Manic Readers



Congratulations to our Editor's Choice
winner, Laura Hamby!!

Congratulations to our Reader's Choice
winner, Kerri Nelson!!

Congratulations to all of our round winners!

Round Five: Kerri Nelson
Round Five: Jambrea Jones
Round Four: Donna Michaels
Round Four: Kelly Nyrae
Round Three: Laura Hamby
Round Three: Emma Peterson
Round Two: Dawn Carrington
Round Two: Tori Scott
Round One: Suzanne Welsh
Round One: Eliza Parker

Round 1    Round 2    Round 3    Round 4    Round 5

Round 1: MJ Fredrick


            Isabella’s heart pounded. Was this really the best idea? How would she find the soldiers? Clearly they didn’t want anyone to know they were here. If that was the case, how would she, with no training and no real jungle experience, find them?
            She’d hatched the plan when Cortez told her soldiers were on their way to take Santiago into custody. When Santiago saw the American talking to her, alone, secretive, he’d gone into a rage. She didn’t want to remember what he’d done to the man.
            She didn’t want to think about what Santiago had done to her.
            If Santiago even dreamed she was thinking about escaping, her life would have been so much worse. She couldn’t afford for him to catch her again.
            Her stolen boots rubbed with every step despite three pair of socks. She hoped the soldiers had transportation, and that it wasn’t far. She hoped she could charm them into taking her home. She didn’t want to play her trump card yet.
            A stealthy rustling to her left froze her in her tracks. Too late, she realized the jungle had gone silent, as if the creatures in the trees froze as well, hoping the predator would ignore their existence.
            Great. She was out in the open between discovery by Santiago’s guards and being eaten. And then a face emerged from the brush, only it wasn’t the face she was expecting. It was…green and black streaked, and a moment passed before her terror-stricken brain processed it as human, beneath a helmet wound with vines.
            A soldier.
            Her relief was short lived, because the soldier had an automatic weapon pointed at her chest.
            “Isabella Canales?” His American accent skipped over the nuances of her Spanish name.  “Yes?” Her voice was shaky.
            “Toss your pack over there and put your hands in the air.”
            Damn. Up close she was even more stunning, a tiny little thing, the kind of woman a man wanted to care for, protect. The kind who, while he was watching her back, stabbed a knife in his.
            “Stay put.” He grabbed her pack and tossed it to Julian, not taking his eyes from the woman until he heard Julian swear. Alarm raced through Alex, and he weighed possibilities and solutions. Was she armed? Wired? He scanned the area for cover. “What?”
            “It glows in the dark.” Julian gingerly lifted a familiar pink object from the bag with two fingers.
Every line in her body was tight as she watched Julian dig through her things. Keeping one eye on her, Alex noticed Julian paw past a colorful piece of fabric, saw the flash of high heels. Where the hell did this woman think she was going?
            “Clean,” Julian pronounced after another minute. “You want me to search her?”
            “I’ll do it.” Instead of shouldering his gun, he handed it to Julian, never taking his eyes off her.
            He reached to remove her hat, forking his fingers through her hair, dragging the rubber band free, ignoring the silky hair catching on his rough fingers and the flowery scent rising as he dragged his fingers along her scalp and under her hair. She looked up at him, eyes large and wary, not leaving him as he pressed his hands down her slender back and into the loose waistband of her cargo pants, skimming his palms over silky panties. The pants were loose enough that he could reach her thighs, but that would mean bringing her body even closer to his. Already he could smell her on his clothes.
            He stepped back, snatching his hands out of her pants. She still watched him, the expression in her eyes – daring. A thrill of admiration ran through him.
            He squashed it like he had the spider.
            He slid his hands up under her tank top, over her smooth flat stomach, under the underwire of her bra, his fingertips brushing the plump undersides of her breasts.
            And then hard. Her nipples pebbled and he tried to quell the lust that rose up. He didn’t linger, but slid his hands back, under her bra, beneath her arms.
            Still she looked at him with those dark eyes.
            Then he slid his hands down inside the front of her pants, kicking her feet apart.
            The flesh of her belly jumped under his hand, but other than that she didn’t move when he pushed his hand down the front of her panties, over those neat dark curls that he could see in his memory. He probed her heat briefly, businesslike, ignoring the tightening in his groin, then removed his hands to run his hands down her thighs.
            “Take off your boots.”
            “May I sit?” A thread of fury underlay her voice.
            “Be my guest.”
            She dropped to the ground, untied one boot and shoved it at him. He inspected it, marveling at the large size, then dropped it to the ground beside her and took her other boot.    “What exactly did you think I’d be hiding?” she asked as she retied her boots and got to her feet.
            Her voice was too loud, so he hushed her, leaned close to answer. “I’ve seen women stick some nasty things in some nasty places to kill soldiers.”
            “You think I’m coming to attack you?” She glared, and her words whipped out. “I’m coming to you for help.” He eased back, the scent of her overwhelming the scent of the jungle and his own stink. “And we’re to believe you because you tell us? You’re not exactly trustworthy.”
            “Why not?”
            He inclined his head toward the compound. “The company you keep.” He motioned her to walk ahead of him back to camp. What the hell was she doing out here in the first place? He squelched his curiosity. He was the muscle, not the detective. He’d let Vasquez take care of it. The more distance he kept from Isabella Canales, the better.
            But he could still smell her on his hands.


Round 1: Suzanne Welsh


    Her ass was by far the finest he'd ever seen in this town.
    Weston Sheriff, Gage Justice, pulled his cruiser in behind the brown Toyota Corolla parked in the alley between the town's only bank and the Golden Foods Market. His deputy, Cleetus was right. Someone was definitely digging around in the trash dumpster.
    A satisfied smile of pure male appreciation split Gage's lips and a warm heat spread over his body as he sat back and admired the view. This didn't look to be your typical trash diver. The woman stood tiptoe on the hood of her car, the top half of her body bent over and into the trash container's edge. The way the perpetrator's jeans clung and stretched around her thighs and nice round bottom warmed more than his smile.
    Oh, yeah. A man could spend all day holding those round cheeks in his hands. Wonder if the top half of her was as nice as the bottom?
    More importantly, why was she rifling through the trash?
    Without making a sound, he eased himself out of the cruiser, leaving the door open. Careful not to step on anything to alert her of his presence, he moved past her car to stand just below her and off to the side. He looked at her feet. Awful small, even for a woman. The jeans clung to her legs, which weren't supermodel thin, but nicely shaped. He resisted the urge to reach up and squeeze her calves.
    "Exactly what do you think you're doing?" he asked in his best bad cop voice.
Startled, she jumped and lifted her top half out of the trash bin. For a brief second he caught the sight of her face. It wasn't the kind that stopped men dead in their tracks, but the curious brown eyes, the arched dark eyebrows, and the soft lips rounded in an O of surprise caught his attention.
    Then her foot slipped. In almost slow motion her balance shifted. Dark hair flying about her, she waved her arms around in big helicopter circles, papers drifting down like confetti. She twisted to one side as if she meant to catch herself on the edge of the trash bin, only to slip again. This time that lovely butt came directly at him. Despite something wet dribbling down on his shirt, Gage shifted sideways and did the only gentlemanly thing he could do. He held out both arms to catch her.
    Just as her bottom and thighs filled his arms, she threw her arm around his neck, emptying the contents of the brown paper bag on top of him. "Oh, crap! Thank you?" her voice trailed off as she looked at him.
    He couldn't help but smile. Her voice reminded him of a soft summer night, warm and whispery. "Gage Justice, Weston's Sheriff. You're welcome, Miss?"
    "Sheriff Justice? That name's just too perfect." She laughed softly as she lifted the banana peel off his shoulder and tossed it back to the trash bin. Then she smiled, a genuine hundred-watt stunner from the heart. "I'm Roberta Roberts, but my friends call me Bobby."
    Gage turned to set the shapely woman on the ground, glanced inside the windshield and froze.
    The contents of her purse were scattered on the car's passenger seat. Peeking out of the bag was the butt-end of a gun.
* * *
    In all her life, Private Investigator, Bobby Roberts had never seen a man turn from a knight-in-shining-armor into a terminator-Robo-cop in the matter of seconds. And just from the mention of her name. One moment she was sheltered safely in his arms, the next instant he'd suddenly dropped her to her feet, spun her around to face her car, and told her to "spread `em."
    "Excuse me?" He couldn't be serious.
    "Hands on the hood, lady." His voice, which had been warm and teasing a minute earlier, had turned as cold as a mid-western snowstorm. She didn't doubt for one second that he meant business.
    Not wishing to anger him any further, she placed her hands on the hood of her car and spread her legs. "This really isn't necessary, sir."
    "You have the right to remain silent, which I highly suggest you take advantage of."
    He was really going to arrest her. Oh crap! She'd never even had so much as a parking ticket in her life. "This trash is in the alley, that makes it public domain. You can't arrest me."
    She glanced over her shoulder. His jaw was as hard as granite, his lips pressed into an angry line, and those stupid reflective aviator glasses kept her from seeing his eyes. The metal badge, pinned to the blue denim shirt stretched over his wide shoulders, reflected what little sunlight filtered into the alley.
    Oh, yeah. He was the town sheriff and he meant to let her know he was in charge. She recognized the silent intimidation. It was one of her favorite tactics to use on any number of her students over the years.
    He ran his hands down her back all the way to her feet. If she didn't know better she'd swear he went a little too slow over her bottom. Then he brought those big hands up her legs and the outside of her torso. Despite the situation, she found herself wishing he'd do it again.
    She gave herself a mental shake. Stupid woman, he's arresting you, not starting foreplay. Get your mind out of your pants and his. This is reality at its worst.
    He leaned in, his body's heat warming her and she closed her eyes. It took all her willpower not to moan. Then suddenly, he grasped one arm from the hood and brought it around her back. When she felt the metal of the cuffs encircle her wrist, her eyes snapped open.

Round 1: JT Schultz

By some grace of God, Jackie inched back out of the driveway and into the street without scraping or bumping anything else. The car threatened to stall so she tugged the stick, induced more mincing of metal and stepped on the gas, the Cadillac spun wide, but at least she was in motion and no car had been coming for her to run into. Thankfully, the drugstore sat on the corner up the street and a couple over.
She glanced both ways and ignored the sign at the corner. Not a high traffic area with a town population 10,000—maybe. This was 1953 after all, so the black on yellow octagon could mean, “Pause” as opposed to “Stop”. The turn went smoother than she had counted on and her confidence gained. She made the required turns and the car didn’t seem to want to stall.
The fountain in the center of the main plaza came into view. She made the right hand turn, and coasted in front of the drugstore. Her foot hit the brake and the boat-sized car grinded to a stop. The sound couldn’t be a good sign. She’d have to remember to push the clutch in the next time she shifted, now to figure out how to put the beast in park. Jackie glanced around and knew the solution had to be in front of her.
            “What are you doing?” A deep baritone barked.
Trust a man to ask a question when the answer is obvious.
            “I am figuring out how to keep the vehicle from rolling forward when I take my foot off the brake.”
            A large arm reached in and slammed the metal stick on the steering column upward. Woodsy soap and male cologne tickled her nose as the arm vanished from in front of her and the car door opened. “Now it’s parked and you can get out and wait for the police.”
“Wait for the police? I missed the whole clutch thing—I get it now—sort of, but I didn’t commit a crime.” She removed the keys from the ignition, climbed out and stared at the owner of the voice. Her breath caught in her throat and her mouth went dry. Jackie’s eyes fell on jet-black lashes and intense blue eyes, penetrating her down to her soul. His strong jaw set in a stern fashion and his black hair from what she could see beneath his hat, styled in a perfect clean cut manner. She dipped her gaze over broad shoulders, narrowing at the waist of his fitted jacket and recognized the Air Force uniform immediately. Her heart started to race as she glanced up to the hunky stranger who towered over her by a good six inches. “Oh my God! You’re Hunter Erickson.”
His tongue snaked out across his teeth and despite his angry expression. He was hotter than hell. “Very good. Since you’re aware of whom I am you must know you were driving my new car.”
            Hunter Erickson blinked at the beauty in front of him. He had never seen her before, but not everyday a man had his car stolen either. “How did you get my car?” He folded his arms across his chest and waited for her answer.
            “I used the key to the garage. I thought…” She glanced to the car then batted her lashes at him.
He had never seen a woman with such long eyelashes, or a lady, wear so many cosmetics around her eyes. The look reminded him of a pin-up girl. “I’m waiting.”
            Her breath again caught and he studied her lips, full, soft, and almost kissable except they had a strange white frosty shade to them. His instincts kicked in, her color seemed fine, but the tint of her lips made him question if she experienced problems breathing or if she was sick and in need of medical attention.
            He snatched her wrist between his fingers, and ignored the shock of electricity that infiltrated his hand. She gasped as he checked her pulse, the rhythm pumped quick and erratic beneath his finger.
            “Are you feeling okay?”
            A strange expression dusted across her pretty features and she nodded. “Fine, a little light headed, but otherwise fine.”
            Not a good sign, she looks dazed, maybe confused.
“Are you having problems with your breath?”
            “A little.” Her voice came out soft and her eyes widened, yet her pupils didn’t seem dilated. “I think I’ll be okay.” Her full mouth curled into a smile and his stomach contracted as if punched.
            Staring into her dark eyes, his lungs failed to inhale and exhale. ”Are you in need of oxygen?”
            Her strange colored lips broadened and long lashes batted again at him. “Are you trying to find an excuse to kiss me?”
            He released her wrist and glared at her. “I don’t kiss car thieves.”
            She giggled and shrugged her shoulders. “Good thing I’m not one then. Just a girl who thought…”
            A puzzled look crossed her face and her brows dipped. She shook her head. “I spotted the car in the garage at my family’s house and I thought it was…”
            “And you thought what? Free for the taking.”
            Her teeth grasped her lower lip between her teeth. The maneuver emphasized the soft, plumpness of the flesh. “I thought it was my…” She hesitated. “My uncle’s?”
            His brows lifted. “Your uncle?” He shook his head. “I am supposed to believe you are Marty and Sophia’s niece?”
            She flashed him a smile that fell short of sincere. “Yes,” she stepped around him and glanced back, casting him a teasing, but all too defiant expression. “Just like I’m supposed to believe your line about me needing oxygen wasn’t a ploy to kiss me.” She continued to walk away and his temper kicked up a notch. He hadn’t used the line to get a kiss, but with her snappy mouth, so quick with the comebacks, kissing might be a possible way to silence the sexy, but infuriating woman.


Round 1: Eliza Paker


              L.A. Detective Joshua Lambert was dying, a bullet in the stomach does that, though he no longer felt pain.  Sprawled on his back in a deserted alley, he thought about the things he’d done wrong in his life; screwing up his marriage and hurting his son.  He hated to leave Nick now that their relationship was improving.  
     Dying in an alley rank with urine, garbage, and his own blood wasn’t his first choice.  Not with three rats crouched in the shadows speculating on what parts they’d eat first. 
     He should’ve worn his vest, but Timmy Z could smell Kevlar a mile away.  Why didn’t the bastard shoot him in the head so he could die like a man? 
      He couldn’t even call for help, Timmy Z had smashed his cell.  In his next life, he’d be an accountant like his dad.  Boring and safe, but he’d see Nick grow up.  Nick I’m sorry.
* * *
     Naomi stood on Malibu beach, listening to the roar of the ocean while red hair whipped around her face.  Wings spread, she let the cool ocean mist clean the blood from her feathers. An avenging angel’s work is never done. 
     Cameron Mayfield’s broken body lay on the sand.  “Mayfield, you could’ve won an Oscar, but you chose kiddie porn instead.”  Mayfield, being dead, didn’t respond.  “Life’s a bitch, and so am I.”
     A lightning bolt struck near her feet.  She didn’t flinch. Archangel Gabriel was all about theatrics. 
     He appeared at her side, folding his wings against his tall body, his ebony skin and dreadlocks blending into the night.  “God doesn’t like commentary.”
     “Me either.”  
     He glanced down at Mayfield.  “Did you have to be so brutal?”
     Was it a sin to enjoy killing so much?  Naomi would have to think on that.  “Yeah.”
     “It’s not your place to judge,” Gabriel said softly.
     “I don’t recall that memo.”
     Gabriel sighed.  “Always so unruly.”
     “I’m an angel not a saint,” she retorted.
     Silence fell between them for several moments before Gabriel spoke again, “You have another assignment.”
     She waved her hand over Mayfield.  The blood disappeared and his wounds closed.  The mortal world would think he’d had a heart attack.  Only Naomi, Gabriel, and God would know the truth.  “I’m done killing tonight.”
     “You’ll like this one.  It’s a rescue mission.”  Gabriel grinned.
     “Not my job.”
     “It is now.”  He touched her head and a location floated into her mind.  “Don’t screw up.”  He jumped, his huge wings spreading as he caught the air currents and flew away into the moonless night.
     Naomi frowned.  She wasn’t suited for guardian angel duty.  For her that was like detention.  She preferred being God’s broadsword.  Guardians had more placid natures; they worked with nice people, keeping them on the straight and narrow.  She had anger management issues.  This worked out just fine, because when she got her crack at a person, nothing was left to redeem.  But a gig was a gig.  Not like she could tell God no.  
     After one last glance at Mayfield, she took to the air heading for downtown L.A.’s shadowed streets where once upon a time she’d found refuge there as a runaway.  She’d died at twenty on the wrong end of a bad trick.  Gabriel found her and offered her a second chance which she’d accepted.
     A man lay in a dark alley.  She could see his soul struggling to break free.  She landed, knelt next to the man and reached out to stroke his forehead.  Angels were given physical beauty, but this man was perfection.  Naomi caught her breath as she touched his tanned skin.  Pushing shaggy blond hair away from his startling blue eyes, she sucked in a breath.  He was Michelangelo’s David in the flesh. 
     He licked his bottom lip.  “You’re an angel.”
     She smiled and folded her wings into her body.  Was that her heart racing?  A sudden heat swamped her.  The sensation made her both uncomfortable and excited.  “I am.”
     “You’re gorgeous.”  His smile gave his face a boyish quality. 
     “Thank you.”  She touched her burning cheek.  Was she blushing?
     “Kiss me.”    
     The softly spoken demand caught her off guard and she sat back on her heels.  “You’re flirting with me.” 
     He gave her a throaty chuckle. 
     His smile was as charming as his deep voice was seductive.  Smoothing her hand down his cheek stubble, she touched his bottom lip with her thumb.  He had a beautiful mouth, full lipped, pouty, and made for kissing.  And she wanted to kiss him.  Had she ever wanted to kiss a man before?  She couldn’t remember.  Naomi couldn’t understand the inferno building inside her. 
     “Don’t I get a dying wish?”
     Humor in the face of death.  She liked that.  “You don’t need one.  I’m going to save you.” 
     Naomi placed one hand on his flat stomach enjoying the play of hard muscle beneath his blood-drenched t-shirt.  She covered his wound and let God’s light flow through her into him.  In an instant he began to heal.  She leaned over to kiss his lips giving him a reward for making her laugh.
     The second her mouth touched his, he opened his.  Slowly his tongue teased past her lips and the sweet taste of cinnamon filled her.  His hand tangled in her hair.  His tongue danced with hers.  Warning bells went off in her head.  This couldn’t be right.  She tried to pull back but he kept her prisoner.  A coiling heat ran down to her stomach flooding her with heat.  Her heart pounded as long buried emotions erupted.  Desire and need careened inside her. 
     She wasn’t supposed to feel these things anymore.  She should never have kissed him.  The passion was overwhelming.  The horror of her mortal life hadn’t prepared her for tenderness. 
     He began nibbling on her bottom lip. 
     He moaned and let go of her.  She sat back trembling,
wondering what the hell just happened.

