Wednesday, December 28, 2011

EXIXTENCE by Abbi Glines

EXISTENCE by Abbi Glines

What happens when you're stalked by Death? You fall in love with him, of course.

Pagan Moore doesn't cheat Death, but instead, falls in love with him.

Seventeen-year-old Pagan Moore has seen souls her entire life. Once she realized the strangers she often saw walking through walls were not visible to anyone else, she started ignoring them. If she didn't let them know she could see them, then they left her alone. Until she stepped out of her car the first day of school and saw an incredibly sexy guy lounging on a picnic table, watching her with an amused smirk on his face. Problem is, she knows he's dead.

Not only does he not go away when she ignores him, but he does something none of the others have ever done. He speaks. Pagan is fascinated by the soul. What she doesn't realize is that her appointed time to die is drawing near and the wickedly beautiful soul she is falling in love with is not a soul at all.

He is Death and he's about to break all the rules.


An Excerpt from: Existence
Copyright © 2011 Abbi Glines

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.

A movement, out of the corner of my eye, caused the hairs on my arms to prickle. I’d known better than to stay in this empty room. But I was here now and running would make it worse. I turned to face the same soul from outside sitting in a chair at the back of the classroom with his feet propped up on the desk in front of him and his arms crossed casually over his chest. How had he known I could see him? I’d given no indication outside. Normally ghosts needed a little clue from me to realize I wasn’t as blind as the rest of the world. Something was different with this one. I dropped my gaze and started to turn around. Maybe I should go join Miranda and the jock squad out in the hall. If I acted like I didn’t see him and casually made my way back into the hallway then he might think he’d made a mistake and float away or walk through a wall or something.

“You don’t really want to subject yourself to such pointless company do you?” a cold, smooth voice broke the silence.

I gripped the hard plastic chair beside me so hard that my knuckles turned white. I fought down a startled little cry— almost a scream—in the back of my throat. Should I ignore him? Should I respond? Alerting him that his hunch was right might not end well. But ignoring this was going to be impossible. He could speak. Souls never talked to me. From the time I realized that the strangers who frequently watched me or appeared in my home and wandered the halls were not visible to anyone but me, I’d started ignoring them. Seeing dead people wasn’t a new thing for me but having them talk to me was definitely a new twist.

“I pegged you with more guts. Are you going to let me down too?” His tone softened. There was a familiar drawl in his voice now.

“You can speak,” I said looking directly at him, I needed him to know I wasn’t afraid. I’d been dealing with wandering souls, which is what I like to think of them as, all my life. They didn’t frighten me but I liked to ignore them so they would go away. If they ever thought I could see them, they followed me. He continued to watch me with an amused expression on his face. I noticed his crooked grin produced a single dimple. The dimple didn’t seem to fit with his cold, arrogant demeanor. As much as his presence annoyed me, I couldn’t help but admit this soul could only be labeled as ridiculously gorgeous.

“Yes, I speak. Were you expecting me to be mute?”

I leaned my hip against the desk. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I was. You’re the first one who has ever spoken to me.”


TEACHER'S PET by Kenzie Michaels

TEACHER'S PET by Kenzie Michaels

What happens when you discover the man you had mind-blowing sex with three months ago is your son's teacher?

Tammy Saunders is horrified when she realizes the man who set her heart racing is her son's favorite teacher. With one bad relationship behind her, will she trust her heart again, or will she continue to deny her feminine side?

And is this particular teacher popular only with his students? Kevin has made some bad choices in his life, but sleeping with not only one, but now two, of his students' mothers, has got to be the worst mistake he ever made. Especially when he realizes he's lost his heart to one of them...


An Excerpt from: Teacher's Pet
Copyright © 2011 Kenzie Michaels

All rights reserved, Freya's Bower.

By reading this excerpt, you are stating that you are at least 18 years of age. If you are younger than 18 years old, you must exit this site at once.

She spotted the handsome stranger across the parking lot. Dark hair, arresting eyes, tall muscular body encased in a snug-fitting long-sleeved t-shirt and blue jeans. She observed him approach the concession stand and order. She kept her eyes on him, heard her children call to their friends. Moisture pooled inside her core, and her nipples tightened, imagining what it would be like to see him naked. God, it had been a long time since she’d reacted this way to a man!

He turned toward her, and their eyes met. He tossed a kernel of yellow corn into his mouth; she dropped her eyes and continued on toward the bleachers. She spotted her son, already engaged in baseball practice, and spoke to several of the parents while edging through the crowd. But her mind was on the dark-haired stranger. Who was he? Was he another parent? Coach? Recent high school grad? Boyfriend of one of the teenage girls? She decided to take in the high school girls’ softball game and climbed to the top bleacher, nodding to a teacher she knew.

“Hey there, Mr. Castle, how long did it take the cheerleaders to understand the Pythagorean Theorem?” A body landed next to her, and her breath caught in her throat, recognizing the stranger who’d made her crazy with sexual fantasies. Her breath caught when their knees bumped. His voice burned into her brain, and she knew she had to find the courage to speak to him.

The balding teacher turned around and shook his hand. “Lord help us if Emily Mason ever decides to be an architect.”

“I know Emily. I helped her with her Algebra three years ago. Did she really always mark her test papers with ‘b’ or ‘c’?” She leaned forward to insert herself into the conversation. Her knees shook, and she hoped she sounded coherent.

The stranger laughed, turning his intense, milk chocolate brown eyes her way. “That’s Miss Mason. She was convinced all the correct answers could be found on her boyfriend’s test paper. Or if by choosing ‘b’ most of the time, she at least improved her odds of getting it right.”

Her brain screamed for her to do something to get him alone. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a fly ball approach and grabbed for it, but the stranger had also reached out to catch it. They crashed into each other, and she landed unceremoniously in his lap with his arms around her waist, inches from her breasts.

Electricity arced between them, along with the bulge in his denim.

“Oh I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?” Dumb question; that’s not a gun in his pocket!

She eased herself up, sweeping away the spilt popcorn. “Let me buy you another bag of popcorn.”

“No, no. That’s not necessary.” “Please, I insist. You can buy a bottle of water.” What the hell possessed you to say that? Water? Why not a soda?

“Lead the way.”

* * * *

He’d noticed the curvy, blue-eyed woman with the flowing hair watching him earlier and his body tightened. She seemed to be totally unaware of the way her hips swayed beneath her leggings and oversize sweatshirt. Or was she? His experience told him she wasn’t, but then again, she hadn’t glanced back to see if he was looking. She climbed to the top of the bleachers and sat behind one of his colleagues. Who was she? Definitely too young to be a parent of one of the high school girls. Maybe a parent of one of the smaller children on the other ball diamonds? He vaguely remembered seeing her with two small children…damn. She had to be married. Her familiarity with the teacher surprised him, and a flash of jealousy scorched his body. He wanted to see that dazzling smile directed at him, to run his hands through that mane of curls wafting over her shoulders in the breeze.

Unable to contain himself, he vaulted up the bleachers and planted himself in the spot beside her. The scent of her floral perfume hit his nostrils and he forced himself to ignore her and tease his colleague about a group of students. He tried to maintain his composure; what he wanted to do was grab her and claim that rosebud mouth for himself.

Her gentle voice joined the conversation. He turned to look at her, and his throat went dry. Suppressed passion burned in her dark blue eyes. And then a foul ball flew toward them. They both reached for it, but it flew overhead. She landed in his lap, crushing his erection painfully against his leg. He dropped his popcorn and grabbed at her waist, his hand brushing her breasts. Her mouth fell open, and it took enormous amounts of self-control not to kiss her right then and there. Time slowed; images of stripping her naked ran through his brain. He released her and agreed to accompany her to the concession stand. Hell no, he didn’t want popcorn. He wanted her, wet and willing, his hard cock plundering her soft pussy over and over until they were both sweaty and satisfied.

He shook the haze clouding his brain to check her left hand. No ring. Was she divorced, then? Separated? Baby-sitting? Dozens of scenarios raced through his brain. Halfway to the stand, he asked her. And was jubilant when the answer was single.

“Well then…what say you we skip the stand and get a cup of better coffee in town?” Town was two blocks away from the school.

She hesitated. “My kids have practice until two, but they know I sometimes go up to the coffee shop and to wait for me at the van.”

“I’ll have you back by then.” He steered her to his car, but touching her had been a mistake. When he opened the door for her, she turned to look at him, and suddenly they were in each other’s arms. Her hands found their way inside his shirt, cool against his hot skin. He slid his over her backside, caressing the curves encased in spandex. He pulled her closer and rocked his pelvis against hers. Roughly, he dragged his mouth from hers and told her to get in.

Instead of driving to the coffee shop, he drove the opposite way to a deserted country road.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

SLOW BREAK by Sara Brookes

SLOW BREAK by Sara Brookes

Jack Cotton thought he'd made the right choice to walk away from Tawse, the only BDSM club on Sypricon. But a life-altering tragedy has shown him the error of his ways. Now, he's ready to make amends and is more than prepared to kneel before the Dom he left so abruptly.

