Sighing, Tanner closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall of the cabin again. Zarina didn’t say anything else, not wanting to interrupt him if he was silently saying a prayer of thanks. She frowned a little, realizing she didn’t know whether he was religious or not. Then again, there was a lot about Tanner she didn’t know. He kept a lot of stuff to himself. She wished he didn’t do that. Maybe she could make his life better if she knew more about him. Which, strangely enough, was part of the reason she was so attracted to him. That stoic, stubborn nature of his was alluring—when it wasn’t driving her crazy.
Tanner’s eyes abruptly snapped open, and he pushed away from the wall, completely alert. A moment later, Zarina heard the sound of footsteps approaching the cabin. She turned to see Burt, along with another man and a dark-haired teenage girl who was about eighteen or nineteen. The man was probably the same age as Burt, but his face was more lined and his eyes more weary.
It wasn’t until the trio stopped in front of them that Zarina caught sight of the half-healed scar along one side of the girl’s neck. Four parallel wounds, the two in the middle deeper than the ones on either side. It took Zarina only half a second to recognize those scars had come from a shifter—or a hybrid.
Zarina shot a quick look Tanner’s way, telling herself it wasn’t possible. She searched his face for some indication he was the one who’d hurt the girl, but he merely returned her gaze.
“Zarina, you know Burt already,” Tanner said. “This is Chad and his daughter, Lillie.”
Burt gave Zarina a nod while Chad and Lillie took turns shaking her hand. Zarina should have realized the girl was the man’s daughter as soon as she saw them together. They had the same gray eyes, aquiline nose, and arching brows.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you getting here so fast, Tanner,” Chad said. “And for bringing your friend.” He looked at Zarina. “I don’t know what we would have done without her, except maybe lose Lorraine. How is she?”
Zarina opened her mouth to point out that there would have been a lot less drama if they’d simply taken the woman to a hospital like normal people, but the sight of three huge, fierce-looking men coming toward them made her forget what she’d been about to say.
It wasn’t just the blatant anger on the men’s faces that stunned her speechless. It was the fact that she recognized them. But even as she stood there with her mouth hanging open, she told herself she had to be wrong. There was no way they could possibly be the men she thought they were, because the last time she’d seen them, Stutmeir’s goons had been dragging their dead bodies out of an abandoned ski lodge not more than fifteen miles from here.
“What the hell is she doing here?” one of the men snarled, showing off inch-long fangs to go along with his suddenly flaming red eyes. Dark-haired with a broad nose and full lips, he was nearly as tall as Tanner. “She’s one of those damn doctors who tortured us. I’d know her scent anywhere.”
Zarina was still trying to wrap her mind around the fact that the hybrids were alive when the one who’d spoken strode toward her, his clawed hands itching to do damage. She barely had enough time to get out of the way before Tanner stepped in front of her and stiff-armed the guy in the chest.
“Back off, Spencer,” Tanner growled, his tone more menacing than Zarina had ever heard it. He pinned the other two hybrids with a glare. One had blond hair and a stocky build while the other was a tall, muscular dark-skinned man. “Peter and Malcolm, that goes for you too.”
That warning only got them more riled up. Zarina watched in alarm as Peter and Malcolm snarled and bared their fangs. Clearly, they were ready to go through him to get to her.
Tanner didn’t give them a chance. He dropped his hands to his sides, his claws extending to their full length so fast that blood splattered on the wooden planks of the porch. Then he bared his fangs at the men and roared so loud, people five miles away probably heard it.
Zarina reached out to grab his arm, desperate to stop the fight before it started, but Tanner slipped left and caught the blond-haired Peter in midjump. Latching onto the man’s shoulders, Tanner spun him around and sent him crashing into one of the pillars supporting the porch. Peter slammed into it with an audible crunch. Something told Zarina the sound wasn’t entirely from the wood breaking.
Peter hadn’t even tumbled to the ground before Tanner was moving again. He intercepted Malcolm just as the man lashed out at Zarina’s face with his claws. Their sharp points missed her by mere inches, and she gasped as Tanner ran headlong into her attacker, shoving him away from her.
