Tuesday, January 31, 2012

FOREVER BUCKHORN by Lori Foster

FOREVER BUCKHORN  by Lori Foster

The Buckhorn brothers return in two timeless tales from New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Lori Foster

The Harlequin reissue of Gabe's Story and Jordan's Story. Gabe's story originally appeared in the 2000 release and the 2007 rerelease, Gabe. Jordan's story appeared in the the 2000 release and the 2007 rerelease, Jordan. Both appeared in the 2002 release Forever and Always.

Gabe

Gabe Kasper, the heartthrob of Buckhorn County, Kentucky, can have any woman he wants. But it's prickly, uptight Elizabeth Parks who gets under his skin. She thinks Gabe's some kind of hero and wants an interview for her thesis. He doesn't consider pulling a couple of kids out of the lake heroic, but he'll answer her questions in exchange for kisses...and more.

Jordan

Jordan Somerville thinks he wants a woman who's a paragon of virtue. But then the gentle veterinarian - rescuer of strays - meets Georgia Barnes, single mother and exotic dancer. She's a far cry from Jordan's dream woman - and she's made it clear that he's hardly her dream man, either. So why is he suddenly tempted to break all his own rules?

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Excerpt from Gabe

"Isn't he just the absolute sexiest thing you've ever seen?"

"Hmm. And thank heavens for this heat wave. I love it when he leaves his shirt off." A wistful, feminine sigh. "I swear, I could sit here all day and look at him."

"We have been sitting here all day looking at him."

Gave Kasper, pretending to be asleep, had to struggle with a small smile. Life was good. Here he was, sprawled in the warm sun, letting the waves from the weekend boaters gently rock the dock with a fishing pole loosely held in one hand, a Van Halen hat pulled low over his eyes and a gaggle of good-lookin' women ogling him. He had not a care in the world. Man couldn't ask for much more satisfaction out of living.

"He is so gorgeous."

"And wicked lookin'. I dearly love those whiskers on his chin."

Aha. And here his brother Jordan had sworn the whiskers looked disreputable and tried to convince him to shave. Jordan could be such a stuffed shirt sometimes.

"I like that golden hair on his body, myself."

Gabe almost chuckled out loud. He couldn't wait to tell his brothers about this. Now that the two eldest were marred, and off-limits, Gabe and Jordan, the only two single ones left, got even more attention. Not that he was complaining. Female adoration was one of those things that couldn't really go to excess, at least in his opinion.

"I don't mind tellin' you, Rosemary, it made me nervous when the first two brothers got married off. I cried for two days, and I was so afraid they'd all end up doing it. Heck, besides dying to have one of them to myself, those brothers were the biggest tourist draw we had here in Buckhorn."

Gabe bit the side of his lip. He'd just keep that little tidbit to himself when he did the retelling. Hell, his brothers' egos -Morgan's especially-were big enough as it is. No need adding to them. No, he'd just stick to sharing the compliments about himself.

"And Gabe is the biggest draw my dock has. With him sitting there, no one wants to get their gas or bait anywhere else. I keep thinkin' I ought to pay him or something."

"Ha! You're just hoping to get a little closer to him."

"No, I just wanna make sure he doesn't take his sexy self off to some other dock."

"Amen to that!"

Giggles erupted after such a heartfelt comment and Gabe sighed. He had no intention of switching loyalties. Hell, Rosemary's daddy had been letting him hang out on his docks since he was just a grasshopper and had first noticed what a pleasing thing it was to see females in bikinis. This place felt almost like a second home now. And since Rosemary's daddy had passed away, he felt bound to stick around and help out on occasion. The trick was to keep Rosemary from getting marriage minded, because that was the one route his brothers could travel alone, thank you very much.

"It amazes me that those brothers aren't full related. They all look different-"

"But they're all gorgeous, I know. And they're all so.strong. My daddy used to say it took a hell of a woman to raise boys like that. I just wish they didn't live so far out on that land. Thinking up a good excuse to visit isn't easy. Not like accidentally running into the other men here in town."

Gabe did smile at that, he couldn't help himself. He and his brothers- he refused to think of them as half brothers- had often joked about going into town to see who was looking for them. Usually some female or another was. But living out a ways, they could always choose when and if they wanted to get friendly. It had been helpful, because once they'd hit their teens, the females had come on in droves. His mother used to claim to keep a broom by the front and back doors to beat the women away . Not that any of them minded overmuch, though his two new sisters-in-law were sure disgruntled over all the downcast female faces since the two weddings had taken place.

Gabe was just about to give up feigning sleep when a new female voice joined the others over by the gas pumps.

"Excuse me, but I was told Gabriel Kasper might be here." It was more a statement than anything else, and rather.strident to boot.

Female, but not at all local.

This new voice wasn't soft. Southern or sweet. She'd sounded almost impatient.

Gabe decided to just wait and see what the lady was up to. It wasn't unusual for someone female to be looking for him, and most everyone in these parts knew that in the summer, you could find him by the lake more often than not. He resisted the urge to peek at the owner of the voice and kept his body utterly relaxed.

"Whatdya want Gabe for?" That suspicious tone was from Rosemary, bless her sweet little heart, and Gabe vowed to take her to dinner real soon.

There was a beat of silence, then, "I have personal business to discuss with him."

Oh great, Gabe thought. That'll get the gossip going. What the hell kind of personal business could he have with a woman he didn't know? And he was certain he didn't know her. She didn't sound at all familiar.

"Well, he's right there but he's relaxin', and he won't thank you none for disturbing him."

"I appreciate you warning."

Well used to the soft thud of sneakers or bare feet on the wooden planks of the dock, Gabe almost winced when the clack of hard-soled shoes rang over the water. He ignored it, and ignored the woman he could feel hesitating next to his lawn chair. The breeze stirred and he caught a light feminine scent, not really perfume, but maybe scented shampoo. He breathed deeply, but otherwise remained still.

He heard her clear her throat. "Uh.excuse me?"

She didn't sound so confident, and he waited, wondering if she'd shake him awake. He felt her hesitate, knew in his gut she was reaching for his naked shoulder.

And the fishing pole nearly leaped out of his hand.

"Son of a bi-" Gabe jolted upright, barely managing to hang on to his expensive rod and reel. His feet hit the dock and he deftly maneuvered the rod, going with the action of the fish. "Damn, it's a big one!"

Rosemary, Darlene and Ceily all ran over to his side.

"I'll grab the net!" Rosemary said.

Ceily, who usually worked the diner in town, squealed as the fish, a big ugly carp, flipped up out the water. Darlene pressed to his back, peering over his shoulder.

Gabe slid over the side of the dock to the smooth, slick, moss-covered concrete boat ramp, bracing his legs wide to keep his balance while he struggled with the fish. Rosemary, a fisherwoman of long standing, didn't hesitate to slip in beside him. She held the net at the ready. Just as Gabe got the carp close enough, she scooped him with the net. The fish looked to weigh a good fifteen pounds, and she struggled with it while Gabe tried to reach for the net and hold onto his pole.

But then Rosemary lost her footing and Gabe made a grab for her and they both went down, splashing and cursing and laughing, too. The rod jerked out of his hands and he dove forward to grab is, barely getting a hold and soaking himself thoroughly in the process. The other two women leaped in to help, all of them struggling to keep the fish and the rod while roaring with hilarity.

When the battle was over, Gabe had his fish, and a woman in his lap. Rosemary had settled herself there while Darlene and Ceily hung on him, both struggling to control their raucous laughter. He'd known all three of them since grade school, so it wasn't the first time they'd played in the water; they felt totally familiar with each other and it showed. A long string of seaweed clung to the top of Gabe's head, and that started the women giggling again.

Gabe, enjoying himself, unhooked the big fish, kissed it-making the women smack at him-then tossed it back.

It was then they heard the tap, tap, tap of that damned hard-soled shoe,

Turning as one, they all peered at the woman who Gabe only then remembered. He had to shade his eyes against the hot sun to see, and it wasn't easy with three women draped over his body.

Silhouetted by the sunshine, her long hair looked like ruby fire. And he'd never in his life seen so many freckles on a woman before. She wore a crisp white blouse, a long jean skirt and black pumps with nylons. Nylons in this heat? Gabe blinked. "Can I help you with somethin' sugar?"

Her lips tightened and her arms crossed over her middle. "I don't think so. I was looking for Gabriel Kasper."

"That'd be me."

"But I was looking for Gabriel, the town hero."

Darlene grinned hugely. "That's our Gabe!"

Ceily added, "The one and only."

Gabe rolled his eyes. "That's nonsense and you all know it."

The women all started in all at once, Ceily, Rosemary and Darlene assuring him he was all that was heroic and wonderful and more.

Little Red merely started in absolute disbelief. "You mean, you are the one who rescued those swimmers?"

He gently lifted Rosemary off his lap and cautiously stood on the slick concrete. The women had gone silent now, and Gave could see why. While they looked downright sexy in their colorful bikinis, loose hair and golden tans, this woman looked like the stern, buttoned-up supervisor of a girls' prep school. And she was glaring at them all, as if she'd caught them having an orgy in the lake, rather than just romping.

Gabe, always the gentleman, boosted each woman to the dock, then deftly hauled himself out. He shook like a mongrel dog, sending lake water flying in cold droplets. The woman quickly backed up two steps.

Rosemary plucked seaweed from his hair and he grinned at her. "Thanks, sweetie. Ah, would you gals mind if I talk to." He lifted at Red.

"Elizabeth Parks," she answered stiffly. She clutched a notepad and pencil and had a huge purse-like bag slung over one shoulder, stuffed to over-flowing with papers.

