Dear Beautiful People,
I'm currently working on something that I hope will be ready for release by the end of February. We shall see. In the meantime, I did what I usually do when I'm down. I wrote. (Not on my work-in-progress, either. 😂😁😀) What I have are a bunch of first chapters, to go with the covers I've been having since my intentions are to write these books. I need your help, though. Please vote for the books in the order you'd like me to write and release them. For instance, 2, 1, 7, 3, 4, 5, 6. I will announce the results in a few days.
p.s. the chapters are UNEDITED.
1.) Soul On Fire - Mafia
Chapter One“No, no, no!”
Those are the only words falling from my lips as I scoop up my little poodle. In the midst of one of my endless arguments with Gio, Fendi collapsed at my feet. Now, her breaths are puffing out in short, little pants and tears are already rolling down my cheeks. She’s old, thirteen. In human years, that equates to roughly ninety-one.
“Fendi,” I sob, burying my nose in her neck, feeling her soft fur. Her wide eyes flicker to mine and, for a brief moment, she gasps in a deeper breath. Then, her head lulls completely back, the way she does when she’s pouting or wants me to rub her belly. Only, now, she can’t lift herself up. She’s completely limp. “Don’t do this.”
Without warning, I’m shoved so roughly I lose my balance and topple over. Instead of releasing my dog, I tighten my grip on her and absorb the impact, landing on the area rug with enough geometrical designs to dizzy me.
“Get up,” Gio snarls from behind me, then kicks my thigh.
“Go away,” I yell, just wanting to be left alone to grieve for my dog, who’s gone, dead in my arms. I fall back on my haunches, ignoring the throbbing in my thigh and happy the rug lessened the blow of my fall. “Fendi’s gone.” Not that it matters to Gio. Fendi hated him.
“Fuck the dog.”
I glare at him over my shoulder. “Fuck you,” I spit at him, flinching when he lifts his hand.
Before he hits me, the door to the den opens and my brother saunters in. dressed in a tailor-made Armani suit, his hair perfectly styled, Stefan takes in the situation, his dark gaze zeroing in on me and my tear-stained face. “What’s going on in here?”
“Fendi’s dead,” I tell him, scrambling to my feet and rushing to him, still clutching my lifeless dog. I hold her out to Stefan.
He assesses me and then Gio and then me again before his features smooth into sympathy. Not hesitating, he takes Fendi into his arms. She doesn’t move. Her head is still tossed back, but she’s not breathing. She’s still. Limp.
“Sofia,” he says gruffly, cradling Fendi as I had.
“Can we take her to the vet?” I beg, desperate, and sick to my stomach. “Please? Maybe…maybe, something can be done for her.”
“The mutt’s fucking dead,” Gio snaps.
More sobs pour from me. Gio’s right and I know it, but I need my dog. She just collapsed while Gio was showing me his full asshole. He’s changed so much in the year we’ve been engaged and he doesn’t care, simply because Stefan chose him for me. But that’s my brother, overprotective to the point of being obsessively controlling. I agreed to the engagement because I’ve always liked Gio. I’m barely allowed out of Stefan’s sphere. If I’m not at our house or not with him, then one of his men hovers over me.
I know it has to do with our parents and their murder eleven years ago when I was ten. At the age of twenty-three, my brother became my guardian. Even before then, he loved and protected me as only older brothers can.
“Well, it’s the truth!” Gio says with less heat and I realize he and Stefan have been engaged in a conversation for a minute or two.
“When I ask you for the fucking truth, tell me,” Stefan says coolly. “Otherwise, shut the fuck up.”
He refocuses on me. “I’ll call up Dr. Beane and get Fendi to him immediately.” He starts to turn away.
“Let me get my purse.”
Stefan blows out a noisy breath. “You stay. Someone will call you when we find out—“
“I’m going,” I insist.
Jaw clenching, he scowls at me. Wrung out emotionally, I don’t have it in me to glare back. “I have to go,” I whisper.
“I’ll take you,” Gio volunteers, his voice completely subdued, hiding the violent asshole he’d been right before my brother walked in.
At my stiffening, Stefan lifts a brow, observant of everything I do. “No need, Giovanni,” he says, and I sag in relief. “Maleo!” he yells.
A moment later, a man I’ve never seen before walks in. Not walk, saunters with the confidence of a CEO and a GQ model. His suit’s black, too, custom-made, defining the planes of angles of his body. A lock of his black hair falls over his forehead and gray-green eyes land directly on me.
Any other time I’d care that I’m a wreck but not today. I just want the clock to rewind and my dog to be up and alive, giving Gio hell.
“You hears me, Mal,” Stefan repeats. “Take my sister and her dog to the vet.
Mal’s gorgeous eyes narrow on Fendi and the fact that he knows what we already know—that she’s dead—is written in his face. He scowls and a muscle ticks in his jaw.
“Take them,” Stefan orders, some type of secret communication passing between them that includes brow lifts, small nods, and long-suffering sighs.
“I’ll bring the car around,” Mal tells me as I swipe at my snotty nose with the back of my hand, then sniffle again. With a last, disgusted look, he walks away.
“Gio,” Stefan begins as he hands Fendi back to me, “wait for me in my office. You and I are going to chat.”
I don’t listen to Gio’s response. Instead, I hurry to the foyer, clasping Fendi tightly to me, and wait for Mal, not even caring that I don’t have my purse.
Where are you?
Pacing outside the vet’s office, I stare at Linda’s text message. Explaining my whereabouts to her is becoming increasingly difficult. She knows it, but she pushes more. The whole let’s make this work for the baby no longer holds the same allure as it did two months ago when she first discovered her pregnancy.
I’m trying to make this work, but it isn’t. Still, I text her. It isn’t her fault that I don’t want this relationship. It’s mine for making her think we could work it out.
Be home in a couple of hours.
As I press send, the door opens and Stefan’s little sister steps outside, her face awash in tears. She runs her fingers through her luxuriant black hair.
“It was heart failure,” she tells me through trembling lips.
As if I give a shit. I hate house pets, dogs, in particular. With sicko fucks for fathers, they are even more vulnerable than women and children. Or, as vulnerable. My old man used me to terrorize my mother and used my dog to terrorize me.
Sofia sniffles, drawing my focus back to her. Tears glisten from her chocolate brown eyes. “It was a really aggressive form and…and she couldn’t be saved.”
That’s news to me. The dog seemed dead as fuck before we left the house. “She was alive when you got here?” I can’t resist asking.
She shakes her head.
I nod, satisfied that I wasn’t off the mark. I know dead when I see it.
The girl stares at me, tears slipping down her cheeks. She’s waiting for something from me. Condolences. I’m sure one of Stefan’s men would offer her words of sorrow to soothe her grief. Supposedly, I’m one of her brother’s men now, too. Besides, I really hate having her hurt gaze on me. Despite hating the motherfuckers now, I know what it’s like to lose a pet.
Leaning again the lamp post, I stare straight ahead. “Sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” she says in a hoarse, watery voice that makes me glance over my shoulder. I want to pull her into my arms. But not for gentle, kind, emotional reasons. Besides, she’s Stefan’s little sister. If I were here under different circumstances, this would be the perfect opportunity to pluck her from Stefan and bring her to Sandro. That’s still the endgame, I know.
First, though, I have to take care of Stefan. To me, Sandro’s planning is ass-backwards. Killing Sofia first would cripple Stefan and make him such an easy mark.
She turns back toward the door and I frown.
“Aren’t you ready to leave?”
“Not without Fendi,” she tells me in a sad, little voice as she continues forward.
“There are other dogs out there,” I’m compelled to tell her.
