A weekly event hosted by Sheila - Book Journey to discuss your reading week ~ the books you've read and those you plan on reading in the coming week.
Books I completed last week are
Out of the Darkness - Kate Sherwood
Bailey Bradford – Relentless
Hostile Takeover - Eve Vaughn
Your Place or Mine - D. S. Craver
A Red Tainted Silence - Gray, Carolyn
Whittling the “The Be Read” pile
I have had this series on my shelf for a while and it just called to me a few days ago – I am just reading the first book – but it is wickedly good..
Jess Vandermire Vampire Hunter Series
Author: Lina Gardiner
Up next on the reading deck
Winging it week this week – I have a few books that I have to finish up, so not planning anything that I must read this week..
Ya all have a great reading week this week…
Monday, 23 August 2010
Saturday, 21 August 2010
With two third of the year almost gone It’s times to once again give a bump for the Erotic Romance Challenge.. The challenge has it’s own blog HERE, with loads of excerpt and a monthly listing of how the challengers are getting on…
For all the challengers there is a Completed Challenge Post with a Mr Linky added… HERE. If you have completed the challenge can you please update the link – Thanks in advance.
As late in the year as it is – we are getting new readers joining us on this challenge – our latest challenger is Cataluna. Welcome my dear..
And on that note I wish you all a fabulous weekend…
Friday, 20 August 2010
Every now and then I normally do a review of a cook book or two that really stands out of the crowd for me. My family and friends are a mix of either vegetarian or vegan and as such we sometimes have to be really creative to get delicious dishes that looks appealing as well…
After discussing the fact that I had more or less exhausted the multitude of cookbooks that I have my friend send me these two books and they were perfect.
Let’s Cook Vegetarian
Author: Jenny Stacey
Buy link (same book)
A Step-by-Step Collection of Delicious Vegetarian Dishes.
Gone are the days vegetarian food consisted solely of lentils and nut cutlets! Designed to appeal to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, this inspirational cookbook contains a selection of exciting recipes that will show you just how versatile, colourful and flavoursome a vegetarian diet can be. Whether you are entertaining or just want to rustle up a quick supper, there is something in this book to suit all palates and occasions.
Recipes include Vegetable Jambalaya, Kidney Bean Kiev, Stuffed Mushrooms, Cashew Paella - and many more. Includes step-by-step recipe instructions and a full-page colour photograph of each dish.
A quick round up.
This is a fairly small book offering just about 18 recipes. I love a book where the editor and the photographer takes the time to present the dishes well and this book had some fantastic pictures of the dishes – even if after reading the recipes I was a bit reluctant – the pictures alone would have sold me on the dishes.
Not only were the dishes easy to recreate but the ingredients were not something you had to order in from the other side of the world.
One of the major plus of the book for me was the fact that it was easy to change up the ingredients without loosing what the original creator hoped to achieve with the dishes..
One of my fav
Cantonese Garden Vegetable stir-fry, the ingredient called for Leek and I find that where there is more than one or two piece of leek in a dish the leeks just comes right through for me.. So I swapped the leek out for pumpkin on one occasion and another time I tried it with swede… Delicious..
The boy’s fav..
Kidney Bean Kiev
The 500 greatest-ever Vegetarian Recipes
A Cook's Guide To The Sensational World Of Vegetarian Cooking.
Edited by Valerie Ferguson
- 500 inspirational recipes for all occasions, from simple soups, dips and salads to elegant dinner-party dishes.
- Professional advice and guidance on techniques tells you everything you need to know about preparing vegetables and pulses.
- Includes a full-colour guide to the inspiring range of fresh and healthy ingredients that make vegetarian food so appetizing.
- Prepare delicious meals in minutes using seasonal produce or store-cupboard stand-bys.
- Enjoy classics dishes, such as Wild Mushroom Soup, Falafel, Potato Gnocchi and Vegetable Crumble, as well as stylish, contemporary creations including Courgette, Mushroom & Pesto Panino and Summer Herb Ricotta Flan.
A quick round up.
Have you ever found a book that you think EVERYONE should have a copy of this, The 500 Greatest-Ever Vegetarian Recipes is that book. Whether you are a meat eater or not, this book would fit right in with your personal collection.
When my friend told me it’s a 500 recipe book, I admit I was MEH about receiving a big old chunky book to weed through.. I could not be more wrong. The book while on the large size at about A4 was a delight.
Immediately I could see that a lot of thought went into putting together this book – the first dozen pages or so takes the time to deal with Vegetarian Ingredients, Techniques and Basic Recipes. With a start like that I was really looking forward to getting stuck in.
I have had the book about two weeks now and I can honestly say I have tries something from it every single day. There’s snacks, starters, desserts, hot and spicy stuff and even stuff to make you go Whoa – at least it did us…
Here’s a picture of one of the dishes that made us go ahhhh…
Puff Pastry Boxes filled with Spring Vegetables in Pernod Sauce, In fairness to the editors it was listed under special occasion, but I love all things puff pastry so I had a go at this one.. The Pernod gave this thing a hell of a kick… Whoa…
Thursday, 19 August 2010
“Okay, Mom, I’ve got it all loaded,” Quinn called as he closed the trunk of the powder blue compact Prius. It was filled from floorboards to roof with the trappings of a college student: luggage, dorm fridge, microwave oven, bedding, a goldfish bowl half full of water with a Siamese fighting fish, boxes of miscellaneous pictures and books, and a stuffed pink rabbit. A futon and frame and some miscellaneous other wooden pieces were tied down to the roof of the car. The vehicle was so loaded that it would be a miracle if the shocks were not destroyed by the time the destination was reached and it was relieved of its burden. Such was the life of the college student.
“Quinn, don’t forget the goody box. I’ve included extra cookies for your roommate.” Tina Yamamoto came out of the house carrying another box full of cookies, chips, and soda. She stepped off the porch steps and followed the curving sidewalk around to the side garage where the overloaded car waited. She had been struggling all morning with varying success to keep a smile on her face and the worry hidden, but she was failing to keep the tears from her eyes. One would periodically fall despite her best efforts. The bright morning sunlight gleamed from her loosely brushed blonde locks and glinted from the diamond-like tears in the corners of her soft gray eyes.
Quinn took after his mother’s side of the family. He was nineteen, tall—six feet, and lean with the body of a runner. He was long limbed and graceful. His hair was just a couple shades darker than his mother’s, giving his hair a dark golden sheen while hers would glint white in the sun. His hair hung in a ponytail from the top of his head to half way down his back. His sister had brushed it out for him this morning and put in the ponytail. They had made a pact that he wouldn’t cut his hair while he was at school and neither would she. She enjoyed brushing his hair, and he enjoyed indulging her. Unlike his mom’s eyes, his eyes were piercing blue like the crystal clear sky on a cloudless morning. His skin was a dark golden brown from being exposed to the sun daily for most of his life. He had a permanent tan that any California beach bunny would envy. He wore what he always wore: black nylon athletic pants with the drawstring waist band and a plain white T-shirt with a cut in the neckband, as he always felt constricted by the round neckbands.
“Quinn!” hollered a young voice, and his eight-year old little sister, with her long black locks and brown-black eyes, stood in the door of the house, her arms overflowing with stuffed animals. Rayme was beautiful in Quinn’s eyes. Whenever he saw her, he was able to remember his father. She had his soft black hair but with his mother’s curls added in and the black eyes that swallowed his soul and could see through all of his lies. Lucky for him, Rayme hadn’t discovered that particular power yet. She was getting older, though, and he wouldn’t be able to hide it from her forever.
“Rayme, put your friends back in your room. I agreed to take Snuffles, but you are not going to fill my dorm room with stuffed animals. I’m a guy, for God’s sake. I would be the laughing stock of the floor.” Quinn smiled at his sister’s pout, but she turned and dumped the load of stuffed animals in the entry and came running toward him at full speed, sprinting around his mother. She would be as fast has he was soon, especially if she kept growing. She was already tall for her age. She threw herself into her brother’s outstretched arms, and he pulled her up into a warm embrace, setting her on his hip. He buried his face into her shoulder, entwining one hand in her hair, his fingers memorizing the texture and breathing deeply to remember the scent of it. “Man, you’re getting big. Stop growing or next time you are going to break my back. Take care of Mom. You know she doesn’t look after herself very well, and with me in school, she is going to need your help.” He blew raspberries into her neck, she squealed with delight, and he let her go. “Let me say bye to Mom now. Love you, Squeakers.”
“Love you, too, Quinn. I promise, I’ll be good and help Mom. Call soon, and I can email now, so don’t forget!” Rayme’s smile was pure joy even on a morning full of goodbyes. Her laughter filled the morning as she took the box of treats from her mother’s hands and ran for the car.
