Her Perfect 10 by Brianna Cash #ContemporaryRomance

Title: Her Perfect 10
Series: Stars in the Sand #1
Author: Brianna Cash
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: April 2, 2020
For the online writing course I’m enrolled in, I’m assigned a partner for the entire semester. The syllabus says we’re to remain anonymous. While I never learn her name, she breaks every other rule there is. She’s dragging my grade down with hers, even after I’ve repeatedly asked her not to.
 
As our conversations turn personal—another broken rule—she encourages me to push my boundaries, and I learn why she has none: she doesn’t believe in love. Instead of looking for a guy who’ll sweep her off her feet, she rates them in different categories in an equation she created to find someone that’s supposedly perfect for her.
 
I have no idea what she looks like, how old she is, or where she lives. But I know I can change her mind about love.
 
Too bad I’d never measure up.

According to her equation, there’s no way I’m her perfect ten.
 
I’ve never played these games before, but they’re kind of childish. I like to have a say in who I kiss. Not that the two girls I kissed during that first game were bad kissers, but I don’t even know their names. Maybe Rob and Alena should’ve had everyone go around and introduce themselves first. That would’ve made me a little more comfortable.

This whole thing was probably Rob’s idea. He’s always making fun of me, talking about how inexperienced I am. Just because I don’t sleep with anyone who gives me a second glance doesn’t mean I have no idea what I’m doing.

Alena locks us in some kind of housekeeping closet, yelling through the door. “Seven minutes, starting now!”

The girl I followed in spins around to find me watching her. She steps closer, swallowing the distance between us in two quick strides. She’s almost pressed against me, she’s so close. I step back, creating some space, reaching for her hand, ready to introduce myself. But she grabs my waist instead, tipping her head back and pushing up on her toes to press her lips to mine.

Her lips are soft and sure, melting instantly beneath mine as I kiss her back, and I quickly forget that she was making out with two other guys before me, a short time ago.

She pulls away, her eyes wide as she stares at me. There’s something familiar about them, the color, or the shape, or the incredibly long eyelashes that are framing a shade of green that matches not only her mask, but also her dress. There’s something about those eyes I can’t quite put my finger on.

I reach for her again. My hands slide around her hips and pull her closer, right up against me. She’s short, but with her heels, she’s just tall enough. Her eyes flutter closed as her head leans back, her lips parted in a silent invitation that my body is very intent on accepting, with or without my brain’s permission.

I’ve never been this close to anyone without knowing their name.

The thin silk of her dress caresses my fingers as I lower my face to hers. The warm cavern of her mouth teases me as her lips move under mine. Her body leans on me more fully—a silent protest as I pull away. I’m only changing the angle, though. I don’t hesitate to come back in for more.

And more.

And more…

Her lips part farther, wordlessly asking me to deepen the kiss. But I’m content to keep kissing her like this, with open mouths and soft lips merging together repeatedly. Her hands, which are still around my waist, pull my shirt out of the way, and then her fingertips are on my skin, trailing confidently over my back, right along the edge of my pants.

She smells like honeysuckle, like early summer nights spent catching fireflies in the backyard. There’s something else mixed in with that sweet memory. Something that’s probably all hers, whoever she is. Her eyes fly open when I take a second to breathe her in. I want to keep the memory of her scent forever, so I can relive this moment later, when I’m lying in my bed remembering how good she feels. When I need some fascinating moment to focus on. Something good. Something happy. Something…perfect.

“Kiss me,” she whispers, her breath warm on my cheek.

“Pretty sure we were kissing,” I whisper right back. No one can hear us. We’re totally alone, but it feels like we’re under some kind of spell, and we’ll break it if we’re too loud.

“No, really kiss me. Like you mean it.”

“I did mean it.” My voice rumbles in my chest as I try to keep quiet. I don’t know anything about this girl except she’s good friends with my future sister-in-law. But I also don’t know if I could stop myself from kissing her again if my life depended on it.

“That’s not what I meant.”

There’s a frown on those delicious lips, and all I want to do is change it into a smile. I clear my throat and keep whispering. “Kiss you like I know you?”

She gives a quick nod. “Kiss me like I’m the person you’ve been waiting for your entire life.”