“But none that my parents can give me,” she imparts, halting at the door, her hand on the handle. “I grew up with her.”
Grief counseling is out of my league, so I merely nod and stay silent.
Later that evening, I open the door to my condo and hear water running from the direction of the kitchen. Savory smells hit me and my stomach growls. Dealing with Sofia and her dead dog prevented me from eating anything since breakfast early this morning.
Silent, I walk toward the kitchen where I halt. Linda has her back to me, standing at the stove, stirring something in a pot. Before I can announce myself, she turns and releases a small scream, her hand flying to her chest. Her brown hair is swept up and her pretty face is flushed.
“You scared the shit out of me,” she accuses as she recovers.
“Sorry, babe,” I tell her noncommittally and walk further in. I pause to kiss her lips, then head to the pot and stare at the contents. “Osso Buco.” One of my favorites. I grab the spoon from where it rests, then dip it into the gravy. Blowing on it a moment to cool the steaming liquid, I shove it into my mouth. “Delicious,” I praise, the truth. After stealing another taste, I turn to her. “What’s the occasion?”
“Your son,” she says softly, and I freeze. I doubt I even breathe for a moment.
“You’re having a boy?” I ask like a dumb ass who’s slow to catch on.
She nods, but relief shimmers in her eyes. She knows, without me telling her, what giving me a son means to me. What it means for her. For us. Boys need their fathers to learns to become men. My gaze falls to her stomach. It’s slightly rounded. Filled with my son.
“You’re sure?” I ask after a moment, then wince when her face falls. She doesn’t know that I’ve made the decision to propose if, in fact, her ultrasound showed she carried a boy. It’s a fact no one knows. My suspicion is out-of-place and uncalled for.
“You’re welcomed to call my OB,” she responds, but some of her enthusiasm has faded. “Or, if you would’ve come to me with the appointment, you would’ve heard yourself.”
She has me there. I either make the best of this or I don’t. Making the best of it includes accompanying her to her baby appointments as much as my schedule permits. While I truly couldn’t make it today, I have no excuse for her other two.
Turning away from her, I head for the bedroom where I shrug out of my jacket and head to my closet.
“I can do that,” Linda says behind me, then hurries to grab my jacket from me and hang it up, placing it amongst my other dark suits.
As I loosen my tie, I turn away from her, then remove my keys from my pocket and lay them on my bureau.
“Will you remove your weapon?” she asks. “You know I hate them.”
“No.” I don’t even look up to impart that flat word. My gun stays holstered to me, a fact she knows.
“Maleo, thank you for giving us a chance,” she begins. “Just because I told you about the baby didn’t mean we had to reconcile. Tell me what you want from me. How I can make you happy. I’ll do whatever you want me to. You’ve given me so much over the years. Now, you’ve given me a son.”
Her hand flutters to her belly and draws my attention. I stare at the ceiling. “Don’t sacrifice your life to make me happy, Belinda. It won’t work.” It’s barely working as it is. “We have what we have.”
She wrings her hands together and shifts her weight. Hurt crosses her face before she clears her throat and meets my gaze. “M-mary stopped by.”
My jaw clenches and I remain silent.
“You slept with her,” she accuses. “I can’t believe she seduced you.”
I’m not sure what the hell it is that makes Linda want to excuse my behavior each and every time and crucify the women I fuck. “Don’t blame your friend. I have control of my dick. If I didn’t want it in them, I wouldn’t use it on them.”
“That isn’t true! They seduce you. They know I’m here pregnant with your baby and that I’ve had horrible morning sickness.”
“Unless you’ve told them, they don’t know,” I insist. “And the women you’ve never met that I’ve fucked don’t fucking know shit about you. Or me,” I add.
“You’re not that man. If you were, you wouldn’t have reconciled with me. They are those women, the ones who go after another woman’s man.”
Turning away from her, I go to the window and look at the skyline. In the distance, I see the Brooklyn Bridge.
“I know you don’t love me.”
I shove my hands in my pockets. “It isn’t you.” Fucking lamest of the lame statements floating around out there.
“Isn’t it?” she throws back at me. “That’s why you left in the first place. If it wasn’t for the baby, we wouldn’t be back together.”
Fuck. It is partly her.
“You…you…I’ve always listened to everything you’ve told me. Done anything you’ve asked of me. That’s the type of man you are. You need to be in control and you need to be needed by a woman. I need you,” she whispers. “So tell me what do I need to do? Whatever it is. Just tell me.”
She’d grovel at my feet if I told her to, because she has. At one time, it turned me on. Seeing her so completely vulnerable, knowing she trusted me enough to bow down to my wants and needs. She didn’t particularly like watching me with other women, but she dealt with it. Something about her was stronger, more independent, and less needy.
“We’re going about this all wrong,” she continues, almost sounding like the woman I’d met so many months ago. The slightly assertive one who was submissive but not desperate. “We’re supposed to be making this work for the baby.”
“What is there between us besides the baby?”
“I don’t know. But, maybe, maybe, we can sit down over dinner and figure that out.”
I finally face her again. For some reason, her tear stained cheeks makes me recall Sofia Russo. No fucking idea why. Sofia and Linda are as different as night is from day. Where Sofia is short and has an olive complexion, Linda is tall with fair skin. They’re both gorgeous. My report tells me Sofia is just twenty-one, and entering her final year of college. Linda is already thirty, like me. She’s having her first kid and giving me my first. I made sure not to fuck without protection before Linda swore to me she’d keep up with her birth control.
My gut tells me she got pregnant on purpose but that’s fucking water under the bridge. I was responsible for my own dick. She didn’t make me stick it in her without covering it. Perhaps, that’s why a part of me feels an obligation to the kid—my son—to stay with her.
Just as I did earlier with Sofia, I feel compelled to say something so Linda. Then, it was because I didn’t want to raise suspicions so I responded as I thought I should. Now, it’s because my mother’s image rises in my head. All the tears she shed because of my father and his abuse that spanned the spectrum of physical, verbal, and mental.
Fuck. Mental. Exactly what I’m doing to my son’s mother. Mentally abusing her because of a decision—several decisions—I made. The decision to trust her enough so I didn’t use a condom. The decision to reconcile with her for the baby. And the decision to move her back into my condo.
I scrub a hand over my face, the weight of it all pressing in on me. I’ve finally gotten in with Stefan, enough where I’m answerable only to him. I’m close to achieving my goals. Although he didn’t exactly introduce me to his little sister, I know everything there is to know about her thanks to Sandro’s intense background checks. It’s all coming together and the icing on the fucking cake is Linda’s giving me a son.
I could do worse. I have to man the fuck up and live with my decisions. Yeah, I’ll take a mistress, but I won’t flaunt another woman in front of her.
Just as the thought crosses my mind, Linda flattens her palms against my chest.
“It’s okay if you have to sleep with other women. You’ve always had a high sex drive.”
My brows snap together. I had to have fucking misheard her. “Excuse me?”
She backs up and her eyes focuses on the straps of my shoulder holster. She draws in a deep breath. “Sleep with other women if you have to. I’m having your baby. I live with you. You come home to me. Just don’t have sex with them in our bed and ask them not to come here, or confront me anywhere, for any reason.”
“Are you taking a lover?” I almost wish she’d say yes. Or tell me she’ll cut my fucking balls off if I cheat. Or dare me to touch another woman. “If you are, then—“
“I’d never do that, especially while I carry your baby.” She wrings her hands again. “I love you.”
