Loaded is coming Thursday – here’s a sneak peek!

 

I’m re-releasing Loaded, and it’s coming Thursday!

(Update: It’s live!! Get it here!)

If you read this one before, it’s nearly the same book, though this one has a (new, longer) ending and a few minor tweaks throughout. But I got a new cover, and it’s about 5,000 words (two-ish chapters) longer overall, so I decided… what the hell, let’s give Alex and Tessa a proper sendoff.

Here’s Chapter One! If you want to make extra sure that you get this for 99¢ when it’s released, just sign up for my mailing list – I promise I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.

You can also add it on Goodreads right here!

 

Chapter One

Alex

 

“Come on,” the brunette says to her friend. “You wanna do a body shot?”

I grin and lean back in the leather booth. The music from the club below is pumping up through the floor, making the soles of my feet vibrate as the blonde pretends she’s not sure about doing shots off her friend in front of me.

She’s sure. She wants to. They always do.

“Go ahead,” I say. “Live a little. Bottle’s on the table.”

The brunette looks over at me, her plump red lips pursing, and lifts the Patrón off the table, along with a shot glass, then makes a show of pouring it out.

“Where should I put it?” she asks me, her voice low and slow. The glass hovers over her barely-covered cleavage, but then she moves it to one shoulder. “Here?”

“Lower,” I say.

She balances it on a collarbone, swishing her hair out of the way.

“Here?”

“Lower,” I say again, my eyes on her firm, round breasts, her nipples obvious through the tight dress she’s wearing.

“Here?” she asks, finally nestling the shot glass between them.

“Perfect,” I say, and my voice comes out a throaty growl.

The blonde looks at me again with that faux-shy blink, then puts her hands behind her back, presses her face between her friend’s tits, and does the shot with practiced ease.

“Mmm,” she says. She licks her lips slowly, looking at me from the corner of her eye. “That was delicious.”

The brunette is backed up against the table in front of me, and now the blonde presses herself into the other girl, biting her lip and looking her up and down.

“Can I get a taste of you?” she says, stroking the other girl’s hip.

“With him watching?” the brunette says, with the same pretend modesty.

The blonde kisses the brunette, open-mouthed, lots of tongue. She slides her hand down the brunette’s breast and tweaks her nipple.

I’m halfway hard already.

The brunette moans theatrically, and I grin. I know when a show’s being put on for my benefit.

“Do I get to have a little fun?” I ask, even though I already know the answer.

The brunette opens her mouth to answer me, but there’s a racket on the stairs to the VIP area and she turns her head.

Someone is bellowing over there. It sounds like a fucking animal’s gotten loose.

The blonde looks over, alarm on her face, and a drunk guy charges up the stairs and throws himself past the bouncers, practically roaring.

“Whore!” he shouts, pointing at her.

He’s a total meathead, almost steroid-level jacked. His face is bright red and the veins are popping out of his forehead, like a cartoon or some shit.

“You fucking slut, I knew I’d find you up here—”

“Dylan, please,” the blonde says, her hands out in front of her.

I’m already out of my seat and heading toward this asshole. My brass knuckles are heavy in my pocket but I’m not gonna need them.

Guys like this go down easy.

“Who the fuck are you?” he says, looking me up and down. “Fuck off, you cholo motherfuck—”

I hit him right in the nose, the crunch of cartilage satisfying under my knuckles.

He reels backward, stumbling. Blood spurts out and onto his ugly shirt, and for a second he just looks confused.

Then he looks mad again, and I swear to god his face turns purple.

I do my best not to smile, but I don’t think it works. This guy might go to a boxing gym once a week, but I grew up in the roughest neighborhood in East L.A.

He doesn’t stand a fucking chance.

“Motherfucker!” he shouts and charges toward me, coming in heavy with a wide right hook.

I dodge. When he swings past me he throws himself off balance, just enough for me to come in close and hit him as hard as I can in the solar plexus, right beneath his rib cage.

He goes over like a domino. The whole thing didn’t take thirty seconds.

I hope I haven’t killed him or something, but I’m not quite concerned enough to check. I look at the knuckles on my right hand, flexing them.

Bruised, but I missed his teeth. I’m not bleeding.

At last the guy heaves a breath. He sounds like a goddamn dying fish, and security closes in around him.

“Are you okay?” the blonde asks breathlessly.

Her fingertips brush the back of my knuckles as she presses her body against me.

Right, I think. The girls.

Nothing turns a woman on quite like beating up her ex. This kind of woman, at least.

“That’s why they call him the Scorpion,” the brunette says, keeping her voice low. She’s on my other side, and I can feel her heat on my body.

“He’s fast and lethal,” the brunette goes on, one pert nipple sliding along my bicep. I look down at them, and the erection I lost during the fight comes back in full force.

The blonde looks at me, and this time her uncertainty is real. She wasn’t sure I was the Scorpion, and she’s really not sure that her friend was supposed to say it out loud.

I’m dangerous, after all. Lethal.

“I’m fine,” I say.

I slide my hands down their bodies until I’ve got one cupping each ass, and I give them a slight squeeze.

“Now, where were we?”

A couple of the guys are looking my way, making sure that I’m good, but they see that I’ve got two girls, shrug, and look away again.

Just another night out.

The girls exchange glances, and then the brunette folds herself into my semi-private booth, tugging me and the blonde with her.

“I think we were here,” the blonde says.

I’ve got one kneeling on either side of me, and they kiss again. I reach up and pull their tops down, watching their tits bounce out as both girls giggle, the brunette tossing her hair and lifting her hand to the blonde’s nipple.

I lean back a little, grinning. This night’s going even better than I anticipated.

Then, out of nowhere: my fucking boss’s voice.

“Alejandro.”

Goddamn it, I think, and close my eyes for a moment, hoping that maybe I’m hearing things.

When I open them both girls are bright red, tugging up their tops and staring at Manny.

He’s short, squat and has the worst fashion sense I’ve ever come across. Right now, he’s wearing socks, sandals, plaid shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt that couldn’t be louder if it had a megaphone.

Manny is also one of the most dangerous men in Los Angeles.

“Any chance this can wait?” I ask.

“Sorry,” he says, his gaze flicking to the girls and back to me. “I promise it’s important.”

The girls look at each other, slowly standing, wobbling on their high heels.

“Give me a few minutes,” I say, winking at them. “Don’t go anywhere, all right?”

“Hurry back,” the brunette purrs, giving me a sultry look before I follow Manny toward the office at the back of the club.

