Thursday, 23 March 2017

Promo! Today only! Teacher (Innocence Lost Book 1) By CC Young #99Cents

Teacher by CC Young
Teacher (Innocence Lost Book 1)

By CC Young
Promo Price $0.99
For Thursday 23rd March Only 
Grab it while it's hot!

The private lessons were her idea, so he can't be held responsible: if you enter the lion's den you might just get nipped. Or scratched. Or devoured whole.

Buy Teacher on Amazon USA
Buy Teacher on Amazon UK

There is yearning, unrequited love, dark emotions, guilt, inner conflict, seduction and mind games.
There is innocence sacrificed at the alter of lust.
There is the awakenings of deep, complicated, grown-up emotions…
There are internal power struggles -
For him as he resists his darkest urges
For her as she comes to terms with unaccustomed feelings of desire that threaten to overpower her.

What The Reviewers Are Saying...

"Wow - the scenes were hot - I loved the slow build of tension - it becomes almost unbearable… Yes! I want to see more of these two!"  Kelly Armstrong, erotic fiction connoisseur

"More, more, more! I don't think I've ever been more turned on by a book. Why did it stop? I could read 10 more books about these two (plus my husband and I had the best sex ever after I read it!)" - Mrs. Taylor, voracious romance reader  

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Thursday, 16 March 2017

COVER REVEAL Retaliation Cat Mason


Cat Mason
Release Date: March 31st 2017
When Roanne Frazier is thrown into a dangerous world she knows nothing about, the only one she can count on is the only person who has ever let her down.
Blood and bullets are part of the game for Jensen Stone. Being President of the Twisted Mayhem MC means sometimes business requires bloodshed and Stone has no problem getting his hands dirty. Known for being fearless and ruthless in his tactics, his main goal is doing all he can to better his club and his town. Though it is easy to be reckless when you have nothing to lose.
The world as they know it is about to be turned upside down. The pain of their pasts collides with the chaos of the present and sends the tension building between them into overdrive, proving that some things don't fizzle out with time. Secrets are revealed, lives are changed, and the small town of Legion Falls, Tennessee will never be the same.
Will Ro and Stone find a way to hold onto each other while everything comes crashing down around them? Or will they be torn apart good by their need for retaliation?
Cat Mason is a thirty year old, married mother of three. When she isn't writing; she is spending time with her kiddos or reading. She was born and raised outside of St. Louis, Missouri, just over the Mississippi River in Granite City, Illinois. Cat writes romance of all kinds with twists of humor.
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Monday, 13 March 2017

BBW Billionaire Romance by Ellen Whyte

I'm going to write two AJ Adams novels a year but I'm also branching out into BBW Billionaire Romance as Ellen Whyte, my In Real Life name.

The first book will be His Competent Woman. I'm aiming at beginning April. Still writing, so here's an UNEDITED first chapter.

His Competent Woman
A BWW Billionaire Romance
30,000 words
Self Standing and Complete

In desperate need for money, Emma applies for a job with handsome billionaire Curtis West. The thing is, she loses her temper during the interview and fudges her credentials. Can she pull it off or will this end in tears?

