Sunday, August 9, 2009

LOVE IN BLOOM by Jules Bennett

Claire Wilson's life was never more promising. She had a boyfriend and a budding career as a nature photographer, until an accident robbed her of her sight.

Now with no boyfriend, no career, Claire has chosen to shut the world out. Holed up in her little cottage, she is more than content to let life pass her by. Her dreams for tomorrow were stolen from her along with her vision.

Charming, single father, Jackson Akers has been paid in full for a landscaping job and he intends to see it through to the end - no matter how rude and irritated his new client is. When he learns of Claire's blindness, his creative mind kicks into high gear. She may want to live in seclusion, but he's hoping to change her mind.

Will Claire appreciate the heavily scented flowers and plants, the trickling waterfalls, and the textured paths Jackson has made for her? Claire has shut out the world, but has Jackson found a way in?

This tender sweet love story from Jules Bennett is also available in ebook from Wild Rose Press.


Love In Boom
by Jules Bennett
Copyright © 2008
All rights reserved, The Wild Rose Press

Claire banged her toe on the coffee table. Again. “Ouch, ouch, ouch!” Pain shot through her foot.

Why hadn't she moved that blasted thing from the middle of the floor? Weeks had passed since the accident, and she still ran into things. She hated being so incompetent, so vulnerable. Actually, she hated life and the hand she'd been dealt, but what could she do? Complaining and self-pity wouldn't change the fact.

She was blind. Every time the thought crossed her mind, her throat seized.

Had her mind not been preoccupied with the new, Mr. Smooth-Talking Landscaper and this useless project, she could've focused on maneuvering through her living room.

Claire flopped down onto her cushy sofa and propped her bare feet on the squatty table. She couldn't wait for Amy's promised visit. She had a thing or two to say to her friend. Oh, the girl meant well. At one time in her life, Claire had been sweet like that. Then fate smacked her in the face and she had taken on a whole new outlook on life.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

BLOODY RIGHT by Georgia Evans

Excerpt From Georgia Evans' BLOODY RIGHT
BLOODY RIGHT by Georgia Evans
Brytewood, England November 1940
Publication date: August 2009
ISBN: 0-7582-3483-X

It will take all of Brytewood's Others to save their village from destruction in the climax of a Georgia Evans' supernatural trilogy.

Gryffyth Pendragon has done his bit for the war effort when he comes back to sleepy Brytewood from the battlefront at Trondheim. It cost him a leg, and his chance to use his dragon's strength against the Nazis - or so he thinks. Until he finds out that his little village is facing a plague of vampire spies set on delivering it to the Third Reich. They've come up with a plan that, if they can pull it off, might break all of Britain's will to fight...

But there are more allies for Gryffyth in Brytewood than he'd ever imagined, and while a doctor, a nurse, a schoolteacher, and a couple of sexagenarians doesn't sound like much of a battle force to him, there's more to his cohorts than meets the eye. Against ancient and impossibly powerful agents of evil, they will need every man, woman, and dragon-shifter they can get...


Mary let out a gasp. She must have stumbled, tripped or missed her footing. Her partner caught her and a moment later he had her right hand and she was back in the rhythm of the dance. Or at least her feet were keeping time with the music as she and whatever his name was made their way down the dance to the end. Now she had her back to the dark-eyed man. She wanted so much to turn and look at him again. But she wasn't that rude, was she? Her partner was a nice lad, pleasant polite and about as exciting as peeling a sack of potatoes.

While behind her was... God! She felt his gaze like a fire up and down her spine as she moved up the dance as another couple took of down the line. Utter nonsense. Was it? She swallowed hard. She wanted so much to turn her head. To prove to herself she was imagining things. That Gryffyth Pendragon (she knew it was him form the triumphal entrance engineered by the village worthies) was not watching her every step and breath and the heat in his glance as she met his eyes was figment of her imagination. But without turning her back on her partner and the dance, there was no way she could be sure. Besides that would be rude. She caught the hand of the next man coming down the dance. She had to concentrate, pay attention, smile at her partner.

While behind her, his eyes boring a hole between her shoulder blades, was the guest of honor who had umpteen old friends here and knew everyone and... .

Mary stepped up as another couple reached the bottom.

Two more couples and the dance would be over. She must be out of condition. That was it. She needed to get herself up to the hammer pond and immerse herself in the water to restore her equilibrium. Why else was her heart racing like this?

The last couple reached the end. The music stopped with a flourish. She honored her partner with a bob of a curtsey, thanked him and avoided Tom Longhurst's glance, as he came towards her.

She didn't remember crossing the length of the village hall, no doubt she'd walked on toes, tripped up children and pushed aside old ladies. She just made a beeline to where Gryffyth Pendragon sat, watching her approach.

He smiled as she reached him.

Her mouth went dry.

What the hell was she doing? Approaching a virtual stranger, and the guest of honor into the bargain, when she'd promised to go back and help with the tea urn.

"Hello," she said, holding out her hand. "I'm Mary LaPrioux."

"I know," he replied, moving a coat off the chair next to him. "Have a seat. Want a beer?"

She loathed beer. "Thank you." He filled a glass from the almost empty jug in front of him. She took a sip. Yes. She loathed beer but it wouldn't kill her. "How did you know my name?"

Easy enough, really. Most of the village knew who she was by now.

"I asked Tom Longhurst."

Spluttering beer down her nose would have ruined the moment. It was a near thing. "Tom?"

"Yes." She noticed his eyes weren't dark. His long lashes were but his eyes were the blue of a Guernsey sea in June and crinkled at the corners as he gave a slow, almost twisted, smile. "He told me you were taken."

"What?" Yes, she had no trouble believing it. "Not by him, I'm not!" That was it. He wasn't even getting the promised dance now.

"Good." Gryffyth replied, taking a deep drink of his beer.

They sat in silence. Not an awkward one but it did go on too long. "I know your father's glad you're back safely."

He nodded. "He keeps saying that."

"You doubt him?"

He drained his glass. "No." The empty glass made a soft dull thud as he put it down on the table.

Odd wasn't the word. He was abrupt, almost off-putting, but she didn't want to leave him. Something about him kept her here sitting so close their knees almost touched while she sipped on the beer that tasted worse with each mouthful.

"You don't think much of the beer, do you?"

Why lie. "I don't usually drink it. But I've never tasted Surrey beer and thought it was time I did."

"Or," he said with an edge in his voice, "you didn't want to ask a cripple to hobble across the room for a glass of orange squash."

"Of course not." That earned her a scowl. "I loathe orange squash."

His laugh was gloriously deep and earthy and sent warm shivers down her back. It took all she had not to rest her hands on his chest and feel the ripples coursing in his muscles.

She meshed her fingers together and clasped her hands tight.

"What do you like, Mary LaPrioux?"

"Moonlit nights, warm breezes, running across the countryside." And bathing naked in the hammerpond but the latter she'd best keep to herself.

"Bit late in the year for all that, isn't it?"

And no doubt tactless of her to mention running.

"It'll be spring before you know it." Unless they had a winter like last year's to get through.

"Are you always this cheerful?"

"Not really. It's a front I put on. I get pretty dismal when I let myself go."

He chuckled. Not quite are sexy as his laugh but very nice all the same. "That makes two of us. Maybe we should get dismal together."

Not quite knowing why, she reached over and took his hand. "Best not," she said.

He closed his fingers over hers. "What do you want, Mary LaPrioux?"

She had absolutely no idea. Other than to sit beside him and try to make him laugh again. "I wouldn't mind a cigarette." He reached into his jacket pocket, flipped the pack open and offered her one. Then produced a silver lighter. "Thank you."

"I'll swap you for the beer."

"Go ahead, but I drank out of it."

"Not got anything contagious have you?"

"We've had problems with headlice in the school."

Dear God! He was wonderful when he laughed. Wonderful but so melancholy. "Nothing worse than that?"

"Terminal homesickness." Now why had she said that? She was saying nutty things. Stupid things.

He nodded. "I know what that's like."

Another odd, but not uncomfortable silence. Then he squeezed her hand, his fingers strong and warm around hers. She met his eyes and his odd twisted smile. Very sexy, odd twisted smile.

"Looks like Tom Longhurst is heading this way. I bet he wants to ask you to dance."

She bet he was too, dammit. "You'd better ask me first."

His smile faded as if snapped out. "Take your jokes somewhere else."

Hurt wasn't the word, but darn it, he'd walked into the hall and... "I'm not joking, funning or teasing. It's a waltz, nice and slow." She stood, only half aware what she was saying and doing. But she kept hold of his hand. "Come on."

The woman was loony. Expecting him to dance when he could barely walk.

"It's a really slow one," she repeated.

Gryffyth glanced up. Longhurst was definitely heading his way. Damn. "If I fall and measure my length, you're going to swing for it."

"You won't."

He stood. Had to be as insane as she was. Except she walked slowly, keeping pace with his hobble, and the look on Longhurst's face was almost worth the risk of humiliating himself in public. Side by side they walked to the middle of the dance floor. He couldn't help notice everyone stepped back, scared he'd land on them when he toppled, no doubt. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell this woman she was mad as a hatter and go back to his beer. But she rested her hand on his shoulder, his arm curled around her waist and she smiled up at him. "Want me to lead?"

