Gavin Leonard is the worst. He lives in the best party house off campus at Valley U, overrun by jocks galore. I live next door, watching Jane Austen adaptations with my sketchbook in hand. He stays on his side of the fence. I stay on mine. Now we’re accidentally on a camping trip together, but there’s only one tent left.
Gavin Leonard is the worst. And he’s the last guy who broke my heart.
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Someone made the deadly mistake of abducting Dodge’s son.
When Dodge’s Old Lady suddenly wants out, and his brother goes to prison for murder, all Dodge has left is the Black Dagger MC. Abandoning the club that gave him acceptance and safety is simply out of the question. Six years later, his old childhood sweetheart, Kira, returns with a surprise — their son. What should be a happy reunion is cut short when the boy goes missing.
Kira once found club life thrilling, but as a nurse, she saw first-hand how quickly things get bloody. After becoming pregnant, she left town and made a clean break from everyone. But the freedom for her son only lasts until a tragedy befalls them and she must return to Charleston.
Now Kira’s only chance at happiness is to confess everything she hid from Dodge. With his help, they might be able to rescue their son. But with both of their lives shattered by Henry’s abduction, can they learn to forgive one another and finally become the family they were meant to be years ago?
Standing with their brother, the Black Dagger MC rides together to find the child and make the abductors pay.
Dodge is the second book in the Black Daggers MC series, featuring a second chance romance with a childhood sweetheart, an accidental pregnancy, and a happy ever after proves a little danger is always worth the trouble.
Rogue cleared his throat. “I remember you, Kira. See, Dodge and I Prospected for the Daggers around the same time. We didn’t hang out much, because I lived at the Club House and Dodge lived with Jericho in that little shitty house his dad had owned. We crossed paths and did jobs together. He made it clear from the start you were part of his life. That was cool, you know. You guys were together for a few years after we got our colors, so I remember seeing you at Blades with him. I even remember you had your property cut. You were Dodge’s Old Lady.”
Kira squirmed in her seat. To this day, she kept the leather vest in her closet. She hadn’t looked at it until she packed to move home. Part of her hoped she’d get to wear it again, then reality set in and she nearly tossed it in the trash. “Yeah, for years. Three years, seven months, and seventeen days. Not that I was counting.”
The biker sat down and leaned forward, placing his forearms on the table. “Not long after you left, a few days actually, we had a charity ride. Jericho had just gotten his colors, and this was his first ride as a patched-in member. Everyone could see Dodge was in a bad way, but rules are rules. Ride or die. At the dinner that young and stupid kid killed a Wicked Warrior over the man’s Old Lady. When we decided to keep the peace between our clubs, something inside Dodge broke.”
Kira felt anger, but she wasn’t sure who to direct the emotion toward. “Oh, God.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead. “His entire life he fought to belong, to be part of something. The only people in his life who gave a damn about him, me, his brother, his club, we all abandoned him.” Hot pain lanced through Kira, leaving her breathless. “When I left, I thought he’d have Jericho and his MC to support him, and you all let him sink. We let him sink.”
“Look, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t like Dodge.” Rogue drained his coffee. “After Jericho murdered Alvin, Dodge became an ass. He barely followed the laws of the club, drove his bike like a maniac, dropped off the radar until charity rides. Hell, he’d even start fights with other Daggers inside Blades.”
Kira stood, her anger on behalf of Dirk boiled over. “You can’t be serious, Rogue? An ass?” She put her hands on the table and leaned down to make eye contact. “You called him an ass. You probably treated Dirk like he was scum, didn’t you? Never mind, I can tell by your face you did. I know you bikers are all full of macho bullshit. None of you talk or, God forbid, express feelings, I get that. Did none of you take a moment to recognize a man who had nothing left to lose? A desperate man mired in pain, who could never ask for support. He acted out, hoping to hell one of you would recognize his cry for help. When no one did, he did everything he could so someone would put him out of his misery. Dirk Hodges became a man with a death wish! And you all stood back and watched it happening, then blamed him for it.”
Rogue sat back in his chair, his face changing from anger to chagrin as her words sank in. “Jesus f_cking Christ.”
“When you joined the Black Dagger MC, you all took an oath. You sealed it with that stupid black dagger tattoo on your forearm that you’re all soooo proud of. You promised to protect the club and all your Dagger brothers. I understand you had to let Jericho pay for his crime, but none of you protected your brother, Dodge. None of you gave a shit for what he was going through, did you?”
Kira stood and straightened her scrubs. “My break is over. No one is allowed in the lounge who doesn’t work here. There’s the door. Get out.”