Tanner and Malcolm went down in a pile, quickly becoming a rolling ball of muscles, snarls, growls, and flashing claws. A split second later, Spencer joined the fray.
Crap. This was going to get so much worse.
Heart pounding, Zarina hurried forward to intervene, but an arm wrapped around her waist, jerking her to a stop before she’d gone more than a few feet. She glanced over her shoulder to see Burt holding onto her. A few feet away, Chad was doing the same to his daughter. All around the camp, people poked their heads out of doors and windows, a few of them venturing out of their cabins to see what the commotion was about.
“You can’t get between them, not while they’re like this,” Burt insisted. “You do, and you’re the one who’s going to get hurt.”
Zarina knew Burt was right, but that didn’t keep her from fighting against his grip anyway. Tanner was in danger. That was all she cared about.
But Burt refused to let her go, so she was forced to watch as Peter joined Spencer and Malcolm. The three hybrids looked barely human now, their eyes completely lost in a glow of red and fangs flashing.
Tanner might be bigger than all three of them and a former Army Ranger to boot, but there was no way he could fight that many out-of-control hybrids all at once. He was so focused on Spencer and Malcolm that he never saw Peter coming at his back. Malcolm gripped Tanner’s shoulder, digging his claws in deep and flipping Tanner over. Peter immediately lunged forward and sank his fangs into Tanner’s free arm, pinning it to the ground and holding him tight. That’s when Spencer leaned in close and lifted his hand, his claws aimed at Tanner’s exposed neck.
Zarina’s heart seized in her chest. Oh, God. Spencer was going to kill him.
Title: X-Ops Exposed
Author: Paige Tyler
Series: X-Ops, #8
Pub Date: April 3, 2018
Genre: Paranormal Romantic Suspense
HE LEFT TO KEEP HER SAFE
Believing he’s too dangerous to be among people, feline hybrid Tanner Howland retreats deep into the forests of Washington State—with no choice but to leave behind the woman who’s captured his heart. What he doesn’t know is that she followed him…
SHE WOULDN’T STAY BEHIND
Heartbroken and determined, Dr. Zarina Sokolov tracks Tanner into the wild. Her presence unleashes Tanner’s protective instinct—big time. Locals have been disappearing and he is desperate for Zarina to leave. As the kidnappings escalate, Tanner must embrace the dangerous instincts he fears so much. But with Zarina at his side, he’ll have to learn to control his animal impulses, or lose himself—and the woman he loves—to the beast within.
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Paige Tyler is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sexy, romantic fiction. Paige writes books about hunky alpha males and the kick-butt heroines they fall in love with. She lives with her very own military hero (a.k.a. her husband) and their adorable dog on the beautiful Florida coast.
He’d step in front of a bull to save a life
But even he’s no match for a girl this Texas tough
Rodeo bullfighter Wyatt Darrington’s got it all figured out. The perfect car, the perfect job, the perfect looks—the perfect lie. He may be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, but he knows he’ll always be an outsider to people like Melanie Brookman. Texas-born and bred, with the arena in her blood, Melanie’s come to see Wyatt as her personal enemy, and that suits him just fine—this way, she’ll never realize the truth.
He’s been crazy in love with her for years.
Melanie’s always been a fighter. Fiercely independent and tough as nails, she’s stood up to everything that got in her way—including Wyatt. But now her infamous temper’s got her on the ropes, and there’s nowhere left to run but toward the man she swore she’d never trust…and this time, there’s no denying just how hot he makes her burn.
KARI LYNN DELL brings a lifetime of personal experience to writing western romance. She is a third generation rancher and rodeo competitor existing in a perpetual state of horse-induced poverty on the Blackfeet Nation of northern Montana, along with her husband, son and Max the Cowdog.
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What I Love about Rodeo
There are so many things I love about rodeo that I could—and have—filled several books (aka the Texas Rodeo series). A million tiny details like the scent of wood shavings in a horse stall, the indescribable joy of a perfectly thrown loop, or the way a belt and buckle sets off a nice pair of hips. Lately, though, I’ve come to appreciate a facet of rodeo and life on the ranch that I’ve always taken for granted: rodeo makes women stronger.
