BLUE COLLAR DADDY – first chapter free!

Blue Collar Daddy, a short sexy story by Alexis Alvarez, will go live on Sept. 18th inside the anthology set Daddy’s Demands.  You can read the first chapter and a sexy excerpt here…and be sure to pre-order, because this is an amazing price for so much sexy delicious daddy domination.

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Chapter One:

“Dammit, no!” I bang the steering wheel, as if that’s going to help. Even though I press down on the gas pedal, simultaneously turning the key, the car is mute. “Shit.”

I sit in the silence, punctuated only by the ticks and pings of the cooling engine, and the call of a mockingbird from one of the overgrown maple trees along the roadside. I glance around, but Route 7 is empty as far as I can see, and the only company I have this afternoon are the bees in the wildflowers along the gravelly grass strip that adjoins the blacktop.

I grab my phone and remember it’s not charged. I toss it back on the passenger seat, where it lands next to my laptop case. Too bad I didn’t make it to my rental house before the car crapped out. The town of Mecklenburg is small, but my new place, on the outskirts, is still at least a few miles away.

I get out of the car and prop up the hood, because this is supposed to be the universal sign for ‘help,’ but I wonder how long I’ll have to wait, and whether I should walk back to town—that’s definitely closer than the rental. While I’m debating this, headlights pull around the bend, and a shiny red truck approaches and slows.

I clench my keys between my fingers just in case, and flex my knees. I don’t expect trouble, but you never know. But when I catch a glimpse of his face, all of my fight instinct drains right out, because damn—this man is gorgeous. I’m not saying bad guys can’t be hot, but this man is phenomenal in a way that transcends regular cute-guy-ness, and I also get a vibe of safety from him. Maybe that makes no sense, but it’s how I feel.

He’s got dark brown hair and brown eyes that flash in the light. Defined cheekbones, a strong chin, sexy full lips. A short, close-shaven beard, hardly more than a few days’ growth—the perfect length, in my opinion. And the muscles on that arm, the built arm resting on the window? I might or might not be drooling.

“You need a hand?” His voice is deep and strong.

“My car died.” I clear my throat. “Probably the battery. Can you jump me?” Then I flush, my cheeks hot.

“Yeah, I can do that.” His voice is lower now, and he smirks. “Good to see your hood’s already popped for me. Makes it easier.”

“Uh-huh.” I swallow. Jesus, is he some kind of male fitness model? Those arms.

“But first I’ll have to check you out.”

“Ah, okay?”

“Make sure it’s not something else.” He opens his door and swings out, and my next thought is something like, Holy fucking hell. His thighs are powerful through his worn, faded jeans, and his lean hips, narrow waist, and broad shoulders are taking my libido places it hasn’t been in a long time.

“Oh, I see.” I relax my key hand.

“You don’t need to worry.” He glances at my fist. “I’m entirely honorable.” The grin that spreads across his face makes my pulse quicken.

“Good to know. Then I won’t need to attack you with my super-cougar-tiger ninja moves.” I wave my hand back and forth and his eyes dart to my hand, then up my body. I’m glad I wore my sexy scoop top and my best jeans today. The ones that make my ass look edible, according to my bestie back in Chicago.

He laughs. “I think your moves need some practice. I’m a black belt, though, so I can hook you up.” The mockingbird sings from the closest tree, and it mixes with the classic rock pouring from his open door.

Yes. Hook me up. I hope that the lust isn’t showing in my eyes, because that would be embarrassing. This guy is so freaking hot, he probably gets hit on everywhere he goes, from college girls and grandmas.

“May I?” He holds out his hand.

Because I’m holding the keys in my right hand, I transfer them to my left and take it. “I’m Kiera.”

“Zach.” He squeezes my fingers but our grip is awkward. It’s like he wasn’t expecting my hand, and then I realize he wasn’t. He was asking for my keys.

“Oh, you wanted these.” I hold up the keys with my other hand and they jangle, my guitar keychain clinking against the silver bells. “Found them.”

“Your hand is just fine, Kiera.” He doesn’t put any inflection on the words, but I feel a spark anyway, and I’m disappointed when he lets go to take the keys. “Not that I don’t trust you that the battery’s dead, but let me just take a look.”

“I might be a car expert, you know.” I cross my arms as he opens my door and moves the seat back to make room for his strong, tall frame. When he swings into the seat, I try not to let my jaw drop at the way his muscles move.

“You might.” He inserts the key and turns it, nods when nothing happens.

“I mean,” I continue, as he gets out and does something under the hood, following him and admiring his ass as he bends over, “maybe I’m one of those hidden boss show people. You know, the ones who pretend to be ordinary, and go undercover to see how their employees are doing on the job.”

He taps something and I hear a metallic ting. His voice is muffled as he replies, “So you’re my boss, is that what you’re implying?” He stands up and raises one eyebrow. “Last I checked, I owned my own business.”

“Me, too.”

“And last time I checked…” his voice goes lower, and his eyes seem to burn, “I’m the boss.”

“Are you.” His eyes are mesmerizing.

“That’s right,” he murmurs, stepping closer.

“At work?” I give him a teasing grin.

“Everywhere.”

I can feel the warmth from his body and I’m dying to lean in further.

“Is that so?” I’m coming on strong and I can’t resist. I want you to be my boss. Toss me down in the back seat of your car and tell me what to do. Are my eyes telling him what I want? What I like?

“Mmm hmmm.” He doesn’t back away, and he looks right into my eyes.

“I like the way that sounds.” My face gets hot and I’m glad. Let him see.

“I’m gonna hook you up, Kiera.” He steps in one more inch.

I suck in a breath. “You are?”

He smiles. “Got jumper cables in the back.” He points over his shoulder, but doesn’t break eye contact. “Just what you asked for, remember?” His voice, a touch lower now, is husky, and I swear there’s a glint of pure predator in his tone.

“Yes.” I clear my throat and touch my cheek.

He gives me a small smile, then steps away to get his gear, telling me to get in the driver’s seat.

“Turn the key and press the gas when I say,” he calls out, and I hear his engine rev. “Now.”

Nothing happens, and I know I can’t be doing it wrong—this isn’t rocket science. We try again, then he ambles over, shaking his head. “Sorry, Kiera. Not just the battery. My guess is alternator, especially because the car just flat out died on you, but we’ll need to have it towed. Get it checked out.”

My stomach sinks. “Oh, no. Fuck.” I sigh. “Is there an Uber service in this town?”

He laughs. “Nope. You’re kidding, right?” But when he sees my face, he stops. “I’ll drive you back to the shop. I’ll call Herb from the garage and have him come pick up the car.”

When I hesitate, he quirks a brow. “Herb’s safe. You can trust him. And it’s my garage.”

“You own a garage in town?”

The garage in town,” he corrects with a smile. “Small town. Just one of everything.”

“I can just leave the car here?” I gesture. “Until… Herb arrives?”

“Promise you nobody will touch it. Even with the keys right in the ignition.” He smiles.

“That’s good to know.” What’s he saying with those dark eyes?

“So get on in.” He points to the passenger seat.

“You’re not a crazy serial killer?” I feel the need to do a cursory safety check, even though my instincts tell me he’s just fine.

He laughs again. “Nope. If you wanna wait for Herbie, he can drive you back. But yeah, I’m safe.” He takes out his driver’s license and holds it out. “Go on. Take a picture and text it to your friends if you want.”

“I can’t. My phone’s dead.” But I still take the license and glance down, then point to my phone, lying on the passenger seat.

He leans over to see. “iPhone? Here. You can borrow my charger.” He gestures to his front seat, where a cord trails from the cigarette lighter charger. I hesitate, then figure, why the hell not? I plug my phone into the jack and snap a quick pic of his license.

“Thank you. My bestie will…” think you’re as fucking hot as I do, “get it soon.” He’s thirty-four, just like me. Six foot two. Two hundred five pounds. All of it lean muscles, as far as I can see. Zach Bradford is one fine man; that much is sure.

Then I do a double take. “Wait. Zach Bradford? I used to know a Zach Bradford in high school back in Chicago. St. Bernard’s. But you…” I hand over the license, tilting my head to examine him.

“Same guy. I’m Zach Bradford from St. Bernard’s.” He puts the license into his wallet, then steps back and puts his hands in his pockets. Does he look a little shy?

“No.” I stare. “I would have recognized… you.” I tilt my head. “Zach?”

I try to reconcile the memory of a thin boy who hung out with a different crowd than I did, with this man-God standing in front of me. He was one of the nice kids, but we didn’t interact much. What I remember about him was his intense gaze, and as I look as Zach now, I see that hasn’t changed.

“You have changed.” And though his stare is the same, my words are true. His body, his face—those are new. All man.

“Then you must be Kiera Collins?” He frowns. “You’re different, too.” He assesses me, and smiles. “I thought you looked familiar, but I didn’t put it together until just now. What are you doing here in Mecklenburg? Is… your family with you? Husband, or…?” He raises a brow, looks at my left hand, then back to my face.

“New job. And no, no family with me. I’m not married.” I flush. “My mom’s still in Chicago. How about you?”

“I’m single. Got divorced a few years ago and moved out here for a change of pace. No kids.” He crosses his arms and a frisson of excitement thrills through me. We’re asking each other something with our eyes, and answering at the same time. Moving through the steps, such as they are.

“Wow, small world.” But what I’m thinking is more that it’s not small, but magical. How else would this man be standing in front of me right now, looking at me like the only thing he wants to do in this world is burn me up with his gaze? He’s straight out of my fantasies.

“Sometimes.” He frowns, as if he didn’t like my glib reply. He tilts his head. “Other times, so vast that it’s incomprehensible.”

“What times are those?” I step closer. If he wants to cut through the bullshit, so do I. My heart quickens.

“Well.” He pauses. “When a person is lonely, I suppose. When you’re looking for something that you can’t find. And I’m not talking about keys.” He looks at my car, then back at me. “When you’re searching for the thing that makes you whole, and it’s not fucking anywhere.”

“Point taken.” I nod. “I suppose in that case, the world is infinite.” I hesitate. “And it’s then that you need to look in a new place. Or stop looking, and let the thing find you. Give life a chance. Let the tides roll and wash you up on the beach of your future.”

His eyes glitter. “What’s your beach, Kiera? What are you waiting for?”

I laugh. “I stopped waiting. That’s why I’m here, Zach. I got tired of my corporate job, so I found this place, in this town, figuring I needed something different. I’m changing my path. Getting away from it all. Thinking things over and getting some perspective. So here I am.” I can’t look away from his face.

“So you are.” I can hear the wonder in his voice. “Right here.”

He calls Herbie. I get into his truck, the smell of new leather and his cologne wash over me, and he plays music, not too loudly. We talk all the way to town, which isn’t a very long drive.

“So what have you been doing since we were in school together?” He looks over at me, then back to the road.

“College, IT degree, worked at a company in New York. A lot of travel. Then I got burned out. Broke up with my fiancé.” I think about my relationship with my ex—how we were so in tune in the bedroom, especially when it came to kink, but how I was still lonely. All the time. “Like I said before, I decided I needed to reset myself, so that’s why I’m here.” I pause, looking at his strong hands on the steering wheel. “You? You said… you’re divorced? What happened?”

“I married young and fast. She was great, but we just weren’t right for each other, I guess. We tried to get busy with friends and socializing to mask it, but eventually it wore through. Sometimes a person can be almost perfect, but it’s the almost that makes you pretty fucking lonely.”

I nod. “I hear you.”

As we look at each other, I feel something growing between us, fast and strong. It’s attraction, yes, but it’s something more, as well. How do you describe the feeling of meeting someone and knowing that things between you will be so fucking spectacular that it’s like it already happened? That’s something amazing and special. You have to grab that with both goddamn hands. You don’t find the rarest jewel and leave it in the mine.

I lean my head back and look over at him, moving my hair, touching my neck. And he smiles, glancing from me to the road; a small smile plays on his lips, like he knows what I’m thinking. Like he fucking loves it. And the rest of the drive is a million miles and a single flash at the same time.

*****

Daddy’s Demands

THESE DADDIES DON’T ASK FOR OBEDIENCE.
THEY DEMAND IT.

Daddy’s Demands is a collection of decadently dirty daddy dom romances from some of the hottest authors in the genre. This deliciously naughty box set includes twenty-five brand-new, stand-alone novellas featuring steaming hot, irresistibly sexy adventures with the baddest daddies imaginable.

Featured authors: Madison Faye, Renee Rose, Loki Renard, Maggie Ryan, Zoe Blake, Alta Hensley, Lee Savino, J.L. Beck, Jane Henry, Isabella Laase, Kelly Dawson, Sara Fields, Kara Kelley, Measha Stone, Amelia Smarts, Mary Wehr, Maddie Taylor, Meredith O’Reilly, Morganna Williams, Katherine Deane, Alexis Alvarez, Shelly Douglas, Sassa Daniels, Marlee Wray, and Rory Reynolds
Your obedience will be demanded on September 18th.

Excerpt from my story, Blue Collar Daddy:

“I’m gonna sit down,” he tells me. “You’re going to lie across my lap, ass up, and ask your daddy to spank you good and hard. You’re gonna earn your fuck, baby, by accepting your punishment.”

“Yes, Daddy,” I whimper, my voice raw with desire. Fuck, I can’t wait to feel his hand on my ass. I want the sudden shock of pain, and the warmth that turns to pleasure. I want to hear the crack of skin on skin, and both of our breathing, labored, eager.

He sits down and slaps both hands onto his jean-clad thighs, legs a little spread, bulge evident between them. I lick my lips and saunter over. “You sure you don’t want my panties off, Daddy?” I run my hand down, and throw my head back in mock passion that’s not really all that fake. “I’m so wet for you. Wanna see? Taste?”

“Oh, baby girl, I’m going to have my mouth all over that pussy,” he promises, “and you’re going to get twice as wet. But for now, I want you over my legs, ready for your spanking.”

I climb up onto the bed and crawl over his lap, positioning myself so my belly is over his legs. I wiggle, feeling how hard he is. “Like this, Daddy?”

“Just like that, yeah.” He lays a hand across both buttocks and rubs. “Good girl. I like how you listen.”

“See, I can be very good when I try,” I offer, bumping my hips up into his palm. “I’m so, so good right now.”

“That you are,” he says, and chuckles. “Let’s see how well you listen when this ass starts to sting, hmmm?”

I suck in my breath, anticipating the first spank, but he strokes again, down my thighs. “Spread a little,” he orders.

I shift my thighs wide and moan when his fingers find me, stray under the fabric of my panties and delve into my core. “God, that feels good.”

“Jesus, you are wet.” His voice is full of amazement and gritty with need. “Fuck.”

“Please.” I shift my hips, trying to rub my clit against his fingers.

He notices. “Bad girl. You take what you’re given, is that clear? If I want you to wait, you wait.”

And then the spank comes, a hard, beautiful crack right across both cheeks.

I cry out, a mix of pain and delight, and he does it again. “You like that, baby girl? You like a little spanking, is that right?”

“Yes…” I moan. More, fuck, more. Yes.

He spanks again, alternates cheeks, and rubs in between.
“Your skin is so goddamn soft, Kiera. And you turn pink right away. I fucking love it.”

I hiss as he spanks harder. He grabs my hips and holds me in place for a second, both hands, before letting go with one, leaving the other as an anchor. “Don’t get shy on me now, baby girl. We’re just getting started, and I’m going to have you dancing over my lap before your pussy gets any more attention.”

“Ow…” I whisper, and then yelp it out when he lands a flurry of spanks all over the base of my thighs. “Ow!”

He laughs, but pauses to rub. “Stings, does it?” His hands are soothing and within seconds, the fierce burn turns to a sexy tingle

“Yeah…” I breathe. “A lot.” But I make no move to pull away. “It hurts.”

“But I think you need it to hurt,” he whispers, bending down and running his hands over my curves. “You like a little punishment with your pleasure, don’t you, baby girl? You don’t come hard unless you’re given a good work-up first.”

I can only moan in reply, but I push my hips up, wordless, asking with my body for what I need. What I crave.

He obliges, spanking harder now, and more deliberately, over and over until I do start to twist on his lap to get away from the sharp slaps. “Ouch, Daddy, ouch.”

“Oh, there we go,” he murmurs, not letting up for a second. “That’s it. Now that it stings, baby girl. This is when the spanking really starts. The rest was warmup. Play.”

Get the rest of this story and 24 others here!

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thanks for reading!

XOXO from Alexis Alvarez

 

 

Hammered – First 4 chapters free!

FREE in Kindle Unlimited!

Global Link:  mybook.to/hammered

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Chapter One

Talia

“No problem getting through that fence.” I turn to my friend and partner in crime, Lem, and give her a bright smile. “Now we need to find the elusive Danton Carter.”

Across the construction site, a few men in hard hats turn to stare. When they don’t look away immediately, my heart rate accelerates.

Lem rolls her eyes and touches her skirt. “Not loving the dust, Talia.”

“I don’t want to get kicked out before we talk to their boss.” I scan the area. “Do you see him anywhere?” I push my hair out of my face. “It’s so humid.”

My eyes catch on a man by a stack of 2x4s. He’s tall and built, and has the beginnings of a scruffy beard on his chiseled face. Super hot. He meets my eyes and I look away quickly.

“Too bad we’re not looking for that guy.” Lem nods her head in his direction. “Right?”

“If it doesn’t have a beer gut, several rows of jowls, and a cowboy hat with a feather, it isn’t Danton Carter. Once you see his pic on the website, you can’t unsee it.”

“Hot guy is staring.” Lem steps closer to me.

“Act like we belong. Walk that way.” I point to a silver trailer. “Maybe Carter’s in there, eating pork rinds.”

Lem snorts.

“Actually, he’s not eating pork rinds. He’s devouring the small, delicate bodies of the Moorish Crane. The very ones we’re trying to save. The ones he’s killing with this expansion into the woods.” My voice rises.

The handsome man puts down his hammer, unwraps a flannel shirt from his waist, and wipes his face with it.

Jesus, this guy is ripped! In his mid-thirties, I’d guess, his tanned skin is muscled like a fitness model, with a six-pack, strong biceps and triceps, narrow hips, and broad shoulders. His blue jeans ride low on his hips, and those boots… I do have a thing for guys in boots and worn jeans.

He tosses his shirt onto the pile of wood and strides toward me and my bestie, adjusting his hard hat.