Her face crumples when I don’t respond in kind to her words. I don’t want to hurt her time and again. If I keep her with me for the baby, that’s exactly what I’ll do. She’s just given me permission to fuck whomever I please. She’s never liked my straying. I did it because I could. It’s a sad fact but it’s the truth. By the time I started sleeping with other women, she was determined to be my girlfriend. She didn’t like it. Something I knew. We talked about it. But, in all our fucking time together, she never once gave me an ultimatum.
Keep your dick to yourself or else.
I walked away because I got sick and fucking tired of seeing her silent censure. She was so fucking easy to break. Too fucking easy. In a nutshell, she bored me. One reason I normally stayed away from relationships.
“Will that make you happy? Will you stay with me and the baby?”
A harsh breath escapes me. “Yes, but will you be happy?”
“As long as you are, Maleo.”
“That’s not a fucking answer.” At least, not the one I want to hear from the mother of my son. I want her happy but she’s putting that burden on me. “What’ll really make you happy?”
“Being with you. Having you love me.”
This argument is getting us nowhere. “Let’s just see where this goes,” I tell her tiredly, and walk out, leaving her standing there with those words between us.
2.) Urchin of the Court - Historical/French Revolution
The crowd gathered in the flat, dusty expanse of land, near the stables, alerted Lucien de Colville that something was amiss as soon as he guided his two-year-old Camargue past one of the corner towers of Renomme. His ancestral home, the centuries old seat of the d’Gascon ducs, retained the towers and moats of the old demesne. But when the new dwelling had been added over forty years ago, the de Colvilles had moved from feudalism to modernism. In theory, if no other way.
Down below, a valley surrounded the estate and had served to warn Renomme’s inhabitants of invaders once upon a time, long before an enemy closed in to risk swimming across the moats. Fields of sunflowers swayed in the breeze and glinted like a bright, yellow river, the soft, summery fragrance floating up.
A woman screamed and Lucien spurred his horse forward, his sword clanking in its scabbard. The horse’s hoof beats pounded toward the scene, dust rising in the wake of the hard gallops.
“S’il vous plait, Monsieur le Duc! S’il vous plait!”
“Je t’en prie! S’il vous plait!”
Grimly, Lucien urged Pegasus through his father’s peasants, ignoring their horror, their stark fear, their hopeless eyes, unsure of what he would find. The cries that begged his father to stop if he pleased spoke all Lucien needed to know.
He drew Pegasus to a halt as his father gave a slight-framed girl a backhanded slap that sent her reeling into the dirt.
Quickly, he assessed the scene. A young man hung limply by the wrists from an iron crossbar. Sunlight glinted from his golden hair, his head lolling listlessly to the side. His eyes were swollen shut and black, his nose bleeding and obviously broken. Blood leaked from his split lips, dribbled from his mouth. The skin of his back was torn to ribbons by the metal tipped whip Adam held. He wondered if the man was now a corpse. The cloudless blue sky seemed incongruous to the gruesome scene before him.
For a moment, Lucien closed his eyes, the scent of blood, of fear, assailing his senses. How his father survived with this bitterness eating away at his soul, Lucien didn’t know. He did know Adam was nearly insane. He’d thought his years away from his father fighting against the British in the American Colonies would soften his memories of Adam’s horrific character. Upon his return, he realized his father was so much worse.
Lucien’s sole purpose for joining the war had been to fall to a redcoat’s sabre or musket. When the Treaty of Paris was signed three years ago, Lucien could’ve remained in the newly formed United States of America. However, as he’d been quite alive at that time, he had a responsibility as the duc d’Gascon’s heir. A year after the Treaty, he’d come back to France and discovered Adam had been living far above his means at Versailles, vile as ever. Lucien refused to admit that he cared about his father one way or another. So, most of the time, he stayed in Paris at his chateau and entertained his mistress or he stayed in his apartments at Versailles. He would be in Versailles now had not Charles-Alexandre, Vicomte de Calonne, informed the king that royal finances were insolvent. Calonne would put financial reforms in place and Lucien only hoped that King Louis followed the advice. He’d come to Renomme to deliver that news to Adam.
“Je t’en prie!”
Adam snapped his cat o’nine tails, the metal tips flicking ominously in the stillness. Even if Adam was the same cruel man Lucien had left behind in 1776, France wasn’t the same country. Ideas of liberty and equality were seeping into the people’s consciousness. His father would one day rue his viciousness.
Without taking his eyes from the trembling girl, Adam drew back, and whipped the vicious weapon across the man’s back.
“’Tienne!” she sobbed, diving for Adam, trying to hold onto his arm to keep him from delivering another blow to the limply dangling body.
“Cease, Emilie!” Adam shook her off, returning his attention to the bound man.
“Enough!” Lucien growled, glaring coldly at his father. He looked at the pleading girl, whose hair streamed around her and fell to her waist like a thick, russet-colored mantle. He swung from the saddle, offhandedly wondering if the gleaming mass would feel as silken as it looked. He noticed Sophie and Hebert Lindet were in the assembled crowd, pale and tearful. Suddenly, everything made sense to Lucien and the identity of the man, who might already be dead at Adam’s hand, clicked into place. A blond-haired girl clutched at Hebert while a tall, young man held Sophie on her feet. The eldest son, Etienne, now nearly beaten to death, was a rabble-rouser and had come upon trouble more than once.
The Lindets were well known to the de Colvilles. They were the peasant family whom all the other peasants deferred to, the peasants who, once, generations ago, had been as noble as the de Colvilles. But their titles had been stripped, their wealth lost. One ancestor married a commoner and then another and another, until the Lindets’ noble blood had been lost and only common, peasant stock remained. Despite their loss of their nobility, two or three generations ago, others revered them.
There was more to the story than the snippets Lucien had heard, he knew. Adam was obsessed with the Lindets and there was a reason for that.
“Hebert! Olivier! Get Etienne down,” Lucien gritted, determined to calm Emilie, the crying girl.
“I’m not finished with him,” Adam said, his silver eyes gleaming with a malevolent light, throwing his whip aside and starting toward Etienne.
“Oui,” Lucien spat, daring his father to gainsay him. Adam could, of course, but it was mostly Lucien’s money that kept the de Colvilles living in luxury. When Lucien was in residence, his word was final. He controlled the purse strings. “You are!”
The girl, Emilie, slammed her small body into his father, her hands on his chest, attempting to physically restrain Adam from getting any closer to Etienne.
“Get him down.” Lucien snapped his fingers toward Hebert and Olivier and indicated Etienne. He slid his sword free, handing it hilt first to Hebert. “Now!” He had a very slight advantage of surprise. If Hebert and Olivier didn’t act before Adam overcame his shock at Lucien’s sudden appearance all would be lost. No one knew that if not for Lucien’s fortune the d’Gascon title would’ve been sold off years ago. And the wild bloodlust in Adam’s eyes spoke volumes. He was ready and willing to go against Lucien’s wishes to wreak vengeance upon Etienne Lindet.
“Go, Pa Pa! Olivier,” Emilie urged frantically, endangering her life to face down Adam. To dare to touch Adam.
As Hebert and Oliver hastened to cut loose Etienne’s tethers, Lucien hurried to the girl with the courage of ten men. The blazing anger in her blue, jewel-toned eyes shocked him. She was at the mercy of Adam, and, still, she seemed furious enough to carve out his heart.
Those sapphire eyes blazed. “Barbarian!”
Sophie seemed as if she’d faint at any moment from her daughter’s outburst. “Emilie, une petite, non!”
“Merci, monsieur le marquis,” Hebert interrupted, handing Lucien his sword back, hilt first, as Lucien had given it to Hebert. The de Colville crest winked at him from the gleaming gold inset with rubies.