After rehab, Lauren King returns to the only home she has… a rock star’s compound everyone calls The Pit. She also returns to her only friend… an antique German motorcycle she’s nicknamed Jake.
Little does she know that the cycles Klaus Mannhof made have the ability to shift into human men. Mannhof designed Jake especially for Lauren. Using his special brand of magic, Jake’s going to teach her to love him — and to love herself as well.
Praise for Driven to the Limit (Mannhof 2)
“A surprisingly poignant story about what happens when people lose themselves and get involved with the wrong people….Alice Gaines has written a wonderful addition to her series about Klaus Mannhof and his creations and I can’t wait to read more books in this series!”— 4.5 from Kerin, TwoLips Reviews
“I am not walking, but running to get the first one to read. I loved how different this story was from the usual. The author took a woman that was kind of broken and gave her a man that showed her that she was worth so much more than what she thought she was. It was very well written and I look forward to reading more by this author.”— Nicole Harvey, ParaNormalRomance.org
After rehab, Lauren King went right back into The Pit.
Kid Dagger’s ranch and recording compound had a huge main house, three guest cottages, a recording studio, tennis courts, a state-of-the-art gym, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. But everyone who worked there called it The Pit. The nickname fit Dagger’s personality, which on a good day bordered on psychotic. Bad days didn’t bear thinking about.
Still, Lauren had called the place home for over ten years. Her job was here. Frankly, she had nowhere else to go.
As soon as she dropped her suitcase in her room, she went out to her only safe place — the small garage behind the larger one where Dagger kept his collectible cars.
She flicked on the light and looked at the closest thing she had for a friend — the antique German motorcycle. The Mannhof. “Hi, Jake.”
The bike never answered, of course. Still, she felt a link to it. The Mannhof resisted all of Dagger’s attempts to control it, something she’d never managed.
She walked to the bike and ran a hand over the leather seat. “What’s a nice machine like you doing in a place like this?”
“You decided to come back.”
Dagger’s voice. She turned and found him standing the doorway. “Did I have any choice?”
“We all have choices.” He dangled a baggie with a quarter of an inch of white powder in it. “Want some?”
She stared at him. Only Dagger would offer cocaine to someone just back from rehab. “I gave up poison for Lent.”
Anger flashed in his small, brown eyes for a minute, and then he gave her one of his phony smiles. “Okay, then, how about a quick fuck?”
“Like I said. I gave up poison for Lent.”
“Your loss.” He crossed his arms over his bare chest and leaned against the doorframe. Without the elaborate stage make-up and the costume that gave him a huge crotch bulge, Dagger, whose real name was Craig, looked like everyone’s little brother’s creepy friend. The one who kept trying to set puppies’ tails on fire. Somehow, millions of girls found him sexy. Lauren had once, but then she’d gotten to know him. She’d also seen him flipped out on various substances. Someday, he’d hurt someone — badly.
He stared at her for a minute, as if expecting her to change her mind and jump his bones. Finally, he pushed away from the wall. “Get back to work. Media bookings went to hell while you were gone.”
She sighed. “In a few minutes.”
“You going to stay out here with that hunk of junk?”
“It’s one of the finest motorcycles ever built. You paid half-a-mil for it.”
“It doesn’t run.”
True, the Mannhof had refused to start ever since the auction house had delivered it. No mechanic had ever managed to fix it, either. Hopelessly broken, just like herself. No wonder they’d become friends.
“Junk.” Dagger waved a hand at the bike. “Someday, I’m going to melt it down into a paperweight.”
“Have I told you lately that you suck?”
“Yeah, fuck you too.” He turned and left the garage.
She looked down at the bike, her friend, Jake. “Don’t worry. As long as I’m around, no one’s going to turn you into a paperweight.”
She walked to the door, switched off the light, and turned to go into the house.
Why do you put up with him?
Huh? “Who said that?”
She flipped the switch again and looked around. The room was empty except for herself and the bike. Come to think of it, the words had formed in her brain rather than coming in through her ears.
I’m glad you’re home, Schatzie. I missed you.
Her eyes widened as she stared at the Mannhof. “Did you say that?”
The air shifted around the bike, seeming to turn liquid. Currents shimmered around the tires, the gas tank, the handlebars. She rubbed her eyes, but the image didn’t get any clearer.
Holy shit. Was this some kind of withdrawal-induced hallucination? She hadn’t even done that in rehab. Rough nights, yes. Air you could swim through, no.
She backed up until her rump hit the wall and stood there on weakening knees. In the middle of the room, a light radiated from the Mannhof, making the bike’s image even harder to see. She squinted, staring into the waves of light and air around Jake. Something was happening in there. Some kind of changes taking place. The tires seemed to melt and change color from rubber to a pale tone that looked for all the world like human flesh.
