Sneak Peek: The First 2 Chapters of LOVING YOU EASY!

WANDERLUST will be here in July and I'm super excited to share that contemporary rockstar romance with y'all. But I thought today, I'd give you a special sneak peek of the next Loving on the Edge book, LOVING YOU EASY, which comes out in September. These chapters get a little steamy, so if you're at work or have kiddos reading over your shoulder, consider yourself warned. :)

First, a little about the book...

LOVING YOU EASY

Releasing SEPTEMBER 6, 2016

Three lovers really click in the latest from the New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me—

Cora has an amazing sex life. She’s beautiful, daring, and the most popular submissive in Hayven. Too bad none of it’s real...  

IT specialist Cora Benning has figured out the key to her formerly disastrous love life—make it virtual. In the online world of Hayven, she’s free of her geek girl image and can indulge her most private fantasies with a sexy, mysterious master without anyone in her life discovering her secrets. Until her information is hacked and she finds herself working to fix the breach under two very powerful men—one who seems all too familiar...

Best friends and business partners Ren Muroya and Hayes Fox were once revered dominants. Then Hayes was wrongfully sent to prison and everything changed. Ren wants to get back to who they were. Hayes can’t risk it. But when they discover the new IT specialist is their online fascination, and that she’s never felt a dominant’s touch, the temptation to turn virtual into reality becomes all too great…

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Now, on to the chapters! 

Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2016 - All Rights Reserved Berkley Publishing Group

*18 and over only*

*pre-edit version, may contain typos

Prologue

February 14th—Log-in time: 11:26 p.m.

I know how  to recognize dangerous men .

My mother taught me from an early age what to zero in on. The way a man looked at you. The way he spoke. The way he tried to get you to do something or see his point of view. The way he made you feel when he came close to you, that visceral, bone-deep sense that there was danger present. Your instincts know, Cora. Don’t ignore them.

It’d been a lot to teach an eight-year-old.

I doubt Mom wanted me to have to face that kind of fear so early on, but when you’re a detective and there’s a killer on the loose with a vendetta against you, you do what you have to do. My mom never caught the killer, and I never forgot the lesson.

So even though he’s only a form on a screen, a cartoon really, I know the instant that he strides into the game what Master Dmitry is. I know what my body is trying to tell me even as I sit in the safety of my bedroom on the other side of a screen. Danger. Back away.

But I don’t. I can’t.

Dangerous men scare me. And I’m fascinated. After years of being mostly ignored, of failing at the dating game, of making high art of being put in the friend zone, I want to know what it’s like to be someone else. To not play it safe. To be desired.

I use my wireless controller and have my character, Lenore, flip her hair to catch his attention. She’s so unlike me, Lenore. All flowing blond locks and epic curves. Feminine with a capital F. She’s the girl the guys fantasize about. I want to be that girl for a little while. Feel what that’s like.

He turns and faces me. His hair is long and the color of the deep ocean, pulled back with a leather band. He’s chosen to wear all black. Most of the dominants in the Hayven game wear the same, but somehow it looks more fitting for him, like he was made to only wear that color. He hasn’t designed his character to be overly muscled. He doesn’t look like a comic book superhero like most of the male players in Hayven, but he’s tall and broad and intimidating. Quietly powerful.

“So, you’re Lenore.”

The deep voice in my headset makes me jump. I know the sound is affected by the voice changer the game has. Hayven has layers of identity protection. That’s why I’ve chosen this game, why I can be someone else without worry. But still, the sound of him in my ear is enough to send goose bumps prickling my skin. I lick my lips, force the word past my lips. “Yes.”

He doesn’t correct me, tell me to call him sir. I like that. I like players who don’t make assumptions.

He steps closer. We’re in the public part of the game. You can create whatever environment you want in the private spaces, but the main part of the game has zones—the park, the island, the city, the forest, and the main house. Right now we’re in the forest. A place with towering trees and limited moonlight. There’s a map in a small box in the corner of my screen where a few red dots glow, indicating other players are nearby, but I can’t see anyone. That’s why I was here. I was looking for others to watch. That’s what I do. Harmless fun. But with Dmitry moving toward me and the first-person style of the game, I feel like I’m suddenly alone with this man. Red Riding Hood to his Wolf. I’m looking through Lenore’s eyes and there’s nowhere to run.

“You’re popular around here,” he says, that deep voice a stroke against my ear, the sound intimately close in my headset. Despite the name, there’s no accent.

Popular. Ha. There’s a word that’s never been used to describe me before. Unless it was to designate most popular girl to play against in a video game battle or most popular chick to invite to guy’s poker night. But I remind myself that he’s not talking about me. Tomboy. Proud geek girl. He’s talking about Lenore. Pretty, voluptuous Lenore. “I do all right.”

The night sky is black behind him until a streak of lightning cuts across it, making the leaves of the digital trees turn to a thousand silhouettes. The gamemasters are brewing a storm, playing with the many toys this game has. Dmitry doesn’t appear to notice. If anything, he looks as if he’s called the lightning himself, his presence making everything feel electric. “Why do you think you’re so popular? Besides being beautiful. There are lots of beautiful women here.”

Yeah, no shit. No one’s going to make an ugly avatar. Hello, beauty of video games. But I don’t know how to answer the question. I’m not sure why I get a lot of friends or attention in the game. Maybe it’s because I’m involved but mysterious. I’m a watcher, a tease, not a participator. “I’m here a lot. People get to know me.”

His blue hair is blowing in the wind now, a few strands pulling free of the tieback. “You’re here on Valentine’s Day.”

The words hit me like icy drops of rain, yanking me briefly out of the game world and back into reality. Like I need a reminder. Like the TV isn’t playing a marathon of every romantic movie ever made. Like the dudes at my shitty job didn’t spend the day incessantly talking about how they’re so getting laid tonight because they threw a box of chocolate or some flowers at a girl. Like the guy I’ve been sleeping with for three years didn’t balk when I asked him if he wanted to do something tonight.

Why? It’s not like we’re dating, Cora. We’re just great FWB. You’re like a bro with a vagina. Sex without the drama of things like Valentine’s Day. Which made me realize a) I thought I had a boyfriend and didn’t, b) I’ve been sleeping with a guy who uses chat abbreviations in actual speech and c) he actually said bro with a vagina like that was an okay thing to call me. I’m not sure which one disturbs me more. Probably that I let this “bro with a penis” in my bed. For three years. It’s too pathetic to even cry about. Okay, maybe I cried a little.

“I’m not a romantic. Hallmark holidays aren’t my thing.” I ignore the half-empty heart-shaped box of Russell Stover candy I bought at the Walgreens on the way home.

“Guess we have that in common, then.” He’s close now. If this were real life, the wispy dress Lenore is wearing would be whipping in the breeze, brushing against his skin. He looks like he wants to rip it off. I kind of want him to, until he lifts his hand.

My fingers, so in tune with the controller by now, automatically shift to make Lenore take a step back. My heartbeat has picked up speed. The danger signals are going off in my head, the virtual world playing tricks on my real brain.

“Why are you scared to play, Lenore?” The voice caresses my senses, startles me with its quiet edge as he lowers his hand.

“What? I’m not. I just . . . like to watch.”

“I know. I’ve watched you watch. I’ve also watched you deftly deflect any offers. You’re good at the tease. Good at playing the less-experienced dominants and keeping them panting after you.”

My throat tightens and I reach for my beer to take a sip. I’ve seen glimpses of Dmitry in the game. But if he plays, he does it privately. And he doesn’t seem to have any regulars he talks to either. He’s like a shadow. That guy at the bar who comes in, drinks, and leaves. But somehow he knows. He knows that despite the submissive designation on my character, I’ve never actually played that role in the game. “You watch, too.”

“Yes, I do. But I also study. There’s a difference. I’ve studied you.” He steps closer and this time my fingers are frozen against the controller. There’s so much that I don’t know. I don’t know what he really looks like. I don’t know how he smells or if his real voice is that deep. But somehow with his words in my ear, the soft sound of his breath, my body reacts anyway, knows there’s a real man on the end of this phone line. My skin is warming, my blood pumping, arousal and a hint of fear twining together. He reaches up and brushes hair away from Lenore’s face. I shouldn’t feel a tingle against my brow where his fingers would be, but I do. “I’m tired of watching.”

“Oh.” My voice is small, an afterthought. My persona as Lenore the Confident Vixen slips out of my reach as my real self invades.

“I think you are, too.”

I close my eyes, the words filtering through my blood, my defenses rising, trying to put up some sort of fight against my galloping libido. “Why would you think that? You don’t know me.”

“I know enough,” he says with utter calm. “I know that you’re smart and that anytime someone gets you close to participating in the game, you make jokes, get sarcastic, and protect yourself. You’ve got a sharp wit and a smart mouth, Lenore. I bet in your life, you’re a force, a successful woman with a lot on her plate. You don’t give in to men. You don’t give in to anyone.”

The truth of the words rattle me. This man doesn’t know me, but somehow it’s like he’s peering through the computer screen and seeing my life.

“And that’s exactly why you crave this so much. Why you’re here so often. You want to know what it’s like and it terrifies you.”

My throat is dry, the words sticky against my tongue. “This is just a game.”

“It’s been a very long time for me, Lenore, and I know this is a game. Believe me. But ignore the window dressing on the screen. What’s real is that I’m here and you’re here. Whatever roles and labels we have in real life aren’t with us right now. All that’s left is this: what we want to do right now, alone, with no one else watching or judging. No one will know what happens tonight except us. You can let go. You’re safe.”

Safe.

My mother would say that word is its own kind of lie, but I want to believe it. Right now, I do. The truth tumbles out of me. “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Close your eyes.” The words are gentle but commanding.

I can’t do anything but listen. My lids fall shut.

“All you have to do is listen to my voice. You can always say no at any point, but trust that I’ve got your pleasure in mind. I can give you what I know you’re craving when you watch. All I ask is that you’re honest with me, in your reactions and in what you’re telling me you’re doing. And I’ll give you the same.” He pauses for a long second and when he speaks again, his voice has grit in it, his own need sneaking through. “Give me tonight. I want to hear what you sound like when you surrender to it, how you sound when you come.”

I swallow hard and something tightens low in my belly. I knew all along where this was leading. From the very moment he walked into my corner of the game. That’s what Hayven is about ultimately—sex. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use what I watched in Hayven for fantasy fodder. But I’ve never taken the step of sharing that experience with another player. It seems a little too . . . far. Too personal. Like it stops being a game and becomes part of my life. And maybe a piece of me had thought it would be like cheating on Kevin—Kevin who was never my boyfriend. But there’s no more Kevin and the temptation is beating through me like a wild drumbeat.

“Don’t you want to know what it’s like? To give up the power for just a little while? To let go of any responsibilities and just listen and act?” His voice is like a dark, winding river, rumbling against my senses, dragging me into the current. “To let me bring you to your edge? To know you’re bringing me to mine?”

I inhale deeply, keeping my eyes closed, and focus on just his voice. Not the game. Not Lenore. Not the romantic comedy playing in the living room. Not the fact that everyone else I know is on a date tonight. Just the unfamiliar sound of a sexy dominant man making irresistible promises in my ear. Let me bring you to your edge.

Your instincts know, Cora.

I’ve spent my life avoiding dangerous men.

I won’t tonight.

In the tell-no-secrets safety of my bedroom, I say yes.

 

Chapter 1

Four months later

BigMan232: I need you naked and at my feet tonight. You’ve been a bad girl. Time to pay up.

Cora kept her phone in her lap as she surreptitiously read the message lighting the screen and tried not to roll her eyes. Ugh, get a clue, dude. She clicked Ignore and Block. She thought she’d done that the last time BigMan had contacted her in the Hayven game but apparently not.

She quickly checked her inbox to make sure she didn’t have a message from the guy she really wanted to hear from, but there was nothing there. Bummer. He’d been quiet the last few days.

“You better not be working over there, cupcake,” Grace said from across the table, her voice barely cutting through the din of voices and music at the party. She popped a stuffed mushroom into her mouth and gave Cora the cocked eyebrow of challenge.

Cora pressed the button to make the screen go black. “Not working.”

“Liar.” Grace leaned forward on her forearms, her silver bangle bracelets jangling against the table and her poker-straight blond hair turning gold under the soft lights of the winery’s gorgeous cedar and glass event space. “Well, cut that shit out. This is called a networking party for a reason. No hiding in our phones. We’re here to drink loads of local wine and to mingle.”

“The wine I can do. But mingle? Have you met me?” She held her hand out across the table. “Hello, I’m Cora Benning, you’re mingle-averse best friend.”

Grace ignored Cora’s outstretched hand. “Mingle-averse.”

“Yes. It’s a thing, actually—like an allergy.”

“Uh-huh,” Grace said, deadpan.

Cora gave her a grave look. “I should’ve made you aware ahead of time. I could break out in hives or something, or you know, go anaphylactic on you—throat swelling, eyes bulging. Not pretty. Really, I should be carrying an EpiPen with me just being around all these strangers who require small talk. This is why I went into IT. Medical safety.”

Grace tossed a balled-up napkin at her, missing left. “Well, you’re going to have to get over it, smartass. You’re the one who wanted to start her own company. And part of that is putting yourself out there and meeting new people. Mingling. Mixing.”

Ha. She loved that Grace framed it as Cora wanting to start her own company instead of the truth—that she’d quit her last job in an unplanned blaze of non-glory only to find out afterward that she had no decent job options that didn’t involve working overnight at a call center. Yay for expensive college degrees that apparently meant diddly without a recommendation from your previous employer.

“You need bigger jobs than setting up virus protection for Marv’s Auto Parts or helping your mother out at the police station—which, by the way, she should be paying you more for. You’ve been getting intern pay for how many years now?”

Cora shrugged. “You know I don’t do the police stuff for the money. It’s a good cause.”

Plus, she’d never admit it to her mom but she loved the challenge of working on cases. In a different world, she may have gone into the field herself, but her mom had always warned her away from it. Too dangerous. Crappy pay. Find yourself a fancy office to work in, Coraline. Capitalize on that brain of yours.

“Yeah, the good cause of keeping your mother off your back. But I promise you, if they contracted that work out to someone else, they’d be paying whoever it was a helluva lot more. Playing Good Samaritan doesn’t pay the bills. Your landlord isn’t going to care that you’re doing good deeds when you can’t make rent.”

Cora groaned and took a big sip of her wine, trying to focus on how delicious the Water’s Edge Tempranillo was and not on the cold splash of reality Grace insisted on giving her. Last thing Cora needed to think about was the dwindling number in her bank account. She’d had a decent savings when she’d left her job at Braecom, but she’d had to lean on that to get her business started. And though the part-time gig at the police station helped provide some steady income, it wasn’t enough to sustain her once her little nest egg dried up. She needed to land some bigger accounts.

However, that didn’t mean she’d suddenly developed the ability to mingle. Business meetings? Presentations? She could handle that stuff. But small talk with strangers? Ugh. She’d only been half-kidding about the hives. “I can make business contacts by email. I’m better in writing. Or on the phone.”

Where I can control things and not have to be charming.

“No, babe. That’s called spam and is the chickenshit way of going about it. You’re better than that.”

Cora rearranged the food on her tasting plate. Cubed chorizo and smoked Gouda became little Monopoly-style neighborhoods, the spicy mustard a moat in between. She resisted the urge to level the whole gourmet town with a sweep of her hand. Grace didn’t get it. The woman sparkled at these functions. She could talk to a wall and make it interested. Cora could make that same wall feel awkward and want to excuse itself to grab a drink.

When she felt Grace’s stare burning into her, she looked up and attempted a deflecting smile. “So I’m a chickenshit. Exactly when did I hire you as my business coach? Because this motivational talk is really helping. I mean, I feel like I need a poster with a dude jumping off a cliff into the open sea or something. Or maybe that one where the cat sees the lion in the mirror.” She held up her hand and curled her fingers like a claw. “Rawr.”

