Sunday, September 27, 2015

Shot to the heart and you're to blame - Undaunted by Ronnie Douglas blog tour



Being fearless never looked so good. . .

Aubrey Evans needs to get her life back on track after her father is indicted for embezzlement. All she has to do to hightail it out of small-town Tennessee is save up money for college tuition and steer clear of hard-muscled boys on motorcycles. Yet there's no ignoring someone like Zion. A knight in black leather, Zion looks like every bad idea she's been told to avoid, but she can't resist him. Whenever she's in trouble, he's there. Appealing as his rough exterior may be, it's the protective, principled man beneath who tempts her like crazy.

Zion knows Aubrey doesn't intend to stick around. She claims to want only friendship, but he senses there's a naughty girl hiding on the inside—one whose intense desires match his own. For now, he'll be patient and play by her rules. But he knows it's just a matter of time before he weakens her resolve.

As they join forces to figure out who's behind a local crime spree, it's clear that the danger goes deeper than Aubrey guessed. And when she needs someone tall, dark, and undaunted to keep her safe, Zion intends to be there—now and always.

Recently, I've become obsessed with biker books. For some reason the bad boy aesthetic is really appealing to me right now. Unfortunately, none of the few biker books I've tried reading* have clicked with me yet. As much as I wanted Undaunted to break the cycle, it just didn't come together enough to provide what I was looking for. That's a bit strange considering Ronnie Douglas is the alter ego of an author whose books I've enjoyed in the past.

The biggest issue I had with Undaunted was the plot and drama seemed to override any character development. For instance, Zion/ Killer, has decided he feels proprietary over Aubrey/Red the first night he meets her after rescuing her from a bad decision. I can go along with that.

But, as Killer and Aubrey get closer it becomes clear what Killer "does for the club," even though nothing explicit is shown and barely even gets talked about. Aubrey has a huge problem with his "job," in spite of knowing from the beginning this is what he does. Killer as a nickname isn't exactly subtle. There's this crazy hot and cold drama from Aubrey. She wants him, but she doesn't want him to give up his life, but she hates his life? And Killer totally feeds into it.

By the end Killer is talking about enlisting in the Marines, leaving his only family in the motorcycle club, and doing a whole 180 with his life. Which I wouldn't have minded in the least, if I felt like his character had actually developed into wanting something more for himself instead of playing into Aubrey's knee-jerk fears about the biker lifestyle.

Keep in mind this need for change from Killer after he's been shot in the climax of the book. He's still more focused on pleasing Aubrey than worrying about the fact he had to take a bullet for her. And the shooting wasn't even part of all the bad biker stuff Aubrey was worried about. It made her fears of the life seem unnecessary, which invalidated a lot of the power in her arguments against her and Killer's relationship.

Aubrey's constant tug-of-war over how she felt about Killer just ruined the story for me. I can understand her being uncertain about him, but the amount of times she overthought something or went completely hot and cold made her a weaker character than I'd like. Her indecision itself didn't bother me, but how often it was brought up and how huge it loomed in the book did.

Honestly, by the end I was more interested in Aubrey's grandmother and Zion's Dad's past story. I would have rather read a book about a fierce single mom gettin' some from a hot biker many years her junior and the struggles associated with that than Zion and Aubrey's book.

In spite of what this review may make you think, I didn't dislike the book. The structure and plot were solid. The drama was juicy. I loved the hot make-outs. But the glaring lack of character development was too big a problem to ignore. After a while I couldn't relate to Aubrey and I never understood what was going on in Killer's head.

If you're a die hard Melissa Marr fan or a reader who likes harder-edged romance and doesn't mind a few gaps in character development, I'd tell you to read the book. Otherwise, I'd borrow the book from a friend or the library before committing to purchasing it.

*Biker books I've picked up:

- Ride the Wind by Kristin Ashley - Liked the characters, but the huge time gaps made me feel like I was missing a lot and was reading a disjointed story. Haven't finished yet, but might.

- There You Stand by Christina Lee - Liked the story, but wasn't a fan of all the drama and mystery surrounding everything. It was drug out to the point I was more focused on when it was all going to get resolved than what was actually happening.

Keep reading for an awesome excerpt of Undaunted and a giveaway for a copy of the book. 


Where to purchase Undaunted


UNDAUNTED EXCERPT

“You’re safe, Red,” he said in a softer voice. “I’ll take you to grandmother’s house.”

He watched me, obviously waiting for something.

The best my drunken brain could offer was, “The Big Bad wolf eats Red.”

He paused, grinned, and patted the seat. “You’re too drunk for that too.”

I blinked at him. Then his words sunk in, and I gasped. I hadn’t meant that, but now that he planted the idea in my mind, I couldn’t speak.

“You’re safe with me,” he promised, and then he patted the tiny seat behind him.

I wanted to tell him that I didn’t want to be safe, not after he’d planted such forbidden images in my mind. I yanked my mind out of the gutter and climbed onto the motorcycle, wrapped my arms around his waist, and tried not to shiver. I shouldn’t like the way he talked, but I did. I liked the whole package: the rescue, the insinuations, the motorcycle.

Maybe alcohol and fumbled petting with Quincy just skewed my judgment so severely that Zion seemed more tempting than he actually was. I wasn’t sure. I also didn’t think it mattered. By tomorrow, I would be too sober to think about kisses or any of the other things he might be good at doing.

He pulled my arms tighter around him, holding my hands together on his very taut stomach. It was a little embarrassing that being on the back of his Harley was doing far more for my libido than all of Quincy’s—and every other man’s before him—effort.

“Hold on, Red.”


About the Author

Ronnie Douglas is the writing name for a multiple New York Times bestselling author. Drawing on a lifetime love of romance novels and a few years running a biker bar, she decided to write what she knew—dangerous men with Harleys and tattoos. Her debut “Ronnie book” was indie-published as part of a series she created and wrote with friends in 2014.

HUGE, HUGE thanks to the wonderful ladies at Bookslapped, Jessica and Rachel, who invited me onto the tour!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Love Me Like You Mean It - Dirty Talk by Megan Erickson blog tour!



Brent Payton has a reputation for wanting to have fun, all the time. It’s well-earned after years of ribbing his brothers and flirting with every girl he meets, but he’s more than just a good time, even though nobody takes the time to see it. When a new girl walks into his family’s garage with big thoughtful eyes and legs for days, this mechanic wants something serious for the first time.

Ivy Dawn is done with men, all of them. She and her sister uprooted their lives for them too many times and she’s not willing to do it again. Avoiding the opposite sex at all costs seems easy enough, until the sexy mechanic with the dirty mouth bursts into her life. 

Brent can’t resist the one woman who sees past his devil-may-care facade and Ivy finds it harder and harder to deny how happy he makes her. But Ivy has secrets she hasn’t shared and when the truth comes out, she must decide if she’s willing to take one more chance on love or let him go forever.

As you've seen over the past few months, I've become a huge devotee of Megan Erickson. Her In Focus series is my favorite, followed by the Gamers series, then Mechanics of Love. Trust me when I say just because Mechanics of Love is in last place, it doesn't mean I don't love it. All Megan's books are fabulous and you won't regret picking up a single one.

