Behind the Wall by Jane Harvey Berrick

 

 
 
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Prison.
The place where dreams fade and hope dies.
That’s what it’s meant for the five years that Garrett has been behind bars. But now hope is on the horizon and he’s daring to dream again: small dreams, small hopes.
Getting his GED would be a start. If only his prison-appointed teacher Miss Ella Newsome wasn’t so damn sexy.
As Garrett and Ella start to play a dangerous game, the price could be higher than either of them have guessed.

This story first appeared in the anthology HOT FOR TEACHER in 2016. It has since been extended with new scenes, more heartache and even more heat.
At the end of a long, exasperating day where nothing seemed to go as I wanted, I was happy to shake Nottoway dust from my shoes and head out for a drink with my best friend Becky.

“How’s it going in stir, sista?” she asked in her best Orange is the New Black impression.

“Fine,” I mumbled.

“Fine as in I-broke-both-my-legs-but-don’t-worry-about-me fine, or fine as in today-sucked-ass-and-I’m-feeling-sorry-for-myself?”

“Probably the latter,” I said, unable to stop a tired smile appearing on my face.

“Come tell Aunty Becky all about it, but not before you’ve had at least one Mimosa.”

“Honestly, I don’t really feel like drinking. I’ll just get all weepy and mopey.”

She shook her head and pushed a glass toward me.

“So get weepy and mopey. How’s it going with Mr. Hottie-con?”

“He’s … doing well. He makes a great teacher’s aide—better than I could have hoped. The other prisoners go to him in between classes. They’re all making so much progress.”

“That’s good then.”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And nothing.”

“So, you’re not fantasizing about the length of his … parole?”

“Becky!”

“I’m right, aren’t I? You’re totally crushing on your jailbird boy toy.”

“He’s 30. And he’s not my boy toy.”

“But you’d like him to be?”

I took a slug of Mimosa, tossing it back like I was doing shots. Then my head dropped to my hands and I let out a groan.

“Oh my God, Becky! He’s the hottest guy I’ve ever met. Handsome, sexy, total brooding bad boy. But sweet, too. How can an ex-thief be sweet? And I don’t even know if he’s an ex-thief—not really. And when he looks at me, all dark and intense … and I haven’t had a boyfriend since Nathan. I haven’t even had a date. And now my B.O.B. needs new batteries.”

She choked on her drink then burst out laughing.

“There’s no harm in having a little down time thinking about doing the nasty with a hot felon. As long as that’s all it is.”

I sighed. Becky knew me too well.

“I like him.”

She screwed her eyes shut.

“Oh glory, I was afraid of that. You’re so predictable, El. You see something broken and you want to fix it. It’s admirable in the right circumstances, but this isn’t one of them.”

“I know. I know you’re right, but it’s chemistry, or magnetism, or pheromones, or…”

“Lust?”

I looked down at the drink in my hands.

“Honey, the guy is hot and off-limits and the original bad boy. Of course you’re lusting after him. Just promise me that you won’t do anything stupid.”

“As if!” I huffed.

“Hmm, well, tell me this. If he was paroled tomorrow, would you date him? Introduce him to me? To the rest of your friends? Would you take him home to meet your parents? Can you honestly see a future with an ex-con?”

I shook my head.

“I’m his teacher. Nothing is going to happen.”

But the truth was, it already had. I was falling for Prisoner 97813. It was reckless and stupid, maybe even dangerous.

And I couldn’t stop myself.


This story first appeared in the anthology HOT FOR TEACHER in 2016. It has since been extended with new scenes, more heartache and even more heat.
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Jane is a writer of contemporary romance fiction, known for thoughtful stories, often touching on difficult subjects: disability (DANGEROUS TO KNOW & LOVE, SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM); mental illness (THE EDUCATION OF CAROLINE, SEMPER FI); life after prison (LIFERS); dyslexia (THE TRAVELING MAN, THE TRAVELING WOMAN).
She is also a campaigner for former military personnel to receive the support they need on leaving the services. She wrote the well-received play LATER, AFTER with former veteran Mike Speirs. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk1CyB8c0xA )
Author Links
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A Fighting Chance by Anne Stone

 

Coming June 5th
When Mackenzie meets Carter, it’s love at first sight. They have a blissful year together before trouble arrives. In the form of Carter’s two teenage sons.

When Hunter and Carey decide they want to live with their father in California, Mackenzie knows right away that she’s in for a tough time. And she couldn’t be more right.

The two boys show her on a daily basis that she’s not good enough for their dad. In fact, they make it quite clear their lives would be better without her. But could it be that Hunter has quite a different motive for hating her?
ONE
Mackenzie

I first met Carter on a Friday. I was standing talking to someone when he came in, and it was like every atom in the room was immediately drawn in his direction. The oxygen, the people, even the flowers turned their heads to look at him. His presence was so powerful I couldn’t help stepping a little closer. When his eyes met mine, an electric shock went through my body. I was literally glowing, and in that fraction of a second, I imagined what it would be like to be his woman. And then…
Nothing.
His eyes moved on to the next object, not even acknowledging my presence, leaving me absolutely crushed. I wasn’t worth a second look. Swallowing hard, I watched him walk over to Brittany, who had been in charge of interior design at his new company headquarters. I’d had nothing to do with the project—I was just here to support my best friend on what was going be a big evening for her.
And I had never felt as much contempt for anybody as I felt for her in that particular moment. Even though I loved her to pieces.
Carter Tilman, head of Tilman Finance Group, had occupied the number-one spot on our girls’ talk agendas the past few weeks. God, was he handsome, Brittany had told me so many times I’d started rolling my eyes at her. But now I saw him in the flesh. He was blond and blue-eyed, about six-foot-two and, from what I could see under his suit, well built. The perfect combination of sleek and edgy, he immediately made me imagine him being a somewhat less-than-perfect gentleman in private quarters.
But there he was, talking to Brittany! Not even giving me a second of his attention.
I kept watching him, inconspicuously following him around, trying to be near him. But not once did I manage to capture his attention. It made me feel small and insignificant. In his world, I didn’t even exist.
Just before midnight, Brittany signaled to me that she was done. With a slight sense of regret, I left. After all, there was no reason for me to stay. It would just make me sad.
Outside, I said goodbye to Brittany and her colleagues before walking over to my car. I was just about to open the door when somebody behind me said, “I was hoping to be introduced to you.”
Every molecule of my body strained toward him, but I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself, so I made a point of turning around slowly. “Really?” I asked, feigning disinterest.
He came closer, nodding. “You’re stunning. I just have to kiss you.”
And kiss me, he did. Our first kiss, which led to many others. Our first encounter, which turned into hundreds. Two lives fused into one.