“Don’t snitch my cookies. You have more in the house,” he called after her giggling form.
“Okay, my love. I’m so proud of you. Don’t over-do it. Remember your focus is school, not work or me or even Rayme. I can take care of us. I am the adult, remember.” Tina wrapped her arms around her son. “You are becoming quite the grown man these days it is hard to remember you’re no longer my little boy.”
“Mom! I’m fine. I’ll be okay. You know me. I’ll do my best. You will always be able to be proud of me.”
“That’s just it, Quinn. You do too much. I know you very well. You are just like your father in that you are driven to succeed regardless of the cost. Just please take it easy. Enjoy life a bit. You aren’t young twice.” Tina mussed his hair as she looked up into his eyes. Her smile was starting to slip.
“No time to be young. Too much to do.” Quinn smiled and laughed, then squeezed his mom tight and pushed her gently away. “Speaking of time, I need to hit the open road or I won’t be able to get everything done I need to do today…. I love you, Mom!”
“Okay, my little man… who’s obviously not so little any more. Please take care of yourself. I worry, you know.” She was trembling as Quinn stepped toward the car. He impulsively grabbed his mom’s shaking shoulders and pulled her against him once more for a quick hug and kiss on the forehead. Then abruptly, he turned his back to her and headed for the car.
“No worries, Mom! ‘Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!’” Quinn quoted his mother’s favorite old movie, Auntie Mame, while waving one arm in farewell but never turning around. He knew that if he turned around and she saw the tears that were on the verge of falling, he would never get away.
Tina burst into a strangled laugh, and the smile on her face relaxed, becoming more natural, but her response from the movie sounded slightly rough, her voice cracking, “‘So Live! Live! Live!’” Quinn got into the car and waved without meeting her eyes again. Rayme and his mom watched and waved as he backed the car out of the driveway and headed down the road toward the highway and then the interstate. It would be several hours before he arrived at his destination—Denver, Colorado, and then Colorado State University.
© Sui Lynn
Author: Sui Lynn
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Luck and an impromptu jam session bring college student Quinn Yamamoto to the Blue Rose, a small R&B nightclub. He meets handsome club owner Enjoji Tatankata and it’s love at first sight, but no one said love would ever be easy.
It's one thing after another: keeping his grades up and working to make ends meet, learning about a family he didn’t know he had, reliving buried memories of horrifying abuse in his nightmares, discovering that his new lover has dangerous secrets... nothing in his life could have prepared Quinn for this.
Aaron awoke five hours later with the smell of wet grass wafting in through the open window. It was a perfect spring morning, his favorite time of year. The sun was shining, and last night’s drizzle was already starting to evaporate. His thin gossamer curtains were brightly lit by the early morning sun. Somewhere in the distance, there was the sound of a lawn mower. Ah, crap, back to reality.
He got out of bed and hazily padded naked to the kitchen to put on the coffee machine. He didn’t bother to look in the mirror. Whilst grateful for his health and his body’s ability to remain lean and muscular no matter how much junk food he ate, Aaron’s appearance was not something that preoccupied him. His blond hair looked tousled from sleep, but it would look like that all day, regardless of what he did to it.
While he was waiting for the coffee to brew, he walked out to the swimming pool and considered doing a few laps. He dipped a toe in the water and decided it was going to be a few weeks still. He sat down on one of the two loungers and enjoyed the feel of the morning sun warming his skin.
Closing his eyes, his thoughts drifted back to the events of the previous evening. What a night! Joe had asked him for a favor, and having nothing better to do—not to mention an inability to ever say no to Joe—he had agreed.
Aaron and Joe were best friends. They had met a few years earlier when a woman at a party finally gave up trying to get Aaron’s attention and instead ended up going home with Joe. When they met by chance a week later at a bar, Joe had insisted on buying him a drink to say thank you. They had both been twenty-four at the time.
For some reason he couldn’t explain, Aaron found himself telling Joe things about himself that he never mentioned to anybody else. It may have been the alcohol or the lateness of the hour, but it felt deeper than that. There was a familiarity in the bond that was forming. Kindred spirits? He had never believed in that sort of thing.
“Have you always lived in Parktown North?” Joe asked.
Parktown North was a fairly affluent area fifteen minutes from Johannesburg’s city center.
“Yeah, I still live in the house that I was raised in. It’s a nice suburb, big properties, streets lined with huge old trees. I don’t think I could live anywhere else. What about you?”
“I live in Illovo, but I was born in Kempton Park. When I moved out, I wanted to be somewhere more central. Nothing wrong with Kempton, except the commute. We were a typical middle-income family, you know, my folks both working nine-to-five jobs to pay the bond,” he explained. Kempton Park was largely a middle-income suburb.
Aaron snorted derisively. Although he would never give it up, he still harbored feelings of guilt about his family’s wealth. At a time when the plight of so much of the country’s population was on the news every day, his experience was definitely elitist. As a child, he had watched the news as someone might watch a goldfish circling a bowl. It was vaguely interesting but didn’t evoke any particular feelings of empathy.
“I don’t recall a single conversation about money in my house. My dad was a stockbroker, got in early on the whole computer revolution. That was just the start. He had a knack for identifying ‘the next big thing’: cell phones, satellite television, the Internet. I took it all for granted most of my life. It wasn’t until I left school that I began to realize that my experience of life was far from average. Mom and Dad were both staunch Catholics. They used to drag me to church every Sunday, and Dad would put a hundred rand note in the collection plate each week, which I guess helped them feel they were doing their bit.”
“What about your folks? You still live with them?” Joe inquired.
“They died when I was eighteen. Head-on collision.”
“Shit, I’m sorry, Aaron; that must have been hard. What did you do?”
“Nothing. My dad’s sister came up from Howick. She stayed at the house for a while, helped me tie up all the loose ends.” He downed the rest of his beer, put the glass down hard. “Sad, isn’t it? We spend our entire lives chasing dreams that seem so important to us, but in the end, we become just another loose end that needs tying up, and the world moves on.”
Aaron indicated for another round of drinks, even though Joe had hardly touched his beer. He didn’t normally drink this much and wondered if he was going to be able to stand up when it came time to leave. He was feeling melancholic and a little reckless.
“But you were only eighteen, just a kid. How did you cope with suddenly having to run a home? Didn’t your relatives ask you to move in with them?”
The drinks arrived, and Aaron dragged his closer, leaving a trail on the well-worn mahogany counter. He kept his hands around the glass without lifting it up.
“They tried to convince me to move, half-heartedly. We aren’t exactly the Von Trapp family. We only mingle when strictly necessary. Basically for hatch, match, and dispatch.” He smiled at Joe, trying to dispel the gloomy atmosphere that was settling over them. “Christenings, marriages, and funerals,” he clarified.
Aaron sat up straighter. “Anyway, I refused. It took a while, but I eventually got the hang of running the house, paying the bills, doing the shopping. I started cooking for myself, soon realized I love to cook. And I’m not half-bad, either.” He looked at Joe. “You must come over for dinner sometime.”
He took a small sip of his beer, thinking perhaps he shouldn’t.
“Both my folks had life policies, big ones,” Aaron continued. “Initially, I got paid an allowance from the trust, and on my twenty-first birthday, I officially inherited everything.”
Joe had been watching him all this time, empathy glistening in his eyes. Aaron felt self-conscious and changed the subject.
“Anyway, this is all ancient history.”
Joe didn’t comment. He sensed from Aaron’s manner that these were not resolved issues but that the conversation was over for now.
Aaron turned to Joe. “What about you? Your folks still live in Kempton?”
“Yeah, don’t reckon they’ll ever move. My dad likes his comfort zone. I still go ’round for Sunday lunch a couple times a month, we’re pretty close.”
“What do you do? I mean for a living?” Aaron asked.
“I’m a lawyer—a public prosecutor.”
“Really? At twenty-four?” Aaron was impressed. “That’s an interesting choice of profession.”
“Only been with my firm a year, but I seem to be wowing the right people. It’s just, growing up, I saw too much nasty shit, people being treated like cattle, nobody ever taking responsibility. I wanted to make a difference, figured what better way than to prosecute bad guys. Luckily I received a sports scholarship after school, paid my varsity fees.”
“I’m sure it was more than luck. They say the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Joe laughed. “Okay, it was a fair mix of hard work and luck. My brother Kevin and I always used to compete at school. Even though he’s two years younger than me, he’s phenomenally bright and kept me on my toes. We both graduated with several distinctions. Unlike Kevin, though, I loved sport. I spent every spare moment I had on a soccer field or cricket pitch. And I was really good too. My mom and dad were equally proud of both of us, always pushed us to succeed.”