“How many kids you got now?” he asks, half-joking.

“Can’t get someone pregnant through the mouth,” I say.

He snorts, unlocking the office door. It’s a nice office, with a wide mahogany desk and a massive one-way mirror, the whole nightclub visible on the other side.

When he shuts the door, the music pumping behind us vanishes to a hum, and he gestures at a leather chair in front of the desk before collapsing into the matching one behind it.

“You should watch out,” he says. “They got DNA tests and everything these days.”

“I’ve seen Maury,” I say. “I’m not knocking anybody up.”

That gets a faint smile out of him, and then he’s all business.

“I need you to go to a wedding,” he says.

Not what I was expecting.

“A wedding?” I say, frowning.

I’m not really a wedding guy. I mean, I like open bars and horny girls as much as anyone, but I’ve got a bad habit of getting caught balls-deep in someone else’s girlfriend in the bathroom. That means I’ve also got a bad habit of giving out black eyes.

“They found the accountant’s daughter,” Manny says. “And she’s attending a wedding tomorrow night.”

Well, at least that’s good news. Sort of.

“Accountant still missing?”

Manny just nods, looking tired.

About a year ago, we hired a new accountant, a guy with less morals than money, to do the cartel’s books.

Fast forward, and we hear a rumor that he’s had a change of heart. He’s thinking about spilling everything to the feds, and that would be very, very bad for us. Naturally, we’d like to convince him otherwise.

Then he disappeared before we could find him, so we’re doing the next best thing: taking his daughter until he can be convinced to see reason.

“You need me to take her a message?” I ask.

“I need you to take her,” Manny says.

I stare at him for a couple of seconds.

“I know I promised you,” he says. He flattens his hands on the desk, and I think about how many guns are inside that thing. Seven or eight, easy.

“Isn’t this what we’ve got foot soldiers for?” I ask.

I thought I was done with this. I thought I’d been promoted out of just being muscle for the cartel, the guy who they call when they need damage dealt.

“You’re not wrong,” he says, lacing his fingers together. He’s got three massive rings on each hand, and they catch the dim light. I wonder how much blood and whose is still in the crevices on those monsters.

“This is a delicate situation, Alejandro,” he goes on, the only one besides my mom who ever calls me by my full name. “This girl’s our last resort. You know we don’t kidnap civilians, at least not in the States, but her dad’s left us no choice. I need someone I can trust doing this for me.”

Flattery will get you everywhere, I think.

“Besides, the wedding is at the Beverly Hills Resort,” he says.

My eyebrows go up, and I let out a low whistle. There’s expensive, and then there’s Beverly Hills Resort wedding expensive.

“I need to send someone who can blend in,” he says.

“You need someone who doesn’t look Mexican,” I counter.

Most of the guys are full-blooded Latino, but my dad was white, so I’ve got blue eyes and black hair. I can pass as a well-tanned Caucasian guy most of the time.

“I need someone who doesn’t talk like he drove there from Chavez Heights in his El Camino,” he says, calmly. “And I’ve heard that they’ll be serving some very good Scotch.”

I don’t like it. I’ve got one fucking rule — I don’t hurt women — and Manny fucking knows it. And yet here we are, and he’s telling me to kidnap this civilian girl.

I’m not surprised by that. If I’m surprised by anything, it’s that Manny likes me well enough to respect my rules until he really needs me to do something.

We both know I’m going to do it, because I don’t have a choice. But I can still push back some.

“What about Diego? He could pull it off.”

“Awaiting trial in Stockton.”

Right.

“Hernandez brothers?”

“You mean the guys who once robbed a liquor store but came back with tomato juice and margarita mix because they were too stupid to actually take anything alcoholic?”

Manny’s looking at me with sincere, practiced patience, and I know from experience that I’m testing it.

“All right,” I finally say, giving up since I know how this is going to end. “What do I do with the daughter? Hit her on the head and drag her out like a caveman?”

Manny reaches down and opens a desk drawer. I think he’s smiling a little, but he’s got the best poker face in California.

He places a vial of white powder next to a photograph on top of the desk, and I lean forward to look at it.

“That’s her,” he says. “Tessa Fulbright.”

I don’t say anything for a moment, because I’m just staring at this photo, caught totally off-guard.

Tessa Fulbright is smoking hot.

Like holy shit hot, walk-across-boiling-lava-for-a-chance-at-that hot, and she’s not even my type.

The picture was obviously taken from far away, because she’s crossing a street in black pants and a blazer. She’s looking to her left, her auburn hair drifting in front of her face, but I can still tell that she’s got killer green eyes and perfectly plump lips.

That’s Ned’s daughter? The one who’s an architect?” I ask, mostly thinking about those lips wrapped around my dick while she looks up at me with those big green eyes.

I’ve met Ned, briefly. The girl clearly got her looks from her mother.

Manny just nods, then pushes the vial toward me.

“This’ll knock her out,” he says. “Just get some in her drink. She’ll think she’s too drunk, so you play the gentleman and assist her out of the wedding.”

I give Manny a long, hard look. Drugging a girl is even fucking worse than just kidnapping one.

“I don’t drug women,” I say.

“This is an emergency, Alejandro,” he says.

He leans forward over the desk, sincerity beaming from his gentle brown eyes.

“I swear I wouldn’t ask otherwise.”

I know perfectly well that it doesn’t make any sense to have some ridiculous sense of chivalry toward women in this business, but I do.

I have to draw the line somewhere, right?

“And I get her to the guy waiting in the SUV?” I say.

“Exactly,” he says. “Then you go back to the wedding and…”

He waves one heavily-ringed hand in the air, and we both know he means get your dick wet.

“Do as you like,” Manny says. “She won’t remember you when she wakes up in a safe house.”

I don’t like it. I don’t fucking like it at all, but I know what happens to people who refuse Manny’s orders. Let’s just say I’ve got more fingers than they do.

It doesn’t matter that she’s a woman, I think to myself. Why the fuck should it?

But I can’t shake the feeling.

“If Ned talks, we’re fucked,” Manny says. He’s right, and I know it.

“Just this once,” I say, reluctantly.

I reach out and take the vial, putting it in my pocket.

“Just this once,” he says solemnly.

That’s why this man is so dangerous: not only does he have an armory the size of a mansion, command a ruthless paramilitary organization, and have a shocking number of cops on his payroll, but he could sell ice to an Eskimo. He’s that convincing.

I look at Tessa’s picture again, trying to memorize every line of her face and every curve of her perfect body. I wonder what she’d look like naked, beneath me on a bed or even on top, riding my cock as her tits bounced.