Which leads me to the here and now, almost one year later.
“Are you excited?” he asks.
I nod, kneading my fingers. “Oh boy, am I excited,” I say in a strangled voice.
He laughs, quietly stroking my cheek. “Just don’t show any fear. They’re like predators. They can sense it.”
“Please tell me you’re joking!”
“I’m sure they’ll like you.”
“They” are his sons. Hunter and Carey. Ages seventeen and fifteen. I haven’t met them before because they live with their mother in Miami. But they’re coming to spend the summer with their dad in San Diego. And here I am. I can’t escape the inevitable, even though it scares the living daylights out of me. Seriously, I’ve never been this nervous, not even during finals week in college.
“Relax, sweetheart,” Carter says, reaching for my hand. He runs his fingers across my knuckles soothingly.
I look at him, trying to smile. It isn’t usually difficult, but today I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m meeting his sons. His teenage sons. I’m not even that much older than them… I’m twenty-five, and Carter is forty-three. Our age difference has never been a problem before, and people say age is just a number, but, come on—this just seems like a recipe for disaster.
“Here they are,” he says, pointing. Two tall boys who look a lot like Carter—and totally different at the same time—are walking across the baggage claim toward us.
Carey, the younger one, must be nearly six feet tall. He’s blond and blue-eyed like his dad. But while his father has a distinctly manly look about him, Carey brims with the beauty and energy of youth. His skin is spotless, which I take as a personal affront, because I still get zits in my mid-twenties.
Hunter is already taller than his father. He has close-cropped brown hair and brown eyes. His cheeks and chin are speckled with stubble, and for such a young man, he has a very masculine aura. The girls must be all over him. It’s true what they say. The apple does not fall far from the tree.
They’re both trying to appear cool, but I can tell they’re happy to see their dad. They each give him an affectionate hug, and he hugs them back happily. Carter has always seemed like a sexy bachelor to me, but seeing him with his sons is kind of cute.
“Okay, boys,” he says, putting his arm around me. “This is Mackenzie. Sweetie, meet Hunter and Carey.”
The boys’ bright faces darken, letting me know I don’t stand a chance. I stretch out my hand, and they do shake it, but they squeeze so hard I have to put effort into not screaming. “Nice to meet you,” I say, trying to sound cheerful.
Carter seems satisfied, at least. “Let’s go home. Mackenzie and I thought it’d be fun to have a barbecue.”
Carey turns his cold blue eyes away from me, defrosting them for his father. “Actually, we’re meeting up with some friends tonight, Dad.”
“Oh, well, why don’t we have dinner, then you can go?” Carter suggests cheerfully.
The boys seem mollified as their dad takes Carey’s bag and puts an arm around his shoulders, Hunter on his other side. They’re the perfect trio.
“Are you coming, sweetie?” Carter calls over his shoulder.
I follow them out of the airport, the lowly fourth wheel.
Back at the car, Hunter gets in front like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Carter looks irritated for a second but doesn’t say anything. Instead, he holds the back door open for me, and I silently climb into his Mercedes SUV.
Once behind the wheel, Carter is all cheer again. “What are your plans for the summer?” he asks.
“Friends, beach, babes,” Carey says automatically.
Hunter laughs. “In that order?”
Carey shrugs. “It’s not exactly a secret you go through all three of them like candy. Especially that last one.”
Carter throws his oldest a look. If I didn’t know better, I would think it was respect, but that’s impossible, right? Could a father be proud of his seventeen-year-old son’s sexual exploits? No. There must be something else behind that look.
Hunter turns around to grin at his brother. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, virgin.”
“TMI, thank you very much,” Carter says, and he actually sounds amused.
Hunter slouches down in his seat. “I thought you’d put those condoms there on purpose so we couldn’t help but find them.”
“Don’t corrupt your brother,” Carter laughs. “There’s still hope for him.”
“Did you hear that?” Hunter says. “You’re the good, normal, boring brother.”
“No, I’m not!” Carey leans forward to punch Hunter’s shoulder.
Hunter dodges it, laughing.
For some reason, I feel like I shouldn’t be here. They’re acting like I’m not here, anyway.
“Hey, boys, no punching,” Carter throws in. “Words are your weapons! You know the rules.”
“Hunter’s too stupid to use language as a weapon,” Carey grumbles.
“Stupid?” Carter repeats. “Was that report card a fake then?”
Hunter grins. “No need for that, Dad. Unlike Carey, I’ve got brains and looks.”
“Yeah, and your looks are shit!” Carey teases.
His brother turns around, looks straight at me, and then says to his brother, “I guess you want to spend the evening with Dad then…”
There’s a meaningful silence.
Carey looks at me for a second as well and then makes a cut-throat gesture with his hand, as if to threaten me, “They’re my friends, too.”
Hunter grins like a predator. “Be a good boy then.”
Carey snorts but doesn’t say anything.
I’m relieved when we get to the house—our house. Even though I know the toughest part is still ahead. Because the boys don’t know I’ve moved in with their dad. What on earth are they going to say when we tell them? It’s clear by now that they don’t hold back. And I don’t want those word-weapons trained on me…
Walking up the driveway, I look at the house like I always do. It’s huge, built for a large, happy family, and once again, I feel like an intruder. This is where they all used to live as a family. And now Carter lives here with a new woman. Me.
As soon as the boys get inside, they quietly claim the space around them. The house seems smaller with three big men in it.