“Talia. Incoming.”

“I can see that,” I hiss back, adjusting my skirt, wishing my heels weren’t so high. If I had sneakers on, I’d already be banging on that trailer.

“Ladies.” His voice is low and rich, but not welcoming. “This is a construction site. Private property. I need you to leave.”

I stick out my hand. “Hi. I’m Talia Carlsson and this is my colleague, Lem Hayes. We’re both volunteers from the—”

He doesn’t take my hand. “I don’t care where you’re from; you need to exit the premises. You’re not authorized, and you don’t have hard hats and boots. Let’s go.”

He gestures to the fence and gate. “I assumed the Employees Only sign might keep random people out. And the lock.” He narrows his eyes.

I cough. “It was left open.”

The man smiles, but it seems sort of predatory. “I suppose if I watched the security footage, I’d see exactly how you got in.”

“Maybe there’s no need to do that.” Lem pulls at my sleeve. “We can leave right now.”

“Not until we speak to Danton Carter.” I cross my arms.

The man stills. “What do you want with Danton Carter?”

“We’re from Earth First Environmentals.” I reach into my case and pull out a card. “My contact info.”

He takes the card and slides it into his front pocket without reading it, an easy move that makes my stomach flip, as I look at his lean hips. “Let me guess.” His voice is flat. “You’re with the group that keeps pestering us.”

“If you give us a chance to talk to him, I would appreciate it.” I make eye contact to show my sincerity. His eyes are a gorgeous cerulean blue. Holy mother of everything, who has eyes like that? And those lashes?

“Ladies, we need to walk.” His hand hovers just above my shoulder. “If you are injured on this site, it’s my ass.”

I try not to think about how much I’d like his ass, and how nice it looks in those jeans. I feel the warmth from his hand, and even though he doesn’t touch me, a little shiver of arousal sparks in my core.

“We’re not going near the work zone. We just wanted to find Danton.” I look back. “Or someone who knows where he is. Can you tell me where to find him?”

“The dangers are not limited to being hit in the head with an I-beam. You could trip over your own feet, fall and break your neck, and then sue.” He blows out a breath.

“Does that happen super often?” Lem’s voice is innocent.

“When people wear shoes like that, you better damn well believe it,” he says, a note of disgust in his tone, pointing at my heels.

“Ooh, no, these shoes are very comfortable,” I disagree, glancing down. “I walk quite well in them.”

Then I trip over an air molecule and fall right into the man.

Strong chest. Abs of steel. Arms that encircle me with strength. And his scent – not sweaty, like you’d assume, but sort of clean. Like soap, faint aftershave. Then a hint of deodorant and musk.

It’s over fast, then I’m back on my feet, breathing a little hard.

“Exactly,” he says, condescension dripping from his voice, “what I was talking about.” He rolls his eyes at me and Lem, but mostly at me. “Are you alright?” It’s like those last words were pulled from him.

“Yes.” I take a breath. “I only did that”—I sniff—“to make you feel good about yourself, like you get things right sometimes. It was intentional.” I stick up my chin and cross my arms. “You’re welcome.” I uncross my arms and adjust my hair, and his eyes follow the movement.

He scowls at me, hands on his hips, and slowly a smile works its way to his lips. “Is that so.”

“It’s exactly so.” My mouth twitches. “Because now that you’re softened up, you’re going to take us to see Danton Carter. Who’s one elusive… guy.” Sonofabitch, is what I wanted to say, but probably it’s not the best idea to insult a man’s boss in front of him.

“If he’s elusive to you, Ms.”—he pulls the card from his pocket and glances at it—“Carlsson, it’s for a reason. Have you considered that?”

“What’s your name again?”

He quirks a brow. “Again? Don’t recall I told it to you, yet.”

“You didn’t. That was my way of asking.”

“Kind of a roundabout way, don’t you think?”

“So what is it?”

He smiles at me. “You can call me Dane. Dane… Troy.”

“And this”—he gestures at the fence through which we recently came—“is called the exit. And this”—he raises his hand in a little Miss America wave—“is goodbye.”

“But wait.”

“Nice chatting, ladies.” He fixes us with a steely stare, and I gulp, stepping back through the opening with Lem. He clicks the lock shut and crosses his arms over that impressive chest. “You two have a fantastic day.”

When we don’t make a move to walk away, he raises one brow. “I’d sure hate to have to call security, which I will do in half a heartbeat if I see either of you two around here again in those.” He waves a hand at my heels, then turns to go.

“So I can come back if I wear my combat boots?” I call, and he snorts, turns back as if he can’t resist one more look.

“Please,” I implore. “It’s important. We have a miniscule window of opportunity here, and we only need a few minutes of his time. I’ve tried all the more traditional means—”

“You mean legitimate—”

“He’s not responding to emails, phone calls, texts, tweets.”

“If he’s not responding, it means the answer to whatever you want is probably already a no. Thank him for saving you some time,” he says drily. “Bye.”

Lem and I stand shoulder to shoulder, watching as he strides back to his pile of boards. He picks up the shirt and puts it on without glancing in our direction, then heads over to the group of men nearby.

“Is he a foreman?” Lem rummages in her purse and grabs her keys.

“He’s a dick.” I scowl.

“I’m sorry.” Lem turns to me. “That did not go well.”

“Understatement. Did we look stupid?”

“Well, women and feminists everywhere are crying, so I’d have to go with a resounding yes.” Lem shakes her head.

I groan in frustration as we get into her Prius. “I just thought if we could see him, face to face. Once. But we can’t even get past his guard dog.”

“It’s not over,” she consoles me. “They’re not scheduled to break into the breeding grounds for a few weeks, right? So you have time to track him down. Make your case.”

“Yeah.” I stare at the plastic banner that sways in the desultory breeze. Danton Carter Construction Corp. It’s held up on either side by two rough pieces of wood, one of which has pink spray paint. I see more pink marks along the ground, a dashed line, probably tracing the path of a future gas line or electric wire. “They’ve already built this much. Why would they change it now just because we asked?”

Lem nods. “And since everything they’re doing is legal, they don’t need to.”

“Maybe Mark is right. I’m wasting my time on this crane project.”

“Well, the thing about your time is that only you get to decide. Although…” she trails off and glances at me.

“What?”

“I mean, there are other breeding grounds for the cranes. And we do have other issues to handle. I hate to say bigger ones, but…” she pauses again. “I mean, you know I agree that Mark’s a douche ninety percent of the time. But he may be right, just this once.”

“Please. Ninety-five, Lem. Get it right.”

We both laugh, and she slows down to drive over a series of muddy bumps and a well of murky water in between.

“This is really far out. Weird place for corporate offices, don’t you think?” Lem looks out at the wild tangle of bushes that leads into the woods.

“That’s the thing. The zoning paperwork is so vague it could be anything.” I pull up the stack of printouts from my laptop case near my feet. “We’re assuming corporate offices. But maybe it’s a personal retreat for the big man himself. Funded with company money.”

“The legal team tried to untangle it and said it’s legit, though. Right?”

“Yup. And Mark said he needs them to work the sea lion issue in Carlsbad.” I sigh. “Wish I’d gone to law school sometimes.”

“Buy a box of Cracker Jack.” Lem snorts. “I hear they have some degrees in there.”

I smile, but then frown as we pass a meadow. “I bet he plans to develop all of this into urban blight. I can’t believe they sold him the land. Assholes, all of them. Our current city council sucks.”

“Don’t disagree there.”

When we make it to the main road, gravel pings the underside of the car as Lem pulls out. “Where to now?”

“Back to the volunteer office.” I scowl. “We have to figure out our next steps.”

 

Chapter Two

Dane

“You getting lucky with a threesome tonight?” My lead construction guy, Hector, swigs from a gallon bottle of water. He’s been distant lately, and I’m glad he’s joking with me today.

I laugh. “Yeah.”

“Not those two, of course. I’m talking about the viejas who work in the front office.”

“Your mom and your sister, cabrón.”

He snorts. We watch the two women pull away in some fucking little white Prius.

“Seriously, man, who were they?” He puts down the jug and wipes his mouth. His hand jerks and twitches and he turns away from me, as if he doesn’t want me to see.

I shrug. “No one important.”

“The one with the long brown hair, she had fucking nice legs.” He’s still facing away from me, massaging one hand with the other.

“You don’t say.” I raise my eyebrows.

“Why you gotta keep secrets, jefe?” He faces me again and rolls his eyes.

“They were just asking questions. Tourists.” I shrug.

“Okay, sure, sure.” He laughs but makes a strange expression.

I hesitate. “Everything’s good with you, right?”

“Fuck, yeah.” He says emphatically. “Better than okay. You going to fill in again?” He nods at the beams. “We’re one man short this morning.”

“For an hour at least. That good?”

“Yeah.” His expression of satisfaction lets me know that working alongside the crew is the right call for now as they get to know and trust me.

Hector’s an excellent manager. The men listen to him, and he has an uncanny ability to match talent to task. Since I promoted him, we’re at least ten percent more efficient. Meaning we get tasks done ten point four percent faster on average than when my uncle was running the show.

My gut twists, thinking of the mess Danton left me. This is not the time to have do-gooder environmentalist hippie dippie chicks prancing around. Those kinds of people piss me off, even if they’re not encroaching on my site. And there’s definitely no time for romance in my world these days—I can barely make time to sleep, let alone try to date.

I’m not into threesomes. But if I had time… They were both pretty, but I’d choose the one Hector mentioned, the one I tangled with—and keep her all to myself. Talia.

I smirk, thinking of how she tripped, and sassed me, all super rude, when she didn’t get her way. Her gorgeous brown eyes and the way they widened when she looked at me. Her lush lips. Curvy shape.

Fuck, if we hooked up, and if by some stray chance of the gods she was into what I like, I’d bend her over the hood of that little crappy white car and spank her ass good and hard for teasing me until she begged me to—

“Dane?”

“Yeah.” I swallow and focus on my cousin, who’s picking his way across the site in a three-piece suit and tie. Because he knows I’m anal about it, he’s also wearing his hard hat and boots. “What’s up?”

“I need to review the financials with you.” Art sniffles and touches his nose. “Oh God, the pollen. I’m literally going to die.”

I refrain from saying, “Go ahead.”

“This minute?” I raise my brows and glance back, but Hector has the crew already going. “I asked for email, not hand-delivery.”

“I’d appreciate it.” He crosses his arms and gives me the pouty look I remember from when we were kids. Used to be he’d follow it up by tattling. “I do have a busy schedule.”

“God forbid you’re late to a meeting,” I agree, narrowing my eyes.

He frowns. “Let’s go to your trailer,” he says, wrinkling his mouth. “I could use the AC.” He lifts the hard hat and smooths his hair, which has about an entire container of gel mixed in.

“You bet.” I raise a hand and make eye contact with Hector, and he nods. “Talk as we walk. Give me the overview.”

Art sneezes. “So we’re behind schedule on the Chicago and Baltimore projects since we had to do your renovations. My father didn’t think it necessary at the time, and I still don’t—” His voice is stiff.

“I explained that to the board.” I keep my voice even. “The buildings were started with lower grade wiring. We needed to upgrade.”

Art sniffles again. “It was to code when the project was initiated, and we were grandfathered in. Okay? So you going in there and overriding it didn’t make the board very happy. I’ll just say that. Very expensive.”

“The board,” I snap, opening the door to the trailer and gesturing to him to enter first, “can kiss my ass. They’d be crying another story if we were buried in multiple lawsuits or news stories, I promise you that. We need to have impeccable safety as part of our image.”

Art nods. “My father ran this company for over forty years and made it a powerhouse. The decisions you’re making are slowing us down and adding expense.” He raises his eyebrows, which are as sculpted as that woman’s. Talia’s. Of course, on her, it was fucking hot. “And I’m here to ensure we stay strong.” For a second I think I see some emotion in his eyes, but he looks away.

“Spell it out for me.” I cross my arms.

“The bottom line?” He scratches his cheek. “This project needs to get done on time and on budget and open up just as planned, or we are going to be in a world of hurt.”

“Meaning what, Art?”

“Meaning that if we’re all out of a job, nobody will give a flying fuck what kind of wiring we use, Dane.” He narrows his eyes. “You know how important it is that we get the next bid here in Mapleton. And if we fuck this one up at all, that one’s going to our competitors.”

I put up my hands. “The work’s gotta get done the right way. That’s a hard boundary condition. And if things weren’t that way in the past…” I let my voice trail off.

“I hope you’re not insinuating that my father was anything other than exemplary in his attention to detail.” Art frowns.

“It’s not an insinuation.” Let him make of that what he will.

We stare each other down for a second, then he averts his eyes. “I’ll email you the updated financials, like you asked. But I came here in person to let you know the severity of the situation.” His voice cracks and for a second his eyes look watery.

“You okay?” I raise an eyebrow.

“It’s my allergies, Dane. No, I’m not fucking okay. I need to get my Claritin. And I need to get going.”

“Consider me fully apprised.” I nod to the door. “Careful out there, Art. It’s only getting hotter. Don’t melt.”

He mutters something under his breath, then says, “I’ll need daily updates on the progress for the board.” He makes it sound like a request and a threat at the same time.

“You know me. Love updates,” I grunt.

He doesn’t reply, but raises a hand, and walks back toward the gate, his slacks making swishing noises.

“Put your hat back on,” I call. “Safety first.”

He says something I can’t catch, but sticks the hard hat back on his head as he walks to the gate, only whipping it off when he reaches his car. Tosses it in the back seat. He honks the horn on his sleek BMW twice as he takes off, raising dust.

“Motherfucker.” I groan and head back out to the crew. As I approach, I call out to Hector. “Where do you need me, man?”

I see respect in the way some of the men eye me, and I stand tall. Working with them seems to be helping with motivation and morale, things we need now more than ever here at Danton Carter Construction.

I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge—and right now, this is the biggest one I’ve ever taken on. It will take all of my focus and skills, but I’m confident I can turn this project around and get us back in the black. That is, if I stay on task and don’t allow anything to get us off schedule: Not protestors, not pretty women, nothing.

It shouldn’t be a problem.

Talia

“It shouldn’t be a problem.” I force a smile at Mark, and rub my temples, trying to stave away the headache that whispers from behind my eyeballs.

“Because, Taaalia.” He drags out my name, and I’m mesmerized by the way his thin lips move. “When I get a call from the head of security at a well-known construction site, complaining that my minions were harassing the crew, and snuck on-site illegally and not even in the correct safety gear, do you know how that makes me feel?”

“I don’t, Mark. Why don’t you tell me how that makes you feel?” I keep my voice pleasant. Dear sweet Jesus, though, I’m thinking. Just kill me now. Right now. Why do I even do this?

“I’ll tell you what I feel.” He points at me, and the ends of his fingernails, bitten to the quick, repulse me. “I feel that it makes us look a little unhinged. A little too much like PETA for my liking. We are a small and growing environmental group and we are a completely legitimate one.”

Behind his back, Lem mouths along on ‘completely legitimate’, and I put a hand to my mouth to stifle my laughter.

I stare at the bulletin board which is littered with pictures of celebrities who are active in social justice campaigns; these are the people Mark is wooing on a constant basis. It’s like a People Magazine married a National Enquirer and the two of them vomited all of their contents into our office. So far Mark hasn’t succeeded in obtaining a single famous spokesperson for any of our campaigns, but that hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm one bit.

“We follow rules. We advocate for the helpless animals who need us, and we do it one hundred percent within the law of the country. Because otherwise we’re no better than the vicious creeps we protest against.”

“Absolutely.” I want to roll my eyes and smirk, but I can’t. How is this my life? At thirty-two, how did it happen that I spent my valuable free after-work time volunteering in a shitty little strip-mall office full of 70s style modular cubicles, getting lectured by a guy who resembles the naked mole rat he purports to love?

Then I glance over at the photos of the Moorish Crane—excellent photos, ones I took, not that I’m bragging—and it comes back to me: This is why. Because I give a shit about these animals, and because Mark—annoying though he is—also cares.

He frowns. “You know I more than appreciate all of the hours you’ve spent taking photos for us.”

“Yes.”

“And the crane calendars you designed. And I’d hate to lose you.”

“Lose me?” I frown.

“As a valued volunteer. But if you persist in rogue activities, I’ll have no choice but…” He pierces me with his gray eyes.

“Mark, please. I hardly think it’s a rogue activity to seek out the owner of a construction company that’s threatening the habitat of a special local species.”

“We need to be squeaky clean, Talia. That’s how we’re going to set ourselves apart. We can’t grow as an organization and get the funding we need from important donors if we’re not spotless.” Mark coughs. “I’m this close to getting Manda Shine on board. She grew up not too far from this town. Do you know how amazing that would be for Earth First Environmentals? It would put us on the map. And I need all my volunteers to embrace that. Keep the right image.”

I want to tell Mark to fuck himself. And that no way is a big, world-famous star like Manda going to support our dinky efforts here. But I swallow my pride.

“Oh, I can embrace that.” I give him a big smile. Lem and I are going to go for a drink, and I will verbally eviscerate this little weasel as if I were paid to do it.

“Good.” He clears his throat and picks up a picture of a crane. “Because this little guy?” He waves the photo at me. “He’s counting on you.” I think I see tears in his eyes.

The horrible thing is that even though I want to mock him—and oh, I will—I understand the emotion, too. I care about animals and their habitats.

But then I see Mark slide his glance over to another picture; the one featuring the cast of The Walking Dead. And it’s not clear to me whether his tears are because he actually cares about the animals, or because he’s so eager to consort with celebrities.

“I mean, protests are one thing.” He clears his throat. “Protest events we plan as a group. Ahead of time. With my appropriate foresight. And attendees.” His eyes stray to the bulletin board again, and he sniffs. “And this whole incident should never have happened. Remember I told you that we’re focusing on sea lions now, Talia?”

I steeple my fingers and try not to look guilty. Of course I remember. “Well, the legal volunteers, yeah. But as far as I understood, we here in town were still going strong on the crane situation because they’re local, and we’re local, and it makes more sense for us to focus on local—”

“We in town are doing what I say, Talia. Because last time I checked, I manage the resources. We don’t want to mix messages and resources. And right now I might need to take a trip to Monterey Bay, which is going to, as luck would have it, have a film festival this coming weekend! And I can’t be distracted wondering if you’re going to get into trouble.” He coughs. “So I need you to stay away from that site.”