Her eyes move back and forth between mine, her hands still on my skin under my shirt, making me want her in ways I never would’ve imagined possible at this point. She flexes her fingers on my sides before pushing both my shirt and her hands up, up, up.

It gets caught on my damn mask, but I reach up and untangle it. She then drapes my shirt over a shelf beside us. The mask stays on my face.

Her eyes are on mine as her fingers trail down my chest and stomach, lightly brushing over the dusting of hair that will lead her directly to something she has no right to discover. Not like this. Not in a closet. Not when I know so little about her. Not when she knows nothing about me.

When I inhale, the pressure of her touch lingering on the button of my slacks has my heartbeat pounding in my ears. She tilts her head to the side.

She’s daring me.

Kiss her the way she wants, or she’s going to do her best to get me out of the rest of my clothes.

I want to kiss her again. The simple kiss we shared was by far the best I’ve ever had.

But I also want to see how far she’s willing to take this.

Her gaze dips down, to where her hand is about to undo my pants, and then back at my face.

Which direction am I going to take us?

Cupping her cheek with one hand, I raise her face. With my other hand on her hip, I make sure she stays as close to me as is physically possible. And then I kiss her like she’s the person I’ve been waiting my entire life for.
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Torque (Wicked Mayhem MC) by Harley Wylde #preorder #ContemporaryRomance @HarleyW_Writer

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About the Book:

BRISTOL – When I met Torque, I didn’t expect more than a steamy one-night stand from the sexy-as-hell biker. His bedroom eyes. His wicked smile. His sinful body. I couldn’t resist him. It was only supposed to be one time. He didn’t do repeats, and I wasn’t looking for more. Until our night together had consequences – the kind that lasts eighteen years. Torque might be phenomenal between the sheets, but I wasn’t too sure the bad boy biker was daddy material.

TORQUE – The hot blonde with the lush curves and naughty mouth had given me a wild, wicked ride. A man could drown in her seductive eyes, but I never go back for seconds, no matter how tempting Bristol might be. Then she storms back into my life with news that sends me off-kilter. I hadn’t planned to keep her, but now that she’s having my kid, there’s no way I’m letting her go. She’ll be mine whether she likes it or not.

*WARNING: This book is recommended for ages 18+ due to sexual content, strong language, and darker undertones.

 

Preorder at online retailers for April 28th:

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About the Author

Harley Wylde is the International Bestselling Author of the Dixie Reapers MC, Devil’s Boneyard MC, and Hades Abyss MC series.
When Harleys writing, her motto is the hotter the better — off the charts sex, commanding men, and the women who can’t deny them. If you want men who talk dirty, are sexy as hell, and take what they want, then you’ve come to the right place. She doesn’t shy away from the dangers and nastiness in the world, bringing those realities to the pages of her books, but always gives her characters a happily-ever-after and makes sure the bad guys get what they deserve.
The times Harley isn’t writing, she’s thinking up naughty things to do to her husband, drinking copious amounts of Starbucks, and reading. She loves to read and devours a book a day, sometimes more. She’s also fond of TV shows and movies from the 1980’s, as well as paranormal shows from the 1990’s to today, even though she’d much rather be reading or writing.
Follow Harley at: Website | Amazon | BookBub | Twitter | Facebook

Release Blitz: Callous Criminal by Lynn Burke #contemporaryromance #MCromance

Title: Callous Criminal
Series: Vicious Vipers #3
Author: Lynn Burke
Genre: MC Romance
Release Date: March 26, 2020
Cover Design: Designs by L~
I’m a cold hearted criminal, and I’ve lived a callous life as the Sergeant at Arms of the Vicious Vipers MC. I spent most of my childhood as a victim, and because of the junkie who raised me, I hate to be touched.

 

But her…
The social worker my fingers itch to reach for—she’s wholesome. Kind. Too good for a man like me, and yet, I can’t curb my weakness to be near her.
When one of her teenage clients needs protection from the same type of man who hurt my sister, I know I’ll be revealing my true self, my darker side, to help the girl.
For her.
I’ll lose the only person I’ve found who values my feelings above her own—the woman whose sweet nature is a force to be reckoned with.
I know I should walk away, but how do I leave the heart I didn’t know I still had behind?
*This is the third book in the Vicious Vipers MC series and may be unsuitable for someone under 18 years of age. HEA guaranteed, however, secondary characters make appearances in other’s stories. Reading in order is recommended.

