Skylar Crosby should be on top of the world. She’s just graduated from the best law school in the country and is supposed to kick-start a successful career. But with her father still recovering from his gambling addiction, her absentee mother suddenly reappearing in her life, and the stresses of studying for the bar exam, Skylar is feeling more like she’s holding the world up rather than standing on top of it. And then, of course, there’s the matter of her utterly smashed heart.
In just a few short months, brilliant attorney and all-around tycoon Brandon Sterling quickly became the sun to Skylar’s universe only to twist it upside down and inside out with his secrets, leaving her with a decision to make that will change both of their lives forever. And although Brandon can’t forget the girl who gave him back his heart, sudden changes in his own complicated life will make getting her back that much more difficult. Luckily, Brandon Sterling has never been one to walk away from a challenge.
Even when the whole world seems united against them, it’s possible that they are their own worst enemies. Legally Mine, the second book in the explosive Spitfire series, continues the saga of Skylar and Brandon as two stubborn, intelligent, damaged people trying to learn how to let themselves love and be loved return.
LOVE AND SECOND CHANCES ARE NEVER FREE For the five kids who live at St. Jude’s Home for Court Placed Juveniles, life is a nightmare. Carissa, the youngest, has been there the longest. And barely speaks. Rosa is sixteen and pregnant. Simon keeps his head down and studies, hoping to get back the life he lost. Beth and Tommy, in the middle of the darkness, have found each other, and all they want is to be together. But when they get caught making out at school, it puts everyone in danger. Tommy is used to the beatings from their foster father, but when Beth is singled out for punishment, Tommy can’t sit back and let it happen. AND ALL DEBTS MUST BE PAID What happens that night rips apart the lives of the five teenagers forever. After the blood has been spilled, a bargain is made. A deal with the devil that should have solved things. It should have fixed everything. But nothing is free – not love, not innocence, and certainly not freedom. And sooner or later, all debts must be paid…
“What do you want, Tommy?” she breathed. So close. So beautiful. With her free hand she took off her glasses and tossed them on the ground. Her eyes, lined in black liner raked over me. And mine raked over her. “You,” I said, so raw I was practically inside out. “Just once.” She laughed low in her throat. “You have a few questions you want answered, do you?” she asked. “Don’t you?” “God yes.” She stepped forward until she was nearly touching me. It took my inhale for my chest to brush hers. I exhaled and our bodies retreated. She inhaled and we touched. Exhaled and retreated. We each did it again. And then again. Breathing each other in, in turns. Finally it wasn’t enough and I stepped toward her, and my cock pressed against her stomach and she pushed against me. Her breasts and belly imprinted on my skin. “One time,” she said. “One time and we go back to our lives and get on with things. I’m going to forget you, Tommy. And you’re going to forget me.” I doubted it, but I wasn’t going to argue. Not with my dick pushed up against the tight muscles of her stomach. Not with her breath, sweet from the pop and the candy she’d eaten, making me crazy. “I’m serious, Tommy,” she said as if she could read my mind. “I don’t want to be hurt anymore, and I really, really don’t want to hurt you anymore. Promise you’ll forget me.” “I promise,” I said, because when threatened with the idea of hurting her, I’d agree to anything to stop that. “I’ll forget you, right after I fuck you.”
Molly O’Keefe is an award-winning author of over 30 romance novels. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her family and the largest heap of dirty laundry in North America. Sign up for her newsletter to get release day news, exclusive excerpts, sale announcements and in-depth author interviews!
Mothers are supposed to love you. Support you. Protect you. Not mine, mine did none of those things. – Not one. My mother taught me that her addiction was stronger than her love for me. Her high was all that mattered. That’s all she needed, all she wanted. Grown men and women took payment from me, so she could get her fix. They took everything from me, just a child, her only son. Motherly love? Fuck that. I’ve spent my life taking from bitches all too willing to give it up – whores, sluts, The Fallen – you name it, I’ve had a piece of it, of them. It’s how I earned the name Lick. I’ve licked every part of a bitch’s body. Until her -Jenni. From the moment she sashayed her hips up the dirt path of our clubhouse I knew I was fucked. Curves for days, sweet tits that begged to be sucked. A heart of gold. I know it’s a fucking cliché, but she was different. She challenged me – Pushed me Jenni made me see I’ve spent my life being blind, that I was worth something. She taught me love doesn’t use. It’s not twisted, it doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t cost a thing. I’ll do anything to make her happy. I’ll do whatever the fuck it takes to keep her by my side. She’s far too precious for me, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let her go.
Hold on and get ready for one hell of a ride with Lick. Lick is a book that will stay with you long after reading it. This story will pull at your heartstrings. You will laugh, cry and cheer on the Tylan “Lick” and Jenni.
Tylan “Lick” is a loud mouth, dirty talking biker. He has survived an unimaginable childhood that continues to haunt Lick. He did what he had to try to save his sister, Betsy, from having to go through the same torment. Lick’s demons are always right under the surface waiting to break free, but he works hard to keep it under control. Lick has a protective and sweet / gentle side that is hiding deep, but Jenni brings out that part of him.
Jenni goes to her best friend Savannah and the Fury, when she feels that she has to leave her strict & controlling family. Jenni is different than the other girls in the MC club. She will go toe to toe with Lick. Jenni doesn’t take Lick’s crap. These two as opposites, but do have more than just their attraction in common. When Lick needs someone even if he doesn’t think so, Jenni is right there by his side. She is a strong, independent woman who is loyal to the core.
Lick is an outstanding story with many themes. This story shows how family is not always the blood bond, but about loyalty and love. The reader will go on an emotional rollercoaster with twist and turns, but Lick is definitely worth it. This is the first book that I have read by this author, but I am a definite fan. I can’t say enough about this incredible story. I have found my gritty, dirty talking, sexy biker book boyfriend. He is all mine. Yum! Favorite quotes – “Because behind the crude, silver tongued biker is a man who has a heart so scared and damaged, so utterly broken, that the only thing now is to help it heal…”. “He’s a brute of a man. There’s so much beauty in all his fury. So much turmoil that constantly ravages at his soul. He fights his demons every day. Tries to keep the evil beneath the surface, making sure he’s nothing like the woman who gave birth to him.”
Overall Story – 5 Stars Chemistry – 4 ½ Stars POV – Alternating POV’s Alpha Male – Yes Recommend to Others – Hell Yes! I volunteered for this arc book. This is my honest, unbiased review. Teasers
Torrie Robles was born and raised in the Central Valley of California; a perfect spot in the state since she’s only hours away from the coast, the beautiful mountains and the big named cities. She currently lives a short distance from her hometown of Clovis, in a small community known as The Madera Ranchos. She’s married and has three children, two boys and one girl. She also has seven animals that live with her family on their property. She’s a city girl living in the country, but not too far from the hustle and bustle of the life, she grew up knowing. Torrie obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Healthcare Administration, but her passion has always been writing. A dream she felt was always out of her reach, until she was introduced to the Indie Community. 2015 marked the year she became a self-published author. She writes contemporary romance and plans to branch out as her career takes off. She is currently working on several different manuscripts. She hopes to have them all finished and published throughout her career while continuing to develop new stories and characters to fall in love with. When she isn’t working a full-time job, writing, raising her children or just taking care of life, Torrie’s biggest hobby is getting lost in books. Her passion for reading and the authors she looks up to has allowed her to make her dreams come true. Her fellow authors have truly been her inspiration.
“KL Kreig nailed it! The perfect heart-stopping ending to a fantastic duet, Found Underneath is everything you hope it will be and so much more!” ~ KL Grayson, USA Today Bestselling Author
It began as a ruse. Take a girlfriend. Divert the press from the fucked up mess that’s my family until my father is re-elected. Stage a public breakup. Move on. Only that brilliant plan went straight south the moment I set eyes on Willow Blackwell. I found her. My center. My future. A soulmate with the will of a mule and the mouth of a harpy. I now want things I never wanted before. Permanent kinds of things. Only Fate—and her ex—have other plans for us. In some sort of cosmic impossibility, our lives unknowingly intersected years before when tragedy befell both our families. Once the devastating truth is finally revealed, the future I’d found in her will come crashing down around us and for the first time in my life I’m completely helpless. I may very well lose the only woman I’ve ever loved to a past neither of us saw coming. *warning: 18+ only. Contains foul language, explicit sex and a hot alpha (or two, or three). NOTE: This is NOT a standalone. It’s the conclusion to LOST IN BETWEEN, which MUST be read first.