“I’ll go fire up the grill, sweetie,” Carter says when I enter the kitchen.
I nod, and he gives me a hug, kissing me on the top of my head. Carey gives me a look so hostile I have to close my eyes, fighting back tears. I don’t want to show them how much they affect me.
As soon as Carter leaves, Carey steps in front of me. “Are you after our money?”
I give him an irritated look. “Excuse me?”
“Dad’s got a lot of dough. Is that what you’re after? Why else would you be with a guy twice your age?”
I’m speechless. Hunter nonchalantly leans against the fridge, not saying anything, but there’s something terrifying about the way he’s standing there all calm, his arms crossed in front of his chest. My eyes move from one brother to the other, and my mouth goes dry.
“Sweetie, can you bring out the steaks?” Carter calls from outside.
I swallow and glance at Hunter blocking the fridge. When I take one step toward him, he doesn’t budge. “Would you mind…”
He puts on his predator’s smile. “Would I mind what?”
“Moving over.”
He smiles down at me. “Say please.”
I want to tell him to fuck off but remind myself that he’s seventeen—and testing me. I can’t say to him what I would say to a twenty-five-year-old asshole in this situation. Pulling myself together, I give him my best unflinching look. “Would you please move over?”
He steps aside. “There you go, doll.”
Doll?
Do not react, I tell myself. Just ignore it. “My name is Mackenzie. Or Mac.” I silently curse myself. Great job! Now he knows it bothers me, so he’s never going to stop calling me that.
Flustered, I get the steaks from the fridge and take them outside.
Carter smiles at me. “Hey.” He pulls me closer for a kiss. “Is everything okay?”
I nod. “Yup. Just weird.”
He gives me a loving smile. “I know you guys are all going to get along great. I love having my three favorite people here with me.”
I snuggle up to him until he frees himself to put the meat on the grill.
“Hunt?” he calls inside. “Can you set the table out here, please?”
As the boys come out onto the porch with plates and cutlery, I go back to the kitchen to grab the sides I made earlier.
“You haven’t answered my question,” someone says behind me, and I flinch so hard I drop the bowl in my hands. My potato salad lands on the floor, and glass shards from the bowl fly through the air. One of them hits my shin, and I stare at the red drop trickling down my leg.
“Are you okay, sweetie?” Carter calls, rushing inside, alerted by the almighty crash I just made.
“Yeah.” I nod a little too fast. “Just dropped a bowl. Sorry.”
“No problem,” he says. He comes over, picks me up, and sets me down on the kitchen island before diligently picking up the shards and throwing the rest of the bowl in the trash.
As he begins to wipe the floor up, my manners kick in. “Hey, let me do that,” I say, starting to slide off the counter.
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it.” He smiles at me, and a knot in my heart dissolves. Carter. He loves me. I love him. That’s what I need to remember.
When he’s finished, he gets out a Band-Aid and carefully places it over the little cut on my leg. “There you go. All set. I hope Hunter didn’t burn the meat.”
“I heard that,” a voice calls from outside. “Like I’d make a mistake doing something as manly as grilling meat.”
Carter laughs and kisses me before we take the remaining sides outside. Once we’re all sitting at the table, Carter looks at both boys. “Weren’t you two talking about going to football camp this summer?”
“It doesn’t start for three weeks,” Carey reminds him. “And we’ll only be gone a week.”
“What positions do you play?” I ask, just to be part of the conversation. Truth be told, I already know Hunter plays wide receiver and Carey’s a second-string quarterback, which they proceed to politely tell me. In fact, as long as their dad’s around, they’re polite and reasonably friendly. They’re not going out of their way to make me comfortable, but it’s at least possible to talk to them. However, when Carter takes a call and disappears into the house, things change quickly.
“Answer my goddamn question,” Carey snarls.
Hunter just grins and leans back, crossing his arms in front of his chest again. In a few years, he’ll be a real giant. He’s already tall, and even though his muscles are pretty impressive for a teenager, I’m sure he’ll bulk up some more.
Realizing I’m on my own, I look back at Carey. “You can stop asking. Because it’s none of your business.”
He pulls a face. “So you are a gold digger then.”
I gather up all my courage. It’s difficult to remember I’m a confident woman with Hunter staring at me like I’m some insect he’s about to crush. He somehow manages to appear both cocky and laid-back at the same time—a skill most men do not attain in this lifetime. “I-I don’t want to argue with you,” I say, trying to keep my voice from wavering. “I want to get to know you both, and get along. I’m not here to cause trouble. I love your dad.”
“News flash, doll,” Carey says. “Just because you spread your legs for our dad doesn’t mean you can wrap us around your finger. Dad’s brought home a lot of women over the past three years. They all had one thing in common. You want to know what it is?”
I shake my head, but I didn’t really think that was going to stop him.
“They’re not here anymore.”
Like I said, I didn’t want to know. “Please don’t talk to me like that.”
“Like what?” Carey asks innocently.
“Condescendingly.”
“Hmm,” he says, like he’s mulling it over. “To be honest, I think I’m being pleasant.” He looks at Hunter like he’s waiting for instructions, but Hunter obviously doesn’t care to interfere.
And I don’t know how to react. What am I supposed to say? “I’ll tell your father”? That’s a sure-fire way of ruining whatever chance I might still have at building a relationship with them. Or should I tell them—again—that I don’t want them talking to me like that? Only to have them ridicule me again… Maybe I should get up and leave. But then they’ll think they can do whatever they want with me.
