Welcome everyone to the Secret Cravings Publishing 4th Anniversary Blog Hop! I’m so glad you can join us! I am so lucky to be a part of Secret Cravings Publishing – it’s my dream come true!
*I have prizes to give away! Four lucky commenters below will win their choice of four of my e-books! Just comment below with your e-mail. I will draw on Sunday evening!*
Now, I would love to introduce you to each of my books but in an unique way – through excerpts!
Sloan watched from a distance as Aubrey fought to keep Abbey from dashing away, a frightened doe in the terrifying forest named New York. Apparently, up to this point, the vicious predators of the city hadn’t sent her fleeing home.
Until he entered her world, obviously.
Sloan had to admit something about her alarmed him too. He knew many women and had been with several. But none of them like her. Innocent. Naïve. True. Or so she seemed at first glance.
He couldn’t pull away from her wide-eyed, burning, hazel gaze. He wanted to free her shining, brown tresses from her ponytail and bury his fingers in the locks. He wanted to taste her plump, rose lips. He wanted to caress her curves, feel her warmth.
Sloan could hear Abbey beg for another illustrator. He heard Aubrey counter that there was none better. He was part of the deal, or there was no deal. She was ready to walk away from a contract worth potential millions over a fear of him.
He wouldn’t let her do that. He wouldn’t let her leave his life before she ever became a part of it.
Slowly approaching the two women at the end of the hall, Sloan asked, “Aubrey, can I have a moment please? Let us talk it out and see if we can come to an agreement.”
Aubrey looked uneasily from him to Abbey then nodded. “Sure.”
Sloan waited for Aubrey to return to the conference room. He shot a warning glare at the associates that had gathered to watch the scene unfold before turning his attention back to Abbey.
“What’s the matter, miss?” Sloan took Abbey’s hands in his as he smiled encouragingly.
“I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re very talented. But I don’t think I would be comfortable working with you,” she confessed.
“You don’t even know me.”
“I know. And I’m sure you are a perfect gentleman. But, you see, I don’t think Michael would be very happy with me working with a…gifted man such as yourself.”
Abbey blushed. “My boyfriend.”
Ah. There it is. A boyfriend. Sloan silently berated himself. He should’ve known a woman so beautiful would have already given her heart to someone. He couldn’t, however, allow her to get away so quickly. Perhaps he couldn’t have her, but that didn’t mean he had to let her go.
Thinking quickly, Sloan pressed one of her hands to his lips. “No worries, luv. I’m no threat.”
“How can you say that?”
Her face brightened with relief. “Really?”
“Yes, Abbey. Gay.”
She blushed pink. “I’m so embarrassed I overreacted. Please forgive me?”
“Of course I forgive you. Now, will you stay and undertake this project with me?”
Abbey beamed. “Of course. I would love to.”
Sloan motioned for her to precede him back to the conference room. He watched her walk before him, his gaze transfixed on her hips, her slim waist, and her luscious curves. A little white lie. She’ll never know.
Abbey stared at him with wide hazel eyes. “Yes? And you are? And more importantly—how did you get up here?”
The man extended his hand to her. “Nathan Paulson. I am Mr. O’Riley’s attorney. Bartholomew escorted me.”
Abbey breathed a silent sigh of relief. “I’m sorry, Mr. Paulson. Sloan is in San Francisco. I don’t know when he’ll be home.”
Nathan smiled at her. “I’m here to speak to you, Abigail.”
“Me? Why me?”
Nathan nodded to the interior of the apartment. “May I come in?”
Abbey stepped aside to open the glass door wider. Nathan brushed past her into the spacious, opulent penthouse grasping the handles of a bulging leather briefcase. Before she could offer him a seat, he sank into the chocolate brown leather armchair.
She wrinkled her nose in disgust. That was Sloan’s chair. It’s where he sat to watch SportsCenter and read the paper. They cuddled in that chair. They made love in that chair. Seeing another man sitting in it seemed wrong. Very, very wrong.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Her voice slightly betrayed her insincerity. She really wanted him to leave.
“No, thank you. Sit,” Nathan commanded. He reached across to the sofa and patted the cushion. “We have a lot of ground to cover, and I have another appointment in an hour.”
Abbey complied hesitantly. “If we need to do this another day…”
Nathan unzipped his briefcase and pulled free a stack of documents. The pile was easily over two inches thick. “No, we need to do this today. Sloan insisted.”
Nathan carefully arranged the stack of paper into several neat piles. “Sloan called me the other day to have me draw up some additional contracts for San Francisco. He told me the news of your nuptials and the little one coming. I advised him that we strong arm you into a post pre-nup to protect his investments.” Nathan looked up at her from sorting. His glare gave Abbey the chills. “By the way, congratulations.”
Classy. Abbey fought the sneer from her face. “Thanks,” she responded sarcastically. “So, this is the pre-nup?”
“No. I barely got the word pre-nup out before Sloan laid into me. Hard. I’m glad he’s in San Francisco, or he would have torn me limb from limb. After calling me some very colorful names, he very distinctly and clearly ordered me to add you to his accounts. Immediately.”
“As his wife, you share in his assets—bank accounts, properties, car titles, etc. Billions of dollars’ worth of assets.”
Abbey’s eyes flew open wide. “B-b-billions?”
“You heard millions? When San Francisco took shape, Sloan went from a millionaire to a billionaire.”
She shook her head. “No, I can’t allow this to happen. Sloan worked too hard for that money.”
“That’s what I said,” Nathan agreed. He picked up a pen from amongst the stacks. “But Sloan disagrees with us. And he holds all the cards in this game. So, could you start signing so I’m not late for my next appointment?”
Sloan stood at the glass wall of his bare, undecorated office, staring down at the streets of Zurich, Switzerland. The twilight moon lit the room in a cold, slate blue. He felt like a god overlooking the world below. He watched the headlights of the cars in the street, the people below scurry in and out of the rain. Rushing home to their loved ones, I suppose. Their families. I want mine.