Joe had received an athletic scholarship to the best law school in South Africa, where he easily juggled his sport, studies, and an endless parade of feminine beauties. Not only did he have a lean, athletic build, but he also possessed a natural charisma and charm that he used to get anything he wanted. Once Joe had his heart set on something, it was as good as his. He was not consciously aware of this, but Aaron was already feeling the full impact of his understated personality. He suspected Joe would be a formidable adversary should anyone choose to cross him.
“So, after varsity I had a few offers from some law firms, but I knew all along what I wanted—so I applied to the most successful firm of prosecutors in my second year, and when I graduated, they offered me a position.”
He finally took a big sip from the beer in front of him.
“So, what do you do, Richie Rich?”
“I’m still trying to figure that one out!” Aaron responded. “I’ve always just kinda coasted along, got average grades in school, went to varsity for a couple of years before I dropped out. I traveled a bit. Did a bit of photography but wasn’t particularly good. I did some volunteer work for a while, but eventually it just came to seem so hopeless—no matter how much you do, you never seem to make a difference, like what’s the point?”
“‘It makes a difference to this one,’” Joe said.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a line from a story. A little girl is walking along a beach covered with oysters that were stranded during a storm. As she walks, she stops every few steps to throw one of the oysters back into the ocean. A man sees her doing this. He walks up to her and tells her kindly that she is wasting her time. There are just too many oysters for her to make a difference. Picking one up and tossing it into a wave, she says, ‘Maybe. But it makes a difference to this one.’”
Aaron smiled. “I like that. Puts things in perspective.”
The bartender brought over a bowl of peanuts, and they each grabbed a handful.
“So let me ask you something,” Joe said. “The party last week? Simone was easily the hottest girl there, and she was all over you. Why didn’t you take her home?”
Like a match bursting into flame, Aaron’s temper flared, fed by the alcohol in his veins. “Well, what’s the big fucking obsession with sex? Is it all everybody ever thinks about? Does the whole damn world go around thinking with its dick?! No wonder the world is in the state that it is!”
Joe drew back, startled at the outburst. Aaron saw the confusion in his face and put a hand on his forearm apologetically, embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, Joe. Guess I’ve had a little too much to drink! Maybe it’s time to leave.”
Aaron could see that his outburst had Joe intrigued, and he himself wondered why he had overreacted like he did.
“No, Aaron, it’s fine. It’s okay. But what’s the big deal about sex? It’s fun. You should try it!” he responded, a teasing smile on his lips.
Leaning close, Aaron said quietly, “Okay, I’ll tell you. The truth is—I don’t get sex. I don’t mean I don’t get laid. I mean I don’t see why everybody seems so preoccupied with it. It’s like I’m sitting alone on the see-saw while everybody else seems to be having so much fun on the merry-go-round—but I don’t like the merry-go-round! I also want to have fun, but the merry-go-round just doesn’t do it for me.
“Presidents fall because they poke an intern. Marriages end because guys can’t keep their dicks in their pants. Sex is a multi-billion-dollar industry. I would go so far as to say that sex is the fuel that drives humanity. And I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why it seems to have such power over people.”
He focused his attention back on his beer. He took a sip and put it back down, taking exaggerated care to line the glass up perfectly with the wet ring that it had left on the bar when he picked it up. He had never voiced these thoughts to anybody before. In fact, he hadn’t articulated them to himself until this moment, and somehow, in doing so, he had made them real. He hadn’t realized how angry he felt, that he felt like he was missing out on some awesome secret that the Universe had whispered into everybody else’s ear but not his.
“I mean, I’m far from being a virgin; I’ve had sex with my share of girls. I dated one for almost a year, figured maybe I was just a late bloomer and the sex thing would kick in if I gave it a good try. It didn’t.”
Aaron glanced over at Joe, waiting to see how he would react. He was surprised at how candid he was being with someone he hardly knew.
Joe stared back openly. “Well, I’m no expert on not having sex, but I think there could be several reasons for it. Maybe you have a hormonal imbalance that is affecting your sex drive. Or maybe you have some deep-seated guilt about sex from your Catholic upbringing.”
He paused. “Or maybe you’re gay?”
Aaron sat back as if Joe had just spat in his face.
“Of course I’m not gay!” he protested. “I have sex with women! Maybe not often, but it does happen.”
“Okay, relax, it’s just a thought. My brother’s gay, so I don’t see what the big deal is. Let’s evaluate our options.
“One, you have a hormonal imbalance. If that was the case, you would have no sex drive. You’d probably rarely, if ever, wank. You’d have no interest in porn, and I’m no expert, but I would imagine you would never wake up with a boner. Does any of that fit?”
Aaron was getting uncomfortable. He distractedly moved the ashtray away from himself. He ran his thumb over a sliver of moisture that was making its way down his glass. He didn’t mind sharing the details of his youth with Joe, but sex was a touchy subject for him. The topic of sex had been taboo in his parents’ home, something people did behind closed doors but never discussed.
“Not really,” he answered cagily. “I mean, I do enjoy fairly frequent happy moments by myself, and of course I wake up with an erection most mornings.”
He was blushing brightly, the tips of his ears burning beacons.
Joe acted like he didn’t notice. “Okay, so maybe it’s the Catholic thing. How do you feel about porn?”
“Well, truthfully, porn makes me uneasy. It always feels to me like the women are being taken advantage of somehow. I know it’s stupid. I know they are there willingly, but still, in my mind, women are sweet and gentle. It doesn’t seem ‘honest’ somehow to see some girl fluttering her eyelashes up at some brute as he fucks her face.” Aaron blushed at his unaccustomed use of such graphic language. He’d specifically chosen his words to get his point across, but it was out of character for him. Joe was amused by it but would soon learn that he could make Aaron blush anytime he wanted just by saying the word “vagina” to him.
“And what about the men?”
“What about them? I mean, I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about seeing men in porn one way or another. I enjoy it more when there are no women in the scene, though. It seems less degrading.”
“Okay, I suppose that might be the Catholic thing. Let’s forget the porn. Different tack. You’re walking down the street, and approaching you is a beautiful girl with a good-looking boyfriend. Which do you look at first? What do you feel when you look at each of them?”
Aaron was getting defensive now. He looked around for some excuse to change the subject, finding none. “I’m not gay, okay? I promise. I would be at the front of the queue at the pride parade if I was. I have absolutely nothing against gays.”
“Just answer this one last question, and I’ll never mention it again.”
“Fine,” he said, resigned. “When I look at the woman, I would see her beauty, same as I would recognize beauty in a sunset or a painting. When I look at the man, I would be thinking that I would like pecs like his, or legs or bum or whatever. It’s not a gay thing; it’s just the natural guy habit of comparing myself to other guys.”
Joe said, “Funny. I wouldn’t even notice the guy.” Joe acknowledged Aaron’s discomfort with a smile and honored his promise not to press the issue. He finished his drink. Aaron pushed the rest of his beer away from him and called for the bill.
“Here’s my number,” Joe said. “When are you inviting me for dinner?”
That was the first and last time they had ever discussed Aaron’s sexuality.
As their friendship grew, it became more apparent that Joe was Aaron’s opposite in almost every way. Completely image conscious, he went to gym before work every morning and twice on Saturdays. He was proud of his appearance and would whip off his shirt at the least provocation, which was not an unpleasant experience for women in the vicinity.
Aaron was the more carefree of the two. Having no particular direction or drive in his life, he had become used to going with the flow of things, taking each day as it came. Joe, however, was driven to succeed and had very clear goals in mind for himself. He planned his life weeks in advance and got quite irritable if anything didn’t turn out as he had planned it. He didn’t believe in leaving anything to chance.
In summer, Joe usually came over after work, and the two of them would lie on the loungers catching the late afternoon rays, drinking beer and talking shit. To the world, Joe presented an unshakable confidence, a don’t-fuck-with-me attitude, but as their friendship grew, Joe began to feel comfortable letting his guard down around Aaron. He was the person Joe would seek out when something was troubling him. Aaron liked the fact that only he got to see the softer side of Joe.
Recently, Aaron had found himself doing odd jobs for people. He was very good with his hands and could fix just about anything. It had started several months before, when he had pulled over to help a curvaceous redhead whose car was parked on the side of the road with a flat tire. It was one of those cars where the spare wheel was accessed from beneath the boot, and she was reluctant to lie down in the dirt to get it. Her name was Rachel.
