Prepare to enter a world filled with pleasure and desire.
Meet Amara, an ordinary twenty-eight-year-old woman trying to navigate her way through life. Amara is a full-time carer for her mum. Her life isn’t easy but is fairly routine…until one night she joins her friends at an exclusive BDSM club, somewhere she hasn’t been in a long time.
She thought it would be a relatively normal night, but she was wrong. Because she met him…Sullivan. He is unlike anyone she’s ever met before.
Since her previous dabbling in the BDSM community, she has developed uneasy feelings about various aspects of her life. But Sullivan has managed to break through her barriers and expose her deepest desires, bringing out the most intense pleasure she’s ever experienced.
Now Amara must decide if she’s ready for this new life of fiery passion.
Will this new romance bring her more pleasure or pain?
Or will it consume and implode everything around her?
One thing is for certain—nothing will be the same again.
Reader advisory: This book contains mentions of dementia, the serious illness of secondary character, past alcoholism, body image issues, seizure, and the off-label use of painkillers.
Amara entered the club and fought the sudden urge to flee. It had been eighteen months since she’d stepped foot inside Haven, Perth’s most exclusive BDSM club, and so much had changed in that time. This used to be her safe haven, the one place she never had to hide her true self. Where she could let go of her control issues and let her submissive side come out to play. Now, it was a strange place. It was somehow more daunting. She didn’t belong here anymore.
With her best friend by her side, she signed in as a guest and handed over her completed waiver and membership forms. The dim lighting from chandeliers and wall sconces cast red and gold glows around the main room. The only well-lit section was around the bar. Everything spoke of darkness, pleasure and sex—the wooden flooring, darkly painted walls, exposed beams that held an assortment of chandeliers.
There was no artwork on the walls anymore. Instead, they were decorated with an array of toys free for anyone to use. Even the position of the bar had changed. Now set against the far-left wall, the oblong wooden bar top sat as a feature of the room. Chains hung from the top beams and deeply set metal links were inserted into the wooden top. Perfect for naughty little submissives, she thought.
A dance floor took up a small portion of the converted warehouse, and the rest of it was taken up by an array of black and brown lounges, armchairs and small tables. But there was plenty of empty space for play, for submissives to be splayed out as tables, as one man currently was. A Domme sat on a black leather lounge and had her boot-covered feet resting on his back. The look on the man’s face, that smile of pleasure and desire as he looked straight ahead while his Domme spoke to him… Amara knew that feeling well and missed it deeply. It filled her with envy.
The familiar scents of leather mixed with sweat and sex invaded her nose as she inhaled deeply. The sounds of leather slapping flesh, bare hands smacking arses and cries of pain and pleasure were comforting. It had been far too long since she’d been involved in any of this. Despite her good reasons, she mentally kicked herself for taking such a long break. The atmosphere of the club called to her. She’d missed this, needed this. When she’d frequented it previously, it had still been a public club. Now, under new ownership, it was private and exclusive. She’d been lucky to get access to a temporary membership. If she hadn’t been helping with a demonstration, she wouldn’t be here at all.
A hand touched her back and guided her towards the bar. Her friend Larissa gestured for her to take a seat on a red leather-covered stool and took a seat beside her.
“Haven looks so different now,” Amara said as she looked around.
“Yeah, the new owner did a complete renovation before he opened it up. He’s always changing things around, though,” Larissa said.
“You’ll have to introduce me so I can thank him for allowing me in.”
“I can’t believe he gave you a month-long pass. Good thing we vouched for you, isn’t it?”
Amara regarded her friend with a small smile, despite the sadness and anxiety that filled her. “Too bad I won’t be using it other than tonight.”
No matter how badly she wanted to, she wouldn’t be returning. She simply didn’t have the time. She was a twenty-eight-year-old woman with almost no social life. And wasn’t that just a little depressing?
“You will be coming back next week. You promised me.” Larissa’s stern expression told her there would be no give on her promise.
“Fine, I’ll come back next week. But after that, you know I can’t.”
“I know why you say you can’t. I’m sure you could work something out.”
Amara accepted her drink from the bartender, thankful for the interruption. She didn’t want to talk. Not tonight. Tonight was about her dipping her toes back into the old lifestyle she’d loved so much to see if there was still a spark there. Not that she expected to play with anyone tonight. Now that she looked around to see all the other women nearby, she realised it definitely wouldn’t be happening. They all held such confidence, self-assurance. Two things she was now severely lacking.
What had happened to her? She used to saunter around confidently, knowing how to turn on her sexual appeal like a switch. Once upon a time she would have shown up in a latex skirt and a tight corset, sexy as hell. Now, she wore a multicoloured pleated skirt that was too short for her comfort and a tight black top that showcased her large breasts and veered attention away from everything else. She’d gained weight and had more fat rolls than she used to, bigger curves than she was comfortable with. In some spots, she was just plain round. She used to love her curves, the roundness of her belly, the mounds of her breasts, the softness of her thighs, but now… Now it was all too much.
A born and bred Aussie, Liia hails from Perth, Western Australia. After spending her childhood years dreaming of far-off lands, she eventually discovered her love of romance and hasn’t looked back since.
A self-proclaimed geek, she loves all things Disney and Star Wars. Being a bisexual, bipolar and ADHD battler, she is passionate about mental health and LGBTQIA+ rights, as well as advocating for animal rights.
When not writing, she can be found curled up with a good book, with her two dogs by her side.
She thinks she might be losing her mind…but she knows she’s losing her heart.
Poised. Elegant. Lovely. The local press loves to write glowing stories about Lana Fitzhugh, the youngest sibling and only sister of the famous Minnesota Fitzhugh family. But Lana’s past holds secrets, pain and shame…so much that she’s unworthy of a relationship with any good man, especially her brother Fitz’s close friend Mac. Keeping her distance from him is the right thing to do, so why can’t she stop thinking about him?
Finally settling into his first new job after long months of recovery from a severe injury, when Joe ‘Mac’ MacKenzie meets Lana Fitzhugh, the former Navy pilot thinks things might finally be looking up for him. His friend’s little sister is gorgeous, kind and makes his heart and body come alive again. But after they share an explosive embrace, she pushes him away so hard he’s still reeling.
When tragedy plunges Lana into the unexpected role of guardian to a preschooler, odd coincidences begin to happen…and grow increasingly more sinister. As Lana begins to fear that she herself might be the source of the danger, Mac doesn’t hesitate to return to help her. The only thing better than the joy they discover as a makeshift family is the passion they find in each other’s arms, but the unknown menace still grows closer every day. Will they be able to move beyond the past to grab for a future together?
“I have to admit that I’m impressed by how well you handled all the questions from the police about Brock Templeton,” Lana said grudgingly. Joe ‘Mac’ MacKenzie was already much too cocky, and his ego hardly needed any stroking. Watching him with the officers, though, had been like watching a master. She could easily see how he’d earned so many promotions and honors as a Navy pilot.
He shrugged, not taking his hands off the wheel, but the small smile he gave—and why couldn’t he be a little less handsome?—was self-satisfied. “It’s the accent,” he answered, really laying it on thick. “Like my daddy said, a Southern man tells the best jokes and is always welcome at any dinner table or gatherin’.”
She snorted, and not the usual elegant sniff that sometimes escaped but a full-on nasal rattling noise. “You sound like Tom Hanks’ cousin from the deeper South—like, the Mariana Trench of Alabama.”
“Oh, no, ma’am, not Alabama—perish the thought! My family’s pure Georgia. How did you guess I was from Mariana Trench, though?” he teased. “My granddaddy was mayor of Mariana Trench, as a matter of fact.”
She raised one skeptical eyebrow. “Matter of fact, eh?”
Her heart felt like it beat double-time at Mac’s charming grin, flashing like the Cheshire Cat’s as it was lit periodically by the streetlights they passed. Lana Fitzhugh, you of all people know better than to get your head turned by a handsome, charming man, she scolded herself. He’d shown himself to be overbearing, jealous and possessive when he’d fired one of the caterers on the spot earlier in the evening without even consulting her. But you didn’t disagree with his decision, the annoyingly honest voice in the back of her head forced her to acknowledge. The caterer had actually been making her uncomfortable, but it had been her problem to deal with, not Mac’s.
“Would I lie to such a stunning creature? You wound me, ma’am, straight to the core.” He pretended to be hit by a bolt to the heart, and she couldn’t help the burble of laughter that she tried to stifle. He was just so ridiculous. He was smart, funny and seemed truly dedicated to helping other men and women who’d recently left the service. Several times over the past few weeks as she’d worked closely with him to plan that night’s fundraiser, she’d found herself liking him in spite of her better judgment.
The party had been an unqualified success for the worthy veteran’s charity that Mac and Fitz, her second-oldest brother, had become very involved with. Well, she mentally amended, it was practically perfect until Brock Templeton, Fitz’s fiancée’s ex-boyfriend, made a scene, insulted Clara and drunkenly confessed to trying to cause her to ‘accidentally’ lose their baby. Brock had clammed up when they’d gotten to the police station, but, thank goodness, Mac had already recorded everything on his phone.
“I know that Fitz and Clara will really appreciate your getting the police to agree to take their statements tomorrow. They don’t like to leave baby Hope for too long,” she answered, sobered by the recollection of the night’s events.
“I’m certain they’ve checked in on Miss Hope, but I do believe they may be doing some, uh, private celebrating of their engagement, too—or, at least, on behalf of lonely single dudes everywhere, I hope they are. It’s not every day that a man gets the woman he loves to agree to marry him.” Mac’s voice was light, but there was something sad behind his tone, just below the surface.
“No…no, it’s not,” she agreed, snapping her mouth shut when she realized she sounded wistful. She had plenty to be grateful for, especially now that Fitz had returned to their lives, bringing the lovely Clara and Hope, shaking up the household and breaking their oldest brother, Drew, and Lana herself out of the cold, boring routines they’d fallen into. “Clara is just lovely—and Hope, too. I couldn’t be happier for them,” she enthused, perhaps a bit too heartily.
Mac quirked one side of his mouth up in a wry smile. “You’ve convinced me…but are you sure you’ve convinced yourself?”
His insight surprised her.
“I suppose you’re right…but please don’t think it’s about Clara, because she really is wonderful. I truly am happy for them.” She paused, forcing herself to be truthful. “Maybe a little envious, too. A long time ago—God, when I was so young and arrogant, self-assured to the point of naiveté and convinced of my own completely irresistible self—I made some really awful decisions.”
If he’d said anything, she probably wouldn’t have continued, but he remained silent, waiting.
“I ended up with a badly trampled heart—let’s call it pulverized instead of broken—and it cost me my best friend and years of my relationship with Fitz, too.” Suddenly uncomfortable with just how much she’d revealed, she gave a weak laugh. “I’m sorry I said that…burdened you with that. You didn’t ask for my life story.”
Mac touched his hand to her thigh for an instant before returning it to make a hard turn with the steering wheel. “Whatever happened, it sounds like you learned a lot from it, although I’m sorry it sounds like it caused you so much pain,” he replied in a low, earnest voice, so different from the light, teasing tones he usually used with her. “And, Lana, nothing you could ever tell me would be a burden,” he finished, clearing his throat. She wondered if he was equally uncomfortable with what she’d revealed.
Taking pity on him, she deliberately lightened the tone. “I bet you say that to all the young debutantes,” she answered. “Does it ever work?”
Mac’s laughter was a surprised bark. “Touché, Miss Fitzhugh. It might shock you to learn that I have, indeed, known my fair share of debutantes, including my two sisters.”
“Now, that is unexpected,” she agreed, although now that she pictured it, she could definitely see Mac all dressed up in a gray afternoon suit, flirting shamelessly and fetching lemonade for some pretty young thing. “Does that mean you can dance? You never asked me once tonight.”
