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Tag: Chapter Reveal

Exes With Benefits by Nicole Williams – Chapter Reveal

by Nicole Williams

 

 

Coming September 18th

 

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He wants a second chance. I want a divorce. To get what I want, I’ll have to give him what he does.


From New York Times & USA Today bestselling author, Nicole Williams, comes a new standalone romance in the same vein as Roommates with Benefits.

 

 

PROLOGUE


Goodbye.
It was the one relationship guarantee we could all expect. Whether it was death or circumstance, tragedy or choice, it was the only promise we were assured. Goodbye. It had been coming since the day we met, and now it was here. Sooner than I’d hoped. Even sooner than the sensible segment of me had predicted.
Still, it was later than maybe I should have expected out of a relationship with Canaan Ford.
I’d been waiting all night for his truck to rumble up the driveway when it finally did just past two a.m.. Before his footsteps echoed up the stairs, I shouldered the couple of bags I’d packed and waited in the shadows of the hallway. My paintbrushes were sticking out of one of my oversized totes, tickling the underside of my arm. I’d packed everything that seemed important at the time, but now, I wasn’t sure that what I’d stuffed in my bags mattered at all.
It was late, dark, and Canaan would be coming home exhausted, hurting, and some degree of drunk. He wouldn’t see me, and I could just slip away without him knowing.
Maybe I should have left before he made it back, but whenever I tried, my feet froze to the floor before I could make it to the door. I needed to wait for him to get home first—to make sure he was okay before I left him. That might have been a messed up model of morality, but most of Canaan’s and my relationship was messed up, from the beginning to now, the ending.
He struggled with the key in the lock before shoving the door open and clomping straight toward the couch. He’d stopped crawling into bed beside me after a night of fighting and drinking months ago, like he thought it would spare me the pain of seeing him bloodied and plastered. It never had. The black eyes, the swollen lips, the bruised ribs; they were that much worse in the light of morning.
Canaan had barely crashed onto the sofa before his breathing evened out. Still, I waited another minute in the hallway before moving into the living room.
Don’t look, Maggie. Don’t let yourself look at him.
I looked. Of course I looked. I never listened to what was best for me—if I had, my life would have wound up so much differently.
He was already passed out, sprawled across the couch we’d bought at a yard sale the summer before . . .
Before all of this.
One arm and one leg were hanging off the end, his face tipped far enough toward me I could gauge the type of fight he’d been in tonight. A good one by Canaan’s definition—the best kind. The type where his opponent got in as many hits as he did. The type of fight that made him almost question if it would be the first one he’d lose. Canaan loved the challenge, the fight. He thrived off of chaos, seeming to wilt when life was simple. I used to admire that about him, and maybe I still did. It just wasn’t the life for me. I couldn’t live life like it was a battle—not anymore.
He was passed out hard, but I still crept slowly toward the front door, my heart thundering as the boards creaked below me. Even though I was moving toward the door, my eyes stayed on him.
Look away.
I couldn’t. Canaan was the best part of my life. And the worst. The best memories. And the worst. He was the high and the low and I was so damn tired of the sick cycle I thought would kill me one day.
As my hand cupped around the cool doorknob, my eyes burned. This was it. As resolved as I’d felt in the weeks leading up to this, I felt like I was being torn in half by walking away. I knew if I stayed, this relationship would be the end of me. But at the moment, leaving felt like the same.
Lying on that couch, he looked so vulnerable. Almost like he needed someone to protect him. From the world. From his demons. From himself. I’d tried. God, I’d been trying for what felt like forever, but the only thing I had to show for my efforts was scars and pain.
One of his eyes was swollen shut, his bottom lip three times its normal size, and he’d split the same eyebrow open again. It was going to need stiches. Six, I guessed. I’d gotten really good as estimating the number of stiches needed to seal a wound.
A sob rose from my chest, but I managed to swallow it back down. He was the only boy I’d ever loved—the only one I’d ever come close to loving. In some ways, he was perfect for me. But in more ways, especially lately, he was entirely wrong for me.
That was why I needed to leave. We might have been good together, but we weren’t good for each other. I knew that now.
I opened the door slowly, so it wouldn’t make a sound, then I let myself take one last look at the life I was leaving behind before I forced myself to walk away.
Now that I wasn’t looking at him, moving was easier. Each step down from our little apartment above the garage came quicker, so by the time I reached the ground, I was jogging.
Canaan’s truck was parked right beside my old car. Ancient was maybe a better description of how “mature” my car was. It was almost like he’d known I was going to leave tonight, because he’d parked his truck so close I could barely crack my door open half a foot. Getting my bags tossed into the backseat and managing to wiggle in through the door was a tight fit, but I made it work.
The moment I was inside, I jammed the key in the ignition and turned it over. I didn’t pause. I didn’t flinch. The hardest part was behind me, and now I needed to keep moving.
Easing my car around the truck, I noticed the one light burning inside the big house in my rearview mirror. Grandma knew what was happening tonight and was keeping her light on for me as her unique way of expressing that no matter what, she was here for me. She’d keep the light on—even when it felt like there was nothing but darkness around me.
My throat constricted as I kept backing down the long driveway. I’d tried saving him, but it had cost me almost everything. I was taking what I had left and saving myself.
As I rolled past Grandma’s front porch, my gaze shifted from the rearview mirror to that little garage apartment I’d lived the last eleven months in. The door was open, light was streaming from inside, and a dark, towering shadow loomed in the doorway.
My foot instinctively moved toward the brake. Canaan was too far away for me to determine the look on his face, but I could imagine it. It came easy since I’d known him as long as I had. Knowing his face was like second nature.
He stayed unmoving in that doorway for a moment, my car doing the same. It wasn’t until he started moving down the stairs that my foot flew back to the gas. If he got to me before I made it out of this driveway, I wouldn’t leave. I knew it. Walking away from someone I loved was hard enough, but Canaan wasn’t just someone I loved—he was someone I’d shared everything with. He’d walked with me through the hardest part of my life, and I’d walked with him through his. We’d been each other’s beacon, shelter, and compass through all of life’s shit . . .
So how had we gotten here? To this hopeless, dead end of a place?
He was charging down the stairs now, taking them two at a time. How was he able to move that nimbly when he’d just been comatose on the couch?
“Maggie!”
The windows were rolled up, but his shout broke through the glass, sounding so close it was almost like he was pressed against me, whispering it into my ear.
He sprinted the moment his feet touched the ground, his long arms pumping hard at his sides.
“Canaan, don’t,” I whispered inside the car, my lower lip trembling as I focused on the driveway behind me. “Please don’t.”
I didn’t miss the shadow that had appeared in that lit window. Grandma was watching me leave, witnessing Canaan trying to convince me to stay. Before, his attempts had been successful, but not this time. I couldn’t stay for him one more time—I had to leave for me.
“Maggie! Please!”
Canaan’s shouts were so loud, they were going to wake up the neighbors a few acres over. Each word emanated like a blast inside the car.
“Let me go,” I whispered as I swung the car onto the street.
Right before I could punch it into drive and hit the gas, Canaan swooped in front of the car. His chest was moving hard from the exertion, his snug white tee stained with fresh and dried blood. His face was so messed up it was practically unrecognizable, but I couldn’t help seeing the young boy with a clip-on tie walk up to me when I was frozen on a porch step, appraising me with those wild gold eyes before holding out a tiny box. How had that boy, who’d saved me back then, become the ruin of me now?
When I revved the engine, he didn’t move. Instead, he slid closer so his legs were pushing against the bumper. He raised his arms like he was surrendering, his unswollen eye landing on me. “I’m not letting you leave. Not without a fight.”
A breath rolled past my lips—a fight. Everything was a fight with him. He couldn’t land enough hits or take enough. His guilt wouldn’t let him.
Cranking down the window, I made myself glare at him. It was harder to achieve than it should have been. “I’m not something you win or lose in a fight.”
His jaw moved as he pressed his hands into the hood of the car. “You fight for what’s important. That’s the way life is. And you are worth every fight I have in me.”
“You’re too busy fighting everyone else—including yourself—to fight for me.” My sight blurred as I stared at him. So little of the person I’d fallen in love with remained. So little of who he’d fallen in love with remained in me as well. “I can’t wait around, watching you kill yourself one fight and drink at a time.”
He wiped at his split-open brow, leaving a streak of blood on his forearm. “I can change.”
My fingers tightened around the steering wheel. How many times had I heard those words come from his lips? Those same lips that claimed ownership of my first kiss?
“Yeah, you can.” I steeled myself against him a little more. “That’s not your problem. Your problem is that you won’t change.”
“This time I will.” His head whipped side to side. “It’s taken this, you trying to leave me, to slap some sense into me.”
I’d tried leaving so many times. This was just the furthest I’d ever made it. “I’m not trying to leave you. I am leaving you.” I made myself look at him. I made myself appear strong when I felt so very opposite. “This is it.”
He slowly came around the side of the car toward me. I rolled up the window halfway, aiming my eyes at the road in front of me.
“One more chance.” Even from a few feet back, I could smell the alcohol on his breath. I could smell the sweat and blood on him mixed with it, the trace of perfume that didn’t belong to me.
“You’ve had a thousand one more chances.” I studied him from the corners of my eyes, knowing better than to let them lock on his when he was this close. “This was your last one.”
“Maggie . . .” His hands formed around the lip of the window. His knuckles were split open and swollen, dried blood covering them. Still, I wasn’t sure I’d ever craved having them reach for me more. I wasn’t sure I’d ever needed him to pull me to his broken body and soul more than I did right then.
In that moment, I might have needed him more than I needed air, but I couldn’t give in. Kicking the habit was the only way to cure myself.
“Let me go, Canaan.” My legs were trembling as my foot moved back to the gas.
His head lowered so it was in line with mine. “You’re my wife.”
My left hand curled farther around the steering wheel, until I couldn’t see the gold band circling my finger. “No. I was your wife.”
His head dropped for half a second, his eyes flashing with defeat right before. “I love you.”
My chest ached. The man was the boy again, and I wanted to save him the way he’d saved me. But I couldn’t. The only person who could save Canaan Ford was Canaan Ford.
“I promised to love you forever, and I will.” My foot touched the accelerator. “But I can’t spend forever with you.”
His hands braced around the window harder when I rolled forward. “I made a promise. To you, and to myself. A promise to love you forever. To look after you as long.”
When I found my mind drifting to that overcast afternoon eleven months ago, my heart wringing when I remembered the way he’d stared at me as we repeated those phrases in the courthouse, I shook my head. Good memories weren’t enough. Hope wasn’t enough. Empty promises weren’t even close to enough.
“We exchanged vows.” My eyes focused on the road in front of me, letting go of the dead end beside me. “There’s a difference between saying them and meaning them.”
When my foot pushed down on the gas, Canaan moved with the car. “I’m not letting you go. I’m not giving up.” The car moved faster, his feet pounding the asphalt as he struggled to keep up.
“I know. But I’m giving in.” Breaking my own rule, I let my eyes meet his before punching the gas pedal as far down as it would go. “Goodbye.”
That was enough. Hearing that word shocked him just enough to still him. For one second. I didn’t ease up on the gas, not even when I heard his fists pounding the trunk as he struggled to keep up.
“I can change!” His footsteps were thundering after the car. “I will change.”
With him behind me, I let the tears I’d been fighting fall. Everything I’d ever known—my whole life—was getting smaller and smaller behind me. With every tick of the odometer.
“MAGGIE!!!” His voice pierced the air one last time before I was too far away to hear whatever came next.
It was morning by the time I stopped seeing his reflection in the rearview mirror, still chasing me into my new life.