Chapter One: Emma

     "Ben's a lovely boy," Miss Maddy said brightly. "We're so happy to have him."
     I resisted an impulse to tell her to quit the chitchat and cut to the chase. Ben's schoolteacher was dedicated and likeable but she did have the annoying habit of prefacing every conversation with endless compliments, as if parents weren’t capable of tackling reality without a spoonful of sugar.
     Still, it doesn’t do to snap, so I was nice. "But Ben isn't doing well," I prompted her. "Is he naughty in class? Not listening maybe?"
     "He's in my bad books for being too chatty at least twice a week!" Miss Maddy laughed indulgently. "But that's normal for a seven year old, isn't it?"
     Would she never come to the point?
     "You asked me to come and see you," I reminded her. "You said it was important?"
     When she’d called me, I’d immediately envisioned broken bones or at the very least gushing blood. Once assured on both counts my mind had flown to some hideous disciplinary problem. Thankfully, Ben didn't seem to be in any trouble.
     "Ben's not doing well on his reading," Miss Maddy was finally getting to the point. "His writing is poor too."
     Okay, so my stomach plummeted at that. "He's young. I thought boys are slower to develop than girls?"
     "I think he may be dyslexic," Miss Maddy confided. "I'm not a psychologist, Mrs Reed, but he does seem confused about certain his words and letters. I think we should have him tested."
     Now I could barely breathe either. "Dyslexic? But that's serious, isn't it?"
     "Well, it makes school a bit more of a challenge but with support most children cope very well."
     “I’ll make an appointment with the doctor.”
     “I’m afraid that won’t work,” Miss Maddy said carefully. “Dyslexia isn’t covered.”
     Oh dear lord please no! If it wasn’t covered by the NHS, it meant private doctors. That meant money, and I didn’t have a bean. “Can you test him?” My voice was totally Mini Mouse, squeakily hoping against hope.
     “I’m afraid not.” Miss Maddy handed over a leaflet. "It takes a qualified psychologist. There’s a list here to help you out.”
     “They’re going to be expensive and I'm broke!"
     "I'm so sorry." Miss Maddy looked away, knowing it was bad news. "You're a widow, isn't that so?"
     "Yes." Dear Graham. Gone seven years now.
     "He died in Iraq?" Miss Maddy asked delicately. "Erm, during the war?"
     "Actually, he was run over." It still made me sad just thinking of it. "It was an accident."
     A stupid, stupid accident. A young man, a car thief, had made off with an army jeep parked at the Baghdad market. He'd jumped in, taken off and rocketed into Graham just twenty feet later. Killed instantly, Graham’s friend assured me afterwards. Graham hadn’t suffered at all, thank heaven.
     The driver had joined him shortly after. The mob had beaten him so badly that he'd died on the spot. It was no consolation. I didn't find it a comfort that two families had grieved instead of one. Still don’t actually.
     "Very tragic," Miss Maddy said sympathetically. “Look, there are some charities that help out. It’s all in the leaflet.”
     “Oh, thank God!”
     “But it can take months to make an appointment,” Miss Maddy cautioned me. “And it may not be in Oxford, so you may want to save for the trip.”
     Months. With Ben struggling and being so young, it might put him back a year or more.
     Miss Maddy cleared her throat, piling on bad news, "I'm afraid that if Ben is dyslexic, he will need some support."
     Support. Crap, crap, crap. That meant specialist training, extra classes, and that meant more bills. My stomach roiled with fright. As if I weren’t wasn't already struggling to make ends meet.
     Parenting Ben on my own made working a regular job extremely challenging. Few businesses tolerate staff starting at 9am and dashing off at 3pm - never mind sick days and school holidays.
     After Ben was born, I hadn’t been able to find a decent job, full time or part time. I’d also discovered the gig economy meant forking out for massively expensive babysitters at unreasonable hours. A zero hours contract at Tescos had actually cost me money at the end of the month, with all my salary and some of my last remaining savings going to sitters.
     Now I was just shattered at the thought of the months ahead. A psychologist would cost a bomb but there was nothing left to sell. The car had gone first, then the antique clock that had been her grandmother's and finally the 78s, the vintage records that had been Graham's treasures from his grandfather.
     All I had left of value was my wedding ring, an antique Cartier that I’d taken off and shoved into my pants drawer because two of the diamond chips had fallen out. Maybe it was time to part with it. Just the thought made my feel like weeping but I had to pull myself together. Ben’s future was more important.
     "What will testing cost?" I asked Miss Maddy fearfully.
     "Well, there's the assessment. Last year we had little Siti Menon tested and I think her mum said it set her back -" Miss Maddy mentioned a figure that made me reel.
     “If he is, will he need special lessons?” I was praying she’d say not. “Or a special school?”
     “We can help,” Miss Maddy assured me.
     For a second I breathed again. If the school could pitch in, maybe we’d be okay. I was uncomfortably aware of being a burden, a scrounger on state benefits.  Maybe I could help, volunteer for something.
     My spirits rose a little but then Miss Maddy whacked me right back down. “But if Ben’s diagnosed, there may be extras like a laptop and special software. Tutoring in coping techniques can sometimes help too.” She rummaged in her desk. “Let me see about prices. I had a list here from a chat group the other day. I think tutoring classes are charged by the half hour and that they tend to charge about -"
     By the time she was done, I felt sick. Even selling my ring wouldn’t raise enough cash.
     "But it's all worth it," Miss Maddy finished. "It really does work." Then she put the boot in. "Without intervention, he'll fall more and more behind."
     “Can the school help with a grant for testing?” I would crawl through broken glass if they’d help. Sack cloth, ashes, the lot.
     Miss Maddy just shrugged helplessly. “I’m so sorry.”
     “Or maybe if he needs it, with tutoring?”
     That got me another helpless shrug.
     I sat in my chair, shell-shocked. I knew that Ben would not get any more attention. It wasn't Miss Maddy’s fault, either. She simply had too many kids to cope with. The school was already under tremendous strain, with classrooms holding thirty children, some of whom didn't speak English yet. Frankly, it was a miracle she'd not just dismissed Ben as lazy.
     "I'll see to it," I tried to sound totally cool. "Thank you, Miss Maddy. It's very kind if you to alert me."
     Miss Maddy blushed. "It's a pleasure. We all love Ben. He's such a pleasant boy."
     She’s a pain in the bum sometimes, Miss Maddy, but her heart is in the right place.
     Walking out on to the sunny street, I prayed for a miracle. Maybe the job centre had something new.
     "Oh, Mrs Reed," the counter staff knew me by name, I'd been in so often. "There's an opening in Tescos, but it's shift work. Mostly nights and weekends."
     "They pay so little that it won't cover the baby sitting," I couldn’t help but moan. "Is there anything that isn't zero contract hours or minimum wage?"
     "Nothing that matches your qualifications," the woman said sympathetically.
     "A degree in English literature and a year as a glorified intern in a publishing house have prepared me for nothing but benefits." Yes, I was on a total self-pitying grumble fest. "Why didn't I study something lucrative like accounting?"
     "Accounting?" One of the office staff popped up, holding a newly printed vacancy notice.  "There's a job in Weston Enterprises. It says administration but they said to give priority to people with bookkeeping or financial management experience."
     I took the posting and read through it quickly. It looked like simple enough work, a girl Friday job that covered office record keeping. It was nine to five, a proper contract and the salary was decent. It was a miracle.