 

The sun hit my face along with hot, humid air stinking of exhaust, and I turned toward my bike.

Head down, focused on a cell, a woman hurried toward me, and I scuttled sideways to escape her fast clip.

Not fucking fast enough.

She slammed into my side and grasped hold of my bare forearm, a squeak of surprise ripping from her mouth as her cell clattered to the sidewalk.

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” She lessened her grip on my arm, and I clenched my teeth as my stomach knotted fast as fuck.

I hated to be touched.

Not wanting to be a complete asshole, I didn’t shake off her hold but waited for her to steady herself in her sandals. Her soft touch burned my skin. Sent a shot of need to lash out with my fists along with an energetic zap to my dick I hadn’t felt in years.

I pulled away the second I could and bent to retrieve her cell while she righted her purse and the sweater she had draped over one arm.

Standing, I handed her the phone she’d dropped.

Straight blonde hair brushed her shoulders, her blue-green eyes and pale lashes unframed or painted by makeup. Pink flushed her cheeks, and she pressed her lips together, drawing my focus to the sparkling gloss coating them while reaching for her cell.

I made sure to keep our fingers from touching. “Not a problem,” I stated with a gruffness I hadn’t meant to do while noting the flush across her chest and the hint of cleavage peeking at the top of her plain, buttoned up blouse.

She smiled up at me, a plain-Jane yet classically beautiful woman who smelled like fresh, juicy watermelon.

My mouth watered, and I stepped back out of her way. With a dip of my head, I moved around her, intent on my bike—and escaping the weird vibe breaking me out into a sweat atop the bright as fuck sun.

It is the heat, I told myself while fighting the need to look over my shoulder. See if her back was as pretty as her front, even if she hadn’t dressed to showcase the curves I’d caught a glimpse of.

The bike roared to life between my thighs, and I glanced toward Dunks while pulling on my helmet. She’d gone inside, escaping the heat, but I couldn’t see her past the glare of the sun on the shop’s windows.

Lips set in a line, I put on my shades and pulled out, already sweating through my t-shirt. 

© Lynn Burke 2020

Lynn Burke is a full time mother, voracious gardener, and scribbler of spicy romance stories. A country bumpkin turned Bay Stater, she enjoys her chowdah and Dunkin Donuts when not trying to escape the reality of city life.
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Making Believe by Staci Stallings #KindleUnlimited #contemporaryromance

Reeling from barely surviving her last relationship, Taylor Grayson is trying to put her life back together. However, every step forward means facing her past—decisions, mistakes, and relationships, and the perfect life she thought she was building suddenly doesn’t seem so perfect anymore. Can Taylor rebuild and maybe even find a new path in life with the help of her very best friend, Greg Everett, or are past mistakes simply too much to ever really overcome?

Greg Everett only wants what’s best for those he loves including Taylor Grayson. Although he’s always secretly hoped that she would see him as more than a friend, he’s known Taylor too long to believe she might ever see him the way he sees her. Besides, what Taylor needs most right now is a friend, and Greg knows better than anybody that hoping for anything else with Taylor is just Making Believe…

Come along with these friends on this crazy ride called life.

Be inspired. Laugh a few laughs. Cry a few tears.

One thing’s for sure, you will never forget this emotionally-charged roller coaster ride filled with life, hopes, dreams, imagination, and most especially love.

MAKING BELIEVE, Book 8 in The Imagination Series by USAToday Best-Selling Christian author, Staci Stallings, is fraught with the trials and turmoil of young love. The Imagination Series will give Christian romance readers the emotional ride of a lifetime. These young adults trying to figure out life and love, friendship and romance, will have you cheering, laughing, and crying as they traverse the challenges of being friends and maybe becoming even more.