 

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Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.

 

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Chapter Reveal: So Good by Nicola Rendell

by Nicola Rendell

 

 

 

Coming August 7th

 

 

 

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On the roof of a house outside Truelove, Maine, master carpenter Max Doyle looks down through a skylight and sees the most beautiful woman he’s ever laid eyes on. She’s naked, she’s gorgeous, and everything about her is perfect, down to the ball-busting tattoo of a rose that wraps around her hip. But it isn’t just any woman making his knees buckle. It’s his best friend, Rosie Madden. And as he stands there, mesmerized and precariously close to toppling off the roof, he knows he’ll never, ever be able to look at her the same way again.

Rosie can’t help but notice that Max is suddenly acting very strange—lots of long stares, totally tongue-tied, and not at all like the slightly cocky hunk she’s proud to call her best friend. She can’t figure it out, until later that night when Max rescues her from the world’s worst date, challenges her to a game of pool, and shows her just exactly what she’s got him thinking about. Repeatedly.

But life is complicated. Rosie’s cat, Julia Caesar, wants to eat Max’s dog Cupcake for an afternoon snack. A dream job threatens to pull them apart. And another glance through the skylight changes everything, one more time. Yet try as they might, they can’t go back to being just friends, because falling in love with the one you’ve always adored?

It feels so good.

 