They stopped at a signal so that his face was half in the light and half out, but the expression on the half she could see was distant. The silence between them became thick and uncomfortable. Lana knew she must have mis-stepped, but she wasn’t certain how.
“I don’t think I can dance anymore—or at least not like I used to,” he answered at last, his voice gruff. “I lost my right leg below the knee about eighteen months ago now.”
Lana sucked in a sharp breath. She’d known Mac and Fitz had met in a military hospital, and she’d noticed that Mac walked with a limp, but she’d never wanted to pry, figuring that Mac would tell her about his injury if he wanted her to know. She’d never imagined he’d lost part of his leg entirely.
“Horrified? Tempted to feel sorry for me?” Mac sounded defensive. “I’ve had to deal with just about every type of reaction.”
She touched his shoulder gently. “Nope, just surprised, since I didn’t know,” she answered quietly. “I can’t even begin to understand how difficult recovering from an injury like that would be, and I admire your charity work even more now.”
The enclosed space of the small front seat of the car felt suddenly intimate, especially so late at night, as if the two of them might be the only people awake in the city—or maybe in the world.
They pulled onto the long driveway—well, really a small, private lane—that led to the main house of her family’s compound—Fitzhugh’s Folly, as it was widely known, given how outrageously expensive and ostentatious it had been when her grandfather, Pat, had built it.
Tonight, it looked cavernous and dark…forlorn. Or maybe that’s just me, Lana thought, but recognizing the source of her melancholy didn’t make her feel better. Her oldest brother, Drew, had opted to stay at his high-rise apartment downtown to save time before his morning meeting. Her grandfather and Roger, who was ostensibly their butler but really a member of the family, along with being her grandfather’s long-time companion and probably his closest friend, had gone to bed early, so the lights had likely been out in their wing since ten o’clock or so.
Fitz and Clara were staying in the large separate guest house—which was actually the original house on the property—so Lana would be alone in the north wing of the main house. She should have been comfortable with it—in fact, she was very used to it, since at least three or four nights a week she had the mansion practically to herself, with its multitude of bedrooms, sitting rooms and other various spaces for practically every conceivable purpose. She often relished the solitude, after needing to be ‘on’ for so much of her charity work, which was no easy feat for a natural introvert who would have been happy just reading and drinking tea. Tonight, though, she felt a pang of loneliness.
Before she knew it, they’d pulled up to her front doors. They were tall, made from a thick, dark wood, and the whole impressive entryway looked forbidding, shrouded in darkness.
“They don’t leave the front lights on for you?” Mac asked, breaking the silence and some of the tension.
Lana wished they did, but they weren’t that kind of family. “I often get home late, and my grandfather is surprisingly frugal, so…” She shrugged, looking away. “I’m accustomed to it.” She could feel Mac’s gaze, but she refused to turn toward him. “I go in the side door, anyway.”
Before she could tell him not to, Mac had gotten out of the car and come around to open her door, offering her his arm. He still looked impossibly handsome in the fading moonlight. It was so cold at the tail end of mid-November that his breath puffed out of his mouth in white clouds, but he looked unruffled in his pristine dress uniform.
“Let me walk you there?” he asked. When she hesitated, with one leg on the ground and one still in the car, he spoke again. “So I’m certain you’re safe.”
With a swift bolt of comprehension, Lana realized he must be doing this—ensuring her safety—for Fitz, as a favor to her brother, which made total sense. They hadn’t totally repaired their relationship as brother and sister, since that would take a long time, but they’d made some good headway, and Fitz had always been protective of her when they had been younger. So why do I feel so disappointed? she wondered.
“Since you insist,” she agreed, unable to keep the snap of annoyance from her voice entirely. Still, holding onto Mac’s solid, warm arm, inhaling his distinctive scent, so smooth and comforting, like masculine soap and cinnamon and detergent, she wasn’t sorry not to be alone. No…it was more than that. She wasn’t sorry that Mac was the specific man she walked with.
Across the lawn, she saw a light come on in the guest house, which she recognized was in baby Hope’s room. Silhouetted on the shades, she saw a curvy woman’s figure rocking a child, and a larger outline as a man came up behind her, enveloping them in his shadow with a hug and leading them away from the window. The peace and serenity of the domestic scene, along with recollections of the love that she’d seen on their faces every time Fitz and Clara looked at each other and at tiny, perfect Hope, made her heart hurt, because she knew she would never have anything like it—and didn’t deserve it, anyway. Tears filled her eyes. As their steps slowed when they neared the side entrance to her area of the house, she kept her face averted from Mac so he wouldn’t see.
“I’m here safely, so you can report back to Fitz that you did your duty,” she answered, more coldly than she’d intended.
“Hey, now,” Mac answered, turning toward her in front of the side steps and urging her chin up with one strong but gentle finger so he could look at her face. “I never do anything I don’t want to do—not anymore, in any case—and I wanted to see you to your door safely for myself, so I wouldn’t worry.” He studied her, and she had the uncomfortable sensation that he saw much more than she’d wanted. “Are those tears, sugar?”
“No,” she denied in a thick voice, but her body immediately betrayed her as two droplets fell from her lashes and traced icy paths down her cheeks.
“Oh, darlin’, I’m sorry. Not quite sure what I did or said, but I never meant to make you cry,” he murmured in a deep, sincere voice, and Lana thought that she could have forgiven him just about anything, if there’d been something to forgive.
“It’s not you,” she answered. “It’s just that I feel so…alone sometimes, you know?” she admitted.
“God, yes,” he replied, with feeling. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close into his body, so tightly that something he had pinned to his uniform pressed into her cheek. In spite of the tiny prick of pain, she felt safer and warmer than she had for a long, long while. “You’re not alone now, Lana.”
She tipped her head back, and she wasn’t sure whether she pushed up toward him first or he lowered his head, but somehow he closed his mouth over hers, and it was sublime. At first, his lips were gentle—surprisingly soft for such a brave, tough ex-military pilot—but when she moaned, he deepened the kiss, and she savored his spicy taste, a little like the coffee they’d drunk at the police station, but mostly just his own unique flavor.
She pushed herself against him, feeling his hardness rise, thick and long, against her stomach, and he tangled his hands into her updo, dislodging bobby pins, which made tiny metallic pings as they landed on the steps. He caressed her tongue with his, claiming her mouth in bold strokes until her nipples tightened against his chest as she imagined how he would claim her with other parts of his body.
When he finally raised his mouth from hers, his breathing harsh and uneven, she noticed they must have walked together right up to the wall of the house, and her back was cold against the bricks. The rapid puffs of her breath mingled with the clouds of his, and he leaned his forehead against hers.
“I’m sorry… I got a little carried away,” Mac said, and they still stood so close that she could feel the quick rise and fall of his chest against her breasts.
“No, no…I was just as into it, maybe more,” she said, then flushed with embarrassment. “I didn’t mean…well, you know. I’m sure you could tell that I was enjoying it, but of course we shouldn’t have done that.”
Mac took a step back. “What do you mean?”
Lana bit her lip, feeling like she wished the ground would swallow her up. Where was some handy quicksand when you needed it?
“Well, like you said, I’m sorry, too.”
Mac shook his head. “No, darlin’, I’m not sorry it happened…only sorry we went so fast.”
When she looked up into his face—so handsome, perfectly formed with strong lines and eyes that she couldn’t make out clearly right now in the low light but that she knew were a startling deep green and probably blazing with emotion—she wished she dared to trust herself again with a good man, a kind man, a true friend like Mac. Being with someone like him wasn’t in the cards for her, though. That kind of man wanted more than she could give—more than she was capable of giving anymore.
She put her hand on his chest. “Mac, there can’t be anything more between us. I can’t be with someone like you.” She tried to be gentle, but she rushed her words as thick tears rose in her throat.
Mac took another step back, breaking all contact between them. “Someone like me, huh? Why did I think you were different?” His voice was hollow, resigned…but the tone was underlaid with hurt.
“That’s not—” she started to explain, but he cut her off.
“You know what, Lana? Don’t say anything you might regret. I’ll stay away from you, and you can stay away from me from now on, but no matter what, we’ll still have to see each other sometimes, and I don’t want it to be any worse than it has to be.”
Lana felt as if he’d slapped her, but she forgave him for lashing out. He didn’t understand, but explaining might make it more painful. As Fitz’s closest friend, he was bound to cross her path in the future at important events.
“If that’s what you want,” she agreed, her voice low and sad.
“Does it matter what I want?” Mac’s laugh was mirthless, and he started to turn away. “No, hold on. I’m gonna say one more thing first, because I vowed that if I ever started to feel for someone again, I would say the words out loud—not leave confusion or doubt.”
Lana braced herself for whatever he was going to say, but his words were more surprising for their tenderness than anything else.
“It sounds like we don’t feel the same way and maybe you won’t thank me for saying this, but no matter how you feel, I care about you. I was beginnin’ to think I might be able to care pretty deeply and that maybe you could, too.”
She winced at the raw tone of his voice.
“That doesn’t change overnight. Truth is, for a man like me, that doesn’t really change, period. So if you’re ever in trouble or hurting—no matter everything we said tonight—you can call me and I’ll be there. That’s it.”
His offer stunned her, and letting him turn around and walk away, back into the darkness that was beginning to streak gray with the first light of the coming dawn, was one of the worst things she’d ever forced herself to do. He’d be better off without her, though. She knew it, and he’d recognize it, too, in time.
She’d thought her sad, shredded heart was incapable of feeling anything anymore, but now she learned—too late—that she must have been mistaken. If it had truly been destroyed, it couldn’t hurt so darn bad now. She hurried inside the massive house, her steps echoing off the walls and floors of the empty rooms, and cried for everything that might have been.
Aurora is originally from the frozen tundra of the upper-Midwest (ok, not frozen all the time!) but now loves living in New England with her real-life hero/husband, two wonderfully silly sons, and one of the most extraordinary cats she has ever had the pleasure to meet. But she still goes back to the Midwest to visit, just never in January.
She doesn’t remember a time that she didn’t love to read, and has been writing stories since she learned how to hold a pencil. She has always liked the romantic scenes best in every book, story, and movie, so one day she decided to try her hand at writing her own romantic fiction, which changed her life in all the best ways.
You can find out more about Aurora at her website here.
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Her mysterious past holds the key to protecting his clan.
Between helping teens at an After-School Art Club and trying to publish her granny’s fairy tales, Chantelle’s life still feels somehow unfulfilled.
When his father and older brother died, Charles was forced into the role of Alpha. Three years later, he still hasn’t dealt with the loss. Now a rival pack is stirring up trouble in his grandmother’s hometown, and he must investigate.
But that is only where the mystery begins. There’s something else going on and it starts with the mysterious and beautiful Chantelle. The secrets of her past and her untrained magical abilities hold the key to the rival pack’s attacks. And when they discover that sorcery is behind the violence against women and children in the territory, they have to trust each other and forge a connection.
But is their bond strong enough to protect the pack and fulfil a Fated Mates prophecy, or will they lead the pack, and their love, to ruin?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of racism, violence and attempted/threatened sexual assault. There is reference to past memory modification and the off-screen death of a teen.
Chantelle Mizuki didn’t want to die today.
I’m wearing old underwear. With holes. Nobody is going to see them. No nurse, no doctor, no coroner. Nobody.
Chantelle’s footsteps crunched in the autumn leaves of the mountain forest. Night was falling. Wolves were howling.
Granny Ceci’s voice rang in her ears. “Don’t go in the forest at dusk, mon chou.”
Too late, Granny.
She hadn’t planned to be out this late. It was light when the After-School Art Club finished at the library. She had asked her student Alfonso to stay and talk about his application for art school. By the time they were done, the sun was low in the sky. Only after Alfonso had left did she discover she’d locked her keys in the car.