Within a couple of weeks, he had established a firm foundation for Sloan Enterprises. He worked every minute of the day and expected his staff to do the same. He had already fired three assistants and four lawyers. He had purchased the property for two new complexes. He had slapped his name on the building he was standing in. None of it was a salve for what he had had to sacrifice.
He couldn’t stop thinking about Abigail. Nathan should have delivered the papers to her by now. He knew how much a divorce would hurt her. It’s killing me. The thought of letting her go destroyed him. I should have walked away from her in the beginning. I should have never let her in my heart. That wee woman brought me to my knee, and I no longer remember how to stand.
Sloan glanced back at his office. There were no reminders of home—no pictures of Abigail or Ame, no tokens, nothing. The black bookcases that lined the walls were empty except for a few decorative tomes. The steel and glass coffee table was adorned with only a couple copies of trade magazines. The pieces of art on the wall were simple colors. His desk was almost bare except for the phone and computer.
The room was cold. Prison cells had more warmth. He had to close that chapter in his life. He would find a way to move on, letting Abigail go, knowing she was alive. I have no choice. It would be the end of me if I held onto her, and she would be killed.
Then, he swallowed back a growl. Just because he could never be with another woman didn’t mean Abigail wouldn’t give her heart to another man. I can’t stop her. Or beat him within an inch of his life for touching her. The thought that Ame could call another man “Daddy.” My daughter. Being his child. Another man making love to my Abigail. Another man making her his. Abigail carrying his child. Abigail telling another man she loves him. Not me. Him.
He felt his temper peak. He wanted blood. I don’t care who he is. I will make him regret it.
Sloan’s clenched his eyes closed. The pain of missing her was too much. He could call her. Just hearing her voice would be enough. He didn’t even have to talk. He could listen to her answer and hang up. It was admittedly immature, but the quick rush would be worth it. Maybe this whole situation was all an overreaction.
He opened his eyes and stepped to his desk. His breath caught in his throat as his eyes fell on the green silk box that sat beside the phone, the only decoration in his office. It didn’t reside here. It went everywhere with him. A constant reminder of what was at stake.
Letting go a deep sigh, he slumped into his chair. He ran his fingers hopelessly across the cold fabric, his eyes studying the gold embroidered, Oriental pattern. Picking it up, he opened it. He shuddered as his gaze fell on the contents inside, contents that made his stomach churn at the thought of the damage they could inflict.
He struggled to breathe as he shut the box and placed it beside the phone again. He ran his hand through his thick, black hair then rubbed his tired eyes.
It’ll be another sleepless night. I might as well get back to work. He turned to his computer and nudged the mouse to wake it. Seven signed contracts sat waiting in his inbox, along with the digital blueprints to both new complexes. He should be overjoyed. His company was going to be a success. His empire was growing.
My empire will never be complete without its queen. There is only one. One I can never have again. If I dwell on this much longer, I’m going to lose my mind. I’ve already lost my heart.
Sloan stared out the window at the asphalt as the wheels of the jet skidded across the black surface. He was back.
His gaze took in the Belfast International Airport, flicking around, looking for military vehicles or platoons of troops ready to take him prisoner. All he found were flight crews darting about on baggage carts to prepare the next flight, and the occasional traveler peeking out the window of the terminal.
He let go a large sigh, his sensual, trademark smirk gracing his lips. I knew there was nothing to worry about. He glanced over to Gordon and Liam, meeting their scowls. They almost seem disappointed that Fitzgerald told me the truth.
His thoughts quickly returned to Abbey. He couldn’t shake her from his mind, his heart, since their lips had parted in Minneapolis. As soon as he checked into his hotel, he would call her and tell her he was safe. Then, he would send the jet back to get her, Maggie, Mary, and the children. In a day or two, she would be back in his arms, his face buried in the sweet curve of her neck, his hands roaming her body.
Once the celebratory lovemaking was over, he would take her to rediscover all the precious places of his childhood. He wanted nothing more than to share his past with the woman he loved, at least the parts of it that had been pleasant.
Once the jet had crept to a halt, the men rose and made their way to the door. They slowly descended the rolling staircase to the tarmac. Sloan’s grin widened. All was still good.
His smile faded when he heard the cock of a gun. He glanced to the side as over three dozen soldiers marched from around the aircraft, guns drawn and pointed at him.
“Well, well, well. Look who’s back,” a voice boomed over the crowd.
Sloan clenched his eyes shut. “Brown,” he growled.
The tall, balding man, dressed in his impeccable uniform, strode between the troops and stopped in front of Sloan. “I was hoping to get to say this again. Sloan O’Riley, you’re under arrest.”
“Go to hell.”
Sloan’s vision blurred as the butt of a rifle was slammed against his temple then into his rib cage. His knees buckled from the force. He fought to stay on his feet, to face his enemy standing tall and proud. He lost the battle as he crumpled to the ground. He grunted as his arms were wrenched behind him and cuffs were clamped on his wrists.
“Let him go!” Sloan could hear Gordon struggle against the men restraining him.
“Fionainn, I suggest you let the men do their job.”
Sloan’s head snapped up. Through the still-lingering haze from the blow, he could see Fitzgerald standing over him, his gaunt face beaming. “Welcome home, boy.”
“You set me up.” Sloan’s voice was violent through clenched teeth. His eye became hot as it began to swell. “I completed every task you gave me, completed every order. And you turn me over to the enemy?”
“Every task? Not everyone, Sloan.” Fitzgerald leaned into him, his hot breath inflaming Sloan’s ear. “I wanted blood, boy. Innocent, guilty…it didn’t matter. I wanted Northern Ireland in my grip. But you wouldn’t hit the targets I gave you. No. You set your sights on the military. Not the good, obedient soldier you thought you were.
“And then, you tried to leave. You met with those recruiters from the All Blacks that those imbeciles I let raise you invited to watch you play rugby. So, I fixed it so that you could never leave. I took one of your precious toys to London and left it there loaded with enough C4 to blow up say…a marketplace?”