Fortunately, Carter returns then, but he’s wearing a frown. “That was your mom,” he tells the boys. “She wanted to know where you are.”
Their expressions change immediately. Carey suddenly looks guilty, while Hunter’s face hardens.
“She said she had no idea where you were,” Carter says, his voice stern. “She was worried.”
Carey looks at the floor, but Hunter snorts disbelievingly.
“Hunter,” Carter says, frustrated, running a hand through his hair. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Hunter looks him directly in the eye. “We want to move back to San Diego.”
Carter looks stunned. “Excuse me?” he finally grinds out.
“You want me to say it again?” Hunter says.
Carter snorts. “Why?”
Hunter rolls his eyes. “You know Mom.”
“Yeah, what about her?”
Hunter runs a hand through his short hair. “She’s a mean drunk. And she brings home all kinds of men. It’s like living in a goddamn brothel.”
I swallow. I’d thought they couldn’t stand me because they loved their mom so much. But that’s apparently not it. They may have been treating me like dirt just a few seconds ago, but I can feel their pain now. No child should have to worry about whether a parent actually cares about them. I know that best of all.
Carter runs a hand over his face. “Hunter…”
“Come on, Dad! I know what you’re going to say. But we can’t stay there with Mom.”
Carter nods slowly. “Actually, you don’t know what I’m going to say.” He looks over at me quickly. “Mackenzie moved in with me a few weeks ago. So, this is her home now, too. If you two want to move back in, you have to get along with her, too.”
Carey gives his dad an exasperated look. “She moved in with you?”
“You have a problem with that?” Carter asks, and for the first time, he sounds slightly snappy.
“No,” his youngest mumbles.
“Hunter?”
“Anything’s better than staying in Miami,” he says.
Carter nods. “Mac?”
I give him a surprised look. “Yeah?”
“It’s your home, too. Are you okay with them moving in?” he asks.
“They’re your sons,” I say, even though I have to swallow before I finish my thought. “They’ll always be welcome here.” Deep inside, I thought it would be tough to spend ten weeks with them. But having them move in with us? It’s a whole different story. While Hunter’s about to start his last year of high school—and then he’ll be off to college or somewhere else—Carey would be with us for at least another three years.
Can I do this? It very well could be three years of hell lying ahead of me.
But, at this point, I’ll just have to wait and see.
Carter puts a hand on my shoulder and looks over at Hunter again. “If I let you move in here, I expect you to behave better than you did in Miami.”
Hunter and Carey both nod. “Promise,” they say in unison.
Carter snorts. Obviously, he doesn’t believe it. “Okay, we’ll still have to see. I’ll call your mom and let her know about your decision.”
“Awesome.” Hunter gets up. “Now, we’re out of here.”
“Be back at midnight,” Carter says.
“Dad, seriously?” Carey asks in the tone of a complete brat.
“You’re fifteen,” Carter responds.
“Hunter isn’t.”
“So Hunter can bring you back here at midnight and stay out another hour.”
“That’s totally unfair!” Carey whines.
Carter gives him a firm look. “What did you just say about good behavior?”
Carey gives him a sly smile. “You said better, not good.”
I struggle to keep a neutral face, because inside, I’m secretly applauding Carey. Carter though isn’t so impressed.
“Midnight,” he says.
“Can we take the car?” Hunter asks.
Carter nods. “Keys are on the table.”
They’re gone within a second.
“Rascals,” Carter says, sitting back down with me. He puts a hand on my leg. “Thank you, sweetie.”
“It’s your house, and they’re your sons. Of course they can move in with us.”
“It’s our house,” he corrects me gently.
I shrug. “Still.”
He runs a hand through his hair. “It’ll be different.”
“Sure.”
He looks at me. “What’s wrong?”
I’m kneading my fingers, and he zooms in on them. He knows I do this when I’m nervous, so there’s no point lying to him now. “They don’t like me,” I admit.
Carter nods slowly. “Give them some time. They’ve never seen me with another woman. Only with their mom. But it’ll be okay.” I realize then that he has no idea his sons actually know about every woman he’s ever dated.
“So, I guess they don’t have a great relationship with their mom?” I say, trying not to sound like I’m prodding.
Carter shakes his head. “Not anymore. They always did before. But then she cheated on me, and I left. She started drinking, and… I guess sometimes they still hold me responsible for it.”
I take his hand. “But it’s not your fault.”
He smiles wistfully. “I know. I couldn’t stay with her. But I’m sorry my boys got hurt.”
“You’re a great dad. They love and respect you.”
He nods. “They’ve always been my number-one priority.”
“Why did they stay with their mom?”
“It’s what they wanted. Lauren was not in a good place after the divorce, and Hunter always feels like he has to take care of people. Save them. He didn’t want to leave her alone, and Carey always does what Hunter does. I’m just glad he’s somewhat of a good role model.”
A faint smile flits across my lips. “So what trouble did they get into in Miami?”
Carter smiles. “Oh, man, they messed up a few times. Nothing serious, though. Hunter got in a few fights with his coach and had plenty of detention. And they were at a few parties that were broken up by the police. Carey was caught drunk once. I’d say it’s all pretty normal for their age. Judging by what my friends say, it could be much worse. Some kids are really out there. Hunter might be a bit of a hothead, but he’s sensible enough to make sure Carey’s always safe.”
“What if they don’t accept me?” I ask.
He strokes my hand. “It’ll be fine, sweetie. Don’t give up.”
I nod, even though I know I’m in for a rough ride.
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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Under Her Skin by Aria Cole