In the daytime, everyone used the path through the woods to get to the other side of the village in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. She loved the soft pine needles underfoot, tall trunks stretching their branches to the sky, soothing fragrances of moss and fern. During the day Chantelle expected to stumble across Snow White singing and dancing among the trees.
Night-time was different. Every noise was menacing, every shadow a predator waiting for her to stray off the path.
Chantelle kept to the darkened trail, wishing those howls and barks were getting fainter. The sounds of the forest were soothing when she was tucked into Granny Ceci’s gingerbread cottage—her cottage now. This evening, those sounds took on ominous undertones.
She remembered Granny Ceci telling her, “Ma cocotte, the Laurentian Mountains are home to many creatures, some fair, some foul. Be prepared for both.” Tonight, it was the foul creatures. Why couldn’t it be chipmunks or raccoons?
Another howl wailed over the tops of the trees. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. One step in front of the other. You can do this.
Soon she reached the edge of the village. Only a quarter of a mile left. Past Marie’s big house on the hill, through the ravine, then up the path to the top of her street.
No problem. She had survived book signings with dozens of cranky children and their bad-tempered parents. She had run off her cheating no-good boyfriend. A wolf or two? No sweat.
She picked up her pace to a jog. Her legs were aching, her chest heaving. At the very least she’d have a funny story to tell Yvette and Kat. Well, it would be funny if she made it home in one piece.
The recent wolf sightings had everyone in town worried. The wolves were larger than usual, more vicious. They had even killed some dogs. Villagers were warned to stay away from the woods at night. She knew her woodcraft and carried her multi-tool at all times, but that wouldn’t be enough to stop a feral wolf.
Of course, today was the day she’d locked her keys in the car. She’d forgotten to take her ADHD medication. And her publisher called in the afternoon to say they were passing on her “passion project,” as they’d called it. Illustrating Granny Ceci’s stories and having them published were a way to honour her grandmother’s legacy. But her reputation as a children’s story illustrator was not opening doors for the collection of folk tales. Her usual collaborator hadn’t helped at all. He didn’t want his favourite illustrator distracted from his own book projects.
Was the howling closer now? Or was it her imagination? She crouched by a small cluster of sumac bushes. Her heart raced. The wind whistled through the treetops, clattering in the dying leaves.
There was a clearing ahead. What a relief! It was the small field behind her neighbour’s house. Marie, a dear friend of Granny Ceci’s, lived on the edge of the village. The little meadow divided the forest from her garden, which was enclosed by a stone wall.
There would be a large blue spruce at the northern edge of the clearing. The conical silhouette of the tree stood tall against the dying light. Three shadows, large and shaggy, skulked at the base.
She spared half a breath for one of Granny’s favourite curse words.
Could she make it to Marie’s house? She should move slowly, deliberately, not run. But rabid or savage wolves would still attack. If they came for her, she would have to run along the perimeter.
She was stuck. Sweat trickled down her back.
I need a plan. If she got out of this, she could move back to Montreal. There was nothing keeping her here. Granny had died last year. Why was she still here? Pull yourself together, girl!
The moon burst out from behind a cloud.
One of the wolves looked up, the cool light illuminating his outline. He cocked his head and looked in her direction. He howled, long and low. The other two wolves nosed him, turning towards her. Could they see her?
She sent a silent prayer up to Ceci. Wherever you are, please help me.
The wolves paced at the edge of the clearing, whining and sniffing the air.
She had to move. Maybe make a commotion once she got closer to the garden wall. Marie might hear.
She breathed in and out. Now. She took a cautious step.
One of the wolves inclined his head. Had he seen her? Another step.
He pointed his muzzle at her, his tail arching over his back. Two steps.
The lead wolf pushed off on his hind legs, padding towards her position. The others followed on his tail.
Ben l’on! Granny would have said. Oh, come on!
She sprinted towards the wooden gate in the middle of the stone wall.
They reached her in the clearing. The largest one growled, ears and tail erect. His eyes looked odd—orange, almost glowing. Impossible. It must be a reflection of the moonlight.
These wolves were big. And their faces looked funny—no, not funny, just strange. Almost human-like.
Heart racing, Chantelle took a step back.
The wolves advanced, circling her. They weren’t acting like regular wolves. What was going on?
The leader surged forward, snarling. She backed up and bumped into another wolf. The wolf behind her made a huffing noise that sounded almost like a laugh. Goosebumps broke out on her arms. Was this the end?
The largest one snapped at her leg. As she stepped back, her knees buckled and she fell to the unforgiving ground beneath her. Tears stung her eyes as she scrabbled in the grass and dirt. He descended on her and sunk his teeth in her calf. She batted at him, a shrill scream erupting from her throat. She had to get away.
The other wolves nipped at her arms as she pulled back, dodging their snouts and paws. She searched for purchase on the ground. They dragged her across the ground, away from the wall.
Fear churned in her stomach. Her heart beat fast as she struck at the wolves. Then something changed, fear turning into anger in her chest. Tingling sensations erupted into a warmth across her chest. Her ears buzzed.
What’s going on?
Some kind of energy bubbled from her middle. Rising up, it surged from her core out towards her arms and legs. It felt strange, yet familiar somehow.
The buzzing increased, changing into a burning sensation. A shooting pain in her leg snapped her attention back to the wolves. Sliding along the ground, she reached for the wolf attached to her leg. She smiled as she caught hold. His fur was matted, his bulk solid beneath her fingers.
The low droning made her ears itch and blocked out the growls of her attackers. Her field of vision telescoped into her hands, legs, and torso in front of her.
Anger surged within her. She pushed out from her diaphragm. Energy tingled and sparked, hot and strong. It poured down her arms and into her hands. When she shoved against her attacker, something blue zapped out of her palms.
The wolf let go when the blast hit him. Falling back a few inches, he shook his head and coat.
Growling, ears back, he pushed forward. The lights in his eyes glowed. The wolves regrouped and closed in.
I’m going to die here. With no one present to hear a snappy parting line.
A spotlight came on, almost blinding her. A rifle shot rang in the air and the creatures froze. Out from the garden gate stepped a small figure.
The ancient woman leaned forward, hefting a rifle that was almost as tall as she was. Her red plaid jacket was three sizes too big and hung down to her knees. She peered out from thick glasses beneath a dark green hunter’s cap.
“Allez-y vous, sales chiens!” The old woman’s Québécois accent was thick but her tone was unmistakable.
Chantelle sucked in a big breath. She shuddered and turned to her attackers. The larger brown wolf swung his head towards her.
Another shot grazed the attacker’s mud-coloured fur. Yelping, he jumped out of the ring of light. He whined, pawing the ground, the other wolves huffing beside him. He glanced over at the old woman.
A new growl, low and menacing, rumbled by the gate. Beside Marie was a large dog, ears back, tail up. They moved forward in unison. The wolves backed away from Chantelle.
The lead wolf slunk towards the trees with his two companions. Looking back, he howled once before the trio disappeared into the night.
Chantelle pushed up from the ground, relief warring with the fear and pain. She tried to stand but her leg throbbed. The bite marks oozed blood. Her feet shuffled forward as she held her elbow against her side. Had they bitten her arm too?
She reached towards Marie by the gate.
Then she was falling.
Strong arms wrapped around her. A low voice murmured and Marie’s voice answered. She was being lifted up, arms carrying her to warmth. The voices faded away.
Her fingers touched a soft blanket. How long had she been out? A fire crackled nearby. Gentle hands prodded at the bite.
Mimi B. Rose writes fantastic tales filled with steamy enchantment and tender-hearted fulfilment to thrill strong women. As a teen she read V.C. Andews’s Flowers in the Attic and Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat and she was hooked on fantasy romance and paranormal romance. Some of her favourite tv shows are Sleepy Hollow, Grimm, and Once–and the reboot of Beauty and the Beast starring Kirstin Kreuk (does anyone remember that series?).
She loves all kinds of shifters and vampires. Her all-time favourite authors are Faith Hunter, Ilona Andrews, Nalini Singh, and more recently Richelle Mead.
Mimi likes a sassy heroine who is independent but finds a strong hero who can keep up with her and treasure her for their uniqueness–including her flaws!
History, family, fate. Accept it or deny it at your will. To have a future, they need to make peace with the past.
Condemned to a half-life for helping to protect Bonnie Prince Charlie, the only way Lachlan Stuart can live properly is to find someone who trusts and believes in him in the present day.
That person is Bonnie Drummond, who is not best pleased at having her peaceful life disturbed.
Especially when she discovers just what he wants her to do—and that it appears there are more powerful entities who will stop at nothing to ensure she doesn’t succeed.
Can Lachlan and Bonnie achieve what’s needed and get the happiness they both deserve, or is he condemned to forever be on the outside?
“No, no and even more so no.” Bonnie Drummond folded her arms and glared at the tall, long-haired man in front of her. “Get that into your thick head. Watch my lips. N…O… No.”
His dark, almost black, grey eyes twinkled as he laughed at her, lifted her and swung her around in a circle. Her multi-coloured scarf tangled about her neck and arms, and one tasselled end hit her on her nose. It stung.
“Ooft, no.” She blew a rogue tassel off her cheek. “Yuk, noooo.”
“Bonnie, my love, you’re awfy fond of that wee word and you don’t mean it. Yes, yes and even more so yes. We’ll do it. You’ll love it.”
“Lachlan Stuart, don’t you dare.” Brave words, because she knew he would. “I’ll be sick.”
“Sick? My brave Bonnie? Never and if you are then…”
Where are we?
She strained to see him, twisted and turned and…
Woke up as she fell out of bed.
“Of all the stupid, idiotic, ridiculous…argh.” Bonnie unwound the sheet—she’d been too hot to use the duvet and had put a sheet over her instead, which somehow was wrapped around her like a shroud—kicked it away and stood up, yawning. “Enough is enough. Give me a break.”
Yet another night of broken sleep. Of dreams and conversation with someone called Lachlan. Lachlan Stuart. “Why Lachlan Stuart? What’s it all about? Whose life was I in?”
The name seemed familiar—probably from being told it in her dreams—but she didn’t know anyone called that in reality. “Crazy statement,” she muttered. “In fact, the whole thing is.”
“Not at all.”
That was all she needed. The mystery voice in her head adding its tenpenn’orth. Shut up, and don’t butt in where you’re not concerned.
“Oh, but I am. Concerned. Really, Bonnie. Use your senses.”
She ignored that. She was using them, wasn’t she? How else would he have invaded her mind?
The laugh that echoed round the room made her scowl. Something screwy was going on and she didn’t like it one bit. Bonnie admitted she hated not being in charge of every part of her life. Why, when she acknowledged she was a ’seer’, someone who could hear voices, sense things, see happenings—in both the past and, she assumed, though it was never verified, the future—did one new voice bug her so much? Why did her life have to change anyway? She was content—sort of—as she was. Content enough not to want anything drastic to occur, at least.
Bonnie accepted her thoughts and dreams as part of her. Until recently those thoughts and dreams had been positive, mild even. Rarely about herself, more often about her close family. Sometimes about people she didn’t know and subsequently met. Those, though, didn’t unsettle her like this one had. Enough to wake her up sweating.
All her life she’d had conversations in her mind. Chatted to herself, so to speak. Argued and got the conclusion she wanted. Usually. The times she hadn’t she tried to rationalize.
Now, though… Now she couldn’t explain what she heard and thought. Nor, she decided, could she share those conversations with her parents. It was fine as a teenager, asking why she had silent conversations, could magic things to move—sometimes—and see and hear what other people thought—on occasion. But not why you were convinced you’d made love with someone who spoke softly to you in a language akin to but not the same as Gaelic, and you understood them. Experienced the sensations of heat and arousal as they caressed you. Sensed them fill you and rejoiced when you moved together as one hot, aroused and powerful entity. Saw stars as you climaxed and heard him shout his completion.
Not the sort of information she chose to share with anyone—especially her parents.