Oh, no. Too weird. Too fucking weird. Some kind of Invasion of the Body Snatchers in reverse. After all she’d gone through, her mind had snapped. The counselors should have warned her.
Now useless, her legs gave way, and she slid down the wall until she sat on her butt, hugging herself.
The changes in the middle of the room continued. The form shrunk, curling into a ball of what looked like human flesh. A person. A man, lying on the floor in a fetal position without a stitch of clothing on his body. The glow disappeared, and the air went clear again, leaving only the man — powerful legs pulled up against his body with the ankles crossed. An adult-sized human baby.
A voice whimpered in fear. Her own voice. Her heart hammered in her chest, and her throat constricted. If she could get any strength in her legs, she could get up and run like hell. Still, as spooky as the whole experience was, it was pretty cool in a Hollywood, special effects way.
The person moved finally, sitting up. Buck naked, the man had pale skin and platinum hair that hung around his face to the jaw line. His eyes opened, revealing irises so crystal blue they almost seemed transparent. He smiled, his face taking on an innocent look of delight, like a baby who’d just learned to smile. He took a deep breath, or rather, the air around him went into his chest in a whoosh. Then, he opened his mouth and a sound came out — the deep roar of a motorcycle engine revving.
The sound plastered her against the wall, stealing her own breath. She sat there paralyzed for a moment, staring at him. He made no move toward her but gave her the most beautiful smile she’d ever seen on a man’s face.
“Holy shit,” she whispered. “Who are you?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
USA Today bestselling author Alice Gaines has published several sensuous and erotic works. She prefers stories that stretch the imagination, highlighting the power of love and sex. Alice has a Ph.D. in psychology from U. C. Berkeley and lives in Oakland, California, with her collection of orchids and her pet corn snake, Casper.
It all started the summer going into my Freshman year.
I became the new neighbor to a pretty blonde with a book in her lap that didn’t want my company.
Laynee Reese was a smart-mouthed, semi-music genius, who captured all my attention, from shoving me mercilessly into the lake outside our cabins to her failed attempts of trying to get me to like Good Charlotte.
We quickly became best friends, writing letters back and forth about everything and nothing. It became a placeholder for me to keep a piece of how I felt about her because every summer it got worse. I was getting jealous and I wanted more than two thousand miles between us and phone calls after nine.
Life has a funny way of fucking shit up, though, and the end result was the devastating loss of the only girl I’ve ever wanted.
Months turned to agonizing years but as fate would have it, she stepped right back into the limelight of my life with a second chance.
One she didn’t want to give me.
Now, she’s my personal assistant and she’s screwed because I’m not messing this up again.
Laynee can be pissed at my sudden disappearance when we were eighteen, the things I’ve done and didn’t do, however, all that doesn’t overcast the hardened fact that I’m still crazy for this girl.
And nothing and no one is going to get in my way this time. Even if I have to destroy every man not worthy of her that comes her way.
Hazel Grace is an avid music lover and hardcore Oakland Raiders fan from the mitten state of Michigan. Her writing goals are “what the f*ck” storylines while enjoying her readers private messaging her to cuss her out.
How’s a hexy chick gonna get laid if even breathing is an adventure sport?
Sabrina—Sabby to her friends—is a hex, a pariah. Even Lucifer crosses the road to avoid her. Everyone avoids her…except the sex-mad humpomaniac imps, that is. Chaos demons are known for…well, chaos. And for Sabrina, chaos equals misery, until she’s dragged to Earth by literary historian Jude Morrisey. Human, good-looking and definitely sex on legs, Jude is enough to set her libido on high alert. Now if she can just keep her chaos magic from ripping his life apart, things might be looking up.
When Jude accidentally summons a demon, his staid bachelor world erupts into an unholy mess. Someone’s sabotaging his career and his job’s almost down the gurgler. Sex-crazed imps invade his house and hump his appliances. The biggest shock of all is the sexy Calamity Jane who appears in his attic insisting she’s his jinx.
Harmony, peace and his staid life are out of the attic window, but here’s the thing… Can he keep his hands off the delectable walking disaster long enough to work out what’s going on?
Anarchy, bedlam, chaos… It’s all in a day’s work for a hexy chick.
Reader advisory: This book contains a brief scene of violence and attempted murder.
“Now that’s just plain tacky, girl. I hope you don’t plan to wear that outside. Oh, and I have to tell you… Those high heels just don’t go with that outfit.”