After Aaron had changed the tire for her, he was filthy. She had offered to lead him to her place to get cleaned up, as she lived alone in a house just a few blocks away.
It was obvious to Aaron that she was flirting with him, but he did nothing to encourage it. Once at her place, she asked if he would like to shower, but he declined. She showed him where the bathroom was, and, with the door locked, he took off his shirt and rinsed it under the tap. He squeezed it as dry as he could and put it back on. When he got back to the lounge, she had opened a bottle of wine and poured them each a glass without asking. She laughed when she saw the wet shirt clinging to his torso.
“Take it off; you’re going to get sick. I’ll put it in the dryer.”
She returned a moment later and sat down next to him on the couch with her legs drawn up under her, their knees almost touching. She’s lovely, he thought. I’d love to paint her. She was so elegant with her legs drawn up that way, elbow resting on the arm of the couch, glass hovering a few inches from her glistening lips.
Why am I here? What am I trying to prove?
He was not so naïve that he didn’t know where this was leading. On a subconscious level, he still exposed himself to sexual encounters in the hope that this one would be different, this one would make it all come together in his mind.
He let it happen, opening himself up to her advances. While his body was performing the dance it knew so well, his mind was frantically turning pages, going, There’s no clitoris in my script! Somebody, please, tell me, what page is the clitoris on?
In the morning, Aaron woke up feeling guilty and empty. As usual. Guilty that he had used Rachel’s body, unsuccessfully, to try and repair a flaw in himself. Rachel’s demeanor had also changed. There was no more sexual tension between them. When she brought him coffee, she gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek like she would her brother. “Do you know how to fix a leaky faucet?” she asked, sitting down on the bed with her legs crossed, cup held in front of her.
Of course he did. And fixing the faucet helped him feel less guilty, like he was repaying her for last night’s favors.
He had pulled his car into the empty slot of her double garage the night before. As she was letting him out, he noticed that her garage door didn’t open smoothly, it jerked and shuddered and threatened to stick at any moment. Leading her back inside, Aaron asked for an old rag and a can of oil.
Three days later, she called him again; her pool motor had seized. A week after that, she asked if he would help a friend out by installing a kitty door, for a fee of course. Months later, she told him that she had thought she was doing him a favor because she knew he didn’t have a job. She hadn’t realized how wealthy he was at that point.
Soon they were going shopping and having lunch several times a week. They became good friends. She told him that he was much more fun than any of her girlfriends. Before long, she was confiding in him about guys she was dating, valuing his advice more than any of her other friends’. When she was going on a date with a new guy, she would arrange for Aaron to call her during the date so that if it wasn’t going well, she could pretend that some crisis had arisen and would have an excuse to leave. Like the time her Internet date accidently knocked his glass against his false teeth, causing them to plop into his water. He was obviously much older than he had stated on his profile.
Word spread, and soon women for miles around, and even a few men, would call on him when they needed something done around the house. It hadn’t gone unnoticed to him how some of those people just seemed to have the worst luck, calling him out two or three times a month. Joe had a theory about that, but Aaron dismissed it as silly.
On Tuesday afternoon, the day before his 2 a.m. excursion, Joe had come over after work. He stripped down to his Calvin Kleins as he usually did and sprawled himself out in the sun at the pool. When Aaron joined him with beers in hand, he could tell from his agitated manner that something was on his friend’s mind. He handed Joe a beer and stretched out on his own lounger. He waited for Joe to speak.
“Have you ever dated someone you thought you might actually have a serious future with?” Joe asked a few minutes later.
“Ah,” he said. “Women trouble again? Can’t honestly say that I have. Why do you ask?” Aaron gazed contentedly over the lawn of his back garden, down to the fresh purple blossoms on the Bougainvilleas at the west boundary of his property. The sun was just beginning to dip behind them, and the effect made him want to grab his canvas and brushes. He considered dashing inside for his camera.
Joe swung his legs off the lounger and sat up to look at him. “There’s just something not right going on with Candice, and I don’t have a clue what it is. Have you ever felt like that with a girl? Like you’re missing something?”
“Yup, with just about every girl I ever dated. All five of them. Be more specific.”
“Look, we’ve been dating for months already, right? But I still only see her three or four times a week. I want more. But when I push to see her more often, she gets all cagey, makes up some vague shit about having other commitments and needing time to herself. I mean, what is with that?”
“Well, if you ask me, that just shows that she has a life and needs her independence,” said Aaron. “I can understand that. Your problem is that you’re too used to women falling over themselves to be with you.”
“Well, I think it’s odd,” he said, slightly petulantly. “Usually after a few weeks women get so clingy that I’m forced to dump them to maintain my sanity!”
Aaron slapped him hard on a muscled thigh, making him wince. “You know you’re a misogynistic pig, don’t you?”
“No, seriously. I need to know what’s going on. I need a favor….”
“Uh uh, no way, I am not spying on your future ex-girlfriend!” said Aaron, almost convincing himself. He had never been any good at refusing Joe anything.
“Please, Aar? I’ll owe you big time….”
“Oh come on, not only are you sinking to new lows, but you’re taking me down with you! Besides, you already owe me big time. Several big times, in fact. No!”
© Timothy Owen
Aaron Bradley: Closet Detective
Author: Timothy Owen
Publisher: Dreamspinner press
Aaron Bradley is restless. Despite a privileged upbringing, at twenty-seven he still hasn’t figured out who he is or what he wants to do with his life. Then his friend Joe, a successful public prosecutor, asks him for a favor that will change Aaron's life.
While investigating Joe’s enigmatic girlfriend Candice, Aaron meets Bo, an out-and-proud, easygoing waiter, causing unfamiliar and confusing emotions to flutter to life. Caught up in the middle of Candice’s clandestine activities, with Bo gently nudging him out of the closet along the way, Aaron will have to review everything he thought he knew about himself as he tries to make sense of his feelings for Bo.
Michaela Miller froze with her glass of wine halfway to her mouth. Her eyes widened as she watched her sexy-as-sin neighbor Scott O’Callaghan step through his back door and strip out of his t-shirt. He glanced around, once in her direction, then toward the house on the other side of his own before stripping his pants off.
Underneath he wore shorts that should be illegal. She knew he’d been in the Marine Corps before settling back in Hudson Creek and those were his…silkies or softies—or some other ridiculous name. Whatever the damn things were called, they barely covered his crotch and they put all sorts of bad thoughts in her mind. The man obviously wore them to drive her insane. Every morning he was up at dawn and jogging around the lake they lived on and showing off all sorts of taut, lean muscles and tattoos. And she’d only discovered that by accident. She’d gotten up early one morning six months ago and had seen him run by her place at the ungodly hour. Now mornings were her favorite time of the day.
Seemed she was getting a double show today though. Apparently his morning workout wasn’t enough and he was getting in some extra time tonight. Something told her he had no clue she was watching. The light bulb on her back porch had blown a week ago and she’d been too lazy to replace it. Usually the moonlight and stars reflecting off the lake gave her enough light anyway, but the sky was overcast tonight and she was sitting in relative darkness.
Her hand tightened around her glass as he reached up and grabbed on to the metal bar he’d installed recently. It was attached to some sort of pole thing and now she realized why he’d mounted it. Michaela’s stomach fluttered as he started doing pull-ups.
Up and down, up and down. Those big arms clenched and tightened each time he pulled up. It was beyond embarrassing, but her panties dampened as she watched him move. For such a bulky guy, he moved with a fluid grace that made her wonder what he’d be like beneath the sheets.
He was male perfection. Dark hair, dark, piercing eyes and not an inch of fat on that hard body. Unfortunately he was quiet as hell and no doubt thought she was an idiot. Scott was from the area, but he’d been gone for years and had moved back only seven months ago. She’d brought him cookies to welcome him to the neighborhood. Everyone who lived on Hudson Lake knew everyone and she’d wanted to do something nice. When she’d shown up with her plate, he’d grunted something inaudible, then just stared at her as she rambled on for a full two minutes about—God, what was it? She couldn’t even remember now but since he’d barely responded to her neighborly gesture, she’d steered clear of the sexy man. Didn’t mean she couldn’t admire what was placed in front of her.
After the pull-ups, he started on the sit-ups. When he switched to push-ups, she shook her head and slipped through her back door. Nearly an hour had passed and if she wasn’t careful, she’d combust from watching him.
She had to get up early to teach a yoga class anyway. Thursdays were her early days and her patrons paid good money for her to do her job right. She wasn’t going to come in late and tired because she’d been horny and spying on her neighbor.
* * * * *
“Hey, boss, would you sign off on this?”
Scott glanced up from filling out the payroll as Daniel walked into his office holding a clipboard. “What is it?”