Round 1: Betty J Womack


The last time they worked together, Carmen Redstone shot him in the ass. 
Denato Genonese had never let her live it down. Of course it had been an accident, one he’d caused with hotshot one-upmanship.
She couldn’t believe the department had reassigned her to ride with him. 
     Of course it had been an accident, one he’d cause with hotshot one-upmanship. Denato Genonese had never let her live it down.
     She’d never liked him, hated his swaggering ways and having to be in the lead all the time.
     Visiting him in the hospital taught her how deep his asshole ways went. He’d told her to check her weapon outside the door. He had grinned, but his cop buddies all had a good laugh at her expense. 
After that, she’d made no effort to contact him. She’d been roughed up in that drug bust too, but he never mentioned the broken arm she got out of it.
He barely glanced her way when he came into the conference room, his limp a gross exaggeration to remind her of her error in judgment.
     She wished her hair would stay put, tendrils crawling out of the tight bun she’d rolled it into. The room was hot and the fine sheen of sweat on her face embarrassed her.
The August heat of Kansas City wasn’t the reason for the sweat. Seeing him again brought back the inferno hot memory of the one time they’d screwed like two mink in a cage.
     The arrogant bastard in battered jeans and a white polo still raised her temperature. Damn the luck. He came toward her.
     “Carmen.” He flicked a glance over her. “Captain tell you?”
     “Tell me what?” She wasn’t about to broach the subject of them working as a team. “I’m sure you’re busting to lay it on me.”
     The habit of resting his hand on the butt of the Glock on his trim waist seemed more of a taunt now. “My partner transferred out to Denver. I’m stuck with you.”
     This was so like him. He’d been blunt before, but this was pure dung coming from his mouth.
     “Maybe they think you need someone to take over when the heat’s on.” The drone of the old fan in the corner seemed louder than usual. “I’ll see you in the parking lot.”
     “You can ask for another man to ride with.” He reached in his back pocket to pull out his wallet. “I’ll buy your lunch and we can figure out where you want to go.”
     “Go to hell, Don.” She stood and pushed him out of her way. “It takes a man to make me do anything.”
     “You’re looking at him, babe.” He stuck the wallet back in his pocket.
     He was only a couple inches taller than her five foot eight, but his body was hard as nails and able to back up any threat he made.
     “Yeah, I’m looking at a loud mouthed jerk that can’t understand the way this job works.”
     He gazed at her, the accessing stare familiar. “You can’t be lecturing me on procedures?” He flicked a finger at her escaping hair. “You have no idea how to take a man down without killing everyone else.”
     “Screw you.” His nasty comments stung. “Let’s go, or are you still on disability?”
     “You plan to put me back on it?” 
He wouldn’t let it go. She wasn’t going to weasel out and let him tongue lash her.
She remembered his way with that tongue. It had driven her wild. The gleam in his dark eyes assured her he was remembering that fuck. Staked out for two days, she’d gotten bored and he’d gotten horny. She’d given him everything right there among the fast food boxes and soda cans.
He’d almost passed out with excitement. The bastard.
“Don.” She avoided eye contact with him, picking up her sunglasses and note pad. “I’ll see if Captain Wesman will assign you another detective.”
That grabbed his attention, and he looked ready to explode. “Not on your life.” He lowered his voice to make sure she listened to him. “Wouldn’t that look great on my record? ‘Genoese couldn’t handle the stress of working with a female partner.’ He smiled sardonically. “Stay out of my business, Redstone. Unless you want to go on stakeout again. I’ll make an exception for that.”
“You couldn’t handle it, Genoese.” She wasn’t going to back off until he did. “Next time, I’ll shoot you in your brain pan. That would be your ass.”
“Let’s go.” He walked ahead of her and ignored the door closing in her face.
Her quick stride got her to their assigned car first, and she opened the door to get in the driver’s seat.
She was hauled back against him as she tried to get in the patrol car. He’d hooked a finger in her belt loop. “Get out.” He pulled her from the car and jerked on the loop several times. “I want to live through the night.”
He hadn’t touched her since the motel roll, but his hands still sent lightning bolts through her. “Get your hands off my ass.”
There were too many witnesses around to smash him in the face. This would be one long, fucking night. She’d make sure it was the last they spent together.
While he drove, she kept an eye out for the suspects that had pulled off a home invasion in the area. For a short time, business replaced anger and they rode in silence.
The Eastside was already hopping with activity. Hookers prowled the streets and dealers waited for drug heads wanting a fix. They melted into the shadows as the dark blue sedan rolled past.
The computer on the console lit up. She tensed with expectation. 
“Two of our bad guys were seen in the east bottoms, camping out on a sand bar.”
“Give me a better location, Redstone.”
“You know Cat Bridge.” 

Round 1    Round 2    Round 3    Round 4    Round 5

Round 2: Amber Leigh Williams
           How could he leave her here alone at the mercy of his approaching enemy? How could he?
            Hand in hand, Charles and Lucille emerged from the vineyard rows onto the sidewalk in front of the manor terrace. She turned to him. Without a thought, he cupped the nape of her neck in his hand and lowered his mouth to hers.
            She broke away, glancing frantically around. “Someone will see.”
“I don’t care anymore,” he said, reaching for her again.
She evaded him once more and turned to lead him into the shadows of the trees. “You’re angry.”
He sighed, a long anguished sound. “No. Your father has found a place to go from here. He didn’t have to do that, Lucille. Even if he’s sending me away, I can’t resent that.”
“How far is he sending you?”
Horror pierced her eyes. Her hand rose trembling to her mouth. “No.”
“Sandro says he has contacts in a safe house underground—”
“It’s occupied territory. He can’t do this. I won’t let him do this. I have to talk to him.”
“He’s already done me enough favors,” Charles reminded her. “I’ll travel to Milan.” He paused, stalling. “Sandro says I should leave tomorrow while the Germans are still north and the winery anniversary distracts the village.”
She pressed a hand to her stomach, stricken. “Tomorrow night.”
He nodded, watching the disbelief and grievance work over her. Even under the dim sickle moon, he could see her color vanish. He ran a hand back through her hair, let the scent of her envelope him, choke him. “You’ll be all right.”
Incredulity brewed in her eyes. “It’s not me I’m worried about. It’s you. It’s always you. And no, it can’t be all right. We have no time.”
“We’ve had time. I’ve stayed too long. We both know it. We both knew this day would come.”
She shook her head in automatic denial. “Not like this,” she whispered, emotions wrecking her voice. Her hands trembled as she lifted them to his shirt lapels, tracing them up and down, training her gaze on the smoothing movement of her fingers. “If you go to Milan, you won’t come back.”
“I’m a trained soldier, Lucille. I know what it’s like out there. Have a little faith.”
She closed her eyes. “That’s something I haven’t felt in a long time.” She let out a shaky breath. “Take me with you.”
“I can’t,” he told her. “I’m not going to drag you into danger. You’re safe here even if it is without me.”
“Even if it means having to marry another man?”
The thought sank like a stone, the misery crumbling within him.
A sound like a sob shuddered out of her as she dropped her head. “I’m sorry. This is hard enough without bringing Debray into it.”
He frowned, lowering his voice. “You want me to take you away? From your family…everything?”
Her lips trembled. “I can’t do that. I know how much you need to fight. You swore an oath and you keep your promises. It’s who you are. I wouldn’t feel this way if you weren’t the man you are, Charles.”
He watched her, feeling all the sadness on her face. “So what do we do?”
She gathered her strength. “Say goodbye. There won’t be time tomorrow. All we have is now.”
The unfairness of it gnawed. He gripped her arm and pulled her further into the seclusion of the garden, off the path. Darkness draped them under the shade of an ancient oak. Against the trunk where honeysuckle tangled, she leaned back. His head tilted down to hers and took her mouth in a kiss as slow as it was ardent. He took his time where he’d chanced before, savoring.
Her slim hands captured his face. Her breath caught as his tongue salved hers. She responded, first with hesitancy then assessment. Soon she met the rhythm of his kiss and her hands clenched in his shirtfront, drawing him closer.
He braced a hand over her head as he closed what little space there was between them, trapped her between him and the tree. His hand caressed her hip.
Beneath his, her eyes grew murky and her arms slid under his shoulders around to his back. She tipped her mouth up to his, open and eager.
The press of his hand hardened unknowingly as the kiss went deeper, kindling some dark, deadly flame within him. Under the burn something sweet seared, devastating. He delved, leaning into her, nudging his torso against hers.
The quick, soft sound of her breath came again as his hips dipped into hers. Her hands gripped the back of his shoulders, her eyes yawned. He repeated the movement and watched her mouth drop open in shock and awe and omit a tremulous breath.
“Okay?” he whispered against her lips.
“Forgot how to breathe.”
“Me, too.” Her scent and the honeysuckle tangled together in a heady brew that drugged him. Glutton for punishment, he lowered his nose to the side of her throat where she was most fragrant, pressing an open-mouthed kiss to the hammering pulse point there. “You make me forget a lot of things.” His fingers spread, his palm slowly sliding up her side. Her quavering sigh fueled the rate of his heart. Desire exploded to life between them as he cupped her breast.
“Charles,” she murmured, the word caught between a moan and a sob.
The hand on her hip lowered over her leg. Some unknown force urged him on. He dipped under the edge of her skirt and stroked the hosiery that cloaked her thigh.
Her body contoured to his as she bowed in surprised pleasure.
The heat cloaked him now, beading his brow. The fire ate him alive, but the agony of it was beautiful. Reduced to a puddle in his arms, she was eager to follow his lead—wherever it took her.

Round 2: Lainey M Bancroft
He was rooted to his chair. Stunned by his ignorant behavior and equally bewildered by Lacy’s abrupt departure. When she swung through the door, he leapt up to follow.
Her athletic stride had already carried her a good way along the sidewalk and he sprinted to catch up. Hot damn! She was as nice on departure as she was on arrival. “Perverted asshole,” he mumbled. It also struck him that although she had donned the classic Marilyn Monroe sex kitten wardrobe she lacked the true vamp attitude.
She didn’t look like the sort of girl you’d ply with champagne and furs. She looked like she’d enjoy a snowball fight, or a tumble in dry leaves. Like someone physically healthy enough to comfortably kick back without props, and mentally comfortable enough to beat him in a match of wits. He groaned at the mental images his wandering mind had conjured.
“Lacy! Wait.”
She paused but didn’t turn around. He was left gazing at her shoulder, mesmerized by the fine lines of a Chinese symbol. He couldn’t resist tracing an index finger over it. He felt a tremor quake through her before she jerked away.
“You think it’s trashy, I suppose. Part of the persona.”
“Do you know what it means?”
She turned and her blue glare snapped across him like a bullwhip. “It could say kung-pao chicken for all I know. Doesn’t matter. It’s a temp.”
He laughed. For a second he thought she might too, but then she seemed to think better of it. She spread her arms in supplication.
“Go ahead. Get an eyeful,” she offered. “The boobs are mine with a little under wire assistance. There’s no other tats or piercing. Oh, and I’m a natural brunette, if you wondered,” she added acidly. “As for the rest, you’ll have to develop your fiction skills. There’s an interesting bookstore a few blocks from here. I get a lot of my material there. Tell your boys at the firehouse whatever you think they want to hear, pal. I don’t give a shit.”
Lacy did her best to make a dignified retreat in her unfamiliar stilettos. When he caught her again, she had to repress a primal scream of fury.
His hands were gentle but firm where he gripped her upper arms. “I don’t recall a line about unadulterated rage in that letter, but I suppose it is a passion of sorts.”
His chuckle rumbled through her, raising heat in her belly. There was something oddly endearing about his hesitant smile and the flecks of gold that danced in his dark eyes.
“Can we try this again?” He didn’t wait for her answer. “My name is Reid Walker and I’m a socially handicapped ass. I never miss your radio show. Your taste in music is mine. I love your honesty and you’ve made me laugh at times when there was absolutely nothing funny about my life.”
She should have felt vindicated. It was everything she’d aimed for. Make them relate. Make them believe. Make them your friend. Suddenly success didn’t feel very successful. She couldn’t be interested in this insulting jerk. He was only interested in late night Lacy, the reigning Queen of the Wet Dreams.
His grip loosened, becoming a caress. “I feel like an idiot admitting this, but sometimes I relate so well to what you’re saying, it feels like you’re speaking just to me. And I want…”
Lacy held her breath, wondering what had halted his confession so abruptly. He shook his head and the confusion that flitted across his face cleared.
 “I want you to talk to me. I want to know Lacy Monroe. I want it badly enough that it scared me and made me intolerably rude.”
Damn! Some celebrity turn out she’d made. She’d allowed an ignoramus fireman to drive her into a snit, and now he was going to make her cry on a busy downtown sidewalk like some fragile debutante.
His hand drifted upward. He cupped her shoulder, smoothing a line over the symbol. She shivered and involuntarily leaned into the caress.
“Fire,” he said softly.
“Hmm?” Her brain had liquefied with his heartfelt confessions and the gentle rhythmic stroke of his thumb.
“Firefighting isn’t all action. Lots of time to kill. I’ve been reading up on this stuff. Your symbol means fire,” he chuckled. “I think it suits you.” He reached into the neckline of his snug black t-shirt and tugged out a dog tag.
She blinked against the glare of sunlight that shot from the metal. “Crisis,” he said, slipping it over his head and offering it to her.
She fingered the Chinese graphics. “Danger and opportunity.”
“Right.” He seemed surprised and pleased that she’d known. “It felt suitable in my line of work. Facing danger for the opportunity to save lives. I’ve been thinking of having it permanently inked. What do you say we skip the boat and the publicity circus?”
His smile beamed as warm as the August sun. The heat of it melted away the last of her nerves, her temper, and her common sense. “What did you have in mind?”
“Body Art Inc. isn’t far from here. I thought you might like to come along and watch someone inflict pain on me. God knows, I deserve it.”
“You do. And I do, want to come along that is. Reid?”
“I’m sorry you didn’t write the letter that won this contest.”
“No sorrier than I am.”
“If we skip the glamour of our sunset sail, what are you going to tell the guys at the firehouse?”
He outlined the fire symbol on her shoulder again, and then clapped his hand over his bicep. He offered her a wicked grin. “I’ll tell them I spent an evening with the lovely Lacy that permanently altered me.”