Unlike other parts of our society, in rodeo and ranching, strength is a highly prized trait in a woman—both physical and mental. From the time we are old enough to be hoisted onto a pony to trot around the arena, we are praised for being ambitious, competitive, aggressive and independent. We are valued as much for what our bodies can accomplish as we are for our appearance. I might’ve started out by catching my husband’s eye, but I captured his heart the first time he saw me sort cows.
The smart, capable, take-no-crap women of the Texas Rodeo books are products of my environment, and none more so than Melanie Brookman of Fearless in Texas. May every reader who ventures into our world steal a page from her book and leave with a little more cowgirl in their blood—and their attitude.
Wyatt braced a hand on the front door of the Bull Dancer Saloon, blocking Melanie. “You can’t go back in there.”
She looked at his arm as if debating whether she should bite it or snap it in half. “You think you can stop me?”
“Yes.” He jerked a thumb toward the door and quoted the flyspecked sign posted inside. “I am the proprietor, and we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”
Hell. That wasn’t what he’d meant to say, but the sparks that were flying off of her were burying themselves under his skin, kindling fires that threatened to reduce all of his good intentions to ashes. Her mouth dropped open, and he braced himself for some truly spectacular swearing. Instead, she snapped it shut, whirled around, and strode away, her shiny red heels clicking angrily on the empty street.
“Melanie…wait! Could we just talk—”
Her answer was a stiff middle finger shot straight in the air. He took a couple of steps in pursuit, but his ankle made it clear that anything above a sedate stroll was a bad idea, not that he was sure what he’d do if he caught her. Attempting to stop her when she was like this would be like tackling a mountain lion, but if she intended to go to one of the other bars, she was headed the wrong direction.
“Where are you going?”
“To the bridge. It’ll have to do, since I assume you’ll follow me and there’s not a cliff handy.”
He’d already taken several more steps, but he stopped. “The rail is too high.”
“Then I’ll knock you over the head with a rock and roll you off the dike.”
She wouldn’t. Would she? “If you’re going to commit assault and attempted murder, you’ll need your keys to make your getaway.”
She stopped dead and spun around. He held up the keys in one hand and the purse in the other.
She swore and started back toward him. “Don’t think I won’t kick you square in the nuts and stomp on your fingers when you fall.”
“Not a doubt in my mind.” He unlocked the door that led up to her apartment, yanked it open, and threw both the keys and the purse to the top of the stairs before she could reach him. Then he stepped back, feet braced, ready to dodge or deflect any blow aimed at his groin. If Melanie had said it, she was seriously considering it.
She went for the door instead, but paused with her hand on the knob. “If I go in after them, you won’t let me out.”
“Nope.” Although it would take all his strength to hold the door shut if she was determined to push it open, and there was the fire escape…
Her hand dropped, and she turned on him. If it were possible for a stare to be literally cutting, his guts would’ve fallen out onto the street. “What…the hell…is your problem?”
“You.” He gestured toward her painted face, her dress, those damn red shoes. “I know what all of that means, but you’re wrong. And if you would just let me explain—”
“Yes!” She threw her hands in the air like a Baptist preacher. “Please, oh wise and knowing male, tell me how I’m supposed to feel. Better yet, explain why it is that you could leave this place with any of those women you’ve never met before and you get high fives, but if I do the same, I’m an embarrassment to your shitty little bar.”
Despite his vow to remain calm, his temper began to stir. “I did not say—”
“You don’t have to. I grew up in the goddamn Bible Belt. I’ve heard it all my life.” The bitterness in her voice ran generations deep. “Well, sorry, but not sorry. I’m done trying to please anyone but myself. I’ll sleep with who I want, when I want, and y’all can just deal with it.”