Her dad would have a conniption, her mum ask for more details, and if they passed the information on to her brother, Baird, she daren’t think what might happen. He was a bit ‘act now, think later’ when it applied to his sisters. How Marcail, the eldest, had managed to meet, make love with and marry her husband was one of life’s unsolved—or untold—mysteries.
Bonnie headed for the shower and ruminated over what she needed to achieve that day.
First thing on her mental list was to decide on the colours of the plaid she was making for her nephew’s first birthday. Once she had a rough idea about that, she intended to get stuck in and write a synopsis that made sense for her next paranormal mystery and romance book series. For a week or so it had been simmering in the back of her mind. Now she thought—hoped—she had the plot fixed, and a rough idea of how her characters looked. Tier traits and characteristics.
Where had that thought popped up from? ‘Like me’ who? She mentally shrugged. In general her heroes came out of her imagination and not from seeing someone in the papers or walking down a street.
No one had been more surprised than Bonnie when a dare by Baird—to enter a competition where you wrote a thousand-word hint-of-intrigue snippet for a magazine competition—had culminated in her being asked to expand the story, and subsequently being offered a three-book contract. She hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, except Baird, and he had been sworn to secrecy. When the first book had come out, under the name of Belle Scott, she’d casually asked her mum—who had been kneading dough—if she’d read it.
Her mum had shaken her head and put her dough to prove. ‘Should I have?’
Bonnie’s heart had sunk. ‘Just wondered.’
‘Ah, okay. The book club are interested. I’ve read an excerpt. It sounds great, and I’ve got it on my ‘buy next time I go online’ list. I reckon it will be right up my street. Hope to get it in the next day or so.’
Bonnie had grinned. ‘No need. Here you are.’ She’d handed a paperback to her bemused parent. ‘I reckon if you think about it, you might realise you know the author.’ Then she’d headed home in a hurry and immersed herself in weaving a cloth she’d decided to use to make Christmas presents. As ever, the simple repetition of working her loom had soothed her and as she’d weaved, she’d plotted, so by the time her mum had appeared at her door several hours later, she had almost forgotten she’d handed the book over.
‘Bonnie, its fabulous,’ her mum had exclaimed as she shared one of her gorgeous and jealously rationed homemade loaves with Bonnie. ‘You did write it, didn’t you? I wasn’t sure at first, but little things gave it away.’ She’d grinned. ‘Now I want it signed.’
‘How did you guess?’ Bonnie had chuckled and resisted the impulse to punch the air.
‘Your choice of words. Often those we use as a family for one, and then Belle for Bonnie and Scott because you’re Scottish?’
Bonnie had nodded. ‘Baird bet me to enter a competition. I couldn’t believe it when I was offered a three-book contract. I’m plotting book three now.’
‘Book three? What about book two?’ Her mum had appeared confused. ‘What’s happened to that?’
‘That’s gone off for editing. This next one is the last in the series. Hot, sexy hero. You’ll love him. He’s everything any woman wants all rolled into one sex-on-legs body.’
Bonnie almost jumped. A new voice in her head? I was going to say like my dad.
“That sounds dodgy.”
Not to my mum, and who are you anyway?
“You’ll soon discover that.”
‘Bonnie?’ Her mum had looked at her in concern. ‘Are you okay? You look a bit peely wally.’ A Scottish expression for pale. ‘I was saying how proud of you we are. And to keep it a secret. Amazing. You’ve never been able to do that before. You and secrets were like water in a leaky bucket.’
Damn it, she’d been away with the fairies—her family expression for deep in thought. Or was that thoughts? ’Gee, thanks, Mum. I’ve been called a lot of things but never a leaky bucket before.’
‘Sorry, love, but you just…went. And not as if you were in seer mode, if you get me. Sort of…’ She’d paused, obviously trying to find the right words.
‘Peely wally, I get you. Sorry, thinking about lots of things at once. Probably forget most of them.’ Especially pesky new voices.
Her mum had laughed. ‘I’ll buy you some notebooks.’
Bonnie still used notebooks for emergency ideas and when she was out and about. ‘Great stuff, I’m on my last one. The one that says watch it or you’ll die a gruesome death in my next book.’
“No gruesome deaths needed any more. I’ll remind you.”
That had been a while before.
To her annoyance, that sexy voice in her head was now a regular occurrence. When she’d started to think about her series, which she had decided was to be set on an imaginary island in the same loch as she lived on, one name had kept coming to mind.
Lachlan. Lachlan Stuart.
She had no idea why. Her hero she had decided to call Frazer, her heroine Louise.
“Lachlan is better.”
For my heroine? She had to be perverse. I don’t think so.
“Ha, silly, ha. You know what I mean, or if not, you will. Soon. Know what I mean and know me.”
It wasn’t helpful being told that with no explanation as to why. Even so, Bonnie scribbled the name in her notebook, along with bairns, bodies, books and bribery. Where had all that come from? Used to the vagaries of her wandering mind, she mentally shrugged and carried on making an omelette. It would or wouldn’t be clear before long. Meanwhile she’d eat then go out in the boat to decide where to put the island and see if any colours hit her for her plaid.
It might have sounded daft to some people, but it made sense to her. The water, the scenery, helped her so often. She often thought she could have been a water sprite. It had made her laugh when she was told, very firmly, no chance—she liked chocolate too much.
“I need the purple of the heather, the blue of the loch on a misty day, the yellow of the broom and the green of the pines.”
It was time to put Mr New Voice into his place.
Well, it’s not up to you, whoever you are. You’ve never told me that before so tough. In fact, you’ve told me b. all. You just issue orders. Which I tell you, I’m going to ignore. This is my creation for my nephew so butt out and bugger off. She sneezed. Bloody pollen.
“Naughty. Bless you.” Male laughter echoed around her kitchen. “I haven’t said much, have I? You’ll find out soon enough.”
She didn’t bother to reply. The last thing she wanted was to start arguing with a voice in her head, especially when she had no idea what the darned voice was all about.
“Life, love, care, help. Us. The future to save the past.”
Clear as mud, as ever. That’s not me, that was someone else. She’d had to stand back and not help her sister, and even now it stung. Whoever made up the rules should cut a little slack.
“Tut, tut, you know that’s not our way.”
Well, it should be.
Damn it, she’d answered, and now there would be a stupid dialogue ending in a huff in her head.
Bonnie waited for the fallout.
“That was different, and you know it. Stop sulking, it doesn’t suit you. You’ll see soon enough.”
She waited some more.
Silence. No thoughts, no voices, not one thing. Not even a faint laugh or smart retort.
Fair enough. After all, the mood she was now in would probably magnify any little problem and become a migraine-sized headache. Something she could do without.
Bonnie ate her food standing up, left her dirty pots in the sink—one of the pros of living alone—and headed out with her camera. She fancied some heathery tones, blues and dusky greens in the plaid she was creating. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper tartan, but it would be young Master MacDonald’s very own pattern.
“Thought it was for me? We need one… To be…” The voice faded, and for the first time it annoyed her not to hear any more. Then came a mocking laugh that made her want to kick something. Or someone. Instead she threw stones in the burn that ran by her house then headed down to the loch via a series of tiny waterfalls and tiny but deep pools. They made a satisfying plop noise and the ever-spreading circles of water it displaced soothed her. It was time she pulled up her big-girl panties and remembered the basic tenets her mum had told her.
To wit, she had abilities most people didn’t. Those talents might vary over time, might not always be uppermost in her life, but were there for a reason. She was, for want of a better description, a witch. Her forte was seeing. Both the past and the distant—as in over a year or so—future. Weirdly not the present, or anything that could involve dishonesty. If someone asked her who would win the tennis tournament, she had no idea. Nor who would win the election or the lottery numbers. But she could tell if someone or something would have problems in the years ahead, whether a certain colour would be ‘in’ or not and relationships that would happen, whether the recipients wanted them to or not. She didn’t cast spells, but she could work out what herbs, flora and fauna could help in certain circumstances and also make potpourri, bath oils and salts and herbal teas.
She’d known who her sister’s partner would be before Marcail did, but luckily, not how and when they would get together. Nor any intimate details. That would have been beyond icky. Her brother Baird’s future was more uncertain and worried her to a certain extent. She could sense it wouldn’t be smooth or easy for him to overcome all the obstacles in the way of his fate. But at least she could sense a little of what was in store for him.
It made her present circumstances not exactly a worry, but something that gave her an itch up her spine and a slight unease. The sensation of trying to find a light in a darkened room and not succeeding.
Maybe a day being away from the house and the island would help. Bonnie had changed into her walking gear, made sure she had the basics for a meal, her phone and mobile charger, and strode briskly shoreward.
She was about to cast off her tiny boat with its reliable outboard motor when her phone pinged.
That in itself was unusual. He hated technology with a vengeance. Bonnie held off untying the craft and opened her phone instead.
“Hi, Pa, what’s up?” she said cheerfully and waited for his usual reply.
“The sun and do not call me Pa. Snarky madam. I’ve a request.”
“Oh, yes?” Bonnie said warily. Her dad’s requests usually involved whoever he was speaking to doing something they didn’t want to do. “I’m on a deadline for my next book and need to do a lot of research.” Not strictly true as she’d got the outline completed and finished most of the research she would need in the immediate future. “In fact, I’m researching now and waiting for a call from…” She searched her mind for a plausible phone call. “The library about a book I’m after.” The fact she did most of her research online wasn’t lost on her and she hoped it wouldn’t occur to him to query her response.
Her dad made a noise akin to a boiling kettle. “Fshhht. This won’t take long. I need you to come for dinner tomorrow. Your mum says it’s Crowdie fish pie from Mrs Henderson, and Cranachan by herself.”
Bonnie’s mouth watered. They were both her favourites, and not her dad’s. His wording hit her. No wonder she was suspicious. Need… Not would you like to…but he needed. “What’s the catch?”
“What do you mean?” Her dad’s voice was bland, which was a giveaway that he was up to something. “Whatever fish Mrs H’s husband caught, I guess.”
“Ha ha, Pa. You’re so sharp you’ll cut yourself if you’re not careful. You know fine well what I mean. Why the formal call? It’s usually a ‘do you fancy dinner tonight’ or whatever. Not an official request. I feel like I need a gilt-edged RSVP card to reply.”
Her dad didn’t answer.
“In lieu of one”—Bonnie felt proud of that response—“thank you for asking but I’m so sorry, I must gracefully decline your oh so kind invitation.”
She waited for the explosion and wasn’t disappointed.
“De…you can’t bloody decline.” His voice rose. “You need to come.”
“Do I, Dad? Why?”
“Why?” he blustered. “Your mum will be upset if you don’t.”
“Oh, Pinocchio, how’s your nose?” She mentioned the story about the boy whose nose grew if he told a lie. “That’s the biggest load of tosh I’ve heard from you in a long time, Dad, and you can’t half spout some if you have a mind. Fess up or I’ll ask Mum what’s going on, and she’ll tell me.”
“Mum doesn’t know,” he said triumphantly. “So, you can’t.”
“Your poor dad doesn’t deserve your grief, you know. Remember Paden.”
That’s what I’m trying not to do. Butt out, this is my problem, not yours.
The laughter in her mind was mocking.
Sod off. She scowled at a nearby frog, which jumped into a nearby puddle with a reproachful croak. “Sorry,” she muttered to the frog, which of course ignored her.
Three ducks took up the complaint.
She turned the switch on the boat to start the engine, was about to apologise when she remembered what was going on. “Dad, I have to go, speak later.”
“Wait,” her dad said in a harassed voice. “You need to know what time to get here.”
“As I’ve declined, I don’t, you know.” Bonnie smirked as she ended the call and thought what state her dad would be in. It served him right. He was a champion at not explaining things and expecting people to fall in with his often unwanted wishes. Well, no more. She intended to make a stand and be firm.