As a USA Today Bestselling author, I write stories that are deeply emotional with flawed characters, because humans ARE flawed and if we read about perfect characters living in their perfect world, first of all, snoozer, but secondly, we never experience the gratification of redemption. Outside of writing, I’m just a regular ol’ Midwest girl who likes Game of Thrones and am obsessed with Modern Family and The Goldbergs. I run, I eat, I run, I eat. It’s a vicous cycle. I love carbs, but there’s love-hate relationship with my ass and thighs. Mostly hate. I like a good cocktail (oh hell…who am I kidding? I love any cocktail). I’m a huge creature of habit, but I’ll tell you I’m flexible. I read every single day and if I don’t get a chance…watch the hell out. My iPad and me: BFFs. I’m direct and I make no apologies for it. I swear too much. I love alternative music and in my next life I want to be a bad-ass female rocker. I hate, hate, hate spiders, telemarketers, liver, acne, winter and loose hairs that fall down my shirt (don’t ask, it’s a thing).
The cost of their forbidden mating will require great sacrifice. For love and an unbreakable bond, there is no price too high, not even banishment, or worse, treason.
When the kraliyet bodyguard ended up in her hospital bed after an explosion left him in critical condition, Nadia tried to warn herself not to fall in love with him. After all, she’s no vampire Cinderella, and happily-ever-afters didn’t happen to low-born females of the Kan Asma. But, her heart wouldn’t listen and, soon, she wanted to claim Gunnar as her forever mate, even if it meant taking him the only way possible, as a husband in a disgraceful human ceremony.
Gunnar fell in love with his nurse the moment he saw her smile. He yearned to claim her as his but the Council would never allow him to mingle his powerful blood with a female from a poor family. The penalty for an unsanctioned mating is a death sentence. He doesn’t care about the threats and possible consequences of making her his. Though, due to the high probability of genetic incompatibility, he can’t complete their blood-bond without knowing if it might take her life. Losing her would be worse than torture.
Their only hope lies with the treasonous Faction hell-bent on destroying the very people Gunnar calls family. Determined to find a way to be mated, Gunnar seeks out the leader of this hidden uprising. Together, Nadia and Gunnar must break every law and rite of their vampire culture to become bonded for life. Gunnar will play a deadly game of subversion or pay a blood price that would sever him from their people and put a bounty on his head. They must survive a dangerous infiltration of the Faction, because they’ll do anything to be together, even if it means being mated in treason.
Strict professor by day. Romance author by night. Lover of all things alpha-male twenty-four hours a day. Christa Paige is a multi-published author in several genres. Her passion for love stories spans many tropes. She writes sensual, romantic tales and sweet love stories. In her free time, Christa, likes knitting/crochet and has a yarn stash that keeps growing. (Especially if it is bamboo.) She has a love/hate relationship with running but can’t turn down a themed 5k race. Her beagle babies are her running partners. She never tires of watching a Star Wars marathon or rereading Lord of the Rings. There’s a special place in her heart for the Regency Romance. Mr. Darcy is her favorite Regency hero, especially when he is wearing Hessians and a cravat.
Christa’s series The Blood-Vine published by Liquid Silver Publishing, Kissin’ Cops published by Liquid Silver Publishing, Women Who Serve (Book 1 Coming soon), and the Kan Asma Vampires published by Hartwood Publishing
Jo Raven is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, best known for her series Inked Brotherhood and Damage Control. She writes edgy, contemporary New Adult romance with sexy bad boys and strong-willed heroines. She writes about MME fighters and tattoo artists, dark pasts that bleed into the present, loyalty and raw emotion. Add to that breathtaking suspense, super-hot sex scenes and a happy ending, and you have a Jo Raven® story.
WANTED: Single dad needs nanny–In more ways than one. Martin “Brick” Bricker is living the good life. He’s playing the sport he loves, has all the women he can handle, and parties like a rock star. At twenty-six, he has no interest in slowing down or taking anything seriously–except hockey, of course. Then a knock at his door changes everything.Suddenly he’s the single father to a five-year-old daughter he didn’t know he had, and he’s trading his playboy ways for Barbies. Amelia Stacey struggles to make ends meet and juggles her day-care job with a full load of college classes. When she’s offered a temporary, two-week nanny position making more money than she imagines, she jumps at the chance. Before she knows it, she’s in over her head, not just with her five-year-old charge but with the girl’s hot single father. Brick always goes after what he wants, and he wants Amelia. Only responsible Amelia doesn’t want anything to do with the party boy. Struggling with fatherhood and his unexplainable attraction to his nanny, Brick has to figure out where his daughter and Amelia fit into his life.If they fit at all. But one thing’s for sure: Brick can’t block this shot straight to his heart.
Chapter 1—In the Net
Martin “Brick” Bricker was one lucky bastard. He had it all. Good looks, ripped body, more money than he could spend, and more women than he could handle. It was good to be him. Really, really good. Being named sexiest male athlete last week by the Hot Hockey Hunks website was icing on his already rich, gooey cake. And he loved that cake, indulging every chance he got. Who could blame him? He was young, attractive, and virile. He loved all females, tall and slender, short and curvy, and anything in between. And women loved him. But Brick’s good fortune didn’t stop there. He was the starting goalie on one of the NHL’s hottest young teams. The Seattle Sockeyes were touted as Stanley Cup contenders by the preseason predictors, whoever the hell those people were. Brick wanted the Cup so badly he imagined the deafening roar of the crowd as the final buzzer rang, the weight of the Cup in his hands as he skated victoriously around the arena, and its sweet metallic taste as he drank champagne from it. He might only be in his fourth year, but he coveted the Cup as much as a guy who’d been in the league for fifteen years and had never won it. He sure as hell didn’t want to be that guy. He wanted to win it while he was young—and keep winning it. With a weary sigh, Brick stretched and rolled out of bed. He squinted at the clock—two in the fucking afternoon. Damn. He’d had a wild night last night and had staggered home well after the sun had come up. He’d been gifted with incredible stamina and a hardy constitution that required little sleep but for some reason last night’s activities had hit him harder than usual. After taking care of business in the bathroom, he walked naked into the kitchen of his large Lake Union condo. He hated clothes, partially because of his propensity to overheat and partially because he enjoyed the shock value. Brick sweltered in warm rooms. They reminded him too much of how hot his stepmother—correct that, father’s second wife—chose to keep their house. The place suffocated him. He’d always preferred the chilly temps of his mom’s cabin in the woods. Putting a Tully’s K-Cup in his Keurig, he waited for his mug to fill. Taking a sip, he carried it to the wall of windows and stared down at the water below. Houseboats rocked gently on Lake Union, and he had to smile. Ever since he’d seen Sleepless in Seattle, one of his mother’s favorite movies, he’d sworn if he ever moved to Seattle he’d own one of those houseboats. His Realtor had been toiling for months to find the right one. So far, no luck, but Brick was a patient man. For now, he had to be content with his condo and the privacy it afforded his current lifestyle. He kept his place at arctic temps and never invited women over. He preferred an impersonal hotel room from which he could escape in the early hours, as he’d done this morning. He practically had a room on retainer in the luxury boutique hotel five minutes down the street. He was certainly on a first-name basis with everyone who worked there. Brick rubbed his eyes, wishing he hadn’t caved to his teammates’ insistence he party with them, but he’d never been one to turn down a chance to raise hell. Staying home was never an option. Brick had a reputation to maintain, and he needed his people, probably more than they needed him. After all, if he wasn’t fun-loving, beer-guzzling Brick, people wouldn’t like him. Even worse, he might have to spend time alone with only himself for company, and he probably wouldn’t like what he found. Better to be the shallow party boy everyone loved than the introspective, serious guy everyone avoided. The doorbell rang, rescuing Brick from a rare and unwelcome moment of personal reflection. He frowned. He wasn’t expecting anyone, and he didn’t encourage uninvited guests. None of his hookups had a clue where he lived, and his teammates rarely visited because of the frigid temps, except Rush. His teammate was from Russia and didn’t notice how chilly Brick kept his condo. This person couldn’t be his buddy, though. Rush would still be passed out after a night of partying. He needed eight to ten hours of sleep, unlike Brick’s three- to four-hour requirement. Perplexed, Brick took two steps toward the door and paused. Usually, he had no qualms opening the door bare-ass naked, but some sixth sense stopped him this time. “Just a minute,” he shouted, and strolled to the master bedroom. He dug around for a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. Walking back to the entryway, he looked in the peephole and saw nothing. His condo door opened to the outside, rather than into a hallway with a secure entry. That’d never bothered him before. He could handle himself in a fight. Yet something felt off. Those same instincts that alerted him where the puck was when he couldn’t see it clanged warnings in his head. With his hand on the doorknob, he hesitated. Frowning, he glanced around for a weapon. An umbrella leaned against the wall. He grabbed it, then yanked open the door. Staring into the rainy Seattle afternoon, he saw nothing until he looked down. A little girl with long dark hair and huge brown eyes like an anime character rested her tiny hands on her hips and stared boldly up at him. He stared back, then glanced around for the mother. Tensing, he expected a gang of home invaders to emerge from the dreariness and force their way into his house. He saw nothing, except an old Toyota barreling out of the private parking area and down the street. What the fuck? “Are you lost?” he asked the little girl. She shook her head, still staring, as if she expected something from him. “Are you Mr. Brick?” “Yeah,” he said uneasily. “Daddy!” She launched herself at him, displaying incredible strength for one so small. He staggered back against the wall as she grabbed on to his leg and hugged him tightly. Brick managed to regain his balance and extricated his leg from her tight grip. Placing his hands on her thin shoulders, he held her at arm’s length. Daddy? A shot of fear stronger than the hundred-proof vodka he’d indulged in last night burned down his throat. “Where’s your mother?” His uneasy feeling dialed up higher. “In heaven.” The little girl’s expression flipped from happiness to sadness faster than the flick of a light switch. She picked up a raggedy doll and hugged it to her. Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck. “Uh, okay. I’m sorry to hear that. Where do you live?” She craned her head around him and looked into his house. “With you.” He felt as though he’d been dropped into the twilight zone. “With me?” he croaked. “Yes, with you.” She nodded with absolute certainty. “Uh, I don’t know who put you up to this, but I don’t have any kids.” This had to be a scam to get money out of him. Or one of his teammates had concocted an elaborate joke. Once again, he looked for an adult skulking near the stairs. “Yes, you do.” She narrowed her eyes and studied him, scowling as if she’d found him lacking. She held out an envelope. It was smudged and wrinkled as if it’d been clutched in her hands for a long time. He stared at it, not wanting to take it and feeling as if the bottom was about to drop out of his charmed life. She shoved it toward him, and Brick accepted it with a shaking hand. He ripped open the envelope and pulled out a coffee-stained piece of paper. Mr. Bricker, I’m dying of cancer, and my granddaughter is all I have left. Her mother has gone to heaven, and that’s on you. I only have a short while left to live. By the time you get this, I’ll be dead. I don’t want Macy in foster care. I have asked a friend to deliver her to your house upon my death. She is your daughter, and she deserves to have all the things you can afford to give her. Please take care of her and love her. You owe us that. Sincerely, Sue He scowled. This had to be a scam. “How old are you?” “Five.” He did the math quickly in his head. He’d been playing on a major junior team in Vancouver, his hometown around the time she’d been conceived, and he hadn’t lacked female companionship. He thought back six years but couldn’t recall anyone who stood out, not that his lack of memory meant anything. He couldn’t recall the names of the women he slept with last night, either. And he’d spent a lot of his late teens and early twenties in a drunken haze on non-game nights. He read the letter again, stumbling over the sentence her mother has gone to heaven, and that’s on you. On him? Why would this stranger’s death be on him? Had she been some crazy stalker fan who’d committed suicide? Surely he’d have heard about it. At the least, his agent would’ve told him. Her accusation probably meant nothing. He was reading too much into it. He ran his hand through his close-cropped hair and blew out a sigh. He needed to call his attorney and his agent immediately. They’d know what to do. In the meantime, what the fuck did he do? He didn’t want a kid. They were okay, and he got along fine with them at signings and shit like that, but he wasn’t father material. Thank God, she probably wasn’t his. Though he had to admit, there was a resemblance, which made his blood run cold. Really cold. She looked like pictures he’d seen of his sister at that age. And those eyes… Damn, those huge eyes could melt the most strongly barricaded heart. “Uh, why don’t you come in while we straighten this out?” She nodded and tried to lug a battered suitcase as large as her inside. Brick took it, and she ran ahead of him, dragging the doll by one arm. She stopped and surveyed the living room. Frowning, she hugged herself and shivered. “You can’t afford heat, either?” she asked. “Huh?” “My granna couldn’t afford heat so it was always cold in her house, too.” “I, uh, can afford heat.” He was at a loss for words. “I’m cold.” Her lower lip puffed out in an unmistakable pout. She was a demanding little thing. “I’ll fix that.” Brick hurried to the thermostat before she could do something scarier than shit, like throw a tantrum or, heaven help him, cry. He raised the temp from fifty-five to seventy and also turned on the gas fireplace. “Thank you.” She sounded so adult, as if she’d lived ten lifetimes in five years. Brick didn’t form connections with people, not real ones, but something about her tugged at a deeply hidden vulnerability he hadn’t known he had. Walking to the massive stone fireplace on one wall, she sat on the hearth as it flared to life. Brick wiped his brow, overheating already. “What’s your last name, honey?” he asked, hopeful this could all be cleared up with a few phone calls. “Bricker, like yours.” “What about your granna? What was her name?” “Granna.” Sighing, he reached for his cell. “Wait right here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” “Are you going to send me away?” He froze in midstride. “I—uh—uh—” There went that tug again, harder this time, even a little painful. “Granna said you would take care of me, but I didn’t believe her. No one wanted me but Granna and Mommy. Now they’re both gone.” This was getting worse and worse. Brick didn’t need this complication in his footloose-and-fancy-free life. But he couldn’t send the child to foster care. He’d never been in foster care himself, but he’d had friends who were, and he wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone. “I’ll be right back.” She gazed up at him, clutching her doll to her chest. Tears filled her luminous eyes, and one dribbled down her cheek. The tug turned into a hard yank. Oh, crap. Before he did something stupid, he hurried to the bedroom, dialing his phone as he walked. His agent shared his time between Seattle, where he had a huge number of clients, and sunny California. Just so happened he was in Seattle right now. “Al,” he said before Al could get one word in. “Ah, Brick, my man. What’s up?” “I have a fucking problem.” “You always have fucking problems. What psycho woman did you piss off now?” “I wish it were that simple.” Al started laughing as if he were looking forward to Brick’s pain. “Get your ass over here. I need you.” Brick didn’t wait for an answer and hung up. He sank onto the edge of his bed and buried his head in his hands, suddenly feeling much older than his twenty-six years. * * * * When Brick returned to his living room, Macy was running around his kitchen island, arms outstretched as she unraveled a roll of paper towels while making barking sounds. She skittered around him, yapping like the obnoxious poodle his aunt Hazel once had. The sound grated on his nerves, which were already frayed. “Stop.” She didn’t stop, only raised her voice until the barking neared ear-splitting decibels. He prayed Al showed up soon and rescued him from this particular hell. The doorbell rang, and he bolted, tripping over the paper towels wrapped around his legs. Macy was one step ahead of him. Right before his eyes she transformed from a one-child wrecking crew to a sweet little princess with a cherubic smile. She yanked open the door. “Hi,” she shouted in her piercing little-girl voice. “I’m Macy. Do you want to have a tea party with me and Daddy and Simone?” She raised the doll upward in one hand. Al’s eyebrows shot all the way to his hairline. A slow, devious smirk spread across the bastard’s face. “Daddy?” “I, uh, uh.” Al laughed and knelt in front of the little girl. “Hey, honey, I’m Al. I’d love to play with you and Simone, but your daddy and I have a few things to discuss. Do you think you could sit over there like a good little girl and watch TV for a few minutes?” “Okay.” She skipped to the couch. “How do you turn it on?” Brick let out a sigh and flipped on his eighty-inch UHD flat screen. He scrolled through the channels until he found a children’s station, then quickly retreated to the relative safety of the kitchen. “You gotta help me.” Al grinned a toothy, wholly unsympathetic grin. “You think? I’m your agent, not your babysitter.” Brick glared at him. “She’s not my child.” “She thinks she is.” Al was entirely too amused. “I need your help. I’m desperate. I can’t have a kid here.” Al chuckled and glanced at Macy, who was singing along to the TV. “Care to explain what’s going on? You were childless when I talked to you yesterday.” Brick filled him in, ignoring the bastard’s growing amusement. “Here’s the note.” Al looked it over with a shrewd agent’s eye. “Interesting. Any idea who the mother might be?” “You’re shitting me, right?” Brick growled, forcing himself to keep his frustration at bay and his voice low. “It might be an important part of the puzzle.” “Can’t you find out where she came from? I pay you to clean up my messes.” “Not enough.” Al threw back his head and laughed. “This isn’t funny. You gotta help me.” Brick’s gaze was drawn to the little girl sitting on his couch singing to her doll. His gut clenched, and he swiped at his sweaty brow. “Okay, I’ll get my PI friend on this. Find out any existing relatives. See if I can get a picture of the mother. We’ll run a DNA test, but that’ll take time.” Al switched into troubleshooting agent mode, even though his mouth still twitched with amusement. “I don’t have time. The regular season is under way. I have a road trip in two days, and I can’t have a kid living here.” “It’s not like she’s a stray cat you can dump off at an animal shelter.” Al pointed out the obvious and drew a well-deserved scowl from Brick. “And most likely she is yours. She looks like you.” Brick scowled all the more. “I always wear a condom.” “Condoms fail.” “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.” Brick groaned and dropped his ass onto a dining room chair. He searched his memory, trying to recall any condom malfunctions. Yeah, there had been a few incidents during bouts of rambunctious sex, but he couldn’t begin to remember those women’s faces. Al sat across from him. “Let’s see what the DNA test says. If she’s not yours, we’ll call Child Protective Services.” “And if she’s mine?” His agent’s smirk was downright annoying. “Then welcome to the world of the single dad.” “What the fuck do I do with her in the meantime?” Brick scrubbed his hands over his face. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He lived a charmed life. Everything always went his way. “For starters, clean up your language.” Al snorted and leaned back in his chair. “I can’t take care of a kid. I have a life. I play hockey. I’m gone half the season.” “Real-world problems, my man. Real-world problems.” “You’re not helping any.” “Since when do my duties involve family matters? Be lucky you only have one—so far.” Brick shuddered. “Don’t say that.” Al snickered and winked. “Good luck. I’ll call your attorney, make sure housing this child is legal and all.” He stood and headed for the door. Brick leaped to his feet and followed him. “You can’t leave me like this.” Al waved at the little girl, completely engrossed in some kid’s show. “Bye, Macy.” She waved back. “Bye, Uncle Al.” “Uncle Al?” This kid was making way too many presumptions. “I like the sound of that.” Al opened the door. “You’d better get cracking. You have a road trip in two days.” “Where am I going to find a nanny in two days?” Brick groaned. He’d always avoided responsibility outside the rink, and an instant child was way too much responsibility. “I noticed a day care a few blocks down the street. Ask them.” With those parting words, Al left Brick to fend for himself. Glancing at the child, Brick considered his options. She smiled at him, and he swallowed around an odd lump. He managed a smile back. He could dial his mother. She’d know what to do. She’d probably travel from Vancouver tomorrow and take this kid off his hands. His stepfather, Rick, wouldn’t mind. He loved kids. If only his mother had married him while Brick had still been living at home, maybe his teen years wouldn’t have sucked so much. Brick slunk into the kitchen so Macy couldn’t hear him. “Mom?” “Hi, honey, how are you?” “I’m not so good.” “Oh God, Marty, what did you do now?” “I didn’t do anything. Not exactly.” He hedged, trying to come up with a way to break this to his mother. He decided on honesty and ran through the entire story. When he finished, silenced reigned. “Mom?” “I’m a grandmother?” He couldn’t tell if she was pleased or pissed. “I’m not sure. We need to do a DNA test.” “Who leaves a child on a stranger’s doorstep and disappears?” His mother sounded indignant. “I don’t know. That’s the least of my worries. I need help. I have a road trip coming up. Could you come to Seattle tomorrow and get her?” Another long silence. “Mom?” He wasn’t feeling too good about his odds right now. She blew out a long-suffering sigh only his mother could produce. “It pains me to say this, but no.” “What?” Surely he hadn’t heard her correctly. “You heard me, young man. Did you forget Rick and I are leaving in a few hours for a month and a half in Europe?” “Uh, yeah.” He hated to admit he’d forgotten. He’d been so focused on his surprise, he’d spaced on their trip. She sighed. “You’re not the only person in this world with plans, Marty.” As if he hadn’t heard that before. “I know.” “I agree. With your schedule and not having a wife or steady girlfriend, it’d be next to impossible to raise a young child. Let me discuss this with Rick, and we’ll see what we can do when we get back, assuming she’s yours. This problem is your responsibility for now.” Leave it to his mother to be pragmatic about the situation. “But—” “I have to go now. I’ll call you in a few days and see how you’re doing. I can’t wait to see my granddaughter when we get back.” The phone went dead. Brick felt a tug on his sweats. “I’m hungry.” The little girl looked up at him with the biggest, most innocent cocker spaniel eyes, and who could resist a cocker spaniel? His hardened heart cracked a little, and he shored it up with mental duct tape. He wouldn’t fall prey to this child. She couldn’t stay with him. He tried another number. His sister would help. All he had to do was text her a picture, and she’d fall in love, as she did with every stray animal. Nona answered. “Hey, Brick, to what do I owe the pleasure?” “How’s my favorite sister?” “I’m your only sister. What’s up?” “Just called to see how you were.” “No, you didn’t.” He was guilty as charged of calling his sister only when he needed something. Brick pulled out all the stops. “Ah, Nona, seriously. What’s wrong with me wanting to have a conversation with my sister?” “Nothing’s wrong with it other than you never call me just to talk, so fess up, Marty.” Brick groaned. “Okay, I admit it. I need your help. Desperately.” “Oh, really.” He could hear her devious wheels turning as she calculated what he might possibly be calling for and how she could use it to her advantage in their friendly, ongoing sibling rivalry. “Yeah, really,” he said gloomily. “Daddy, can I have some milk?” The little urchin stared up at him with pleading eyes. “Daddy? Did I hear that right?” His sister’s voice came through loud and clear, as did the restrained laughter. “Is that your problem?” “Yeah, found her on my doorstep this afternoon.” “Are you kidding?” Brick made his way to the refrigerator and poured Macy a glass of milk. She thanked him and returned to her TV. Certain she was occupied, he relayed the story to his sister, who was dying of laughter by the time he’d finished. Why people found his predicament so hilariously funny was beyond him. “And what do you expect me to do?” “Come and get her. I have a road trip in two days.” “Oh, no, you don’t. You’re the one who can’t keep it in your pants. Welcome to adulthood, baby brother. I’m in graduate school. I don’t have time for a child. And Mom’s leaving on her trip.” “I know,” he answered grumpily. Nona erupted with more laughter. The women in his family had no appreciation for the dilemma he was in. “You could always call Dad and Liz. You know how touchy-feely our beloved stepmother is.” Brick shuddered. He knew all right. The woman could melt a hole in an ice rink with one glare. As desperate as he was, he’d never subject a child—any child—to that cold, calculating bitch. “Never mind. I’ll deal with this myself.” He sighed and disconnected the phone, his sister’s laughter still ringing in his ears. Macy yawned, and Brick realized with a guilty start she’d probably had a long, tiring day, even though it was early evening. “Time for bed.” “I don’t want to go to bed.” She screwed her face up into a nasty scowl worthy of Ice, the Sockeyes’ surly defenseman. “Sorry, but you need some rest.” He was so not cut out for this parenting shit. He could leave her to her own devices. He was tired, even if she wasn’t. He must be getting old. Partying all night never used to wear him out, but last night’s binge had taken a toll. “No.” She crossed her arms over her chest and stuck out her little chin. Her belligerence wore on his patience. “Please, Macy, it’s been a long day for both of us.” They stared each other down, but she was out of her league. He could stare down the best of them. Finally, she looked away and stuck out her lower lip, which quivered. “Okay.” Brick didn’t give her a chance to change her mind. He grabbed the suitcase and led her to the guest room. He showed her the adjoining bathroom. She stood near the bed and rubbed her eyes. Her attitude had dissipated, leaving a scared little girl so alone in the cold, cruel world. Brick stood in the doorway, praying she didn’t cry. “Do you need help getting ready for bed?” She shoved her knuckles in her mouth and shook her head. “Okay, well then, good night.” Drawn by emotions he couldn’t begin to explain, Brick crossed the room, knelt down, and gave her a hug. Her little arms went stiffly around his neck. He blinked several times, finding his eyesight a little blurry. Sitting back on his haunches, he held her shoulders. “It’ll all be okay. I promise.” She sniffed and nodded, gazing at him with disbelieving brown eyes. Not liking how close to the surface his own feelings were, he rose to his feet. “Good night.” Her little voice wavered, and Brick got the hell out of there. He turned down the heat, stripped off his clothes, and crawled into bed. He sank into the welcoming mattress and closed his eyes. Only sleep didn’t come. He was an asshole. A big asshole. Instead of comforting this scared child who’d been abandoned on his doorstep, he’d run like a coward. Sure, he’d hugged her, but he could’ve done more. Brick stared into the darkness for God knew how long. Finally, he got out of bed, threw on a robe, and walked down the hall to the guest bedroom. He listened at the door and heard nothing. Cracking it open, he peeked inside. Macy lay under the covers, her doll clutched tightly to her. Her eyes were shut. He walked closer and stared down at the cherubic face. She was a pretty little thing and would be a beauty by her teens, requiring her father to sit on the front porch with a shotgun to scare off the boys. He shuddered at the thought, not because he’d pictured himself hefting that gun, but because he knew what teenage boys were capable of. He reached down and brushed a stray lock of hair from her cheek. Tenderness welled up in his chest, leaving him momentarily incapacitated. When she’d thrown her arms around him and called him Daddy, he’d lost his sanity for a split second and almost wished it were true. But it wasn’t, and he wasn’t fit to be any child’s father. Brick backed away, fighting a surprising paternal urge to care for and protect this child. What the fuck was wrong with him?