Grace pointed at her. “Don’t get snippy with me, Benning. I’m acting as your benevolent and helpful mentor, which means I’m not above kicking your ass. I don’t want you living on ramen by the end of the year or worse, going to back to Braecom to beg for your job back.”

“Not gonna happen.”

No fucking way. She’d sell hot dogs on the street before she returned to Braecom. When her boss had gotten wind that she’d been sleeping with Kevin, Cora had gotten a talk about how to conduct herself professionally. A week later, he’d told her that she was no longer being considered for the supervisory position she was in line for because the rest of the guys on the team wouldn’t respect her as an authority figure.

And what had Kevin gotten? Her promotion. Fucker.

“It’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be,” Cora said, trying to sound upbeat and swallow past the bitterness the memories dredged up. “I have prospects. The other day, I had a lady offer me two grand to hack into her ex-boyfriend’s Instagram. I think there’s a business opportunity there. Cora Benning—Avenging Hacker for Victims of Cheating Assholes.” She spread her hands like she was seeing the words on a sign. “Though we may have to play with the company title. That may be too much to put on a business card.”

Grace snorted. “Yeah, let’s try to focus on things that won’t land you in handcuffs. You don’t need go to the dark side to make money.”

“But it wouldn’t really be the dark side. I mean, technically yes, but it’d be for a good reason. Only shitty people would be harmed. It’d be like Dexter or that show Cheaters, hacker style.” She gave Grace a bright grin, knowing it’d only piss her off.

“Okay, Robin Hood of Hackerville. Let’s not give your mother a reason to throw you in jail, all right? You just need to get out there and rub elbows with people who actually have cash and could use your services—the legal ones. You’re a badass, motherfucking, white-hat hacker. They need you.”

“Now that’s what should be on the business card. Badass motherfucking hacker. I’d get loads of business.”

“Not if you don’t speak to anyone ever.”

Cora deflated at that, her mood souring further. “Come on, Grace. I’m a start-up. The people here are big deals. We’re at some hoity-toity winery for God’s sake. That big-ass cowboy who was welcoming everybody when we came in? Yeah, that’s Grant Waters, the owner. He’s got so much money that he’s lost count. These people walking around? They own corporations and yachts and shit. They’ve already got a team of IT security on their payroll. They’re here to drink expensive wine and network with other CEOs, not people like me. I appreciate you getting Jonah to snag us an invite to this, and I love you for thinking I’m at this level, but I need to start smaller. Like way smaller.”

Cora’s phone vibrated in her lap again, and she forced herself not to check it. Grace knew she was always online but assumed Cora was just a workaholic. She’d die of shock if she found out her best friend was a regular player in a kinky online game. And then Cora would promptly die of embarrassment. Yes, my sex life is now one hundred percent online. No, that’s not pathetic at all.

“You don’t know that these people don’t need you,” Grace insisted.

“But I do.” Cora glanced out at the milling crowd. There were no tuxes or sparkly cocktail dresses. From the outside looking in, these people didn’t look important with a capital I, but she knew better. In the dot-com world, the more casual someone looked, the more money they probably had. The thought of pitching to any of them made her stomach knot, especially after the trauma of the job interviews she’d had right after leaving Braecom. You could only hear “not the right fit” so many times before you started to wonder if you’d accidentally been assigned to the wrong planet. She looked back to her best friend. “Plus, let’s not pretend you finagled an invitation to this party for my benefit. You’re here to meet hot Internet moguls.”

Grace put a who-me? hand to her chest. “Is it so wrong to have a two-pronged reason for being here? That’s called being efficient. And I don’t see how that would be bad for either of us. Your on-the-rebound dry spell has gone on for way longer than is healthy.”

Cora stabbed a toothpick through the Gouda tower she’d built on her plate. Was it really being on the rebound if the relationship hadn’t actually been a relationship? “I’m not in a dry spell. I’m on hiatus by choice.”

Truth. Sort of.

“No. You’re avoiding.” Grace lifted a hand when Cora tried to protest. “Since the Kevin incident and quitting Braecom, you’ve used starting up your business as an excuse to shut down your social life. That worked for the first few months, but I’m not buying that excuse anymore.”

Cora sniffed. “Exactly when did I have this booming social life?”

“You used to at least go out after work sometimes. And you’d let me drag you to bars. And before Kevin, there was that guy you saw for a while—Nick, Nelson.”

“Neil? You’re going back that far? We went on three dates in college. He liked to talk about dorm room beer-making. And smelled like old bread.”

She flicked a hand. “Details. Now you shut me down anytime I ask for anything that involves you going out after seven. I bet if this hadn’t been work-related tonight, you would’ve canceled on me. You would’ve turned down free wine and fancy cheese.”

True. She almost had. And really, turning down free fancy cheese was probably on her personal checklist of The-Girl-Ain’t-Right signs. But she’d agreed to go because she’d wanted to see Grace, and she knew Grace wouldn’t let her get away with inviting her over just to hang out and watch movies again. “I have a lot going on.”

“I know you do. But you can’t let all that stuff shut down your whole life.” Grace gave her a pointed look. “It’s my duty as your best friend to not let you become a crazy, sexless cat lady because some asshole wronged you. It’s in the handbook.”

Cora smirked. “I’m allergic to cats. And I’ve had sex. You’re cleared of liability.”

She cocked her head in that take-no-bullshit way she’d perfected. “Had being the operative word there. Had, Cora. I get that you needed some time. But don’t let what happened with Kevin turn you into a hermit. You thought you had something with him and you didn’t. He was a jerk about it.”

“He called me a bro with a vagina, Grace.”

“Okay. Fine. More than a jerk. A complete asshole. But I don’t think this is even about him. That night we had too many margaritas at Rosa’s, you told me the sex was sufficient. Who the hell wants to have sufficient sex? You never got stars in your eyes when you talked about him. He was cute and convenient. And safe. And he saved you the trouble of being out in the dating world. That’s what you’re mourning. Not him.”

A bitter taste crossed Cora’s tongue, and she had to take another sip of wine to clear it. She wished there was some magical app where you could just wipe a certain time in your life out of your head. One click and it went into some unrecoverable trash bin. But that trash bin would be overflowing by now. Reading too much into her hookups with Kevin had just been the final dating mistake in a long list of them.

In the end, it’d been a good thing. She’d finally accepted her place in the dating pecking order. She was and had always been a tomboy and a geek, never quite comfortable in the skin she’d been given until she’d accepted that “proper girl” trappings and behaviors were not for her. But that had set her up to be the girl to hang out with, the buddy. She was the one they’d sleep with if they had no one else better lined up. Sufficient. Nothing more. Not the woman anyone lusted over. Not the girl anyone fantasized about.

And really, after accepting that, the loss of her dating life hadn’t been all that tragic. Dating had always been painful and awkward for her. The sex . . . uninspiring. These last few months, taking that off the table completely, had been a weird kind of relief. She had friends to hang out with. She had Dmitry and Hayven. She knew how to take care of her sexual needs. Not everyone needed to pair off like little plastic pegs riding in the car in The Game of Life.

“I’m not in mourning or unhappy, Gracie,” Cora said, hoping her friend could hear sincerity in her voice. “Truly. You don’t have to fix anything. I’m fine. I don’t need a guy right now. I’m a busy girl and a wizard with a vibrator. Who needs more than that?”

Grace’s lip curled, her silver nose ring catching the light. “A wizard? Does that mean your vibrator is magical?”

“Hey, they don’t call it a wand for nothing.” Cora held up her toothpick and waved it around. “I’m working on my sex Patronus. I’m thinking mine will be shaped like a naked Chris Pratt riding a T-Rex.”

That earned a laugh, but concern lingered in Grace’s eyes.

Cora sighed and dropped the toothpick onto the plate. “Look, seriously, I’m fine. Why don’t you go and circulate? Do what you came here to do. I promise I’ll finish my wine and work up some liquid courage to do the same.”

Her green eyes went catlike, skeptical. “Yeah?”

“Sure. Drunk, chorizo-breath Cora will leave great impressions wherever she goes. All introverted tendencies will transform into glittering wit and brilliant sales pitches.”

“Cora.” She said it in the tone Cora’s mother used when she’d catch her playing video games instead of doing homework.

Cora shooed her with a flick of her hand. “Go. I swear I will leave this table once I’m done with my wine and will attempt to interact with fellow humans.”

Grace considered her for another second but then pushed her chair back and stood. She jabbed a purple-nailed finger Cora’s way. “I expect a fistful of business cards to be handed out, Ms. Benning.”

She saluted. “Yes, ma’am.”

Cora watched her friend go and then stared into her wine, wondering how long she could make it last. Maybe she could sneak a refill and drag this out. She took a teeny-tiny sip and let it roll around in her mouth, pretending she actually knew how to do this whole wine-tasting song and dance.

“Is this seat taken?”

Cora glanced up to find a well-dressed guy with a nice smile looking down at her. His hand was on the back of the chair Grace had vacated, and Cora was almost too surprised to speak. She swallowed the wine, half-choking. “Uh, yeah, I mean, no. It’s not taken.”

His grin went wider. “Great. Thanks.”

She took a breath, mentally preparing for a conversation with a cute stranger. She was still capable. Maybe. “So, some party, huh?”

Wait. That was her opening line? Maybe she had been hanging out in her apartment too long. Why not just ask about the weather while she was at it?

But the guy didn’t hear her anyway. Because instead of sitting down, he picked up the chair and walked away, bringing it to another table that was overflowing with laughing people.

The air whooshed out of her and heat flooded her face. Oh. Right. Of course.

She stood, her chair scraping hard against the floor, and drained the rest of her wine. Sitting alone at a table with one chair in the middle of a party was just a little too high on the pathetic scale, even for her. She left her empty wineglass and looked for a wall she could decorate with her presence.

She found a contender, one where the lighting was low and she could blend into the background. She started the excuse-me-pardon-me dance across the room. But as she made her way through the crowd, her phone buzzed. She grabbed it from the outside pocket of her purse, thankful to have something to make her look busy and not like she was escaping.

Dmitry: I’ve been thinking about you all day.

They were just little black letters on a screen, but God, did it unknot something inside her. Warm, sweet relief filtered through her. She typed back as she walked.

Lenore: Same here. Long, long day.

Dmitry: Plans tonight? Your dance card looks crowded.

She smiled. In Hayven, she never had a shortage of offers, especially since others knew she was now actively playing with the mysterious Dmitry. But she rarely watched anyone else’s scenes anymore. Since that first night with Dmitry, she’d developed a bit of an addiction for the man. He’d gone easy on her the first time, had led her through a scene where he told her exactly how to touch herself and for how long. He’d teased her for an hour before letting her come. It’d been simple. But it’d been one of the best orgasms off her life. And it’d made her forget all about being alone on Valentine’s Day.

After that, the boundaries had nudged farther out. He’d sometimes give her instructions. They’d be waiting for her on her phone when she woke up in the morning. No panties today. No touching yourself until you talk to me again. Somehow he could set her off balance with the simplest commands. There was something about having a secret that only the two of them shared that was intensely sexual. So even when she was alone during the day, she knew he was out there, pulling those invisible strings, maybe thinking about her like she was thinking of him. There was an odd sort of comfort in that. An intimate connection without the angst. Someone waiting for her to get home even though he wasn’t there physically. In a short few months, Dmitry had become a touchstone for her in her day.

Not that he still didn’t intimidate the hell out of her sometimes. Her instincts about him being dangerous still flared up. When he went into full dom mode, he was formidable as hell. But in the conversations in between, she’d found him to be smart and interesting and funny. They could play the game and push limits. But they could also have a normal conversation outside of the game. They’d become . . . friends.

And he used full English instead of text speak, which was odd and surprisingly refreshing. No FWB Kevin anymore.

Lenore: You’re the only one I want on my dance card. But I’m trapped at a boring work thing right now. Short of a zombie invasion, I’m stuck for a while. Will be home later, though.

Dmitry: Boring work thing? Since when is international espionage boring?

She laughed as she squeezed through a group of people and then coughed over it when she realized how loud the laugh had come out.

Lenore: That’s your guess? International spy? That’s what I had YOU pegged for. Well, after I ruled out Batman.

It was a game they played, guessing each other’s job. They knew neither would ever tell the truth. The beauty of the thing was in the anonymity. They didn’t want to know. Neither wanted the illusion shattered.

Dmitry: You got me. I’m currently hiding in the coat closet of a drug kingpin, gathering intel. *Types quietly*

She could almost picture that. She had no idea what Dmitry looked like in person, but his game persona would be fit for a spy.

Lenore: *looks at closet* Shit. You found me! Sorry that I have to kill you now. It’s been fun. *bang*

Dmitry: *catches the bullet between my teeth and spits it out*

Lenore: Oh no! You ARE Batman.

Dmitry: *captures you, strips you naked, and ties you to the bed*

Her stomach dipped, the scene turning vivid in her head. This was how things went with Dmitry. Their conversations could go from playful to hot in a few short exchanges. She reached the wall she’d been planning to park herself against. If she stayed there, she’d have a nice view through the picture windows that lined the left side of the room. She could make the excuse that she wasn’t avoiding the party but was enjoying the moonlit rows of grapevines and admiring the looming, cedar-and-stone building in the distance, presumably Grant Waters’ massive ranch home. But her face felt warm, and she was afraid that if Dmitry continued down this texting path, it would show all over her expression.

So instead of stopping, she slipped into a darkened hallway off the main room. The noise of the party softened instantly. Two doors labeled Storage were on the left, but no was around and nothing looked to be in active use. The quiet was more than a little welcome, and she let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding.

She glanced down at her phone.

Dmitry: *spends all night touching you and not letting you come*

She licked her lips, her temperature kicking up a few notches more, the words and the wine blending together in her blood. She should probably go back to the party, tell Dmitry she’d talk to him later. She’d made a promise to Grace and was supposed to be mingling. Instead, she moved deeper into the dark and stepped between two stacks of plastic storage crates. Only the dim blue light of her phone screen filled the space.

Lenore: *struggles but secretly likes having your hands on me*

Dmitry: You like the idea of being captured?

The question wound through her like sweet temptation. Never before would she have considered that a desirable scenario. She’d spent half her life being scared someone would grab her. Her mother and the cases she’d worked had put that fear in Cora. It was a legitimate fear. But playing that kind of game with someone she could trust? Facing that nightmare scenario and twisting it into something sexy? She’d never be able to trust someone that implicitly, but virtually, she could go there in her head.

Lenore: Only if you’re the captor.

Dmitry: Mmm. I’d like to watch you struggle for my touch. I’d make you ride your edge until you beg. I bet you’re beautiful when you beg. I know you sound sexy when you do it.

Goose bumps chased over her skin. Since she couldn’t picture the real man, she pictured the version of him from the game. She imagined him knotting the ropes around her wrists and ankles, touching her everywhere, searching fingers and hot skin, making her want all the things he could give her.

Dmitry: Are you struggling now, L? Are you getting wet at this boring work thing?

She shifted in her shoes. Her blood was pumping, the place between her thighs growing warm. The dark felt like a cloak around her. Safe. Secret.

Lenore: Yes. It’s not feeling so boring now.

Dmitry: Where are you? Meeting? Your desk?

Lenore: At an event, stepped into a hallway.

Dmitry: Are you wearing a skirt?

She frowned. Never. She’d never felt comfortable in the things, despite her mother’s repeated attempts to get her to wear them. She glanced down at her pinstripe dress pants and white silk tank top. Grace had given her a thumbs-up on the outfit, but Cora doubted Lenore would wear such a thing.

Lenore: Dress

Dmitry: Perfect. Part your knees. Pretend I’m there with you running my hand up your thigh.

Despite the fact that she wasn’t really wearing a dress, she stepped a little wider, imagining his hand gliding up her legs and along her overheated skin, causing her to shiver. Her nipples became obvious points beneath her shirt.