“Bloodthirsty cur!” Emilie screamed as her father and her brother held Etienne limply between them and hurried away.
Lucien grabbed Emilie by the waist, pulling her out of Adam’s reach. He’d had enough of death and bloodshed, cruelty and carnage to last two lifetimes. Initially, he’d stopped his father’s brutality because he wouldn’t tolerate watching Adam brutalize anyone. Now, however, the ferocious temper Emilie displayed intrigued and arrested him. There had been no one to ever stand up to his father. Lucien had only begun to do so once he’d returned from war. Who was this slip of a girl?
Adam glowered at Emilie. He picked up the whip he’d so recently thrown down and lashed it through the air. “You will cease, Emilie!” he roared to her. She flinched and he smiled cruelly. “Or take Etienne’s place.”
“I hate you, monsieur le duc.”
The gathered audience, surely summoned by his father to underscore his authority over the d’Gascon lands and peasants, let out a collective gasp. She wiggled in Lucien’s arms, straining to get to his father.
“Cease, you little hellcat,” he growled in her ear, for her alone. “You are quickly reaching the point where even I won’t be able to save you from your fate at my father’s hands.” Adam was le duc. Insubordination from a peasant wouldn’t be borne.
“Your pere is a fils de salop,” she whispered, low, the curse shocking him once more, but she desisted in her movements. Why he should be shocked that she’d call his father a sonofabitch, he wasn’t sure. Her life was far from sheltered and judging by the curves he felt as he held her, he decided she might even have a lover somewhere, even though he surmised that she hadn’t yet seen her eighteenth year. Had her family still been noble, she would’ve already been wed. Noble girls married at fourteen or fifteen. Peasant girls might take lovers but they generally didn’t marry until they were at least five and twenty. But the Lindets were peasants who should’ve been noble.
His gaze fell on Sophie again. She was staring at Adam. Fury burned in Adam’s eyes and mottled his complexion. Sophie looked stricken at Adam’s wild anger.
“Release Emilie, Lucien,” Adam spat, moving toward them.
Lucien mimicked his father and glowered. His father would never forgive him if he used the money he showered upon him as a bargaining tool to stop this travesty. “I wouldn’t release Satan’s spawn to you, Father, and this petite girl is far from that.”
“She has insulted me,” Adam returned in a voice that was chilling in its calmness.
“For which she will apologize.” Lucien’s arm still spanned her small waist, just beneath the delicate weight of her full breasts, holding her flush against him. Her heart was pounding with exertion and anger. Her backside rested against his groin. She squirmed again. Lucien bent closer, his manhood stirring. She went absolutely still as his erection pushed against her backside, as if she’d just become aware of his intimate hold on her. A silky soft strand of russet colored hair brushed Lucien’s cheek. The smell of perspiration and fear mingled with something softer, sweeter, of the sunshine glinting from the sky. “Apologize to the great Adam de Colville, une petite.”
At his dictate, her entire body stiffened. Moments ticked by but finally she did as she was bade. Had she not, Adam had the power to punish her severely. He still could once Lucien returned to Paris. “Pardonnez-et-moi, s’il vous plait, monsier le duc.”
Sophie came forward and bowed before Adam, her eyes wide with fear.
“Monsieur le duc, I beg you, don’t hurt Emilie. ‘Tienne may already be dead. Please, my Emi is—“
“Have you finally followed me, Lucien, and started taking the peasants to your bed?” Adam goaded, ignoring Sophie completely. “Is that why you hold Emilie so tightly? Do you carry a tendresse for her?”
Adam was like a serpent, slithering around and seizing any opportunity to strike. The man knew full well that Lucien would never bed a peasant girl, especially one as young as she seemed to be.
Abruptly, Lucien released Emilie, knowing he’d do her more harm than good if he continued to attempt to shield her from his father’s wrath. Adam took perverse delight in destroying anything Lucien held dear, so Lucien made it a point to hold nothing and no one dear.
Her back ramrod straight, her shoulders squared, Emilie faced Adam.
“To your feet, Sophie,” Adam commanded without glancing at the woman. He circled Emilie and stopped before her as Sophie rose and stepped to the side, unable to do anything to help her daughter. But that was the lot of peasants, a fact of which both Emilie and Etienne Lindet should’ve known before they’d matched wills with Adam. “You hate me, Emilie? You think I shouldn’t have punished your brother? He is a thief.”
Thief? Lucien thought in surprise, which turned quickly to anger. He didn’t condone criminal behavior. But before he could voice any opinion, Emilie echoed his word.
“Thief?” she gasped incredulously. “We haven’t had meat on our table in six months! We barely have bread. He only sought to put food on our table.”
“He hunted in my forests,” Adam told her coldly. “Shot two of my stags. This is the third time in a dozen years he has repeated this same offense.”
A mutinous look entered her eyes, grown wide and luminous with unshed tears. “He should’ve shot you, Monsieur le Duc.”
The blow Adam delivered across her face knocked Emilie to the ground. A vicious kick to the belly followed. He started for her again, but Lucien acted on instinct, sending Adam sprawling on the ground with an emotionally packed punch.
“Be gone the lot of you!” Lucien snarled to the peasants who still stood, watching as the scene unfolded. The peasants melted away, knowing better than to test a de Colville’s temper, even his, the most even-tempered of all. “Madame, see to your daughter,” he instructed Sophie. She called over the slender, blond girl, who resembled both Sophie and Emilie, but had hair the color of Etienne and Hebert.
“Emi, it is Mireille,” the girl cried as Adam rose to his feet, blood dripping from his nose.
“You will meet me in my study in ten minutes, Lucien.”
“You will go to the devil, Father,” Lucien shot back. “In the meantime, you will leave the Lindets in peace.”
They stared at one another, only a few feet separating them. Although he knew he hadn’t heard the last of this, Adam stalked off in the opposite direction from which Lucien had come, toward the small bridge that led to the parterres.
As Emilie roused and Mireille helped her to her feet, Sophie came and knelt before him, shocking Lucien. He didn’t want subjugation from Renomme’s peasants.
“You have saved my daughter’s life,” she whispered, kissing the signet ring on his hand, tears sliding down her cheeks. “Merci beaucoup, monsieur le marquis.”
“I will summon a physician. Take your daughters home and might I suggest, if Etienne survives, he leave Renomme.” With startling insight, Lucien realized he’d never bothered to know any of Renomme’s peasants. He knew of the Lindets because Hebert Lindet was the unofficial leader amongst Renomme’s peasants. He knew them because they were as tied to d’Gascon lands as the de Colvilles, ancestors for each family having been born and bred here. But he’d not known there were two daughters in this present generation. He’d not known how beaten and broken Sophie Lindet was by years of Adam’s brutal.
“It isn’t your place to summon a physician for ‘Tienne, monsieur le marquis,” Sophie murmured, her eyes downcast.
“Oui, it is,” Emilie gritted, staggering toward them. “Etienne may die, Maman.” Her voice cracked. Tears tracked down her cheeks, angry bruises gathering on her face where his father had twice struck her.
Anger stirred in him. Sophie, while pretty, was resigned to her lot in life. The other girl, Mireille, was pretty, too, but there seemed to be the same acceptance in her manner.
Emilie, her gaze too wise for her years, was full of fire and promise…
And, from that moment on, Emilie Lindet drew him like a beacon of light in the storm of his life. It shocked Lucien to discover the amount of taxes Adam charged the Lindets in comparison to the already high taxes he charged the other peasants. Petty taxes for the Lindets to use the wine presses and flourmill was nearly double that of the others on the land. Hebert had given up his livestock and poultry because of Adam’s taxes on them. He barely earned enough to pay Adam the gabelle and vegetable taxes. From what Lucien heard, Etienne, Olivier, and Hebert’s corvee, the tax that peasants paid in the form of free labor, was arduous and dangerous.