Hell, no! He took a firmer hold of her waist, clasped her right hand in his left one and on the beat, stepped forward.

With his tin leg.

He didn't fall, didn't topple in a heap but it wasn't exactly graceful as they bobbed and stepped. She was surprising strong for her slender build. When he wobbled, she steadied him. When he lurched, she added balance and held him strong. Forget fancy twirls and reverse turns. This was simple, straightforward tread on your partner's toes waltzing. He managed to miss her shins most of the time but her toes had to be black and blue.

Not that her toes were really foremost in his mind.


Friday, August 7, 2009



A former captive bride in her youth, her only daughter stolen from her, Lexa doesn't want to feel love for another human being ever again. But she steps out of her protective shell to fight for the life of the valiant mutant soldier called Hane. Lexa has never known real passion before, but only she can save Hane and teach him to feel.

As his genetic enhancement threatens his life, Hane continues his work for the Alliance of Colonies. He sees Lexa desperately seeking a cure for him and knows the love he senses through his telepathic link to her must be resisted and rejected. For her own protection, he must deny his growing feelings for her.


Book II: Flying Warhorse Chronicles



Jacki Bentley

© copyright December 2008 Jacki Bentley, LLC

Cover art by Alex DeShanks© copyright December 2008

ISBN 978-1-60394-248-5

New Concepts Publishing

Lake Park, GA 31636

This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author’s imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.

Alliance of Colonies, Capital City

465 years after settlement

The medical ship, Impke

Chapter One

“What is this about a clone, Prime Healer?”

Hane glowered at her under his handsome, dark eyebrows.

“It’s a reasonable next step.”


“I ... can ... can’t help you if you do not cooperate.” Lexa Stoll restlessly fingered the tiny tabs on her opti-lenses to adjust them, and then gave him her sternest Prime Healer’s glare.

His gray eyes, under those perfectly shaped black brows darkened to ice-cold silver.

“You enunciate slowly and speak to me as if I am a child,” he said.

His voice rumbled through her, the commanding edge as sharp as hardened alloy. A sexual shiver shook her entire frame and Lexa hugged her slender arms to herself, hiding her hands in the long sleeves of her crisp, white healer’s robes.


She stood; actually, she cowered behind her suspended desk. Its polished turquoise glass shimmered in the ship’s artificial light.

Whether his warrior’s training or some deep dread of being too close to her person, Hane stood stiff and still by her door, as far from her as possible while still being in her office.

Because of her pesky attraction to him, she cowardly had various Under Healers handle the routine care in the attempt to reverse his dangerous mutation, while she worked non-stop-fast in the lab looking for new things to try. The avoidance strategy saved her the pain from seeing him in person too often, from stammering like an idiot in his presence.

“Ah ... if ... you’ll let me explain--”

As she saw him now. As she stammered now.

With no warning he stormed to her door, and she had zero time to shore up her defenses against his sensual presence. Burning stars, he was compelling. Tall in height, dark and dangerous in looks. She could feel the pull of him from here. If he knew her secret, he would hate her. She shook her head sadly.

“Hane, it is certainly not my intent to treat you as a child, to push you in any way ... I assure you of that. I just lose my--”

“Patience?” he asked.

He studied her relentlessly. She’d never seen him this angry. Cold, calm and calculating under life and death pressure, yes, but the true heat of anger like this, not before.

“Indeed, you are known for your patience,” he continued.

She narrowed her eyes, gauging his meaning. Would he deliberately bate her? Try to annoy her on purpose? Her hackles rose. But he was above that, far too superhuman for that, with his long, long legs and his gray, scaly skin and striking bird-of-prey eyes and Alliance Guard uniform. Wasn’t he? Heavens, today his expression sparked and crackled with something dangerous.

“No need for masculine sarcasm.” She forced herself to speak. “I planned to say, focus. I meant, focus. You surprised me just dropping in ... like an avenging angel from the underworlds.”

He sought and held her gaze. “Hear me, Prime Healer Stoll. I will not be saved at the expense of a brother clone. You do not make the decision in this.”

She looked down, unable to endure his determined stare.

“A made man who is my brother by blood,” he said. “By. God. No.”

“I understand your--” she faced him again.

He tapped the side of his face, indicating the gray-blue scaling of his skin, reminiscent of some handsome, exotic reptilian species. His eyes fired with dark, molten passion. “I’d rather live out my days working in a freak show on some backward world than harm another human being with my cure.”

His bare words left no doubt.

“Yes, well ... but--” Suns around them, words escaped her.

“You will not change my mind on the subject.”

“... but you would live!”

He held up a large hand.

“Oh, by the very Heavens above and the Sacred Rocks beneath us!” She lost all professional control and plunged both hands into her unruly yellow-blond hair, hair so in keeping with Olandian natives--the color, anyway. Her wayward curls flew in all directions like demented baby snakes.

He took a step toward her. And to her astonishment, a superior masculine grin quirked across his lips--perhaps because she’d lost it and beseeched the natural elements for help. Why the ... the arrogant male beast!

“You listen to me,” she said, angry herself now. “As your Prime Healer, I must be open to alternative plans. I cannot afford sympathy for the clone.” She knew she spoke only part-truth. If they lost a clone of this man, she’d grieve, but he must come first. “My duty is to worry about you,” she whispered. “To save you if I can.”

“No. We won’t do this. We won’t cause pain to another being. I’d rather have my brain transplanted to a ’droid. Give it up, Prime Healer.”

Lexa shivered as if she were chilled. “I understand. We don’t know everything about how humans respond to pain,” she whispered. “But a clone might be honored to help you. As any brother would be.” She shamelessly used his own word, brother. She’d felt she had to give saving him one last try.

His stony silence filled the room

She relented. “I suppose I expected the depth of your outrage.”

“You would have kept the information from me until too late.”

“Of course.”

He gave a short, harsh laugh. “You think like a scientist. You see only the thrill of discovery and new achievements.”

“And you are unyielding in everything.” He was. The determination in him surpassed any man she’d ever met in all her thirty years.

“I’ve needed to be so to survive.”

“Of course you have. Of course. I admire that.” Blast it all to a frozen hell in space. In her gut she’d known he’d feel this way, and therefore had no right to the sickening lurch of disappointment that came over her. Nor the abject fear for his future that rendered her heart ice-cold and thumping painfully in her chest.

He clasped his hands behind his back, stiffening his body language even further. “I don’t ask for your admiration.”

“Humph, I know you don’t. But you have it, anyway. As a member of Alliance Chancellor Coyle Oside’s personal security team, you’ve more than earned respect. Hane. You must see that a clone could make a reversal of your transgenic mutation happen. Now. I ... ah ... there’s nothing wrong with a physician wanting that kind of efficiency. I’ve tried everything else I could think of.”

He stood stony, watching her, saying no more. She wanted to run to him and hold him in her arms.

She waved a hand, seeking to make him see. “Accelerated cloning is not illegal for an Olandian healer,” she continued, her mind freewheeling through possible words. “Olandia’s law recognizes its occasional necessity--if the cause is just enough. Saving the life of an accomplished Alliance guardsman more than qualifies.”

“You’re not on Olandia anymore, Prime Healer. No life outweighs another here in broader Alliance territory.”

Shame that he would correct her stabbed her. “No. No. I did not mean to sound as if I believed in the Olandia Science Colony’s old ways of class divisions and the value of pure blood. That dogma has not served her well. Equality is a far wiser course for government.”

“Let me guess, you filed the necessary paperwork for a clone months ago, didn’t you?”

“I did,” she snapped. “I hoped not to have to take this step. Back then I ... er ... was overly confident I ... we ... would discover another way long before now. I thought I ...”

“This is not it.” Hane moved to action, coming to her. When he reached her desk, he turned to stride back and forth. Suppressed impatience radiated from him, his erect posture and square shoulders reflected his exasperation with her. A long gray Alliance Guard’s overcoat swirled about his long legs. God, she loved that sexy coat. The neck-high, fitted collar of his uniform shirt was designed to be left open in warm weather like today.

He never opened it.

Her eyes followed his actions as he un-shouldered his laser weapon and propped the long, black gun on the chair, at hand’s reach. This was a new development. He never let go of the damn thing.

“I can’t believe you put that wicked-looking gun down.” She tried a weak smile. “Good though. You’ll be less tempted to shoot me.”

He raised one perfect black eyebrow in response.

She realized he was here because he must’ve heard leaks from her staff of a possible clone for him before storming into her office.

“I could never harm you,” he said, not smiling as she’d hoped, as if she’d been serious.

Unable to hold his gaze, she looked to the tools resting on her desktop. An efficient little physician’s cyber ink reader, a lovely red writing stylus, and a new-tech portable patient scanner, all neatly placed. All arranged in a comforting familiarity and organization for her.

“Please, take a seat, won’t you?” she offered, trying again to smile but managing only a weak grimace instead.

“I’ve had my say, Healer. I won’t stay long. I must return to the Chancellor’s offices.”