"Yeah, can I have a minute with Ms. Parks?" He had the sneaking suspicion Ms. Parks was another reporter, and he had no intention of chatting with her for more time than it took to say thanks but not thanks. "I won't be long."

"All right, Gabe, but you owe us for rescuing your fish."

"That I do. And I promise to think up some appropriate compensation."

Giggling again, the women started away, dragging their feet ever step, sashaying their sexy behinds. But then two boats pulled in and he knew that would keep them busy selling gas and bait and whatever other supplies the vacationers wanted. He turned to Red.

"What can I do for you?"

Now, without the sun in his eyes, Gabe could see she had about the bluest blue eyes he'd ever seen. They stood out like beacons among all that bright red hair and those abundant freckles.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

LADY THIEF by Shelby Hailstone

LADY THIEF by Shelby Hailstone

The Lady Thief is the most famous criminal of her time, but ever since her brush with a spy named Devon, sappy love stories have replaced her previously imperious image.

So when Devon and his team embark on a secret project designed to create the ultimate superhuman agent, the Lady Thief quickly discovers that infiltrating his team is more complicated than she ever imagined.

Between her anger toward him for ruining her reputation and his growing affection for her cover identity, she is drowning in emotions she has never dealt with before. But when evidence points to a rival criminal messing with the team, can the Lady Thief walk away with a clear conscience, or will she risk everything to help the very people sworn to bring her in?

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An Excerpt from: Lady Thief
Copyright © 2011 Shelby M. Hailstone

All rights reserved, Wild Child Publishing.

Prologue
Christmas Bells and Ice

Devon Harris

“Nice try, Aaron.”

Those three words flitted across the screen, flickered, and died. Every light in the room followed suit, buzzing softly before they popped out. Before we could react, the electric locks snapped shut, trapping us in the surveillance room. Only the laptop, which radiated a bright, baby blue in contrast to the smoky darkness, retained its power.

Four pairs of eyes burned into the back of Aaron Fisher’s head, mine burning the brightest. As our appointed leader, we expected him to know everything, to never let anyone catch him off-guard—a high standard, perhaps, but one we held Aaron to because he never let us down before. This breach betrayed that trust, and it stung me especially hard. Aaron and I trained together, and even when he left to try working solo, we kept in touch. I watched him move up in the ranks, and I begged to join his team; I worshipped the ground he walked on.

Without a word, Aaron sat down at the computer and stared at it blankly. We knew he could feel our eyes on him, but he never let it show. He sat there, calm and composed, and some of the hero-worship came back, reaching Amy first, and then me. But I think Amy admired Aaron in a different way than I did. She admired him the way only a girl can admire a guy, and I simply admired the guy because he could do anything.

In his usual, brusque manner, he punched the keys as quickly as his fingers could move. “You have us at a disadvantage.”

Before Aaron could type on, Jared—always the sarcastic one—said, “That’s the understatement of the year.”

Aaron did not notice Jared’s interruption—or if he did, he gave no indication, since he usually ignored Jared’s snide comments anyway—but finished typing, “You know my name, but we don’t know yours.”

“I know all about you and your team. I know about Devon, Amy, Rachel, and Jared, too.”

I blinked in surprise to see my name first. Anyone who knew the team generally accepted Jared as the second-incommand, even if Aaron failed to notice this unofficial position. Something about Jared just commanded respect, and we listened to him without pause—unless, of course, Aaron told us something different. Usually, then, Jared’s name came after Aaron’s, and I celebrated if my name came third. It was an unofficial contest, a clash of egos, and I chalked one up for my almost-empty scoreboard.

We glanced at each other, the beginnings of fear etched into our faces. “How?” Amy whispered, her sharp, Kentucky accent slicing the word into two distinct syllables that sounded like “Hah-yow?”

“Because I always do my research before any job.” The words flashed, unbidden, across the screen—but Aaron did not type anything to elicit a response like that. In the back of my mind, I sincerely hoped the person on the other end of the conversation merely added that to explain how she knew about all of us, but somehow, I doubted that. My training told me to accept the more dangerous answer as the truth; that way, I could prepare for the worst.

Rachel edged closer to the laptop, her dark, slender fingers curling around the back of Aaron’s chair. In her surprisingly calm, gentle voice, she asked, “Can you hear me?”

“Yes,” came the reply from the laptop.

The slender fingers tightened their grip on the chair, the only sign that the reply shook her. I admired her self-control; I could already feel my knees starting to tremble. It took a lot to scare me, so when something threw me off like that, it meant trouble. Big trouble. Every nerve in my body stood on edge, screaming at me to get moving, to find a way out of that locked room, but my feet refused to respond.

“Who are you?” Rachel whispered, her lips moving only enough to allow room for the words to escape through— another sign of her anxiety. Oddly enough, I found some comfort in her fear; at least it justified mine.

A single white line pulsed on the edge of the screen.

“You really don’t know, do you?” The words appeared slowly, letter by letter, as if the one typing could not believe our ignorance.

“‘Course not.” Amy shrugged, never at a loss for words. Her red hair bounced up and down as she tossed her head impatiently, obviously sick of this “mystery typist” routine. “This was s’pposed to be a routine mission. Why’d you think they sent us?”

“I wondered.” The words flickered on the screen, and seconds later, the laptop turned off, leaving us in total darkness.

Without the influence of that faint glow, the spell broke. I heard the faint squeak of a swiveling chair as Aaron stood quickly to scan the room. I snapped on my flashlight to inspect the door, and Amy tucked her hair up into a ponytail to keep it out of her face while she dived under the control panel, hoping to restore power. She put her flashlight between her teeth and pried off her gloves so she could work more easily in that tangle of wires.

“What can we do about the locks?” Aaron asked, all business again. I smiled at that; at last the Aaron Fisher I knew and admired returned.

“They don’t have a manual switch,” I said, examining the steel door. “Unless we get power back, the doors stay closed.”

“Whose idea was that?” Jared growled from the other end of the room while he and Rachel searched for anything to pry open the doors or hot-wire the controls.

“The prince’s,” Amy spat, crawling out from beneath the mess of cables. Amy did not care much for the spoiled boy who hired us to protect him and his prize, probably because he considered her a simpleton because of her accent. If the prince took the time to learn more about Amy, he would regret his condescending tone. I never met anyone smarter than her; she could take apart and reassemble anything electronic in a matter of minutes, she invented most of the gadgets our team carried, and she helped me pass our cryptology class back in basic training.

“Can you fix this?” Aaron asked, hoping that Amy could pull another miracle out of her cowboy hat, as she usually did.

“Nope,” Amy said flatly. “The whole ship runs from one spot—this spot. If we don’t have power, there’s no power anywhere at all.”

“So much for top-of-the-line technology,” Jared grunted.

“From what I can tell, whoever trapped us in here hacked into our system to shut it down. I can’t do anything without power because there’s nothing outside of the stupid computer,” Amy growled, and then she kicked said computer to prove her point. “Our best bet is the door.”

I shook my head. “It’s essentially glued shut, and the prince had the door reinforced with several layers of steel. There’s no way we could break it down, either.”

“What about the air vents?” Rachel offered.

“You expect us to fit through that?” Jared scrutinized the tiny opening, looking skeptical. “I’d come out looking like I got run over by a steam roller!”

“I’ll try,” said Rachel, pulling her hair into short pigtails on either side of her head to keep it out of her eyes. She rolled up her sleeves, pointedly glaring at Jared to show that she actually meant it when she suggested the air vents; how dare he question her ideas? I fought back a smile at that look; Aaron could pull rank on Jared, but only Rachel could really handle him.

Aaron leaned down and brought his hands together to give Rachel a lift. She placed her white tennis shoe in the makeshift sling, and Jared offered his knee for another step up. A few quick flicks of her pocketknife took care of the screws, and the covering clattered to the ground. Her slender body slid neatly through the opening, and she hoisted herself up into the duct.

Amy, with a running start, sprang off of Aaron’s hands next. She flailed her arms, almost too short to reach, but her hands caught the edge of the duct, and she, too, climbed in, flashing us one of her signature, wide grins as she waved at us. “Well, at least now I’m taller than you three,” she chuckled before she ducked out of sight again.

Jared climbed up onto the nearest desk and tried to hoist himself up, but no matter which way he turned, he could not fit his broad shoulders through. Aaron, with his football-player build, did not dare try. That left me. Not that I have a scrawny build or anything; I just have a swimmer’s body— not quite broad, but still well built, I guess. Aaron offered me a leg up—while Jared stood to the side and smirked at the three-inch height gap between him and me that meant I required Aaron’s help to reach the duct—and my shoulders barely slipped past the narrow opening. Once I had my upper body through, I could pull myself up the rest of the way.

Once inside, I saw broken cobwebs to my left and right where Rachel and Amy passed through. That left the middle unexplored, so I took that path. The vent underneath me felt a bit unstable, like crawling on laminated paper, and I could hear my every move echoing back to me, announcing my position to any possible intruders. Wincing, I slowed down the pace, and the echoes stopped.

My knees shuffled behind me as I army-crawled through the vent, checking every turn for an opening. Unfortunately, the offshoots of this particular vent system only led to inner rooms, and I ended up travelling back to the original tiny central tunnel. I scrunched my shoulders closer to my body as the passage narrowed, but the unmistakable breeze coming from up ahead killed whatever curses I started to grumble.

I heard voices wafting through the tunnel, echoing off the dark, silver walls—voices I did not recognize. Fighting the urge to crawl faster toward the intruders, I actually slowed down my pace so I could hear them better.