 

 
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Sienna Taylor walked into Mad Ink looking for a temporary escape. Instead, she found River Madden, the gorgeously talented and impossibly moody owner of the shop. One look in her big, dark eyes makes him desperate to possess her, his need to mark her untouched skin a primal distraction.

One touch of his needle sends electricity rocketing between them, and by the time he’s finished leaving his brand on her, he’s doing the unthinkable and offering her a job—and possibly losing his sense of sanity.

Finding forever is the last thing on River’s mind, but one taste of her sweet innocence has him consumed with claiming her.
She’s too innocent, too sweet, too untouchable, and far too good for him. But she has a darkness that claws at her, a crack fracturing her heart that only makes him crave her more.

Warning: From the moment his tattoo gun touches her skin, River is utterly obsessed with his girl. If over-the-top, insta-love goodness with a moody, tattooed alpha is your cup of steam, look no further! River has a talent for pushing all the right buttons. 😉
 
ONE

River
“So, my hands are in her hair, and I’m fucking close, man. I don’t know what I did to the bitch to make her pull the teeth out, but no shit, I think I almost lost my dick last night.”
The sound of a feminine someone clearing her voice turned both of our heads. Jericho shot up, hand outstretched and that weird half smile he only did for chicks he wanted to bang curling his face.
The guy was a fucking whore, and if I had to live through another one of his one-night stands rehashed, I’d throw my fist through his teeth. I’d already thought about breaking a finger, but fucker needed them if he was going to permanently lay artwork on someone’s body, and the guy had talent.
I’d hired him when he got to page three of his portfolio—a portrait of a someone’s grandpa in a war uniform inked on the client’s bicep. The fucking most beautiful tattoo I’d ever seen in my life, and I knew I had to have Jericho in my shop.
Just a goddamn shame I had to put up with him every day.
“She’s a sweet one.” Jericho turned and winked. “And she’s looking for you. Told her I had more talented fingers, but she wasn’t buying it.”
I arched an eyebrow, irritation pulsing through my gut before I stood, plastering on a blank face for my new client.
I lived for tattooing and creating art. What I didn’t love was dealing with customers. Constantly. It was hard being an artist and not being able to control exactly how you would create on a canvas, since the canvas tended to belong to another human.
I’d learned to put on a reserved face over the years—I wasn’t one of those guys who chatted your goddamned ear off. I didn’t give two fucks about your life story or why this tattoo finally meant so much. In fact, half the struggle I’d had in the two years since I’d opened Aspen Ink was tuning out the dimwits so I could focus long enough to give them what they came for—a permanent piece of art on their skin.
Jericho and Dev busted my balls about my shitty chairside personality in the beginning, but it turns out customers don’t give a shit about manners when you leave them with something they can’t get anywhere else on their arm. I had plenty of repeat customers and was usually booked out months in advance. As a result, most of the clients I already knew, so the fact that I didn’t recognize the name on my schedule today had been a little odd, though not unheard of.
I pulled out a set of clean tools, giving a last glance over my sterile work area before heading to the front counter.
A small little thing, with golden blond hair cascading down to a tiny nipped-in waist, was waiting for me at the front desk. I frowned.
“Hi, I’m River Madden.” I came around the counter, touching her elbow.
She spun, that silky mass of waves brushing across my forearm and sending zaps of fire through my skin.
“I’m Sienna.” Indigo blue eyes nailed mine.
I shifted on my feet, throat already dry before I hooked a finger over my shoulder. “Follow me.”
Red lips pursed for a second, eyes narrowing before she nodded swiftly.
I gnashed down on my teeth, figuring I knew exactly what I was in for with this one. “Let me guess, cute little elephant tattoo on your ankle?”
I held a hand out, gesturing for her to sit in my tattoo chair.
“Not quite.” She plopped down, eyes connecting with mine again.
Fuck, what was it about those eyes? Like she couldn’t keep herself from looking at me, staring into my soul or some shit. Weird as fuck and I hated every minute of it.
“Quote under your tit? That what the girls are getting these days, right?”
“I’m not a girl.” She crossed her arms. She certainly wasn’t. She might be small, but that fire burning in those ocean irises told me she wouldn’t hesitate to give a man hell. Fuck, why did that kinda make me smile?
“Well, safe to assume this is your first tattoo?” My eyes landed on her short denim cutoffs then crawled up her body to the long sleeves that covered her arms. This girl was A-1 vanilla, no doubt about it. I was good at reading people, and this one was just too sweet to have seen anything resembling a hard life.
“You know what they say about people who assume, right?” Her grin crooked to the side. “You make an ass—” she rolled up one sleeve, revealing dark slashes of purple and black ink “—out of mostly…you.”
“Impressive.” I moved closer. “I pegged you for a virgin.” I felt a shiver race through her when I cupped her arm in my palm, inspecting the work. “Where’d you go for this?”
“A few towns over. Got it a few months ago.” She pulled up her other sleeve, inked vines wrapping up her forearms to her elbow. “And this was my first, the day I turned eighteen.”
“Fair to say I am an ass, then.” I was unable to help the small smile pulling at my lips. “So, what’s the plan for today?”
She pulled the hem of her shirt above her head, luscious flesh revealed to my greedy fucking eyes.
Christ, she was beautiful. Creamy, soft, unmarred flesh. My vision swam with thoughts of inking her body, watching her squirm under my hands, sinking balls deep into the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen…
“I want to cover this.” She pulled her shirt up past her ribs, a thick white slash, about two inches long, covering her side.
The rough pads of my fingers dragged across the raised flesh, and a soft sigh pushed past her lips before our eyes met again. “What you got in mind for it?”
“A heart,” she said simply. “Shattered.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this request, but something about the way she put those two words together sliced me open. I was wrong about her. This girl had darkness behind her pretty blue eyes.
“Got a picture?”
“Do you one better.” She slipped a folded scrap of paper from the back pocket of her shorts. “I want this.”