Heavens, he was so close now. Not for the first time, she noticed the man in front of her was very impressive, chest very broad.

And he smelled so good.

He took over the room with his masculine presence, dominated the efficient old ship’s layout with his power. His masculine shoulders stretched ramrod straight and true.

Due to the drag of the mutated skin, he’d been under ideal weight the time she’d known him. However, he’d put on some substance since she’d seen him last, adding to his appeal to her. His appearance reflected more muscling and better health than when she’d first encountered, but he was still too lean and his complexion too gray and deeply shadowed at his sharp cheekbones letting her know the improvement would not last.

Shaking her head, she tried to banish all thoughts of how attractive he’d always been to her silly, wayward body and heart.

Hane’s gray eyes penned her now, watchful, making her squirm under his straight look. As if he knew of her romantic feelings for him, sensed them, smelled them emanating from her very skin.

And why shouldn’t he know, in fact? She’d asked him to be her mate in the Alliance’s Challenge Ritual. Her home, the science world, Olandia, had sought Alliance help with a threatening genetic bottleneck. The Science Council had thought up the controversial computer mating of Olandian females to suitable outworlder males. The women were allowed to choose from a list of matching candidates. She’d impulsively gone off her assigned list and asked for Hane, the man who had saved her and her companions from mercenaries who tried to stop the Challenge. She’d loved him at first sight after a very short acquaintance.

Well, he’d answered by a sharp shake of his head, then turned his back and walked from the room. What a loud and clear ‘no, thank you’ that had been. Her poor heart had shattered. Since then, their only contact had been professional as she tried desperately to reverse his mutation before it killed him as it had all his original lab mates in the illegal transgenetic experiment forced upon him.

He watched her, clearly puzzled by her.

Taking a long breath, she tried to settle her emotions. Something strange and new allowed him to he read her expressions and emotions far too well for her peace of mind today.

“Ah-hmm.” Raising her chin, she frowned at him, challenging him.

He laughed a low growl, his eyes sparkled humor. What had gotten into him today? He seemed as reckless and on edge as she, which was most unlike his monosyllabic and reserved nature.

“I fail to see amusement in this crazy situation, guardsman.”

“Of course you don’t. You don’t see your own indignant female expression, or your pretty hair looking like ruffled feathers. You’re all too damn used to everyone around here going along with your every wish and strategy, aren’t you? It’s too damn rare that someone says ‘no’ to you.”

She threw up her hands and the bell sleeves of her robes fell up her arms. “Someone on my staff went against me by leaking the plans for a clone or you would not be here today, would you?”

“True enough.” He looked out the exterior viewscreen at the ships returning to port for the evening. “I hate like hell to disappoint you myself, but this--cloning--is an unacceptable idea. Understand that.”

He didn’t want to disappoint her? Heavens above, it was she who’d let him down here. Despite the fact that she concentrated all her thoughts and long, waking hours on curing him of the transgenic skin, nothing significant had yet come of her work.

That failure resonated with her because she still loved him as much as the first day she saw him. She caught her hands together in front to herself. Her case of love at first sight had deepened with respect for his heroic ways and the knowledge of his good-natured heart.

Unrequited love was terrible, miserable, hateful thing to live with. She sighed deeply. She couldn’t help her feelings for him. She’d tried. Months ago, she’d realized he didn’t return her passion and he never would.

That aspect of their relationship was best removed from her mind. To be only a healer at all times in her dealings with him. However, achieving distance never lasted more than a few early minutes of each rare encounter--as with this one.


Her heart pounded. His mutation would win. Hane’s precious time would run out soon. He would die far too young. The pain of that bashed at her mind like boulders, urging her to do something more.

“Yes, yes, I understand you don’t want a clone made. I do understand.” She blinked back sudden tears. His face, with its beautiful sculpted angles, high cheek bones and those otherworldly silver-blue eyes searched her soul.

Some of her people, other Olandian medical professionals and healers, viewed Hane as tainted, a mutant savage, a subspecies less than human. She knew it was not his fault his DNA had been melded with another species in the illegal gene-manipulating experiments of the madman, Lendow. Nothing for him to be ashamed of.

The strange other genetics displayed itself only in the texture of his skin, which was a striking muted gray. The random-patterned scales stretched tight over his bone structure. The overall affect was alien, yet not. Exotic. Exotic was a much more appropriate word.

“We know the genetic splice, the Chimera, was injected near your left temple,” she said. “That’s where it’s strongest in replication and regeneration. Perhaps if we attack it there with grafts from a donor ...”

“You’ve learned the origin of the traits I carry then?”

She nodded. “Since your last appointment. Yes. I planned to have Healer Foxxe tell you at your next scheduled appointment, Wednesday. The most recent tests told us the guest DNA is an ancient, extinct sea mammal, related to ocean stingrays and sharks of the violet oceans of New Titan terraformed planet.”

“I know of them. Sharks, hmm? You guessed it was a fish early.”

“Yes, well, your skin appears at first glance to be reptilian, but it isn’t. Not really scales at all, but denticulate overlaps. No proof of this until recently. We found difficulty in getting an accurate genetic reading. Nothing we had in our data bases. The foreign coding, the composition of the unusual boney edge of the scales is closest to a stingray’s spine.” She slowed. “Smooth as glass, but having sharp edges if stroked the wrong way.”

He gave her a crooked, half smile. “I’ve noticed this characteristic during the process of shaving my facial hair. I’m glad to know the source of my mutation,” he said. “Thank you for that. It may give clues to why. I’ve always been a swimmer. I noticed my skin repels water well. In my first years with the Alliance, under water missions were my specialty.”

“It fits. Lendow would realize the value of that ability.” She’d heard many stories of Hane’s prowess in battling the rebellious Aldorian warlords that threatened the settlements and colonies with their ruthless, scavenging raids. Hane was a born warrior and a tireless protector.

“That’s good. Answers I hadn’t had. I’m pleased. You’ve done well, healer.”

His praise warmed her silly heart.

“Look at it this way, Healer Stoll, if you’d succeeded in curing me, I’d lose my swimming skills.” He grinned. “And when I tense up, the scales harden to body armor. Those war-fighting abilities were, no doubt, the objective of Lendow when the bastard interfered with my genome. Hell, I would’ve missed them anyway.”

“No. No. I realize you seek to appease my ... er ...disappointment, but those traits come at too great a cost. You will thrive without them.”

He remained silent.

“I’m at a loss as to how to proceed now,” she told him with grudging honesty. “You’ve told us before that Lendow’s other subjects did not survive.” Wednesday they were once again in her office for his regular visit.

“I watched them die.” His eyes looked hollow. “Some didn’t make it beyond their teens.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It was not your doing,” he said pointedly. “You will find another way.” Hane lifted his hand to his temple, drawing her attention to his glorious strands of long blue-black hair that fell past his collar to his shoulder. The gray skin and black hair made a striking color contrast, making her think of the vampires of romantic fiction. She almost expected him to have cat’s eyes.

Closing her eyes, Lexa fought the compulsion to go to him and replace the fingers at his temples with her own.

Maybe it was the skin that drew her? If she managed to cure him, made him a normal male, she viciously hoped her interest in him would wane.

She noticed Hane pressed his fingers hard to both temples now.


He tried to cover it, but she saw the wash of deep pain in his eyes.

“Yes. They grow more frequent. It’s as if something intrudes on my thoughts, pushing, trying to break into my skull. A buzzing and ringing.”

“Tinnitus, perhaps. When?”


“I mean do you associate the headaches with any particular routine?”

He grimaced and gave her a crooked smile. “You. I associate it with you. To the rare times our paths cross.”

Ouch. Meetings with her? “You ... you feel pain when talking with me?” she whispered the question. Dread of the answer made her stomach twist.

“I do.”

Well, she’d wanted him to be honest.

“It’s not your fault,” he said.

Automatically, she reached for a packet of analgesic gels from her samples and offered it to him.

He waved it away.

With her hand, she spun her convenient new-tech, floating office chair with impatience. The chair tucked itself under her desk like a kicked puppy. “You will not even allow me to help you with pain meds.”

“I know you mean well in your concern for me, Prime Healer.”

“Lexa,” she said, wasting her time with the correction, but wanting to hear him call her by her name just once. She smiled sadly. “I say we’ve been through far too much together to stand on the formality of professional titles any longer.”

He raised an eyebrow in query.

Such handsome eyebrows, he had. Lexa tried not to stare at him with the aching longing. By time and space, she never wished to cause him discomfort with her foolhardy and hopelessly romantic feelings for him—had hoped to avoid it.

As he moved to close the remaining distance between them, he mesmerized her with his elegance and masculine power. Her hands shook. Disgusted with herself, she tore her eyes from him and turned away, folding her arms at her chest. She was a proud woman and hated being so imprinted on him that her thoughts muddled and blurred when he occupied the same room, much less drew inside her circle of comfort this way. So close, she smelled his intoxicating masculine scent. The urge to flee was strong.

Her nostrils flared. All she could think of wanting him to sweep off her desk with a strong arm and shove her back there and ... do more ... so much more.