     "I'll go straight away!" Then I ran out of the door before anyone could stop me.
     It wasn't difficult to find Weston Enterprises. Not only are they the biggest construction company in town, but their headquarters consists of a tower made out of silvered glass. Soaring straight up from a small park, the locals had nicknamed it Minas Ithil after the moon inspired tower from Lord Of The Rings.
     I managed to catch a bus that took me straight to the front gate. I blasted through the little park and arrived at reception pink faced and panting. "I've come about the job," I announced.
     The receptionist, a pretty little bubble blonde in a blue flowered summer dress, glanced over the job vacancy sheet. "That will be Sam," she chirped brightly. "Top floor. Speak to Caitie, she’s on reception duty today."
     The executive lift was opulent and made entirely out of dark glass. As it whisked me into the air, I was treated to a dazzling view of Oxford.  The doors opened on an equally stunning vision: Caitie who was working the executive floor reception desk looked more like a fashion model than an office worker.
     She was perfect for Minas Ithil. Arwen Evenstar to the life, the girl could be an Elven Ring-bearer, no problem.
     Caitie was tall, slender and dressed in an emerald silky shift that looked straight off a Tokyo catwalk. Her glossy black hair fell straight down her back. It was so long, that it almost reached her waist. Everything about the woman screamed style. Even her nails were perfect; a classic French manicure with white glitter tips.
     I took in all the gloss, feeling my toes curl in shame. I would never, ever get a job here. It was amazing they’d even let me in the door.
     “You’re here to see Sam?” The model was abrupt and her voice was rough. She was emptying out her desk, clearly intent on leaving. But she smiled nicely enough and waved me to a plush leather sofa. "Do take a seat."
     “Erm, can you point me to the ladies?”
     I bolted into the loo instead, took one look at my reflection and squealed with horror. I’d wanted to look smart for Miss Maddy so I’d worn plain black trousers and a navy blue blouse. It was suitably severe, corporate and nobody would guess that my black court shoes were so worn that the left one had a hole in the sole. But compared to Miss Evenstar out in reception, it looked hideously dull.
     As for my hair! It’s naturally curly and a dark chestnut that goes well with any strong colour from turquoise to wine. But with me raking my hands through it all morning, it was standing up on end. Sadly, it wasn’t a romantic wild cloud, either. Porcupine was more like it.
     To add a final horrible touch, my face was scarlet from running. As well as my looking like a freak, it had made my eyeliner run. Instead of sultry, I was looking at a devil face with racoon eyes.
     “You look like Cher - after she’s put her fingers in a socket,” I grumbled at mirror me. “And without the sexy vulpine glamour.”
     Repairing the damage, I hastily combed my hair, pulling it back into a well tamed bun. Running my hands under the cold tap and pressing them against my face, toned down some of the hideous flush.
     Waiting for the last of the red to cool away, I stared my reflection.  My hair’s okay but I’ve got very ordinary brown eyes, too boring for beauty, a nice straight nose but it’s too big for my taste, and my mouth is too thin. Still, with the black and navy look I was presentable. I reminded myself that this was a job interview, not a beauty competition.
     Just as well really because my blouse looked as if I’d been poured into it and my trousers were disgustingly tight. I'd eaten been eating too much cheap stodge recently and had failed to lose my winter pounds as well.
     "Well," I comforted mirror-me. "At least giving up chocolate means no spots."
     Digging in my bag, I realised I was out of eyeliner. My mascara was almost dead, but a drop of water from the tap eked it out. I was almost out of lipstick too but by digging in the bottom of the tube, I made do.
     "There," I talked myself up for courage. "Understated, serious and dependable. Totally employable."
     There was no way I could compare to the gorgeous PA but seeing this was an admin job, hopefully looks wouldn’t matter.
     “You’ll be behind closed doors. Probably in the basement,” I assured myself.
     I looked at the job description again.
     Must have good organisational skills, communicate well and handle many details and challenging situations at once.
     Well, I could handle that. Having once invited Ben’s kindergarten group over to the house for his birthday, there was nothing a company could throw at me that would scare me. Twenty screaming kids had made me immune to chaos and yelling, and it was unlikely the executives would mimic little Kevin and vomit into my handbag or hang on to me so hard that my knickers slid down like they had with that minx Seema.
     Must be conversant with Microsoft Office packages including Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
     Proofing manuscripts had made me an ace at editing, and I’d taken a course in PowerPoint at the Job Centre, just to improve my CV. My Excel skills were basic but I’d be fine after a bit of quick extra tutoring. All jobs have a learning curve. I could get up to speed in the evenings in the first week or so.
     Includes responsibility for liasing with vendors to ensure that orders are fulfilled as requested, invoices are paid and refunds or exchanges are processed.
     That sounded like it took common sense. Also, fighting with the plumber, the electrician and three roof contractors had made me an expert in negotiation. And with the plumber being a foul-mouthed Geordie, I’d not be knocked sideways by construction worker swearing either.
     Must hold a degree in business administration and have at least two years relevant corporate experience.
     Ouch. Now that was a stumbling block. I knew full well that a degree in English Lit would not be an acceptable substitute. But perhaps they were flexible on that.
     Human resources were always trying to filter applicants by box ticking, I told myself firmly. And anyway, figuring out our finances and living on the edge for seven years had to count for something.
     I took one last look in the mirror, straightened my shoulders and walked out, straight into a firestorm.
     “Catie, my own bloody PA is cleaning out her desk right now! No notice!” The roar blasted out of the carpeted executive offices, ringing around the building. I flattened herself against the wall instinctively. “Family issues, she says! Her bloody sister had a kid and Catie feels she has to run off and play nanny!”
     “Can we offer some leave instead?” a much more reasonable voice asked. “Negotiate?”
     “Seeing she’s been late every morning this week, and skiving off early, I told her to get out and not come back!” angry voice fumed.
     “Oh dear. And I came to tell you that Suze has given notice too.”
     "Whaaaaaat?" The loud angry voice echoed down the corridor, practically shattering the delicately tinted windows.
     "She has a baby, Curtis. She decided being a mum was more important than a career."
     "She bloody well could've thought of that when she applied for the job!"
     "Yes, but we can replace her."
     "Can we? We're still looking for an accountant too!" The voice was fuming. "One who won't give zero notice after falling in love with a bloody tourist and emigrating to Australia!"
     "Well, it was unusual, and rather romantic, I thought," the unfortunate Sam said.
     "Romantic? It's disruptive and it costs a fortune to interview and recruit!" The anger was running freely, his voice ringing around the hall. "Babies, family issues and bloody husband hunting! They preach bloody equality but it’s all take and no give!”
     “Oh come on. We’re just hitting a bad patch.”
     “I've had it, Sam! From now on, no more women!"
     "Curtis, I appreciate you're angry but you know you can't do that. Discrimination is illegal."
     "Illegal? And that cow Suze quitting is fine?”
     “It’s unprincipled but we can’t exactly chain her to her desk.”