For a moment, Sloan’s veins turned to ice as the revelation hit him like a shard of lightning. It had been Fitzgerald who had set him up, destroyed his life, and forced him to flee from his Ma and Maggie to save himself. It had been Fitzgerald who had murdered all those innocent people and pinned it on him.
Rage quickly replaced the chill within him. He rose in a lunge at Fitzgerald. Sloan was quickly brought back to his knees as the butt of another rifle cracked him across the skull.
Fitzgerald’s laugh echoed across the airfield as he strutted past Brown. “He’s all yours, Commander Brown. See to it that he is hanged, will you?”
“It’ll be my pleasure, Jack,” Commander Brown crooned.
Two soldiers roughly tore Sloan from the ground, dragging him to his feet. Sloan shook his head violently to clear the fog that had invaded his senses. His head throbbed. Fitzgerald’s confession echoed in his brain. Although Sloan knew the truth, it wouldn’t change a thing. His words meant nothing in a court of law. Here, he was a terrorist. A murderer. No amount of protesting would change anyone’s mind.
He looked up slowly, his eyes catching Liam and Gordon’s. Both men were restrained by at least three law enforcement officials apiece. Sloan ripped his gaze away from them. He couldn’t take the looks of horror on their faces. He knew what they meant.
He closed his eyes, clinging to the image of Abbey, Ame, and Ethan that he held in his heart. He had been a fool to leave them. Now, he would never see them again.
There’s no way out of this one. I’m as good as dead.
Max near snarled. He’d had enough. He rose to his feet, set his plate on the coffee table, and followed. When he was out of earshot and fully blocked the door, he crossed his arms over his broad chest and stood his ground. “Talk, Chloe,” he snarled. “I tried to do something for you. For your mom. How am I repaid? You won’t talk to me.”
“I didn’t realize you needed to be paid back,” Chloe murmured, her eyes trained to the floor. She leaned against the counter beside the sink. “I’ll pay you back whatever you spent.”
“I don’t want your money. I want to know what I did to you that was so wrong?”
Chloe looked away as tears pooled in her eyes. “My dad left when I was eight. Because of me. Because of this stupid thing I have. It broke Mom’s heart. She loved him so much. She has spent every day since loving him and hating him all at the same time. I don’t want to be like her. I don’t want to love and hate…” Her voice trailed off.
Max’s face softened. He took the few steps to her then tilted her chin so her eyes met his. “Don’t want to love and hate what, Chloe?”
She swallowed hard. “I don’t want to love and hate you at the same time for the rest of my life. So, I’m trying to not fall in love in the first place. But when you do such incredible things like you did today…”
A sweet smile spread across his face. “Hey, you can’t blame me for being charming.”
“Chloe. I would never hurt you. I promise you. Never.”
“You say that now.”
“I’ll say that forever.”
“Chloe! Max! What are you two doing in there?” Liz called from the other room.
“Just talking, Mom.” Chloe offered him a small smile as she slipped past him. Max turned and watched her go. She doesn’t want to love and hate me at the same time when I leave. The solution to that is simple. I’ll never leave.
Rico sauntered to the counter, where a tall, lanky redhead waited to take his order. After paying for a cup of coffee, he stepped back, winking at a girl sipping on a glass of iced tea. His eyes raked over her as she giggled. He grinned then glanced up behind the counter again.
He lost his breath. He felt his pulse pick up a notch. The last thing on earth he believed in was love at first sight. But in this moment, he was a true convert.
The barista barely came to his chest. Her long, blonde hair wisped in curls around her shoulders. Her frame was small, with perfect curves in all the right places. Her lips were a soft, very kissable pink. And when she looked up at him to hand him his drink, her eyes glittered a clear, crystal blue. She smiled then turned to fulfill the next order.
She never said one word to him. Him. Rico Choate. MMA superstar Rico Choate. His picture was on posters, in magazines.
And she didn’t say one word.
He was baffled. He gripped the coffee and rushed out the door. It wasn’t until he parked his Jeep at Hard Drive that he realized he hadn’t gotten one number, not from any of the women in the shop.
He rubbed his forehead, puzzled. He didn’t want any number. He just wanted the barista’s. But for the first time in his life, a woman wasn’t interested in him. He was still shaking his head when he strode into gym and plopped the paper cup down in front of an equally perplexed Chloe. Before she could even utter a syllable, he stormed out of her office and onto the mats.
Rico spent the rest of the afternoon working the speed and punching bags, hoping for a little bit of relief from his memory of the barista. He couldn’t get her out of his head. After a couple of hours, he couldn’t take it anymore. He jogged up the steps two at a time then ducked his head into the office.
“Need another cup of coffee?” he volunteered.
Chloe lifted up the empty cup. “I just finished this one. I’m—”
“Another cup coming right up.” Before Chloe could object, he was down the stairs and out the door. He hopped in the front seat of the Jeep, fired it on, and sped away. He brushed his fingers through his thick, brown hair as he waited at the lone stop light that separated Hard Drive from the coffee shop. He glanced at his reflection in the rearview mirror.
Then, he checked again. Yes, he looked incredible. The barista may have been able to blow him off before. She certainly wouldn’t miss him this time.
Rico stepped inside the cool, dimly lit store and glanced around. There were fewer people lounging than there were earlier. A couple of girls that had been there before waved in his direction. He ignored them as he approached the counter, frowning as he did so. The redhead greeted him with a goofy grin. “Need another jolt of java, bro?”
“Ummm…yeah.” Rico scanned behind the counter as he paid for the coffee. “Where’s the blonde who was here earlier?”
The redhead shot him a puzzled look. “Avery? You know her?”
“Not yet. But I’d like to.”
“Her shift is over. She’s heading to class. She just left to wait for the bus.” The barista handed him a paper cup. “Hey, aren’t you that MMA guy? I think I’ve seen you fight.”