Adam despised the Lindets and was determined to break them in mind, spirit, and body. Lucien wondered why. Meanwhile, he found easier positions for Emilie, her mother, and her sister as washerwoman, kitchen help, and lower maid, respectively. While it wasn’t a life of ease, by any means, it was by no way as hard as paying Adam’s version of the corvee. Certainly, if common prostitutes could be removed from the streets of Paris to become a nobleman’s courtesan, then Lucien could honorably provide Emilie Lindet and her family a measure of ease.
3.) Little Boy Lost - Dark (Very, very dark)
(NOTE: Intend to change the heroine's age to 22 or 23, I think)
Various smells filtered into his nose and he scowled. He hadn’t cleaned up the mess he and Talia had made last night and now he had no time. He had to get to school, become the high school coach the little peckerheads envied, the twenty-four-year old the senior sluts wanted to fuck. He was certain the younger ones wanted him, too, but he only scoped out girls who were at least seventeen-years-old.
Shoving his fingers through his hair, Keller realized the fucking alarm clock continued pealing. Fuck, but he had issues, large swatches of time he blocked out or ignored.
“Talia, wake up,” he ordered, leaning over and slamming his hand to shut the sound down.
His stepsister stirred, shoving the covers down and revealing her tits. Seeing the blood stains on her pale skin, Keller frowned.
“Wake up,” he said again, wrapping a hand around one of her breasts and squeezing.
She groaned and flicked open one eye. “I want to go back to bed,” she whined.
“Go back to bed after you clean shit up.”
“Why can’t you?”
Her shrill voice irked him and he clamped his jaw to refrain from saying words he’d regret. He stood and sighed at his hard dick. Shit had gone wrong from the moment Laurie had gotten into his car, so, of course, shit would continue to fuck up. If he didn’t start his week out with Talia sucking his dick bright and early Monday morning, he’d learned to expect his week to be fucked.
Clenching his jaw, he stalked to the wall of windows and glanced out, revealing a beautiful February morning. He sidled a glance at the red and white barrel chair and rocked back on his heels, rubbing his eyes. White was the manufacturer’s color and went well with Teagen’s expensive décor.
Laurie’s nude body, her blood turning the chair a disgusting crimson, didn’t. Each time he looked at her, he saw Talia. He always did. That’s why he chose them. Blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin, beautifully structured features. Bitches. Whores. Ice queens. The whole fucking lot of them. Because he now had free will to choose who to fuck…who to kill…he made sure to pick one, outstanding contradiction—their ages. Talia had raised him, molded him to be the man that he was. He’d been twelve when she’d convinced him…Fuck. No.
He wasn’t thinking about what she’d convinced him to do. He wasn’t ever thinking about that. She’d been twenty-eight and mean as fuck. She fucked everything she saw. Men, women, hell, whoever, whatever. That’s what twisted cunts did. And obscenely wealthy, twisted cunts did even more.
But he watched and waited. As a PE teacher, he had the perfect opportunity to study the girls pre-disposed to turn into Talia. They flirted with him, offered him pussy and blow jobs, igniting his deep-seated anger and he chose the truly brazen ones. He befriended them and learned their habits and made sure not to leave any evidence behind.
In the two years he’d been at the school, he’d rid the world of three Talia’s-in-the-making.
Just as he touched Laurie’s hair, Talia’s fingers wrapped around his cock.
“I love you,” she whispered, dropping to her knees, not caring she was in a pool of blood. Not even the scent of death bothered her. Nothing nonplussed her. “Only I can love you. Being the man you are,” she added, neglecting to say the man she’d fucking turned him into. “I love you and you belong to me.”
Gripping Talia’s hair, Keller studied her, imagining slitting her throat, too. But he couldn’t. Her lawyer had evidence of his crimes. All of them. The ones she’d ordered him to do and the ones he’d chosen to do.
He ran his finger down her jaw. He’d tried to kill her before. Her long hair covered the scar on the side of her neck. She’d recovered and put her insurance in place. Keller had degenerated and began killing on his own. She participated, but Keller believed he’d finally made her afraid of him.
Fuck. They were afraid of each other. Her primary attorney had a fucking sealed envelope with the bullshit that could destroy Keller’ life. That frightened the fuck out of Keller.
On the other hand, the moment he stopped being valuable to her. No longer licked her pussy every evening. No longer gave her dick whenever she wanted. No longer followed her rules, she’d have him arrested. Or killed.
The ringing of his cellphone snapped his attention away from his thoughts. He recognized the ringtone he’d chosen for the school. Talia still knelt, still kept her fingers wrapped around his dick. Neither of them had moved. Silent, Keller removed her hand and turned away. His dick felt raw, anyway. Talia had sucked him dry and Laurie had bit him in her efforts to escape.
Heaving his shoulders, Keller sat on the bed, picked up his phone from the nightstand and redialed the number of the school’s principal. He hadn’t gotten his cock sucked to start his week, he remembered. This call couldn’t be anything fucking good.
Simultaneously, Aubree’s cell phone began to ring and, Kimball, her best friend, yelled her name. Coach Jackson’s blue eyes narrowed and his mouth thinned at this obvious breaking of school rules. But they were on the track, measuring their time, and he hadn’t said they couldn’t stop and converse.
She ignored her ringing cellphone, wishing she hadn’t stuck it in her sock at the last minute as they walked out of the locker room. She didn’t really know why she did, except she’d heard Coach Jackson was such a stickler for rules.
And he was cute. She knew he checked her out as much as she checked him out. If she did enough, she’d get his attention. All semester long, she’d seen him from afar, never expecting to actually be in his class, but when Kimball transferred to this school and Aubree got her schedule, she requested a schedule change.
“I’m dying,” Kimball complained, grabbing Aubree’s arm and bending over, breathing hard.
“Please,” Aubree countered, pretending not to notice Coach Jackson’s intense scrutiny. Heat spread from her belly, flaming throughout her entire body. If she got him to notice her, her week would have a great start.
Kimball thumped her shoulder. “Slut, stop making goo-goo eyes at the coach.”
Aubree giggled. “I can’t help it. He’s so cute. He’s not much older than we are.”
“He’s still older, noob. He’s also our teacher. Hello? It’s a crime to fuck your students, especially seventeen-year-old ones.”
Hating Kimball’s logical side that always seemed to rear up, Aubree poked her tongue out at her.
Ross Flint halted next to Aubree. The captain of the football team, he was a dream, too. Aubree was lucky enough to be surrounded by hot guys and an even hotter coach. For obvious reasons, PE was her favorite class. Ross pulled Aubree’s blonde ponytail.
“Ouch! Stop. No touching the hair.”
Kimball snorted and rolled her eyes. They’d known each other since they’d met in daycare fourteen years ago. “Chick has issues, Ross. You haven’t figured that out yet?”
Ross winked at her. “As far as I know, it’s only the hands off the hair issue.”
“Oh my God,” Aubree said with a sniff. “It’s just something about the hair. It’s personal. That’s like a total invasion of privacy.”
“What are we talking about again?” Ross asked, grinning. “Hair on your head or your pussy?”
“You didn’t just say that to me.” She drew her brows together as Nathan Reese nearly toppled over, he stopped so fast as Ross’s words, and her reply, reached him.
He turned back to them. “He sure as hell did.”
“It figures. Frick is here, so Frack wouldn’t be far behind,” Aubree snapped.