*Sigh* Brent. Is there honestly a Brent in romance books who isn't absolutely wonderful? First Tessa Bailey's Brent and now Megan Erickson's. They're both so rough and romantic. This Brent however, I will love forever for teaching a six-year-old to check a dipstick and carrying a tiara in his pocket. (Not to mention that super hot and super sweet moment at the river!) I liked that Brent was so good with Ivy's daughter. He didn't try to be her dad, or be the perfect role model, but he didn't treat her as a baby either. I fell in love with this gorgeous goofball that never seemed to take anything seriously, unless it mattered. This guy! I swear, Megan Erickson's heroes are ruining me for real guys!

I admired Ivy's strength and her devotion to her family. She wasn't as overwhelming a presence as the other characters, but she still won me over with her sweetness. I have the feeling I'd really enjoy another girl's night with Ivy letting loose even more. Reserved she may be, but Ivy and Brent's chemistry wasn't lacking! They nearly melted my kindle screen.

I love, love, love that Brent understood where Ivy was coming from in the main conflict. He never thought he was more important than her family. And it wasn't because he was insecure. Brent got it because  he would have done the exact same thing for his brothers. That, more than anything solidified their relationship for me.

Without going too much into the end of the book . . . I'm very excited to see where the story goes with Alex and how her problems play out. Of course the Payton family put on an awesome show and I was so happy to see them again. I'm already eagerly awaiting Dirty Deeds to see even more!

Stay tuned to see where you can buy Dirty Talk, read the first chapter, and be entered to win a $25 gift card to an e-book retailer of your choice.

You can buy Dirty Talk from:



CHAPTER ONE:

Brent Payton wanted some decent music while he was working.

Not this pop-rock crap the radio had been playing but real rock ’n’ roll. Hell, he’d take George Thurgood right about now. Some “Bad to the Bone”? Hells to the yeah. That was better than a cup of coffee, which he could really use this Monday morning.

He’d volunteered to spring for an iPod and a docking station so he could play his own music, but his technology-inept father had acted like Brent wanted to buy a spaceship.

So that was out.

“Brent,” Cal’s voice called from the other bay of their garage at Payton Automotive.

“Yeah?”

“What’s this shit on the radio?” his older brother asked. “Turn it down before my ears bleed.”

Brent snorted. Cal was grumpy on a normal basis. But now that he’d quit smoking and wore a nicotine patch, he was even more insufferable. So Brent didn’t argue and turned down the music.

A truck rumbled into the parking lot, and Brent turned around, squinting to see who it was.

Alex Dawn, the new employee they’d hired a week ago, strolled into the garage, a bandana wrapped around her head, wearing baggy jeans and a tight T-shirt. She held a banana in one hand.

Brent grinned and walked over to where she stood outside the door to the office, looking over the schedule for the day. She peeled her banana and took a bite. He leaned in and inhaled deeply. “I love the smell of estrogen in the morning.”

Her lips twitched only slightly before she turned around and socked him in the bicep, hard. The woman could hit.

He howled dramatically and clutched his arm, swinging it limply from the elbow. “I’m injured! I can’t work!”

While Alex gazed at him, one eyebrow raised in amusement, he forgot about his injury, grabbed her banana, and bit off half of it.

“You asshole! That’s my breakfast!” Alex smacked him in the stomach, and he started laughing, nearly choking on the banana. “I’m so stealing the Snickers you keep hidden in the office.”

He straightened in shock. “You wouldn’t.”

She was smug, the witch. “I would.”

“That’s war, woman.”

She took the rest of the banana out of the peel and then tossed it so it landed on his shoulder. “Then don’t mess with my banana.”

“That’s some grade-D dirty talk,” he said, picking the peel off of his shoulder and throwing it in the trash can.

“Will you two quit it and get to work?” his dad, Jack, hollered, sticking his head out of the office door. “It’s like you’re related.”

Brent shrugged and walked over to the minivan to continue rotating its tires. Alex smirked at him from her bay. Brent winked back.

Working with Alex had been rocky at first. She had a chip on her shoulder—which she refused talk about—and Brent really enjoyed trying to knock it off, which only led to their sniping at each other. But when some asshole customer gave her a hard time because she was a woman, and she told him to shove it—Payton and Sons Automotive didn’t really have that customer-is-always-right policy—Brent developed a newfound respect for her. When Brent backed her up in front of said asshole, she began giving him some respect in return. And so they’d fallen into this brother-sister type relationship that was actually kinda fun. Brent didn’t really have friendships with women and especially not women he’d never fucked.

And the thing about Alex was . . . he didn’t want to fuck her. It wasn’t because she wasn’t hot, because she was. But the chemistry between them was . . . lacking. Which surprised Brent. Because he was like hydrogen; he reacted with everyone.

Brent worked quietly for the rest of the morning, singing to himself when decent music came on, taking care of the minivan before moving on to the next job.

He was draining oil from an old Toyota when he heard voices from the front of the garage. He spotted Dick Carmichael talking to Alex. She pointed toward the back room, where Cal had disappeared. The Carmichaels had been coming to the shop since before Brent had started working there. Dick was a retired accountant, and his wife still cut hair in an add-on at their house.

“Can I help you, Dick?” Brent asked as he walked closer.

The man turned to him. “Hey, Brent. Uh, no, that’s fine. I’ll just wait for Cal.”

“Oh, well if you need—”

Dick waved him on. “It’s fine. You can get back to work. I’m sure you want to break for lunch soon.” He patted him on the shoulder, like he was a kid, and chuckled. “Your dad always says that’s your favorite part of the day.”

Brent tamped down the irritation. First, whatever Cal could help him with, Brent could too. Second, yeah, Brent liked eating a hell of a lot, but that didn’t mean he didn’t do his job.

So he nodded and walked back to the Toyota. He didn’t look up when he heard Cal return, when Dick spoke with Cal about some work he wanted to do to his car—work that Brent would probably be assigned to, but he wasn’t Cal, the responsible one.

Nor was he Max, their younger brother, the first of them all to become a college graduate.
Brent was the middle brother, the joker, the comic relief. The irresponsible one.

Never mind that he’d been working at this shop since he was sixteen. Never mind that he could do every job, inside and out, and fast as fuck.

Never mind that he could be counted on, even though no one treated him like that.

A pain registered in his wrist, and he glanced down at the veins and tendons straining against the skin in his arm, where he had a death grip on a wrench.

He loosened his fist and dropped the tool on the bench.

This wallowing shit had to stop.

This was his life. He was happy (mostly) and free (no ball and chain, no way), and so what if everyone thought he was a joke? He was good at that role, so the typecasting fit.

“Why so glum, sugar plum?” Alex said from beside him as she peered up into his face.

He twisted his lips into a smirk and propped a hip on the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. “I knew you had a crush on me, sweet cheeks.”

She narrowed her eyes, lips pursed to hide a smile. “Not even in your dreams.”

He sighed dramatically. “You’re just like all the ladies. Wanna piece of Brent. There’s enough to go around, Alex; no need to butter me up with sweet nicknames—”

A throat cleared. And Brent looked over to see a woman standing beside them, one hand on her hip, the other dangling at her side, holding a paper bag. Her dark eyebrows were raised, full red lips pursed.