Sabrina—Sabby to her friends—spun about and stared at the woman who’d appeared without so much as a peep in the dark recesses of the library. She instinctively raised her arms and tried to cover her breasts, but this stupid costume didn’t have enough fabric to even manage that. Forget the rest of her body. It just wasn’t going to work.
“I don’t plan on wearing it anywhere, Aunt Luce,” she responded before directing a dark frown at the other occupant of the room. “Brel-ez figured he’d try to talk me into wearing it for the imps’ party tonight. I only tried it on to show him how ridiculous it was. And by the way, a little sonic boom or some hellfire or something to announce your imminent arrival might have been nice.”
“I am Lucifer, Supreme Ruler of Hell. I go where I please, how I please.” She drew herself up to her full height, her eyes flashing red sparks.
It took all Sabby’s willpower to keep a straight face. It wouldn’t do to annoy her Lordship by laughing at her, even if it was funny. Aunt Luce wasn’t much more than five feet three inches tall, but what she lacked in stature, she made up for with presence. As the ruler of Hell, she was a formidable lady and a dangerous opponent.
“Sorry, Aunt Luce. I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just a tad embarrassed to be caught wearing this.” She gestured to the outrageous outfit.
“I would think so. It’s nothing short of disastrous. Human or demon, no woman should be seen in this.”
Lucifer frowned as she walked a circle around Sabby, her high heels clacking on the flag tiles that made up the floor of the dungeon-library. She shuddered when she stood in front of Sabby again.
“Leopard print is so out now, and that itty-bitty G-string is…” She broke off and shuddered again. “Doesn’t it hurt your girly bits, pulled up between your butt cheeks like that? And the rest of it… A flimsy scrap of material over a bra that barely covers your boobies and nothing but transparent scarves attached to a band around your waist. What is this? The dance of the seven veils? If you want to change your image, girl, you’d do better to emulate me.”
Sabby had to fight to control her emotions again. There was no doubt that Aunt Luce had a distinctive style. She looked like everyone’s idea of a cuddly grandmother. Slightly chubby—although Sabby would never tell her that—she mostly favored twin sets and pearls teamed with a tweed skirt. Her hair was a snowy-white halo that curled around her face. She did, on occasion, tip the ends with vibrant reds and purples to match whatever-color shoes she had on. Sporting long nails—or more correctly ‘talons’—she matched her shoes with her nail polish. And those shoes? Nothing but three-inch-high stilettos in bright colors for Aunt Luce. Today’s color was scarlet.
Before Sabby felt forced to comment on Lucifer’s suggestion, Brel-ez decided to get in on the conversation.
“Your most magnificent Lordship, please tell Sabby she must attend our fancy-dress party tonight. She has to be there. She’s our queen.”
Lucifer rounded on him. “Queen? There is no queen but me. King. Queen. Lord. I am Supreme Ruler. I am all of them—and don’t you forget it.”
Brel-ez, captain of Lucifer’s Herald and head imp, shrank down, which was pretty difficult, given that he was only three feet tall. His little pointy red horns actually quivered as he tried to abase himself before Lucifer.
“So sorry, your Lordship. So sorry, but I found a prophesy in an old book and I’m sure it refers to Sabby.”
“I told him it’s all rubbish, but he won’t believe me,” Sabby chipped in.
“What prophesy?” Lucifer’s voice thundered throughout the library.
Holy Hell, Aunt Luce is really getting angry. Sabby just prayed that Brel-ez could extricate himself from this before Lucifer zapped him out of annoyance.
Brel-ez quickly retrieved a slip of paper from the pocket of his red-and-gold uniform and read it out loud.
“When the small stand up and fight against the law,
When the hungry hold out their hands asking for more,
When the greedy profit to improve their lot in life,
Unconcerned that their everlasting legacy is strife,
When pandemonium erupts and floods the world above,
Then the queen of chaos reigns—and the winner is love.”
Brel-ez shoved the paper back into his pocket and held out his hands to Lucifer. “See? Sabby’s a chaos demon, the only one living down here in the first level of Hell. It must be her.”
Lucifer burst out laughing, all her anger appearing forgotten. “Oh, you silly imp. That’s no prophesy. Bet you found that in an old diary buried here in the library, yes?”
“My great-great-great grandfather fancied himself a poet. That’s one of his—and not a prophesy at all. And I’m the queen of chaos. You got that?”
Brel-ez nodded again and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could, Lucifer held up one finger.
“Is it important?”
“Definitely, your Lordship.”
He nodded so hard that Sabby was certain he was about to lose his head. And he would if he didn’t watch what he said to Lucifer.
Aunt Luce sighed. “Get on with it, Brel-ez.”