After 30 plus years in Scotland, Raven now lives near the east Yorkshire coast, with her long-suffering husband, who is used to rescuing the dinner, when she gets immersed in her writing, keeping her coffee pot warm and making sure the wine is chilled.
With a new home to decorate and a garden to plan, she’s never short of things to do, but writing is always at the top of her list.
Her other hobbies include walking along the coast and spotting the wildlife, reading, researching, cros stitch and trying not to drop stitches as she endeavours to knit.
Being left-handed, and knitting right-handed, that’s not always easy.
She loves hearing from her readers, either via her website, by email or social media.
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Her fetish cruise vacation started with a bang, literally, but fun quickly turned to terror when death came knocking at her door.
Cammie Sheppard, personal assistant to Sabine Cowan, is a capital-O-organized, type-A workaholic and, according to Sabine, in desperate need of a vacation. Despite the fact that her boss has explicitly forbidden her from touching anything related to work, Cammie has a plan for her forced five-day Dark Matter Kink cruise. One, schmooze and network on behalf of Cowan Enterprises. Two, product-test all the kink goodies available. Three, get laid as much as possible. Even a working girl needs a little release every once in a while, and Cammie has been saving up.
When she meets Zane Roberts, she finds a kindred spirit, so much so that their chemistry ignites, and Cammie checks off number three on her to-do list several times in the first few hours after departure. When she returns to her own cabin later that night, she discovers the body of a man—who is very much deceased—but when she goes to get help and returns with security, the body is gone. No one believes her, except for the mysterious Zane Roberts, who, it turns out, is conducting an investigation of his own.
Cammie thinks the dead man is connected to Zane’s case, but Zane isn’t convinced. Cammie might be a sub in Zane’s bed, but she’s anything but when she’s got a job to do. Right now, she’s determined to figure out how a dead man ended up in her cabin and stop a murderer from striking again.
Reader advisory: This book contains murder, a head injury, brief anal play and an instance of drugging.
Cammie didn’t do vacations very well, mostly because she loathed stepping away from the love of her life…work. But when the uber-powerful Sabine Cowan insisted on an all-expenses paid kink cruise, what she called “mandatory R and R”, what was a girl supposed to do?
A hardcore type-A like Cammie played to her strengths, so that’s what she did. She packed her bags and made a cruise ‘to-do’ list. One, schmooze and network more Kitty Cat connections—Gentlemen’s Club candidates, Kitty Cat hopefuls and new clients. Two, product test, because, come on…a kink cruise? A girl’s gotta have a little fun at work. Three, get laid…repeatedly. It is a vacation after all…even if it’s forced. It’d been a looong time since she’d found a man to crank her little kink-loving heart.
“This will be your cabin, Miss Sheppard. Your boss really loves you.” Ben, her steward, winked like they were already best friends. He’d been effervescent the entire way to her stateroom, bubbling with energy and peppering her with questions about where she’d traveled from and what she hoped to do on the five-day cruise. It had been impossible not to get caught up in his enthusiasm as he pumped up the various events that had been planned. “Shall I put your bags in the closet?”
A walk-in closet? In a stateroom? “Yes, please. Thank you, Ben.”
Of course, Sabine had spared no expense, so Cammie’s cabin was beyond luxurious. It was larger than her own bedroom at home in New York and big enough for a king-size bed, a lounge-dining area and a restroom that included an actual whirlpool tub. The view was spectacular as well. With floor-to-ceiling windows along one wall, Cammie would be able to see miles of ocean with no obstructed views. She also had a balcony and pictured herself having her morning coffee there while she checked email and knocked a few things off her ‘non-cruise to-do list’, of course.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, Miss Sheppard?” Ben stood at the door, his hands folded in front of him and his face clearly eager to please. His blond hair flopped over one eye, giving him an adorably disheveled look.
“Oh gosh, no. I’m fine.” She dug out some money from her purse then handed it to him. “Thanks for getting me here safe and sound. This ship is so huge. I think it’ll take me five days just to get the hang of where everything is.” Which was a total lie… Cammie had gotten the entire ship mapped out from bow to stern and everything in between before she’d stepped foot on board.
“I’m here if you need me. Just pick up the phone and I’ll answer.” Ben slipped the cash into his pocket with a nod and a grin. “Don’t forget about the sunset mixer on the Sky Deck.”
Cammie rubbed her hands together. “I’ll be there!” A sunset mixer sounded like exactly the type of place she’d find people to network with.
She had an hour to get ready, so she pulled out her sun-and-fun mixer dress—an orange, yellow and pink strapless that hugged her curves just right—then headed into the massive restroom for a dip in the tub. If Sabine wanted her to relax, she could at least make an effort.
It turned out that networking was easier than finding a nonalcoholic cocktail on the Sky Deck. Cammie had been offered no less than four umbrella-adorned drinks by four different scantily clad servers, and each time she’d asked if it was possible to get a soda or even water, she’d only been met with looks of confusion before a mumbled, “Of course! Let me get that for you.” She’d yet to find a cold drink in her hand, but she had met three very eligible men, who had been eagerly listening to what she had to say about the Kitty Cat Gentlemen’s Club. They hadn’t even balked at the fee range she’d hinted at.
“You can sign me up, little lady.” Mr. William Haversmith wore a huge tan cowboy hat on his big head. Everything about the man was larger than life, from his booming laugh and his ridiculously large cowboy boots to his long, curled mustache. “In fact, a pretty little thing like you can do whatever she wants with my assets.” He winked.
“Bill, don’t you know women don’t like to be spoken to like that?” Elm Stone also wore a cowboy hat and towered over Cammie in the same way his friend did, which wasn’t hard, considering Cammie was a whopping five foot three inches. He tried to come off as more gentlemanly, even though Cammie had witnessed him slip his hands over several of the servers’ asses as they passed by.
“I’m sorry. Can’t help myself. You’re a tiny, sexy thing, though. And on a naughty cruise like this to boot! You’re a firecracker, aren’t you? I can see it in your eyes.” He winked again, and Cammie had to wonder if he had a tic or if he really did think she—or any woman, really—was in to his kind of flirting. “And those dimples! So cute! I could just eat you up.” He leaned closer. “You don’t mind if I call you ‘little lady’, do you, sweetheart?”
Did she mind? Hell yes! But she’d never say that out loud. Working in an industry that catered to men, she’d become used to the ways that men behaved and the condescending things they often said. “Of course not, Mr. Haversmith.” She grinned, making sure her dimples popped for him. “I’m just going to charge you more for your membership.”
The men all laughed in their hearty way, not believing for one second that she would, in fact, give them the elevated price she reserved for special men like him. She laughed too, but hers—if a person listened closely—was edged with a ‘fuck you’.
“Well, you’ve got my contact information. Be sure to put it to good use, honey.” He didn’t wink again, thank goodness, but he did waggle his eyebrows like he was sending some kind of secret message.
Cammie laughed again then waved him off. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I’m going to search out a drink. I’m absolutely parched!” She didn’t stick around for another suggestive comment, but the men’s laughter and what could only be described as catcalls did follow her as she moved through the crowd.
“Oh, there you are!” A tall redhead wearing a super-flattering, black skin-hugging leather dress rushed to her on four-inch stilettos with a frosty glass in hand. “Soda water for you. I added a lime just in case you wanted a bit of flavor.”
“Thank you!” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Cammie really was dying of thirst.
“Soda water, huh?”
She turned toward the gravelly voice like a puppet on a string. “Yeah, I’m not in to alcohol.”
“Smart. Don’t want to get too drunk then end up tied down and at some Dom’s mercy.” The guy standing next to her checked all Cammie’s eye-candy boxes. He was tall and wide, barrel-chested, thick-armed and, like her, appeared to enjoy food. “That’s why I’m only sipping my beer.”
“Bound and at the mercy of a Dom is exactly how I want to end up.” A bold statement, sure, but Cammie had a to-do list, and this guy might be her way to check off one of those bullet points.
“Zane,” he said, one eyebrow raised.
Amused or intrigued? It was hard to tell. He tilted his pint glass toward hers.
“Cammie.” She turned herself toward him so she could take in his full size then clinked her glass with his. She liked men with meat on them. They complemented her curves and were usually hefty enough to hoist her into the positions she loved. “You here alone?”
His eyes crinkled and a grin tugged his lips. “Are you hitting on me?”
“Not yet.” Cammie grinned back.
“Oh…dimples, how very—”
“If you say cute, I’m leaving.” Cammie took a sip from her glass, watching him over the jutting lime. Her body heat had to be wafting off her with the way her pussy quivered and wept. Zane was exactly the kind of guy she could have some fun with.
“Enticing.” He gave her a spicy once-over, trailing a hot-as-hell gaze down, lingering over her double Ds to the curve of her extra-wide hips, then back up again. “Yes, I’m here alone.”
“I’m not looking for love.” Cammie would never be accused of beating around the bush, especially not when it came to sex.
Angela Addams is an author of many naughty things. She believes that the written word is an amazing tool for crafting the most erotic of scenarios and likes telling stories about normal people getting down and dirty and falling in love. Enthralled by the paranormal at an early age, Angela also spends a lot of her time thinking up new story ideas that involve supernatural creatures in everyday situations.
She is an avid tattoo collector, a total book hoarder, and loves anything covered in chocolate…except for bugs.
She lives in Ontario, Canada in an old, creaky house, with her husband, children and four moody cats.
Race car driver Cody Gamino has come from Europe to the United States for one thing—to race with the incredible Xin. Their one night together meant more to him than he expected and suddenly, it’s not just about racing together but being together. Forever.
Racer N’Jelle ‘Xin’ Marx turns to a handsome man she met outside a bar, just to forget for a night. Six weeks and two pink lines later, she is questioning the decision she made that night. When he shows up at her job, revealing to her who he truly is, and snatches her position out from under her, she doesn’t have the fight in her any longer. And Cody isn’t one to give up—when he learns of his unborn child, he digs in even more. Will these two, used to life in the fast lane, learn to slow down and see what’s before them? Will they recognize what they have to lose?
Reader advisory: This book contains a brief mention of violence/murder.
“What’ll it be, love?”
The man who asked stared at her as if she were familiar to him and she barely resisted tensing up. She didn’t need to be recognized.
N’Jelle ‘Xin’ Marx craved nothing more than a good hard drink. At least if I can have that I’ll be on my way to forgetting this shitstorm of a day.
“Whiskey. Neat. Leave the bottle.”
The bartender nodded and had her requested items before her in mere moments. Blessedly, he then left her alone.
The first shot went down smooth and potent. Before the burn had even evaporated, she was pouring another, and chasing it down.
Warning prickles popped up along the back of her neck. That awareness came in handy while she drove on the track. Right now? Not so much.
“At least you drink whiskey like a decent human, no froo-froo shit for you.”
The slender woman that parked herself on the stool beside Xin looked not all that different from how she’d been earlier that day. N’Jelle sighed, not bothering to keep it quiet either. The other two were there as well.
She didn’t owe them a damn thing and she was irritated as fuck that they’d tracked her down.
Ignoring all three of them, she remained sitting faced forward and poured more liquid into her glass.
“Does she think we’ll just vanish if she doesn’t talk to us?”
The tallest and roughest of them had spoken this time. Not rough in an ugly way but more of an ‘I can kick your ass and look good doing it’ sort of way.
“She’s,” N’Jelle sneered, “sitting right here and doesn’t give a damn what you think I may or may not think. I’ve had enough of you today.”
“Tough shit.” The middle-sized one spoke now. She was the one who actually shared a father with N’Jelle. Xandra was her name. “You’re my sister now and I don’t know what the fuck you were thinking, that you could just roll up at our event, drop that kind of bomb and walk off.”
Turning her gaze to the beauty beside her, Xin snarled. “You what, want me to apologize for not being invited to a family event and getting permission to show up? I don’t want anything from any of you. I had wanted to know why your father couldn’t be bothered with me, but I get it now. He has you and the other two he looks on as daughters—who gives a fuck about the one who was left behind and forgotten.”