Not likely. Wyatt’s anger boiled up, shooting past the red line and straight into fury. Yes, her rage was justified, but she did not get to lump him in with bastards like Michael and her former boss. All he’d ever wanted, from damn near the first moment they’d spoken on the phone, was Melanie, but it was as if the entire universe had conspired against him, and he was so damn tired of fighting this bone-deep need…
He took a step toward her. Then another. She didn’t budge, but her eyes flicked toward the apartment door as if reconsidering her choices.
He leaned in close, his breath fanning her cheek, his voice low and lethal even to his own ears. “Is that what you want? Just someone with a pulse you can use up and toss out when you’re done?”
He heard her swallow, but she didn’t flinch. “Why shouldn’t I? Men have been doing it forever.”
“Yes, we have.”
He gathered a fistful of her hair and wound the warm silk around and around his hand until his knuckles were pressed to the nape of her neck. Her breath caught at the electric press of skin against skin, and her eyes went even darker. The line he’d held for so long had been crossed. He was beyond stopping—unless she made him.
“As long as you’re determined to do something you’ll hate yourself for in the morning, it might as well be with me.” And then he kissed her.
And instead of shoving him away, Melanie clenched both hands in his shirt and yanked him closer.
Vulnerable, beautiful and ultimately life-affirming, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s work reaches new heights in her revelatory seventh collection of poetry. Continuing in her tradition of engaging autobiographical work, How to Love the Empty Air explores what happens when the impossible becomes real―for better and for worse. Aptowicz’s journey to find happiness and home in her ever-shifting world sees her struggling in cities throughout America. When her luck changes―in love and in life―she can’t help but “tell the sun / tell the fields / tell the huge Texas sky…. / tell myself again and again until I believe it.” However, the upward trajectory of this new life is rocked by the sudden death of the poet’s mother. In the year that follows, Aptowicz battles the silencing power of grief with intimate poems burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, capturing the dance that all newly grieving must do between everyday living and the desire “to elope with this grief, / who is not your enemy, / this grief who maybe now is your best friend. / This grief, who is your husband, / the thing you curl into every night, / falling asleep in its arms…” As in her award-winning The Year of No Mistakes, Aptowicz counts her losses and her blessings, knowing how despite it all, life “ripples boundless, like electricity, like joy / like… laughter, irresistible and bright, / an impossible thing to contain.”
HOW TO LOVE THE EMPTY AIR brilliantly illuminates why we read poetry, and why poetry is needed. We read it to see another person’s unique experience, but also to help us clarify our own. And we read it to reassure ourselves that what we experience and feel it part of a larger human drama that we all share. Cristin reminds readers how huge, life-shifting events are totally unique and personal—and yet, they are also universal.
More About Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of seven books of poetry, including The Year of No Mistakes, crowned the Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers’ League of Texas. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, which spent three months on the New York Times Best Seller List. Recent awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the ArtsEDGE write-in-residency at the University of Pennsylvania and the Amy Clampitt Residency. When not on the road, she lives in Austin with her husband Ernest Cline, author of the New York Times bestselling Ready Player One.
This month bestselling authors Lisa Renee Jones, Elisabeth Naughton, and Melinda Leigh are each releasing thrilling romantic suspense novels. But while they write in the same genre, you can expect very different stories.
Lisa kicks off her new Lilah Love series with a bang in Murder Notes. When copycat murders plague her hometown, FBI profiler Lilah Love is sent to investigate. But she returns to find hidden secrets from her past aren’t staying hidden and the danger swirling around her is just beginning.
Elisabeth continues her RITA award Deadly Secrets series with Protected. Fashion designer Kelsey McClane rolls her eyes when her overprotective brothers saddle her with a bodyguard while she is on a press tour, however, she’s more than thankful to have former Army Ranger Hunter O’Donnell on her side when a deadly explosion hits too close to home.
Morgan Dane is back in Melinda Leigh’s unforgettable new story Bone’s Don’t Lie. In this outing Morgan stands by her man as Lance attempts to unearth the secrets of his father’s decades old murder. Morgan quickly realizes that just because the case is cold, doesn’t mean the original killer isn’t out for more blood.
Interested in learning more about these books? Continue reading as the Lisa, Elisabeth, and Melinda play a not-always-nice game of “What Would Your Heroine Do?” that will give you an inside look at their characters and enter the giveaway to win copies of the authors’ full series.