“Yeah, probably.” Rico grabbed the drink and raced outside, never looking at the girls who now were vying for his attention. He searched up and down the sidewalk for the blonde barista. He picked up his pace again as his eyes landed on her standing at the corner, still dressed in her white blouse and khakis from the restaurant. A large, sky blue backpack nearly bursting at the seams was slung over her shoulder. She checked her watch as the bus crawled to a stop before her.
“Hey! Hey!” Rico shouted as she stepped on. She never turned, never acknowledged him. The door closed behind her, and the large beast chugged on its journey, leaving a dumbfounded Rico behind.
Cassandra firmly capped the bottle of herbs with a cork and slipped the container in her bag. She marked her books, stacking one on top of the other. Glancing out the window, she watched as Matthew gently kissed Stephana before helping her into the carriage.
Sighing, she pulled herself away from the window to gather more herbs. She picked up her books and the bag of bottles. Then, she hobbled to the door and struggled to open it with her one free hand.
Cassandra jumped back, startled, as she discovered Matthew standing in the doorway. He clung to the doorframe as he stared at her.
“How may I serve, my lord?” she greeted as she awkwardly bowed to him.
“Where are you going?” he asked, barely audible.
“Home. I have much to do before I return in the morning and you leave for battle.”
Matthew paused. “I did not propose to Stephana.”
Cassandra set her items on a table nearby. “That was unwise, my lord.”
Matthew stared at her as he dug his fingernails into the wood of the frame. “Cassa, do not leave me like this.”
Cassandra swallowed as she heard the urgency in his voice. “Like what, my lord?”
“Like this—the formal address, the subservient nature. This.” Matthew stood up straight, taking a step to grip her arms in his hands.
“Tell me her name,” Matthew demanded.
“There is no one.”
“Tell me her name,” Matthew begged. “Tell me, and I will give her my heart and make her my bride. I swear this.”
Cassandra stared at him, tears filling her eyes. “What if she belongs to another man?” She looked away as the words she spoke seemed to crush him. He closed his eyes, fighting to defeat the truth, the truth he already must know. Capitalizing on his weakness, Cassandra pulled away. “I told you there is no one.”
He grasped her hand, pressing it to his heart. “No, my lady, I will win her. I will fight, and I will not stop until she is cradled in my arms. This I promise you. Do you hear me? This I promise you.”
Her tears burst their floodgates as she slipped her fingers from his. “I must go,” she stumbled out. “I have much to do. I must go.”
Cassandra scooped up her books then swept by Matthew and ran down the stairs. She cringed as she heard him call her name, his voice betraying his pain.
Cassandra could not sleep. She lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling of her room as the night passed by. As dawn brushed the sky, she pulled herself from her covers, dressed, and trudged her return to the palace.
In no time, she stood in the courtyard, the soldiers around her completely oblivious to her presence. She glanced up as Victor rode next to her. “Lock yourself in the tower. I will see you when I get back,” he instructed as he kissed her on the cheek.
“Stay safe,” she murmured.
Cassandra looked to the ground as Victor’s horse trotted away. Then, she raised her head as she heard hoof steps approach. Matthew wandered across the courtyard, leading his stallion behind him. His eyes, yearning and desperate, locked on her.
She shuddered as he approached, his stride determined as he wove his way around the soldiers scattered around the courtyard. He stopped, dropping the reins of his horse, when he reached her.
Without warning or care for decency, Matthew cupped Cassandra’s face in his hands drawing her lips to his and parting them in a soul-wrenching kiss. She clung to his arms as he tasted her, clearly searching for confession, answers—her love for him. As he pulled away, he whispered, “Lock yourself in. I could not live another day if anything happened to you.”
Matthew’s fingers caressed Cassandra’s skin once more before they slipped away to grasp his horse’s reins. He glanced at her over his shoulder before he disappeared behind the wall. Cassandra hugged herself tightly, her limbs shaking in uncertainty.
Collecting herself as much as possible, she wound her way to her tower blindly. Her thoughts were incoherent. Matthew? Victor? She rubbed her fingertips against her swollen lips. Both had made their feelings for her abundantly clear. And both were riding out to battle. Above all, the vows she had taken as a child dictated she could have neither of them.
Tears filled her eyes as she collapsed onto her cushion. The only thing she knew with clarity was that she needed to get her thoughts together. It wouldn’t be long before she would be joining them on the battlefield.
Miranda swept silently down the dirt path beneath the lush, fragrant canopy of the towering pine trees. The light of the full moon above cast everything in an unearthly, pale glow. Her heart raced in anticipation. Although she had seen Thatcher several times in the past few days, the thought of his eyes gazing on her as Miranda, and not as Ewen, made her tremble in excitement.
A soft laugh escaped her throat. Count Brunon was disgusted that his betrothed seemed to have such a weak stomach. Miranda did not even have to fake it. Brunon craved meats and delicacies that made Miranda cringe. However, Brunon happily avoided his sick beloved in case her malady happened to be contagious, which made it easy for Ewen to appear and volunteer to gather firewood.
Miranda stopped short as the path reached the creek. Her breath caught in her throat as her eyes found Thatcher. He stood, his tall, chiseled, muscular frame draped in a linen shirt and chocolate brown trousers. He watched the moonlight glimmer off the water. He ran a strong, powerful hand through his short, black hair. Miranda sighed, hopelessly in love.
Thatcher’s head spun at Miranda’s whisper-soft sigh. In just a few long strides, she was caught in his strong arms, his sweet lips prying hers apart in a soul-wrenching kiss. “Miranda,” he breathed after they parted.
Miranda caressed Thatcher’s cheek, her fingers grazing the stumble there. “I cannot stay long.”
“I know, my love. Our forced separation will be brief. I will free you from Brunon.”
Miranda smiled gently. “I know.”
The emotion in his eyes became intense. “I will not let him wed you. I will die before that will happen.”