Dmitry: Did you do it?

Lenore: Yes.

Dmitry: Picture my fingers beneath your dress, trailing up your thigh, pulling your panties to the side. Can you feel them, teasing you, not quite giving you what you want yet?

Sensation traced over her skin and she tilted her head back against the wall. God, she longed for that feeling, wished she could will him into existence right in front of her.

Lenore: Yes.

Dmitry: Tell me what you need.

Lenore: You. Your touch.

Dmitry: I bet you do. You’ve been good for me, so I won’t make you wait. I can feel how slippery you are against my fingertips. I slide my finger lower and push inside.

Cora shuddered, her breath quickening.

Dmitry: You’re so wet for me, L, and I can feel you tighten around me. You need this so badly. You want to beg for more, but you have to be quiet. No one would know what I was doing to you. The event would just go on around you. You’d wear a nice polite smile while I fucked you with my fingers and made you come all over my hand.

A gasp slipped past her lips as her inner muscles clenched hard. She was steps away from a crowded party, but she could almost feel his hand on her, thick fingertips finding her sex and pushing inside her. She closed her eyes and pressed her thighs together, trying to put pressure where she needed it most. Her pulse pounded in her ears, and her nipples turned sensitive against her bra. She wanted to touch, to get relief. Her fingers curled against her thigh. Maybe she could just press the heel of her hand . . .

“So I think it’s time for our very important business meeting.”

Cora’s eyes popped open, and her breath caught at the sound of the unfamiliar male voice. She automatically clutched her phone to her chest, blocking the light.

A woman laughed. “Oh, is that what you’re calling it?”

Two shadowed forms came into view and passed by Cora as they headed toward the back of the hallway. The fine hairs that had escaped the twist in Cora’s hair fluttered against her face as the couple kicked up a breeze in their wake, but neither noticed her. She was just another shadow.

Cora squinted. There was enough light that she could make out the height of the man, the petiteness of the woman, but not much else. They were walking close together, obviously sneaking away for something and in a hurry. Cora glanced toward the entrance and the rectangle of light that led back to the party. She needed to bail.

“Keep it up with the laughing,” the man said, his voice low but ringing with authority. “See how long it takes me to shut you up.”

Cora stiffened and her attention swung back to the couple.

But the woman made a sound like she’d just taken a bite of the best chocolate. “Look forward to it, sir.”

Sir. The word rang through Cora. Reverberated. Sir. It meant a very specific thing to Cora. But this couldn’t be that. Her mind was just stuck on Dmitry and the game. This was probably some assistant and her boss sneaking off to make out. She needed to leave, make it known that they weren’t alone. Hello, innocent bystander here! I was just leaving. Don’t mind me!

And she was all prepared to do that until she heard the sound of a zipper and shift of fabric. She turned her head automatically toward the noise, the harsh unzipping like a beacon.

The woman’s breaths were sharp in the darkness—quick, anticipatory. Sexual.

Cora tried to pull her attention from them, tried to make her feet work.

Look away, Cora. Look away!

The man’s voice sliced through the silence like a bullet. “Suck it.”

Cora froze.

And she didn’t look away.

 

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Teaser Tuesday: 1 Week until BREAK ME DOWN is here!

Guess what, y'all? Gibson and Samantha are almost here! One week from today, BREAK ME DOWN releases. So I thought I'd give you a little preview. But first, here's what some reviewers had to say about it:

"WOW. Break Me Down is scorching hot!" - Vanessa Booke on Goodreads
"Loren's raciest novel to date." - Stephanie on Goodreads
"...a beautiful, poignant, yet hotter than than blazes story" - Sophia Rose on Goodreads
I just...so good. So very very good. I'm totally rocking a little book hangover from Break Me Down. From a novella. Whoa. You know you've found an amazing author when they're able to write a dynamic that's so NOT your thing and they still have you panting after the story and every single little word in it." --Anna from the Herding Cats Burning Soup book blog

Pre-order the book for only $2.99! Nook | Kindle | Kindle UK | Kindle Canada | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

So are y'all ready for a peek?

From BREAK ME DOWN

Chapter 1

“Are you trying to torture me? I thought your husband was the sadist.” Samantha dropped the tray of clean glasses onto the rack behind the bar and gave her best friend the stink eye.

Tessa frowned. “Kade didn’t tell me Gibson was coming along. You know I would’ve suggested another bar if I’d known, but I wanted to see you before we left for Bermuda.”

Sam sighed and tightened her high ponytail as she snuck a glance at the table where Tessa’s husband, Kade, was chatting with his stepbrother. Gibson didn’t look her way, but she got the distinct impression he knew she was watching him and was purposely not turning her way. Good, she didn’t need to see those gorgeous blue eyes, didn’t need to remember how their color had darkened to a summer storm when she’d put him on his knees. “Does he have to look so goddamned good in a suit? It’s ridiculous. Who gets to look that hot after a whole day of work? By the time I’m out of here, I look like I’ve been rolled around in a pile of sweaty bodies and beer. He looks like he’s ready to pose for an Armani ad.”

Tessa’s pink-glossed lips curled into a knowing smirk. “You know, pining isn’t good for your health.”

Sam scoffed. “Please. I’m not pining. I just went on a date two weeks ago, and last weekend, I scened with Julian at the Ranch. This girl”—she swept her hand over her black T-shirt and jeans—“is moving on.”

Tessa lifted a brow, clearly not buying it. “If the date was two weeks ago, that means it wasn’t worth a second date. And you and Julian are friends. I bet you didn’t even see him naked.”

Okay, so she hadn’t. Julian was a fun submissive to practice with and more than a little hot, but Sam had never taken it very far with him. In fact, none of the submissives she played with at the Ranch ever inspired her to take it to that level. It was sparring with friends—fun, exciting, but not all that sexual. The submissives didn’t touch her, she kept her clothes on, and she didn’t get off in sessions. It worked for her. Well, it had worked for her until the man sitting at the table a few yards away had come into her life. She’d let him touch. Once. Thoroughly. And the minute she’d crossed that boundary with him, things had gotten complicated, and he’d bailed like she had some virulent disease.

Shit, maybe she was pining.

“All right, the date was a bust. But I really am moving on. If Gibson wants to pretend that what happened between us was a fluke, that’s his business. I deserve a guy who’s not ashamed or afraid to be with me. I don’t have time for games.”

Tessa leaned against the bar. “If it makes you feel better, I think he’s pretty miserable over it, too. You should’ve seen his face when he found out we were coming here.”

“Good.” She gave a terse nod. “In fact, since he’s here anyway, I may as well enjoy his suffering. What are y’all ordering?”

“A Blue Moon, a Crown and water, and a dirty martini.”

Sam grabbed a few glasses and started pouring the drinks. “Give me a minute, and I’ll bring them over. How’s my hair?”

“Uh-oh.” Tessa laughed. “It’s a perfectly executed messy ponytail, but what are you up to?”

Sam adjusted her shirt, letting the V-neck show off a little more cleavage than she usually revealed at work. “Torture.”

“Sadist.”

“Yep.”

Tessa shook her head, still smiling, and headed back to the table. Sam finished up with the drinks and carried them over on a tray, making sure to put a touch more sway in her walk. She’d learned how to do it early on to get tips before she’d become the manager of the place. She hadn’t lost the skill, and she wasn’t afraid to use it to torment the man who’d walked away from her. No, not walked—bolted like his ass was on fire. She moved from sway to full sashay. Suffer, Gibson Andrews. Feel the burn.

When she stopped at the table, Kade looked up, all blond hair and broad smile. Effortlessly gorgeous like his stepbrother but without the dark and brooding vibe that Gibson seemed to be gold-medaling in at the moment. Or always. “Hey, Sam, long time no see.”

“Right. It’s been ages.” She’d just seen the couple a few days ago, when they’d all gone to a music festival together. “So, stalker boy, I presume the dirty martini is yours.”

He took the drink from her, not blinking at the nickname she’d given him last year when he’d doggedly pursued her best friend like a bent knight on a quest. She set the beer in front of Tessa and then finally turned to Gibson. She kept her smile poised, but it took everything she had to keep her composure when Gib looked up. He’d let his jaw go a little scruffy, and the dark shadow of a beard only made him more edible. But the look in his eyes was what sucked the air right out of her. So this was what a gazelle must feel like when a starved lion caught sight of her. Hunger had flared in that deep blue gaze—open, naked, and without apology.

God. A jolt of desire went straight downward, like a rope being tugged. Hello. Lady parts officially engaged.

She must’ve reacted, showed some chink in her expression. Because as soon as that look was there, he shuttered it, glancing away and offering a flat “Hey, Sam.”

Everything inside her deflated—the pin of reality popping the balloon of hope. Ugh. Stupid, stupid man. She wanted to grab that thick, dark hair and make him hold the gaze, force him to show her the truth. To be real with her. But of course, she couldn’t touch him anymore. And, well, that would look a little weird in the bar. Sexually frustrated manager grabs customer by the hair, makes demands. She swallowed past the tightness in her throat, completely forgetting her plan to look seductive and so over him. “Crown and water.”

She plunked the glass on the table without grace, causing some of it to slosh over the top.

“Thanks,” he said gruffly.

Silence ensued and Tessa cleared her throat. “Um, do y’all still have those potato things with the bacon? I’m starving.”

Sam snapped out of her daze and turned to Tessa. “Potato skins. You bet. I’ll tell Angie to put in an order. She’ll be handling your table. I just wanted to come over and say hi.”

Gibson took a long gulp from his glass and then brushed a hand over his wavy hair, trying to smooth the unsmoothable. A move she’d learned was his sign of discomfort. God, this was so ridiculous.

And she was done with it. So things had gotten a little out of hand during that last training session. He’d been helping her out, bottoming for her so she could learn how to use a whip. They’d been through a few weeks of lessons and everything had gone well. All had been done under the assumption that he was a fellow dominant who would be guiding her from the bottom—a friendly exchange. He wasn’t supposed to get hard when she whipped him. And she wasn’t supposed to get so turned on at the sight of him. And they weren’t supposed to kiss. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to let him push her against a wall and put his hand beneath her skirt to get her off.

But all that had happened, and when she’d tried to wrest control back and take him to bed as her submissive, everything had exploded in her face. He’d snapped out of whatever spell he’d been in from the whipping and had told her that nothing could happen between them because they were both dominants. That he had a masochistic streak, not a submissive one. The training had ended right there. And she might’ve been able to let it go, to buy that he was just a dominant with a taste for pain, but her instincts were telling her it was far more than that. Not that it mattered what she thought. For whatever reason, he wasn’t going to take the submissive role. Period. End of sentence.

She wasn’t worth the risk to him.

Fine.

“Is there anything else I can get y’all for now?” she asked, her voice coming out a little too bright, too twangy. Damn, she was going Dolly Parton on their asses. Usually that only happened when customers pushed her to her politeness breaking point. Of course I’ll get your hamburger recooked a third time, sugar. I should’ve known when you said medium you meant fossilized.

Tessa’s brow went up, seeing right through Sam’s act.

“No, I think we’re good, Sam.” Kade cut an annoyed look his brother’s way.

Sam hustled back to the safety of the bar, cringing at how easily she’d gotten knocked off her plan. Damn that man. But the crowd was picking up, and she didn’t have time to waste trying to figure out the indecipherable Gibson Andrews. She had a job to do. So for the next hour, she managed her bartenders, poured drinks to help them keep up, and made rounds of the floor to greet customers and drop off food. By the time she made her second walk around the place, every table was taken and the noise of all those different conversations reverberated off the walls.

This was her favorite part of her shift. Managing the bar wasn’t always the most glamorous of jobs—okay, try never glamorous—but when the crowd was buzzing and the energy pulsed around her, she couldn’t help but feed off it. She cruised by the back corner, checking on tables, and a sharp whistle caught her attention.

She fought the instinct to ignore it. Nothing ticked her off more than being summoned like she was a dog that needed to come to heel, but a customer was a customer. She turned around and forced a tolerant smile at the two guys swigging cheap whiskey at a back table. Dolly Parton made an appearance again. Well, if Dolly Parton had B-cups, too much black eyeliner, and an eyebrow piercing. “Can I help y’all with something?”

“Hey, sweetheart,” one said, tipping his ball cap up and revealing narrow green eyes. “I dropped my keys. Mind getting them for me?”

She looked down at the floor and the keys at her feet. She bent over, swiped them from the ground, and tossed them on their table. “Here ya go.”

His friend grinned her way and pushed the keys onto the floor again. Clank. “Maybe bend down a little slower this time, darling. I didn’t get a good view the first go-round.”

She straightened, the customer-is-always-right attitude falling away and fuck-off-redneck-asshole mode replacing it. “This isn’t the champagne room. I’m not here to give you a show. Do you need a drink or what?”

Idiot number one smirked and leered at her chest. “Yeah, how about two buttery nipples? Are they pierced like your eyebrow? I bet they are. You look like that kind of girl.”

She wanted to reach over and bang their two skulls together. It’d probably make a hollow sound. Usually guys got over the buttery-nipple joke by the time they were out of high school, but clearly these two hadn’t moved beyond that maturity-wise. Next they’d be ordering a Sex on the Beach. “Two drinks coming right up.”

She strode off and told one of her male bartenders to bring the drinks over to the guys. She’d be damned if she’d let any of her staff get harassed. Flirting from customers was part of the deal. People got tipsy, and their tongues got loose. But Sam didn’t put up with idiots who took it too far.

Sam slipped back behind the bar and started clearing empty glasses. But only a few minutes passed before idiot number one made a reappearance. He leaned against the bar, snapping his fingers at her. “Hey. I need to talk to you.”

She clenched her jaw and turned. “Is there something wrong with your drink?” I could spit in it if you’d like.

He slid the drink across the bar. “Yeah, you didn’t serve it to me. What? You’re too good to talk to your customers?”

“I’m managing the place. My staff serve the drinks.”

“You’re a stuck-up bitch is what you are.”

“Hey.” A knife-edged voice came from behind him, slicing through the din around the bar. “You watch your goddamned mouth.”

Sam’s attention jumped to the spot behind the guy. Gibson’s face appeared out of the crowd like a vengeful apparition as he shoved his way closer to the bar.

The guy turned toward Gibson, his features twisting into a scowl that made him even uglier. “Who the hell you think you’re talking to?”

Gibson was the picture of cool rage, completely unruffled and terrifying in his calmness. “You. Disrespect the lady again, and we’re going to have a major problem.”

“Fuck you, man,” the guy said, words slurring. “This cunt’s job is to serve me my goddamn drinks, and she’s not doing it.”

With lightning-fast movement, Gibson grabbed the guy by the shirt collar and jammed him against the bar. “Wrong answer, asshole.”

“Shit.” Sam hurried around the counter and yelled for Angie to get their bouncer, Herb. “Gib, stop. Let us handle this guy.”

But it was too late. The drunk idiot was already taking a swing at Gibson, and his equally idiotic friend was heading their way. The punch missed wide when Gibson ducked out of the way. A glass broke. Gib looked smug at the guy’s failed attempt and knocked him hard against the bar again, rattling all the bottles and glasses nearby. Soon it’d be the guy’s teeth. But before it could turn into a full brawl, Herb got in between to break it up. He dragged the drunk away and told him and his friend to get out.

The two men continued cursing and throwing insults her and Gib’s way, but they weren’t dumb enough to try to fight Herb. If they did, she’d have the cops on the phone before they could blink, and they’d be sleeping it off in the drunk tank down at county lockup.

The customers in the bar had stopped to watch the ruckus, but as soon as the two jerks were out the door, all the conversation kicked back in, like hitting Play after pausing a movie. Sam released a breath and turned to Gibson, who was straightening the cuffs of his shirt.

She shook her head. “I could’ve handled that, you know.”

He looked up, frown lines between his brows. “No one gets to talk to you like that. I saw them giving you a hard time earlier and could tell he was headed up here to cause trouble. What did they say to you earlier? You looked pissed.”