“I just finished with Mr. Wilkinson’s BMW. I’m gonna call and let him know if that’s all right.”
“Sounds good.” Scott quickly scribbled his signature without reading the paperwork. Daniel had been with him since he’d opened O’Callaghan’s Auto Body Shop. He was the most trustworthy employee he had.
Daniel cleared his throat. “Thanks. By the way, I just saw Michaela Miller drive up. Thought you’d like to take that one personally.”
That got Scott’s attention. “Get the hell out of here,” he muttered.
Chuckling to himself, Daniel quickly left the office.
Scott wiped his dirty palms on his work pants. His mouth filled with cotton at the mere mention of her name. Anytime the sexy woman got near him, he lost the ability to think, let alone speak. He’d lived through boot camp, SERE school, and about a dozen other brutal training programs during his eight years in the Marine Corps. Not to mention he’d lived in a warzone for six of those years. But for some reason he couldn’t talk to his petite, redheaded neighbor for longer than a couple minutes without breaking into a nervous sweat. It was fucking embarrassing.
The sound of the bell jingling on the front door pushed him into action. He turned off his computer screen and exited his office.
Michaela stood behind the counter with her car keys in hand. She smiled when she saw him. “Hi, I think my car needs to see a doctor.”
His gut clenched as her face lit up. Talk, he ordered his mouth.
© Savannah Stuart
Tempting Alibi up
Author; Savannah Stuart
Publisher: Jasmine Jade (Ellora’s Cave)
Scott got into a fair amount of trouble as a teenager, but now he’s grown and runs a respectable auto body shop. Unfortunately, the sheriff of his town has it out for him, no matter how much he’s cleaned up his act.
When he’s accused of a crime he didn’t commit, no one is more surprised than he is when straitlaced Michaela Miller provides him with an alibi. An alibi that’s a complete lie. Determined to find out why his sexy next-door neighbor helped him out, he puts himself in danger of losing something he’d never considered. His heart.
Subtly, she drifted farther from him, losing his hand. "But since...?" Gram had been sure to fill her in about his travels of the past few years. He’d been around the world, drinking in every experience he could, while he could.
Although he itched for her touch, he played the good boy and shoved his hands into his jeans' pockets. "Yeah, I know. Europe was great. Australia was mind bending. I’ve been all across the States and back and down into Mexico. I loved it all. At the time." He gave the fatalistic shrug that had become so familiar lately. "It all ends up being the same underneath, just a different location."
"I find that hard to believe."
Another shrug. "Pretty much everywhere is just plain old home to someone."
"Interesting observation." Her voice was soft, her eyes on the ground the walked. "Do you think you’d ever move back here?"
"Nah." Gut reaction. "It’s not for me. Nice to visit, but I’d go crazy if I stayed here."
To that she had no reaction and he chose to let the matter rest.
A trickle of water was all that dampened the creek bed that bisected the path. One wide arm of an oak tree spread low along the side of the path, convenient for sitting. Beyond was darkness, a haven of trees that had been his retreat during his younger days. A haven where he could be alone or where he could take a girlfriend. He stopped at the threshold. The two of them had been here before. Here he’d made his fatal mistake.
A hand gently patted the back of his shoulder and looked down into her beautiful, sympathetic eyes. "I’m so sorry about your knee. You must have been devastated."
He blinked, so very far away from thinking about his short-lived career. "Thanks. I was. But life goes on."
"You’re okay now?"
"As much as anyone can be, I guess. A little limp sometimes." He shrugged.
"So." She settled against the branch, gazing up at the leafy canopy, not remembering or, it seemed, uncaring of their location. Her hands linked loosely before her. "What do you do these days besides travel the world?"
He braced beside her on the branch, watching the water. "A lot of nothing, actually. Thanks to Gramps, I was smart enough to invest then get out before everything crashed. So I’m okay for at least a few years while I decide."
He grinned at her. "What I want to be when I grow up."
She laughed and the warmth of the sound, the warmth of the woman, snapped his control. She was here and the moment felt right. He could no longer stand not to touch her. He leaned in to close the distance between their lips, giving her ample time to pull away.
© Jet Myles
Bye, Bye Skyler
Author: Jet Mykles
Publisher: Aspen Mountain Press
Genre: Contemporary erotic romance
Ann has safely put Skyler and her juvenile feelings for him behind her. She’d been mad about him in high school but they'd never been more than friends. Then he left early graduation and never looked back.
Eleven years later, Skyler shows up and proves that she’s never gotten out of her system, no matter how much she’s tried. He's only in town for a short time, but he makes it plain that he'd like to see her during that time.
Can Ann take advantage of the opportunity and experience what she missed in high school without losing her heart to a man who has no intention of sticking around?
Nathan Andersen needed a nap. Badly.
He yawned for the millionth time, fighting eyelids that threatened to close even as his car swerved down the highway at midnight. A sudden tremor against his leg nearly sent him through the roof, and he dove into his pocket for his cell phone.
"Someone's burning the midnight oil," he said, chuckling. "Have you left the office yet, Heather?"
Her long pause answered his question. "You asked me to call if we heard anything else from Roth about Nora and your assignment."
"Yes. What'd he say? Did he overhear another phone call with more details?" The FBI mole's first tip was trusted enough to put Nate on the road to Crescent City. What he learned next could make or break the assignment.
"Not exactly. It was more of a confirmation of what he already told us. Roth said that he heard Goodwill—" whose lawyer had gotten him out on bail a couple months before "—on the phone with the Shadow." Both agents remained silent for a moment. For years the Shadow's name meant nothing but disappointment to the FBI. He was probably the best assassin in recent history, and the file on him was filled only with death certificates of his victims.
No names—pseudonyms or real. No pictures. No physical description. No location. Nothing to help them find him.
Heather cleared her throat and continued. "Roth said that he heard Goodwill confirming with the Shadow that he arrived in Crescent City and he was sure that Nora James was there. He said something about the community college, but Roth wasn't sure what was going on."
Nate's breathing quickened. He had to find her first, or it could spell the end of their case. "Did he say if the plan had changed?"
"Roth didn't hear anything about a change. As far as we know, the idea is still for the Shadow to kidnap Nora and hold her until Goodwill's trial is over. What are you going to do?"
Nate grunted. "If Goodwill's plan hasn't changed, then neither has mine." Another jaw-stretching yawn caught him off guard, and he mumbled an apology. Hitting the speaker button on his phone, he tossed it into the center console. Using his now-free hand to search for something that might help him fight off sleep, he grabbed for the coffee cup sitting next to his phone. Scowling when he realized it was empty, he chucked it at the opposite floorboard and rooted around the passenger seat for the bag of sunflower seeds he'd stashed there hours earlier.
"Do you really think Nora is in Crescent City?" Heather sounded unconvinced. "I know Roth doesn't have any reason to mislead us, but she took off a year and half ago. She could be anywhere by now. How can we be sure Goodwill tracked her to a tiny little town no one's ever heard of?"
Nate shoved a handful of seeds into his mouth and tried to talk around them. "I don't know how he found her, but he's got no reason to lie to Roth about hiring the Shadow to kidnap her and hold her as blackmail again. Goodwill will do anything to stay out of jail and he knows the evidence we have against him could put him away for life."
Red taillights flashed down the road, sending Nate back to the night in the alley that his years of investigation into Phil Goodwill's crime syndicate had led to. That night hadn't ended well, especially when Parker James, Nate's key witness and the master of Goodwill's perfectly manufactured monetary fronts had been shot.
His arm twitched, jerking him back to the present at the same time that Heather asked, "Do you really think that Goodwill will try to kidnap Nora again? Especially since she didn't know anything about her father's involvement with the crime ring?"
Nate laughed out loud. "You'd think he'd have learned his lesson last time. In seven years with the Bureau, I've never seen anyone turn as fast as Parker did when his daughter was kidnapped. He couldn't wait to turn over state's evidence to get Goodwill behind bars. He practically taped that wire on himself before going into the alley."
Nate shook his head at the memory of the agitated and jerky accountant so focused on rescuing his daughter. Now Nate had a job to do. One that could clinch his case against one of the biggest criminals in the Portland area. He couldn't afford to let the guy back out on the street for good.
And to keep that from happening, he had to focus on his two witnesses. Both in danger. One in immediate peril.
"Will you keep an eye on the old man while I'm out of town? Just check in on him from time to time."
"Sure thing, Boss. Is there anything I should tell him?"
Nate chewed on his lip for a moment, instinctively reaching for the coffee cup before remembering it was empty. "Don't tell him I'm going after Nora. He doesn't need to know that Goodwill's last-ditch plan for freedom is kidnapping his daughter. Again."