Round 2: Margaret J Tanner
Major Mark Tremayne grimaced as he entered the café in his crumpled uniform. Boots and leggings still covered in Somme mud.
“Good morning, Sir.”  An enormous woman waddled up to him.
“Good morning, I’d like a word with Amy.”
“Who are you?”
“Mark Tremayne.”
The smile vanished. “You’re the one who broke her heart.”     He felt his face flush. 
“She’s not here,” the woman snapped.
“But I understood she was.  I’ve just arrived from France. I must see her.  It’s urgent.”
“Olive, your tea is getting cold.” 
“Excuse me.” He pushed past the woman called Olive and entered a parlor adjoining the café.   
“Amy,” it came out huskily, but she swung around. He watched the warmth ebb from her face, leaving it cold and pinched.  Her eyes darkened to the color of a wintry English sky.
“Mark! What are you doing here?”
“I came to find you.  Why didn’t you let me know where you were?”
 “Tea?” Olive asked.
“What!  Oh, no thank you.  Is there somewhere private we can talk?”
“No.  You told me to get out of your life so I did.”
“I didn’t mean it, for God’s sake, Amy.   Please, give me another chance. I’ll make it up to you. I swear it.”
“You don’t have much to offer.” Olive glared at him.  “You’re a married man.?”
He gritted his teeth to stop himself from telling this woman to shut up and mind her own business. 
“I don’t want to be hurt again. I wouldn’t be able to survive it a second time.”
 Amy looked so little and sad it nearly broke his heart. “I love you. I’ll never hurt you again.  ”
 “Tell him how he’s ruined your life,” Olive urged. 
“No, I just want him to leave.”
“I’ve apologized. I’m truly sorry, what else can I do?”
“Sorry!” Olive exploded.  “You’d be a lot more than bloody sorry if Amy was my daughter.”
“She isn’t your daughter.”  Who the hell did this old strumpet think she was, anyway?  “Please, come away with me
“It’s no use,” Amy whispered sadly, “there’s no future for us now.  I want to stay here until Guy sends money for my fare home.”
“I’ll give you the money, but wait until the war is over and I’ll come with you.”
“She hasn’t got that much time.”
“What the hell’s going on here?”  He was tired, his nerves stretched to breaking point.  “If you’ve got something to say, spit it out.”
“You put a baby in Amy’s belly.”
Amy suddenly found her tongue. “I’m having a baby.”
He slumped on a chair, holding his head in his hands. “How could I have done this to you? One bloody, careless mistake.”
“Mistake!” Amy screamed.  “You call our baby a mistake?  Bastard.”  She flew at him, pummeling his chest.  “I suppose you want me to get rid of it?”
His hands clamped on her shoulders. “How dare you accuse me of such a foul thing? If we don’t get married, our child will be a bastard.”
Amy collapsed into a chair under the ferocity of his attack.  “What a horrible thing to say.”
“It’s the word everyone else will use.  My God.  Why didn’t I leave you alone after Gallipoli, like I planned?”
He had put her at risk when they last made love, because he wanted a few extra seconds of pleasure. His bloody selfishness had left her in this catastrophic position.  Never in his whole life had he felt so desperate or despicable.  His insides knotted up.  A burning pain seared his rib cage, he felt as if someone was spearing him through the chest with a red hot poker.
“I’ll be out in the scullery.  Sort this out between you once and for all.” Olive stomped off.
Amy read the agony in Mark’s eyes, saw him gritting his teeth as he fought to hold himself together, and she knew that he did care for her.  She went over to him. 
His arms engulfed her but he made no move to kiss her. They stood together without speaking for a time.  Finally he raised his head. “I’ll have to drive out and see my lawyer.”
“Let me come with you, Olive won’t mind.  It’s quiet here at the moment.”
“We could leave England and start up afresh in Australia.  No one need ever know we aren’t married.”
He scrubbed his fingers through his hair. Dare he secretly marry Amy? Was there a statute of limit on murder? He fought to still his trembling hands.  To swallow back the nauseous fear. 
“We’d be living a lie,” he croaked.  God, he had to get legal advice then tell her the whole sordid story.  His wife was dead.  He could never marry again because his sister-in-law was blackmailing him.  Icy fingers of dread played a symphony up and down his spine. .
“I’m prepared to take the chance, even if Maryanne won’t divorce you,” she assured, slipping her arms around his neck.
He took her hands away and stepped back a pace.  “No matter what it costs, I’ll make everything right for you and our child.” He would even risk the gallows. He took in several shuddering breaths. “I have to see my lawyer.”
“For a divorce?”
“To ensure you and our child will be financially taken care of if something happens to me.”
The ominous clouds of war gathered over them once more.  She shivered with dread.
They drove to Mark’s lawyer and Amy waited in the car while he went into the imposing brick mansion.   When he returned the deathly pallor was gone from his face.
“Is everything arranged?”
“Yes.” He would marry Amy.  Would write a letter to the police confessing to killing his wife. Take the blame for a crime that was never committed. He would return to France. Death on the battlefield was an honorable way to escape the hangman’s noose.

Round 2: Tori Scott

     Reed and the other woman stood at the back of the room, talking quietly, though Reed was gesturing and his face was set in an angry scowl. Oh dear. Trouble in paradise already? Good. She hoped that woman dumped him on his ass like he deserved.

     Cassie decided to have a little fun and maybe get even just a little bit. Childish, maybe. But it would be worth it. She glanced at Julia and winked. Watch this.

      “If you’ll turn to page thirteen, I’d like to introduce you to my personal favorite. It’s the Go Getter. This is for those of us who can’t seem to find a guy who has the first clue about what satisfies a woman. You know what I mean. Those guys who think they’re God’s gift to women, who think they’re world-class lovers, when in truth they make you grind your teeth and think ‘can we please just get this over with?’ while they think ‘you stud, you’ and try to make it last forever because, God knows, we have to be loving it. Right? Any one here ever had a guy like that?”

     Nearly every female hand in the room went up in the midst of nervous giggles. Cassie looked at Reed and arched an eyebrow. This one’s for you, bud. “I just broke up with a guy like that. All smoke and no substance. No staying power. But the Go Getter will make you forget all about that guy. It’s so small and quiet, you could almost use it in the middle of sex and he wouldn’t know. But it packs a powerful punch. Imagine sitting in a boring meeting, about to fall asleep. You reach in your pocket and flip the silent switch and the next thing you know you’re fighting not to scream “Oh, baby!” as your boss spells out the budget cuts for the next quarter.”

     Reed’s scowl deepened and there was an angry red flush on his cheeks. Cassie closed in for the kill. “Then if you’ll turn to page 10, you’ll see the Slippery Seal. Oh, man, is this thing hot. If you have a hard time working up any enthusiasm with that guy who thinks he’s hell on a mattress, you can warm yourself up with the Slippery Seal lubricant and he’ll think you’ve been hot for him all day. And you can laugh into your pillow, knowing he had nothing to do with it.”

     Julia stood there staring at Cassie, her jaw slack, mouth open. Cassie knew she was going to demand an explanation for her outrageous behavior, but the guests—at least the female ones—were nodding in agreement and turning down the corners of the pages to mark their place. 

      Cassie was on a roll. She played up the lackluster lover with each product, using personal tidbits from her times with Reed, never naming names but giving enough detail for him to know she was referring to him. It was all lies, but from the look on his face, he believed every word.

     By the time she handed out the order forms, she almost believed everything she’d said herself.


     Reed was ready to draw his gun and arrest Cassie by the time she finished. At first, he’d been shocked to find out she was Amanda’s target for the sting. He’d had no idea Cassie was involved with the Pleasure Parties. By the end, he felt like he’d been flayed open and all his insecurities laid bare.

     What a fool he’d been, thinking they had something  special, something most couples would give anything to have. She’d been playing him for a fool the entire time. He took one last look at Cassie as she bent over to point something out to a sour-faced woman in the back row, then looked at Amanda. “Ready to rock and roll?”

The Cheshire grin on Amanda’s face disconcerted him a bit until it hit him. Amanda had set it all up. The scene at his apartment, the bust, everything. She’d known all along what Cassie was doing.

Reed watched silently as Amanda pulled a pair of cuffs from her utility belt and stepped forward. “Cassie Mills, you’re under arrest for public indecency and corrupting the public morals. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one...”

Cassie’s face drained of color, and she looked at Reed, her eyes begging him to help her. Then she seemed to remember what had happened in the last twenty-four hours, and she turned her head away, closing her eyes as the cuffs snapped around her wrists. She bit her lip, and he could tell she was trying not to cry.

Reed took Cassie’s arm and led her outside, leaving Amanda to bring up the rear with Julia. He couldn’t look at Cassie, so he stared resolutely forward and marched her to the car, placing his hand on her head as he pushed her inside.

“What about my products? We can’t just leave them there. Those cases cost me three hundred dollars. And my car. What will happen to my car?”

“You’ll get to make a phone call at the station. Call someone you trust to pack everything up for you and retrieve your car, or call a lawyer. Your choice.”

“Some choice. Why are you doing this to me?”

He stooped down to look into the back seat. “It’s my job, Cassie. You knew that when we started dating.”

She looked up at him, furious. “We never dated. We screwed once in a while, but we’ve never been on an actual date, remember?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. “Maybe that’s where we went wrong.”


Round 2: Brenna Lyons
Aurora Evans wrung out the cloth, shuddering hard when the cool water touched her burning skin. Her eyes felt gritty, and her head was in a flat spin. Her stomach roiled, and her eyes slipped shut. Though her entire body was quaking, she had to get on her feet in a couple of hours and lead the kids as far as they could trek tonight.
_We're not going to make it_.
Ari revised that thought guiltily. _I'm not going to make it_. She'd promised they'd make it into safe territory, but her body was going to give out before they got there.
_I've done all I can_. Ari had taught Lee to use the compass and maps. Her thirteen-year-old daughter was the oldest of the kids fate had left in her care. If Ari could get them to the foothills, Lee could lead them the rest of the way to Free Denver.
But, would Ari last that long? A series of wracking coughs seemed to answer in the negative. Ari sat on the dirt-dusted stone floor, her arms wrapped tight around her spasming chest, fighting for an unhampered breath. She'd had pneumonia enough times to know it when she felt it.
There was nothing in her meager medical supplies that would combat this. She had no antibiotics left, and she'd used the last of her expectorants. The only thing left of any use was ibuprofen.
Ari fumbled the bottle out and opened it, shaking 1200 mg into her palm. She stared at the six pills, her heart aching. There were only two dozen tablets left. If she took six at a shot, she'd be out of them tomorrow.
_What if Lee needs them? I'm wasting supplies_. Ari slid four pills back into the bottle, closed it and stashed it in the kit. She stared at her hand, rolling the other two between her thumb and palm.
_I shouldn't take them_.
But, Ari had to make it as far as the foothills. She'd take as little as she could, until then. She dry-swallowed the pills, before she could argue herself out of it, tears pricking at her eyes.
A scream brought her head up.
Ari looked around, noting Lee's startled expression then finishing her head count. "Billy...Noelle. Damn." Had she been so lost in thought she hadn't realized they'd left the cave? Apparently so.
She pulled on David's ball cap, scrambling out the crevice with the useless rifle in hand. Worst case, if her bluff failed, she could use it as a club.
_Worst case, we'll all be dead_.
_Now is the wrong time to entertain that thought_.
They were everywhere, military types in camouflage. Ari would like to take heart in the differences between their markings and those of the traditional American armed forces, but she'd been on the run so long, she didn't know which side had kept them...if either.
She picked out the two holding the struggling children, noting how many she'd have to take down to give them a chance at escape. It was hopeless.
_Only if they're on the wrong side_.
Ari shifted the rifle, stroking the lock with a sweat-soaked finger. She stared them down, waiting to see what would happen next.
The attack came without warning, a body hurtling at her. Ari turned toward him, bringing the rifle up to take his chin. He hit her solidly, landing over her, his hand locking on the rifle over hers, crushing her fingers to the trigger lock and forcing the barrel to the side.
"Drop it," he ordered in a voice she'd dreamt of for more than a decade.
She met his eyes through her sunglasses. _Bain_. What was he doing here?
_Why isn't he releasing the rifle?_ The leader wasn't fighting him, but he wasn't conceding defeat either. What was his game?
In the next instant, a swarm of children appeared from inside the cave, pulling at Bain with curses and battle cries. Bain's men vaulted into the fray, dragging them away.
"Stand down. Don't fight them."
Bain stared at his prisoner, shocked into a near-stupor. He examined the mud-pasted cap. The MSP. _It'
He dragged the cap off, revealing black hair, cropped short and pasted to her head with sweat. "Ari."
A weak smile pulled up at her lips. "Hello, Bain."
He stared at her, taking in every detail in rising concern. She was trembling. Sweat coated her skin, though there was a decided chill in the air. Her breathing was rasping and uneven.
Bain cupped her cheek, cursing fluently at the heat radiating off her. "Doc," he shouted.
Unbidden, the last time he'd seen her in this state coursed through his mind. He'd been guiding her back to bed, chiding her for walking around when she should be resting.
"What is it?" Matthews asked, appearing beside him.
Ari started coughing, deep wracking coughs that had haunted more than a few of Bain's nightmares. He winced, hoping Doc had something appropriate on hand.
"Chief?" Matthews prompted him.
"Yeah?" He didn't look around. It hardly seemed possible to look away from Ari, now that he'd found her.
"You have to move, Chief. I need room to work."
Bain looked down at himself, acutely aware of his position, straddling Ari's thighs, leaning over her, one hand covering hers and the other planted on the ground next to her cheek. If he shifted, she'd know precisely how much her proximity affected him.
"Release the rifle, Ari." That was one chance he couldn't take, even for her. He had a duty to his men.
She laughed, a brittle sound, half-choking in the effort. He eased his grip on her trigger hand, allowing her to retreat.
The reason for her mirth became clear the moment her hand was clear and his closed around the rifle. There was a trigger lock in place. Ari couldn't have fired it, even if she'd wanted to. It had been a bluff.

Round 2: Dawn Rachel Carrington
The dream shattered as Hunt woke to the sound of pounding rain on the roof of his condo and the unmistakable knowledge that he was no longer alone.  And since he lived alone, this was definite cause for concern. 
His hand slipped beneath this pillow and closed around cold steel.  Reassured that he was in better control of the situation, he made sure the clip was in place.  Rolling to his feet, he crouched down beside his bed and scooted toward the wall beside the door. He realized for the first time that he was naked…and he'd gone to bed with boxers on.
What the hell…?
Soft footsteps were barely discernible, but, to Hunt, they sounded like high heels tapping against marble. Snagging his shorts from the edge of the bed, he pulled them up over his hips in seconds. His instincts on high alert, he watched as the door handle turned.  
            Dressed in black to fade in with the darkness, the figure moved into the room with an economy of motion. A thin beam of light swept across the top of Hunt's dresser until it fell on his wallet and badge. Tucking the flashlight beneath a lycra covered arm, the figure picked up his wallet simultaneously with the twist of Hunt's wrist that switched on the bedside lamp.
            Weapon trained on his uninvited guest, he stood.  "Put the wallet down slowly and raise your hands in the air." With reflexes borne out of years of intense practice, he flexed his grip on the gun, anticipating the intruder's next move.
            The figure hesitated, but the slide of the clip made compliance the only choice.  With a sound of frustration, his uninvited visitor dropped the leather trifold to the dresser and extended hands in the air.
            Hunt reached for the handcuffs on the bedside table.  "Now turn around and remove the mask.  I like to look my guests in the eye."
            Fingers encased in black leather gloves caught the bottom of the black face mask and tugged it upwards.  A wealth of vibrant, copper colored hair spilled across slender shoulders, and as Hunt's mouth fell open, the intruder tossed her head back, revealing a porcelain face and flashing, green eyes. 
            He tossed the silver bracelets in her direction. "Put those on and then tell me your name."
She snapped the handcuffs into place with an efficiency that told him she'd done it before. "Amity Schneider."
He frowned. Not too many burglars offered their name so willingly. Of course, more than likely, it was an alias. Still…"Amity?" His mind searched through the mental rolodex. "Never heard of you."
"I don't expect you to know me, Detective Brandon."
She knew him…or rather, she thought she knew him. He relaxed only marginally. "Well, then, you're not going to be disappointed because I have no idea who you are.  Most burglars start with the stuff they see in the first room they come to. Since you didn't, I can only assume you're after something else. You want to tell me what that is before I read you your rights?"
"Not particularly." The two words were clipped.
"Fine. Then we can do this in an interrogation room with weak coffee and bright lights."
She took a step toward him. "Sorry to disappoint you, but I won't be able to join you."
            "Not one more move," he threatened, lifting the nose of the gun in warning. Damnit, he didn't want to have to shoot her. That tight lycra clinging to her curves without a doubt concealed a body that was damned near perfect. It'd be a shame to scar it.
            Continuing to smile, Amity lowered her arms to shoulder level. "You don't really want to arrest me, Detective. In fact, you want to know more about me, and putting me behind bars won't serve your purpose."
She had a point, but he was still a cop. And she'd just committed a crime. Duty screamed loudly in his hear. "Just tell me why you're here. You don't have a gun, so I'm assuming you didn't come here to attempt to kill me."
Tipping her head to one side, she studied him with green eyes that seemed to glow in the meager light offered by the lamp. "This wasn't exactly how I planned our first conversation."
The slight tipping of her lips told him she found his retort amusing, though he saw something in her eyes…a touch of pain, maybe? "Okay, fine. You have something I need."
One eyebrow lifted. "That's a different approach."
She made a sound in the back of her throat. "Not sex."
"Damn my luck." He was starting to enjoy the dialogue, and his guard slipped another notch.
Apparently, just the moment she'd been waiting for. She leaped forward, and her feet landed solidly in the center of his chest. The force of the blow rocketed him backwards, flinging him onto the mattress.
He pushed himself off, adrenaline pumping through his veins like high-octane. With one swipe of her hand, she took out the light, and darkness claimed the room. He took a moment to regain his bearings, but Amity Schneider wasn't waiting.
She caught him across the cheek with a swift upper left hook. Damn. She hit like a man. With a string of curses, he stumbled back, staggering across the carpet.  Two feet caught him in the solar plexus again, stealing the breath from his lungs. Winded, he dropped to his knees.
And she didn't wait around. She burst out of the bedroom and down the hallway, her movements as quick as the flame of a lighter. Seconds later, he heard the thump of the front door.
Shit. For the first time in his life, he'd been bested by a woman. That didn't sit too well with him, but what made matters worse, he'd liked the physical contact. In his line of work, he met a lot of female victims and few aggressors.
Damn. He was still hard. 