“I will not go back onto that property without an invitation or appropriate safety gear,” I promise Mark.

“Thank you.” His voice is stiff. “Have a wonderful weekend, Talia.”

“Oh, you too.” I grab my purse. “Lem?”

She gets her stuff. “I’ll walk out with you. Later, Mark.”

“Hmmm.” He’s got his laptop open and he’s typing furiously. Probably reaching out to the reps for every celebrity he can think of.

As the door closes behind us, I let out my breath. “I don’t know why I tolerate him, Lem. I swear—”

“I know. I know.” She pats my arm. “Let’s go for a drink at Corndog’s. It’s a new place I want to try.”

“That does not sound like a good name.” I give her a dubious look.

“It’s the best, according to Karla. Corndog Cemetery. It’s a new underground bar and it’s super cool.”

“And they’ll let us in?”

“How could they not?” She waves a hand up and down her body. “We are hotness personified. Also, it’s not like a bouncer situation place. Just, you know, hard to find.”

“Like a secret?”

“More like funky and unusual and sort of difficult to locate, but not actually secret.”

“Then count me in.”

“Consider yourself counted.”

“I do consider myself that.”

“Good, because you are.”

 

Chapter Three

Talia

“So we go into this Chinese restaurant,” Lem explains, “and through the kitchen. Then we’ll find a door marked ‘No Enter.’ We enter it, go down some stairs, and if we say ‘Corndogs are cool’ at the next door, we get ten percent off a drink. And we get to enter.”

“That sounds so James Bond. Are you sure?” I glance over at the pink neon sign that flashes ‘Happy Yum Noodle’ although the N is burned out. There’s trash on the sidewalk and the whole area has a desolate, run-down feel, although there’s a fair amount of street traffic and pedestrians. Across the street, a parking lot is full of high-end vehicles, but I have no idea where the patrons might be.

“Not entirely. Think of it as an adventure.”

“Why would the restaurant allow people to walk through their kitchen? Isn’t that against the health code?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know that places around here care too much about things like health and code.” She makes air quotes on the words. “They probably get paid a nice little sum from the bar.”

“Well, as a volunteer who just got her non-paying job threatened by a weasel for doing things against protocol, I personally want to say that I care about things like that.”

“Where’s the spitfire who tweaked that lock this morning?” She giggles. “Guess Mr. Hot Ass did review the security tape.”

“It wasn’t even really locked. And I’d like to tell him exactly what I think of him.” I scowl. “Let’s go.” I get out of her car and slam the door, and stand on the sidewalk, inhaling the scent of crispy beef grease. “Jesus, that smells good.”

“Air crack,” Lem agrees. “Even if we don’t find the bar, they probably make a delicious egg roll.”

“That’s the scam. There’s no bar. They suck you in and once you’re there, you’re all, fuck it. I’m already here. Might as well get seven orders of Lo Mein and some Orange Chicken.”

We open the door and push aside a waterfall of beaded strings. The place is dim, heavy on the red and gold and Buddhas. A few people—all Chinese—are eating in booths. Nobody looks up at us, but I feel out of place.

“So, the kitchen?” I raise my eyebrows.

“Yes,” whispers Lem. She takes my hand. “Give me bravery.”

I squeeze her fingers. “You lead the way. I’m tapped out of sass.”

We make our way over to the kitchen. A woman looks up at us from a booth where she’s folding napkins and raises her eyebrows.

I smile, sure that she’s going to stand up and tell us, “Stop.”

But she just nods and goes back to her task, and as we approach the swinging gray door with the round porthole window, my heart starts to hammer. “This is exciting,” I hiss. “We’re really doing this.”

“Ooh, back up.” Lem grabs me by the arm as the door opens, nearly hitting me. “Busy.”

A waiter comes out with a tray of steaming entrees; gives us a quick glance but doesn’t stop.

I peer through the window. “Are there any doors in there? And look how close we’d have to walk to the grease tanks. I don’t know—”

“Let’s just see. We came this far.” Lem pokes me in the back. “Go in.”

“Me? Why should I go first?” But I tentatively push the door. A wave of heat hits me as I step into the narrow galley. A man looks up from chopping onions and gives us a stare, and a row of headless ducks lie naked and pale on a metal slab. There’s no door marked ‘No Enter.’

“Oh, fuck,” I whisper to Lem. “This feels wrong.”

“Yeah.” She bites her lip. “Um, I just remembered. I’m not sure it’s Happy Yum Noodle. Maybe it’s Panda Empire.”

“Lem! Those aren’t even remotely similar.” I grab her hand.

“Can we help you?” A voice from behind us rings out—someone else has entered the kitchen after us.

At first I assume it’s the manager. Except the voice is familiar—and as I turn, the words “I’m sorry, we’re just leaving” on my lips, I recognize who it is.

It’s the guy from the site. Dane. Except right now he’s no longer in his jeans and bare chest. He’s wearing slacks and a dress shirt that hugs his body in all the right places, and holy fucking hell do my eyes pop.

“These are the same two who snuck into my construction site this morning. Not surprised to find them wandering around another place they don’t belong.”

He turns to the guy beside him, a tall man with dark hair, and says something in Chinese, and the two of them laugh loudly. My face burns as they stand in the doorway.

Dane eyes me. “Talia.” When our eyes meet, a spark flares, and I swear, the air between us gets hotter than it already is inside the kitchen.

“Dane. So lovely to see you.” I smile. “Tattling on me again?” I raise my eyebrows and cross my arms.

“Have you done something bad, again?” His voice, rich and low, rolls over me, and I withhold a shudder at the way he says the word bad. His eyes flash at me and he smirks, as if he’s reading the dirty thoughts in my mind.

“Depends on how you define bad,” I retort. Not my best reply ever, but I’m flustered by his eyes. The biceps filling out those sleeves. His narrow hips.

His smile is dangerous. “Why don’t you tell me how you define it.”

“Well, I don’t define it by trying to save a species of bird and its habitat from getting wiped out by a construction company.”

“Perhaps we can continue this conversation in the dining room.” The other man gestures. “Please, ladies. Dane.” His almond-shaped eyes, dark and alert, scan us both, but he gives Lem a second glance. I think he’s incredibly handsome—tall and lean, his suit fits him perfectly.

“Apologies, Bae.” Dane ducks his head. “I’ll take care of the miscreants for you. These intruders happen to be Talia Carlsson and her sidekick—”

“Lem,” adds my friend, sticking out her hand.

“Bae Xo.” He shakes my hand, then takes Lem’s hand, and I think I see her sparkle. He holds her hand for a long second before releasing it. “You know, the guided tour is only a few dollars extra. There’s no need to sneak around.”

“I’m sorry.” Lem steps in a little closer. “We thought there was a secret bar hidden in here.”

“A bar?” Bae raises his brows. “Really.”

“But I was mistaken.”

“So it would seem.” He smirks.

“But I have to say that I’m entirely fascinated by the onion chopping process. And ah, duck cooking.” Lem points to the kitchen.

“Then by all means. Please. Let me take you around.” He bows and takes her elbow. “Yes?”

Lem seems utterly charmed. “I’d love that.” Her voice is low and breathy, and I roll my eyes.

As the two of them disappear behind the swinging door, I look up at Dane. “So.”

“So.” He smiles. “Do you consider this fate?”

“She has off days. It’s possible.” I shrug, pretending that his broad shoulders aren’t doing things to my libido.

He laughs. “Come on, don’t hold a grudge.”

“You called my boss, Dane, at the environmental group where I volunteer. And complained about me.” I scowl at him.

“You were trespassing.” His smiles fades. “Being unsafe. Tampered with a lock, for which I could actually have called the police. Am I incorrect?”

I sigh. “No. It’s just… complicated.”

He tilts his head. “Want to tell me about it? With a formal apology?” There’s a glint in his eye that makes me weak. “Promise not to come back?”

I weigh my options. “If I do, will you help me get a meeting with Danton Carter?”

He hesitates and a strange look passes over his face. “I can’t make any promises.”

“But you’ll consider it?” My heart leaps, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting closer to my goal, or because I get to spend time with this man.

He doesn’t reply.

“How about you’ll answer…” I think wildly. “Three questions about him. Deal?”

Finally, he nods.

“Then yes. I would like to apologize.” I smile.

There’s a pause. He’s looking at me expectantly. “Anytime, then.” He pierces me with his stare.

“Oh, you wanted the apology immediately? I thought we’d chat first, work up to it.”

“Right away.” There’s a note to his voice that sets wild butterflies loose in my body, and turns my veins to fire. He’s so dominant right now, like the fantasy man of my dreams. “If it’s a genuine one, of course.” He raises a brow.

“I’m sorry I bypassed an inexpertly locked gate and came onto the site without appropriate gear.” I smile.

“And?” He crosses his arms.

“And… that’s it. What else did you want me to say?”

A little smirk plays on his lips and suddenly I think about all kinds of wicked, dirty things that have nothing to do with construction sites or Danton Carter. My face grows hot and I touch my cheek.

He laughs. “Just trying to find out if you needed to ‘fess up about anything else.”

I ignore the way my nipples want his fingers. “I think that’s the entire catalogue of today’s sins, thanks.” I narrow my eyes. “But I appreciate the opportunity to soul-cleanse. Not enough of that these days.”

“Indeed.” He grins.

“So now you have to answer my questions about Danton Carter.” I don’t even try to keep the note of triumph out of my voice.

“I suppose I do.” He smiles at me, but doesn’t say more.

“Okay. So first of all, where can I find—”

“How about down in the bar?”

What?” I blink, nonplussed.

“More comfortable. I’ll answer your questions in the bar, all three of them.”

“Which bar?”

“The one you were trying to find. It’s just downstairs.” He smirks at me.

“You are such a dick.” I shouldn’t say it, but it slips out. “The bar was there all along?”

He laughs. “You go through a door in the back, by the alley. Come on, I’ll show you.”

“Why are you even here? I don’t understand why you of all people would be in this restaurant slash embarrassing place slash bar.” I frown.

“My friend owns it and I’m doing some work on the building for him.” He regards me for a minute. “Expansion. You think a construction guy can’t speak Chinese and have friends in the restaurant business?”

I put up my hand. “Just curious.”

He nods. “Fair enough.”

I look for Lem.

He seems to know what I’m doing. “Don’t worry, Bae will bring her down in a minute. She’s safe.”

I think it over; mentally agree. Follow him back through the restaurant, where he waves and says something in Chinese to the woman folding napkins.

When we walk around back, he points to a door. It’s nondescript metal, a little battered. Yet it has a bright red chicken painted onto the door, and a speech bubble. The chicken is saying something I can’t read, as the words are written in Chinese.

“It says, Corndogs are better than chicken. We go in through here.”

“Oh my God. I can’t believe this was here all along.”

“Sorry.”

From his smirk, I can see he’s not sorry at all. “You are not.” I give him a look.

“You’re right. I’m not. I’m enjoying this.” He smiles at me, and when I see the dimple in his cheek, I can’t help a matching grin from spreading across my face. “Come on, then.”

He takes my hand, and I know I shouldn’t allow it, but it feels perfect. I love his strong fingers holding my delicate ones—warm, pressing just with the right amount of pressure. The feel of skin on skin makes me want him.

 

Chapter Four

Talia

The stairs are narrow, and he goes down first, still holding my hand. Nobody is waiting at the bottom to hear us say, “Corndogs are cool.” I roll my eyes, thinking I’m going to have to lecture Lem about her website browsing techniques.

A band is playing, and it’s so loud that you can’t talk. There’s no way I’ll be able to ask any questions or hear his answers.

I’m pissed, and then I forget all about that, because he puts his mouth right up to my ear and says, “What do you want to drink?” His breath on my skin practically makes me swoon.

I have to speak into his ear, too, and it’s the sexiest fucking thing I’ve done in a long time. I rest my hand on his shoulder and he bends down to accommodate me while I reach up on tiptoes. “Pinot Noir if they have it. If not, I’ll take whatever.”

His shirt is crisp under my hand, and I feel his muscles. Smell him—cologne, soap, his skin. I love it.

He puts his mouth back to my ear. “You want the menu, or do you trust me to choose?” His breath fans my hair and sends tingles down my spine. Into my toes, my nipples.

I tilt my head up again to talk into his ear, and he rests one hand lightly on my waist, as if to provide support. His fingers splay out, softly, not doing anything erotic. But the touch alone makes me catch my breath.

“You think you know what I want?” I half-whisper it, but my lips are so close to his face that he can hear me.

A muscle clenches in his jaw. “I think I’m a fast learner. Never had complaints.” His hand tightens ever so slightly.

“Is that so?” This time I leave my hand on his shoulder a second longer. My whole body aches for it and I sigh, like a druggie getting her high, when I feel his lips at my ear again, that tingly tickle of his voice.

“You taste what I give you and tell me what you think, alright?”

Fuck me, but I want to taste him. I want what he’ll give me.

A slow smiles spreads across my face.

He raises an eyebrow. “I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, Talia.” He runs a hand over my arm and steps away, pointing to the bar. When he leaves my side I feel surprisingly alone, and shudder, touching my neck. My ear. Where his lips just were.

I stand by the tall table and press my thighs together, already feeling a driving need in my core. What is it about this man that has me so worked up?

People are dancing in front of the band, in a small square that barely accommodates a few couples, but they’re not bothered by the tight quarters. Others stand together, swaying to the beat, and at the handful of small tables, people sit locked together in embraces, or talking like Dane and I did: intimate, right into each other’s ears.

Dane comes back with a glass of wine and something on the rocks. He hands me the wine and holds up his own glass; a toast. I clink, and as the band plays something wild and exotic, I taste the pinot, letting the flavor burst onto my tongue. He’s watching intently, eyes on my lips, and it feels like he’s tasting it, too. I want him to taste it from my lips.

He bends down. “First question. Fire.”

I lick my lips. It’s hard to bring up the face of florid Danton Carter in my mind, and even more difficult to focus on what I need to ask.

The band launches into a ballad, and it’s slightly less noisy. I put my mouth to his cheek next to his ear. “Where can I find Danton Carter, the CEO? I found his bio on the website, but I can’t locate the man.”

He looks up at the ceiling and sighs, then puts his mouth to my cheek, finding the same spot I touched on his face. It’s erotic, and it makes it difficult to listen when he says, “He’s out of the country.”

Fuck. I swallow. “Where?”

He shakes his head, then presses his lips to my ear. “He didn’t send out a memo to the staff about that.”

“When is he coming back?”

He shrugs, but follows it up with a low murmur into my ear. “He hasn’t said a thing about his return to the crew.”

“Well, he must have a second in command, right? Who’s that person, and can I talk to them instead?”

Instead of answering, he gives me a slow, lazy smile. “That was three, Talia.”

“Dane.” I pull back in irritation. “Those weren’t even useful. That’s not fair.”

“Is it my fault if you can’t come up with the right queries?” He raises a brow. “Maybe you need to enroll in a continuing ed class, Journalism 101. I held up my end of the bargain.”

“You did not.”

“I’m sorry, are we both using the same numerical system?” He gives me a smug little chuckle. “You know, the one invented by the Arabs and then imported to the Western world in the—”

“Oh my God. You are so frustrating right now.” I scowl.

“Oh, I am?” He gives me a look. “How about you try this on: A woman comes sneaking into the construction site where I’m leading a crew, almost hurts herself, harasses me—“

“I was not harassing—”

“Then tries pumping me for information about somebody who clearly doesn’t want to talk to her—”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand why he’s such a recluse. Why, is something wrong with him? Is he, like, in jail?” I narrow my eyes. “In rehab? Look, all I want is half an hour just to talk to him face to face and tell him about our environmental concerns.” I think of that red, florid face. “Is he getting an angio or something?”

At the look of steely disapproval on Dane’s face, I sense that I’ve gone too far. The disappointment that hits me has as much to do with the man himself as with my inability to access Danton Carter.

I sigh. “Are we done here then?”

“We’re done with that conversation.” His voice is flat.

“Will you at least give him my card? Put it on his desk and give him the chance to call me?” I’m desperate.

He seems to consider this. “I’ll put it on his desk.” He nods. “Now can we move on?”

I shrug, pissed I didn’t get more information.

He adds, “I just don’t have a lot to tell you. Sorry.” He grins, tilts his head.

“Well, I suppose if I’ve drained you.” I smile. I suppose a foreman wouldn’t have information on the CEO, necessarily. Shame. I thought this was going to be a good lead.

“Oh, now who’s talking dirty?” He trails a finger down my arm. “I wouldn’t mind if you did.”

“Oh, you’re going to have to earn that.” I give him a mock ferocious stare, but my whole body is alight with energy.

Across the room, Lem and Bae appear, and she’s glowing like a thousand marquee lights. When she sees me, she waves. Instead of coming over, she and Bae head to the dance floor, where he encircles her in his arms, looking down into her face.

“See, told you she’d make it.”

“I wasn’t worried, or I wouldn’t have left her.”

“Good friend.” He lifts his glass, and when I don’t lift mine, he leans in and clinks my goblet. “Truce. Yes?”

I bite my lip. The music changes again, back to the previously loud rhythm, a driving beat. Like sex. I toss caution aside. “Yes.”

“Good.” The smile that comes across his face, satisfied and teasing, makes my heart pound. “Answer me honestly. If we met somewhere else, and I asked you out on a date, would you have said yes?”

“Possibly.”

He laughs. “Then how about we consider this a date? Even if it started off a little rough?”

I tilt my head, a noncommittal gesture. “I don’t know if I’m ready for a date.” Then I put my lips back to his ear, feeling reckless. “But you can try to convince me, if you’d like.”

He smiles. “I do like. And I don’t think you’ll need much convincing.”

“Pretty sure of yourself.” I raise an eyebrow. “Cocky.”

“If you like, yes.”

“You are a bold, bad man.”

“I can be that and more. So why don’t you set the pace.” He puts down his drink. “You’ll tell me if we make it to a second date. Or anything.” He grins. “I’ll just sit back and be charming.”

“Oh, you will?” But I’m already charmed. I’ve already half-lost my heart, for reasons I can’t explain.

He taps my drink. “How do you like it? Are you… satisfied?”

The environment, one of wild abandon, makes me shed my inhibitions. I press my lips right to his earlobe, and put both hands on his chest, liking the way his body tenses under my touch. Leans in closer. “Not even close. But the wine is delicious. Thank you.”