“It’s got to be somewhere on board,” said a harsh voice. “Split up and start searching.”

“It would be easier if the power grid wasn’t knocked out. All the doors are electrically bolted shut,” a different voice grunted in reply.

“So get a blowtorch,” said the harsh voice, as if the solution should have dawned on the other speaker ages ago. I identified this voice as the leader; the bossy attitude and the self-righteous tone gave him away.

“How utterly unimaginative,” remarked a new, feminine voice that rang like Christmas bells and yet cut me, chilled like ice. It also radiated confidence, and I wondered, for a moment, if I judged too hastily. Maybe this voice belonged to the leader, and the bossy, self-righteous man I heard earlier simply wanted to lead—like Jared wanted to run things while Aaron actually called the shots.

A gunshot followed, echoing loudly in the compact duct. I winced, but the shot was not intended for me. Sheer silence filled the air, so that I could almost breathe in the icy coolness of that silence. I held my breath and willed my heart to calm down; my cover had not yet been blown.

Slowly, the bell-voice started to laugh. It started as a short grunt, and then a cold, cruel, musical laugh that both repelled and captivated me. “As I was saying,” the voice continued, in an amused, almost sarcastic sort of way, “you have absolutely no imagination. A blowtorch? Really? Besides, you got here too late. I have the chemical, as well as the formula. Not that you’ll get either. I memorized and destroyed the formula and the notes, and the chemical—well, I have that on me.”

I sailed through the air duct toward the breeze, hoping to get a better look so I could identify the thieves—and they were thieves, I knew, since the bell-voice admitted to stealing the chemical and destroying the formula. As I moved, though, my walkie-talkie blared Amy’s voice, “What happened? I heard gunshots.”

Surprised, I tried to turn in the cramped space to smother the walkie-talkie, but to no avail. Two more shots rang out, intended for me, not the bell-voice. And I did not—would not—laugh when the bullets barely missed.

Big, hairy hands yanked the cover off of the air duct, and a bearded, red face appeared in the opening. Bloodshot eyes met my green ones, but I did not have enough room to maneuver to reach my revolver. The smelly hands grabbed my wrist and yanked me out, almost dislocating my shoulder.

“Look what I found,” sneered the man with the bloodshot eyes.

The light blinded me momentarily, and then I saw her, that dazzling vision of darkness. She ate the light around her with the blackness of her form. The occasional glint of silver—the edges of her helmet, the band around her upper arm, the bands that hung loosely around her waist—glowed in comparison to the dark depths of her black suit, the black gloves, black boots, black helmet. I recognized her picture from movies, from newspapers. The Lady Thief.

“I caught him eavesdropping,” explained the man whose hands wrenched my arms behind my back and took my gun away. I wanted to hit myself for my stupidity, and yet, somehow, I expected this. I always managed find myself in trouble. Aaron called it my unique talent; I called it downright annoying.

It seemed odd that the bell-voice could come from that dazzling vision, and yet, it made sense. Somehow, the voice inspired visions of sparkling stars and simultaneously froze my blood. No, not quite. My blood did not fully freeze, but bits of it froze, and those icy, glass shards pierced my skin like tiny needles.

“Hello, Devon,” she said, and for some reason, I felt my stomach jump up into my throat at the sound of her voice saying my name.

“You two know each other?” The rough hands relaxed their grip—no one wanted to offend the Lady Thief, not unless they had a death wish.

“I know all about him, and he at least recognizes me, so I suppose you could say that.” The ice melted, and Christmas bells rang again as she laughed.

I decided to keep my mouth shut and let the Lady Thief keep talking—she handled the situation so beautifully before—maybe she could talk me out of this, too. She turned to look at me, and I held her gaze, chin raised. At least, I think I held her gaze. I could not see her eyes behind that helmet.

To my surprise—and apparently hers, judging by her gasp—the ringleader, the one with the scraggliest beard, suddenly lowered his gun at my chest. The hairy hands tightened their grip; I tried to twist away, but my arms caught fire, and the searing pain immobilized me.

“All right, Lady. You've got five seconds to hand over the chemical, or this kid gets it.”

“I think you’re overestimating our relationship,” the bell-voice said coolly, though with an almost undetectable pitch of panic. “Devon and I know each other, but we play on opposite teams. He’s a spy; I’m a thief. You’d be doing me a favor if you got rid of him—it would be one less obstacle.” I did not appreciate her calling his bluff with my life in jeopardy.

The ringleader looked from me to the Lady Thief, and then back to me. He chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully before, without warning, he raised his gun again. He fired three shots in rapid succession—one at her heart and two at her head. She fell backward, and something metal rolled toward me. The men around me chuckled at their leader’s tenacity, and the man who held my arms twisted them harder as he laughed. My eyes brimmed with tears of pain, and I squinted to see what had rolled away—part of a black helmet.

Looking surprised, the ringleader said, “That was too easy.” He licked his lips and then leveled his gun at my chest.

Something dark and fast hit the ringleader, knocking him over. The shot went wide, and I only realized I closed my eyes when I opened them again.

The ringleader lay unconscious on the ground, and the Lady Thief stood over him. She kept her head turned so I could only see her helmet, but I could see the serrated edges where bullets met metal. Blue sparks danced across her helmet, and she yelped in pain and surprise, yanking it off.

“Short circuit,” she explained tersely, but I hardly heard her. I saw only two turquoise eyes set in a perfect, pale face. She tucked her hair into a bandanna, so I did not see it. But I knew I would never forget that face as long as I lived—which might not be long, since I had seen her face, and the Lady Thief survived on secrecy.

“I suggest you let him go now,” the Lady Thief said to the man holding my arms, her voice colder than ice so that even I felt a thrill of fear, even though I knew she just saved my life.

The gruff hands, trembling, released me, and the man stumbled away, along with the rest of the thieves. I rubbed my arms tenderly and then looked up to see the turquoise eyes staring intently at me.

“You owe me your life,” she said, her voice suddenly soft but still cold, like snow.

“Thank you?” I offered, though I knew mere thanks would not satisfy her.

She shook her head. “You know I can’t let you live if you know who I am. It would ruin everything. But, if you give me your word that you won’t give me away, I’ll consider the score even, and I’ll let you live.” I knew I could not hope for a better offer, but something stopped me, made me question it.

“How do you know I’ll keep my word?” I asked, curious.

Why would she let me go? How would she benefit from letting me live?

“I know everything about you, remember? I know where you live and where your friends and family live. The results would be…unpleasant for you if you broke your promise.” Her lips curled into a smile, but this one did not chill me. So, I decided to call her bluff.

“And what if I don’t agree to your terms?” I did not know where this newfound courage came from, but I worried it would just dig me deeper into trouble—all part of my so-called unique talent for danger.

The turquoise eyes narrowed, annoyed, and she checked over her shoulder to make sure the gruff thieves could not see us from their getaway boat. “Well, then, I’ll have to finish off what they didn’t.” She brandished a silver pistol from a hidden pocket on her hip, pointing it carelessly at my heart.

“I dare you,” said my newfound courage, even though my head screamed at my mouth to please shut up.

Her turquoise eyes widened, and ruby-red lips parted in surprise. “You know,” she mused, recovering slightly, “most people would be groveling right now.”

“Hey, don’t get me wrong,” I said, my confidence boiling over. “I’d like to stay alive just as much as the next guy, but I don’t think you have the heart to kill me.”

The silence spanned for an eternity, and it spanned for seconds. Her gloved hand, trembling with rage, tensed up, ready to pull the trigger, but instead, she sighed and shoved the pistol back into its pocket. Through gritted teeth, she asked, “Name your price. What'll it take for you to keep your mouth shut?”

“Who’s groveling now?” I grinned. I knew I went too far even before the gloved hand balled up into a fist. Glove met jaw, and I stumbled sideways, almost losing my balance.

“Don’t push it,” she sneered. “There are other ways to hide my identity.”

Rubbing my jaw, I could not quite recover my earlier confidence as I said, “I want the chemical back.” Carefully, I pressed a tiny button which activated the recorder on my wrist, hoping to have some concrete evidence to use against her. I covered the movement by pretending to massage my bruised arms.

She knew better. Her trained eyes saw the watch on my wrist, and she snatched it, crushing it beneath her boot. “Just name your terms and get on with it,” she snapped. “And no tricks, or you just might find yourself marooned on an island or something. I'll come up with a fair punishment; believe me.”

“No, I really want the chemical back,” I pressed.

“After all the work it took to get it in the first place? You’re kidding, right?” she scoffed, turning away to leave.

“Let’s see. Turquoise eyes, pale complexion, very defined jaw line, high cheekbones,” I listed. “Should be enough for any artist to draw your picture.”

She stopped, and I could see a small vein pulsing in her neck. “Fine!” she shouted at last, throwing the chemical at my feet. The tiny vial bounced neatly, barely a scratch on it. “You do know, of course, that I memorized the formula anyway. It won’t do you any good to have that.”

“Just a little memento.” I grinned casually.

“How ‘bout another one?” she smirked, and bells rang in my head as her glove connected with my eye. “And you can tell everyone where you got the black eye from.”

Tired of letting her beat me up, I threw my own punch, but she caught my fist in one swift movement and twisted it behind me so suddenly that I let out an involuntary gasp. She laughed again, but this laugh chilled me instead of enchanted me. I tried to wrench my arm out of her grasp, but every time I moved, it hurt more.