A doomed feminine fantasy.

“Healer.” Now he placed his large hands flat on her desk and leveled his spiky-lashed, silver gaze at her. Heavens alive with fire. He sought--he commanded--her full attention. She sighed, then turned and gave it to him.

She pushed the staggering images of his powerful body pressed against hers from her mind. How long had she stopped speaking, lost in an unattainable sensual fantasy?

This close to him like this, she wished she’d not spent so much time cloistered alone in her research labs, dedicated to exploring genetics. Perhaps if she’d cultivated the normal feminine skills for dealing with a handsome male? If she’d worked at learning the nuances, the colors, the music, and the smells of seduction, if she’d had more experience of normal men, she would not be so helplessly obsessed with this one in front of her.

He did not want her. Indeed, as soon as he’d refused her in the Choosing phase of Cultural Exchange Ritual almost two years ago, she should’ve found herself another male.

Suddenly, he groaned, doubling forward, head bowed, propping himself with one rigid arm on her desk. The delicate desk wobbled wildly, but then held his weight.

Alarm coursed through her. “Hane? Hane?” She grabbed the little med-scanner and rushed around the desk to check his vitals. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I’m fine.” He shook his head in resistance, his long hair swayed, but then he relented and allowed her touch him, to check him over. For that time, she forgot her attraction to him and became the healer that she was.

“The pain has passed,” he said at last.

Slowly his color returned. Well, to the normal color for his gray, scaled skin. His breathing returned to normal. One hand on his right bicep, she offered the pain meds again. This time he grabbed the pills and took two.

After a moment, he whispered near her ear, “What are you thinking? Why do you look so sad?”

“I ... just ... I wish you’d call me by my name. Please.” Tears burned her eyes and overflowed. She banished them with an angry swat of her free hand. She’d made this offer before but she’d never gone so far as to beg for it--or to ask when he was weakened and in pain.

He stiffened and leaned away bit, smiling sadly. “A last request of a dying man?”

“No! Of course not. That’s not it. Forget I mentioned it.”

“As I’ve said in past meetings, to call you by your given name would be disrespectful, Prime Healer.”

“Bah! What utter, old-fashioned protocol nonsense that is.” All hope of her maintaining a cool professional demeanor left her.

I’m losing hope here, dammit.

Hane jerked back his head as if hit by a blow. Regaining his calm, he looked puzzled now, worried. “You’re sure you’re well? What troubles you?”

She ground her teeth. “No ... that is ....” She waved a hand casually, but her mind screamed. I’m nearly crazy with need to help you. You’ve denied my last good hope with vetoing a clone. That’s all that’s wrong with me.

Again he moaned and held his head.

“No,” he said. “You should get some rest. You need sleep. I see it in your eyes. I’ll return another time.” Prepared to leave, Hane reached for the laser weapon he’d left resting against the chair and started to turn toward the door.

“I do not need a nap like a child!” she snapped. “I will not ... er ... we ... my staff and I will not lose you to this damned mutation. Do you hear me? The process of holding your skin in this unnatural configuration constricts you and drains away your strength more and more each day.” Her hands were fisted and white-knuckled with tension. She tried to relax them. The man wasn’t hers to worry herself sick over him. She could never have him as her mate. She’d learned that the hard way. She repeated the mental mantra. He wasn’t hers. He didn’t want her. He’d made that clear enough by rejecting her offer of bonding.

Hane jerked again and threw his head back this time. “Son of--” his expression darkened now to something reflecting hurt, his silver eyes turned to roiling mercury.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” But he grabbed the pills and took another.

“That’s enough of those. What is it? Tell me at once.”

His breathing was too fast. “Images in my head. The Choosing Ritual two years ago.”

She held her breath. “Yes?”

He was reluctant to say more. “Just now, I saw it all reform in my mind. All the detail. I felt it again. This time I felt your pain. Hell, I didn’t believe I hurt you--” His eyes sought hers.

Had he seen images of what she remembered? Impossible. She handed him a cup of water, reluctant to accept what appeared to be a paranormal phenomena. Telepathy. Mind-wave reading. She forced her mind to go blank, to think only of quiet ocean shores.

After a moment of silence, he said, “The pain recedes.” He tried to smile. Typical male, she thought--his response to pain embarrassed him. “As I said, it’s nothing.”

“Is it nothing?” The monosyllabic male hid something more from her. She knew it.

Before she could stop herself she asked, “Have you had these images of the past intrude before?”

“Yes, healer, I have. I said it’s nothing.” He had an uncooperative expression on his face now.

“Perhaps we should seek assistance with this. Some holovid rec programs do wonders for stress. We need to understand this.”


“Fine. Fine. Fine. We’ll let it drop for now,” she said, but watched him suspiciously, knowing there was something more and he also knew it. “But it may impact your condition.”

“It impacts my condition, alright.”

More sarcasm.

“I have confidence in you,” he said. “You’re the best genetic pathologist in the Alliance of Colonies,” he was diverting them back to the former subject.

“So they tell me.” It was she who infused her tone with sarcasm this time. “A lot of damn good the distinction does me in this situation.”

“You won the Olandian Prize for achievement in your field at a young age.”

“I shared the honor with colleagues.”

“You will think of something besides cloning a man for the purpose of saving my life.”

She lifted her chin. “I could go beyond your wishes. With Alliance sanction, I could do it anyway,” she sassed like a child.

“No,” he said firmly. “I trust you not to. I’ve witnessed your creativity. You’ll think of something else.”

Thoughtfully, she picked up a stylus from her desk and held it to her mouth. “But there is someone who is a better geneticist than I am.”

“Who would that be?”

“Lendow. The flocking madman who caused your mutation in the first place.”

“By God, no! Don’t even think it.”

His eyes swirled with anger--and alarm. As she watched, the fire of his emotions washed away the last shreds of his patience.

Before he could say more she continued, “Dammit, Hane, if I could meet with Lendow and merely ask one or two--”

He slapped his large hand flat on the desk and pinned her with his forceful gaze. “You will stay away from him. Do you hear me? Healer Lendow is a dangerous and evil man. Healer ... ironic ... a title of such honor for a lunatic, don’t you think? He didn’t give a bleeding damn about the children, how they suffered as he prodded them, or how long his enhanced soldiers lived. He only cared about their performance in testing and, I suspect, the power trip of playing with us--like a god.”

Lexa looked down, unwilling to hold his eyes.

Children? He’d said children.

“Yes, children. Lexa?”

She jerked her eyes from contemplating the broken stylus--her favorite one--

made of a rare refined and polished metal.

He’d called her by her first name, after all. A spark of feminine triumph arced across her heart. And Founder’s Saints help her, he’d heard her thought. He didn’t seem to realize he’d answered her thought--not spoken words.

Hane drew up tall, and then visibly controlled himself before striding over to the expansive viewscreen to her back and left.

“I suppose I am getting desperate for ideas to come up with contacting Lendow,” she whispered. Could she find Lendow and arrange to see him? “It’s just ... your condition is outside all of the research and theoretical teachings on the subject of transgenetics, the melding two or more genetics--beyond my skills and training. I have little to no idea what Lendow did to incorporate the guest traits within your own genetic makeup--more importantly, no idea how to reverse it. But you were a child? You have specific childhood memories?”

He grinned. “Yes, I was.”

“You’re sure of this?”

“Does it help you to learn I was a child and grew up? That some of the others never made it out of childhood?”

She gasped. “I’m so sorry. Yes, it helps. The Alliance thought you were a clone. Before today, I thought that too.”

He laughed harshly. “Considering the topic of today’s meeting, it’s ironic to hear you thought me a clone.”

“Yes, well ... not knowing something so basic makes a mockery of my lack of progress with your cure. This gives us a new avenue to explore. We found unexplained genetics in you. I had assumed it came with the mutation. But it may have come from another parent. A mother?”

A piece of information she hadn’t had. Heavens, she’d believed Lendow’s mutations were made on adult clones. No reason to assume they’d been adults, but the Alliance had thought so. Had told her so. Bad intelligence. How had they missed this? If they were young, Lendow had bred them, moved slowly with them. She smacked the stylus against her desk. The delicate instrument shattered from the force. But there was another genetic source, closer than grandparent DNA. His mother. “Since you’re here, let’s ... uh ... recap your treatment progress. I’ll describe the tests we’ll do next.” She had no idea how to handle this situation other than to strive for day-to-day normalcy. She didn’t want him to leave the room until she knew he what ailed him--that his headache had stopped. “Are you well today? Perhaps I should leave now. We will finish this discussion another time.”


Thursday, August 6, 2009

OUT OF THE LIGHT INTO THE SHADOW by Lori Foster and Erin McCarthy

The darkest hour is before the dawn... in this sinful new anthology where the dark and light sides of desire collide in four brand-new novellas by three of today's hottest authors.

New York Times Bestselling Author Lori Foster National Bestselling Authors L. L. Foster Erin McCarthy

Embrace the darkness and experience the light in this all-new anthology filled with touching stories of happily ever after alongside smoldering tales of irresistibly dangerous, otherworldly passion. From bewitching emotions and untamed desire to dazzling romance and tantalizing sensuality, these novellas explore the complex facets of the human heart - both the light side and the dark.


