, and their 200lb Mastiff Hercules. She currently lives in Massapequa, New York. Reading has always been a passion and obsession. You can usually find her typing furiously while shouting obscenities over her latest work. She also enjoys a good laugh, being snarky, espresso, and above all steamy swooning angst filled novels. She’s pathologically obsessed with True Blood(Eric ;), Games of Thrones, Borgias, Vampire Diaries and Originals. You can also find her chatting it up with readers on Facebook.

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Book Trailer:

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Motorcycle scene