Her shitty childhood was shoving at her, pushing for her to lose it and make a scene. Draw some blood.
This wasn’t smart—she had to get moving. Getting off the stool, she dug in her pocket for some bills. She tossed them on the bar top and nodded at the bartender. Then she spun to the door.
All three women stepped in front of her, and she snorted.
“Really? Grew up on the streets, bitches. Don’t push me. Get out of my way or you’re going to lose your weaves.”
Shoving through them, she walked out through the door and stepped into the night. Off in the distance, storm clouds rolled in, and she pinched the bridge of her nose. She requested a ride and kept an eye on the door as she waited. The three women walked out as her ride pulled up.
A leanly muscled man walked up to her from a different direction, his hat pulled down over his eyes.
“Where you off to, beautiful?”
Yeah, he’ll work. “Got any ideas?”
He held the car door for her and she got in, ignoring the calls from her half-sister and cousins. She wasn’t their concern. Hadn’t been before. Wasn’t now.
She needed to forget and this man, dressed in black jeans and a tight black shirt, with scruff on his face, seemed the perfect way to go about it.
Aliyah Burke is an avid reader and is never far from pen and paper (or the computer). She is happily married to a career military man. They are owned by six Borzoi. She spends her days at the day job, writing, and working with her dogs. She loves to hear from her readers and can be reached here. She can also be found on Facebook or Twitter: @AliyahBurke96. And Pinterest.
If you would like to be kept abreast of what’s going on in the world of Aliyah, you can sign up to her newsletter here.
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Jaya’s relationships never last more than six weeks. Austen wants to be her forever.
Six weeks is the outer limit for one of Jaya’s relationships. When men find out there is no future with her, they tend not to stick around for long.
She’s gotten into the habit of leaning on her cousin Austen to get over each breakup. Who better? Austen is six feet three of solid sympathy. Both adopted into the same extended family at young ages, they’ve been friends their whole lives, with a mutual taste for good food and expensive whisky. But when Jaya takes her latest failed romance to him, Austen makes it clear his interest in her is far from cousinly.
“Think about me,” Austen tells her, and Jaya starts to do just that. No doubt, Austen is incredibly attractive, and she can’t say she’s not curious to find out what he’s like in bed, but can their bond survive this new test?
Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of light bondage.
Austen answered his phone on the first ring.
“What do you need, kiddo?”
Jaya paused, taken aback by the curt greeting. After a moment, she realised that he always answered his calls from her in the same way. “What do you need?” As if she could never just be calling for no reason at all.
“Is that any way to greet your favourite cousin?” she replied, forcing a bright note into her voice. “You’re my favourite, you know.”
“As far as you know, you might have any number of cousins,” Austen said coolly. “How could you possibly claim to know I would be the favourite?”
Because you’re the only one I’ve actually met, she wanted to tell him, although she understood the crude point he was trying to make. By blood, she was no cousin of his.
Jaya wished she owned one of those old-fashioned phones with the long curly cord so she could twine it between her fingers. Instead, she shifted her mobile from one sweaty hand to the other.
She wasn’t about to tell him that she couldn’t bear her own company tonight. She’d left work early, needing to get away from the high-energy actors she was constantly surrounded by, only to find that the so-called peace of her apartment was too oppressively quiet.
“I thought we might grab a drink tonight,” Jaya said, still striving to maintain her cheerful tone. “It’s been a while.”
“Six weeks,” Austen said. “Right on schedule.”
She remembered what he’d said the last time they’d met up. That she only called him when she broke up with someone. That, to her, he was no more than a shoulder attached to a man. A shoulder for her to cry on, presumably, although she never did cry. She merely got drunk.
“Ha ha. Do you want the drink or not?” Jaya demanded.
“I have to get up early tomorrow,” Austen told her, sounding uncharacteristically reluctant.
What is wrong with him? Jaya wondered, pulled out of her own problems for a brief moment. It had to be bad if he was turning down liquor. They both fancied themselves connoisseurs of the hard stuff. Neither of them drank wine or, shudder, beer.
“I’ll get you home early, granddad,” Jaya told him. “So how about it? Nine o’clock at The Cat’s Whiskey?”
“All right, kiddo.”
Shaking her head, Jaya hung up. He didn’t have to sound so bloody glum about the prospect.
Nan Comargue is a romance and erotic romance writer who has been reading romance novels all her life. She prefers sexy confident heroes who win over slightly introverted heroines (read: nerdish types) but she writes about everything from angel-warriors to cowboy ménage.
Nan blogs about her writing journey and other interesting topics (zombies!) here but lately she tweets more than she blogs (and sometimes more than she writes).
Nan is Canadian, eh?
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Country boy Colum Boyle has been home to work the family farm for a while now. He’s shocked when he’s sent to pick up his sister’s best friend for a wedding, and he realizes he’s never gotten over her.
Veterinarian Xaya Asher isn’t sure all the mental preparation in the world has her ready to face Colum again. The sparks between them are combustible and soon the flames erupt.
Do these two have what it takes to overcome the obstacles before them?
“Line two, Dr. Asher.”
Jogging up the hallway from the back, Xaya waved a hand in acknowledgment to her practice manager as she passed the woman’s room.
The morning had been crazy and she was trying to get to her office for a moment of rest and food. That was the main thing. The half a bagel she’d inhaled at the ass-crack of dawn this morning hadn’t been what she needed to keep up with the expenditure of energy she’d expelled so far today.
“We ordered out—there’s a sandwich on your desk because I know you didn’t bring anything in with you.”
“I love you, Mrs. Connie.” And it was true, she loved her staff.
“Yeah, yeah,” the manager teased back.
With the door closed behind her, she walked to her desk and sat with a groan. The hot roast beef sandwich tempted her and the smells rising from it had her stomach chiming in on its opinion of how this should go. Phone or food first?
She kicked off her shoes once she’d taken her seat, stole two bites just to make her mouth happy, then she picked up the phone.
“Xaya? It’s Avery.”
She frowned and shook her head before the smile overtook her. “Girl, what are you doing calling me on this line? I have a cell phone of which I’m fairly certain you have the number.”
“I wanted to give you a heads-up before I start hammering away at you on the cell.”
“I’m putting you on speaker so I can eat.” After doing just that, she took another big bite of her food and moaned in contentment.
“You sure you’re eating food and not getting dick?”
She snorted. “Positive. Now come on, tell me what this is all about. Why do I need a heads-up and what’s it going to cost me?”
“A plane ticket.”
Sucking gravy off her thumb, she scowled. “Everyone okay?”
A deep breath. “Yes. Lani’s getting married.”
“Oh my God!” Xaya clapped her hands. “This is incredible. She found someone we’re all okay with?”
“I miss you, Xaya. I love how you need to make sure you’re going to be okay with him as well, but yes. We do love him. His name is Sanders and no, not as in Colonel.”
She snorted because that was exactly where her mind had ventured. “Okay, so we approve of him, good. Why do I need a heads-up? I would love to come for the wedding. She’s like my own little sister. Where is it? Maui? Baja? Cabo? Paris? Italy? Bahamas?”
“You know Lani. It’s home.”
Her fork clattered to the desk, leaving behind a smear of mashed potatoes.
Was that her voice that squeaked when she asked that?
Xaya sighed. The denial built on her tongue. She wasn’t ready to head back to the small town she’d grown up in down south. Conception. School just hadn’t been a blast for her and to return was not something she wanted to do.
“I know,” Avery said quickly. “You didn’t have a lot of fun here, despite us having fun. It wasn’t easy for you but you did it. You survived. Lani wanted me to ask you and I’m willing to cash in any and all chips I have with you to get you here for her wedding. It’s all she wants, so what’s it going to take?”
“Nothing.” As soon as the word left her mouth she knew it was true. She would do anything for Avery, her best friend outside of her cousins, and Lani was also included in that.
“Text me the information and I’ll make the arrangements. You know there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Lani.” And that was true. She and Avery’s family had been fiercely protective of that particular Boyle sibling. “Still going to cost you, though.”
“What?” she demanded in false outrage. “Are you sure?”
“More and more so with each passing second. And you better make it worth my while.”
“Okay, how about this… I give you one hot—your words not mine—brother of mine, Colum Boyle.”
If she’d had any food in her mouth she would have spit it out. Or choked. Colum had been five years their senior and, good Lord, he’d starred in all of her fantasies. No one in school had been able to compare to him.
“Pretty sure you’re pimping out your brother and I’m not sure he’s going to be okay with that.”
“Doesn’t matter what he thinks. This is about me making sure we’re square.”
Xaya laughed. “You totally mean that, don’t you?”
“You can’t sell your brother to be my sex slave for the time I’m up there.”
“I never mentioned slavery. More like an escort.”
She dug back into her food, highly amused by the conversation. “How about we discuss payment that doesn’t include you selling off a family member for favors?”
“You’d take him.”
“Not even necessary to discuss this because we’re not using him as money.” Fuck yes, she’d take him. Especially if he’d only improved on what she remembered from the last time she’d seen him, right before he’d gone and joined the Marines.
“Dr. Asher. Hit and run inbound. They’ll be here in ten minutes.”
“Thanks, Melody.” She stole one last bite and took a drink. “Sorry to cut this short, Avery.”
“I know, I heard. I’ll text you the deets. And, Xaya?”
“Yeah?” She stood and readjusted her lab coat before swiping her cell and sticking it in her back pocket.
“Thanks for coming.”
“I meant what I said, Avery. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” She hung up the phone and ran out of her office.
Colum has only ever wanted one woman. Too bad he can’t man up and tell her. There were times I wanted to smack him for being an idiot, and others he had me swooning.
Xaya doesn’t like chasing someone who’s made it clear they don’t want her. Then Colum gives her mixed signals. She was feisty and strong, and even found the courage to walk away when it seemed like he’d never love her.
There’s a teensy bit of drama, lots of steamy scenes, and a happily ever after that will make you smile. As well as an unexpected surprise that leaves us hanging a bit. But Xaya and Colum’s story wraps up nicely. Can’t wait to see what happens next in the series.
*Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The review above is only my opinion.
Aliyah Burke is an avid reader and is never far from pen and paper (or the computer). She is happily married to a career military man. They are owned by six Borzoi. She spends her days at the day job, writing, and working with her dogs. She loves to hear from her readers and can be reached here. She can also be found on Facebook or Twitter: @AliyahBurke96. And Pinterest.
If you would like to be kept abreast of what’s going on in the world of Aliyah, you can sign up to her newsletter here.
Enter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card! Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.
Amid the shifting sands of Egypt, is an ancient evil stronger than even the most timeless bonds?
In the heat of 1920’s Cairo, Raf and Cecily are looking forward to making their honeymoon one to remember. Instead, they find themselves caught between a British nobleman on a mission to loot Egypt’s ancient tombs and a mysterious local woman who will do whatever it takes to protect the land she loves.
When a foreboding pyramid rises from the sands and the scent of decay fills the air, Raf and Cecily find themselves caught in a terrifying race against time to vanquish a murderous mummy and put right the wrongs of the past. But is evil stronger than even the most timeless bonds?
Cecily leaned over the ship’s railing, shielding her eyes from the hot Mediterranean sun with her hand. They’d travelled across Europe to get here, and now they were almost at their destination, a place Cecily had only ever dreamed of before.
“And tomorrow we’ll see Egypt, just there on the horizon!” she excitedly said to Raf, her husband.
If only I could wish and wish and it’d appear there right away.
“And tomorrow night, we’ll be snuggled in bed in the Rosetta of the Nile, counting the stars above Cairo.” Raf beamed. He put his arm around Cecily’s waist and said, “It’s the perfect honeymoon, Sissy.”