Denton is bound by the rules of Tawse, and he knows Jack's membership has been terminated. But Jack's return is all too personal and his actions can't simply be ignored. Forced to make a choice, Denton does the only thing his instincts as a Dom tell him. After all, some men, like rules, are meant to be broken.



“I’m sorry to hear about your brother, Jack. Considering the circumstance, I’ll let this violation of the rules slide. I’m not so sure your Dom will agree with me, but that’s his problem to deal with.” Jack nodded and turned his back.

Denton glared at Miranda in annoyance. She glared right back, her bright blue eyes shining despite the low light in the room. “This ends tonight, good or bad, I don’t care. I will not have either of you endangering the rest of the members because of any kind of personal problems in or out of the club. Understood?”

Denton said nothing as the door slammed and the locks slid into place. He knew how to override the code in order to get out of the room, but the news Bastian was dead had hit him harder than he’d let on to Jack. He’d never been interested in the war taking place so far away, so whenever the news reports came on, he tuned them out.

Seeing Jack back in the club was painful enough without adding the news Bastian had been killed. He was pissed but had shown as much emotion as he dared.

Keep emotions out of the equation—at least his own.

He pressed a hand against the wall to steady himself. The quiet of the room allowed him to hear the sound of shifting fabric, and he closed his eyes to will himself away from the moment. He knew he’d find an eager submissive the moment he turned around and he didn’t know if he was ready for this step.

Caught off guard by Jack’s sudden reappearance, he wasn’t sure if he could do what his gut told him needed to be done. If it had been anyone else, he would’ve gladly taken on the task without question. But this was Jack. Asking any of the other Doms to handle this wouldn’t be justice as they weren’t the ones who had the issue.

This was his problem to fix.


Friday, December 16, 2011



Plus-sized Jovie Andrews is constantly passed over for promotions and she feels invisible. Things only get worse when her boss, thinking he can impress the owner of their company, tells everyone that she can change old contracts into gold bars. If Jovie thought her life was bad before, she had no idea how horrible it could be until she finds herself in a room with stacks of outdated contracts she's expected to miraculously transform.

As she pours a cup of tea, she rubs at a stain on the creamer pot, and a magical being, Rand, appears, saying he'll help her with her troubles - for a price each time. Skeptical yet curious about the exotically sexy man, she agrees, but she's not prepared for the erotic things he does to her as reward. Over the course of her trials, he teaches her how worthy of good things she really is.

Once the tasks are completed, and freed of Rand's help, Jovie is given an ultimatum: find out his full name or exchange her life for Rand's; otherwise, he'll be lost for all eternity and she'll be trapped in the prison he came from.


Chapter One

Jovie Andrews cast a glance around the conference room table. Her stomach pitched when her gaze landed on her boss, Dan Forth. Tall, thin and bearing the beady-eyed, furtive look of a used car salesman, the man in charge of Romantic Escapes was the last person anyone would expect to see at the helm of a conference facility. Especially one that mainly dealt in hosting wedding receptions.

And now he’d summoned all thirteen staffers together.

Thirteen. A very unlucky number on any given day, but today felt even more off kilter. She could almost see Dan rub his hands together with glee ala silent movie villain style. What would he say? They were all being laid off? It would make sense because when the economy tanked, their bookings had gone down over the last year.

Ignoring the nervous buzz of conversation, Jovie combed the fingers of one hand through her tumbled honey-gold curls, drawing out stray strands while she bit the inside of her lower lip. What was he waiting for? Dan's drawing out the reason was about to kill her, and she didn’t need the added stress. As the junior account rep, technically she was still under the six month probationary period and could be let go without an excuse. But she’d built up a respectable client list of recurring business people and other executives that conducted monthly staff meetings at the Romantic Escapes facility so she shouldn’t be worried.

What she really coveted was a promotion to senior account representative, which would allow her to work with more of the clients, especially the ones with weddings to plan. That’s where the real money was. That’s where she needed to be in order to move into a better apartment, ditch her pot-smoking roommate and buy a car. God, just thinking about not riding the bus to work anymore made her lips lift in a smile.

Her paycheck now was adequate, but depending on commission-only money had played havoc with her checking account. Her savings had depleted. It was imperative she impress the weasel-like Dan.

Another man swept into the conference room. Jovie stifled a groan. Of all her co-workers, she disliked him the most. Clinton Mosby. The epitome of slick, salesman charm and charisma, he wore a tailored gray suit, expensive dress shirt and kept his hair cut short and sexy. An overpowering cloud of designer cologne followed him in and settled oppressively throughout the room.

With the cocky attitude he owned like a second skin, Clinton dropped into the empty leather chair next to hers and shot her an oily grin. “Hey, blue eyes. Land any new clients?”

She shook her head, scooting her chair back a few inches. It was really too bad he was her “mentor” and his word could make or break her future with the company. “Not today. The ones you’ve dumped on me have taken too much of my time.” Clinton’s idea of work meant tossing off the customers he deemed not important enough.

Jovie didn’t mind because she gained experience from it, except it didn’t leave her nearly enough time at the week’s end to work on gaining her own clients.

“Don’t worry, kid. You’ll get there.” He patted her leg then moved his hand beneath her flirty beige skirt and squeezed her knee. “I’m happy to help with after-hours lessons.”

“Pass.” She removed his hand like she’d done so many other times before. The guy didn’t get the hint she wasn’t interested—in him, not the chance at sex. Her love life may be experiencing a drought, but she refused to dip into crazy just to scratch that itch. After all, curvy girls weren't desperate, despite what most people thought.

“You’re a frigid bitch, Jovie, and wound tighter than a clock. One of these days you’re gonna get sprung and I’ll be the man that does it.” He leaned toward her, stirring the citrusy cologne-laden air and whispered, “If you let me do you, I can guarantee that promotion you’re lusting after.”

She recoiled as far as she could into her padded chair. “I want it on my own merits—not from being in your bed.”

“Wrong answer. You don’t want to mess with me, little girl. I can make or break you. The only way up the ladder is through me.” Clinton wheeled his chair away. “And you just made a bad choice.”

Her breath whooshed out in a rush of relief. She’d rather die than have sex with him. Not opposed to a good romp, the idea of being intimate with Clinton made her want to wretch. Thankfully, Dan cleared his throat at the head of the table and called the room to order.

“Romantic Escapes is barely holding its own in the marketplace. That being said, if you account reps want to keep your jobs and not find yourselves reporting for duty at the unemployment office, you'll need to turn in six new leads a week. Period. I’m in the business of making money. I can’t do that if you’re not pulling your weight.”

When grumbles met the announcement, Dan shrugged. “If you don’t want to work, I don’t need you on the staff. Your job is to make me money. Bottom line. Now unless you’ve got another sure-win idea, get back to work.”

The bulk of the occupants of the room stood. Jovie followed suit and accidentally met Clinton’s dark gaze. A chill raced down her spine and prickled her skin beneath her business suit. She’d seen that look before and it meant no good.

“Actually, Dan, I think I’ve got the best idea yet, one that will bring pure profit with no effort on your part.” Clinton pushed himself slowly to his feet with a predatory grin parting his lips.

“Oh? Then I’m all ears.”

“I thought you would be.”

Jovie attempted to edge around him but Clinton clamped a hand around the upper part of her left arm. “I need to return to my clients.”

“I’m sure you do, since you’re the hardest working junior rep we have.” His grip tightened until she winced. “Please stay. This new thought concerns you.”

She wrenched away. “Get on with it. I’d rather not lose my job because of some asinine idea. I’m already doing enough of your work as it is.” She heard the snark in her voice but didn’t care. Already, too much time had been wasted by the stupid meeting. The last member of the staff cleared the doorway. No one would run interference for her.

“You won’t get far in this field with that attitude.” Clinton’s eyes bore into hers. “Remember, you brought this on yourself.” He turned to Dan. “Our little Jovie is worth her weight in gold.”

“Is that right? Well, it’s certainly not showing in her work. She should have three more contracts than she does now.”

Clinton threw an arm about her shoulders. “I have recently discovered Jovie has a hidden talent.” The oily chumminess in his sent bile into her throat.

“Oh?” Dan’s beady eyes roved over her body. “What would that be? She’s too much on the fleshy side for that type of activity.”

Heat swept through her cheeks at his implication. Before she could object, Clinton interjected.

“I wouldn’t know. She rejects all my attempts.” A trace of bitterness echoed in his statement. “However, you’re not even in the ballpark, sir.” His wolfish grin widened. “She has the ability to turn old contracts into gold. And not just any gold. Gold bars.” He held up a hand, palm outward, when both she and Dan scoffed at the idea. “I know you’re thinking I’m insane, and that Jovie would have to be a magician to attempt something like this.”

Jovie jerked from under his arm. “You’re an ass, Clinton.”

“I agree. Time is money." Dan retrieved a yellow note pad and pen from the polished wood table. "Get to the real point instead of this hormonal nonsense between you two.”

“Oh, this is the truth, sir. I don’t know how she does it, but our girl has been holding back. Think about it. Wouldn’t a few gold bars patch the hole in this doomed company? You can say we're solvent all you want, but we both know the end is coming.”