I unfolded the sheet, surprised to find a bloodied red heart inked faintly with the outlines of a skull. “This is pretty badass.”
“I thought so too.” She shrugged, smiling proudly before lying back on my chair. She stretched her arms above her head, the shirt riding up higher and revealing a hint of neon green bra against her creamy skin.
“Hate to ask, but I need to see an ID.”
She arched one sassy eyebrow before her lips curled up. “Does that mean you don’t think I look eighteen?”
The way she said it made my cock fucking pound behind my zipper. Whatever in the hell had brought this woman into my studio today, I owed a huge debt of gratitude. I’d been inking people in this very chair for over two years now and never gave any fucks about my canvas. Until her. Until now.
I frowned, confused by the way she sucked me in, before I grunted. “I’ll get this sketched for you. Need to see an ID when I get back.”
I shot out of the chair and stalked to the light station as far away from her as I could get.
I didn’t have time for a saucy little girl running through my shop, making my dick hard, and causing me to think all kinds of nasty thoughts. Like what it would be like to bend her over my table. Or fuck her in the piercing room.
Shit. Did she have any piercings?
I’d be a fucking dead man if she did.
Just the idea of little metal barbells piercing her nipples had a ripple of pain coursing through my balls.
I hunched over the drawing table, adjusting my cock, as I started the outline for her tattoo. I caught glimpses of her watching me work, her eyes crawling around my shop and over me as I took my time designing her tattoo.
She didn’t flip through her phone once, which surprised the fuck out of me because girls her age had it fucking glued to their palm.
That shit wasn’t good for your mind, and if I didn’t have to own a cell to stay in touch for the sake of my business, I wouldn’t own one. Worst goddamn invention on the planet, that little mini-computer sitting in everyone’s pocket.
“That looks incredible.” She breathed against my neck.
Fuck. She was too close for comfort.
“Wait, what if we add a few stitches across the crack? Just black slashes, like someone did a rushed job fixing it.”
I frowned as I thought, imagining the final piece in my head before coming around to the idea. “I think that would highlight the skeleton shaded into the background. Good call.” I added a few random stitches to the center of the heart, across the skull of the skeleton.
“I love it,” she whispered, her palms sliding down my forearms and squeezing tightly.
Her touch was like razor blades against my skin.
I wasn’t sure if I loved it or wanted to wrench my arm away.
It’d been so fucking long since I’d let anyone touch me like this. And now this girl was not only all up in my personal space, but in my head too.
“Great. Lie down on the table, and we’ll get you prepped.” I tried to keep my voice clipped and to the point, my only focus on being professional despite the raging hard dick tenting my pants.
I helped her up onto the table, avoiding the gorgeous view of her ass as she turned around. Her shorts were so fucking short I was sure I could catch a glimpse of her pussy if I looked hard enough. Why the fuck was she out in public wearing that shit? Didn’t she know what disgusting men like me thought of her?
“Got that ID?” I grinned down at her.
“Here you go, Daddy-o.” She flipped me her driver’s license, confirming she was of age. Nineteen. So, barely.
“Looks good.”
“Told you it would,” she sassed back. Goose bumps rippled across her skin when I applied the cool sanitizer to her rib cage. Then I placed the stencil I’d drawn into place, the crack in the heart matching the jagged edges of the scar slashed permanently into her flesh.
I had a mind to trace my tongue along the rough edges, listening to her shudder and come around me as I milked all the pleasure from her body.
I slipped my fingers along the edges of the transfer paper, making sure the ink outline deposited onto her skin. She shuddered when my fingertip drifted across her wrist.
Fuck, she was so sensitive.
I had visions of her spread out beneath me, my hands in her hair, my tongue licking up her silky skin. The thought of burying my head between her legs had blood rushing through my cock.
What the hell was that scent? And sweet fucking lord, did she taste that good too?
No. Better.
Probably better.
I shifted in my chair, and her eyes averted to me before the shadow of her eyelashes fell onto her cheeks. The air vacated my lungs, blood raging through my veins and making my heart pound a tattoo against my ribs. My cock throbbed, aching to push inside her, fuck her until she was breathless and begging.
Christ, what the hell was wrong with me?
Jericho had given me hell about living like a damn monk, but I’d never reacted to a woman this way. But this wasn’t just any woman; this was Sienna fucking Taylor, too young, too innocent, too good. Way too good.
“It’s bigger than I thought it would be.” She spoke up, and I nearly choked.
“Excuse me?”
Her eyes flickered up to me, a smirk turning up those succulent lips. “The tattoo, it’s big.”
“Ah, right.” I cleared my throat, peeling off the transfer paper and focusing on her eyes for the first time since she’d sat down. “I don’t think I could make it much smaller. You’d start to lose detail on the skeleton.”
“Oh, I like it. I just didn’t envision it that big, but I’m ready. I want it.” Her big, round eyes peered up at me, sweet, untouched. Heartbreakingly fucking beautiful.
I turned, opening the black ink and placing it at the table beside me. “Think you can handle the pain? This is gonna take me a while.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Bet I can handle more than you think.”
Jesus.
Who was this girl?
AP  new -about the author.jpg
Aria Cole is a thirty-something housewife who once felt bad for reading dirty books late at night, until she decided to write her own. Possessive alpha men and the sassy heroines who love them are common, along with a healthy dose of irresistible insta-love and happily ever afters so sweet your teeth may ache.
Aria’s new release BLACK is the first in her modern fairy tale series. For a safe, off-the-charts HOT, and always HEA story that doesn’t take a lifetime to read, get lost in an Aria Cole book!
Follow Aria on Amazon for new release updates, or stalk her on Facebook and Twitter to see which daring book boyfriend she’s writing next!
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In the Heir by Ruth Cardello

Release Blitz, In the Heir by Author Ruth Cardello

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In the Heir (Westerly Billionaire Series Book 1) by Author Ruth Cardello is

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In the Heir

Book Description

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Ruth Cardello returns with an irresistible series about sexy billionaires and the strong-willed women who tame them.