1
Max

I wasn’t planning to see her naked—I swear to God, I wasn’t. The day was a scorcher, one of those godforsaken New England summer days that makes a guy wonder how he ever said fuck you to winter. I stood on the roof her house, three stories above the Maine woods, with a far-off view of the ocean. It was pretty, yeah, like the kind of shit real estate companies put on complimentary calendars. But in that heat, it was like standing on top of a goddamned toaster, turned all the way to burnt. I could feel that shit in my socks, straight through my work boots. At my feet was a stack of shake shingles, old school, to replace the ones that were missing. Her house had a few slow leaks, and one over her bathroom that made the ceiling look like a huge Rorschach test. She said it definitely looked like a rose in bloom, I said it definitely looked like Batman. But I told her hidden meanings wouldn’t make shit for difference when the ceiling collapsed into the tub, so there I was. Fucking miserable work, but I was glad to do it. Glad to do anything for her—anything she needed at all.
In the forest on every side around the cottage, the cicadas screeched. It sounded like a needle squeaking off a record player. I knelt down by the stack of shingles, using my utility knife to score a line through one to fit a nearby gap. I snapped it with my hands and tossed the scrap end off the edge of the roof. A trickle of sweat ran down my forehead, and I wiped my face with my forearm. One droplet got away, sparkling in the sun. It caught my eye, and I watched it fall, as it landed on the skylight window with a splat.
And that was when it happened. Boom.
There she was, right under me. She couldn’t have been more than six feet away, but she felt even closer. I had a direct line of sight down into her gorgeous, soft cleavage, bright and pure in the sunshine. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was the surprise of seeing her, but at first I didn’t really process that it was Rosie at all. My dude brain said, I want that woman.
Then my regular brain said, Don’t be an asshole, man. It’s Rosie. Have some respect.
Respect I definitely had, but of course I’d thought about seeing her naked before. She was so fucking beautiful that any man would have thought about it. Sometimes, like right then looking down into her dress, I couldn’t fucking help it. Sometimes we’d be out doing something ordinary, like eating dinner, or I’d be changing her oil, or she’d be teaching me to do shit I should have learned at some point in the last 34 years, like iron a dress shirt without screwing up the collar, and I’d catch myself watching her cleavage rise and fall as she breathed, or thinking how nice her legs were, and I’d think, Holy hell.
Now she was directly underneath the skylight. The angle of the sun cast my shadow down the roofline, away from the skylight, so I didn’t give myself away. Like that, I watched her. I gave in to my dude brain and just took her in. Her light brown hair glinted, and a beam of light caught the curve of her shoulder.
That was when the goddamned striptease started, beginning with the left strap of her sundress.
Her movements were graceful, sexy, sassy—the sway of her hips, the shake of her shoulders. I realized I might be in real fucking trouble, because I loved that sexy sass. It wasn’t normal Rosie-cute. It was naughty, like nothing I’d ever seen her do before. I liked it so much, I couldn’t look away. She shimmied out of her sundress, and it fell to the floor in a pool at her feet. No big deal, I tried to tell myself. I’d seen her in her bikini a thousand times. This was no different from that.
Except it was, because then she reached around to undo her bra. Before I could tell myself Don’t look, dude. It’s Rosie, don’t look, it was too fucking late. The straps slid down off her shoulders, and for one perfect second got caught on her nipples, swinging in the air before falling to the floor.
Holy…
I pressed my clenched fist to my mouth and groaned into my hand. All my blood was leaving my head. The roofline was getting wobbly.
It wasn’t like I didn’t know her curves; we’d spent whole summers on the beach—I knew her shape and her softness, I knew her lines and her freckles. Every curve of Rosie Madden was sacred in my book. Fucking douchebags on the beach giving her eyes had to answer to me and my eyes, right behind her. She did that to me—I was one punch away from defending her honor, always. But this? This was different. Seeing your best friend in a bikini at a clam bake is one thing. Protecting your best friend from assholes with wandering eyes is part of the guy-girl best friend creed. But seeing your best friend, absolutely naked in her bedroom, without knowing she can see you? That was a different deal.
…Shit.
Part of me knew I should keep my eyes off of her. She thought she was in private, I had no business spying. Anyway, I didn’t want to be that guy. I hated that guy. But the other part of me, fuck. The other part of me was nothing but want.
Then she bent at the hips, and time slowed down, like some kind of stop-motion Jackie Chan kung fu sequence. All the cicadas went silent, at least in my head they did. The wind stopped blowing through the trees. It was just her, and her perfection, in the sunshine underneath me. I felt like I was on one of those glass-bottomed boats, looking at a world I never knew existed.
She tossed her bra aside, and it landed on her neatly made bed. She shimmied out of her panties, shaking her ass as she did. I growled into my fist, and that’s when I went down into a crouch.
Because as she shimmied I saw it in a V above her ass. My kryptonite. A skimpy thong.
All these years, all these decades, I’d had her pegged for cute cotton panties—pastel polka dots, thin stripes, shit that was sweet and sensible. But I was so fucking wrong. Black. Strappy. Tiny. Not sensible at all. Now it was in a rolled-up ball at her ankles. Using her toes, she plucked her panties from the floor, and caught them on one finger.
Fucking A.
She was completely naked, not a thread on her. Every thought I’d ever had got sucked out of my brain, like dishwater down the sink drain. What was left was only one true thing, and it wasn’t about her ass, or her skin, or her breasts. It was the one thing I think I’d always known but never let myself feel. Until that moment.
She is the most beautiful woman in the world.
Part of the reason I thought that was, yeah, obviously, she was fucking stunning, every inch of her straight out of a dream. Not just my dream, either. Guys would slow down on Main Street to give her the elevator stare, and I’d quietly crack my knuckles and give them don’t-you-fucking-dare stares. But the other part, the part that wasn’t in my gut but that was in my heart, was that I fucking adored her. Adored her so hard it hurt.
She crouched down to pick up her dress, lifting the delicate straps with her small, sweet fingers. She pivoted, so I had a view of her other side of her body for the first time. There it was.
The tattoo.
I groaned again. I wasn’t prepared for this shit; three stories up, that body was dangerous. It was a rose tattoo, snaking around her hip, on the milk-white skin that was always under her bikini bottoms. The part of her I’d never seen. It was serious ink, real art, not some namby-pamby temporary tattoo or some amateur shit she might’ve gotten in an hour at a tattoo parlor on a dare on a cruise to Puerto Rico. It was complicated, detailed, and artful. Multiple visits to some tattoo artist, touching that creamy skin—goddamn.
It took every fucking ounce of strength I had, but I did manage to look away. I felt as disoriented as if I’d been sucker punched. Not cotton—lace. Not cute—hot. Not my friend—my fucking fantasy.
She was so important to me, such an integral part of my world, that I’d never let myself think of her as more than what she was. She was like running water, or electricity, or the sunshine itself. She was one of those things that was perfect exactly as it was, and one of those things only an idiot would want to change. I never looked at her and thought, I wish I could have more of her than I do already. That would be like thinking, I wish I could turn that cold glass of water into a swimming pool. Or, I wish electricity came through the air. Fuck that noise. Perfect things are perfect things, and Rosie Madden was a perfect goddamned thing, from the tips of her toes to the freckles on her nose. And that rose, holy fuck, that rose.
I was strong, but not that strong, and I let my eyes move down again. She’d disappeared from view, mostly, except for the edge of her ass. I watched her rifle through her closet, and a few dresses fluttered onto her bed. On her bedside table, I caught a glimpse of the picture she always kept there, of the two of us together. The memories flew back at me like a runaway train. The first time I’d ever seen her was the day my parents and I moved to Truelove, at the start of middle school. The first time I ever saw her, she was volunteering at the community gardens. She had a smudge of dirt on her cheek, and I thought she’d looked super badass. I’d helped her dig up carrots and had been too fucking tongue-tied to say a goddamned word.
That’s how I felt, all over again times a thousand.
I’d never made a move. She’d cried on my shoulder through a line of guys who were never good enough for her. Jocks and pricks and a brief and seriously unfortunate stint with a guy who was a drummer for a reggae band who I hated so much it made me grind my teeth. But I never said shit about it. She was perfect even when she made mistakes. Tips of her toes. Freckles on her nose.
Never mind that rose. Like Banksy took on a temple.
One more time, I glanced down. Now she was sitting on her bed, and I saw that dark V shadow between her thighs. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. I watched her put on a pair of red panties. Equally skimpy, equally not-sensible, equally ball-busting. They were only tragic because they hid the parts of her I’d never seen before.
Christ. All. Mighty.
As the world started to spin, I realized fixing the shingles could wait. I’d been working on old houses long enough to know that if you found yourself on a dangerously sloping roof and felt like you might be less than 100% on the ball, you needed to reconsider your game plan. I needed to get my shit together—that body had me totally fucking derailed. So I made my way down the roof, basically bouldering down backward. I focused on my grip, and my steps, like a climber coming down from Everest without enough oxygen. When I got to the gutter, I worked my way around the corner, standing on the eave, and hooked my leg over my ladder, making sure to put one foot after another and keep a tight grip on every rung.
When I stepped off the ladder, I grabbed a bottle of water that she’d left for me and filled up my palm and then splashed my face. My sweat stung my eyes through the droplets of water, and I rubbed away the tears. I heard the hinges on the screen door creak. “All done?” she asked.
I opened my eyes. They stung like hell, but I didn’t give a fuck. There she was, in a dress I’d seen before. Striped and sweet. But now I knew the secret. There were red panties under there. Red. Cherry red. My eyes fell on that part of her hip that I knew was inked.
“Max?”
I managed somehow to snap out of it. “Sorry. Getting there. Spotted something weird with the skylight.”
Rosie cocked her head. “Were you up there? Above my room?”
Awesome, dude. Smooth. “Just noticed it out of the corner of my eye.”
“I don’t like you being on the roof.” She pursed her lips. “Too steep. Promise you’ll get some ropes up there or something? Promise?” She reached out and put her hand to my arm, her fingers with their short pink nails pressing into my tanned skin. I had a quick but totally unavoidable image of her gripping my forearm in a very different situation. I want that. So fucking…
Oh, for fuck’s sake.
When I didn’t answer—I knew that if I opened my mouth the first words out would be You. Me. Right Now.—she looked up at the roof and squinted into the sun. She peered suspiciously up at me and shifted her nose, kind of like a bunny. Adorable. She wasn’t very tall, so whenever she looked at me she had to lift her chin, which used to be cute. But now looked…like everything I’d ever wanted. “Have you had too much sun?”
I was vaguely aware that she’d said some words, but I wasn’t hearing them because I realized that I couldn’t see her bra straps, so that had to mean she was she was wearing a strapless…
Knock. That. Shit. Off. “I’m good.”
“Mmm.” She nodded and furrowed her delicate eyebrows, which had never looked so pretty as they did at that moment. I didn’t even know eyebrows could be pretty. They’re eyebrows, for fuck’s sake. But suddenly I felt like for the last ten years, I’d been looking at her through a standard definition television, with a shitty cable connection. Now someone had handed me an HDMI cable, and she was in 1080 dots per inch. Christ.
“Lemme make you a sandwich. You’re acting strange.”
Rather than answer her, I dumped the remaining half a bottle of water over my head, like Andre Agassi used to do between break points at the French Open.
“Ham? Or turkey? I’ve got both. Or chicken salad!” She clapped her hands together, compressing her cleavage. “Do you want a pickle?”
She means an actual pickle, you fuckwit. “Surprise me,” I told her, and dragged my eyes off the curve of her cleavage. I grabbed the bottom of my T-shirt and pressed it to my eyes. I had to get out of there. I needed a cold shower, or a call from my tax guy, or an unexpectedly urgent trip to the DMV—anything to stop myself seeing her stark naked every goddamned time I looked at her. Anything to get my mind off that ink.
As I wiped my face, she cleared her throat, and I dropped my shirt. “What?”
She pressed her lips together and rocked back on her sandals. “Nothing!”
I followed her eyes and glanced down at my fly, but the stallion was still in the barn. “Come on,” I said, finding myself smiling right along with her. “What are you looking at?”
“Just…” She swallowed hard. “Looking good there, champ.” She glanced at my stomach, where I’d shown her my bare abs. She made a fist and gave me a mock punch, soft and sweet. “That P90X is working great for you.”
Here we go again with the fitness videos. For everything else she was—beautiful, smart, funny—she was also a fucking ball-buster sometimes. She’d worked up this whole narrative that I spent my nights with Tony Horton on my houseboat, getting cut and doing reps while I drank protein shakes with a straw straight from the blender. It was her only explanation for why I didn’t have a girlfriend. P90X it had to be, she’d said. Or maybe, she’d whispered like a co-conspirator, “Jazzercise.” Now, though, I had a better idea than ever about why I was so picky: not a single woman held a candle to her. I’d been fucking blind to it, but now the mist had burned right off. “I’ve never even seen the opening sequence. Never have. Never will.”
“They’re streaming now!”
“Christ.”
Rosie snorted and made a long wheeeeee. “Sure. Surrrrrrre,” she said, stifling her giggle. “One ham-and-turkey, coming right up.” She spun on her sandals and disappeared into the house. Hips swinging. Red panties invisible, but not to me.
Not anymore.

 

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Nicola Rendell writes dirty, funny, erotic romance. She likes a stiff drink and a well-frosted cake. She is at an unnamed Ivy and prefers to remain mostly anonymous for professional reasons. She has a PhD in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from schools that shall not be named here. She loves to cook, sew, and play the piano. She realizes that her hobbies might make her sound like an old lady and she’s totally okay with that. She lives with her husband and her dogs. She is from Taos, New Mexico.
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Chapter Reveal – Something So Perfect by Natasha Madison

by Natasha Madison
Genres: Sports Romance

 

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Coming July 31st

 

 

Matthew

Drafted first round pick when I was seventeen, playing first line at eighteen, branded NHL’s bad boy at nineteen. At twenty-three I was cut from the team and living back home with my parents. A knock on the door brought an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. All I had to do was prove I learned from my mistakes, so no way would I fall for a chick with a pouty mouth even if I wanted to spend all day devouring it.

Karrie

When my father gave me a job, I had no idea it would be to babysit some washed up NHL player. He wanted me to be his chaperone, his overpaid babysitter. I thought it was a joke. Then I met him, Matthew Grant. I wasn’t prepared for this particular bad boy. He’s not only hot but he’s arrogant and kinda sweet in a ‘you make me crazy’ kind of way.
Basically now that he’s finished screwing up his life, he’s decided to turn mine upside down.


She’s the first thing I’ve ever wanted more than hockey.

He’s the guy I know I should stay away from.

But what if this thing that started out so wrong turns into something so perfect?