“I know, my love,” she assured him.
He chuckled. “I owe Ewen a debt of gratitude for bringing you to me. I wasn’t sure he would.”
“He shouldn’t have.”
“I am surprised he didn’t join you.”
She scrambled for an answer. “He is keeping watch at the edge of the forest. He wanted to give us privacy.”
“He is a good man. There is something about him.” Thatcher gazed at Miranda. “He has your beautiful eyes. Are you related to him?”
“Perhaps.” Miranda pulled Thatcher’s face to her. She bravely parted his lips with hers, kissing him deeply, possessively. The mystery of Ewen seemed to flee Thatcher’s mind as he held Miranda close.
Their time together was far too brief. Thatcher clung to her hand as she turned to go. It took all the will in Miranda’s heart to pull free. All she wanted was to run away with him and leave the kingdom behind. Tears burned her eyes as he disappeared from her sight.
Hello everyone and welcome to the Secret Cravings Publishing Wounded Warrior Project Blog Hop! Each author in this hop is donating $30 to the Wounded Warrior Project. Check out their incredible work by clicking here!
What our men and women of the Armed Services is simply amazing. Thank you so much for keeping us free!
Since each of my series has a military character in them I will award one lucky commenter the entire Black Irish series in the e-book format of their choice (including the soon to be released Trial by Fire) and another lucky commenter will win the entire Hard Drive series! I will pick the winners Sunday night.
Avery Walker is one of my newest characters and quickly became one of my favorites. A Marine who lost her hearing when her transport was destroyed in Afghanistan, she is feisty, strong and has a huge problem with celebrities. This proves to be a problem for her new love, Rico Choate, who just happens to be a well known MMA fighter.
Here is an excerpt from Breaking the Silence (Hard Drive #2)…
Avery’s heart thundered in her chest as she snapped awake. Her open mouth told her she had to be screaming. The back of her hand burned from something rough scratching against it. She frantically searched around. Her breathing slowed as she realized she was in her living room. The television flashed the DVD logo. She glanced at the cable box—two fourteen in the morning. She felt the couch shift beside her. She rubbed the back of her hand as she slowly turned around.
Rico massaged his jaw as he stared at her with concern. She felt her face flush hot. The light burn against her skin had been the stubble on his cheek. She had smacked him in her sleep.
He let go of his face to sign to her. Are you all right? Nightmare?
Avery shrugged. Sort of. Memories I would rather forget.
Rico’s expression darkened. Afghanistan. The bomb.
She nodded. He tugged her into his arms and held her tight. She felt his forearms let her loose while his biceps still hugged her tight. His fingers appeared between them.
I will never let anything happen to you. Ever. I promise you.
She looked at him, slowly exploring his cheekbones, his slightly crooked nose, his sapphire blue eyes. No one had ever promised to protect her. She took care of herself. No one had ever cared about her that much before.
She smiled as she kissed him. His lips parted, his tongue tracing her teeth before tangling with hers. She felt the butterflies let loose in her belly as his fingers, the ones that told her everything about him, now gently stroked her flesh at the curve of her back just above the waistband of her jeans. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. It’s late. You need sleep. I need to get home.
She gazed into his eyes before she signed her response. Stay here tonight, curled up on the couch with me. In case I have more nightmares.
He smiled warmly at her as he caressed her hair. Of course, I will.
Avery cuddled against his chest with a sigh. She could feel the thud of his heart against her cheek. She looked up and met his eyes.
Tell me about it, he signed.
What happened in Afghanistan.
Her breath caught in her throat. She had never told anyone about the bombing, not even her family. It had torn her Dad apart. She was Daddy’s only girl, and he couldn’t help her. But her father wasn’t Rico. Her family had never vowed to protect her. They had made decisions for her, as if she was no longer able to do so for herself. They had taken over as her caretakers when she didn’t need caretakers.
She needed someone to break down her walls, to hold her, to listen. Like Rico did.
She sighed. I was Military Police Officer at Camp Dwyer in the Helmand River Valley of the Garmsir District. Almost instantly, I became friends with Davey. I think he was hoping for more at first, but I had no interest. I was more worried about my career. I wanted to be like my Dad. Davey and I became best friends. We told each other everything. Having someone like that made living in a war torn country a little easier.
One morning, we loaded into the transport to travel to one of the checkpoints. Davey was going on about the Yankees. He had just caught a game. Even though I had told him many times I had no interest in baseball, he always bragged about them. And I always listened.
Her eyes burned. Out of nowhere, the truck filled with fire. I tried grabbing for Davey, but grazed his arm as I was thrown out of the vehicle. The explosion was the last thing I heard. I thought I saw gunfire above. I tried staying awake, tried to fight back, but everything went dark.
I woke up in the field hospital. I could see people talking to me, but couldn’t hear them. It was maddening. I found out my eardrums had been ruptured. I also suffered other injuries. She pulled back her long, blonde curls to show the scaring on her neck. Then, she pulled her shirt off her shoulder to reveal another set of scars. Rico dipped his lips against her skin, kissing her wounds. She smiled softly as the butterflies let loose in her belly again.
She took a deep breath to steady herself before she continued. When I was finally able to communicate, I asked where Davey was. He was big. He was strong. And he was probably tearing the place apart looking for me.
I was told he was killed instantly by the IED. I didn’t believe the doctor who told me. He just did not know Davey. But then, my commanding officer sat down and told me the same thing. Then, he told me I was being sent to a military hospital in the States. I didn’t have time to mourn. I couldn’t. I swallowed my feelings, thanked him for all he had done for me, and prepared to leave.
My parents met me at the hospital and immediately took over my life. They made my decisions for me. I no longer spoke for myself. They lined up every medical professional they could think of to research if my hearing loss could be reversed. It couldn’t. I could only take so much before I e-mailed Lindsay, moved here, and started my classes. That’s it. That’s how I got here.
Rico gazed down at her as he gently brushed her hair from her face. I am so sorry, baby.