What would your heroine do if she feels like someone is following her, yet she can’t prove it?
Lisa: Well funnily enough in the first book of my Lilah Love series, Murder Notes, Lilah is being followed, but she can prove it as her stalker is quite blatant and goading with their practices. However, if Lilah couldn’t prove it, she would probably cuss a blue streak, as she’s prone to do, and make herself bait in order to lure her stalker out. She’s definitely not afraid of any danger, she is an FBI agent after all, and she loves nothing more than to best someone at their own game.
Elisabeth: This actually happens in Protected! I don’t want to give too much away, but Kelsey would definitely turn to someone she trusts for help. In this case…Hunter O’Donnell…the hero of Protected.
Melinda: The first thing Morgan would do is determine if she was actually being followed. She’d make some turns then see if the car was still behind her. If it was, she would never drive home and lead a potential stalker to her family. Instead, she’d head somewhere public and call PI Lance Kruger. Together, they’d try to trap whoever was following her.
What would your heroine do if the man in her life was injured and in the hospital?
Elisabeth: Freak out. LOL Actually I think her reaction is dependent on how and when he was injured and whether she thinks she’s somehow responsible.
Lisa: Lilah’s man, Kane, is forbidden fruit. He brings out her dark side. He’s on the wrong side of the law. He helped her do something very bad and she wants to blame him, but really blames herself. She can’t really be with him but she loves him. If he were hurt, she’d try to play it cool. She would put on a strong face at first, but she would go to Kane and the minute he catches her showing that she cares, he’d point it out. He’d make her admit it. She’d, in turn, deny her feelings and tell him in no uncertain terms that he’s screwed with her schedule and he better not f-ing do it again. She’d tell him she hates him for making her worry but that means she loves him, and he knows it, too. She’d try to go after his enemy, and Kane, would go after her.
Melinda: Since, Lance frequently gets himself into trouble, Morgan has some experience with this. She is protective and loyal and always wants to be by his side.
What would your heroine do if she receives an anonymous text accusing her of committing a heinous crime?
Elisabeth: Kelsey would be shocked first. Then become angry and want to track down the sender of the text.
Melinda: Having been stalked in the past, Morgan takes threats seriously. She would want to find out who sent her this text. She would try to trace the phone number, enlisting the help of experienced investigator Lincoln Sharp or computer whiz Jenny Kruger if necessary. In the meantime, she’d be extra vigilant — and so would Lance.
Lisa: In the opening Duet that launches the Lilah Love Series, Lilah isn’t getting text messages, but rather notes, left for her. They are very “I Know What You Did Last Summer” since she really did something bad. She isn’t one to be played with though, so Lilah goes on the attack, seeking out her note writer.
What would your heroine do if she wins a surprise trip to a faraway tropical island?
Melinda: Single mom Morgan has not had a vacation in ages. She’d talk her sister into babysitting her three kids and pack her bags! Or… could she save the trip as a potential future honeymoon?
Lisa: I don’t think I can picture Lilah on a vacation, she’s such a workaholic! But as far as her response to winning it, she’d probably say she has far too many dead bodies to deal with and then handoff the winnings to someone else.
Elisabeth: Kelsey is skeptical of everything so I’m pretty sure she’d assume the surprise trip was a scam.
What would your heroine do if she has the choice to confront someone threatening her?
Elisabeth: The answer to this really depends on whether this confrontation happens at the before Protected or after. Kelsey’s journey through the book is really one of empowerment. At the start of Protected I don’t see her being confrontational with someone threatening her, but by the end she really comes into her own. She’s never going to be a kick-ass heroine like some of my other heroines, but she can definitely take care of herself.
Melinda: Morgan comes from a law enforcement family. Her father and grandfather, both former cops, taught her to defend herself when she was young. She would rather not get into a physical altercation unless it was absolutely unavoidable. She prefers to talk her way out of trouble. That said, she carries a gun and knows how to use it.