“You have the chemical, now keep your word,” she whispered tersely in my ear, her warm breath tickling and sending shivers down my spine at the same time. “From here on out, we’ll pretend this never happened. And don’t try a stunt like that again. You’re only alive because I can fight. Don’t try to push me.”

She let go of my hand and started to walk off. Suddenly, she paused, almost as an afterthought. “You’ll need an alibi,” she said, and ice ran through my veins as the ruby-red lips parted into a smile.

I saw the heel of a boot, and then darkness.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

I'LL BE YOUR LAST by Jane Leopold Quinn

I'LL BE YOUR LAST by Jane Leopold Quinn

Life dealt Mack Penchant a raw deal. He's hidden his sexuality, the secret he's carried since he was a teen, through the Marine Corps, and now as an undercover cop. The only relationship he believes possible for himself is the furry kind, with his dog Kiki. One young cop, though, drives him to a frenzy, and he fights his passions and needs every step of the way.

Woody Kane's gaydar spots Mack the moment they meet. And even though Mack rejects him, Woody lusts after the perfect masculine body and wants him in his bed. Woody believes in commitment. Mack makes it clear he does not. Can Woody prove to Mack that he's worthy of love? After all, he adopted a rescue dog. Isn't that a start?

What peril will it take for Mack to accept Woody's love and join him in a committed relationship?

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~Excerpt~

“Your partner…”

Mack sat back down with a thump. His eyes shifted from side to side, searching for a way out. “You don’t know—” But he must know something, or he couldn’t have brought it up. Just give the kid what he wants and get out of here. Panicked, he responded in a rusty, harsh voice, “Okay, here it is. I’m saying it just once and never again. Do you understand?” Narrowing his gaze, he tried to bore a hole through Woody in a mixture of agony for his former partner and himself and lewd desires about the kid, acts he had no business wanting.

“We were ambushed.” Mack felt his face freeze into the most cold-blooded, do-not-ask expression he could muster. He didn’t want to talk about this, but if it got Woody off his back, he’d give him an abbreviated version of that day. The kid’s waiting gaze frightened him. He never opened himself up to anything this personal. Why he was willing to do it now, with this guy, he wasn’t sure. Oh. Yeah. To shut him up.

Woody’s eyes softened, just a little. It wasn’t pity. The kid was young but still a cop. He would understand.

Mack tightened his jaw and, through clenched teeth, began. “Serving a warrant. I motioned my partner, Mitch—” His voice caught on the name. “I pointed to the rear of the house, thinking it would be safer.” Then his gaze was lost in the past, directed at the bottle of beer gripped tightly in his fist.

“Fuck it,” he snarled. “All it boils down to is that he stood right in front of the back door and took a round that nicked his spinal cord.”

“Nothing he could blame you for,” was Woody’s calm reply.

“But he did.” Mack made the mistake of glancing at Woody. Those dark eyes, sparkling in the dim lights of the bar, offering—offering what? Whatever it was, he didn’t want it. He’d been stupid enough to think he could work with another young guy, and look what had happened. “It was my responsibility to train him. My decision got him shot. Don’t look at me with pity.”

“I’m not,” Woody denied. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“Mitch didn’t see it that way.”

“He doesn’t any longer.”

“How do you know so much about this, kid?” Mack snapped. “You been checking up on me?” His heart hurt. His stomach roiled with the familiar guilt. He couldn’t meet Woody’s eyes and turned his gaze toward the bar, at all the hazy dim reflections in the mirror behind the display bottles.

“I asked Fred.”

“I don’t like your going behind my back.”

“I had to ask someone why you seemed so hostile toward me. Fred gave me a very sketchy story. He said IAD cleared you, and that your partner doesn’t blame you any longer. He never should have in the first place.”

“I should have watched out better for him.” Mack’s voice dropped to a tormented whisper.

“Mack, this job is dangerous. Every day is a risk. We have the public to feel responsible for.”

“Don’t give me any lectures. You wanted to know what happened, and now you do. So just drop it.” Mack couldn’t meet Woody’s eyes.

“Okay, but don’t mistrust me because of what happened with someone else. I can take care of myself. I don’t need a babysitter.”

“Yeah.”

“Mack, I can take care of myself,” Woody repeated. “I’m not a rookie like your partner.”

The next thing Mack knew was the heaviness of Woody’s hand around his wrist, the one still holding the bottle. He looked down. Jesus, the kid has big hands. The jukebox had been on since he’d walked into the bar, and the song playing at that moment was “Need You Now.” Lady Antebellum really knew how to grab a guy by the guts and shake him. He couldn’t move, couldn’t remove his hand from Woody’s, couldn’t get any spit in his mouth to say one more word. At that moment, he wanted things he shouldn’t.

He froze. Shit. His hand. On me. What the hell is he doing? Thoughts pinged madly around in his brain. His wrist, his forearm tingled, his face heated, sweat formed on his upper lip.

An unbearably painful desire forced him to look up. An electric charge flashed between them. There was an instinctive recognition of like sexualities. The possibility of hot, luscious sex, of lying replete with limbs entwined. All this in the seconds of silence.

God knew he was weary of hiding. He’d been doing it so long that sometimes he didn’t know who he was anymore. What if he just turned his hand over and met Woody’s, palm to palm? What if he allowed himself to accept what was being offered?

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ECSTASY by Jacquelyn Frank

ECSTASY by Jacquelyn Frank

The Shadowdwellers - Book 1

At one with the darkness, the mysterious Shadowdwellers must live as far from light-loving humans as possible in order to survive. Yet one damaged human woman will tempt the man behind the Shadowdweller throne into a dangerous desire…

HER WORLD IS TOXIC TO HIM, AND SO IS THEIR ATTRACTION

Among the Shadowdwellers, Trace holds power that some are willing to kill for. Without a stranger’s aid, one rival would surely have succeeded, but Trace’s brush with death is less surprising to him than his reaction to the beautiful, fragile human who heals him.

By rights, Trace should hardly even register Ashla’s existence within the realm of Shadowscape, but instead he is drawn to everything about her—her innocence, her courage, and her lush, sensual heat…

After a terrifying car crash, Ashla Townsend wakes up to find that the bustling New York she knew is now eerie and desolate. Just when she’s convinced she’s alone, Ashla is confronted by a dark warrior who draws her deeper into a world she never knew existed. The bond between Ashla and Trace is a mystery to both, but searching for answers will mean confronting long-hidden secrets, and uncovering a threat that could destroy everything Trace holds precious …

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~Excerpt~

Ashla stood shivering in the darkened streets of Times Square.

She was almost used to the total lack of light, and even the eerie absence of sound in a city that ought to have been clamoring with noise, but what she couldn't adjust to was the absolute barrenness of humanity.

How long had she been in this surreal, postapocalyptic version of New York? Had it been a week? Three? She had lost track. One of the most populous cities in America, and she had yet to see a single soul besides herself.

Ashla was a bit hazy on some of the details of when this all had come about, of how and why the world had blossomed into this bizarre, barren landscaping, but she did recall her initial reaction of pure panic. She remembered quite clearly the act of running around to all of the places where coworkers, friends, and even family were supposed to be.

Queens. The Bronx. Eastern Long Island. Eventually here, in Manhattan.

There was no one.

Oh, everything worked all right. Subways. Cars. Machinery. All of it as if the regular occupants of the world would return any moment to pick up and go on just as they always had. Only, there were some strange details missing. There was no television reception or projection. Lightbulbs, neon lights, and anything providing the smallest glimmer of illumination refused to perform their designated functions. That had truly freaked her out in the beginning. The lack of light had made the vast vacant spaces of the city seem somehow claustrophobic and paralyzing. It had gotten better, thank goodness, as her eyes had adapted to the total darkness with a surprising rapidity. She had even grown accustomed to the fact that it always remained nighttime and never turned to day like it should.

Things had definitely improved once she stopped thinking of reasons why there might not be a sun.

Another odd thing was the food. Food was always fresh for the taking, somehow replenishing itself as though invisible workers still carried out their daily duties of stocking and rotating it. She never saw any of it happen, it just did.

In the end, she had realized that the ideal course of action was to not spend too much time thinking about the details. She never got answers when she did, and only managed to scare herself witless in the process. Explanations escaped her for those and many other anomalous details, but she was weary of the constant heart-racing panic that overwhelmed her every time she thought too hard about her shadowed environs. Instead, she learned to enjoy things ... like foods she'd never tried before, or sneaking into homes in Chinatown just to see how different they were.

There was one light, however. Moonlight. It was the one and only relief to the dark world. The growing cycle of the moon, with its inevitable turn toward fullness, would shed more and more beautifully pale light onto the world around her. Ashla didn't even mind all the spooky shadows it cast in long black and gray streaks. She already knew no one was hiding in them.

In fact, her reality remained completely devoid of humanity, just as it had for the better part of a month now. Two months? More? Even time seemed to have given up on this lifeless wasteland that made no sense to her. She supposed she had given up as well, eventually trudging away from the overwhelming grief over lost loved ones and even abandoning her furious frustration at her suddenly senseless world. Now she simply wandered New York and the rest of the tri-state area trying to amuse herself.

Until then, she had never realized how vital the presence of others could be to a person's sanity.

It had actually been fun for a little while, walking paths and places that were normally so heavily protected by security or warning signs, and examining all the strange inner workings of things she'd never questioned before. At least, it had been fun until she had taken a bad fall in a subway station and it had occurred to her that if she were hurt very badly, there would be no one around to help her; no one to rush her to a hospital for care; no one to care enough to keep her from rotting away from hunger and thirst alone in a dark, tiled tunnel.