God, what does she sound like when she comes, does she talk dirty or just moan—

“You’re good?” Manny asks, interrupting my thoughts.

“I’m good,” I say, standing.

For a moment, I want to ask if I can take the picture with me — for research — but I know I can’t be found with it.

“You’ve got a tuxedo fitting tomorrow at eight,” he says. “Get some rest before your big day.”

I nod, then walk to the door. As my hand touches the knob, Manny speaks up again.

“Alex,” he says. “Thanks for doing this. We’re really in a bind.”

I turn around and thump one fist against my left pec, just below my collarbone.

Manny does it back.

We’ve got the exact same tattoo in that spot. Everyone in La Carretera does.

I turn and head out the door.

The two girls are still standing by the booth, talking to each other, while the other guys ogle them but don’t approach. They know better.

Suddenly I don’t feel like it anymore, even though they’re right there, ready and waiting. It’s almost two in the morning, and this wedding is actually fucking important.

If the accountant goes to the feds, shit’s gonna get ugly, so I should get some sleep.

Tessa Fulbright and her sensible business outfit don’t have a goddamn thing to do with it.

I turn and take the back stairs down to the street, then drive home with the stereo blasting.


Get Loaded now!!

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…and one more sneak peek…

 

Hey, have another chapter. Why not 😉

If you need to read Chapter 1 first, you can find it right here.

Chapter Two

Gabriel

I open the waist-high beverage fridge and crouch slowly, my head hammering and my stomach sloshing. The guy behind the counter of this liquor store, a skinny kid with a scraggly goatee who looks barely twenty-one, watches me with a mixture of suspicion and concern, like I’m either going to rob him or pass out on the floor.

The second one’s much more likely. I don’t rob stores to begin with, but after last night, passing out on this grimy tile floor sounds like a fucking relief, not that I have time. I’ve got to be in the Senator’s office at ten on the dot or I’ll have blown the very last chance I’ve got.

Then I’d be well and truly fucked.

I reach in, pushing aside a red bottle of Gatorade. The movement wobbles me a little off-balance, and I go down on one knee. Then I go down on the other, because kneeling in front of this fridge is better than crouching in front of it.

I pause, closing my eyes, letting the blessedly cool air wash over me. I’ve taken four Advil already this morning, and even though I somehow kept them down, they haven’t done a goddamn thing. I still feel like someone’s filled my skull with rocks and shaken it.

Probably shouldn’t have gotten stumble-drunk wasted at the Best Western motel bar last night, you dipshit, I think.

And hell, I knew that as I was doing it. I didn’t even have a good time drinking shitty whiskey until I was porch-crawling sloshed, I just knew that it was my last chance to do it before I spent a couple of months babysitting a stuck-up princess of a Senator’s daughter and living on the estate of a man so famously prudish he probably showers in long johns.

Just get through it, Kane, I tell myself. You’ve gotten through shit before.

Slowly, I reach my arm out and start going through the fridge. I move aside bottles of Coke, Diet Coke, and Sprite. I move aside orange and red bottles of Gatorade, then the green Gatorade, getting more and more frantic.

Where the fuck is it? They have to fucking have it.

Don’t tell me they’re sold out or some shit.

I start pulling bottles out and putting them on the floor. Soon there’s a line of them next to me on the dirty off-white tiles, and even though the kid behind the counter is clearly getting agitated, I ignore him.

He can fucking try whatever he wants, because even hungover as shit I can kick his skinny ass from here to Georgia. I just need my fucking blue Gatorade and then I’ll fucking get out of here.

I’m about to give up, the fridge almost empty, when I finally see them. Bright electric blue, a color no fruit has ever been or ever will be, huddled together like the final two survivors in the very back of the bottom shelf.

I grab them both, open one and chug a third of it. I don’t give a damn that I haven’t paid for it, because even thinking about any other color of Gatorade just makes me more nauseous.

Blue Gatorade. It’s the one true hangover cure.

Damned if I know why, but it is. I chug another third of the bottle, still kneeling on the dirty tile floor, then finally put everything else back and stand. Already I feel a tiny bit better, like maybe I’ve got a chance of rescuing this stupid fucking day from being the shitshow it’s looking like right now.

Bottles in one arm, I grab a couple energy bars from the shelf behind me. I think about getting just a little something to take the edge off, hair of the dog and all that, but the thought turns my stomach so I head to the register instead.

There’s a short line: a man paying for something in a paper bag, and a blonde woman with a toddler holding one hand, a pint bottle of vodka in the other, wearing a frumpy jean skirt and a sweater that’s a couple sizes too big.

And yet, I still fucking stare. I’ve got no goddamn idea what it is about her, but for a moment I stop in my tracks, eyes glued to her denim-tented ass, the lumps of her sweater over where her waist ought to be. Call it a sixth sense for smoking-hot women — god knows I’ve seen more than enough of them that by now I can just tell, even if they’re wearing a cardboard box.

Even if I’ve more or less taken a vow of celibacy for the next couple of months.

“Beebee!” the toddler shouts excitedly. “Guess what I am now!”

He didn’t call her Mom, I think, and the woman turns to watch him, his arms held out stiffly as he starts spinning. There’s a display of Fireball whiskey behind him, and it makes me a little nervous, but he’s still a couple of feet away.

I was right about the woman. A space suit can’t hide that kind of hot — curves to make a man curse his own mother, paired with sharp cheekbones, wicked green eyes, and plush lips just begging to be bitten.

“A bat?” she says, nervously tapping the vodka bottle against her leg, and even though she’s crazy hot, a bad feeling starts to gather in the pit of my stomach. A woman with a toddler — hers or not — buying a single bottle of vodka at eight in the morning?

No women for a couple of months, remember? It doesn’t matter whether she’s a hot alcoholic or not.

“Wrong!” the kid says, laughing.

“A bumblebee,” she guesses again.

“NO!” the kid shouts, nearly in hysterics.

“Are you an airplane?”

The kid just squeals, spinning faster.

“Beebee!” he yelps.  “I’m a—”

And he careens into a corner of the whiskey display, clipping a bottle and toppling it from the shelf.

I don’t think, I just drop the energy bar I’m holding, leap forward, and catch the bottle before it falls. My stomach lurches with the sudden movement, but I put the whiskey back on the shelf, gritting my teeth and swallowing hard.

Don’t save a bottle of whiskey just to puke on the floor. Keep it the fuck together, Kane.