Lisa: Lilah does this on a daily, if not hourly basis. She sometimes even provokes the threat, so her response would be colorful, as are all of her responses, with a hint of condescending humor and her own threat in return.
About the Authors
Before topping multiple bestseller lists—including those of the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal—Elisabeth Naughton taught middle school science. A voracious reader, she soon discovered she had a knack for creating stories with a chemistry of their own. The spark turned into a flame, and Naughton now writes full-time. Her books have been nominated for some of the industry’s most prestigious awards, such as the RITA and Golden Heart Awards from Romance Writers of America, the Australian Romance Readers Award, and the Golden Leaf Award. When not dreaming up new stories, Naughton can be found spending time with her husband and three children in their western Oregon home. Protected is the third book in her Deadly Secrets series, following Gone and Repressed, which was a 2017 RITA winner in romantic suspense. Learn more about Elisabeth at www.ElisabethNaughton.com.
Lisa Renee Jones is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the highly acclaimed Inside Out series; the Dirty Money series; the White Lies duet; the Tall, Dark, and Deadly series; and The Secret Life of Amy Benson series. Murder Notes is the first book in the Lilah Love series. Visit her at www.lisareneejones.com.
Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. A lifelong lover of books, she started writing as a way to preserve her sanity when her youngest child entered first grade. During the next few years, she joined Romance Writers of America, learned a few things about writing a novel, and decided the process was way more fun than analyzing financial statements. Melinda’s debut novel, She Can Run, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. She’s also garnered Golden Leaf and Silver Falchion awards, along with nominations for a RITA and three Daphne du Maurier Awards. Her other novels include She Can Tell, She Can Scream, She Can Hide, She Can Kill, Midnight Exposure, Midnight Sacrifice, Midnight Betrayal, Midnight Obsession, Hour of Need, Minutes to Kill, Seconds to Live, Say You’re Sorry, and Her Last Goodbye. She holds a second-degree black belt in Kenpo karate; teaches women’s self-defense; and lives in a messy house with her husband, two teenagers, a couple of dogs, and two rescue cats. You can learn more about the author at http://melindaleigh.com.
LOCKED IN A BANK VAULT TOGETHER
THEY MIGHT REDEFINE THE MEANING OF ‘SAFE’ SEX
Misty Carlisle works as a bank teller in Boston’s financial district. She’s had more rotten luck in her life than most, except when her childhood crush shows up to cash his paycheck. Then her heart races and her mouth goes dry.
Gabe Fierro is a firefighter—and a phoenix. Like his brothers, his biggest challenge is finding a woman open-minded enough to accept a shapeshifter into her life. When his boyhood friend asks him to watch over his little sister Misty, he reluctantly agrees. But when the bank where she works gets held up, Gabe does everything he can to protect her. The two of them end up locked in the bank’s vault…where things get steamier than either of them ever imagined.
Misty’s party didn’t break up until after midnight, so she wasn’t surprised when she woke to the sting of the fully risen sun. She sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The evening came flooding back, especially the part where Gabe made a quick appearance and disappeared like a magician in a cloud of panic.
Her friends apologized and giggled and wanted to run after him, but thank goodness, she talked them out of that.
He would have been mortified. Correction, more mortified. “Should I call him? I was waiting for him to come to me,” she muttered to herself. Well, he’d done that.
He wandered out to the kitchen and made her morning coffee. Her one splurge was good coffee. She’d bought one of those special French presses that made two cups of strong, dark Kona roast. She needed it this morning.
As she waited for the water to boil, she tried to phrase what she would say. Hey, Gabe… Was that you who barely escaped with your underwear last night? She couldn’t help giggling. Maybe she could tease him, saying he could have a part-time job delivering strippergrams.
She shook her head, picturing the big somber guy he’d become handling any of that well. He would probably stammer and change the subject. How had he become so serious? She didn’t remember him that way.
He was always on the quiet side, but with Parker, he was able to talk and laugh. She guessed that in a family of nine, somebody had to be quiet.