And Brent blinked, hoping this wasn’t a mirage.

Tory, Maryland, wasn’t big, and he’d made it his mission to know every available female in the town limits and about a ten-mile radius outside of that.

This woman? He’d never seen her. He’d surely remember if he had.

Gorgeous. Long hair so dark brown it was almost black. Perfect face. It was September and still warm, so she wore a tight striped sundress that ended mid-thigh. She was tiny, probably over a foot smaller than he was. Fuck, the things that little body made him dream about. He wondered if she did yoga. Tiny and limber was his kryptonite.

Narrow waist, round hips, big tits.

No ring.

Bingo.

He smiled. Sure, she was probably a customer, but this wouldn’t be the first time he’d managed to use the garage to his advantage. Usually, he just had to toss around a tire or two, rev an engine, whatever, and they were more than eager to hand over a phone number and address. No one thought he was a consummate professional anyway, so why bother trying to be one?

He leaned his ass against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. “Can I help you?”

She blinked, long lashes fluttering over her big blue eyes. “Can you help me?”

“Yeah, we’re full service here.” He resisted winking. That was kinda sleazy.

Her eyes widened for a fraction of a second before they shifted to Alex at his side and then back to him. Her eyes darkened for a minute, her tongue peeked out between those red lips, and then she straightened. “No, you can’t help me.”

He leaned forward. “Really? You sure?”

“Positive.”

“Like, how positive?"

“I’m one hundred percent positive that I do not need help from you, Brent Payton.”

That made him pause. She knew his name. He knew he’d never met her, so that could only mean she’d heard about him somehow, and by the look on her face, it was nothing good.

Well, shit.

He opened his mouth, not sure what to say but hoping it would come to him, when Alex began cracking up next to him, slapping her thighs and snorting.

Brent glared at her. “And what’s your problem?”

Alex stepped forward, threw her arm around the shoulder of the woman in front of them, and smiled ear to ear. “Brent, meet my sister, Ivy. Ivy, thanks for making me proud.”

They were both smiling now, that same full-lipped, white-teethed smile. He surveyed Alex’s face and then Ivy’s, and holy fuck—how did he not notice this right away? They almost looked like twins.
And the sisters were looking at him now, wearing matching smug grins—and wasn’t that a total cock-block? He pointed at Alex. “What did you tell her about me?”

“That the day I interviewed, you asked me to re-create a Whitesnake music video on the hood of a car.”

He threw up his hands. “Can you let that go? You weren’t even my first choice. I wanted Cal’s girlfriend to do it.”

“Because that’s more appropriate,” Alex said drily.

“Excuse me for trying to liven it up around here.”

Ivy turned to her sister, so he got a better glimpse of those thighs he might sell his soul to touch. She held up the paper bag. “I brought lunch; hope that’s okay.”

“Of course it is,” Alex said. “Thanks a lot, since someone stole my breakfast.” She narrowed her eyes at Brent. Ivy turned to him slowly in disbelief, like she couldn’t believe he was that evil.

Brent had made a lot of bad first impressions in his life. A dad of one of his high school girlfriend’s had seen Brent’s bare ass, while Brent was lying on top of his daughter, before the dad ever saw Brent’s face. That had not gone over well. And yet this impression might be even worse.

Because he didn’t care about what that girl’s dad thought of him. Not really.

And he didn’t want to care about what Ivy thought of him, but, dammit, he did. It bothered the hell out of him that she’d written him off before even meeting him. Did Alex tell her any of his good qualities? Like . . . Brent wracked his brain for good qualities.

By the time he thought of one, the girls had already disappeared to the back room for lunch.


“Do you think we hurt his feelings?” Ivy picked at a stray piece of lettuce hanging out of her sandwich.

She didn’t meet her sister’s eyes, not even when Alex started making choking sounds across from her at the small table in the back of Payton and Sons Automotive.

“E-excuse me?” Alex stuttered.

Ivy bit her lip and lifted her gaze to her sister’s. Alex had talked a lot about Brent, and while there was an underlying platonic affection to her words, most of her talk was complaining about how much of a pain in her ass he was. Maybe Alex hadn’t been looking at Brent close enough during their conversation out in the garage, but Ivy had been. She’d noticed the flash of frustration over his face when they’d shut him down.

What made her pause was that it seemed like frustration directed at himself, not at her.
Crap. Ivy dipped her gaze back to her sandwich. This would not do. She and Alex had basically stamped a big red X over all dicks—literal and figurative—for a good long time. They’d already moved twice to get away from men who had ruined their lives. Tory was supposed to be where they settled in, got their lives straight, and raised Violet.

Ivy’s defense mechanism was to immediately be cold to Brent. She could have gotten bees with honey, but she didn’t want bees. Or honey. Or whatever. So she was all stinger.

She and Alex didn’t need men. The two of them and Violet would be just fine.

And yet at this moment, Ivy couldn’t stop thinking about Brent. Alex hadn’t warned her that he looked . . . like that. Like six-feet, two-inches of hotness straight out of a Mechanics of Your Dreams calendar. Jesus. That dark hair, those full lips that smirked, those slate eyes that did nothing to hide the fact that this man was trouble with a capital T.

“Iv-eeeeee.” Alex drew out her name in that way only big sisters could do when they planned to interrogate.

Ivy poked the wheat bread of her sandwich. “What?”

“Why are you concerned about Brent’s feelings?”

She didn’t know. Honestly and truly, she didn’t know, but she couldn’t forget that momentary flash of emotion that passed over his face before he covered it with a smirk. “I don’t know; he’s your coworker and—”

“I know he’s basically sex on legs, Ivy, but he knows it. And I’d be hard-pressed to find a woman who hasn’t taken a ride in this town.”

Ivy pressed her lips together, chastising herself for letting her soft heart show. She needed to focus on finding a job and raising her daughter. Those were her priorities. Not going toe-to-toe with some cocky hot guy. “You’re right; forget I said anything.” Ivy held up her index fingers and crossed them in an X. “No men.”

“Ick,” Alex spat.

“Gross,” Ivy said.

Alex grinned at her, and Ivy returned it, sipping from her iced tea. “So, work going okay?”
“Yeah, I like it here. Cal’s fair. Brent’s fun to work with. Jack’s still a hard-ass but I think he’s warming to me.”

Alex had told Ivy that Brent and Cal’s dad was a brick wall of gruff and stubborn. “Good.”
“Violet off to school okay?” Alex asked.

Ivy’s daughter was in first grade at White Pine Elementary School in the Tory school district. They’d moved in time for her start at the beginning of the school year. “Her teacher called me again, saying Vi cried on and off this morning.” Ivy knew moving was hard on her, but they hadn’t had much of a choice. “I hate this.”

Alex squeezed Ivy’s hand where it rested on the table. “It’s school. You’re not torturing her. She’ll get used to it.”

Ivy’s stomach rolled, thinking about it. “I hope.”

“She’s a good kid. She just needs time.”

Ivy sighed. “I guess.”

