Amidst the Christmas glitz and glitter, Karina Withers enters the mall. Unease prickles her spine. Seconds later, a gun blast echoes through the building. Shoppers rush for the exits, trampling Karina.
Detective Josh Deloroso responds quickly, dragging the beautiful woman to safety. Attraction sizzles between them. But he has a job to do first. The shooter must be stopped. Unfortunately, when the chaos ends, the real danger begins.
Dark truths unravel. Passions explode. Fate plays its hand.
Can their relationship weather the storm of deceit? Or will a photo in the shooter’s wallet end Josh and Karina’s chance for love?
Amidst the holiday glitz and glitter, Karina Withers stepped from her car. She scanned the vehicles crowding the mall’s lot. I so don’t want to be here.
A pungent pine scent, heavy and aromatic, draped the night air as she scurried past evergreen trees strung with multi-colored lights, and entered the building. With only three weeks left until Christmas, she’d never get her shopping done. The heavy plate glass doors swooshed shut behind her, blocking out the bitter wind. Unease prickled her spine.
Wrong place…wrong time. The story of my life.
She brushed the thought aside and glanced left and right to gather her bearings. There were numerous gifts still to buy. Her mother and father, Aunt Sue, Uncle Tom, and the youngest of her cousins. She always enjoyed watching their faces light up…but her breakup with Nic had left her little zest for celebrations or family gatherings.
Where to begin?
Squinting against the holiday décor, she forced herself to focus and tamped the urge to flee. The flashing sign above Steiners beckoned. Unbidden, an image of her and Nic on holiday, walking hand in hand on some exotic beach, filtered through her mind. Pain slashed through her chest. She fumbled in her pocket, retrieved the list of names and sighed. With a trembling hand, she crossed Nic’s off. If only she could strike the hurt from her heart as easily.
Determined to finish her shopping, she trudged toward the boutique, the click of her heels on the gray tile floor an echo of her heart’s emptiness. Less than enthusiastic, she thumbed through a rack of sweaters, held up a thickly woven pink one beaded with pearls. Perfect for her mother.
The aroma of Chinese food wafted through the air, and her stomach knotted, reminding her she’d skipped lunch. Unable to resist the mouthwatering smell, she discarded the garment and, with the intent of returning later, bee-lined for Chop Suey and ordered moo goo gai pan. Grabbing the Styrofoam container, she found a seat and sitting down, stretched her legs beneath the concourse’s polyurethane table. Watching the frenzy of shoppers, she bit into an eggroll and shifted her focus to the second floor.
A man dressed in black grabbed a store clerk by the arm. He yanked a gun from the folds of his long trench coat and, as if in slow motion, raised the weapon, aiming pointblank at the woman’s head.
Terror seized Karina. She swallowed and choked while scrambling to her feet. “Someone stop him. Stop that man!”
A blast ripped through the busy mall, reverberated inside her head. She screamed, tried to run, but tripped and sprawled headlong onto the cold tile floor.
Two more shots rang out.
Her breathing erratic, she fought to draw air into her lungs. Dear God…this can’t be happening.
Too terrified to move and sure she’d die—either from the frantic mob or the shooter—Karina forced her palms against the floor, rising slightly. Someone’s boot struck her ribs, and pain shot through her chest. She curled into a ball.
“Someone, help me,” she gasped.
Strong, steady hands lifted her, cradling her against a broad expanse of chest. She buried her face in the folds of the stranger’s coat, tremors wracking her body.
“I’ve got you,” the man drawled in a tone as smooth as silk.
A shot zinged into a nearby post, and concrete pelted her hair. She burrowed deeper into the man, holding on for dear life.
Her unknown savior dove and rolled, his limbs tangling with hers. Karina sucked in a breath, and the musk of his cologne, the heat of him, enveloped her like a security blanket. He landed on top of her, his body shielding hers, his weight pushing the air from her lungs. They slammed into a wall. The man grunted, shoved to his feet and pulled her into the ladies room.
Rebuilding her life after escaping an abusive marriage, Danielle Courtland throws herself into her new decorating business. Men are the last thing on her mind…until a Stetson-wearing cowboy enters her shop, that is.
The hazel-eyed cowboy needs her help. Restoring an old Victorian-styled plantation house, he realizes the job requires a feminine touch. Caught off guard by the sexiest woman he's ever laid eyes on, Ethan’s vow to never love again is all but forgotten as he falls hard for the tempting decorator.
Passion simmers, and love is no longer a dream. But hidden in the shadows, danger waits, threatening Danielle and Ethan's chance at a life together. Will a man, twisted by his obsession, separate them forever?