 

About the Book

Making Believe
by Staci Stallings

Series
Imagination

Genre
New Adult
Christian Romance
Contemporary Romance

Publisher
Independent

Publication Date
March 24, 2020

Purchase Your Copy Today!
Amazon

Add It To Your Bookshelf!
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Tour Wide Giveaway

To celebrate the release of MAKING BELIEVE by Staci Stallings, we’re giving away a paperback copy of To Protect & Serve by Staci Stallings to one lucky winner!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of To Protect & Serve by Staci Stallings. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Staci Stallings.  Giveaway ends 4/30/2020 @ 11:59pm EST.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

 

 

About the Author

USA Today Best Selling Author, STACI STALLINGS is a stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side. She has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. So, sit back, grab your Kindle & something to drink, and settle in for some of the BEST stories in all of Christian Romance…

Website  |  Inspyromance Blog  |  Ebook Romance Stories Blog  |  Facebook  |  Facebook Reader Group  |  Twitter  |  Pinterest

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This promotion is brought to you by Pure Textuality PR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Blitz: Girl Meets Billionaire #contemporaryromance

Girl Meets Billionaire
Publication date: March 23rd 2020
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Girl Meets Billionaire… and then what happens?

The road to happily-ever-after has many twists and turns, especially when an arrogant, sexy alpha billionaire is involved.

Read 8 FREE billionaire romances that will make you laugh, cry, and swoon in this special edition box set available for a LIMITED TIME only.

Night After Night by Lauren Blakely

Julia thought she could spend one passionate week in the arms of gorgeous Clay and then leave him behind — but she was wrong.

Mr. Perfect by J.A. Huss

Seduced by her billionaire boss, Ellie discovers forbidden desires she didn’t know she had. But what if the perfect man turns out to have hidden secrets?

Shopping for a Billionaire’s Fiancée by Julia Kent

Well-heeled Declan is getting ready to propose to Shannon, but first he’s got to get through his pesky future mother-in-law — and his fiancée-to-be just swallowed the ring!

Dirty Sexy Player by Laurelin Paige

In order to get her inheritance, Elizabeth agrees to a fake marriage with playboy businessman Weston. It’s supposed to be a temporary professional agreement — until they can’t deny their chemistry any longer…

At Any Price by Brenna Aubrey

Blogger Mia Strong cashes in on her online popularity by selling her virginity to the highest bidder — with no strings attached. But when sexy CEO Adam Drake wins the prize, all bets are off…

Anything For You by Layla Hagen

Devoting his life to his younger siblings means CEO Landon Connor has no time for romance. But one look at landscape designer Maddie Jennings leaves Landon hot and bothered… Will he finally consider making room in his life for love?

Most Eligible Billionaire by Annika Martin

Henry’s mother left the family business to her dog — and left the dog to Vicky, their beautiful next-door neighbor. A “highly entertaining” (USA Today) romantic comedy!

Tempting Levi by Jules Barnard

Resort owner Levi thinks he’s found the perfect assistant in gorgeous Emily. There’s just one complication: She’s his cheating ex’s little sister…

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iBooks / Kobo / Google Play

SNEAK PEEKS:

Lauren Blakely, Night After Night

“You know I like the sex. I think the part that’s not getting through to you is how very much I like all the other parts. I like what’s in here,” he said, stretching across her to tap her forehead with his index finger, “And I like doing the things here,” he said, sweeping his thumb across her lips, “that involve talking.” He traveled down her chest, tracing a line between her breasts, and landing on her heart. “I also like the things I’m seeing in here.”

Laurelin Paige, Dirty Sexy Player

“I looked at the windows past him, trying to distract myself. Lights flashed and swirled around the dance floor in time to the beat, the only part of the music which made it into the sanctuary of the bubble room. I could tell it was crowded, but I couldn’t make out faces the way they could probably make out ours. “I don’t know if anyone’s looking,” I said.

“Don’t worry about them. Just focus on what you’re doing.”

Easy for him to say. He wasn’t facing them. He was only looking at me.

Nope. I couldn’t think about that either. Just had to focus on the task at hand.

I closed my eyes. “So just pretend that I… That we are… That under my dress…” I couldn’t even say it.

Weston leaned forward and murmured near my ear. “Yes, pretend that under your dress you are not wearing any panties. I have my dick out. I’m working you, and you are showing me exactly how you like it. Now go.”

Just like that, my panties were damp.