"I don't want Parker even thinking that he might not testify at the trial. His testimony rounds out this case perfectly. I'll find Nora and get her to the safe house. I won't let Goodwill intimidate the old man by threatening Nora."
Heather yawned loudly on the other end of the line. "Oh, sorry. Guess it's getting late here, too." Her definition of late was a little different than his.
"Go home—get some rest. Check in with me as soon as you hear anything else from Roth."
"Will do. Good night, sir."
"Good night," he said around his own yawn. Fighting the urge to let his eyelids drop, he refocused on the red dots ahead growing ever closer and mentally grasped for a plan to find the girl in Crescent City. He had to find her before catastrophe struck.
He didn't have a recent picture of her, so his only point of reference was her father's description and a list of her favorite activities. Church, work, school and riding bicycles—not much to go on. She had friends in each activity, but Parker had been adamant that she just hadn't had time for much else. Her master's program really took up almost all of her spare time.
But at least it was a place to start.
Nate spied the large wooden shaft sitting in the middle of the road much too late. When his sedan smashed into it, a hideous scraping vibrated along the underside of his car.
A hundred feet down the road, just as he passed a large white sign with blue letters welcoming him to Crescent City, Colorado, population 26,714, smoke appeared in his rearview mirror. White and airy at first, it quickly began to darken.
"Just great," he mumbled, pulling off the highway and into a little service station. "Nice going, Andersen."
He parked the smoking vehicle—a Bureau-issued, undercover, black sedan—and got out to take a look around. The station was locked up tight with a little sign tucked into the front window. The red arms on the paper clock indicated the shop would open up at seven-thirty the next morning. He glanced at his watch; only a couple hours away.
The lights of the city didn't really begin for about half a mile or so. It wasn't worth it to walk that far looking for a hotel for only two hours of sleep. He'd get more rest in his car.
He reclined the back of the seat, cracked the window, crossed his arms over his chest and fell into peaceful oblivion.
Danielle Keating squinted at the black sedan parked in front of Andy's Auto Shop. She hiked her coverall bottoms up at her waist before slipping one arm into its sleeve. The gray tank top she usually wore underneath was clean, so she wasn't in too much of a hurry to cover it up. Besides, the early morning sun made her simmer when zipped inside the full-body jumpsuit.
With the arm that was still free of the blue sleeve, she shaded her eyes and peered closely into the car's window. Backseat empty. Front seat em—
She jumped back just as the driver's side door flung open, and a dark-haired man with bloodshot eyes stepped out. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms and nodded at her. He ran his tongue over his teeth and yawned but didn't speak.
He squinted in the glare, but she could tell by the slow up-and-down movement of his blue-gray eyes that he was appraising her. It sent shivers up her back, and she quickly shoved her bare arm into its sleeve.
Just because she didn't like being assessed, didn't mean she would back down. Doing her best to maintain eye contact, she leaned a little closer. She waited for him to speak, but he seemed in no hurry. He pushed his large hands into the pockets of his wrinkled khaki pants and jingled keys or loose change there. His broad shoulders stretched the blue cotton of his polo shirt, and he stood somehow both relaxed and erect, leaning against the side of the car.
Finally she could handle the silence no longer. "Having car trouble? Or just needed a place to park?"
He squinted again, this time lifting the corners of his mouth in a half smile, his face suddenly coming alive. "Car trouble. I hit something in the road about a quarter mile back, and then I saw smoke in my rearview…so I pulled over."
"Good thing you did." She nodded, not taking her eyes off of him.
"When does the mechanic get in? I'd like to get it looked at right away so that I can get home."
Danielle's smile faltered for a moment, but she quickly plastered it back into place. Why did men always assume that she was the front-counter help? "She's here now and is happy to take a look. Pop the hood."
The tall man's ears flushed red in appropriate contrition beneath his closely trimmed brown hair, and she took a measure of pride in his shame. He opened his mouth, then seemed to think better of it and hopped back into the car, bending forward to pull the hood release.
Danielle lifted the hood and propped it open, leaning into the shadow. She felt, rather than saw, him move to stand next to her, his body radiating warmth in the already oppressive heat of the unusually mild September. She took a step away, trying to keep her jittery nerves under control. He wasn't necessarily a threat to her. He probably had no idea who she was. Why would he?
Shooting him a sideways glance through narrowed eyes, she sucked in a quick breath before lifting the radiator cap, revealing a normal amount of fluid. The oil dipstick showed normal levels, too.
"Hmm. It's probably your transmission fluid. Let me check."
He shook his head as she shimmied under the car. "But it was running fine."
Sure enough, the pan was leaking copious amounts of dark fluid. "Yeah, you probably hit something that cracked your pan and left your transmission to fend for itself. Hang on."
She scooted out from under the car and turned on her side, peering all the way up at his face. He looked slightly perplexed, but reached out a hand to help her to her feet. She hesitated for a moment before letting him dwarf her hand in his much larger one. His tug gentle yet firm, she immediately found herself on her feet, toe-to-toe and far too close for comfort.
"Thank you," she mumbled, taking a few quick steps backward.
Her eyes sought his again, even though she wasn't sure what she was looking for there. His smile was gone, replaced by exhaustion. "Did you sleep in your car, Mr….?" Her voice trailed off, as she chided herself for not asking his name before.
"Andersen. Mr. Andersen."
In her mind she replayed the line from The Matrix in a menacing tone and barely managed to keep from laughing out loud.
"Danielle," she said, holding out her hand to shake his. He nodded, looking even more tired than before. "It's going to take me a little while to check out your car more completely and make sure there's nothing else going on with it. Help me push it into the garage, and then you can sit down in the waiting room. We're not usually busy on Tuesday mornings, so you might even be able to get a little sleep."
"Thanks," he said as he leaned into the car again and slipped the automatic into neutral. She couldn't help but notice the messy passenger seat, which seemed inconsistent with the man. While he had tousled hair and more than a five-o'clock shadow growing on his chin, he seemed mostly put together—or would have if he hadn't slept in his car. She'd seen all sorts of cars and their owners since starting at the shop more than a year before. Usually the single guys in ripped T-shirts and stained jeans trashed their cars, not the men with desk jobs and khakis.
"Huh?" His voice jerked her from her thoughts. "Yeah. Let's go."
Together they pushed the sedan to the garage door, which Danielle quickly unlocked and raised. When the car was settled over the in-floor pit, Mr. Andersen disappeared into the waiting room, and Danielle set to work, glancing every couple of minutes at his slumped form. She wasn't sure what she was expecting him to do, but as long as they were alone together in the garage, she wanted to know where he was.
Nate snorted loudly, effectively ripping himself from the light doze he enjoyed on the hard plastic chair in Andy's Auto Shop waiting room. Leaving his chin resting against his chest, he rubbed the back of his neck with both hands and squeezed his elbows together. The stretch of his arms and shoulders felt wonderful after being cooped up in the car for so long.
He blinked once, his eyes scraping the tender flesh of his eyelids, and groaned loudly. He rubbed both hands over his face. Two-day-old beard rasped against his palms, and he shook his head slightly and closed his eyes again to let them gain some of the moisture they'd lost during the long night.
He definitely wasn't twenty-five anymore. When he first started with the Bureau, all-nighters and long-term stakeouts were a snap. Even with only stale Funyuns and massive amounts of Yoo-hoo to drink, he'd been alert and thoughtful, great at his job.
At almost thirty-five he had to admit—even just to himself—that he needed to take better care of his body. Especially if his immediate response to a lack of sleep was snoring in a waiting room, even though he should have been on the job. No more all-nighters. It was just that easy. That is, unless his job required it. He'd take better care of himself, but he'd do whatever the job required. Over the last several years as the special agent in charge of the Portland office, Nate did whatever it took to complete the assignment.
© Liz Johnson
Author: Liz Johnson
Publisher: Steeple Hill Books
Genre: Inspirational Romance
Eighteen months ago, Nora James watched as her father was shot in an alley—and then she fled. She changed her name, her appearance and her job, hoping to keep her father's shooter at bay. For months, it worked…but now her luck has run out.
A ruthless assassin is on her trail, and soon Nora, now known as Danielle, will be found. But this time, she has FBI agent Nate Andersen by her side—right? The handsome agent would give his life to protect Danielle, but he's wary of giving his heart…until a deadly confrontation leaves him with both on the line.
Hunter’s fingers slipped into the folds of heated flesh between her legs while Matt’s cock pressed between her ass cheeks. “Your body betrays you, Tess.”
She wanted to deny the pleasure both men thrust upon her but couldn’t.