But it’s not like he needs to be with me. Well, whatever she said, it had to happen soon. If she let it go, it would look like she hadn’t cared what her friends did. If the shoe were on the other foot, he’d be right there apologizing for his friends—probably after he knocked down anyone who touched her. That made her smile…then wonder at herself. She certainly wouldn’t want to inspire anyone to violence. But it would be nice to know he cared. A little.
She sighed deeply and finished making her coffee. After a few fortifying sips, she located her phone. On her way to her closet, she realized she had forgotten to charge it. “I guess that dumb landline will come in handy after all, Parker.”
She felt a little foolish talking to her brother as if he were in the room instead of far away. What to tell him had also been weighing on her mind. The tests weren’t looking good. She’d been told there were lesions and she should see a specialist. They needed to know if the disease was active or not.
The disease. Yeah. They’d ruled out everything except MS. They hadn’t made it official yet, but it seemed only a matter of time before they ran out of other tests and explanations.
Suddenly, she felt ill. Nausea was an early symptom, but she hadn’t had that one yet. Chills invaded her, and a sweat broke out on her forehead. She dashed for the bathroom and made it to the toilet bowl just in time. Last night’s pizza made a reappearance along with a lot of pink fluid. Ugh. Too much wine. It must have been the wine.
When she was able to get up, she brushed her teeth viciously, trying to get every crevice and taste bud clean. Then she dressed in jeans and a sweater, her usual Sunday morning attire. Even if she did feel like going to church, which she didn’t, she could go like this. No one got all dressed up at the church she belonged to. Boy, am I feeling lazy.
“Well, I have to call him,” she said and strolled to the living room where she kept the landline on an end table.
After a couple of rings, Gabe answered. “Misty?”
“Yeah, hi. Sorry about last night. Are you okay?”
He laughed. “I’m fine. It was flattering in a bizarre way.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re looking at it like that. I’m really sorry for my friends. When we all get together, we can act a little…wild.”
“You probably needed to go a little wild.”
She relaxed. “I did. But I wasn’t feeling too great this morning. I didn’t think I had that much to drink, but I must have. Oh well. Live and learn.”
“Are you feeling okay now?”
“Yeah. Perfectly fine.”
“Good. Would you like some company?”
Her brows shot up. “Seriously?” That popped out before she had a chance to think it through. Of course she wanted his company!
“Unless you’re busy,” he added.
“No. I was just planning on having a lazy, do-nothing day. I’d welcome your company.”
“Okay. Maybe I’ll bring a board game. Do you still like Risk?”
“You’re kidding. You still have that?”
“Yup. We’re Yankees, Misty. Perfectly good games aren’t thrown away, even if nobody plays with them much. You know the Yankee motto…”
“Yeah, I’ve heard it. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. Okay then. Bring it. I guess you got over your aversion to taking a risk?” She almost slapped her hand over her mouth. Did I just say that? Way to sabotage yourself again, Misty.
After a brief pause, he said in a quiet voice, “I might be getting there.”
After he hung up, she ran around like a demon, cleaning up after the party, vacuuming, dusting, and paying special attention to the bedroom. By the time he got there, she was pooped.
They stopped beside a black car with tinted windows. Out of nowhere, a driver appeared and opened the door for them. Darcy suddenly felt underdressed, which was stupid since they were only going for a ride.
“So tell me: What’s so appealing about Five-Star Darren?” Reed asked as they slid into the back seat. A
glass partition separated them from the driver.
“None of your business.” Oh God, they were not having this conversation. Not while a billion dirty thoughts were driving her to distraction. Damn him, why did he have to mention sex?
Her hormones hadn’t been this rowdy since high school. But the second he got close and his clean, warm scent invaded her nostrils, it was like the sexy bits of her body started doing tequila shots.
“Oh come on, you can trust me. I might even be able to give you some advice.” His brown eyes twinkled.
They were framed by full, thick lashes—the kind of lashes that had no business being on a man.
God, they were far too close in the back seat of the car. Her bare leg was mere inches from his, and the scent of his aftershave invaded her nostrils. It was crisp, clean, with a hint of citrus.
“You were late today,” she blurted out, hoping the abrupt change in conversation might steer him away from delving into her nonexistent dating life—and perhaps jolt her brain into not focusing on how good he smelled.