 

 

   Matthew Cooper Stone is my stepfather, the Cooper Stone who’s the best person to ever skate. He holds every single record that’s out there because he’s just that fucking good.
   “What the fuck are you doing?”
   I didn’t even have a chance to say hello before Cooper’s voice filled the room. I groaned and turned over to see that he was on speakerphone. My finger must have touched it by accident. “Matthew, seriously, I’m one second from flying out there and yanking you off the fucking ice.”
    I was twenty-one and already being benched and scratched.
   I was no chump. I was drafted first over all. The day still played in my mind. “The Los Angeles Royals choose Matthew Grant.” The minute my name was said, I sat there in shock while my little sister was yelling and my mother, Parker, had tears running down her cheeks while her face lit up with happiness and pride. Cooper was the first to grab me and stand me up.
   “Go get that fucking jersey.” His voice was loud in my ear. My mother was next. “I’m so proud of you, Matthew, so, so proud.”
   I kissed her cheek and walked down the stairs toward the stage from where the general manager, the owner, and the coach all looked at me. When I walked on stage, I tried to hold my tears in.
   Taking the owner’s hand in mine, I shook it and thanked him. Putting that jersey on was surreal. Posing for pictures was a blur. I got so drunk that night I don’t remember much, except Cooper having to carry me inside while I pledged my love to my mother, my sister, and the trees around us.
   Usually, once you get drafted, you start off on their farm team, but not me. I was on the starting line. I was up to my ears in silicone. There would be a different girl every night, everyone wanting to get a piece of me. The star of the team. Then my game started to slip. The late nights took a toll on me and my body. Three years later, I was sent down to the farm team. You’d think I would wake up, but no, not me. I just partied harder. I was on the front page of almost every single tabloid magazine that you could think of.
   Every single summer I went back home, spending the time training hard with Cooper riding my ass, promising him that I was out of the party phase, but the minute my feet landed back in L.A., it was back to the booze and the puck bunnies. Another three years later, I was put on wavers. When no one picked me up, I packed up and went back home. For two years, I played hockey at home in charity games, till the GM from the New York Stingers came knocking at my door. Robert Western.
   Cooper, Mom, and I sat down with him. My hands shook with nerves, my legs bouncing with happiness that someone actually wanted me.
  “We want to offer him a one-year contract, with certain rules.” He eyed me and then Cooper. I knew Cooper had called in a favor.
   “What is it?” I asked, holding my breath.
   “Chaperone.”
    I was about to get up and say fuck that when Cooper put his hand on mine and blurted out, “He’ll do it.”
   I looked at him while he glared at me. My mother put a hand on top of her husband’s. United. Always.
   Robert slapped his hands together. “Matthew, you, my friend, are going to bring another cup to New York.” He got up to shake my hand and then Cooper’s, slapping him on the arm. “Who knows, you may also knock this asshole off a throne or two.”
   Cooper laughed out loud, but I knew he would be the one egging me on, the one daring me to push him off. He would also be the first one coming to congratulate me if I ever did it.
   He had come into my life when I’d needed a male figure the most. I just hadn’t known it. He showed me that you can fall in love with your whole heart and everything will fall into place. He showed me that you fight for what you want. But most of all, he showed me that love is a gift and once it’s given, you cherish it.
   So now here I am on the plane getting ready to land in New York. I have to meet the owner of the team and the PR people tomorrow at noon. I scroll through my social media sites while I wait for the doors to open. My sister is tagging me in old photos of us from Mom and Cooper’s wedding. Feels like it was just yesterday. When you see the way Cooper looks at my mother, you know he loves her with all his heart. He would walk to the ends of the earth for her.
   I press the heart emoji on the picture and then hear the ping of the seat belt sign telling us we can stand up. I grab my leather jacket and slide it on, put on my aviators, and grab my leather duffel bag. Walking out of the plane, I nod at the two flight attendants, who both slipped me their numbers. Numbers I left in the side of the seat.
   Fresh start. It’s time to make my parents proud of me. Time to show the world that Matthew Grant is here for good this time.
   On my way to my hotel in Times Square, I look out the window of the yellow cab zigzagging its way through traffic. Nothing in the world beats the cab drivers in New York City. You sit back and hold your breath while you pray to not end up being slammed forward. We reach the W hotel. I swipe my card through the card holder in the back, thanking him. I don’t even have time to close the door before he races off from the curb.
   I enter and check in without having anything to say. The woman at reception starts going through her routine talk. I cut in. “What floor is the gym on?”
   She smiles at me, telling me the information while giving me her private number in case I have any other questions.
   I nod at her and then walk up to my room. It’s the size of a closet. Welcome to New York. I take my phone out to send a text to Cooper.     
   Landed. Going to work out.
   Be good.
   I’m always good.
   Okay, then behave.
   I laugh and throw the phone on the bed, and then get my workout clothes out of the bag. I grab my headphones and make my way to the gym.
   I have texts from Allison, my sister, and Tom, who is married to my aunt Meghan and is an ex-NHLer, wishing me luck. But the one that makes me laugh out loud is from my Aunt Meghan, telling me that my dick won’t fall off if I don’t use it. I’m about to answer her when the elevator beeps, signaling I have arrived at the gym floor.
   I walk to the gym and scan my card so I can get in. Usually, these hotel gyms are almost empty, but not this time. A girl is jogging on the treadmill, but I don’t make eye contact with her.
   Grabbing a towel from the basket in the corner, I walk over to the other treadmill, look down at the buttons, and turn it on.
   I start off slow while Drake fills my ears, but that doesn’t last long before I crank it up and push myself hard. I’m in the best shape of my life, thanks to my mom, Cooper, and Tim. They didn’t let me sit down and drown my sorrows in bonbons and booze. They had my ass skating at the crack of dawn. In the gym pushing and pulling. Meaning I’m the biggest I’ve ever been. My shoulders are wider, my waist leaner, my arms bigger.
   I’m sweating up a storm, so I look over to see if the girl is still running on the treadmill, which is my first mistake. Not only is she next to me running as fast as me, but she’s in a sports bra holding up a perfect set of tits, her stomach bare, her abs defined but looking soft, and her little booty shorts not keeping anything back. She isn’t tall. Her blond hair swings in the air while she’s looking at the iPad she has in front of her. Is she watching the Kardashians? Jesus. She must sense me watching her because she looks over, which is when I feel the earth move under my feet. Her eyes are crystal blue, so blue it’s like I’m looking into the ocean. I almost trip over my own two feet, but I recover and smile at her. I turn my head forward and continue running till my legs feel like they’re going to snap in two.
   Getting off the treadmill, I whip my soaking shirt off and throw it over my shoulder before I grab a water bottle and drain it all. I notice she’s slowing her speed. She shuts off the treadmill, dabbing her face with the towel that she has near her. She takes the water bottle, drinking in a good amount.
   I start to walk out of the room when she gets off the treadmill. I stop right before we collide with each other, then put out my hand, giving her the right of way.
   “Thanks,” she says, her voice soft, sweet, pure.
   Following her out, I watch her ass swing in front of me. I don’t even notice she stops and I crash into her, grabbing her shoulders and making sure she doesn’t fall on her face because I was staring at her ass. “I’m sorry, I was…” I’m sure I don’t have to say anything to her because my cock is nestled in her back.
   She shrugs my hands off her shoulders while she presses the elevator button. We stand here not saying anything while we wait. What can you say? Sorry my dick poked your back? Sorry I was watching your sweet ass instead of watching where I was going? Silence is golden right now.
   When the elevator arrives, I wait for her to walk in before entering and see that we are on the same floor. Great. The ride lasts no longer than a second before the door opens and she sprints out, away from the crazy pervert who poked his dick into her back. I head to my door and see she’s in the room right next to mine. I want to say something, anything, but by the time I look up, she’s already in the safety of her own room.  

 

 

When her nose isn’t buried in a book, or her fingers flying across a keyboard writing, she’s in the kitchen creating gourmet meals. You can find her, in four inch heels no less, in the car chauffeuring kids, or possibly with her husband scheduling his business trips. It’s a good thing her characters do what she says, because even her Labrador doesn’t listen to her…

 

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Chapter Reveal: A Losing Battle by Annie Stone

by Annie Stone

 

 

Hunter has left home to join the Marine Corps, leaving Mackenzie behind, confused and unsure about her feelings. She loves Carter, she really, really does, but could there be a spark between her and Hunter, as well?

Mackenzie does the only thing she can in the circumstances: she buries her conflicting emotions in her work. But when she sees Hunter again, she knows the time for a decision has come.