Clinton threw an evil look over his shoulder before turning his attention back to Dan. “In fact, I’d bet a month’s commission that if you brought in a copy paper box full of outdated and cancelled contracts, Jovie could turn them into a stack of gold bricks before the morning. Just think of how much cash that could translate into with today’s prices.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Jovie marched forward and yanked on Clinton’s arm. “What kind of crap are you trying to pull here? I can’t turn contracts into gold any more than I can turn this conference table into a chariot with six horses.” She mentally berated herself for thinking of fairy tales at a time like this when what she really needed was a level head.

“I agree with Jovie on this one, Clinton.” Dan’s face reflected his doubt. “I don’t know how you’re trying to get your rocks off, but this is a stupid idea.” He turned toward the doorway.

“Are you sure?” Clinton followed their boss and laid a congenial hand on his shoulder. “What do we know about her? She’s worked here for six months and hasn’t made many friends among the staff. She rejects every effort we’ve made to take her out for drinks. She’s secretive. If you let her walk out of here, how do you know she won’t quit overnight and lend her unique talent to another company?”

Speechless with outrage, Jovie could almost see the wheels turning in Dan’s brain. Stupid, greedy man! I can’t believe he’s considering this! She curled her fingers into fists, biting her bottom lip when her fingernails bit into the flesh of her palms.

Clinton's smirk widened. “Imagine if what I say is true? A pile of gold bricks could keep this company afloat for a long time and give you the cash you need to woo bigger clients, perhaps open up a second location. Hell, you could close this white elephant and retire to some tropical location and play golf the rest of your life.”

“Oh, please.” Jovie swallowed heavily when the light of materialism sprang into Dan’s eyes. “Sir, you have to know how stupid this sounds! Turning anything into gold. What an idiotic idea. He’s making this stuff up.”

As one, both the men assessed her. Dan cleared his throat. “Stupid or not, I have no choice except to see if what Clinton says is true.” He rubbed bony fingers over an equally bony chin. A Cheshire grin played about his thin-lipped mouth. “Clinton, escort Jovie into the small conference room at the end of the hall. The one without windows so she won't be distracted. Jovie, I'll bring all of last year's contracts to the room and let you have a go at it.”

Horror swept through her stomach and left it in knots. “Are you people out of your minds?” Jovie made a move to shove past the men. Clinton grabbed one of her arms while Dan led the procession along the hall. “Let me go! You can’t hold me against my will. This isn’t the Middle Ages!” Fear rose in her throat and tightened her chest as sweat dampened her back, causing her lavender silk shirt to stick to her skin.

Dan waved off her protests. "It won't be against your will. You'll work in the conference room. If you don't do the job, you won't have the job anymore. Your choice."

Her mouth fell open.

“You listen to me.” Clinton pulled her closer, moving his mouth to her ear. The smell of beer on his breath made her gag. “We both know you can’t change anything into gold. Only a moron would think so, which, lucky for me, Dan is. So you have two choices. Stay here and try to do the impossible. Or sleep with me and I’ll convince him I was playing a joke.” He angled his lips toward hers. “Depending on how you perform for me, I’ll tell him you deserve to keep your job, or if you’re really good, that promotion.”

“You’re crazy.” She pushed him away, blinking back tears of rage. Why had she left her purse at her desk? She had no access to her cell phone to call for help. Attempting to tug away, she soon realized her limited strength was no match for the two determined men. For the moment, she had no choice but to try and appease them. "Fine. I'll do it."

“You make me that gold.” Clinton’s eyes glittered with greed. “Hell, I’ll even give you that promotion. If you don’t, you’re fired. I’ll destroy your reputation in this industry.”

Before she knew it, they shoved her in the conference room and flipped on the light. Clinton patted her down in an extremely invasive way, but since she didn’t have anything on her person, he came away empty handed. Dan retrieved the phone from a small side table by the door, yanking the cord from the wall.


Ignoring her, they slammed the door and were gone.

She was alone with nothing but her racing thoughts to keep her company. Damn it, no matter how ridiculous the idea sounded, what if they weren't talking literal gold? What if they really wanted her to call the old clients and find out if they wanted to book a future event? That way, money would come into the company and be considered "modern" gold. "Get a grip, girl. The pricks removed the phone." She took a deep, shuddering breath and blew it out. Fine. No reason to panic. I'll just work throughout the night, do the best I can and hope for a miracle.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

OPENING NIGHT by Cheryl Dragon

OPENING NIGHT by Cheryl Dragon

A heated one-night stand a year ago doesn't stop Barb from starring on Broadway with Drew, a hot young hunk. Their new play is a hit, and Drew is out to prove there’s more to their relationship than that one fling.

Locking them in a dressing room, he ties her up and uses sex to reveal the truth of her feelings - which is exactly what she needs from him.

He might be young, but he proves he's the strong partner she needs to free her from the mask she wears every day.



The crowds cheered as the curtain closed. Drew walked to the front of the stage and grabbed Barb’s hand. He felt her tense now that the play was over, but they had to take a bow.

“They loved it. We’re hot together,” he whispered.

“Don’t start. It’s all acting.” She smiled brightly as the curtain came up and the cast bowed.

“We both know that’s a big lie. We’re a hit, and you’re stuck with me.” Drew wanted the play to succeed for his career but also to be close to Barb for the foreseeable future. She’d refused to give in and admit they were perfect together. He knew his younger age was part of it, but there was something more that held her back. A past relationship? She seemed reluctant to date much at all, at least publically.

The rest of the cast stepped back, and Drew and Barb took their praise as the leads. Barb had tossed every female cast member under thirty-five at him, but he’d refused them all. He had his eyes on the forty-two-year-old star, the diva herself with a fit dancer’s body and shoulder-length reddish-brown curls.

Barb graciously accepted roses, and Drew was forced to let go of her hand. It wouldn’t be long now. He’d waited for today for a reason. It was their anniversary of sorts.

Roughly a year ago, he’d had a supporting role in another play with his diva. But the chemistry between them was every bit as strong then. They’d shared one night of passion in her dressing room on that opening night. It had changed everything, but she’d come down with “amnesia”. The play had closed early, but his passion hadn’t.

Being thirty-three wasn’t a crime to anyone except Barb, who’d dismissed him as too young. A straight man on Broadway, Drew was a hot commodity. Barb was more interested in not being seen as robbing the cradle than enjoying what they had.

Tonight, he’d take charge and change all of it one way or another. Before, she’d been the star and he’d been a nothing. Now, he’d held his own with her as a lead on a Broadway stage. He saw their future together, intertwined in every way. It might take a little demanding, but Drew was done building the new play and their relationship—the play had debuted and now it was time to get the relationship into the right gear. He was sure about Barb and had to take charge with the woman he loved.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011



Three mental patients, two loaded guns, one stolen car and a whole lot of trouble...

Every Friday night Ruckus and Fred sneak out of Shady Grove Home for the Mentally Insane for a ride in their orderly's convertible. A trip to the used book store and Dairy Queen is Ruckus's one little routine among the chaos of pissing all over the lunch trays.

There is nothing routine about Apple, another Shady Grove resident who wants to go joyriding with the boys. It quickly becomes obvious she has bigger plans than getting an ice cream cone - plans that could land them in jail or even worse.

When their lives are threatened by three angry ex-cons and a crooked cop, it's up to Ruckus to get his friends back to Shady Grove in one piece. First, they all need to face reality and confront their tragic pasts. Soon Ruckus realizes that if Apple doesn't drive him totally nuts, she just may help restore his sanity.


Chapter Two

Ruckus sat up in bed and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Something wasn’t right. Something definitely wasn’t right. He listened, but the only sound he heard was Fred gently snoring in his sleep on the other side of the room. It was still too dark to see, so he closed his eyes and inhaled. A familiar scent snaked through his senses and coiled around his spine, gripping every nerve ending like a vice.


It took him a moment to comprehend what his instincts were telling him. He inhaled again. There was definitely a female presence in his room. And fruit. Yes, maybe fruit salad.

This was a dream, he told himself. He was still sleeping. Ruckus closed his eyes then rubbed them. He opened them again but it was still too dark to see anything.


Ruckus jumped and hollered, knocking over the lamp beside his bed.

From the other side of the room, he heard Fred yell. Then the blinding light from Fred’s flashlight was in his eyes.

“Get that light out of my eyes!” Ruckus growled.

Fred shined the light against the open window and then at the chair beside the window—the chair with the slender, flame-haired girl wearing blue hospital pajamas and holding an apple. She bit down into the fruit and stared at them as if sitting in their room in the dark was the most natural thing in the world to do.

“What are you doing?” Fred’s crackling voice was laced with fear.

“I’m eating an apple,” she replied before taking another bite.

“Oh,” Fred breathed, sounding relieved, as if the universe suddenly made perfect sense.

Ruckus leaned over his bed and picked up the fallen lamp. He set it back on his nightstand and turned on the light.

“What’s your name?” Ruckus asked.

“Apple,” she answered through a mouthful of fruit.

“We know it’s an apple. What’s—your—name?”Fred enunciated each word as if he was talking to a first grader.

“My name is Apple.” She shrugged and took another bite.