“Ha ha ha,” Nathan said, although humor glinted in his black eyes.
Coach Jackson raised the whistle he kept on a lanyard around his neck and blew into it.
“Where do they sell such loud whistles?” Aubree whispered to her little group as the coach waved over the students who were on the far end of the track.
“I hear his family is loaded,” Ross whispered back.
“They are,” Nathan confirmed. “My dad and his dad were friends.”
“If he’s wealthy, why is he a high school coach?”
“I don’t know, Aubree,” Nathan said with a shrug. “I hear his stepsister is a complete and total bitch. She’s probably disowned him and he’s living out of his car.”
“Yeah, instead of Cinderella, we have Cinderfella,” Kimball said, then snapped her mouth shut.
It had gotten so silent around them and the other students had all gathered in, so they’d heard Kimball’s comment. Luckily, the bell ending the period rang at that moment and the four of them turned, attempting a fast getaway.
“Class dismissed,” Coach Jackson called, “all except you, Miss Richards.”
Aubree spun around as they all beat a hasty retreat. “Me?”
He stalked past her. “Follow me.”
“That isn’t fair,” Aubree said, automatically doing as instructed. No matter how hot, he was still an authority figure. She’d been taught to obey her teachers. Most of the time, she followed the rules. “What about Kimball, Ross, and Nathan? They were talking, too. Yet, you single me out?”
They entire way to his office, she stomped behind Coach Jackson, demanding answers about why she was the only one in trouble. Reaching his office, he slammed the door shut and stared at Aubree, his blue eyes intense and tumultuous, like a storm in the making.
He was tall and fit and built, too handsome to be a mortal. But she knew he was. His stare changed from annoyance to attraction and his nostrils flared. Her heart drummed in her chest and rose in her ears. She licked her lips and his gaze dropped to her mouth.
His erection pressed against his sweats.
Aubree’s nipples beaded and she waited for him to make a move. But he didn’t. He just continued to stare at her. It began to freak her out, so she inched backwards, towards the door.
“Am…I in trouble?” She cringed at her high-pitch, part fear and part nerves.
He circled her. Aubree did her best not to follow his movements with her gaze, but something was off and she couldn’t figure out what. He was gorgeous, but he was…weird.
“May I leave?” she asked when he stopped in front of her.
He closed his eyes and spoke under his breath, before scrubbing a hand through his hair. “No, you may not. Sit.”
Coach or not, the command in his voice made her automatically follow his orders. She sat.
“You’re in trouble because you were the troublemaker. It was your phone that disrupted the class.”
“We were on the track field. There was no class to disrupt.”
“It’s against school rules to have a cell phone in class.”
Aubree sagged against her chair. He had her there.
“Who called you?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I-I…maybe, one of my friends. I’ve maintained my grades so Mom and Dad are letting me go to the movies tonight.”
Coach Jackson lifted a brow, missing the enormity of her statement. She rolled her eyes.
“Duh, it’s a school night.”
“They might not be so lenient if I sent you to detention.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Aubree said with a gasp, then cursed inwardly. Weird or not, he was just so hot. She had to keep the fact that he was her teacher, uppermost in her mind. She lowered her lashes, deciding to test out her feminine wiles. “Don’t be cross with me, Coach Jackson. I like you and I was just looking for a way to get your attention, so you’d notice me.”
He stilled and went back to giving her a I’m-thinking-about-cutting-you-into-small-little-pieces stare. “You don’t know me to say with any accuracy that you like me.”
“You seem very nice.” Aubree squirmed in her seat when he cocked his head to the side.
Oh, shit. Epic fail at testing her feminine wiles. She’d practice lying later. Right now, she’d go with the truth and hope for the best. Scooting to the edge of the chair, she shoved her hands behind her back and crossed her fingers. “You give me really intense stares and…and that frightens me.”
He paced in front of her and leaned against his desk, folding his arms. Aubree’s eyes fell on the imprint of his erection. It seemed to have gotten bigger.
“What about me frightens you?”
An underlying…sadness…?...removed most of the curiosity in his voice.
Reaching out, Aubree touched his thigh. She loved the rock hard feel of it. Even through his clothes, his muscles were overwhelming. “I-I’m sorry. That’s really mean of me. I mean, um, are you okay?”
The question made him jerk and something in his face softened. “And here I thought you were like all the others.”
“Others?” she echoed.
“Every girl who sees me only sees one thing. I can’t remember the last time anyone asked me if I was okay.”
Aubree’s heart melted at the bleakness in his voice and she berated herself for jumping to conclusions about him. “It’ll get better,” she swore, not sure what else to say. A bright idea flared in her head. “Do you like cookies? I make very good cookies and I can bake you up a batch and bring you some.”
Amusement lit his blue eyes and he crouched in front of her, dislodging her hand. “Cookies? Will you bring milk, too?”
“Do you want some?”
He laughed and his entire face changed, stealing away the hardness of his features. Leaning closer, he brushed his lips against hers.
Sighing, Aubree opened her mouth, inviting him to enter. His tongue touched hers, swirling against the sides of her mouth, exploring the roof, over and over, until she moaned and wrapped her arms around his neck.
As he thumbed her nipples, she scraped her fingers through the softness of his hair.
“You are like them,” he breathed against her mouth. “You want in my bed.”
Not seeing a reason to lie, Aubree nodded. The moment she did, he pulled away and stood, glaring at her. He wiped mouth on his sleeve and Aubree’s bubble burst, her heart dropping to her toes.
“You want me to fuck you, why?”
“Because you’re gorgeous and you look like you’d be good at it.”
Aubree didn’t understand the disappointment suddenly darkening his features. Disappointment and anger.
“And you’re odd,” she countered, the clock on the wall catching her eye. She popped to her feet. “Oh, crap. I’ve missed most of fourth period.”
How had her day began to disintegrate so much? She hadn’t even changed out of her gym clothes. If she didn’t hurry, she’d miss fifth period. Starting for the door, she was halted when Coach Jackson grabbed her wrist.
“This is our secret?”
“Sure.” Yeah, sure. His, hers, and Kimball’s. They told each other everything and Kimball wouldn’t rat out either Coach Jackson or Aubree.
He pulled her against him. “I mean it, Aubree,” he whispered roughly, his hold on her very tight. “I can get fired. Get arrested. Any number of things.” He shook her. “Do you want that?”
An aura of power surrounded him and his scent invaded her head. Spice and musk and mint. He ran a finger along her throat, sending shivers through her.
He bent and bit her earlobe. Groaning, Aubree’s breath caught. She stood on her tiptoes and ground against his erection. Her panties were soaked and she didn’t know how she’d make it until tonight when she got her bullet from its hiding spot. Anything could be gotten from the internet and she’d utilized that more than once. Her clit was very grateful for her most recent utilization.
His hands wrapped around her throat while he abraded her skin with his afternoon stubble.
“Is this our secret? No one but you and I will know,” he purred, licking her cheek, the shell of her ear, and her throat.
“Yes,” she breathed, sensation racing through her. “I won’t tell.”
Pressing his forehead against hers, he kissed the tip of her nose. “Good girl. Before I let you go, answer this for me. Would you have fucked me if I asked?”
He kissed her eyelid. “With no compunction? No hesitation? Are you always so lustful?”
“I wouldn’t call it lustful. I’d say impulsive.” Besides, she was a virgin, a state so overrated she just wanted to get rid of it. She was going to college next year and she didn’t want her fun and partying ruined because of a hymen. For the first time in her life, she’d be away from the watchful eye of her parents. She wouldn’t have to be their little girl. She could be Aubree and she intended to let loose. Why not start now with a handsome, mysterious—kind of creepy—older guy?