Nothing to be sorry for.
You are an incredible woman, Avery. I do not deserve you.
She smiled. Probably not. But I love you, anyway.
Avery snuggled close as she yawned. Rico tugged the blanket she had brought from her bedroom around them both then settled into the pillow she had gotten for him. She pressed her cheek to his chest again, feeling the steady rhythm of his heartbeat as she drifted back to sleep.
***The Winner of The Black Irish Series is Jeanine and the winner of The Hard Drive Series is Amy Rose Bennett! Thank you everyone for commenting!!***
Hey everyone! Welcome to Tuesday Tales! This week is a picture prompt. This week we’re stepping away from Emma and Gideon. Instead we are stopping by to visit Max Thomas in the Hard Drive Series prequel, Hard Drive. Let’s take a look at Max again before Breaking the Cycle!
Don’t forget to stop by the other blogs of the incredible Tuesday Tales authors!!
Max ran along the back country road, the thumping rhythm of Eminem in his earbuds keeping time to the pace of his stride. He hated running but he had to cut weight and keep his endurance at its peak. And being out here in the middle of nowhere Minnesota gave him time to think.
He turned at the edge of the lake and journeyed down the asphalt highway past the old farmhouse the MMA team used to have bonfires when he started. The grass was growing tall around the weathered structure. The lake lent the perfect background to the scene. Someday, he would live somewhere like this with his wife and children when he was done with his MMA career.
Max sighed. His career. He already had three agents call him wanting to represent him after his first profession fight. They made offers to him that blew his mind. They also brought nothing but confusion. Was he ready for the big time? He only had four fights. Only one of them was pro. He had plans for his future, plans that included owning his own gym and making a difference in someone’s health. Was he ready to give that all up to be a fighter full time?
Tori was no help. All she talked about was what offer he would take. When he asked her to stop, to change the topic to something else, she continued on like she never heard him. He loved her and he knew she only wanted the best for him. But sometimes he just needed a break to let his mind rest. And he needed her in his arms without the constant chatter of his future in MMA. Maybe he would just have to silence her lips with a lot of hot kissing tonight.
Don’t forget to stop and check out the other Tuesday Tales blogs!
Hey everyone! Welcome to Tuesday Tales! This week is a picture prompt. This week we’re stepping away from Emma and Gideon. Instead we are stopping by to visit Max Thomas in the Hard Drive Series prequel, Hard Drive. Let’s take a look at Max before Breaking the Cycle!
Don’t forget to stop by the other blogs of the incredible Tuesday Tales authors!!
The bar was crowded and loud. Tables of people fought to talk over the hard rock band that played on the makeshift stage constructed on the dance floor. Max glanced over the crowd looking for Tyler. The two of them became friends in the first few days Max started at Roadie’s Gym. That was a year ago. Since then every Friday and Saturday they were out on the town. Tyler drank himself into a stupor then Max drove him home. It wasn’t the most ideal of friendships but it worked.
Max turned back to the bar and took a sip of his water. He watched as the bartender picked up the television remote to switch the channel then returned to the strange colored martinis he was concocting. Max scowled at the screen. Two men faced off in an octagon, each waiting eagerly for the ref to call out “fight!”. It was the first time Max had anything to do with MMA since he left Mankato and moved to Minneapolis. He didn’t even watch it anymore. The memories of all that had happened were just too painful.
Max couldn’t pull away from the TV screen. His mind tumbled with thoughts as he watched to two men attack each other. A couple of months ago, Max ran into an old teammate at the mall. Quinn and Torie lasted about four months, their relationship dying when Quinn was arrested for DUI. His legal troubles kept him from training just long enough to stop being useful to Torie. Before Quinn knew it she had moved on to a guy from an opposing team. Max chuckled to himself. Couldn’t happen to a better guy.
He studied the fight as he took another drink. The smaller of the two, a dark haired fighter, was quick as lightning. He seemed to anticipate his opponent’s move before he made it. Max had been that good before his knee gave, before everything blew up.
He heaved a sigh as the black haired fighter locked a triangle on his opponent. Moments later the other fighter tapped in submission. The dark haired guy’s hand was raised in victory. Max muttered the fighter’s name as he read it. “Rico Choate.”
Don’t forget to check out the 0ther Tuesday Tales excerpts!
When I’ve scan Amazon lately for my next book to read, I’ve noticed that one of the hot new trends is MMA or Fighter romances. I love it because I am a sucker for MMA and, incidentally, write MMA romance myself. But I’ve noticed a big difference in the books I’ve read and my own…the fighting excerpts themselves.
What could be the difference between those other books and my own? Very simple. It’s one thing to watch MMA fights and interview fighters. It’s a whole other thing to strap on gloves, slip a mouth guard into your mouth and face off with an opponent. Which I have. I am proud to tell anyone who asks that I am a mixed martial artist.
I never had the intention to be a fighter. If you told me two years ago that I would be doing this I would have laughed. My book, Breaking the Cycle, is actually what made me step into a gym in the first place. I wanted my character, Max, to quit a job he loved for one he was apprehensive to be part of. After a lot of thought, I decided to have him train MMA fighters.
To do my research, I e-mailed the owner/coach, Keoni Koch, of my local MMA gym, Hard Drive MMA, to see if I could ask him questions. He graciously agreed. I took a look at the gym’s website and saw they offered kickboxing classes. I always wanted to give it a try and figured one month wouldn’t hurt. It’s been sixteen months now. I not only take kickboxing classes but I have now been doing jiu jitsu for three months. I haven’t made it into the octagon…yet. But training six days a week I hope to make it soon.
What does this have to do with writing MMA romance? I know the terminology. I know the difference between a jab and a cross, the Gable grip and a rear naked choke. I know because I’ve done them (or have had them done on me). Knowing the intimate details of the sports makes the fight scenes believable. And what’s a MMA romance without fighting? And along with the fight scenes, the relationships between the fighters in the gym are a lot like the ones I have with my friends and teammates.