She hadn't gone belowground since that particular panic attack. Aboveground might not necessarily be less hazardous, but it was far less enclosing and she took comfort in whatever she could at that point. Ashla's sense of security on the open streets was relative. She was safe from dark, creepy subterranean dangers, perhaps, but she was also left feeling even more alone as towering buildings soared above her, miniaturizing her and making her feel as though she were standing at the bottom of a great abandoned canyon. She had struggled with the ever-increasing fear that someday something might happen and she wouldn't know what to do to help herself.

And then sometimes, some very awful bad times, she couldn't even remember all the names of the people she knew. It was at those times that she truly became frightened. Down deep to the bottom of her soul terrified. Because those were the times when she feared she had simply lost her mind. After all, what other explanation could there be? What could possibly make her forget her beloved sister Cristine? Or even her brothers Malcolm and Joseph? Her parents. It horrified her to think there was anything that could make her forget what it had been like to grow up in her mother's care.

She took comfort that today she remembered it all, and tried not to worry about tomorrow.

Other than all of that ...

New York City was her playground.

Saks. Barneys. Macy's. Bloomies. Granted, they would have been more fun if there had been some decent light to see by, but she compensated for it by shopping close to windows that filled with moonlight. She walked in whenever she wanted and walked out without needing to pay. Every day she picked a new store to get dressed in. She'd amused herself enough at the department stores, and dazzled herself in the Diamond District, but now she was gravitating back to the retro boutiques she had always loved. She liked the priceless vintage dresses, lace and beads and hand-worked details that were so rare in the modern world. So she made her way to her favorite shop and, before long, was slipping into an ivory gown with a tautly stitched empire waist, à la Jane Austen. It had a silk underlining and hand-crocheted lace over it in a perfect pastel cream. It was unique, delicate and beautiful, the style transporting her back to a time when men fought duels for the honor of a woman.

That was when she heard the first resonant clang of metal on metal.

She was so startled by the sound after so much silence that she threw herself against a wall and hid, her breath panting and her heart pounding for a full minute before working up the courage to sneak to the window.

"Something probably dropped. Toppled over. You're just being a ninny," she lectured herself breathlessly.

It was a plausible idea, right up until the moment she heard the second crash of metal against metal, the clang reverberating in the dim world and vacant streets. Understanding crystallized when she heard the hard sound of running feet coming toward her, and she strained to somehow hide and see what was going on all at the same time.

She glimpsed the dark shape of a man an instant before a second man plowed up into him and they both came flying toward her. Ashla ducked with a scream and barely got her arms up protectively before they barreled through the plate glass window in a shower of shards. Clothing racks and tables disintegrated as they broke the momentum of the two large-bodied fighting men. A sword, of all things, went skidding across the hardwood flooring, bumping to a stop against Ashla's bare toes.

"Oh, yeah, Ash, you are definitely swimming in the deep end now," she muttered to herself as she stared down at the weapon. A sword. Not an Uzi. Not a handgun. A sword. Ashla was beginning to realize she had never given her imagination enough credit until she had gone crazy. Now she had to admit that the sword was a neat touch to her little fantasy world. So were the men, for that matter.

She watched with dismay as they grappled with each other on the floor amongst the inventory and glass debris. They were both dark-skinned and had dark coloring. The larger man kept his hair long, whipped back tightly into a plait, the jet color of it gleaming in the weak moonlight filtering into the store. His brawny build filled out his clothing almost to test the integrity of his seams. Denim jeans in black hugged tightly to thickly muscled thighs, biker boots holding his braced feet in place against the floor. His shoulders bulged against the dark gray cotton of his dress shirt, and a necklace of some kind dangled almost tauntingly against the disadvantaged man's cheek below him as they struggled for ownership of the remaining sword.

"Give up!" the brute spat down into the face of his adversary. "You know I will win this!"

"I'd rather kiss the sun," was the gruff, straining reply from the slimmer man. It was true, Ashla observed with concern, that the other man was outweighed and, while of impressive physique himself from what she could tell, he was also outmuscled. This one's hair was close-cropped at the back of his neck and around his ears, but there was a little bit of length to the top as it fell back to reveal a widow's peak. The curve of his hairline made his squared jaw and prominent cheekbones appear deeply exotic. The ebony sheen of his wildly tossed hair set shadows on his already dark eyes, making him appear just a little wicked in his features. The impression deepened as he gave his opponent a slow, amused grin that belied his struggle to keep hold of his weapon. "Give it up, Baylor. You'll not win this. Not today!"

The observation was more like a prediction as a knee levered up between Baylor's braced legs, caught him hard, and sent him flying ass over shoulders above the other man's head. Baylor's back slammed into the floor, forcing a startled cough from him. Free of his opponent, the other man scrambled to his feet but did little more than stagger up against a nearby counter. His sword hung tiredly from one hand, the tip grazing the ground. He raised the back of a broad hand to his nose, which, Ashla realized, was bleeding. For all his determination and bravado, it was clear even to her that he was exhausted and had taken a serious beating. Despite the dusk of his skin tone, she could see the swelling and color of new bruises appearing on his face and battered knuckles.

The one named Baylor was on the floor groaning, trying to recover from a hard shot in the testicles that had to hurt even more than when a woman delivered it. Most men would consider the maneuver fighting dirty, but the weary man had clearly needed every advantage against the behemoth Baylor, and Ashla didn't blame him in the least for resorting to such a brutal tactic.

"You ... dare ... to betray ... our people," the standing man gasped between difficult-to-draw breaths. He was hugging an arm to his side, his ribs obviously hurting him, and Ashla found herself actually worrying that he had broken one or more. She didn't even know him, or what they were fighting about, so why, she wondered, was she starting to show concern for one side over the other?

"There was a time when you were considered the traitor, Ajai Trace," Baylor growled. "History is written by the one who wins the coup."

Baylor rolled over onto his hands and knees, panting hard and groaning beneath his breath as his movements sent obvious reminders of pain through his reproductive system. He looked up and suddenly Ashla found herself staring into deep eyes of black and menace. But as bad as the scowl initially was, the subsequent grin that showed his teeth was far worse.

"Well, well. What have we here?"

The snide speculation made Ashla cringe, but instincts she didn't understand caused her to lay her shaking fingers to rest against the grip of the sword by her toes. She wasn't going to use it, just ... she would make sure it stayed out of his easy reach. Her gaze shifted to the other male and she was surprised and unexplainably grateful to see he had straightened and, as though in no pain at all, swiftly grabbed up his own sword and slid sturdily into the space between Baylor and herself.

"Come now, Trace," Baylor drawled slowly as the other man's blade tapped its tip to the jutting point of his chin. The implication was clear. One wrong move and his head would be singing farewell to his neck. "Look at the fear in her eyes. Look at how the Lost one trembles. Don't you get it? It means she can see us."

Trace was almost certain it was a trick of some kind. Everyone in their world knew well enough that the Lost couldn't see a Shadowdweller. There was one exception, but even that required a ritual, a priest, and a damn good reason to want to make that kind of contact, which on its own was a preposterous likelihood. Still, Trace had glimpsed the cowering Lost girl shortly after they had come in through the window. Her reaction at the time would be understandable. She couldn't see them, but she would certainly see the exploding glass coming toward her.

Trace let his gaze flick to his low right and back again, taking a quick mental picture of the female. It was impossible to miss her, really. She was everything his people weren't. Fair. Blond. Wearing white. Fearful. In fact, he couldn't seem to help himself as he looked back at her once more, getting a better look at just how light and white she seemed. Even her eyes were bright and the fairest shade of blue he'd ever seen.

And they were staring straight at him.

Wide, frightened, but inarguably fixated on him.

"Impossible," he muttered aloud.

"Ha! Proof of your idiotic stubbornness," Baylor mocked him.

"You will shut your treacherous mouth, my friend," Trace ground out angrily, using the press of his blade on Baylor's throat to force the other man to sit upright onto his heels. Even despite his quick obedience, the highly honed tip of the blade cut into his skin and started a river of blood flowing down his thick throat. As for Trace, his roaring temper had shifted from betrayed anger to a storm of fury. "Do you think this is how this will end? Do you really think I will merely take you into my custody and march you to your fate at the hands of my regents? After you follow me here to engage my ear in whispered plots and backstabbing sedition meant to pit one regent against the other? A sister against her brother? Oh, no, Baylor," Trace assured in a voice that ground to a low and slow resonance of threat, "I am my Lord Chancellor's vizier, and it is I who advises him, but while I would have you hanged publicly to be made an example of, Tristan would not see you as the threat you truly are.

"His Grace," he continued bitterly, "suffers from the overconfidence of power and strength. A flaw only time will rectify. Also, there is his unshakable foundation of his trust in his sister's loyalty, a factor which makes him laugh off plot-makers like you. It is a mistake many young regents have made. He forgets that voices like yours will always find the ears of the discontented and disloyal whether they succeed at their intended goal or not.

"Their reign is far too youthful to be given such a test, and our efforts at peace with the other Nightwalkers would distract him from realizing that. So no," Trace assured the kneeling man, "this will not end civilly. It will end with my sword severing those seditious vocal cords of yours and keeping you from ever whispering your ill words to a single other 'Dweller."

"It is against the law for one 'Dweller to take the life of another!" Baylor reminded him with a sneer. "A law you instigated, if I recall! How steady do you think this political body will ever be when its own lawmakers cannot abide by its own rules?"

"Do not quote my own laws to me, traitor," Trace hissed through clenched teeth, pushing forward on his blade until Baylor squawked in protest. "Or do you forget that an attack on any of the ruling body is considered an act of treason and war? In war, the law is suspended with circumstance and proof of cause." Trace leaned forward to close the distance between their gazes. "Do you forget the dagger you plunged into my back so soon?"