     “Unprincipled? It’s bloody robbery! She told me she wanted a career, yet she marries some banker a month later.”
     “Well, it’s not a crime.”
     “Isn’t it?  She had a worthless bloody degree that qualified her for nothing when you hired her on. I spent six months training her up, then she falls pregnant. She took her sick leave and her holiday, both of which I paid for. Then she vanishes for the best part of a year on maternity leave, which I also paid for, and now she goddamn quits!"
     The roar reverberated through the hall. I flattened herself against a wall, frozen by the rage.
     "Yes, it's unfortunate-"
     "Unfortunate? It bloody well cost me a fortune!"
     “Yes, I know.”
     “Two years and I’ve not had an ounce of work out of her!”
     “Yes, but -”
     “You said I can’t fire her but now she can just leave?”
     “Can I sue her for compensation?”
     "No. It doesn’t work that way.”
     "Fine. In that case, no more women."
     "But Curtis -"
     I snuck down the hall, back into the waiting room, now empty, and then sat trembling. Curtis, the voice had said. That roar had been Curtis Weston, CEO of Weston Enterprises. I’d read about him often.
     Curtis was one of our local lions. An inspirational architect, the creator of the glass Minas Ithil tower and winner of several awards, including a coveted RIBA for innovation in architecture. He was a local boy made good, and everyone in Oxford was proud of him.
     In interviews he'd seemed pleasant if rather driven. Now I was changing my mind. Curtis Weston only cared about his business. He didn't have a clue that parents put their kids first. Suze and Catie probably hadn't known how babies would change their lives and priorities.
     It was unfortunate that all of his staff seemed to leave at the same time, but being stinking rich, he could just replace them. Curtis Weston’s reaction was completely over the top.
     "Mrs Reed?" A tall friendly looking man with sandy hair and a slightly rumpled brown suit stood before me. "I'm Sam Jefferson, human resources director." He had a warm smile and a firm handshake. "You're awfully quick! I only sent the job spec an hour ago."
     I smiled, "I like to be efficient." Game on, right?
     "Right," Sam was looking me over. With a sinking heart I could see he was noting the lack of jewellery, well-worn shoes and probably my worried eyes too. Oh crap. The Job Centre probably sent him my CV.
     “Penguin Publishing!” Well, that’s impressive!” Yes, Sam was checking out my past. My heart was plummeting into my gut again.
     I did have a promising start in Penguin but then there was a telltale year long gap, and then the dratted thing was littered with zero hour jobs. The whole thing reeked of loser.
     "Cashier at Tescos, driving for Uber, and part time cleaner for the Royal Bank," Sam said warmly. "You're versatile and not afraid of hard work. You’ve been taking short courses too. Excellent!"
     He was going to turn me down! The despair just blasted through me. He wanted a competent professional with years of experience, not a run down single parent. Especially with Curtis Weston ripping into him just minutes before.
     I’m a lame duck mum, I thought.
     The money I needed was receding before my eyes. In a flash I could see Ben being left further and further behind, with me standing uselessly on the sidelines, unable to help him.
     "I'm organised and used to coping with problems," I said quickly. "I enjoy challenge and I'm a fast learner."
     "Yes, I can see that," Sam said gently. I could tell he hated this part of his work, telling desperate job seekers they were out of luck. Sam seemed a kind man, one of the best. He was probably thinking that Curtis Weston would kill him if he hired me. I wasn't even remotely a fit for the job either, or any job they had probably.
     "Mrs Reed, I'm very sorry but -"
     "The Royal Bank were very pleased with me," I interjected desperately. It wasn't a lie. The manager had complimented me on my sparkling clean corners and floor waxing.
     "Sam, can I borrow Jenny?" Curtis put his head around the door. "I've got that presentation for Grants and -" he stopped abruptly and stared at me. “Oh,” he said crisply. “Hello.”
     He was much taller than I’d imagined. Curtis Weston was easily six feet, with narrow hips and long legs contributing to an overall impression of lean grace. He moved swiftly, every move economical and purposeful. It was sexy as hell; panthers had nothing on this man.
     His looks were plain but regular. Short brown hair, brown eyes and a light tan from working outside set off sparkling white teeth, small nose and slanting cheekbones. With the sinuous moves, the whole package came off as stunning.
     He was wearing an expensive suit, and definitely not off the rack at some high-end fashion house like Armani or Cardin. No, this was pure Savile Row. It was hand made and beautifully tailored to highlight the sinewy physique and the expensive black material screamed money. So did the crisp blue shirt and the navy and red tie.
     My knees were going liquid just looking at him. He was damn gorgeous. Lean, dark and sexy. And seeing he built this business up from nothing, he's also bright and hard working. If we’d met at a party, I'd have made the most horrendous pass.
     The thing about all that beauty and grace is that I suddenly became aware of less than glorious me. Horribly aware of my less than spectacular outfit, too worn to impress and definitely straining at the seams, I sucked in my tummy. I really had to lose some weight. Like chop off three inches all the way round. 
     I was also cursing myself for my haste. Instead of rushing over, hoping that being first would snag me the job, I should have made an appointment, done my hair properly, dressed better and looked the part.
     Investing in some new shoes might have been a good move too. I could feel the unseen hole in the sole burning into my foot.
     "You're applying?" Curtis spoke swiftly, with a light, clipped tone.
     “This is Emma Reed,” Sam said quickly. “She’s here for the admin job.”
     Curtis stepped forward and I caught a whiff of his aftershave: leather and orange. It promised warmth and excitement. I could feel myself flush. He’d have a lean body with long ropey muscles. They’d curl around me, sexy and hard. Totally delicious.
     I was ignoring the sensible angel on my shoulder yelling at me to focus. He was clearly out of my league, just like the job but oh my God, if only I could take him home as a consolation prize!
     “Hello!” It was supposed to come out cool and competent but I sounded like Minnie Mouse. I cleared my throat, adding, “Nice to meet you.” Hell!  Now I was Billy Goat Gruff!
     Curtis Weston nodded briefly. “How do you do.” His voice was cool to the point of cold.
     He was looking me over. He had hazel eyes but I suddenly had the impression that I was standing under a searchlight. Every inch of me felt hot and exposed. The light eyes ran over me swiftly. This was a man who was quick in everything, from mood to decisions. And by the pursed mouth I could feel him judging my worn shoes and lack of gloss.
     The image of Caiti, the supermodel in the emerald sheath, rushed back into mind. Yes, the slightly contemptuous gaze told me Curtis Weston thought I wasn't up to par.
     He wasn't gorgeous; he was a judgemental arse.
     Suddenly furious, I turned to Sam. "As I was saying, Mr Jefferson, the Royal Bank was pleased with my work. They did say they might have another opening, so if you've other candidates-"
     "The Royal Bank?" Curtis interjected. "You worked there?"
     "Yes, and for Tesco, and Penguin publishing." I decided I'd lay it on thick. I'd never get the job, Sam Jefferson would know I was misrepresenting myself, but at least I could walk out with my pride intact.
     "Are you married?" Curtis asked abruptly. "Or intending to get pregnant soon?"
     "Curtis!" Sam was red with annoyance. "For God's sake!"
     "Oh, I don't mind," I said sweet as honey. "Let me tell you, Mr Weston, that I am not married, and do not intend to marry. Frankly, I have no interest in men!"
     "Excellent!" Curtis said promptly. "You're hired!"