Round 1    Round 2    Round 3    Round 4    Round 5

Round 3: Terri Schaefer


An hour after I left the crime scene, I kicked my front door shut behind me, took off my glasses and let The Sight unfold. The loft was just as I’d left it, warm and inviting, with no additional human auras polluting the atmosphere. In my line of work, a girl could never be too careful. After all, lots of perps didn’t distinguish between badge- and piece-carrying cops and independents like me. If you were on the other side of the crime tape, you were a cop. Ergo, you were a target.
The stills I’d taken of the job were now safe and sound at the precinct, ready for the Homicide dicks to do their magic. For the sake of the victim—and his family—I hoped they found the do-wrong quickly. The killer had exuded a sense of malice that still sent a shudder through me. One I didn’t want to consider too deeply. The case was Homicide’s problem now.
I shook off the evening’s events and focused on the here and now, on the safety and security of coming home. And as I did, the tap of claws on the parquet floor preceded Xena.
I carefully set the Nikon down, then crouched and waited for the Shih Tzu whirlwind as she launched herself into my arms. She smothered my face in doggie kisses as she wiggled and made me laugh, then slid to the floor and looked at me with a “gotta-pee” expression.
Still smiling, I clipped the leash to her collar, slipped on my glasses, opened the door and had started down the stairs when I heard someone opening the street-level door. Dammit, I would have sworn I’d locked it. Or maybe the damned lock was broken again.
Apprehension slithered up my spine. My loft was the only dwelling upstairs, so whoever stood in the doorway had to be here for me, given the late hour. Not many people knew I lived here, and even my precinct overlord, Captain Davis, didn’t bother me after a particularly gruesome shoot. He wasn’t exactly a hearts-and-flowers kind of guy, but had taken me under his wing when he was still a homicide dick. He popped by every once in awhile, but never this late, and he always rang the street-level buzzer. So, if it wasn’t Davis, then who was darkening my doorway?
Whoever it was, they were big; I could tell by the creak of the old stairs as body mass hit each tread. A beat of unreasonable panic fluttered through me. Even if this wasn’t the greatest of neighborhoods, I’d never been afraid before.
Since fear had been a huge part of my childhood, I tended to heed intuition. Right now it screamed for me to get my happy ass back in the house. I turned to the door and had just begun inserting the keys to let myself in when a rough, thoroughly masculine voice hailed me.
“Sara Covington?”
I left my keys hanging from the door, and turned on my heel, my fight-or-flight instinct shifting to the first with a surge of adrenaline that had my pulse spiking. I slid my right hand into my pocket and pulled out my trusty switchblade, opening it with a deadly snick before laying it next to my thigh. The element of surprise could be a girl’s best friend, and I’ve yet to find a man who expects someone like me to carry a blade.
Then I got a good look at my nocturnal visitor and realized how futile the gesture was. This dude, whoever he was, was huge, filling the narrow stairwell with the width of his shoulders, his head almost brushing the low ceiling. I was dead meat if he wanted to hurt me. Even a blade wouldn’t slow this guy down.
Xena yipped happily and darted forward to gnaw on his shoelace. He danced back less than gracefully and swore as he almost fell down the stairs. I struggled--and failed--to hide a relieved grin. I didn’t think I was in much danger from a man pushed back by a ten-pound ball of fluff…and one on a leash, no less. What the hell he wanted was a whole different concern.
I retracted the blade and tucked it in my pocket.
“Call your…whatever it is…off.” Now he sounded pissed, and my grin became a full-fledged smile.
“Xena, c’mere.” She dutifully scampered back and seated herself at my feet, then set to work on my shoes. “She’s harmless; she just wanted to love up your shoes.”
His words were dismissive, and automatically put my back up. Love my dog and you’ll get points. Diss her and it’s all over but the shouting.
“Sara Covington?” He asked again as he stepped forward, into the light. The sight of his face made me lose my breath. Sharp, angular features dominated, softened by a mouth that could only be described as carnal. His eyes were slate-blue and burned with a zeal I’d call possessed, if I knew him better. Dark, too-long hair brushed the collar of his starched white shirt. And the body that had been hidden by the darkness was just as powerful as it had sounded coming up the stairs, even camouflaged by a boring off-the-rack navy suit.
He’d drawn back into the stairwell, leaving the upper part of his face in shadow, and me clueless about what he was thinking.
I drew up and squared my shoulders. I’m tall for a girl, at five-ten, but next to him I felt tiny. “Who’s asking?” Thank goodness my voice didn’t waver.
He reached into his coat and I stiffened while I cast my eyes right and left, deciding which way to dive, more than pissed off at myself that I’d misjudged him. If this guy was gonna shoot me, I’d at least go down fighting.
When his hand emerged, it wasn’t a handgun or blade he held, but a shiny gold shield. “Detective Brian Roney.”

Round 3: Charlotte Chalmers
“Uh-uh, too obvious.” Donna clutched at his collar as Simon flapped towards the wardrobe. “You’ll have to climb out of the window.”
“But…” Simon looked alarmed “…the Greek God with broad…thingies is out there.”
“You go out when he comes in, twit.” Donna handed him his socks.
Simon glanced worriedly out. “It’s an awfully long way down.”
Either you go of your own free will, or I’ll assist you,” Donna assured him.
Simon pouted. “You can be so cruel.”
“Wait until he’s inside, then lower yourself down. And watch out for the milk bottles.”
“Mark, how are you?” Donna feigned surprise as she opened the door, and tried not to notice how gorgeous he looked gift-wrapped in blue.
“Donna.” Mark nodded curtly. “I hope I haven’t interrupted anything.” He took in her barely-there dress, then looked narrowly past her up the hall.
For what, Donna wondered, peeved. The Queen’s Guards? How dare he insinuate she’d sleep with other men, even if there was one in her bedroom? “Actually, you have,” she snapped. “He’s upstairs in the wardrobe!”
“Right.” Mark eyed her levelly. “Do you always have to take the piss?”
“Do you always have to take everything so seriously!?”
“No, but I wish you would.” Mark sighed. “Oh, forget it. I don’t know why I bother.”
“You haven’t had a sense of humour bypass, by any chance, have you?” Donna yelled as he walked moodily back to his patrol car.
“I suppose I must have.” Mark dragged a hand across his neck. “You know, Donna,” he turned back, “I’m beginning to think the only successful relationship you’ll ever have is with something which requires batteries.”
He dragged contemptuous eyes over her.
Well, that was cutting-edge wit, wasn’t it? SOH intact, obviously. “At least they don’t need stroking as often as your ego!” Donna retorted.
“Christ!” You really have a problem, don’t you!?” Mark glared at her.
Oh, how childish. Well, Donna wasn’t going to play. She was finding it difficult to glare back, actually, through her tears, which was no good at all, when she’d sworn never to give a man the satisfaction again.
“Psst!” Simon hissed from the landing as she came in. “He’s still out there. Go after him.”
“You must be joking. I hate him!” Donna sniffled.
“Donna, open the door and talk, why don’t you?”
At which point the letterbox rattled draftily about her nether regions. “Donna, it’s me,” Mark addressed her derrière. “Can we please talk?”
“Uh, oh.” Simon slithered swiftly back along the landing.
“Look, Donna,” Mark paused, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for us to argue. It’s just… Dammit, you make me so angry! Not all men are out to hurt women, you know.”
“Angry?? Gosh, I never would have known.”
“Open the door, Donna, please.”
“No.” What was the point?
Simon’s head re-appeared top stair. “Let him in, Donna.”
“Donna, let me in.” Mark sighed heavily. “Okay, I tried. I’ll just go. Goodnight, Donna.”
“Goodnight?” Donna blinked. Blimey, he might have tried a bit harder. She turned to inch the door open and… Hell! Mark wedged his foot in it.
Donna’s heart flipped over. Alarm bells rang. She’d been here before. She turned her back, intending to heave the door closed, but Mark was faster—and Donna was pitched unceremoniously forwards, to land nose-first on the carpet, knickers on show, wouldn’t she just know.
“Oh, Christ, Donna… Are you all…Ahem.” Mark coughed, then…laughed?
“Oh, ha bloody ha!” Donna snapped, struggling to sitting and tugging furiously at a never-ending stocking.
“Donna, please hear me out.” Mark started towards her. “I didn’t mean any of the things I said. What I did mean to say is that... Ouch!”
Mark landed smack bang on top of her, assisted by Donna’s carelessly abandoned Nikes. “I love you…very much,” he went on, smouldering eyes locked on hers, his mouth seeking hers—and Donna suddenly found herself forcing her tongue deep into his utterly kissable mouth.
“Jesus,” Mark groaned, his breath heavy on her cheek. “Uniform off or on?”
Oooh, scrummy. Donna tried not to slurp. “On,” she panted, the thought of scratchy blue serge on her skin—his toned body beneath it—making her already almost orgasmic.
“Your wish…” Mark said, his hand seeking the bare flesh of her thighs “…is my command.”
“Oh, God, don’t stop.” Donna’s breath caught in her throat. She reached for his waistband.
But Mark pulled away.
Where was he going? Donna was sure it was okay if he wore his bedroom eyes in the hall.
“Stand up,” Mark commanded throatily.
She’d stand on her head, right now, if he asked her. Donna allowed him to help her up and lead her to the lounge.
“Just in case your son comes back,” Mark explained, then pinned her against the door.
No shoes, she thought headily as his tongue, persistent and probing, penetrated her mouth. She might need to stand on a box.
Oh, whoops. Her dress fast assumed crop-top proportions as Mark expertly ran his hands up her thighs, then up further, his molten eyes holding hers as he reached for the lace of her bra.
He held her gaze for a second longer, then dipped down to graze his unshaven face exquisitely gently against her breasts, one hand travelling further down to do things with first one, then two fingers, that made Donna cling to him, melt into him, want him…
“I want you, Donna.” Mark echoed her thoughts.
“Here?” Donna croaked.
“Now.” Mark nodded, then smiled that sexy smile that Donna’s best friend had rightly surmised makes a girl want to rip her knickers off.
Had he slept with Alicia? Was he? Donna glanced down.
Mark tilted her chin up. “I think this is the bit where the train goes through the tunnel,” he joked, their own private joke.
“Pursued by a herd of majestic wildebeest.” Donna smiled, sought his mouth, then almost bit off his tongue—as Simon landed not so majestically on the milk bottles.

Round 3: Margay Leah Justice
“You have got to be kidding me,” Silvie muttered to herself as she found a safe place to pull over and parked the car. She waited for the officer to follow suit in silence. Oh, no, she’d save the rest of her words for him…and, boy, did she have a few choice ones!
She watched from the side mirror on her door as the officer stepped out of his car and approached hers. From that angle, she couldn’t get a good look at his face, but his body, dressed to perfection in a casual, navy business suit, certainly held possibilities. Quit it, Silvie! she chastised herself. This guy just pulled you over – for no reason. Why’re you checking him out? So what if he had a pretty buff body that strained to be unleashed from the confines of that suit? That didn’t negate the fact that he had no call to stop her. And that she was out of line for noticing the conditioning of his body.
It wasn’t until he was nearly at her door that she got her first good glimpse at his face. His rather familiar face. Oh, no, she thought, sinking a little in her seat, not him. Of all the people on the Feltonville Police Department, why did it have to be him?
“Nick Fahey,” she greeted in an ironic tone as she rolled down her window. She fell short of actually meeting his eyes, looking at his face. Even in the waning light of the late-summer evening and with the eerie lightning blue glow from the flashing lights of his car, he was devilishly handsome, she knew from experience. He always had been. “To what do I owe this displeasure?”
With a smirk at her question, Nick placed a hand on the roof of her car to anchor himself as he leaned down to her partially opened window. He didn’t answer her question. “You ruffled some feathers, Silvie,” he said in an overly casual tone.
He glanced about the tree-outlined neighborhood in a deceptively casual manner. But she knew better. Knew him better. There wasn‘t a casual thing about him - especially not when he was in cop-mode. She‘d seen him in action from afar; she knew how serious he was about his work.
“And how did I do that?” she demanded, matching his tone and manner. “Ruffle those feathers.”
“Take a guess.”
She didn’t have to. Barely suppressing a satisfied smile, she pointed out, “Well, if someone would just stop screening their calls, or better yet, return them, there wouldn’t be an issue, would there?”
“And you wonder why I screen my calls,” he countered.
“I can do without the poison tongue.”
“The poison tongue, that’s a good one,” she said. “Maybe I could use that to start a blog and vent all my frustrations on the internet.”
“That’d be the only place you haven’t vented them.”
Silvie narrowed her eyes at him. Now that was getting personal. “I have a better idea,” she said, her voice hard as a rock. “How about I just vent them on you?”
He sighed at that; he actually sighed! Like she was a recalcitrant child he had to take to task over something. The bastard.
“Haven’t we already traveled this road, Sil?”
Silvie twitched in distaste at his use of her old nickname. Like he was still her buddy, or something. Well, he wasn’t and she’d be damned if she let him sway her with the use of her pet name. “Sil-vie,” she pronounced her name in such a way that he couldn’t mistake her meaning. “And speaking of roads, did you have a legitimate reason for pulling me over or did you figure I wouldn’t make a scene in a public place?” She made a tsking noise with her tongue. “Really, Nicky, you think you would’ve learned by now that I don’t care where I am when I voice my opinions.”
Like in the hospital emergency room, waiting for news of her brother’s condition.
She didn’t have to say it out loud; she could see it in his eyes. He knew to what she was referring. Good.
“Nick,” he mimicked her. “Or Detective or Detective Fahey. Only my mother and my friends call me Nicky.”
“Only my brother called me Sil.”
“And we’re back.” He looked away, over the roof of her car, as he spoke. “Is it always going to come down to that between us?” He returned his gaze to her then. “Are you ever going to be able to look at me without thinking of him or talk to me without being angry about him?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“Well, that’s got to be the most truthful thing you’ve said to me in the past sixteen years,” he said. “We could be off to a fresh start here.”
“Hardly,” she countered in a return of her former tone. “The only thing I want from you is information about my niece’s case. Nothing else.”
“Fine. But only if you promise not to bother anyone else down at the station and at least try to be civil to me.” He paused for a moment before asking, “Think you can do that?”
“I’ll try.”
“Good.” Pulling back from her door, he reached into an inside pocket of his suit coat, extracted a card from a brown leather cardholder. “Here’s my private line, only call that from now on. Oh, and please do me a favor and disregard the cell and house numbers. I’d really rather you didn’t call them.”
“I’ll try to restrain myself,” Silvie quipped as she accepted the card and tucked it into her purse, on the seat beside her. “So what about that information?” she asked. “I mean, since we’re here and all.”
“This isn’t really the time or the place for that, Silvie.”
“So when and where, then?”
“Can you swing by the station on your way to work tomorrow?”
“Will you be there at seven?”

Round 3: Laura Hamby
Someone rattled the shop door. Brandie sighed and rose, but before she could get around Travis, he’d already unlocked and opened it for the rotund, pink-faced Mrs. Gentry. Brandie hoped her groan was inaudible, but the look Travis shot her indicated that he’d heard her. Mrs. Gentry swooped into the shop, surrounded by her personal cloud of floral perfume. 

“What luck! You’re both here. Now, don’t you two worry about a thing. Father Connahan and I had a nice long talk, Brandie. We don’t believe that Dian woman for a minute saying you stole Travis from her. Clearly she’s the home wrecker. Why, we’re abuzz about your secret romance. How romantic are the two of you, starting a relationship as pen pals? Now that’s the way to show appreciation for a man in uniform serving overseas. What a comfort it must’ve been for you, Travis, knowing Brandie waited at home for you.” 

“Um, excuse me,” Brandie sputtered. 

Mrs. Gentry gave her a wide-eyed smile. “Oh, honey, it’s the stuff dreams are made of. How you managed to be so discreet, I’ll never know. Brenda’s so delighted, she was speechless when I told her on the phone.” 

“You called my mother?” It was Travis’s turn to splutter. Brandie almost felt sorry for him, but not quite. This was still all his fault. 

“Father Connahan, of course, will put a damper on any rumors that woman starts. He’s so pleased for you, Brandie. I don’t mind telling you he’s been worried about you for a long time. Surely you’ve earned your place in heaven with all you’ve done for your brother and sister. It’s time you had something that’s just yours.” 

“But we aren’t seeing each other,” Brandie inserted when Mrs. Gentry paused to take a deep breath. “We never wrote, nothing. We’re not dating.” 

Mrs. Gentry winked broadly. “Whatever you say, honey.” 

“Travis, tell her. We aren’t dating.” She elbowed his hard abdomen. 

Travis bit his lower lip. “But Pumpkin, that would be a lie.” 

Mrs. Gentry heaved a contented sigh and bustled out of the shop. 

Brandie slapped Travis’s chest. “What’s the matter with you? We are not seeing each other. You just told the biggest mouth in St. Cyprian we’re an item. Thanks. Geez Louise.” She made a fist and let fly at his shoulder. 

Travis caught her hand. “Hey, this solves a couple of problems for us both.” 

“How? You’re a commitment-a-phobe. Now that we’re dating—and it’s official because Leonora Gentry said so—no available man in town will even look my way. I want a divorce and I want it now.” 

“Sorry. No divorce. Look, I have good reason to think Dian will continue to stalk you. If we’re dating, then at least I’ll be around as a buffer. If she does escalate, you’ll have a witness for that restraining order.” 

Brandie cleared her throat and looked away from him. He had a point. A tiny one. On top of his buzzed noggin. “At the same time, you’re hoping she’ll see it’s really over between the two of you.” 

“Well, I’d thought by telling her I had no interest in marrying her and joining the Army, I’d been pretty clear. It’ll be temporary, Brandie. Only until Dian gets the message. I’ve got only a couple weeks left on my leave, too. Then we’ll have a noisy break up, and you’ll be back on the meat market.” 

Unconvinced, Brandie remained silent. 

Travis backed her against the counter. He trapped her by splaying his hands on the counter top on either side of her body. Brandie’s pulse raced, making her wish she was immune to him. Truth of the matter was it had been a couple years since she’d last been involved with anyone, and that had been short-lived. The guy had been unable to deal with her responsibilities to her brother and sister and had issued an ultimatum: ‘Me or Them.’ ‘Them’ won every time. Her ex had been a sex maniac, which in and of itself wasn’t bad, it was just that he wouldn’t accept third place in her life behind her siblings. 

A temporary arrangement might be the ticket. Travis couldn’t possibly expect her to rearrange her life for him for such a short time, now could he? Especially as she’d essentially be doing him a favor by providing cover from his ex. Hmmm...
There were possibilities. 

It would keep her off the meat market, as he’d so charmingly pointed out, a bit of a respite from attempting to find her life again. Scary prospect, this finding a life, one she wouldn’t mind a good reason to procrastinate pursuing. 