“Sabby has to come to the party. Otherwise, how else can she get la—?”
“Brel-ez,” Sabby shouted. Damn it, can’t that imp keep his mouth shut for once?
Now Lucifer turned her attention back to Sabby, her eyebrows raised in question. There was no way she’d back down if she didn’t get an answer straight away.
“She wants to get laid,” Brel-ez shouted.
“Way to keep a secret, imp.” She scowled at the little captain with the cocky grin spreading across his face. She turned to Lucifer. “I’m a twenty-five-year-old almost-virgin. Why shouldn’t I get laid before I bury myself down here in your damp dungeon?”
“It might have been a dungeon in the past, but it’s my library now. And I’ll have you know that there’s no dampness down here. It would ruin the books.” Lucifer frowned as she stared at Sabby. “Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with going to Brel-ez’s party, but I’d choose another costume if I were you. One deep breath and those boobies of yours will pop over the top of that scrap of a bra.”
Brel-ez burst out laughing. “Hey, Sabby, that will sure get you a lover for the night.”
“Oh, be quiet, Brel-ez,” Sabby snapped, holding her hand over her chest as she dragged in a choppy breath. “It just so happens that I don’t want a demon to teach me all about the joys of sex.”
“Just because you look human and can’t change shape or form, you’re still a demon, my girl. What’s wrong with a demon lover?” Lucifer demanded.
“I’d rather practice on a human man—a real one. I screwed up every relationship I ever tried when I lived above. I want to give it one last shot, to see if I can make it work. Hopefully, now that I’m older, I won’t create as much of a mess as I’ve done in the past.”
Lucifer snorted. “You’re a chaos demon, girl. Of course you’re going to leave behind disorder and mayhem. And you know why? Your parents never got around to teaching you how to control your powers. Instead, they just shipped you off to me when it looked like your uncontrolled magic would expose them as demons. No thought for you at all. If your mother wasn’t one of my best friends…”
Sabby winced as Lucifer actually growled. She couldn’t really blame Aunt Luce. She’d been a trial for her parents from the time she’d been born. By the time she’d hit puberty and started to notice the opposite sex, the problems had simply gotten worse. Everything she’d tried her hand at, whether it had been jobs or relationships, had ended in disaster. Now here she was, buried in this dark library where she couldn’t cause any problems.
She sighed. “I’m sorry, Aunt Luce. I know I’m a misfit, but I do try. In fact, I think I am doing better. The library has run without a hitch for a couple of years now. I just want this last shot. If I screw it up, I promise I’ll come back here and never complain again.”
Her heels clacking on the flagstone floor, Lucifer moved close enough to give Sabby a hug. “Sabrina, you’re one of my goddaughters. I want you to be happy.” She grimaced. “I don’t apologize often, but I am sorry I parked you down here in this dark old dungeon. I should have taken you in hand and taught you how to use your magic, but I took the easiest way out.”
She released her hold on Sabby and strode across the room before turning to face her again. “You think this will make you happy? Getting down and dirty with a human male?”
Sabby chuckled at Aunt Luce’s turn of phrase. “I’d like to at least give it a go.”
“Hmm-m,” Lucifer mused. “Anyone in mind? It has to be someone who pushes your buttons.”
Someone who pushes my buttons?
Oh yeah! There was one person who came immediately to mind. When Sabby had been a kid, her best friend and neighbor had been a girl called Brianna. They’d been more like sisters than friends. They’d done everything together, and Sabby had loved spending time at Brianna’s home—but not just because Brianna had been her best mate.
Brianna had an older brother. He was eleven years older than she was, but he was oh-so-sexy. Sabby had hero-worshiped him, but as time had gone on, that had morphed into the biggest of crushes. By the time Sabby had reached her later teens, he had moved out, but Sabby had hung on his every word whenever he’d come to visit his parents.
Brianna’s folks had been terrific. Never once had they chastised her for her klutzy behavior. They’d just kept telling her she’d grow out of it eventually. And when Brianna’s brother came to visit, Sabby had followed him about like a bad smell, falling over her feet to keep up with him. Heck, even falling over his feet.
She smiled at the memories, wondering for a moment what had happened to him. Heat suddenly invaded her mind. Sabby frowned. For a moment there she could have sworn that invisible fingers had done a quick tour through her memories, one after the other—like someone—or something—hastily flicking through the pages of a book. Weird.
Sabby shook her head. Then, with a determined effort, she buried all thoughts of her juvenile crush in the back of her mind. Nothing had come of it and never would. It was time she settled for whatever she could get.
“No, no one special, Aunt Luce. I’d just like to go back above for one last time.”