“Alex,” a deep voice said from the doorway. Ivy craned her head to see a man who looked a lot like Brent but . . . wasn’t Brent.

“Yeah?” Alex answered.

The man nodded at Ivy. “I’m Cal.” He turned to Alex. “Sorry. I know you’re eating lunch, but got that customer of yours out front from last week. I tried talking to her, but she likes you better.”
Alex laughed. “Greta Sherman?”

“That’s the one.”

She balled up her empty sandwich wrapper. “I’ll be back in a couple of minutes,” she said to Ivy.
Ivy looked down at her half-eaten lunch. “I can leave—”

“Nah, I’ll be right back. You finish eating.”

Alex tossed her trash into the can on the way out.

Ivy took a sip of her tea and picked at her sandwich. She’d spent all morning on the computer, applying for jobs in and around Tory. It wasn’t necessarily a mecca of job opportunities, but Alex had found a place she fit in, and the pay wasn’t bad. Ivy had some savings, but it wasn’t going to last forever, and she wanted to pull her weight in the little family they’d created.

Her résumé was a bit slim. She had a high school diploma but no college degree, having spent her early twenties raising Violet. Her job options in Tory were working as a secretary for a lawyer, selling furniture at a department store, or being a nanny.

None was appealing.

But at least they all paid.

The chair across from her squeaked, and she lifted her gaze, opening her mouth to tell Alex about her job options.

Except Alex wasn’t sitting across from her.

Brent was.

He leaned back in his chair, feet up on the table and crossed at the ankle. He held a packet of peanuts and tipped it so a couple fell into his mouth. He chewed, steel eyes on her.

She clenched her jaw shut.

He swallowed. “You looked like you were going to say something.”

“Sure I was. To Alex. But you’re not Alex.”

“No, I’m not. But I’m a great listener.”

“I’m sure,” she said drily.

His lips quirked. “Want to hear about what other things I’m good at?”

“Not particularly.”

“Because I can do this thing with my tongue—”

Good God. “I don’t do this.”

“Don’t do what?”

She waved a hand between them. “This. Flirting.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Babe, I haven’t even begun to flirt.”

She took a deep breath to calm her rising blood pressure. “Don’t do that either.”

“Jesus! Now what?” His exasperation might have been cute if she still had a heart.

“Nicknames.”

“Babe?”

“My name is Ivy. I-V-Y. Three letters. Two syllables.” Even she wanted to cringe at how much of a bitch she was being.

He was studying her now, his face a little less amused and more . . . thoughtful. She didn’t like thoughtful Brent. Amused, flirting Brent? Harmless. Thoughtful Brent, who tried to look deeper? Dangerous as hell.

He ran two fingers over his lips and then dropped his hand to the table, cocking his head. “You’re just thorns everywhere I touch, aren’t you?”

She froze at his words, like a deer in headlights because yes—yes, she was a whole lot of thorns because she’d learned long ago they were necessary to protect all her soft parts.

Brent wasn’t done, though; his voice was softer when he spoke again. “You born that way, or something make you that way, Ivy?”

She swallowed. Yep, Brent Payton was dangerous in a sexy-as-hell package. His words were seeping past those thorns, hitting all the spots where she was weak. So she gathered herself and clenched her fists at her sides. “You’re just acting like this because I’m the first woman who hasn’t fallen at your feet.”

He laughed at that. “Fallen at my feet? Nah, there are plenty of women who’ve told me to go to hell. My percentage is good, though. Maybe eighty-twenty.” He grinned that shit-eating grin. “But you got me curious now. I wanna keeping prodding until I find a place that isn’t a thorn. How long do you think that’ll take me?”

Shit, no; that’s exactly what she didn’t want. With those eyes that were smart and trouble at the same time.

She swallowed and straightened her spine. “You’ll never get close enough.”

He cocked his head. “No?”

“No.”

He hummed a little and leaned back in his chair again. He threw a peanut in the air and caught it in his mouth. Then he chewed, with those steel eyes daring her to look away. “Guess I gotta plan my attack better next time, huh? You better work on those defenses.”

She heard Alex’s voice as her sister made her way back to the lunchroom. Ivy smiled and lifted her chin. “Who says I’ll be the one who needs defense?”

He laughed sharply, like he was surprised. “Oh, babe, bring it.”

She gritted her teeth. “Ivy.”

“Babe. I call it as I see it, and you’re definitely babe.”

Ivy growled.

He smiled, and then he was up out of his chair and walking out the door as Alex made her way in. Her eyes trailed Brent as he retreated to the garage.

Alex turned to Ivy, eyes concerned. “Was he bothering you?”

Bothering didn’t even touch it. “No, he’s fine. Nothing I can’t handle.”

Alex shrugged. “I can talk to him—”

“Alex, I swear, it was nothing, and even if it was, I could handle it.”

Her sister eyed her and then stole a bite of her sandwich. “Fine; now eat. You’re getting skinny.”

“Quit mothering me.”

Alex pointed to the sandwich with raised eyebrows, and Ivy glared at her as she took a bite.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Praise for MEGAN ERICKSON

“A super sweet, extra sexy second chance romance that will have you laughing out loud and needing a minute to cool off. Dirty Thoughts is right!”
   — Jay Crownover, New York Times bestselling author

“Megan Erickson ratchets up the romance and sizzle in her sexy new series. The Mechanics of Love will rev readers’ hearts.”
   — Jennifer Ryan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“Megan Erickson writes hot, hot, HOT stories packed with emotion and humor. You’re going to want to read everything she’s ever written!”
   — Sophie Jordan, USA Today bestselling author


About MEGAN ERICKSON

Megan Erickson grew up in a family that averages 5’5” on a good day and started writing to create characters who could reach the top kitchen shelf.

She’s got a couple of tattoos, has a thing for gladiators and has been called a crazy cat lady. After working as a journalist for years, she decided she liked creating her own endings better and switched back to fiction.

She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids and two cats. And no, she still can’t reach the stupid top shelf.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fleur De Nuit by Cat Montmorency Release Day Launch