Sheri licked her lips, turned the page, and wiggled her hips deeper into the plush contours of the worn-out recliner.
A metallic click from the front door indicated Jane’s arrival home. She glanced at the clock, and dipped her head back to the pages in front of her.
“I can’t do this… We can’t do this,” Tess moaned.
“Oh, yes they can,” Sheri whispered with a smile.
The doorknob to the apartment wiggled. Sheri sat up, and her heart flipped in her chest. She’d opened her mouth to ask if Jane lost her key when the knob jolted under pressure. Scrambling to her feet, Sheri lunged into the hall, away from the door before it sprung open.
Her mind buzzed with possibilities of who was breaking into the apartment while fear threatened her ability to stand. Sheri inched along the hallway wall and silently fled into Jane’s bedroom. Once out of sight of the front door, she raced into the bathroom and squeezed between the door and the shower stall.
Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God.
She heard the door to Jane’s room open and the sound of her dresser drawers slamming close. Sheri glanced around the door, searching the vanity for some type of weapon. Snatching a brush by the sink, Sheri plastered her frame against the wall and closed her eyes. When they opened, she noticed her white knuckles grasping the handle of the brush. What the hell is this gonna do? Nothing! But she held on to it nonetheless.
Peeking through the crack in the door, Sheri saw the backside of the thief ransacking their apartment. He’d found a suitcase and returned to Jane’s room. The action struck her as odd. Didn’t criminals bring their own bags? Not this one, apparently.
Sheri tried in vain to slow her breathing.
After a few more trips into the hall closet and another two suitcases, the man appeared to have all he wanted. He sat the bags outside the room and straightened to his full length. He cocked his head to the side and turned her way. A short glimpse of the man’s face, and Sheri quickly averted her gaze. If she could see his hard, masculine features that vividly, he surely could see hers.
The bulky blond sauntered into her room, mere feet from where she stood, and turned a complete circle. His muscled arms didn’t fit in the tight shirt he wore. His broad shoulders filled the frame of the door. Admiring the man’s chest while he robbed them blind was irrevocably nuts, even for her.
Sheri lifted the brush closer to her torso as if it were a knife. She dared another look and noticed the slow cantor of the elephant in the room. He stopped by her dresser and picked up a picture of Jane and her taken at the top of the Space Needle last spring. What is he doing?
The brush she held loosened in her grip and tickled the back of the door. To her it sounded like a shout in church. The intruder didn’t seem to notice. Still, every breath she took echoed in her ears.
The man tossed the picture on the bed and rewarded her with his back once again. When he stepped away from the door where she stood, she let out a breath in relief. Squeezing her eyes shut, Sheri listened to his footsteps leaving the room.
The front door opened and closed quietly. Sheri sighed and slowly stepped from beyond the bathroom. She poked her head into Jane’s bedroom expecting to see it lay in shambles.
A sharp prickling of the skin on the back of her neck snapped her head up. She took one step back and straight into the hard planes of a man’s chest. Sheri opened her mouth to scream, only to have a massive hand clamp over her lips.
“Now, lass. Ye don’t want to be doing that.”
His Scottish accent purred off his lips and kept her still for exactly one second. Sheri opened her mouth wide, felt his finger accidentally slip inside, and clamped down hard.
The man swore and pushed her from his body. “Now why did ye go and do that? I’m not going to harm ye, lassie.”
Sheri swiveled and lifted the forgotten brush out between them. “Get back.”
The man glanced between the brush and her face before having the audacity of bellowing a laugh.
“I mean it, get back.” Sheri wasn’t amused.
“Or what? Ye’ll brush my hair to death?” His smile widened and reached all the way to his majestic blue eyes.
Braced and ready for battle, the hair on Sheri’s neck stood up. “I’ll, I’ll...”
The bastard couldn’t control his mirth. In fact, he started laughing so hard he bent over with the effort.
Sheri’s jaw slammed shut at the same time the hairbrush launched from her hand and landed square on the jerk’s jaw. “Ha!”
Surprised, his laugh halted, and his shoulders squared back. When he stretched up to his six foot plus frame, Sheri swallowed hard and rounded her eyes to his. He touched a finger to his quickly swelling jaw and left a smear of blood.
He was no longer amused.
He inched toward her.
She stepped back. “You have what you want. J-just go.”
One step closer. The sofa caught the back of her thighs, and Sheri tumbled onto her back.
With her red hair splattered over the pillows on the couch, the lass didn’t appear as a threat. The pain coursing from his finger and the ache in his jaw reminded him she was. Still, because of the heat in her green eyes and the way her stare swept over his chest, Chase couldn’t help but desire a little of her fire.
Before she could scramble off the couch, Chase launched onto her, forcing her back down. He clasped her hands in his and extended them above her head. Her perky breasts thrust against his chest in her struggles to free herself. “Calm down. I mean ye no harm.”
“Then let me go.”
“And risk more injury? I think not.”
“Oh, did I hurt the big bad man?” she quipped with her sassy tongue.
She tried to bend her knees. Chase forced his superior weight on her, restricting her movements. “Lay still, lass, and let me explain.”
“Explain how you’re robbing me blind?”
“I’m not a thief.”
Chase held her down while she tired herself with her struggles. The anger in her heated cheeks finally relaxed along with her limbs. Then, as though the thought hadn’t dawned on her before, she screamed. Chase quickly released her hands and covered her mouth again. Although he kept his fingers from her sharp teeth, she still managed to yell beyond his fist.
The thud of a neighbor’s door vibrated down the hall. The sound brought a completely new set of problems. “Shh, settle!”
Her eyes widened, and she shook her head no.
Chase leaned close to her ear; her hair tickled his nose with the lavender sent of her skin. “Jane sent me here to retrieve her things. Now quit yer fight and keep silent, lass,” he hissed.
Chase lifted his fingers from her mouth.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” she asked, still pushing against his chest.
“Because Jane’s clothing won’t fit me, and I took nothing else.”
“Hey?” A voice beyond the door called. Chase’s gaze shot up. He didn’t need delays in returning to Logan and Jane, and certainly didn’t want any questions.
“Wrap yer arms around me,” he told her. When she hesitated, he added, “The sooner your neighbor leaves, the quicker I return to yer friend with her things.”
Uncertainty skirted her face. She stopped pounding his chest and eased her thin arms up and over his shoulder.
He watched her full pink lips and the understanding in her eyes as he bent closer to her. “Don’t bite,” he ordered.
His lips cut off her protest. Completely stiff in his arms, and eyes wide opened, she no longer fought him. Chase leaned into her limp body and claimed her lips as his own. Heat tingled up his jaw with the contact. A small mewling noise came from deep inside her. A protest? Maybe. But in allowing the noise to escape, the lass parted her lips, giving him room. He swept his tongue into the deep cavern of her mouth, prepared to retreat in case her teeth clenched hard as they had before. They didn’t. In fact, her mouth opened wider, and her hand clenched on his back. Her eyes fluttered shut, and when her tongue shot out to duel with his, Chase felt his cock tighten in the tight confines of his pants.
“Sheri? Jane? Are you two okay?” the male voice from beyond the door asked before Chase heard it open.
Chase ignored the intruder although Sheri stilled.
“Oh, well…” the man said from the doorway. By the sound of his voice, he was obviously embarrassed.
Chase withdrew his lips from Sheri’s, only to place them by her ear. “Chase,” he whispered.
“Ahh… Nice meeting you, Chase. I’ll chat with you later, Sheri.”
Chase waved a hand in the air, never meeting the eyes of the would-be hero before hearing the door shut.
© Catherine Bybee
Author: Catherine Bybee
Publisher: Cobblestone Press
Genre: Erotic Romance
Time traveling Highlander, Chase Donnach, would like nothing better than to enjoy his last days in the twenty-first century in the arms of the feisty, redhead Sheri Lansing. When their mutual sexual pleasure develops into much bigger emotions of love and forever Chase has to convince Sheri that he’s the Highlander for her.
All of Sheri’s life the people she grows to love leave her. When Chase slips into her heart, she reflexively pushes him away. Can Chase really love her as much as he says, or are the destined to only be lovers lost in time?
Lightning flickered in Reagan Landry's bedroom like a bulb ready to burn out. She lay in her king-sized bed counting the seconds. "One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four—" A drawn-out crack of thunder interrupted her counting. "Less than a mile away. Probably will be two seconds before one or both of the kids wake up."
Seemingly on cue, three-year-old Gregory scrambled into bed with her. "I'm scared," he said.