Little does she know, time is running out for the both of them.
Coming July 24th

 

 

 
Hunter

When we get out off the bus at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, we’re told to step onto the yellow footprints, our first formation for close-order drill. They used the bus ride to give us a first impression of our new life as Marines. To sum it up: nothing here is even remotely gentle or pleasant.
We’re allowed to call home and inform our next of kin that we’ve arrived safely. But, obviously, I don’t. I can’t risk Mac picking up. Hearing her voice would kill me. What if she sounded sad? I’d be on my way home in an instant—but that would make me a deserter. And what if she sounded happy? My heart would turn to dust.
After people have made their calls, we’re given uniforms and a “high and tight”—that hot Marine-style haircut. I already wear my hair short, but after they’re done, I’m practically bald.
That first day, we have to fill in forms, then we get some vaccines and undergo medical examinations. And then? They give us our first weapon.
For three days, we’re up and running without any sleep whatsoever. After that, we have to take the IST—the initial strength test—to see whether we’re fit to be Marines.
First, we’re required to do sit-ups—at least forty-five in two minutes. I’m glad I’m in good shape, thanks to football—and Shane. While it’s happening, I don’t really have time to see how the others do, but I do notice some of them giving up. So far, I haven’t really talked to anyone. But after three days without sleep, expecting anyone to get anything done is pretty much a miracle.
Next, we do pull-ups. We have to do three, which seems laughable. I can do way more, but no need to show them. After that, we have to complete a one-and-a-half mile run in less than thirteen and a half minutes. Not a problem. Even when groggy and sleep deprived. But this is how they separate the wheat from the chaff. I would be embarrassed to be failing already, but some of these guys really do not measure up to what’s expected of a Marine.
I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. You know when you’re dead tired, but then you keep going and get beyond that point? No? I don’t either. I’d fall asleep standing up if they’d let me. But there isn’t a quiet minute to be had. The only good thing about all this? There’s no time to think.
I reach my limits on “Black Friday.” We meet our drill instructor, who yells at us and intimidates us, pushing our psychological limits. Shane told me about this—including the fact that they make the initial stage of boot camp as confusing and disorienting as possible to let us know that civilian life is over for us, and life as a Marine is something completely different.
But it’s tough. In my family, there’s never been a lot of yelling. Dad probably yelled at me for the first time in five years just last week. And suddenly there’s this guy yelling directly into your ear, not giving you an ounce of the respect you’re used to, the respect your father always said you deserved. Your initial impulse is not to stand there and take it. Growing up in liberal California has made it difficult to take that kind of abuse. But I do anyway. I know they want total obedience so that we can function in extreme situations, and this is what I want.
But that was only the Receiving Phase.
As soon as we enter Phase One, I’ll want to go back to the first part of our training—or to any other part of my life, for that matter. Phase One will take four weeks, and they’ll break us down psychologically, trying to expel every last ounce of civilian behavior from our bones. Because we are no longer civilians. We are Marine recruits. Everything we’ve done in our lives thus far is wrong and bad for us if we want to be proper soldiers.
Strict discipline, endless training, and the same routines over and over again—these are the building blocks of our first few weeks. Training is easy for me. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but I knew it was going to be bad. I’ve been preparing myself for this, which makes it easier. I can take it. But what I really hate is all the stuff they do to rob us of our individuality. Your entire life people have been telling you to choose your own path and stop being like a sheep following the herd, and suddenly it’s the exact opposite they want from you.
We’re not supposed to be individuals. We’re supposed to be a team. And it makes sense. We need to be able to rely on each other. In combat, we can’t be successful if we’re not a cohesive unit, but it’s still tough. We’re only allowed to talk about ourselves in the third person, saying things like “This recruit understands” and stuff. Everything inside me rebels against it, but I know that’s part of it all.
At night, I lie awake trying not to think about Mac. She is my strength and my greatest weakness at the same time. I want to make her proud, show her what kind of a man I am. But thinking of her also opens up wounds inside me. It’s hard to love and not be loved back.
On the other hand, intense physical and mental exhaustion makes it impossible to give too much thought to anything. It may sound strange, but I embrace the rigidity. I don’t want to think about all the things that are going wrong in my life, and instead focus on surviving this. And it’s like the drill sergeants know it. They make sure that if they ever give us a free moment, all we want to do is sleep.
We learn about the history of the Marines, the rank structure, first aid. We study formations and uniforms. We learn how to handle our weapon, clean it, and always have it with us. We start our close-combat training. Without weapons, with repurposed weapons, and with our rifle, which is going to accompany us throughout boot camp.
We don’t talk much. Usually we’re half dead when they stop yelling in our ears. But the first friendships develop somehow. Killian Hastings is my bed neighbor. Cool guy. A natural-born soldier, a natural-born Marine. He passes every exam like he was made to do this. If he wasn’t cool, I would hate him. But he’s a team player, always thinking about others first. He is not a leader and never will be, but he is the glue you need to build a team.
Joey Montana is the second comrade I would call a friend. He’s a joker, always up for some banter. And let me tell you, I need it—especially in the third week when we start our swimming and water survival training. The pressure is getting worse. Because this is the first time they can kick us out of boot camp. Fail twice, and you can forget about being a Marine.
It’s enough to drives you to despair. But we don’t have time for that, either. We are not supposed to think, and our superiors take that idea seriously. And they’re really good at it.
Our training gets harder by the day. The stronger we get, the more they expect from us. The more our bodies get used to the strain, the tougher it gets. We’re made to repeat everything, in order to engrain it into our brains and make it muscle memory—so that we’re able to do every exercise in our sleep. It’s tiring. But nobody ever said boot camp was going to be easy.
It does help against heartbreak, though. The harder I work, the less I think of Mac, simply because my brain’s capacity is insufficient to deal with anything beyond survival.
And then there’s the part of Phase One I dread the most. The gas chamber. I don’t want to go in. But we have to. If we leave it, they send us back in. If we don’t obey, they kick us out of boot camp.
I’m standing there with my gas mask doing calisthenics when they tell us to take off our masks. I take it off and feel panic trying to conquer my insides. I can’t do this is the only thought in my head. I can’t do this, but I have no choice. I can’t give up because I wouldn’t know what else to do. I can’t go back home, back to that situation. That might make me a coward, but the thought of it just rips my heart out. Every time Dad kisses her, I want to grab her from his arms and punch him in the face because he’s kissing my girl. But I don’t think the caveman method would sit too well with him.
No, I need to stick to this. It’s all I have.
There comes the command to put our masks back on.
It’s over. My panic recedes.
The threat of Mac has saved me, even if I wish I could entertain more positive thoughts of her.
Before we go to bed, we get one hour of square-away time. It’s not every night, only when our DI says so. We have to make sure our gear is up to scratch, and while we’re not allowed to shower or sleep, we’re allowed to shave, which feels good. We’re also allowed to read and write letters. I keep getting letters from Carey, but I don’t read them, and I don’t write back. I just can’t. It makes me too sad. I feel horrible about leaving him. The only thing that makes me feel a little better is the idea that I’ve left him with Mac.
“Hey, man,” Joey says, sitting down beside me. “There’s this girl I like. She wrote to me, and I want to write back, but all I can think of is the fact that I want to stick my dick inside her.”
I smile.
“Something makes me think that wouldn’t be such a good idea,” he says. “Can you help me out?”
“It depends where you are in your relationship. Have you ever had your dick inside her?” I ask.
He smiles. “Everywhere.”
Across the room, Killian laughs. “I don’t believe you. If you’d actually been inside her ass, you’d know what to write to her.”
“A sonnet to her juicy ass?” Joey asks, laughing.
“Thinking of her juicy ass, I can survive the harshest gas,” Killian says with mock severity.
“Oh man, that was horrible,” I laugh, wiping tears from my eyes.
“When I see her juicy ass, I want her to blow my brass,” somebody else quips.
“Dude, I lose my fucking wits, sucking on her awesome tits,” yells another bard from the other side of the dorm. I laugh because it just feels good to be young and stupid for a change.
“Let me be blunt, I’d fuck her cunt.”
“She sucks my dick, it’s hard as a brick.”
“Good thing none of you have to make a living as a poet,” Joey says. “I actually like her, okay?”
“Hey, man, there’s no need to wallow. She might like you too—does she swallow?”
“Well, if she doesn’t suck it up, you can serve it to her in a cup.”
We laugh and laugh until we hear: “What exactly is there to laugh about, recruits? Free time’s over. A hundred and twenty seconds to get showered. Go!”
A hundred and twenty seconds isn’t that long, but you learn really quickly to only wash the important parts. Normally, this would include my dick—just in case it gets sucked—but there’s nobody here I would want on the job. And besides, I kind of swore an oath I would only ever let Mac do it.
Fuck. I really didn’t think that promise through.
Overall, it gets easier. A person can get used to anything. The tough training becomes second nature, and it gets easier to adjust to the whole drill. Phase Two is mainly weapons training. We’re sent to Edson Range, at Pendleton, for three weeks, where we practice marksmanship. We have to pass several exams, but they prepare us well. And let’s face it. We’ve been through worse. Still, when we get our first badges for marksmanship, it feels good to have achieved something tangible, to get to tick some boxes.
I don’t know whether it’s because we’re going through the same experience, or maybe you just get used to each other more easily in times of crisis, but Killian and Joey become like brothers to me. I don’t want to put Carey down, but I would entrust my life to them before him.
It also quickly becomes clear why the buddy system is such a hit. It is much easier to make it through difficult situations when you have moral support. We cheer and egg each other on—whenever we’re not too tired to open our mouths. Without my two buddies, this would be much harder.
Killian is from Texas and looks like an all-American boy. Normally. There’s hardly anything left of his blond hair, but his blue eyes still shine, even at the ends of the toughest days. He’s tall, not as tall as me, but then again, few are. He has a sunny disposition, and nothing can faze him. He’s always cool, never reacts to people teasing him. Not that a lot of them would try. I guess with his looks, you’re predestined to be respected.
Joey, on the other hand, is small. Sometimes I wonder aloud how he passed the minimum height and weight requirements—but only to tease him. He’s not actually that small, and he has endless strength and endurance. Where Killian and I have trouble with our height, Joey always gets through. Not that I’m jealous or anything.
At the end of our marksmanship training, the platoons compete with each other, and we win, breaking out into enthusiastic cheers. This really lifts morale on our team, and it also earns us a bonus. We’re allowed to make phone calls. A privilege I don’t use…
Still, the next week feels like we’re on break. They take our measurements for our gala uniforms, and any medical conditions are treated. It’s only four weeks left. Then we’re done. The goal during our final phase is to put everything we’ve learned together and polish our initial skill set. This includes an exam and a performance test that I pass with flying colors.
I’m stronger than I was a few weeks ago, not just physically, but mentally, too. I no longer have any doubt: I know what my life is going to look like, and I have accepted it. Physically, I’m somewhat wider, having built up more muscle. And it’s made me feel more at home inside my body. Often, when you’re tall, you subconsciously hunch down in order not to stand out. And even though I’ve always been relatively confident, I’ve always had to bend down to communicate with other people. Which messed with my posture. And, in psychological terms, it does the same to you as walking through life with a bent back.
But now? Now I have a completely different outlook.
Boot camp has given me a new confidence, the type of confidence you can only gain knowing that you’ll be able to defend yourself in any situation you’ll ever face—be it with words, weapons, or your own bare hands.
At the end of boot camp, we’re divided into groups to do a final exam lasting two days. It’s a combat simulation testing us in different stress situations, including sleep and food deprivation, and danger to your body and your life.
It is difficult, but it’s surprising how you can turn into a completely different person in such a short period of time. Twelve weeks ago, I would never have believed I could do this. Now, it seems like I was born to do it, like I’ve never done anything else in my life. And it feels good. It shows what I’ve achieved, what I can achieve if I make up my mind. A lot of it is physical, but it is the mental strength I’ve gained that really surprises me.
After twelve weeks, we’re done. Finally, I want to say. But that’s not how I feel.
Now it feels like I’m leaving my family all over again. It’s not a good feeling.
Joey wants to join the infantry, while Killian and I are going to do twenty-nine days of Marine Combat Training before joining the Marine Combatant Divers. At least it’s good to know I don’t have to leave everybody behind again.
After graduation, we’ll get ten days off. Killian has invited me to Texas, and I’ve decided to accept because I still can’t imagine going home. And I have nowhere else to go.