 
It’s release day for Cat Montmorency’s Fleur de Nuit! I’m thrilled to share it with you! Cat is having a fabulous giveaway for this release, and sharing an excerpt for the release day fun! Check it all out and order your copy today!
FdN_releasebanner
Blogs Taking Part in the Release Day Launch
Teatime and Books
Echoing Books
Connected by Books
Agents of Romance
Indy Book Fairy
Textteaser
Romance Obsessed Book Blog
Mama Likes To Read
Nicole's Book Musings
A Sky Full of Stars Blog
Lady Amber's Reviews
Lovely Reads
Reviews from the Heart
Hawt Reads & Dirty Talk
Books and Warpaint
A girl and her books
alpha book club
Books and Booze
Battery Operated Book Blog
Love Affair with Fiction
grownupfangirl
oh the book feels
Indy Book Fairy
The Slanted Bookshelf
Mandi Kaye Reads
Jacqueline's Reads
Nette's Novel Notes
My Summer Girl Books
Fleur Cover
The difference between wanting and taking is the barest catch of breath…
Decadent food, smoky music, dark delights—who could live in the French Quarter and not be tempted to partake? Moira D’Arcangelis, that’s who.
Ever since her college boyfriend tried to add her to his list of murder victims, she’s lived a quiet life, which is code for no life at all. When her best friend Kara convinces—okay, drags—her to meet Adrian LaCroix, master of the local underground kink scene, his commanding presence and sexy Cajun accent bring her latent desires back to life.
His offer to train her as a Domme is the key to regaining control of her life. Yet becoming Adrian’s protégé comes with complications. As he opens her body, mind, and soul, she begins to see Kara in a new light—right about the time a legendary Domme returns, intent on stealing Kara away.
Moira has a fight on her hands. For Kara, and against a past that comes roaring back with a vengeance. She’ll need every trick Adrian can teach her to win the right to both life—and love.
Buy Links:
Exclusive Excerpt:
She nodded, eyes flickering between him and the crop he waved in circles in front of her.
“She knew exactly what would happen if she brought you here. It was her idea. Now do you really think she’d do that if she didn’t think you not only could, but would enjoy it?”
The thought stunned her for a moment. Kara, who knew every secret she’d ever had. Knew her strengths and weaknesses, and things she didn’t even know about herself. Who somehow knew all the words she didn’t say. Broken. Worthless. Unworthy of love, of happiness.
“Take the crop, ma chère.”
Moira shook her head, but her hand was already reaching out. She felt a surge of something unknown as her hand closed on the handle, but whether that was from the act of taking it, or the flash of Adrian’s green eyes, she wasn’t sure.
He deftly unbuttoned his vest and laid it with his jacket before moving on to his shirt. “I told you the key to control is trust. You have to trust yourself first, Moira, if you want to find any kinda control in your life.” The last button of his shirt slid through its hole, and the fabric slid off to reveal a chiseled swimmer’s body. He stepped toward her, and she forced herself to stand her ground. He stopped two steps from her and waited.
“What am I supposed to do?”
His eyes flashed. “Anything you wish. Hit me. Hurt me. Or not, as you choose.”
She swallowed nervously and looked at the crop. “I don’t know how to do this.”
“Oui, you do.”
He stood frozen, hands clasped in front of his waist, eyes boring into her. It unnerved her. “Stop looking at me,” she whispered.
“Excusez-moi?”
“I said, stop looking at me.”
She wasn’t sure where the commanding tone had come from, a spark of anger still alive under the mountains and years of resignation, but his eyes immediately dropped to the floor. His mouth twitched, almost smiling.
“Yes, Mistress.”
The surge of power that accompanied those two simple words almost knocked her over. She was glad he’d said them in English, instead of the half French half something the local Cajuns tended to use. And she knew in that moment he might be right. Not only was it possible that she could do this, she might even enjoy it. Moira gave a hesitant grin and trailed the tip of the crop down the centerline of his chest. He was beautiful, really. Such tone in his muscles. And it had been so long since any man had looked at her that way.
And he was standing there, waiting for her to tell him what to do.
I can do this. I can.
“Kneel.”
He knelt. God, the way that felt.
About Cat Montmorency:
Cat Montmorency grew up reading every book she could get her hands on, and pining after the ones she couldn’t. She’s been everything from lifeguard to riding instructor to high school math teacher, but discovered that being a ninja gamer-girl and out-of-the-closet die-hard romantic who writes things was much more fun. If pressed, she’ll describe herself as a Southern Belle with a geek complex and a fetish for well-crafted words.
Links
Enter Cat’s awesome giveaway!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Would You Still Love Me the Same? Playing for Her Heart by Megan Erickson Blog Tour



Grant Osprey just had the hottest sex of his life. Sure, they were both in costume, and yes, it was anonymous, but he never expected her to bolt in the middle of the night without so much as a good bye, let alone exchanging numbers. Or names. All he’s left with are her panties and some seriously X-rated memories...until he meets his business partner's little sister.

Only Chloe Talley isn't the bold, sexy vixen he remembers. And she wants nothing to do with him.

Cosplay is Chloe’s only chance to leave her boring, socially awkward world behind. To forget that she’s failing at life and can’t be with anyone, let alone a single-father like Grant. But the raw hunger between them is undeniable. With him, she can be a misbehaving maid. A sexy call girl for hire. Each scene pushes Chloe beyond her strict boundaries, until Grant demands the one character she can't play.

Herself.

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinions or comments on the book.*

I raved about Megan Erickson in my review for her last book, Focus on Me. I'm a big fan of her In Focus, Mechanics of Love, and Gamers series. I was thrilled for the chance to review Playing for Her Heart (Gamers #2).

Austin and Marley may have been the ones to hook me on the Gamers series, but Chloe and Grant stole my heart in a flurry of geeky cosplay and baked goods. I adored their story so much! I cannot wait until the next Gamers book.

Grant is the typical playboy rascal, with a little extra heart thrown in. I could predict nearly everything he was going to do. But, it didn't stop me from adoring him, or finding his encounters with Chloe super hot.

Narcissistic as it may be, Chloe is totally me in two years. I loved her wit, protectiveness, and badass cooking and coding skills. Her self confidence issues tugged at my heart, but I was thrilled when she decided to focus on moving past them. She was such a fierce and lovely lady, when she let herself be.

Ethan and Sydney were adorable side characters I needed to see more of! Ethan was such a grumpy, wounded bear. I wanted to hug him and let him know he was worth all good things. And sweet baby Sydney. I'd go to her house to bake and watch movies any time!

Like in Erickson's Focus on Me, I was very happy with the emphasis on seeking counseling for mental health issues. Chloe's trauma had happened years ago, but she still needed closure and to talk through her problems. Repeat after me: time doesn't erase all mental problems and emotional wounds. It was great to see that idea again, as a normal part of Erickson's books instead of something reserved for plots specifically focused on mental health.

My favorite aspect of Erickson's books is that I can relate to them so well. Her books speak to my heart. I was sobbing by the end of Playing for Her Heart when Chloe chooses to trust Grant with all of her. It is scary as hell to bare yourself to someone entirely. Especially when you've told yourself your entire life you aren't good enough to be loved. That scene got me so hard it hurt. In that moment, Chloe was me, and every single person who has ever been terrified of being loved for who they are. Not because they're scared of being hurt. But because they think something inside of them will always be less, or undeserving of love. I can't explain how much that meant. It's something I've struggled with my entire life. To see it shown so boldly in Chloe killed me.

I think I've babbled enough in this rave review! Suffice it to say, if you love any type of geekiness, love stories, or struggle with self acceptance, this is a book you NEED to buy. I promise you'll love it and be begging for more.

Stay tuned for an awesome excerpt and giveaway, and where to buy Playing for Her Heart!

Purchase Playing for Her Heart


Add Playing for Her Heart to your Goodreads shelf

Or add the entire Gamers series line up to your Goodreads Shelf.



He peered through the peephole. Chloe was standing on the front porch, large sunglasses over her eyes—even though it was nighttime—and wearing a belted trench coat.

When he opened the door, he gazed down to her bare legs and sky-high black heels.

“Mr. Osprey?” she asked, her lips a bright cherry red.

He leaned on the door and raised an eyebrow. “Yes.”