Have Mercy by Lori Foster

They’d been together six months now. Not super long, but for Mercedes Jardine, it was long enough for her to irrevocably lose her heart to Wyatt Reyes. Since their first date she’d loved him and every day since then, the feeling had grown more powerful. When she was with him, she felt complete, fuller and happier and more like a woman.

Only with Wyatt did she move out of the shadow of her impressive big brother.Only with Wyatt did her insecurities melt away.

What she felt for him was forever.

Now she had to know how he felt.

The thought of declaring herself, of laying her heart on the line, gave her twinges of anxiety. But if she left it to Wyatt, she figured they’d be together for years before he took their romance to the next level.


It was what she wanted now. What she needed.

A lifetime with Wyatt would be so wonderful. He was the most amazing man, solid like her brother, responsible and caring. He worked hard, respected others. And for Mercedes, he was the sexiest man alive. Six feet, two inches of hard, labor-inspired muscle enhanced with dark blonde hair and clear green eyes - he epitomized the rugged man’s man, but he had the confidence and charisma to be a ladies’ man too.

The concrete construction company he owned had grown even in the months she’d know him. He put all his revenue into building it bigger and better, and he had a sound reputation for quality work. The last thing she’d ever wanted to do was interrupt his five year plan. But if he’d let her, she could help him with that.

Today, she’d start the conversation with that proposal - and then move on to another.

Taking a deep breath, Mercy got out of the fancy sports car her brother had bought for her birthday, and headed for the front door of Wyatt’s modest home. Though she had her own key, his truck was in the driveway, assuring he was home. She opened the unlocked door and stepped into warm air circulated by a fan.

Even though spring in Ohio was especially warm this year, Wyatt rarely used his air conditioning. Like her, he enjoyed the fresh air more, but unlike her, he was also conserving money wherever he could.

Sometimes the differences in their financial standings made her feel guilty. After all, he worked hard for his pay, but thanks to her brother, she hardly worked at all. Most wouldn’t label her artistic jewelry more than a hobby. She was good, and her custom pieces brought high-ticket sales. But she only worked when she felt like it, or when something inspired her.

As soon as she closed the door, she heard the shower running. Her confrontational plans faltered; knowing Wyatt was naked had the effect of obliterating her best intentions.

Biting her lip, Mercy considered things for only a moment before deciding first things first. Even though she’d carefully dressed for her objective today, she hurriedly stepped out of her strappy sandals and stripped away her ultra soft camisole tank as she went down the hallway to the bathroom. By the time she reached him, Mercy wore only her summer gauze skirt, panties and jewelry.

She stepped out of the skirt before opening the bathroom door.


“Hey babe.” He pushed aside the shower curtain, saw her standing there, and his gaze did a slow, nearly tactile scrutiny of her body.

Without a word, he held the curtain wide for her to get in.

Showing ridiculous haste, Mercy pushed down her panties, removed her watch and earrings, and stepped into the narrow bath. As quick to urgency as her, Wyatt pulled her into a long, tongue twining kiss that curled her toes and had her locking her fingers in his wet hair.

“Until I saw you,” he whispered against her throat, “I was so exhausted, I just wanted to eat and sleep.”

“And now?”

“Now I’m fully alert, believe me.” He leaned back to see her face, and a roguish smile curled his sexy mouth. “A nap holds no interest, but eating...” He covered a breast with one hand, and with the other, he explored between her thighs. “I like that idea a lot.”

Her eyes closed, her head fell back, and her heart nearly punched out of her chest. With Wyatt, she stayed so sexually attuned that a mere look had her primed and ready. When he said things like that, when he implied what he’d do, it drove her wild.

Carefully, he pried her hands from his hair and folded them behind her. “Leave them, sweetheart.”

Oh God, she loved it when he took control like this. He’d torment her, make her crazy, but in the end, he always made it worthwhile. This time, however, she didn’t know if she could take it.

“Wyatt -”

“Shh. No talking. But feel free to moan.”

Shaking all over, she put her hands to his shoulders to stall him. “Wait.”

“No.” With a chastising look, he caught her wrists and held her hands behind her with one loose fist. “You’re only making it harder on yourself, Mercy. You came in here naked, full of invitation.” He treated her to a deep kiss to emphasize his control. “Now be still, and let me do what we both want.”

The long, shuddering moan escaped without her permission.

As he turned her with her back against the tile wall, he bent to her left breast. He licked, held her nipple captive between his teeth and tongued her roughly before sucking hard.

Mercy arched her body, and he accepted the temptation, pushing his free hand between her thighs. But he only cupped her, giving her the heat of his palm, a slight pressure, without any real stimulation.


His teeth nipped, making her jump and sending a jolt of pleasure curling in her womb. She bit her lip to remain quiet.

He licked his way to the other nipple, circled with his tongue, and then sucked lightly, a direct contrast to what she’d expected. She couldn’t predict what he’d do next, or how he’d do it, and the unknown kept her on a razor’s edge of need. She tried grinding her mound against his palm, but he laughed and eased the pressure.

In no way did he seem exhausted to her.

She opened her legs more, a silent request for him to explore, to touch her, to penetrate.

“You want my fingers in you?”

Because he’d told her not to speak, she nodded.

He came up to kiss her ear, her throat. She felt his erection against her, long and solid, and she felt his smile against her throat. “Soon.”

He enjoyed this game even more than she did. If she could ever keep her head about her, she’d one day pay him back in kind.

And thinking that nearly pushed her into a climax.

“Now, Mercy?” As if he sensed her readiness, he stroked between her legs, parted her lips, and began pushing two fingers into her. It was a tight fit, and she squirmed in mixed pleasure and urgency as he worked them deep - and then again, stopped moving.

She felt herself contracting around him, needing him, and she saw him smile. He was such a dominant personality - but he only applied that dominance to her in bed. Outside of the bedroom, he was so courteous and deferential that she felt like a princess.

He went back to her breasts, alternately licking and sucking her nipples, sometimes tugging with his teeth until she cried out, then lathing gently. She couldn’t take much more, and he seemed to know that too.

“You are so damned hot, Mercy. I love playing with you.”

Love. God how she hoped that word had real meaning to him.

Those thought obliterated when he brought his thumb up to her clitoris and lightly stroked.

She gasped, stiffened.

“You’re all swollen and ripe,” he said against her temple, nuzzling her ear, her throat. He teased her clit more, and her legs started to tremble. “So close already. But Mercy...” He stilled the movements and leaned back to look at her.

Noooo. She needed release so badly she was ready to plea with him, but he touched her lips with his fingertips, quieting her.

And he explained, “I want you in my mouth when you come.”

Oh God.

He released her hands, sank down to his knees, and cupped her derriere in both big palms. “I love how you taste, Mercy.”

Love again. The dual assault of what he said and what he did proved too much. The second his mouth closed over her, her tremors started. She covered her own aching breasts and closed her eyes against the pleasure of his tongue languidly moving over, in and out of, her most sensitive flesh. He licked once, twice, then he closed his lips around her and sucked.

Just that easily, she exploded.

Holding her upright with his grip on her bottom, he kept her pressed tight to his mouth, relentless in his assault, dragging out her climax until she did beg, until she was totally spent.
“Stop, please.”

In a heartbeat he was before her again, one arm around her waist, the other shutting off the water.

“Hold on to the towel bar.”

She managed to do that, just barely. He watched her with burning green eyes while he dried himself, and then quickly dried her, too. When the soft terrycloth towel touched between her legs, she gasped, still too sensitive to bear it - and that seemed to turn him on too.

Now he was the urgent one, and they were both still damp when he lifted her in his arms and strode out of the bathroom to his bedroom.

At five feet, nine inches, she wasn’t a dainty woman, but Wyatt carried her as if she weighed nothing. Along the way, he kissed her forehead, the bridge of her nose, the corner of her mouth. Her back barely settled on the unmade bed when he pushed her legs wide, settled over her, and entered her with one powerful thrust.

They groaned together.

At the feel of him inside her, Mercy’s body reignited and she was ready for round two. After all, with Wyatt, there was always a round two, and sometimes a round three or four. He was such an amazing lover, ensuring her pleasure before ever taking his own.

Eyes closed, head back, Wyatt stilled for several heartbeats. After two deep breaths that seemed to compose him, he looked down at her. High on his cheekbones, dark color showed the level of his arousal. The green of his eyes darkened, grew more intense. His jaw clenched tight.

Slowly, his gaze locked with hers, he pulled out, and sank back in again. He took interested note of her sharp inhalation, studied the signs of pleasure on her face. “Damn Mercy, it feels incredible being inside you.”

To her, too. She loved feeling him, and only him. After they’d been together three months, they’d given up condoms. She’d been on the pill awhile, and they knew each other well enough to trust on all health issues.

Little did she know how easy it was to render the pill ineffective.

Read the excerpt from the L.L. Foster novella, Total Control.
Read the excerpt from the Erin McCarthy novella, Deal or No Deal

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


How could this have happened?