She shrugged. “They kept trying to get me to bend over and pick up things off the floor. Then they ordered buttery nipples while leering at me. Juvenile stuff. Dumb but probably harmless.”

His jaw flexed. “Customers or not, they don’t get to disrespect you like that.”

She smirked and stepped around him to return to her spot behind the bar. “Getting respect around here is hard to come by. I have to go other places to get that.”

“Too bad you can’t bring a single tail to work.”

She laughed. “No kidding. That’d get people’s attention. Talk back to me, and I’ll paint a stripe across your ass.”

His gaze flared at that. “That could make it worse. Some people might misbehave for that privilege.”

She cocked a brow. “People like you?”

He frowned.

She sighed and grabbed a rag to start wiping up the drink they’d spilled during the altercation. “Sorry. Guess we haven’t reached the point where we can joke about everything with each other yet. Want to talk about the weather?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry. It’s fine. I just hate that things are weird between us now. I miss hanging out with you. And my brother’s married to your best friend. We’re going to run into each other.”

She focused on cleaning the bar top, using a little too much vigor to wipe up things. Out, damned spot. “Doesn’t have to be weird. We can be friends.”

“Hard to be friends with someone you want in your bed.”

She looked up, something tightening low inside her when she saw the invitation in his eyes, that rope tugging again. Tug. Tug.

God, it would be so easy to give in and let him have the control. Sex with him in whatever form would probably be like winning the orgasm lottery. But it’d taken her so long to get to this point. She knew what she wanted, had finally figured out what flipped her switches, and she was tired of doing things halfway. “You know the price of admission for my bed, Gib. You’re not willing to pay it.”

Gibson leaned forward, bracing his arms on the bar and getting way too close for her to concentrate on anything but his dark eyelashes and full bottom lip. He kept his voice low enough for only her to hear. “We don’t have to be in any roles at all. We could just do things the old-fashioned way. Hot skin and cool sheets.”

She closed her eyes, a hint of his scent hitting her—rain-soaked earth. He’d always smelled like spring rain to her, something in his laundry detergent probably. But not until she’d had him under her whip did she get the rest of it—earth and man and hot need, who he really was beneath that polished exterior. She could smell it on him now. And that scent brought her right back to those sessions in the training room at the Ranch.

Never before had she felt such an utter need to make a man hers like she had when Gibson got into a scene. Something about him stirred those dark desires she’d only toyed with in fantasies before then. But the sessions had been her own kind of torture because they’d kept it so businesslike. He’d never taken off anything more than his shirt. There’d been no sex. He’d guided her from the bottom as her trainer and never gave over real control. Not until that last session, when she’d somehow broken through that outside layer, had she gotten a glimpse of what things could be like if they ever did those things for real, without restrictions.

And she knew without a doubt that if she agreed to an old-fashioned hookup with Gibson, physically she’d probably be over the moon, but deep down she’d be left unsatisfied afterward because she’d gotten a peek at what she’d be missing. She was done compromising. In her endless search to find Mr. Right, she’d spent too many years of her life dating guys who she’d jumped through hoops to please. No more. Even if Gibson was stupid beautiful and looking at her like he’d light her world on fire.

She poured a Crown and water and slid it his way. “Gib, let’s not pretend that either of us would be satisfied with old-fashioned. You don’t pay that exorbitant fee at the Ranch for nothing.”

The grooves around his mouth deepened and he straightened to full height, taking the drink in his hand. “I can’t be what you want me to be, Sam.”

“Why?” The word slipped out before she could stop it. But she’d seen how he’d reacted after that flogging. It hadn’t just been the pain. She’d been practicing dirty talk that night, dressing him down with her words. That had been the difference that night. He hadn’t just gotten hard; he’d been fighting subspace. Submission did something for him. She hadn’t imagined that.

His gaze slid away, the doors to his expression slamming shut. “Because it’s not who I want to be.”

She pressed her lips together, considering him for a long moment. She knew some submissive guys struggled with their desires. Many thought big, strong alpha men weren’t supposed to be anything other than dominant. But Gibson was so confident in his everyday life, she couldn’t imagine he gave a shit what societal norms or traditional gender roles called for. But for some reason, this was a no go for him.

She needed to accept that. Move on. She reached out and put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Hey, that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Friends who are not weird with each other. Or at least only weird in an awesome way. Because, let’s face it, neither of us has any shot at normal.”

His lips tilted up at the corners, but his eyes didn’t hold the same humor. “Yeah, guess we’ll have to get some practice at that.”

She nodded. “Definitely. We’ll go have lunch or something soon, okay?”

“Sure.” He grabbed for his wallet. “What do I owe you for the drink?”

“It’s on the house for trying to protect me from drunk assholes. Thanks for that, by the way. I would’ve handled it, but seeing his teeth knock together when you shoved him against the bar was pretty entertaining.”

His mouth curved into a full smile then. “Anytime, sunshine.”

For the rest of chapter one, click here.

About the book:

The New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me invites you to discover the thrill of control as one couple wrestles for power in and out of the bedroom…

Samantha Dunbar needs to forget Gibson Andrews. When he trained her to be a domme, she experienced just how hot things could get with the sexy executive. She was ready to hand him everything—including her heart. But Gibson backed away, declaring them incompatible. He’s a dominant, and Sam’s no submissive.

But after an attack shakes Sam to her core, Gibson tracks her down at her family’s rundown farmhouse and makes her an offer. He’ll stay the week and be hers in every way—a helping hand for the renovation and a willing lover in her bed. He swore he’d never give up control to anyone again, but he hasn’t been able to touch another woman since Sam. Maybe a week alone with her will cure him of his relentless craving. 

But one taste only makes them want more, and Sam and Gibson are drawn in deeper than ever. The man who won’t give in has just met the girl who won’t give up…

Pre-order the book for only $2.99! Nook | Kindle | Kindle UK | Kindle Canada | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

FIRST LOOK: Read Chapter 1 of BREAK ME DOWN!

First, a quick reminder in case you didn't see it yesterday. YOURS ALL ALONG, my m/m novella, is on sale for 99 cents! I'm NEVER on sale, so this is like a unicorn-type of event. ;) Grab it while you can. I'm not sure how long the sale is running.

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Next, drumroll... The first chapter of BREAK ME DOWN is now available in full! This one comes out Oct. 20th and features Gibson (Kade's brother) and Samantha (Tessa's BFF.) AND is my first novella with a female domme and male submissive. 

Pre-order for a mere $2.99 ;) Nook | Kindle | Kindle UK | Kindle Canada | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

About the book:

The New York Times bestselling author of Call on Me invites you to discover the thrill of control as one couple wrestles for power in and out of the bedroom…

Samantha Dunbar needs to forget Gibson Andrews. When he trained her to be a domme, she experienced just how hot things could get with the sexy executive. She was ready to hand him everything—including her heart. But Gibson backed away, declaring them incompatible. He’s a dominant, and Sam’s no submissive.

But after an attack shakes Sam to her core, Gibson tracks her down at her family’s rundown farmhouse and makes her an offer. He’ll stay the week and be hers in every way—a helping hand for the renovation and a willing lover in her bed. He swore he’d never give up control to anyone again, but he hasn’t been able to touch another woman since Sam. Maybe a week alone with her will cure him of his relentless craving. 

But one taste only makes them want more, and Sam and Gibson are drawn in deeper than ever. The man who won’t give in has just met the girl who won’t give up…

 

Here's CHAPTER ONE (This is an early copy so may contain typos. Feel free to let me know if you find any). Copyright 2015 Roni Loren, All Rights Reserved Berkley Books.

Excerpt for 18 and over. 

Chapter 1

“Are you trying to torture me? I thought your husband was the sadist.” Samantha dropped the tray of clean glasses onto the rack behind the bar and gave her best friend the stink eye.

Tessa frowned. “Kade didn’t tell me Gibson was coming along. You know I would’ve suggested another bar if I’d known, but I wanted to see you before we left for Bermuda.”

Sam sighed and tightened her high ponytail as she snuck a glance at the table where Tessa’s husband, Kade, was chatting with his stepbrother. Gibson didn’t look her way, but she got the distinct impression he knew she was watching him and was purposely not turning her way. Good, she didn’t need to see those gorgeous blue eyes, didn’t need to remember how their color had darkened to a summer storm when she’d put him on his knees. “Does he have to look so goddamned good in a suit? It’s ridiculous. Who gets to look that hot after a whole day of work? By the time I’m out of here, I look like I’ve been rolled around in a pile of sweaty bodies and beer. He looks like he’s ready to pose for an Armani ad.”

Tessa’s pink-glossed lips curled into a knowing smirk. “You know, pining isn’t good for your health.”

Sam scoffed. “Please. I’m not pining. I just went on a date two weeks ago, and last weekend, I scened with Julian at the Ranch. This girl”—she swept her hand over her black T-shirt and jeans—“is moving on.”

Tessa lifted a brow, clearly not buying it. “If the date was two weeks ago, that means it wasn’t worth a second date. And you and Julian are friends. I bet you didn’t even see him naked.”

Okay, so she hadn’t. Julian was a fun submissive to practice with and more than a little hot, but Sam had never taken it very far with him. In fact, none of the submissives she played with at the Ranch ever inspired her to take it to that level. It was sparring with friends—fun, exciting, but not all that sexual. The submissives didn’t touch her, she kept her clothes on, and she didn’t get off in sessions. It worked for her. Well, it had worked for her until the man sitting at the table a few yards away had come into her life. She’d let him touch. Once. Thoroughly. And the minute she’d crossed that boundary with him, things had gotten complicated, and he’d bailed like she had some virulent disease.

Shit, maybe she was pining.

“All right, the date was a bust. But I really am moving on. If Gibson wants to pretend that what happened between us was a fluke, that’s his business. I deserve a guy who’s not ashamed or afraid to be with me. I don’t have time for games.”

Tessa leaned against the bar. “If it makes you feel better, I think he’s pretty miserable over it, too. You should’ve seen his face when he found out we were coming here.”

“Good.” She gave a terse nod. “In fact, since he’s here anyway, I may as well enjoy his suffering. What are y’all ordering?”

“A Blue Moon, a Crown and water, and a dirty martini.”

Sam grabbed a few glasses and started pouring the drinks. “Give me a minute, and I’ll bring them over. How’s my hair?”

“Uh-oh.” Tessa laughed. “It’s a perfectly executed messy ponytail, but what are you up to?”

Sam adjusted her shirt, letting the V-neck show off a little more cleavage than she usually revealed at work. “Torture.”

“Sadist.”

“Yep.”

Tessa shook her head, still smiling, and headed back to the table. Sam finished up with the drinks and carried them over on a tray, making sure to put a touch more sway in her walk. She’d learned how to do it early on to get tips before she’d become the manager of the place. She hadn’t lost the skill, and she wasn’t afraid to use it to torment the man who’d walked away from her. No, not walked—bolted like his ass was on fire. She moved from sway to full sashay. Suffer, Gibson Andrews. Feel the burn.

When she stopped at the table, Kade looked up, all blond hair and broad smile. Effortlessly gorgeous like his stepbrother but without the dark and brooding vibe that Gibson seemed to be gold-medaling in at the moment. Or always. “Hey, Sam, long time no see.”

“Right. It’s been ages.” She’d just seen the couple a few days ago, when they’d all gone to a music festival together. “So, stalker boy, I presume the dirty martini is yours.”

He took the drink from her, not blinking at the nickname she’d given him last year when he’d doggedly pursued her best friend like a bent knight on a quest. She set the beer in front of Tessa and then finally turned to Gibson. She kept her smile poised, but it took everything she had to keep her composure when Gib looked up. He’d let his jaw go a little scruffy, and the dark shadow of a beard only made him more edible. But the look in his eyes was what sucked the air right out of her. So this was what a gazelle must feel like when a starved lion caught sight of her. Hunger had flared in that deep blue gaze—open, naked, and without apology.

God. A jolt of desire went straight downward, like a rope being tugged. Hello. Lady parts officially engaged.

She must’ve reacted, showed some chink in her expression. Because as soon as that look was there, he shuttered it, glancing away and offering a flat “Hey, Sam.”

Everything inside her deflated—the pin of reality popping the balloon of hope. Ugh. Stupid, stupid man. She wanted to grab that thick, dark hair and make him hold the gaze, force him to show her the truth. To be real with her. But of course, she couldn’t touch him anymore. And, well, that would look a little weird in the bar. Sexually frustrated manager grabs customer by the hair, makes demands. She swallowed past the tightness in her throat, completely forgetting her plan to look seductive and so over him. “Crown and water.”

She plunked the glass on the table without grace, causing some of it to slosh over the top.

“Thanks,” he said gruffly.

Silence ensued and Tessa cleared her throat. “Um, do y’all still have those potato things with the bacon? I’m starving.”

Sam snapped out of her daze and turned to Tessa. “Potato skins. You bet. I’ll tell Angie to put in an order. She’ll be handling your table. I just wanted to come over and say hi.”

Gibson took a long gulp from his glass and then brushed a hand over his wavy hair, trying to smooth the unsmoothable. A move she’d learned was his sign of discomfort. God, this was so ridiculous.

And she was done with it. So things had gotten a little out of hand during that last training session. He’d been helping her out, bottoming for her so she could learn how to use a whip. They’d been through a few weeks of lessons and everything had gone well. All had been done under the assumption that he was a fellow dominant who would be guiding her from the bottom—a friendly exchange. He wasn’t supposed to get hard when she whipped him. And she wasn’t supposed to get so turned on at the sight of him. And they weren’t supposed to kiss. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to let him push her against a wall and put his hand beneath her skirt to get her off.

But all that had happened, and when she’d tried to wrest control back and take him to bed as her submissive, everything had exploded in her face. He’d snapped out of whatever spell he’d been in from the whipping and had told her that nothing could happen between them because they were both dominants. That he had a masochistic streak, not a submissive one. The training had ended right there. And she might’ve been able to let it go, to buy that he was just a dominant with a taste for pain, but her instincts were telling her it was far more than that. Not that it mattered what she thought. For whatever reason, he wasn’t going to take the submissive role. Period. End of sentence.

She wasn’t worth the risk to him.

Fine.

“Is there anything else I can get y’all for now?” she asked, her voice coming out a little too bright, too twangy. Damn, she was going Dolly Parton on their asses. Usually that only happened when customers pushed her to her politeness breaking point. Of course I’ll get your hamburger recooked a third time, sugar. I should’ve known when you said medium you meant fossilized.

Tessa’s brow went up, seeing right through Sam’s act.

“No, I think we’re good, Sam.” Kade cut an annoyed look his brother’s way.

Sam hustled back to the safety of the bar, cringing at how easily she’d gotten knocked off her plan. Damn that man. But the crowd was picking up, and she didn’t have time to waste trying to figure out the indecipherable Gibson Andrews. She had a job to do. So for the next hour, she managed her bartenders, poured drinks to help them keep up, and made rounds of the floor to greet customers and drop off food. By the time she made her second walk around the place, every table was taken and the noise of all those different conversations reverberated off the walls.

This was her favorite part of her shift. Managing the bar wasn’t always the most glamorous of jobs—okay, try never glamorous—but when the crowd was buzzing and the energy pulsed around her, she couldn’t help but feed off it. She cruised by the back corner, checking on tables, and a sharp whistle caught her attention.

She fought the instinct to ignore it. Nothing ticked her off more than being summoned like she was a dog that needed to come to heel, but a customer was a customer. She turned around and forced a tolerant smile at the two guys swigging cheap whiskey at a back table. Dolly Parton made an appearance again. Well, if Dolly Parton had B-cups, too much black eyeliner, and an eyebrow piercing. “Can I help y’all with something?”

“Hey, sweetheart,” one said, tipping his ball cap up and revealing narrow green eyes. “I dropped my keys. Mind getting them for me?”