Her pink tongue slipped out, wetting her bottom lip.

“My handler said you have hired my services for the night. I only accept cash.”

He nearly swallowed his tongue. So she wanted to play some Pretty Woman role, huh? He went from kinda hard to full mast.

“We agreed on two grand and I get you until two in the morning.” He deliberately leered. “All of you. Every inch of you. However I want you. Suit you, Princess?”

The lapels of her trench coat quivered. “Suits me.”

“Great.” He stepped back and gestured inside. “Come in, please.”

She brushed past him and he smelled strawberries. He shut and locked the door, then turned around to face Chloe.

She’d taken her sunglasses off and her hands were on her untied belt. In one practiced move, she flung open the edges of the coat and rolled her shoulders so the khaki material fluttered to the ground at her feet.

Grant had to shoot out a hand to brace himself on the wall because he suddenly had vertigo.The physical parts of Chloe he loved the most were encased in lavender lace—a bra that didn’t cover much, because he could see her hardened nipples poking through.

Her thong didn’t cover much except for a small triangle scrap, hiding her pussy—which he knew she shaved bare—from his view.

Jesus, all that skin, that delicious lace, all for him.

She watched him with those green eyes, a sexy smirk to her mouth. She slowly twisted, so that her ankles were crossed, and showed him her back, she looked at him through her lashes over her shoulder. Only a string ran along the top of her ass and between her crease.

He was hard in his jeans, ridiculously so, and he hadn’t even touched her yet. Hadn’t yet taken that mouth or plunged his fingers in that tight heat. He was going to do all of that and then some.

He stepped toward her. “Hands on the wall. Ass out.”

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Megan worked as a journalist covering real-life dramas before she decided she liked writing her own endings better and switched to fiction.

She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids and two cats. When she's not tapping away on her laptop, she's probably listening to the characters in her head who won't stop talking.


Thank you to the lovely people at Tasty Book Tours for arranging this tour and letting me be a part of it. You guys rock!

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Biggest Goof on Planet Realizes Precious Cinnamon Roll is the One MAKE ME Blog Tour and Giveaway!

Publisher: Avon Impulse
Age: Adult
Series: Broke and Beautiful #3
Source: E-Galley for Review

In the final Broke and Beautiful novel from bestselling author Tessa Bailey, a blue collar construction worker and a quiet uptown girl are about to discover that the friendzone can sometimes be excellent foreplay.


Construction worker Russell Hart has been head-over-work boots for Abby Sullivan since the moment he laid eyes on her. But he knows a classy, uptown virgin like her could never be truly happy with a rough, blue-collar guy like him. If only she’d stop treating him like her personal hero—a role he craves more than oxygen—maybe he could accept it.

With the future of her family’s hedge fund on her shoulders, Abby barely has time to sleep, let alone find love. And her best friend Russell acting like a sexy, overprotective hulk any time their Super Group goes out in public definitely isn’t helping her single status. But after a near-tragedy lands Russell in her bed for the night, Abby’s suddenly fantasizing about what he looks like shirtless. Chest hair and tattoos—who knew?

As Russell struggles to keep Abby at a safe distance, she begins to see through his tough-talking exterior—and acknowledge her own feelings. Now she’s ready to turn the friend-zone into foreplay…and make him lose control.

I received a review copy of Make Me in exchange for an honest review, that and my freakish love of Tessa Bailey has in no way influenced my opinions reflected in this review.

One night, nearly a year ago, I settled in with my first Tessa Bailey book, Protecting What's His (Line of Duty #1). I was a goner the second Ginger dubbed Derek "Officer Asshole." I nearly cried laughing. Sixteen books later and there hasn't been one release of hers I disliked or regretted reading.

Many, many fictional men have made me weak in the knees over the years. They've said poetic lines. They've kissed leading ladies within an inch of their senses. They've (for the most part) been hung like horses. And Russell very nearly blew every single one of them out of the water.

After reading the first two books in the Broke and Beautiful series, I knew Russell was going to be my guy. An interesting mix of a few of my favorite Bailey Men (Brent, Matt, and Beck in my opinion), he had the toughness, the silliness, the responsibility, and the sexuality all wrapped into a perfect package. *Snort.*

Russell isn't perfect, though the above description might make you think so. He screws up. He screws up so bad. Then he makes it worse. And it's really just a hell of a clusterf**k for a while there. But no matter what, there's no question he's doing everything he can for Abby and trying to insure her lifelong happiness.

Abby. My sweet baby who looks like a cinnamon roll and is actually a cinnamon roll, but thinks she could kill you. I love this girl so hard. She is sweet, but strong as hell. It was so fun and so gratifying to watch her realize it for herself.

I was proud, so damn proud of her when she took charge of her life and flat-out refused to accept less than what she deserved, or to let others believe they were worth less than her in anything. That scene in the shower. (If you've read it, you know.) I was heart broken and cheering for her at the same time because damn it, yes. Russell needed to know where she stood and what she wanted. He needed to know they BOTH were worth more than what he was trying to set up.

I cried when the book ended. It was perfection. More than. I couldn't think of a better way to let the characters go off into the sunset. There's a teensy nitpick about wanting that last scene in Honey and Roxy's point of views too. But, knowing Tessa she'll probably post it as a deleted scene one day. (Hear me Tessa? I'm holding out for it!)

At this point I'd probably read a fan assembly manual written by Tessa and still want it dipped in gold and preserved for all time. But for those who don't share my enthusiasm yet, I will say the book is for fans of hard-headed construction workers that basically don't need helmets, fiery ladies looking for their voice, who also curse like hell in Italian, and of course TRUE LOVE. And oh hey look how convenient! There's an excerpt at the bottom of this review. Buy Make Me. Read it. Become a Bailey Babe. You will not regret it. (Or I will come after you with internet kink so foul, you'll need an immediate p**n cleanse.)

Also, scroll to the end for a delightful Rafflecopter giveaway for a $25 e-gift card to a book retailer of the winner's choice.

Where to buy Make Me


EXCERPT:

Day one hundred and forty-two of being friend-zoned. Send rations. 

Russell Hart stifled a groan when Abby twisted on his lap to call out a drink order to the passing waiter, adding a smile that would no doubt earn her a martini on the house. Every time their six person “super group” hung out, which was starting to become a nightly affair, Russell advanced into a newer, more vicious circle of hell. Tonight, however, he was pretty sure he’d meet the devil himself.

They were at the Longshoreman, celebrating the Fourth of July, which presented more than one precious little clusterfuck. One, the holiday meant the bar was packed full of tipsy Manhattanites, creating a shortage of chairs, hence Abby parking herself right on top of his dick. Two, it put the usually conservative Abby in ass-hugging shorts and one of those tops that tied at the back of her neck. Six months ago, he would have called it a shirt, but his two best friends had fallen down the relationship rabbit hole, putting him in the vicinity of excessive chick talk. So, now it was a halter-top. What he wouldn’t give to erase that knowledge.