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LOVE BEYOND LOYALTY by Rebecca Royce

LOVE BEYOND LOYALTY by Rebecca Royce

The Outsiders Book Three

When Gabriel and Loraine are forced together by the destiny he denies and she is ignorant of, they will both finally have to accept their Outsider legacy and help the others in the quest to defeat the ultimate evil - a demon bent on world domination.

Gabriel Ward has no problem with the fact that he's an Outsider. Hell, he's always known he was different. What he takes issue with, is the idea that he has to follow any destiny at all. He's always taken care of himself, and there's no way he's going to start following rules now.

Loraine Peacock can speak to animals. Other than that, she thinks she's just a regular woman making her way in the world. She figures it's not that weird. Many people have unusual abilities.

But when Gabriel and Loraine are forced together by the very destiny he denies, they will both have to accept their legacy and join the Outsiders in their quest to defeat the ultimate evil. That is, if they can survive long enough to find their way to their most important destiny of all: love.

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~Excerpt~

Gabriel stood outside his house. Like all his neighbors and most of the properties in North Shore, Louisiana, his home rested upon pillars meant to protect the structure from the flooding of the river during massive storms. Lord knew Louisiana weather could get out of hand fast. He wiped a hand over his sweating forehead before taking another sip of his Abita beer.

There was nothing like hard work and cold alcohol to make him feel tired on a hot, humid afternoon. He picked up his hammer and went back to work nailing the extra boards on to the pillars that held up his house.

Humming to himself, a tune he recognized as nothing other than musical nonsense, he hoped that the boards would take more of the brunt from the debris in the river the next time it flooded. Of course, he hoped it never flooded again, but it would be foolish to assume that would happen. For the first time in a long time, he felt really good about things on the home front. He set down his hammer, deciding he could give himself a brief break from the work he loved.

Smiling, he sat down on the riverbank and looked up at his house. He'd built it himself. When he'd purchased the property, it had been nothing but a beat-up lot with no home left standing on it. It had taken two years to get it where it was now. The smile fell from his expression as he ran a hand through his dark hair.

Was he just supposed to give it up?

That's what it would mean if he joined the Outsiders, who were forever in his thoughts, and became a real player in the battle to save humanity. He closed his eyes for a moment before opening them.

It wasn't that he didn't care about the struggle or the outcome; in fact, there was little he worried about more. But if he did what they wanted, if he embraced his heritage, and joined their world fully, there was no going back.

He didn't care what promises they made about a normal life when the battle was done. That would never come. No, if he gave in and joined them in Maine where they plotted, planned, and bit their nails over the upcoming war, he'd be saying goodbye to all of this--to everything he'd always valued.

That wasn't an easy thing for a man like him to do.

Raised alternatively in terrible foster homes or on the streets of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, he had sworn to himself that someday he would have a place to call his own. A home, that he owned, which he could live in and never have to leave.

So help him that was going to be this building. And, despite the fact that he knew he might be fighting a losing battle in resisting the Outsiders' call, he couldn't seem to bring himself to leave it. Not even to go engage in an epic struggle that had been raging long before he was born and would continue when he was six-feet under.

Sighing, he rubbed his nose when a fly swept past it. He knew the requisite evening phone call would come. Leonardo, the unofficial leader of the Outsiders, called him every night just to 'check in'. Gabriel wasn't stupid. He realized the guy was trying to wear him down. In some ways it was working. He was at least thinking about the subject of leaving on a regular basis. But Gabe was a stubborn bastard. Always had been.

The answer three months ago when the conversations had begun had been 'no' and it continued to be 'no' now.

Not to mention he couldn't leave Alexa. Even if she wasn't currently speaking to him.

When he'd first heard the notion that all Outsiders had soul mates, another Outsider picked by the Heavens to be their one and only love, he'd been intrigued and actually wondered for a while if his might be Alexa. He'd quickly dismissed the notion. One of the requirements for being a soul mate was an overwhelming sexual interest in the other person. When he looked at Alexa, he could see that she was pretty but did he want to fuck her?

Absolutely not.

She was the first friend he'd ever had. They'd met on the brutal streets of New Orleans and bonded over the fact that they could both do 'things' they shouldn't, as human beings, be able to do. But, while he had managed to resist the demon--Sebastian--that wanted to control them, she had not. Out of all of his problems, that one ranked first on his list and he had no idea how he'd handle it.

Sebastian was always impeccably dressed, most of the people of his acquaintance thought he was a kind, charitable person raised in the genteel south where men were called 'sir' and women 'ma'am'. Little did they know he was a hell beast called forth by an ancient prophecy to kill them all.

Those same people would probably suspect even less that he, Gabriel Ward, sometime carpenter, sometime plumber, sometime handyman, was actually a member of an almost dead race of people called upon to defeat Sebastian. The idea might be laughable if it wasn't so damn real.

He stood up and shook his hair, hoping some of the sweat would drip out before he refastened the tie. It was really fucking hot.

Walking to the river, he decided that maybe tomorrow he'd stop his construction and take his boat on the river to do some fishing. He didn't have much of a knack for fishing. All he ever caught were the Croakers and they made such a disastrous noise when he pulled them out of the river that he'd throw them back.

Still, for him, the point of the exercise was to spend the day out on the Gulf with his thoughts and no work to distract him. He stared down at the water. It was looking a little bit greener today than usual. Were they having an influx of some kind of moss or algae infestation? Admittedly, for living on the river, he knew little about these kinds of issues. Stealing money on the streets of the French Quarter to feed Alexa had not provided him with the right education when it came to marine life and water problems. Taking one last swig of his beer, he decided to do an Internet search when he got back to the cabin, and maybe buy some books on the subject.

It was so peaceful here he could stare out at the gentle swell of the water all day. He bit down on his lip as he rubbed his nose. Except today it wasn't gentle. Something caught his attention.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

HER COWBOY TRIPLE TEAM by Stacey Espino

HER COWBOY TRIPLE TEAM by Stacey Espino

Kayla Roberts doesn't expect to land a man in her new town. She's used to being rejected due to her extra pounds and plain looks.

Grant Garner visits the feedstore more than ever since the new girl started working behind the counter. She's a real woman with depth of character, not to mention all those luscious curves. He can see a future with her, if only he can convince her she's worth his attention.

Ben and Austin are the black sheep of the town since they decided to switch to GE seed on their wheat farm. The only person who doesn't judge them is the quiet and darkly alluring Kayla Roberts.

Can ranchers on the opposite side of the wheat war make peace for the sake of love?

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ADULT EXCERPT

Kayla was floating—the cowboy bodies, hands, and mouths tossing her on the waves of ecstasy. After her first orgasm by Austin’s wicked mouth, they converged on her. She only opened her eyes periodically to get a glimpse of flesh and muscle.

The butt plug was carefully plucked from her rear. Her clit was still pounding from her last orgasm.

“Bring her to the edge of the bed,” said Austin. They shifted her. Their strong arms aided in lifting and adjusting her to their satisfaction.

“Nice,” whispered Ben in her ear as he smoothed his hand over her ass from behind. The warm length of his body was pressed tight to her back. “Do you like being fucked up the ass, Kayla? Do you want my dick in here?” He lightly touched her tight rosette, a burst of sensation releasing on contact. She remembered the intensity of her orgasm when she was double-teamed. It was incomparable.

“Yes,” she squealed, not wanting to wait a minute longer.

Grant was partially on the bed, one leg on, one off. His cock was fully erect, just like Austin’s, which waggled near her face. “Ready, baby doll? Ready to take all three of us? Once we do this, there’s no turning back. You’ll be stuck with the lot of us.”

She loved the sound of that. They promised roots, security, and the happily ever after she’d always sought. “God, yes!”

Grant joined her on the edge of the bed, pulling her thigh over his hip. He entered her smoothly, his big dick filling her pussy, calming the fire. As soon as the first cock entered her pussy, the second forged in her ass. Ben didn’t waste any time. As his rigid cock joined Grant’s, she felt stuffed, complete. Together, Grant and Ben fought for space, gliding into her slick openings, filling her to the max. They were twisted, limbs overlapping, male bodies vying for space so they could force as much cock inside her as possible. Austin stroked her hair, something she remembered from when her mother was alive. She opened her eyes briefly to glance up into his dark eyes. They were hypnotic. He watched her with a mix of lust and love and glanced at the men working her body while stroking his erection.

“Fuck, she’s amazing,” grunted Ben.

She continued to look up at Austin, bracing for each powerful thrust into her ass, wanting it harder, faster. “Give it to me,” she demanded. Kayla wanted Austin’s cock in her mouth. Her need to suck during this time of sexual awakening was a necessity. He eagerly poised himself at her mouth. She opened for him, wrapping her lips around the hot, silky flesh of his cock.

“You’re perfect, Kayla. Never let anyone tell you you aren’t.” She wanted to say the same to him but couldn’t speak with her mouth full.

She felt as though not an inch of her skin was untouched. Hands were on her breasts, in her hair, and she had a thick cock in every orifice. They pummeled her, fucking her into delirium. She didn’t think about her bouncing breasts or belly rolls, only the pleasure these men were determined to give her.

“Oh God!” she cried out as her body began to heat, burning and burning in need of release. Kayla immediately sought Austin’s cock again. The preorgasmic realm took over, washing through her body, bringing her to a higher plane of satisfaction than she thought possible. It was right there, on the cusp of release.