“Oh,” Ruckus and Fred answered in unison.

That’s when Ruckus finally understood that expression, ‘You are what you eat.’

“I’m Ruckus.” Ruckus pointed to himself before nodding at his roommate. “This here’s Fred. Why are you in our room?”

“I’m bored,” she answered before burping into her tiny fist and throwing the apple core over her shoulder.

The core flew in a perfect arc and vanished right through the open window beside her chair. Like the apple was magic. Or maybe Apple was magic.

Ruckus realized he’d never seen her before. After the last few times he’d pissed on the lunch trays, they’d kept him away from the women at Shady Grove, but he should have seen her passing in the hall on the way to warm-ups or to the library.

“So do you want to do something?” Fred blurted.

“Like what?” she asked.

Fred chewed on his bottom lip for a moment before bouncing out of bed. He pulled several paper-clipped and banded books out from under his mattress and walked over to Apple, dumping the books in her lap. “We could read.”

She picked up a book and studied the picture of the pregnant woman and the man with a cowboy hat locked in a passionate embrace. She pulled a face and shook her head while pushing the books onto the floor. “No thanks. I’m not a big fan of romance.”

Fred’s shoulders deflated, making him look like a puppy who’d just been scolded for messing on the floor. He bent over and picked up his books then shuffled back to bed.

Ruckus took a good long look at Apple. At first she’d looked like a kid because of her small size. But as his eyes adjusted to the light, he could see she had the slightest hint of wrinkles framing the edges of her large golden eyes and the corners of her drawn mouth. He figured she was on the downhill slide to thirty or maybe older.

She was just a little thin, maybe from eating and shitting apples. She had a pretty face, with the scattering of freckles on her cheeks and small nose, but something about her looked scraggly. Kind of like a nice shoe that had a few-too-many scuff marks.

Then again, she had to be a scuffed shoe if she’d landed herself in Shady Grove.

“Why’d they put you in here?” Ruckus asked.

“I’m a klepto.” As if to prove her point, she stuck out her tongue, revealing one of Fred’s paperclips.

Fred scratched the back of his neck and squinted. “Like those women who like too much sex?”

Ruckus stifled a laugh. “That’s a nympho, Fred.”

Apple momentarily averted her gaze while she ran slender fingers through her cropped hair. Finally, she fixed Fred with a comical stare. “I’m a nympho, too.”

They both gaped at her for a long moment.

Fred closed his slackened mouth then blurted. “You’re a klepto-nympho?”

She flashed a dazzling smile and nodded.

Something about the feral expression in Apple’s eyes as her gaze shifted from Fred’s crotch, then to his crotch, rubbed Ruckus the wrong way. Instinctively, he pulled the pillow from behind his back and placed the protective barrier over his lap.

He didn’t think being a klepto and a nympho was such a good combination, and he wondered the real reason she was in their room. Narrowing his gaze, he leveled her with a question that sounded more like an accusation. “They catch you stealing dicks?”

Fred gasped. “That wasn’t funny, Ruckus.”

“It’s a serious question.” He wagged a finger at Apple. “I don’t want her stealing my dick when I’m sleeping. I need it to piss.”

Fred’s eyes widened to saucers and he grabbed his crotch while scooting back against the headboard. “I need my wiener, too, Ruckus.” he cried. “I don’t want to pee sitting down.”

“I’m not going to steal your wieners,” she hissed. “I just thought you two might want to go somewhere.” She stared hard at Ruckus, a knowing expression in her gaze. “I heard you know how to hotwire Otis’s car.”

Fred jumped to his knees and raised his hand in the air like he was a grade-school brown nose vying for the teacher’s attention. “He doesn’t hotwire it. Mr. Otis leaves the keys in his gym bag.”

“Don’t tell her that,” Ruckus snapped before turning to Apple with a scowl. “Who told you about Mr. Otis’s car?”

“Yeah,” Fred squealed. “That’s a secret. Nobody knows.”

She rolled her eyes. “What are you talking about? The whole town, except Otis, knows you take his car joyriding.”

“They do?” Ruckus rasped.

“Duh,” she sneered.

Fred gave Ruckus a deer-in-the-headlights stare before he swallowed hard. “I wonder why nobody’s ratted us out.”

“Otis is the town asshole. That’s why.” Apple stood and faced the window before turning to them with a sly grin. “He leaves his keys in his gym bag, huh?” She snaked one thin leg through the window.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Ruckus jumped out of bed and threw the pillow to the floor. “That’s our car. You can’t steal it!”

“I’ll tell you what.” She cocked a brow, her cool gaze assessing him from head to toe. “I’m going for a ride in that car. If you want to come along, you can.”

“Where are you going?” Fred asked. “The bookstore and Dairy Queen are closed now.”

“So that’s all you guys do?” she laughed. “Go read books and eat ice cream?”

“Yeah.” Ruckus folded his arms across his chest. “What about it?”

“Ohhh,” she cooed. “You’re real rebels. Real rule breakers.”

“That’s right. I am a rule breaker. I piss on lunch trays.”

She jutted a hand on her hip. “Well how’d you like to piss on lampposts and mailboxes?”

Ruckus opened his mouth in a retort, then paused. Mailboxes? He wondered if she meant the kind in front of houses or the big blue cylinders with pull down slots, perfectly sized for small packages or streams of piss. “On mailboxes or in them?”

One corner of her mouth turned up in the slightest smile. “Take your pick.”

“I don’t know about this, Ruckus.” Fred slipped underneath his blankets and pulled them over his eyes. “This isn’t how we do things.”

Apple stuck out her wrist, making a big show of checking the time on her invisible watch. “The donut shop will be opening in a few hours.”

“Donuts?” Fred tossed back the covers. “I haven’t had donuts in a long time. Do they still have holes in them?”

She turned up her chin, nodding. “They’ve got plenty of holes.”

Ruckus and Fred exchanged long looks. Hopeful, nervous, frightened looks.

Finally, Ruckus spoke. “Maybe we should try something different.”

“Okay.” Fred slipped out of bed. “May I bring a book?”

“Grab a book, Fred.” Apple jumped out the window.

Ruckus rushed to the window and looked down. She’d jumped onto a nearby oak and was maneuvering down the length of the branch with the dexterity of a cat on the prowl.

He let out a low whistle. This Apple was the most unusual person he’d ever met – more like a forbidden fruit than a woman. He wondered if maybe he should have resisted the temptation to follow her.

Sure, he was a rule breaker. A rebel. But not too crazy. Nothing he couldn’t handle.

He groaned, then involuntarily shuddered when a chill snaked up the nape of his neck. He’d stirred up a lot of trouble at Shady Grove before, but somehow, he knew this girl would have him in a whole heap of new trouble by night’s end.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A LIFE OF MY OWN by Denise Skelton

A LIFE OF MY OWN by Denise Skelton

Two unappreciative teens, a verbally abusive husband, and an aggressive and interfering ex-wife is a "normal" part of her life.

One Saturday morning when Liz's husband barks at her to, "Git your ass to the store and git my beer, woman," she literally runs into someone who gives her unexpected but much needed advice.

Liz decides it's time to get a life of her own. Traveling from Pennsylvania, to Michigan, to Washington State, she learns about friendship, happiness and love. Moreover Liz discovers who she really is.



Lost in thought, I almost missed the turn into Wal-Mart and had to slam on my breaks to catch the driveway in time. I turned the wheel sharply to pull into the parking lot and the next thing I knew, a horn was blaring and my head snapped forward as my car plowed into the back of another vehicle.

Great! Can this day get any worse? I thought. And then, Oh shit, Brian�s going to hit the roof. Before I knew it, tears were welling in my eyes and pouring down my cheeks.

I shakily pulled to the side of the parking lot and the silver SUV that I’d hit followed me. I wiped my face with a napkin and tried to pull myself together. Sniffling miserably, I got out of the car and faced the driver of the other vehicle.

She was a petite Asian woman, maybe in her fifties. When she stepped from her car she was frowning, but when she saw my panicky tears, her face softened. Clattering quickly toward me on her spiky little red heels, she held out her hand. "Honey," she said in a lightly accented voice. "Are you okay? Are you hurt? Are you just shook up?"

"I'm so sorry," I begin to cry again. "I wasn't paying attention, I didn't mean to do that. I’m so stupid! My husband is going to have a fit and I don’t know if I remembered to pay the last insurance premium because the girls needed new clothes."

She placed her hand on my arm comfortingly and made little shushing sounds, cutting off my blathering. "Look," she said, drawing me over to where her SUV was parked. "It’s not bad. There’s just a little paint here from the back of your car. And yours," she gestured to the bumper of my Civic. The plastic was chipped and cracked in places, but still hanging on bravely.

"Not too bad either. Just a little crumple, that’s all. Gives that bumper a little character. We won’t even call the police. As a matter of fact, Ill cover your little paint spot on my car with some nail polish. I’ve got just the color! No insurance company for that either." She smiled at me encouragingly, her dark eyes crinkling at the corners, and to my horror, I began to really sob. My shoulders were quivering and I could hardly breath as I cried.