He wraps one hand around my neck and bends down, laughs into the other side of my neck, into my skin. I can feel the vibrations of his chuckle in my nerve endings. In my fingertips. In my clit. “Tell me what will do it, then.”

“You think you could handle it?” For some reason we’re face to face now, and I’m speaking into his lips. So close. Just a millimeter apart.

“Why don’t you try me? I think you’d be surprised.” He smirks, and the confidence in his face, his stance, make me weak.

“I do like surprises.” I run my hand down his arm, and our fingers intertwine. He strokes my palm with his thumb.

“Tell me what kind of surprises you like best.” He nips my neck softly.

I moan and close my eyes, leaning into his strong chest. He dips his head down and bites my earlobe. “You like your surprises soft or rough, Talia?”

“Both. It depends.”

He puts one arm around me and holds me against his chest, runs his index finger over my upper lip, then my lower one. “I’m good at either.”

“Do tell.” My voice is low now, and our heads are so close that nothing can interfere; not the band, not the lights, not the other people. It’s just us and this beautiful, fucking delicious tension.

“Oh, I don’t think so.” His murmur is so soft I have to really lean in to hear it. “You’re setting the pace, remember? You need to be the one to tell me something. Either a stop, or a yes, more.”

“Oh, I do?” I just want any excuse to have my face near his. My lips by his skin, his mouth by mine. His body brushing mine, sending exquisite sparks of energy into me with each stray touch, each deliberate caress.

“Mmm hmm.”

“Tough decision.” I lean my head back and listen to the music, feeling it pulse in my chest, in my abdomen.

“You seem like a woman who knows what she wants.”

I smile. “I do know what I want.” And I press my lips to his for a second, pull back to say, “And I want this,” before kissing him again.

His hands go to my face, one on either side, and he kisses me back, his lips tasting of scotch. He uses his tongue to explore my mouth, teasing mine, and I press into him as closely as I can until my hips are against his thighs. His body is hard, flat, muscular—everywhere I touch, where I run my hands, is a pleasure.

He bites my lip, then bends down and kisses my neck, sucks the skin, and I moan in arousal.

When I lean forward for another kiss, he pulls away, and takes both of my hands in his. He looks at me for a long second, his eyes full of passion.

“Not here,” he says, a little smile on his face.

When I don’t reply, he leans in to whisper into my ear, “Unless you want to put on a show, and there are more appropriate places for that.”

I shake my head. “No show.”

His mouth twitches. “Would you like to leave?” He loosens his grip on my hands and steps back. Giving me space to think, maybe, but I don’t want it. “I’ll take you to my place.”

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Poor Daisy Punished

Hey, it’s Maria Monroe here! For Wip it Up Wednesday, I’m sharing a snippet from my latest release from Stormy Night Publications: Reformed by the Millionaire. In this section, our hero’s brother Steven saved Daisy’s life when she almost stepped out into traffic because she wasn’t paying attention. Now Victor’s going to punish her for putting her life in danger…

***

Victor stood and walked around his desk, standing in front of it and glaring at Daisy. “I have enough to worry about here at work without having to be concerned my assistant doesn’t know how to cross the street safely!” His voice was a low rumble. Quiet but angry.

“I told you, it’s not a big deal!” Daisy felt like stamping her foot, but she knew that would only make her look like a child.

“Shut the door, Daisy.”

“But I…”

“Now.”

“Yes, Sir.” She knew, without him saying it, what was going to happen to her. Right here in the office.

“Bro, I’ll see you later.” Steven headed to the door.

“You can stay if you’d like.” Victor looked at his brother. “I need to teach Daisy a lesson, and the humiliation of having a witness might make more of an impact. What do you think about that, Daisy?” He turned to her now, eyes blazing.

“No! Please! I don’t want Steven to watch.” Being spanked with her panties down was embarrassing enough without someone else in the room. She couldn’t imagine another person sitting there, watching her be punished, like it was some sort of entertainment.

“Close the door,” repeated Victor.

As Daisy trudged to the door to close it, Victor continued. “Steven and I have had many experiences spanking naughty girls together. I don’t want Steven to touch you or spank you. But I think having him present for your punishment, since you already involved him with your carelessness, is fair. Don’t you, Daisy?”

“Yes, Sir.” Her heart began to thump.

“Yes, what? What do you think is fair?” Victor demanded.

“I think it’s fair for Steven to watch me be, um, punished.” She could barely get the words out.

“Ask him to stay.”

No! But she turned to him, her cheeks blazing, and said, “Steven, would you please stay and watch me be spanked?”

Steven raised an eyebrow at her and grinned. “My pleasure. Thanks for the invitation.” With that he winked, increasing Daisy’s embarrassment. He headed to the liquor cabinet in the corner and poured himself a drink while Victor rummaged around in his desk, finally producing a wooden ruler.

“I always wondered why I was given a ruler. Who uses these in my line of work? But now? I’m glad it’s here.” He smacked it gently against his palm.

“No, Sir, please…” began Daisy.

“Oh, don’t worry.” Victor approached her, holding the ruler in one hand while he gently touched her cheek with the other. His eyes were dark green and intense as he stared at her, one corner of his mouth turned up in a half-grin. “I’ll get your bottom warmed up with my hand before I use the ruler on you.”

She wanted to roll her eyes at him and say, sarcastically, thanks. But she knew that would only make things worse.

“Well, it’s already late. Let’s get started. I’d like you bend over the table where you do your work, please, Daisy, facing my brother.”

“Yes, Sir.” She did as she was told, glancing at Steven, who sat holding his drink on the couch and staring at her, his lips parted into a smile. Her upper body was against the wood surface, and Victor nudged her feet farther apart.

“Let’s get your legs spread nice and wide,” he said. “I’m going to start your warmup over your skirt. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” He placed his wide-open palm on her ass and held it there for a moment before beginning.

Get REFORMED BY THE MILLIONAIRE now!

 

 

Brand New Spanking Novel from Maria Monroe

 

 

 

 

“I’m afraid you’re not going to like what happens next.” Gently he put his hand to Daisy’s cheek, turning her face so they were looking into each other’s eyes.

“What… what happens next?”

“I’m going to punish you for not doing what you were told, Daisy.”

“Oh.” She breathed out, then swallowed hard. “Um, what kind of punishment are you going to, you know, give me?”

He brought his face closer to hers, as though he was going to kiss her. But before their lips met, he whispered, “I’m going to spank you, Daisy. Right here in the car. You’re going to get over my lap, and I’m going to spank you until your bottom is red and you’re crying. Do you understand?”

 

Read a longer FREE sample!

Get Reformed by the Millionaire on Amazon now!

More spanking fun:

Sexy Sample from Reformed by the Millionaire

Reformed by the Millionaire is Maria’s latest release from Stormy Night Publications. It’s a sexy spanking romance with a happy ending (and lots of steamy sex and spankings)!

Here’s the blurb, and read on for a sexy sample!

After her plan to drop out of college and travel the country falls apart, nineteen-year-old Daisy Underwood finds herself sleeping on the porch of an upscale home to get out of the rain.

Victor Bennett is surprised to find a cold, hungry young woman on his doorstep, but he doesn’t hesitate to invite the wet, shivering girl inside and offer her a hot meal and a place to stay for the night. When he meets the cleaned up and properly rested Daisy the next morning, he is enthralled by both her innocent beauty and her obvious need to be properly taken in hand.

Daisy is delighted by Victor’s generosity, and when he offers her a room in his home and a job as his assistant she happily accepts. She soon discovers, however, that her handsome new boss will not tolerate laziness or disobedience, and it isn’t long before her careless disregard for his instructions earns her a trip over his knee for a sound spanking on her bare bottom.

Victor quickly proves that he will not hesitate to punish Daisy as thoroughly as necessary to teach her to do as she is told, even if that means her bottom ends up sore both inside and out. Though she is often left blushing crimson by his strict correction, Victor’s dominance arouses Daisy intensely, and when he claims her at last his masterful lovemaking is better than she ever dreamed. But can she truly dare to hope that she could be more than just a charity case to him?

Sample from Reformed by the Millionaire :

The driver was waiting outside the luxury sedan, and he hurried around to open the door for Daisy and Victor. Immediately after telling the driver where to take them, Victor pressed the button to raise the separator between the front seat and the rest of the vehicle.

“It’s completely soundproof,” he said nonchalantly.

But something about the statement, the need to point that out, caused Daisy’s heart to beat faster. Such a simple fact shouldn’t have that much impact, but her pussy throbbed at the multitude of things Victor could possibly be thinking.

She didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Daisy, it’s time to talk about the college courses.” His voice was low.

“I’m sorry, Victor. I’m grateful to you for the generous offer of paying for classes. And I definitely plan to sign up. I just got distracted…”

“No excuses, Daisy.” His voice was gentle but firm. “It’s the one maxim I live by, the one thing that keeps me going and, I believe, is the hallmark of my success so far. No excuses. Not for anything. Ever. Just get it done.”

“You’re right.” The words made sense. If you gave yourself an out all the time, how could you expect to achieve great things? “I like that.”

“Good. But I’m afraid you’re not going to like what happens next.” Gently he put his hand to Daisy’s cheek, turning her face so they were looking into each other’s eyes.

“What… what happens next?”

“I’m going to punish you for not doing what you were told, Daisy.”

“Oh.” She breathed out, then swallowed hard. “Um, what kind of punishment are you going to, you know, give me?”

He brought his face closer to hers, as though he was going to kiss her. But before their lips met, he whispered, “I’m going to spank you, Daisy. Right here in the car. You’re going to get over my lap, and I’m going to spank you until your bottom is red and you’re crying. Do you understand?”

Daisy could hear her heart pounding in her ears, and no amount of clenching would stop the surge of wetness between her legs. Yet fear, too, intermingled with the desire, leaving her weak and trembling.

“Yes. I understand.” Her voice was small.

“Good. Let’s get started.”

Was this really happening? She looked beseechingly at Victor, as though willing him to tell her he was only joking. That surely a grown man wouldn’t spank a grown woman in the backseat of a car on the way to dinner.

But his eyes were deep and dark, and he wasn’t smiling when he said, “Face down over my lap, Daisy. Now.”

It was awkward getting on her hands and knees on the big backseat to arrange her body over Victor’s lap, and it was even more difficult because she was trembling in anticipation and nerves.

“Good.” Victor adjusted his position slightly, then placed one hand on her upper back. With the other hand he smoothed the skirt of her dress down. “It’s a good thing you chose to wear a dress today, isn’t it?” he mused. “Taking down a pair of pants in the car would be even more awkward, wouldn’t it?”

“Taking down?” she gasped.

Victor chuckled. “I’m sure you’ll agree that a spanking on the bare is more effective than one over clothes, no?”

Daisy shut her eyes hard, unable to answer.

“I asked you a question.” Victor’s voice was low but firm.

“Yes,” she managed. “A spanking on the bare will, um, be much more effective.”

“I’m so glad you agree. Of course, you’ll be getting a warmup, first over your skirt, then on top of your underwear, and then I’ll pull down your panties and spank you quite hard and for a long time on your bare bottom. Is that clear?”

Oh, god. “Yes.”

“And I expect you to hold still and not try to cover up or get out of position. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes.” No! she screamed in her head. But she knew that wasn’t the answer he wanted.

His hand caressed her ass lightly, moving over her skirt, traveling low enough to palm the bottoms of her round globes. Her pussy clenched, desiring his touch. If he lifted her skirt and began to explore, she’d let him. She’d welcome that. But she knew she was getting something else.

“Have you ever been spanked before, Daisy?” His hand continued gently massaging her bottom.

“Um, no. Never.”

“I think you’ll be surprised at how much it hurts. But also at how much you’re able to take.” His voice was warm, almost kind, which was strange in combination with the fact that she was lying, ass up, over his lap. “I’d like to start now. Ask me to begin spanking you.”

What? Not only was he going to spank her, but she had to ask him to? She gulped.

“Victor?” Her voice trembled. “Please, um, spank me.”

She could smell the leather seat under her face as she waited in anticipation for him to start. He gripped her waist with his left hand, and she knew it was going to happen.

The first spanks over her skirt filled her with relief. This wasn’t so bad. It stung, and the fact that she was being spanked at all was embarrassing. Still, she was able to relax slightly as he continued to land smacks on her bottom.

After a few minutes, though, he stopped. “We’re going to go harder now, Daisy. Remember that you deserve this. I’m doing this for a reason.”

“Yes, Sir.” The Sir slipped out naturally, and when it did, she felt Victor shift beneath her slightly, the undeniable hardness of his cock pressing into her as he did.

He began spanking once more, this time hard enough that she cried out a little.

“Ow! That hurts!” she whined.

“Baby, this is just the beginning.” His tone sounded like he was smiling. Like he was enjoying this. “Think about how it’s going to feel when your panties are down and I’m spanking your bare bottom.”

Could she take it? She suddenly wasn’t sure about that. What had seemed like a good idea, something hot and sexy and kinky, was now actually more than a bit scary. Yet, as he stopped spanking long enough to lift her skirt, she felt her pussy get even wetter.

“Lift up a little,” Victor urged. “I want to get your skirt up so it’s out of my way.”

Daisy’s cheeks burned as she raised her butt so Victor could arrange her skirt up high on her back, leaving her completely exposed excerpt for her underwear.

His finger traced the edge of her lacy panties. “Beautiful,” he whispered, his voice like a caress on her almost-bare skin. “Your ass is so perfect, Daisy. And it’s such a lovely shade of pink right now. That pink, in contrast to the black lace, is quite an amazing image. But my aim is to get your bottom bright red. So I’m afraid I’m going to have to spank you much longer and much harder.”

Daisy clenched her fists as he began to spank her once more. Without the skirt as a buffer, it hurt even more, and she began crying out in earnest. Each time his hand landed on her delicate skin it felt like tiny pinpricks of fire, and within a few minutes she was writhing on his lap, staying in place but just barely.

He stopped and began to massage her butt. “How does it feel so far, Daisy?”

“It hurts!” She didn’t want to cry, and she knew she deserved this, but tears stung her eyes.

“Of course it does. That’s the point.” There was humor in his voice, and somehow the fact that he was enjoying this so much added to her humiliation.

“I know,” she murmured.

“If you’d done what I said, you wouldn’t be here, over my lap with your skirt up being spanked like a little girl, would you?”

“No, Sir.”

“Good. Now, Daisy, I want you to ask me to pull your panties down and spank you on your bare bottom.”

“No,” she whined.

“Daisy.” There was warning in his voice.

Daisy took a deep breath. She could do this. Swallowing hard, she spoke. “Victor, Sir, please pull my panties down and spank my bare bottom.”

Thank god he couldn’t see her face, couldn’t see the blazing glow in her cheeks. Though, of course, he could see the blazing glow in her other cheeks.

“Good girl.” His voice was soothing despite the fact that he was about to begin spanking her once more. “Lift up again, please, so I can get these down.” He grasped the fabric of her underwear and, as she rose up slightly, he worked them down her thighs.

Get Reformed by the Millionaire on Amazon now!

Dirty Excerpt from Perfect Match by Alexis Alvarez + Prizes! (Amazon GC & signed paperback)

 

Can you handle the heat?  The authors of Hot and Sinful Nights know you can…so we have this blog hop set up to share our steamiest excerpts from our books in the box set.  Follow along the path of the hop to visit all of the authors and enter their individual contests. They’re all listed here at this site:  Hot and Sinful Nights Red Bar Contest.

I have a brand new novel coming Sept 26th! It’s called Perfect Match, and it’s exclusive to the box set Hot and Sinful Nights.  I have a super sexy excerpt below…AND the first two chapters of Perfect Match for you to enjoy.  In honor of the new release, I’m giving away two prizes here on my blog:

1)A signed copy of my book A Handful of Fire

2) 5$ Amazon GC

To enter for  my prizes, just read my post & find the rafflecopter at the end of my excerpt.  To find the rest of the authors & the Kindle Fire entry, visit the Hot & Sinful Nights page. 

 

From Perfect Match by Alexis Alvarez

“Good choice.” Dylan’s voice rolled over her. “Keep going. Take off your dress.”

“What if I don’t do it?” Fia met his eyes.

He unbuttoned one sleeve and began to deliberately roll up the fabric, little by little. “You want to find out?”

She shot him a challenging gaze. “What if I said I did want to find out?”

“Come here,” he challenged her. He backed up and sat down on an expensive leather couch, black and sleek. While he kept eye contact, he rolled up the other sleeve, exposing his strong, corded forearms. “And I’ll show you.”

“But you’re still dressed.” She ran her fingers under the cloth, touching her own nipples, feeling them harden with her touch.

His eyes burned into her. “Yes, I am. That’s another rule. You have to be naked first. Get started.” His voice was firm, but his smile let her know he was still Dylan, the sexy man who made her smile, even though he was being all dominant. And fuck, she wanted to play this game with him.

“I hope you don’t mind that I’m not wearing panties,” she said innocently, and slid the fabric down to her waist.

“Fuck,” he swore. “You were naked under there all this time?”

“Completely,” she murmured. “So naked. No bra, no panties, just my bare skin.”

“Take off the dress and walk over here,” he told her, pointing between his spread legs.

She wiggled her hips to slide the dress down, then stepped out of it, leaving it on the floor, a pool of blue. His eyes were locked on her body, and she swayed her walk as she came closer, delighting in his tortured expression. “You like?”

“I fucking love it. You’re gorgeous.”

She came to stand where he’d indicated.

“Put your hands behind your back and lace your fingers, if you can. And spread your thighs a little.”

She flushed. “Dylan!”

He ran a palm down her thigh, then up to cup her ass cheek. “What was the rule I told you about? If I’m in charge, then you do what I say.”

“But you’re going to make me get in poses for you?”

“Absolutely.” He smiled broadly. “And you’re going to do it, too, because it will turn both of us on.”

She bit her lip then slowly put her arms behind her back, noticing how it made her breasts stick out. Then, while he was silent, she stepped her legs apart to widen the gap between her thighs. “Like this?”

“Wider, please.”

He sat back and put one arm on the back of the couch, as if relaxing in a club.

Her face burned, but she did it, embarrassed at how wet this was making her.

“Good. Stay like that, Fia.” He leaned his head back.