Everybody is desperate for our graduation ceremony. Not just because it means we’ve made it, but because they’re proud. They want to show their loved ones what they’ve achieved. Personally, I don’t care about that part of it, but I haven’t told the others that when I’m done here, I won’t have anybody waiting to congratulate for me.
At the ceremony, we stand in formation to listen to the final talk, the finish to this chapter of our training. As Marines. All around me, my comrades are hugging their mothers, sisters, and girlfriends. All around me, there is love.
But I’m all alone.
“Hey, soldier!” I hear the voice behind me but don’t turn.
For a moment, I stay completely still, certain I’m hallucinating. Finally, I turn around.
And there’s Mac, standing in front of me in a summer dress. She is so beautiful my breath stops for a moment.
“Marine,” I say softly.
She smiles. “Hey, Marine.”
She comes closer, somewhat unsure about how to act, before throwing herself around my neck. I hug her back, pick her up, and squeeze her really tight.
“I’m so proud of you,” she whispers in my ear.
Fuck, hearing that from her really turns me on!
When, after half an eternity, I put her back down, I look into her teary eyes. “How did you know?”
She shrugs. “I’m stalking you.”
I smile. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything more beautiful in my life. “Oh, really?”
“I knew you wouldn’t tell me, but I wanted you to know how incredibly proud of you I am. I knew you’d make it.”
Right now, I feel ten feet tall instead of six. No, wait! I’m not even mortal. I’m a god!
My girl is proud of me. Is there anything in the world better than that?
“Carey’s here, too,” she says.
I look around and see him standing a little off to the side. He looks insecure, like he doesn’t know whether he’s welcome here. I hate myself for making my brother question whether I care about him. I run over to him and pull him into my arms.
“I’ve missed you, bro,” I say quietly, patting him on the back
“You never wrote back,” he says, his fingers clawing into my uniform like he never wants to let me go again.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t. I always wanted to, but I couldn’t. It would have broken my focus.”
Carey nods. “I thought…”
“I’m sorry, man. I always want you in my life. You’re my brother. The only family I’ve got.”
“You’ve got Mac, too,” he says quietly, and I look over at her. She’s standing a few steps away, her cheeks shiny, looking at us but giving us privacy.
I nod. “I’ve got Mac, too, but not like I want her.” Oops. That just came out. I wasn’t planning to tell Carey.
But he says, “I know.”
I give him a surprised look. “You do?”
“I’m not blind. Your goodbye kiss was pretty obvious,” he says. “And I’m not deaf, either. Dad and Mac fight about you all the time.”
“That bad?”
He shrugs just as Mac steps closer. “Is everything okay, boys?”
I nod, putting my arm around her shoulders to pull her close again. I plant a kiss on her head.
“Hey, Tilman!” Joey calls, coming toward us.
“Hands off,” I joke before I introduce him. He kisses Mac’s hand and smiles at Carey.
“My parents want to go grab a bite to eat. They wanted to invite my friends. You coming?”
I look at Mac and Carey.
“They can come,” Joey says quickly.
Mac shakes her head. “Thanks, that’s really sweet, but I need to go.” She avoids my eye, and I know she’s thinking about Dad.
I make an effort to hide my disappointment as I tell Joey, “Carey and I’ll be there in a second.”
“I’m sorry,” Mac whispers.
“It’s okay,” I say, even though nothing is okay. In that moment, I realize—no, remember—that she’s never going to leave Dad for me.
This needs to stop. Otherwise I will not survive it.
“How long do you get off?” she asks.
“Ten days.”
“Are you coming home?”
“Home. Nice word, but I no longer have one,” I say, shocked at the bitterness in my own voice.
She nods, tears running down her cheeks. “I—”
“Let it go, Mac. Let it go.”
She quickly presses herself against me and runs away without turning around again. I look after her.
“Hunt…”
“She’s never going to leave him, is she?”
Carey shrugs. “No idea, man. But I wouldn’t wait for it.”

 

I’m a contemporary romance writer, who likes her men tattooed, her women independent and her coffee strong.

My stories are all about love, but some are of the romantic kind, some of the sad kind and others of the very steamy kind. So if you can stand drama, foul language and sex, you came to the right place.

Love, Annie

 

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Chapter Reveal: Exodus by Kylie Hillman

by Kylie Hillman
Genres: Psychological Thriller

 

Coming April 11th

 

 

 

Xander Barrett had it all.
Until it was stolen by the devil.
His life. His lover. His freedom.

A chance encounter secures his release.
But, it comes at a cost–a debt he must settle before he’s allowed to take his revenge.

Luckily, it’s a price he’s willing to pay.

Stripping a man of everything but his pride isn’t smart. It creates a monster that’s bigger and meaner than the original. Satan has spawned his match, and he’s ready to cause an exodus.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains triggering content and is not suitable for all readers, especially those under eighteen years of age.

This story is the second installment in the Centrifuge Duet, and while it can be read as a standalone, reading Amnesia, Centrifuge Duet #1 first is recommended.

 

Prologue

 



I always thought everyone had a conscience. That even the worst type of people had one—they were just adept at ignoring it. However, the past eighteen months have forced me to reassess this.
Why? Because I no longer have a nagging voice in my head or the hollow feeling in my gut when I do something wrong. The two things that I associated with my conscience are gone. Poof. Like a puff of smoke, they up and left me sometime between the first time I was arrested and last night, when I watched a man I didn’t know—a man who’d never done a thing to me—bleed out over his desk after I’d slit his throat.
Nowadays, I don’t believe that many of us possess a conscience. There’s too many people willing to throw their own granny under the bus for a dollar for me to hang on to the idealistic view of the human race that I held for the first thirty-two years of my life. In this current incarnation of the world we inhabit, a conscience is no longer an asset.
It’s a liability.