They had one night. That's all Shelby Brookes would allow herself to indulge in with Luke Tulane. Yes, he's gorgeous and yes, he's the greatest guy she knows, but he's her best friend's brother for crying out loud! And she's pretty sure there are rules against sleeping with friends' brothers.

Then Shelby discovers she's pregnant. And Luke's determined to do the right thing - down to the bended knee proposal and the meeting at the altar. As tempting as his offer is, Shelby's convinced she's not the marrying kind. She's bound to hurt him and that's definitely against the rules of friendship. Still, she doesn't count on how persuasive Luke can be when he really wants something...her.

This book in Kay Stockham's Tulanes of Tennessee Series was chosen an RT Top Pick and given 4 1/2 stars.


Tossing one’s cookies on gorgeous Italian leather shoes had a way of ruining a girl’s day.

Shelby Brookes gasped for air and glared down at the offending footwear, glad she knew better than to spend her hard-earned cash on overpriced shoes that wore the same as the regular-priced ones. But Luke Tulane had been raised with the best of everything and he obviously didn’t realize no woman liked seeing a man wearing better shoes than she owned herself.

The word came out as a gasp. A choked, oh please, not again, groan of undisguised misery as her stomach muscles flip-flopped like circus clowns on a trampoline. This could not be happening.

“Bad day?”

Her head whirled, the ground jiggled in strange, wavy patterns, but the anger in his tone registered. The why-didn’t-you-just-pick-up-the-freaking-phone-and-return-my-messages-the-five-times-I-called-you snap of a bruised male ego. Can you blame him?

As Shelby swallowed and tried to hold onto what was left of her lunch, thoughts filed through her head in rapid succession. Luke had flown home to Beauty, Tennessee, to attend the first family wedding back in June when his older brother, Garret, had married Darcy Rhodes. Now it was nearing the end of August and Luke had flown home again, this time because his twin brother, Nick, had found love with Jennifer Rose.

But instead of avoiding Shelby like any normal person would do in such an awkward situation, Luke had repeatedly sought her out--because of what had taken place between them behind the scenes after Garret and Darcy’s rehearsal dinner.

You brought this on yourself, you know. You kissed him, not the other way around. You weren’t complaining then.

Maybe not, but she regretted it. Didn’t that count for something?

She’d tried to do the right thing by keeping her distance and avoiding him. It was after the fact, sure, but she’d tried. Yet here Luke stood toe-to—knee, and--there was no ducking him now.
I puked on your shoes. Your shoes! Haven’t you had enough?

“Last night catch up to you?”

Oh, of all the— Even though she’d felt like she could’ve used the fortification, she hadn’t had a single drink last night, knowing her twelve hour shift would be hard enough to handle given the huge possibility she’d run into Luke. Besides, she never drank much when she did occasionally indulge, having seen how alcohol influenced her mother’s behavior. Following in her mother’s footsteps wasn’t Shelby’s idea of a good time. It was bad enough her mother gave the town gossips so much fodder, Shelby wasn’t about to add to it.

You mean like now?

She didn’t raise her head, not when the slightest movement made the waves of nausea buffeting her that much worse.

How much worse could it be? You’re on your hands and knees at the man’s feet!

Yeah, well, if embarrassment killed, she would’ve been dead a long time ago. Growing up with a mother who played the drama queen to the hilt at every opportunity would’ve seen to that.

“Come on, I’ll help you inside.”

Inside? To gossip-central? No thank you. “G-go away.”

“Shelby, I can’t leave you here like this.”

He had to. She didn’t want him laughing at her misery because he was angry with her. And why wouldn’t he be when she was so upset with herself? How could she have been so stupid? Shagging her best friend’s brother? That ranked right up there with—with— Well, she didn’t quite know what but it was huge! “Cont-tagious.”

She had no idea if she was contagious or not, but she’d tell Luke she had the Bubonic Plague before she’d allow him to drag her anywhere, much less into the wedding reception. The wind created by the gossips’ mouths flapping would blow the roof off the building.

Shelby inhaled and got a nose-full of roses and wild onions from the woods nearby. Oh, help me.

The smell had her stomach rolling again and she struggled to hold back a moan.

A white silk handkerchief appeared before her eyes. “Here. Take it.”

When all she did was stare, Luke released a long-suffering sigh, a noise she’d heard him issue many, many times over the years. Usually it was in respect to his sister and her best friend, Alex, though. Not her.

“Quit being so stubborn. Take it.”

Since it boiled down to using either the handkerchief, her shirt, or the country club’s crested employee jacket, she let go of her death grip on the manicured lawn and accepted the pristine material, finding perverse pleasure at wiping her mouth on the length.

Cheese Curls and silk—what a combination.

Another wave of nausea flooded her at the thought of her favorite snack and Shelby clamped her mouth shut, afraid she’d embarrass herself even more than she already had.

“I’ll go get Ethan.”

“No.” She prayed to disappear. Where was a sinkhole when a girl needed one? “I’m f-fine.”

Oh, what a whopper that was. Her arms hurt from holding herself up, geeky-sexy Luke Tulane stood over her watching—and all she could see in her mind was how he’d looked naked.

You are so screwed up.

“Somehow I don’t believe you.”

Shelby scrambled for a comeback and called herself lame when nothing came to mind. “Something’s been g-going around. A twenty-four hour thing.”


“I’ll be fine. Don’t make a fuss. Mr. Long is watching me like a hawk.” Or a buzzard. Which one had the long beak of a nose? Focus. “It took me three interviews--” Oh, those onions were awful! “--to get this job.”

And she knew why she’d succeeded. Luke’s parents and grandmother had gone to bat for her. There was no other explanation.

And you repaid them how?

She ignored the snippy voice in her head shaming her for her jumping Luke’s bones, and concentrated on feeling better. “I can’t lose it.” Mr. Long was a fountain of restaurant managerial experience, something she needed to soak in like a sponge. Getting fired was not an option.

Luke squatted down beside her, well out of range, and placed his hand on her back. “What can I do? Would you like something to drink?”

She nodded, willing to agree to just about anything to get him away from her. That night in June she’d considered Luke the perfect person to distract her from her horrendous day. But now what she needed was someone who’d distract him. “A-a soda.”

“You shouldn’t drink that stuff. It’s not healthy.”

Shelby rolled her eyes and regretted the movement because of the pain it caused in her pounding head. He’d told her that more than once but she happened to like caffeine and sugar.

"It settles my stomach.”

The air from his gusty sigh cooled the sweat on her neck. “I hate leaving you here. The least I can do is help you to a--”

“Don’t touch me!” Weren’t his shoes enough? “Luke, just go.” She sounded desperate, close to pleading, but she was. What woman wanted to do this in front of--

An amazing one night stand?

Uncomfortable, I-can’t-believe-we-did-that memories filled her head, but thankfully her order to leave worked because Luke’s footsteps faded away. Feeling better now that she was alone, Shelby lifted her head and watched as Luke disappeared around a statue. When he was out of sight, she slowly pushed herself upright and sat back on her heels.

The boxwood hedges provided a nice shield from prying eyes, but how long would it be before someone came for a stroll? The gazebo in the center of the garden had been a trysting place for more than a few couples over the years. Rumor even had it Luke’s grandmother, Rosetta Tulane, had conceived one of her children there.

Imagining a younger version of Luke’s spunky grandmother getting it on in a public place brought a smile to Shelby’s lips despite the nausea still churning her belly. Seconds passed, and little by little she felt more human. Until she spied her uniform pants. “No! Oh, no. Oh, crap!”

They were ruined! Why on earth would anyone choose white linen as the required uniform for the working class?

Because hugging the grass and hurling isn’t in your job description?

Shelby groaned and ignored the quivering inside her body. She grabbed her purse and shoved herself onto her wobbly legs, moving like a hundred twenty-eight year old instead of twenty-eight, which gave her plenty of time to take in the bright green stains decorating both knees.

“Fifty bucks down the drain.”

Maybe she could have the pants altered and convince Mr. Long to let her wear them as elegant summer shorts? Hearing his clipped, British response in her head, she brushed the grass blades sticking so stubbornly to her clothing and waited for the world to stop spinning. She couldn’t worry about her pants now. She had to get out of there before Luke came back and things got…sticky.

They were hot and sticky that night and you didn’t seem to mind.

Shut. Up!

She’d walked that embarrassingly painful mental path every day since they’d slept together, asked herself why repeatedly. Why hadn’t she gone home and taken her upset and frustration out by baking? Why hadn’t she done something constructive that would’ve helped her meet her goal? Why had she made such a horrendous mistake with her best friend’s brother? Why, why, why?

Because you liked it, her mind taunted, you really liked it.

Her entire body flushed with heat. Yeah, she’d liked it—until it was over and the consequences of her actions had walloped her a good one upside the head. Alex would be beside herself if she found out. Her best friend was most protective of Luke, closer to him because of the divide that had developed between Luke and his twin, Nick, growing up. But while Luke might have updated his geeky glasses to the kind worn by business studs photographed for magazine ads and lost the boring shirts his mother had always bought for him, Luke was still Alex’s favorite brother because Alex claimed he was more sensitive than the rest, more caring and astute than the siblings Alex sometimes referred to as ‘blockheads.’