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Read a free chapter from The Beast and the Sibyl by AJ Adams

The Beast and The Sibyl
By AJ Adams
Universal Sales Link To Amazon, B&N etc.
75,000 words

The Beasts, those inked macho men from Prydain, are back!  The latest novel follows the story of touchy, proud, bad tempered Siv and Bliss, the sexy healer who has some super special paranormal talents.

The Beast and The Sibyl is a paranormal romance, and although there are cameos from characters in Beast, it can easily be read as a standalone.

Bliss, standing up for herself...

The unexpected complications of mind reading....

Curious? Here's a sneak peek....

Chapter Four: Siv

     They stood around me, giving me a good kicking.
     “Die, Beast!”
     I felt one of my ribs go.
     “Kill him!”
     Another went.
     “Let me at him!”
     Whoever it was, he was enthusiastic because I passed out. When I came to, I was locked up in a cage. Right, just like an animal. It was made of metal bars an inch thick. Old and rusted in places but solid. Lifting my head, I could see a large key hanging on the opposite wall. It was well out of reach. There was also the matter of the hog tie.
     My arms were aching, my legs were screaming, and my trashed ribs meant every breath was liquid fire. I could still feel the skin on my wrists and ankles burning with the pull of the rope, but it wouldn’t be long before I’d go numb with pain. Once that happened, I would be deader than last week’s catch.
     I was alone. They feared me so little that they’d not bothered to post a guard. Clearly they thought the rope and the cage would hold me. I’d show them they were wrong. I’d get out, kill every last hrafnasueltir and burn the place down. But how?
     Looking at the rusted bars gave me an idea. Rust is soft, but it leaves rough metal underneath. If I could wear down the rope on my wrists, I’d be free of the hog tie. The cage was small, and there was a rusty bar right next to me, so I only had to force myself onto my side. Once I was free, I’d use the rope to lasso the key.
     Right. The words were simple, but carrying out the plan was hell. I rocked up and down, forcing myself onto my broken side. Then I started sawing the cord around my wrists on the rusted bar.
     It was agony. Every muscle in my body was strained to screaming point, and my ribs were on fire. But I kept at it. I thought it was sweat running down my face and into my eyes; it turns out it was blood. It dripped all over the place, pooling underneath the bars laid on the stone floor.
     “I want a word with the Beast.” The Patriarch’s voice came floating through. “He may have information about that settlement up north.”
     He came in, carrying a bucket of hot coals. He set it down, closed the door and growled, “You cursed Beasts cost me a fortune!”
     You see, last year when we burnt down Brighthelme, we also emptied the armoury and raided the smiths’ guild. Their craftsmen are famous for their new invention, the musket, and we found out later that the Patriarch had invested heavily in their venture.
     By the look of him, he was still furious at his loss. The Patriarch rolled up his sleeves, picked up tongs and selected a coal. It flared red in the draft of the window. “You’re going to pay!”
     So much for wanting to talk to me. He didn’t even ask me what our defences were. He just went for it, touching the coal to my shoulder. It burnt white hot, searing me to the bone, making me snap like a fish on the line. As one, all the smashed ribs seized as I gasped. I bit my lips till they bled but when he did it again, I couldn’t be silent; I screamed.
     “Feel Ullr’s wrath!” the Patriarch roared.
     The coal touched me again. And again. And again. I knew I had to stay conscious. I had to move through the pain. Then, when the rassragr left, I’d get out of the hog tie. Once I was free, I’d kill him first, and slowly.
     More agonising pain.
     “Repent, Beast!”
     “Go suck Odin’s spear!”
     I think I said it, or maybe it was just a thought. I fought him but I couldn’t breathe. As the world went black, my last thought was that I’d failed. Again.
     “Fucking bastard! Poxy whoreson!”
     I opened my eyes. The room swam around me. I blinked, an effort of pure will, and it settled. The cage was open. The window was wide, too, allowing in a blast of cold air. I could smell the sea. Freedom was so close but I’d never reach it. The thought made me furious.
     “May the Lady shove her wand up his arse!”
     It was her. The ice-haired wolf maiden. Except she swore like a drunken Llanfaes mercenary. She didn’t like me much by the sound of it. Still, being a whoreson and a bastard is better than being called an animal.
     I thought the treacherous bitch had come to gloat, but then she was kneeling next to me. “May Ullr the glorious one give him boils!” She was spitting mad, but not at me. “He’s made a right mess out of you, hasn’t he?”
     So she was raging at the Patriarch. But why was she here?
     She was examining me, the blue eyes glowing as they looked into mine. She touched me, just a hand in my hair, and then I was floating.
      I rubbed the rope against the rusted bars beneath me, used it as a lasso to pluck the key off the wall, and then I was out.
     The vision flickered and died. I was gazing into those swirling eyes again. She smelled of the forest, clean, cool, and fresh, delicious but without warmth.
     “Freyja’s sweet will be done,” she whispered. “You are a tough son of a bitch, aren’t you?” She took out a little bottle and then stilled. Her eyes were locked on mine, wild as the summer skies. I was floating, lost in them, but then she sighed, bumping me back to earth. “So much for best plans. I’m getting you out of here.”
     A rescue? So she wasn’t a traitor after all! I tried to speak, but I was beyond words.
     She put the bottle at my lips. “This should help. Just a tiny sip, though.”
     It smelled of fields, and it tasted like piss. Sharp and sour, it ran down my throat. Before I could protest, I’d swallowed.
     “There.” She tucked the bottle into her skirts. “You’ll feel better soon.”
     I couldn’t feel my body. There was no pain, no sensation at all.
     She pulled out a knife, the blade shining sharply. It swept out of my sight, over my back. “I’ve cut the rope,” she said. “I’m going to pick you up, okay?”
     She was clearly delirious. There’s no way a woman can lift a full-grown man.
     “It’s going to hurt, but you must keep quiet. Your life depends on it.”
     I don’t know how she did it, but one second I was lying on the rusted bars and the next I was rising in the air. She’d hauled me up over her shoulder. I was dangling uselessly, looking down at her arse. It looked pretty good. Firm yet rich.
     I must have growled appreciatively because she shushed me, adding, “Quiet now, Beast.”
     The bitch! Calling me a Beast! I was fuming, but at that moment a ripple of fire ran through me. After hours of the hog tie, my tortured muscles were knotting. It was like being burned all over again. I wanted to scream like a weak-willed girl. Instead, I buried my face in her hair. It was soft, silky, and smelled of flowers. It was comforting, but it was also damn infuriating. Being powerless was killing me.
     “Come on. We’re almost home free.”
     We were out of the cage, and then she was lowering me out the window and into a small cart. “Wait a moment.”
     As if I could do anything else. I was as useless as a barren mare. Even twitching a finger raised waves of agony.
     As I bit my lip, I heard small sounds coming from inside. A door closing. A lock scraping. Then she was climbing out the window and closing it.
     “I locked the cage and put the key back. That should fix them.” She took one look at me and frowned. “Poor Beast. You’re a sorry sight, aren’t you?”
     She patted me on the head, as if I were a damn animal, and before I could tell her to stop it, we were on the move. We trundled past a snoring guard and through the village. Not a soul stirred. It was as if there were a spell on the place.
     The wolf appeared out of the shadows, padding silently beside us. It was so unreal that I wondered if I were seeing things, the way I had when I was floating in the ocean. Except that had been comforting, while this was filled with pain. The feeling was flooding back in agonising waves. I didn’t let a sound escape me, but she knew.
     “Have another sip.”