When I finally turn, all four people — three adults and the kid —  exhale in unison, all looking at me.

But I’m looking at the woman again, because it’s like she reflects all the light in this shitty liquor store, somehow fucking gorgeous despite her clothes, the setting, the vodka, everything. There may as well not be anyone else here.

And she’s got this almost-ethereal thing going on, like the dinginess of this shitty liquor store isn’t touching her. Despite myself I think: if I could  get that ugly sweater off, underneath she’d be all curves and dimples and fluttering eyelashes.

Meek in the streets and a freak in the sheets. Like she’d rake her nails down my back and leave me with scars I’d be proud of later.

A shiver travels my spine. Like fingernails, only I’m in this shitty store and staring at a girl I don’t know, who might be this kid’s mom. No wedding ring, though.

What’s my fucking problem? I turned down both those girls last night, no big deal, and that was a sure thing if I’d wanted it.

Isaac,” she says.

The kid looks at me, his wide eyes nervous.

“Sorry,” he whispers.

“It’s all right,” I tell him.

“Thank you for catching that bottle,” she says to me.

We make eye contact. Another thrill goes through me, hangover notwithstanding.

“No problem,” I say.

The man at the counter turns back and continues counting out change, and I walk back to the line, standing next to the blonde woman.

“Rough day ahead?” I ask her, giving her my best charming, cocky smile.

I’m not hitting on her, because I’m fucking celibate, but I can’t help turning on the charm around a beautiful woman. It’s second nature.

She tilts her head slightly and gives me a slow, considering look, her green eyes studying my face intently. I suddenly feel like there are lasers going through my skull.

I’m too fucking hungover for this.

“Not rougher than your night was,” she finally says, a smile teasing at the corner of her eyes.

“My night was pretty good,” I tell her, raising one eyebrow. “It’s this morning that’s the rough part, but I’ll get over it.”

The guy at the counter finally takes his paper-bag-wrapped booze and leaves. The blonde puts her vodka on the counter and pulls out her wallet, glancing down at the kid next to her.

“Celebrating?” she finally asks me as she pays.

“Last night of freedom,” I say.

She takes her change and glances at me again, her green eyes cool.

“Well, I hope your wedding isn’t until tonight,” she says, giving me a quick up-and-down. “Looks like you could use some more recovery time.”

I just laugh.

“It’s a new job, not a wedding,” I tell her. “And it’s going to be a full-time months-long fucking nightmare, so I had a last hurrah. But I’m single as hell, sweetheart.”

Her back straightens, and I can tell I got to her, just a little. I don’t know why, but I like it.

She takes her change from the cashier and sticks the vodka in her purse, then glances at me again, eyes flashing for just a split second.

“Good luck with that,” she says, slinging her purse over her shoulder. “And thanks for catching that whiskey. Isaac, come on.”

And with that, she walks out the door and back onto the street, the toddler running, skipping, and jumping after her. For a moment I think about leaving the Gatorade and snacks there, following her, and at least getting her number, but I don’t.

It’s been one damn week, I tell myself. At least give yourself a chance before you fuck everything in this town, too.

Women are why you’re here in the first place, in this shitty town with this shitty job.

Well, more specifically, one woman.

And no, she wasn’t worth it. Not even close.


Slow Burn is coming Wednesday, May 24th – join my mailing list to make sure you get notified! (You also get a free novella.)

Here’s the very first sneak peek of my new novel…

 

Slow Burn is now LIVE!

Get it for 99¢, or free with Kindle Unlimited!

Thanks for stopping by! I know I’ve kept this work in progress pretty close to the vest… and I know I’m still not showing you the title or cover, but I can’t help it. I really love surprises.

But I’m super excited for this book, and I think you’ll all like it too. I know I say this about every couple, but I had a blast writing Ruby and Gabriel. So without further ado…

Chapter 1

Ruby

My hair sticks to my neck as I scoop the sticky, bubbling, pink-orange goop into the funnel, making sure to leave half an inch of air between the jam and the top of the jar. I tap the funnel gently on the side of the jar, dislodging any leftover peach chunks, and as I lift the funnel from the jar, my sister Pearl takes it and wipes the top rim with a damp paper towel.

She hands it to Joy, who drops a seal onto the jar, then puts it on the kitchen counter, next to thirty other identical jars.

We do it all in silence, like we’re a well-oiled machine.

“Even through Jim’s campaigns and his work in Washington, it’s always been my top priority that I remain  at home, raising our children and running the household,” my mother says in her soft, quiet voice.

The reporter following her makes a noise of agreement.

“Right now we’re making peach jam from the very last of the peaches in the family orchard,” she goes on. “So many homemaking skills are becoming lost as a result of today’s society that girls are growing up not knowing the simple, basic homemaking tasks that made this country great in the first place. These are the valuable, much-needed arts that become lost when women are forced into the work place and out of the home.”

I’m facing the window, but I can hear the reporter tapping his pen against his notepad. I’ve lost track of which newspaper he’s from, but it’s something fairly small and fairly local, which means he won’t be pushing back too hard against my mother’s outrageous claims.

“Mrs. Burgess, there are many women who would say that they prefer to work outside the home,” he says.

I don’t have to look to know she’s smiling a soft, pitying smile at him.

“Of course there are,” she says, in her most sympathetic, understanding voice. “But when I go out with my husband to his speeches and rallies, and I talk to the strong, hard-working women of South Carolina, what I hear over and over again is that so many of them have a desire to return to traditional life and values, to be keepers of the home. I’m sure some women enjoy doing a man’s work in a man’s world, but modern society has robbed wives and mothers of the chance to truly make a difference in the lives of their husbands and children by serving them at home.”

I blob more peach jam into a jar. Pearl wipes it. Joy plops the lid on. All three of us have heard our mother’s canned responses so many times that we know them by heart and could quote them verbatim.

“Yes,” the reporter is saying. “But aren’t there women out there whose desire isn’t to stay at home, but to…”

This one’s got more backbone than I expected, I think, scooping more jam. Usually they only pretend to argue for a sentence or two, then roll over and accept everything she says about a women’s true purpose in life being to serve her husband’s needs and focus the rest of her energies on her children.

None of them have the nerve to ask about me, of course. That’s a surefire way to ensure that whichever news outlet you work for never gets another interview with Senator Jim Burgess, any member of his staff, or any member of his family, ever again.

As my mother is quietly, sweetly, and kindly answering another question, the kitchen door opens and my father’s aide Mason steps through. He’s wearing khakis and a long-sleeve Oxford shirt, despite the September heat.