She immediately wrapped her arms around me and it was like being comforted by a child, since she had to be less than 5 tall. I was shaking hard from the force of my tears, and the woman pulled out a silky handkerchief that smelled of a light and sweet, but expensive perfume, and began dabbing at my face with it.

I was so embarrassed, but I couldn’t seem to stop. After fifteen minutes of the tiny woman patting my back, as I cried my heart out at the deserted end of the Wal-Mart parking lot, my tears finally slowed, and then gave way to hiccups. She smiled again, stepped back, and stuck out her hand.

"I'm Ann," she said. "It's a rule that women who cry all over each other must be friends."

I gave a quick laugh and shook her hand. "I’m so sorry for that..."

Ann cut off my apology with a quick wave of her manicured hand. "What’s your name?" she asked.


"Well, Liz, I think we should get a cup of coffee and you can tell me what’s wrong. Well take my car and go to Starbucks, my treat, and I’ll bring you back in a little while."

"Oh, I couldn’t," I protested instantly. "My husband sent me out for beer" I let my sentence trail off, thinking about how terrible that sounded, but Ann just shook her head hard, making her pageboy haircut swing.

"Nope," she said. "Another rule. Women who go through car accidents and crying spells need mochas with whipped cream. Come on," she said, pulling me toward what I saw was an expensive Lexus. "Get in."

I had never been one to make friends quickly, but it seemed as if that was just what I’d done. Shaking my head at this weird twist of fate, I climbed in, trying not to think about Brian, with his face growing purple and that vein that always popped out on the side of his head when he was angry.

Ann chattered non-stop as she drove the mile or so to the coffee shop, not leaving me with a single second to feel uncomfortable about completely humiliating myself in front of a total stranger and then letting that stranger talk me into buying me a coffee. During that short time, I learned that she had come to the United States in her teens with her family, immigrating from a small village in China, before graduating from Harvard on a scholarship in her mid-twenties and joining a successful law practice as a junior partner before she even hit thirty.

Once we reached Starbucks, Ann pulled me along in her wake like a mini hurricane, ordering me a giant, fragrant mocha and, despite my weak arguments, a bowl of mushroom rice soup and a big piece of crusty French bread.

We settled into a booth. She sipped her coffee and sighed in satisfaction. "That Good. Now, tell me about yourself."

Amazingly, I found myself opening up to her. I told her about my life. Losing my mom so young and then, just a few months ago, losing my dad. I cried a little when I told her about my big brother and sister, William and Linda, and how I hadn’t seen them often in the past few years. I saw William briefly at Pops funeral. But I saw Linda a little more frequently since we both lived in Pittsburg, but that I didn’t see her as often as I’d like to. I told her about life with Brian and the girls, how it was getting harder every day, and how guilty I felt for being unhappy. I told her about Stephanie, and how I thought she was the one responsible for Sam and Shannon’s increasingly disrespectful attitudes. I even told her things I hadn’t told anyone’ like how Id always wanted a child of my own, even though I loved my stepdaughters. And the big secret Id been carrying for the last few months: that I hadn’t actually spent my entire inheritance on Pops funeral like Brian had thought. That I was terrified he would find out.

The whole time, Ann gave me her full attention, patting my hand sometimes when I teared up, and smiling at the good parts, with her dark eyes twinkling and the little crows feet crinkling at the corners.

When I finally calm down, I looked down in surprise to see that Id completely finished all of my soup and bread practically without tasting it, and there were just a few cold swallows of coffee left in the bottom of my cup.

"I'm so sorry," I said immediately, starting to get up. "I've talked your ear off and you don't even know me. I can only imagine what you must think."

"Sit down, Liz," Ann ordered firmly. "I had nothing to do this afternoon that was more important than this last two hours has been." Two Hours! I let out a little gasp.

"You needed someone, I was there. When I need someone in the future, maybe you’ll be there."

"Definitely," I nodded, thankful to have unloaded everything Id told her. "Whenever you need me." As I dug in my purse for a pen to write my phone number, my cell display was blinking madly.

Brian had called eight times, Sam four, and Shannon twice. Even the she-devil called once. I checked the time. "Oh no," I burst out. I stood gathering my things, but Ann gestured for me to sit, and I automatically plopped back down in the booth. "But my husband."

Ann interrupted. "Liz, you’ve shared a lot with me. I know I'm a lawyer, and not a shrink, but can I give you some advice?"

"Of course, anything," I said.


I stared at her blankly. "I know, I have to stop and pick up the beer" I began.

"No, I mean you need to leave that life. I'll take you back to your car and you just hop in and keep on driving."

"I can't do that," I whispered, immediately nervous, because we were about to talk about something that had been in the back of my mind for the last few months, something that I'd talked to my sister and brother about at Pops funeral. Something that I'd never mentioned to anyone else. The overwhelming urge to get into my car and disappear into the sunset.

"But my family," I sputtered. "I couldn’t do that to them. They need me."

Ann’s voice was firm, but sympathetic. "Liz, your 34-years-old. You've been taking care of them since you were barely old enough to take care of yourself. Think about the stories you've just told me. Your family has done nothing but take advantage of you. I'm not saying that you should never come back, but I am a big believer in fate and taking chances when someone offers them. Go, and if you don't stay gone, at least learn what it’s like to only take care of yourself for a while."

Suddenly, I was a little angry.

"You don’t know my family," I spat. "You don't know them. I haven't been forced to stay all these years. They need me and I stay because I love them."

Ann ignored my irritation, and calmly said, "Liz, when was the last time your husband or your children said I love you, or thank you?'" She looked at me with questioning eyes. "When was the last time Brian told you that you were beautiful?"

I immediately dropped my eyes, and she gently lifted up my head with the tips of her fingers. "When was the last time he said that he was grateful for everything you do for him? Or just said please?"

I just looked at her as tears burned the back of my eyes. I couldn’t remember. I know that they do, even if they don’t say it, I tried to convince myself.

Ann continued relentlessly but her tone grew softer. "If Brian and the girls don�t say those things, what do they say? Do they insult you? Yell at you? Look at how you reacted when you got into a little accident. You cried in fear of what your husband would say." It was a statement, not a question. Even after just meeting me, Ann knew that those tears weren’t just caused by our little fender-bender. I'd cried like a woman unhinged.

I sat silent, though. I didn’t want to answer her, because deep down, I knew she was right. And to admit it, I would be betraying Brian and the girls. I didn't want to admit it, but I’d been feeling like Id made a mistake marrying Brian. It was as if Pop's dying had jolted me from a long and terrible dream.

The countless insults and raging fits that Brian threw over the smallest matters had been coming more and more frequently in the last several months. He seemed to get angrier and angrier every time. He attacked me verbally for every little thing, and it was hard not to believe some of the things he said. Maybe I was ugly. Maybe I was fat or stupid. Maybe that meatloaf did taste like crap. He was also getting more and more frightening each time, seeming to fly into a rage over the slightest things. Over the last month I’ve had this overwhelming felling, I don�t know what it was but had to admit to myself that I was sure he was going to start hitting me soon.

Then the girls. When they insulted me, made jokes about my hair, which hadn’t seen a beauty salon since the Clinton Administration, or laughed at my clothes, which were mostly old and worn, Brian just laughed and egged them on. Countless scenarios ran through my head of all the times, just in the past couple of weeks, that Id been treated badly by my own family.

Ann gently touched my hand, bringing me back to the table at Starbucks. Before I could second-guess myself, I blurted out one word. "Okay."

"You sure?" she asked, face creasing in concern. "I'm nosy. I shouldn’t give advice like that when we’ve only known each other a few hours."

Now that I'd said it out loud, a little tingly feeling raced up my spine and it took a second to recognize what it was. Excitement. Oh, I had a whole lot of guilt to contend with for even considering leaving, but mostly I felt excitement.

"No." I said. "You’re right. Listen to this." I pulled ripped my cell phone from my purse. Two new messages in the span of five minutes. Turning the volume down so only Ann could hear, I played the messages on speakerphone.

The first message was Brian. "Don't forget to get more Doritos. Your dumb ass didn't grab any at the store last time. And hurry the hell up." Click.

Ann shook her head in disbelief, her face drawn up in a scowl.

Next was Sam, attitude just oozing through the phone. "Yeah, Liz. Pick me up at the mall at four."

The messages went on and on, Brian’s growing steadily more pissed off. Finally, I snapped the phone shut. Feeling better than I had in months, I looked at Ann and smiled. "Thank you so much for the soup and coffee, and definitely for your advice." I slid my number across the table.

"Please call me if I can return the favor. Can you take me back to my car now? I think I feel a road trip coming on."


Monday, December 12, 2011

TIDINGS OF FEAR by Ericka Scott

TIDINGS OF FEAR by Ericka Scott

A psychic, a skeptic, and a serial killer...

Psychic Lia Morgan sees portents all around her. Although estranged from her family, she joins the search for her missing sister. A simple case gets complicated fast when she discovers her sister's plethora of secrets includes a son.

Professor Jared Trimble's world has no room for paranormal mumbo-jumbo. When asked to consult on a case involving a series of crossword puzzles, he's conflicted. Is he a suspect, or an investigator?