“For how long?” Her face was hot and her pulse was fast in her neck. She was dying for him to touch her.

“Until I say otherwise,” he told her simply. “And another rule is that you don’t question my commands, you just obey them. Is that clear?”

She nodded. This was so kinky, and it was turning her on more than she could imagine.

“Is that a yes, you understand?”

She sucked in a breath. “Yes, I understand.”

“Yes, you will obey me tonight?” His gaze was direct.

She felt her face burn. “Yes, I will obey you tonight.”

“Good girl,” he said approvingly, and she bit her lip, wanting to argue and tell him she wasn’t a girl, she wasn’t his good girl. Except her pussy had other ideas. Her pussy really, really liked the idea of being his good girl.

***

Perfect Match is a 75K word story with no cliffhangers and an HEA. It’s a brand-new, exclusive story from Alexis Alvarez, and it’s only available inside the box set Hot and Sinful Nights.

Amazon – http://amzn.to/2s1HzwY
iBooks – http://apple.co/2tUIRvc
B&N – http://bit.ly/2sWVk3X
Kobo – http://bit.ly/2t0UdAY
Google Play – http://bit.ly/2tzwK78

 

Here’s my giveaway! See that little arrow in the middle of the box — a left arrow, some circles, and a right arrow? Click the arrow to see both prizes available for this giveaway, because there are two: A signed book and a 5$ Amazon GC. Thanks and best of luck! XOXO
a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

She’s the matchmaker…he’s her sexy client. What could go wrong?

L.A.-based matchmaker Fia Martin has a tough competition: Find the perfect woman for arrogant, handsome TV-host Dylan Chambers, before her rival, Connie Birnbaum, can do it––on national television. If Dylan declares her the winner, Fia’s business will skyrocket.

Dylan is picky. He’s smug. He reminds Fia that he’s only doing this competition at all because he lost a bet to his TV co-host, and he doesn’t believe in true love. He’s polite on dates picked out by Connie, but the ones Fia sets up? Those seem to end in complete disaster. And every time she tells him to behave, he flirts with her shamelessly.

A stolen kiss turns to a night of unbelievable passion, but Fia knows that Dylan’s not interested in anything more than a fling. How could it mean anything when he’s still going on dates for the TV challenge like nothing happened?

When Dylan chooses Connie’s company for his final dream date in Hawaii, to a woman who looks perfect on paper, Fia figures she can pretty much kiss the trophy goodbye. The problem is, she won’t just be losing the competition. She’s about to lose her heart, too…to the one guy who’s completely unavailable.

 

 

 

Perfect Match: Chapter One

The man sitting alone at the bar was handsome as hell. Every time he shifted, Fia noticed how powerful his thighs looked beneath the expensive suit pants. His broad shoulders held confidence, and his profile, when she caught glimpses–God.

Grace poked her friend. “He’s cute, right? I totally agree.”

Fia rolled her brilliant green eyes and smoothed her silky brown hair. “Calling him cute is like calling Einstein kind of smart, Gracie. Or like saying that John Glenn dabbled in space.”

Grace tilted her head and her red hair shone in the low light. “Oh my God. He’s Dylan Chambers, the new co-host from Morning Brew, right?” She glanced at Fia. “You should know this.”

Fia leaned forward to look. Mingling patrons blocked her way, and she blew out a breath. “I don’t know. Maybe.” Her heart hammered faster. “I think you’re right.” Recognition set in, delayed, but unquestionable. This handsome man was indeed the sexy, panty-melting new co-host of the very show on which she was going to make her debut appearance.

 “Go say hello. Tell him you’re coming on the show next month to talk about your awesome matchmaking service that’s going to be the number one new business in L.A. I’m sure he’s heard.”

“One would hope he’s aware of what’s discussed on the show. But who knows. It’s still a while away. Maybe he just gets a little printout five minutes before they go on TV. Besides, I’m on the segment with Chelsea, anyway. The show is her baby, and she does all the big interviews.”

“Right, but he’s always out there too, as eye-candy.” Grace sipped her wine.

 Fia craned her neck, but a chattering group of millennials, screeching with laughter, totally blocked her view. “I’m worried that Chelsea is going to be bitchy when I go on her show. Sometimes she can be so mean to her guests, and the audience loves it, but, oh, God. Why did I sign up for this, again?” She clutched her stomach in a gesture of mock terror, but the anxiety was real enough to make her uncomfortable.

Grace frowned. “Free publicity. She is doing the whole process, right?”

Fia nodded and raised her glass. “It is pretty cool. She’ll follow us through the entire match with a bachelor, from the start, where we interview him, to the final dates. It will be a little complicated to find someone–and dates for him—who don’t mind being on TV, but just think about all the clients we can pull in.”

“Complicated? I think you mean easy. Half the people here in L.A. would chop off their pinky finger to get on TV. You offer them a free chance and a date with a sexy partner? Sold.”

“It’s just that I want the match we feature to be perfect, so people think my business is amazing.” Fia swirled the wine in her glass, enjoying the way the lights sparkled off the crystal.

 “Come on, Fia. So far, you’ve had a great success rate with matches, and you’re getting new clients every day. And you have such positive feedback online. And the weddings you’ve attended! There’s no way it will go wrong.”

Fia wrinkled her nose. “I’m going to be up there with Connie. She’s been the resident millionaire matchmaker in this city for over a decade, and she’s my inspiration. I want to look good, even when compared to her. She’s comfortable being on TV, too. She’s done whole reality TV shows based on her matchmaking business, so she’s accustomed to having all of the process filmed.”

Her voice trailed off as she tried to sneak another casual glance down the bar. The man downed his drink, then looked right at Fia.

For a second she met his gaze, and felt something spark between them. Then she looked away, embarrassed, when a gorgeous blonde approached him with a delighted greeting, and he smiled, stood, and kissed her cheek. Fia tried not to compare her ripped jeans and soft T-shirt to the blonde woman’s gorgeous skirt and jacket. Or that pretty updo with her messy halo of hair.

She set her glass down, running her fingers up and down the stem. “Besides, rumor has it that he’s an arrogant asshole.”

“Who told you that?” Grace leaned in. “Anyone I know?”

“Well, you know, the people on some of the fan chat boards.” At Grace’s soft snort, Fia flushed. “What?” Her voice rose. “I only checked to read what people say about Chelsea and him, both. I mean, it only makes sense if I’m going on TV. Research.”

“Of course. So he’s a dick, you say?” Grace laughed.

“He’s supposedly intolerant of crap and calls things like he sees them. Doesn’t mind insulting people, and Chelsea loves it because it’s good for ratings. Most people love him, but working with him can be…difficult.” She looked back over at him, just to see. The blonde was nestled up against a different man, and Dylan was talking to them both while the bartender handed over new drinks. For some reason, Fia breathed out in relief and pleasure. Although that was ridiculous.

When Dylan got up and strode towards her and Grace, she sucked in a breath. “Grace?” Fia poked her friend.

 “Hello.” His voice was deep and more resonant than on TV. “Enjoying your evening? I’m Dylan.” His greeting was for both of them, but his eyes were on Fia.

Grace stuck out her hand. “Yes!” she chirped, smile broad. “I’m Grace, and this is Fia. I recognized you right away because I always watch Morning Brew. I’m so glad you joined the show! It’s actually fortuitous that you’re here, because Fia’s going to be on your show in just a few weeks.”

 “Nice to meet you.” Fia held out her hand and felt a flash of desire as he took it in his strong warm one.

 “I recognized you from an update in our staff meeting. Remind me why you’re coming on the show?” He tilted his glass, and the ice clinked against the side.

His eyes were undressing her, Fia felt, or maybe it was only that she wished they were, but his gaze made her warm. Those dark liquid eyes and the planes of his face were hitting all the right buttons.

“I’m discussing my matchmaking business, Perfect Profiles.”

“Oh…yes. The…matchmaking thing,” he responded, and his voice was a cross between sarcastic and condescending. “You hook up sexy women with ultra-rich bachelors. How’s that working out, Fia?”

Fia narrowed her eyes. “It’s working out just fine, Dylan.” What the fuck?

“Okay. Great.” This time, there was no mistaking his smirk.

“I’m sorry. Are you not a fan of matchmaking businesses?” She kept her voice professional.

“You could say that.”

“Then why did you invite me onto your show?”

“It’s Chelsea’s show, and she invited you and Connie Birnbaum. I voted no, but I was outnumbered.”

“Oh, I see.” She took a deep breath. “And you came over here to tell me that, as a way to help me feel welcome and at ease, I assume? Thank you. Thank you so much for your consideration.” She raised her drink. “Cheers to thoughtfulness, Grace.”

“Oh! Yes, cheers.” Grace, uncertainty on her face, clinked glasses with Fia. Then she leaned in and hissed, “Don’t make him mad.”

Fia scowled and spoke through gritted teeth, “I will make him mad if I want to, Grace, because he started it.”

He smiled. “I don’t have to like your business model to respect you as a person. It’s clear that you’re smart and ambitious, or you wouldn’t have grown your business in such a short time, to the point where it’s featured on the country’s top morning show. But if you can’t handle criticism, I doubt your business will last very long. Or are your matches as sugar-coated as your words?”

Even though his words were sarcastic, there was a glint in his eye that was more appreciative than deprecating, and the way he looked at her made her feel warm and tingly.

Several thoughts rushed through Fia’s head: This man holding her up against the wall and driving into her, his lips plundering hers, sugar on her lips, his mouth nectar to hers. She shook her head, irritated. “My business has helped many couples find everlasting love.”

“Oh, I’m sure.” His voice was smooth. “Can I buy you ladies a drink while you tell me more about it?” He glanced at her glass. “More wine?”

Fia bit her lip. “No, thanks. Dylan, Perfect Profiles is a serious business, and I try to foster genuine, lasting relationships. Some people have a hard time meeting their soulmate because they’re constantly being pre-judged for their wealth or their looks. My goal is to find people who can search beyond the surface to the real person, and find the one who speaks to their heart.”

“Seems like you’re running a high-class escort business.” He smirked.

Fia was pissed. “I’ve been the mastermind behind over a dozen successful marriages, and my business is only two years old. I spend hours with each client, having them fill out psychological profiles, personality quizzes, IQ tests, and interviews. Then all of my data is entered into the program that I myself created, and I use statistics to find the best possible matches. And it works.”

Dylan scoffed. “Most marriages break up a few years in, especially when built on a weak foundation. Are you sure your hastily organized unions will survive the test of time?” Although he’d just been laughing, his eyes were dark, bleak.

Fia couldn’t help but wonder if he were talking from personal experience, but he had no right to judge her life’s work this way. Her voice rose as she spoke. “I guess I’m not surprised you’re alone then, Dylan, with that kind of an attitude. I have to admit that even I might have trouble finding you a match, and I consider myself an expert, with the city’s top single women at my disposal. It’s been a pleasure. I so look forward to seeing you on the show. Gracie, should we get going?” She stood up and turned away from him.

But Dylan was talking over her, his voice harsh. “How do you know I’m alone?”

Fia whirled back around. “Oh, I supposed I just assumed it, Dylan. Just like you assumed all kinds of things about my business.” She knew her words were too sharp for the situation; it would have been better to respond with some kind of clever cutting joke or to have ignored him. But she’d never responded well to contempt and condescension, and she wasn’t going to start now.

“Wait. Fia? I’m sorry.” His voice was urgent, and he stepped forward, putting a hand on her shoulder.

Fia shrugged it off, even though she felt a spark of attraction from his warm touch.

“Listen, I really am sorry,” he said in a low voice. “It’s been a long day, and I’m sorry I insulted you. Can I buy you a drink and we’ll talk for a few minutes? We’ll start over.” He looked at Grace. “Both of you, of course.”

Grace shot a look between the two of them, then said in a chipper voice, “I’ve got to get going to that thing, about the thing. So call me later, and I’ll see you tomorrow!” She waved briefly and waltzed off on her high heels, leaving Fia there glowering at Dylan.

“Can we sit down?” He gestured at the table, and when she nodded and sat, he took Grace’s vacated seat. “Look, I came on strong. That’s what I do. And it’s true that I don’t think much of matchmaking companies, especially here in L.A. But I respect that you work hard at what you do and that it matters to you.”

“Well, I mean, I could say that I don’t think much of television personalities,” she shot back. “Caricatures who show nothing of themselves and reflect back to the seething masses a reflection of their own greed and stupidity.” She shrugged. “But I didn’t do that, did I?” She sipped her wine. “Because I respect that you respect what you do.”

He laughed. “Ouch. Wow. Okay.” He raised an eyebrow.

He looked at her, and despite their words, despite the irritation, desire for him burned fast and sharp. His lips looked both soft and powerful at once. She wanted to trace his jaw, run her hand through his hair. He leaned in. “Should we really start over?”

Somehow, even though they’d exchanged hard words, the look in his eyes told Fia that it was going to be okay, and that he had a humor to him, in him, that made him pliable, light. He wasn’t really pissed at her at all. She’d only stirred his curiosity, roused something sleeping in him, and this made the flame of attraction burn even brighter.

“I don’t know.” Fia crossed her legs and adjusted her t-shirt, and his eyes followed as the fabric tightened temporarily over the swell of her breasts. She felt her pulse quicken. “Would that maybe be like a person backing their car up into a wall, over and over again? Does it make sense?”

He laughed. “Maybe. And then once the car is completely wrecked, we can get out and walk.”

She smiled, despite wanting to stay stern. When he smiled and those dimples came out, holy Jesus, devastation. “So, Dylan, what do you do in your spare time, besides insulting future guests on your show?”

He smiled and his white, even teeth gleamed. Laser much, she wanted to say, but it was appealing.

He shrugged. “I just took this job and my schedule is hectic, so I don’t have much of a routine yet. Ratings are up seven percent since I joined. Viewers seem to rave about my ideas…and my abs.” He took a sip of his drink and smiled again, but this one didn’t seem to reach his eyes.

“Well, once you and your stomach are settled in. What are we talking, like surfing at the beach? Spraying graffiti in the inner city? Coaching little league? Give it a guess, at least.”

“Can I spray-paint my old little league coach? That guy was pure evil.”

Fia laughed. “Oh, sure. That’s totally legit. How can a little league coach be evil, though? Aren’t they someone’s dad?”

“Oh, they are. This one fathered the meanest, ugliest bully you’ve ever seen, and he let his kid pick on everyone else incessantly.”

“You should probably invite him onto your show,” Fia suggested, “and then find him in the bar the night before and tell him how much he sucks. You’ll drain the soul right out of him.”

He grimaced. “If I say I’m sorry again, will you believe me?”

“I’m not sure.” She smiled, but narrowed her eyes. “And I don’t actually feel you were very sincere before.”

“Ah.” But he didn’t go on. He leaned back in his chair and regarded her, a small smile on his mouth. “How about your hobbies? In addition to attacking defenseless television morning show hosts in bars and rendering them speechless, what do you do in your spare time?”

“Well, I don’t go around spray-painting people,” she retorted. “If you’re really interested, you can read my personal page on my blog. It has everything about me listed there.”

“Oh, everything?” His eyes gleamed and he leaned in. “Such as?”

“Such as why do you care?” She leaned in too, although it didn’t make sense, and the air between them seemed charged with electricity. Just a few more inches. A few more inches and those delicious lips would be right upon hers. She could smell his cologne and the whiskey on his breath. She was close enough to see the small wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and the barest stubble beginning to appear on his jawline.

“It would be remiss of me not to research a guest on the show.”

“So it would.” If she could feel the heat of his words, could he feel hers, too? His eyes were magnetic. His hands were on the table, one tapping, the other wrapped around his glass, the ice melting into the amber liquid, light refracting from it. Her hand was close to his. If either of them reached out, just a short distance, they could touch. “But if you save everything to the last minute, how can you do a thorough job in just one night?” Her voice was low and sultry.

“I can do a very thorough job in just one night, Fia.” His voice was low and direct, and his smile, dirty and wicked, made her melt. She sucked in a breath. “I can get more done in a night…” he paused and lowered his voice, “than most people can get done in weeks. I’m that good.”

She widened her eyes. So suggestive, and so, so cocky. “I’d like to see you try.”

He laughed. “Do you? I’d love to show you, then.” His voice, so sexy, made her catch her breath.

She flushed. “That’s not what…You know? I really do need to get going. I have a lot of things to prepare for some meetings tomorrow.” She stood up and reached for her purse.

He stood too. “Well, I look forward to seeing you on the show. Very much.” He gave her his hand, and the sparks that flew up her arm made her tingle.

“I’m sure you do.” She smiled at him.

* * *

As soon as she got home, she called Grace. “So we insulted each other and then we sort of started getting along. He flirted a lot, but I think he does that to everyone. He’s hot, but he really hated on my service. I’m worried he’s going to try to trash me on TV or something.”

Grace was thoughtful. “He’s too professional to do something like that, no matter what he feels personally. Besides, Chelsea has been bringing him in when they run the ‘Who Does It Better’ segment. Aren’t you going on for the ‘Local Business Blast’ segment?”

“Oh, yes. Good point. Now I feel better.”

Grace added, “Everyone loves ‘Who Does It Better,’ though. Last week he visited two trendy sushi joints and talked about which one he preferred. It’s a huge hit with viewers. They love his sarcastic wit and the way he sort of mocks things even when he’s complimenting them. And both sushi places got extra business, even the one that wasn’t his favorite. Even being on the show is great for a business.”

          Fia felt relieved. “Well, there’s no way he can test out two dating services, so I think I’m safe. I’m not going to think about him anymore.”

But that night as she prepared her notes, she couldn’t help but feel a small flash of excitement at the idea of meeting the arrogant but sexy Dylan Chambers face to face…again. And her dreams were full of other, less verbal encounters with Dylan, and these were the kind of steamy dreams that had her awakening with a breathless longing that had no words.

 

Perfect Match: Chapter Two

“Tell me again why they call it a green room?” complained Grace, looking around the long, narrow waiting room lined with shallow couches and an ice-bucket full of bottled waters. “It’s the kind of beige that belongs on tired old bedpans.”

Fia tried to laugh. A few weeks had passed since she’d met Dylan in the bar, and today—finally—she would see him again, face to face, while Chelsea interviewed her and Connie on the live Monday morning taping of Morning Brew.