“Miss Burgess, the Senator would like to see you,” he says.

The three Misses Burgess in the room turn, as does Mrs. Burgess, but he’s looking at me. I raise my eyebrows. Mason nods.

“Excuse me,” I say to everyone in the room, wipe my hands on a kitchen towel, and follow Mason. He holds the door for me and I step into the hallway, which is about fifteen degrees cooler.

It’s an incredible relief. It doesn’t matter that it’s over eighty degrees outside or that the air conditioning in our antebellum house doesn’t work very well, I’m wearing a high-necked shirt with long sleeves, a denim skirt that goes below my knees, and pantyhose.

That’s something I miss about being married: Lucas didn’t require me to wear pantyhose at all times.

I follow Mason across the house and up two flights of steps in silence, because there’s no point in asking him why my father wishes to speak with me. Either Mason doesn’t know, or he knows better than to discuss it with me.

Besides, there’s no way it’s anything good. I think the last good conversation I had with my father was a year after I got married, back when the situation was only uncomfortable and unsatisfying, not a complete wreck.

My father’s home office has a huge, wooden double door. It’s original to this house, and he’ll tell anyone visiting the story of how his great-great-great-great grandmother used this house as a field hospital during the Civil War and hung bloody sheets over all her beautiful, hand-carved door frames so the Yankees wouldn’t loot them.

It might be true. I have no idea. I just know my father’s a politician, and finally, at age twenty-six, I know better than to believe everything he says.

Mason pushes the door open and nods me through to the Senator, who’s sitting at his immense desk in his shirtsleeves, busily writing something.

“Thank you, Mason,” he says without looking up. “Ruby, you may sit.”

I do, silently, crossing one leg over the other, and wait for him to finish whatever he’s writing. Probably yet another letter to a donor, thanking them for their important working in stemming the tide of moral decay in modern America, blah blah blah. Finally he places it in his inbox and looks at me.

“I’m afraid your situation has generated a great deal of undesired attention,” he begins. His tone isn’t exactly accusatory, but I can tell whose fault he thinks this is.

I swallow and say nothing. There’s no point in arguing.

“And while this family has weathered the storm of your disgrace, and will continue to weather that storm as a strong, stable unit, I’m afraid a new problem has presented itself and it must be dealt with accordingly.”

My stomach twists and my pulse speeds up.

Crap. What else did he find out?

“What’s that, father?” I ask, keeping my face as perfectly neutral as I can.

Without answering, he reaches into a desk drawer and produces a small bundle of letters, letting them plop on his desk.

“You’ve received a substantial amount of mail from a single correspondent,” he says. “Of course, I took the liberty of reviewing your letters, given your situation — “

My blood boils, but I force myself not to show it.

Keep sweet, I tell myself. Just smile. Keep sweet.

“—And I’m afraid that what began as misguided interest has escalated into some very disturbing accusations and threats against your safety.”

I blink. I was expecting yet another lecture on my behavior and attitude.

“What kind of threats?” I ask, doing my best to channel my mother and keep my voice soft, quiet, and meek.

He frowns.

“I won’t be discussing that with you,” he says. “They’re completely unsuitable for a woman to read, but they’re very upsetting. After extensive discussions with my security team, we’ve decided that you’ll be receiving your own detail for the time being.”

He pauses. I pause, and for a long moment, my father and I just look at each other.

“You’re giving me a bodyguard?” I ask, finally.

Now my stomach is clenched into a knot, fury raging inside me.

Just because I’m sheltered and naïve doesn’t make me dumb. My father has a way of getting what he wants without making himself look back, so I’d bet almost anything that the letters aren’t real.

Either they’re empty, or my father wrote them himself. He knows it’s not normal to hire someone to keep watch on your daughter twenty-four-seven, and if he did it would look weird to the press, so this is his excuse.

My bodyguard’s real job isn’t going to be guarding me. It’s going to be watching me and reporting back to my father.

“Yes,” my father says. “Since I’m your guardian once more, it falls to me to protect you from harm, and these —“ he taps the bundle of letters, “—constitute potential harm. Despite your life choices, you’re still my daughter, and it’s my duty to ensure your safety.”

Not I love you and I’m worried, but your safety is my duty. I swallow, my mouth dry.

“Thank you, father,” I say.

“His name is Gabriel Kane,” my father says. “He’s a former Secret Service agent and he’ll be arriving tomorrow.”

And he’ll be on you constantly, following your every move, I think.

It’s moderately interesting that they chose a man for my bodyguard, but not that surprising. On one hand, my father would prefer that I literally never be alone in a room with a man who isn’t related to me, but on the other, his opinion of women is so low that I doubt he’d trust one to guard me.

Besides, I’m already damaged goods. It isn’t like my father has to defend my innocence or something. Everyone knows that’s long gone.

“I expect that you’ll show him proper hospitality,” my father goes on, leaning back in his massive leather chair. He’s flanked on either side by tall windows, the heavy curtains pulled back to reveal the rooftops of Huntsburg and the thick, lush forest beyond. “And I also expect that you’ll continue to uphold the standards of the Burgess name, as befits my eldest daughter.”

His stare could cut through iron right now, but like he just said: I’m his daughter. His blood runs in my veins, and his stare isn’t doing a damn thing to me.

I think he means don’t have sex with your bodyguard, because my father seems to think that all women, if allowed the slightest bit of freedom, will simply lie back and open their legs to any man who happens by.

As if I’m going to be interested in whatever ex-military meathead he’s hired to keep tabs on me. Thugs who report on my behavior to my father aren’t exactly my type.

But I don’t say any of that. I smile sweetly at him, hands clasped atop my knee, and answer, “Of course, father.”

Before he can respond, there’s a knock on the door, and then Mason’s face pokes through.

“Senator,” he says. “The photographer from the Sun-Herald has arrived, and Mrs. Burgess asked me to fetch you.”

My father nods, then stands. Mason’s face disappears, and my father pulls on his sport jacket, slicking his salt-and-pepper hair back with one hand. I glance one more time at the bundle of letters that he’s left lying on the desk.

“We’ll be meeting here at eleven sharp tomorrow,” he tells me, and we both exit his office, the heavy door shutting behind him.

My father and Mason both turn and walk down the stairs. I walk slowly in the opposite direction, along the upstairs hallway, pulse quickening as I listen to their footsteps and voices fade.

He left the letters sitting on the desk, instead of locking them away somewhere. The letters he thinks I’m too delicate to read.