While Lia uses her physic gift and follows signs, Jared uses his wits and experience. When the two collide, passions flare and the final clue brings them both into the bull's-eye of a serial killer's target.


Copyright 2011, Ericka Scott
All rights reserved, Lyrical Press, Inc,

Jared put his hand on Lia’s shoulder. Its warmth seemed the only heat in the room.

The officer put his pen down and looked at her with narrowed eyes and a grim expression. She shivered.

“No, I’m sorry we haven’t had a chance to call you. Do you know where Sylvie’s partner Margaret is?”

Confused, Lia shook her head. “I tried to call her earlier.”

“Please call her again.”

“Sure.” Lia pulled her phone out and punched in Margaret’s phone number.

“Put it on speaker, please.” The officer snapped.

The call went straight to voice mail.

“Then it’s not only our calls she’s avoiding,” he murmured.

“We don’t understand.” Jared said. “Has there been a new lead?”

The officer’s expression darkened, and Lia felt her eyes well up with tears. Oh God, Sylvie was dead.


“Then, why--” Lia began.

“We have reason to believe your sister voluntarily disappeared with her son to avoid appearing in court.”


“She didn’t tell you?”

Lia pursed her lips. “I already told one of your officers that I haven’t had contact with my sister for seven years. Honestly, I didn’t even know she’d had a baby.”

“Well, seems the father of the child is suing for custody.”

“Custody?” Lia felt stupid echoing back the officer’s words, but she didn’t know what else to say. She’d assumed that the baby had been the result of in vitro fertilization, or whatever method of conception most gay couples used.

“Yes, she and Deion were to appear in order to obtain a DNA sample to prove Mr. Kyle Creswell’s paternity.”

Lia’s mind went numb.

“We suspect your sister disappeared voluntarily to avoid that event. It’s doubly suspicious that her partner is also missing.”

Lia swallowed, hard.

“You think this is a staged disappearance. A hoax?” Jared stated.

“Yes, we do.”

“Oh my,” was all Lia could say. Could Sylvie have simply run away, leaving everything--her house, car, business and valuables--behind? It didn’t seem like something her sister would do, but did she really know Sylvie anymore?

“We can no longer dedicate men and resources to investigating the disappearance. Unless new information comes in, we really have no choice but to close the case.”

“I see,” Lia said, her voice sounding small and unsure to her own ears.

“But what if she didn’t disappear voluntarily?” Jared asked.

The officer’s gaze softened a bit. “I’m sorry. I know this must be difficult for you, especially since you traveled all this way.”

Lia started to stand, but Jared’s hand held her down. He didn’t seem ready to admit defeat. “If we turn up something that indicates she didn’t disappear of her own accord--”

“Then, by all means, give us a call. But honestly, I don’t think that evidence exists.”

At that moment, the lights in the station flickered and went out.

The officer cursed. “Stay here, and I’ll go see if one of those damned reporters plugged too many cameras in out front and blew a fuse.”

Then, just as suddenly as they went out, the lights came back on. Lia’s eyes were drawn to the alarm clock sitting on the officer’s credenza. The time flashed on and off. The clock displayed all eights.

Lia shivered. She didn’t have an ounce of evidence to support her belief that Sylvie hadn’t disappeared voluntarily, she simply knew. If the police weren’t going to be out looking for her, that meant she had to find Sylvie.

As if reading her mind, Jared bent over, and murmured softly, “Don’t worry, we’ll find her.”

She wished she could be so sure.


Sunday, December 11, 2011



Includes seven stories of strong, loving cowboys and the women who try their patience. These are romantic stories with a touch of domestic discipline/spanking.

James wants Kelly to quit work and start a family, but she resists the idea. Will he give up the idea of a family or will he give up Kelly?

Lizzie has a bizarre addiction to Christmas shopping and she can’t help herself, even knowing she will face the wrath of her husband who believes in domestic discipline.

Amber misses the fun little games she and Adam used to play. There never seems to be time for steamy sex, or even the spankings he’d occasionally given her for various infractions of rules or for misbehavior. Can she entice him back; get the dwindling fires of their love going again?

Jennifer loves Jason and she’d trusted him as he’d led her into the BDSM lifestyle. But now he wants to take things to a more intense level and she’s balking at it. Will she lose him if she doesn’t agree to go 24/7?

Plus three more equally hot stories of cowboys and the women they love.


Snowed in with Her Cowboy

“If you won’t quit your job, at least take a couple of weeks off before Christmas.” James walked into the bedroom carrying a cup of coffee for the woman he loved, the woman who frustrated the hell out of him lately. “There’s no way you can keep the community commitments you’ve made and work forty plus hours a week. You’re already dragging around, cranky.”

Kelly peeked at him from the walk-in closet, a frown marring her pretty face. “I don’t want to talk about this again. I’m not quitting.”

“You don’t even like working there,” he reminded her. How many times had she complained over the last six months about her impossible-to-please boss, about the other women in the office who were always trying to backstab one another. She’d taken the job at Smithson’s Architects because she didn’t want her skills as an architect to fade away. He hadn’t liked her going back to work, but he’d wanted her to be happy. She wasn’t, though, which meant they weren’t happy.

“Kelly, honey…” He hesitated because he didn’t want to fight with her, especially before she went into Kansas City for another long day of work.

“Don’t ‘Kelly, honey’me!” She stepped back into the closet. “We are not discussing this again! I’m not doing this to trample on your ego, cowboy. This isn’t about you. It’s about me.”

After three years of marriage, he had a pretty good handle on his wife. She liked her independence, and he gave her as much as possible. She spoke her mind without much thought first, which he also tolerated for the most part. She was easily twice as smart as him in many ways, which he admired. Her biggest flaw was once she made a decision, she stuck to it even if that decision proved to be a bad one. Like this job. He was tired of watching her come home exhausted from the tension of a frustrating day at the office and the hour drive back to the ranch.

“You’re wrong.” He set the steaming cup of coffee on the dresser next to the door. “This is about both of us. You’re my wife, dammit. It’s my job to watch out for you, to step in when you’re--”

“Watch it, macho boy!” She stormed out of the closet and tossed a skirt and blouse on the rumpled bed. Her brown eyes sparked with fire as she faced him. “I don’t have time for you to go all Head of the Household on me this morning. I still need to take a shower and get dressed.”

He curled his hands into fists at his sides. She’s tired. She’s stressed. But, damn, so am I! “Watch yourself, darlin’. You’re pushing this old boy right to his limits.”

Her eyes continued to flash with irritation, her posture rigid. Then slowly her lower lip quivered. Tears glimmered in those weary eyes. She slumped and all of the spit and fire went right out of her. “James…”

What the hell? Her sudden change surprised him. In an instant he moved in front of her. His arms went around her and he clutched her to him. He could stand a lot of rough things in life, but the sight of his woman in tears gut punched him. Tears after he spanked her for one reason or another was different, those he expected and understood. For any other reason, though, they unmanned him.

He felt helpless. “Baby, I’m sorry.” He stroked her bare back, smoothed his hand over the wavy mass of long dark hair. Its silkiness, its sweet scent always got to him. But not anymore than the feel of her much smaller body in only lacy bra and panties did. His erection beneath his jeans immediately pressed between them. “It’ll be okay. I’ll make it okay.” How, he didn’t know.

She snuggled even closer, trembling. “I don’t deserve you.”

These highs and lows in her mood, her tiredness, her lack of appetite suddenly reminded him of something his brother¬in-law had once said about James’ sister. “A pregnant woman can really try a man’s patience sometimes.” His heart pounded and he fought to keep his excitement under control. He’d wanted this for so damn long. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” he asked quietly.

Kelly stiffened. “What?” She shoved him away. Her plump breasts heaved in anger. “Of course I’m not pregnant!”

While disappointment crawled through him, she stomped toward the dresser and jerked out a pair of hose and a slip. She tossed them on the bed beside her clothes. “I don’t want kids right now. Maybe never. We’ve talked about this.”

They had, before they got married and many times since then. She was great with kids; she’d make a good mother. But her complicated family history kept her from wanting to have a child. He’d tried to be patient, and hoped she would change her mind. Again disappointment and hurt spread through him. His patience was on its last leg. She didn’t like her job. If she stayed home she could try that quilting stuff she’d talked about wanting to do. Or she could… He didn’t know what else, but anything had to be better than working where she did now. And if she stayed home, maybe she’d soften toward the idea of having kids.

Her face was pinched tightly as she met him eye to eye. “Get that thought out of your head right now.” When he started to protest, she forged onward, “Don’t even try to deny it. You still think having me run around here bare foot and pregnant is the answer to my problem. God, that’s sooo chauvinistic!”

Now he stood stiffly, tired to death of her calling him that. “It’s not wrong for me to want children with you. We’d make great parents.”

“You might, but I won’t.” The words came out briskly, yet he heard the pain in her voice. She was afraid to take the chance.

He ran a hand through his hair. He just didn’t know how to get through to her about this subject. She wasn’t anything like her pitifully selfish mother. No matter how many times he tried to tell her that, she resisted. They’d discussed this last week and she’d almost left him. He’d been biting his tongue and acting as understanding as he could since then. No way was he losing her, even if he had to give up the idea of having kids.