“It’s time to go, Miss Richards,” Coach Jackson said, releasing her so suddenly she staggered.
His frigid gaze iced the heat of her desire and she swallowed. Without another word, she hurried out of his office and headed to the locker room to change.
Her first experience with Coach Jackson hadn’t gone exactly as she’d been fantasizing since she’d first seen him a few weeks ago. He wasn’t exactly the Prince Charming she’d imagined, either. No matter how attracted she was to him, how much he appeared to be a laid-back, out-of-place surfer dude, something about him frightened her.
Still, she’d gotten his attention and a kiss from him, so, maybe, it had all been worth it. Just then, she wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
4.) Temptation - Contemporary Erotic
Fulfilling his family obligations just as his father would expect. Replacing the boy he thought was his, without having to deal with a real relationship. Leaving a child behind to carry the family name should the attempts on his life succeed.
Ignoring his uncertainty and sadness, Zane steered his pickup into the parking lot. A Wal-Mart centered the u-shaped shopping area. Only four days after Christmas, stores were offering all sorts of sales, so it took a few moments to find a parking spot. Though closer to Wal-Mart, he headed for the liquor store tucked into a corner of the shopping center. The cold air stung his face and he shoved his hands into his jacket pocket, flexing his fingers inside the soft lining. Grimacing, he opened the door and the slow chiming sensor announced his arrival. He stepped into the store, and a blast of warmth hit him. Hell, it felt like walking from the Arctic Circle and into the Sahara Desert.
“Howdy, Zane,” Linnae greeted around the gum in her mouth. Pink tongue played with pink gum and Zane remembered other pink areas on her. Nipples. Clit. “How was your Christmas?”
Shoving the mental images of her naked body aside, Zane hurried past the counter, a two-fingered salute accompanying his half-smile. “Howdy, Sunshine,” he said, using his special nickname for her and ignoring her question. He and the strawberry blond had a friends-with-benefits sort of relationship. When she wasn’t involved with some guy, she made herself available to Zane to slake his needs. Pretty and fun, she knew better than to grow attached to him. He insisted it was the perfect arrangement. Yet, post-fucking, his loneliness always returned. Even while pumping into her, he felt no real passion or desire. Just mild interest and appreciation for her bedroom skills.
She blew a big bubble, its loud pop breaking the silence. Slurping it back between her teeth, the sound was a welcome reminder of their last time together when she’d sucked his cock until he thought his head would explode.
He’d arrange another rendezvous with her soon. Skirting around the three aisles and the double-sided shelves containing all types of liquors and mixers, Zane zeroed in on the coolers in back.
Grabbing two 12 packs of Shiner Bock, he strolled to the checkout counter and set the cartons down. He pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his black jeans. “How’ve you been?”
Her smoldering look consumed the blueness of her irises and her lips curled into a suggestive smile. Her blue denim jeans and corseted long sleeved top molded to her like body paint. “Been fine, Zane,” she answered, passing one carton of beer over the scanner twice. The bottles jangled. “Could be better. I have an itch needs scratchin’. Think you can help me with it any time soon?”
Hi gaze dropped to her breasts before travelling back up to her pretty face. “I’m sure I can,” he said, winking at her. Meeting Harper Adams was way more important than arranging a date to fuck Linnae, however much his two months of abstinence demanded he find relief in a warm body. He handed her a hundred dollar bill and grabbed his beer. “Keep the change, Sunshine,” he called over his shoulder, already halfway out the door of Hell and back into the frozen tundra.
His cellphone rang and Zane cursed. Readjusting one of the cartons and tucking it in the crook of his arm, he pulled the phone from his jacket pocket and clicked it on, raising it to his ear.
“Hello?” he barked, glancing at his watch. If he didn’t get on the road, he’d arrive back at the ranch late for the meeting.
“May I speak to Mr. Zane Channin’?”
The soft, Southern accent caught him off-guard. Although Texas drawls surrounded him—he had one, after all—this woman’s words carried a different cadence, lyrical and low. Zane scowled. “This is Zane Channing,” he growled, irritation stabbing his words. He was on the verge of being late and he was horny. He had no time for a sweet-voiced stranger. “How may I help you?”
Silence met the unfriendliness even he heard in his tone.
He should never have agreed to meet Harper Adams, sight unseen. For all he knew, he was being pranked. His brothers balked at his idea, so he wouldn’t put it past them. Harper Adams might be a three-hundred-pound giant or a transsexual or anyone other than the petite, blond beauty they claimed.
“M-Mr. Channin’?” the voice squeaked.
Zane’s irritation surged anew. “I’ve already identified myself. Who the hell are you and what the hell do you want?”
Her throat cleared. “Harper Adams. I-I mean I’m Harper Adams.”
“Give me a moment.” Trapping the phone between his shoulders and neck, he closed the few remaining feet to his truck and deposited the beer inside the bed. He leaned against the truck, scrubbing a hand over his cold face and glowered at nothing in particular. He squinted at the glare of the afternoon sun bouncing off windshields. In the frigid air, the sunshine seemed brighter somehow, the cloudless azure sky an indication of renewal and rebirth for the upcoming year.
Thrusting aside the thought, Zane’s mood grew as icy as the temperature. “You’re Harper Adams?”
“That’s right,” came the quiet reply. “I’m Harper Adams. Tori’s friend.”
As if he needed that clarification. Victoria Manning, aka Tori, followed his brother, Holt, like a blind woman with her seeing-eye dog. Whatever was going on, Zane would bet his entire fortune a huge surprise awaited him with Harper Adams. Holt had made her sound too perfect for a flesh and blood woman, worthy to bear the Channing heir. “Are you at the ranch already?”
“I’m afraid I may be late for our appointment,” she blurted. “I’m havin’ car problems.”
Admitting his edginess, Zane regretted his harshness. He climbed into his truck and started the engine, turning the heat up. No use in freezing his balls off.
“I hope you aren’t too angry—“
Harper Adams’s sweet little voice could melt the peaks of Everest. It did strange things to him, reminded him what a solitary life he led, exacerbating the keen loss he always experienced at this time of year.
“Tell me where you are and I’ll pick you up.”
A pause and then a sigh. “I don’t know the area too well, but I’m in a small shoppin’ mall right off the highway. There’s a Wal-Mart right in the center of the mall and my car is in a space halfway down the parking lane.“
She was in this mall and quite close. Frowning, Zane opened the truck door and stepped out, walking to the back of the bumper. He did a three hundred sixty degree turn, searching for a blond head, the image he’d created in his mind after hearing a description of the woman. A little further away than her described location, he walked toward Wal-Mart.
“I’ve driven a long way for this interview, Mr. Channin’.”
No man in his right mind could ignore the soft, sexy demure of Harper’s speech. Hell! If the mere sound of her voice affected him, Zane needed to return to Linnae, slam the ‘closed’ sign on the door and get a quick fuck.
“Please just give me an extra hour.”
“Just stay put, Miss Adams,” he said in a firm tone.
“I-I think I’m about thirty minutes from your ranch and—“
An echo accompanied the voice and Zane halted at the back of an old, white, Toyota Corolla FX. A woman stood feet away from him, clutching a cell phone in her hand and glancing around, her light brown eyes scanning her surroundings. He stared, transfixed, the hand holding his phone slackening and falling to his side. She was exquisite. Small, slender, curvy and…African-American.
“Harper?” he croaked, shock coursing through him.
She gasped, her mouth forming an ‘o’ in surprise. “Y-you’re white!” she blurted.