She tried to calm her racing heart by taking deep breaths. She also tried not to stare at the other featured matchmaker, Connie Birnbaum, who was pouring words into a cell phone and had been doing so for the past fifteen minutes. Fia noted that Connie, in her early sixties, had killer legs and bombshell curves, which were accentuated by her trendy suit.

“I want to say hi to her ahead of time,” Fia murmured to Grace. “But she’s so…busy. And I’m so…about to pass out.”

“You know I’ll be in here if need me,” Grace reassured her. “I mean, you need anything? Just scream, GRACIE! BRING ME MY—whatever it is—and I’m on it. Promise.”

This time Fia laughed for real. “Oh, Grace. That would so not endear me to any potential clients out there in viewer-land.”

Grace patted her hand. “No matter what happens, this is getting your name out there.”

Fia bit her lip, all of Dylan’s criticisms coming back to her. “But what if he’s right? What if I am only temporarily hooking up rich men with pretty girls? What if all the marriages do start to fail?”

Grace raised her voice. “Fia! Stop it! You’ve been to the weddings. You’ve seen how in love those couples are. It’s more than what he said and you know it. You just have stage fright. Stand up and walk around. It will help burn off your nervous energy.”

Fia stood and marched in place. “Not helping, Grace.”

Connie looked over and finally stowed her phone. She strode up. “Fia Martin? I’m Connie.” She touched her white-blonde hair, arranged into a complicated bun atop her head, and extended her hand.

Fia shook, still marching. “Nice to meet you. I’m a huge fan. You were the inspiration for me to start my own business.”

Connie acted as if marching adoration were a normal part of her day, which maybe it was, thought Fia. It was hard to tell about other people sometimes. “I’m not interested in getting into a brutal battle out there,” Connie announced. Her diamond necklace flashed in the light as she turned to smile at both Fia and Grace. “Right?”

 Fia bit her lip, slightly confused. They were going on ‘Local Business Blast,’ where Chelsea featured local businesses. And although there would be inevitable comparisons and web comments on who liked which business better, it really wasn’t ever touted as a combative thing. Maybe Connie just wanted to clarify that she wasn’t going to be a bitch?

Fia nodded and stopped marching. “I’d just rather focus on what we do well. I’m sure we each have specific strengths, right? I’d like to play it off like we can complement each other. Different firms for different clients.”

 “This doesn’t mean I won’t try to sell myself hard,” Connie warned Fia. “And get the competitive edge. But I don’t play dirty. My clients want to see that I’m professional and courteous to everyone.”

Fia cleared her throat. Connie must be used to working with really cutthroat people! “I know you’ve been doing this for years and you’re good at it—very good. And I’m good too. I have confidence that my techniques really help people find lasting love. I like knowing that we can be competitive but still supportive.”

The set assistant beckoned. “On set, please.”

Now Fia was seated in a plush red chair, crossing her legs and tugging her skirt down, smelling the minty breath of the man who was wiring her up with a microphone, and looking into a sea of bright lights as she heard, “Five, four…” and then Chelsea’s luxurious, smooth voice:

“Hello and welcome back to Morning Brew and our live studio audience! We have two matchmaking companies here today on our ‘Local Business Blast’ segment. First there’s Connie Birnbaum from Matched by the Millions. She’s been the resident love mistress in town for almost two decades and was featured in five seasons of a reality TV show based on her business! Connie’s secret is her gut—she says that when a match is right, she feels it in her stomach. And she has years of successful matches to prove her right.

“And here we have newcomer matchmaker Fia Martin, from Perfect Profiles. She’s only been in business for two years but already boasts a remarkable track record at helping couples find love. Fia’s claim to fame is her proprietary computer program, which ranks a person’s potential matches by percentage from one to one hundred. She says that when she finds a person who ranks eighty percent or higher for a client, it usually results in a lasting love match.

“Let’s learn more. Are you—and we all know you’re looking for love out there, viewers, let’s be honest—are you going to do better with a matchmaker who matches you from her physical instincts, or one who matches you from her brainy computer? Let’s get to it!”

The audience applauded wildly, and Fia gulped. She didn’t like being described as merely a “brainy computer”. There was so much more to it than that.

But Chelsea leaned forward, her elbow on her pant-suited knee and rested her chin in her hand as she looked at Connie. “Connie Birnbaum! I’m such a fan,” she gushed. “I had to watch every episode of your show. My favorite was the one where the millionaire made all of his potential dates help pick through trash at his recycling plant! They were all wearing heels, and it was hilarious when they dissed him. But then, despite his attitude, you still found him love. I heard that he’s still married to the girl who told him off, right?”

Connie laughed. “He sure is, Chelsea. I knew it in my gut when I saw those two together that I had to push, and I was right! The sparks turned into a bond of forever love. I always make it a point to talk to the clients about life and goals, but not to get every single detail. I don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. Once I get a snapshot of their character, if you will, I then think about all the potential matches. And when I get that warm feeling in my gut, I know I’ve found the best possible match.”

Chelsea shook her head and smiled. “Well, with hundreds of success stories, your method must surely work! And now let’s turn to Fia Martin. Fia, you’re more of a trees matchmaker, right? You actually try to get every single detail possible for your computer program?”

Fia hoped her voice wouldn’t shake. “That’s right, Chelsea. There are so many nuances and subtle details that make up a personality, and I’ve found that it’s critical to get information from all aspects of a person’s life—life experiences, psychological personality profiles, likes and dislikes, political leanings, even tastes in music and food.”

She paused to breathe before continuing. “But it gets even more complicated before it gets simple. I enter all of the data into my program and use a proprietary algorithm to parse the data and analyze it, compare it to the information of each potential partner. Eventually the program comes up with a number that shows the match potential as a percentage.”

Chelsea wrinkled her nose. “Give me an example. Let’s say, for instance, that I have an inveterate bachelor who needs true love. I sign him up for your service, and he goes through all these insane hours of interviews. What happens next?”

Fia took a deep breath. “Well, I’d run his profile and find his top four matches in the system. Each woman would have a number by her name showing the percentage likelihood that they would hit it off. I like to aim for percentages in the eighties or higher because that usually leads to a good match. But sometimes I’ve sparked lasting connections from people who only rated in the sixties for each other.”

“So if I understand this,” Chelsea probed, “my bachelor would get a list of four names and would then get to date each one?”

Fia replied, “Sometimes the bachelor stops the process early because he’s already found a person he’s crazy about and doesn’t wish to pursue further dates. But yes, he can choose to meet each of the four if he likes. Or he can wait until more women enter the system, and can try again.”

Chelsea turned back to Connie. “And let’s say I sent that same bachelor to your service. You’d get to know him, then use your gut feeling to match him up with a few women? How many are we talking here?”

Connie laughed. “Well, it’s not so mathematical over here, Chelsea! Sometimes there are three women whom I think might match him, sometimes seven, sometimes only one perfect woman. And it’s up to him if he wants to meet them all at once for a mixer, or individually. I really like to work from a warm, friendly standpoint—not from behind an impersonal computer screen.”

Fia felt her face burn, and cut in with, “I absolutely agree with Connie that the process needs to be personal. I also definitely create a space that’s welcoming and makes a person feel that they’re being valued. Because each individual is unique.”

Chelsea leaned in. “Well, I have a surprise proposition for you two! Ladies, both of you have already agreed to have our cameras follow one man through your system while he goes on dates to find true love. But I have a special request! If you’re up for the challenge, I’m going to enroll my co-host Dylan in the matchmaking system at both of your companies! He’ll do ‘Who Does It Better’ for finding love!”

The applause that followed her pronouncement was, in Fia’s opinion, powerful enough to rattle the ground and start an earthquake rumbling toward the coast.

 “Who will find love for Dylan? Will it be Connie and her gut feelings, or Fia and her computer program? Viewers, you’re going to want to stay tuned over the next few weeks as we follow Dylan around on his dates and find out what he thinks about the two top rated matching services in town!

“This is your backstage pass, ladies and gentlemen, to find out what makes these matchmaking services tick, and where you’re going to want to spend your money to find the love of a lifetime!”

To Fia’s shock and horror, Dylan came out and sat down in the red chair next to Chelsea, smiling a taut smile.

 The audience roared their approval and chanted his name. “Dy-lan! Dy-lan!”

Fia mentally scrambled to get her bearings. So, wait—what? Instead of just being featured separately, now they really were going head-to-head in a competition…with Dylan as the man who needed love? Had Connie known about this ahead of time, and that’s why she mentioned twice that she didn’t want it to get too intense?

But Fia didn’t have to time to ruminate because the show was proceeding.

Chelsea laughed and poked her co-host playfully in the arm. “Dylan really didn’t want to do this,” she explained to the audience. “But as you also know, he lost that on-air bet to me last week about whose team would win the championship, and I got to choose his penalty. Plus, I’m his boss, so he had to do what I say.” She smiled smugly.

The audience screamed and roared with applause, loving it. Dylan shifted in his seat, glowering.

Chelsea beamed. “Ladies, if you’re local, you’re in luck! Just join up at one of these two highly-rated agencies for a chance to date Dylan or another wonderful man. If you trigger the gut test, or blast past the ones and zeroes, it may be you having a romantic date!”

The audience shrieked louder if possible, making Fia wonder if eardrums could actually rupture from too much feminine decibelage.

Chelsea grinned at Fia and Connie. “Ladies, please tell me you’re up for the challenge. I mean, no pressure to participate. You can choose any bachelor you want to feature. But backing out would be a sign to everyone that you can’t help my man here find love.” She laughed as if this were a joke they’d already discussed.

Connie was smooth. “Of course I’m in! You know I’m always up for a challenge.”

Fia licked her lips. “More than willing! I’m confident I can find Dylan the perfect woman.” Her mind raced, trying to figure this out: What, how, who?

Chelsea clapped her hands. “Yay, yay, yay! Dylan, what do you think of this?”

He frowned and crossed his arms, and the audience laughed. They seemed to love Dylan-in-a-mood situations.

Dylan looked directly at Fia. “I have my doubts that either of you can find me real love. Besides, I wonder if you’d even have someone at your business, Fia, who’d be willing to date me? Given the issues you seem to have with my personality?”

Fia bit her lip and answered as sweetly as she could. “Oh, Dylan! I’m certain that we have many wonderful women who would match well with your unique personality and characteristics!” she said, then mouthed to him, “like hyenas. Or vipers.”

Dylan laughed. “I can read lips, Fia. Your suggestions are definitely…more than interesting.” He drawled out the word interesting, making it seem like Fia had been whispering something illicit to him.

“Oh, that’s good,” said Fia in a saccharine tone. “That will save me the trouble of having to scream at you when you’re being difficult. But I can handle difficult. I’ve been able to find matches for people who don’t seem to work within the typical bounds of polite society.”

Dylan leaned forward to lock eyes with Fia. “So you’re ready to take me on, then?” His voice was ripe with double meaning, and Fia felt her heartbeat quicken.

“More than ready,” she answered, her voice coming out a tad more seductively than she’d planned, making her blush and clear her throat.

Chelsea cut in, “Wow. It looks like this is going to be way more than interesting, folks! Lip reading and readiness. Whew!” She pretended to fan herself. “Connie, what do you want to say to Dylan?”

Connie looked shrewdly from Dylan to Fia, and stated, “I’ve never met a man whom I can’t match, Dylan. I welcome the challenge to find you the perfect woman. I won’t stop until you’re happy.” She had a small, quizzical smile on her face, and she cocked her head to the side.

“And it gets better! Perfection and happiness. A woman who will stop at nothing! Viewers, you can find all of the information on these two dating services at our website,” Chelsea continued. “Thanks for tuning in today, and keep watching for updates on Dylan’s love connection!”

The camera lights blinked off and Chelsea pulled off her mike. “Whew! That went even better than I expected. Good job, ladies. Dylan. The audience was eating it up. Hang out until my peeps get with you about all the details, ‘kay? We have contracts prepared for you both, and then we’ll do planning. Lots and lots of planning!”

She darted off the set, disappearing behind equipment, and Fia looked around uncertainly until an assistant un-miked her and led her back to the ‘beige’ room to start on the paperwork.

“Oh, Fia, that went well!” Grace exclaimed, hugging her shaky friend. “I watched on the monitor. Luckily Chelsea wasn’t in Super Shark Mode. You were cool and professional. Except, ah, when you talked to Dylan. Then you sort of seemed, how do I say it?”

“Predatory?” cut in Connie with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes, exactly!” exclaimed Grace. “Like you were hunting him. And he was hunting you right back.”

“That’s ridiculous,” scoffed Fia, sinking into a beige couch. “I was trying frantically to think of what to say. That just—came out. But I’m so psyched that she pitched us both to the audience. We’ll both get business from this, I’m sure of it.”

“And so when will you meet with Dylan?” Grace was pure eagerness.

“I don’t know. I still don’t even know for sure if this is going to happen. I mean, she just said it out there for the first time. He doesn’t even want to do it. I bet he doesn’t even follow through.”

“Oh, it’s real. And I never back out on a promise,” said a rough voice behind them, and Fia started as Dylan entered the beige room, followed closely by Chelsea.

“No, when I commit to something, I stick with it,” he continued, pinning Fia with his dark eyes. “I hope you can say the same.”

“Of course I can,” said Fia, sticking up her chin. “So, since both of us are promise-keepers and valiant truth-tellers who never break an oath, then I’ll expect you at seven o’clock tomorrow morning to begin the interview process and the surveys.”

Dylan chuckled. “That’s fine. I guess we’ll be working together… closely.”

“Working together closely to find you a girlfriend,” said Fia firmly, feeling a tinge of dislike at those words.

So he was hot, what did that matter? She worked with hot, handsome guys every day without giving them a second thought, except to find them the perfect match. Why did the thought of hooking this arrogant, condescending jerk up with another girl suddenly have her all twisted up?

Chelsea cleared her throat. “So he’ll meet with you first, Fia, that’s fine, I’m okay with that. My assistant will set up all the details. And Connie, you’ll be later in the week. And we’ll have a camera-man follow him around on the dates. I want footage for the viewers! Dylan, I’m counting on you to help everyone understand what it’s like to enter one of these exclusive dating services. So give it your best shot!” She punched him lightly on the arm.

Dylan grimaced. “I never give anything but, Chels.”

Chelsea rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure. This is going to be fun.”

“Sure, for you,” said Dylan. “You love torturing me on air.”

“Just because the viewers love to see me torture you on air!” shot back Chelsea.

Fia liked the jokey bickering. It was part of what made their show so fun to watch—that, and the handsomeness that was Dylan, she had to admit.

And what she didn’t want to admit was that she was looking forward to working with Dylan one-on-one. And by “one-on-one,” what her devious mind seemed to want was something far more personal than interviews and questionnaires.

***

Perfect Match is available now for just $0.99 in the box set Hot and Sinful Nights:

Amazon – http://amzn.to/2s1HzwY
iBooks – http://apple.co/2tUIRvc
B&N – http://bit.ly/2sWVk3X
Kobo – http://bit.ly/2t0UdAY
Google Play – http://bit.ly/2tzwK78

 

 

Thank you and happy reading! XOXO – Alexis

 

A Handful Of Fire: First chapters & pre-order links

Greetings! It’s Alexis Alvarez with an excerpt from my brand-new novel, A Handful of Fire.  A taboo relationship…steamy passion…and emotional, poetic prose.  It’s a stand-alone contemporary romance with lots of sexy heat and an HEA.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Here are the blurb and the first two chapters.

Blurb:

Single father Gabriel Baystock is rich and powerful, educated and handsome – and helpless when it comes to ensuring his son Michael recovers fully from a childhood cancer.  He’ll do anything, even hire award-winning child therapist Shai Bonaventura.

Shai is drawn to brooding, sexy Gabriel, and while she falls in love with the little boy she’s hired to help, she loses her heart to his father. Their powerful chemistry is off the charts hot, and Shai thinks he might be the one to help heal her own demons, even if it means crossing professional boundaries.

But when old secrets from Shai’s past are revealed, it’s not clear if their fragile relationship can survive the harsh reality of the real world…or whether they have the courage to fight for what they really need?

Chapter One – Shai

Even from across the room, I can see that his eyes are the color of emeralds glowing in the dark.  If I thought his lean body was dangerous, if watching his muscles moving under the expensive suit made me catch my breath, the glimpse of his face only increases my attraction. He’s far more attractive in person than even his best pictures on the internet. I find it hard to believe that this is the father of my newest patient—assuming he hires me, of course; Allison explained how he thinks therapy is usually a “complete waste of time.”

He notices my gaze; a beat goes by, our eyes locked, and then he smiles. Does he know who I am yet? I stand straighter in my heels and fluff my red-brown curls with one hand. I know I look good in my blue sheath dress; I’ve been working out. Still, the people around him are a world apart in terms of elegance.

“Shai?”

I turn to my boss with a smile, tuning down the images. “Allison. This is amazing.” I gesture, the word amazing no match for the elegance of the charity champagne fundraiser our company, Frazier Pharma, has sponsored.

“Our entire team worked hard to make it happen. Thank you for being part of the effort. Having my therapy team manager here is critical for our fund-raising.” Allison Emercy is perfection in a crimson gown and blond up-do, looking younger than her fifty-two years. With her at the helm, our charity auctions bring in an unprecedented amount of money. This time our pharmaceutical company is raising money for childhood cancer research. It makes the company look good, that’s a given, but it’s something we all believe in.

“It means a lot to me.” Instinctively I touch my silver locket. It’s fancy enough that it matches any outfit, even formal wear, not that I’d care. It’s a reminder of Mani, and I’ll never take it off.

I shoot another look over at him, but he’s not looking anymore; he’s busy with a cluster of elegant people, doctors and rich patrons.

Allison looks over, too. “There’s Gabriel. When he’s free I’ll introduce you. You’re ready, yes?” She raises an eyebrow.

For a second I feel like my heart hangs at the top of a roller-coaster, ready to head down, then it bangs into action, staccato. “Yes.” But lusting over a patient’s, well, a potential patient’s father, is not professional.

I keep looking. He’s in his early thirties, like I am—but he’s separated from me by a chasm of wealth and privilege. He’s got a sylph on his arm, a few handsome men around him, and several women hover, coming and going like delicate butterflies around a blazing sun.