The moment their voices are gone, I turn back, push the heavy office door open and shut it behind myself. I’m holding my breath and willing my heart not to beat so loud, because if I get caught in here, there’ll be hell to pay.

He can’t kick me out onto the street — not until the election is over, at least, because it would look absolutely awful to the voters — but he’d make my life even more locked-down and unpleasant than it already is.

I tiptoe across the plush area rug, past the chair where I was sitting. Suddenly the curtains stir and I freeze in place, a deer in the headlight, but it’s just a breeze from the window and I exhale.

My hands are shaking as I reach for the bundle, memorizing its exact location on the desk before I pick it up. I take three: one from near the top, one from the middle, one from the bottom, and pray he doesn’t notice.

It’s risky, but I have to know. I have to read these letters, see whether I’m actually in danger or whether my father’s invented the whole thing.

I pull up my shirt and cram the envelopes into the top of my pantyhose, which traps them flat against my belly. At least it’s good for something.

With meticulous care, I put the bundle back exactly how I found it, sweat leaking down my neck. Then I turn, tiptoe to the door, and slip out silently.

There’s no one in the hall, and a burst of polite, forced laughter comes up the stairs as I pull the heavy door shut.

Then I practically run down the hall, to my room, where I can hide these until I can read them later.

My parents tried. They really did. I’m supposed to be meek, subservient, sweet, and trusting, but that’s just not how I turned out.

I’m my father’s daughter, after all.


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Never Enough is here!

NEVER ENOUGH IS LIVE!

 

It’s a simple enough transaction.

Marisol needs the money, and I need a nice girl to parade in front of the cameras.

No feelings. No strings. No falling for anyone.

I’ve been clean for months, but my record company’s not satisfied. Apparently it isn’t enough to only kick a heroin addiction – they’re insisting that I find a girlfriend as well.

If I don’t, they pull Dirtshine’s massive record deal.

It’s supposed to show that I’ve changed my ways, that I’ve turned over a new leaf, all that rubbish. But I’ve had it with suit-wearing wankers telling me what I’m to do, so I’m on the verge of telling them to go f*ck themselves.

And then she shows up.

Marisol locks me out of my own concert by accident. She’s wearing a suit at a rock show, searching for her lost law school textbook, has no idea who I am…

…and for the first time in years, I’m hooked.

She’s smart, driven, and utterly gorgeous. The sort of girl who earnestly believes in following the rules and hates when others don’t.

I’m a huge rock star, recovering addict, and general f*ckup.

Our relationship is for show, and that’s all. But with every smile, every laugh, and every breathtaking glance at her curves, I want her more.
Two months is all we agreed to. But it’s never going to be enough.


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Never Enough: A Rockstar Romance

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Chapter One

Gavin

Valerie holds her finger on a button, her body perfectly motionless as the blinds lower slowly, cutting the sunlight down by about half, though it’s still too bloody bright in here. Hell, everything in Los Angeles is too bloody bright.

Wake up in the morning: sun. Go for three-mile run, one of my new, healthy, replacement habits, and there’s sun. Lunch, dinner, when I go into the studio: fucking sun, sun, sun. The only respite is at night, though the whole city is lit with screaming neon then, so it’s not too terribly different.

It’ll make a man miss his rainy gray motherland, that’s for sure.

“There we are,” Valerie says, and walks to sit at the head of the conference table, facing away from the window. Larry and I sit as well, him in his five-thousand-dollar suit and me in my nicest black t-shirt and least-ripped jeans.

Can’t say I haven’t made an effort. I rejected two other pairs of trousers as I was getting dressed. Across the table, our manager Nigel is wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt and a windbreaker, so at least I’m dressed better than someone.

“Is Miss Fields running late?” Larry asks, checking his Rolex. He couldn’t be less subtle about it.

Valerie’s face doesn’t move. I’m not sure it can move.

“A few minutes, yes,” she says, her voice perfectly placid and calm. Her dark hair is parted neatly in the middle, both sides waving gently away from her perfectly smooth, even face.

She makes me think of a porcelain doll come to life, if porcelain dolls were particularly crafty, manipulative, and bossy — and since she’s the band’s new Public Relations manager, I consider those things compliments.

“Tonight is Gavin’s first show since the tour ended,” Larry says, lacing his sausage-like fingers together on the table. “We can’t wait forever, you know, and he should be arriving early at the venue, making sure everything is—”

“I’m fine, Larry,” I interject before he can really get going. “It’s been three minutes, surely we can give her three more.”

“I’m just saying, your time is valuable, and if—”

“I’m known to be late on occasion as well,” I say, starting to get impatient with my lawyer. He’s good at his job, but he’s set on having the advantage in every situation, even one like this.

“She’ll be here very soon, I’m sure,” Valerie says, her tone still neutral and pleasant.

I hate this.

I hate this sterile, shiny, bright conference room and I hate that now I’ve got to listen to people who tell me things about my image and my brand. Once upon a time I played guitar too loud in tiny clubs and howled at the top of my lungs and didn’t give a shit what anyone thought, but now I’m here. With these wankers.

My old self would make fun of me now, that’s for sure. At least until he saw the house I live in. That might shut him up.

Larry sighs dramatically, checking his watch again, but just as he does the door swings open and four people enter: a man, two women, and a girl.

My heart plummets when I see the girl, like a ball of lead straight into my gut. If I had doubts about this already, now they’re doubled. Tripled.

She’s blonde and blue-eyed, practically cherubic. I don’t think she’s old enough to drink legally, but she’s got that calm, blank affectation that people who grew up in front of the camera tend to have. As if she only comes alive when someone’s recording.

One of the women leans over the table, and I stand to shake her hand.

“Margaret Sorenson,” she says, all business. “I’m Daisy’s PR person. This is her lawyer, Michael Warren, and this is Karen Fields.”

“Lovely to meet you,” I say automatically, though she’s already moved on to Larry.

I look at Daisy Fields, then at Karen Fields, who must be her mother, and I realize two things.

One, she brought her mother to a meeting; and two, Daisy Fields is her given name. I’d assumed she changed it when she went on television, but I guess her parents actually named her Daisy Fields.

They must have really wanted their little girl to go into showbiz, as they say out here.

Then Daisy herself is across the table from me, leaning forward, holding out her hand. It’s small and soft, and she barely grips me at all. It’s like shaking hands with a mitten.

“It’s so nice to meet you!” she bubbles.

“You as well,” I say.

“I love Half-Asleep!” she goes on. “It’s just such a beautiful love song.”