“Well, in that case—”
“Nooo,” Brel-ez broke in. “Sabby has to come to our party. What am I going to tell the demons I’ve lined up to scr—er, romance her?”
“Brel-ez, you didn’t…? I don’t believe you’d do that to me,” Sabby said.
“I was just trying to help,” the little demon whined.
This time Lucifer cut him off. “I’m the one who makes the decisions here in Hell. You don’t get to say what happens in my domain.” She flicked out her hand and a spear of white-hot light erupted from the tip of one finger. It zeroed in on Brel-ez and zapped him on the rear end. The imp let out a yelp and smacked at the smoldering fabric of his pants.
Lucifer turned back to Sabby. “And you, missy. Is this really what you want?”
Sabby nodded, unable to say a word in case her godmother changed her mind.
“Then so be it. I’ll give you a month. After that, regardless of what happens, you come back here. Okay?”
Before Sabby could nod, a sonic boom resounded throughout the library. Pungent smoke swirled about Sabby and caught in her throat. She started to shake. First there were vibrations deep in her belly. Then they spread out to totally encompass her whole body. There was time for one last thought before Sabby disintegrated into a stream of airborne atoms.
Alexis Fleming writes stories dominated by sassy women and sexy macho men, by mouthy shifters and the odd delicious demon. You’ll experience crazy, laugh-out-loud moments as you live vicariously through the antics of her characters. The magic of the paranormal and the suspense of a mystery to solve will tantalize all the way until the end.
Based in north Queensland, Australia, when Alexis is not interfering in the lives of her imaginary friends, she’s happy to get caught up with family and help her daughter, author Kelly Ethan, plot her next murderous adventure for her stories.
“Without a doubt 5 stars and my favorite read to date from Zoey Drake! ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐⭐️” – Goodreads Review
𝐑𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐭𝐨𝐧 It’s been four years since one night changed our lives… I lost my heart, my soul, the love of my life. She left without a word and never gave me a chance to explain. Was I mad? Hell yeah. But I never stopped loving her. So I wrote her a letter, and then another one, and then another… Now she’s back again and I can’t help the feelings I’m having. Just like before, she’s the oxygen in my lungs and the sun in my sky. Except, she’s hell bent on never giving me another chance.
𝐅𝐚𝐢𝐭𝐡 Four years ago, Remington made one decision that changed our future. It hurt too much to relive that night over and over again, so I ran. I went to the city and started over, ignoring all things Remington. But after losing my job, I have no choice but to move home. Back to Moonshine Springs. Back to where my heart was shattered into a million pieces. He seems to think we stand a chance, that we can move on and be something to each other once again. I’m not so sure I can trust him, though. Or that I’m willing to risk the pain that comes with loving Remington. All I can do is agree to finally read his letters and see if my heart survives.
How is it possible to need someone so bad I can’t breathe, but also hate them so much it hurts? I hate him, but I love him. Loving him is the last thing I want to do, but I can’t help it. I’m unconsciously drawn to him.
This is why I ran, but being back here is challenging me. I didn’t sleep last night and I wonder how many sleepless nights will happen back-to-back because I can’t shut off my brain or the feelings flooding the crevices of my brain each time he materializes.
My body wants him, subconsciously reaching out to him unwarranted. My soul cries out, demanding I read his letters because it misses its best friend, his soul. My heart is black and blue.
The engine turns off and we sit in silence for a moment, unmoving. I’m frozen to my seat, not making eye contact, but then I peer over. I wait for him to move first. Two minutes later, I watch as he gets out. The empty seat beside me where he was sitting is unattended.
Two friends have disappeared playing Starfighter Training Academy. No one cares because it’s just a game. Right?
I know something is wrong. Messed up. Completely off. And no one is paying attention.
My BFFs went missing after beating the hottest new multi-player game on the planet, Starfighter Training Academy. They won. They celebrated. They vanished. So what’s the girl left behind supposed to do?
Beat the damn game, that’s what. Find out the truth, even if that includes being recruited to fight in an alien war, lusting after the hottest alien I’ve ever seen, and marching into a battle there’s little chance of winning.
I will find my friends. I will learn what the heck is going on. And I will kiss the alien hunk I’ve been staring at for weeks.
Grace Goodwin is a USA Today and international bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal romance with nearly one million books sold. Grace’s titles are available worldwide in multiple languages in ebook, print and audio formats. Two best friends, one left-brained, the other right-brained, make up the award-winning writing duo that is Grace Goodwin. They are both mothers, escape room enthusiasts, avid readers and intrepid defenders of their preferred beverages. (There may or may not be an ongoing tea vs. coffee war occurring during their daily communications.) Grace loves to hear from readers.