“And…and you’re not!” he responded, as unable to filter his words right then as she.
“Tori!” they both snarled in unison.
5.) Vow - Novice and Priest
(loosely based on a historical event, except in the present time)
Heat flushes my body and lower my lashes, reminding myself that I’ve devoted the last three years of my life to this moment, this man. I’m finally receiving my ring to show my devotion. For this stranger to capture my attention as he has is both frustrating and confusing. Never have I ever had such a strong reaction to anyone of the opposite sex. Not even in high school, when boys surrounded me. As one of the popular girls and a cheerleader, I received a lot of attention.
As my parents’ only child, I had their utter devotion…my adopted parents, I remind myself. I’ve had eight years to accept that revelation but it is still a bitter pill to swallow.
Don’t think about them.
So I don’t. I snap my thoughts where they belong. In the here and now. This place, where sunlight bathes it, the beams touching me and suffusing my face, my closed eyelids. I don’t have to see it to know it’s there.
Just like Christ. I’ve never seen him and, yet, he’s here. In me. Around me. Over me. Protecting me with His infinite love. Outside of his presence, I find no peace, no light, no beauty. It’s why I’ve pledged myself to him.
Mine isn’t a typical betrothal. My Novice Mistress slides my engagement ring into place and I bow my head, tears stinging my eyes. Emotion overwhelms me. A silent prayer drums through my head.
When I open my eyes again, I see he’s still there and the resentment welling in me is troubling. I will have to offer up extra prayers tonight. I’ve encountered many tests on my journey from Handmaid to Betrothed, and I have met and faced each challenge.
More than likely, once I return to the monastery, I will never see the man again. I’ve not seen him before. He’s probably a guest of Father John. The priest entertains many throughout the course of the year.
Obeying Mother Superior’s command, I hold my spine stiff and straight. She’s a severe woman, who’s been in the novitiate for thirty-five years. When I look into her blue eyes, I see little of her soul remaining. She hates me. She hates that I know her secrets. Truthfully, I hate that I know them, too.
They frighten me as much as she does. As much as possible, my Novice Mistress, Sister Catherine, runs interference between Mother Superior and me. She smiles gently at me and I swallow, blocking out Mother’s Superior’s sniping gaze.
Finally, the ceremony is done and my commitment is nearly complete. My betrothal will not end overnight. I have at least three or four years left to my wedding, but I’m fully prepared to face whatever I must to become a bride of Christ.
I stand in place, between Mother Superior and Sister Catherine as the nuns whom I reside with come and congratulate me. I accept each kind word with a nod and a smile, not as joyous or as peaceful with the proximity of Mother Superior and the feeling of being watched.
“You made it,” Father John greets, standing before me with his hand outstretched. It seems odd that he’d say those words, instead of something religious.
“She has,” Mother Superior responds in my place. Her tone is neutral, leaving me unable to detect sarcasm or ulterior motives.
Father John glances between me, Mother Superior, and Sister Catherine. He has one of the kindest faces I’ve ever seen, with a soothing voice that lulls one into easy trust. What we see isn’t always what we get.
“I’d like to introduce Father Hawthorne to you,” Father John continues, indicating for the man directly behind him to step to his side.
The moment Father Hawthorne faces me I realize it is his ice blue eyes that captured my attention at first. Out of the five of us, only Sister Catherine doesn’t have blue eyes. Where mine are tinged with shades of green and gray, Father Hawthorne’s are the untouched blue of a winter sky. They are unreadable except for a slight flare and sudden narrowing as he meets my gaze.
He takes my hand between his and pats it. His long fingers curl around mine and the heat from his hands burn into me. I stop myself from snatching my hand away.
“Christ be with you,” he tells me, the rich timbre of his voice striking a chord deep within me.
“She has taken a sixty day vow of silence,” Mother Superior responds.
He searches my face, but doesn’t release my hand and instead, squeezes it. In encouragement? Reassurance?
Nerves seize me and I snatch my hand away, despite knowing how much attention the gesture will draw.
Mother Superior clears her throat. Quickly, I bow my head.
Father Hawthorne steps away and I release the breath I’ve unknowingly held. Although I pretend otherwise, I watch as he moves, silent. Almost predatory and so far removed from how a priest should walk, I once more wonder if he’s a figment of my imagination. Perhaps, an angel of Lucifer, here to tempt me away from my commitment to Christ.
Father Hawthorne is tall—I reach his shoulder—with a head of rich brown hair. His perfect lips remind me of the one time I’ve ever been kissed. Five years ago, on my sixteenth birthday by my boyfriend, the high school’s quarterback. He broke up with me soon after because I refused to have sex with him. But even then, I felt as if I had a different calling.
My parents were very religious. Instead of being put off by it, each time I set foot inside of a church. I felt as if I was home. In church, in prayer, I found the peace I lacked everywhere else.
I could never understand it, either. I was popular with a lot of friends and loving parents. That they kept such an integral part of my identity from me didn’t take away the fact that they’d given me shelter, love, and protection.
They’d rescued me.
And now…now a man I’d never seen before, a priest had come in and ruined my betrothal. I prayed hard to keep my thoughts pure, free of fear. Free of the past.
I was to be a Bride of Christ, but who was he? Nuns married Jesus. What did priests do? I’d always wondered why priests couldn’t marry. They were men, after all, and could never share the same relationship with Christ that women—nuns—could. It was one of the questions my parents ignored and the one that had first made Mother Superior detest me.
“What, exactly, are you implying, Sophia?”
Back then. I was still Sophia, not Sister Mary Charles.
I had ignored her insinuation that I spoke of homosexuality. That hadn’t been the case at all. Nor would I ever discuss such a topic with her. It was one of the societal issues that we were always entreated to pray for. Except I didn’t share my true beliefs on the matter. She would’ve accused me of being a sinner, too. As it was, I carried a lot of guilt for believing it wasn’t wrong, as long as love existed.
Lost in my thoughts, I didn’t realize I was following Mother Superior and Sister Catherine until we stepped into the cold, snowy day and headed toward the building at the end of the street.
Inside, I hurry to my cell, where I drop to my knees and begin to pray, first thanking Him for accepting me as his, then to remove my impure and improper thoughts about Father Hawthorne.
A knock on my door interrupts me. Rushing to the door, I find Mary Martin on the other side. She’d been here six years already. Right now, she wrings her hands.
“Mother Superior says to come,” she says quietly.
Closing the door to my cell, I follow behind Mary Martin, careful with my step as we’ve been taught. Despite the urgency I detect in her voice, we must walk with care and dignity, as befitting our calling.
In the kitchen, we halt and I frown as I see four others standing in a row and facing Mother Superior. She’s near the stove, right over that spot. The one I’ll never forget and can’t erase from my memory, like so many other things that’s happened in my life.
“Mary Martin. Mary Charles, get into the line.”
At Mother Superior’s voice, we don’t hesitate to do as she bade. As if it was timed, the door leading to our gated garden opens. Father Hawthorne follows Father John into the warm, and sweeping in cold air.
Father Hawthorne’s gaze locks with mine. Not wanting to look at him, I quickly lower my lashes.
“She’s finally amongst them,” Father John speaks in a satisfied tone.
“She has a vow of silence.”
At that, I realize they’re talking about me and I lift my lids to see her shrug.
Father John nods, a slight smile playing upon his lips.
Mother Superior looks at each of us before she draws herself up and utters one word: “Strip.”
6.) Ignite (working title/no cover)
Kiln's book from the Phoenix Rising Series
7.) Dirty Minds (no cover)
Kelan's and Addie's book from the Dirty Boys Series, although I'm thinking this will be a September release