She looked down at the floor and the keys at her feet. She bent over, swiped them from the ground, and tossed them on their table. “Here ya go.”

His friend grinned her way and pushed the keys onto the floor again. Clank. “Maybe bend down a little slower this time, darling. I didn’t get a good view the first go-round.”

She straightened, the customer-is-always-right attitude falling away and fuck-off-redneck-asshole mode replacing it. “This isn’t the champagne room. I’m not here to give you a show. Do you need a drink or what?”

Idiot number one smirked and leered at her chest. “Yeah, how about two buttery nipples? Are they pierced like your eyebrow? I bet they are. You look like that kind of girl.”

She wanted to reach over and bang their two skulls together. It’d probably make a hollow sound. Usually guys got over the buttery-nipple joke by the time they were out of high school, but clearly these two hadn’t moved beyond that maturity-wise. Next they’d be ordering a Sex on the Beach. “Two drinks coming right up.”

She strode off and told one of her male bartenders to bring the drinks over to the guys. She’d be damned if she’d let any of her staff get harassed. Flirting from customers was part of the deal. People got tipsy, and their tongues got loose. But Sam didn’t put up with idiots who took it too far.

Sam slipped back behind the bar and started clearing empty glasses. But only a few minutes passed before idiot number one made a reappearance. He leaned against the bar, snapping his fingers at her. “Hey. I need to talk to you.”

She clenched her jaw and turned. “Is there something wrong with your drink?” I could spit in it if you’d like.

He slid the drink across the bar. “Yeah, you didn’t serve it to me. What? You’re too good to talk to your customers?”

“I’m managing the place. My staff serve the drinks.”

“You’re a stuck-up bitch is what you are.”

“Hey.” A knife-edged voice came from behind him, slicing through the din around the bar. “You watch your goddamned mouth.”

Sam’s attention jumped to the spot behind the guy. Gibson’s face appeared out of the crowd like a vengeful apparition as he shoved his way closer to the bar.

The guy turned toward Gibson, his features twisting into a scowl that made him even uglier. “Who the hell you think you’re talking to?”

Gibson was the picture of cool rage, completely unruffled and terrifying in his calmness. “You. Disrespect the lady again, and we’re going to have a major problem.”

“Fuck you, man,” the guy said, words slurring. “This cunt’s job is to serve me my goddamn drinks, and she’s not doing it.”

With lightning-fast movement, Gibson grabbed the guy by the shirt collar and jammed him against the bar. “Wrong answer, asshole.”

“Shit.” Sam hurried around the counter and yelled for Angie to get their bouncer, Herb. “Gib, stop. Let us handle this guy.”

But it was too late. The drunk idiot was already taking a swing at Gibson, and his equally idiotic friend was heading their way. The punch missed wide when Gibson ducked out of the way. A glass broke. Gib looked smug at the guy’s failed attempt and knocked him hard against the bar again, rattling all the bottles and glasses nearby. Soon it’d be the guy’s teeth. But before it could turn into a full brawl, Herb got in between to break it up. He dragged the drunk away and told him and his friend to get out.

The two men continued cursing and throwing insults her and Gib’s way, but they weren’t dumb enough to try to fight Herb. If they did, she’d have the cops on the phone before they could blink, and they’d be sleeping it off in the drunk tank down at county lockup.

The customers in the bar had stopped to watch the ruckus, but as soon as the two jerks were out the door, all the conversation kicked back in, like hitting Play after pausing a movie. Sam released a breath and turned to Gibson, who was straightening the cuffs of his shirt.

She shook her head. “I could’ve handled that, you know.”

He looked up, frown lines between his brows. “No one gets to talk to you like that. I saw them giving you a hard time earlier and could tell he was headed up here to cause trouble. What did they say to you earlier? You looked pissed.”

She shrugged. “They kept trying to get me to bend over and pick up things off the floor. Then they ordered buttery nipples while leering at me. Juvenile stuff. Dumb but probably harmless.”

His jaw flexed. “Customers or not, they don’t get to disrespect you like that.”

She smirked and stepped around him to return to her spot behind the bar. “Getting respect around here is hard to come by. I have to go other places to get that.”

“Too bad you can’t bring a single tail to work.”

She laughed. “No kidding. That’d get people’s attention. Talk back to me, and I’ll paint a stripe across your ass.”

His gaze flared at that. “That could make it worse. Some people might misbehave for that privilege.”

She cocked a brow. “People like you?”

He frowned.

She sighed and grabbed a rag to start wiping up the drink they’d spilled during the altercation. “Sorry. Guess we haven’t reached the point where we can joke about everything with each other yet. Want to talk about the weather?”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry. It’s fine. I just hate that things are weird between us now. I miss hanging out with you. And my brother’s married to your best friend. We’re going to run into each other.”

She focused on cleaning the bar top, using a little too much vigor to wipe up things. Out, damned  spot. “Doesn’t have to be weird. We can be friends.”

“Hard to be friends with someone you want in your bed.”

She looked up, something tightening low inside her when she saw the invitation in his eyes, that rope tugging again. Tug. Tug.

God, it would be so easy to give in and let him have the control. Sex with him in whatever form would probably be like winning the orgasm lottery. But it’d taken her so long to get to this point. She knew what she wanted, had finally figured out what flipped her switches, and she was tired of doing things halfway. “You know the price of admission for my bed, Gib. You’re not willing to pay it.”

Gibson leaned forward, bracing his arms on the bar and getting way too close for her to concentrate on anything but his dark eyelashes and full bottom lip. He kept his voice low enough for only her to hear. “We don’t have to be in any roles at all. We could just do things the old-fashioned way. Hot skin and cool sheets.”

She closed her eyes, a hint of his scent hitting her—rain-soaked earth. He’d always smelled like spring rain to her, something in his laundry detergent probably. But not until she’d had him under her whip did she get the rest of it—earth and man and hot need, who he really was beneath that polished exterior. She could smell it on him now. And that scent brought her right back to those sessions in the training room at the Ranch.

Never before had she felt such an utter need to make a man hers like she had when Gibson got into a scene. Something about him stirred those dark desires she’d only toyed with in fantasies before then. But the sessions had been her own kind of torture because they’d kept it so businesslike. He’d never taken off anything more than his shirt. There’d been no sex. He’d guided her from the bottom as her trainer and never gave over real control. Not until that last session, when she’d somehow broken through that outside layer, had she gotten a glimpse of what things could be like if they ever did those things for real, without restrictions.

And she knew without a doubt that if she agreed to an old-fashioned hookup with Gibson, physically she’d probably be over the moon, but deep down she’d be left unsatisfied afterward because she’d gotten a peek at what she’d be missing. She was done compromising. In her endless search to find Mr. Right, she’d spent too many years of her life dating guys who she’d jumped through hoops to please. No more. Even if Gibson was stupid beautiful and looking at her like he’d light her world on fire.

She poured a Crown and water and slid it his way. “Gib, let’s not pretend that either of us would be satisfied with old-fashioned. You don’t pay that exorbitant fee at the Ranch for nothing.”

The grooves around his mouth deepened and he straightened to full height, taking the drink in his hand. “I can’t be what you want me to be, Sam.”

“Why?” The word slipped out before she could stop it. But she’d seen how he’d reacted after that flogging. It hadn’t just been the pain. She’d been practicing dirty talk that night, dressing him down with her words. That had been the difference that night. He hadn’t just gotten hard; he’d been fighting subspace. Submission did something for him. She hadn’t imagined that.

His gaze slid away, the doors to his expression slamming shut. “Because it’s not who I want to be.”

She pressed her lips together, considering him for a long moment. She knew some submissive guys struggled with their desires. Many thought big, strong alpha men weren’t supposed to be anything other than dominant. But Gibson was so confident in his everyday life, she couldn’t imagine he gave a shit what societal norms or traditional gender roles called for. But for some reason, this was a no go for him.

She needed to accept that. Move on. She reached out and put her hand on his arm and squeezed. “Hey, that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Friends who are not weird with each other. Or at least only weird in an awesome way. Because, let’s face it, neither of us has any shot at normal.”

His lips tilted up at the corners, but his eyes didn’t hold the same humor. “Yeah, guess we’ll have to get some practice at that.”

She nodded. “Definitely. We’ll go have lunch or something soon, okay?”

“Sure.” He grabbed for his wallet. “What do I owe you for the drink?”

“It’s on the house for trying to protect me from drunk assholes. Thanks for that, by the way. I would’ve handled it, but seeing his teeth knock together when you shoved him against the bar was pretty entertaining.”

His mouth curved into a full smile then. “Anytime, sunshine.”

After one last look, he headed back to his table, and she didn’t talk to him again until he and her friends said good-bye for the night. When he walked out of the bar, all the starch drained out of her. She tried to stay busy, keep her energy up, but as the crowd thinned and the night stretched on, the finality of her and Gibson’s situation weighed on her. When the last customer headed out the door, she sagged back against the counter and closed her eyes, rubbing her brow.

“Everything okay?” Angie asked.

Sam opened her eyes to find her current manager-in-training cleaning a glass and giving her a concerned look. Sam shook her head. “I’m fine. Long night.”

Angie nodded toward the back. “You should get out of here, then. Billy and I can lock up. I’ve got the hang of the closing procedures by now.”

Sam stretched her neck and glanced at the empty bar. Usually she stayed and helped to put things back in order, but she’d worked every night this week preparing for her time off, and the thought of staying any longer suddenly felt like a prison sentence. “You sure?”

“Of course. Your vacation can start now. Go. Get some rest.”

Sam smiled. “Why haven’t I made you assistant manager yet?”

“Because you’re too much of a control freak. But I’ll be more than happy to accept that promotion when you get back.”

Sam pushed off the bar and patted Angie’s shoulder as she passed. “Consider it done. And if anything happens this week, you can call me—”

“I’ll call Marvin,” she said, cutting her off. “You’re on vacation, not on call. Forget about us for a while.”

“You’re a bossy thing.”

“Hello, Kettle, you’re black. Love, Pot.”

Sam rolled her eyes. “Fine. Point taken. I’m out of here. Don’t forget to lock up the safe and check—”

“The side door. I know. Go.” She shooed her with her hand.

Sam didn’t protest this time and went into the back room to grab her purse and keys. The spring night was cool and dry as she exited the side door and headed through the alleyway toward the parking lot. Her worn Vans were silent on the pavement and after the constant roar of the bar, she welcomed the quiet night around her. But despite the peacefulness, she held her little bottle of mace in her right hand.

This area of downtown was pretty safe, but she didn’t take that kind of thing for granted. You were never really safe. She’d learned that the hard way bouncing around foster homes and group homes, running into people who thought her petite size and vulnerable circumstances made her an easy target. Danger pounced when you let your guard down.

It’s why her first semester in college, she’d taken a Krav Maga course and learned how to protect herself. It’s why she always carried mace. And it’s why when she turned the corner around the building and saw a familiar face heading her way, she didn’t hesitate to raise her hand and aim.

Idiot number one from the bar fight was glaring back at her, but he lifted his hands. “Easy, now, darling. I’m not here to cause trouble.”

“Bullshit,” she said, finger on the trigger of her mace, her heart trying to pound out of her chest. She dipped her other hand in her purse, blindly feeling around for her phone. “You need to back off and go home.”

He smiled. “I was just coming back because I left my wallet at the table. I need to get back inside.”

“You can come back tomorrow. I’ll let the staff know to put it aside for you.”

“I can’t wait that long.” He took a step closer.

“I said back off, asshole.” She put more pressure on the trigger and stepped back.

And ran into something solid . . . and warm.

Her body jolted at the impact and her finger slipped off the trigger, but it was too late to react beyond that. A hand came around and clamped over her mouth. Another arm banded around her chest, knocking the mace out of her grip and dragging her back into the alleyway

“Well, hi there,” a voice said against her ear, stale whiskey breath burning her nostrils.

Everything went cold and electric inside her, and she wrenched her body, trying to break the grip and screaming behind the hand. Frantic. She’d been through self-defense. She knew there was a way to break this hold, but none of the moves would come to her. All she could think of was to stomp on his feet. But when she tried, her tennis shoes did little damage and her body wouldn’t cooperate. Everything trembled.

The first guy followed them between the buildings and moved closer, invading her space and dominating her vision. His smile was one of triumph. “You know, we never did get those buttery nipples. But how about I taste them without the butter for now.”

He reached out and grabbed the collar of her T-shirt and yanked it down, ripping it and exposing her bra.

Tears jumped to her eyes, and she kicked and writhed like a wildcat. This was not going to happen. These disgusting men were not going to touch her. After a few failed attempts, her shin connected with the guy’s crotch and he doubled over, crying out in pain. She felt the small surge of victory, but then he hauled up and slapped her hard in the face, making stars appear and sending her ears ringing.

“You stupid fucking bitch,” he seethed, still hunched over, one hand cradling himself. “You think you’re so high and mighty, but you’re not going to be anything when we take you to the van and fuck that attitude right out of you.”

The man who was holding her tightened his grip, and her throat closed up, air whistling through her and her vision blurring. Other voices filled her head. Voices she hadn’t heard in years interspersing with the present ones. Her eyes closed and all that was there behind her lids was blood spattering, the violent Texas sun blinding her. Hands on her. Trapped. Held down. Not again. She would not go through this again. She forced her eyes open and shook her head with a violent, sudden motion, breaking free of the hand over her mouth and letting out a piercing scream—one that seemed to come from a place so far inside it her, it made her body quake.

Idiot number one’s eyes went wide, and she hoped to God they would run, but he just looked out toward the street. “Come on, get her to the van. Hurry.”

But before they could drag her a few steps, the door to the bar opened and Angie ran out. When she saw what was happening, Angie lifted her arms and pointed a gun their way, hands steady as stone. “Let her go or I swear to God I will blow your fucking balls off.”

Sam knew Angie could damn well do it, too. The girl had grown up in the country, and her daddy still took her hunting.

The guy holding Sam tensed behind her and then let her go like a sack of grain. Her knees hit the ground hard and the two men ran off, shouting at each other to move faster.

Angie raced down the back stairs and toward the parking lot, and Billy came running behind her, cell phone to his ear. He stopped at Sam’s side. “Jesus, are you okay? I called the cops.”

Sam braced a hand on the pavement, panting and trying not to hyperventilate, and held her torn shirt to her chest with her other hand. Her brain seemed to flash through present and past all at once, a scrambled channel of images that made her want to scream again and not stop. But she forced deep breaths into her lungs. It’s okay. It’s okay. You’re okay. “I’m all right. Check on Angie.”

But Angie stepped back into the alley a second later, face red with exertion. “I couldn’t get a license plate, but I saw what kind of van they were driving.” She hurried to join Sam and crouched down next to her. “God, honey, you’re bleeding. Billy, get some ice and a new T-shirt.”

Billy jogged back into the building, and Sam sat back on her calves, tentatively touching her lip. It felt swollen but not split at least. “I’m fine. They didn’t get a chance to do more than hit me thanks to you.”

And no thanks to Sam’s own instincts. Every goddamned lick of training she’d gotten had gone down the tube in an instant. She’d felt so strong and confident after arming herself with all those self-defense tools. Had felt like she’d beaten those demons. But when she’d needed them most, she’d been useless. She was just as vulnerable as she’d always been. A victim waiting to happen. The thought shook her down to the core.

You’re never safe.

Angie put her arm around Sam. “Come on. Let’s get you inside. You’re trembling.”

Sam let Angie lead her back into the bar, and Billy brought her ice and a new staff T-shirt. They were babying her, but Sam didn’t have it in her to protest at this point. She just wanted to give her statement to the police and get the hell out of here so she could put herself back together.

The cops arrived a short time after that and took all of their statements. Sam doubted they would be able to find the guys by description alone, but she hoped the van may give them a good lead. Either way, she didn’t think the men would come back to the bar. They were dumb but not brain-dead. The staff would recognize them. Everyone had seen at least one of them during the altercation with Gibson. But she’d ask Marvin, the bar owner, to pay for extra security for the next couple of weeks anyway.