About the Author:
USA Today Bestselling Author Jami Davenport writes sexy contemporary and sports romances, including her two new indie endeavors: the Game On in Seattle Series and the Madrona Island Series. Jami’s new releases consistently rank in the top fifty on the sports romance and sports genre lists on Amazon, and she has hit the Amazon top hundred authors list in both contemporary romance and genre fiction multiple times. Jami ranked Number Seven on Kobo’s Top Ten Most Completed Authors, an honor bestowed on the year’s “most engaging” authors based on an average page completion rate by their readers. Jami lives on a small farm near Puget Sound with her Green Beret-turned-plumber husband, a Newfoundland cross with a tennis ball fetish, a prince disguised as an orange tabby cat, and an opinionated Hanoverian mare. Jami works in IT for her day job and is a former high school business teacher. She’s a lifetime Seahawks and Mariners fan and is waiting for the day professional hockey comes to Seattle. An avid boater, Jami has spent countless hours in the San Juan Islands, a common setting in her books. In her opinion, it’s the most beautiful place on earth.
For Emmalyn and Kodah being set free meant living in the real world away from the clutches of her step-father. It meant living a life they always dreamed about together.
But it’s never that easy, is it?
Life is cruel and untamed.
And not everything in their past can be forgotten. Nor is it as settled as they hoped.
With their new-found freedom comes challenges no one should ever face. Separated by memory but together at heart Emmy and Kodah must find their way back to each other so they can finally live their happily ever after.
RAW, GRITTY, DARK, INTENSE, SEXY, HOT, SICK, TWISTED everything all dark gritty lovers need/crave/want/seek this author delivered those feels time and time again!!” – Kitty Kat’s Crazy About Books
About the Author:
M.R. Leahy was born in Amarillo, TX, where she was briefly raised before moving to a small Island in the middle of the Puget Sound called Whidbey Island. Growing up she lived with her mom and younger sister and a few cousins scattered close by.
As soon as she could, M.R. Leahy left the small island to get a feel for what the world had in store. After jumping around a few places, she landed in beautiful Wilmington, NC where she not only met the love of her life but became pregnant with her first child. Not long after finding out about the life they created they married and moved to San Diego, CA so they could be closer to family and start the beginning to their forever.
M.R. Leahy now has two beautiful boys and is living life to the fullest, not taking anything for granted. She now spends her time being a stay at home mom. When she’s not making lunches and kissing booboos, you can find her nose deep in a book getting lost in the many different worlds authors provide, or writing and creating different stories of her own.
M.R. Leahy writes dark romances but also has her hands in contemporary romance and romantic comedy. Her possibilities are endless.
Soren Decker. He’s the epitome of the “bad boy, good man” persona. The best of both worlds. The worst of them too. He’s the type of guy most girls would not mind sharing a confined space with, except my new roommate isn’t all swagger and chiseled abs. He’s bossy. Messy. Cocky. Infuriating. Doesn’t believe in personal space. Has no qualms about roaming the apartment with a loincloth-sized towel cinched around his waist. Seems under the delusion he’s my personal protector (refer back to infuriating). He plays college baseball and holds down a part-time job—I don’t know where he finds the time to get on my nerves. We’re got nothing in common . . . except for one thing. Our attraction to one another. And in six hundred square feet of shared space, the tension only has so much room to grow before one of us gives in to temptation. But really, what chance do a couple of young kids chasing their dreams in the big city have of making it? Since Soren claims I know squat about sports (he might have a semi-point), here’s a stat for him—one in a million. That’s our odds.