“It feels like a dream, Raf, like it’s not quite real!” Cecily pictured pyramids and deserts, a world away from their home in Yorkshire or the places in Europe they had journeyed through. “We’ll go everywhere by camel, of course, and eat nothing but dates.”
“Just like we do in Yorkshire,” he told her with a grin. Then he pecked a kiss to Cecily’s cheek and asked, “Happy, Mrs de Chastelaine?”
“Oh, so happy I might go pop!” Cecily said excitedly. Then with affection, she added, “But then, I have been ever since I first met you, Raf.”
Not so long ago Cecily would never have dreamed that she’d be married to a man—or dhampir, really—like Raf de Chastelaine, let alone be honeymooning in Egypt, but here she was. Her life had taken an unexpected turn and as she stood here beneath the sun, the botanical scent of Raf’s homemade sun lotion mingling with the heat and sea salt, she’d never been happier.
A breeze rippled the brim of her sunhat, and Cecily turned to see another passenger lean against the railings a few feet away. Miss Mansour was a very glamorous Egyptian lady, who they’d sat with at the captain’s table the night before, along with Miss Mansour’s party of archaeologists. Cecily had been over the moon to sit at such an important table on her first long sea journey, and with a party who were travelling to Egypt to uncover its wonders, too.
But Miss Mansour seemed preoccupied and hadn’t noticed them. Instead, she stared off towards the horizon.
Cecily’s sixth sense, her ability to pick up on others’ emotions, began to twitch.
She’s homesick, Cecily thought, although she realised that was obvious.
“Raf,” Cecily whispered, “let’s say good afternoon.”
Raf glanced towards the woman, then gave a nod. “Yeah, let’s say how do,” he decided.
Cecily moved along the salt-covered railing. “Good afternoon, Miss Mansour!” She smiled. “You must be very glad to be so close to home again.”
Miss Mansour removed her sunglasses and smiled back, but there was something sad in her expression. “Oh, of course, if one has a happy home, then one is glad to return. I am thinking of all the work I must do when we arrive. Lord Bath has such great plans for his dig. I think we might uncover many wonderful things.”
“It must be terribly exciting!” Cecily said. “All those treasures that haven’t seen the light of day for years and years and years, and you brush away the sand, and there in your hand there’s a little golden Anubis!”
“Lord Carnarvon hasn’t put him off?” Raf asked. “If you believe the papers, pyramid-diving is a bad business. I don’t know… I feel like perhaps English lords should leave Egyptian treasures in Egypt.”
A flicker of amusement crossed Miss Mansour’s face. She maybe didn’t hear that sentiment often enough. But Raf’s Romanian accent no doubt told her that he had no patience with the meddling of the English. “It is strange to me to think of my ancestors lying in museums across the world. I cannot think it was what they expected when they died—that one day their remains would travel the world, to be stared at.”
“I heard that Lord Bath reckons he’s found a tomb that nobody believed existed at all,” Raf replied. “But legends sometimes turn out to be true, don’t they?”
And Raf would know all about that, wouldn’t he? Not many advertisements for family businesses that spanned the generations read, ‘Ghosts need laying? Rates negotiable on application.’ Raf didn’t work alone anymore though—Cecily was part of the family business, too.
But what fates had Raf’s ancestors faced? His father might be human, but his late mother certainly hadn’t been. After all, it wasn’t many newlyweds who spent Christmas at a castle perched atop a precipice on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains. Cecily would never have guessed that vampires could be such generous and attentive hosts.
“The tomb of Menkare II,” Miss Mansour replied, with a note of distaste. “He is sure that he has discovered it, even though the sands covered it from human sight longer ago than you can imagine. A pharaoh who has almost been entirely forgotten, but the legend of his missing tomb has persisted down the centuries. And now Lord Bath thinks he’s found it.”
Cecily shivered with delight at the thought. “Do you think we might come along to the dig and have a look? We won’t touch anything. We’ll be on our best behaviour. Won’t we, Raf?”
“I don’t want to touch anything that’s been inside a forgotten tomb.” Raf chuckled. “I’ve got an allergy to curses. I’d love to have a nose at the site, though…history’s a bit of a hobby of mine. Along with gardening. And tinkering. I love tinkering.”
Miss Mansour chuckled. Then she looked Raf and Cecily slowly up and down, as if she was assessing them. Cecily did her best to smile under her scrutiny. It felt as if Miss Mansour wasn’t just looking at them, but into them. Although Cecily told herself she couldn’t be. Then Miss Mansour nodded.
“Yes, why don’t you come along? I believe I can trust you.” Miss Mansour pointed to the jumble of necklaces and amulets around Raf’s neck. “You’re wearing a scarab, I see. And the Eye of Horus.”
Raf nodded. “It’s not my first time in Egypt,” he admitted, almost bashfully. “And I like to pack on the protection. Whether it’s from the sun, or…whatever else is floating about.”
“You are very sensible to do so,” Miss Mansour said. “Lord Bath scoffs at such ideas, of course. And I am told sometimes that I am too superstitious, but you never can be too careful. Especially not when you’re robbing graves, even ancient ones.” She paused for a moment, before adding, almost to herself, “Especially ancient ones.”
“We’re very careful about such things,” Cecily said, knowing she couldn’t go into detail with someone they’d not long met. “We always treat the dead with respect.”
“They’re people too,” Raf pointed out, straight-faced. “Just like us.”
“Oh, they are…” Miss Mansour glanced away for a moment, towards the southern horizon. Cecily sensed her homesickness again, a feeling of loss and loneliness. Then Miss Mansour turned back to face them. “You see, I knew I could trust you. There are not many people on this earth who share that sentiment, Mr de Chastelaine.”
Raf smiled gently and admitted, “It’s just something life’s taught us.” And he glanced towards Cecily, his eyes filled with love.
“Miss Mansour!” It was Lord Bath’s braying voice, and it was coming closer from inside the ship. “I say, Miss Mansour, where are you hiding?”
Miss Mansour sighed. “I apologise. I must speak to Lord Bath.” She raised her voice and replied, “I am out here on the deck, Lord Bath, taking the sea air.”
“Dreaming of the old homeland, eh!” Lord Bath stepped out onto the deck. He put his hands on his hips and drew in a deep breath of sea air. “Good Lord, it’s hotter than ever today!”
He was dressed in a linen suit, as most of the European men on the ship were. But Lord Bath’s looked particularly expensive, cut to fit just right. His square jaw jutted out as he took the air, as though he was the master of all he surveyed. And the truth was, men like him were.
Not women like Cecily or Miss Mansour, not men like Raf. But wealthy English aristocrats in Jermyn Street linen suits ruled the world.
“This is not hot!” Miss Mansour chuckled. “You have the sea breeze here. But out in the desert, it doesn’t matter how hot it gets, you hope the wind won’t start up or a sandstorm might follow. But I will be glad to see my home again, yes. Are you not pleased to see yours when you return to England?”
“One has several, and one is always happy to see them. But the tomb of Menkare II is my life’s work. I’ll happily take a long-lost legendary treasure horde over even the nicest family pile in Bath.” Bath guffawed. He lifted his Panama hat to Raf and Cecily. “Good afternoon, Mr and Mrs de Chastelaine. Egypt awaits, what!”
“Oh, it does!” Cecily replied. “You must be so excited about the dig. I know I am, and I’m not even digging anything. But then I’ve never been to Egypt before, and you’re all experts on it. Miss Mansour especially.”
Miss Mansour smiled wistfully. “Egypt and her myths and legends have been my life’s work.”
But it wouldn’t be Miss Mansour’s name connected with the find. Rather, the name of a man born in a country far away, in a land without a single desert to its name.
“I must confess this was a last throw of the dice,” Bath admitted. “Seven failed digs over the years. But our Miss Mansour isn’t only a dashed pretty face. She’s got a very clever little brain in that head of hers!”
Little brain? Cecily had once been married to a man who spoke like that about women. She bristled on Miss Mansour’s behalf.
“How kind of you to say so,” Miss Mansour replied, acknowledging his backhanded compliment with a nod. “I have worked very hard—studied very hard—to acquire the knowledge I now have of my country’s ancient past.”
“And we’re all terribly grateful,” Bath assured her. “Miss Mansour was able to interpret the last clues to the location of the tomb. When the treasures of Menkare II are exhibited in London, I’m sure this young lady’s beauty will dazzle almost as much as the pharaoh’s gold.”
Young lady’s beauty?
Cecily bristled anew. She could sense that Miss Mansour didn’t appreciate the way Lord Bath spoke about her either, but she didn’t say anything.
“And everyone will want to talk to her to find out how she worked out the last clues,” Cecily said.
Miss Mansour gave Cecily a smile, as if telling her that she appreciated her support. “I would be more than happy to.”
Lord Bath met that with a bark of uproarious laughter. He clapped his hands together and exclaimed, “Quite so, Mrs de Chastelaine, quite so!” He wiped his eyes on a pristine white handkerchief. “And when one dines at the Ritz, one lauds the waitress for the chef’s splendid work, eh?”
“But without Miss Mansour, you wouldn’t have found the tomb,” Raf pointed out, frowning. “Isn’t that right?”
“And without my money to hire her, Miss Mansour wouldn’t have been part of the party at all.” Lord Bath’s smile had become rather tight. Cecily could tell that he didn’t take kindly to such ideas. “And she certainly wouldn’t have had access to the tablets and very rare papyri that held the secrets of Menkare II’s tomb. Believe me when I say that such treasures are highly prized and priced accordingly. Far beyond the reach of the Miss Mansours of the world.”
Miss Mansour raised an eyebrow before putting her sunglasses back on. A chill breeze rose from the sea. “That is because the tablets and papyri I needed to study are held in a private collection in England.”
“Guilty as charged.” Bath chuckled. “And I may yet have one surprise left up my sleeve, madam. A little showmanship, if you will.”
“Is that so?” Miss Mansour sounded like someone who was not easily surprised. She tapped her fingers against the ship’s railing, her rings clanging on the metal. “I shall look forward to it.”
“Well, you’ll excuse me. I must dress for dinner.” Bath gave a polite nod of farewell. “Miss Mansour, might I escort you to your state—cabin?”
No stateroom for the hired help then, no matter how valuable their knowledge.
“No, thank you, Lord Bath. I believe I can just about remember the way there. Good evening.” And with that, Miss Mansour inclined her head, then turned and glided away along the deck.
Cecily glanced at Lord Bath, wondering if he had taken offence. But how else could Miss Mansour have reacted without any further dents to her dignity?
“She’s homesick,” Cecily told Lord Bath by way of explanation.
“Ah, England’s green and pleasant land. We all miss her, of course,” Bath replied, apparently untroubled by her departure. And somehow unaware that perhaps Miss Mansour, his Egyptian associate, might not consider England home, no matter how green or pleasant.
“Egypt,” Raf said bluntly.
“Yes, she misses Egypt,” Cecily prompted Lord Bath. “I think maybe she’s glad not to be in England.”
“Well, I certainly won’t be asking her to come back to England if she prefers to remain in Egypt,” the Earl of Bath replied with a magnanimous smile. “I shan’t be requiring her expertise once the tomb is open. Miss Mansour can go wherever she might wish.”
Raf frowned and asked, “You won’t give her the credit for her work, then?” He added innocently, “I thought you said you couldn’t have done it without her.”
“She’s terribly clever,” Cecily added. “Just think of the number of languages she understands, modern and ancient ones. And she knows a terribly vast amount of things about the ancient world as well!”
“And dashed pretty too,” the Earl of Bath replied. “Well, I shall take my leave. Good afternoon to you both!”
“We must go and dress for dinner. Good afternoon,” Cecily responded, the words sticking in her throat. The earl gave another nod and retreated back towards the ship.
“Cheerio,” Raf called, but Cecily knew that his bonhomie was an effort. He didn’t like Lord Bath any more than she did. If the nobleman realised, of course, he didn’t care. Instead he disappeared into the ship, whistling a cheery tune as he went.