The heat from Travis’s body did little to steady her nerves. Up close and personal, his subtle musky aftershave and the hint of coffee on his breath teased her senses. His hazel eyes glimmered as he gazed down at her, thoughtful in expression. Speculative. Did he know he was getting to her? 

How could he not? 

Brandie met him halfway when he lowered his head towards hers. He brushed his lips against hers before he nibbled his way to her right earlobe. His body pressed against hers. Hard and hot. Brandie brought her arms up around his middle, convinced it was only a matter of time before her legs failed her. After a few moments of lavishing attention to her ear, Travis covered her lips with his again. She needed little convincing to allow his tongue to mate with hers. She clenched her fingers into his back, groaning when he ended the kiss. 

Electricity crackled between them, but he didn’t move away from her. Instead he brought an unsteady hand up to trace a path from the corner of her mouth, down to the hollow of her throat. Brandie swallowed hard. His fingers seared permanent marks into her skin, she was certain of that. Travis rubbed his thumb over her swollen lower lip as he cupped her chin in his hand. 

“We’d better stop,” he murmured. “For now.”

Round 3: Emma Petersen

Aidan looked confused, so Jess elaborated on her monosyllabic declaration of war. 

“No. No more denial. No more games. No more no’s.” 

Panic flickered across his face, and Jess almost felt sorry for him. Almost. “I’m not a child, Aidan. And I refuse to let you treat me like one.” 

Aidan closed his eyes and mumbled something. 

“What was that, lover?” Jess asked as she reached up and brushed a stray lock of hair off his forehead. It was all so very clear to her. “You’re afraid. I never thought you to be a coward, Aidan Black.” 

His eyes popped open. The panic was gone, replaced by an incredible heat. Jess thought it could melt the flesh from her bones. 

“Watch. It.” His lips barely moved. His fists were clenched against his sides so hard, she could see the white of his knuckles. 

Jess plastered her body against his, loving the way her soft parts melded against his hard. Rising on her tiptoes, she wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. “Or what? You’ll spank me?” she whispered, gratified when a strong shudder went through him. 

His hands came up to span her waist, and Jess didn’t know if his intention was to bring her closer or to push her away, but either way, she wasn’t taking any chances. Spearing her hands through his hair, she brought his face down to meet hers. 

Ten years. 

Three thousand, six hundred and fifty days. 

Eighty-seven thousand and six hundred hours. 

That was how long Jess had waited for this moment, this kiss, and even if the building had crumbled around them, nothing would stop it. 

His lips brushed hers, tentatively at first, as chaste and sweet as her love for him had started. Another shudder ran the length of his big body and vibrated through hers. The cotton of his shirt abraded her nipples, and Jess couldn’t hold back a moan of pleasure. 

It must have been the soft, desperate sound she made that unleashed the beast, caused him to lose the control two decades in the Corps had instilled. The next thing she knew, she was the one pinned against the door. Her legs wrapped around Aidan’s waist, and his hands cupped her ass. 

He pulled his mouth from her and ducked his head to latch on to one of her nipples. Jess gave a startled cry as he bit down none too gently then began a hard suction that had her grinding her lower body against his. 

“Oh God, Aidan.” 

Every tug of his warm, wet mouth echoed in her belly as he alternately sucked and bit at her breast. 

“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.” These seemed to be the only two words Jess’ lust-filled brain could remember. She was about to come. Unfuckingbelievable. This had to be a dream. There was no other explanation for it. 

Aidan removed one of his hands from her ass, and Jess could hear the jangle as he undid his belt. Breath heaving from her chest, she prayed she could last until he got his pants off and inside her, but she had doubts. 

His hand brushed her sensitive folds, and she yelped as two fingers stabbed into her, stroking hard and deep. 

“Aidan!” Her cry was a warning, but it was too late. She was already coming. Trembling and sobbing against him, she tried to muffle her cries against the curve of his neck. 

She was dying. She had to be. There could be no other reason for the way her heart pounded. It was so hard it almost sounded like…someone knocking on the door. 

Bam. Bam. Bam. “Jess! Is Carolyn in there with you? Our car is here.” 

Fingers still deep inside her, Aidan froze. 

Oh. My. God. 

It was Carolyn’s happy groom, Scott. Only he didn’t sound so happy. 

Oh. My. God. Carolyn was still in the bathroom. 

Jess whimpered as Aidan pulled his fingers from her and practically dropped her. 

He opened the closet door, pulled out the complimentary bathrobe, and stuffed her into it before setting her aside and opening the door. 

Trembling from a combination of aftershocks from her orgasm and horror, Jess watched as Scott lifted his hand to knock again only to stop short at seeing Aidan. 

“Oh.” Scott turned around and looked down the hallway before facing Aidan. “Hey Aidan. Do I have the wrong room? I was looking for Jessiana and Caro.” 

“No,” Aidan bit out as he stepped back so Scott could see her. 

Jess waved at a perplexed Scott. 

“Carolyn’s not here, Scott,” Aidan said. 

“Uh—” Jess went red and a litany of Oh God’s played in her head again but for a whole different reason this time. 

The bathroom door opened, and she flinched. 

“Uh, actually—” 

Aidan turned to look at Carolyn. The expression on his face would have been funny if he and Jess hadn’t practically just had sex with his sister within earshot. He looked at Jess and then back at Carolyn. Jess could hear the virtual distance widening between them. Two steps forward, six million back. 

“Aidan, wait, I can explain.” Jess grabbed his arm. He shrugged it off, color riding high across his cheekbones and the same beautiful mouth that had given her so much pleasure slashed into a grim line. 

“Is everything a game to you, Jessiana?” he asked, disgust dripping from his voice. 

“I didn’t plan—” She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence before he left the room. 

“Aidan, wait!” his sister cried before running after him, a confused-looking Scott trailing after them both. 

Jess shut the door reluctantly and leaned her head against it. With every fiber of her being, she wanted to go after Aidan, to make him listen, but she knew she’d have better luck getting a response from the wood in the door. 

“I am definitely jinxed,” she said as she bolted the door and went back to bed.

Round 3: Gail D. Reinhart

“I’m leaving now, and you should too. It’s Friday night. Hell, it’s nearly six on Friday night. Go home.”
At the sound of Janelle’s voice, Kathryn jerked upright in her chair and fought to open her drooping eyelids all the way. She hadn’t noticed her assistant coming into the office.  
“I can’t. Not until I finish editing the financial proposal the team turned in this morning.”
“You’ve already gone over that proposal twice. Any more fine tuning can wait until Monday.”
“No it can’t. Now that the office grapevine is working overtime on my personal life, I don’t want anyone to think I’ve lost my edge.”
Janelle put her hands on her hips. “You need to start taking better care of yourself.”
“Don’t worry. I plan to spend most of the weekend sleeping.” Kathryn shook her head. “Sleep – the pregnant woman’s drug of choice. I may not be eating for two, but I sure am sleeping for two.”
Fifteen minutes after Janelle left, as Kathryn was shutting down her computer, she heard a noise in her outer office. Damn it! The last thing she needed was someone coming in now with a Friday night crisis. “Go away,” she called out. “If you have an emergency, call 911.”
A familiar muscled blond form appeared in her doorway. “I have an emergency. I can’t find my wife.”
“Steve!” Kathryn bolted out of her chair and rushed toward the door. 
Moving with even greater than usual energy and confidence, Steve met her half way and lifted her off her feet, twirling her around in a full circle. Even in his dull olive drab flight suit, he seemed to glow. He was slightly sweaty, but instead of being unpleasant, the scent enhanced his intense masculinity. He set her down and pinned her against the wall. “Damn you feel good, Mrs. Tyler.”
She slid her hands up his arms, linked them together behind his neck and melted into him, her heart thumping and her nerve endings pulsing. He slid a leg between hers and pressed against her, locking them together like two pieces of a puzzle. She made a soft mewing sound.
He lowered his mouth to hers, but instead of kissing her, he took her lower lip in his mouth and sucked. She pressed against him, aching with raw need.
He released her mouth and loosened his hold on her. “We need to celebrate.”
Her smile quivered as she tried to regain some control of her body. “You’re in a good mood. Is the exercise over?”
“It wrapped up today. We finished the out-briefing at fifteen hundred.”
“I take it you did well?”
“I kicked butt. The squadron was rated Outstanding, and the colonel called me into his office to congratulate me personally for my part in it.”
Kathryn smiled. “I’m so proud of you. You deserve a reward.” She kissed him, a hungry, searching kiss, all panting and tangling tongues, and reached for the zipper of his flight suit.
He stopped her by grabbing her hand. “Take me home,” he whispered.
“I like how you think. We can stop for a pizza on the way so once we get home, we don’t have to leave the bed.”
“I don’t mean home to your place... our place. I mean, take me home to meet your mother.”
Talk about a buzzkill! Kathryn dropped her arms and slumped back against the wall. “I wouldn’t do that to you. I like you.”
“C’mon, Katie, I’m serious. Now that the exercise is over, we need to tell our parents about us. I’m tired of lying to Mom and Dad.”
“You haven’t lied. You’ve just left out a few details.”
He laid a hand on her stomach. “Not telling them about something as important as my wife and child is the same as lying.”
Damn, he was honorable. Which at the moment was damned inconvenient. “Okay, so we’ll call and tell them.”
“We’ve gone over this before. I want to tell them in person. I feel I owe them that much, considering we didn’t invite them to the wedding.” He leaned forward and pulled her back into his arms. “You know you’re going to have to face your mother some time.”
“How about when the baby graduates from high school?”
Inwardly Kathryn sighed. Steve was right. There was no point putting this trip off. On some level she’d known that before he’d said anything, even though her mind was thoroughly submerged in that river in Egypt. She might as well be a good sport about it.
She gave him a teasing grin. “I could tell Mother I have a watermelon stuck under my dress.”
He returned her grin. “I’m glad you came up with such a practical solution. No wonder you’re considered a business genius.”
“You’re right, it wouldn’t work. She’d give me a lecture about wasting good fruit when children are starving in... where is it children are starving these days? The Sudan?”
He leaned forward and rested his forehead against hers. “We’ll hop in the Corvette first thing in the morning and be in the old neighborhood in time for lunch.”
With a twinkle in her eye, she answered, “I wanted to spend the weekend catching up on my sleep. I need to get plenty of rest. For the baby.”
He laughed. “Hey, that’s my line.” He lifted a hand and stroked her cheek. “Not to worry, you can sleep while I drive. How fast do you think I can crank up the ‘Vette on the interstate?”

Round 1    Round 2    Round 3    Round 4    Round 5

Round 4: Jeanne1 St. James1
“Your business was hanging out.” He eyed the skirt, sending a wave of heat through her. “Were you advertising your wares?”
     Amanda pursed her lips and planted a hand on her hip. “Maybe I was. Maybe I wanted to take Jack home and have hot, furious, sweaty sex with him. God knows, it’s been awhile!”
     Max paused and Amanda watched his Adam’s apple bounce a couple times before he blurted, “Are you looking for volunteers?”
     “Are you applying?”
     “Maybe.” Max grabbed her arm to pull her close. “Christ, you’re really hot when you’re angry.”
     Amanda pulled away from him and went over to the nearby secretary’s desk. She grabbed a sheet of notepaper and a pen. She shoved them into his chest.
     "Here, fill out an application. I’ll call you when I’m interviewing.” She turned sharply, heading into the kitchen. He followed her and tossed the pen and paper on the kitchen table. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the counter, her eyes flashing with anger. “You’d better go. Go ruin someone else’s night.”
     Amanda raised one hand to stop him from nearing. “You’re not my keeper.”
     “I know.” 
     “I’m not your business.”
     He paused, slightly longer than he should have, before answering. “I know.” 
     “You should go.” 
     “I know.”
     “You’re only agreeing with me to appease me.” If he answered her with an “I know” again she was going to kick him where it hurts. 
     Amanda stomped toward the sunroom. 
     “That’s right, stomp away like the little girl that you are.”
     Amanda stopped in her tracks.
     That son-of-a-bitch! She spun and stomped right back to him. She stood 5’3” looking up at his 6’2”. She jabbed a finger at his chest. “I am not a little girl! I am twenty-eight years old!” She jabbed him once more for good measure.
     Anger. Agitation… She spiraled out of control.
“Would a little girl do this?” She reached up, grabbed his shirt collar and pulled his head to her. As her lips raked his she could feel his surprise. His mouth parted allowing her to shove her tongue between his lips.
Their tongues mated and fought; he angled his head to get even closer. His hands came up to grab her hips. But instead of pulling her closer, he shoved her away.
“It doesn’t take maturity to have sex. Just look at all the teenage pregnancies nowadays.”
“Whatever.” Flushed and out of breath, Amanda stepped back with a calculated look. She unbuttoned her ivory blouse. Slowly. Releasing one shiny button from its prison, then another.
“Don’t,” Max warned. But he didn’t move an inch to stop her.
Her blouse hung open, exposing her tan, tight abdomen and her gold belly ring. His eyes raked her black, lacy bra and the rounded flesh above it. Her nipples hardened. Her breath caught.
Amanda slipped the smooth fabric over her shoulders and with a shrug her blouse slid to the floor.
She reached up to touch the front clasp that barely kept her breasts in check.
“Amanda… don’t,” he warned again, but could only manage to suck in a breath when her fingers released the clasp and her full breasts escaped. “Jesus!”
“Am…” her voice caught. “Am I a little girl?”
Max raised his eyes from her chest to her face. His eyes gleamed darkly, his jaw clenched and unclenched. “No.” His nostrils flared as if he were fighting a demon inside. “Hell, no.”
She pulled off the bra, dropping it to the floor with her discarded blouse. Her hand rose to her throat and she trailed a finger down her chest to circle one of her painfully hard nipples. She crossed over to circle the other one. She bit her lip and threw her head back, her eyelids lowered. Amanda’s breathing deepened as her hand slid down over her flat belly and her red fingernail circled her gold belly ring. Then she went lower.
Max was still. So still. Too still. She wanted him. Wanted him to take her. Right here. Right now. Why wasn’t he moving?
“Max,” she groaned. Her hand continued its path downward, popping open the snap on her skirt, then the slide of the zipper sounded deafening.
Her little pink tongue flicked over parted lips, leaving a trail of moisture. She was panting... ever so slightly.
Max’s eyes had followed every move. He had been glued in place. Until now…
He grabbed her by the waist, lifted her up, turned around and practically tossed her onto the island counter. Grabbing her waistband, he ripped her skirt down over her hips, taking her thong underwear with it in one handful.
Amanda said nothing. Their words always seemed to ruin the moment. She didn’t want that. She wanted his body against hers, his weight crushing her, his lips on every part of her. She needed his tongue to dip in every crevice.
She wanted to scream a mindless scream as she orgasmed over and over.
And she wasn’t disappointed.
One second he was looming above her and, in the next, he was down on his knees, spreading her thighs, taking a closer look.
Then he took her in his mouth. He flicked her clit with his tongue once, twice, before stroking it. Amanda dropped her head back against the cabinet and let out a low wail. She blindly reached for him, grabbing the back of his head, pulling him closer, if that was possible.
His fingers separated her heat, stroking along with his tongue, tasting, nipping. Just teasing, teasing until her inner muscles clenched with need.
He dipped his tongue in her, torturing her. He was torturing her! His fingers replaced his tongue, thrusting deep as his lips captured her clit once more. He suckled as his fingers found a rhythm.
She forced herself to swallow her scream not wanting to wake Greg. She didn’t want her brother wandering downstairs to find his sister spread eagle on the counter while the local cop was treating her like a smorgasbord…

Round 4: Kelley Nyrae
“Hmpf.” Ryder pulled her into his arms before she fell.
“I think you need to come with a warning label, Layla. In the handful of times I’ve seen you the past two weeks, you’ve tripped about twenty times.” His voice melted over her like butter on a hot biscuit.
“Twenty is a bit of an over statement, don’t you think?” He smelled good. Rich, spicy and masculine. Layla straightened herself and pulled away.
“Pretty close.”
The elevator started to close. Before she got trapped with him again, Layla swung her arm forward to stop the doors. With a quick swoop she grabbed her bag and darted out. Ryder stepped out right behind her. “Didn’t your mom teach you it’s not nice to point out people’s shortcomings?” She asked him.
“You’re right. I guess that’s not the best way to get you to go out with me.” Somehow he ended up in front of her. His arm stretched out so his palm lay flat against the wall, his hospital scrubs molding to his chest. “So what do you think? Why don’t we get together some time next week? I’ll show you I’m not really an ass who points out a woman’s shortcomings like you think I am.”
“You know, I’m not usually a klutz. Just seems to happen around you.” She meant to make herself look better but the mischievous glint in his eyes told her all she really did is confirm that he did indeed have an affect on her.
“I wonder why that is? Why I have that kind of affect on you?” Ryder winked.
“You’re the doctor. Why don’t you tell me?” Shit, that probably wasn’t the best thing to say. She didn’t need to hear Ryder tell her he knew how much she wanted him. Dr. Feel Good had player written all over his face. “Does that usually work for you? Slipping into suave mode like that?”
“As a matter of fact it does. I think it would work on you too if you weren’t fighting it so much.” He shot her a cocky grin.
Layla gave him one right back. “Listen I don’t think this is a good idea. We’re neighbors and if we went out on a date, and then things ended badly, you’d have to look for a new apartment. I really don’t want you to have to go through all that. Don’t risk it for the slim chance that you’ll get lucky.”
“ So, I’d be the one moving? Why is that?”
“I’ve been here longer.”
“You’re the one who broke up with me. I think you should be the one to move.”
She held up her hand. “I think we’ve gotten off track here. We’re not breaking up.”
“ Great. What day is good for you? I’m on at the hospital Monday and Tuesday. Other than that, I’m free.”
Ryder stepped closer to her, the warmth of his firm body wrapping around her, worming its way through her defenses. “This isn’t a good idea.” She couldn’t remember why, but she knew it wasn’t.
His eyes locked on her mouth. Layla’s tongue slipped out and traced her lips. Good idea or not she wanted this man.
“I’m going to kiss you, Layla.”
Her eyes drifted closed. Damn it. Her own body betrayed her because of Dr. Feel Good’s charm. And oh boy did he feel good.
Ryder’s lips teased hers open. Without putting up a fight, her tongue met his, an open invitation for a little tongue tag. Taking a step toward her, he sandwiched Layla between his hard body and the wall. He nipped at her lip, sucked it into his mouth and then slid his tongue between her lips again, sweeping the contours of her mouth with delicious strokes.
Layla moaned.
“Mmm, I knew you’d taste amazing.” Ryder whispered before his lips were on hers again, this time harder, urgent. He palmed her breast, teasing her sensitive nipple between two fingers. Her head swam. Damn this man knew how to kiss. She lost herself to him, to the feel of his long, thick erection as it rubbed against her belly. His thigh parted her legs and damned if she didn’t like the feel of him there, too. Dr. Feel Good was a bit of an understatement when it came to Ryder Evans.
His skillful mouth kissed a trail down her neck. Shivers raced down her body finding a home at the apex of her thighs. She shouldn’t be doing this, not with Ryder, but right now she didn’t care. She only cared about the delicious sensations running laps inside her.
A door slammed jarring her from her lust-induced trance. Good God! She’d been making out with him in the middle of the hallway!
She needed to get out of here and do it now. Layla slipped around Ryder and started down the hall. Her legs shook, her heart pounded, and damn it, her breasts were still tingly. Why did this man have such an affect on her? “It’s been a long day. I’ll see you later.” Stupid thing to say after what just transpired but right now it was all she could manage.
Layla didn’t make it but ten steps away from him when he called her name. So much for making a quick escape. She stopped and turned to look back at him. “Yeah?”
“You said there’s a slim chance I’ll get lucky. I’m a very determined man when I want something.” He gave her another one of those sexy-make-me-sigh winks. “Thanks for the challenge.”
Layla’s heart beat so loud she feared it would jump from her chest. He left her speechless. The only thing she could do is turn and walk away. Somehow she dropped one of the straps to her bag and of course her foot found the hole. One step is all it took and this time Ryder was too far away to catch her when she fell.