“Half an hour late and I was sitting there, waiting.”
“My meeting ran over and my phone died. I could have gone back to the office to email you, but that
would have meant being later than I already was.” He reached for a bottle of water that sat in a compartment in the door. When he offered her one, she shook her head. “I apologize for keeping you waiting.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it.”
“Now, back to your dating life—”
“No. We’re not having this conversation.” She held up a hand. “Besides, why do you care?”
“Because, after careful deliberation, I’ve decided that you are interesting.”
“Gee, thanks.” Darcy snorted. “I’ll pass on that so-called compliment.”
“You do know ‘interesting’ is usually a code word for ‘weird,’ right? It’s not much better than telling a girl she has a great personality.”
“What’s that a code for?”
He brought the water bottle to his mouth and sipped. Full lips hinted at sinful activities and Darcy tried to quash the flutter low in her belly. He probably knew exactly what to do with his lips too.
“You are interesting…in the non–code word sense. Even if you do think I’m a jerk. And Five-Star
Darren would be a terrible match, for what it’s worth.”
Curiosity tugged at her. She knew nothing about the dating world, and it was clear he was well experienced. Surely there wouldn’t be any harm in gleaning some information from him…for research purposes, of course.
“Why’s that?” she asked.
“All these women have rated him highly, yet they haven’t stayed with him. Why would that be?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned. “Maybe it just wasn’t the right time.”
“For all those women?”
Okay, so that did sound a bit suspicious when he put it like that. “But the reviews—”
“What do the reviews say?”
She pulled up Darren’s profile on the app and scanned down the page. “‘Great guy but the timing wasn’t
right.’” She shot him a smug look. “See? Told you.”
“He’s a total gentleman, but they didn’t have many common interests. Uh, another one says their jobs made dating too hard but that he was a nice person. Apparently, he’s romantic, but there wasn’t enough spark.” Darcy kept scrolling. “He’s kind and funny, a great conversationalist. I can’t see any red flags here.”
“He’s got a small dick.”
Darcy almost choked. “Excuse me?”
Reed shrugged. “Or he doesn’t know how to make a woman come.”
“Stop,” she hissed, the heat flushing through her body in a way that was entirely too pleasurable. Totally, totally inappropriate. “You can’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s just sex. And sometimes you have to look at what people aren’t saying to understand what they are.” He nodded. “Words can be unreliable like that.”
Darcy shook her head and stuffed her phone into her bag. This conversation had shot out of her comfort
zone. Like a whole solar system out of her comfort zone. Listening to Reed talk about sex was… God, she didn’t even know. Her imagination was serving up all kinds of dirty scenarios, but she tamped them down.
Reed was off-limits.
Not only because of the bad reviews, but also because it was clear he could run circles around her verbally. There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that he would do the same thing in the bedroom.
Everybody’s talking about the hot new app reviewing New York’s most eligible bachelors. But why focus on prince charming when you can read the latest dirt on the lowest-ranked “Bad Bachelors”—NYC’s most notorious bad boys?
If one more person mentions Bad Bachelors to Reed McMahon, someone’s gonna get hurt. A PR whiz, Reed is known as an ‘image fixer’ but his womanizing ways have caught up with him. What he needs is a PR miracle of his own.
When Reed strolls into Darcy Greer’s workplace offering to help save the struggling library, she isn’t buying it. The prickly Brooklynite knows Reed is exactly the kind of guy she should avoid. But the library does need his help. As she reluctantly works with Reed, she realizes there’s more to a man than his reputation. Maybe, just maybe Bad Bachelor #1 is THE one for her.
Stefanie London is the USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romances with humor, heat, and heart. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Stefanie now lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband. She loves to read, collect lipsticks, watch zombie movies and drink coffee. Her bestselling book, Pretend It’s Love, was a 2016 Romantic Book of the Year finalist with the Romance Writers of Australia. You can visit her at www.stefanie-london.com
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And, get the latest dirt on Bad Bachelor #1 at the site badbachelors.weebly.com!