Cecily waited until he had gone, then she whispered to Raf, “What a dreadful man, robbing Miss Mansour of her discovery. I really don’t like him at all, Raf. But then, maybe I’ve known one too many men like him in my life.”
Raf nodded. He put his arm around Cecily’s shoulders and whispered, “Not my sort of bloke either. Do you want to head in and get ready to eat?” Raf kissed her cheek. “Do I have to wear shoes to dinner?”
“Oh, yes, let’s go back to the cabin.” Cecily chuckled. “Shoes? Well, if you don’t wear shoes, we might not be invited to the captain’s table tonight. But if the delightful Lord Bath’s sitting there again, maybe that’s a good thing.”
“I’ll put shoes on,” Raf assured her. Then he added with a wink, “But I’ll slip them off when I’m sitting down,”
Raf really didn’t like shoes. He was happiest barefoot, wandering through the garden at home. Cecily smiled at him. “I’d expect nothing less, darling! Right, let’s get ready for dinner.”
Arm in arm, they strolled along the deck towards their cabin.
Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens. Her large collection of vintage hats would rival Hedda Hopper’s.
Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.
Catherine Curzon is a royal historian who writes on all matters of 18th century. Her work has been featured on many platforms and Catherine has also spoken at various venues including the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and Dr Johnson’s House.
Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, writes fiction set deep in the underbelly of Georgian London.
She lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.
A jock and a party girl teaming up—makes total sense, right? Actually, maybe…
Ambar Henderson is a senior communications major who has no idea what she wants to do in life. She spends most of her time working on her blog after gaining a lot of readers with a story she wrote junior year and…never followed up on. The last thing she expects is an angry jock accusing her of involvement in a scam that could shake the college to its foundations.
Jeff Maddow should be focused on his senior season of baseball and not the suspicious activity happening on the team. It’s his time to shine and get drafted, but after seeing incriminating evidence, he can’t not investigate. And his first lead is the campus blogger…who’s related to a name in the document he saw.
Ambar’s been coasting, writing about campus fashion and hook-ups rather than politics and economics, but when Jeff shows up at her place spouting wild accusations, she agrees to help him just to prove the stubborn athlete wrong.
Long nights, impassioned arguments, close quarters…both Jeff and Ambar find opposites more than attract when things heat up.
Publisher’s note: This book was previously released by Finch Books.
Convincing the hostess to let me into the second semester sports fundraiser was easier than it should’ve been. With one little promise of featuring her on my blog and bam, the young girl ushered me into the ballroom where the school’s biggest and best athletes mingled with coaches, alumni and the press.
Ah, the things people do for attention.
I tapped my pen against my lip while I took in the surroundings. It wasn’t black tie, but it was fancier than a casual get-together and I sent a prayer of thanks to my roommate who’d convinced me to wear a sleek black dress. It was a little tight and I kept running my hand down to the side to make sure my love-handles weren’t bulging out. My coordination was abysmal and I tripped over my own two feet sometimes, but at least I didn’t stand out—which was the goal.
I needed a new story to boost views on my blog or I would be shit outta luck. No views meant no affiliates, which equaled less money, and with my less-than-stellar first two years at school, I had no internships or job opportunities waiting for me at the end of the semester. The real world was knocking with graduation looming and I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to or could actually do.
But, I did have a clue about what the student body loved to gossip about more than any other topic—the latest on the hot jocks. Girls, guys, scholarships and walk-ons. Readers loved hearing about the latest flings or scandals and this fundraiser was hot-jock central.
“Ambar Henderson?” A familiar voice caught my attention and I glanced at my left to see Peyton Gentry smiling at me. “What are you here for? Sneak in for the free booze?”
“Ha ha.” I plastered on a fake smile despite the flash of hurt. Peyton and I had become friends freshman year—right in the smack of my party days—and he always brought it up no matter how much I had changed since then. “I’m here for a story, not the booze.”
“Right.” He smirked and lowered his voice. “Is it a juicy one?” He slung an arm over my shoulder in a quick hug and, while I didn’t dislike Peyton, I was glad when he removed his arm. “Heard there’s something weird going on with the volleyball team with one of their new freshmen.”
“Yeah?” I waited for him to respond, but his attention drifted elsewhere and he gave me a weak wave before heading off. “Great to see you too, Peyton,” I mumbled to myself. He was an average player on the soccer team but always managed to make himself seem bigger, better, more handsome. I snorted to myself at the headlines I would love to write someday.
Athletes and their egos—size does really matter
The bigger and not better—egos exposed
I took a deep breath, gathered as much courage as I could and walked about the event searching for anything that could be of interest. There were a couple of girls I recognized from the volleyball team, but they seemed normal, laid-back even. Each table had a large tented sign with the sport listed and it amazed me to see how much attention was given to athletes at our Division I school. Were there events like this for scholars? For those who made the Dean’s List year after year? Doubtful.
Schools spend money on sports, not smarts
Yeah, that headline wouldn’t sell shit. I derailed those thoughts and tried to ignore the tinge of jealousy weaving its way through my body. All these athletes had futures after college. They had tutors, scholarships, teams that supported them and, as someone who came from the opposite end of the spectrum, it was easy to envy them.
A loud cackle exploded near the front where the baseball players sat talking to what I assumed to be the coaches. They wore polos with the school logo, were significantly older than them and had the whole coaching vibe with the hard face and knowing eyes. Zade Willows, Tanner Johnson and Aaron Hill all wore suits and smiles and a part of my stomach fluttered. They were so handsome and such decent human beings I wished I could’ve written a million stories on them. Their faces alone would get readers. But I’d already done a story on Aaron and his girlfriend, so that well was dry. Plus, they were my friends and I refused to cross that boundary.
Moving on to another sport, I weaved through tables, trying to listen to conversations for something to spark motivation. Fifteen minutes passed without any luck and the familiar sensation of failure washed over me. How can I pass my senior classes when I can’t even write a stupid blog post without getting writer’s block?
God, I wish I could drink.
It wouldn’t hurt anyone if I snuck one bottled water and I blended in with the crowd as I approached the refreshment table. That was the good thing about being average-looking. No one really noticed me like they did my beautiful and tall roommates. I undid the cap and took a huge gulp when I felt someone staring at me.
Water spilled down my mouth and onto my dress when I found cold, unamused gray eyes narrowing at me. Jeff Maddow. He defined my perfect male specimen with his honey-brown hair styled just enough to be cool, his massive broad shoulders that went well with his defined pecs—perfectly showcased in the dark-gray dress shirt plastered across his chest. Good lord.
Shit, did he say something?
His light gray eyes were framed by perfectly dark eyelashes and, God damn, those cheekbones were enough to make me forget my own name. He blinked and tilted his head to the side with impatience as he approached me. “Ambar Henderson, how the hell did you get into this event? You are neither an athlete nor a sponsor.”
“I have my ways.” I jutted out my chin and ignored the sweat pooling down my back.
“Did you sneak in? No, wait, let me guess. You bribed someone.” He smiled like it was a joke, but his tone made it clear he was not happy. “I should call security.”
“Really, Jeff? Come on.” I hated how my fingers shook when I ran them through my hair, trying to act nonchalant. “I didn’t bribe anyone.”
“I wouldn’t put it past you.” He brought up a glass of champagne to his mouth and held my gaze as he took a sip. It was annoying to be attracted to someone who thought so little of me, but, alas, that was life.
“What do you care if I’m here? I’m not bothering you or anyone for that matter.”
“False.” He finished the glass and took a step closer to me. For one stupid second, I wondered what it would be like to feel his full lips against mine, but the look on his face sobered that thought. “You are a known campus blogger who finds out information about people to get views. You’re no better than a tabloid magazine for a college. Athletes have enough to worry about with how hard we have to work. They should feel safe here, celebrating and networking, not worrying about being featured on a girl’s pathetic blog to get attention.”
“You know that’s not what I do, Jeff,” I defended myself but my voice lost its gusto. “I’m here for ideas…more like motivation. Nothing more.”
“Right.” He shook his head and tensed his jaw as he scanned the room. “Motivation to find out who’s sleeping with who? Who has a better batting average when they’re in a relationship versus being single?”
I gritted my teeth and willed my skin to not turn red. My cheeks burned when I attempted to defend my reasoning for writing those blogs. “It was for entertainment, Jeff. Plus, the stats didn’t lie.”
He gave me a look like many of my professors had. Disappointment. “Do you ever think about writing something credible or for a good cause?”
“The story about Hilly and Greta was—”
“Fine, sure.” He waved a hand in dismissal and gave me a look that made me feel even smaller than my just-over-five-feet frame. “But you could actually spend time writing stories that matter. Not dumbass pieces that exploit athletes and encourage cleat chasers to come after us.” He pressed his lips together and let out an aggravated sigh. “Stay away from my team, Ambar.”
Then he stalked away to the front of the room, his stiff shoulders telling me everything I needed to know. He wasn’t a fan of what I did or who I was. It wasn’t news, but his words hit one of my deepest insecurities. What am I even doing with my blog? My life?
God damn it. Find a story! I finished the water and tossed the bottle into a trash can when a familiar deep, masculine laugh caught my attention. That’s my Uncle Martin. My mood lifted instantly and I headed toward him. He was dressed in a three-piece suit and had his hand on a shoulder of a middle-aged man I didn’t recognize. He finished telling a joke—a specialty of my favorite family member—before he noticed me and ushered me over. “Ambar Henderson.”
“Martin Rhett,” I replied, mirroring his hugging stance and smiling into his chest when he wrapped me in a bear hug like he had since I was a child. “I don’t even know why you’re here, but I’m so glad.”
“Business partners in the community. We love supporting athletes!” He kept his arm around me and introduced me to the gentlemen around us. “This is my favorite niece, fellas. She’s a senior this year and is a hell of a writer.”
Various hellos and greetings echoed around me and I relished my uncle’s words. A hell of a writer. He never made me feel stupid or unremarkable. He’d encouraged me my entire life and seeing him at the event gave me the necessary boost of confidence.
“Nice to meet you all,” I said, looking all five of them in the eye and shaking their hands. There was a brief moment where I faced the direction of the baseball table and met Jeff’s gaze, but I forced myself to not stare or think about why he was watching me. “Anyone have a good story for me? I’m looking for a topic on my senior project and could use some ideas.”
“Ah, my girl is always working.” Uncle Martin laughed and led me away from the group with a smile that had taken years to practice. Once we were out of earshot, he changed his expression. “How did you get into the event, Ambar? I thought this was for athletes only.”
“See, the thing is… I was on my way out.” I gave him a cheesy smile. “Lunch next time you’re in town?”
“Of course.” He pulled me into another hug. “Stay out of trouble, okay? You have four more months of college and I don’t want anything more to happen. You know?”
Like my little drug and drinking binge freshman year?
Or my academic probation?
“I know, I know.” I frowned and felt every ounce of shame in my bones. “I’ll head out. I really did come for ideas. Nothing more.”
“I believe you. Now go through the side door. I’ll cover for you.” He indicated the large black double-doors and winked. “While I can’t condone you sneaking into an event, it does bring me joy to know you do have a little Rhett in your blood.”
“See you later, Uncle.” I smiled and snuck one more glance around the ballroom before leaving. It didn’t mean anything when Jeff continued to stare at me with an unreadable expression on his face. If anything, he should’ve been happy I was leaving his precious party. Ugh.
Jeff Maddow should pull the stick out of his own ass to get a better batting average.
Jaqueline Snowe lives in Arizona where the ‘dry heat’ really isn’t that bad. She enjoys making lists with colorful Post-it notes and sipping coffee all day. She has been a custodian, a waitress, a landscaper, a coach and a teacher. Her life revolves around binge-watching Netflix, her two dogs who don’t realize they aren’t humans and her wonderful baseball-loving husband.