I know these things from my internet search mixed with information from Allison: He’s a single father, widowed. One of the richest bachelors in Chicago. A difficult ten-year-old son with emotional issues and a genius I.Q. And, although this shouldn’t matter to the job at hand, I can’t help but notice that he’s breathtakingly handsome.

I remember what Allison told me at our last meeting: “Gabriel Baystock could be one of our biggest donors. He already gave to the cancer research fund, but he’s unsure about the therapy program. He doesn’t think therapy works. His son is recovering from pleuropulmonary blastoma that spread—a good prognosis, but the child is having emotional difficulties. Their surgeon recommended therapy, so Gabriel said he’d try our program, and if it helps Michael, he’ll donate to help it expand. He asked for the best child therapist—that’s you.”

When Allison asked if I could work an extra patient into my schedule and still lead the therapy team, I said, “Yes, of course.” Because she wasn’t really asking.

And how could I say no? I love the sparks of challenge and hope that come with each new child. Taking a little person and helping them replace the rotten broken railings on the hanging bridge of their mind, allowing them to cross from anger and pain to a happier place—that fulfills me.

Beneath the pride and excitement, though, came that additional feeling that I get more often these days, the ever-increasing tone of unease. I pour everything I have into this job. But my batteries are wearing out and I don’t know where to recharge them.

I remember how much it meant to me when I had a therapist help me after the incident, all those years ago, and how I promised myself that I’d devote my life to helping other kids out of their own personal hell. So if I’m running on fumes some days, I just have to figure out how to keep going. I brush my index finger down the thin scar on the side of my face, which is usually hidden by my curls, and bite my lip, trying to push back memories. This isn’t the time, or the place. I need to focus.

A passing couple in their sixties stop to greet Allison. He’s tall and lean; so is she; they both walk with the confidence you see, always, in the best surgeons. The man takes her hands and kisses both cheeks. “Dr. Emercy. It is so good to see you.” He’s got a lovely French accent.

Allison steers me forward with one hand on my shoulder. “This is Shai Bonaventura, my Therapy Outreach manager. We started a new initiative at Frazier, a way to connect with the children in our community who need help beyond the lifesaving medicines we work so hard to provide. Shai has received the Chicago’s Best Therapist Award three years in a row now. It’s a peer-driven award and a high honor.”

I smile and shake hands.

Allison adds, “There are many children who can benefit from behavioral therapy while they undergo treatment and recovery for childhood cancer and other illnesses. Shai heads our new department of therapists. For qualifying families, we will provide free therapy sessions for up to a year.  Right now it’s a beta program, and after we prove our success in a limited market, we’re going to expand.” She smiles and the couple smiles back. “Shai, can I leave you with Dr. and Dr. Pelletier, Lucas and Lena, to explain more about our program?”

I take the verbal baton. “Of course.”

After I finish selling our project to the doctors, who promise to donate a sum of money that is double my annual salary, I need a moment alone to recoup. I duck out into the hallway.

There’s art on the walls—I recognize the small rapid brushstrokes of Monet; the bolder, rougher ones of Cezanne. These are originals; I’m sure of it. I regard another picture, one by an artist I don’t recognize. It’s like a photograph, but it’s painted. It’s bleak and beautiful and it tears into me immediately, fierce and sad. It’s raindrops on a window, and a shattered alley outside, the only beauty from the smeared wet colors and the perfect desolation, from the way the water distorts the reality into art.

The one next to it is diametrically opposite in tone. It’s sunlight streaming in beams across a field, waving flowers, and so much space captured in so little space that it’s a miracle. Inside bigger than the outside. A trick of a master. It’s a magic wardrobe, a sidewalk chalk painting you can jump into, a book you want to read forever. I can tell it’s by the same artist because—well, I don’t know the artistic words. But I know it in the way I can tell music by Mozart just by hearing a few bars. Songs by Madonna. A painting by Van Gogh. Prose by Hemingway. Some things are so essentially themselves that you always know them, even if you don’t have the language to explain why.

Nor do I know why someone put these two pictures here, side by side, unless they want to showcase the opposite ends of human emotion. My eye darts from one to the other, unable to choose which one is more powerful. They’re both fascinating; I can’t pick which one I like better. It’s almost like both are necessary; they work together to highlight the beauty of the other.

Allison comes up behind me, touches my shoulder. “Gabriel’s ready to meet you now, Shai. He has some time before the next speech.”

Before I can answer, he enters the hallway and comes right up to us, and my heart jumps to my throat as he reaches out his hand. “Shai? I’m Gabriel Baystock.”

I put out my hand, and when he takes it, an unmistakable spark travels down my fingertips and dissolves into my bloodstream. When it pulses to my heart, I catch my breath. “Hello.” I smile, feel my face flush, and don’t care. “It’s nice to meet you.”

His eyes are mesmerizing, deeper than both of those pictures on the wall, and more beautiful. Also, sadder, I think; he’s guarded. This man is sexy and muscular and he seems completely unrelaxed, even though he’s confident. I wonder why.

“I understand you’re Frazier’s top therapist.” His voice sends reverberations into my skin. He’s still holding my hand, and I’m reluctant to take it back when he releases it. His eyes move up and down my body, and it’s like I can feel his fingers doing it. I suck in a breath. I’ve never been so attracted to someone so fast, felt a gaze so intense. But he’s probably just examining me. I don’t want to imagine desire in his eyes, when it’s merely the want reflecting from my own. Besides, I have to stay professional.

“Our entire team is top-rated,” I say; it’s important to highlight the fact that I’m the tip of a huge iceberg of care, although the praise makes my cheeks tingle.

“Allison and Dr. Chandler said they feel you specifically, of the entire team, have the interpersonal skills to be a match for my son. He’s had a difficult time.” His face tightens. “We’ve tried other therapists after his treatment, and they just never work out.”

“Helping children on the journey to wellness is my top priority, ” I say. Then, because this sounds clinically sterile, and because his eyes narrow, I add, “I genuinely like all of my patients.  I bond with them, root for them, and do my best to help them regain self-confidence and joy. I’ve never met a child yet that I haven’t been able to help.” As I speak, I can feel my own confidence behind my words. Fumes or no fumes, this is what I do, and I’m good at it. Damn good.

His eyes drill into mine, and I sense a challenge. “‘Well, we’ll see.” His voice is noncommittal but a little arrogant. “Why don’t you meet my son first, before you start making promises.” He walks down the hallway with a “follow me” gesture.

I shoot Allison a look, tilting my head and raising my eyebrows. He may be rich and powerful, but I’m the expert here, and I know I’m good at my job.

Allison gives me a one-shoulder shrug and a small smile. “Follow up with me later, okay? I’m going to head back to catch up with more donors.” She walks the opposite way, back to the crowd.

I nod and follow Gabriel up a flight of stairs, where we reach a woman standing in the open doorway of a large playroom. She has one hand on the walkie at her waist and stands firm, like a guard. “Gabe! Here to check on Michael and the gang?”

This doesn’t make sense, but when I step closer and peer past her to see about a dozen children, I understand: These must be kids of the guests. Babysitting on the spot. It only makes sense to keep them safe. Of course if I had a child I’d do the exact same thi—I touch my scar.

“Lindsay.” Gabriel nods, his voice short. “I’m going to introduce Michael to the therapist. Shai.” He gestures at me and I smile. But Gabriel’s standing back in the hallway so he can’t be seen by anyone inside the room. He doesn’t seem like he wants to do any introducing.

“Okay, um, but…” Lindsay wrinkles her nose. She adds, “Shai, it’s so nice to meet you! But maybe now isn’t…?” Then she gestures across the room, and I see the child who needs someone. Who needs me.

Chapter Two – Shai

The other children are busy together; there’s a PlayStation VR connected to a large-screen TV, and an intricate train set. This kid is alone, sitting with his back to the room, looking out the window. I can only see his profile. His face is puffy, his head bald. I fight the urge to run up and enfold him in my arms. I want to tell him he’s special, miraculous. I want to fix him. But now isn’t the time.

The child looks over. His eyes are green, like Gabriel’s. I see tears in his eyes before he turns back to the window, his arms crossed over his chest.

Lindsay steps out of the doorway and lowers her voice. “I hate to throw a wrench into things, but? He’s just sitting there all sad, and when the other kids come up to him, he snaps at them or ignores them, and now they’re starting to whisper? It’s killing me. I’m worried that if you guys go in there right now and start doing a therapy thing? They might make fun of him? What if you did it after ice cream?”

Gabriel sighs. “Lindsay. I don’t plan to embarrass him in front of the other kids. Why don’t you have Clare take them to the kitchen, and we’ll talk privately to Michael. He can’t have ice cream right now anyway. It’s not on his diet.”

Another helper moves into action, and soon the kids stream past, giggling, running, dawdling, poking, a ragged line of healthy childhood. I can tell that they’ve forgotten Michael as they move on to the next adventure.

When they’re gone, the silence in the room is noticeable.  Gabriel crosses his arms. “Lindsay. Would you please go introduce Shai?” He nods his head.

It’s a little weird, but I’m not about to say so.  Lindsay walks over and touches his shoulder. “Michael.”

He stiffens and shrugs off her hand, and makes a growly noise without looking at her.

“Michael? I’d like to introduce you to someone.” Her voice is gentle, hesitant. “This is Shai, the therapist. She’s here to meet you and just say hi like we talked about with your dad before, okay?”

Michael looks at my hazy reflection in the black window, and our eyes meet, sort of, as ghosts. “I’m not interested in therapy at this time,” he tells me. “Therapy is for people who can’t handle life on their own.”

I nod. “You’re right. The thing is, though, none of us can handle life on our own. It’s okay to get help when we need it.” I shift my purse on my arm.

He notices my move and tilts his chin. “Let me guess. You probably have a cheap, infantile stuffed animal made for a three-year-old in your purse, right? And you’ll give it to me because it will make you feel so good about yourself, and you’ll never stop to think that it’s just a piece of crap that I’ll add to the ever-growing pile of stuffed animals that people give me that I just want to throw away. I get enough of those from the women who throw themselves at my dad and pretend to be nice to me.”

Behind his back, Lindsay winces and shoots me a pleading look. I wonder if Gabriel is hearing this. He must be. He’s right behind us, in the doorway. For a second I feel stress, then it all goes away when I look back at Michael’s eyes and see the hurt there, the longing.

I crouch down to speak, and he says, “I see what you’re doing. It’s called getting on my level. Now you’re going to talk in a soft voice, like you’re trying to entice a baby deer, and tell me that you want to be my friend. You can just go away.” He crosses his arms and scowls, but I see a challenge in his face.  He hasn’t tilted his body away, and he’s looking up at me, almost eager.

I think about this and say, “What was the ugliest one?” I have to win him over. I think I need to match him wit for wit, like in a game of chess. Clearly he wants to be respected, not condescended to.

This seems to surprise him. “What?”

I make my play. “The stuffed animals. I’m imagining a fake Tigger from one of those claw-machines that make me depressed every time I see them in a dirty restaurant lobby. Something so awful that you just know it cost about two cents to create, and it was made by sad overworked kids in some kind of Chinese labor camp, something that nobody in their right mind would buy. And maybe it had a stupid label on its neck with your name written in frilly, fancy purple pen, but maybe your name is even spelled wrong?”

He stares, I stare. I hold my breath. This is the moment of truth—will he accept me or not?

Time goes on and on, and he’s silent. Finally he grins. “The ugliest one,” he tells me, “was a pink plastic kitten with rainbow splotches all over it, with the name Princess Lorelei on a bow around its neck and eyes as big as, like, the bottom of a Coke can. And I think it had been pre-owned, because it was a little dirty. I wanted to roast it like a marshmallow in the courtyard BBQ, but you just know it’s probably made with lots of lead paints.” He gives me a challenging look. “Did you know that the symbol for lead is Pb? Its atomic number is 82. The word comes from Latin.”

I nod, letting out a mental sigh of relief and gratitude. “I do know that the symbol is Pb, but I admit I would have had no idea of the atomic number. But if you decide to see me, we can start by burning all of the toddler toys in a huge bonfire. I’ll bring gas masks so we don’t choke on the toxic fumes.” I grin and add, “I might not know the elemental properties of lead, but I can help protect you from brain damage.”

This makes him smile bigger, and I think he might want to laugh. But he doesn’t. “That’s funny,” he says, and his face looks happy. He waves his hands a few times, small gestures, like little butterflies.

He leans in closer and lowers his voice conspiratorially. “I can tell you’re not in this just to get to my dad,” he says. “We’ve had quite a few women say they wanted to help me out, but they were only trying to get closer to Gabriel. You don’t talk like them.” He narrows his eyes. “Or look like them.”

I’m pretty sure he means it as a compliment, even though it maybe didn’t come out quite that way. “Well, I’m just unique that way,” I say. “It’s kind of my calling card. The hey, I’m not here to snag Michael’s dad look. Very popular these days, you know, in certain circles. I might even start a trend.” Then I add, “Also? I’m an actual certified therapist, I love working with kids, and I’m good at my job.” I smile.

“Because they’re usually models and stuff.” His face is blank. “That’s the kind of women who gravitate to him. His girlfriend, Arielle? She’s a model.” He bites his lip, and the look he gives me now is almost pleading.

I nod. “Got it. My orbital pull is not going to be sufficient to attract your progenitor.” I feel my face get hot. I know Gabriel and Lindsay can hear this.

He laughs now. “You’re smart.” He sounds surprised and pleased.

“Yeah. So are you.” Understatement of the year. “I just might be able to keep up with you if I brush off my calculus book,” I joke.

Michael stops laughing and gives me a shy smile, and I think he’s starting to like me. “If you really need help, I’m on partial differential equations. They’re easy. I think solving them is kind of like cracking a spy code.” Then he turns pink and looks down quickly before meeting my eyes again.

He touches his bald head along a hair-thin scar line and I see him looking at my cheek, at my own scar, which shows now that I’ve leaned forward to talk. I think he wants to ask, but he doesn’t. “Okay,” he announces. “You’re hired.”

I feel a presence behind me as a masculine voice rings out, a displeased voice, “That’s my decision to make, Michael.”

My eyes widen and I feel my cheeks flushing as I leap to my feet. Supermodels. I suck in my stomach and stand tall in my heels and fluff my curls. Maybe I’m no runway model, but I’m damn pretty, and I have nice curves. I have nothing to be ashamed of! Then I’m mad at myself for caring.

Michael rolls his eyes. “Calm down, Gabriel. She’s not murdering me. She didn’t even give me a Beanie Boo.” His voice is sarcastic. “And for that, I am sincerely grateful. I mean, since you parked me here with the Kindergarten Craptastics, I’ve been bored out of my skull. Oh. Too bad the cancer won’t leave my skull along with my sanity, right?”

“Michael.” Gabriel’s voice is tight. “That kind of language is inappropriate. We’ve talked about this—”

Michael turns his back. Gabriel doesn’t say anything, but I can feel the tension coming off him. He runs a hand through his dark hair and curses under his breath. “Fuck.” His green eyes are dark, and the frown makes me forget, for a second, about how handsome he is. When he folds his arms over his chest, I can see his muscles through the dress shirt, though, and I try not to gawk.

“May I talk to you out in the hallway?” I nod my head to the doorway and he scowls, follows me.

“Gabriel. Thank you for letting me meet Michael. I can tell he’s brilliant and creative and mature for his age.” I touch his arm and feel that spark again, and for a split second I think that there’s something in his eyes beyond frustration and irritation, something feral and dark, something just for me.

I pull back. “It seems that he’s feeling a lot of anger and confusion right now, and that it’s getting directed toward you and himself. I can help him. I’d love to work with him.” I feel the absolute need to work with Michael, more than any other child I’ve met.

Michael’s voice pipes up as he steps out to join us. “I like her, Dad.” He tilts his head and smirks. “If you hire her, I bet she could help me figure out how to stop cursing. And how to stop putting beetles in Arielle’s purse. Well, it was just the one time, but it was so rewarding that you just know I’m tempted to step up my game and order some Madagascar hissing cockroaches online. They’re relatively inexpensive, you know. And how to stop—”

Gabriel interrupts. “Michael. This doesn’t concern you. Go back with Lindsay. And why don’t you work on that essay, already, while the other kids are busy. Lindsay can help. It’s the perfect chance right now. Your tutor said this weekend is the last chance to rewrite it before you get a zero.”

Michael’s mouth drops open and so does mine and I speak without thinking. “This entirely concerns him. It couldn’t be more about him if it—if it were a T-rex come alive to eat all of North Carolina.”

Michael laughs. “I love Parasaurolophuses better than T-rexes. Actually, it couldn’t be more about me if it were an airplane full of pretty pink Barbies with glitter glue and,” he hesitates, shooting a sidelong glance at Gabriel, and continues, speeding up his words, “fucking ballet tutus on them that crashes into a pet food factory.”

“That’s enough.” Gabriel’s voice is steel. He points. “I don’t need your cursing or your backtalk.”

“Whatever.” Michael crosses his arms tight across his chest, but there’s something in the gesture that’s sad instead of mad, and tears sparkle in his eyes.

I want to help, but it’s clear that if I argue further with Gabriel, I will make things worse. I shouldn’t even have contradicted him! That’s absolutely forbidden in therapy 101. Never directly contradict the parents like that, so bluntly, even if they’re wrong. You need to have a professional approach at all times. Honest, but gentle. Never lie, but don’t be an asshole. Feeling are delicate.

I look Michael in the eye and say, “I hope we meet again.” I mean it, and I hope he can tell. I add, “You’re a cool boy.”

“I am?” The words come out of him with a force that surprises me. It’s like they’re pulled from him, an animal ripping another one apart. His face teeters on the edge of disaster.

“You’re more than cool. You’re smart and funny and brave. I like you.” I might never see this kid again, and if my words can help him climb one centimeter out of his own personal hell, then I’m going to pour them like water onto a blaze.

“Brave and smart because I fight cancer like a little champ?” His voice is sarcastic but I hear hope, too, a tiny reedy thread of it.

“Brave because you say what you’re thinking, and you’re honest enough to put your feelings out there. And clever because you mentally crashed a plane of Barbies into kibble. If I were a modern artist? I’d paint that and sell it and be the next Andy Warhol. Now that’s good thinking.”

Michael’s face is transformed as he laughs. He makes an airplane noise, then flattens his hand and zooms it down like it’s crashing. He laughs harder than my joke is funny, and I think maybe he’s laughing with relief and joy that someone gets him. And when he laughs, I see his father in his face. Something about Michael’s cheeks and eyes is handsome despite the swelling, and I see the man he’ll be. If he lives to get there.