During their first round of drinks, he’d become a believer in breathing exercises. Until he’d noticed these tiny, blond curls at Abby’s nape, curls he’d never seen before. And some-fucking-how, those sun-kissed curls were what had nudged him from semi-erect to full-scale Washington monument status. The hair on the rest of her head was like a…a warm milk chocolate color, so where did those little curls come from? Those detrimental musings had lead to Russell questioning what else he didn’t know about Abby. What color was everything else? Did she have freckles? Where?

Russell would not be finding out – ever – and not just because he was sitting in the friend zone with his dick wedged against his stomach – not an easy maneuver – so she wouldn’t feel it. No, there was more to it. His friends, Ben and Louis, were well aware of those reasons, which accounted for the half-sympathetic, half-needling looks they were sending him from across the table, respective girlfriends perched on their laps. The jerks.

Abby was off-limits. Not because she was taken – thank Christ – or because someone had verbally forbidden him from pursuing her. That wasn’t it. Russell had taken a long time trying to find a suitable explanation for why he didn’t just get the girl alone one night and make his move. Explain to her that men like him weren’t suitable friends for wide-eyes debutantes and give her a demonstration of the alternative.

It went like this. Abby was like an expensive package that had been delivered to him by mistake. Someone at the post office had screwed the pooch and dropped off the shiniest, most beautiful creation on his Queens doorstep and driven away, laughing manically. Russell wasn’t falling for the trick, though. Someone would claim the package, eventually. They would chuckle over the obvious mistake and take Abby away from him, because really, he had no business being the one who’s lap she chose to sit on. No business, whatsoever.

 But while he was in possession of the package – as much as he’d allow himself to be in possession, anyway – he would guard her with his life. He would make sure that when someone realized the cosmic error that had occurred – the one that had made him Abby’s friend and confidant – she would be sweet and undamaged, just as she’d been on arrival.

Unfortunately, the package didn’t seem content to let him stand guard from a distance. She innocently beckoned him back every time he managed to put an inch of space between them. Russell had lost count of the times Abby had fallen asleep on him while the super group watched a movie, drank margaritas on the girls’ building rooftop, driven home in cabs. She was entirely too comfortable around him, considering he saluted against his fly every time they were in the same room.

“Why so quiet, Russell?” Louis asked, his grin turning to a wince as his actress girlfriend, Roxy, elbowed him in the ribs. Yeah. Everyone at the damn table knew he had a major thing for the beautiful, unassuming number whiz on his lap. Everyone but Abby. And that’s how he planned to keep it.

“I know why,” Ben said, causing Russell’s stomach to catapult itself across the bar. Before he could change the subject, Ben pulled his student-turned-main squeeze closer and continued. “He doesn’t need to give us advice on girls anymore. His powers have been diminished.”

“We’ve slain the beast.”

Ben and Louis toasted their plastic beer cups without a single glance at one other. Why was he friends with these two again? Oh right. The power of beer had brought them together. Praise be to Heineken. Smug as they were, though, Russell knew humor was their way of showing support. If it wasn’t humor, it would be sympathy, aka dude kryptonite.

“What kind of advice did he give you about us?” Roxy wanted to know, shooting Louis and Ben stern glances.

“Uh-uh.” Russell shook his head. “I’m calling bro confidentiality on you both. That includes pillow talk and supersedes any and all forms of sexual coercion.”

Ben adjusted his glasses. “That reasoning, however, should lend some insight into what you ladies missed.”

Honey leaned across the table and patted Russell’s arm. “It all worked out in the end, big guy. Who knows? You might have had something to do with it after all.”

Russell opened his mouth to respond, but whatever he planned to say withered in its inception because Abby spun in his lap again, sending the world around him into slow motion. A left jab of her scent – which after careful consideration he’d termed white grape sunlight – caught him in the chin and he barely restrained the urge to shout oh, come on, at the top of his lungs. Her big hazel eyes were indignant on his behalf, mouth pursed in a way that shouldn’t have been sexy, but damn-well was. She’d snapped her spine straight, hip bumping his erection in the process.

Please, almighty God, just kill me now. 

“Russell gives great advice,” Abby protested and Russell would have smiled if he wasn’t busy earning his master’s degree in boner-soothing meditation. She really had no idea her outrage only made her sweeter because it looked so unnatural on her. “Remember the man on the first floor of our building? The one who used to clear his throat loudly every time we walked by?” She waited for Honey and Roxy to nod. “Russell told me the next time it happened, I should just shout TROUBLE at his door. I did. And it hasn’t happened since.”

When Louis and Ben started laughing into their beers, Russell flipped them off behind Abby’s back. What his friends knew that Abby didn’t? As soon as she’d told him the problem, he’d paid a visit to their downstairs neighbor and explained that trouble would find him if he so much as breathed in Abby – or any of her roommates’ – direction again. Hence, the single word being so effective. Russell was trouble.

But as Abby turned a bright, encouraging smile on him, swelling his heart like an inflating balloon, he recognized that his brand of trouble had nothing on Abby’s. She didn’t even know how dangerous she was to his health. Because while Abby was the package that had been delivered by mistake, he’d gone and fallen for her, despite his attempts to simply be her friend.

And maybe it was his imagination, but the loss of her seemed to loom a little closer each day. Like any minute now, she would peer a little closer and realize he was in imposter. Loss was something with which Russell was familiar. Loss had cut him off at the knees at a young age, made him hyper aware of how fast it could happen. Whoosh. Chopped off at the knees. So he was already in damage control mode, hoping to limit the fallout when she inevitably headed for a younger version of Gordon Gekko.  For now, it was all about keeping a comfortable gap between him and Abby.

She scooted back on his lap to make room for the waitress who had returned with a round of drinks, and Russell gritted his teeth.

Okay. Comfortable definitely wasn’t the right word.

***
I have friends. I have friends now and it’s glorious.

Six months ago, when Abby Sullivan had placed the ad on Craigslist, seeking two roommates to share her Chelsea apartment, her highest hope had been for noise. Maybe it sounded silly, but apart from the Ninth Avenue traffic trundling past and the occasional shouting match on the street, her life had been so quiet before Honey and Roxy showed up. She’d been hoping for hair dryers in the morning, dishes being tossed in the sink, singing in the shower. Anything but the void of sound she’d been living with, alone in the massive space.

Then, oh then, she’d gone and done something even more impulsive than placing an advertisement for massively discounted rent in cyberspace. She’d blurted upon meeting them for the first time that she didn’t need help paying the rent; she merely wanted friends. Unbelievably, it hadn’t felt like a mistake to reveal such a pitiful secret to a couple of strangers. There had been a feeling when all three of them first stood in the same room that it would work out, like a complicated math equation that would prove itself worth the work.

Now? She couldn’t imagine a day passing without them. The guys had been an unexpected bonus she hadn’t counted on. Especially Russell.

As they walked crosstown toward the Hudson River where they planned to watch the Fourth of July fireworks, Abby smiled up at Russell where he towered over her. She received a suspicious look in response. Suspicious! Ha! It made her want to laugh like a lunatic. All the way back to her furthest memory, she’d been reliable, gullible, sugar-filled Abby to everyone and their mother. Even Honey and Roxy, to a degree, handled her carefully around subjects that might offend her or hurt her feelings. She was too grateful for their presence to call them on it, though. Sometimes she opened her mouth, the words I’m not made of spun glass hovering right on the tip of her tongue, but she always swallowed them. They meant well. She knew that with her whole heart. Maybe someday, when she was positive they wouldn’t vanish at a rare show of temper—the way people always did when she bared a flaw—she’d tell them. Until she worked up the courage however, she would stay quiet, and appreciate her new best friends for the colorful positivity they’d brought into her life.