Round 4: Donna Michaels
“Untie me.” 

Eyes, the color of moss, regarded him with a mix of authority and indignation as the infuriating spy tipped her pretty head. 

Who the hell does she think she is? 

Mitch stared down his brazen captive. 

“You’re in no position to make demands.” 

Sitting on a wooden chair in the middle of the cabin, arms bound behind her back, the woman showed no sign of fear or weakness. “Look, Captain, I came here to explain your abduction, not be abducted.” 

Gaze steady, spine straight, she exuded defiant confidence. A product of the war, not doubt. Patriotism ran deep in all nations. 

Admiration stilled his blade. “I’ve got to credit the Germans. They sure trained you well.” 

“Germans? You stupid, pigheaded, stubborn jarhead!” The chair rocked from her outburst. “I was well-trained. Right here in the U.S. of A. I’m a United States Marine. Just like you.” 


He stepped back with a snort. Talk about grasping at straws. “The only women in the U.S. military are WASPs and WACs.”
“Not anymore.” Her chin lifted. “Women can join any military branch.” 

Laughter exploded up his throat into the quiet cabin. Damn, she’s good. She rendered him useless without lifting a finger. The Germans could storm in and kill him with no resistance. Exhausted, he stumbled backward onto the couch and glanced at the prisoner. 

A small smile played about her lips, softening her gaze under a lifted brow. Flawless and pure, her beauty sobered him faster than a swift kick in the ass. 

He sheathed his knife, then grabbed the seat of her chair and tugged until she faced him. Heat from her outer thighs warmed the sides of his thumbs. He drew back, ignoring the fission. 

“Okay, Marine, I’m listening.” 

“Thank you.” She sat straighter. 

Sweet mercy. The motion thrust out her breasts in perfect formation. Mitch tried not to notice. He didn’t want to be attracted to this woman. She was the enemy. 

His tightened groin didn’t share that ideal. 

“Sorry, Captain.” 

“Why?” His gaze snapped to the window. “Are the Germans here?” 

“No. Give the German thing a rest. I’m sorry b-because...” 

The wobble in her voice regained his attention, and for the first time that day, he noted a watery sheen in her over-bright gaze. 

Compassion ploy? 

His jaw clenched. Waste of time. He had no compassion. That emotion remained on the island where she’d captured him. 

Still he had to admit, fake or real, tears didn’t belong in this woman’s eyes. 

“I know you won’t believe what I’m about to tell you. You’ll think I’m lying, crazy, or worse.” 


“Yes. You’ll think you’re crazy.” 

His pulse rocked. “Go on.” 

She drew in a breath and stared him straight in the eyes. “At O ten hundred on Friday, October 8th 2010, Lt. Maria Garcia and I were testing an experimental military aircraft when we suddenly found ourselves in South Pacific skies with the Black Sheep Squadron on December 28th 1943.” 

“I see,” he lied. That was the biggest piece of bullshit he’d ever heard. 

“We arrived in the middle of a dogfight and our craft sustained damage from a hail of bullets meant for your Corsair.” 

He stiffened. How the hell did she know about his hit? Afraid to ask, yet needing answers, he prompted, “And no one saw you because…?” 

“We were invisible.” She smiled. 

Smiled. Not a halfway unsure smile. A full-blown dazzling smile. 

The woman’s a freakin’ fruitcake. 

“We followed you to Vella LaVella, gave you a sedative, and brought you back with us.” 

His heart sank faster than his posture. “Back where?” 

“To the future. The timeline was now altered, so it was either that or kill you.” 

“Kill m—,” Mitch sucked in a breath, the air around him suddenly pressurized as if they’d climbed altitude. He cleared his throat and stood, palm smacking his chest. “My undying gratitude to you both for sparing my life although right now, the alternative holds infinite appeal.” 

“Sarcasm doesn’t suit you, Captain.” 

The urge to grasp her shoulders and shake some sense into her lovely head gripped tight. Distance. He needed distance. Seventeen hastened steps carried him to the large picture window. 

Why me? 

Anger swirled in his veins and fogged his brain, mimicking the effect of his breath on the glass. 

She was less dangerous when he thought her a German spy. What did he do now? How do you fight crazy

“I’m not crazy, Captain.” 

“No?” He pivoted on his heel and marched back. 

“I’m a Marine Corp pilot like my father and grandfather.” Her delicate chin jutted out. “And as your superior, I order you to untie me.” 

Delivered with emphasis, the last part almost sounded like a commanding officer. Intrigued, he scratched his temple. “What’s your rank?” 


“Major liar,” he muttered. “You can’t be more than, what? Twenty-four? Twenty-five?” 

“I’m twenty-seven.” 

Frown pinching his forehead, he folded his arms and cocked his head. “How in the world do you explain your high rank at such a young age?” 

“I’m good.” Her lips flirted with a devilish grin. 

A vision…a memory shot through his head of those lips kissing a path down his chest and abs, teasing, tormenting with a familiar talent. 

Fire replaced blood and centered in his throbbing groin. What was she? Some kind of hoo-doo priestess capable of projecting images into his mind? 

My God. His arms dropped to swing at his sides. Was this a new German weapon? He refocused on the sexy brunette. Should he respond? 

“Stop looking at me like that, Captain.” 

Sick to death of her orders and the way she messed with his head, he leaned closer. “Or what?” 

She drew back as far as possible, her uncertain gaze trained on his mouth. “Don’t you dare…”
Arousal called desire to arms. 

The chair’s smooth surface heated under his tight grip as he decreased the distance between their lips. “You should know better than to dare a Marine.”

Round 4: Lise Fuller
Rick muttered something about Chas.

What about him? The last thing she wanted to think of was that shit, especially when she’d finally decided to sleep.

“Careful…,” Rick uttered.

She turned her body toward him, wondering what he dreamt.

“Keep…eyes peeled...don’t know what fucked…crap…out here,” he whispered. A spasm shook his body.

Tabby bent nearer to his face, trying to listen, to understand what he said. What had happened?
A blast of wind pounded the side of the cabin. A branch slammed against the window, nearly breaking it.

“Chas!” Rick pushed her roughly aside as he bolted to his feet,  ready to fight.
For a moment, he just stood there, studying the window, his naked body stiff and golden in the firelight.

“Rick?” she murmured.

His shoulders shook as he stared around the room. He ran a hand through a few inches of his short hair then looked back at her, wild-eyed. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” she rasped. “It was just the storm.”

“God,” he covered his face then sat down with his back to her. Bowing his head, he buried it in his palms.

She sat up, letting the covers slide down her torso, knowing he needed comfort. Did he feel ashamed, losing control in front of her? Tentatively, she slid to him and placed her palm on his back. “Rick?”

His breathing labored, he gazed at her. She watched his Adams apple rise and fall. “You look so much like Tab…” He eyes grew moist.

She wanted to cry. “I can be tonight if you want me to.”

A tear slipped from one eye. “You don’t know how much that would mean to me,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. He wiped his face clean with the back of his hand. “To have her back. At least as a friend.”

She nodded and tried to hide the angst that gripped her. “I know I don’t. I see I really don’t know anything.” She muttered the last, mostly to herself, and pressed her lips together, the realization dawning that perhaps she’d been sadly mistaken about some things in their lives—at least about how Rick may have felt about her.

Sensing his pain, she asked the question although she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “What happened to Chas?” She could barely hear her own voice, afraid of what the answer would be.

He huffed and shot her a lopsided smirk, one full of derision and loss, not joy. “You wouldn’t know, would you?” His voice trembled.

She shook her head.

He glanced away a moment, she guessed to pull himself together, then looked back at her and caressed her cheek with his thumb. “You know we joined together?”

“Yeah,” she swallowed.

His eyes narrowed, studying her. “He died soon after we got in theater. Blown to hell by a buried explosive—the one the scar came from.” Rick closed his eyes and squeezed the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger for a moment, as if collecting his thoughts then stared back at her. “He was so eager to avenge his father. He never really concentrated on the mission. I feel like it was my fault. I knew he wasn’t paying attention.” He looked away.

Guilt assailed her. Here she still hated the boy she’d known, carried the dreaded memories of his bullying, and the man was dead. Worse yet, Rick still carried Chas’ mortal wound with him, thinking he was to blame. She derided herself for not knowing, for letting her friend suffer alone with this kind of pain. What kind of self-absorbed person had she become?

Filled with remorse, she leaned her breasts against his back and rubbed his shoulder with her hand, hoping to make Rick see through his loss. “You didn’t put that stuff there. And he was the one who wanted to join, wasn’t he?”
Rick buried his head again and ran both hands through his hair. “We were buds.”

“Yeah,” she croaked, the memory of losing Rick to Chas refreshed. She pushed the hurt away. Right now, Rick needed her. “That’s why you joined the army with him.”

He studied her over his shoulder, his blue eyes piercing her, his face contorted with his own personal monsters. “I’ve let all the best friends I’ve ever had down—at least the ones from my youth.” He swallowed. “I’ve learned not to do that anymore. I’ve learned the value of real friendship. And to stand up for what I believe in, whether a friend likes it or not.”

She felt his angst. “True friends would always respect that.”

“Yeah,” he huffed, a vein of ridicule laced through his reply. He set his elbows on his knees and clasped his fingers together, studying them. “I’d wished I’d learn that before I hurt everyone.”

He tortured himself. She didn’t know what to say. Yet his words knifed her heart, filleting away the anger she’d held dear for so long.

“Rick?” She wanted to hold him, comfort her once dearest friend.

He gazed into her face as if memorizing what she looked like. “I wish you were Tab.”

Her turn to swallow. “If…I was, what would you do?”

He dropped his hand, his blue eyes laser-focused on her, raw need emanating from him. “I’d make love to her like there was no tomorrow, like she’d never been made love to before.”

Oh, God. What had she done, lying to him about herself? He needed her, his best friend needed someone to console him. Yet he was a man. He couldn’t really cry. Moisture welled in her eyes for him. “What if I told you…?”

His brows arched with some strange emotion. Did he look at her with hope? Or did he question her?

She gulped, thinking about what she wanted, unsure if he would push her away after finding she’d lied to him—the most ‘honest’ person he knew. Then how would that make him feel?

Betrayed. Like she had been.

Round 4: Tina L Halsan
She had played their reunion over and over in her mind.

Arien walked up to the door and knocked three times, her lucky number. After waiting what seemed like an eternity, she heard the sounds of releasing locks and the door knob. In anticipation of seeing him, she shook her hair out and eased the muscles of her face into a sultry smile. She knew her freckles hadn’t faded, but she had accepted them and actually found them to be part of an exotic new look. His Ladybug she would forever be. She had tried to picture him wearing different articles of clothing; t-shirts, jeans, a sweater, shorts, a button down. But Arien kept coming back to him in his dress uniform. To her, it was perfect. Strong, brave and heroic, just what a soldier needed to be. The first time she saw him wearing it was the day he returned from boot camp. Had her father not been standing nearby, she would have offered herself to him then and there in the driveway.

Joseph was more than a head taller than she was, so they did not stand eye to eye and her own chocolate brown eyes naturally fell first onto the shiny brass buttons of his jacket when he finally opened the door. Following the buttons up, her eyes rested on his gentle features... he hadn’t changed at all. His dark hair and dark skin made the white of his collar stand out and it was all she could do to not grab his face in her hands and kiss him. Fortunately, she didn’t have to go without because he encircled her with his muscle tensed arms and lifted her off her feet. His lips first fell on her forehead, then touched her nose softly before landing on her own full and eager mouth. What started out as a gentle kiss, soon became fervent as his lips parted and his tongue pressed to her, searching for an opening. Arien let her teeth trail over his lower lip and nip at the tip of his tongue. She more felt than heard the low moan that escaped him. The vibration sent a shudder through every nerve she possessed and her arms tightened around his neck, bringing her chest tight against his own.

Her lips parted, giving him permission to invade her very being and their tongues twined while his hands gripped her waist tighter and massaged the curve of her lower back. She pulled away briefly to look down at him, her curls brushing against his forehead. A mischievous smile crossed his lips and she wrapped her legs around his toned thighs.

Remembering the open door, she reached a blind hand behind her to push it shut. The resulting slam was like a gunshot, or a starting pistol. Whatever he thought about it, to her it meant “go”. She ran her hands through his hair and held the back of his head, languishing in the feel of his lips again on hers. Joseph took the few steps to the couch quickly, and before she knew it, Arien was lying across his lap. He still cradled her in his arms, but now he didn’t have to support her with them and his hands were free to run through her hair and wrap it around his masculine fingers. Before he took his mouth away from her swollen lips, he gently kissed each one. She could still feel him and the chill that was left was not particularly pleasant, but when he started kissing her neck she forgot the loss. Arien obliged by turning her head and exposing the curved muscles of her throat. Just as he had nipped her lips, he nibbled at the offered flesh. She felt him run his tongue down her throat to the base of her shoulder where he inhaled her scent and took the skin between his teeth.

“Oh, I have missed seeing you, Arien. Welcome home,” Joseph whispered, his breath brushing the spot where he had just suckled. She was sure that he had marked her. The thought of being branded as his sent another wonderful chill winding its way down Arien’s spine and she let out a moan of her own. A smile played on her lips, and feeling bold she started undoing one of the buttons on his jacket. The desire to run her hands over his chest and abdomen was overwhelming. She wanted to feel the warmth of his skin against her hands and after a brief moment of hesitation, she moved on to the next. They hadn’t seen each other for months, and now she was a college student, not the cute little girl from next door. This was what she wanted and her waking thoughts had echoed her dreams of him.

Arien slowly sat up and turned to face Joseph. Placing her hands on his shoulders, she moved towards him so that she found herself in a straddling position, again looking down on the face she remembered. As she lowered herself, she felt his excitement pressing against her thigh and she laid her forehead onto his. Looking into his smokey blue eyes, she searched for anything that would give away what his heart was feeling. They were glossy with desire and his breathing came faster than hers. There were two pieces of his uniform that separated his skin from hers, and knowing the effect she had on him made her work the buttons more quickly. Neither of them could locate their patience, and when she could push the jacket apart, she started working on the next barrier. Joseph had moved on to the top buttons of her shirt. There were only two, and he quickly exposed her soft shoulders and unmarred skin at the juncture of her collarbones and the upper portion of her breasts, which was where she had imagined his lips first. His hands moved up her back and gripped her shoulders, gently pushing her tighter into his lap.

Round 4: Bekki Lynn
Damn it! And he tried to drag her ass back here when she’d practically just left. He ran his fingers through his hair. “I have some apologizing to do.” 

“Yes, but I’d advise you to wait until she surfaces. You’re not her favorite person.” 

Bud eyed him, but kept his mouth shut. Seems the boss was the only one who didn’t know what was going on between them. That was fine. It would make it easier for him to be objective when he left. He left Rod to his morning checks and went back to retrieve his untouched coffee. 

At lunch, Bud went by Sharon’s apartment to see if she might be up. She was in the same position as when he had left that morning. He reached under her feet and tried to unlace the combat boots. This caused her to stir and kick at him. “Hold still.” 

“Get the fuck out of here!” 

He unlaced them and pulled them off then her socks. Who could sleep in socks? “I thought you’d sleep better without the heavy boots.” 

“I was sleeping just fine.” 

He lifted the pillow and kissed her on the head. “You did a fantastic job. I’m proud of you.” 

“Fuck off!” She swung her arm at him. 

He grunted when she made contact with his groin and sat on the bed. “Thanks, I’ll remember, no compliments.” 

She turned her head, opened an eye and saw him rubbing his crotch. Suddenly wide-awake, she sat up and laid a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. What can I do?” 