Shelby stumbled across the grounds around the backside of the club, trying ineffectively to shove the memory of doing Alex’s favorite brother from her mind. It was over. Done. A mistake that would not be repeated. It was past time to stop worrying about something she couldn’t change and just put the incident behind her. She couldn’t let what happened cloud her thinking--or make her so nervous she got sick. As soon as she got home she’d…call Luke and apologize?

Swear him to secrecy? Beg him to keep his distance?

How about all of the above?

Shelby made her way to a pea-gravel path, her heels sinking with every step. It would’ve been a lot quicker to have traveled straight through the middle of the country club, but she chanced running into Luke or Alex, or worse yet, Mr. Long. Throwing up at home was bad enough, but in public wearing full makeup?

Her foundation was probably gone, her eyes raccooned. Plus her stomach was still rolling like a fun park coaster.

“Just keep moving.” The thought of Luke behind her, closing in and demanding to talk to her now made her put one foot in front of the other. She didn’t want a scene, couldn’t risk someone overhearing Luke demanding answers for her behavior or her having to tell him she’d do anything to take it all back. The night had been wonderful. Perfect. It was the fact that it was Luke that bit the big one.

Shelby rounded the corner of the club and continued downhill to the employee parking lot. She’d almost made it to her car when her three-inch heel skidded on a rock. “Ow! Oh, ow.” Just what she needed. What else was going to happen?

She hobbled the rest of the way and fell inside, absurdly thankful that the pain helped clear her head. Hurry. She had to hurry. She’d practically lived with the Tulanes growing up. If they found out she’d kissed Luke in places his mama hadn’t seen for nearly thirty years, nothing would ever be the same.

Shelby fastened her seatbelt and took the exit farthest from the clubhouse, checking her rearview mirror for any sight of Luke’s tall form and rubbing at the mascara smeared down her cheek.

All she wanted to do was go home, get out of her icky clothes, take a quick shower and--strangely enough--eat more cheese curls.

Copyright ©2008 Harlequin Enterprises Limited ® and T are trademarks of the publisher. The excerpt published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

THE SECOND TIME AROUND by Michelle Levigne

Book one in award-winning author Michelle Levigne's Tabor Heights, Ohio inspirational romance series.

Daniel Morgan's past returned to haunt him when a freshman girl showed up wearing his college sweetheart's face.

Lynette Tyler was determined not to face her past, when she learned her daughter's favorite new teacher was the man she had forced out of her life when she got pregnant.

When Daniel learns that Kat is his daughter, he dares to ask God for the dream he had let go years before... to finally be a family. He pursues Lynnete's love through tragedy and shame, learning to forgive each other and themselves. The biggest hurdle isn't whether Kat would forgive them when she finally finds out the truth, but whether Lynette can let go of the past long enough to let them have a future together.


Butler Williams University
Tabor Heights, Ohio
Monday, August 28

Dr. Daniel Morgan didn’t believe in ghosts, so he didn’t have an explanation for the vision that settled into the second seat, far left row, of his freshman theater history class on the first day of the fall semester. Fortunately, the auburn-haired freshman girl with Lynette Teague’s face was one of the first into the room, so Daniel didn’t stand there with his last two years at Northwestern University flashing through his mind while his new students sat and fidgeted and stared. He yanked himself back to the present, avoided looking at that part of the room, and pushed his heartbreak back into his memories for the duration of the first day lecture.

And the next three classes.

He retreated to his cramped, book-lined office in the basement of the theater arts building, and sat with his feet propped up on his desk, staring at the toes of his new sneakers — always a new pair for the start of the school year — trying to figure out what he felt.

“Morgan?” Bekka Sanderson, his student assistant, hung against the frame of his doorway, looking just as drained by the first-day-of-classes mayhem as he felt. Her belt-length straight brown hair had escaped the twistee that restrained it when she met him with his coffee and bagel at seven a.m. and helped him finish assembling the syllabi for all this classes. “You okay?”
The fact that she called him Morgan rather than ‘Dr. Morgan Sir’ meant there were no emergencies or bombs ready to drop on him.

For that, he breathed a sigh of thankfulness to God.

“I just realized that it’s been more than twenty years since I was in those kids’ shoes.” Daniel let his feet drop down to the cement floor. Bekka knew everything and everyone in the entire Humanities Department at Butler Williams. What were the chances she would know the name of the girl in his first period class, with Lynette Teague’s face and hair?

“Bekka?” an unfamiliar female voice called from out in the euphemistically labeled lobby of the theater department’s office. It was more prop storage room and workspace than an area to lounge, and served as an auxiliary costume department for big productions.

“In here.” Bekka turned and gestured. “Don’t go scaring me, Morgan. The General is the one who gives us the ‘I’m getting too old for this’ routine just before auditions for the Christmas play. I’m the one who’s too old to be playing psychologist for the whole department.”

“You’re my Gal Friday. Tell the General and Joel Randolph to keep their grimy—” Daniel stopped short as the girl from the first period class peered over Bekka’s shoulder. He swallowed hard and put on his friendliest smile. “Hello. I hope you’re not here to drop my class after one day.”

The freshman girl laughed. He was relieved when that wasn’t Lynette’s musical laugh. Her hair, hanging nearly to the pocket of her shirt, was curlier than Lynette’s straight auburn, a little darker, and her nose wasn’t the tiny, up-tilted button that demanded kissing and always turned red with the first hint of autumn chill. “No way. It was the best part of the day.”

“Because I was the only professor who didn’t take roll call, you mean?”

“Uh… yeah.” She shrugged, grinning, and that wasn’t Lynette’s smile. For which he thanked God again. “I’m Kat Tyler.”

“Nice to meet you, Kat. Who’s your advisor?”

“Dr. Defiore.”

“You have to call him the General — you’re part of the theater gang now,” Bekka said.

“You just missed him,” Daniel added.

“I’m not here to see him,” Kat said, and tipped her head in Bekka’s direction.

“We’re hitting the cafeteria for dinner. The food is fantastic at the beginning of the year,” Bekka said. “Besides, you know how my grandparents are at the start of the term. I don’t need another lecture over dinner on how I should be studying accounting, when I have homework for every single class already. We’d better run. See you tomorrow.”

“Bright and early. Double chocolate muffin this time,” Daniel added.

“Seig heil.” Bekka saluted, two fingers off her eyebrow, and left with Kat, both girls laughing.

Daniel held onto his smile until he heard the wheeze of the ancient pneumatic door leading to the stairwell. Then he slouched in his chair and raked his fingers through his hair. He definitely felt old today.

Monday, August 3, 2009

HARD AND FAST by Erin McCarthy

The sequel to Flat-Out Sexy, starring a bad boy race car driver hero who's met his match - from a hot USA Today bestselling author - Erin McCarthy.
Grad student Imogen Wilson realizes she's hit on the perfect thesis for her sociology degree. If she follows the so-called "rules" on how to get a man, can she steer her way into the world and hearts of stock race car drivers, and establish their dating - and mating - patterns?

Although sexy and reckless racer Ty McCordle is the ideal test subject, Imogen knows that for the sake of science, she can't give in to her growing attraction for him. Yet he's the one who's chasing after her, and Imogen realizes that she actually wants to be caught. A southern gentleman like Ty will satisfy all her curiosity - and make all the risks worthwhile...

About the Author Erin McCarthy is the author of sassy, sexy tales of contemporary and paranormal romance. She also writes paranormal young adult novels as Erin Lynn.

Buy The Book

SLINGSHOT- A maneuver in racing where the car following the leader in a draft steals his good air and allows him to take the lead

How To Work It- Hang back if your man is interested in another woman. When she proves herself too obnoxious or clingy, move right on past her into the lead

From How To Marry A Race Car Driver (In Six Steps)

“Oh, my God, run!”

Imogen Wilson had her shoulder nearly dislocated from its socket when her friend Tamara yanked her arm, trying to drag her down the hallway. Stumbling to keep up with Tamara and their other friend Suzanne, Imogen glanced behind her to see why they needed to sprint, worried about a herd of angry race fans, fire, or a sudden act of terrorism in the speedway.

What she saw was worse.

It was Nikki Borden. Twenty-two years old. Bouncy. Bubbly. Blonde. Built like Barbie, thanks to Nikki’s campaign of personal starvation and the assistance of breast implants and lip injections. She was definitely a beautiful girl by most male standards and Imogen knew Nikki worked hard to maintain her appearance. Unfortunately, it seemed to be at the expense of nurturing her mind. The few times Imogen had tried to have a conversation with her, she had been left wondering if there were residual effects of the excessive use of hair dye because there was a whole lot of nothing going on in that girl’s head.

None of which would bother Imogen, per se, except that Nikki was dating Ty McCordle, the stock car driver Imogen had an inexplicable attraction to.

“Don’t turn around,” Tamara said to Imogen, horrified. “She’ll see us!”

“Damn,” Suzanne said. “Too late.”