But Russell? She appreciated him even more for getting mad at her.

Such occurrences were her favorite part of the week. Russell stomping into the apartment, grumbling about her not checking the peep hole. Refusing to go out on a Saturday night until she changed into more comfortable shoes. Giving her that daunting frown when she revealed they’d had a leak in the bathroom for three weeks and hadn’t yet called the super to repair it. He’d had it fixed within the hour, but he hadn’t spoken to her the entire time.

It was awesome.

Because he kept coming back. Every time. No matter what—no matter what she said or did—he never washed his hands of her. Never got so fed up with her admittedly flighty behavior that he skipped a hang out. Or didn’t respond to a text. He was the steadfast presence in her life she’d never had.

No one spoke to Abby at her job. She’d been hired after graduating at the top of her Yale class and placed in a silent power position at a hedge fund. Her father’s hedge fund. So she could understand her co-workers’ reticence to invite her for happy hour. Or even give her a polite nod in the hallway. At first, she’d been prepared to try anyway. Force them to acknowledge her in some small way, even if it was just passing the stapler in the conference room. Then she remembered. When she forced her opinion on people, or had an outburst, they went away, and didn’t come back for a long time.
Her coworkers assumed she sat in her air-conditioned office all day playing Minecraft or buying dresses online. And why wouldn’t they? She’d done nothing to sway that notion. In reality, however, she worked hard. Showed up before the lights came on and stayed later than everyone else. Brought work home with her and often, didn’t get to sleep. She had no choice.

Stress tightened like a shoelace around Abby’s stomach, but she breathed through it. Tonight was for fun with her friends. Tomorrow morning would be soon enough to face her responsibilities.

“It’s the shoes, isn’t it?” Russell demanded, encompassing Abby, Roxy and Honey with a dark look. “This always happens in the eleventh hour. You girls started limping around and we just have to watch it.”

Ben sighed. “Here we go again.”

“No, really. I think I’ve finally figured it out.” Russell swiped impatient fingers over his shaved head. “You ever heard of sympathy pains? When my sister-in-law gave birth, my brother swore someone was firing a nail gun into his stomach. To this day, the guy has never been the same.” He pointed at Abby’s electric blue pumps. “Women wear these evil creations around to confuse us. Sure, they make a girl’s legs look good, but that’s the black magic, my friends. They want us to feel their pain and not understand why.”

Louis turned, walking backwards on the sidewalk so he could face them. “I have to admit, I’m with Russell on this one.” He smiled at Roxy’s outrage. “You could go barefoot and it wouldn’t make a difference to me.”

“I’ll round it out with a third agreement,” Ben chimed in. “I like Honey in her Chucks.”
That statement earned Ben a kiss from Honey and a groan from Russell. “I’m thrilled you assholes have found a way to use my amazing logic to earn points.”

Abby loved the familiar argument simply because it was familiar—a routine she had in common with others—but she had to admit her feet were throbbing. After a night of dancing, the crosstown walk was giving her blisters. She wore heels all day at the office, but they were sensible and low-heeled. Nothing like the stilettos she’d borrowed from Roxy. In fact, now that she’d acknowledged her tired feet, every part of her seemed to sag with exhaustion, as if she’d finally given her bones permission. “I can end this argument right here,” Abby interrupted with a weary, but determined smile. The group stopped to watch as she slipped off her shoes and placed her bare feet back onto the cool sidewalk with a hearty sigh. For some reason, everyone’s gazes swung to Russell who – God love him – was frowning at her like she’d just crashed his beloved truck.

“A new tactic, gentlemen. Take note.” Their four friends laughed at Russell’s ominous tone, but Abby stayed pinned under his scowl. Although now, his scowl had a hint of uncertainty behind it. “Put them back on, Abby. You’re going to step on something. Broken glass, or—”

Abby breezed past Russell. Honestly, he worried constantly for no reason. They were only a few blocks away from the river and the streets were well lit. What was the worst that could—
Her feet left the ground, her gasp cutting off as she was cradled against Russell’s big chest. His expression was hidden, thanks to the streetlights shining blindingly above his head, but Abby knew from experience, he would be annoyed. She couldn’t prevent the smile from spreading like wildfire across her face, feeling as if it reached as far as her chest. It seemed impossible, but somehow she’d earned a place among these people who cared about her. Friends. Good friends. The kind you can’t live without.

Especially Russell. Her favorite.

“You were put on this earth to make me crazy, Abby. You know that?”

“I’m not sorry about it,” she whispered. “Does that make me a bad person?”

“No. It makes you a woman.”

She muffled her laugh with the use of Russell’s shoulder. “Men make women crazy, too. It’s not a one-sided affair.”

He frowned down at her. “What would you know about it?”

That question coming from anyone else might have embarrassed Abby, but for all Russell’s bluster, he never judged her. Not for her lack of a love life, anyway. Shoes were another matter altogether. “I know things.”

Things, huh? Maybe Louis and Ben should spend more time at their own apartments.” His arms flexed as he hefted her higher, with minimal effort. “Do you actually like watching the fireworks or is this just a patriotic custom we’re upholding?”

“No, I love fireworks.” She tilted her head back and looked at the sky. “Everyone forgets over the course of the year how incredible fireworks are. You know? They forget until they’re standing beneath them again. You don’t like them?”

He stared ahead as he answered. “I like that you like them.”

Abby smiled, knowing Russell would have to be extra gruff for the remainder of the night to make up for that slip. And needing to torture him a little over it. “That’s how I feel when you make me watch the Yankees.” She laid a hand against his cheek. “It’s worth it just to see your adorable man eyes light up.”

His sigh was sharp, but she caught the corner of his mouth kicking up. “All this time, I thought you were enjoying it.”

“The blooper reel is my favorite.” Drowsiness settled more firmly over her and she stifled a yawn against his shoulder. “Also, I love when kids in the audience catch foul balls.”

“Crowd. It’s called a crowd.”

She hummed in her throat, eyelids beginning to weigh down. “I knew that. Just seeing if you were paying attention,” she murmured.

Russell chewed his bottom lip a moment, worry marring his features. “You’re so tired lately, Abby. Everything okay?”

“Totally fine,” she lied. “Just going to rest my eyes a minute.”

Positive he would wake her up when they reached the Hudson, she wound her arms around his neck and dozed off. It was the first time she’d slept in three days.




About TESSA BAILEY
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Tessa Bailey lives on Long Island with her husband and young daughter. When she isn’t writing or reading romance, Tessa enjoys a good argument and thirty-minute recipes.

Shout out to the awesome ladies at Avon for always letting me on the most amazing tours! Love you ladies!

Happy Reading,
 
Imagination Designs
Images by © Kelly J Sorenson | www.kellyjsorenson.etsy.com