"It's just a little rain storm—nothing to be worried about." Reagan cuddled her young son, happy to comfort him with her touch, and in a few minutes, his breathing became even and deep. She smiled. I wish all our problems could be solved so easily.
Rain pelted the windows with increasing speed. Lightning flashes illuminated the big wet splotches sliding down her windowpane. It's gonna be a long night. Ava's pitiful wails began after the next angry grumble from mythical Zeus. Leaving Gregory behind, Reagan padded down the hall to her baby's bedroom.
Noah was already there, reaching for their crying daughter. Ava's chin quivered as he lifted her out of the crib. Ava's shoulders jerked with each sob while Noah patted her back. "It's okay, baby, Daddy's here."
Reagan stood in the doorway taking in the sight. Seeing them together warmed her heart and tears sprung to her eyes.
As he turned in front of the rocking chair, Noah raised an eyebrow. "When did you get here?"
"How about we trade kids?" Reagan said in a quiet voice. "Gregory climbed in with me a little while ago and he's asleep again. If you carry him back to bed, I'll take Ava and then you can go back to sleep since it's my night for kid duty."
"I don't mind."
"I know, but Gregory is getting too heavy for me to carry." Another long rumble of thunder shook the skies. "And he's still getting used to you being around. If he wakes up, this might be a good chance to build some trust."
Ava's tearstains were evident on Noah's white, muscle t-shirt when he handed Reagan their pouty daughter. Reagan led the way to her bedroom.
Noah lifted Gregory out of her bed. "Goodnight, little girl," he said to Ava on his way through the doorway. His lips glanced off Ava's head and landed on Reagan's cheek.
Reagan blushed. "Goodnight to you, too."
Noah gazed at her for a moment, seeming to want to say something and then he walked toward Gregory's room.
"Okay, Ava, let's see if we can get you back to sleep," Reagan said after he was out of sight. A clap of thunder made the little girl jump and release a fearful-sounding hiccup. Reagan rocked her daughter as she spoke. "It's okay; it's just a little bit of thunder. The angels are bowling."
She drew the comforter back, moved away the pillow, and then put her young daughter down. Ava cried the second she was out of Reagan's arms. Cuddling and cooing comforting words helped only a little; Ava remained wide awake and fussy.
"Let's see if I can help, Reggie," Noah said, using his favorite nickname for her.
Reagan glanced up at the sound of his voice. "Oh, I didn't hear you come in."
The bed sagged as he joined mother and daughter. He pulled the covers over his waist and turned Ava on her stomach. Her little head popped up immediately, and she gazed from mother to father before scampering into Noah's arms.
"Having me around is new for her. She's going through a phase." Noah nuzzled Ava's cheek. "Isn't that right? You love your mom, don't you?"
Another loud crack of thunder made the infant wail. She buried her little face against her father's shoulder and cried harder.
Noah rolled out of bed and walked around the lightning-lit room, while gently bouncing Ava in his arms. He pointed to the rain spatters on the window and reassured her all was well each time thunder gurgled in the nighttime sky. Ava gripped Noah's shirt through all his explanations. In the end, he came back to bed with their unhappy daughter and leaned against the headboard.
Noah released a long sigh. "Hold her for a moment, will you?"
"What are you doing?" Reagan asked as Noah took off his shirt.
He tossed the garment toward a bedroom chair. Laying her back on his chest, he said, "Come on, little girl, cuddle with me." Seconds later he was prying her fingers out of his chest hairs. "Yeow! Let go! Help out, Reggie, before she tears every hair loose."
Ava seemed agreeable to holding onto Reagan's finger instead and quieted herself by sucking her other thumb.
"Come a little closer," Noah said in a low voice.
"You're jabbing me in the ribs with your elbow and if you want our daughter to sleep I need you to move in."
Reagan moved closer.
"I won't bite."
Reagan settled in even closer and rested her leg over his thigh. Being so near to Noah made her whole body quiver inside. Reagan asked, "Is she asleep?"
"Where did you learn this trick?"
"During one of those desperate parenting nights when nothing else worked. She takes after her mother."
"I seem to recall holding you in my arms kind of like this the night before I shipped out. That was the last time we kissed, if my memory serves."
"I can't believe how much you've bulked up since . . . ."
"Since the last time we were in bed together?"
"Boxing. I took out a lot of my frustrations on the bag while I was in Korea."
"I wouldn't want to tick you off."
"Muscles aren't just for hurting people. I'd think you'd know me better by now, Reagan. Anyway, being a JAG lawyer is demanding and stressful."
"Tell me about it. You missed Ava's birth, and a million other important days in the past four years."
"Being a lawyer is important to me and I was in the Navy when we met. You knew how much I loved my career—I've never kept my aspirations a secret."
"I always hoped one day the kids and I would come first. Guess that's why we got divorced."
"I was in Korea working on a court marshal. We've been through this . . . ." Noah released a drawn-out breath. "I don't want to argue, Reggie. I don't know how long I'll be able to stay in Washington. Can't we just make the best of things while I'm here?"
Ava wiggled and whined. Regan pressed her index finger to her lips. "We're keeping our daughter awake."
After a long silence Noah said, "This is a first."
"Mother and daughter both in my arms, in bed. I never imagined this happening."
"Your body feels strong enough to carry all of us."
"I'm glad you think so. Now that I'm connecting with Gregory again and met Ava, that's what I want."
Noah's declaration created a cacophony of emotion and Reagan couldn't come up with a decent response. She'd always loved him, even when Noah's father called her a "low born scrapper" and told her to get out of Noah's life before she ruined it. When her family said she was foolish to waste her best years waiting for Noah's next leave, she still wanted him bad.
They'd ignored their parents' wishes and eloped. Their families retaliated with cold, judgmental behavior that rarely let up. Reagan defended her decision to marry a career naval officer through all the battles—until she was pregnant with Ava and felt more overwhelmed and discouraged than she ever had. Her family's criticisms seemed to make a lot of sense. She caved in to their pleas to accept their support and build a new life with her children while she was still young enough to find real love this time. She filed for divorce.
Only a few months ago, Reagan thought Peter was the right man for her. He'd bailed her out emotionally so many times when loneliness and the trials of single parenthood wore her down. When she felt like a failure as a woman and a mother he lavished encouragement. Peter was willing to be a stepfather to her children and was warming up to the task so well they'd discussed making their relationship more permanent.
Then Noah came home. Seeing her ex threw a monkey wrench in her feelings for Peter and their relationship headed south faster than migrating birds trying to beat Old Man Winter. Noah wasted no time proving how demanding he could be about his role as a father and insisted on spending time alone with both kids. Her family and friends said Noah was acting like a bully and disapproved of their living arrangement. Even if Noah's stay was temporary and having him around made things easier with the children, everyone close to Reagan said she was one short leave away from getting hurt again.
But when Noah showed her how much he loved being a father she melted. She found their current coexistence peaceful and fun, and many days she caught herself wishing he wouldn't be leaving again.
In other words, nothing ever changes.
His chest rose and fell under her cheek and Reagan wondered if he'd fallen asleep with Ava. His unique scent evoked memories of the passionate night they conceived their baby girl. Though divorced now, her desire for him still smoldered. She recognized how close her knee was to his balls and considered inching her leg a little higher. You still have it bad for him, Reagan. Just because he said he wanted to carry us, doesn't mean he wants us to be lovers again. The fact Noah could fall sleep with her body glued to his irked Reagan. Rising on her elbow, she gazed at him. His long, thick eyelashes were as dreamy as ever and his full lips were parted. He's so hot for me.
Careful not to wake father or daughter, Reagan slipped out of bed and lifted Ava into her arms. Noah rolled onto his side, and seemed content to spend the night right where he lay. Reagan covered him with the quilt. Her hand rested on his powerful biceps for a few seconds. Muscles have many purposes indeed. Without hesitation, she kissed her fingertips and pressed them to his temple. "Goodnight."
The storm quieted by the time she returned Ava to her crib. Now where to sleep? She leaned against her doorjamb and watched the father of her children while he slept. Peaceful. Contented. As though he still belonged there. Did he? The tired part of her wanted to crawl into bed and go to sleep; the other half wanted to crawl into his arms.
What's the point? Noah's made his choice. She walked down the hall to his bedroom.
She scanned the room, observing Noah's tidy belongings. I bet this place could pass any white glove inspection the Navy wanted to conduct. Reagan had been in Noah's bedroom only a few times since he'd moved in, and she'd never come in alone. She felt sneaky slipping under his covers and settling in. His scent on the pillow next to her enveloped her senses as though he rested there, too. I can't believe Noah fell asleep. He didn't even make a move!
© Margie Church
Author: Margie Church
Publisher: Noble romance publishing