“Nothing, just go back to sleep.” 

“I’ll kiss it and make it better, if it will help.” 

“No, go back to sleep.” 

She scooted from the bed, walked around and kneeled in front of him. His eyes were closed. Her hands caressed his face. “I am so, so sorry,” she whispered. 

“It’s all right, it was an accident.” 

“I can get some ice.” 


“Can you walk? Maybe a doctor should see if there is any damage.” 

He would have laughed if he didn’t think it would hurt. His eyes opened. The tears in her eyes melted his heart. Cradling her head, he wiped the tears with his thumbs. “Baby, I’m going to be fine.” 

“Let me see. I need to know there’s no damage.” 

“No, permanent damage, I promise.” It just hurts like hells. 

She undid the belt on his fatigue pants, then the buttons, moving the flap aside to retrieve his shriveled, abused cock. He bit back a groan as she moved it around, asking, “Does this hurt?” 

“No, baby, it doesn’t hurt.” And it did stop hurting. Her fingers were magic. 

She smiled when his cock stiffened. “Guess he’s feeling better. Lay down, so I can make sure.” 

He lay back on the bed, his knees weakening anyway. 

She wrapped her fingers around the base of his cock and kissed his testicles, licked the shaft from the bottom up, swirled her tongue around it, nipped, kissed and sucked on the shaft before taking him deep in her mouth. Relaxing her throat, she took him deeper until the entire shaft was buried in her. Then she pulled off, licked him, and ran her fingers over him as she asked, “Does it feel better?” 

“Much, thank you.” 

She swallowed his cock and drew on it, felt him begin to thrust and braced herself for the spewing of his cum. When it began, she pulled off letting it run down his shaft and with her tongue, licked it up. 

He pulled her up, saw cum in the corner of her mouth and with a finger, wiped it off. She sucked it from his flesh, slowly while watching his eyes. A groan escaped his lips and he flipped them over. Undoing her belt and buttons of her fatigues, he slipped his hand down into her pussy. She was hot, wet…dripping wet. After pushing her pants down and pulling them off, he spread her legs and licked her pussy. Her moans drove him to fuck her with his tongue; he pushed her knees up for easier access. Licking downward to her anus, he heard her breath catch. With his tongue, he circled the hole, letting his tongue dip inside the rim. He licked his way up to her clit and flicked it, watching her fingers grasp the comforter and tighten. Devouring her pussy, he waited for her to arch, before he backed off and reached for a condom. Quickly, he put it on and hovered over her, kissing her, sucking on her tongue as he plunged deep in the wet heat. Her legs came around him and she met his thrusts with a need that equaled his. 

Lying on her, his face buried in the bed beside her, he gasped for air. She was still having spasms around his cock while her hands moved over his torso. He wished he didn’t have to go back to work. The time was going to come all to soon where he was going to have to leave her wanting more, needing the magic that would fulfill her so sleep would come easy. 

She caressed his head. “You might want to shower before you go back to work, or they will know what you had for lunch.”
He lifted his head and gazed down into her eyes. The need was evident in her wrinkled forehead, the glazed look in her eyes. With a hand, he caressed the side of her face. “We are going to finish this later, sweetheart.” She kissed his chin and he had to force himself to withdraw and lift his body from hers. He pulled her up. “Shower with me.” 


Bud came from the bathroom and lifted the pillow from her head. She’d removed her uniform and was naked under there. Tempting, but instead, he planted a kiss on the back of her head, he told her, “Sleep well, munchkin.” 

She mumbled, “I was.”

Round 1    Round 2    Round 3    Round 4    Round 5

Round 5: Missy Lyons

     “One more thing, agent Chaka.” The flight commander called to his second in command before he left the conference room.

     “Yeah,” Special Agent Chaka he turned around in the doorway to hear what else he had to throw at him today. His head was already spinning with an overload of intelligence, necessary facts and figures for her mission ahead of her. 

     “If you fail, then you’ll get no help from the Interplanetary Union of Nations.” Darwin paused for a moment letting the power of his words sink in. “And because they have not been able to agree, they have to remain neutral on the invasion. This mission doesn’t exist. You don’t exist.” 

     “So I have to get in and get out without ever being noticed by Zaga’s rebel forces, and all before the ground forces of Zraeli invade the planet. And if I manage to get caught, there won’t be any rescue party. Great. Sounds like mission impossible to me.” 

     “But you’ll do it?” 

     “What choice do I have?" Chake turned away, the defeat evident in his voice. "My brother is down there.” 

     “You have an unmarked shuttle waiting for you in the West port. Godspeed Chaka and good luck.” 

     “Thanks,” Chaka opened the door to the transporter with the palm of his hand, and stepped inside. “I’ll need it.” 


     Chaka turned off the auto pilot as he neared the green planet. The controls were much simpler than his T-18 Fighter, and this was no fighter plane. It had laser weapons meant to be used to destroy small meteors in the flight path. It could be used to attack, but would never go through a full force shield and it’s weak defenses would never survive against the warships in the Zraeli fleet. 

     “This is Zaga air space. Identify yourself.” The chalky voice was heard over the sound of the static on the radio. He waited for it to repeat before responding. 

     “I am Chaka Nebula with NAPO. I have food and medicine for the village of Turquist. I am requesting permission to land.” His cover story for being on the planet was that this was a humanitarian flight for the National Alliance of Planets Organization, so the few weapons he had were well hidden and meant for use when he was on the ground. If he did have trouble, his only real choice would be to out fly it in the air or out run it on the ground. The Zaga forces were no real threat. They were primitive barbarians still fighting with steel weapons, training animals to attack. It was the Zraeli forces that he would have to worry about. There army was well trained, and armed with state of the art technology.
There was silence for a moment, then the static again signaling the voice was about to speak, “Permission denied. Please reroute your ship.” 

     Turbulence shook his small ship, causing him to grip onto the steering wheel even tighter. He was already descending into the atmosphere. There was no way he could reroute his ship. He would have to land and then take off again. “I can’t do that. If you want to check the ship out when I land you can go ahead, but I have already entered the atmosphere.” 

     Silence for another minute made him think he might have convinced them that he meant no harm, but then the sullen voice came over the air for the last time. “Then we will have no choice but to consider you hostile. We will fire on you before you will be allowed to land.” 

     There was no reason to go all nuclear on him. 

     Chaka knew exactly what it meant. Even with the primitive Zaga technology, his ship would be destroyed. He had failed his mission before it had even started. He might have a chance of surviving the crash landing, but he couldn’t get off the ground again if his ship was destroyed. 

     But there was no time to think anything other than landing the ship. He had to get his ship as close as possible to the designated landing site. The scientist’s camp was on the northern rim of the planet, in a mountainous ridge, named Shadow Cliffs. He needed a landing pad of about a half mile long, so his only choice was to land on the desert region at the base of the mountain, and hike up to the camp. This mission would take a couple of days at the very least, and that was if everything went according to plan. He didn’t want to begin to think about the odds against stacked against him, because so far nothing was going according to plan.

Round 5: Jambrea J Jones
“Echo, pull back.” 


“Get your ass back here now.” 

Mag watched as she slowly inched her way to his side. 

“I’m ready for this. Why are you pulling me back?” she whispered. 

“Because I outrank you and you will listen to me. Have you learned nothing this past month, princess?” 

She looked like she was about to say something, but stopped herself. 

Stop looking at her fucking mouth and pay attention. 

“Charlie, did they spot us?” 

“No, it looks like they’re on patrol but they’re carrying.” 

“Stand down unless they become hostile. Once they’re clear we’ll head back to camp. Maintain radio silence until they are gone and then report.” 

He looked over at Patterson to gauge her fear level. She looked calm, but he noticed her breathing had picked up. He reached out and placed his palm on her back. She looked over, her eyes wide. He brought a finger to his lips, trying to force her to relax and focus on him. He felt the slow rise and fall of her body as she calmed under his touch. He jerked his hand away and looked out toward the field. 

What the fuck are you thinking, jackass. You wouldn’t be touching one of the guys that way. But she isn’t one of the guys, is she? Focus. 

He looked back at her. 

Not on her, you idiot. 

Mag’s com crackled in his ear. 

“All clear, Alpha.” 

“Back to base, double-time.” 

The soldiers hustled back to camp and Mag sighed with relief when they didn’t run into anymore of the local faction. He needed to get Patterson back to her rack unscratched. 


He stopped and Patterson ran into his back. 

Ten feet and I could have been in my office. God damn it. 

He didn’t turn around. 

“What seems to be the problem, Patterson?” 

“I need to talk to you, sir.” 

“Then talk.” 

“Um…could we go to your office?” 

He nodded, continued to his office and didn’t stop until he was behind his desk and she stood at attention in front of it. 

“At ease, Lieutenant and talk.” 

She stood at parade rest, but didn’t look relaxed. 

“I thought today was a real mission sir.” 

“Are you questioning me, Lieutenant Patterson?” 

“No, sir.” 

“Let me ask you a question, princess.” 

She started to say something, but he could tell she thought better of it when she pinched her lips together and stood up straighter. He had to fight his grin. 


“Why are you here? Why aren’t you at home spending daddy’s money? Why the Marines?” 

“Permission to speak freely?” 

He waved her on. 

“Because Daddy said I couldn’t do it,” she said with malice in her voice. “I’m here to prove him and everyone else wrong. I can do this.” 

“Is that why you’re on the quick program? Daddy trying to make it easy for you?” 

“I’m not on the quick program sir. I did my time on Parris Island.” 

“I’ve been over your records, Patterson. The General showed them to me before he put you on my team. I know you’re a solid marine, for a girl, but you shouldn’t be here. My team is on the front line. You’re a distraction we don’t need.” 

He looked to see if she would respond, but she said nothing, so he continued. 

“What happens when you miss the target and go down? My men would be worried about protecting you, not fighting the enemy. I can’t have that. Our lives depend on trusting each other in a fight. Just last month you shot Stewart in a mock exercise. Today your ass was so far in the air I’m surprised the patrol didn’t spot it. You aren’t ready.” 

Patterson stepped forward and put her hands on his desk placing her face to face with him. He cocked a brow at her and wondered if she realized she’d broken protocol. She leaned in and spoke in a low soft voice. Mag had to lean forward to hear what she said. 

“I’m ready, sir. Put me on the line. I’ll do my job.” 

His body reacted in an unexpected way. His cock rose to attention. 

God damn it. This wouldn't be happening if she was a man. Fuck! Down, boy, nothin' to see here. 

Mag stood and pushed his chair back bringing his face so close to hers they were almost nose to nose. He spoke just as softly. “You are not ready. You will never be ready. Go home now before you fucking kill someone or end up dead.” 

He watched her shiver a little and his cock responded by throbbing in answer. It took all his military control not to kiss her. It was worse when her pink tongue eased out of her mouth to lick her lips. He almost groaned, but caught himself. 

No fucking way is this happening. 

She never dropped her gaze and he respected her just a little more for that. Most men couldn’t hold his glare. It was then he realized she wasn’t afraid of him.

Well Fuck. 

“What was that, sir?” 

He must have spoken out loud. He needed to get her off kilter. Mag leaned in closer so their noses touched, his lips pressed almost on hers. Her breath mingled with his. 

“Get the fuck out of my office. You’re dismissed. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll go home.” 

Then she did the unthinkable. Patterson’s tongue touched his mouth as she moistened her dry lips. He couldn’t help it. He tried, but before he could think, his tongue met hers for a brief second before they both pulled back. Patterson stood at attention, saluted him, spun around and raced out of his office as if the devil himself was on her heels.

Round 5: Liz Pelletier
She must be dreaming. Dane Mason was flirting with her. Her sex-on-a-stick neighbor was pulling plain, boring Violet into his arms on the dance floor, moving his hips against hers in perfect rhythm with the throbbing beat of the blaring music. 

However she'd ended up here, she didn't want to wake up. 

Violet had forgotten how sexy it was to just dance with someone. For once, her height didn’t seem like an albatross. Her ex-husband had been an inch shorter than she. He’d refused to dance with her after they were married, claiming they looked silly together with her freakish height. 

She gave herself a mental smack in the head. You’re in the arms of the sexiest man alive and you’re thinking about your ex? 

Amazed she had Dane's hard body in her arms, she pressed her hips back intimately against his. She had barely survived the hyperventilating fits he caused her while working on his front yard last Spring. Every day at six a.m. he would dig and weed and plant. By nine a.m. he'd be shirtless, his golden body gleaming with sweat and dirt in the early morning sun. Thankfully her first class at the University wasn't until eleven. 

Oh, yeah. She could handle seeing that chest naked again. Only up close this time. Up close and sweaty. 

Leaning her head back, she looked up at his hooded gaze. "So, I noticed you finished your landscaping. What sort of personality does it take to plant every bush precisely 18 inches apart?" One corner of her mouth quirked up as she teased him about his neurotic planting design. 

"A very thorough man, I suppose," he drawled in a deep, hypnotic baritone that made her knees melt. "Detail-oriented and thorough." 

She knew her smile faltered as she tried to recover from that disconcerting statement. Man, she was rusty at this flirting. 
"Oh. That's nice." 

Violet wracked her brain trying to think of something else witty to say. "How do you like the neighborhood?" 

His eyes twinkled. "I'm liking it more and more every day." 

Was it just her or did all of his answers sound like sexual innuendos? 

"So, what do you do for a living, Dane?" 

His eyes shuttered at this question, but he replied, "Military, ma'am." 

"Man, I love a guy in uniform." 

At Dane's chuckle, Violet realized she'd used her “out-loud voice”, as her Mom used to say. Her cheeks flooded with heat, and she dropped her forehead onto his shoulder in embarrassment. "I said that out loud, didn't I?" 

Dane bent down and whispered in her ear, "Hey, don't be shy. I don't mind playing dress-up with a pretty lady." He sunk his face into her hair and she heard him inhale. Is he sniffing me? 

"God, you smell good enough to eat," he murmured. 

Well that answered that question. Violet decided to return the favor. As the musky, spicy smell from his skin saturated her lungs she groaned. "Ditto." 

Dane pushed one of his big hands into her hair, fisted a chunk and moved it behind her shoulder, exposing her neck, and nuzzled her sensitive flesh. He had a thing for necks. Hallelujah

Maybe her girlfriends did have the right idea. What could one night of wild lovemaking hurt? She could go crazy with Dane. Bob liked it missionary and silent. Whoohoo. Not. But Dane… no. She could tell by the seductive sway of his hips on the dance floor that Dane would be the kind of lover a woman could play with. Wicked and inventive. She shivered. Oh, yeah. This could definitely work. 

A boldness of thought consumed Violet. Ten years in the passenger seat of her sexual needs pushed Violet into the driver's seat too quickly to second-guess herself. 

Reaching around Dane’s strong neck, she teased his hair. The rich, brown mass was soft and silky against her fingers. 

Closing her eyes in pleasure, she melted into his body, wriggling her hips into just the right place before sighing, her warm breath teasing his neck. She felt his erection growing against her belly. Definitely a thing for necks. 

On impulse, she tilted her head and nipped at the curve of his shoulder. His arm clenched around her waist, grinding her into what felt like a steel rod shoved in his pants. A very, very impressive steel rod. 

Tugging her hair back, he planted soft kisses along her jaw line. 

At the light touch of his lips against her flesh, a wild, sex kitten invaded her skin and took over the reins of her desire. The crowded dance floor disappeared as Dane and she existed in a perfect cocoon of mutual lust. Uninhibited and needy, Violet was desperate for the taste of him. 

Squirming in anticipation, she twisted her head around and sucked his full, lower lip into her mouth. Every muscle in his body tensed like a taut string. She wondered if she’d taken things too far. They were in the middle of a public bar, for chrissakes. I am such a slut, she thought, for the first time wondering what her friends must be thinking. 

She was about to pull back when he groaned and his mouth devoured hers hungrily, his tongue sinking into her mouth in search of her own. She leaned her body deep into his enveloping embrace. 

Screw what my friends think. Screw everyone else in the bar. Screw me. Yes, definitely screw me. 

Violet had never tasted anything so amazing in her life. Hot and spicy and dangerous. A quiet whimper echoed in her head when his moist lips glided along the slickness of hers, sipping at the nectar of her desire before his tongue delved further into her hot mouth. Her thoughts triangulated on this perfect kiss, in this perfect moment that stretched into the next. And the next. 

He groaned deep in his throat, jerking out of the kiss and pressing his forehead against hers. In a raspy voice he murmured, “Let’s get out of here.”

Round 5: Jenni Holbrook
Ashley shifted on the lumpy bed that wasn’t fit for an inmate and stared into Mitch’s unforgiving eyes. “I’m not lying to you.”
“You’ve been lying to me since the moment I met you.” 

"Well, I'm not lying now."

“Right.  Now let me see your arm.”
She glanced down at the cut on her arm.  The bleeding had stopped, but it still stung.  “It’s fine.”
“It's going to get infected if you don't keep it clean,"  he asked as he tossed the duffle bag to the bed. “I bought some Neosporin and band-aides.”
She held her breath while he took the tabs off the adhesive, then tenderly dabbed the wound with the clear, cool gel.  “Thanks.” She covered the band-aide with her hand and looked to the window. The pathetic excuses for curtains were drawn shut. 

“Give me your hand.” He didn't wait for to offer up her limp.

The loud clank of metal against metal screeched inside her head. “Oh, no.” She yanked her arm back.
“I need a few hours of sleep before we hit the road.”
“What does that have to do with handcuffing me?” She fought the water welling in her eyes. She didn’t want to show him any kind of weakness.
“I don’t trust you.” He reached across the bed. 

She jumped, bumping into the chair. “I’m not going to run.” 

“I'm more worried about you killing me in my sleep.” He plopped his feet on the floor and moved closer to her.
“With what?” She backed up into the door. “Besides, my wrist is all bruised and nicked from the last time you put those damn things on me.”
“You didn't mind being pinned down the first night I met you.” He snagged her hand and clasped the cold metal around her arm. "In fact, I remember you begging me to tie you up and pound you hard."