A lazy half smile on his face, Alex leaned against the porch post like he owned the place.
Danielle’s stomach churned. With a hand clutching the doorknob, she moved cautiously onto the porch. God, have I ever screwed up.
Panic erupted inside her, and her body trembled. “What do you want, Alex?”
Alex’s smile widened, his eyes gleaming with a predatory light. “Just dropped by for a friendly visit, Danielle.”
Danielle forced a breath past the constriction in her throat. “You’re not my friend. Say what you have to say and be gone. I didn’t invite you here.” Her knees threatened to buckle, and her pulse pounded in her ears. She edged back against the door to steady the tremble of her body. “I want nothing to do with you.” She fumbled for, and twisted the knob, eager to escape back into the house.
Alex pushed from the post. “It hasn’t been long since you wanted a great deal to do with me,” he drawled.
Her hand slipped, and the door lock clicked, vibrating in the night. Danielle flinched, and the door slammed shut, barring her escape to the inside. Swift in his movements, Alex yanked her against him.
She jerked free and rubbed her arm. “You have no right to disrupt my life. In case you’ve forgotten, we’re divorced.”
He inched her backward, against the door, molding his body to hers. “I told you, Danielle, I’ll never let you go.”
Danielle pushed with all her might. Familiar and overwhelming, the stench of alcohol permeated the air. His grip tightened, and in the dim moonlight his eyes glinted with lust, his erection rigid against her thigh.
“I came for what belongs to me,” he whispered, his hot breath moist on her cheek. “A man has needs.”
The porch plank creaked under his weight, and a dog barked in the distance. Frantic, Danielle scanned her surroundings. There was no visible help in sight. No neighbor or a passerby. Nothing.
“I’m not your wife,” she croaked, and with the realization that she was trapped, terror slammed through her. She had no place to run, hide or seek refuge.
Wrenching her arm to the side, she tried to break free. “We’ve been separated three years, divorced for a year and a half,” she said in an attempt to jar his alcohol-hazed memory.
He glowered down at her, his eyes darkening.
Ice balled in her stomach—whenever she’d seen that look in the past, she’d paid dearly.
Alex snickered. “Those stupid papers mean nothing. You will always be my wife. No paper, no dim wit judge, is ever going to change that. No one,” he snarled, “will know the pleasure of having you but me.” His lips slid across her neck, hot and repulsive. “I know you want me, babe.”
She twisted her body, attempting to dislodge his hold. “Let me go. You’re drunk, and I don’t want you here.” She jabbed an elbow into his ribs and raked her fingernails down the side of his face. “Leave me alone!” she shrieked.
“You bitch.” He stumbled back and grabbed her again, his fingers digging into soft flesh, bruising her arm. Cold and blue, his eyes glinted. “You’re not going anywhere, Danielle. Unless I go with you.”
Tears burned her eyes, clouding her vision. She squirmed and shoved against him.
“Not so fast, princess. You haven’t given me what I came for.”
Brutally, he seized her mouth, his lips crushing hers. The pressure on her arms intensified, and large hands, capable of so much cruelty, yanked her closer.
She gagged, bile rising in her throat. With renewed effort, she fought to be free.
Pinning her to the wall with the weight of his body, he tangled his hands in her hair, forcing her head back. His mouth violated, his tongue forcing entry. Releasing his grip on her arm, he circled his fingers around her neck in a vise grip.
Oh, God! Not again!
Danielle tried to scream, but the pressure of his kiss stopped her. She drove her knee upward, aiming for his groin. He deflected the maneuver with little effort. Determined, she slammed her foot into his shin, and he released a guttural growl.
Open palmed, he struck her face. A starburst of color exploded behind her eyelids, and she bit back a groan.
Alex had the upper hand. He was the predator—she the prey.
She traced her bruised lower lip with her tongue, tasting blood. Desperate, she prayed for the strength to fight him off. Kill him for what he’d done to her—what he kept doing.
With her robe askew and her chest heaving, damp night air caressed her breasts. Alex’s hungry gaze settled on her exposed flesh. He chuckled low, licked his lips, and she shriveled inwardly. He grasped a nipple between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed. Pain radiated outward, and she fought not to cry out. His putrid breath caressed her face.
“God. Alex. Stop!”
“I’ll have my wife tonight,” he whispered, dragging her toward the front door.
His words jolted through her. Dear God, don’t let him rape me. She planted her bare feet but found no leverage. Scrambling, she dug in again, and he laughed. He was too strong, impossible to fight.
Danielle panted, each breath ragged. She resigned herself to the inevitable and went limp in his arms. A scream rent the air, and she recognized the voice as her own.
Alex would do with her what he wanted. There was nothing she could do to stop him.