After her mother dies of an accidental overdose, Alex takes leave from her job as a writer for a Washington, DC, lifestyle magazine to return home to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. There, she joins her brother Owen, a study in failure-to-launch, in sorting out their mother’s whimsical and often self-destructive life.
Alex has proposed to her editor that while she is home she profile Juliette Sprigg, her former high school fling, owner of a wildly popular local restaurant, and celebrity chef in the making.
While working on the story and trying for a second chance with Juliette, Alex meets Carolyn Massey, editor of the town newspaper, and wonders if there’s more to life than reheating leftovers.
Enter Alex and Owen’s Aunt Johanna, who arrives from Seattle to help with arrangements. When Johanna reveals a family secret, Alex may have to accept her family for who they are rather than who she hoped they would be. And just maybe apply the same philosophy to her heart and herself.
Even though Owen never calls her, especially at 7:30 on a weekday evening, when Alex sees her brother’s name in the caller ID, she drops her phone back into her purse and waits for her metro stop. She figures he’ll just leave her a message about his cat. It’s been almost the entirety of their relationship the past five years. The week before, he’d texted her a picture of Tortoise, his Himalayan. She was wearing a suit of herbs with terra cotta-colored felt legs. She looked like a chia pet.
I am my own catnip receptacle, Owen had texted underneath Tortoise’s picture.
The chia pet text had come after midnight, a time when Alex (like most people) was asleep and susceptible to tragedy, like a call from the hospital, from the roadside after a car accident, or, for Alex specifically, a call from her mother when her mother was completely wasted, one glass of wine away from falling down the steps or worse, keeping Alex on the phone for hours about years-old, completely fabricated grievances.
She hadn’t responded to Owen that night, either, mad he’d woken her up about his stupid cat. That he didn’t understand she got up at five in the morning for her job as a features writer at the Capitol Metropolitan or that her apartment in Adams Morgan was expensive as hell or that the amount of her grad school loans equaled a house mortgage. That she had a life, didn’t still live at home with their mother, and didn’t have a cat for a best friend.
As she gets up to make her way to the doors of the metro, her phone vibrates again.
“Owen, I just got off work—can I call you back?” She presses the phone to her cheek as she follows the other commuters up the stairs of the station.
“You know—I was just thinking about Tortoise—I was worried maybe it meant she had died or something,” Alex jokes, cutting him off, even as her hands begin to sweat. She wonders what their mother has done this time to warrant a call from Owen.
“Alex.” Owen is silent for a minute. “It’s Mom. Mom’s dead.”
“Dammit, Owen, you shouldn’t joke.” But she knows he isn’t joking. She stops in the middle of the sidewalk. People brush against her, clipping her leg with their totes, her shoulder with their purses and messenger bags, as she tries to remember what day it is again, when she talked to her mother last. What she wishes she could take back.
“You should come home.” Owen’s words have awkward pauses between them, as if he’s too choked up to speak. “Can you come home tonight?”
“I can’t.” What the hell is she saying? Still, she hears herself go on. “I really can’t. I mean—”
“What do you mean, you can’t?” She imagines Owen’s face on the other end of the line, scrunched like a balled-up tissue. “Mom’s dead. What’s wrong with you?”
“You’re right—all right, okay,” she hears herself agree, her voice far away and warbled, like she’s in a dream.
As she wanders from the Woodley Park metro station toward the general direction of her apartment, she feels suddenly like an alien life form. I am experiencing a tragic event, she wants to tell the dog walker with five French bulldogs who passes her or the woman jogger who pauses at the intersection, drinking from a clear pink plastic water bottle. She wants to grab on to someone, anyone, like a body snatcher, and switch places, away from the kettle ball in her chest, away her knotted intestines and her numb appendages.
Alex has never really done death before. She’s thirty-six and never met her grandparents; their father left when she was four. And although their mother had turned sixty a few years back, it was more like Madonna sixty than Medicare sixty. Were Alex and Owen supposed to call Aunt Johanna, other forgotten, faraway relatives in Wisconsin and Arizona, their father, wherever he was? Was some kind of funeral needed for a mother who had flitted between atheism, Wiccan, new age-y crap, and pharmaceuticals like she was at a metaphysics salad bar?
And beyond the details, which Alex is good at, what about the other, more feely things? Like the way her mother had made her feel? (Incidentally, like a neon sign, a composition of gasses and other toxic compounds compressed into a fragile glass tube that she has managed to bend into the words Alex Maas, Successful Person Who Does Not Give a Fuck.)
Except now she has to give one.