 

 

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Book Tour: Fast & Hot by Kat Ransom #sportsromance

Title: Fast & Hot
Series: The Fast Series
Author: Kat Ransom
Genre: Sports Romance
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Cover Design: Mayhem Cover Creations
First rule? Don’t sleep with your best friend’s little sister.
Second? Don’t sleep with your teammate’s sister.
Danica
He’s my big brother’s teammate and everything I am not.
He’s a rich, arrogant, entitled snob.
He lives in an Italian villa, for God’s sake. I live in a hole in Prague.
People think he’s hilarious, charming–the smooth-talking, panty-dropping F1 race car driver. Always with a joke; a mischievous, sexy smirk. 
But nothing about my life is funny, and I’m not here for the reasons my brother thinks I am.
Dante
If one were paying attention—and I am—this girl screams trouble.
Forbidden, off-limits, a terrible idea. She’s all of it, and I don’t do complications.
My life was neat and tidy.
Until she stole my wallet.
Then the blue-eyed siren took everything else–my best friend, my career, things I didn’t know I could lose.
‘Just do me this favor,’ he said. ‘Help my sister out,’ he said. ‘You’re my best friend,’ he said.
I tried to stay away, but you know what they say about good intentions…


Kat Ransom writes steamy romances filled with strong, sassy men and women who bring them to their knees. She lives in Cowboy Country in the Southern US with her husband and two janky rescue cats. When she isn’t writing, she’s exploring isolated corners of the world or curled up with a wool blanket and a stiff whiskey trying to warm up her perpetually cold toes.
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And Call Me (Duet) by Willa Okati #gayromance

And Call Me (Duet)

Cover Art by Bryan Keller

 

Need a prescription for love? Take two, and call me in the morning.

And Call Me in the Morning: Eli and Zane. Yes, they spend a lot of time together. That doesn’t mean they’re a real couple. When teased about it one too many times by their colleagues, Zane challenges Eli to set the record straight with a kiss to prove there’s absolutely no chemistry between them. Neither expected a spark to ignite between them. More than a spark. Truth be told, Eli’s not so sure they can set the record straight after all.

And Call Me in the Evening: Eli’s still not great at wearing his heart on his sleeve and Zane’s still got trust issues, but they manage just fine. It’s all good. Right? Yes and no. Eli’s ex-wife Marybeth has come back to town, bringing a heaping helping of hassle with her. There’s something to be said for setting the story straight, it’s true. Eli knows he and Zane have a good thing going even if keeping it that way is the hardest — and best — part.

 

Get it at Changeling Press

 

EXCERPT

All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2020 Willa Okati

Falling in love with his closest friend had never been something Eli planned to do with his life. Wasn’t as if he could have stopped it, though.

Sometimes love just happened.

Even if it took him a while to figure that out.

* * *

“There you are.” Zane laid down the heavy, ivory-colored menu he’d been idly flipping through as Eli approached, making his way through the maze of tables at their regular bistro. “I almost thought you weren’t going to make it.”

Eli sat with a thump, running his hand through his dark brown hair, cut short but still quite capable of standing on end. He grimaced when he discovered he’d forgotten his stethoscope, still wound around his neck.

“Long night?” Zane asked, already waving their server over with the universal “coffee here” gesture.

Eli relaxed and let Zane take care of him. Some days, a man truly appreciated a friend who’d have his back when he needed a rock to shore up against. “Long, long night. Three-car pileup at an intersection. I didn’t want to leave before everyone was stable.”

“That’s my boy.” Zane shifted out of the way to let their server pour Eli’s cup. She was a pretty thing, well packed into her curves — curves that she offered not so subtly for display.

Zane ignored them. He’d taken Eli’s face in his hands and begun to assess him for signs of exhaustion. The guy had good hands, firm and dry and dexterous. They felt nice and cool against Eli’s skin. He let Eli go with a light slap to the cheek. “Your eyes look like burned holes in a blanket. You should go home and get some rest.”

“Like I’d miss a chance at a fine, elegant brunch?” Eli rolled his eyes.

“Heaven forbid.” Zane gave good deadpan. “Jeez. This is the kind of place I fear running into my family.” How moneyed Zane’s family was, Eli didn’t know. Coming from an ivory tower was a sore spot for Zane, who much preferred the life he’d chosen in a grittier world.