Almost, almost…so close.

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

SBF SEEKING...by LaToya Hankins

SBF SEEKING.... by LaToya Hankins

Four months before her wedding, Yvette Thurman realizes this might be her last chance to have a sexual fling with a white man. But she never thought placing a personal ad would lead her to discover she was a lesbian.

Yvette's small town life in eastern North Carolina never prepared her for the personal journey she undertakes as she struggles to find her heart’s path.

Through personal ads and late night visits to an adult bookstore, Yvette learns more about her own personal desires than she ever did when she was engaged to be married. If she embraces her true self, can she find acceptance and love from her family and friends? Or will she be forced to hide who she really is from those she cares about the most?

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EXCERPT:
Note: may contain sexually explicit scenes of a homoerotic nature.



“So bottom line: you kissed her and now what?”

“That’s the thing. I want there to be a what. I liked her energy and even though she is the second lesbian I have been attracted to, I really think I have a chance to see what could happen with her.”

“I know I gave you the speech in the club about starting fresh, but I don’t want you to start down this path and halfway down you realize you’re not wearing the right shoes. If you plan to get to know this chick in order to ‘get to know’ this chick, then I want you to be sure. I don’t know her, but no one wants to be an experiment just ‘cause lesbian chic is everywhere you look.”

“Agreed. I have been thinking about this since last night, and you know I don’t make any moves until I have thought about all the angles. I guess I will know what to say the next time I talk to her. Speaking of which,” I said, looking at my watch to see its blue face read 7:45 P.M. “Jasmine should be getting home soon. She is taking some night classes at Central towards her MBA. I texted her and told her I wanted to talk to her about last night and she said she would call me around nine on her way home.”

At 9:02 P.M., my phone rang.

“Hi, Yvette, how was your day?”

Hearing her suede purr over the phone released butterflies in my pelvic area. I shared my good news about my job to which she congratulated me and told me about her day both at work and at school. A pause fell.

“About last night,” we said in unison, then replied, almost in unison again, “No, you go first.”

Finally, I took a breath and told Jasmine I kissed her because I was really attracted to her and felt like I wanted her to know.

“I appreciate you feeling that way about me and, trust me, the kiss was nice. Yvette, I have to tell you it took me off guard. I mean, I was not expecting you to kiss me, especially after our conversation about your ex-fiancée and the fact you came out to the club to support your friend, that you were not looking to meet anyone.”

“I know, but even if my intention was not to meet anyone, I did meet you and I felt comfortable enough to come over to your place. I had a great time just sitting, listening to music, and talking. I can’t explain it, Jasmine. I just felt like kissing you, so I did.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the kiss. But Yvette, straight girls usually don’t kiss women they just met. Hell, lesbians usually don’t kiss girls they just met.”

“I agree, most straight girls wouldn’t want to kiss a woman they just met. So since I did it, I guess I’m not your typical straight girl.”

As the words rolled off my tongue, the implications hit me in the gut. Did I just say I wasn’t a straight girl? Does kissing a woman make you a lesbian? I didn’t think it did, but then again, did being a lesbian require some kind of entrance exam or internship? Maybe it just involves feeling a certain way and acting on it. If that, I guess I’m a lesbian, or maybe a lesbian-in-training.

“Yvette, in the short time I have known you, I would not say you are a typical anything. I have been a lot of places and I don’t think I have ever met anyone like you before.”

“I will take that as a good thing. Growing up with the superstar known as my twin sister, I had to decide to blend in or stand out so no one would be confused. I decided to go for being as much as a singular sensation as I could manage.”

ANCIENT TIES by Jane Leopold Quinn

ANCIENT TIES by Jane Leopold Quinn

21st century teacher Janney Forrester needs a vacation. She gets one, across a stone threshold into the hard, muscular arms of 2nd century Roman soldier Marek.

When Marek seizes her, she decides to seize the day. Carpe diem!

Can a new world for her, timeless desire, and a loving exploration of each other's bodies forge a passion that survives centuries of separation?

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Excerpt:

Marek was familiar with strategizing warfare and solving problems, but he had never known a precedent for what just happened. Augusta seemed to believe the woman’s story, but he wasn’t so sure it was true.

Travel through time was impossible. So he told himself. But how did that explain this woman and her insistence on what had been outside the front door? How did that explain her clothing that was like nothing he’d ever seen before? No stranger to a woman’s body, he did like the way it molded to her curves, the soft white, clingy covering over her breasts accentuating her attributes in a way that was almost more desirable than if she’d been naked.

Mmm…almost. He rolled his eyes. Well, obviously, naked would be better.

Strange blue cloth tightly sheathed her long legs all the way down to her ankles. The big white, puffy things on her feet looked clumsy and ungainly, but she was able to move around silently.

He decided to watch her carefully, which was certainly no hardship. Her face was fine-boned -- soft, pink, round apple cheeks, and a determined, pointed chin. Her eyes, the bluest eyes he’d ever seen, were at times pale with uncertainty, then bright with fascination at her surroundings. Spellbound, he watched. Something caused her breasts to be thrust out under her coverings, and a man would have to be blind to miss the hard nipples so visible. His fingers flexed, craving to touch them. He could almost feel their velvety softness on his lips.

Augusta had taken control of Janney Forrester, had invited her into the peristyle. Before showing her around, she took Janney to a bedroom and urged her to change into a tunic and stola. No one else in the villa had seen her yet, and until they figured out what was going on, it would be better if the servants didn’t suspect anything odd. He’d sent for Gaius, his friend and mentor, Augusta’s husband. Gaius would help sort this mess out.

As the woman wandered around the peristyle after Augusta left to see to the evening meal, he stood guard. Legs solidly planted, arms crossed over his chest, he scowled. She was not going to leave his sight. If he had to perform his self-imposed guard duty, a beautiful woman was a pleasant change from scruffy enemy Celts.

Occasionally, she would glance over her shoulder to see where he stood and throw him a wary look. Then, at times, she seemed to forget his presence and peered at carvings, benches, and the fountain with a near reverence, even tracing patterns of curves and hollows with her fingertips.

Hmm.

His face flamed, his jaw dropping open in surprise. He’d bedded a lot of women during his long years in the army, and he’d never been embarrassed before. But the sensuous drag of her fingers along the ridges of carved flowers felt like she had placed her hand on his hip and traced across his tightly clenching stomach muscles.

Vae!

He froze and gaped idiotically when she encountered the cool, smooth marble statue of a nude Hermes, one hand on its hip, a knee cocked forward. Her gaze rose to the top. When her gaze lowered to Hermes’ middle, she squinted, bit her lower lip, and stared at the God’s larger-than-life phallus. He squirmed awkwardly, shifting his feet on the gravel pathway.

At the sound, she turned, looked directly at him, and flushed brightly. Their eyes locked. Gods, what was happening to him? He couldn’t breathe with wanting to grab this woman and prove to her that he was every bit as impressive as the statue.

She bit her lower lip.

Marek suddenly realized he wanted to bite her lower lip. To suck on it.

“Umm,” she murmured, lost in his eyes.

And her upper lip…

Like a bolt of lightning, carnal heat ripped through his belly, and he gasped as if in pain. He turned on his heel and stomped off. Slamming the door to his bedroom, he stood in the center of the room, aghast.

Good Gods! I’m insane.

Marek Benin Verus had never run from a woman in his life. And he hadn’t this time, either. But what had he done? Shaking. He was shaking.

Stop! He ordered himself to think. Cut off the emotions and think. Yes, he wanted the woman. Naturally he did. What sane man wouldn’t want her? That innocent face surrounded by all that curly, yellow hair, and the body of a goddess. He hated that he was completely unnerved by her. This was a first for him. Women were a means to assuaging physical desires, but this one…

He knew her. Oh, not her name, nor specifically her face. She’d been in his dreams, though. Since his breakdown, he’d awakened many mornings hot and agitated, wondering what was wrong with him. It wasn’t unusual to awaken aroused, but remnants of the fantasy of a bright presence touching his body, the voice a mere gentle hum filtering through his brain, stayed with him even after he woke. The shock of the dream becoming reality staggered him. Why had this woman invaded his dreams? What plan did the Gods have? Because without a doubt, she’d been brought to him by the Gods. The question was why?

Humph. Do the reasons matter? The woman has been sent to me. I will have her. The omen is too strong to dismiss.

The yellow-haired woman was a gift to him from the Gods.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

HERMES ONLINE by Rose Anderson

HERMES ONLINE by Rose Anderson

Imagine if you will a story begun in the halls of Mount Olympus long before this modern tale was conceived. It was a time when the god Hermes flew on his winged sandals and carried messages from the gods to the mortals below. And between that time and this, couriers became postmen and handwritten letters became bytes. It is said the gods still speak to those who listen...

Left bruised and brokenhearted after a cruel breakup, Vivienne Bennet finds herself mired in a world of self-doubt. To her surprise, she receives an email that challenges her to rediscover the sensual woman she once was. Together Vivienne and the enigmatic man known only as S embark upon the world of anonymous Internet communication where suggestive emails lead to erotic chat, where cybersex leads to Skype, and C2C sends both into the arms of a love they'd believed lost forever.

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~ADULT EXCERPT~

Bewitching V,

Your words fire my imagination and heat my blood. They pool in my cock and balls gone heavy now in full desire. Take my hand, lovely V, follow me to my bed, lie back on petal-strewn sheets and fan your autumn-colored hair across my pillows. Allow me to pay homage to the goddess you are. Let me begin at your little feet. Feel me lightly kiss, and yes, you will feel me bite ever so slightly, for the need to devour you is great. Reply lover.