By the time she got in her car to go home, she felt numb. Hollow. But as she drove toward her place, that numbness gave way to anger. Anger at the men who’d attacked her. And anger at herself for panicking so completely. She was not that person. She was the girl in her Krav Maga class who had taken down an instructor twice her size. She was the domme at the Ranch who had men willing to kneel at her feet. She was not going to be the girl to go home to her empty apartment and cower behind the locked doors and jump at every sound. That wasn’t who she was anymore. She couldn’t go back to that.

So when she got to her apartment, she grabbed the suitcase she’d packed for her vacation and added another black bag that was meant for only one place.

Tonight she didn’t need to be alone. Tonight she needed to be in charge.

She tossed the bags in her trunk and got on the road. The Ranch was only an hour away. She couldn’t get there fast enough.

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Who's ready for Gibson? Want to see how I picture him? Check out the Heroes page for pics.

 

 

Teaser Tuesday: A Peek of Sam & Gibson from BREAK ME DOWN

 

 

How about a little teaser from BREAK ME DOWN? This one is Sam (Tessa's BFF) and Gibson's (Kade's brother) story.

*Note: This is an unedited copy so may change or have typos that I missed.

Excerpt:

He squatted down and picked up the sanding machine. It’d been a while since he’d tackled any home improvement projects. His position as head of PR at Vandergriff kept him too busy. But when he’d first bought his house, it had been in pretty rough shape. He’d taken on weekend projects to get it how he wanted it. He’d learned a lot and messed up more. A handyman, he was not. But he understood the satisfaction Sam probably got from doing this herself. It could be cathartic.

“I don’t suggest you turn that on unless you know what to do with it,” Sam said from behind him.

He turned around, finding her at the bottom of the stairs, raven hair damp and twisted into a messy bun atop her head. Face scrubbed clean. She looked so young standing there. He was used to seeing her with her dark eyeliner and hair done in some quirky way. But this version of her was just as breath-stealing. He held up the sander. “Don’t turn it on, unless I know what to do with it. There’s a dirty joke in there.”

She smirked, some of that trademark attitude back, despite the lingering ghosts in her eyes. “So do you? Know what to do?”

“With a woman or home improvement equipment?”

“I already know you know what to do with a woman.”

He tilted his head. Flirty Sam. Yes. Yes, he liked this. “I’m not quite as skilled with machinery, but I can hold my own. Why? Gonna put me to work to earn my keep?”

She walked forward, her beat up Vans silent on the floors. “Hmm, now there’s an idea.”

The tone of her voice had slipped into a dangerous place, one he recognized. One his body recognized. “I don’t mind helping.”

She tucked her hands in the back of her jeans, her vintage No Doubt T-shirt stretching thin across her breasts as she considered him. “Is that right?”

He lost his focus for a moment just looking at her. Her shirt read 'Just A Girl', but that was far from the truth. She was so much more. A f**king mystery wrapped up in smarts and sex appeal and kink. And he’d only gotten to touch her once, but he hadn’t forgotten a second of it. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, I can help with whatever you need.”

Her smile was quick, not too big, but enough to punch him in the gut. “Those are mighty vague terms, Gib. You should know how dangerous that is in negotiations. I could make you strip naked and clean the bathroom grout with a toothbrush while I sip iced tea and watch.” 

He set the sander down and ran a hand over the back of his hair. She’d meant it as a joke. He tried to smile but only managed a tight grimace. Any image where he got on his knees for her pushed that forbidden button inside him. “Right.”

The silver ring in her eyebrow twitched up as if she knew exactly what he’d been thinking. “Nah, never mind. I know how you can help. LEAVE.”

 

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Teaser Tuesday: A Snippet from OFF THE CLOCK

 

 

It's Teaser Tuesday! How about a snippet from OFF THE CLOCK (the new series releasing in January). 

This scene is from when the hero and heroine first meet back in college. (The main story takes place years later, but you know me and timelines. I like showing the past without having to do flashbacks, so the first few chapters are college. :) )

EXCERPT:

Marin’s gaze slid over to the stairwell. If she stayed on the other side of the hall in the shadows, she could probably sneak by unnoticed. She moved to the right side wall and crept forward on quiet feet. But as soon as she got within a few steps of the shaft of light coming from the occupied office, a large shadow blotted it into darkness.

She’d been so focused on that beam of light that it took her a moment to register what had happened. She froze and her gaze hopped upward, landing on the guy who filled the doorway. No, not just any guy, a very familiar guy. Tall and lean and effortlessly disheveled. Everything inside her went on alert. Oh, God, not him.

He had his hand braced on the doorjamb, and his expression was as surprised as hers probably was. “What the hell?”

“I—” She could already feel her face heating and her throat closing—some bizarre, instant response she seemed to have to this man. She’d spent way too many hours in the back of her Intro to Human Sexuality class memorizing each little detail of Donovan West. Well, his profile, really. And his walk. And the way his shoulders filled out his T-shirts. As a teaching assistant, he usually only stopped in at the beginning of class to bring Professor Paxton papers or something. But each time he walked in now, it was like some bat signal for her body to go haywire.

It’d started with the day he’d had to take over the lecture when Professor Paxton was sick. He’d talked about arousal and the physical mechanics of that process. It was technical. He’d been wearing a T-shirt that read Sometimes I Feel Like a Total Freud. It shouldn’t have been sexy. But Lord, it’d been one of the hottest experiences of her life. He’d talked with his hands a lot and had obviously been a little nervous to be in front of the class. But at the same time, he’d been so confident in the information, had answered questions with all this enthusiasm. Marin hadn’t heard a word in the rest of her classes that day for all the fantasizing she’d been doing.

But now she was staring. And blushing. And generally looking like an idiot. Yay.

She turned fully toward him and cleared her throat, trying to form some kind of non-weird response. But when her gaze quickly traveled over him again, all semblance of language left her. Oh, shit. She tried to drag her focus back to his face and cement it there. His very handsome face—a shadow of stubble, bright blue eyes, hair that fell a little too long around the ears. Lips that she’d thought way too much about. All good. All great.

But despite the nice view, she couldn’t ignore the thing in the bottom edge of her vision, the thing that had caught her attention on that quick once-over. The hard outline in his jeans screamed at her to stare—to analyze, to burn the picture into her brain. The need to look warred with embarrassment. The latter finally won and her cheeks flared even hotter. She adjusted her glasses. “Uh, yeah, hi. Sorry. I thought I was alone in the building. Didn’t mean to interrupt . . . whatever.”

He stared at her for a second, his brows knitting. “Interrupt?” 

Goddammit, her gaze flicked there again. The view was like a siren song she couldn’t ignore. Massive erection, dead ahead! She glanced away. But not quick enough for him not to notice.

“Ah, shit.” He stepped behind the doorway and hid his bottom half. “Sorry. It’s uh . . . not what it looks like.”

She snorted, an involuntary, nervous, half-choking noise that seemed to echo in the cavernous hallway. Really smooth. She tried to force some kind of wit past the awkwardness that was overtaking her. “Ohh-kay. If you say so.”

He laughed, this deep chuckle that seemed to come straight out of his chest and fill the space between them with warmth. Lord, even his laugh was sexy. So not fair.

“Well, okay, it is that. But why it’s there is just an occupational hazard.”

“Occupational hazard? Must be more interesting than the sleep lab.”

 

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**Note: This is not a final copy so could have typos.


Teaser Tuesday: Sam & Gibson from BREAK ME DOWN

 


It's Teaser Tuesday time! How about a new snippet of Sam and Gibson from BREAK ME DOWN, the novella coming out in October?

Sam set the beer in front of Tessa and then finally turned to Gibson. She kept her smile poised, but it took everything she had to keep her composure when Gib looked up. He’d let his jaw go a little scruffy, and the dark shadow of a beard only made him more edible. But the look in his eyes was what sucked the air right out of her. So this was what a gazelle must feel like when a starved lion caught site of her. Hunger had flared in that deep blue gaze—open, naked, and without apology.

God. A jolt of desire went straight downward, like a rope being tugged. Hello. Lady parts officially engaged.

 She must’ve reacted, showed some chink in her expression. Because as soon as that look was there, he shuttered it, glancing away and offering a flat, “Hey, Sam.”

Everything inside her deflated—the pin of reality popping the balloon of hope. Ugh. Stupid, stupid man. She wanted to grab that thick dark hair and make him hold the gaze, force him to show her the truth. To be real with her. But of course, she couldn’t touch him anymore. And well, that would look a little weird in the bar. Sexually frustrated manager grabs customer by the hair, makes demands. She swallowed past the tightness in her throat, completely forgetting her plan to look seductive and so over him. “Crown and water.” 

She plunked the glass on the table without grace, causing some of it to slosh over the top.

“Thanks,” he said gruffly. 

Silence ensued and Tessa cleared her throat. “Um, do y’all still have those potato things with the bacon? I’m starving.”

Sam snapped out of her daze and turned to Tessa. “Potato skins. You bet. I’ll tell Angie to put in an order. She’ll be handling your table. I just wanted to come over and say hi.”

Gibson took a long gulp from his glass and then brushed a hand over his wavy hair, trying to smooth the unsmoothable. A move she’d learned was his sign of discomfort. God, this was so ridiculous. 

And she was done with it. So things had gotten a little out of hand during that last training session. He’d been helping her out, bottoming for her so she could learn how to use a whip. They’d been through a few weeks of lessons and everything had gone well. All had been done under the assumption that he was a fellow dominant who would be guiding her from the bottom—a friendly exchange. He wasn’t supposed to get hard when she whipped him. And she wasn’t supposed to get so turned on at the sight of him. And they weren’t supposed to kiss. And she definitely wasn’t supposed to let him push her against a wall and put his hand beneath her skirt to get her off.

But all that had happened, and when she’d tried to wrest control back and take him to bed as her submissive, everything had exploded in her face. He’d snapped out of whatever spell he’d been in from the whipping and had told her that nothing could happen between them because they were both dominants. That he had a masochistic streak not a submissive one. The training had ended right there. And she might’ve been able to let it go, to buy that he was just a dominant with a taste for pain, but her instincts were telling her it was far more than that. Not that it mattered what she thought. For whatever reason, he wasn’t going to take the submissive role. Period. End of sentence.

She wasn’t worth the risk to him.

Fine.

“Is there anything else I can get y’all for now?” she asked, her voice coming out a little too bright, too twangy. Damn, she was going Dolly Parton on their asses. Usually that only happened when customers pushed her to her politeness breaking point. Of course I’ll get your hamburger recooked a third time, sugar. I should’ve known when you said medium you meant fossilized.

Tessa’s brow went up, seeing right through Sam’s act.

“No, I think we’re good, Sam.” Kate cut an annoyed look his brother’s way.

Sam hustled back to the safety of the bar, cringing at how easily she’d gotten knocked off her plan. Damn that man.

 

 

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Hope you enjoyed it! Have a great Tuesday! I'll be starting chapter one, page one, word one of a new book today. Always terrifying. :)

 

 

Teaser Tuesday: Meet Dr. Donovan West of OFF THE CLOCK

 

I'm back from the RWA confernece in NYC and it's Teaser Tuesday time! How about a sneak peek of Dr. Donovan West from OFF THE CLOCK?

This one is out in January and the start of my new Pleasure Principle series!

From OFF THE CLOCK:

Donovan stared out the window at the grounds and tucked his hands in his pockets, centering himself and bringing the focus back to the task at hand. “I want you to succeed here, Marin. Don’t doubt that. I’m going to train you to the best of my ability, and I have full confidence that you’ll catch on quickly. As for our past, I think we’re both grown-ups and can leave that where it is.” He paused, trying to let go of his dour thoughts and channel some levity. He smiled at his reflection in the window. “Unless you need to profess some undying love that’s been burning for me since you let me divest of your virginity?”

*

Marin’s whirling work-related thoughts skidded to a halt, all of them falling off the edge at Donovan’s comment. Her lips parted.

But Donovan spun around, a devilish smile on his handsome face and his hands still tucked in his pockets. “That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? The guy who takes the V-card always has a special place. Research has proven it.” He put his hand on his chest. “Come on, did you write my name in your notebooks with a heart around it? You can tell me. I’m a doctor.”

A choked laugh escaped her. “Research doesn’t say any such thing. Plus, your name would be too long to fit in a heart. And if you recall, I walked away from you that night, doctor. So you were probably the one pining over your misguided night with a teenager.”

He chuckled, the sound as rich and warm as she remembered. It softened some of those hard edges he’d acquired in the years since she’d known him, gentled the icy blue in his eyes. “Of course I was. There was bad poetry written. Sad songs played. I went through this weird emo/goth phase. It wasn’t pretty.”

“I’m sure,” she said dryly. But let out an internal sigh of relief at his shift in mood. This was the Donovan she remembered. He was still in there somewhere. She could work with that guy. She wasn’t so sure about the other.

He grinned, unrepentant. “See. You’re going to do just fine. There are two important requirements to work in this field: shamelessness and a sense of humor.” He raised a finger. “Oh, and the ability to keep a straight face no matter what.”

He gave her a super-serious therapist face.

She tried to give her own back to him, but she lost the staring contest and laughed.

He pointed at her. “All right. Elephants slain?”

He still hadn’t told her what he’d been doing in the parking lot in that half-dressed state, but it really wasn’t any of her business. “Sure. Bleeding on the floor.”

“Aw, poor elephants.”

He slipped off his suit jacket, hooked it around the back of his chair, and sat behind his desk in one gracefully executed maneuver—all confidence and swagger. The accomplished doctor. The ridiculously beautiful man. Donovan West was pure impact.

She had a feeling he was probably loved or hated around here, not much in between. He was a man who inspired reaction. He’d sure as hell always inspired one in her. Just not one that had any place at work.

Stop it. She sat up straighter, studiously ignoring how well his shoulders filled out that dress shirt, how the blue of his tie matched his eyes, and how his dark hair looked thick enough for her fingers to get lost in. Nope. Totally wasn’t going to pay attention to any of that.

 

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Have a great week!

TEASER TUESDAY: A peek at "House Call" the short story

 

 

Today for Teaser Tuesday, I'm giving you a little peek at "House Call" -- this is the bonus short story in the back of the paperback version of CALL ON ME. For those of you who read the series, this is Dr. Theo Montgomery's story, the smug but submissive doc who shows up in FALL INTO YOU and NOTHING BETWEEN US. Enjoy!

 

From "House Call" short story in CALL ON ME (paperback edition):

There was a flicker in his gaze—worry. It looked out of place on him. “Mistress, please make an exception.”

“Why?”

He looked away, jaw tightening. 

She took a few steps forward until she was right in front of him and snapped her fingers, the sound echoing in the cavernous room. “If you expect me to consider it, you will look at me and tell me why.”


He turned his head toward her—the fight within him visible in the tense lines of his face. He was a proud man, one who was used to everyone deferring to him, but his submissive streak ran deep. He wanted to fight. He wanted to please. “I had a bad day at work and could use a distraction.”

She kept her expression smooth even though a little surge of victory went through her that he’d actually given her an answer. “Tell me why it was so bad.”

His jaw twitched. The request was razor close to the one that had made him use his safe word last time. She braced herself for him to bail. Instead he said, “Tell me why you stopped taking clients.”

Her lips curved. “You’re not the one who gets to make the commands in here, Theodore. But maybe if you comply with mine, I’ll consider answering.”

He sent her a steely look—one that she’d normally happily punish him for—but she hadn’t agreed to play with him, so she couldn’t go there. Their gazes held for a long moment, a silent war, but finally, he said, “A patient died on my operating table tonight. I had to tell her husband and daughter.”

Maggie’s lungs squeezed tight, all the breath whooshing out of her. “That’s awful, Theo. I’m sorry.”

He shifted, obviously uncomfortable with her sympathy. “Part of the job, Mistress. We all have our own ways of dealing with it.”