Eli segued to spare Zane any discomfort. What were friends for, right? “You were on last night too. How’d you manage to get away in time for a shower and a sharp morning suit?”

“Questions, questions.” The corners of Zane’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. “Unlike some of us, I leave when my shift’s done.”

“Since when? You’re as much of a workaholic as I am, if not more. A hospitalist’s work is never done, especially at Immaculate Grace. What was I thinking when I chose that as a career, anyway?”

“That you’re a glutton for punishment?”

“True enough.” Eli drank deeply of his coffee, almost moaning in appreciation. The influx of better-than-decent caffeine stimulated his brain. “Before I forget, I got those concert tickets you begged me for. Two, even.” He patted his dark brown shirt pocket. Plain clothes for a plain man, built tough to last, Chicago born and bred for forty-three years.

Unlike Zane, who looked as fresh as a daisy in a casual white linen jacket, pale violet button-down, and pressed slacks. Pretty as a picture, coming across as maybe five years younger than his forty-one. Zane brightened and made a grab. “Good seats?”

“I’m told they’re the best. Ah-ah-ah.” Eli tapped his pocket again. “I also got advance tickets for a Cubs game when the season starts. Fair is fair. I try not to fall asleep during the chorale or chamber music or whatever you want to call it, and you endure beer, umpire heckling, and giant foam fingers.”

“Done and done. You drive a hard bargain.” Zane clinked coffee cups with Eli. He hadn’t looked away once, but Eli liked that about Zane. When he gave you his full attention, nothing else seemed to matter to him. All part of the Zane package, and it made him the best doctor Eli had known. “I –” He stopped, interrupted by the chiming of his pager. When he checked the number, he grimaced. “Damn. Sorry, I’ve got to take this. Keep that warm for me.”

“What did I tell you? Workaholic. Hey! Do not let them talk you into coming back to the hospital today.”

Zane waved backward at Eli as he walked off. Eli watched him go, amused.

A different server, young and male, approached with the coffeepot. Eli suspected the waitress had gotten fed up with flirting and traded off. Fine by him. This kid had a good eye for refills. He held his cup up. “Keep it coming, but we’re not ordering yet. Still waiting for two.”

And they’d better hurry, if they know what’s good for them.

Eli wasn’t a huge fan of this bistro. Without Zane there to provide a buffer, the place was too rich for his blood. Made him feel like any second someone with a pedigree was going to jump out from behind a column and ask him what a working-class stiff like him thought he was doing here.

“Of course, sir. I’m sorry if I’m being rude,” the waiter said, deftly pouring. “If I could ask — you two make such a handsome couple. How long have you been together?”

Not this again. Eli didn’t even have to ask what the kid meant. Wasn’t the first time he and Zane had been mistaken for a couple, and he’d bet his hard-earned MD it wouldn’t be the last. “Sorry to burst your bubble, but we’re not.”

The waiter’s coffeepot slipped. “You’re not — oh. Oh my God, I’m so sorry.”

“No problem.” Eli waved him off before the kid could apologize again. He’d almost gotten used to the assumption. Whatever people saw in Zane and him, he had no idea. Felt like being on the shooting range sometimes, as many assumptions made about them as they had to dodge. Once corrected, strangers were mostly good about apologizing and moving on.

Friends of theirs, on the other hand, were not so accommodating.

“We made it!” Diana and Holly — also doctors, both familiar faces at Immaculate Heart — swarmed the table in a cloud of perfume and joie de vivre. With them, more hesitantly, came a fresh-faced kid Eli vaguely recognized as an intern. The ladies dove into the fresh baguettes and cherry jam their new waiter discreetly slid onto the table before exiting at speed, stage left.

Eli stayed well back from the carnage. Friends they might be, but Holly and Diana — well, it was best to stay on your toes around them. “Who’s the boy toy?”

Holly, a pale, Nordic-type blonde, swatted Eli’s arm. “Be nice. Taye’s been at work for almost twenty-four hours. He deserved a break, so we brought him along to give him a treat.”

Eli didn’t doubt she spoke the truth. The intern was gray with exhaustion and had bags under his eyes big enough to carry the US mail. For all that, he wasn’t bad-looking. If you noticed male attributes, that was. A well-shaped face and a kind mouth, reddish gold hair cut short and sleek. Eli could tell he was probably handsome given the way Diana eyed him with impressively dirty intent.