Frustration made him reckless. “You’re PMSing, aren’t you?” He groaned at his stupidity.

Her eyes narrowed. “Because I’m not the sweet, biddable little woman you think I should be?” She huffed. “So what is your excuse for the changes in your attitude lately? Grouchy one minute, walking away the next. All kissy face one minute, turning away the next. Maybe you are the one PMSing.”

He drew in deep, steadying breaths. This was really not going well. He should have gone on out to do his chores instead of bringing her a cup of coffee. Coffee that had probably turned cold by now. His efforts to be patient with her and not force another argument were straining things between them. His wanting to be tender with her and not pushy when she didn’t seem to want to pursue making love had also failed. Enough!

“We need to deal with this tension between us.” He glanced at the bed.

“We are not having sex right now. Just forget that nonsense.” She started to walk toward the attached bathroom.

James grabbed her arm and spun her to face him. “No, we aren’t making love right now.” He purposely didn’t say ‘having sex’ because that word choice irritated him. “But I’m going to take care of someone’s attitude problem.”

He tugged her with him to the bed, even as she attempted to dig in her heels on the rug. “This is happening, darlin’. Your resisting is only going to make it more unpleasant.”

Kelly’s heart pounded, her whole body thrummed in anticipation. Her husband was going to spank her.

She’d pushed him to the breaking point this time. How had this gotten so out of control? She hadn’t meant to attack him. Her head hurt, her heart hurt. Everything in her life seemed to be wrong at the moment. Her job. Their marriage. It was Christmas time and she usually loved this part of the year. This year it was yet another burden to bear.

James sat down on the side of the bed and drew her to his side, jerking her from her musings. “This isn’t necessary,” she said and looked anxiously at him. The sad expression on his ruggedly handsome face made her feel even worse. She loved this man with all of her heart, and yet lately all she seemed to do was argue with him and cause him pain.

“I think it is.” He guided her over his hard thighs. “It’s been a while since I’ve burned your butt. Usually it calms you down. I’m hoping it will again.”

Yes, she’d calm down. At least she would have something else to think about instead of all this mess. Resigned, she wriggled forward until she could put her hands on the rug. Her bottom rested on his right leg; her mound pressed against his jeans, separated only by the thin panties. “I’ve got to work today. Can’t you wait until tonight?”

One of his hands rolled the panties off her buttocks and she tensed. “No.”

She hadn’t expected him to change his mind, he never did once he’d decided to spank her. She would have to deal with a sore ass. It wasn’t the first time she’d had to suffer a spanking before work and then spend the day squirming on her chair. Still, she would rather not have had to experience it again.

“Do you know why you’re getting spanked?” He settled his left forearm over her back and lightly tapped one bare cheek with his other hand.

Her buttocks quivered, clenched. “I don’t have time to drag this out.” She could imagine his frown at her whiny protest. He liked to go through this whole why thing ad nauseum so that she understood what she’d done wrong. Once the discussion part was over he would remind her that he only disciplined her for her own good. Uh-huh. Then came the spanking.

“Just spank me like you think I need,” she said a little too forcefully.

The smack that landed sent her jerking forward, had the air gasping out of her. “Okay! I’m sorry!” she cried. “I know this isn’t how you like to do this. But I have to get to work.”

He was quiet for a few seconds and then he blew out a frustrated breath. He lifted his arm from her back. “I guess this can wait until tonight.”

Tonight? Dread this all day? No, thank you. “No, no, no,” she protested, craning her head to look back at him. “I’m already here in position, ready to accept the spanking. I don’t want to be thinking about it all day. Please, just do it.”

Love for her warmed his eyes, which only made her feel worse for having pushed him to this point. But resignation had him nodding. “We’ve done this a time or two before you went to work. Guess you’ll be able to deal with a sore butt this time, too.”

She lowered her head as he held her in place again. If she didn’t love and respect him so much, she wouldn’t have agreed to this kind of marriage, to the occasional discipline.

With wicked aim, James sent smack after smack down to her vulnerable bottom. She gritted her teeth and took her spanking with as much grace as possible. But it didn’t take long before he got her to the point of understanding—or so he called it. He burned her bottom until she couldn’t lie still, until she couldn’t keep stoically quiet. He took her right to the point where she swore between sobs, “I’ll…I’ll behave better! I promise! I promise!”

A minute later she stood in front of him, between his legs, holding her hot, stinging bottom. Yes, she would have a tough day ahead, but at least she didn’t have to spend all day thinking about going over his knee tonight. She gently rubbed at the sting, which never really helped.

His expression had softened again now that he’d done what he’d thought necessary. He never apologized for spanking her, but she knew he didn’t enjoy doing it. She held herself still as he reached up to thumb away the tears still trickling down her face.

“Are we okay?”

“I’ve got a burning ass, but…” She sniffled and gave him a wobbly smile. “But, yes, we’re okay.”

* * * *

James stood by the fireplace and sadness moved over him. Where had the time gone this month? This year? Christmas was only a couple of days away. He and Kelly hadn’t fought since the spanking. She’d settled down, but her normal Christmas vigor was missing.

He stared at the Christmas tree he’d cut down this morning and hauled back to the house with the help of his ranch foreman. Tom hadn’t said a word as they’d put the tree up and then toted box after box of decorations down from the attic. This was the first year Kelly hadn’t picked out a tree and helped him with the hauling and the decorating. It didn’t feel right to do this alone but they needed a tree. He knew how busy she was, how stressed she’d been. If all he could do to help her was put up their tree, he was more than glad to do it.

He stepped back to study the tree that sat by the stone fireplace. Had he hung too many lights? Not enough? Had he put on the ornaments she liked best? This wasn’t his expertise, but he wanted to do it right for Kelly. He wanted to take at least one of the usual tasks she performed at Christmas time off of her shoulders. She’d spent several evenings this past week baking cookies for the ranchers’ party and another one helping wrap presents for the community party last weekend. Plus they’d gone caroling with their church group one night and gone to a couple of get-togethers with neighbors. Between those long nights she’d worked extra hours at her job and squeezed in some shopping, which he’d done very little of. He didn’t want to disappoint her, but he hadn’t known what she wanted this year. Usually she gave him all kinds of hints. This year she hadn’t said a word, not left one note around for him to find.

The pine scent drifted around him, made him miss Kelly. They hadn’t had another argument since the morning he’d spanked her. She’d been calmer since then, as usually happened after he helped tone down the craziness in her behavior. But he’d been right about the PMSing thing, so they hadn’t made love yet. Fact was, he worried about them. She hadn’t said anything, but he felt an uncomfortable distance between them. He wasn’t sure they were okay, even if she’d told him they were after he’d burned her sweet butt.

He glanced out the window overlooking the ranch yard and frowned. It had started snowing not long after she’d left for the city this morning. He’d spent most of the day worrying about her. She was a good driver, but you never knew what could happen driving in snow. What he should have done was go into the city and get her. She’d probably have been irritated with him. No “probably” to it, she’d have been pissed. How many times had she told him, “I can take care of myself”?

His cellphone rang and he blinked back to the moment. He pulled it from the holder on his belt. Seeing Kelly’s number, his heart pounded. “Are you all right?” he asked in a rush.

“Yes, but...” She hesitated and he thought he might have a stroke while he waited for her to continue.

“But what?” He strode out of the great room and headed for his coat in the entry area.

“I left work early. I would have been home by now, but I sort of slid off the side of the highway.”

He froze, felt the blood draining from his face. “Are you hurt?” He mentally kicked himself for letting her leave this morning when he’d heard on the news that snow was headed their way.

“I’m fine. Just have a bruise on my forehead from where I hit my head on the steering wheel. No big deal.” She drew in a breath and said warily, “Aman stopped to help me back onto the road. But there was some damage to my car. My front bumper hit a big rock in the ditch. It’s not too bad, though, I promise.”

He punched Speaker and set his phone down on the hall table while he pulled his heavy coat on.

He didn’t know exactly where he was going, but he needed to get to her. In his near-panicked state, he recalled what she’d just said, heard the worry in her voice. “I could care less about the damn car. You are all that matters to me.”

She gave a weak sob and he felt almost certain it was one of relief. The thought that she might think he would be angry with her hurt him. Nothing mattered more to him than her. Nothing. “Are you on your way now?” Was she talking to him on her phone while driving in this snowstorm? He almost snapped at her about that, but caught himself. She was driving, but he had to let that go. She was determined to get home to him. It humbled him. “Pull over, darlin’, and tell me where you are. I’m coming for you.”

She gave a quick sniff, and he knew she was trying to cover up that she was crying. “I’m only a few miles away. I…I can make it.”

“I don’t think I can wait for you. I need to…” He pulled in a breath. Have faith in her. For some reason, he believed she needed to make her way home on her own. It would be as hard as hell, but he would let her do it. “I’ll be watching for you.”

Kelly had never in her life been as scared as when her Honda CRV went into a skid on a patch of ice. Thank God she’d been almost crawling along the highway, like all of the other cars. The SUV had spun in a slow circle and then slid down the side of the road, stopping at the bottom of the short ditch where she’d hit a good-sized boulder. Her heart was still racing. She’d been fortunate one of the other cars had pulled over and a kindly older man had helped her. He’d offered to follow her home, but she’d told him she could manage.