And his was getting the hell beat out of him by her. She didn’t blame him. If she had to face that kind of thing every day, she may need those memories beaten out of her, too. But that didn’t mean she could do this. 

She grabbed a chair from the side of the room and pulled it over so she could sit in front of him instead of looming over him. What she was going to say wasn’t coming from Maggie the domme but Maggie the woman. “Thank you for telling me. I stopped taking clients because a guy got angry one night when I wouldn’t perform according to his wishes, and he backhanded me, split my lip.”

Theo’s attention snapped upward, fire in his eyes. “Someone hurt you? Who the f**k was he?”

The fierceness in the words took her breath for a second—the cool doctor looking like he could turn violent offender on her behalf if he got the guy’s name. She wet her lips. “Who it was doesn’t matter. The staff jumped in immediately. I wasn’t hurt badly, just a little shaken. And a lot pissed. The guy was banned from the premises. But after that, I decided I didn’t want to take money for this anymore. I never did this to be a performer in someone’s play. And it was beginning to feel like that’s what it had become. So now I know that when I scene, I’m doing it for me and the person I’m with. It’s real.” The last part slipped out and she winced inwardly. “Not that what we did together wasn’t real—“

He lifted a hand. “I’m well aware I was paying you for a service, Mistress. I didn’t assume it was anything more than that.”

No, apparently it was her job to weave fantasies that their business arrangement was more. She blew out a breath, unsure what to say. 

Theo put his hands to his knees and nodded. “All right. I understand. I appreciate you telling me. Though, these are the times I wish I were one of the doms. I could order you to change your mind.”

She laughed. “You realize that would so not work on me, right? I’d tell that dom to take his riding crop and shove it in his special place. You’d have a much better chance of persuading me than they would.”

Theo lifted his head, and the little quirk of his lips could’ve been mistaken for a smile. 

The sight nearly knocked her out of her chair. Goddamn. He was dangerously good-looking on any day. Broody and smug worked for him. But hell if that little hint of humor in his blue eyes didn’t take the wind right out of her.

“Thanks for that, Mistress.” He stood. “I hope you have a good new year.”

“I—“ Seeing him head toward the door sent a sharp dart of panic through her. She’d been enjoying this—a taste of a real conversation with him. And she had a feeling if he walked out, he would never be back to see her. “Wait. I didn’t say you could leave yet.”

He turned, one eyebrow lifted. “I apologize. May I leave, Mistress?”

She stood, trying to gather her courage. She’d put this man on her knees, had put her hands on him, but doing this was giving her heart palpitations. She cleared her throat. “We’ve both had long days. I’m really ready to get out of here. But what if…well, there’s a little diner up the road from here. They serve great pie. We could, you know, go have some pie together.”

God. Her inner cringe was absolute. Badass domme, step side, awkward teenager is here to humiliate you and undermine all street cred you’ve built with this man.

Theo looked stricken for a second then his expression closed down. He tucked his hands in his pockets. “That’s generous, Mistress. But I don’t…have pie with people.”

She frowned and put a hand to her hip, considering him. “You realize the pie wasn’t a euphemism, right? There will be actual pie involved.”

That half-smile appeared again but with a somber edge to it. “I don’t date.”

Her lips parted for a second at that bomb. “Like ever?”

“Ever. Goodnight, Margaret.”

Her given name on his lips sent a warm curl of awareness up the back of his neck. He’d never called her anything but mistress. She hadn’t even been sure he knew her name. But before she could respond, he turned on his heel and strode toward the door.


She stared at the empty doorway for a long minute. If she walked out to the main floor, would Theo be setting up an appointment with another domme? Would he let someone else exorcise his bad day? The thought sent a wash of hot jealousy through her.

She sighed and leaned against the wall. “Give it up, girl. You asked him out and he shut you down. You were just the hired whip. Let it go.”

Great. Now she was talking to herself. 

She massaged her brow with her fingertips, exhaustion settling in like a wet coat. She needed to get home and get to bed. 

And she definitely needed to forget about the doctor with the ridiculously hot body and the haunted eyes.

Wrong tree. No barking allowed.

 

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Have a happy Tuesday!

 

 

 

CALL ON ME is out today! Meet Pike & win brownies!

 

I am so so so excited that today is here! Pike's book released today! Out everywhere in ebook and print. (Note: Print has a bonus short story about Dr. Theo Montogomery, the submisive doctor who has appeared in some of the series.)

If you're new to this series, feel free to jump in here. All the books can stand alone. If you're a longtime reader (thank you!), I hope you enjoy seeing Pike get his happy ending. :)

Here's the info and be sure to scroll to the bottom for a chance to win 4 gourmet brownies from Wicked Cupcakes!

Buy the book: B&N | Amazon | Kindle UK | KoboiBooks |Google Play

About the book:

Oakley Easton wants two things: to be a good mom to her daughter and to ditch her less than ideal night job. Hooking up with bad boy drummer Pike Ryland? Not on the agenda. She needs a promotion. Not sex, tattoos and rock ’n’ roll.

Pike isn’t about to let Ms. Prim and Proper shut him down so easily, especially when he stumbles upon Oakley’s sexy night job. She’s only playing a role on those late night calls with strangers, but when he gets her on the line, all bets are off. He won’t stop until that sultry voice is calling his name for real.

But as they move from anonymous fantasies in the dark to the flesh-on-hot-flesh reality of the bedroom, the risk of falling in love becomes all too high. And the safe, quiet world that Oakley’s worked so hard to create is about to be exposed to the one person who could ruin it all.

 

Excerpt:

She startled and stiffened, instantly yanked out of her less than PG thoughts. “What?”

He leaned back in his chair, vague confusion on his face. “I asked if wanted to keep working in that back room? We could rehearse at the studio once they’re close to being ready to record. But until then, it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to cart everyone over there. It’s not that big of a place.”

“Rehearse in the back room?” she repeated, running the words back in her head to make sense of them. “Oh, right, yes, that’s fine. I’m sorry. I thought you said something else.”

She eyed the small bellini she’d ordered with her meal. Maybe that had been a bad idea. She was hearing things now.

Screw in the bathroom? How the hell had she gotten that out of what he’d said? Of course, now all she could think of was him doing just that—taking her by the elbow and leading her to that dark alcove at the back of the restaurant, pushing her up against that wall with the faded Italian flag on it and putting his hands all over her. She licked her top lip, tasting the sweet remnants of her drink. Pull it together, woman.

Apparently, once her libido had been brave enough to peep its head out, it had decided it was Groundhog Day and needed to run around, declaring spring was coming early. She hated to break the news, but nothing and no one was coming anytime soon.

“What did you think I said?” Pike took a long sip from his drink, his snake charmer eyes never leaving hers.

She followed suit, hoping the fruity drink would cool off more than her throat. “Doesn’t matter.”

His lips twitched. “You’re all red.”

“I think it’s the bellini. I don’t drink very often.”

“No way.” His expression turned smug. “You thought I said something dirty, didn’t you?”

“Huh?” She smoothed her napkin in her lap, trying to loosen the tightness in her voice. “No. Why would I think that? You’ve been very professional since we got here—which I appreciate by the way.”

His gaze slid lazily down her body, like butter melting over toast, and goddamn it all to hell, she could feel her nipples go hard and obvious beneath her bra. No wonder he’d figured it out. Her body was waving all kinds of flags in his face. Hey! Over here! Horny girl, booth eight!

“I am capable of being professional, you know,” he said, but his tone was all sex and sin. “I’m also more than happy to turn that off when the occasion calls for it. So why don’t you tell me what you thought you heard and why it’s gotten you all flushed and nervous?”

“I’m not nervous.”

He grinned.

Dammit. She schooled her face into a stoic expression. “The music is too loud in here. I thought you propositioned me to defile the restroom.”

Hie eyebrow ring twitched. “Now you’re just trying to turn me on with those big, stiff words of yours.”

All she heard was big and stiff at first, but she managed to rein in her temporary insanity. “We’re so not going to do this.”

“Well, probably not here, you’re right. I saw those bathrooms. But—“

“No, I mean, any of this. Flirting. Teasing. Whatever this is.”

He leaned onto his forearms, looking all too pleased that he’d gotten a confession out of her. “You got a guy?”

“No,” she said before she could get wise and fib.

“Then why can’t we do this?”

“Because I’m not interested.”

“Liar.”

She huffed. “Are you always this cocky?”

“No, it’s dialed down right now. I can get way worse.”

She stirred her drink. “Not. Possible.”

His lips spread into a menacing smile. “Challenge accepted.”

 ***

CONTEST ALERT: Win a Custom 4-pack of gourmet brownies from Wicked Cupcakes! 

 

Who's ready for Pike?


Teaser Tuesday: CALL ON ME is only a week away!

 

 

Guess who's only a week away? Pike! So today I thought I'd give you a peek at Pike playing drum, the heroine Oakley, and for those who've read YOURS ALL ALONG, a little cameo by Devon.

 

Excerpt:

“So,” Devon said, obviously searching for a change in topic, “you know a guy in the next band?”

“The drummer. He’s the one helping out with that music project at Bluebonnet. He gave us tickets, thought Reagan might have fun.”

Dev’s eyebrow arched. “Right. Because he thought your kid might have fun.”

“It’s not like that.”

“Uh-huh.”

Guitar chords blasted through the speaker for a moment as the crew on stage did the sound check. Oakley turned her head as the big screens on the side of the stage lit up with a publicity photo for Darkfall—the wind making the screens ripple and the bodies in the picture come to life. The crowd cheered.

“Look, mom!” Reagan shouted back at her. “It’s Mr. Pike!”

“I see, baby.” Boy, did she. The larger than life image had Pike staring down the camera with his bandmates. Badass. Tough. Beautiful.

“Which one is he?” Devon asked, following her gaze.

“The blond.”

“Whoa,” he said low enough for the kids not to hear. “You had that guy over for pizza and managed keep your clothes on? You have more restraint than I do.”

He had no idea. “I have no interest in being a groupie.”

“Can I be one?”

She shoved his shoulder. “You’re such a tramp. I’m so telling Hunter when he gets back in town.”

“Tell him. He’d agree. But seriously, is the guy a jerk? He looks like he has high potential to be an egomaniac. I don’t want that kind of guy around my baby sister and niece.”

She frowned and dragged her eyes away from the picture. “Oh, he’s got an ego, all right. He’s entirely inappropriate most of the time and a shameless flirt. But I wouldn’t say he’s a jerk. He’s kind of, I don’t know, weird and manic and…funny.”

Devon tipped up the bill of his hat, eyeing her with a sly smile. “Oh, so we have a mad crush then?”

“What? No.”

“Oak, you’re here in the Texas heat at a hard rock festival. You don’t even know these bands. And a few weeks ago, when I asked if you wanted to take Reagan to see that 80s cover band, you told me she was too young for concerts.”

Oakley crossed her arms. “Rae has since proven her maturity.”

He smirked. “Bull. Shit. You’ve got the hots for this guy.”

“He’s not my type.”

Dev shook his head and draped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close so the kids couldn’t hear. “Come on, don’t freak out about it. You work too hard and spend too much time alone. This could be good for you.”

“An ill-advised hookup with a drummer who will drop me as soon as he gets bored could be good for me?”

“Exactly. Look, I know I’m your brother and shouldn’t be saying this, but there’s nothing wrong with a finding yourself a hot, temporary fuck buddy.”

“Dev!”

He laughed. “Oh, don’t be such a prude. I mean, yes, you’re right. The guy’s probably not boyfriend material. But you’re a grown woman and deserve some fun. You know we’re always happy to have Rae over if you need a date night.”

“I think you just flunked big brother school.”

He gave her shoulder a pat. “Okay, fine, want responsible brotherly advice? Use a condom. And don’t let him take video.”

She poked him in the ribs. But before she could respond to his comment, the lights on stage began to flash and the crowd surged forward, excitement like a contagion moving through them.

“Come on, mom! Let’s get closer.” Reagan grabbed her hand and dragged her with the flow of the crowd.

They’d already been pretty close to the stage, thanks to the special passes Pike had sent, but now they were only a ten or twelve rows of people back on the far left side of the stage. Bodies pressed close to them and she couldn’t help but get caught up in the fervor of the crowd.

She pushed onto her toes, knowing the drummer was almost always the first one to come out.

“Is that him?” Dev asked.

“Where?”

Devon pointed to the other end of the stage, and Oakley froze up the moment her eyes landed on Pike. Tight gray jeans, combat boots, and a black sleeveless T-shirt that showed off his ink. All swagger and sex and guyliner. Pike waltzed onto the stage like it’d been built just for him. He lifted his hand in greeting, earning screams from the audience, then hopped behind his drum kit. He put in his earpiece, raised his drumstick, and leaned over to his mic with a cocky smile. “Y’all ready for us, Dallas?”

The crowd erupted. Sound exploded from his drums.

And Oakley forgot to breathe.

Good. God.

The rest of the band ran onto the stage, adding guitars and vocals to Pike’s heavy rhythm, but Oakley barely heard the words.

All she could do was stare. Pike took command of the drums like he had a personal vendetta against them, banging hard and violent but with a sharp-edged grace that made it look like moving art. Every part of his body worked in perfect rhythm—muscles flexing, tattoos dancing, sweat flying—and the expression on his face wasn’t far from what she’d imagined he looked like in the throes of sex. He was taking the songs in his fists and making them his with every swing of his drumsticks.

Oakley swayed on her feet, the pounding beat taking on an erotic edge, vibrating though her and invading her like a drug.

He looked possessed.

He sounded amazing.

And she was toast.

She felt the urge ride up her throat and she couldn’t stop it. Her hands went up with the rest of the crowd and she screamed Pike’s name like a goddamned groupie.

Fucking. Toast.

***

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Teaser Tuesday: Pike from CALL ON ME in all his cocky glory

 

Pike is here in only two weeks!!! Are you ready? Here's a snippet from the king of cockiness...

 

From CALL ON ME:

She startled and stiffened, instantly yanked out of her less than PG thoughts. “What?”

He leaned back in his chair, vague confusion on his face. “I asked if wanted to keep working in that back room? We could rehearse at the studio once they’re close to being ready to record. But until then, it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to cart everyone over there. It’s not that big of a place.”

“Rehearse in the back room?” she repeated, running the words back in her head to make sense of them. “Oh, right, yes, that’s fine. I’m sorry. I thought you said something else.” 

She eyed the small bellini she’d ordered with her meal. Maybe that had been a bad idea. She was hearing things now.

Screw in the bathroom? How the hell had she gotten that out of what he’d said? Of course, now all she could think of was him doing just that—taking her by the elbow and leading her to that dark alcove at the back of the restaurant, pushing her up against that wall with the faded Italian flag on it and putting his hands all over her. She licked her top lip, tasting the sweet remnants of her drink. Pull it together, woman.

Apparently, once her libido had been brave enough to peep its head out, it had decided it was Groundhog Day and needed to run around, declaring spring was coming early. She hated to break the news, but nothing and no one was coming anytime soon.

“What did you think I said?” Pike took a long sip from his drink, his snake charmer eyes never leaving hers.

She followed suit, hoping the fruity drink would cool off more than her throat. “Doesn’t matter.”

His lips twitched. “You’re all red.”

“I think it’s the bellini. I don’t drink very often.”

“No way.” His expression turned smug. “You thought I said something dirty, didn’t you?”

“Huh?” She smoothed her napkin in her lap, trying to loosen the tightness in her voice. “No. Why would I think that? You’ve been very professional since we got here—which I appreciate by the way.”

His gaze slid lazily down her body, like butter melting over toast, and goddamn it all to hell, she could feel her nipples go hard and obvious beneath her bra. No wonder he’d figured it out. Her body was waving all kinds of flags in his face. Hey! Over here! Horny girl, booth eight!