     More of the foul stuff went down my throat. It hit my guts, burning briefly in foulness. I wanted to protest, but then the foulness dissolved into a warm glow. It suffused me, wiping out the pain.
     The blue eyes were gazing into mine. “Good. It’s working.” She put a gentle hand through my hair again. “Let it do its stuff, Beast. In a few minutes, you’ll feel better.”
     I was sinking into a cloud of warmth, so delicious that it softened even the insult. She was Eid, the Valkyrie famed for her healing skill.
     As we moved on again, I faded into a half dream, watching the village houses go by, dissolving into a country lane, then fields. We went through them, into the velvet night and into the forest beyond. There was no path but she went straight through the trees. I was in and out of it, finally coming to as the wood opened up into a meadow. In the light of the moon, I saw a hunting lodge and stables. I could hear a brook babbling nearby.
     “Home.” She didn’t seem too pleased about it. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
     She dumped me on the grass, sweet and fresh smelling, stripped off my leathers, stiff with salt where they weren’t ripped, and then she poured bucket after bucket of water over me. She was right, all the muck of the sea and that cursed village was washed clean away. I was feeling better just being clean again.
     “Up and inside now.”
     She gripped me by the upper arm, and then I was up on my feet. Kind of. Truth be, she carried me into the house. She had some evil habits, but this was a strong woman. While I resented her for it, I was secretly grateful.
     The house was as unusual as the ice maiden. From the outside, it looked like a hunting lodge like the ones owned by Prydain nobles, but it was furnished like a farmhouse. There was a plain wooden table, big sofas marked by clumps of wolf fur, and the walls were lined with shelves crammed with glass jars and bottles. Herbs hung from the rafters in bunches, and there was a cauldron hanging over a low fire.
     “Soup should be done.” She piled me onto a large chair. “Food first. We’ll fix you up after.”
     I hadn’t realised I was starving, but the scent of onions, carrots and meat made my stomach growl. When she put a bowl to my lips, I was gulping it down. The wolf was watching me, sitting on the rug by the hearth. It had a look in its eye that told me I was eating its supper.
     “You’re black and blue.” She was looking me over. “I need to see how bad this is.” Her eyes were glowing, shimmering like the summer sky. “It may hurt.”
     The second she touched my side, the vision of the gentle Eid faded. I hissed at the fire her touch set off.
     “You’ll have to suffer.” She was completely matter-of-fact. “I need to know what we’re dealing with.”
     She went over every inch of me, poking and prying mercilessly. It shouldn’t have bothered me, in fact, I should have been grateful, but it was damn humiliating. I didn’t get why until she casually rolled me onto my side and put her hand on my balls.
     The goddamn cheek of her! Prodding me as if I were a steer at market! Humiliation swept through me. I wanted to yell at her, but all that came out was a low growl.
     “Stop grumbling,” she snapped. “I’m just looking!” The eyes were mocking. “Don’t be shy, Beast, I’ve seen it all before.”
     As the degrading examination continued I stayed determinedly silent. I’m a warrior. A disrespectful bloody woman feeling me up is something I can deal with easily. Except that I wanted to kill her.
     Eventually she was done. “Broken ribs on both sides, two broken fingers on your right hand, and the left wrist is sprained. Burns on both shoulders and the tops of your arms.” She sat back and considered. “You’re a lucky Beast. Thank the gods you wear leathers. If not, that whoreson would’ve torched your balls.”
     I was crossing my legs as she spoke. “Stop calling me Beast!” is what I intended to say but it came out like a snarl. The wolf was up in an instant, teeth showing and growling.
     “Lie down, Saga. He’s harmless.”
     The evil she-wolf! I wanted to slap her.
     She knew it, too. “Don’t you rage at me, Beast! I should’ve kept to the plan, overdosed you with poppy and left them to burn your corpse.” She got up and started messing about with a jug and bowls. “I’m too damn soft for my own good!”
     Right. Soft as rock. So she’d been planning to put me out of my misery. Like an animal. But my common sense kicked in and told me that despite it all, she’d intended to be merciful. Yet I couldn’t like her for it.
     She didn’t care what I thought, I could see that. She was totally intent on her task. The wolf was making puppy sounds now and dancing on tiptoes with excitement. “Here you go, Saga.”
     She put down three bowls filled with milk. I could smell it, rich and sweet. The wolf lapped it up, its eyes closed in ecstasy. I was wondering who the others were for when two cats walked in.
     Thule has always been too cold for them. I’d seen them in Prydain’s cities, but they were small creatures, ankle high and skittish by nature. These beasts strolling in were huge, with long fur, gigantic paws, massive pointed ears, and wide slanting eyes. I recognised them as kisa, the big cats that hunt in the forests.
     “Just in time for supper,” she said to them. “Did you have a good time in the woods?”
     The cats made straight for her, head-butting her knees as she rubbed their backs. It really took me aback. First the wolf and now the wildcats. This was an unusual woman.
     I should have been grateful, but to be completely helpless infuriated me.
     “Want some milk?”
     I’d let my feelings get the better of me and growled at her, but she’d interpreted my anger as a whine for food. Like I was as dependent as that damn wolf of hers.
     “Have some.” She immediately poured out a mug and put it at my lips. I should’ve refused, I wanted to, but milk is a luxury we’ve never had in Thule. When she put the cup to my mouth, its rich buttery goodness was irresistible. I gulped it down, and it was nectar.
     “Well, you’re clean and fed, but now we have to fix you up.” She was setting out needle, thread, bandages and splints. It looked like she knew exactly what she was doing. “We’ll set those fingers first.”
     I can’t remember the first time I had a bone set because we Skraeling begin scrapping as soon as we can walk. I’ve broken plenty of them since, and so I knew what to expect. It was going to hurt.
     “Want something to bite on?”
     “No.” Treating me as if I’m a cursed coward who squeals at a bit of pain!
     “Hmmm, so you can speak? Good.”
     Then she touched my hand, and all thought of snapping at her died. A broken finger or two is nothing, but setting them hurt like hell because every touch made me suck in my breath, which set off my ribs. Cleaning my face and setting my nose wasn’t great, either. By the time she was done, I was dizzy from keeping determinedly silent.
     “Come on, Beast. Lie flat so I fix your back.”
     Her words were cold and practical but her hands gentle. She flipped me over, and I was face down on the rug, being observed by the wolf and cats. We stared at each other as the witch cleaned and dressed the burns and stitched the whip cuts.
     “Sage and yarrow will help you heal,” she said cheerfully, “and comfrey will give those ribs a boost.”
     While I bit my lip and pretended it didn’t hurt, the wolf ended up lying against me, its nose by my face. It was a female wolf, and now I was in trouble, her instincts were to soothe. Women are like that. Good ones, I mean. The one that was working on me didn’t even make an attempt at nurturing. She went to work like Odin and his brothers ripping apart Ymir’s body and brain to make the world and the sky.
     I buried my face in the wolf’s neck, breathing in the musky scent, and held onto my pride. By the time she finished, though, all I had was silence. I couldn’t move. In fact, I was as weak as a kitten—and I don’t mean those hulking cat brutes that attended her.
     They were watching me with slanted green eyes, their looks as cool and measuring as hers. The wolf at least had some compassion. She was nosing my hair, her breath puffing in my ears. I’d never heard of a tame wolf before, but I decided I liked Saga.
     “Poor Beast.” I thought she was determined to insult me, but when I looked in her eyes and saw they were concerned, I understood that the ice maiden was trying to be kind. “Come on, let’s get you into bed.”