“Really?” Eli nudged Diana under the table.

Diana, forty-two and unashamed, attractive in a gamine sort of way, wrinkled her nose at Eli. A damned fine cardiologist and an innovator in her field, she had the sense of humor of a collegiate and saw no point in growing old gracefully. She nudged back, and ouch, she was wearing pointy-toed shoes. “Bah humbug.”

Taye watched them with big eyes. “Is there something going on here that I should know about?”

“Not a thing,” Diana said. Butter wouldn’t have melted between her cherry red lips. She stole Eli’s coffee and sipped demurely.

Holly petted Taye’s hair. “It’s all right, Taye. No one here’s going to bite.”

Taye cracked a grin. “Right. It’s just — three doctors and me. All of you have been in medicine since I was in grade school. I’m a little nervous.”

“Shows what you know,” Eli said, jumping back into the conversation. “I just finished my residency last year.” He shrugged. “My midlife crisis came early. What can I say?”

“Seriously? But you seem so… I mean, you’re… The way you take charge, I’d thought you were an old pro.”

“Thank you. It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. And before you ask, I’m forty-three.” Eli took his cup back from Diana, only to find it empty. “Wench.”

She smirked at Eli. “And don’t you forget it. So where’s your wife?”

“Right now, specifically?” Eli checked his watch, a gift from Zane when he’d been hired on as an attending. “Hell if I know. Either in Nepal with Paolo or in Paris with Neo. I lost track.” Either way, she was doing adventurous things with a man who isn’t married to his job. He couldn’t blame Marybeth. Cops made terrible husbands. When he’d decided to switch to medicine, that’d been the last straw, and he wished her well with… whoever was on the menu this week. “Enough about me.” They knew damn well he didn’t like to talk about personal business in public.

Holly and Diana exchanged glances, the secretly amused and utterly female method of communication Eli had never learned to interpret, God help him.

“Good for her. I was talking about your other wife,” Diana said around a bite of ruby jam and baguette.

“Beg pardon?”

“She means Zane,” Holly said.

That, in Eli’s opinion, was taking it too far, especially in front of a colleague Eli didn’t know. “Enough, the both of you.”

Holly ignored him serenely and put her chin in her hands. “Come to think of it, this might be the first time I’ve seen you without him in weeks.”

Eli could feel Taye watching them, fascinated. “My private life is not up for scrutiny, but for the last time, Zane and I are not together. How many times do I have to say this, and to how many people?”

“Wait, what?” Looked like Taye had forgotten his nerves. He turned to Diana instead of Eli. “Zane is Dr. Novia, right? They’re not…”

No,” Eli said, annoyed. A flicker of motion in his peripheral vision filled him with relief. “Zane, for the love of God, would you get behind me on this?”

Diana and Holly dissolved into giggles. Zane shrugged, untroubled as ever, and took his seat. He tucked his pager away. “What are we being ridiculed for today?”

“Same old, same old,” Eli said. He passed Zane the bread and jam. “Apparently we want to jump each other’s bones.”

“An oldie, but a goodie.” Zane lifted his chin at Taye. “What are you looking at, junior?”

Taye coughed. “Nothing. Sorry.” He retreated behind a mouthful of fresh-from-the-oven baguette.

Eli had to admire Zane at work. They could have used a laser stare like Zane’s on the force back in the day. He’d have had perps pissing their pants with nothing more than a look.

Zane turned it on Diana. “Look at you, Mrs. Robinson.”

Diana possessed not the smallest trace of shame. “You wish you had my cojones.”

“True.”

Their byplay didn’t stop Holly. Nothing did, as far as Eli could tell. Hell, her husband egged her on; Eli held it in private opinion that the pair of them enjoyed more kink than a Slinky. She folded her hands beneath her chin and gave Zane her best you-can-trust-me psychotherapist face. “It just seems obvious to everyone but the pair of you.”

“It’s true,” Diana said. She started to pick through the packages of fake and real sugar, searching for Splenda. “You go to the symphony together. Ball games. Brunch, for God’s sake. And when was the last time you went out with a woman, the pair of us aside?”