“Crap,” she says under breath as she waits for the elevator in the lobby of her building. She brings up her ex Kate’s number in her phone doesn’t press call, not only because she can’t talk to Kate anymore, but because she realizes she can’t talk to anybody. If she opens her mouth and voices the words my mom is dead, she knows any adrenaline humming through her from the shock will dissolve, adrenaline she needs to get into her apartment, throw a few days’ worth of clothes together, call Rowan at the magazine, and get to the Greyhound terminal at Union Station to catch a bus home early the next morning.
Did Owen even mention how she died? In her apartment vestibule, Alex digs her phone out again. She can’t remember how they ended the conversation, anything he had said after the words dead and come home.
“I’m so sorry.” Rowan, her boss, sounds like he’s outside. “Are you all right? Is there anything I can do?”
“No—but thanks,” Alex says as she walks in a circle in her bedroom, staring at her opened suitcase. “I just don’t know…I don’t know how much time I’ll need. A few days? I don’t know what’s supposed to happen—she always talked about being cremated. But it’s not like she wrote a will—she didn’t even believe in grocery lists.”
“But if you need anything, you’ll call, right?” he prods, as if they’re friends. Maybe, in some way, because she spends most of her time with him, most of her time at the office in general, he’s her friend. It’s not like she has many, anyway. Her fingers shake as she opens her underwear drawer.
“Yes, of course. I’m going to get off the phone, though, before I cry.”
“Sure, sure. Although you can cry on the phone—it’s okay.”
“Oh—I might need more time on the ballet company story. Can you give it to me?”
“Don’t worry about the story, Alex—we’ll find something else to run.”
She hears one of Rowan’s kids—his little girl—talking excitedly in the background. Then she thinks about the other person she had wanted to call after she got off the phone with Owen. The only person she’s ever been able to tell anything.
“Hey,” Alex says casually, as if she’s just thought of it. “What about Juliette Sprigg—didn’t you want someone to interview her?”
“You mean the profile about her restaurant? I thought someone else would cover that.”
“Yeah, but…” Alex moves into the bathroom, just in case she might throw up. “Sprigg Restaurant’s, like, five minutes from my mom’s house. I went to high school with Juliette.”
“Don’t worry about that. You’re going home to take care of what you need to take care of—not work on another story.”
“No, it’s okay—I can take it. I want to do it.” She knows Rowan will give in—he has before—four magazine awards for her stories will do that. “Can you e-mail me her contact information?”
“No,” he sighs. “I’m not. You’re taking time off. You work too much as it is.”
“Jesus, Rowan—are you really saying no?” Her voice rises, like helium, up an octave. “After all I’ve done for the magazine?”
“Alex,” he sounds defeated, like he’s speaking to his now-crying little girl. “Your mother just died.”
“Fine—I quit then.” She hangs up on him and turns on the faucet in the bathroom. As she splashes her face with water, her phone beeps. She hits the speaker with her wet hand as she reaches for the towel. “What?”
“You’re not quitting, and I’m not assigning you the story.”
She takes a breath and holds it a second before exhaling. “I’m doing the story, or I quit.”
“Hi, honey, what sweetie? Will you stop screaming? Daddy can’t understand what you want if you’re screaming.”
Suddenly there’s silence, and Alex wonders if Rowan has hung up on her this time.
“Rowan, are you there?” she whispers, her neck so tight her head pop off.
“Sorry, Alex, I’m just having some, uh—you know what? Fine, do the story. Only because I have to get off the phone. I’ll e-mail you the info of the editor at the newspaper down there—really nice woman. She paired us up with a local photographer when we did that feature on that horse whisperer guy.”
“Great.” Alex exhales and dabs tears out of her eyes as she sits on the toilet lid.
“—But I really don’t want you to do it at all.”
“I’ll be fine—it’s how I get through things.” It’s been how she’s been getting over Kate all these months. And now she’s offered, at the supposedly worst time of her life, to interview Juliette freaking Sprigg too.
As she hangs up, her stomach pushes up into her esophagus like peasants storming the Bastille. She sets her phone on the edge of the tub and wraps her arms under her knees, head on her lap, like people in the airplane safety cards do, and focuses on her breathing. Remain calm. Remain seated. Brace for impact.
Jen Michalski is the author of three novels, The Summer She Was Under Water, The Tide King (both from Black Lawrence Press), and You’ll Be Fine (NineStar Press), a couplet of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books), and three collections of fiction (The Company of Strangers,From Here, and Close Encounters). Her work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including Poets & Writers, The Washington Post, and the Literary Hub, and she’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize six times. She’s also the editor of the online literary weekly jmww.