I await.

S



Petal-strewn sheets. I swallowed. Good god, he was a sexy man.



S,

I smell the roses, their essence rising from the petals as the heat of my body warms them beneath me. I smell my scent, for my arousal is beyond measure in this moment. I draw a sharp breath as your nip to my arch takes me by surprise, but the press of warm lips in the same place cools the nerves gone wild. I feel the stubble of your chin, the rough/smooth dichotomy sending a tingle to run along my spine. Your hands stroke and caress. I feel the tickle of your fingers as they trace my calves. You’re at my knees now. I feel your lips, feel your warm breath. Where do you travel next I wonder? I think I know.

V



My heart was pounding. My breath was coming short, and I was aware I needed to swallow because my throat had gone dry. His reply finally came.



My sensual lover V,

No, pretty one, have no expectations, only anticipation, for you never know what my body and mind will treat you to next, but I assure you, all will delight. For now I will leave your shapely legs and kiss you. Feel my body glide along yours, feel my weight press against you on my journey to your mouth. Yes, that is my hard cock grinding down. I can’t help myself, V. My body craves the contact. I hold your face between both hands and lightly rub my lips over yours, not quite a kiss, not quite a caress. Open, sweetness, open your lips to mine. Mmm, my tongue traces your bottom lip. How soft you are. I know a place that is softer still, but for now, I linger here. My tongue finds yours and swirls over and over it.

I break the delightful joining to shower your face with kisses. Feel my rough cheek. The beard I once wore is gone, but the shadow remains and it rasps against your neck, making your lovely alabaster skin glow pink and flushed. I bite down and suck your flesh lightly into my mouth, feeling your body rise to me. I’ve marked you with a lover’s mark, and oh, lovely one, you do wear it well. Hear my breath at your ear, warm, heavy, excited. My lips glide along your collarbone to your upper chest. My tongue finds the crescent moon and stars and traces them, feeling the image slightly raised on your smooth, flawless skin. Your rose-colored nipples entice me... I go there next.

Tell me, lover. Take me there.

S



My clothing felt tight, as tight as a robe and slippers could feel when skin desires to be bare. I took them off because my skin felt feverish. My breath came faster as I sat naked at my desk.



S,

My fingers curl into the warm silk of your chestnut hair as your mouth closes over one nipple. You hear me gasp as you suck both areola and nipple into hot suction. Your teeth graze me, lightly biting, the pleasure/pain skittering along nerve meridians that run in a straight line from nipples to center heavily between my thighs. Touch me, lover, use expert fingers to tease me open, fill me with your fingers as lips and teeth treat one breast and then the other. I’m burning now.

V



Burning was right. I stood just long enough to tuck one leg under me, feeling a need for pressure there against my sex. I ground down against the calf I straddled, dreaming of words to use next as we culminated our curious relationship.

“You’ve got mail.”

Looking down, I saw my breasts were flushed in a fevered hue as though a beard had rasped across them. But no, S had no beard. I put another memory aside and read.



Beauteous V,

Your alabaster flesh fills my hands. Feel me now, holding one breast firmly. Your areola bulges, and I treat the full blooming rose with firm licks. Feel as I press both creamy breasts together, drawing your swollen pink nipples close so that I may suckle and lick first one then the other. See how my love bites mark you? Such a lovely canvas. You have no idea how tasty you are, lovely V.

And now feel my hands glide. Yes, part your legs for me, pull them back, hold them wide. My lips run along your ribs and belly. God yes, I smell how turned on you are. It fills my senses, and I know you know we won’t be denied. My fingers lightly pinch and roll your clit until you squirm and moan and make little sounds in the back of your throat. You’re so swollen, so excited. My fingers enter your tight warm body and withdraw. I hold my fingers between our mouths, my desire to taste all of you at once. Kiss me, lover, taste.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

DEAD SPACE by Buffi BeCraft

DEAD SPACE by Buffi BeCraft

Mankind has always reached the stars... and what we find is reaching for back for us. You'd better run like hell.

With only hours to save themselves Zoey Moody and Joe Rigatelli are in the most primal race for survival they have ever faced. Teaming up after a simple planetside trip goes horribly wrong, they are fighting for their lives against the worst alien infestation imaginable. Zombies.

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(c) Copyright by Buffi BeCraft, January 2012

Published by New Concepts Publishing

New Concepts Publishing

Lake Park, GA 31636

www.newconceptspublishing.com

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.



Emergency lights barely cut through the bare humid atmosphere. The weak yellow haze reminded Zoey of her childhood addiction to video games. Eerie, violent, dumb, fun, she’d once thought. Not so much now, she grimaced, letting the sweating pipes take her weight.

Who would have thought she’d be the star in her own real-live zombie flick? She almost laughed, but was afraid that once she started, she’d never stop. She and rational thought had parted ways days ago. Or had it been hours?

Zoey shook her head. Even the damn setting was perfect for her B rated role. The spaceship’s endless maze of pipe and ducting snaked through the underbelly and service tunnels of the Pisces, carrying power, water, and until recently, temperature regulated life-sustaining oxygen.

On the lookout for more monsters, she settled the aluminum softball bat on her opposite shoulder. Why couldn’t she have had the video game version of this hell? At least then she’d get cool weapons and armor upgrades. The damned bat now felt like it weighed a ton and pressed the slick, generic vinyl one piece coverall against her skin, where the suit stayed stuck. Still, she was thankful for the freaking hot protective cover-all. Without it, she would be dead, or worse.

Zoey refused to think of the worse, or acknowledge the red smeared evidence of the unlucky ones on her coverall. Really, what she needed was sleep. Every muscle in her body quivered, exhausted, at the end of her stamina. Her eyelids drooped despite the fact that the rhythmic hiss-hiss of her oxygen mask overpowered her hearing.

The mask was a constant in her fucked up life. She longed for a breath of unfettered oxygen that she once took for granted. The high levels of carbon dioxide now pumping through the ventilation system would suffocate her in minutes. Lovely if you were a tropical plant, she supposed. Or one of the zombies. It sucked meteors if you were human.

A stray bolt slid across the floor; its lazy velocity jerked Zoey into instant alertness. Adrenaline pumped through her system. Fucking slow rotters! She ducked out of a potential grab from behind and swung the bat, intending to run once she knew where the zombie was coming from.

“Hey!” An oxygen mask hampered the man’s deep voice, but he dodged, barely moving out of the way of her swing. Zoey swallowed her fear. She raised the bat again. “Hey! I’m okay. I’m o-kay.” He repeated, drawing out the last word as if she were impaired. Her heart hammered in her chest, her fight or flight response screaming through her veins along with the shot of adrenaline.

She lowered the bat watching the shadow of his eyebrows raise as he read the blood and gore smeared inscription, Class of 2510 Go Rockets! He didn’t appear zombie-fied. She saw his raised arms for the first time. His weapon of choice appeared to be a table leg, ripped from one of the cheap artificial wood tables that PrimaTech outfitted the Pisces with. Blood and gore clung to the square end of the table leg. “Your eyes,” She pointed to her own mask then at his. “Let me see your eyes.”

The man nodded, carefully using the sleeve of his own cheap coverall to wipe the detritus from the face shield. Zoey purposely shoved the thought of where the muck came from out of her mind. Eyes wide, he turned his head left and right. “See? Blue eyes, probably bloodshot. No orange at all. I’m okay,” he repeated, in an attempt to sooth. She wasn’t comforted, but did drop her bat from the ready position. A fine tremor began in her joints as she sagged against the pipes again. God, she was tired.

“We should find a hidey-hole. A place that locks from the inside. With manual locks.” The man edged closer. Damn, but he was big, she noticed. He was half-again bigger that her, the top of his head and shoulders towered over her. The man took a moment to double-check the path that he’d come from then reached out a hand that Zoey simply stared at. “Joe Rigatelli.” He waited, nodding at the smirk.

“Rigatelli? Isn’t that a pasta dish?” Changing the heading he was aiming for, Zoey ducked under a grouping of fiber-filled pipes, the kind that sent data and power humming through the Pisces so that it could keep the engines and equipment on the heading to the next space station. She did like the way he smiled, without offense, as he crawled behind her.

“Rigatoni is a pasta. Rigatelli is the chef.” His answer made her stop and twist around. The movement was awkward, but she spied a flash of humor in his expression; the smile behind the mask reassured her. “My oh-so-fashionable white-on-white official ensemble is at the cleaners.”

“Chef, eh? Or cafeteria assembly line?” She quipped, drawing a chuckle from him, once again proving his good humor in dire circumstances. She supposed PrimaTech’s zealous dress code was a bit militant and color-by-numberish by most civilian standards. But Zoey had dedicated her entire career to the company; it was in her blood. The uniforms and psueo-military hierarchy were all she knew as far as jobs went. Zoey’s fear eased down a bit. On the bright side, she’d probably never have to wear her blah uniform of gray slacks and shirt again.

“Zoey Moody. Corporate keyboard jockey. Data entry drone.” She was just another geek nobody that wasn’t missed on Earth, not even by her family, who measured importance by some formula of indolence and wealth that never appealed to her. After years of fighting to go her own way, building success on her own merits, like her revered ship-building ancestor, sipping a Mai Tai at an exclusive resort sounded pretty good right now.

His gloved hand closed on her ankle and she stifled the urge to squeal. Joe nodded to the left, indicating a huddle of zombies crouched in a widening circle of blood. Damn, but she hadn’t seen them. If Joe hadn’t grabbed her, she’d have popped up almost behind the things.

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