I am excited that I can take two things I love, MMA and writing, and blend them into one. And I hope my readers find reading my fight scenes just as exciting as watching a fight.
Hi everyone! Welcome to the Secret Cravings Sweet and Historical Blog Hop!
Almost all my books with Secret Cravings are sweet romances, including both of my series. Since I just had a release a week and a half ago, I am going to share one of my series with you – the Hard Drive Series.
Can you tell I have a weakness for MMA?
And…at the end of the blog hop I will choose TWO lucky commenters to win e-book copies of both books of the Hard Drive Series – Breaking the Cycle and Breaking the Silence! Leave a comment below and I will draw Sunday night!
My newest release – Breaking the Silence (Book Two of the Hard Drive Series)! A portion of the proceeds from Breaking the Silence goes to Operation First Response to Operation First Response to support our nation’s wounded, injured and critically-ill Heroes and their families.
Rico Choate is a MMA bad boy with a love ‘em and leave ‘em attitude. That is until he meets Avery Walker, a deaf Marine who lost her hearing when her transport was destroyed in an I.E.D explosion in Afghanistan. He falls hard for her, even learning sign language from his friend, Chloe, so he can talk to her.
Avery has worked hard to overcome her deafness. She doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy. She’s living a perfectly normal life and has no time for celebrities who have everything handed to them on a silver platter.
Because of Avery’s pride, Rico to keep his career in mixed martial arts a secret. But how long can he keep such a huge part of his life separate from the woman he loves? And if she does find out, how will she react? Can Avery set her stubbornness aside, or will secrets and pride keep these two apart?
The weekend finally arrived, but it was no break for Avery. She still had her early Saturday morning class to attend. She trudged down the steps wearily. Of all the times for the air conditioning to go out, this was the worst by far. The ninety-degree day seeped into the building, making the rooms hot and stagnant. Every last person in the classroom was drenched in sweat. Even for one class, it was unbearable.
Her face brightened as she stepped out the door and found Rico in his Jeep waiting for her. She nearly ran for the vehicle. Dropping her backpack on the floor, she climbed in beside him.
He looked at her concerned. Are you all right?
No air. I baked for the last hour.
Do you still want to do something?
Yes. You are the highlight of my day.
Where do you want to go?
Rico thought for a moment then grinned. I know the perfect place. But you are going to want to bundle up.
It is the middle of summer. Where are you taking me?
You will see.
Rico drove her home then waited in the Jeep for her to get clothes. Apparently, he wasn’t about to push his luck with Lindsay.
He then stopped at his place. Instead of having her wait in the car, he escorted her inside. His apartment was a loft in an old, renovated warehouse, complete with the freight elevators. It was sparsely decorated with a leather sofa and chair. It was the typical guy’s apartment.
There were several MMA magazines scattered on the end tables. He must really be into mixed martial arts.
It only took a moment for Rico to come out of his bedroom changed. Instead of the shorts and T-shirt he had worn before, he now had on a pair of jeans and a snug fitting Henley that accented his muscles. She swallowed back a moan. She hadn’t thought he could get any hotter.
He smiled. Ready?
Yes. Avery took his outstretched hand in hers. She waited as he locked the door then walked with him to the elevator.
Rico weaved from one interstate to the other until they were in Saint Paul. The entire time, he held her hand in his. He parked the car in front of a large, concrete building lined with windows.
Ice skating? she signed
He laughed. You wanted to be cool.
That is true. But I can’t do this.
He frowned. Why not?
I can’t ice skate.
You do not know how?
I do. When I was young, I was very good at it. But I cannot do it now.
Because you are deaf?
He smirked at her. I did not realize that you ice skate with your ears.
That is not funny, Rico.
Come on, Avery. We’ll have fun. I promise I will not let you fall.
She gazed at him as he grinned at her. Her eyes wandered over his chiseled physique. He certainly could keep his word. She sighed as she hopped out of the passenger seat and turned back to him. All right. Let’s go.
Absolutely! Rico jumped out with her and raced around the vehicle to take her hand. He pulled her close and wrapped his arm around her waist as they strolled in.
Rico paid their admission as Avery slipped into the restroom to change into her lightweight sweater and jeans. She watched his eyes wander over her head to toe as a smile spread across his face. He certainly seemed pleased. He took both pairs of skates the attendant offered before following her to a bench. Then, they tugged on their skates and, carefully stepping on the thick, black mat on the floor, they made their way out to the ice.
They skated around the rink laughing, sometimes hand in hand, sometimes trying awkwardly to race each other. Avery hadn’t been ice skating in years, not since she’d lost her hearing. It had ended up on the virtual list of activities she stubbornly believed she could no longer do. Rico had proved to her she could.
She gazed up to him as he smiled at her. He certainly was turning out to be her hero. Not that she needed one. She didn’t. But it was definitely nice to have one, just in case.
They were so wrapped up in each other, neither of them noticed the little boys that flew between them until it was too late. The last one hooked his skate with Avery’s. She was off her feet in a split second. She clenched her eyes in anticipation of the cold impact on her butt. Instead, two strong arms kept her from falling. Her eyes fluttered open, and she glanced around.
Rico had caught her just as he’d promised. Her eyes locked with his sapphire blue ones. She wanted to protest, to joke just how cliché this was. Here he was, cradling her in his arms after saving her from falling, his lips dangerously close to hers. They must have looked like they belonged on the front of a romance novel. But her breath caught in her throat as she clung to him, her gaze drifting to his mouth.
She gasped as he gathered her closer and softly kissed her. Her fingers buried into his hair as he deepened it, his lips parting hers as his tongue slowly grazed across her teeth then tangled with hers. Their eyes met for a moment as the kiss broke. Avery fought against her breath coming out in ragged gasps, but it was no use. So, that’s what kissing Rico Choate is like. It was light years better than she had imagined.