Chapter 1

Ever wanted to see the love of your life getting fucked six ways to Sunday by the asshole she chose over you?
Nah, me neither.
Unfortunately, I don’t get a say in the matter. Not when each afternoon at precisely three o’clock, I’m hauled out of my cell, dragged down the long, white hallway, and handcuffed to the table in one of the private visitation rooms provided by the prison. The flat-screen TV mounted in the corner of the room is turned on and I get a ringside view of my ex-fiancée getting reamed by her new husband.
I say “reamed”, not because I’m being a prick. I say it because that’s exactly what it is. He drives his cock into her like he’s trying to brand her from the inside. Hard. Fast. And, furious. He’s always furious. There’s a deep rage burning in the gaze that Dr. Jaxon Ray always manages to send straight down the barrel of the camera. If I was prone to flights of fancy—which I’m not—I’d say that he does it deliberately in some sick determination to let me know that he knows how I feel watching them.
Every thrust is a clear message, anyway.
I won. You lost.
She’s mine.
Keys rattle in the door of my cell. They herald the start of another free porn show. Bile rises in my throat, the sickening churning in my gut commencing like clockwork at the thought of what’s to come.
Here we go again. Another epic fucking day in this freakshow that is currently my life.
“Barrett.” A cursory glance in the direction of the man who speaks tells me that the guard is not one I’ve met before.
I ignore him and remain lying on my back on the lumpy mattress, one arm behind my head in an attempt at nonchalant posture while the other is hidden by my side with my fingers curled into a fist ready for whatever this change in guard’s may bring. The flaky grey ceiling above me has two distinct dark shadows on it. One is mine, unmoving and unwilling. The second is the guard. I track the latter black blob moving toward me, the handcuffs he holds jingling ominously with each step he takes.
“Move your ass, Barrett.”
“Fuck you.” My response earns me a boot to the side. I hear the second guard enter my cell, his chuckle of enjoyment giving away his identity. It’s the usual prick who escorts me. The one who likes to wait with me and narrate the carnal joining as it unfolds on the screen. My nostrils flare when pain blooms from the connection of the first guards foot with my ribs. I roll into a ball. My mouth shut—lips sealed through sheer willpower. I’ll swallow my tongue before I give them a reaction.
“I’m not kidding.” The threat precedes a follow-up kick that has me rolling away until my knees hit the wall at the far side of the bed. “Your visitor doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I’d move my ass if I was you. This might be your only chance to get out of here.”
The pain in my body leaves immediately. I struggle to sit up, swinging my legs over the edge of the bed once I’m facing them. Apprehension pumps through my veins when I meet their smug gazes.
“Visitor?” The raspy quality to my voice is less than optimal. Clearing my throat, I try again, this time with some authority in my tone. “What visitor? I don’t have anyone approved.”
The closest guard—Mr. Chatty Porn Lover—answers first. “No shit, Sherlock. Who said anything about her being approved?”
His companion shrugs, then holds the cuffs out to me. “She might not be approved, but I think you’ll want to see her.”
My heart lurches in my chest, skipping a beat before it settles into a frenetic pace that has me sweating like a fat kid at an all-you-can-eat buffet. There’s one question running around my head at a million miles an hour.
Amber’s here?
A glance in the direction of the guards tells me that I won’t get any further answers out of them. I swallow my growing curiosity and the overwhelming desire to knock out the two pricks who separate me from the woman who owns every functioning cell in my body. I know acting on my urgency will only slow the damn process so I force myself to cooperate.
Standing, I hold out my arms with the wrists parallel. He snaps the handcuffs on and then follows the chain that connects them until he’s squatting at my feet. Sharp, efficient movements have the other set of larger steel cuffs locked around my ankles in seconds. Once I’m secured, the guard yanks on the chain that joins my bound hands and feet in a silent command to follow him. I shuffle along, one guard in front of me and one behind, intently watching me like I’m the convicted murderer I’m purported to be.
When we pass the visitor’s room that I’m usually led into, I almost let my curiosity get the better of me and ask where the hell we’re going. Thankfully, answers are provided before I give them the opportunity to shoot me down with sick glee.
The door that leads into the room next to the one I normally occupy is opened by the guard who’s leading me. I stand as tall as I can, shoulders back and head held high, determined to resemble my old self as much as I can when I come face to face with Amber for the first time in almost two years.
It takes a ridiculous amount of resolve to stop the shaking that threatens to take hold of my body as I lift my head to greet my woman. Our eyes meet. I blink furiously, unable to believe what I’m seeing. Playing it cool is no longer an option. Not with the guard behind me blocking any opportunity for escape. Instead, I let my mouth fall open and verbalise the question that’s beating a thunderous cacophony of confusion around my skull.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Such rudeness is unbecoming from a man in your position.” The woman seated at the table in the middle of the room sniffs, her annoyance with my lack of manners clear. She smooths her skirt over her thighs before settling a satisfied gaze on me. “Considering I’m your new boss and your passport out of this establishment.”
Wife to a Harley riding, boating and fishing, four-wheel driving, quintessential Aussie bloke.
Mum to two crazy, adorable, and creative kids.
Crohn’s Disease sufferer and awareness campaigner.
She’s also an avid tea drinker, a connoisseur of 80’s/90’s rock music, and is known for lacing everything she says with sarcasm and inappropriate innuendo.

Formerly working in finance, she was forced to reevaluate her plans for her life when severe Crohn’s Disease brought her corporate career to a screeching halt. Restarting her childhood hobbies of writing and reading to alleviate the monotony of being sick and housebound, she found her calling and is enjoying life to the max. A typical day is spent in the “real” world where she hangs out with her awesome family and “book” world where she gets to chill with her fictional characters.

Kylie writes the books she wants to read. A lover of strong men who aren’t perfect and aren’t afraid to admit it, straight talking women who embrace their vulnerabilities, and real life gritty stories, she hopes these themes shine through her writing. An avid reader of all genres, Kylie hopes to release books that keep the reader on the edge of their seat- be it with suspense, heart-stopping thrills, or laughter.

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Hail Mary by Nicola Rendell – Chapter Reveal

by Nicola Rendell
Genres: Sports Romance
 
Coming November 28th
Exclusive iBooks pre order:
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At a boxing gym in Chicago, Mary Monahan accidentally knocks out the most handsome man she’s ever met. After she wakes him up with a few slaps and some smelling salts, the very first thing he does is ask her out for ribs and beer. His name is Jimmy. He looks like a Gillette model. And he’s just too hunky to resist.

Jimmy “The Falcon” Falconi is mystified that Mary has absolutely no idea who he is. Mystified and refreshed. He is, after all, not your everyday NFL quarterback. He shops at Costco, has a soft spot for Pinterest, and is in the midst of an epic losing streak.

Jimmy falls for Mary fast and hard, the way he does everything—balls out and like it’s fourth and long. And he realizes he’s finally met his match. That stamina he’s so proud of? Doesn’t stand a chance against her Kegels.

But what they don’t know is she’s also his new physical therapist, recently hired by the Bears to work on his rotator cuff…and groin injury. If she can’t help him, he’ll be traded faster than they can say “offensive penetration.”

In spite of the thousands of internet memes featuring Jimmy’s face with captions like: “HEY GIRL, WANT TO TOUCH MY BALLS?” Mary finds herself falling for him and his unrelenting desire to make her his.

Until a toddler shows up at Jimmy’s door.

And throws their lives into total chaos.

***

To the reader: Contents includes love, sweetness, naughtiness, honey, champagne, and an HEA. Safe.