It’s Half-Awake, not Half-Asleep, and it’s not a love song, but I let it slide.

“Thank you,” is all I say.

We all sit, and Valerie starts talking, but I’m hardly listening, my mind swirling.

I can’t do this. There’s no way I can do this, not with her. I’m sure Daisy Fields is nice, but she’s a child. She brought her mother to this meeting, and even now, she’s watching Valerie intently, as if she needs to hang onto every word that comes out of the other woman’s mouth or she might lose the thread of conversation.

“And that’s all amenable to you?” Valerie asks Daisy’s side of the table.

Wide-eyed, Daisy looks at her mother. Karen nods, then Daisy nods too.

That’s it. I’ve had it.

I no longer give a single fuck about rehabbing my brand or making over my image or any of that.

I’m not doing this. I’m not pretending to date a former child star who might not even know where Britain is so that the music-buying public will think I’ve turned over a new leaf and discarded my old, sordid ways.

I have. They’re gone. It’s been months since I so much as had a drink, but I’m not hauling this girl around town on my arm to prove it.

I stand, shoving my expensive leather executive chair back, all eyes on me now.

“Larry, Nigel,” I say, my tone clipped. “A word?”

I don’t wait for them to answer, just walk out of the conference room and into the hall. Both men follow, and they shut the door behind them.

“Gavin—”

“I’m not doing this,” I say, gesturing at the door. The wall dividing the hall from the room is frosted glass, so I know they can see me, but I don’t care.

“Come on, Gavin,” Nigel says, holding his hands out like he’s trying to console me. “We talked about this, and you know the record label isn’t—”

“Was I unclear?” I ask, my voice rising a little. “I’m not pretending to shag that sweet moronic poppet so that housewives on Long Island will buy my records, and fuck the label.”

Nigel’s face drops, his mouth sagging at the corners. Next to him, Larry’s face is perfectly, carefully neutral.

“Gavin, this is what we—”

“How can I get you to yes?” Larry interrupts, a phrase I’m certain he learned from some negotiation seminar.

I didn’t think I could hate this moment more, but now I do.

I just shake my head and push one hand through my hair, the thin leather straps around my left wrist sliding down. There’s seventeen of them, one for each week I’ve been clean.

“You can’t,” I say, turn, and leave the building.


Never Enough is coming Thursday, Feb 23!

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Cover Reveal!

 

Never Enough: A Rockstar Romance

is coming Feb. 23 – but you can add it on Goodreads now!

Photographer: Wander Aguiar

Model: Nick Bennett

Cover Artist: CoverLüv


It’s a simple enough transaction.

Marisol needs the money, and I need a nice girl to parade in front of the cameras.

No feelings. No strings. No falling for anyone.

I’ve been clean for months, but my record company’s not satisfied. Apparently it’s not enough to only kick a heroin addiction – they’re insisting that I find a girlfriend as well.

If I don’t, they pull Dirtshine’s massive record deal.

It’s supposed to show I’ve changed my ways, that I’ve turned over a new leaf, all that rubbish. But I’ve had it with wankers in suits sitting in their corner offices. I’m on the verge of telling them to go f*ck themselves.

And then she shows up.

Marisol locks me out of my own concert by accident. She’s wearing a suit at a rock show, searching for her lost law school textbook, has no idea who I am…

…and for the first time in years, I’m hooked.

She’s smart, driven, and utterly gorgeous. The sort of girl who earnestly believes in following the rules and hates when others don’t.

I’m a huge rock star, recovering addict, and general f*ckup.

Our relationship is for show, and that’s all. But with every smile, every laugh, and every breathtaking glance at her curves, I want her more.
Two months is all we agreed to. But it’s never going to be enough.


I’ve been posting sneak peeks & fun extras on my FB group – feel free to join up 🙂

Reign is on sale!

 

Reign is just 99¢ until midnight tomorrow! Go get it now before it’s $3.99 again, there’s no time to waste!

Still need convincing? Have an excerpt:


After a while I settle for reading in a big leather armchair, but I can’t focus. I’m reading the same paragraph of Alice in Wonderland, the only English book I could find in the Kiev train station before I left, over and over again, listening for a knock on the door.

I read it again. Think about the dessert table. Squirm. Read the paragraph.

I want to take it off you with my teeth.

Read the paragraph again.

There’s a noise on the balcony, and I freeze. Even though I’m on the second floor of a literal fortress, I reach up and turn off the light, then turn off all the lights as I move through my rooms, still in my formal gown.

Quietly, I walk to the French doors and stand behind the curtains. Part of me thinks I’m being crazy, and part of me is remembering that someone wanted the king dead. Maybe they’re trying again and they have the wrong room.

In the corner of the balcony, a hand grips the railing of the balcony, then another. I realize there’s a third option and I’m an idiot.

I swing the French doors open and lean in the doorway just as Kostya pulls himself up and over the stonework railing, then stands on the balcony.

His formal jacket is open to his white undershirt and he’s breathing hard from the climb, his chest expanding against the thin fabric. Slowly, he reaches up and takes a rose from between his teeth.

If this were in a movie, I’d roll my eyes, but as it is I’m breathless with desire, totally captivated as we stare at each other.

“I told you I was coming,” he says, just a hint of a smile on his face.

“I believed you,” I say.

Kostya walks toward me across the balcony and holds out the rose. It’s ragged at one end where he ripped it from the bush, and I take it from his fingers, my heart beating so hard I can feel it in the soles of my feet.

“You should have told me you were going to climb the balcony,” I say, holding the rose up to smell it.

“Why’s that?” he asks, but he’s smiling.

“I’d have let my hair down so you could climb it,” I say.

Kostya puts one fingertip in the hollow of my throat and then slides it down my sternum, still smiling, his eyes lit up like he’s laughing at some joke.

I shiver as his finger moves between my breasts, my nipples hardening instantly.

“You’re impossible,” he says, his voice low and gravelly.

I want to lean back against the doorframe and beg him to put his hands on me. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this, and now he’s torturing me with one fingertip.

“Why?” I whisper.

“I climbed up a stone wall in my dress uniform, and now you’re making fun of me,” he teases, moving forward. He’s still warm from the climb and I can feel his body heat radiating off of him, making every inch of me feel warm and feverish.

“Don’t you think climbing a tower with a rose in your teeth is a little too fairy tale?” I tease back.

He just chuckles, then wraps his hand around my back and pulls me to him.

“If you think I’m here to rescue you, you’ve got the wrong idea,” he whispers into my ear.


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Torch is LIVE!!