     It smelled of her, and it was soft. I sank into feathers and was covered in flannel sheets and woollen blankets. I should have slept, but I was too strung out. I lay there, watching her.
     I couldn’t figure out what or who she was. She was a Skraeling, but she lived with the Prydain. That made her a traitor to us. She called me a Beast at every turn, too. Yet bringing me here meant she’d betrayed them.
     It made no sense, and in my weakened state, all I could do was gaze at her. She was the first woman of my own kind that I’d seen in years, and I didn’t know if the pain in my heart came from hurt or joy.
     She was staring into the fire. The flames illuminated the ice-coloured hair and made the pale skin glow. She was totally still, and just like the first time I’d seen her, she seemed like a creature from another world.
     Outside there was a patter of rain. It fell in sheets, the rhythmic clatter of it smothering the cackle of the flames. Time stopped. I felt as if I were floating in the sea, adrift in blankness. Then she sighed, and the world flowed again. The rain switched off abruptly, and the birds began to sing.
     “Freyja’s purse! What the hell is going on?” She looked surprised, shocked even, but it was a puzzle what was bothering her.
     She stood and stretched, showing off trim waist, long hair, and delicious breasts. I almost growled like her wolf in appreciation. Whatever she was, she was beautiful.
     I must have said something because she came to me, straightening the covers and tucking them in. “Keep quiet,” she said, “and stay put.” She was staring out into the night. “They’re coming, but they won’t find you as long as you’re quiet.” Her eyes were shimmering again. “Whatever happens, don’t confront them!”
     She set up a little wooden rack, dug into a dresser and quickly piled underclothes into it. Soft knickers and silky looking shifts in blue and green now hung in front of the bed. She opened all the cottage doors and windows, took a basket of herbs, and sat down on the stoop.
     Very soon the sun was inching over the horizon, sending golden light flooding over the meadow and highlighting the trees beyond. An hour later, just as I was about to fall asleep, a rider appeared. It was a Citizen, dressed in a velvet habit and riding a beautiful white horse.
     I was minded to get up and kill him, but before I could move, she whispered, “Stay down!” The small sound went straight through me, reverberating in my mind. I stayed down.
     “Courtney,” she stood up and called out. “Something wrong? Was someone injured during the hunt?”
     “No.” He swung off the horse. “I’ve just returned.”
     “Then you’ll have heard from the Patriarch.” She sounded cool.
     “Only the bare bones.” He stood in front of her, almost as tall as her, but not as imposing. He had red, weather-beaten skin, and he was too fat. He looked like a peasant dressed up in a noble’s clothes. “The Beast is gone. He escaped!”
     Behind him, a dozen men appeared, all carrying pitchforks, spears, and nets. They had dogs, too, straining on leather leashes and barking at the wolf. I’ve taken on a dozen soldiers at a time and creamed the bastards, but even I knew that I was in no state to take on this lot.
     Luckily for me, she was more than a match for them. She put her hand on her wolf, who sat obediently, and then addressed the peasant in velvet. “Really? How?”
     She sounded surprised. If I hadn’t known, I would’ve believed her. She looked like an honest Skraeling, but she was a typical lying Prydain. I should’ve known, but it seared my soul to see such pure beauty addled by poison.
     “We can’t figure it out! The cage was locked, and the key shut safely away. It’s like he walked through the bars!”
     “And you came here to warn me?”
     “Erm. Yes?”
     I could only see her back, but I knew she was giving him full-on ice. “And you brought twelve men with you to help you give me a heads-up?”
     “Erm, well. Erm…”
     “Oh, I see! I suppose I’m the one who set him free?”
     The yokel actually shuffled his feet. “Well, you did speak up for him.”
     “I did not!” she snapped. “I said this was the duke’s business!”
     “Erm, right, yeah.” More shuffling. “Erm, I guess some of us thought, well...”
     “That I crept out at night and took the Beast?” She sounded colder than a glacier.
     “Well, you see, the dogs followed the scent through the village but then it began to rain, and well, uhm, we thought we should just come and see.”
     “Right, and when do the dogs not want to come and see Saga? You know they’re always fascinated by her.”
     “Yes, right. That’s probably it.”
     He was looking miserable, and she was scathing.
     “Probably? What is this? Do you think I’m hiding him? Why don’t you go check my bed?”
     I was open mouthed at her brazen dishonesty. This wasn’t lying; this was taking deceit to an art form.
     Courtney glanced into the lodge, doors and windows wide open, spotted the shifts and looked away hastily. “No, no, of course not!”
     I was a dozen steps away from him, and he didn’t have a clue. She was a liar, but a part of me admired her. She’d taken them on all by herself and defeated them easily. This was more cunning than even Loki’s plots.
     “I suppose the Patriarch sent you here?”
     “Yes. No.” Courtney was looking miserable. “He said you defied him.”
     “He has no rights here. His place is the Vale. It’s you who are in charge, and I reminded him of that.”
     “Yes, yes of course.”
     “I have warned you before about the Patriarch. You know he longs to usurp your position.”
     “Bliss, I’m sorry. I guess I just forgot. He got me all riled up.”
     “I have been a loyal friend to you, but one word from that dirty, bearded fat gut and you ride here to accuse me?”
     “No! Well, yes, but it wasn’t like that!”
     He might as well have spoken to the horse. Now the woman had the yokel at her mercy, she set about beating him down. “I wonder what will upset our liege most?” she mused. “Not informing him that you found a Beast? Or letting his enemy escape?”
     “It wasn’t me! It’s all the Patriarch’s fault!” the coward cried.
     “As he’ll claim he’s Ullr’s servant, I’m sure the duke will forgive him.” She was stirring nicely, gutting the rassragr with every nasty word. “Not sure he’ll let you off the hook, though.”
     The man finally found his balls. “You can’t speak to me like that!”
     “When you don’t do your duty, Freyja demands that I do!”
     The squire went white, then red, and then, filled with rage, he turned around, got on his horse and rode off.
     “What an arsehole,” she grumbled. As the birds settled back into their song, she came inside. She closed the window and instantly the room was dark, like a soothing, warmly scented cave.
     She was talking to me as if I were a child. “You’re perfectly safe, Beast, don’t worry.”
     “Hey!” I actually snarled at her. “Stop that!”
     “Be nice.” She actually patted me on the head! “Stop grumbling at me.”
     Bitch! After calling me Beast to my face! “I could snap your neck in an instant!”
     She was shaking her head at me, looking coolly superior. “You can’t stand up or hold a cup of milk by yourself, but you’re threatening me?”
     Damn all women! They insult you and then turn every little thing against you. As if I were the kind of blackheart who would hurt her after she’d helped me. “No!”
     “Then stop snarling at me and go to sleep!”
     She marched off before I could answer. She sat down on the stoop, the wolf at her side, and went on sorting her herbs. “Arsehole,” she grumbled. “Like all bloody men!”
     Lizbeth always raged at me that way, too, she’d call me Beast and animal, knowing it infuriated me but that I wouldn’t—couldn’t—retaliate. Not after I’d promised to care for her.
     “You see, Saga?” I could hear the ice maiden talking to her wolf. “You feed them, bind their wounds, and even then, men are ungrateful buggers.” I heard the wolf moan. “Well, we’ll treat him the way we did that bear cub we found. We’ll ignore the bad-mannered snarling, get him on his feet and send him on his merry way.”
     A traitor and yet my rescuer. Maybe it was all a crazy dream, wolf included. A wave of exhaustion hit me. The bed was comfortable, and my body was at its limit. I decided I would think about what it all meant afterwards.
     “Men are villains, Saga, never forget that.”
     Yes, I’d sort it all out later. After I slept. I settled down under the covers and was out like a light within seconds.