And we can’t forget Breaking the Cycle (Book One of the Hard Drive Series)! A portion of the proceeds goes to the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome Association for research to find a cure for CVS.
Max is excited when Chloe, a girl that works for the same gym he does, agrees to go on a date with him. He is disturbed, though, when she becomes violently ill after he kisses her. Max can’t shake how he feels about her. He sacrifices his job and does everything he can to find an answer to her illness. But is it enough to save their relationship – and save her?
Chloe can’t believe Max Thomas, the hottest guy at Roadie’s Gym, wants to go out with her. When their date is a disaster, she thinks she’ll never see him again. She is stunned when he reappears in her life and tries to find the answer behind whatever has made her sick since she was a child. However, will he stick around or abandon her like her father did? Can she trust him enough to let him into her heart?
Max stepped inside the gym. It was deserted. He glanced around. The place was no Roadie’s. There was no perfect, stainless steel trim. There was no state-of-the-art equipment. He scrutinized the cardio machines that were lined three deep along a wall of frosted windows then scanned the weight equipment alongside it. Everything looked like it was in working order.
The rest of the room was lined with vinyl wrestling mats. There were signs indicating locker rooms back in the hallway. A staircase leading to a walkway on the second floor led to a couple offices and a conference room.
Suddenly, its door opened. Max steeled himself as a young, well-built, suit-clad man stepped out and leaned against the metal rail. His slicked–back, black hair made him look like a used car salesman. He smiled down at Max.
“Hey, Jack,” Max greeted coolly.
“What brings you to Hard Drive, Max?”
“I came to talk to you about the job offer you gave me.”
Jack laughed. “How many times did I offer a job to you?”
“At least a dozen times.”
“And how many times have you turned me down?”
“Just as many.”
“Why would I offer it to you again?”
“Because, to quote your own words, ‘I’m the best you could possibly dream of getting’.”
“So, you suddenly got over your hang ups about working here?”
Max took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “No. I am still vehemently against training your guys to the best of my ability so that you can toss them into an octagon and let them beat the crap out of each other. Seems to make the job pointless, don’t you think?”
“I don’t toss them in there. They fight of their own free will.”
“Is the job available or not?”
“Of course, it is.” Jack was smug.
“I have stipulations before I agree to it.”
Jack snickered. “Of course, you do. More money? Do you want me to buy you a better car?”
Max glared at him. “I want an assistant. Full time with benefits, especially medical. I write her schedule. She answers to me. Your fighters don’t touch her. If they do, we’re both out of here. Don’t raise the salary you offered me. Lower it, if you must. But I get my assistant.”
“You really think you need an assistant?”
“How many MMA fighters do you have here?”
Max could see Jack’s brow crunch as he computed the numbers in his head. “Thirty.”
“Then, yes, I need an assistant.”
“And you realize that you aren’t going to teach Tae Bo here, right? You’re training my MMA fighters. And your assistant will be, too.”
Max paused. “Yes. I know what I’ll be doing.”
Jack pushed himself away from the rail and stood straight. “You’re hired. And so is your assistant. There’ll be no change in your salary. I’ll negotiate your assistant’s with you at a later time. I promise it’ll be fair. Be here Monday to sign your contracts. And give Roadie your two weeks’ notice. You belong to Hard Drive now.”
Jack strode back into the conference room, closing the door behind him. Max shot one last glare at the door before he walked out the front door.
Happy Tuesday! It’s time for Tuesday Tales! This week is a picture prompt. I am breaking away from Gideon and Emma. My excerpt this week is from my latest WIP Breaking the Violence, Book #3 of the Hard Drive Series. This is Mark’s book, the wise cracking ER doctor. He and his best friend, Dan, come upon a burning car on the way home from Rico and Avery’s wedding and find two people inside. Mark falls in love with the woman, Becca Mills, the best selling SciFi author. But Becca’s abusive ex-husband becomes a problem…
Don’t forget to stop by and check out the other blogs of the incredible Tuesday Tales authors!
Mark opened the rear door of his quad cab and reached inside for his old football equipment bag. A warm, proud smile spread across his face as he watched Logan hop out of the passenger door and take his Mama’s hand. His heart raced unexpectedly. I hope he likes what I have in this bag.
Becca turned towards him. “Where are we going, Mark?”
Mark pointed through the open doors of the truck to the sparkling blue lake. “Through the field past the machine shed. There’s a clearing right behind it with some flat rocks. I’ll grab the picnic basket.”
Becca nodded then led Logan to the path through the long grass. Mark watched them for a moment. He couldn’t believe this beautiful, incredible, talented woman was in his life. And he absolutely adored the little boy holding her hand. He didn’t want to give either of them up. Ever.
Mark frowned as he thought. Am I ready to be a father? The answer came to him instantly as Logan turned back to him. “Come on!” his little voice rang through the meadow. Mark chucked. Oh yeah. I am as long as Logan is my son. He grabbed the picnic basket, shut the truck doors and followed. He laughed as Logan chattered to Becca about the machine shed, contemplating the zombies that had to be hiding inside. Becca looked at Mark apologetically. “Sorry. His imagination runs away all the time.”
“Like his Mom’s?” Mark teased.
Becca’s cheeks flamed pink. The image turned Mark inside out. So beautiful. He was distracted by the hand tugging on his shirt.
“Mark, what’s the surprise?” Logan prodded.
Mark smiled at him as he set the bag and basket down then unzipped the bag. Carefully he pulled free a remote control boat. Logan gasped in awe.
“That is so cool!” Logan squealed.
“You can watch while Mark drives it,” Becca instructed.
Mark winked at her. “Nah. Logan’s getting behind the wheel of this vessel.”
“Mark, that’s expensive,” she objected.
“Becca, it’s just a toy. I can buy another. But to watch Logan play with it will be priceless.”
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Check out the NEW Breaking the Silence (Hard Drive Series #2) Trailer!
Get your copy on Sweet Cravings Publishing, Amazon and All Romance E-books!