She turned onto the gravel road leading to the ranch. Tears streamed down her face. Almost there. James would be waiting for her, watching from the porch no doubt. She’d heard the worry in his voice and had known he wanted to come get her. He was always so determined to be the strong one, to take care of her. Including spanking her when she got snappy with him, or when she stubbornly went against him for whatever reason, or when she did something stupid. Like going to work when she’d heard on the early morning news about the snow coming and ignoring what the smart thing would have been to do: call in and say she wouldn’t be in today. If he wanted to turn her over his knee, she’d go willingly. She’d been stupid, endangered herself, gotten her car damaged, and—worst of all—needlessly worried her husband.

She’d made some decisions in the last few days, hopefully good ones. She just hoped that she hadn’t waited too long. If she lost James because of the horrible person she’d turned into lately… But he’d sounded so worried about her. He loved her. She would hold firmly to that belief and if necessary, do whatever she had to in order to make sure he still did. Her Christmas gifts to him this year were a bit out of the ordinary, but, hopefully, would be exactly what he wanted.

With a sigh of relief, she turned into the ranch yard. Every light on the barn and other buildings and the house were on, making her feel welcome. The dark afternoon no longer seemed so depressing. And there on the porch, just as she’d suspected, stood James. Her big, sometimes gruff, cowboy. So much love filled her. How had she ever been lucky enough to find him? Why he’d wanted her, stuck by her, still wanted her, amazed her. He didn’t care about her past or the kind of horrible family she came from. None of that stuff mattered to him. How many times had he told her that? How many times had she been unable to believe him?

She pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine. She watched James stride down the porch steps and walk quickly toward her, oblivious to the foot of snow he tromped through. He focused on her, only her. Her stomach fluttered. Her pulse raced. All she needed for the rest of her life was this very special man.

He tugged the car door open and leaned inside to kiss her. She trembled as his big, cold hands cupped her face. She kissed him back, put her hands on his beard-roughened face. Everything she’d gone through on this horrible day was forgotten. She was home now. With James.

He inched back and then before she knew what he was going to do, he scooped her up and out of the car. It wasn’t the first time he’d carried her, but it was the most precious time. The tender look in his eyes, the sheen of tears he’d held back because of her, touched her to the depth of her soul.

As he nudged the car door shut with his hip, she said quietly, “I love you. I know I don’t say that very often, but I do. I love you.”

He tromped back through the snow, up the steps, and into the house. He held her close and didn’t seem to care at all that snow was melting off his boots onto the tiled floor. “You don’t have to say the words, darlin’, I know.”

“But you deserve the words,” she protested, feeling guilty. She rarely said love, hadn’t trusted in the emotion. Until James.

“Actions show what you feel for me.” He slowly let her down. His gaze stayed locked with hers. “You turned this old house into a home, filled it with loving touches. Photos of my family, of you and me, on the mantle.” He grinned crookedly. “You bake me snickerdoodle cookies because I have a sweet tooth. You watch old Westerns with me, when I know you really don’t like them.”

He’d never told her these things meant anything to him, not that she did any of that to be praised. But she felt uncomfortable, knowing he’d done so much more for her from the moment they’d met. Needing a second to compose herself, she turned toward the great room. Then she really lost it.

“Oh, James,” she gasped, gaping at the decorated tree. She blinked rapidly to keep the tears at bay. “You put up a tree for me.”

“For us. Having a Christmas tree is something that means a lot to both of us.”

She heard the gentleness in his voice. He was right. They’d enjoyed spending a cold day picking out the perfect tree each of the last two years. They teased each other over how to hang the lights just right. They fought—playfully—over who would put the angel on top of the tree. And hanging the decorations from his family and ones they had bought together meant a lot to her…to both of them. But he’d done it all by himself this year. For her.

Christmas was two days away and usually they exchanged their presents on Christmas Eve. But she couldn’t wait that long. Although she was nervous, she needed to give him her gifts now. At least some of them.

Heart pounding, she looked up at him. “Wait for me by the tree. Please. I have something I want to give you and I can’t wait for tomorrow.”

“But…” He stopped protesting when she went up on tiptoes and kissed him silent.

She turned and jerked off her coat, thrusting it into his hands. Then she raced to the spare bedroom.

All James wanted to do was take Kelly to their bedroom and make love to her, over and over. He’d been so damn worried about her. He could have lost her, and he couldn’t imagine his life without her in it.

He’d watched her smiling uncertainly at him before she hurried up the stairs. Instinct warned him something important was about to happen. Something far more than just exchanging gifts early.

Damn! Gifts! He still hadn’t wrapped the few presents he’d gotten Kelly. What the hell did he do now? No way was he going to accept something from her without giving something in return. The stupidest idea flashed into his head. Well, he was a man. Sometimes men got really dumb, desperate ideas.

Kelly carried three small wrapped gifts down the stairs. Would he think these ridiculous? She’d come up with this idea yesterday. What would he say? She almost turned around to go back and grab the other “real” presents she’d gotten him.

But the sound of soft Christmas music playing snagged her attention. Her favorite songs. Then she noticed that James had turned off all the lights in the lower part of the house except for the Christmas lights.

Curious and warmed by his thoughtfulness, she walked slowly closer. At first she didn’t spot him, since she was taking in the wonder of the beautifully decorated tree. Then he quietly coughed to draw her attention. She froze, stunned, and then laughed for the first time in far too long.

“Got to admit that wasn’t the reaction I was hoping for,” James grumped. He hastily reached for one of the throw pillows he’d put on the floor near him and held it across his lower body.

Struggling to stop giggling, to quit grinning like a fool, Kelly hurried to him. She dropped down on her knees beside her very naked, very tempting husband. She set her gifts to the side and pulled the pillow off him. His long, thick cock adorned with a red bow from the tree danced toward her. She took hold of it and smiled at his quiet groan of pleasure.

“Best gift ever.” She stroked the velvety softness of the steel-like rod. “I plan to spend a long time enjoying it later tonight.”

She glanced warily at the presents next to her. “I…I hope you like my gifts as much.”
James found it almost impossible to concentrate on anything but the way Kelly’s hand held his dick. He wanted to tumble her to the floor and spend hours and hours showing her how much he loved her. But he could tell she was nervous, worried about her gifts for him. When she released him to reach for the small boxes, he fought back a groan of complaint.

He shifted up into a sitting position and took the first red-wrapped present from her shaking hands. He waited for her to say something. When she didn’t, he ripped off the paper. Lifting the top off the box, he pulled out a piece of paper carefully folded inside. I respectfully give my notice. December 23 will be my last day. There was more, clearly this was a copy of Kelly’s letter of resignation to her boss.

James was so damn happy he could have done one of those crazy happy dances.

“Stupid, huh?” She anxiously twisted her hands in her lap.

The job had been important to her so he held his happiness in check. “Are you sure about this? I don’t want to pressure you, not really.”

Her chin jutted up. “It’s what I want. Are you okay with it, though? I know the extra money is nice.”

“Hell, yes, I’m okay!” He started to reach for her, but she thrust a second present at him.

He wanted to hug her…and so much more. Instead he opened the long, slender box, thinking it looked like a tie box, although he never wore ties. When he lifted the lid off the box, he blinked twice at the foot and a half long riding crop with a heart-shaped top.

As he held it up curiously, he noted his wife’s pink cheeks. “A crop? Really?”

She pursed her lips for a second and then said primly, “It’s supposed to deliver a ‘sweet surprise’for when I’ve been ‘very, very good.’At least that’s what the salesclerk told me.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I bet it can deliver a stinging smack, too, when you’ve been very, very bad.”

She started to jerk it out of his hands, but he moved it out of her reach. “We’ll save it for those ‘very good’ times.” He nodded at her final wrapped package.

Looking relieved about what he’d said concerning the crop she handed him the last gift. Looking relieved about what he’d said She worried her lower lip and he sensed this one meant the most to her. He tore the paper away slowly, hoping he wouldn’t disappoint her with his reaction to whatever this was.

Seeming impatient now, she grabbed the box and yanked off the lid. She took the shredded pieces of paper out and thrust them at him. Then she closed her eyes and waited.

He glanced at a couple pieces before he finally realized what he held. He could barely speak as he said, “The prescription renewal for The Pill. You tore it up? Why?” He prayed he understood. He could barely contain his need to hug her to him.

Those beautiful, loving eyes of hers opened and she said timidly, “It’s time we had a baby.”

He didn’t care that he felt moisture on his face. This was a precious moment, one he’d thought might never happen. He held out his arms and she crawled onto his lap. “Best Christmas ever.”

She leaned back, thumbed away the tears from his cheeks. “No. The best Christmas ever was when we met at that party four years ago.”

He glanced out the window, noticed that the snow was falling even heavier now. He didn’t mind it at all. “Looks like we’re going to be snowed in here for a spell, darlin’.”

“Works for me.” She cuddled closer.

Worked for him, too.



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