Brett Westerly is his father’s golden child, but it’s come at a cost. As head of the family corporation, he throws himself into his work—hiding in his office is easier than confronting the reality of his broken family.

After a bitter divorce that split the family and divided loyalties, the wealthy Westerly matriarch offers an early inheritance to any grandchild who marries and invites the entire family to the wedding. Brett’s brother Spencer rashly gets engaged, and Brett knows it’s his duty to intervene. But he never imagined the unwelcome desire Spencer’s fiery fiancée would spark in him. Now the man who’s used to getting everything he could want has met the one woman he can’t have.

Ever since she was a girl, Alisha Coventry considered Spencer and his sister Rachelle the family she didn’t have. When Spencer asks for her help, Alisha has no problem becoming his fake fiancée—until she meets Spencer’s sexy older brother Brett. The chemistry between them is undeniable—forbidden—but as their relationship deepens, Brett is determined to have her.

Alisha only wanted to help the family make amends. Now she’s falling for the wrong Westerly.

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Other published books by Ruth Cardello

The Legacy Collection

Also available in audio

Where my billionaires began.

Book 1: Maid for the Billionaire (Free Download)

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Nook | iBooks | Kobo| Google

Book 2: For Love or Legacy

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 3: Bedding The Billionaire

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 4: Saving the Sheikh

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon AU

Book 5: Rise of the Billionaire

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 6: Breaching the Billionaire: Alethea’s Redemption

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 7: A Corisi Christmas Novella

Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Andrades

Also available in audio

A spin off series of the Legacy Collection with cameos from characters you love from that series.

Book 1: Come Away With Me

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 2: Home to Me

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 3: Maximum Risk

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 4: Somewhere Along the Way

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 5: Loving Gigi

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Recipe For Love: A Hot Andrade Christmas Novella

Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Barrington Billionaires

A new, seven book series about the Andrade’s Boston cousins.*

Book 1: Always Mine (Free Download)

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play

Book 2: Stolen Kisses

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 3: Trade it All

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Book 4: Let It Burn

iBooks | Amazon

A Billionaire for Lexi

Amazon | AmazonUK

Other Books

Taken by a Trillionaire

J.S. Scott, Melody Anne, and Ruth Cardello

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play

The Temptation Series

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play

Gabe ( 7 brides For 7 Brothers)

iBooks I Nook I Google I AmazonUS | AmazonUK | Kobo I Paperback

About Author

ruth-cardello

Ruth Cardello is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance.

She was born the youngest of 11 children in a small city in northern Rhode Island. She spent her young adult years moving as far away as she could from her large extended family. She lived in Boston, Paris, Orlando, New York–then came full circle and moved back to Rhode Island. She now happily lives one town over from the one she was born in. For her, family trumped the warmer weather and international scene.
She was an educator for 20 years, the last 11 as a kindergarten teacher. When her school district began cutting jobs, Ruth turned a serious eye toward her second love- writing and has never been happier. When she’s not writing, you can find her chasing her children around her small farm, riding her horses, or connecting with her readers online.

Connect with Ruth

Website: www.RuthCardello.com

FaceBook: www.facebook.com/RuthCardello

Twitter: @RuthieCardello

Email Notice of New Releases: ruthcardello.com/contact/

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The Sin Bin by Nikky Kaye

 

 

 

 

 

 

BECKETT
Lucy Solomon showed up to watch a hockey game in a luxury box wearing jeans and a hoodie, and she didn’t give a puck who I was. Now the hotter it gets between us the better my team does on the ice, and I’m getting superstitious. I’m not skating around my feelings–I want to win the playoffs, and I want Lucy. But something’s gotta give.

LUCY
After being in a grad school cave for two years, it made sense that I’d be drawn to a caveman. I melted for Beckett Hallstrom’s brazen moves and boyish charm when we first met, but things exploded when I found out who he really was. Beck wants me to be his good luck charm, but the press is relentless and now my career is in jeopardy. Every competition has a loser and I’m afraid it’s going to be me losing my heart.

 

 