I felt like all of my dreams had, or were about to, come true. Waved farewell to Podunk hometown? Check. Arrived in posh metropolis with luggage in tow? Check. Signed to a top agency? Check. About to roll up to my swanky new pad? Check. The world wasn’t just at my fingertips—I felt like it was clutched in the palm of my hand. All the obstacles—everything I’d had to overcome to get here—and I’d done it. I’d paid the price. Now I was ready to reap the darn reward. “Oh, crap.” My heart soared into my throat when I glanced at the taximeter for the first time since leaving the airport. I’d been totally preoccupied with staring at the bright lights and sights of New York City. “Is that how much it will cost for the entire ride? Hopefully?” My eyes widened when the meter tacked on another fifty cents. The driver glanced at me through the rearview. He must have thought I was making a joke until he saw my face. “What? You serious, kid?” His meaty arm draped across the passenger seat. “That’s how much it costs to get to right here.” He speared his finger out the window, two bushy brows lifting. “There’s still another mile before we hit the address you gave me.” “Pull over. Please. Pull over.” Digging inside my purse, I counted out what I owed the driver. Which left me with a whole two dollars and some cents to my name. Ever since I was a little girl declaring my plans to make it in the big city, everyone had been warning me that New York City was expensive. I guessed I hadn’t realized that translated to public transportation as well. Once the driver had pulled up to the curb, I handed him what I owed. He waited, blinking at me like I was missing something. “Oh, yeah.” I pulled out the last two dollars and handful of cents I had left for the tip. Even dropping the last penny to my name in his palm, it was a puny tip. Heaving a sigh, he crawled out his door to pull my suitcase from the trunk. The dark streets looked different now that I’d be walking them alone. “Do you have a map or anything I might be able to have?” I asked as he rolled my suitcase around to me. The driver pointed his finger down the street we were on. “Keep going straight one mile. That will get you there.” I felt my palms clam up when I realized I was about to attempt to navigate on foot a city I’d never been to, with all of my personal belongings in tow, without a dollar to my name. The small-town girl I’d been wanted to cry and run to the first phone to call home. The big-city woman I was born to be had me clutching the handle of my luggage and lifting my chin. By the time, I took my first step toward my new life, the taxi was long gone. Even though it was almost eight at night, the streets were still bustling. Unlike Hastings, Nebraska, where a person could hear the whir of their neighbor’s washing machine by nine every night, New York looked like it was just getting warmed up. Cars whipping up and down the streets, horns blasting, people moving, bikes weaving in and out through it all; this was an entirely different life than the one I’d grown up knowing. I loved it. I felt like I passed more people on every block than had made up the whole population of Hastings, and the people here were dressed like they were off to a meeting with foreign dignitaries, instead of the 4-H meeting every Saturday morning at The Hastings Grange. Fashion. God, I loved fashion. Designing it was my endgame, but first, I had to get my foot in the door however I could. Modeling would give me that opportunity. By the time I’d rolled myself and my luggage down what felt like a million city blocks, I figured I had another three or four to go. My feet were killing me, since I’d worn heels instead of the comfy flats my mom had suggested when dropping me off at the airport earlier. I’d argued that I didn’t want to arrive in NYC with faux leather loafers, but man, those discount store flats sounded pretty amazing right now. Sheer willpower got me through the last few blocks, and I arrived at what I guessed was my destination, afraid to look at my feet for fear of finding them swimming in pools of blood or swollen beyond recognition. Or on fire, based on the feeling coming from them. When I stopped in front of the address I’d written down, I had to triple-check that the numbers on my paper matched the ones on the outside of the building. They did, but this sure didn’t look like Big City Living at its Finest, as the classified had listed. It more looked like Big City Living at its Most Primitive. Then again, maybe it was one of those apartment buildings that looked like a dump on the outside but was a palace on the inside. You know, to keep the bourgeois away. That had to be it. There was probably a chandelier hanging in the elevator and the hallways were lined with gleaming white marble, but no one would guess that from the outside. Doing one final check to make sure I was at the right address, I lugged my suitcase up the stairs. Someone was leaving as I made it to the front door, but either they didn’t see me or didn’t care to hold the door open for the woman in three-inch heels wrestling a monster-sized bag into submission. The door practically slammed in my face, heavy enough it almost sent me sprawling backward. I managed to snag the handle to keep it open long enough to shove inside. Okay, so there were a lot of differences between Hastings and New York City. I still loved it. A lot. It would just take an adjustment period to get used to. Before I knew it, I’d be keeping up with the best of the city girls. Once I’d made it past the front door, I paused to catch my breath and take in the interior of the apartment building. So the halls weren’t exactly lined in marble. Or gleaming, whatever surface it was they were covered with. There was an elevator though, but as I took my first steps toward it, I noticed the sign taped to the doors. Out of Order. Why not? Shuffling toward the bottom of the staircase, I stared up them, thankful there were only six floors to the top. Kicking off my heels, I collected them in one hand and started heaving my suitcase up all six flights, one stair at a time. The upside to arriving on the sixth floor in a panting, sweating mess? I’d just gotten my cardio in. For the whole week. My chest felt like it was about to explode as I rolled down the hall, checking the number on each door as I passed. There wasn’t any marble up here either. Or chandeliers. Or anything that held a semblance of shine, actually. There was a smell though—a mix of mildew and garbage and. . . some other scent I didn’t want to assign a name to. A couple of bulbs were burnt out on the ceiling, casting an eerie tone to the environment. There were noises, too. Music, hammering, talking, screaming . . . other heavy breathing sounds. It was like the walls were made of plastic wrap and painted white’ish to give the illusion of privacy. I could hear every word of the heated conversation coming from the door behind me. Number sixty-nine. That was a number nine, right? I checked the piece of paper in my hand just to be sure. Yep. My eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. The door’s paint was chipping, the numbers cockeyed, and from the damage done to it where the locks were, it looked like there’d been multiple attempts to break into it. There was nothing welcoming about this door. This couldn’t be the right place. No way. I had to have written something down wrong, or misread the address outside, or something—anything—that would assure me this wasn’t the place where I was about to spend the next six months of my life. As I debated knocking on the door or fleeing from it, a door screeched open down the hall. “You finally made it.” A young guy emerged through the door, his focus on me. “Have you been waiting there long? When you were late, I decided to swing by Mrs. Lopez’s and give her a hand with a few things.” He was still talking to me as he slid his feet into a worn pair of Converse. His fly was down too, but that didn’t seem to be on his concern radar. It looked like he’d decided to give Mrs. Lopez more than just a hand. “Oh, god. You don’t speak English, do you?” He exhaled, making his way down the hall. “You’re one of those Eastern European chicks, right?” I stepped back as he moved closer. In another situation, I wouldn’t have been trying to back away from the stranger approaching with a look that could make the most frigid of girls melt. He was easy to look at—a little too easy—walking that ever-so-fine line of cute meets hot. He was cute-hot. Hot-cute. Whatever. He was candy to the eyes, and had we run into each other at the Jolt Café back in Hastings, I wouldn’t have been creeping away from him as I was now. “Do I know you?” I asked. He finally realized his proximity was making me uncomfortable, and he stopped right outside of Number Sixty-Nine. “You do speak English. Good. Because I’m not sure I have the brain space to figure out how to say ‘The water bill’s due yesterday’ in Latvian.” I guessed the look on my face echoed my prior question. “Soren Decker.” He held out his hand then slid it into his jeans’ pocket when it caught nothing but airtime. “And you are . . . ?” “Not at the right address. Clearly.” He leaned into the dilapidated door. “What address are you looking for?” I had to lift the piece of paper in my hand to remember. Once I read it off, he shrugged. “You have arrived at your destination.” That’s what I was afraid of. “I must have the wrong apartment number then.” The way he was looking at me told me exactly what he was thinking—that I was mental. “What apartment are you looking for?” Another review of the paper. Just to be sure. “Sixty-nine.” When his brows bounced, I felt my cheeks heat. I balanced my temporary embarrassment by narrowing my eyes. “Sixty-nine.” He rapped his knuckle below the crooked numbers on the door. “Home sweet home.” That was when the obvious started to settle in. “You’re looking for a roommate? You posted the ad I responded to?” I swallowed. “You?” He glanced down at himself like he was checking for a stain on his shirt. In the process, he noticed his fly was still open. “I really didn’t think this would be so confusing,” he said, pulling his zipper back into place. “Yes, this is the right address. Yes, this is lucky apartment number sixty-nine. And yes, I am the one looking for a roomie, who you replied to last week.” My heart had lodged into the back of my throat from the feel of it. This was the person I’d be living with? This was who I’d be sharing the same space with for the next half year? He looked part California surfer, part vintage Hollywood