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Friday, 10 March 2017

Last Shot at Justice Blog Tour

Today I am so happy to be helping out on the week-long, new release party for Kristi Cramer's novel, Last Shot at Justice!
Detective Mitzi Reardon just became the prime suspect in a murder she didn’t commit. On the run from enemies and coworkers alike, Mitzi must put her trust in Blue Thomas, an old-school cowboy from Kansas. Against all odds, they must bring the real killer to justice.
As a trap closes around them, Mitzi devises a bold escape strategy that may just get both of them killed. "Kristi Cramer knows how to keep the suspense pumping in this never-a-dull-moment thriller." Calvin Dean, author of Curses, A Door Unlocked, and The Epitaph of Jonas Barloff. "Stunning dialogue between the characters. Humorous and action-packed. Blue feels like a real person." N.D. Taylor, author of The Spellbound Consortium series of Urban Fantasy. Last Shot at Justice is A Thomas Family Novel, a series of suspenseful standalone novels featuring characters connected to the Thomas Family of Syracuse, Kansas. (Series was formerly titled The Boys of Syracuse, Kansas.)


Excerpt from Last Shot at Justice

Mitzi looked to see the cowboy holding his coat open, inviting her to step under it. “I’m all right,” she demurred.
“You’re wet enough,” he said. “Walk with me under here and you won’t get worse.”
She almost protested, then realized she might be less conspicuous outside if she accepted his offer. She stepped under his proffered arm and stretched one arm across his waist to latch onto his belt, the other pulled his coat close around her. He was so much taller than her that she fit right under his arm, and his coat formed a tent above her. Most important to her at the moment was the fact that he was warm, and big enough to offer real protection against the danger she was in—though it went against all her training to involve him.
In the moment before they moved, she studied his face again. Lightly tanned skin, high cheekbones, strong chin, straight nose. Fair-colored brows slightly furrowed above curious brown eyes that softened his otherwise angular face. His mild, vaguely bemused expression suggested she had nothing to worry about. From him.
Stepping out the door into the pouring rain, he guided her to the right. There was no one on the street outside the 8-Ball Tavern, and she breathed a sigh of relief before urging the man along. He looked down at her from beneath his cowboy hat and walked faster.
Lord, he’s a monster, she thought. He seemed pretty clueless about what was going on though. She figured he must be one of those more-brawn-than-brains football lineman types, which was just as well. He wouldn’t ask questions, and she could go on her way in the morning without worrying that he would get in trouble on her account.
A man in a gray raincoat rounded the corner, looking the other way, and bumped into them. Mitzi thought he looked like the man she hadn’t recognized at the murder scene.
“Pardon us, mister,” the cowboy whom the bartender had called Blue said, turning her aside to pass him. She tried not to physically shrink away.
The man grabbed her escort’s arm, and Blue turned.
Mitzi peered out from inside the coat as the man sized Blue up, then glanced at her.
“She all right?”
She tightened her arm around his waist, and Blue nodded slowly, spoke even slower. “My sister’s just a little drunk. I gotta take her home to Daddy or he’ll skin me alive.”
The man gave her another glance, then nodded. “Better take care of her, then.” His tone dripped with sarcasm that the cowboy didn’t even acknowledge.
“You can be sure, mister.”
The two of them walked around the corner and Mitzi suddenly found it hard to stand on her own two feet, much less walk. When she stumbled, Blue scooped her up as easily as she might pick up a bag of Mr. Tuggles’ cat food and carried her to a beat-up brown Dodge pickup.
Without setting her down, Blue pulled the passenger door open and set her inside. He peered at her briefly from under the brim of his hat, a small worried frown turning thin lips down. Then he withdrew and closed the door, shutting her inside while the rain poured down like bullets on the metal of the truck.
Shivering, she reached over to unlock his door only to discover it wasn’t locked.
He opened the driver’s door and slid onto the seat, glancing at her as he closed the door. Without a word, he turned the engine over and started driving away. She slumped down in the seat so she couldn’t be seen from outside and looked up to see him adjusting the heater setting.
“Is that your real name? Blue?”
He nodded without taking his eyes from the road. The wipers flashed across the windshield to sweep away the heavy rain.
“Where’re you from, Blue?”
“Kansas, ma’am. Close by Syracuse.”
“Well, thank you for doing this for me.” The truck had picked up speed after making a few turns, and she figured they were far enough away that she could sit up. It was nearly impossible to tell where they were, though judging by the increasing hills they were heading west, away from Mile High Stadium. “How well do you know Denver?”
“Not very. I’ve only been here a couple weeks.” He squinted out the window, searching for street signs.
“Do you know where we are?”
“Well now, I think I missed my turn a ways back.”
Headlights appeared in the darkness behind them, and Mitzi turned to look out the back window. The car was coming fast, and she let out a creative oath.
“Faster, Blue.”
“I need to turn around,” he said.
“Do it later.”
“I’ll find our way to your place. Right now, I want you to lose the car that’s behind us.” She put as much authority in her voice as she could and hoped he would do as she instructed.
Before he could say anything, the car behind them turned on police lights and flashed headlights to signal him to pull over.
“It’s the police,” he said in surprise, starting to pull over.
She jerked the wheel back, sending the truck lurching away from the curb. “Don’t stop. Lose them.”
“Listen, I don’t have license plates; they’re after me.”
“No, Blue! If you pull over, I’m dead. You understand?” She tried to push her foot down on the accelerator.
“Come on. They don’t shoot hookers on sight. Just let me....”
The unmarked police car behind them bumped them lightly, and Blue gently but inexorably pushed her away from the driver’s side of the truck and pulled over under a street light. “Just sit tight,” he told her. “Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
“Blue!” she struggled against his restraining hand, but she could only move away from him—she couldn’t make him drive away.
Behind them, the passenger side of the police car opened up, and a man in a raincoat stepped out. She struggled harder as she recognized the man they’d bumped into. Instead of heading to Blue’s door, he headed for her side of the truck.
“Please,” she said, turning frantically to Blue. “He’s going to kill me!”


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