Tires screeched, and Danielle scanned the streets, hope surging inside her. Nicole Lawson emerged from her car. Her face distorted with rage, she raced around the vehicle.
“Let her go!”
Surprise widened Alex’s eyes. He reinforced his grip, looking over his shoulder.
Nicole jogged up the sidewalk, stopping a few feet from the porch. “Leave or I’ll call the police.” Hatred blazed in her eyes as she held herself ramrod straight.
Alex’s hold faltered, his fingers loosening. Anticipation swelled in Danielle’s chest.
Nicole tilted her chin in defiance. “I seriously doubt you’d welcome trouble. Let. Her. Go.”
Arms tense and his biceps bulging, Alex dropped his hand.
Danielle’s knees buckled, and she collapsed to the porch, the air rushing from her lungs.
He stepped back and pinned Danielle with a frigid stare. “This isn’t over by a long shot, Danny girl,” he growled and pointed a finger at her. “It will never be over for us. You’d do best to remember that you’re mine.” He shot Nicole a hate-filled glare and strode into the night.
Available at Pink Petal Book
After a ten year stint in prison for a crime he didn't commit, a changed Cage Sinclair returns to his hometown. Hell-bent on clearing his name, trust is nonexistent—especially with the woman who had loved and betrayed him in the same breath. The woman who now lived in his deceased father's house.
Morgan still yearns for the love of her life to return, even though her own fear helped railroad him into prison. She has kept her silence to protect her son. But now Cage is back.
Inconceivable danger lurks in the shadows, but behind closed doors embers ignite and old passions flame. Amidst betrayal, deceit and shattered illusions, will the truth tear them apart or bind them together forever?
Cage Sinclair cut the pickup’s engine and stepped onto ground he’d never thought to see again. He breathed deeply, his lungs filling with fresh mountain air and the scent of pungent pine. The amber glow of a full moon illuminated the old homestead and surrounding landscape. Anticipation rushed through his veins.
Bittersweet memories flooded his mind. He’d left wearing leg irons and cuffs. For ten years, he had longed for the open fields and rolling hills he’d explored as a child, the security and tranquility they had offered. He’d found love here, but had lost it, too.
A warm yellow glow spilled from the front windows of what should have been an empty house, lighting his path. Tense and his body on full alert, Cage eased toward the front steps.
Tiny hairs prickled on his neck. Hesitant, he stepped to the porch. The rickety plank flooring groaned under his weight. A coyote howled in the distance, a lonely sound echoing through the trees. With the house key in his hand, he pulled open the screen door. Barely attached by one hinge to the frame, it creaked loudly.
Who the hell—
A twig snapped. Trepidation slithered up his spine. He spun around to find a twelve-gauge shotgun leveled at his chest. The blood chilled in his veins, his heart skipping a beat—not from the dangerous glint of blue steel—but from the woman who wielded the weapon.
“Morgan O’Riley,” he croaked through a throat gone dry. “Is that you?”
“Step down off that porch, mister, if you know what’s good for you.”
Cage held up his hands and with calculated caution, acquiesced. Until she recognized him, he presented danger, and the determined gleam in her eyes warned him she’d fire if given a reason. Damn it, Morgan hadn’t changed a bit, but he had. His stint at Castle on the Cumberland, Kentucky’s nefarious prison, had been a far cry from a stay at the Ritz Carlton. Any man who had to constantly watch his back, weathered and aged, but the woman before him had remained the same.
Her whiskey-colored hair, still long, shone ebony in the moonlight. He couldn’t see her eyes but remembered all too well their sky-blue hue. Mesmerized, he feasted his gaze on her body, about which he’d fantasized on many a lonely night.
“What are you doing here, Morgan?”
“How do you know my name?” She took a hesitant step forward, squinted up at him.
Raspy laughter pushed from his throat. “Don’t tell me I’m that easy to forget. Hell, I may have changed, and it’s been an eternity since I held you, but how could you ever forget what we shared?”
Her body stiffened. “Cage?”
The muscles in his shoulders relaxed and he smiled. “Yep. One and the same.” He nodded toward the shotgun. “You had me worried for a moment. And I can’t say I appreciate that pointed at my chest, no matter who wields it.”
She stepped back, lowering the weapon.
“It’s really good to see you.” He moved closer and raised a hesitant hand.
“Why did you come back?” she whispered.
He dropped his hand to his side. “To right a wrong. I was innocent then. Still am.”
Morgan’s delicate features hardened. “Sheriff Blakely testified otherwise.”
“And I’ll prove he lied.” Craving to touch her, he stroked his mustache with his other hand and waited for his erratic pulse to calm. “You never answered my question. What are you doing here?”