“I am capable of being professional, you know,” he said, but his tone was all sex and sin. “I’m also more than happy to turn that off when the occasion calls for it. So why don’t you tell me what you thought you heard and why it’s gotten you all flushed and nervous?”

“I’m not nervous.”

He grinned.

Dammit. She schooled her face into a stoic expression. “The music is too loud in here. I thought you propositioned me to defile the restroom.”

Hie eyebrow ring twitched. “Now you’re just trying to turn me on with those big, stiff words of yours.”

All she heard was big and stiff at first, but she managed to rein in her temporary insanity. “We’re so not going to do this.”

“Well, probably not here, you’re right. I saw those bathrooms. But—“

“No, I mean, any of this. Flirting. Teasing. Whatever this is.”

He leaned onto his forearms, looking all too pleased that he’d gotten a confession out of her. “You got a guy?”

“No,” she said before she could get wise and fib.

“Then why can’t we do this?”

“Because I’m not interested.”

“Liar.”

She huffed. “Are you always this cocky?”

“No, it’s dialed down right now. I can get way worse.”

She stirred her drink. “Not. Possible.”

His lips spread into a menacing smile. “Challenge accepted.”

***

Pre-order the book: AmazonNook | Kindle UK | Kobo | iBooks | Google Play

 

**Note: The paperback version will contain an addtional short story that will feature Dr. Theo Montgomery who has show up in previous books. 

YOURS ALL ALONG is here!

 

It's release day, whee! And I'm so very excited to introduce you to Devon and Hunter. These two guys haven't shown up in a previous book but you'll see more of them in Pike's book CALL ON ME. But when I "met" them while writing Pike's book, I knew I needed to give them their own story.

I'm an avid reader of LGBT romance and though I've written a m/m short story (in Fifty First Times) and m/m/f menage books (Melt Into You, Nothing Between Us, Forever Starts Tonight), I've never had the chance to write a m/m romance. So I'm thrilled to finally have the opportunity. Hope you enjoy it!

About the book:
The new Loving on the Edge romance from the New York Times bestselling author of Nothing Between Us turns on the heat between two men who wonder how much they’re willing to risk in the name of love.

Four years after an accident tore their friendship apart, Hunter and Devon are living separate lives. Hunter is now the all-America hero—a congressman’s son and a pro pitcher in Houston preparing to marry his beauty-queen girlfriend. Devon is in Dallas running a new restaurant. 

But when Hunter unexpectedly shows up in Devon’s bar, Devon can’t turn him away. Damn it if the man isn’t still gorgeous. But engaged? Hell no. All he’s doing for Devon is bringing back memories of their college-roommate days, and the night their relationship went too far. Turns out Hunter has never forgotten it either.

Now Devon can’t help but be drawn in all over again by the only guy who’s ever gotten close enough to break his heart. Maybe one more night together would be enough for both of them to finally move on. Or maybe one night will change everything…
Buy it for $2.99! Nook | Kindle | Kobo | iBooks |Google Play | Kindle UK | Kindle Canada
And if you'd like to help me spread the word on blogs, Facebook, or Twitter (which would be AMAZINGLY nice of you to do) here are some shareable quote cards! :)

 

 

 

An excerpt:

This was so not his scene. Hunter tried to move to the beat of the pop song as the crowd pulsed around him near the front of the stage, but this music was not his thing and the high school chick in front of him kept casually grinding herself back against him, making everything awkward. He wasn’t drunk enough for this shit. Grinding girl sent him a look over her shoulder that obviously was some sort of invitation, but he couldn’t be less interested. She had on a pound of makeup and reeked of some kind of sweet perfume and alcohol. No thanks.

Dev was having no trouble keeping up with the beat, though, and seemed to be having a way better time. The shots he’d taken before they came in had probably helped. The kid had been in a weird mood the whole ride here. But now he was bouncing next to Hunter, face lit up with pride, as he watched his baby sister perform on stage. Hunter took a long sip off his cup to finish his beer, entertained more by the view of his tipsy, dancing friend than what was on stage or the girl in front of him.

“Isn’t she amazing?” Devon yelled.

Hunter smiled and tossed his empty cup to the ground, Dev’s exuberance contagious. “Yep. She’s totally hot.”

Devon shoved him in the shoulder. “Watch it, big man. That’s my baby sister. I’ll kick your ass.”

Hunter caught Devon’s wrist before he moved away, the heat of Dev’s skin against his palm sending a jolt through him, and without thinking, he pulled him closer. “I’d like to see you try, Easton.”

Devon’s gaze flicked to Hunter’s grip on his wrist then to the scant space between them, confusion flaring there. “What are you doing?”

Hunter knew he should let go, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Holding on to Dev in the mass of chaos felt like finding safe harbor in the eye of a storm. He put his mouth close to Devon’s ear. “I’m using you as a shield. I need you to protect my virtue from the jailbait over there. Maybe she’ll think we’re together.”

Devon glanced over at the girl, who peered back again, focus zeroing in on Hunter. Dev gave him a wicked look, his smirk loose from his buzz. “We’ve got this. Just follow my lead.” Devon hooked his finger in Hunter’s belt loop and dragged him over to the spot he’d been dancing in. The music pumped through the arena, and the colored lights sparked over Devon in a haphazard, colorful pattern, revealing only pieces, snapshots. Hunter couldn’t look away. Dev rocked to the beat. “Come on, big man. Dance. Let’s shatter her little schoolgirl fantasy about landing a college guy for the night. Let her think I’m taking you home.”

Hunter laughed, nervous all of a sudden. “I suck at dancing.”

“Nobody sucks at dancing at a concert. Just close your eyes and move.”

Hunter wasn’t sure that was the truth, but he did have a little buzz going, and Dev’s grip on his waist was keeping him in time with the music. He closed his eyes and hooked an arm around Devon’s neck, focusing on letting go and moving with the beat.

“There you go,” Dev declared. “Just move.”

Hunter rarely danced and definitely had never tried with a guy, but before long, he could feel himself getting swept up in it—the beer, the music, the skill of his dance partner. All if it was pulsing through him with an electric edge, waking up everything and dragging him into the oblivion. He opened his eyes, finding Dev with flushed cheeks and laughing eyes. Devon spun around and then grabbed Hunter again without missing a beat. God, the kid was something. Devon was in his element tonight. Not that he ever held back. He was open about who he was, but seeing him in this environment proved that Devon still held some things in check around the frat house. Here Devon was free . . . and fucking magnetic.

The draw was something Hunter was learning to get used to. From the beginning, Devon had had this undeniable pull on him, but it’d been purely a friendship vibe. They connected and just got each other’s humor. Their differences had been a nonissue.

But after the night they’d shared his bed, the pull had gotten decidedly less clear cut. Hunter hadn’t lied when Devon had asked if he looked at guys in a sexual way. He didn’t. He was just starting to look at Devon that way. And it was completely fucking with his head.

Devon turned and put his back to Hunter, keeping close but moving with the music and leaving enough space between them that it didn’t cross into bump-and-grind territory. That’s when stalker girl decided she had an opening. She shimmied over and tried to work her way in between him and Devon. Her body brushed against Hunter’s arm in seductive invitation. But before she could slide into Devon’s spot, Hunter took a wide step, grabbed Devon’s hand, and pulled Dev against him hard. Their chests collided, and Devon’s eyes widened.

 ~~~

 

Happy reading!!!!! And thank you to everyone who buys it!

 

TEASER TUESDAY: Yours All Along is almost here!

 

ONE WEEK until Devon and Hunter are here. Here's another teaser. Have you pre-ordered yet? ;)

From YOURS ALL ALONG:

This was so not his scene. Hunter tried to move to the beat of the pop song as the crowd pulsed around him near the front of the stage, but this music was not his thing and the high school chick in front of him kept casually grinding herself back against him, making everything awkward. He wasn’t drunk enough for this shit. Grinding girl sent him a look over her shoulder that obviously was some sort of invitation, but he couldn’t be less interested. She had on a pound of makeup and reeked of some kind of sweet perfume and alcohol. No thanks.

Dev was having no trouble keeping up with the beat, though, and seemed to be having a way better time. The shots he’d taken before they came in had probably helped. The kid had been in a weird mood the whole ride here. But now he was bouncing next to Hunter, face lit up with pride, as he watched his baby sister perform on stage. Hunter took a long sip off his cup to finish his beer, entertained more by the view of his tipsy, dancing friend than what was on stage or the girl in front of him.

“Isn’t she amazing?” Devon yelled.

Hunter smiled and tossed his empty cup to the ground, Dev’s exuberance contagious. “Yep. She’s totally hot.”

Devon shoved him in the shoulder. “Watch it, big man. That’s my baby sister. I’ll kick your ass.”

Hunter caught Devon’s wrist before he moved away, the heat of Dev’s skin against his palm sending a jolt through him, and without thinking, he pulled him closer. “I’d like to see you try, Easton.”

Devon’s gaze flicked to Hunter’s grip on his wrist then to the scant space between them, confusion flaring there. “What are you doing?”

Hunter knew he should let go, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Holding on to Dev in the mass of chaos felt like finding safe harbor in the eye of a storm. He put his mouth close to Devon’s ear. “I’m using you as a shield. I need you to protect my virtue from the jailbait over there. Maybe she’ll think we’re together.”

Devon glanced over at the girl, who peered back again, focus zeroing in on Hunter. Dev gave him a wicked look, his smirk loose from his buzz. “We’ve got this. Just follow my lead.” Devon hooked his finger in Hunter’s belt loop and dragged him over to the spot he’d been dancing in. The music pumped through the arena, and the colored lights sparked over Devon in a haphazard, colorful pattern, revealing only pieces, snapshots. Hunter couldn’t look away. Dev rocked to the beat. “Come on, big man. Dance. Let’s shatter her little schoolgirl fantasy about landing a college guy for the night. Let her think I’m taking you home.”

Hunter laughed, nervous all of a sudden. “I suck at dancing.”

“Nobody sucks at dancing at a concert. Just close your eyes and move.”

Hunter wasn’t sure that was the truth, but he did have a little buzz going, and Dev’s grip on his waist was keeping him in time with the music. He closed his eyes and hooked an arm around Devon’s neck, focusing on letting go and moving with the beat.

“There you go,” Dev declared. “Just move.”

Hunter rarely danced and definitely had never tried with a guy, but before long, he could feel himself getting swept up in it—the beer, the music, the skill of his dance partner. All if it was pulsing through him with an electric edge, waking up everything and dragging him into the oblivion. He opened his eyes, finding Dev with flushed cheeks and laughing eyes. Devon spun around and then grabbed Hunter again without missing a beat. God, the kid was something. Devon was in his element tonight. Not that he ever held back. He was open about who he was, but seeing him in this environment proved that Devon still held some things in check around the frat house. Here Devon was free . . . and fucking magnetic.

The draw was something Hunter was learning to get used to. From the beginning, Devon had had this undeniable pull on him, but it’d been purely a friendship vibe. They connected and just got each other’s humor. Their differences had been a nonissue.

But after the night they’d shared his bed, the pull had gotten decidedly less clear cut. Hunter hadn’t lied when Devon had asked if he looked at guys in a sexual way. He didn’t. He was just starting to look at Devon that way. And it was completely fucking with his head.

Devon turned and put his back to Hunter, keeping close but moving with the music and leaving enough space between them that it didn’t cross into bump-and-grind territory. That’s when stalker girl decided she had an opening. She shimmied over and tried to work her way in between him and Devon. Her body brushed against Hunter’s arm in seductive invitation. But before she could slide into Devon’s spot, Hunter took a wide step, grabbed Devon’s hand, and pulled Dev against him hard. Their chests collided, and Devon’s eyes widened.

 

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Teaser Tuesday and a Cover Reveal for BREAK ME DOWN!

 

 

It's Tuesday again and time for a teaser. And I've got a cover reveal to go along with it!

I'm still writing this one so things may change, but for those of you who don't know, this is the story of Gibson (Kade's brother) and Sam (Tessa's BFF)--both were introduced in Need You Tonight.

So here's a snippet and the cover reveal! AND it's up for pre-order on Kindle and Nook for $2.99 if you want to make sure you don't miss it. Remember with pre-order, you're always guaranteed the best price. 

 

 

Snippet from BREAK ME DOWN, coming October 2015!

But before she could complete the breath, a booming knock rocketed through the farmhouse, rattling the door and and sending a scream right up her throat. Darcy barked from upstairs. Sam clamped her hands over her mouth just in time to cut it off. But she scrambled to her feet and turned toward the front doorway like the Big Bad Wolf was about to bust through.

Whoever this was, it couldn’t be good. It was too early and this house was too far out for it to be someone selling something. She needed to get to the bedroom and get the gun she kept in there. But the windows in the living room had thin curtains and she’d have to cross that room to get to the stairs. What if whoever it was saw her?

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Her hands shook. There were knives in the kitchen. That’d be something. She took a step that way when the banging came again, each knock like a jolt of electric anxiety through her.

But just as she almost made it to the doorway to the kitchen, a familiar voice echoed through the house. “Sam, it’s Gib. I know you’re here. Open up.”

Every tight muscle in her body sagged in relief. Gibson. It was Gibson. Not an ax murderer in a hockey mask. Okay. Okay. 

But then as soon as that thought settled—I’m safe. Another one hit. It was Gibson

She had no idea how he’d found her, but she’d told him to leave her alone when she’d left The Ranch. And she was a fucking mess right now. If she’d wanted his help, she would’ve asked him for it. That sent a rush of righteous indignation right up her spine, anger hot on its heels.

Part of her was tempted to just ignore his pushy ass. Pretend she wasn’t here. But knowing him, he’d break the frigging door down. So instead, she gathered up that anger into a nice, spinning ball in her gut and stalked toward the door. 

He banged on it again before she could reach it, so when she swung the door open, his fist was still hovering in the air. He blinked as if surprised she’d actually appeared, and then blatant relief descended over his features. “Thank fuck.”

Her jaw clenched, and she had to force it to relax to speak. “What the hell?”

His gaze skated over her, a deep line appearing between his brows. “Shit, Sam, you look…baby.”

She had a good idea what she looked like. She was sweaty, covered with wood dust, and between the slap earlier and all the crying, her face probably looked like she’d been hit with a wet bag of rocks. Goddammit. This was the last thing she needed Gibson to see. And the fact that he’d forced her into letting him see her like this pissed her off even more. “Don’t you dare call my baby or look at me like that. You’re not supposed to be here. I didn’t invite you.”

His blue eyes flicked upward, rigid determination there. “You don’t need to be alone right now. And you damn well shouldn’t be alone out here in the middle of nowhere.” He swung a hand toward the door. “A stiff wind would knock this thing down. What are you thinking?”

Well, that just punched all her bitch buttons. “Thanks for stopping by. It’s been fun. I’m alive and fine. You can go home now. Buh-bye.”

She moved to shut the door, but his hand flew out to block it from closing.  “Oh, no you don’t. You can be pissed at me all you want. But if you think I’m leaving you out here like this, let me alleviate you of that notion. Not gonna happen, sunshine.”

Her grip on the door tightened. “What? You gonna drag me out kicking and screaming, Gib? I’ll fucking fight you.”

A muscle in his jaw ticked and he took a step forward. “You know I’m not going to put my hands on you like that. But you either come willingly or you’re going to be staring at my ugly mug until you do.”

Ugly mug was about as far from the truth as possible. Even with dark shadows under his eyes, his hair disheveled from raking fingers, and a wrinkled shirt, he looked like he’d just fallen off the stage of some hot man revue. But she was too ticked off to care about how hot he was. Mostly.

“Leave, Gib.”

“Not unless you come with me.” He ducked under the arm she had braced on the door and strode inside. 

“Oh my God.” She spun around, the door swinging shut on its own behind her. “Boundaries, dude. Ever heard of the word?”

“Yep. Can spell it and everything.” Gib crossed his arms over his chest and smiled.

Who's looking forward to Gib and Sam? And what do you think of the cover? I love that blue.