film star. Pretty much the type of guy anyone attracted to males and in possession of a functioning set of eyes would drip some degree of drool over. Light hair, blue eyes that projected trouble, matching his smirky smile, good—great—body; he was pretty much the result of creation’s best efforts. Most girls probably would have been chanting jackpot in their heads, but I gaped at the perfection that was him, freaking out. “You said you were looking for a girl,” I said. “I am.” He motioned at me. I motioned right back at him. “You’re a guy.” “Wow. Okay. So much confusion.” He shifted from one foot to the other, tipping back the red ball cap on his head. “Why would you prefer a girl roommate when you’re a guy?” Again, the look that implied I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. If he kept it up, I was going to start throwing daggers at him. Provided I had any. Or even one. Which I didn’t, because airline regulations and all. “For obvious reasons,” he said. “For obvious reasons like what? A built-in bedmate?” His expression flattened as he realized what I was getting at. “You think I’m looking for some kind of ‘roommates with benefits’ type of thing?” He rubbed his chin like he was considering it right that moment. “I hadn’t thought about that, but now that you mention it . . .” Whatever he saw when he glanced at me sparked an amused gleam in his eyes. “I’m not looking for that. I swear.” “Then why insist on a female roommate?” “Because the female species tends to be neater than the male, ape variety. Plus, you smell better, too.” His hand dropped to the doorknob. Before he opened the door, he tipped his chin at me. “And you’re nicer to look at.” When I didn’t move after he motioned inside the apartment, he leaned into the hall and crossed his arms. “Come on, give it to me. I can tell you’re dying to say whatever it is you’ve been biting your tongue over since I had the nerve to address you.” The way he said it, I realized I was maybe leaning toward the bitchy end of the spectrum. “It’s just that I thought you were a girl. I didn’t realize the person I’d agreed to room with was a guy.” “That’s not my fault.” As soon as my mouth opened to argue, he added, “You could have asked. But you didn’t. You assumed.” My teeth chewed on the inside of my cheek, hating that he was right. “If you’re uncomfortable moving in because I’m a guy, okay, no problem. I’m not going to force you to move in. Even though I took down the ‘roommate wanted’ ad when you placed dibs. Losing out on a whole week of finding someone.” My fingers pinched the bridge of my nose as I struggled to form one rational thought. If this guy would shut it for one minute, I could think. “You know, and what’s this whole thing about gender equality and erasing those lines that used to separate the sexes? You’re pretty much saying you’re okay with moving in with a total stranger, sight unseen, just so long as that stranger doesn’t come equipped with a scrotum.” “What?” My hand dropped back at my side. “Gross. Just stop talking. Please. Give me a second to try to figure out what is happening right now . . .” Squeezing his lips together, he tipped his head back against the wall, making a “carry on” motion in my direction. Okay. Think. Swanky new pad was more a nasty, biohazardous dump. Hip New York roommate was more a crass, vile entity of dubious intentions. Who came equipped with a scrotum, as he’d so articulately put it. I had an appointment in the morning with the agency, potential go-sees right after, and a whole zero dollars and zero cents to my name. A hotel was out. A really shady motel was out. I supposed I could sleep on a park bench, but instead of just one man, I’d have to be worried about the rest of the city sneaking up on me as I slept. I didn’t have many options. Actually, I wasn’t sure I had any at all. Taking another good look at him, he didn’t seem so bad. He wasn’t tattooed from head to toe, didn’t have that predatory look parents taught their daughters to identify from twenty paces back, and he didn’t reek of alcohol or other substances of questionable repute. He was no Boy Scout, that was for darn sure, but he didn’t have the look of an axe murderer either. Besides, I was a tough chick. If he tried anything, he wouldn’t walk away with that cute-hot face unscathed. “I’m Hayden.” I rolled my shoulders back and crossed the distance. “Hayden Hayes.” “Soren Decker. In case you missed it the first time.” He held out his hand as I approached. “By the way, I’m a dude. You know, to clear up any confusion you might have on the subject.” “One of those creatures that comes with a scrotum?” My eyebrows lifted as I shook his hand. He cracked a smile as he shoved off of the wall. He didn’t have a terrible smile. Not even a little bit. “Wow. Dang.” He twisted his cap around so it was backward as he stood as tall as he could. “You are tall. Like, please don’t wear heels around me tall.” I held up the pair of heels I was still clutching. “Just missed them.” “Good. I can’t have a girl roommate who’s taller than me. It might emasculate me.” “More than you already are?” “A fellow smartass.” He made a face of approval as I moved inside the apartment. “We’re going to get along just fine.” “So long as I don’t wear heels when you’re nearby?” “See? You get me. Two and a half minutes into our relationship and you understand me. Why can’t the rest of the girls on the planet seem to get it?” He didn’t give me a chance to fire back my idea on that topic. “Seriously, though, how tall are you?” “Five ten.” Once I rolled my suitcase inside, he closed the door behind us. “Liar, liar. Designer jeans on fire.” He waved his finger at me as he moved into the apartment. These were designer jeans. The one pair I owned and would be living in until I could afford a second pair. It had taken me three months of mucking out stalls to make enough to afford them. “Fine. Five eleven.” When his brows disappeared into his ball cap, I sighed. “And a half.” “My six one is suddenly not feeling so big and bad.” The inside of the apartment was an improvement on the outside. Somewhat. Paint wasn’t chipping off the walls, and the funky odor wasn’t quite as strong in here. Although there was a different one—that sweat-and-dirty laundry man smell with the faintest hint of aftershave or cologne mixed in. “So. Here it us. My humble abode.” Emphasis on humble. There wasn’t much to see. A shoe-box-sized kitchen was right inside the door—at least there was a stove and a fridge—with a same sized bathroom across from it, and what must have been the main living space, which we were standing in now, was made up of a line of windows, a couch I would not sit on unless a sheet of plastic separated me from it, a couple of room dividers, and a rectangular metal table with four mismatched chairs. It was semi-clean and super small. “Where’s the rest?” I asked when he stopped beside me, nodding at the space like it was the definition of opulent. “What do you mean? This is it.” He indicated the room. My gaze circled the space again. A secret hallway. There had to be one of those hiding in here somewhere. “Where are the bedrooms?” He made a clucking sound with his tongue, leading me to one corner tucked behind a sad divider. “Here’s mine,” he said, letting me peek behind the divider. My heart did that hiccupping thing again when I noticed a twin mattress lying on the floor, a whirl of blankets and pillows scattered on it. There was a big plastic bin too, which looked like it served as a dresser. “And yours is over here.” Guiding me to the corner across from this one, he proudly waved at the empty space behind the second divider. There was nothing there. Unless you counted the dust bunnies. “You’re kidding, right?” I blinked, frowning when I found the exact same scene in front of me. “About what?” he asked, straight-faced. “This being a bedroom.” My arms flew toward the empty space. “This is a stall. Actually, I’ve mucked out stalls twice as big back home.” His brows pinched together. “Like a bathroom stall?” “No, like a stall inside a barn. A horse stall. A cow stall. Shoot, even the pigs get a better deal than this.” My voice was rising, as I realized he wasn’t messing with me. This was supposed to serve as my bedroom, and there were a few big things missing to make it my definition of a bedroom—for starters, a door. “Wait. So you’re one of those small-town girls?” He appraised me with new eyes, like everything was finally making sense. “Yes, I’m one of those small-town girls, but not small town enough to realize I’m getting the big city runaround.” “The runaround?” His arms crossed. “What do you mean the runaround? I didn’t say anything about there being a private bedroom straight out of the Four Seasons, girlie.” I tried to remember the “roommate wanted” ad I’d seen online last week. Specifically, the wording. “Yeah? And what about the penthouse views?” I crossed my arms just like he was. “This is the opposite of a penthouse, and the view sucks.” I glanced out the row of windows, where there was a view of the building across the street. Soren’s eyes lifted before he moved toward the windows. He waited for me before pointing his finger up. Way up. “Penthouses.” His finger was aimed at the tippy top of the buildings around us. “We have a view of penthouses.” My mouth opened. “That’s not how you meant it to be taken, nice try.” “How do you know how I meant for it to be taken? Penthouse views. That’s the truth.” He was still pointing out the window. “You make a lot of assumptions. Might want to work on that if you plan on surviving in the city.” Turning away from the window, I scanned the apartment. Had it shrunken in size when I’d turned my back? “You said it was a generous living space.” He indicated the same apartment I was looking at. “Are you kidding me? This is a generous living space.” “Compared to what? A cardboard box?” His mouth snapped open, but he closed it before whatever was about to come out, did. He rolled his head a few times, his neck cracking in a way that made me cringe. “Listen. You are obviously from a different world than I am. I grew up in Brooklyn. My definition of generous is clearly different than yours.” “I grew up in Hastings, Nebraska, raised by a single mom with a high school education after dear old dad bailed on her and his three daughters.” I paused, staring at him. “I was not raised in the lap of luxury, nor am I a spoiled brat, but this . . ..” My hand waved between his and my “bedrooms,” my stomach churning when I counted off maybe ten feet of separation between them. “This is not generous living space.” “Then fine. Don’t move in. It’s not like you’ve unpacked your things. You’re the one looking for an apartment, not me. Go find some other place to live in the heart of the city for less than eight hundred dollars a month. Good luck with that.” When he started toward my suitcase, I intercepted him. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. No friends. No family. No money. My first rent check here wasn’t due for a couple of weeks. Accepting that should have made this place seem much more appealing, but instead I felt more like an inmate resigned to their cell. “It’s been a long day. There have been lots of surprises. I’m feeling overwhelmed.” I rolled my suitcase toward my barracks so he didn’t roll it out the front door. “You’re not in Nebraska anymore. You’re in New York City.” He indicated out the windows before storming toward the kitchen. “Buck up, buttercup.” I bit my tongue when I wanted to fire something right back. My life had not been easy, and I hated that he assumed it had been because I was shocked I’d be sharing a room with a strange boy. This wasn’t normal. This was five thousand percent not normal. “You want a sandwich?” he called from the kitchen as he started tossing things onto the counter. “A sandwich?” I repeated. Hadn’t we just been in a moderately heated conversation? And now he’d moved on to sandwich-making twelve seconds later? “You know, meat, cheese, condiments? Two slices of bread holding it all together?” He shot me a smirk as he twirled open the bag of bread. My stomach answered for me. “Actually, yeah. Thanks.” Leaving my suitcase behind the divider, I moved toward the kitchen. “What brought you to the biggest city in the country from Nebraska?” he asked, glancing at me. I stopped behind one of the plastic chairs around the table. It didn’t feel right to just make myself at home . . . even though this was my new home. “Modeling.” He made a sound like everything made sense now, then stalled with the knife in the mayo jar. “So when you say you want a sandwich, you mean two pieces of celery smashed together?” My eyes lifted. I’d been called a stick, a twig, a pole, a beanpole, accused of being anorexic, bulimic, a drug addict, you name it, because I was genetically predisposed to having a thin frame. Now that I was officially a model, it was only going to get worse, I guessed. “I hate celery.” Soren spread a thick layer of mustard on one piece of bread. “Too many carbs?” “You’re annoying.” “So I’ve been told.” Of course my roommate would be one of the few people on the planet who was capable of getting under my skin. Who better to share a six-hundred-square-foot space with than someone who couldn’t look at me without triggering mild irritation? The more he talked, the less cute-hot he became. Silver linings. I didn’t need to harbor some minor attraction to the guy I was sharing an apartment with. “Don’t you have any questions for me?” I asked after a minute. One shoulder rose as he layered on what looked like pastrami. “You don’t smoke?” “Nope.” “You don’t stay out late partying, getting your drink on, and come home smelling like the city barfed on you?” “Definitely not.” I wasn’t straitlaced, but I wasn’t a hot mess either. He pulled a couple of plates from a cupboard, tossed the sandwiches onto them, and moved toward the table. “You aren’t prone to stealing other people’s property? Namely my Nutter Butters?” It didn’t seem like a serious question. The look on his face told otherwise. “No,” I answered. He held one plate toward me. “Then we’re good.” When I took the plate, my stomach growled. The last thing I’d eaten was the pretzels on the plane. “Thanks,” I said, feeling a stab of guilt for the way I’d acted since meeting him. He was the only person in New York who’d offered me a place to live, and he was giving me a free meal. “You don’t look like you could afford to miss one more meal,” he said. I didn’t miss the way he inspected my arms as I took a seat. “So now that you’ve had the grand tour, do you have any questions for me? And by that, I mean actual questions, not accusations.” When I shot him a look, he gave me a big smile right before stuffing his sandwich in his mouth. Let’s see. I knew his name, his gender, where he’d grown up, that he was a smartass, and that he was cute-hot when he wasn’t talking. “What do you do?” He lowered his sandwich. “I model,” he said, his expression flat. “Men’s underwear mainly. Sometimes women’s. If they pay me enough.” I smiled at my sandwich as I lifted it. “I thought you looked familiar. I just didn’t recognize you without those big wings and the million-dollar diamond bra.” He chuckled, tearing off another bite of his sandwich. “I play ball,” he said, still chewing. “Like dodgeball?” I took a small bite of the sandwich he’d made me so it wouldn’t seem like I was starving. He shot me a tight smile. “Like baseball.” He waved his sandwich toward his “bedroom,” where a big red duffel was, a mitt and bat hanging out of it. “I play at one of the junior colleges close by since none of the D1 schools wanted to take a risk with me.” “A risk?” I took another bite, this one bigger. I wasn’t usually a fan of pastrami or mustard, but dang, this was the best sandwich I’d ever had. “Let’s just say I was a bit of a hothead in high school, and D1 schools would rather have the golden boy with some talent than the wild card with mad talent.” “Hothead . . .?” “I got into a few fights at some games.” I circled my sandwich in the air. “Like pushing, name calling type fights?” “Try fists flying, dust spinning type of fights.” He must have guessed where my mind was taking me. “Don’t worry. I never have or never would put my hands on a woman like that, and I’ve calmed my shit down a lot since then. Nothing like being forced to eat a slice of humble pie at junior college to get a player in line.” Nibbling off a corner, I curled my legs up onto the chair. I’d been too busy freaking out over my new living arrangements to notice how chilly it was in here. I couldn’t see my breath or anything, but it felt only a few degrees away from that. “What are you studying?” I asked. He dropped the last piece of sandwich into his mouth before wiping his hands on his jeans. “I’m just banging general requirements out of the way right now. I don’t care about becoming an accountant or a project manager or whatever the hell else other guys go to college for. I want to play ball. I go to school because it’s a package deal.” “So your plan is to transfer to a D1 school to play ball after you’re finished?” I asked, like I knew what I was talking about. Which I didn’t. Sports weren’t my thing. Watching or partaking in them. “I want to get drafted by the best professional baseball team in the whole wide world. That’s my plan.” He shoved out of his chair, carrying his plate into the kitchen. “You want to play professional baseball?” “No. I’m going to play professional baseball. And the one good thing about playing at a junior college is that I can be drafted any time they want me. I don’t have to wait until I graduate like I would have if one of those D1 schools had recruited me.” He rinsed his plate in the sink before setting it on a drying rack. He hadn’t used soap, but I supposed it was better than licking it clean and sticking it back in the cupboard. “Want anything to drink? Another sandwich?” I lifted what was left of my first sandwich. It was only halfway gone and I was already feeling full. It wasn’t because I was a small eater either—he made his sandwiches like he was entertaining a team of linebackers. “I’m good, thanks.” He lifted a package of Nutter Butters, one hanging from his mouth, a half dozen clutched in his other hand. “I just promised I wouldn’t steal your Nutter Butters.” “But I’m offering you one. There’s a difference.” “Thanks, but no thanks. Looks like you need them.” I eyed the stack in his hand as he stuffed the package back on the top shelf. “I play ball two to four hours a day. I go to school four to six hours. Homework on top of that, and a part-time job in between. I have to take advantage when I have a minute to stuff my face.” He padded back to the table and set one cookie from the pile in his hand on my plate. “For dessert.” I thanked him, even though I wasn’t a fan of Nutter Butters. I was more a chocolate person than a peanut butter one. “You want a hand bringing up the rest of your stuff? I’ve got some time before I should hit the books. I have a biology test tomorrow morning.” His nose crinkled as he stuffed another cookie in his mouth. For his apparent love affair with cookies, he sure didn’t have the body of a cookie enthusiast. Thanks to his light-colored tee, which hugged particularly nice parts of the male anatomy, he looked like the type who ate egg whites and kale in his sleep. “Oh, I don’t have anything else. Just my big suitcase and me.” I set my sandwich down after taking one more bite. “So you don’t have any more stuff to move in?” When I shrugged, he frowned. “No more stuff as in a futon or mattress or . . .?” My head shook as I moved toward my suitcase. I needed to throw on a sweatshirt before I gave myself frostbite. “They don’t let you check mattresses or futons on the airplane. But I brought a pillow and a sleeping bag.” Setting down the suitcase, I unzipped it and pulled out those very items. “Hardwood floors.” His foot tapped the floor. “I’ve slept in barns, train depots, and the backseat of a ’77 Malibu.” Shaking the sleeping bag open, I shot him a smile. Whatever had happened or was about to, I was chasing my dreams. Life was pretty damn good. “Buck up, buttercup.”
Nicole Williams is the New York Times and USATODAY bestselling author of contemporary and young adult romance, including the Crash and Lost & Found series. Her books have been published by HarperTeen and Simon & Schuster in both domestic and foreign markets, while she continues to self-publish additional titles. She is working on a new YA series with Crown Books (a division of Random House) as well. She loves romance, from the sweet to the steamy, and writes stories about characters in search of their happily even after. She grew up surrounded by books and plans on writing until the day she dies, even if it’s just for her own personal enjoyment. She still buys paperbacks because she’s all nostalgic like that, but her kindle never goes neglected for too long. When not writing, she spends her time with her husband and daughter, and whatever time’s left over she’s forced to fit too many hobbies into too little time.
Nicole is represented by Jane Dystel, of Dystel and Goderich Literary Agency.