“Your father invited me to stay.”
“Why would he do that?” Taken aback by her revelation, Cage shrugged off a sudden sense of betrayal and shored his resolve to unearth the truth.
A guarded look flitted over her face. “He had his reasons.”
Anger shot to his core at the quiver in her voice. Hell, she couldn’t be afraid of him. “Do I need an invite to enter my own home?” He chuckled in an attempt to ease the growing tension.
“Of course not, but be quiet. Trent’s asleep.”
Cage paused mid-step, jealousy knotting his stomach. How could she bring someone else here, into his own home, after what they’d shared? The ache in his heart intensified. Jaw clenched, emotions masked, he trailed after her into the house, turning to face her. For the first time in ten years, he savored having her close enough to touch. She’d only grown more beautiful with time.
Unsure where he stood with her, or what she thought, he followed her into the kitchen. With each sway of her hips, his groin throbbed in memory. Merciful God. He clenched and unclenched his hands. No way would he ever forget the satin of her skin, the way she’d moved beneath him, or her soft moans of pleasure.
Available at Freya's Bower
Eighteen wonderful stories, written by Seventeen talented authors
Elise, a widowed mother, finds attraction in the most unbelievable of forms—a toy store Santa with twinkling blue eyes. Cade, drawn to mother and child, wars with his inner demons. Is his instant and emotional attachment due to the loss of his wife and child? Will a Christmastime miracle heal Elise and Cade’s wounded souls, allowing them a second chance at love?
Elise gathered Jamie into her arms. She drew the diaper bag over her shoulder and grabbed the shopping bag with the baby doll and book purchases. In the future, she’d need to figure a better way to buy Santa stuff. Jamie would catch on soon.
She wandered through the mall, buying a few gifts for friends. Inside Gunther’s, she spotted a slinky red cocktail dress. As things stood, she had no holiday plans and hadn’t an inkling when or where she’d wear something so beautiful. She took the dress off the rack. Caressing the silk between her fingers, she made a snap decision. This holiday season would be for new beginnings. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d bought anything nice for herself. Not when all her funds went to taking care of their home and providing what Jamie needed or wanted.
Passing a full-length mirror, she held the dress under her chin and studied her reflection. A scruffy man paused behind her. His cold, blue gaze seared her from head to toe.
She shivered, shifted Jamie on her hip, and hurried to the cash register. Elise made her purchase and, juggling Jamie and the shopping bags, exited the building.
She eased the bags onto the asphalt and fumbled for her keys. A quick glance at her watch confirmed they had shopped longer than she’d planned. It would be dark before they arrived home.
She strapped Jamie into the car seat and retrieved the shopping bags. Once on the road, she breathed a sigh of relief, the strange man’s clear and lifeless gaze, the expression on his face, lingering in her mind.
Along Main Street, Christmas lights winked in garland-strung store windows. She turned left on Henderson, leaving the small town of Sheraton behind. About four miles out, her car sputtered, shimmied, and died. Elise frowned. The fuel light glowed red.
How is that possible? I filled the tank yesterday.
"Oh, my god," she moaned, scattering the contents of her purse on the seat. In her mind, she clearly saw her cell phone on the kitchen counter. Her hands had been full.
She hadn’t taken time to grab it because she’d never actually needed the darn thing before.
She looked in the rearview mirror. An exhausted Jamie nodded sleepily in her seat. Elise pushed the driver’s door open and glanced skyward. Daylight faded fast.
Headlights flashed. Elise stepped out and waved her arms. The car slowed, pulling to the edge of the roadway behind her. A door creaked open. Silhouetted in the car’s low beams, a man materialized, gravel crunching beneath his boots. Tiny hairs on her arms prickled and stood on end. A chill settled in her veins at the sight of his face.
Liam Macauley inherits what he believes to be a mansion in Ireland from an uncle he’s never known. The moment he sets foot on Irish soil, he’s plunged deep into ancient Celtic magic, and the course is set to fulfill a millennia old prophecy.
Caileaan, descendant of the Sidhe, ancient gods of Eire, the Tuatha De Danann, longs to dig her toes into freshly turned earth, toil side by side with a husband, birth his children, know what it is to be loved and alive as one with humans.
In a battle of darkness and light, will the evil Fomhoire destroy the promise made to Caileaan along with her world as she knows it? Or will Liam, using his newfound powers, rein triumphant, winning his heart’s desire in the process?
ExcerptIn her mind’s eye, Caileaan watched Liam enter the keep through the Gothic front door and sighed. She’d made her presence known the first day. Her wait was almost over, the prophecy nearly fulfilled.