“I’m not letting you walk home alone, Lucy.” Which would be true even if I let her get away.
How long would it take for her to crack and admit she wanted me? When she let out a huff of exasperation, I wiped my hand over my mouth to cover my smirk.
“Beckett Hallstrom.” She unfolded her arms and used them to poke me in the chest.
“Ow.”
With her fingers prodding me, I let her push me back to the concrete wall behind us. Her cheeks flooded with color. She narrowed her hazel eyes, which almost looked the same color as her hair in the glow of the streetlight.
“I want to go to your hotel. I want to go up the elevator with you. I want to go into your room, and then I want to get naked. With you. Is that clear?”
I frowned, scratching the side of my head. “So no dessert?”
“I am dessert, you moron! Seriously, how many pucks did you take to the head?”
At that, I lost it. Shit, this girl made me laugh. First she didn’t know who I was, or had the slightest clue about anything hockey-related, and now she was operating without a filter. I fucking loved it. As soon as she saw my expression, she shoved me hard. Or at least she tried—I had nearly a foot and a hundred pounds on her.
“Argh!”
“Okay, okay. Don’t get your panties in a twist—unless it’s around your ankles.” This time I didn’t bother to hide my grin.
“At this rate, you’ll never see them.”
Before she could roll her eyes, I grabbed her wrists and spun us around, crowding her against the wall. My gaze roamed over her body, but just admiring her wasn’t enough for me. Needing to touch her, I splayed my hands out above her breasts, where her dress framed her upper chest. Gooseflesh broke out against my palms and fingertips as I spread my hands to the sides, seeking out the skinny straps under the shoulders of her little granny sweater.
“Beck…” It was a warning and a plea.
She looked up at me, her mouth a little closer than our previous encounter, thanks to the heels she was wobbling in. Her eyes were wide and dark with want, but also tight with anxiety. I wanted to do whatever I could to relieve her stress.
I heard orgasms were good for that.
“Lucy, just so we’re clear, I am taking you back to my room, where I am going to take that dress off you.”
She nodded. “Then what?” she whispered.
I took a deep breath, tilting my head. “Then, I’m going to see what color your panties are. And to be honest, I haven’t decided what I want to do first—eat your pussy or suck on your gorgeous tits.”
Her gasp surprised me a little. Did she think we were going to play naked board games? Then I realized she wasn’t shocked—she was turned on. As I spoke, my face moved closer to hers but didn’t connect, like opposite magnets. My arousal grew as well, my dick stiff and aching in my slacks. The hotel was only a block or so away, but there had to be a quicker way to get there than just hoofing it.
“Do I get a choice?” she asked.
“Of course.” I straightened, adjusting myself not so discreetly. “You have a choice to come on my cock, my fingers, or in my mouth. The order is up to you. But before tonight is over, I’m going to score that hat trick.”
“Hat trick? Is that some kinky sex thing?” She looked at me suspiciously, clearly ignorant of hockey parlance for scoring three goals in one game.
“You are too fucking cute.”
Nikky Kaye is almost my real name. I’m a former Film professor who likes more than her movies to be black and white. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way. I have worked with movie stars, Ivy League brainiacs, and the United Nations—all of which means that I’m familiar with ass-kissing, power struggles, greed and faking it. In my spare time I parent 5 year-old twin boys, serve on the board of an independent cinema, and run a medical consulting company.

 

 

 

 

Twenty-Two bt Toni Aleo

 

 

 

 

When Lucas Brooks was traded to the Nashville Assassins over a decade ago, he was a brash, brawling hothead without an anchor.

Well, four kids and a smokin’ hot wife will weigh you down real fast, but Lucas wouldn’t change a minute of his happily ever after.

During an epic, end-of-season quest for the Cup, changes appear on the horizon, and suddenly, there’s a plot twist in Lucas’s fairy tale.

 

 

My name is Toni Aleo and I’m a total dork.
I am a wife, mother of two and a bulldog, and also a hopeless romantic.
I am the biggest Shea Weber fan ever, and can be found during hockey season with my nose pressed against the Bridgestone Arena’s glass, watching my Nashville Predators play!
When my nose isn’t pressed against the glass, I enjoy going to my husband and son’s hockey games, my daughter’s dance competition, hanging with my best friends, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and reading the latest romance novel.
I have a slight Disney and Harry Potter obsession, I love things that sparkle, I love the color pink, I might have been a Disney Princess in a past life… probably Belle.
… and did I mention I love hockey?
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Worth the Ride by Casey Pfeler

 

 

 

 

Single father, Weston Parker is set in his ways, and raising his daughter is his top priority. But his ten-year-old feisty little girl is growing up faster than he ever realized. Her go-getter attitude is one he’s seen before–mainly on himself. When she starts trading in her ponytails for makeup, Weston realizes he just might be in over his head.

Dedicated and driven veterinarian, Timber Sellers always knew that she’d head back home, but she wasn’t quite ready for it to happen so soon. Running into the stubborn and bossy Weston from her high school days doesn’t make it any better either. But when she meets his spunky daughter, Timber knows she’s right where she’s supposed to be. As Timber grows closer to Weston’s daughter, his rough exterior softens. Suddenly, the heat between them explodes and neither can deny the attraction. Weston always goes after what he wants, and this time, he wants a future with Timber.

 

Taking the last of the charts to the back room, I begin to put them away when I hear a slight knock. Turning around, I come face-to-face with a certain cowboy, and my heart goes wild like the horses he tames.
“Hey,” I say flatly.
“You got a minute?”
“Nope. I gotta get these damn things filed. I don’t know why he won’t go paperless.”
As I toss the folder on top of the filing cabinet, I hear a chuckle. Turning, I see Weston holding his hands up in surrender and trying his best to refrain from any more laughter but his lips deceive him and he tries to cover it up.
“Go ahead. Let it out. I know that was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever said. My daddy going paperless? Hell, he can’t wait to throw the flip phone in the lake when he retires.” Pausing, I look at him. “What you here for anyways?”
He takes his perfect hardworking body and props himself in the doorway. “I came to apologize for earlier. I shouldn’t have done that.”
“Damn right,” I say as I stare him down and watch him try to form the words he wants to say. “Look, just spit that shit out. You sweating bullets isn’t your best quality.”
He takes his hand and rubs the back of his neck and my body betrays me. What the hell? “So I know you’re coming to help Bryndle get ready for the dance Friday. I was wondering if I could take you to breakfast after I dropped her off at school?”
“Really? Is this your way of asking me out?”

 

Casey Peeler grew up in North Carolina and still lives there with her husband and daughter.

Growing up Casey wasn’t an avid reader or writer, but after reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston during her senior year of high school, and multiple Nicholas Sparks’ novels, she found a hidden love and appreciation for reading.  That love ignited the passion for writing several years later, and her writing style combines real life scenarios with morals and values teenagers need in their daily lives.

When Casey isn’t writing, you can find her near a body of water listening to country music with a cold beverage and a great book.

Connect with Casey