Nikki was waving to them with a big smile, and Imogen stifled a groan. She did not want to spend her time at the racetrack trying to make small talk with Nikki, and it was her fault they were going to have to do the polite. She should have just run and asked questions later, but that wasn’t her personality. She always had to know what was going on, and it was highly likely her curiosity would be the death of her someday. Today it was going to result in fending insults from Nikki, who seemed to think it was her duty in the name of friendship to inform Imogen of all her physical flaws.

“Hi!” Nikki said, making record time over to them despite her high heels. “Where are you guys going? I’ll go with you.”

“We have passes to sit in the boxes,” Suzanne said. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure we can get you into the restricted area.”

Suzanne didn’t look the least bit sorry, and Imogen almost felt bad for Nikki, who clearly was hanging around the track by herself. Imogen knew what it was like to always be the loner.

“Oh, I have a pass too,” Nikki said, pulling a piece of paper out of her giant purple handbag. She grinned. “I guess having sex with a race car driver ought to get you something, right?”

Ugh. Imogen had known that Nikki was having sex with Ty- she had to be. It wasn’t like Nikki was the kind of girl who could cook a man a meal, discuss politics or racing with him, or even be considered a candidate for bearing his future children. Nikki was booty call, if Imogen understood the definition of the term correctly. But to know it and to hear it out loud were two different things entirely.

“I guess that I’d rather get an orgasm out of sex than a paper pass, but that’s just me,” Suzanne said.

Imogen had to concur with that. She would really like to have an orgasm at the hands of a racecar driver. A racecar driver. Ty. Sexy, laid-back, always wearing a grin Ty. Who was instead giving Nikki orgasms and track passes.

It was utterly futile to think she could ever attract the attention of a man like that, and she needed to remember that. Why she even wanted to severely mystified her, but there was something about his joi de vivre, the way he didn’t take himself too seriously, that appealed to her. Or at least to the parts of her that resided below the waist.

“Well, let’s go sit down,” Tamara said. “We’re going to miss half of the race and I have a certain rookie driver I need to cheer on.”

Tamara was clearly antsy to see her husband Elec driving, already flashing her pass and making her way into the seating area of the boxes. Imogen followed her, wondering if her sunscreen was going to hold up for the duration of the race. She was dark haired and fair skinned and the North Carolina sun was brutal. Looking around at the crowds, she had realized that the straw hat she had brought to shield her face wasn’t exactly de rigor. Everyone else who had on a hat was wearing a ball cap, most advertising their favorite driver. Imogen was aware she wasn’t dressed appropriately either. She was wearing a black sundress with a three quarter sleeve cardigan and sandals while the majority of the crowd was in shorts and T-shirts.

But considering it was her very first time to the track in Charlotte to watch a live stock car race, she hadn’t known the protocol. She had been looking forward to it as a life experience and because she was still fishing around for a thesis project for her graduate degree in sociology. The culture of stock car racing in the south seemed like a great jumping point, but she needed to hone in on a more specific topic.

Only she hadn’t anticipated being stuck sitting next to Nikki. Suzanne had virtually vaulted over the row of seats to get the one furthest from Nikki, and Tamara had already taken the seat next to Suzanne. That left Imogen, then Nikki on the end, who was wiping the seat off with a tissue.

“I don’t want to get my white pants dirty,” she said in explanation when Imogen stared at her.

“Then why did you wear white pants?” Imogen couldn’t help but ask.

“Because they make my butt look good,” Nikki said, like this was completely obvious.

“Don’t you have other pants that make your butt look good that won’t attract dirt?”

Nikki smiled. “Yes. But with white pants you can’t wear anything but a thong and men love that.”

Ah. Imogen didn’t see the logic in that at all, because wouldn’t men generally assume that a woman like Nikki was always wearing a thong? And if they were allowed to actually gain the knowledge of the thong for themselves, she suspected they wouldn’t care one way or the other what Nikki had on over them. But there was no point in launching further discussion with Nikki. Imogen suspected Nikki had made up her mind and that was that.

“Of course.” Imogen settled into her own seat and looked out at the track. A pack of cars went whizzing by before she could blink, none of which were identifiable to her by either decal or number. She should have bought a program so she could attempt to educate herself.

Nikki was rustling around in her handbag and Imogen glanced over to see the blonde tearing into a bag of mixed greens lettuce. She pulled out a piece of spinach and popped it in her mouth like it was a potato chip.

“Want some?” Nikki held the bag out to Imogen.

Imogen shook her head. “No, thanks.” She had zero interest in chewing on greens sans salad dressing. Watching her waistline was as important to her as the next person, but she wasn’t about to sacrifice at least some kind of flavor for skinny jeans.

Not that Imogen was really the skinny jeans type. She had probably exited the womb wearing Ann Taylor coordinates. The clean lines and understated harmony of classic clothes made her happy, and she was fortunate to have inherited her mother’s naturally thin figure. Of course, the flip side of that was a serious lack of breasts, but it was what it was and she had no interest in buying herself a cup size.

“Does that actually satisfy your hunger?” she asked Nikki curiously.

“No. But it keeps me from buying nachos.” Nikki had balanced her lettuce bag in her lap and she was digging a notebook-sized book out of her bag.

“Is that a race program?” Imogen asked. She wanted to look up Tamara’s husband Elec, and okay, she could admit it, Ty McCordle, so she could monitor their progress around the track.

“No, it’s a book I’m reading.”

Imogen gained a whole new respect for Nikki. She was reading at the racetrack. Clearly she was there to show support for her boyfriend, but had brought a book to occupy herself in the long hours alone as the cars did something like five hundred laps.

“Oh, what book is it? Fiction or non-fiction?”

Nikki frowned and pushed her sunglasses up. “I don’t know. I can never remember which one means it’s real and which one means it’s fake.”

Huh. “Fiction is a story, non-fiction is based on facts.”

“Then I guess this is non-fiction. I think.” Nikki held up the book for her to see the cover.

The title was Marrying a Race Car Driver in 6 Easy Steps. On the cover was a photograph of a woman kissing a man in a racing uniform with a pair of wedding rings surrounding them.

“Wow, uh, I don’t know if that is fiction or non-fiction either.” Imogen wasn’t sure if the book was intended to be tongue in cheek or if someone really thought there was a formula to garner a proposal from a driver. Or if the publisher and author didn’t necessarily think so, but knew women like Nikki would buy the book to learn the secret. “What does it say?”

“There are all kinds of tips and rules, plus profiles of the single drivers.”

“Are you serious?” That completely peeked the interest of the sociologist in Imogen.

“Yeah. And I broke Rule #17 of Step Two by accident. I wasn’t supposed to wear high heels to the track, only I didn’t read that part until after I was here.” Nikki rolled the top of her lettuce bag closed and stuffed it back in her purse. “I hope Ty doesn’t notice.”

Considering the man was in a car on the track driving it at approximately one hundred and eighty-five miles an hour and attempting to pass other cars going an equal speed with only inches of clearance, Imogen highly doubted Ty was concerning himself with Nikki’s trackside footwear. “I’m sure it’s fine. I don’t really see why a driver would care what his girlfriend or wife wears at a race, anyway.”

Nikki looked horrified. “That kind of attitude will never land you a driver. It’s all about image.”

“Really?” Imogen glanced over at Tamara and Suzanne. They were both normal, attractive women in their early thirties. Tamara was married to a driver, Suzanne was divorced from a driver. Somehow Imogen doubted either one of them had followed a manual to land their husbands. In fact, she would bet her trust fund on it. “Can I look at the book?” she asked.

Nikki clutched the book to her chest for a second, clearly suspicious.

“Don’t worry, I have no interest in following the steps. A stock car driver isn’t really my type.” Which she would do well to remember. Just because she had a strange and mysterious physical attraction to Ty didn’t mean it was anything other than foolish to pursue that. A driver wasn’t her type, and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she wasn’t a driver’s type. She was the total antithesis of Nikki.

“Okay.” Nikki handed the book over begrudgingly.

Imogen almost laughed. It wasn’t like what was in those pages wasn’t available to anyone who had twenty bucks and a bookstore at their disposal. She flipped the book open and it landed on a section regarding your first date with a driver. The Don’ts for First Date Night including drinking any alcohol, even a single glass of wine, an explanation of why beer drinking women weren’t at all the thing, and how while a chaste kiss at the door might be deemed acceptable, anything beyond that was wrong, wrong, wrong. Girls men wanted to marry did not, repeat did not, have sex with men on the first date.

Feeling like she just might have slid back into 1957 when she wasn’t looking, Imogen flipped to a new chapter. It was a list of places to meet drivers, including the stores they might shop at in Charlotte, the bars and restaurants they were known to frequent, and the gym several worked out at.

The wheels in her head started to turn faster and faster as she scanned through half a dozen more pages.

“What are you looking at?” Tamara asked her, leaning towards Imogen to read over her shoulder.

Imogen looked at her friend and sociology professor in satisfaction. “My thesis. I’m looking at my thesis.”

The book was declaring itself an instructional manual on how to marry a racecar driver. Which led Imogen to the question that would be the basis of her thesis- did dating rules result in success when altered for a specific occupation?

Imogen was going to follow them and find out.


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