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It’s here!! 99¢ for a limited time, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

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Blurb below. Hope you guys like it 🙂


Playing with fire gets you hot, but playing with a fireman gets you wet.

Fighting wildfires is dangerous as hell. If I f*ck it up I get a hundred-foot wall of flame coming at me with nowhere to run, no escape, and no rescue – but it’s still the best damn job in the world.

And women? They practically line up to slide down my pole. I never did like repeating myself.

Not since she broke my heart into a thousand pieces, anyway.

Clementine’s that ex. The one I haven’t seen in eight years. The one I thought I was going to marry until she dumped my ass while I was on active duty in Afghanistan.

The one who’s suddenly next door when my crew has a few days off in her tiny town, and who’s impossible to ignore.

She’s still hotter than any fire I’ve ever fought, still the same feisty, whip-smart, headstrong girl I fell for all those years ago.

We already went down in flames once, but I’ve never wanted anyone like I want Clementine. Not even close.

F*ck it. I need to have her again, even if it’s just one more time, and to hell with the consequences.

I’ve already gotten burned once.

Hunter and I were over a long, long time ago, and there was a good reason why. Actually, there were a hundred good reasons, and I remember them all.

Until he shows up in my town, eight years older and ten times hotter. He’s left the Marines to become a wildlands firefighter. He’s rugged, hardened, dangerous, and…

…he looks at me just like he used to. He makes me laugh just like he used to, like the last eight years may as well have been eight minutes.

And when he gets close, I can’t help but think of everything else we used to do – the sweaty, naked, toe-curling things. The way he could take me from laughing to moaning in half a second.

But I know better than to think that people like Hunter change. I don’t care how wild this attraction is or how badly I want him, I’m not going down that road again.

Playing with this kind of fire may get me hot — my God does it get me hot — but it also gets me burned, and once was enough.

…or was it?

Torch is a 90,000-word, full-length standalone novel with a happily-ever-after ending and some seriously smoking hot scenes.

Get it now!

I’ve got another work-in-progress excerpt for you…

Muscular body of an handsome bodybuilder

Another week, another excerpt from the almost-done work-in-progress! It’s got a title now – or, should I say, it’s 99% of the way to having a title. I need to finalize the cover before I announce the title, since I’m always afraid that I’ll think of a great title, only for it to look stupid on a cover.

Watch this space for more on that.

As usual, the following is rough, pretty much unedited, and definitely not proofread. And as anyone here who’s ever read a review copy before it got to my proofreader knows, I’m completely incapable of catching my own typos.

Now: more from Hunter and Clementine. <3


Hunter holds up the key to the lookout cabin. Then he gives me a long, appraising look as I wobble a little on my left foot.

“If I can kinda lean on you, I’m fine to—”

I’m still talking as Hunter crouches down, puts one shoulder at my hip, and slings me over his back before standing. I yelp.

“I’m fine,” I protest. He grabs my arm to keep me steady.

“Is that what you call not being able to put weight on that ankle?” he says cooly, walking toward the stairs to the lookout cabin.

“I could have gotten myself up there,” I grumble.

I actually don’t really mind. I feel kind of silly, because I’m upside down and my ass is in the air, but if I’m being really, really honest? It’s kind of hot to just be picked up like it’s nothing.

Awkward position aside, I can feel the muscles in Hunter’s shoulders move and flex under my stomach, even though I’m trying to ignore it. I don’t hate it.

“No, you were gonna insist that you could get up a flight of stairs on one leg, and then get pissed when I carried you anyway,” he says.

He reaches the bottom of the stairs and adjusts me a little before heading up.

“I feel like one of those sickly noblewomen who got carried around by servants or something,” I say as we climb.

Hunter looks over at me, from the corner of his eye, as he unlocks the door.

“You hiked nine miles with a forty-pound pack on, now you’re being lugged around like a sack of potatoes, and you feel like a noblewoman?” he teases.

He opens the door and turns sideways so I don’t hit my head.

“I feel helpless like that, I mean,” I say.

Hunter puts me down on one of the bare cots, and it creaks under my weight.

“I think you meant thanks for the ride, I like your muscles,” he says, darting a look at me.

I laugh and feel myself blush.

“Thanks for the ride,” I say.

“And?”

“And… you’re very good at carrying things?” I say, still laughing.

“C’mon, Clem,” he says, his blue eyes dancing as he stands in front of me. “I carried you up all those stairs. On my back. It’s one simple phrase.”

I sigh dramatically, for show.

“If I say it will you stop harassing me like this?” I tease.

“One way to find out,” he says. “Say it.”

Hunter pulls his t-shirt sleeve up, revealing his right bicep. Then he flexes, and the muscle practically jumps up.

I feel my face go bright red, because holy shit, yes, I do like his muscles. It feels silly, but just watching that makes my body react without my brain’s permission.

I clear my throat.

“Fine,” I say, trying to sound casual. “Hunter, I like your muscles.”

“Was that so hard?” he says, grinning as he grabs a chair and brings it over. I lift my foot onto it.

“There are worse payments for getting carried around,” I say.

I lean forward, untie my hiking boot, and pull it off slowly, followed by my sock.

My ankle is swollen, but not purple or anything. I can wiggle my toes just fine. Right now, when I’m not putting weight on it, it barely hurts at all.

Hunter touches my ankle, his fingertips skipping along the pebbled indentations from my hiking socks. It sends a quick shiver up my spine.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not broken,” I offer.

“Where’s the first aid kit in here?” he asks, looking around.

I pause, boot in hand, and look around as well. The cabin is plate glass windows, all the way around, and for a second I forget the question as I take in the spectacular three-sixty view. There are two narrow cots, perpendicular to each other in one corner, a propane-powered stove in the other corner, a kitchen table in the middle with the map table next to it.  Along with a couple of storage trunks and some cabinets, that’s it.

“I don’t think I need first aid,” I finally say.

“It’ll have those instant ice packs in it,” Hunter says. “Since it’s not like there’s a freezer up here.”

He finds the first aid supplies, breaks the capsule inside the packs, and stacks a couple around my ankle.

“Try not to hurt yourself again for a couple minutes,” he teases. “I’m gonna go grab our bags.”

He disappears down the stairs, and I lean my head back against the plate glass window, feeling like an idiot. I’ve only led about a thousand group hikes for kids, and even though they’re on easy terrain, I always drive home that you should look where you’re walking, or you could seriously hurt yourself.

Nine miles from help. In a fire lookout tower. With your ex-boyfriend. Whose muscles you like.

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