Publisher: Changeling Press
Cover Artist: Bryan Keller
My marriage is a sham. I’ve already loved and lost my one and only. Making Carmella Juarez my wife was the only way to save my daughter, but I never intended to stay married. A decade has passed, ten years that I’ve kept my distance, but now it’s time to set things right and free both of us.
I never counted on her being sick and nearly dying. Didn’t count on falling for her as I nursed her back to health. But it’s the Christmas season and what better time for miracles? My heart isn’t as cold and dead as I’d once thought. Carmella has brought me back to life, and now that I’ve had a taste of the tempting woman who wears my ring, I know that I can’t ever let her go.
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Praise for Naughty or Nice (A Bad Boy Romance)
“Naughty and Nice is a great novella where we finally met the woman Casper married to save Isabella. I wanted to punch Casper in the face for breaking this beautiful woman’s heart. It takes a near tragedy to open his eyes and see his second chance. Casper has always been elusive and reclusive. One wonderful woman changes all of that. Watch out for the next generation of Dixie Reapers they might be scarier then their dads!”
— 5 Stars from Melissa Toner, Advance Reader Review
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2019 Harley Wylde
I stared at the enormous rock on my finger and rubbed the golden band with my thumb. I’d always dreamed of getting married, but not once had I ever considered my special day consisting of marrying a man I didn’t know, leaving the only home I’d ever had, and being utterly and completely alone. My husband was a powerful man, and feared by many. He was also extremely absent in my life. Casper VanHorne had married me, flown me out of Mexico, then dumped me in some mausoleum of a house only to vanish before I’d even unpacked. It wasn’t at all what I’d anticipated. Yes, he was older than me, but I’d looked forward to my marriage. When he’d said he would take care of me, even though love wasn’t part of the deal, I’d imagined we would at least live together.
I’d barely been eighteen when he’d married me. At first, I’d thought that’s why he had left, and that he’d return before long. Then one year passed, and another. In nearly ten years, I hadn’t once seen my husband. It was lonely living here alone. Not to mention, I was twenty-eight and a damn virgin. I was starting to think I would die before ever knowing what it was like to have a man’s hands on me, to feel his cock thrusting inside me. My fevered dreams were likely far from what it would really be like if Casper ever came back and claimed me.
As another sharp stabbing pain made my eyes close and my body crumple, I wondered if my husband would return… before it was too late. I’d sworn the staff to secrecy, even the bodyguard Casper had left to watch over me. I’d grown close to the people who ran the house and protected me, even considered them my friends. When I’d first arrived, I hadn’t been able to speak any English. Now I was fluent and didn’t even use my native tongue anymore.
“Carmella,” I heard Bowen shout.
His strong arms wrapped around me, and I felt my body being lifted and carried, likely into the house. The pain had been worse lately, and coming more frequently. I had a feeling I was on borrowed time, but maybe that was for the best. It wasn’t that I wanted to die, I really didn’t, but I couldn’t help but wonder if my husband would be happier if I were gone. I knew he’d been forced into claiming me in order to save his daughter, a daughter he clearly never wanted me to meet.
I’d thought she was younger until he’d explained she was older than me. He didn’t look anywhere near old enough to have a fully grown child. There were a few lines around his eyes, but hardly a hint of gray in his hair or beard. At least, last time I’d seen him that was the case. I had no idea what he looked like now.
As the pain eased, my eyes fluttered open and a concerned Bowen was peering down at me.
“He needs to know, Carmella.”
“No, he doesn’t. He’s had no interest in me all this time. The last thing I want is him showing up out of pity. I only wish…” I bit my lip, refusing to say the words.
“I know, sweet girl,” Bowen murmured.
We’d grown close over the years, but not in a romantic way. Bowen was more like an older brother than anything else. I gripped his hand as I settled back against my pillows. The frequent headaches that later turned to migraines had started a few years ago, and I’d ignored them at first. After Bowen found me passed out in the sunroom, he’d forced me to go to the doctor. It had only taken one test to discover the tumor lodged in my brain. The doctor had referred me to a neurosurgeon, who had wanted to start treatment immediately in hopes of avoiding surgery, but I’d refused. They said it appeared to be benign, but the pressure it was putting on my brain was the problem. Thankfully, my husband didn’t receive the bills directly. I didn’t know how Bowen and Mrs. Weathers had managed to pay for everything without alerting my husband that something was wrong, but they had and I was grateful.
“I can’t stand to see you like this,” he said. “Please accept the treatment, Carmella. You’re young still and have your entire life ahead of you. What you’re doing is the same as committing suicide.”
“I’m not as strong as I once thought I was,” I admitted. “I endured a lot as the illegitimate daughter of the infamous Miguel Juarez. When Casper made me his wife, I’d thought maybe I was going to have a new life. A family of my own, people who would love me. Then he ran and left me here.”
Bowen squeezed my hand. “I love you, and so does every other person in this house.”
“It’s not the same, Bowen. I’m twenty-eight and I’ve only been on a few dates. The only kiss I ever had was sloppy and gross. I’ve never… I’ve never been held by a man who loved me, never experienced passion. Is it wrong for me to want those things?” I asked.
“Of course not, Carmella. Casper would be here if he knew what you were going through. I have no doubt that he’d come and stay with you, take you to the doctor and convince you to start treatment. Don’t make me watch you die. They said if you act soon enough, surgery likely won’t be needed.”
The doctors had said that even though the tumor wasn’t cancerous it was still life-threatening. If I had something to live for, then I’d fight with everything I had in me. But what would be the point? I was lonely, so damn lonely. I didn’t have a family, and at this rate, I didn’t think I ever would. Bowen and Mrs. Weathers were my friends, but they were also paid to stay with me. I knew they cared, but it was different.
I reached up and cupped his whiskery cheek. “I’m sorry, Bowen. I just don’t have any fight left in me. There’s nothing to fight for.”
I felt his jaw tighten and watched as his eyes narrowed. I had a feeling I hadn’t heard the last from him on the matter. And he wasn’t the only one. The cook, Mrs. Weathers, was of the same mind, and so were the two maids and the butler. I knew they’d come to care about me, and I felt the same, but it wasn’t enough. I was so damn tired. The pain was debilitating on the best of days, and more and more often, it would make me lose control of the right side of my body, sometimes for an entire day.
I released Bowen and rolled to my side, letting the tears fall silently. He sighed and I heard the door click shut behind him. Left alone with my misery I wondered if maybe I was doing the wrong thing. I had no doubt they were right and Casper would be here if he knew something was wrong, but I wanted him here because he wanted to be, because he cared… not because someone tattled and said I was possibly dying. The last thing I wanted to deal with was his guilty conscience, assuming he even had a conscience. I wasn’t completely certain what he did, but if he’d had business with my father, I wasn’t certain he had a moral compass. It wasn’t just that Casper didn’t seem to want me. No one had ever wanted me. My mother hadn’t, and I’d been an embarrassment to my father who had given me to Casper as a business transaction.
What would it be like to be loved? Truly loved?