That thought chills me and I feel like vomiting. It’s the part of my job that freezes off little bits of my soul, turning them black and gangrenous so I have to excise them. I just hope that I can help enough kids before my heart is shaved down to nothing.

“Maybe you can paint it yourself,” I offer. “Or work it into that school essay. Sometimes I think it’s fun to throw people off by doing exactly what they need, but adding in my own little twist. It’s like putting my own needle in the haystack and watching to see who finds it. So what’s your essay supposed to be about?” I look at Gabriel to see if he wants to stop this line of conversation, but he shrugs, gives me a “go ahead” gesture, so I look back at Michael, raise an eyebrow.

Michael stops laughing. “I’m supposed to write a story about what I’ll be doing in ten years. The teacher told me to redo it because my first try I drew a picture of a graveyard and my name on the stone.” He blinks. “It was just a joke! But she said it was morbid and that my sense of humor is inappropriate. Also, Lindsay is not, shall I say, gifted in the way of expository excellence. Just saying.” He crosses his arms.

I nod. “Okay. What if you wrote about, say, ten possibilities? Make a bunch of them funny ones. Like, you’re a famous artists who draws pictures of planes full of Barbie dolls. Maybe you’re a scientist who brings dinosaurs back to life. But include a few that you’d actually do if you could. If you put them both in, that could be fun. And you could totally sneak your humor in there without getting in trouble.”

“I love that idea. I’m going to do it. I’ll get started right now. This is going to be the best essay ever.” He smirks at Gabriel, trots back into the room and starts rummaging in a Transformers backpack. I sense real excitement in his tone, even though I assume that the predominant part of his exuberance is geared toward accepting any ideas that aren’t his father’s.

I shoot a look at Gabriel, and his expression is unreadable, but his hands—they’re clenched into fists, and the knuckles are white. He looks away and speaks. “You’re hired. On a temporary basis. When we meet next week, it will be to discuss time frame and details. Call me tomorrow morning, please?”

I nod, and he adds, “I have an information dossier prepared with Michael’s medical history and all the pertinent information, as well as a list of expectations I have from… therapy.” His voice is just the slightest bit contemptuous, but I think I hear hope as well.

“Okay. That sounds great.” I give him a genuine smile, and my heart leaps with joy that I get to keep working with Michael. I can’t say why, but this kid is already wound into my heart, melted into me in a way that feels good.  And the thought of meeting with Gabriel somehow makes a different kind of spark in my body, one that is more of a lazy warmth and a tingling spatter of excitement.

The echo of heels has me glancing back down the hallway. A statuesque woman walks toward us with intent, her movements sinuous and loose, on a runway. She’s the sylph from earlier, the one decorating his arm like a Tiffany masterpiece dripping with diamonds. Her arms have that lanky length, and shoulders and elbows, and her hips pop and sway with each step. Her dress is poured onto her, silver honey, a wrapper that begs to be undone, because it hits at the sweet spot of thigh and pulls your eye up and along her curves. Her hair is long and flowing, a golden brown mane, and her face is pure Botticelli.

She goes right up to Gabriel and folds into his arms. Her kiss is personal, and I step back, an interloper. “Gabe, they’re about to do the Community Donors presentation in ten minutes and I really want you to be there to hear me accept my award.” She smiles into his face.

He touches her bare arm. “Of course. I just need to finish up a few things here.” His voice goes from warm to business, and I’m irritated on Michael’s behalf that his father uses such a cool tone to discuss him and his issues.

She looks at me but doesn’t ask for an introduction; instead, she stands next to Gabriel and entwines their fingers. “I booked our usual resort for next weekend,” she murmurs into his ear, and only then does she put her glance on me. “I’m Arielle,” she announces, extending her hand like a favor. Her smile is warm, but I’m not 100% sure that it goes all the way to her eyes. It sort of looks like it does. Maybe it does?

Nope. It does not. She just gave me a tiny smirk as she looked me up and down, and that’s all I need to know about her. “I’m Shai.” I don’t bother with “nice to meet you,” because—honestly—it isn’t.

“Shai is going to work with Michael on a temporary basis,” Gabriel says. “She’s a therapist with Frazier.” He gives me a smile. Arielle’s eyes follow, and her hand tightens on his forearm. Her nails are perfect.

“Oh! How wonderful!” Her voice sounds so genuine. “You’re such a thoughtful father, always getting him the things he needs. Like this massive playdate opportunity, with kids of the donors. I admire that about you.” She smiles up at him and touches his cheek. “I’m so glad we’ll get the chance to have a private getaway. You definitely need to relax after all the hard work you put in at home. Recharge.”

He doesn’t respond to that, but checks his watch. “Lindsay, can you please take Shai to get the info packet? Arielle, let’s head back now. I need to catch Masterson before your award.” He turns to me. “Thank you, Shai. I appreciate your willingness to work with my son.”

He takes my hand again and nods, and even though Arielle is draped along him, a Prada anaconda, my heart hammers a tune out in my chest, a few sudden notes of surprise and desire, at the touch. I keep my expression even as I smile and walk away.

At the top of the staircase I look back at him, and flush—he’s watching me. I duck my head, then straighten up. I give him a small wave with the fingers of my right hand, and smile. Then I do the airplane crashing motion that Michael did.

Arielle is talking into his ear, but he’s still looking at me. Before I turn, I see him tilt his head toward me and give me a quick one-wave motion with his hand. And I think I see the briefest hint of a smile.

 

I hope you enjoyed the excerpt.  This is my favorite book so far and I’m excited to share it with you.  It’s going to be on Amazon and KU, and the links are here. The pre-order price (which will last through the first few days of sale) is $0.99 in the US and £0.99 in the UK, so grab it now before it goes back to $3.99.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

My gorgeous cover was created by Sarah Hansen from Okay Creations, whose work is so far beyond “okay” that it reaches the realm of fantastic.  I’m in awe!

Thanks and happy reading. XOXO, Alexis

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Rough Around the Soul

Maria Monroe’s got a sexy TABOO romance novel coming out on April 18. Continue reading for all the details as well as a sexy sample!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gritty. Sexy. Taboo.

Melanie Cannon is troubled, desperate, and only eighteen. Taking the fall for a friend, she’s forced into a drug education class, which she expects to be boring as hell. Until Detective Jake Beck walks in as her instructor.

Jake knows it’s a mistake to get involved with a high school senior.

But their passion is undeniable.
Their bond is the kind that lasts forever.
Their connection is more than just lust.

Jake’s willing to risk it all—even when harsh betrayal and ugly secrets threaten everything.

Sample: 

She sits up straight and grins, looking straight into my eyes. “Can I have another beer?”

Gazing right at each other sends a spark straight to my groin. “I shouldn’t have let you drink the first one.”

She darts out an arm and grabs my bottle, swigging, and setting it back down with a now what? look in her eyes. This is definitely not a game I should play. But it’s hard to resist the challenge I see when I look at her, red lips holding back a grin as she stares hard, unblinking.

I take a deep breath, hoping to keep my wits, and shake my head. “Get your stuff. I’m taking you home.”

With a scowl, she gets up and heads to the bathroom. A few seconds later she goes into the living room, still dressed in my sweats, her clothes in hand.

I grab a plastic grocery bag from the cabinet and bring it to her. “You can put your clothes in here. Keep the sweats.”

“I couldn’t.” Her voice is lower than usual. Throaty. She’s up to something as she holds my gaze with those hazel eyes, grinning at me.

“It’s not a problem.”

“I should really return them now.” She grasps the bottom hem of the sweatshirt and lifts it up, slowly. Slow enough, in fact, for me to stop her, but I’m frozen.

I can’t take my eyes off the silky expanse of stomach she reveals, slim and tight. I suck in a breath when I see she’s not wearing a bra. In one final movement she pulls the shirt up and over her head, tossing it at me.

“Think fast,” she says.

I barely catch it, and still I’m too stunned to move as she stands before me in only my baggy sweatpants. I’ve seen her naked before, but it’s as exciting now as the first time to see her topless, her perfect round breasts tipped with hard, pink nipples. I close my eyes briefly, imagining my tongue on them. Remembering my tongue on them.

“Melanie.” There’s warning in my voice, but desire too. I can’t hide it. I clutch the sweatshirt as I watch, transfixed, while Melanie’s hands move to the waistband of the pants.

Her hair is almost dry now, and it falls across her chest, partially obscuring her tits. How I want to push it aside, stroke her neck, take her nipple between my fingers.

I need to stop her. Stop this. But I’m unable to move as she slowly—achingly slowly—pushes the sweatpants down. And, fuck me, she’s not wearing panties. Her eyes meet mine, unblinking, as she pushes them all the way to floor and steps out of them.

She bends and picks them up, then makes her way to where I stand, hard as fuck, watching her.

“Here.” She holds them out to me.

“You need to get dressed,” I murmur.

But her breasts are pressed up against my chest, and through my jeans I swear I can feel the warmth from between her legs. So when she whispers, “Just one kiss,” I cave and drop the clothes I’m holding.

I want to devour her. I want to taste every single inch of her. She’s so beautiful and clean and ready. Her lips are smoother than I remember, her tongue more demanding, and when I clutch her naked ass, drawing her closer to me, I know I’m fucking lost.

Rough Around the Soul will be available on Amazon on April 18!

Add it to your TBR list on Goodreads

 

 

New! Menage Spanking Romance from Maria Monroe

Maria Monroe has a hot new spanking romance published by Stormy Night Publications! Check out the sexy cover and blurb right here:

keptOver the years since a series of catastrophic natural disasters left most of the planet in ruins, those who survived have returned to a much more primitive way of life. In this harsh world, men fight to protect what remains of humanity while women care for their homes, obey their husbands, and bear children to rebuild civilization.

After twenty-year-old Lara loses her mother and brother in an attack by a hostile tribe, she disguises herself as a solder and goes off to fight in the hopes of avenging her family, but when her deception is discovered she finds herself in deep trouble. To avoid banishment, she must spend three months as the prisoner of the village leaders, Commander Rex and Commander Tye, during which time she will be required to submit to them in any way they demand.

Her captors plan to make sure that Lana is taught a lesson she will never forget, and soon she is blushing with shame as her bottom is thoroughly punished, both inside and out. The humiliating chastisement is only the beginning, however, and when the two handsome, dominant warriors show her all the ways in which a man can enjoy a woman she is left begging for more. But when she learns of a dire threat to the village, can she convince Rex and Tye to heed her warnings or will she be forced to take matters into her own hands?

Publisher’s Note: Kept by the Commanders includes spankings, sexual scenes including threesomes, and elements of BDSM. If such material offends you, please don’t buy this book.

Buy Kept by the Commanders now!

 

The Gunslinger’s Woman by Kelly Dawson *New Release!*

Greetings! It’s Alexis Alvarez here, and my friend Kelly Dawson is visiting with some excerpts from her smokin’ hot new spanky romance, The Gunslinger’s Woman.  Please keep reading for a sexy excerpt or two…

 kelly-book

A hardened gunslinger, a sassy woman. Is his quick draw enough to keep her safe?

Amazon Buy Link: https://goo.gl/ercXLQ

Blurb:

The last thing nineteen-year-old Jeannie Cooper wants is to be a prim and proper lady, so when her older brothers try to send her off to finishing school she runs away from the family ranch to keep them from putting her on the train to Boston. She plans to hide out on the prairie and return in a few days, but things go horribly wrong when she stumbles upon the infamous Mullins gang.

Danny Coulter is a hardened gunslinger with more than enough enemies already, but when he sees a beautiful young woman held captive by outlaws his conscience forces him into action. Rescuing Jeannie turns out to be only the beginning of his troubles, however. Her sass and defiance quickly test the limits of his patience as he endeavors to get her home safely, and before long he is left with little choice but to take her over his knee for a sound spanking.

Though Danny’s firm-handed discipline leaves her bottom sore and her cheeks blushing, Jeannie is nonetheless excited when her brothers offer him a job at the ranch. Soon he is courting her in earnest, and after a local busybody witnesses him giving Jeannie the first bare-bottom spanking of her life, Danny proposes marriage to avoid a scandal. But with the Mullins gang out for revenge, will his quick draw be enough to protect his woman?

Publisher’s Note: The Gunslinger’s Woman includes sexual scenes and spankings. If such material offends you, please don’t buy this book.

Excerpt 1:

She reached for his gun, to remove it from the holster, so she could wipe it clean, then she froze as she remembered exactly what Danny was. He was a gunfighter. A killer. Entirely the wrong type of man to be lusting after. Danny didn’t wear a gun just for protection, as she and her brothers sometimes did; his guns were a part of him. They defined him. Without his guns, Danny Coulter, the fastest gun in the west, would be nothing.

            “Leave it.” His command was hoarse, there was pain in his voice, but there was no denying the dominant manner in which it was said. “You bandage me up, I’ll clean my gun. Nobody touches my guns.”

            “It won’t take long to clean it.”

            “I said leave it.” His fingers took hold of her chin then, and he tilted her face up to look at him. “You know what will happen if you disobey me.” His threat rumbled in her ear, sending waves of electricity through her. Yes, she knew exactly what would happen. Her buttocks clenched again, involuntarily, at the thought, and she held her breath. The air was too thick to breathe again. She could feel her face flushing as the waves of electricity surging through her reached that aching juncture between her thighs.

            “You’re hurt,” she pointed out.

            He smiled in spite of the pain, his eyes crinkling up at the corners as he looked down at her. “Not too hurt to spank a naughty girl who disobeys.” As if to prove his point, he drew back his hand and smacked her bottom, reigniting the burn       Her eyes widened in shock as she reached back to rub out the sting. Hurt or not, his hard hand was still strong. She felt a spasm right in her very core at his touch. His dominance turned her insides to mush.

            The hand that had smacked her returned to her chin and he tilted her face sideways slightly so he could whisper huskily in her ear. “So leave my guns alone.”

            “Yes sir,” she breathed.

Excerpt 2:

She gasped as Danny’s huge, hard hand connected with her bottom, the force of the swat reverberating through her. His hand landed again and she gritted her teeth against the pain, determined not to cry out, lest the townsfolk hear her.

            “You need to be taught a lesson in manners, and in controlling your temper,” Danny scolded, punctuating his words with another fiery swat.

            Jeannie hissed at the fire that tore through her backside, unable to believe that someone who had been half dead just two days ago was smacking her so thoroughly now. She straightened and stood up as he removed his hand from between her shoulder blades, relieved that it was over so soon.

            “No, stay there, this isn’t finished. Take down your pants – you’re going to get this spanking on the bare.”

            “No!” Jeannie gasped, horrified. “You can’t!”

            “I’m too sore to spank you hard enough to have much of an impact,” Danny said. “So it’s either your bare behind, or I use my belt. What’s it to be?”

            What a choice. Jeannie groaned. “It’s having an impact, believe me!” she cried. “It’s hurting a lot!”

            Danny looked at her sternly, his dark gaze smouldering as he fixed his eyes on hers, sending electricity rippling down her spine. His stern stare sent heat to her very core. “What’s it to be?” he asked softly, dangerously. “Will you take down your pants or am I taking off my belt?”

            The sting Danny’s hand was inflicting through her pants was bad enough, no way did she want to feel it on her bare skin. But his belt? She shuddered at the thought of the leather slapping against her bottom. Even through her heavy canvas pants, she knew it would hurt. The sting in her bottom contradicted his claim that he couldn’t spank her very hard at the moment due to his injury – the thought of his belt against her tender bottom truly scared her.

            “I’ll pull my pants down,” she mumbled, her face flushing red with embarrassment. She looked at the ground, hoping Danny wouldn’t see the shame flooding through her.

            “Go on then,” he urged her.

            Her fingers were shaking as she fumbled with the buttons on her pants, undoing them slowly then pushing them down to her knees. She tugged her short lace drawers down too – the only concession she made to femininity. She shivered as the cool air rippled across her bare skin, kissing her with a chilly breeze. She kept her back to Danny, trying to keep her most intimate places hidden from his view. She was mortified. But despite her shame, she could feel a slickness between her legs that wasn’t there before, and a tingling ache that left her wanting.

            “Put your hands back on the wagon and bend over, just as you were before.”

            She shook her head. I can’t do this. Panic rose up within her. Maybe she couldn’t escape from her punishment, but neither could she participate in it. If Danny wanted her bent over, he’d have to put her in that position.

            Danny’s hand went to his waist. “Do I need to take off my belt?” He looked at her sternly, one eyebrow raised, his dark eyes flashing with impatience.

            Inhaling sharply, she shook her head furiously and forced herself to obey. She placed first one hand on the side of the wagon and then the other, fighting to calm her racing heart.

            “Good, now bend over.”

            Danny’s voice was smooth, a low rumble that sent sparks through her. His hand on the back of her neck, pushing her down, gave her the strength she needed to position herself as he demanded, and she took comfort in the presence of his restraining hand.

            The first smack of his hard, rough hand against her bare skin took her breath away. It stung so much more without the protection of her pants. Never had she been spanked on her bare bottom before, and the indignity of it was almost as intolerable as the pain. A second slap followed quickly after the first, and the third one made her cry out.

            “Unless you want the townsfolk to witness your spanking, I suggest you keep quiet,” Danny admonished quietly. “You earned this spanking, now you can stand there and take it.”

Author Bio:

Kelly Dawson loves anything to do with horses, rodeos and cowboys, and loves to get lost in a good book – preferably one containing spanking!

A life-long closet-spanko, Kelly started writing spanking stories on every spare scrap of paper in the house as a child. So when she discovered the internet and spanking romance along with it, she was most excited. But it took her a good decade of devouring these stories before she got up the courage to submit her own. And now, here she is, 7 books later, with a plethora of ideas still to write!

She lives literally at the bottom of the world in the South Island of New Zealand, with her husband, four kids, a dog and a cat.

Author Links:

My blog: http://www.kellydawsonauthor.blogspot.co.nz/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008980697756

Google+: https://www.google.com/+KellyDawsonauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KELLYDAWSONauth

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/kellydawsonau/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13257528.Kelly_Dawson

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/kellydawson

Newsletter sign-up: http://eepurl.com/bRukkv

 Thanks for Reading! XOXO, Alexis

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