Chapter 1
Jimmy


She’s got a hell of a left hook, and her jab is no joke either. It’s hard to tell what she really looks like, with the big blue rubber mouth guard between her teeth and the black padded headgear covering her jaw and cheeks. But I know this: I want to get my hands on that body. Her tight pink tee is low cut and skin tight, and across her breasts are the words: “NOBODY’S PUSSYCAT.”
A cold draft blows in from the window, making goosebumps ripple up her arms. A thin stream of sweat runs down into her cleavage, and then I watch her nipples tighten. Christ. With little bounces, she heads back to her corner and bends over for her water bottle. Stretchy black leggings and no panty line.
Fuuuuuck.
The buzzer dings and we square up. She holds her gloves up to her face, ready to go. They’re bubblegum pink with white cuffs; the girliest weapons I’ve ever seen.
But never mind the gloves. It’s those eyes that have me. Shit, those eyes. This crazy deep green. Packers’ green. Jets’ green. Green like cash. Green that could make a guy go right out of his mind.
Pow goes a jab into my stomach and I double over, tasting my Gatorade from an hour ago. Before I can breathe, before I can even get up my gloves to slow her down, she pelts me hard with a cross to my sternum that knocks the wind straight out of me. I gasp for air and stagger back into the ropes.
“Jesus Christ,” I moan. “Who are you?”
Her eyes light up in this smile. This beautiful fucking smile that I feel way down inside. Then she bounces on her toes and smacks her gloves together out in front of her. Whap, whap. “I’m Mary!” she says around her mouth guard. “And you’re slow!”
Cute. But, yeah…no. Nobody talks to me like that. Nobody. I hurl myself off the ropes, colliding with her in the center of the ring, skin against skin now. I press into her sexy shoulder with my bicep, feeling the sweat between us. She nails me in the gut again; a solid, low-slung straight, and I think, I can’ t hit a girl, can I?
No. Fuck, no.
So I stretch my arm between us, the padding of my glove holding her steady right below her collarbone. She swings for me but I’m a foot taller and she doesn’t stand a chance. “Jerk!”
Obviously.
But on the upside, now I can really get a good look at her the way I want to; close up, but not so close that she’s pummeling me. Her legs are solid and I can even see that little curve of her hipbones barely showing through her leggings. I let my eyes follow the line of sweat to her inner thighs, to that wet, hot place where everything comes together. Fuck. I want my hands on that place. I want to feel the softness and the strength. I want to know the taste of that sweat. The way that softness gives under my tongue.
Ding goes the buzzer. I push her away, padded knuckles to her shoulder. She spins and gets into her corner, so I do the same.
I grab my water bottle and squirt it into my mouth, watching her all the time. She’s fucking beautiful, this one. Fucking gorgeous. The woman of dreams. Of fantasies.
From a pink Nalgene, she takes one big gulp, two, and a little water dribbles down her lips, rolling in drops down her throat. Her eyes stay right on mine. Her chest heaves. Her eyes flash. Her lips tighten. And that’s when it happens. She peels off her T-shirt and tosses it to the floor so that the only word showing is PUSSY.
Ding.
Her body is fucking perfect. I mean perfect. I moan into my mouth guard and I look her up and down. Lean but not thin. Sexy and strong. A fighter’s body. A woman’s body. A body strong enough to take everything I want to give it. And then some.
She turns to set down her water bottle, bending at the waist. And that’s when I see it. The tattoo. It’s a ribbon of black lace that runs in a beautiful, feminine line down her back from right shoulder to left hip, curving down into her pants. Tough as hell, pretty as can be. And with the sexiest tattoo I’ve ever seen in my life.
Stick a motherfucking fork in me. I’m done.
“Nice ink,” I tell her as we square up again.
“Thanks,” she says, leaning in to my shoulder.
“I’ve never seen one like it.” I hook my arm around her again and pull her in. I smell something familiar. I can’t place it. She slips free and moves behind me. For one second, all I can hear is her shoes on the mats.
“I rebelled when I turned 30. It was either this or a tramp stamp.”
“Of what?” I pivot so my face is close against hers.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” She smiles tight around the mouth guard. Her glove comes through the air, cutting through the noise of the gym. Whooosh.
I get my right hand up just in time to block her with my glove. The impact rolls down my forearm like I’m nothing but Jell-O.
She lets another jab fly but misses me—barely—and I slip around behind her. The hair at the nape of her neck is curly and wet, and a long dark braid runs down her back. That strip of wet fabric at the top of her pants, dark with sweat. “Why are we fighting?” I growl as I get closer. “Why aren’t we out drinking? Making trouble? Fucking around? Let me take you out.”
She spins to face me, her eyes wide open, surprised. “You wanna drink with me?”
“Hell yes, I do. And a lot of other things.”
“You want me? Fight me.” She fires her bubblegum pink cannons at my stomach with a one-two combination that makes me feel like I’m nothing but a 283-pound heavy bag.
I try to get in a left cross, but she’s way faster than I am and comes up from under with a hook straight out of Manila.
That one got me in my brainpan, in my marrow. “Fuck that,” I snarl.
“Atta boy!”
No way. Nobody atta boys me. I’m Jimmy Goddamned Falconi. I’m nobody’s boy. Never.
“Atta girl.” I nudge her in the shoulder with my chest.
Around her guard, she says, “You fight like you’re in molasses. But you’re strong. You some kind of athlete?”
At first, I’m about to laugh. For about one second, I think I might be on Candid Camera or something. I mean, I can’t walk to the bathroom on an airplane without someone asking me to sign a cocktail napkin. I can’t get through Costco without someone asking me to sign their shopping list. Some kind of athlete?
I’m Jimmy “The Falcon” Falconi. Quarterback for the Chicago Goddamned Bears. I’m somebody.
But there’s zero recognition in her eyes. No flicker of the fangirl. No sign she’s playing it cool either. To her, I’m just a guy getting his ass kicked by a girl in pink gloves.
“Hello?” She presses into my chin with a slow uppercut from the right.
I snap out of it. I don’t even know how to answer her. I play quarterback for the Bears. Ever heard of them? Or maybe, Ever heard of football? America’s Game? Fuck. I wouldn’t even know how to start. I’ve never had to explain it. People just know. “Yeah, I like to work out.”
“Then act like it,” she says, all piss and vinegar, and puts her guard back in her mouth. Wham comes that jab into my gut. Pow goes the straight to my pecs. I loop one arm around her and pull her body in close, hooking the back of her neck with the crook of my elbow. I pull her closer, tighter, both arms around her, to get a feel for her…but also to give myself a goddamned break.
She struggles a little, trying to squirm free, but I see the smile on her face, the crinkle of the skin at her eyes.
I pull her head closer to mine. I must be twice her weight; no way is she going to get free now. We are the welterweight and the super heavyweight. Wrong class totally. But then she wedges her forehead in against my chest. I watch her wind up, her biceps flexing, and, boom-boom-boom.
Every time she connects, I lose a little more air and groan, “Fuck-fuck-fuck!”
“Atta boy!”
Fuck. That.
So I keep her pinned and she starts fighting harder, which makes me want to hang on to her more. I press my nose against her head. In her thick brown hair, I can smell her shampoo, her conditioner. Coconut.
While I’m distracted by that smell, thinking of sunscreen and ukulele music and drinks with umbrellas and her on a beach, she slips out from under my arms and pops up in my face.
Well, shit.
“What, you chicken? Gonna hit me back? Or do you want to dance around for an hour or two? Because I can totally do that. I just have to go home to feed the dog.” Whap-whap go her padded fists.
Oh no, no way. No way am I going to let a pretty little thing talk to me like that. I sniff hard and man up.
I give her a jab. A hook. A cross.
And she blocks me every damned time. Blocks me like she’s fought me before, or like she’s known all along what I’ll do when it comes down to it.
Fucking wax-on-wax off, one-two-three.
Pow-pow go her gloves into my side, and fuck. I think I feel those it in my spleen. Enough. Enough. Anger boils up through me like cheap vodka after a long night.
I’m Jimmy Falconi. And I’m gonna make this girl know my name.
I crack my neck side to side and get serious. I suck air through the holes in my mouth guard and get my fists up. I edge her into the corner and those eyes flash at me. She’s sweating hard and her mascara is smudged. Her hair is mussed and her skin is slick. It makes her look dangerous. Angry. I’d like to smudge that mascara a little more. In bed. Immediately.
But first, I’m going to show her who’s boss.
The more she works herself up, the hotter she gets. That’s when something catches my eye. There’s something written on the white cuffs of her gloves. All fuzzy, written in black marker:
On the right glove: HERE COMES…
On the left:…TROUBLE!
Whomp.
She nails me in the jaw with a haymaker, and my molars shake. “Come the fuck on,” I growl back at her, with my glove pressed to the side of my face.
She smacks her gloves together, and lowers her chin. “Are we sparring or chatting? Hit me!” Bounce, bounce, bounce. Butterfly, bee. Whap, whap, whap. “I’m not going to break!”
I work my jaw open and closed a few times thinking, Okay. Fine. Fine. I didn’t think it was going to go like this, but I can roll with a hostile defense, sure. Wouldn’t be the first time. I give her the old elevator stare—up, down, up again—and get stuck on her belly button for a little too long. But then I get a game plan together. I figure I can hit her in the stomach. Not too hard, not hard enough to hurt her, but hard enough to let her know who’s in charge here.
Which would be me. Me, pussycat. Me.
Nudging the edge of her shoulder with my glove, I drive her backwards. Our eyes lock and I get this…this…prickle all through me.
This woman.
This one. Right here.
I want her. So fucking bad.
The fucking gym with its ten phones playing mariachi goes silent. The guys by the cooler egging her on go silent. It’s just her and me and the sweat dripping between us. Soft skin, sparkling eyes. She smells like a summer day and she’s looking at me in a way that no woman has ever looked at me. Ever.
Like she’s gonna own me and she knows it.
Which is bullshit.
She gives me a little lift of her chin and tightens her lips around the guard. She wipes her nose with her glove and then lowers her head. “Come on! You going to fight or are you just going to screw around?”
With my left hand, I jab her softly in the stomach. With the right, a play-hook to the jaw. I raise her chin on my glove so her eyes come up to mine. Then I pull her close, my arm around the back of her neck again. “You wanna screw around?” I say into her ear.
Bam, another hit to the stomach. “I haven’t even gotten started,” she answers.
Fuck it.
She wants to play? Fucking fine. I’ll play. I’ll play hard. I square up. But she gives me this eye. This champion eye. A winner’s eye. Cocky like no eyes I’ve ever seen before. Tom Brady doesn’t have anything on this kind of cocky right here. My luck, this girl’s some UFC champion. Christ.
But I can take her. Yeah, I sure fucking can.
Probably.
I decide on a straight jab; a no-fail straight jab that I plan just hard enough to send her reeling but not hurt her, not actually injure her. I know the punch. It works in bar fights and brawls on the field. An all-American move. As I wind up, everything slows down. I’m 6’6”, 283 pounds, and I throw a football for a living. When I wind up, I wind up. As I do, she ducks, fast as fucking lightning. Greased. Elegant. Lethal. So as my arm is powering through the air, as my momentum gets caught behind 12-ounce training gloves, she pops back up like a goddamned whack-a-mole.
Those eyes flash again and she smiles so hard I can see her dimples.
Dimples. Oh, fuck.
I watch her shoulder tighten, her tricep pucker, and that’s when she lets me have it for real.
The punch comes from left to right, blocking out my view of everything. I don’t see the Mexican flag on the wall. I don’t see the graffiti mural over the windows. Nope. The universe turns bubblegum pink.
It doesn’t hurt, not at first, and as I’m flying backwards, airborne, I have just enough time to think to myself, I wonder if this is what a knockout punch feels like…
Before everything flickers to black.
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Nicola Rendell writes dirty, funny, erotic romance. She likes a stiff drink and a well-frosted cake. She is at an unnamed Ivy and prefers to remain mostly anonymous for professional reasons. She has a PhD in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from schools that shall not be named here. She loves to cook, sew, and play the piano. She realizes that her hobbies might make her sound like an old lady and she’s totally okay with that. She lives with her husband and her dogs. She is from Taos, New Mexico.
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