“Damn you,” she whispered. 

His fingers gripped the nap of her neck, sending warm shivers down her spin. She swallowed. “I can’t sleep like this.” 

He chuckled, helping her on the bed. “Just lie down and shut your eyes.” 

“I like the other side of the bed.” 

“A few days ago you prefered to sleep on top of me.” He shifted her body, then lay down next to her, resting his head on his unchained hand. 

She closed her eyes and tried to relax her body. She had to make him understand. Make him see she wasn't a terrorist and bringing her to his supperiors wouldn't stop what the real terrorists had planned.  “Mitch.” 


“Do you believe anything I’ve said?” 

“I only know that one of my men is dead and I intend to make sure his death wasn’t in vain.” 

She blinked. Hot tears stung in her eyes. “Did he have a family?” 

“Everyone has a family of some kind.” 

She tried to keep her body from trembling, but she couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her checks. “I don’t. Not anymore.” 

He clasped his hand with hers as if he understood. But it just made her feel more alone. Unable to control her emotions, she quit trying. “I’m sorry.” She tried to untie her fingers from his, but he wouldn’t let go.
“About what? That one of my men died because of you? Or because you got caught.” 

Through her sobs she laughed. She didn’t mean to. It was just a reaction to her emotions, another subtle difference between her and her sister. Janet was older by five minutes and she possessed all the traits of the perfect child. She never got in trouble and always did well in school, while Ashley had been the bad seed. She was easily swayed by her peers to do stupid and reckless things. 

So why had her sister put her in this predicament? 

“And this is funny why?” He flipped her hand away.
“Can we please take these things off?” She lifted her hand, but it didn’t come up very far. “Damn, that hurts.” 

“Then don’t move.” 

“Come on, Mitch. It’s not like you don’t know me.  We spent two weeks together.  That was me.  Not a lie.”
He rolled his head toward her, his gaze dark and menacing. “I don’t know you, Ashley, and I don’t want to.” 

Her heart skipped a beat, but she kept her focus on him. His face didn’t soften and his emerald eyes gleamed anger and hatred. “Are you going to tell me that what we shared means absolutely noting to you?” 

“How can something based on lies mean anything but betrayal?” He rolled his head and looked up at the ceiling. 

“You lied too, and I still feel something for you.” Admitting she cared was a risk. One she was willing to take. The longer she stayed with Mitch, and out of the government’s control, the better chance she had at nailing Andrew and keeping her ass out of a military jail cell. 

“Nice try, sweetheart.”
He glanced at his beeping cell phone and let out a long breath as he undid the handcuffs.  "So much for sleep." 

“Can’t they find us with that thing?” she asked. 

“I have a plan.” 

“Really?” She rolled to her side, trying to tuck the flat pillow under her head. “Does that include not answering?”
He lifted the phone, then hit a button. “Don’t need to answer. Sit up.” 

She did as instructed and he removed the handcuffs. “Thank you.” She shook her hand, holding her wrist.
“Get some more clothes on.” He sat on the edge of the bed and slipped his feet into his shoes.

“Just do as you’re told.” 

She planted her hands on her hips. “Look. I’m not a mind reader so you need to spell things out for me. I wouldn’t want you to shoot me because I don’t know what’s going on and you think I’m running or something.” 

“When I say jump, you don’t ask how high, you just jump.” He peered over his shoulder with a sexy smile. “Got it.” 

“Got it,” she said with her best snide tone, then grabbed the duffle bag. She marched into the bathroom and slammed the door shut.

Round 5: Rogenna Brewer


Splash meets Top Gun in this fish out of water, tale
                “Is he dead yet?” Stella clung to the bobbing rubber raft, peering in at the supine man. He wore the telltale olive green jumpsuit of a military pilot--unzipped, sleeves off his shoulders and loosely tied at his waist. His once white T-shirt was soaked through with sweat and brine.
                Penelope lifted his hand, which was bigger than the water sprite’s entire body, and let it fall back to his side. “Yup,” she declared.
                Stella hated this part of her job. But every mermaid knew when The Conch called it was her turn. They’d watched him from a distance all day, waiting, wondering--hoping for any sign of life. As nightfall approached she’d come to take him away.
                “It’s his time,” Penelope said. “He’s been out here for days without hope of rescue.”
                “It’s painful to even look at him.” 
                His bare feet, hands, and arms were red and raw from exposure. His sunburn etched out squint lines around his eyes. Stella didn’t know why, but she reached out and brushed a lock of unkempt hair from his forehead. An equally scruffy beard covered his blistered face.
                “What of his supplies?” she asked the sprite. 
                Penelope dug through the survival gear attached to one deflating octagonal side. There was fishing wire without a hook, snapped off by some determined fish no doubt. Which would explain the hollow of his cheeks.
                “Nothing. Except this.” Penelope held up the last of those little white pills the Navy used to convert salt water into drinking water. 
                “Why? Why was he saving them?” Stella wanted to ask.
                “Eww!” Penelope tossed a bag of pale yellow liquid over the side. “I’m glad it’s you kissing those lips and not me.” 
                “You can’t fault him for trying to survive.” Stella had heard a true survivalist would drink his own urine for the vitamin content, but she’d never found evidence of it before. “It will be my honor..., Lieutenant,” she read his wing-stamped, leather patch and the embroidered one above it. “NASA. Lieutenant Nasa.”
                Water sloshed in the bottom of the lifeboat as Stella pulled herself up to sit on the edge to do her duty. His forgotten crash helmet rolled from side to side with the gentle, undulating waves.
                “What’s he holding in his fist?” Stella asked.
                Penelope, who was closer, pried open his hand. The object’s sharp edges had dug bloody trenches into his palm as if holding on to it had held some meaning for him. “It’s a Navy SEAL Trident.”   
                Mermaid and sprite exchanged glances. 
                Could he be the one? 
                Poseidon was searching for a Navy SEAL. If he was the one it would all have to be sorted out by Hades in the Underworld, because this one was dead.  
                “Lieutenant Nasa,” Stella whispered close to his ear. “I’ve come to take you to the Afterlife. Don’t be afraid. I’m the mermaid, Stella, and I’ll be your guide.”
                She pressed soft lips to chapped ones. Then deepened the kiss. Felt the roughness and hunger. Tasted the bitterness and blood. And a lifetime full of regrets.
                She heard his quick intake of breath, but attributed it to his soul leaving his body. She was the vessel that would transport his spirit. His body would be reclaimed by the sea. His warm breath took possession of her mouth. 
                Stella continued to drink in his essence, waiting for his mortal life to flash before her eyes. Instead a kaleidoscope of colors exploded behind her closed lids as he drank from her like the parched, thirsty man he was. 
                The transfer was normally a cold, clinical process.
                Not this warm, wave of heat she was experiencing.
                “Any day now,” Penelope buzzed by her ear. 
                Stella moaned deep in her throat. Or was that him?
                She jerked back. 
                His eyes were open. Oh my! 
                Half mast. Feverish eyes. 
                But open!
                “What the hell?” his words were a dry croak. 
                Untangling his hands from her hair, he dropped them to her shoulders while he stared at her breasts. 
                Stella struggled against his surprising hold.
                “What did you do?” Penelope accused.
                “I didn’t do anything,” she protested. “At least I don’t think I did.”
                “We have to leave now!” the sprite ordered, already skipping across the waves to safety. 
                As if he couldn’t quite believe she was real, Lieutenant Nasa moved his calloused hands from her shoulders to caress the swell of her breasts. He rolled her nipples into aching pink pearls with his thumbs before cupping them fully.
                What she should have done was break contact.
                Flee like Penelope!
                The man was obviously, painfully alive! 
                What she did was push the heated weight of her burning flesh into his already battered palms. She moaned, sure it was her this time, when he took her mouth again. Then pulled back, just so he could take her mouth again. And again.
                Seating the length of her tail fully between his legs, she pressed against his rock hard erection. His hands moved from her breasts to the small of her back. 
                To her bare butt. Her butt? 
                It didn’t fully register until his hand rode the curve of her hip, transforming her smooth scales into smoother skin. She felt the cool night air as her tail split in two.
                She’d heard of mermaids making the transformation. For love. For sex. For whatever reason. It had never happened to her. She sat back so fast her knee connected with his groin.
                “Sonofa--!” He rolled into a fetal position. “hallucinations aren’t supposed to knee a guy in the nuts.” 
                Knees! She had knees!
                Stella dove over the side and into the water so fast she set the lifeboat rocking. 
                The man cursed with a vulgarity she’d never heard before, not even from a sailor. Then again all the sailors she’d come in contact with were corpses.

Round 5: Suzanne Lazear

          With a smile that made my toes tingle, he lifted me out of the brass tub. Before I could protest, I found myself on the big brass bed in his room, the fire still crackling in the background, the soft sheets smelling of him, of us. 

          A strong, slightly calloused hand pushed my limbs apart. Without warning, his aristocratic face was between my thighs, slight chin stubble tickling me. He did not taste or tease. No. He devoured me. Fiercely. Possessively. Intently. The instantaneous heat between us was so searing it was a brand. 

         He was a not only a Prince of the Court of Night, but the Spymaster. Sébastien the Destroyer. I could not allow this. My fingers tangled themselves in his silky, dark brown hair that was nearly too long for respectability as he continued to tease me with his clever tongue. 

       “Stop.” It was a hissed whisper as I tried not to writhe in pleasure. 

      “You do not mean that, dearest.” That voice was lazy and as rich as treacle, his French accent shining through. 

       The break from his attentions made my body cry. He was right. I did not mean it. Those intimate kisses intensified. I felt his fangs extend. 

       Oh my. 

       Emotions warred within me. I might be angry with him for lying to me for so long, for making me think he was dead, for stealing me away and trying to force me to help him. I was not sure if I could love this man who represented all I had been taught to despise. 

      But I wanted him. Even if he was now the enemy. 

      His tongue caressed me most intimately, as strong hands reacquainted themselves with my body. Waves of bliss washed over me. Happy sounds escaped my mouth. I was unable to contain them, especially when fingers slid inside me, their rhythm paring perfectly with his kisses. 

      I moaned. 
       Those long fingers quickened, his intimate kisses deepened and intensified as he licked and kissed me most expertly. 

       “Oh, Victor.” Those words just slipped out, as naturally as sighing or moaning, like every other time we made love. 

        He stopped. Internally I swore. . 

        His clothed body stretched out over my naked one, the fine fabric as soft as the sheets as his pale fingers continued to caress me. Warm lips and fangs nuzzled my neck, breath smelling of me. “Say my name, dearest.” 

       I froze. 
       “Come on,” he coached. “Bastien.” 

         If I said his name, I would be acquiescing, but I already had Sébastien the Destroyer playing my body the way I played a piano.

          Navy blue eyes gleamed with frustration, and desire. “Just say it, dearest. Bastien. Nothing will happen if you do.” 

          I was unready to forgive him, join him, leave everything behind. I needed to escape this place. Soon. 

         Also, names had power. 

       “Stop being willful.” His demanding tone was still rich and sultry as his fingers stroked my throat, as he nibbled my jaw. 

         My warm places screamed for me to just say it so he could continue. I was so close and this break was beyond frustrating. It had been so long since I had been loved like this. 

         I opened my mouth to speak. Nothing came out. 

         My insides warred. Part of me was happy that I was standing up to the high-handed prince. Part of me was angry as I throbbed and ached with desire. 

         So close. It was painful. 

        “That’s how it’s going to be?” Eyes flashed with anger, that voice quiet and grumbly. 

        My mouth opened. 

        He looked at me. Hopefully. Expectantly. 

       Still, nothing came out. 
       “I see.” That anger, that fury, I felt this morning returned. 

        I turned away from him so those eyes wouldn’t tempt me, my body raw and burning, the need so excruciating that tears streamed down my face. Why was I being so stubborn? I was so lonely back in London, all alone in the big house that used to be a home. There was no one to love me. Teach me. Tease me. 

        Situating himself behind me, his chest pressed to my bare back. “My god, you’re stubborn.” The words were whispered as he caressed my arms and shoulders, my neck and face. Limbs wrapped around me. 

       Without warning, he pulled down his trousers and entered me from behind, sliding in easily, my thighs slick with liquid heat. As always he fit perfectly. The familiar scent of him – of fire, night, and just a hint of iron, wrapped around me like a cloak. 
        Fierce, claiming kisses covered my neck as his body united with mine in a rhythm that both soothed my aching need and brought me closer to release. It was hard to keep afloat as waves of pleasure threatened to drown me. 

        But I could not say Victor. Not out loud, or he would stop again. It was best to not say anything at all.
It was so very difficult. 

        Fingers stroked me fiercely, one hand playing with my womanhood, one stroking my bottom, my breasts, my back. A gasped slipped from my lips as he toyed with my nipple, which hardened under his light touch. His hungry mouth sucked on the chords of my neck. His pace intensified, bringing us both closer to our peak. 

        I was ready to burst and I squirmed. He held me firmly. My body exploded in sensation as waves of pleasure wracked my body. The intense rhythm continued, the as did the sensations of pleasure which were so fierce, so overwhelming, that I screamed wordlessly. 

        Finally, I felt him contract inside me, calling out my name as he reached his own release. Sighing, he wrapped his arms around me and kissed my neck. 

       “My god, I love you, Lila” 

        He withdrew, pulling the duvet over us. Holding me tightly, his limbs entwined around mine, my head resting on his chest. 
        Blast. I had just slept with Sébastien the Destroyer. 


Round 5: Kerri Nelson
Faith ran faster and further than she could ever remember running. She closed her mind off to all other thoughts and expertly maneuvered her way through the thick brush of the forest. She didn’t know where she was running…she just knew that she had to keep moving.

She hurdled rocks and fallen limbs with a grace that she didn’t know she possessed. Suddenly, she thought she saw the glint of the sun reflecting off something shiny in the distance. She thought it might be a window. She headed towards the reflection and hoped that whatever she was seeing contained a person with a weapon. She wouldn’t feel safe until she was armed.

Just then, she heard something rustle in the nearby fallen leaves. She turned her head to look, but kept up her quick sprint. She didn’t see anything there and her loss of focus caused her to miss a ditch that was covered by overgrown vegetation.

Her shoe caught in the thick weeds and she lost her balance. For the second time today, she was falling. This time, thick, strong hands grasped her shoulders and caught her with ease. She looked up at the face of her rescuer and a ruggedly handsome face stared down at her. His dark eyes bore into her and her ragged breath caught in her throat.

She steadied herself and observed the man that stood before her. He was tall and broad and wore a brown uniform. His badge said, “Forest Ranger Service, Chief Ranger C.C. Phillips.”

She felt absolute relief at the sight of him. He didn’t seem as thrilled to see her. In fact, he was staring down at her as if she were a trouble making teenager that he’d caught making out with some guy in the woods.

As he still held firmly to her shoulders, she felt safe and there was even a hint of heat beginning to form between them. She was out of breath from the run but her heart beat even faster as he slid his hands down her arms and then took a step back from her.

“What are you doing out here, ma’am?” he asked in a deep voice that vibrated through her.

She bent over at the waist and put her hands to her knees. The run had taken a lot out of her, she took in a couple of deep breaths.

Finally, she straightened up and looked at him. He was watching her with intense, dark eyes.

“There’s something out there.” She motioned over her shoulder in the direction from which she’d just run.

“Like what?” he asked and followed her gaze towards the quiet woods where she was pointing.

“I don’t know, but it was chasing me.”

He seemed to consider her carefully. When she looked back at his face again, she was surprised to see the look of disbelief in his eyes.

“I’m not making this up,” she demanded and put her hands on her hips to show that she was serious.

He rubbed his chin with the large hand that had caught her just moments ago with such ease.

She wondered what that hand would feel like between her legs. She had a sudden mental image of that big hand snaking up her thigh and those fingers inside her.

“Ma’am, I said…did you injure yourself?” he asked with some mild impatience.

Faith realized that he must have already asked her this while she was daydreaming about him fondling her. She needed to get a grip. She was losing it.

“Well, just a little bit…I fell and scraped my knee.”

He nodded and motioned for her to step around him and towards the Ranger Station that she then realized must have been the source of the glowing windows in the now noon time sun.

She followed him, wordlessly, into the station and she breathed in the cool air that greeted her. She felt her nipples harden and press against the front of her thin, white t-shirt.

“In here…” said Ranger Phillips as he led the way into a small kitchen area.

He opened the cabinet to the right of the sink and started to pull out some antiseptic spray, antibiotic cream, cotton balls, and Band-Aids. He spread them out on the counter top.

“That knee looks pretty raw,” he said, glancing down at her bare legs.

She followed his eyes downward and surveyed her tan, smooth legs that were encrusted with flecks and swirls of good old South Carolina dirt.

“Ow,” she said as if just seeing the wound had brought about instant pain.

Without another word, he reached over and lifted her up…placing her on top of the counter effortlessly. Her breath caught in her throat at the feel of his large hands wrapped around her waist.

He knelt down in front of her and gently cleaned the scrape with a moistened cotton ball. She shivered as his warm hand pressed the back of her knee as he worked on cleaning the dirt and pebbles out of the cut.

It burned slightly as he rinsed the area with peroxide but she was distracted from the pain by the intense heat that was now building in between her legs.

She watched his strong, lithe hands as he squeezed the antibiotic cream onto her knee and then gently rubbed it in with the delicate tip of his finger. He completed his care of her knee by securing a large size flexible Band-Aid and then leaning forward to plant a soft kiss on the flesh just above it.

Her breath caught in her throat at the feel of his tender lips on the sensitive skin of her knee.

He rose back to his feet and she was suddenly face to face with him. Instinctually, the tip of her tongue darted out of her mouth and licked her upper lip.

Round 1    Round 2    Round 3    Round 4    Round 5

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