Eli opened his mouth, closed it, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “So it’s been a while. I don’t have time for playing the field when I’m trying to get ahead with my career.”

“But you have time to spend with Zane,” Holly said sweetly.

Eli gave up. For the moment.

Diana didn’t. “Take, for example, the way you two are sitting. Shoulder to shoulder.”

“The table is crowded,” Eli protested. “Four-person table, five people jammed in. You’re plastered against Taye.”

Diana smiled like a cat who’d just gotten her first taste of the cream and said nothing.

Fine, that hadn’t helped. Frustrated, Eli looked to Zane for support. No luck; Zane was busy waving for more coffee all around.

Eli wasn’t an idiot. When he examined Zane through objective eyes, he could see the appeal. Zane looked closer to thirty than forty, excepting the smile lines and small sprinkling of silver in his hair, and it was a trim, fit thirty with a body he kept in tip-top shape with rigorous exercise.

Not that Eli had anything to be ashamed of on that count, either. Zane’s enthusiasm for biking and boxing had chivied Eli out of the threat of middle-aged spread and back into better shape than he’d been on the force. Handsome, fit, successful.

So yes, he noticed these things. Didn’t everybody? And so they spent most of their time together. Mankind wasn’t made to be alone. Big deal.

Zane’s beeper shrilled. He rolled his eyes to the heavens. “I’m going to take this in my car. If the waiter comes around, order for me, but no meat. As soon as we’re done here I’m going back to Immaculate Grace and carving myself a filet of intern. Not you,” he said as an aside to Taye. “You’re doing great. Keep up the good work. Eli, tell them I want the usual, okay?”

Eli didn’t let Diana or Holly ask. “Yes, I know his usual. Belgian waffle with cinnamon sugar and whipped cream, the real stuff, and a fruit salad. No strawberries.” He swatted Zane’s hip as Zane scooted behind him and away. “Don’t worry; I’ve got it covered.”

“No strawberries?” Taye asked.

“He’s allergic,” Eli said. Medicine fell outside the personal-business umbrella, and Zane considered nothing taboo anyway. Still grated Eli’s nerves a bit to answer. “I’ve never seen how allergic, but he carries an EpiPen. No sense taking chances.”

Hoping the subject would be dropped, knowing there was no way he’d get that lucky, Eli studied the menu until he could no longer ignore the women clicking their tongues at him. Approximately thirty seconds. “What?”

The women exchanged Highly Significant Looks. “Doth the gentleman protest too much?” Diana asked.

“He doth,” Holly agreed. “Let me ask you a question, Eli.”

“Since I’m well aware that I can’t stop you, please, proceed.” Eli crossed his arms and waited for it.

“How much time did you spend with your ex-wife before she took off for — where was it again?” She shushed him before he could answer. “It’s Austria with Pieter, by the way. I actually know this, and you don’t. Now tell me: how much time do you spend with Zane?”

Eli scowled and said nothing.

Holly pounced. “You see? I’ll bet you can even tell me where Zane was night before last.”

There was no way he would win here, was there? “My place,” Eli admitted. “Takeout and Die Hard. What’s your point?”

“I think their point is that you’re all but married,” Taye said. Apparently he’d chosen sides. Good to know. For that, he would pay. “Look, I know a few things about what it’s like to love your own gender. It’s strange as hell at first.”

Diana’s face fell in a way that would have been heartbreaking if it hadn’t been ever so satisfying instead. “You’re –”

Taye blushed but kept his chin up. “Yes.”

“No disrespect to you personally intended, Taye, but can I just say ha?” Eli pointed at Holly and Diana in turn. “Your gaydar needs a tune-up.”

Diana didn’t take defeat graciously. She narrowed her eyes at Taye. “Prove it.”

“Hey.” Eli straightened. “Nobody around here has to prove anything. Diana, leave him alone.”

Taye’s color heightened. “I can fight my own battles, thanks.”

Eli held up his hands in mock surrender. “Suit yourself, tough guy.”

 

About Willa Okati

Willa Okati is made of many things: imagination, coffee, stray cat hairs, daydreams, more coffee, kitchen experimentation, a passion for winter weather, a little more coffee, and a lifelong love of storytelling. She is definitely one of the quiet ones you have to watch out for.

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